Archive Page 2

05
Mar
10

Don’t Ever Trust a Thai Travel Agent

Lesson learned: do not ever book multi-bus trips throught a travel agency in Thailand!

In the interest of saving 200 Baht ($8) we booked an all-in-one bus trip to Khao Sok National Park via Surat Thani, leaving Bangkok on February 21 and arriving in the morning on February 22. Having already researched the route, I knew this was ill-advised by the travel guides, but we decided to give it a go anyway, as the price was attractive and the thought of having pre-booked transfers sounded appealing (we’ve been doing it ourselves ever since). Well, never again would we use this “attractive” option. Although we didn’t encounter any of the blackout periods or extra surcharges the Lonely Planet warned us about, we did have cramped transportation at times, and long waits for buses and transfers.

Here’s the story:

We planned to go to a travel agency in Bangkok to book an overnight train or bus to Surat Thani, where we could then catch a bus bound for Khao Sok National Park. This is where we were cajoled into purchasing a combo ticket for 600 Baht ($20) which would include transportation to Khao Sok, as well as pick up and transfer from our hotel to the bus station (which we were told was far from our hotel), and between bus stations in Surat Thani (the “bus station” we were actually dropped off at wasn’t a bus station at all, but a rest stop for our bus, which was going further south).

We were told to be at the travel office (beside our hotel) at 5.30PM for transfer to the bus. The “transfer” was actually a 5-minute walk around the corner to another guesthouse, and the “pick up” time was actually 6.30PM, when someone finally came and rescued us from the stoop of the travel agency.

After waiting on the sidewalk for over an hour, the bus finally pulled in and we got on our way around 8.30PM. We were told the bus would arrive in Surat Thani around 6AM, which, according to Asian time, I suppose it did (actual arrival = 6.30AM). We then got a quick breakfast before our “transfer” (read: 8 people squashed in a tuk tuk) arrived to take us to the Khao Sok bus. It was only when we dropped people off at the government (read: safe and reliable) bus station and were told NOT to get on, that I realized we had made the mistake we were warned about. Had we not paid for the combo ticket, we could have simply paid the ticket agent on the bus (all buses in Thailand have a driver and someone who sells tickets) and gone straight to Khao Sok.

We were then taken to another pick up spot (the fourth in 12 hours) and told to wait for the minibus to Khao Sok. As I had heard the stories about the Travel Agency minibuses, I had my doubts it would arrive at the appointed 8.30AM arrival time. Well, it didn’t disappoint me! At 9.30AM it finally showed up and we got underway for what we hoped would be the final leg of what should have been a 12-hour trip, but actually took 19 hours, including wait times. But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there: during the two hours it took to get to Khao Sok, our driver made SEVEN stops to let local people on and off the minibus!

We finally arrived in Khao Sok on February 22 just before noon, tired and cranky, but happy to be in one place for a few days.

So let that be a lesson to you – don’t ever trust a Thai Travel Agent and their bogus combo-tickets!

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05
Mar
10

Feb 19-21: Bangkok

Sa Wat Dee Ka!

Court and I in a Tuk Tuk

On February 19th, we finally came full circle back to Bangkok, where we started the tour 46 days prior. We budgeted three days and two nights in the city, which we figured would be enough, and we were right. Being sick of seeing temples and yearning to get to a beach, we decided to do the obligatory sights, stay just off Khao San Road, in the midst of backpacker haven, and then head down south to the islands.

Food and accommodation is pretty cheap in Bangkok, and we secured a fan room for about $7.50 each. Meals came in at a little over $1 for a plate of noodles or rice, so this left us with plenty to use to see the sights, party a bit, and take tuk tuks around town.

Since we arrived so early, we thought it would be best to use the day to see some of Bangkok’s most famous sights, the Royal Palace, Wat Pho (home of the reclining Buddha), and Wat Pra Khew (home of the Emerald Buddha). This may not sound like much, considering the location of all these sights are well within walking distance of each other, but the weather was sunny and well-above 30 degrees all day (like every day) so it took a considerable amount of energy to stay interested for the five hours it took to walk through them.

Public transportation in Bangkok requires quite a bit of planning and a good knowledge of the routes, since there are so many modes, and none of them cover the entire city. There is the Skytrain, which goes around central Bangkok, but doesn’t cover the backpacker district or any of the main sights. Then there are metered taxis and tuk-tuks, on which the fare is usually agreed on before the ride. You can also catch any number of buses around town, but they are usually caught in traffic and take forever. Finally, there is the boat system, which has different routes (including a tourist one) that travel up and down the river making stops every 100 meters or so (or whenever there is a point of interest, for the tourist route). We opted to take the water taxi, as there was a pier right across from our guesthouse, and it made stops at the Palace and Wat Pra Khew.

We almost made it to Wat Arun, which is a uniquely designed temple across the river from Wat Pho, but it was late in the day by then and we were itching to get back for a shower and dinner, so we decided to save it for the next day.

That night we met up with a friend, Dan, from our tour, who was joining another tour to the islands the next day, and went to see a Ladyboy Cabaret. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Ladyboys are Thai transexuals, but they look waaaay more convincing that the ones in North America, and being a Ladyboy isn’t nearly as taboo as being a transexual is back home. Also, the “ladyboy shows” as they are referred to by foreigners, are more of an art form, a cultural part of Bangkok, than they are a side show, and the cabaret involved lip-syncing (badly!) and dancing (really well) to well-known songs. They are really friendly and even posed for photos with audience members afterward!

After some dinner and partying on Khao San Road (we really did come full circle) it was time to hit the hay, as we had been up for about 20-hours, and had had a full day of wandering around a hot city. We decided to get up early on the 20th and go to Wat Arun and the floating markets.

Well, we never made it. Courtney felt too sick to go out after breakfast and spent most of the day in bed, fighting off the heat. We both found out that Court doesn’t deal to well with extreme heat, so I hung around and did internet research and went shopping on Khao San to pass the time. When she finally awoke, it was too late to go anyplace but to get dinner, so we decided to book a bus ticket south to Khao Sok National Park, our next destination, and save the sights for our final day in Bangkok. I was bummed that we weren’t taking the train, but we saved about 450 Baht each (= $15) by taking the bus.

On the 21st we actually got up early, and headed to breakfast with our tour leader through Laos, a Thai girl from Chiang Mai, who had arrived that morning for her next tour. She suggested we see Wat Arun and then hit up the weekend market near the Northern Bus Station, before coming back to our guesthouse for our bus pickup. We took the boat taxi again to the temple, but decided to check out the Centre World mall instead, as Courtney was again feeling ill from the heat. We took a taxi to the mall, and then, just for the fun of it, took the Skytrain two stations where we caught a taxi back to Khao San.

We arrived back at the guesthouse with plenty of time for dinner at a street restaurant (basically just a tent with some stoves and coolers under it, and a seating area) where we had pad thai for $1.

Our journey finally began to go south, and I mean this in a literal and figurative way. The trip from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park was exhausting and frustrating, and is a story which deserves it’s own post. For now, I’m being pestered by pretty much everyone I know to write something about Koh Pha Ngan and the Full Moon Party, so I’m going to do that and come back to the journey between Bangkok and Khao Sok later.

Thanks for reading! Sorry about the lack of photos, i’ll post some up soon!

Lex

04
Mar
10

Feb 13-19: Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Me, Court, and Emina - The Trekkers!

I said that Chiang Mai deserves a post all to itself, and I wasn’t lying when I said it. Courtney and I had a jam-packed five days in Chiang Mai, and we probably could have spent a few more, as Chiang Mai has a lot to offer the adventurous traveller. I had no idea that this city in Northern Thailand has so much more to offer than the ubiquitous “hilltribe trek”, and had I known, I definitely would have budgeted more time and money to this region.

Adam and I on the Elephant

Our last day on tour was officially the 13th of February, and although many people left for other destinations on that day, there were still a few of us hanging around Chiang Mai for treks and other activities. While Courtney went to an Elephant Conservation place to do a Mahout course (Mahouts are elephant trainers), I did a more leisurely activity with Adam, Christine, and Emina from my tour. First we got to ride elephants for an hour, which was really cool! Elephants are super strong, and used to be used as workers on farms, but now, the elephants have no work to do (they’re unemployed! LOL) so some people set up camps and take the elephants in and feed them and

Adam and I feeding our elephant

give them a place to live peacefully. Our elephant (like all elephants) had really hard, thick skin, and it’s not soft at all! They’re also pretty hairy, although they lose their hair as they age (just like people). Baby elephants are the hairiest of them all (not like people). I shared an elephant with Adam, and we got to feed the elephant during the ride. We were both pretty shocked to get a glob of slobber slopped on us when the elephant lifted her trunk to take the bananas from us! Our pants were covered! After the elephant riding we

Emina and Christine on our raft

visited two hill tribes, the Karen and the Hmong, and took a light trek to a waterfall. After lunch we headed to a river for some bamboo rafting, which we had heard is quite the ride. Basically there are these rafts, which are no more than 6 or 7 pieces of bamboo tied together, and you sit on them, about four people to a raft, and a guide steers you down the river using a bamboo pole. The raft isn’t very steady, so we all ended up with very wet bums!

On the 14th, myself, Court, and Emina set off on our hilltribe trek. Our trek cost about $60 CDN, and included a guide, three days of trekking, visits to four different tribes, accommodation, and nine meals, as well as activities such as (mild) white water rafting, (another) elephant ride and (another) bamboo raft ride. I really must give a shout out to my cousin, Rob, who suggested to wait until getting to Chiang Mai to book the trek. We saved over $300 by booking directly from a travel agent instead of doing the add-on offered by Intrepid. Thanks Rob!!

A Longneck girl

Day 1 was interesting: Emina and Courtney picked our particular trek, which went north of Chiang Mai, because we got to visit the Long Neck tribe. This tribe isn’t officially called Long Neck, but they are called this way because they wear copper rings around their necks, which elongate them. The tribespeople were very warm and friendly, although I think it must get tiring for them posing for photos for foreigners all day every day. After lunch we had an elephant ride, which was better than the one the day before, because I actually got to ride on the head of the elephant! Usually passengers sit in a seat on top of the elephant, but our pachyderm was well trained, and the mahout let us take turns leading her.

Elephant!

After lunch we headed out for the first part of the trek, and not even half an hour into our uphill climb, the strap on my brand-new Merrell trekking sandals broke. The solution was to put double-sided tape around them in two places, but the tape was quickly ruined by the sand and water. As the first day required about 4 hours of uphill hiking in the sun and dirt, my feet and ankles were in a considerable amount of discomfort by the time we reached our accommodation for the first night, in a village high atop a mountain. The vista, however, was spectacular, and the outdoor showers had a great view of the valley below. All of us opted to get Thai massages from the village women, and then our dinner was prepared. Dinner was a simple but delicious soup, curry, and rice. The evening came to a close with our guide playing guitar around a fire, and us all getting to know the other members of our group (there were nine in all).

Our accommodation!

Day 2, February 15 was particularly gruelling, although at first it wouldn’tseem like it. First of all, the entire day almost was spent going downhill, which sounds great after a day of going up, but I had two things working against me. First, my sandals ceased to hold, and so I was forced to trek down the sandy side of a mountain with one foot always going first, because the strap wouldn’t hold my ankle on one side. This led to discomfort and pain in my right ankle, which kept rolling at an awkward angle. Second, our guide led the trek at such a pace that I, by far the slowest trekker, could usually not keep up with the rest of the group.

Sun, our tour guide, helping me tape my sandals

Trekking rules say that you should never trek faster than your slowest trekker, and as we didn’t have a guide behind me, I got lost twice when the rest of the group took one route and I took another. Needless to say, being lost in a hot forest with a broken shoe and an achy ankle and nobody to talk to did not make me the happiest trekker, and honestly I was downright miserable for most of the day. I didn’t take a single photo because I was too busy watching my step to look at the “scenery” (dry leaves and dust). Our second night was spent in a small village, which was really just three small huts, and we didn’t get to interact with the locals much, unlike the first night, which was a bit of a bummer. A dip in the river, a good meal, and drinking games after dinner brightened my spirits somewhat, but by the beginning of our third day I was ready for an easy, flat-ground, half-hour hike to our raft.

In three days we did approximately 9 hours of trekking (Day 1: 4hrs, Day 2: 4.5hrs, Day 3: 1/2hr), and I was happy to be back to civilization, although immensely pleased with myself for having completed the trek despite the obstacles I encountered. Although I got satisfaction from having completed it, and I’m not completely out of shape, the trek would have been more enjoyable if we would have chosen a trek that had less time trekking and more time experiencing and seeing things, like waterfalls and local people.

Me cooking up a mean penang curry

On the 17th, Courtney and I had booked ourselves in for a half-day cooking course at Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, not too far from our hotel. The price of the course (4 hours, 700 Baht = $23) included pickup from the hotel, English-speaking instructor, a welcome snack, drinking water, visit to a local market, three dishes, plus a curry and curry paste, and we got to eat everything we made! The group chose to make an appetizer, a noodle dish, and a dessert, and then we each got to choose one dish from each of these categories, plus a curry. I chose spring rolls, pad thai (of course :), mango sticky rice, and penang curry. Each of us (there were only seven of us in our group) got our own cooking station and the dishes were super easy to make – i’ll definitely be making them when I get home!

That night we went to the night market, which I think is the best market I have been in in all of Southeast Asia. They sell everything, from designer knock off bags, to clothes, textiles, Asian handicrafts, jewelry, food, EVERYTHING! It was hard to choose what to spend my hard-earned Baht on!

On the 18th we didn’t do much of anything, which was nice after the hectic time we had on tour and in Chiang Mai. In the evening we caught the night train back to Bangkok, which was awesome, because I now LOVE LOVE LOVE

My berth on the Chiang Mai-Bangkok overnight train

travelling on trains. They are much comfier than buses, and although they are slower, the rhythm and the sound of the train puts you right to sleep in your berth. Unfortunately, it also costs more than a bus, and at the time I had no idea that it was the last overnight train we would be taking in Thailand.

We arrived in Bangkok around 6AM on February 19th, after a 12-hour ride from Chiang Mai. From the station we took a taxi to the backpacker area of Soi Rambuttri, which is across the street from famous Khao San Road, and found a suitable fan room for only 450 Baht (= $15).

Well, I think this post has been long enough, I’ll release you from the clutches of living vicariously through me, until the next time I have three hours to sit and write another post.

Lex

21
Feb
10

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins…

Well, it’s been so long since my last post, I don’t really know where to start. Right now we are in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where our tour ended on Saturday after an action-packed nine days in Laos that was way too short for my liking. I loved Laos, and enjoyed Chiang Mai way more than I thought I would. There is so much to see and do, and Chiang Mai is small enough to get familiar with, yet large enough to hold great restaurants, fun activities, and heaps of friendly backpackers.

As I mentioned, our tour ended on Saturday, and while it was sad to say goodbye to the people we met and the friends we made over the last 40 days, I’m slightly relieved to be out of a group and on our own. Being on tour had its ups and downs. It was fun to be able to go out and do activities as a group and have our own private transportation, and to know that there were always people around to go out with. On the other hand, it was frustrating having to wait around for people, or to eat every meal at a set time, and there were times that were absolutely exhausting for all the travel and activities we were doing.

Now that Court and I are finally on our own, it’s nice to be able to set our own pace, and stay an extra day or leave a place early just because we want to. We were both exhausted from our busy few days in Chiang Mai, so we booked a “relax day” that we could sleep in, use the internet, and eat when we felt hungry. It’s nice to not be on a fixed schedule anymore!

For those of you who have been asking, I haven’t had a problem with food at all, there is always plenty of local food as well as western food at most places we eat at. I have come to the realization that Asian people think westerners eat bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast EVERY DAY, as that is what every guesthouse serves, if they include breakfast. Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE bacon and eggs, but I was thrilled when I arrived in Chiang Mai and found regular cornflakes at the breakfast buffet! ME! Excited for cereal! HA HA. The good part about this is that I have begun putting back on the 11lbs that I lost in December, and my clothing is actually starting to fit again, which is a relief.

Court and I are leaving Chiang Mai for Bangkok tonight on the overnight train, which departs at 5.55PM, and will arrive in Bangkok around 7.30AM tomorrow (Friday). We will spend three days in Bangkok, doing things we didn’t get to see on our one-day stop over before the tour departed for Cambodia back in January, and then leave for southern Thailand by overnight train on the 21st (or 22nd, we haven’t decided yet 🙂

From there, we will spend two weeks island hopping through Thailand’s beaches, reaching the full moon party on March 1. That is really the only solid plan we have at the moment, so more details will come as they become available.

Keep checking the blog for news and stories on the adventure of booking train and bus tickets, finding accommodations, eating meals, and doing every possible activity that southern Thailand has to offer!

For now, this is Lexi saying “ka poon ka” and thanks for reading!

Lex

20
Feb
10

Feb 7-13: Vang Vieng to Chiang Mai

Leaving beautiful Vang Vieng

Finally, I’ve come to the last post of our 40 days on tour! Hooray! Perhaps now I can keep up with the blog a bit better, and I hope to write smaller, shorter posts on a daily basis. And perhaps now, the photos that I have been talking about posting for over a month will actually materialize!

So on February 7 we departed Vang Vieng (*sniff*) and headed to Luang Prabang. The journey took roughly 7 hours, although the two towns are less than 200 km apart, because Laos is quite mountainous and to drive anywhere requires hours of switchbacking along curvy, sometimes badly paved roads.

Luang Prabang is the antithesis of Vang Vieng, being a culturally rich and lazy little town. It’s claim to fame is the sunset view from Mount Phousi (pronouced like a part of the female anatomy… and no, it’s not Mulva… LOL for all you Seinfeld fans out there 🙂 and it’s night market, which features beautiful handicrafts made by the local Hmong people.

In Luang Prabang, our group began to split up and do things in smaller groups, which thrilled me to no end. As a group we got along freakishly

One of the blue pools at Kuangsi Falls

well, and had eaten most of our meals together for over a month, but I think people relished the idea of being able to have a bit more autonomy, as our two full days were left entirely to explore the city at our leisure.

On February 9, the group went to Kuangsi Falls, which is a spectacular set of waterfalls about an hour Jumbo ride from Luang Prabang (a jumbo is a motorized truck with benches in the back, not an elephant 🙂 The water was freezing but after much coaxing I managed to get in and paddle around for a while before jumping out. Carpe Diem!!

That evening a few of us went to a Lao disco (read: nightclub) where we were taught to dance by some locals! The way Laos club is like this: the dance floor is empty, until the deejay plays one song that everyone knows, then the entire club gets up and does this pre-fabricated line dance that everyone seems to know, and then when the song is over everyone goes back to their seats. It was so weird. I couldn’t understand why no one was just dancing like normal, so when a song I knew came on, I pulled one of the guys in our group onto the dance floor and started dancing. And whaddaya know – all of a sudden all these locals started getting up and dancing as well! Apparently they are just too shy to dance if they don’t know the moves! Have I mentioned I love Laos!?

Since bars and discos (along with pretty much every other business) close around 11PM, the bowling alley is the place to be after everyone is kicked out. So we jumped in a Jumbo and went bowling and the place was packed! This is another curious Lao “thing” that I don’t quite understand (why is the bowling alley the only place that is open late??) so I asked on of the guys at the club why there is this restriction, but he had no idea! Laos are by nature very calm and relaxed people, and it probably never even occurred to them to question it, so we just went with it.

Locals giving Alms to the Monks

On February 10 we got up at 6AM to participate in the giving of the alms to the monks of Luang Prabang, which was a really cool and unique experience. Monks only eat two meals per day, breakfast and lunch, and the food they eat comes from the local community, supplemented with food bought by the temple. Each day the locals kneel at the side of the road with dry food such as sticky rice (a Lao staple), bananas, and mince pork wrapped in banana leaves. Each monk holds their copper pot to receive a ball of rice or other dry good, and the giver places the food item in the pot, keeping their head lower than the monk who is receiving it. Although I ran out of rice after about ten monks, it was really cool to be able to observe this ritual, and I even got a couple photos of it. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of a tourist spectacle, with tourists setting up tripods in the middle of the road We were informed that without giving any alms to the monks, this is disrepectful and irresponsible as a traveller.

After giving the alms and having a quick breakfast, we departed for the 10-hour slow boat trip down the Mekong River. The trip takes two days,

View down the Mekong from the slowboat

and we would be staying overnight in Pakbeng, a tiny village on a cliff overlooking the river. Our boat looked comfier than the public boats, with plush seats, a large table and chairs, and a bathroom. The people who own the boat live on the boat, so there was also a large area at the rear of the boat which housed their living quarters. There wasn’t much to do on the boat, so most of us read our books (lots of people trying to finish their books so they can ditch them before the market in Chiang Mai!), played games, chatted to one another, or listened to music.

The next day, February 11, was much of the same, although the morning was brutally cold (for Laos) as we had been warned. I wrapped myself in pants, two shirts, a sweater, my towel, a sarong, and my sleep sheet, and managed to stay pretty toasty, but the ride was definitely more enjoyable once the sun came up completely. The boat arrived in Houy Xai in the afternoon, just in time for us to stamp out of Laos (*sniff*), board a boat to cross the Mekong, stamp into Thailand (yay) and get to our hotel in Chiang Kong for dinner.

February 12 marked the 39th day of the tour, but for our group it was the final day we would be together, as many people were departing on the last day of the tour to go home, or onward to other destinations. This final day together was bittersweet for me (see my post “One Chapter Ends, Another Begins…”), as I was both sad to see the friends I had made leave, but also happy to be starting a new journey, and being able to experience Thailand with just my sister and I.

Rong Khun Temple between Chiangkong and Chiang Mai. So different and so BEAUTIFUL!

The bus ride to Chiang Mai took about 6 hours, which got us to our hotel just in time for a change of clothes before our final group excursion, to Wat Doi Suthep, high above the city. The temple afforded us beautiful views of the city of Chiang Mai, and our tour leader, Ae, gave us a tour of the temple, as well as special information about our colour, and our Buddha image. In Thai culture, everyone has a birth year (mine is 1983=year of the pig) a birth day (Monday) which relates to a lucky colour (yellow) and a Buddha image (Buddha with his hand raised, which means for peace).

After Doi Suthep, Court and I went to the train station to arrange our overnight train ticket to Bangkok on February 18, and then met up with our group for the last group dinner we would ever have. The meal cost more than anything I have eaten so far in Southeast Asia, but the food was fantastic, the setting was perfect, and the company could hardly have been any better. It was the perfect way to end an exciting, adventurous journey through four countries.

Since Chiang Mai requires a blog post all it’s own, this is where this story ends. I hope I can remember everything that happened in the five days immediately following the end of the tour! Thanks for reading!

Lex

20
Feb
10

I LOVE LAOS! I Love Laos.

I love Laos!

This is my new mantra. In fact, I think I should just get it tattooed someplace on my body. Seriously, Laos is awesome, and this warm and welcoming country is continually surprising me at every turn.

***********************************************************

The four sentences above was how this post began, sixteen days ago. Can you believe it’s taken me sixteen days to write a blog post!? Well, I can, and you would too if you had just spent the last six days in Chiang Mai before coming to Bangkok! Anyway, I’m going to start referring to days by their actual dates, instead of just the days of the week, because the days are quickly becoming a blur, especially when it takes me more than a week to post on the activities of late.

Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Anyway, I think it’s about time I continued the story of our trip through Laos. When I left off, it was February 4, and the group (still on tour at this point) had just arrived in Vang Vieng, which is party town of Laos. We had free time in the afternoon, and then a group dinner at one of the many movie bars in town. Many people spend weeks in Vang Vieng because of the relaxed atmosphere and it was really nice to be able to watch a movie after dinner and hang out with some real backpackers.

February 5 was a big day, as we had our tubing trip booked! Tubing down the Nam Song River is an institution in Vang Vieng, and we were all super excited for our excursion. We began by packing into a truck and picking up our inner tubes (piled 16 high on the roof!) on the way to the drop off. The Nam Song is unique because it is quite possibly the only river in the world lined with tens of bamboo bars featuring zip lines, swings, and slides over the water. Look out below!!

Me with my bucket and my tag

We had three guides with us, who were there to look out for us in case of emergency. What emergency, you ask, can possibly happen on a lazyriver ride with 16 people!? Well, seeing as each bar has it’s own “happy” menu, consisting of teas and shakes made of mushrooms, hash, and opium, as well as various “pastries”, it goes without saying that the guides were a comfort to have around! Don’t worry, parental units, our guides were trained in CPR and First Aid (yeah right) and wrote the name of their tour company on each of our wrists, so in case of any of us getting lost, the unfortunate soul who happened to find us would know where to return us. HAHA!!

The first bar we stopped at had a swing and a mud volleyball court. After grabbing a bucket of Malibu and Coke at only $8 a pop (7 shots – what a steal!) we headed to the swing and for a game of mud volleyball, before moving on to our next bar. Here’s where things got ugly.

Me getting ready for the swing

About ten metres down the river I spotted a sign: “Super Happy Brownies”. Well. I’m super. I like being happy. I love brownies! What a match! It goes without saying I had to have one. I hopped off my tube, (“Alexis, are you ACTUALLY going to get off of your tube and get one of those brownies!?!”), grabbed a brownie ($5) and jumped back on my tube, brownie and all. I had that entire piece of chocolate-hashy goodness downed by the time we reached the next bar. At this bar, there was a zip line and a slide. I tried the zip line twice, and watched as my friends tried the slide – with disastrous results. The slide was so slippery that it literally caused those riding it to be shot out in the air, about ten metres over the water, and landing with a hard splash on whatever part of their body was unfortunate enough to hit the water first. There were quite a few bruised thighs when we finally left the bar after lunch, and even one ripped pair of shorts! HA HA!

Tubing! (You can see the offending slide in the background)

It took us a while to get from the second bar to the third bar, I don’t want to hazard a guess as to how long, as in my brownie-induced cloud of happiness I had absolutely no concept of time. An hour? Maybe two? Anyway, by the time we got  to the last bar (literally, the last bar on the river, if you don’t count the bar that’s actually CALLED Last Bar – HaHa, we’re onto you!) the sun was already behind the trees, and we had already consumed 7 mushroom shakes (I won’t say who :), 1 hash brownie (you all know who ;), two opium teas, and countless buckets of liquor.

That evening, we were all pretty much exhausted and partied out, so it was a pretty early night. A bunch of us had booked our first activities that were not going to be performed as one huge group, so we hit the sack to be well rested for the day ahead.

Wow! I look SMALL! I think this wall looks bigger than it actually was...

As I mentioned before, Vang Vieng is a playground for adventure seekers as well as being a party town. The whole place is asleep until about noon, then people start coming out to start their day of tubing, or hiking, or rock climbing, or bike riding. My chosen activity for the morning of February 6 was rock climbing some of the limestone karsts surrounding Vang Vieng. I went rock climbing last year and enjoyed it, so I thought I would try a half-day course to see if I want to take a full-day course in Krabi. I LOVED it! The climbs were made for beginners, but we did a couple challenging climbs, and it felt really good to be working up a sweat, while using my brain and my muscles. I think it’s looking good for Krabi!

During the afternoon I had a lazy day, hanging out in an open-air hut by the river with friends, writing postcards, and eating mango sticky rice. After dinner it was time to pack up and head to bed before our long drive to Luang Prabang on February 7.

04
Feb
10

Jan 31- Feb 4: Hanoi to Vang Vieng

Sabaidee! Hello from Laos!

Oh boy, I’m already getting ahead of myself! Right now I am sitting in an internet cafe in downtown Vang Vieng, Laos, where it is hot and humid. I, for one, am happy to have left the cooler weather of northern Vietnam behind, although I had a great time. I have a lot to say about my experience in Vietnam, but little time to write a new post, so it will have to wait until after tomorrow’s tubing excursion down the Nam Song river…

Our tour leader, Dat, and I on Australia Day

On Saturday we said goodbye to two members of our tour and our leader, Dat. It was really sad, because we all got along really well with Dat, and he was an awesome leader. I don’t think anyone could have been more welcoming and knowledgeable about their own country as he was, and he made our trip a true experience. If it wasn’t for his expertise and calm under pressure, we surely would have been lost on many an occasion. Dat managed to locate a lost camera, an impounded motorbike, and retrive one motorbike from a police station. Certainly, ours was a tour group he will not soon forget! And nor will we soon forget him. Thanks, Dat, for making our trip to Vietnam unforgettable!

Sunday we met our new tour leader and the new members of the Laos leg of our tour.

Our Laos group at Patuxey, the Victory Monument in Vientiane

Our leader is Thai, and her name is Ae (pronounced “Eh”, which makes it very confusing for her, as anyone who knows me knows I say “eh” like a real Canadian, which is to say ALL THE TIME). In addition, we have five Australians who joined the tour, one family of four and Kim, a mother of two who loves to party!

In all, there have been eleven of us from the start: Courtney, myself, Emina, Christina, Genevieve, Lisa, Adam, J.Y., Bonnie, Drew, and Dan. Hannah, Emma, Hailey, and Eloise left us in Saigon, where Allie and Eugenie joined us, and we picked up Kim, Mila, Andrei, Polina, and Alina in Hanoi. It’s been a great group, and I’ll be sad to see us part ways next Saturday.

Anyway, back to the point of this post…

On Monday, after a leisurely morning breakfast and a mad dash around the old quarter of Hanoi looking for the perfect baguette for our lunch on the bus, we departed Vietnam’s capital city for Vinh. There is NOTHING in Vinh, except for it being a stopping over point for the border crossing between Laos and Vietnam. There is a crossing further north, but it would have taken us far north of our destination, Vientiane. The drive took close to seven hours, and by the time we got there, all anyone had energy for was dinner and bed.

Lao jungle scenery

Tuesday we left the hotel around 630AM (Asian time, of course) and began the three-hour journey to the border. Laos requires all tour groups going through Laos to have a local Lao guide, so we picked up Salee, our local guide until Vang Vieng. The border crossing was relatively quick and painless (once the paperwork was done and fees had been paid) and then we were off on a painful 8 hour drive to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I say it was painful, because there is no other way to describe sitting in a bus for 8 hours, despite three stops and a lot of snacks. Because Laos is largely mountainous, and the roads are not the greatest, the drive takes a lot longer than it would in Canada, or even in Vietnam.

Wednesday I discovered two things which are essential to travel in Laos: a traditional Lao massage, and the Scandinavian Bakery. Since I plan on writing a post to compare the merits of the regional massages I have had since being on tour once I get a Thai massage, all I’ll say for now is that it involves a lot of bending. The bakery is another story: the secret to being Asians being thin, is that Asians eat a lot of rice, veggies, and lean meat, and that they don’t put sugar in ANYTHING. A banana is sugary enough over here, and it’s been an ordeal trying to find a decent brownie or cake over here, what with the lack of baking with sugar. The Scandinavian Bakery, however, had the most amazing cakes, croissants, and iced coffee I have had since crossing the Pacific. Amazing. Anyone who knows me knows I like to have dessert after every meal (dinner, lunch, and breakfast, if possible 🙂 so I was in pure sugary heaven!

Wednesday morning we did an orientation walk through Vientiane, including a visit to the national Temple, the market, and the Lao version of

Me in a "Jumbo"

Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, called Patuxay. We also had our first ride in a “Jumbo” which is like a tuk tuk, but with the benches positioned so that you are riding sideways, instead of front/back. I’ll post photos for comparison soon. I adore how every southeast asian country has it’s own “national” mode of transportation. It’s hilarious every time we get on something new.

Today we rode a bus full of tourists for only 4 hours, to arrive in Vang Vieng, party town of Laos. The town is filled with more white people than Asians, and more drunk people than sober. The streets are studded with bars, internet cafes, convenience stores, and clothing shops, and reminds me a lot of the backpacker towns along the east coast of Australia. There isn’t much to do here but drink, and do some of the extreme activities available from most guesthouses.

Tomorrow we will do a tubing trip down the Nam Song river, which is a necessity of a visit to Vang Vieng. I will report back later (hopefully tanned and slightly tipsy) but I’ve heard that it is a lazy, two-hour glide down a river lined with bars, and finishes with a zip line over the river. Should be fun 🙂 On Saturday a few of us have signed up for a rock climbing course, which I think will be awesome, because we will be climbing one of Vang Vieng’s limestone karsts. Since I’ve only climbed indoors before, I’m looking forward to my first taste of real climbing!

Anyway, the party is raging on next door, and I’ve got some buckets of vodka, redbull and coke waiting for me.

So long, and Kop Jai Lai Lai for reading!

Lex




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