I usually jump onto trips because of amazing flight deals but this time around, my friend Sarah alerted myself and 2 other friends about this other special deal on a tour. We had spoken for a few years about going to Africa and twice a year, On the Go Tours runs a promotion of 2 for 1 on tours. Grab a friend and go for the price of 1 person. Regular price for our 12 days Victoria Falls to Johannesburg was $1495CAD. Meaning $747.50CAD per person for the tour.
Our flight we got for a reasonable price at $1283.90CAD. Toronto to France (CDG) (10-12 hour stopover), France (CDG) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (VGA). Return is from Johannesburg (JNB) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Dublin, Dublin to Toronto. Originally we wanted to stay for another week to optimize our time but for $500CAD cheaper to return home on a Thursday just made more sense for us.
Would’ve loved to go into a township like the Apartheid Museum and Soweto in Johannesburg but our timing of arrival and departure just didn’t work out. I would recommend the Sightseeing hop on and off tour bus as that would have been the method we would have seen the city if we had time. Otherwise, if not renting a car, UBER is the next best way to get around – cheap and safe.
I travelled with my friends Sarah, Jin and Louisa. #CUTYAdventures #canasianwerewolves
Things to do before you leave:
Yellow Fever (Required if you are going to an area with high risk or transiting from a country with high risk (more than 12 hours) – please check websites to find out) As of 2017, there is a shortage in Yellow fever shots – certain clinics will only have partial vaccine (1 year validity) some locations have lifetime shots. Technically, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa don’t require it.
Prescriptions (Recommended but not all required)
Malaria Pills (take pill 2 days before and 7 days after trip)
Cinpro/Anthim in case of diarrhea
Ducarel – must be started a week or 2 before you leave
-Check to see if you need a visa for the countries you are visiting (Canadians are required a visa for Zimbabwe but can obtain on arrival – $75USD – still cheaper than obtaining prior to arrival)
*If you plan on going to Zambia as well, there is a cheaper dual visa for $50USD (For Canadians)
-Beer is roughly $2
-Outlets the big round 3 prong and sometimes larger 2 round prong with flat prongs.
Credit Card / Debit
-Credit Card can be used in majority of all the areas minus markets.
-ATM – Better exchange rates than currency exchange with Debit Machine
-Zimbabwe adopted USD as their currency (bills only).
-$1USD = 362ZWD (Zimbabwean Dollars) – otherwise, currency is 1:1
-You can drink the tap water and can also ask for tap water and ice at many places.
-No Tipping as Vat is included so tax is included in prices shown. Tip is usually 10%.
-Entry Visa required
-$1CAD = 7BWP (Pula)
-$1USD = 10BWP (Pula)
-You cannot drink the tap water
-Carry 2 pulas & toilet paper around for public washrooms
-Language is Setswana
-Du mella ma (female) ra (male) – hello
-LA guy – how are you
-GA taing – I’m fine
-Kea la bogaa ma – thank you
-Kea rata – I love you
-Muntle – beautiful
-Muna – single man
-Buna – 2 or more men
-Botswana people are more reserved but friendly
-$1CAD = 10ZAR (Rand)
-$1USD = 13ZAR (Rand)
-You can drink the tap water
-UBER is the best and cheapest way to get around. Door to Door is key for safety
-11 Official languages; 9 of which are African
-Afrikaans – A mix of Dutch, Belgian, French & Flemish.
-Population – 20% is White & 80% is Black & Other (Indian, Korean & Chinese)
Below is my initial itinerary for the trip (not updated to what we did)
11/30 Toronto / France
FLY – 840PM YYZ-> 950AM CDG
12/01 France / Ethiopia
LAYOVER – 10-12 hour stopover in France
TRAIN – CDG term 2 – RER Train to Châtelet-Les Halles. Walk to Centre Georges Pompidou (45 mins – €10.30 – purchased 2 pack ticket – €20.60)
-Le Centre Pompidou (Opens at 11AM – Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France)
-5 euro – panoramic ticket – rooftop view
18 min walk
-Le Louvre – Pyramid & Carrousel Arc de Triomphe (75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
12 min walk
–L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) (Open 12-3PM & 630-1130PM) (Pre-fixe – 38€)
2 min walk
-Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme – 2 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
14 min walk
-Galerie Vivienne – 5 Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France – mosaic – rustic elegance
4 min walk
-Jardin du palais royale – 6 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France
-Les Deux Plateaux (2 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
5 min walk
-Galerie Vero Dodat – 8 Galerie Véro-Dodat, 75001 Paris, France
-Walk La Seine River
530 – TRAIN – CDG Term 2
Châtelet – Les Halles, 75001 Paris, France -> RER BEPOLAéroport CDG Terminal 2 TGV
FLY – 945PM CDG -> 645AM ADD
12/02 – Ethiopia / Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
FLY – 835AM ADD -> 1215PM VGA
Airport shuttle transfer
STAY – Shearwater Explorer Village (Wifi)
12/03 – Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
12/04 – Victoria falls – Chobe River, Botswana
STAY – Thebe River Safaris Campsite (Wifi available in reception area)
– Kasane – Chobe River – Watch Elephants & Hippos
– Sunset Boat cruise
12/05 – Kasane – Nata Region
STAY – Elephant Sands (Wifi – very weak signal)
-Afternoon/Evening Game drive
12/06 – Nata Region – Maun
STAY – Sitatunga Campsites (Wifi available in bar and weaker signal around site)
12/07 – Maun – Okavango Delta
-Overnight excursion into the Delta
-Early morning to Mokoro Poler’s Station
STAY – Mobile Tented Camp in Okavango (NO WIFI)
-Guided evening bushwalk
12/08 – Okavango Delta – Maun
-Visit local village via Pole Canoes
-Return to Maun w/ optional scenic flight over the Delta
12/09-10 – Maun – Palapye – Polokwane (South Africa)
-Drive to the small town of Palapye (between Francistown & Gaborone (Bostwana’s capital)
STAY – Itumela Campsite (WIFI – good signal all over site)
-Drive to town of Polokwane
STAY – Boma in the Bush (NO WIFI)
12/11-12 – Kruger National Park
-Morning viewpoints drive – Blyde River Canyon Region – The Three Rondavels, The Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, & God’s Window
STAY Nkambeni Safari Camp near Kruger National Park (20 min free WIFI at reception)
-Visit Kruger National Park
-Night game drive
-Morning Game Drive
-Buffet Dinner (optional – group decision)
12/13 – Johannesburg
-Hazyview – Johannesburg
-Joburg Arrival – Mufasa Backpackers (21 4th Rd, Van Ryn SH, Benoni, 1513, South Africa)
-Check into hotel – Hyde Park Villas – 28B 3rd Rd, Hyde Park, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa (WIFI – Complimentary 500MB each day)
-Rosebank Mall – Rosebank Art & Craft Market – Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa
– Open 9AM-6PM
12/14 – Johannesburg -> Dublin
10AM – Airport Shuttle / UBER to O R Tambo (JNB) Airport
This was my second time travelling to Japan. My previous visit was short but sweet staying in Osaka with a day trip to Nara & Kyoto for less than a week. Japan is definitely one of those countries that can and need to be explore multiple times. I travelled to Japan with Mike, Manwai, Cassie, Glenn, John, Karen & Chi with guest appearances along the way. The flight deals were too good to miss out on especially during Hanami (cherry blossom festival). We found our deal on www.nextdeparture.ca for $730CAD roundtrip to Tokyo (1 stopover in Chicago each way). Originally, it was just myself plus Mike & Manwai that booked together. As the next few weeks past and a few meals Mike & Manwai had with friends, our group became 8. During the trip, I mainly travelled with Mike & Manwai. Total of 14 days.
We booked many of our accommodations with Airbnb. If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Included in this Itinerary, I have included some helpful information to know in advance before you go.
–www.hyperdia.com – This is awesome for figuring out your bus and JR routes but you need to know what stations you are leaving from and arriving to.
-Google Maps works well too. If Google Maps does not load/poor connection, enter the directions into the internet browser.
-100y = $1USD roughly.
-The Japanese use cash over credit for majority of their day to day living and it isn’t unusual to break a 10,000y bill on something small.
-The 2000y bill is actually quite rare in Japan as its been phased out and was started in Okinawa for unknown reasons. When exchanging money outside of Japan, you may receive 2000y bills which a few Japanese collect HOWEVER, not all the machines take 2000y bills.
-For many Japanese, they may or may not accept it at their work establishments but some will keep as a keepsake similar to Canada’s old $2 bill that is now replaced with the toonie.
-You can pay for some meals in coins alone as the largest valued coin is 500y which is roughly $5USD.
-For 14 days, I took out just over $100CAD a day. $1502.45CAD – 123000Yen
Book in Advanced
–Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can only be purchased 1 month in advanced and sells out quickly. The 10th at 10AM Japan time of every month. Much cheaper to purchase from site than through a tour group (service charges are killer). The actual ticket is only 1000y
-JR Pass must be purchased outside out Japan. Maximum 90 days before your trip. JTB Canada is where I purchased mine. For 14 days of travel, my JR Pass was $539CAD
–Sumo Wrestling Tournaments are held 6 times a year. If you have the chance to go see it, tickets will go on sale a month in advanced so be aware they are highly sought after and sell out fast. Another option if you are going during non tournament months is to go visit a Sumo Wrestling Beya (practice) at multiple locations and watch their early morning practice.
-I highly recommend bringing a portable battery pack to keep your phone charge especially if you are using your phone for directions.
-JR Pass holders need to go through the manned gate to get through at each station.
-You need to make reservations on certain trains but if you don’t, there are a few carts where it is first come first serve or you can sit but if the person with the reserved seats shows up, you give them the seats. The reserved seats also swivel to have 2 facing one another if preferred.
-With the JR Pass, if you miss you train, you can easily get the next one without any penalty fees.
-If you plan on reserving seats for trains for peak times, go earlier to reserve them.
-If taking the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto etc – request mountainside view to see Mt Fuji!
-Make sure to purchase ekibens before your ride (bullet train specific meals that differ per region and have have seasonal regional speciality foods – all cold)
-Eating is not permitted on trains besides Shinkansen
-JR Pass does not cover all train lines – only JR lines (minus Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)) and a Suica or a Pasmo card (similar to Octopus card of Hong Kong or Toronto’s Presto) are indeed very useful and refillable
–Pasmo & Suica cards can also be used to pay for other things such as drink machines and whatnot.
-Pasmo can be used in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto (from my experience)
-There are women’s only carts depending on time of day
-Trains end around midnight-1AM. There are taxi queues.
-The Japanese are large in numbers but when walking, they don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency and the pace to my standard is slow
-The Japanese do stay in shape by the amount of stairs they need to climb each day while commuting. The train stations are floors upon floors with limited elevators and some floors have escalators while many are just stairs upon stairs.
-You stand on the left side and pass on the right on the escalators. (Although in Osaka, they did opposite)
-Walking is the same – Walk on the left side
Weather (From what I experience this April trip)
-It is normal for Japanese people to stay covered up even it is hot outside as they care about their skin getting dark (similar to Hong Kong) They are more conservative in terms of covering cleavage but will wear short shorts. I wore a tank top because it was hot but got looks.
-April – light jacket/trench coats (Japanese fashion trend) and umbrellas are key.
-Tokyo is humid. April – average temp – high of 20, low of 6 – chances of showers high but muggy.
-Kanazawa – chilly and windy but otherwise warm during the day, can see breathe in the evening
-Takayama – Hot during the day – really hot as in we got slightly burnt but once the sun goes down, cold and chilly.
-Kyoto – Hot! (average 21-26C during the day) but cools down at night.
-Osaka – Just right! Not too hot, not too cold; bearable to walk around in a t-shirt majority of the day.
-Carry your passport around for many places you go shopping you can get tax free!
-Outlets are the Western 2 prong style instead of the american 3 prong
-There are a lot of people but they tend to move slower than the average if compared to Toronto foot traffic.
-You don’t tip in Japan – the only time you tip are in fancy high end restaurants or when you see fit.
-There are designated areas for people to smoke but the smoke still billows the streets and still litters the streets
-Smoking is not allowed while you are walking
-Smoking is allowed in certain food establishments
-There are rarely any garbage cans on the streets of Japan – 1 reason – you mainly goto establishments to eat or eat at home. 2 – in the past, terrorist attacks with packages left in garbage bins now detour garbage bins
-non combustibles and combustible garbage separation
-some wear masks but others don’t and when they sneeze or cough, they just let it out so be aware of that. Coming for Canada, where its customary to sneer into your elbow or cover your mouth, this might put you off a bit like it did me.
-Sailor moon make up by Beaute Creer – You can pick this up at Its Demo stores.
-In some cities like Takayama at night, they have flashing red lights outside of an establishment to signal that they are still open as other stores or restaurants close early.
Now onto my actual Itinerary. My itinerary got very extensive and ambitious with things and places I wanted to see and goto. Everyone else built their own itineraries but we made sure at certain aspects, we would all meet up in a different city for certain events such as the Takayama festival in Takayama and Temple running in Kyoto. In the span of 2 weeks, my goal was to make it through all these cities (Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, Kawasaki, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya) but of course not all goes to according to plans and we cut out some areas to explore other areas more. This was the itinerary that actually happened. There will always be another time to visit Japan once again to get more accomplished and more land covered.
Some places and things I originally had on my itinerary for the surrounding area but wasn’t able to accomplish were the following:
-Baseball – much different than Western Baseball – Hanshin Tigers VS anybody – the atmosphere is completely something to take in
-Enoshima – fujisawa – cute city – view of Mt Fuji in painting
-Ramen museum (yokohama)
-Cup Noodle Museum (yokohama)
-Kawasaki Warehouse – arcade games
-Tokyu Plaza – escalator & rooftop
-Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan – Tōkyō, Chiyoda, Sotokanda 3-15-5 Gee Store Akiba – 11AM-7PM
-Nagoya Dome – Purchase tickets – ticket booth near gate 1 – 10AM-5th inning
We woke up at 445AM and had breakfast in the hotel (included) before catching a bus up to Machu Picchu. It takes about 30 minutes to get up there. We booked ourselves to do the Machu Picchu mountain hike that opens at 7AM. You need to show the permit as well as your passport to climb. You enter and sign in with your time. This is important because just a month or 2 prior to our climb, a German man had climbed Huayana Mountain (where you need to climb on your bum and hands at certain points) and he decided to do a jump photo and fell to his death. Back to Machu Picchu Mountain hike – so many steps and so steep at points. I would think at this point, after 4 days of climbing, this would be rather easy but I digress.
The beginning was very similar to our normal Inca trail hike but then it got really steep at points on the side of a cliff. The first flat stop showed us only clouds where Machu Picchu was located. As time went by and the higher we trekked, the clouds started to dissipate and we could see more below us getting glimpse of Machu Picchu and the mountains.
The Ranger had told us this hike would take about an hour to do each way – so much heavy breathing coming from me.
Just like previous days, you climb and think that that next pass is the end but then you turn the corner to find more steps spiralling upwards. Even without walking sticks Sofia is still a powerhouse leading the pack. Patrick joined shortly after with Ronan right behind.
After the landing with the giant rock and the small passageway, there are about 3 more spiral sets of steps which are steep before you make it to your final destination. I made it up to have my heads in the clouds but within minutes, the clouds shifted to expose the beauty that lies below surrounding Machu Picchu.
We stayed up there for a while and I would say about 20 minutes after we arrived, our group of 7 (Gayaanan stayed below) were all together at the top. Sofia, Ronan and myself were about to leave as Karen and Chi made it up but Andrew insisted I stay but not really saying much. Then Andrew also insisted Sofia and Ronan stay as well and that’s when it clicked in that something special was going to happen.
Karen was too busy taking photos and Chi was extremely nervous. He wanted to do it right at the corner where you have the best view of Machu Picchu but if was too crowded. He then typed in his phone that he wanted everyone minus myself to leave as it made him even more anxious so down they went. I lingered around taking photos and whatnot trying to entice Karen into walking over to certain areas but none were to her liking.
It finally got to a point where I was taking photos of them like I normally do then taking solo ones of Karen. Chi told her to turn around so I could get a shot of her from behind looking out at Machu Picchu and then that’s when it happened. Chi got down on one knee and Karen turned around then did a double take and Chi swung his arm out with a ring in his hand and stuttered asking her to marry him. A delayed reaction said it all and now Machu Picchu and this Peru trip hold a special meaning to Chi and Karen. Check out their story.
Once that happened, I packed up my camera and descended. I went backwards down the first 2 sets of stairs then it got a little bit better going down as the steps weren’t as steep and short. I bombed it down and made it out the gate just minutes after the rest had gotten down. We wandered a bit of Machu Picchu before heading back down in the bus. When we returned to Aguas Caliente, it started to rain. Grabbed food from Orquidea Grill but rushed them as we needed to catch our train. I got the ceviche 40 sol – it was tasty but a little too vingery for my liking.
After lunch, went back to the hotel to grab our things and to the train station we went. The train station is located within the market place up the stairs. Karen booked the Vistadome train for us which includes a little entertainment and snack as we ride for an hour back to Ollantaytambo.
From Ollantaytambo, we got picked up by the shuttle to take us all back to Cuzco. We arrived at the main square and we’re delivered our luggage to the van. We packed our luggage in the van then Sofia and Ronan got dropped off at their hotel then Karen, Chi and myself got dropped off at the airport before the boys got dropped off. The Cuzco airport is very simple and security check was the easiest with no line and right through we went. Our flight was with Latam to Lima for 2 hours. We booked a car with the same driver as our first day – George but this time we stayed in the nicer part of town Miraflores.
Girasoles Hotel (Ernesto Diez Canseco 696, Miraflores, Peru) with a triple bed room for $80USD. By the time we checked in, it was already 1030PM so we decided to order in for dinner. Chifa aka Chinese closed at 1030PM so we ordered Pardo’s Chicken instead. We got fries and Peruvian roasted whole chicken and ate with our hands on the bed. Chi and Karen’s engagement dinner.
Peru & Panama last half
We took our time to get up then downstairs for breakfast. We walked over to the nearest grocery store – metro to purchase some snacks to bring home. The Miraflores area is higher end city as oppose to the main area of Lima and has beautiful architecture. I absolutely love the doors and colours that exist here.
Next stop was Manolo (Av. Larco 608, Miraflores – Lima – Perú ) for a Dulce de Leche churro 5 sol. Our plan for this morning was to take the free walking tour but when we arrived at the square, we met with the tour guide but he wanted to wait until 11AM for more people. We needed to make our way to the airport for 2PM so we decided to explore on our own
We ended up walking down to the waterfront area (Circuito de Playas) that was above the beach line. With palm trees and the look of the area, it reminded me of California and Hawaii with a tropical feel. This is where all the fitness buffs come out especially runners and bikers. You can look down where the highway is and also the beach where surfers were ripping the waves.
We walked to the El Parque del Amor also known as the Love Park then to the lighthouse before taking an uber 45 minutes to the main square of Plaza Armas and walked around to see the beautiful area which was pedestrian only. We made it to the main square and watched a bit of the changing of guards. This is one of the countries I’ve seen with an abundance of female officers whether it be policia or traffic control.
We rushed back to our hotel as we asked for late check out for 1PM. Grabbed an uber and headed for the airport. Before going past the gate we stopped and had McDonald’s. We got the fried chicken but it wasn’t impressive. It tasted like KFC chicken. 20.50sol. Through security and had about 50 sol left so I bought small bottles of pisco and alfajores cookies.
We threw our stuff down and walked down the street to the right to Rey – 24 hour grocery store. There are so many products that are produced from the states that it wasn’t that fun to explore what different snacks from what we have back home. The currency in Panama is USD as legal tender. The lines to checkout were quite long even at 1030PM but I bought a bunch of items and it only cost me $12USD.
Since we arrived late, we went next door to Niko’s 24 hour restaurant that had sandwich deals and I think further down the line, some hot Panamanian dishes. I got the BLT with fries for $5.25USD. It took 20-25 minutes to get our food making it after 11PM when we ate. They asked me my name for the bill but not for Karen so when we looked at the receipts, they put her name as China and mine said my name. I guess I’m too dark they don’t now what I am unlike Karen who is pale lol.
We went back to the hotel and showered and it was such an amazing shower. Chi and myself bought Panama beer so we drank that and watched American TV game shows. Panama beer isn’t quite my taste of beer.
We ended up switching from our 6 person dorm to a 4 person dorm on the first floor of housing. We journeyed to the Grand Palace but it’s 500baht to enter and we didn’t want to pay that to go in. SO many tourists there and also Amy and myself brought clothes to throw over our shorts and tanks but Adam wouldn’t have been allowed in with his shorts so we moved on and went to Wat Pho. It is 100baht to enter and the ticket gets you a free water. There are tons of buddhas around so you should dress modestly. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples; it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I.
Earlier on this trip, we watched a bit of television in Koh Samui and saw this one commercial with one small yet cute ice cream parlour called Farm to Table in which we checked their Instagram and website and saved their location for later. We walked down to the Farm to Table Cafe and I grabbed a matcha tea latte – 52baht and then i picked up a little map that showed there was indeed another location – the main spot which we saw in the commercial. We walked just around the corner and found Farm to Table – Hideout and it was so adorable and the interior decor was great. Here is where the real homemade gelato is made. I grabbed a grass jelly with real grass jelly, brown sugar and jackfruit – 72baht and it was so good! The grass jelly gelato flavour was so intense and tasted better than the actual grass jelly. We walked through a food market which then brought us to the flower market.
All the blogs I’ve read had said if you want to experience what Bangkok was probably a decade ago, you need to visit Chinatown to get a picture of what the old city looked like. We walked from Farm to Table Hideout all the way to Yaowarat aka Chinatown and it was very visually stimulating. Mix of old and new and so many colours. I had read on a blog about a place that sold satay skewers dipped in coconut milk called Jay Eng but the address I saved wasn’t the right location so we ended up wandering around gun street and then walked onward to fabric street. We somehow found ours going into a huge mall complex of just fabrics ensued – Sampheng Centre. There was a food court located on the top floor and there we ate. You have to buy coupons in order to actually order from the stalls. You give them 60baht and then they give you a packet of tickets and if you have some remaining, you can return it for baht. I went to Blue-Taiwan and got myself a fried rice green curry – 45 baht and then at the corner a thai tea for 15baht – both so flavourful and delicious.
We continued to wander and eventually made our way to Yaowarat Rd and walked that street for a bit to visually capture the life that is chinatown. Adam and Amy were getting tired of walking so we hailed a cab to Siam Paragon – It was rush hour so all the cabs were off meter – we settled with 100baht. Siam Paragon is one of Asia’s largest malls and it sure was.
There are so many food courts but we ate in the enormous one on the main floor. I got a huge matcha strawberry daifuku mochi for 100 baht – Incredibly tasty from Tokyo Sweets. We had only eaten maybe an hour previous but they were hungry and got cheese gyoza from 7-time Gyoza Champion before we grabbed ramen from Nantsuttei. I got the Kara-Miso Ramen – 210baht. Not bad but not the best I’ve had – Daikokuya still wins out for me. So much selection – The main food court looked like Eaton’s Centre revamped food court but quadruple the size and that was only one of them. Each floor had it’s own food selection and I wish I had a bigger stomach.
We walked all the floors of Siam Paragon to notice that there was still another complex – Siam Centre. We tried to get over to Siam Centre but it took us a while to figure out how to get out of the mall. We also went to the basement where there is a Madame Tussade and Ocean Discovery – You can literally dive with sharks in a mall. We went over to Siam Centre and it was huge as well. We wanted to goto Siam Discovery and tried very hard to get there but it was closed for renovations. We decided that was it and we should leave. It was still rush hour so we decided to crossed over the bridge looking at the traffic to end up on another street filled with people selling merchandise to locals.
We grabbed a Tuk tuk from outside Siam Centre to Khao San Rd – bargained 150baht – fun and fast ride.
We woke up at 4AM and went to hail a cab to take us to the airport. We had to walk down the street a bit to a busier street at 430AM to find a cab. We found one on a street nearby but as we were getting in a ladyboy came over and was propositioning Amy then Adam. The ride was fast and smooth. There were actually quite a few people out and about at that time of day either ending their day or starting it.
We flew out of BKK and the airport reminded me of Toronto YYZ which is strange because Bangkok reminds me of Downtown Toronto. Adam and myself were flying with ANA airlines in partnership with United and Amy’s flight was slightly later leaving for Hong Kong where she will be for a bit before heading to Shanghai then finally back to Toronto. After Adam and myself checked in, I had to walk to the end of the airport to get my VAT Refund forms stamped – she barely looked at them and stamped – easy enough. Once we got through the security check and what not, I followed the signs to VAT refund only to find out halfway through the walk there was another sign further down that pointed to another VAT refund on the other wing of the terminal which our gate was on. Anyways, got there and the lady didn’t even say a word to me but i got my refund in Baht. I brought the remaining baht to convert to USD and off we went.
We got onto our flight from BKK to Narita which took about 5-6 hours. Arrived and had 2-3 hours there which were well spent. We went to McDonalds and I got the Teriyaki Burger combo + 15 piece chicken McNuggets – 1240yen then went to the origami store and grabbed a few more snacks which added up to 1600yen for myself. These 2 purchases alone were roughly $30CAD which is more than what I had spent the entire week on meals in Thailand but well worth it. When I travel I come back with souvenirs in the form of consumables – coffee beans for my father and then candies especially if I get a chance to goto convenient/grocery stores. I’m still surprised how much I actually fit in my duffel bag considering I only got rid of 3 items.
Onto the next flight with United to Denver – 10 hours. Flew by quickly and watched a ton of movies. Then following flight from Denver to Chicago just felt brutal. It was only 2-3 hours but felt the most uncomfortable and also my movie screen didn’t even work. Outside was -7 degrees celsius. Arriving in Chicago was a good feeling as we were one step closer to home and also in terminal F we found Garrett’s popcorn! I bought 2 medium bags of Garrett mix and Cashew CaramelCrisp – $15USD. Our flight got delayed by 30 minutes because the flight attendant was on another flight and couldn’t come over until the people left the other aircraft and after doing post flight protocol. We got in the air and just went. We actually landed on time. The plane quite small ( single window seat or 2 chairs together).
Overview of my trip:
23 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that when places or tours are booked and planned ahead of time, things go smoothly but when nothing is confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless it’s a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic furniture is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. I’ve heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. Ho Chi Minh is very populated so just be cautious when in big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though especially if you are wearing tank top and shorts. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
We slept in a bit and left at 11AM. We grabbed a tuktuk and went straight to the airport. The line to check in luggage was long but luckily we found the 3 small kiosks and checked in skipping that line only to headed upstairs for security check line which apparently was 3 separate lines that combine into one which took forever. We got through and then made it our gate with plenty of time to spare. This time we flew Airasia and it was about an hour and 10 minute flight but took longer to get the bus shuttle out and then the line up for taxi cabs – NOTE: goto Gate 8 and grab a taxi there! metered taxi is cheaper than the stalls you see up front right out of the arrivals. They were going to charge us 800baht plus we would have to wait 30-hour for a cab to get to our hostel. We lined up at gate 8 and the cab ride wasn’t too bad considering it was rush hour and the hostel was in the downtown core so 40-45 minutes away.
NOTE: if you take the highway, there are tolls you pay immediately (70baht then 50 baht) then on top of the actual metered fee is 50baht for the driver so our final ride was 420baht. We ended up getting to the hostel by 430PM. We are staying atD Hostel – 103 Bunsiri Rd, San Chao Pho Sua, Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200, Thailand. We got upgraded sort of to a 6 person dorm as they didn’t have a 4 person mixed dorm available. We asked about volleyball and alas there was nothing! I guess the moment when Adam and myself peppered on the beach in Koh Samui counted as our playing volleyball in Thailand. D Hostel has concrete interiors and very clean. It is however hot in there though. No elevator and we are on the top floor – 404. Because it’s a mixed dorm style, the rooms are clean and have 3 sets of bunkbeds and nothing more (besides a little ledge, reading lamp and a little cubby to store your phone at night with an outlet. Outside your door are lockers where you can lock up your things. Each floor either has a men’s or women’s bathroom and the second floor has laundry. There is a common room where breakfast is served and there is a movie room. Unfortunately Andrew was leaving for his 5AM flight and was leaving around 1130PM to catch a cab to the train station and take the train from there to the airport.
Our friend Emily (who joined us for Hanoi/Ha Long Bay earlier) had mentioned this one place we had to goto for phad thai in town called Thip Samai – 313-315 ถนนมหาไชยแขวงสำราญราษฎร์, กรุงเทพมหานคร 10200 – iMaha Chai Road – It is always busy and has a line outside so you know that it is good. They are known for their phad thai omelet – 90baht and they make it so quickly. The kitchen is open concept and on the sidewalk so you can watch them throw egg into a wok and make a thin layer then throw the phad thai into the egg and fold it then plate it. We grabbed ours to go. The orange juice here seems fake but the fresh stuff is made with their oranges which are more like clementines so the colour is like Hi-C. We walked a bit to find somewhere to eat as the restaurant was overflowing. We sat down to eat at King Rama III Memorial – Phra Nakhon, จังหวัดกรุงเทพมหานคร – While we sat down and ate our delicious meal, they were setting up christmas lights everywhere and all of a sudden they turned on and it looked spectacular.
We walked Soi Damnoen Klang Tai past the Democracy Monument and somehow ended up on a street similar nearby Khao San Road that was quieter but we were on the lookout for massage places. We ended up choosing Smooth Massage 1 – 145 Soi Ram Buttri – 250baht – 1 hour thai massage. It was heavenly. I have a high threshold for pain and the man that worked on me just went full out. I know he was complimenting me on looking all sporty before we went in but then I think I surprised him by how flexible I am. He found all the knots and a thai massage felt more so like visiting a chiropractor than an actually massage which I like much better. At one point, he was even stepping on me and he even found the really tight knots at the base of my neck and tried to get them for me. He even cracked my neck for me. At one point I was lucid but could’ve fallen asleep even with the pain that felt so good.
We walked over to the famous Khao San Road – Tons of bars and restaurants and food and clothing vendors – Very touristy. I bought a Adidas tank top for 150baht and a McDonalds cone for 9baht. We walked home from there and Andrew went wandering for a bit before coming back for a quick shower and out he went to catch a cab to the train station then train to the airport.
Flying Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai this morning. We woke up and had our final breakfast at the villa before they transported us back to the airport. It was an experience to be in Koh Samui but I don’t think I’ll come back. It’s #1 income is tourism and it’s so touristy that they just bring you in, you take a tour and then you’re done and on to the next. Sandalwood is beautiful and all but the fact that it is on top of a giant hill and the only way down is to either get shuttled down or taxi, it limited us to exploring on our own timeline. They offer free shuttles to either Lamai or Chaweng areas starting at 11AM and last returning at 5PM or you pay 400baht. I would recommend if anyone were to come here is to stay at maybe a nice luxurious villa that is beachside and close to the Central Festival mall because it’s close to everything including food and the night market experience and of course the beach.
We said our goodbyes to Sew and Mr. Chai (our driver) and got through check in at the kiosk no problem at the airport but it was a long walk outside to get to our gate. It looks like a outdoor mall in the airport before getting to the security portion then it’s just fans going off. Once again, Bangkok Airways offers free beverages and light snacks as you wait to board. 2 hours to fly to Chiang Mai from Koh Samui.
Landed and got a taxi from the airport for 10 minutes (160baht) to our hostel Green Tulip Hostel (Mueang Chiang Mai District). We didn’t know they only accept cash so we all had to go exchange more USD/CAD. We had to walk about 10 minutes to Siam TV – second floor and exchange there. But before we left the hostel, we booked a cooking class so we had to pay for that as well. The cooking class was 800 baht. And we divided up the cost of the hostel and paid 3300 baht for both cooking class and hostel. After putting aside cash for the elephant tour, I was running low of baht and money to convert. I packed roughly $900USD for the entire trip but didn’t expect all these tours to pop up (as we prepaid & booked ahead for a few).
The hostel is owned by a Singaporean man but Stella and her family have been running it since day 1. Stella is intense but in a good way. Very nice, aggressive and informative. She wants to make sure you are having a good time and getting the best deals. Since arriving in Thailand, you can notice the culture shift – Koh Samui – more skin showing, tattoos. Chiang Mai – the hipster look and those earlobe hole earrings. The way they dress feels kind of like home.
We got 2 rooms – 1 with a double bed and 1 with 2 single beds which were adjoining rooms so we asked them to unlock those doors. The group took a nap before our cooking class as I explored the hostel. When you enter the main entrance, it is an open cafe style area with computers, pamphlets and whatnot available. You enter the back area to the rooms – no elevator but only 4 floors with its multi-colour walls and doors. We were in 202 & 203. There is a rooftop but the view isn’t so great which I guess is a good thing for privacy sake. I stayed up there for a while to attempt one last dry out session for my camera. I came back in to test it out and the smallest glimpse of life but nothing more, nothing less. Devastating. Shooting with my phone does nothing in comparison to my DLSR.
We got picked up in a Thai tuktuk which looks safer than a cambodian one. We booked Siam Rice – cooking class (800 baht for evening session) with May/Melody? as our teacher. We were joined by a mother-daughter duo from Ohio – Jenny & Allie (celebrating her 25th this week) and 3 from San Francisco who were here for a wedding and one who just recently moved here – Collin. We got driven to a food market to get familiar with ingredients then driven off to Siam Rice kitchen for us to cook. We got to choose what dishes we were making – soup, noodles, curry dish and either a thai dessert or a starry vegetable. I chose hot and sour soup, pad siew, jungle curry and pumpkin in coconut milk.
We all had our own little stations with the ingredients that we needed to prep. Once completed, we moved over to our own individual stove tops and May would walk each of us through our dishes as we would cooked them in the woks simultaneously squirting coconut milk in for the dishes that required it. All the food we made was so delicious. After completing and devouring our food, we had the tuktuk drop us all off at the Sunday night walking market (Rachadamnoen Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District) that spans a few blocks and goes in a cross shape. It’s more established and more difficult to bargain here. So crowded but tons of things to purchase and eat if you’re looking.
We slept in today as it was such a long gruelling day in the sun. We finished packing and went for breakfast – the poached eggs were on point this morning. After breakfast, we checked out and Mr Dany drove us to the airport at 11AM. The check in was speedy and because we are flying Bangkok Airways, we get complimentary food and drink similar to Porter service. I also didn’t know that both our 1 hour flights, we receive meals/snacks which in the end became really filling. We had a stopover at Bangkok airport and just pretty much walked from one end to the other to get to our next gate. We are actually the minorities on this plane. When we touched down in Koh Samui, the landscape is very LA/West Coast/Hawaii-esque. The #1 source of income here is tourism and then #2 is coconuts. We exchanged money in Koh Samui as the rate was 35 instead of 33 in Bangkok. 100 baht = $3USD.
Different from the rest of the trip as they drive on the left side of the road here. We are staying up in the middle of the island at Sandalwood Villa (211/7 Moo 4, Tumbon Maret, Amphoe Koh Samui) and holy hell the street leading up to the villa is on a 60-70 degree angle and winds. Sandalwood offers free shuttle service from the airport and so they picked us up in a SUV and now I understand why they would need such a beast of a vehicle. The streets here are quite narrow (single lane) and there are some road rules here and there but if you want to over pass someone you can do it then drive right back into your lane but also trying to avoid hitting stray dogs, people and motorbikes and other on coming vehicles or stopped vehicles. We were greeted by R at the villa and the lobby smells like heaven. The view is spectacular because we are higher up and right beside the main lobby is the public infinite pool and lounge area.
Our villa is the Amarin Villa which seems like a trek to get to. We go down the driveway then see where the stairs connect then walk through an area where you need to brush the tree vines to get through then you see the spa and make a left down those stairs then turn right and back up a pair of stairs. Our villa is massive. There is a kitchenette then the main room has a giant queen bed with such a high ceiling. The joining room has a double bed but both have sliding doors and just windows everywhere to enjoy the view. We have a jacuzzi o our balcony along with some lounge chairs and a egg swinging chair. There is a washroom and the main bathroom is massive with a stand up shower and a tub but just so much room. There is also a fridge and they give you free water everyday but also they provide free fruit and other drinks if you purchase. Unfortunately, there was thunderstorm previous to arriving which actually knocked out the wifi so Amy and Adam complained and somehow convinced them to give us a ride to Chewang – Central Festival and back for free which would be $20USD RT in a taxi. Central is their main mall are and they have a night market setup outside and continues down to the river front. We saw a basketball court and volleyball court but its further away from the mall and we only had 3 hours before we would get picked up. You need a Thai license to drive a motorbike out here. To enter the mall parking, you need a valid thai passport or license to get through in your vehicle.
There was a night market going on where they were selling the souvenirs plus cheap food. We eventually went inside the somewhat open concept mall to my favourite store – Uniqlo. I ended up purchasing 2 pairs of pants and Adam and Andrew also bought a bunch of stuff which resulted in qualifying for a VAT refund when we depart. We stayed in this area and also crossed the street to the extended part of the night market then walked back to get picked up back at the mall. And that was our first night.
Turns out November is not a good month for Koh Samui because its monsoon season here. March/April is the perfect time to come here. Since the weather conditions are bad, Ang Thong (the national park which also houses the beach that inspired the movie “The Beach” with Leo DiCaprio) is closed until December.
We stopped by Delta – (Road 13, Corner of Road 38 | Opposite Athena Hotel) for brunch before leaving for Siem Reap. I was able to grab coffee beans that they grow and roast at their plantation. You can also purchase beans that haven’t been roasted for those of you who want to roast your own beans. The dessert case looked really good. They give you a pencil and paper to write down your orders. I ordered the Skinny Minnies drink – lemon, orange, cantaloupe, basil seed and got baked eggs served in a little pan with ground beef, ham and cilantro on top with a fresh baguette and butter on the side (the baguette was so fresh!). It was a good meal and I wish I had more room to eat one of their cakes. Went to a convenient store and grabbed a few snacks and off we went.
Off to Siem Reap we went with Lao Airlines. Visa on arrival – $30USD not $20USD. Once you fill out the customs forms on the plane ride over, you fill out visa form on arrival then head to a line where you hand over the money, forms and passport then go to another line where you will get your passport returned to you. Then you continue to the security desk where you need to write in the visa number you just got and also scan your fingerprints on the pad. The airport is much more modernized and looks higher quality than the smaller ones of Luang Prabang and Siem Reap. So basically, the exchange is $1USD=4000 Riel. USD and/or Riel is used but most prices are in USD. Not much of a need to change USD to Riel but also they don’t use coins here. The lowest bill is 500 riel. We stayed at Secret Pavilion Boutique Hotel (120 Angkor Night Market St, Krong Siem Reap 17252, Cambodia) and they offer free airport transfer and we got Mr Dany who picked us up in his tuktuk with a carriage in the back different from the ones in Laos. Our hotel is located just a street away from the night market and within hidden streets with locals but we need to walk out and around to get anywhere but it’s still a nice facility. A little bumpy ride though as the street isn’t a normal paved street. The hotel is really nice and we were greeted by Surien, one of the ladies at front desk as they got us to sit down and she gave us information about the area and they gave us complimentary drinks as they got our room ready. Nate also works here who went to school in California so his accent is different. They helped us carry our bags in the stairs. We booked a 4 single bed room and ended up on the inside corner in room 53 that overlooks the inner courtyard and pool. They beds are memory foam and the bathroom is the asian style where the shower isn’t separate from the rest. It’s so hot outside that if you hang something, it will be dry in no time. Humid.
Our main goal once we settled in was to do laundry which we sent it off just next door where its 1KG=$1USD and we will receive it back tomorrow evening. We then went off to look for a pharmacy or optics store to purchase contact solution. My contact solution (Clear Care) does not exist over here! Amy at some point lost her glasses in the jungle as the bottom portion of her bag opened and it fell out so she needed to purchase a new pair. The prices were so cheap compared to prices back home that Adam and myself also grabbed ourselves a new pair each. We went to Royal Optic just outside the laneway that enters into the street that leads to our hotel. Amy is the bargainer in this group and got the guy to take off at least $10USD off. Her frames were $36USD + lenses $18USD or something ridiculous like that. I was trying them on for fun not intending to purchase but when I tried it on, I realize the market is geared towards asians and well I can smile and the glasses don’t touch my cheeks like the average ones back home do and I don’t even need to customize with added nose pieces! You have no idea how happy I was for this! I purchased a pair that fade off at the bottom and are thin on the side which make me look more hipster/nerdy. The frames were $21 + $18USD for the lenses and I got them for $38USD! That is a definite steal for sure! In the end, for 3 pairs total, we got it for $147USD and the turnaround service was only 30 minutes (minus Adam’s who’s style isn’t in stock until tomorrow). We decided to hop into Nice Cool (Tepvong St | Taphul, Siem Reap) nearby because there was wifi and cold drinks which after looking at the menu, we saw food that looked delicious so we decided to eat dinner around 530PM. I ordered a giant green tea with milk $.75USD and Beef Lok Lak with rice and a fried egg on top. The sauce on the beef was a little salty but It came with a citrus-pepper dipping that when the sauces mixed tasted amazing and it was only $3USD. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals. One of the employees or owner here is originally from Seattle. I absolutely love the kids here in Asia; they are so cute and big eyed and I got to play with a few today.
After we went back to the shop to pick up our glasses, we continued onward to the night market street. We went into the first little area where there were neon signs than looked like a small pavilion of little shops where we bargained and I purchased coffee beans ($5USD), a little ceramic buddha faces statue ($3) and elephant capris ($2USD). I ended up getting asked if I spoke Khmer by one lady who thought I was Cambodian and another asking if I was Japanese because of my eyes. They are little too aggressive already approaching and asking you “you want to buy something lady? souvenir? I give you good deal” but we will be back. There are also supermarkets here! Amy and Adam bought some Off! bug spray and a few other items. On our way back to the hotel, we bought a nutella crepe from a cart and also a shop that sold shakes for $0.75USD – I got the apple shake and also got to play with this little girl and interact with her two older brothers – they were all so adorable and the oldest served us. You can get 60 minute massages here for $1USD which to me is insane. Back to the hotel and went for a night swim and then settled back into the room and stayed awake until 1130PM as Andrew was flying in to join us for the remainder of this trip.
Woke up bright and early to attend the morning market and purchase some food that we can give to the monks at alms giving. The morning market opens at 5AM and the alms giving goes for an hour from 5-6AM. This morning alms giving of food serves as the main means for which the monks to get food and it also serves as their one meal for the day as they enter into 6 hours of meditation. Women must dress modestly wearing tops that cover cleavage and arms and shorts that cover up to the knee at least.
There is a large tourist attraction for Koreans to come here and there are actual Korean shops around. Either way, there are tons of expat here that have opened up shop.
We walked the morning market which opens at 5AM and grabbed sticky rice with coconut and sugar for 5000 kip and then grabbed a stack of bananas to hand out to the monks at the morning alms giving. The women and some men give offerings with prayers on the side of the road and in the end, the monks bless them before heading back to the temple to sweep and meditate. The first round, Amy and myself didn’t separate the bananas quick enough to give to all of them but we did hand them out before the van of older Korean ladies came out and went straight into the faces of the monks at alms giving with their iPhones. We walked through the market again as the sun came up and walked down a random street where it was lined with more street vendors selling fresh vegetables, fish, meats and tons of unusual things I never see at market such as dead bats, little birdies, live frogs with skewers in their leg so they can’t go anywhere to live chickens in a bin.
We walked over to the National Museum of Luang Prabang to take photos and across from it are stairs to goto Mount Phousi (The best view of Luang Prabang). You can buy flowers or birds in cages to bring up with you as offerings. The first staircase is free to climb but once you reach the top of the stairs, there is a platform where people leaving the flower offerings. The second staircase that leads to the top, you need pay 20000 kip to get to the top. We did not go. We walked around a bit then made our way back to the guesthouse and relaxed on the balcony. We also met a man named Joe who is originally from Chelsea England and worked as an engineer but now is a world nomad working remotely on digital marketing for a Swiss company. Also meet a guy on the balcony named Kevin. He’s from America – Videographer who studied math economics who is planning on going to Hakaiddo next year to work and shoot snowboarders and skiers.
I really wish we had stayed here longer as the weather is amazing, very similar to Hawaii with a dry heat but humidity is low. I don’t think I’d love to live here but I definitely want to come back. It’s also the number one spot to travel to for 2014/15. It’s very different from Vietnam out of what I’ve seen of it. More modern, less crowded and everyone is friendly. More personality and character for sure. Tuktuks are everywhere but they share a narrow road with cars and motorbikes.
It’s actually expensive to purchase land here. Robin showed us a plot of land that was worth 1 million USD. The homes here are regulated in terms of architecture wise as they have to be built in the same style as the colonial French design from centuries ago. Apparently there is only one cement mix truck here and usually they hand mix their cement. French influence everywhere and you can get good baguettes and croissants here.
The drive from the guesthouse to the airport is about 15 minutes and we passed the old airport which got abandoned once the new one was built. The airport looks like a mall plaza on the exterior. We got through no problem and hopped onto our little plane with Lao airlines once again.
The plane ride with Lao Airlines was quick and good quality for what we paid and to Southeast Asia standards. We landed around around noon in Pakse and it was blazing hot outside. The taxis wanted 80000 kip to drive us to our hotel – Salachampa Hotel – No. 10 Rd . We ended up going with a tuktuk driver who we bargained down to 30000 kip.
The weather here also reminds me of Hawaii as it’s a hot heat but no humidity but can also cool down as the sun goes down. We went to grab lunch at Vida Bakery but I ended up reading the google maps offline wrong and we went the opposite direction and found ourselves at Champasak Plaza which is a shopping centre and we found a supermarket (first one since coming to SEA) – Tang Frères – Grabbed a few things and then we trotted back out into the blazing heat to make our way to Vida Bakery (188, Rd 12, Ban Thaluang) for lunch. I had a ham and cheese croissant & the daily fruit smoothie. Vida Bakery is ranked high on the TripAdvisor list and it was really good. Its owned and run by British expats but they hire “Vida boys” hirings locals that offers them employment skills and is somewhat a school environment similar to George Brown with Chef House as their teaching restaurant.
After our late lunch, we went back to the room to cool down from the heat. We later went back out around 5PM and went to Sinouk coffee shop to buy coffee beans but it was closed for renovations so we decided to walk a bit more. We passed the shopping plaza from earlier today and walked south on NO. 46 Rd and noticed in the darkness people playing volleyball. We found volleyball! We asked if we could join and they agreed. Made new friends. So many names but Xay (Sai) and Nan/Aw were the most fluent in speaking english with us.
We played for a while and we’re completely drenched. We told them we wanted to eat but they said we should get coke first since we played for so long and needed to be refreshed. We actually hopped onto their motorbikes and off we went. We literally went a block or two, grabbed a giant table and coke and other drinks were being brought to the table by these little girls. We wanted to pay for their drinks but they wouldn’t really let us. Very Asian way of doing things and they said they wanted to treat us. They originally thought we were Japanese maybe Chinese. We told them we were hungry and we wanted them to bring us to one of their favourite spots so again we hopped on the motorbikes and we ended up on a sidewalk with plastic tables and chairs set up with very limited dim light and we ate meatballs and sweet sausage with a side of veggies. Our new friends are university students studying finance, IT and economics. From the names I remember at the table – Gino, Wit, Billy, Tank, Nan, Sai and Bo. We asked them if they would be playing volleyball again before we left and usually they play every night but that Saturday Tank was moving to a new home so they were holding a house warming party which they did invite us to. We are off to the jungle in Paksong for an overnight stay so we said we would check in with them via Facebook when we returned. I think they had class the following day so they kindly dropped us off at our hotel and went on their way. One photo from the night was posted and within an 30 minute over 60 likes and dozens of comments but Lao slang which can’t be translated. I find that the focus here is more so on being better educated, and more regulated rules, but bit more refined in a old new world. The design here is definitely the leftover of french colonization. We added a few of them to Facebook and notice they goto a french university. We should’ve tried to speak to them in french; maybe it would have been easier to communicate french than english.
This morning, I awoke to a huge thunder crack that seemed inches away at 4-5AM. We got packed and had breakfast and booked a airport transfer with our group of 5 to the airport. $18USD for 5 people isn’t bad. We got there and literally walked up to front desk and then off we went. The airport is pretty decent but everything you purchase in there is USD. This must be the most efficient experience I’ve ever had from checking in, security, flight and customs. We had to go downstairs to where we were transported via shuttle bus to the small plane that pretty much loaded us up and off we went. We flew with Lao Airlines. The plane lifted off smoothly and we were even served a mini snack and Adam and myself had Laobeer – Not my taste in beer. The landing was by far the smoothest of all the flights so far on this trip. We got off and lined up for the arrival visa. The process is pretty smooth. You fill out the forms on the plane then hand off to stage 1 with your passport and 1 passport photo; if you don’t have one then you pay $1USD for a photo on the spot. Next you goto another line where you get your passport back with the sticker visa and pay. Canada pays $42+1USD (service fee). USA pays $35USD. The final line you just stand on the footprint stickers as they look at the papers you filled out. Our main purpose of going to Laos was to do the tree top trekking in Pakse but I have been told by many that Luang Prabang is a place that you cannot miss especially if you are in Laos. We made it happen and only had about 17 hours in Luang Prabang.
We came out and awaited our ride. We exchanged about $20USD and whatever leftover Viet Dong we had. We had been waiting for awhile so we decided to check in with the info desk to see if we could call them and turns out there was another gentleman named Song Hu who’s from San Francisco waiting for Jimmy as well and was also staying at the same guest house. He used to work for Twitter and is a liberal arts guy who can’t really code. He’s been on a whirlwind travel adventure going from China to India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and currently Lao. He is in fact Korean born in America but the first dark Korean. We booked a RT airport transfer with Jimmy for $25USD for the three of us. Our one night stay is at Apple Guest House (Xatikhouman Rd 01 / 05 Xiengmoun Village) where Robin – an expat originally from the mountains near Golden Coast in Australia is now living with her adopted son Jimmy who is originally from Laos. She is retired and now runs this hostel with her family plus she runs a free english class for people in Luang Prabang. She came back to Laos because of her son. He was having trouble finding love in Australia so he came back to Laos originally in Vientiane working for the Australian embassy and was unsuccessful until he came to Luang Prabang where within a 2 weeks he found love with a beautiful women and are currently about 3 weeks awaiting the arrival of their first child is born. The guesthouse itself is very quaint and is tucked away from the main street by a block and is very quiet with timber slippery dark wood floors and a little balcony. It is essential to take off and leave shoes at the front door before entering into the building.
We quickly un-packed and changed into our swim wear. Robin had suggested this one particular tour that she has connections for (started at 1PM and we arrived at 1250) so it would be $25USD/pp and it was a elephant ride (wash was extra $5USD), visit the black moon bears and a free trip to Kuang si Falls including tuktuk. By the way TukTuk is pronounced took-took. We opted out of it as we really want to experience the waterfalls experience. Robin called up a tuktuk for us right away and Johnny picked us up. In the tuktuk already were 3 guys from Brighton, England. Connor, George and Peter who were all chefs back home in a mexican restaurant who recently quit and have been travelling for awhile. They were a fun group. Johnny could definitely drive Tokyo drift the way he drives. The roads outside of the main area are a mix of cement, wooden single lane bridges to mud/dirt with potholes. We got to the falls in good time. From what I’ve seen so far of Laos; most particular Luang Prabang, some places they live in are reasonably decent looking homes but also there are those homes on the side of the road. Definitely different experience than Vietnam where the people selling products aren’t as intense in your face but also the way they work, it’s lax but more civilized if that makes any sense. Anyways back to the falls. It costs 20,000 kip to enter the falls. The falls themselves are gorgeous but there are multiple layers to walk to. I only recommend watershoes for the actual swimming portion if you really want or at least wearing crocs as the steps can be sharp or all of a sudden there isn’t a rock to step on and just drops.
Continue walking and you get a glimpse of the bottom of the falls where we see a few people swimming. We decided to continue to the top first and make our way back down to find the best place get in. The water is extremely cold and a green blue colour and definitely not clear but it is indeed freshwater! I went barefoot in but be careful for sharp rocks and parts where the rocks drop into nothingness. We swam around one waterfall for awhile before moving onto another section. And then it happened… Amy ended up tossing Adam’s GoPro at him in one of the deeper areas thinking there was a floaty device on the handle but unfortunately she threw short and Adam dove under trying to find it but two different currents were swishing around and it’s not clear water and that is the end of life for his GoPro as it sits in the caverns of the Kuangsi waterfalls. There were tons of rocks and trees around the area so it couldn’t haven’t gotten past that area but it massive sunk deep within one of the caverns never to be seen again unless some wonderful soul finds it one day and gets to experience the last 6 days of our adventures. The section we lost it in for future reference of any friends that are strong swimmers/divers go there one day and attempts to find it (bring goggles). It’s the second section of the top level just underneath the tier that people aren’t allowed to swim. Where there is an angled tree in the middle that has two medium sized branches that you look at and want to climb which your can. Just in front of the area where people can sit on the edge in the middle. It is in the middle of that area that out now lives. It’s a GoPro hero 4 with an LCD back on a waterproof selfie stick with a rugged handle with metallic green on the bottom of the handle with a wrist strap attached. Adam gave up looking as the water was just too cold to stay in longer and down we went to the next tier where there is a rock out tree ledge people can jump off of. I wonder how many devices get lost in this waterfall.
Back onto the tuktuk to head back. We didn’t get to see the sunset on the Mekong Delta but on the back of a tuktuk. We got back and Song Hu found us. We walked over to buffet street which is what it is named after. About 10 stalls with a huge selection of dishes to choose from. You pay 15000 kip for an all you fit into one bowl meal with grilled meats as a separate fee. We thoroughly enjoyed all of it but wished there was a breeze.
After dinner, we walked dessert street and the night market street. Be warned tall people, your neck will hurt as it’s tents that you will need to bend under. After awhile they are ask selling the same merchandise. I never thoroughly liked night markets because it’s all the same things. After the market, we decided to head towards The Hive (Kingkitsarath Rd) (as of Jan 2016 – has closed down) which Robin suggested. The hive is owned by an Aussie expat and they run a fashion show that showcases fashion from the last 100 years or so. It was also suppose to have a hip-hop dance performance but we either missed it or it wasn’t happening that night.