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.
Woke up early yet again but this morning woke up to rain which sucks. We packed up and went down to the second floor for breakfast buffet before getting picked up by Sun Legend Tour to take us on our journey to Ha Long Bay. We booked the 2 day and 1 night tour for $143.45USD/pp.
4 hour car ride. First van shuttle to have free WIFI. One other couple – Wendy & Vincent from Malaysia joined the sticky rice crew. Luckily the weather turned out to be spectacular outside of Hanoi. Our tour guide is Kien who also runs a Hanoi biking tour with Sun Legend and is the poster boy for it. Driving here is crazy but makes sense. Some highways are two lanes with 60km/hr but people float on the lanes and just honk when they want to pass to let them know. Gasoline is expensive over here for them at 84 cents per litre.
We arrived in Tuan Chau a little early so we had a stop at a pearl store. Then we began our adventures to the cruise ship. They had civet coffee (weasel poo coffee) but it was almost $100 USD. We gathered our belongings and took to the dingy which brought us aboard our ship. I being the odd one out got my own room with a double memory foam bed. We got settled in and off we sailed into the pinnacle of Ha Long Bay. These giant islands are made of limestone and look like they just separated and kind of remind me of the 12 Apostles or Loch Ard Gorge in Australia.
We had lunch then went on our way to kayak Luon cave. Once again odd number, I got my own two person kayak and I killed the kayaking on my own. Cool experience gliding through a tunnel into a safe haven surrounded by the limestone with monkeys everywhere; very serene. The next best thing was that on this pier, there were guys playing their version of volleyball on the pier! Asian volleyball at it’s finest which Amy and myself joined for a point or two before we had to go back to the ship.
Next event was Ti Top Island with a lookout point which was named after the Russian man who gave Vietnam their first airplane which was a great thing but no one in Vietnam knew how to fly it. It was about 500 steps to reach the top of this island and it was steep enough to make all of us breathe hard. We were all glistening by the time we reached the top but the view was definitely worth it. We rushed back down and practically jumped into the water at the beach and of course there was a volleyball net so we were obligated to play but that ball was heavy and the court not on even grounds. 4×4 with sort of shooting method of play but obviously Adam owned it. One of the guys was trying to block him but he kept OT-ing him so he switched spots with me. We got back to the boat just in time for sunset and had happy hour time then dinner and squid fishing and karaoke.
Some information about Hanoi from Kien:
–7 million in Hanoi.
-Oldest bridge was built in 1901 but had to rebuild part of it due to the war.
-People don’t move out of Hanoi but tons of people come for university and never leave. They expanded to the other side of the red river to accommodate more people. The north is definitely had more wealth than the south from what I’ve seen. The people seem friendly here and not as judgy just a little.
-The old buildings with green and yellow colouring are old French buildings. I really love the architecture here even when it’s dingy looking but also quite clean and I absolutely love the marble flooring in some of the homes I’ve seen.
-The king moved the capital to Hanoi with 36 items and wanted to make it easier for everyone to purchase products such as copper to one street called copper street.
-Lifestyle – very flexible in terms of life, way of working, way of driving, way of eating etc. I the people here especially in Hanoi are hard working folk who may take their time like I’m sure I would in this kind of climate but nonetheless, working hard at their craft especially agriculturally. People’s homes are a combination home and shop front which makes it very homie everywhere.
-For beer – International Bia Hoi corner. The tour guide likes to go there as local girls don’t drink beer at any other beer halls except there because it’s a mix of locals and foreigners there.
-People aren’t suppose to occupy the pavement as that breaks the law and only use it for walking so a coffee shop owner would need to goto the police officer and ask for space on the pavement and the police are flexible and bribe them with free coffee and money. They can bargain.
-54 ethnicities but 80% Vietnamese.
Some knowledge of coffee for Hanoi & Vietnam:
-Coffee here is very strong; stronger than the south.
-For different seasons in Hanoi. So they automatically offer you coffee with ice there but have options in Hanoi for hot coffee and coffee with ice. People drink coffee for new ideas. Coffee for the inspiration.
-Coffee with yogurt
-Coffee with egg
-Trung Nguyen is the most popular brands.
Awoke at 530AM to watch the sunrise which at 530 looked like nothing and it was cloudy. I returned to my room but then outside my window, I saw a gleam of light around 6-630AM which was primetime for beautiful morning light. Everyone skipped yoga and taichi. We had breakfast then went to Sung Sot cave which is one of the 7 wonders of nature as this island has limestone tunnels inside into another world practically. They used this cave during the American war to hide from invading soldiers and to hide weapons and it’s interior is massive. It somewhat looks like that secret new world they found in Vietnam that has it’s own ecosystem. Back to the boat where we packed and made spring rolls and had lunch before heading back to Hanoi.
We checked back into our original hotel but in a 5 person suite which is actually pretty nice minus the fact there is one bathroom with low water pressure. Since Adam, Amy and myself are going to be on the move from Luang Prabang straight to Pakse straight into a jungle then off to Siem Reap, we needed to wash our clothes so we used body gel and hand washed them in the sink. Luckily there was 18 hangers in the closet in the hotel room. There is a ledge where the ceiling lowers slightly which came in handy to hang the hangers to air dry all our clothing which reminds us of an open market selling clothing.
For dinner, we walked over to a Quan An Ngon – 18 Phan Dinh Phung – which was a slightly higher end version of street meats but better service. We ordered a bunch of items to share including: ben cha, pho, ben thang, seafood /springroll, mango salad, green onions with garlic, fresh spring rolls, some type of fish thing. Everything tasted great, service was great and the place was booming and clean that we got seated upstairs. From there, we walked back over toward the pond Ho Hoan Kiem and made our way to Highland Coffee to check out the view and buy coffee. Unfortunately the smallest bag of beans they had was a size of a baby so I opted to go outside just around the corner to Trung Nguyen (coffee chain) and purchased a bag of espresso beans for 140.000VND. We walked around looking for dessert so we ended up walking back into the direction of the dessert place we went to 2 nights previously and had more dessert there. 95 Hang Bac. We arrived home shortly after and said our final goodbyes to Emily and James.
I keep waking up early – 530AM. Grabbed breakfast at the hotel buffet and then off we went to the airport one last time to head over to Hanoi via Vietnam Airlines. They are very flexible in timing here as my original flight to Hanoi was scheduled for 930AM but then they rescheduled us to a later flight which actually got pushed back in timing. The flight itself was pretty easy and we also got a full meal there. We touched down to see rain. We hopped in a random taxi although we wanted to take a Mai Linh or Vinasun but I believe Hanoi taxis are more regulated and won’t cheat you out of a ride. It was raining hard and takes about 45 minutes to get into the city from the airport which is roughly 300.000-500.000VND. The hotel we stayed at was Royal Palace Hotel 2 (95 Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội). We were greeted by a young boy who was the bellhop who brought us refreshments and then the lady at the front desk – Hang, who was very professional and informative. She told us that the street we are staying on is also known in english as cotton street because in the old quarters back in the day, this street was where people sold cotton.
First looks at Hanoi, it looks very old world in terms of architecture with old structures buildings. A mix of modern with a little more design flair. Reminds me a little bit of Hong Kong with buildings built narrow and high. Very jungle meets city incorporated. HCM did have giant trees embedded into sides of the streets but here, the vines and trees just take over certain parts. Plus I absolutely love walking down each street with so much character and all these narrow alleyway / corridors that create dynamic vignettes.
Adam and Amy are in a different room as I was rooming with Lixin and Yu Ling. The hotel is very quaint and french inspired which is so lovely. We decided to walk a bit of the town as we awaited their (Lixin & Yu Ling) arrival from the airport. Lixin and Yu Ling were Amy’s roommates back in London in uni . Amy’s friend Emily and her fiancee James also joined us for this little portion of our trip (Hanoi – Ha Long Bay) who are originally from Carolina but Amy met Emily in the Sahara Desert and now Emily and James live in Singapore.
We walked to the centre of town by the big river/pond – Hồ Hoàn Kiếm then returned to the hotel to meet with them. We walked over to Hanoi Street Food tour (74 & 76 Hang Bac Street at Kim Tour’s Building) where we met Emily and James. It costs $23USD but lasts 4 hours or so and includes multiple stops and different local cuisines. Our tour guide Phuong aka Phoenix is a 22 year old university student who was very friendly, social, knowledgable and spoke english pretty well. She would yell Stickyrice and that was her signal for us when we crossed the street so we would stick together and not get hit especially in the very crowded areas.
Our first stop we had ben cha (boon cha) – rice vermicelli + pork. Thanh Hop – 12 Dinh Liet.
Second spot we had banh cuon nong – hot rice crepes that we made ourselves! The lady put down the rice flour and we used a long flat bamboo stick and you push against it then turn the stick to the left against the surface a few times then pull up. The other lady filled them up with shrimp or something which is similar to churn fun. Banh Cuon Nong My Van Than-Mien Luon – 14B Bao Khanh.
Third Spot – we had tea chanh – lime tea, tra quat – kumquat tea, bo bia – coconut rolls – Cafe Giai Khat Tra Chanh – 26 Nha Tho. We also ate sunflower seeds here that are non salted and you pretty much throw the shells on the ground.
Fourth spot we had nem cua be – sea crab spring rolls, banh goi – pillow cake, banh tom – shrimp cake, banh ran man – savoury donut, & banh ran ngot – sweet donuts. – Banh Goi – 52 Ly Quoc Su.
Fifth spot we had Nom thit bo kho – papaya salad. Long Vi Dung – Nom Thit Bo Kho – Gia Truyen — Banh Bot Loc – 23 Ho Hoan Kiem
Sixth spot we had Caramen thap cam – caramel mixture, kem coi – sticky rice + ice cream, caramel nep cam – caramel + black sticky rice, caramel sua chua long noon – caramel + longan + yoghurt, sua chua nep cam – black sticky rice + yoghurt, chedau xanh – green been soup, sua chua mit – jackfruit + yoghurt. Banh Cuon Nong – 95 Hang Bac
Seventh spot we had banh mi – bread rolls that were heated and pressed. But we also had a specialty of Hanoi – ca phe bung – egg coffee & tico trung – egg coco. Hanoi Street Food Restaurant – S07 Cho Gao
And our final spot was a corner where we had the best beer from Hanoi for 5000vnd and we had great entertainment as the streets are pedestrian only where 12 year boy and girl were dj-ing hardcore with speakers and a iPod where tons of little kids just danced on the street. Bia Hoi Pho Co – 1 Ma May, Hang Buom
I think my favourite flavour that we ate was when we sat down at Cafe Glai Khat Tra Chanh on the corner across from the cathedral to have kumquat or lime green tea with sugar cane. They had this thin crepe/rice paper-like wrap with sesame and filled with sugarcane sugar and coconut.
Facts about Hanoi:
-Hanoi – Legend has it that a dragon formed the islands.
-There aren’t many supermarkets as majority of people go out to eat at restaurants that make specific dishes if not just one dish in particular that they specialize in. If its their livelihood I can understand. They eat that particular dish then hop on over to the next spot for something else. Also, smaller portions – not american sized portions here.
I think the reason everyone likes to eat outside on the street is because it is very similar to the way of life for the French; it’s all about the open concept people watching style but instead of wicker furniture, it’s small plastic furniture but same idea of tables facing outwards into the streets. Very different I’m so glad we chose to do this walking food tour on a weekend because all the locals are out late including children. Phuong brought us to so many places that oozed the energy of Hanoi with food as it’s fire.
8AM – Meet at Office (Green Discovery – Sales Office – No. 10 Rd & No. 46 Rd) – Store our luggage in the Office. Drive an hour to Tree Top Explorer at Jungle Hotel Paksong (Paksong); hike 1-2KM to site
11/14 – Pakse
-Tree Top Explorer
-4-5PM – Drop off at office/hotel
-HOTEL: Salachampa Hotel – Lakmeung Village, City Center
-Dinner option – Champady – restaurant off the main st – good pad thai; passion fruit and strawberry shake are amazing.
-Sunday street market – Nightmarket – 4-5PM-11PM – the market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes all the way along Ratchadamnoen Road until Wat Phra Singh in the center of the old city (about 1.5 km). This is the place for souvenirs, t-shirts, artwork, hand made items and just about everything in between.
-Siam Rice Cooking class – 800 baht – evening session
–Blue Elephant – Thailand Tours – One Day Chiang Mai Elephant bathing & riding bareback + Whitewater rafting + Longneck Tribe. 830AM pickup – 630PM drop-off – Mae Rim, Longneck Karen & Big ear Kayor Hill tribe village, Muang Kud Valley and raft along the Mae Tang River, Makha Elephant Village – 22000THB – 4c pp – BRING CASH TO PAY ON SPOT! (http://www.blueelephantthailandtours.com/package/tour-detail.php?id=107)
-Akha Ama – Ahka Hilltribe Coffee – Hussadhisewee Road Soi 3 in Santhitham or Rachadammoen Road near Wat Phra Singh
– Graph Café – one of city’s best coffee – nitro cold brew coffee on tap -9AM-1PM – Rathvithi Soi 1
-Mao Coffee – mao gafaae – drunk coffee -8AM-5PM – Kankhlong Chonprathan Road heading south towards Hang Dong
– Chiang Mai has a beauty contest as well that is preceded by the Loy Krathong parade that begins at Tha Pae Gate the first evening of the festival. The temples also feature their own private celebrations where the devotees release khom loy and float their krathong and they welcome visitors to share in this deeply intimate event.
-Tha Phae Rd / Praisanee Rd / Chaoroen Prathet Rd and Thanon Charon Mueang – epicenter for paper lantern festival
FLY – CHIANG MAI -> BANGKOK – $73CDNpp – Air Asia – 125PM-245PM