In Transit days – Toronto – Kyiv, Ukraine – Istanbul, Turkey.
We started with a 9-hour flight with Ukraine Airlines from Toronto to Kyiv, Ukraine as our 3-hour stopover before making it to Istanbul, Turkey. We didn’t realize there was no entertainment unit or plugs available so that was a bummer. We were talking to each other about what seat preference we like and I said aisle and she said window – we got neither. The plane was an older model but it was 2 seats, 4 seats, 2 seats layout.
It was a long flight (9-10 hours) but at least we had a 3-hour layover in Kyiv, Ukraine. We did however find the mobile plug charging station and setup camp with my Mogics power bar and from there, we made friends sharing outlets. Lukas (from Mississauga) & Glenn (from Bradford) became our instant friends. And it turned out they were seated right behind us for our flight to Istanbul. Our flight to Istanbul got delayed about 30 minutes. Super foggy in Kyiv.
We arrived at 1130PM and our plan was to purchase a sim card at the airport because we wouldn’t have enough time to purchase one before we had to get back to the airport the following morning. The only place open at that time was Vodafone and we ended up purchasing 1 sim card that had 100 minutes, 100 SMS and 7GB data for 280TL ($70.50CAD) which was more expensive than we thought it would be. This was the cheapest option and all the other phone places were closed. We purchased one and would hotspot it. The only thing is we purchased it so late and we wanted to go to our hostel but activation took over an hour and half. We walked around and walked to the metro to see if we could purchase and Istanbulkart but also learned the metro closes at midnight. We finally caved and got into a cab where they guy wanted to charge us 40TL ($10CAD) but we talked him down to 30TL to later realize the ride should have cost around 19-25TL.
We stayed at Han Hostel North for the night. A very simple yet secure hostel about a 10 minute drive from the airport. We had a flight the following day around 115PM so we didn’t bother going further than we needed to for the one night.
We went to bed around 130AM and I thought I would sleep through the night but I was wide awake by 4AM and tried to sleep a bit longer. Woke up, showered, had breakfast at the hotel – continental breakfast – lots of cheeses, meats and dried fruit. We walked around a bit and stopped by Reisoğlu Börek and picked up something that resembled cheese and lasagna like sheets of pasta for 7TL. The person serving us didn’t speak English so they kept saying yedi which means 8. We should really know the numbers for pricing.
We walked back to the hostel to eat it and then walked around the hostel during the day to see what it offers. There is laundry, a fitness area and balconies on all floors. We took some photos on the 4th floor then packed up and called for a cab using the Bitaksi App. We made it to the airport where we had to line up to even get through the entrance where we had to go through security and then walk through again to domestic where we went through security 1-2 more times before making it to our gate. The line to even get into the airport entrance was out the door.
We flew with Turkish Airlines and the flight just felt so much better than it was with Ukraine Airlines. The flight lasted about 1.5 hours and we also got a meal on it. We arrived at Kayseri Airport where we had already arranged for a picked up by our airport transfer van that took us another hour to get to Göreme. We stayed at Heybe Hotel. It is not a cave hotel but it is still a wonderful hotel on the main street and because it was down season, we were able to reserve a suite room for only $70CAD/night. We really enjoyed having that extra space which technically could accommodate a third person. We spent majority of our time in the living room area as our hangout spot.
When we arrived, we met with Omer at the front desk and booked our Green Tour for 35 euro and Red Tour for 30 euro as well as booked our return airport transfer. . Our airport shuttles were booked paying in euros. 6 euros each way per person.
We put down our things and walked around. We didn’t get far when a gentleman named Ikrim stopped us on the street and asked us to come see his new store – Kervan Carpet which we agreed to see. He had just moved a few stores down and wanted to show us his work. You will notice that people will be inviting you into see their stores and they will offer free tea and whatnot. You are not obligated to purchase anything.
We continued walking around and ended up at Galerie Ikman – a Carpet shop that is a very famous spot for people to take their instagram photos with all the rugs. PLEASE PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL. This is a working establishment and you must pay to take photos inside (or purchase something). If you are alone and ask one of the staff to take your photos, please make sure you tip them – it is not their jobs to take your photos.
*Quick photo tip – If you come when the sun goes down, the no-roof carpet room will be all green coloured due to their lights and not optimal.
We ended up meeting Sergio who is 5th generation and his father Süleyman who introduced us to the rich history of carpets and the many techniques. Each carpet has a story behind it. The people who are looming or weaving the carpets put their emotions/feelings and all that energy into each carpet, which can take a short period of time to 5-6 months to make one carpet. In the end, Amanda ended up purchasing a lovely carpet. Since we went in down season, they lower their prices so they are still able to sell carpets to make ends meet and cover the electricity bill and employee wages.
Sergio had told us that the cafe beside called Pasha’s Cafe has a live band Friday-Sunday and we should check it out so we had dinner there. We got the Pasha’s Kebap – fries with beef, peppers and sour cream with some salad on the side (60TL) and some local wine (25TL). And I have to say; the staff there and the live band were all beautiful to look at. Turkish people just have amazing facial structures and very symmetrical. The food was good. The music was good with performers using electric drums, keyboard, violin and another instrument that looks like a zither.
It was this night that we realized that everywhere we went in Cappadocia and especially in this restaurant, all our clothing smelled like smoke and fumes.
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 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.
We woke up early enough to go for breakfast across the street at Xian Mai where I had an omelette and a shake. Back to the hotel to grab our things and literally walk across the street to Green Discovery Lao where 2 people were already waiting. I paid the rest of the deposit and then we stored our stuff upstairs in one of the rooms with a few others bags. We hopped into the van and went on our way picking up a few more. Our jungle crew consists of Pet our guide, Stephanie (Doctor’s assistant/resident) and Noami (physicist) who are currently unemployed and are from Bern, Switzerland . Rudy and Deanna from Amsterdam who work in healthcare, Kiwi and Thip (sells washer and dryers) from Bangkok, Thailand, and a Russian couple who was told they were going to be living in a luxury jungle hotel overnight but not actually expecting what we did with all that hiking in mud and all as they brought their full luggage onto the bus.
First off, if you plan on doing this tour, you need to be in moderately good shape and expect to get dirty and wet (its a jungle and the weather changes quickly). I thought November was going to be dry and it has for the most part been ok but jungle is different. Whatever bag you bring with you, you will be carrying majority of the trek so don’t carry to much or too big (camera, phone, swim suit, sleeping clothes – long sleeve/pants if you worry about bugs, clothes for the second day, toilet paper, deet etc). You need to be moderately fit although we had a older Russian couple who weren’t prepped at all but eventually make it through. Bring rain covers for your bags and if you have a waterproof casing for your cameras/phones please use. Rain jackets are useful at points too. A dry bag or tons of ziplock bags are so important. Make sure your phones are fully charged before going as there is only 1 set of plugs in the main area to charge if needed.Bring toilet paper and DEET!
We did the 2 days 1 night tour. In total, we had 9 in our group and Pet was our amazing guide. Here is the run down. Drive about 1-2 hours from Pakse to Paksong. Once you reach the clay dirt road heading into Champassak province – Ban Nongluang – the roads become very bumpy and its about 30-45 minutes riding through these roads avoiding potholes as the road isn’t cultivated and more rural. There are so many adorable and kind kids and people along the way that will smile and wave at you. We finally came to a stop at this one particular spot which is somewhat a little storefront and home base out there for the workers – there we were joined by 3-4 other guides (they don’t all speak too much english though but know main gestures) and 3-4 girls who are our cooks for the adventure who do the trek in flip flops and casual clothes such as jeans and sweaters – what troopers. It is here where you get accessorized with your harness and your brake which is a tree branch (it will be your saviour this whole trip – to have better control on braking, slightly twist the stick on the wire to slow down). There are also a few toilets in the back you can use but be warned they don’t usually have toilet paper and are squatting toilets. They will give you 2 water bottles that will be your water for the 2 days but you will have to carry them. They do have a water filling system at basecamp. You can buy a few snacks here to bring with you. Then begin your hike into the park on said clay dirt roads with rocks. Watch out for leeches! You end up hiking for about an hour-hour & a half then stop for lunch. Lunch is served family style on huge banana leaves (they literally cut it from the trees) and you asian squat to eat with your hands food that was freshly made. Very tasty! The trail becomes very different when dry vs being wet for sure. We continued hiking and eventually ended up to our first zip line where they give you safety instructions and then you just go. In total, you zipline 21 lines. First day you zipline 8 and second 13. There is also bit of belaying and crossing tightrope / sky bridges. It was raining the first day and harder to control the brake on the wire. I’ve been zip lining before so the guides actually just let me go ahead of them with a little instruction on if i need to brake a lot or not. The ziplines are very basic so if they tell you to brake hard; brake hard as they don’t have a wire space for recoil and you may kick a tree (the guides will try to stop/catch you). When you make it to basecamp, there is the main area where you will spend most of your time and then a path to the waterfall. The path is slippery and the rocks at the waterfall is very rough terrain if you want to actually explore it and is VERY SLIPPERY! but a beauty to be seen. There are 2 showers (just cold water) and 1 outhouse (please don’t flush toilet paper down and put it into the garbage bin).
The main area has a firepit where they regularly have fresh boiling water and Bolaven plateau coffee that they pick up locally from a old lady’s stall along the way and they also sell lao beer. Here is where they serve you dinner and a little time to relax and socialize. When you want to goto bed, you just need to let them know and then you need to suit up in your harness again and then they show you to your treehouse for the night. Warning: you are in the middle of nature.. there are rats that climb the cables into the room searching for food so please leave at at main basecamp area for them to hang or make sure its securely closed and hung. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BAGS ON THE FLOOR. There are nails for you to hang your bags to keep them clean and safe. The beds are singles with mosquito netting on them with sleeping bags in them. There are tons of bugs at night attracted to the light. There is a toilet and sink in your treehouse and depending on your tree, you may or may not have a clear view. The generators that controls the power and lights will go out about 10 minutes after the last group gets into their treehouse so get settled quickly. I had a good sleep. The mornings are a little cooler so there are no bugs when you wake up to catch the sunrise. You can zipline out of your tree whenever you feel like coming down in the morning when there is light. There is toilet paper in your treehouse but the main outhouse only runs on maybe 2 rolls the whole trip.
The second day, you wake up and check out of your treehouse and return to the main area for breakfast. You can leave your bags there for the morning half of zip lining as you return for lunch before hiking back out. Our second day was dry for the first half and braking was so much easier and the view and hike is just much nicer. We lucked out when we were leaving as it started pouring hard. It was majority all down hill the first day, its all uphill on the last day. No more zip lining as you leave but there is climbing on the side of a cliff which is a little tough but full. You stand on makeshift street reinforcement bar steps and climb. You end up on the top of a waterfall and the view is spectacular! The girl cooks were so quick and nimble to climb and catch up to us even in flip flops! The guides were incredibly helpful especially to the russian couple. You end up hiking under zip lines you zipped the previous day so the grounds becomes somewhat familiar again. Then its the long hike back out of the park (you end up coming out the side where the sign from the previous day directed to a waterfall) and walk back to the storefront basecamp where you can buy some snacks, returns he harness and say your last goodbyes to the guides and drive back to Pakse. It was a hard, wet and slightly tiring experience but it was fun and we zip lined through a frigging jungle with a few wounds. I got rope burn on my arm, little flesh ripped from the wire trying to adjust my position and 2 leech bites (one by my crotch – how does that happen) and one by my ankle. I did all of this hiking in a tank top and volleyball shorts with non-waterproof Nike Flyknit Lunars at one point during the hike back up taking Amy’s backpack. We did however use the hose outside at Salachampa and sort of washed/rinsed our shoes. This is when baby powder comes in handy to get rid of odours! I purchased a bag of Bolaven Plateau coffee grinds from the basecamp of where we got our harness gear and where the cooking staff and guides stay.
We got back and all I wanted to do was shower because I wore the same clothing both days and at one point of the first day we all hit a tree branch that covered us all in mud and well I pretty much stunk. Back to Salachampa we went and then off to Daolin for dinner – they have really good fruit shakes here! and have a strong wifi connection. I got the Lao soup and the iced green tea latte which was delicious – 35000 kip. Then back home to sleep after a long day. Unfortunately we did not make it to the housewarming party with our new friends.
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.
We flew with Peach Aviation and the flight took 3-4 hours and a bit to arrive in Osaka. It cost less than $1300CAD for 3 people. Osaka recently had a typhoon so flights had been delayed days before but luckily it had passed over. The weather was nice with an average of 24 degrees unlike Hong Kong’s 28 degrees + humidity. Coming through customs we had to get our index fingers scanned and a photo taken. Since we arrived so early and were so close to Rinku Outlets, we decided to kill a few hours and head from Kansai Airport to Rinku Outlets. We arrived to Rinku town and put our luggage into the lockers (500¥). Once we walked out of the station towards Rinku, we saw a few broken umbrellas and bicycles/Vespa’s knocked down due to the recent typhoon which we missed by a day or two. We arrived really early (8AM) and nothing was open so we took over their benches waiting for Mcdonalds to open. Once again we had Mcdonalds but this time in Japan. They had a breakfast burger but fries instead of hashbrowns. They have a nifty hand wash station and they separate their garbage and liquids. We were all so hungry and tired since the flight was in the middle of the night not making for a comfortable sleep. The subway lines are extensive here but I think we’ll get the hang of it. It cost us 350¥ to get from Kansai to Rinku and cost us 970¥ to get from Tennoji to Fukushima station where our hostel J-Hoppers is located.
Rinku outlet didn’t really have great deals I must say especially against the Canadian conversion rate. It was the perfect temperature however the fluctuating weather patterns of raining, cold to hot weather were caused by the typhoon that just hit. High of 27 low of 15 for the days we were here. They don’t rely on AC very much and if there is, it’s very low. The seats on the train can flip, as in the back piece can get moved so u can have them facing one another so its a bunch of 4 or switch it so its 2 and 2. For some stops, you have a button to press to open the door. At Tennoji, the voice over the PA system told us to get off to transfer however we shouldn’t have gotten off. We needed to stick to a line that went the Osaka loop so we had to wait for the next bus which took 10-15 minutes. Once we finally arrived at Fukushima station, we just followed the instructions to get to J-Hoppers by following a coloured brick road which also connects in Shotan mall. This is a pedestrians only street (including bicycles).
Arriving at J-hoppers, we were greeted by Mr Yano, Kyohei and Keiko. Our room was on the 5th floor (top floor with rooftop access up one level) but no elevator and narrow stairs but we got here in one peace. We booked a triple bed room so a bunk bed and a single bed. The rooftop is a nice place to relax but I wish it was higher. This culture and environment is much more to my liking. It’s a busy city but calm at the same time especially compared to Hong Kong. The street our hostel was on had loads of little shops for food but we don’t know how to read Japanese so I guess we missed out on some good eats. We went to Yoshinoya for dinner but first we had to get in. To get in you press the little red square on the door and they will slide open – a good note to know if you don’t see any handles on the doors. The currency here has tons of coins and its weird to pay for our meal in only coins. After dinner, we walked through Fukushima street which was so pretty and tons of locals biking home from work. We went to the local grocery store to grab some drinks and cereal for breakfast. Spent some time on the rooftop before sleeping.
It is such a bad day. It’s cold. We got woken up at 3AM by our group partying in the hallway. Klarice got a fever and my dry travellers cough is wet. It was a messy morning for all including our group from partying. Probably the worst sleep I’ve had. This is where those sleeping bags come in handy. I really missed my bed. Crystle and myself went into town to find some medicine for Klarice. It’s interesting that medicine can only be purchased at the doctors office but also that we can just ask for it, pay and it’s ours. This place however cold (6-11 degrees) is beautiful as the fog is covering parts of the mountain and at the very top you can see the snow covered mountains. Conversion rate is crazy 50CAD=37.50CHF. What I find really cool is the fact that many of these buildings are so old that they use the old keys including our room. I recommend bringing a jacket of some sort for this leg of the trip and also bringing Ricola/Fisherman’s Friend or halls. A very somber day.
For dinner, we started with cheese fondue, chicken with veggies with rice then finished off with apricot crumble with custard. The fondue was very strong with white wine. We were “dishies” that night and for the following morning meaning we help bring plates that were finished into the kitchen and clean the tables. A bunch of the girls decided they didn’t want to drink or party that night so we had a girls night. We fit about 16 in a room. We stayed there for about 3 hours or so then headed back to our rooms around 10-1030PM for an early night. It was a really good opportunity to hang out with just the girls with maybe a tad bit of alcohol so it wasn’t just a blurry night that everyone thinks Contiki is all about. We have maybe 12-15 guys on a tour of 51 so it felt great to connect and talk to people of all nationalities and laugh.
The mountains in the morning looked absolutely beautiful. We have had long days on the road but the road from Lauterbrunnen to Paris is the longest drive. I can tell you that the public washrooms are free here (unlike the previous countries where you have to pay to use). It would have been nice to explore more of this beautiful country but there is only so much time on this tour and also weather permitting.
The bus ride was gruesome as the final length of our travel to the last country (9 hours). The only thing you can do on the bus really is sleep even if your not tired.
We finally arrived and Christian gave us a scenic view of Paris driving down the canal where the Louvre and Musee de Orly are. Nearby, we stopped by a restaurant and had a glass of champagne and escargot. Christian then drove the scenic route on the famous Champs-Élysées and going through the huge roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. We stayed at Etap Hotel Paris Porte de Montmatre by the metro Avenue de Saint Ouen. It is 2 to a room and I am rooming with Anne-Marie. She works for Samsung and is from London. She is one of the nicest people you will meet. Our hotel room isn’t bad either but thank the lord for free wifi. Our shower head changes colours as you shower and toilets look like airplane toilets.
We went to dinner at Le Sultan for turkish food right down the street. Immediately after dinner, a large group of us; I would say 24-25 out of 51 went to the Eiffel tower together. We took the RER – metro with Anne-Marie as our lead navigator. We arrived and it was beautiful. €8,20 to goto the second floor as the top was closed. It was still beautiful up there. We stayed up there for a while then hopped down as for 5 minutes every hour, the tower sparkles. We then decided to head back and it was a big thing of confusion. Trying to buy tickets for 25 people using coins alone was pretty painful as well. We were out past midnight so we ended up celebrating Crystle’s birthday at Invalides station. We eventually got back to the hotel for a nice shower and sleep.
Facts of France:
France – 60 million population.
The French alps create a natural border between italy. Mont blanc is exactly on the border and same with Lake Geneva and Lac Blanc.
France is famous for its agriculture – wine. Largest producers of wine but Italy is largest exporter.
One of the founder of EU
They have free healthcare and a great education system.
They are the 4th largest producer of weapons.
Lots of the biggest fashion originated in France – Louis Vuitton – the first to make a flat bottom suitcase.
King Clovis built the first catholic church – the Notre Dame.
Charlamaine conquered France and Germany. Vikings – would kill someone by slashing them from throat to stomach to make blood angels. Vikings would be bribed with money by the french king but then the king ran out of money so he gave them some land – North Normandy. William the conquerer is the most famous vikings.
Joan of Arc was a peasant girl during the 100 year war. She could hear voices and was given a small army and turned the tide of war in Frances favour however they believed her to be a witch and burned her at the stake. It’s been said that the only thing left after she was burned was her heart still beating. She was then made into a saint.
20,000 people could live in the 14 houses at the Chateau du Versailles during King Louis’ time. He was a small guy and thought he was the best. He wore tights because he liked his legs, he wore heels and also wigs to add to his height. Louis the 16 and Marie Antoinette married and ruled France very poorly as they were young and didn’t know better.
In the 1700’s during the revolution – large amounts of people chopped off many heads. Most of world war I had taken place on french soil. They decided to sign a treaty to prevent a future war however, Germany waged war on Poland, United Kingdom and France immediately declared war but didn’t do much for 9 months. They thought the Germans would come through the same route they had before and posted soldiers there as they didn’t think Germans would bring tanks through the mountains – little did they know, Germans altered their tanks and came through the mountains and defeated them in 6 weeks.