25 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that the stuff that are booked and planned go by fine but when I give options on what to do but nothing confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. I think whoever Im travelling with should have a clear picture of things to do per city besides the main things we book beforehand. Everyone needs their own space. I don’t know why I have to lead everywhere we go especially when they know I will be shooting over anything else. 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 its 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 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, Lao, 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. Ive 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. HCMC is very populated so just be cautious when it big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though. 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.
Ho Chi Minh
Hot and humid – Its grungy, tons of motorbikes, don’t trust taxi cabs and stick to Mai Vinh and Vinasun cabs. Its rather easy to cross the street if you have no fear and stare them down. Its humid and full of people everywhere. People watching is great and the french influence in architecture make it beautiful. People stare. PJ and rice hats everywhere. Crocs rule this place as well as sandals and croc imitations. If they need to move anything around the city, it can fit on a motorbike including 2 old people with 2 ladders or bags of rice and other things. There are road rules and lights but not everyone abides by the rules. Its built with french influence – everyone eats on the sidewalks and people watch but on plastic stools and tables rather than wicker sets. Each restaurant specializes in one or two particular dishes so you eat at one place and move on. Sidewalks also become roads and parking lots. No age limit for drinking – babies drink beer.
Humid but rains and cools down a tad bit – Taxi’s are better than in HCMC – more regulations. Love the history of the old city where the streets were named after the product they specialized. I love that its such a mix of nature and city. There are so many random alleys that you can just turn your head and look at and its a small vignette into a smaller world; a smaller moment that I absolutely love and look for on all my trips. The people are different here form HCMC… a little more refined. From the looks of things, Hanoi looks more educated. Reminds me of Hong Kong – Humid as hell. Slightly calmer traffic but still amazing little streets to walk through. If it wasn’t for our food tour there would be so many foods we tasted that we would’ve missed out on.
Ha Long Bay
Hot – Beautiful pinnacle of islands to sail through and live aboard a boat was a great experience. Sunrise was so serene. I hear good things about Ha Long Bay but I hear Sapa is a dream… next time.
It’s a dream world. A little village like city. Weather reminds me of Hawaii – hot but not humid. Mix of old and new but now with a huge mix of expats. Buffet street, morning market street and alms giving were great. Wish I had more time there. Kuangsi falls – spectacular!
Hot with normal humidity compared to Vietnam. Tuktuk will be cheaper options and can grab one outside the entrance of airport – Haggle down the price but check inside first what a taxi costs. A look into normal life – a small city that has great land nearby that produces one of the worlds best coffee. The people are lovely. Made new friends playing volleyball.
Small little village but even on the van ride over, the people were just so kind hearted waving and smiling. The jungle was awesome. Wet but it only rains for a short time then it can be nice. I love being outdoors and this was definitely a workout and a half. Zipllining was awesome too but wished it was a little safer like Whistler nonetheless still a great experience
Hot and humid. Not all roads are built of concrete so they will be bumpy. Tuktuks will be your main choice in transportation. Full day tuktuk will be roughly $25USD + feeding your driver. Tickets for temples can be purchase morning of first day of temple running – $20USD for single day up to $40 for 3 day. Angkor Wat at sunrise is nice but everyone goes so its crowded and gotta be patient to not get another tourists camera in your shot. Bayon even though we didn’t go inside because it was so hot of a day and we had already visited at least 4-5 was by far the prettiest. Its hot… drink water – heat stroke is real. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt and cover them knees. Phare Circus is awesome and is a great asset to the community helping low income individual strive for better. The show is awesome too! The kids are so adorable here but when you’re closer to temples – tons of poor families and kids will approach you to purchase things – don’t buy from kids! If you want to purchase prescription glasses – this is the place to do it and haggle down price! I got mine for $38USD with lenses.
Hot but not too humid. Hawaii like weather. Best time to go is April-March. #1 source of income – tourism. Very commercialized. Central Festival mall is pretty nice and has night market stalls outside overnight with cheap food and other. The night market by the water sells all souvenirs you want. There is also a volleyball / basketball court at the very end past the chewang food court market. Recommend staying in a resort beachfront near Chaweng. Sandalwood was great but hassle to be on top of a hill and needing to be driven down and then work within schedule for drop off and pick up if you don’t want to pay for your own taxi.
Taxi from airport is relatively cheap. Tuktuk as well. Hot with little humidity. More cultured – I see more style and edge to the people here. Laid back but very safe and nice. Sunday walking market is long and huge in a t format. Tons of temples to goto. The old city holds a lot of the culture and things you want to see. Top of the north wall – stalls – street food for locals – thai cowgirl – 30baht – best khao kha moo. Good Khao soi nearby stall. The Central Plaza – Chiang Mai Airport mall is nice too. Goto north village and all the way to the bottom to their foodcourt for cheap meals indoors in AC. Coffee trending here – Ahka Ama, Ponganes, Clay Studio Coffee, Graph Cafe, Natwat Home Cafe, Mao Coffee etc. Elephant, karen long neck tribe, tigers etc tours all can be done here.
HUMID. disregard the taxi stand right outside the arrival gate. head to gate 8 at Don Meuang airport and line up for a cab there. metered taxi. If you take the highway – tolls that need money up front at each toll. Don’t take an unmetered taxi unless you negotiate price first. Ride into downtown is about 35-40 minutes. HUMID. tuktuks are little pricer here but can negotiate price. Grand Palace is 500baht to enter. Was Pho is 100baht plus free water. Dress modestly for temples – t-shirt & cover knees. Visit Chinatown to see what the city use to look like years past. Khaosan Road – touristy but cool to see/experience once. Buy all your souvenirs here. Get a thai massage in an AC place – 250baht for an hour is standard.
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.
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.
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