We woke for 6AM and took our time to get ready. We went into the main area with Will to visit the grocery store and get breakfast. After grabbing breakfast, we walked back a bit the way we came to rent bikes for the day. Very difficult to find 5 bikes where the seats could be adjusted, had both pedals, chain didn’t fall off and had brakes but we managed to. $25USD originally was what the man asked for but we bargained for $20USD for about 5 hours. We rode up the dirt road to get to the baobab tree and continued towards the river that leads to Victoria Falls.
We ended up biking to Victoria Falls where we asked security if we could leave our bikes inside. The entry fee of $30USD is included with our tour price. The falls are lovely with many viewpoints along the way. You can also see the Devil’s Inkpot that is on the Zambia side where you can feel the rush and sit on the edge of the waterfall. At I think viewpoint 13, Lulu and Jin decided to climb over the short branch barrier to get a closer look over the edge but that was short lived as they got whistled to come back because it’s not safe being so wet (felt like it was raining in that area) and possible snakes hidden in the grass.
What made it even better was the fact that there was a vivid rainbow that formed at the bottom. We walked around to all the viewpoints and then decided we needed to rest and sat at the cafe – Shearwater Cafe where we ate our “picnic” and I got an energizer smoothie $5USD (ginger & orange etc). Will left us from here but told us the route to take to get back.
We continued on bike to the bridge border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We asked if we could go through with border patrol and they just waved us through. On the bridge the joins the two countries, they offer bungee jumping but we didn’t partake. We decided to head back and came back to the gate where we were told we needed a letter of some sort get back into the country but they let us through anyways.
We biked back and returned the bikes and decided to hit the pool because it was just so hot too do anything else and biking for half the day deserved a dip. Shearwater seems to be the spot where the safari tours start and end off so there was a mix of people beginning, ending and continuing their travels on-site. 5 of the people that joined our 12-day tour were continuing and joined from a tour that went to the Serengeti.
We grabbed a late lunch poolside from the restaurant on-site – Panini and a nice cider. We met Erik from the Netherlands who had just finished a tour and he filled us in on what he did and saw on his tour that was the reverse of what our tour was minus Cape Town. We all hung out by the pool and talk for a few hours but then realized we needed to switch tents so we rushed off, showered and packed up and moved over to our new tents. The tents we stayed in that night became our designated tent for the rest of the tour. Lulu and myself shared Timon as our tent. The tent is quite large. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and a lock but the tour company provides sleeping mats. After we moved in, the rain began to pour and all four of us stayed in our tent until to died down about 20 minutes later. We grabbed what we needed for the night and the next morning and threw our luggage into the truck. We went to Shearwater Café on the main road with Lisa and Katie which has the best wifi signal. I got the prefixed – $15USD – tomato soup, steak and frites and carrot cake.
I had a horrible time getting to sleep as my mind wouldn’t shut off and my nose was stuffy. Finally was able to sleep around 3AM – the wifi signal was strong around that time. We woke up for 6AM and packed, took down our tents, packed the truck and had breakfast. Off we went with the crew. First things first, the truck has storage below. The very front passenger side is cooking supplies, driver side front are tents, the 2 back tops on both sides are luggage’s and lower passenger side is chairs and tables. You need to climb a ladder (a little help from a step ladder) to enter the top seating compartment). In the seating compartment, the very back has shelves for the sleeping mat. The very front has sideways seating for about 8 people with a table, a 4-seater with a table then 10 more double seats. We get a combination cooler and the 2 giants chests go on board.
Once we hit the road, Will stated his speech on the breakdown of the tour as ATC brings together multiple tour companies like on the go tours and others to run the tour and not ask the information shared is the same. Once that got sorted, he broke down the day for us and told us the optional excursions. He also posted on the door our schedule along with our shared duties. This is a budget tour so everyone has responsibilities including buying ice for the cooler each day to security and bus cleaning duties to helping with keeping meals etc.
Info about Zimbabwe
-14 million population
-The House of Stone in Masvingo is the 2nd largest African civilization to the pyramids.
-Zimbabwe in the shona dialect means House of stone
-The British came and colonized Southern Rhodesia – They made a railway to promote trading from Europe to Africa.
-In 1980 Zimbabwe gained democracy.
-The tobacco industry deflated so the currency Inflated – For Eg – eggs could cost 10,000 rand one week then 20,000 the next.
-They adopted USD as currency but almost adopted Chinese yuan because of the trading and building.
-Zimbabweans are very well spoken (English ruling a different education) and very polite.
-Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of water and highest bridge bungee jump.
-Government officials weren’t really being paid and hospitals were expensive.
We drove to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana and had 2 check points. The first, we departed Zimbabwe and the second to enter Botswana. At the Botswana border, where we needed to bring all our footwear with us to dip the bottoms to “clean them” to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. I was welcomed with a warthog. Also quick note – no photos at the border.
Our first pitstop was an hour-hour and half stop to pick-up groceries, alcohol and exchange money for local currency of Pula. You should get Pula for tipping money. 10 Pula is 1 USD. The bureau Centre didn’t open until 9AM so we bought groceries at the grocery store Spar. At the Bureau Centre, you can change currency and purchase cheaper ice (Lulu’s responsibility for day 1). Note – The block of ice lasts longer than the cubes but needs to be broken up. We all threw in $20USD each and the Pula equivalent together became our tipping money.
In Botswana, you CANNOT DRINK the tap water. We all purchased 5L jugs for about $1.65USD. The tour stops every 2 days or so at grocery stores so you can pick up snacks and water etc.
We found Erik (our new friend we met the day before) at the grocery store as 2 other tour trucks were also doing the same thing loading up. Erik finished 1 tour and joined another. At one point, they were sitting in our bus as their bus disappeared and we all thought they left without them but that tour only consisted of 9 people. Turns out the bus was getting gas around the corner and off they went.
We also found out from Will that the information we got from Sarah was completely wrong in terms of clothing because she told us we needed to dress conservatively covering shoulders and knees. It turns out, on her last Africa trip, she was in northern Africa where there are more Muslims thus dressing more conservatively but on this trip, clothing didn’t matter as you can wear whatever you want. For safari however, neutral colour clothing. That meant all 4 of us packed clothing we didn’t need and could have been replaced with summer clothing such as more shorts.
We thought our ride to the next campsite was far but it was just up the street – Thebes Safari campsite. We setup our tents and then ate lunch – self serve sandwich station. We have 2 showers and 2 toilets on our campsite but if your walk further into the site closer to the pool area, there is a much nicer shower and toilet setup with hot water. The main hotel (upgrade is available) had free wifi in the lobby and 2 single toilets.
After eating, Stephanie, Susan and the girls and myself we went on the Chobe game drive in a safari truck and off we went (optional excursion for $70USD for 3 hours in the park). Our driver was very knowledgeable and had an amazing eye finding animals of all sizes for us. Usually noon is the hottest time of day so many animals are in hiding but we got lucky and spotted a good variety of animals. Impala, kudu, hippos, lionesses (one sleeping and one heading for a nap), baboons, zebras, eagles, vultures and so many beautiful birds as well as a leopard tortoise. I learned that elephants don’t have sweat glands so they overheat which is why they roll in the mud to cool down. We didn’t get to see a live elephant but we saw a 2-day old dead young elephant who overheated and was trying to get to the water to cool down but once it made it there, it was too late. You could smell the stench from where we were in the truck 300M away. Giant vultures circled and were eating the elephant. The lions like fresh meat so they probably had first dibs one day 1 before we saw it. The guide stopped by the sleeping lioness so it awoke briefly then turned over to return to slumber.
We finished this lovely game drive and was driven straight to our next excursion (included) of a sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River. The river separates Namibia and Botswana border. Shimmy was our guide. This is where our cooler of ice and alcohol purchased earlier in the day was present. The boat cruise had seats for everyone and a drop toilet in the back. Once they started up the boat sailing, you were free to roam around to spot animals and the boat driver found them and we got closer views of them. Tons of hippos, crocodiles, baboons, water buffalo etc. Definitely the highlight were the hippos.
We cruised down the river spotting animals and a cold drink which ended up with a lovely sunset. Near the end of the cruising, there were 2 hippos in a certain area where the water levels were lower and you can see them running right into the water. With the water level lower, the hippo kept bobbing up and down and eventually running and jumping up similar to a dolphin. We kept trying to follow where they would surface and one of the hippos decided to rush our boat and came up right under the metal guard in the front where Sarah was sitting and she flew back. The sunset was intense with lovely colours however all of us felt disgusting as we were all very sticky from being out all day in the sun.
We got back to the campsite and Clive had dinner waiting for us – chicken stroganoff and a salad. Will went over itinerary with us and call time.
We were told the pool seemed murky and we couldn’t find it in the dark so we showered and sat near the inner courtyard on the hotel and charged our phones. Finished off the night trying to journal and we thought the truck would be a good place as any to write and charge but turns out Clive and Frans sleep in there so we decided to journal in our tent. Hard to fall asleep when you haven’t really done much physical activity in a day when you are so use to walking everywhere.
I woke up to see sunrise but it was torrential downpour with thunder and lighting to boot. Around 6AM there was an opening in the sky and turned out nice but it rained on and off all day. Our resort / hotel has a little restaurant called Blue Ginger. They served a breakfast buffet as well as food made to order. We were unsure if it was included or if we needed to pay but it’s included. I had the pad siew and a thai ice tea plus some coconut yoghurt and some other little tasty morsels.
We went back to our room and tried to figure out what are our plans for the day would be. We told the ladies at front desk we wanted to go to Na Muang Waterfall and also coconut harvesting monkeys. Sew helped us book a half day tour real late with Mr Ung’s Jungle Safari – half day for 1300 baht. The hotel drove us down the winding path to wait at the side of the road until our jungle jeep came for us. We stopped off at the mummified monk then went to watch a elephant, monkey and crocodile show followed by a visit to Na Muang waterfalls where we also climbed rocks we shouldn’t have but hey after Paksong, this was a breeze and in flip flops. Our driver stopped at one point and asked if anyone wanted to sit up top above the driver seat so Amy and myself did so and there was no seatbelt so we just had to hold on and hope for the best. It was a fun experience although the rain did pick up a bit and we had to dodge and duck under tree branches. We went to a mountain top restaurantfor traditional thai food with a great view momentarily as the rain kept stopping and going. After lunch, our final destination was the secret buddha garden. It’s such a unlikely spot for it but after you climb through, the main area is stunning with beautiful statues that look like they are performing for you as there are a few off to the side with instruments and then in the river there is that one special statue with a arrow rock in front of it. Very wet but not bad a trip.
We got back to the hotel around 3PM so we decided it was jacuzzi time. We discussed what our night plans would be then Amy and myself went to the front desk and asked to used the free shuttle service to take us down to Lamai beach area and then we would just have to call for a ride home after (400 baht after 5PM). I took a quick dip in the pool by reception. It’s sort of an infinity pool but the view is wonderful so I can’t complain. We changed quickly and off we went to Lamai where we got dropped off at the McDonalds. We wandered the streets around our drop off point and came a little early as they were setting up the night market which isn’t anything special considering we keep going to one everywhere we go with no intention of purchasing anything. It is just a few streets lined with restaurants, shops and bars that screams tourists! We also exchanged more money as Uniqlo and tours were leaving us dry. We took a turn onto a random street and found a path that led us down to the beach and it was a nice view. Swing Bar apparently does nightly fireshows. We walked on the beach for a bit until we found an opening to go up and it was just our luck that it was the street that led us back to McDonalds. We walked a bit more to find a little strip of food stalls. 2 phad thais, 1 fried noodle with seafood, 1 panang curry in total. What they do here is there is a communal food court sitting area and when you are finished with your dish, you bring it back to the stall. We then continued down the road and it is marketed for tourists. There are a cluster of bars with women just screaming and hollering at men crossing and they are dancing and pole dancing-ish. We decided to call it a night and called the hotel for a ride home from McDonalds (400Baht after 530PM).
We booked another tour today that would take us to Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan tour with Lomprayah High speed ferries– 1600baht. We got take away breakfast in the morning which we ordered the night before and the boys wanted a lot of food and they sure got it. It was full sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Egg sandwich, grilled ham and cheese, chicken sandwiches plus fruits, yogurt and juice. The hotel driver took us down the hill to an awaiting car and then we picked up a few people and off we went. We were in the waiting area at the pier then got assigned a group with ribbon colours to identify our group. Group orange for the day with John as our guide and #6 as our boat. It took an hour in the boat to get to Koh Nang Yuan where we all disembarked and went snorkelling.
This is where it all went wrong. My Outex case which I thought I secured on tightly was not so secure as water got into it and well I was disappointed in myself for letting that happen – ALWAYS ALWAYS CHECK TO MAKE SURE WATERPROOF CASINGS ARE PUT ON PROPERLY. Plus it’s so much harder to snorkel without the use of 1 arm that is holding the camera. A GoPro will suffice for snorkelling. Lunch was a buffet style being served for an hour or so. I threw all my gear onto the table to be dried out when an onlooker came over and asked me if I got my camera wet and indeed I did. His name was Richard and I think he was Austrian. He is also a Nikon user and had told me that this has happened multiple times to him so he knows what to do. So you need to be counter intuitive by getting fresh water and pouring that into the effected areas. This is to clean the salt water out of your camera as it becomes corrosive and will destroy your camera. Depending on how much has been submerged and how long, you need to rinse it out with fresh water and let it sit for a few days up to a week just in case to ensure all the moisture is gone from the camera before trying to turn it back on as the salt water creates an electrical charge and will short circuit it. So luckily on this little island we were on, I grabbed 3 glasses of drinking water and Richard came over and I handed it over to him and observed. The camera got wet in the battery, memory card and bottom part of the camera but the lens to body attachment was dry so he pour fresh water into the battery and memory card compartments and swished it around then poured it out and from there, just let it dry. Memory cards are resilient and should be able to take the impact of water but of course let it dry out.. same with batteries.
After lunch, we went back to snorkelling and wading in the waters before we hopped back on the boat to sail 10 minutes to Koh Tao where we would jump from the boat into the water to snorkel for an hour. It was beautiful which all the giant rocks with shells, coral and fishes! The ride back was brutal as it was so choppy and then the rain came down and they didn’t put down the plastic windows so we all got drenched and it was the coldest I’ve been all trip especially because i was still in a bikini with a wet towel wrapped around me. We got home and I showered right away and then we ordered in from Blue Ginger and ate on the ground together watching Hong Kong Open – Badminton. By 9PM I was ready to pass out and so I did.
We didn’t set an alarm that morning and gradually awoke around 8AM for breakfast. My stomach had been dying since we reached Koh Samui. It’s either everything is catching up with me or that there is something that I am eating that doesn’t react well with my stomach. Also dehydration is playing a large part.
We decided to put the jacuzzi to a different use – laundry. We took the shower gels and shampoo and loaded it up with our laundry. Why not right? it’s hot water, big enough that we can actually wash everything at once and also has jets (we used for a second before things started blocking the jets) It’s beautiful weather so we just hung everything out to dry.
We arranged with the hotel to take a free shuttle at 11AM to drop us off at Central Festival Mall – Chaweng and walk about 10 minutes behind the mall to the beach. The beach was bright and we planted down where we got on the beach because it seemed to be the least populated at the time. Andrew rented a surfboard and took to the waves for about 2 hours. A group in front of us brought a volleyball but alas no nets around. Adam and myself peppered for a bit in the shade but got too tired and a few digs that i went down on my knees for actually hurt. After Andrew returned from surfing, we walked back onto the main street that we entered the beach from just behind Central Festival. We walked up and down a bit andfound ourselves at Onion Big Horn for a late lunch where I got a mixed fruit shake (80baht) and chicken pad thai (90baht) – both were delicious and decent price!
By the time we finished eating, it was already 330-4PM and we were to get picked up at 5PM from Central so we contemplated dinner options – McDonalds, buying food or getting groceries to cook back in the kitchenette back in the villa. We ended back at Tops Supermarket where I picked up a crab meat & seaweed bun, pineapple bread and taro bun (74 baht) and Adam and Amy purchased ingredients to make a penne seafood rose which they made tons of so we shared. But before anything else, we returned to the villa, collected our dry laundry, dropped off our things and headed to the pool for sunset. Adam and Amy were cooking their meal when all of a sudden the breaker blew leaving us in the dark momentarily as we got a staff member to come and aid us in our situation. Power went back on and dinner was made. We sat on the floor of our villa with pillows like the night before and ate as we watched tennis – Wawrinka vs Murray at the Barclays ATP. After that, Badminton doubles to end the night.
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.
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
Woke up at 630AM and made breakfast before heading out. $7 eggs (aiya) but the Skyr was interesting. it’s actually a soft cheese with texture in between yogurt and cream cheese; I got Apple. We hopped into the car and it was still dark out Around 9AM, the sun started to rise and it was magnificent. There is only one highway – Hwy 1 that goes around entire island.
Our first stop off the day was Seljalandsfoss, which is the waterfall you can walk behind. It was an awesome experience and we were midway through before we saw the first signs of tour buses. Next stop was to Eyjafjallajökull volcano which after visiting the centre were told that we can’t access the volcano because there are huge craters. The last time this volcano erupted was 2010. She did say however that when it is around Easter time, when the snow falls then you are most able to access it. Or if we had a really good car and drove the North Eest or North East points, we can access via glaciers.
Skogafoss falls was out next destination. A hike to the top was well worth it but I do recommend proper shoes as it’s muddy. Once you reach the top, climb over the ladder and continue down. If you are adventurous, venture down towards the water. A 10 minute drive East, you can goto Solheimajokull glaciers if you follow an unpaved path in. It’s black sand beaches but there is a sign that said you should not pass… We did. We climbed, jumped and ran through the sand, rocks and glaciers and found a small stream that we all drank from. Too bad we all left our water bottles back the car. As we were leaving around 1PM, the sun was perfect – golden light if i say so myself or at least perfect lighting. NOTE- the sun rises around 930AM and it’s dark by 430PM and rainy/foggy this time year in Iceland. But strange thing is its not pitch black but rather the skies are very dark with an actual sunset. Average temperature is 8 degrees.
We drove towards the town of Vik and had lunch at this little restaurant in a hotel called Halldorskaffi (Víkurbraut, Vík) which has great reviews. They only served everything made from Iceland and it’s land. I got the lamb sandwich 2000isk with fries and it was absolutely delicious and juicy. I also got the homemade ice cream made from a farm in Myrdalur for 1400isk and could definitely taste the freshness of the dairy.
After lunch we drove about 10 minutes away to Reynisfjara beach and cliffs. It’s surreal there. Black sand beach, gnarly waves, caves with rocks that are edged but have corners similar to what people have imagined at the fortress of solitude in Superman or Game of Thrones. There is one side that looks like pillars that can be climbed. If you look up on the mountain, you can see sheep just hanging up there. Across the waters, it’s Iceland’s largest lighthouse but no one is allowed to that island as its a bird sanctuary.
We went to Fish Market – Fiskmarkadurinn (Adalstraeti 12, Reykjavik) for dinner and got the tasting menu which was 9900isk – $99CAD. The menu went like this: Tempura Rock shrimp with melon and wakame salad. Whale with horse raddish cream and berries – smoky. Langoustine shrimp with edamame puree and cauliflower. Icelandic mussels in lobster broth with Seward base with seaweed tea. Scallop nigiri and volcano maki with lobster tail. Lightly Salted cod with celery and cranberries with potato puree. Grilled salmon with fennel and Apple chutney with crispy lotus root. Icelandic lamb with beets and mushrooms. Cheesecake, chocolate molten lava with raspberry licorice sauce, passion fruit, strawberry, raspberry, coconut ice cream.
Started off the day with an Acai bowl ($7.50USD) at Hawaiian Crown Plantation (159 Kaiulani Ave – 105). Our destination for the day was Manoa Falls. The boys rented mopeds while the rest of us took the bus up. It’s beautiful. Hawaii 5-0 and Jurassic park were/are filmed here. Since we decided to go on the bus, it took forever after getting on the 8 bus to Ala Moana and waiting there for the 5 bus to Moana Valley. It’s a whole different area being in the valley between mountains. So tropical but the houses on the hillside reminded me of Jamaica homes. By the time we reached our destination, we realized after standing for a good 20 minutes that the boys had already parked and were already half ascended to the mountain top. We then hiked as a group with some difficult areas to the falls. Being a tropical area, there was rainfall which made the hike more difficult and muddy. Jaira had received a text from the boys telling us that there was a hiking trail to the top after you have reached the waterfall to take you to a higher elevation. The waterfall was pretty and we thought the hike to the top would be relatively short similar to our ascent to the falls. We then decided to go all the way up to join them. It was the Manoa cliff trail and it continued onto the Pauoa Flats trails. Worst decision especially on a rainy day. The parent’s were struggling just to get to the waterfalls so they went back down but the trails we continued on got windier and muddier. At first I was trying to avoid ruining my shoes but by the end of it, I got up and didn’t care where I stood as my shoes would be engulfed in the mud.
The hike above the falls to the top took about and hour and half – two hours. It started raining harder. Two gave up half way and the rest of us (8 of us) kept going up to join the boys. There was spot along the way up that is definitely worth seeing. The trail opens up and the mountain trail turns into a deep curve where the trees create a vignette that surrounds an open clearing to see what is held beneath and that was the only thing worth it. From that point, it was another 30 minutes until we would reach the top. Reaching the top, the lookout point was cloudy and raining making it hard to see anything. Disappointed by the lack of view after a grueling hike, I had no care in the world and pushed through hard to descend. In total, we hiked 7KM/ 13000 ft.
Jennifer and myself led the pack back down. It was actually easier to go down especially since I had put my camera away and was using both hands to grapple and manoeuvre. We had to wait for everyone else to finish their hike before we could leave as the boys drove mopeds and the rest needed to cab back together. It actually took 1-2 hours for the cabs because of the area we were in and they were looking for a cab that took 7 specifically. We ended up staying there all miserable and wet but the convenience store staff felt bad for us and said that if his wife came before the cabs, that they would drive us back for free. Luckily 2 taxi’s came and we made our way back. When we got back to the hotel, we threw all of our shoes into the washer.
For dinner, we as a group of 15 went to the Cheesecake Factory (2301 kalakaua ave). I had the Kalua Pig Pizza ($13.50USD) and the white chocolate raspberry truffle cake ($7.95USD).
Since Andrew drove yesterday, I drove today. It took about 2 hours and a bit. It’s a weird feeling to be driving on the left side of the road but you get the hang of it. The turns still get me though. This Hyundai Gatz has absolutely no pickup when you try to gun it. There are passing lanes on the highway which are nice. I tried to floor it past a truck and almost didn’t make it.
The first stop of the day was to Huka Falls which was a recommendation from a fellow traveller and told us it was a must see. And it was. Huka Falls is where New Zealand’s largest lake drains into its largest river; the Waikato.
Driving past Lake Taupo and passing by a few small towns we made it to Whakapapa Village – the village/chateau area inside Tongariro National Park and we decided to hike one of the smaller trails inside – Taranaki Falls which lasted about an hour and a half. This park is the first park to be both a cultural and historical world heritage status. We then wanted to hike up to emerald lake but we were running short on gas so we went to find a gas station to fill up first because we didn’t want to get stranded in the dark on unfamilar roads (no street lights in this area). Its a 46km drive out of the Tongariro area to the station. Our real destination was along Mangatepopo Road, the Tongariro Alpine Trail. By the time we got back we started hiking toward the Emerald lake by teh Red Crater (its actually a 4hour hike in and a 4 hour hike out) and Soda Pop Falls but the sun was already setting fast. To get to either locations (springs or lake) we had to go up rocks and I mean rocks. No actual bridge or path and when there was a path or bridge, it quickly would turn into cliffs and hills of rock. The ranger or person who worked there flew by us so quickly but told us we weren’t too far from Soda Pop Falls and that we would have maybe an hour left of sunlight. We finally made it to Soda Pop falls but it wasn’t as exciting as it would be made out to be. We did however see other people hiking nearby and because its a national park, there were cabins where people could come and just stay the night. We quickly turned back out the way we came since the sun started setting fast (6PM) and the paths become very unclear. Our eyes did adjust to the lighting and we could partially see nocturnally. We ran parts of the way back and would stop on occasion just to stare up in the sky. With no light pollution for miles, the sky was lit up with stars. Let me tell you though, I haven’t seen stars that since Toronto had the blackout in 2003. It was magnificent. It’s also weird to see Orion’s belt on the opposite side I usually spot it. What I also noticed and found strange is that I haven’t seen the moon since Sydney. The drive back to Rotorua took about 2 hours and night driving is very intimidating not being able to see 100M ahead so we were driving with our highbeams on and switching between passing cars.
I do have to say so far, Tongariro National Park is my favourite spot. Being outdoors and hiking through this magical place… I think I left a piece of myself here and I’m sad that we never got to finish our main hike to Emerald Lake. I guess it’s something to make note of on my TO DO list one of these days.
We went to Kuranda via SkyRail Rainforest Cableway for a full day experience – Tjapukai Aboriginal Experience, Scenic Skyrail ($103.50CAD), Koala Gardens and Bird World ($28CAD). We got picked up from Cairns Central and headed to the Skyrail Station.
Our first stop was the Tjapukai experience from local aboriginals that inhabited this area/village. We got to throw with the aboriginal spear thrower and also throw boomerangs. The spear would be held in the throwing stick holder where the spear is held by a hook before it is launched. I threw it past the targets. The guy that was teaching us boomerang said that he didn’t expect me to have so much power as I threw the boomerang too hard. You need to throw at 1 O’Clock for the perfect throw to return. The boomerangs were actually used as weapons to hunt their prey. I bought a plain boomerang so I can throw it back home while Andrew bought a nicer looking one for the shelf. They did a little performance for us about their culture and about the animals and performed a bit of didgeridoo for us.
We then hopped on the Skyrail and went straight up to the top of the rail line (well a 40min ride) after bungee jumping, heights aren’t really too bad except for the rickety parts when the gondola passes the towers. We decided to B line past the towers to Kuranda Village that was filled with multiple arts and crafts shops. The locals seem to live off the tourism. We decided to eat lunch in this area and I finally was able to grab myself a Crocodile Pie! The taste is similar to chicken but with the texture of fish. I also picked up some homemade salt water taffy that was made in front of us.
We made our way to the Koala park. You can carry a koala and take a photo with one but for 16AUD I felt it wasn’t worth it and a little cheesy but I did however get some good shots myself of them! Did you know that there are different rules on touching koalas depending on what state in Australia you are in. In Cairns because it is so hot, the koalas are smaller in size thus the laws allow you to be able to handle a koala however if in Melbourne, you need to stay at least 10 meters away from a Koala because they are larger and their claws could kill you. Koalas are so weird looking but cute nonetheless.
Nearby, we were able to go into the area where the wallabies and kangaroos were and we fed them. There was one kangaroo that was a little aggressive and grabbed me with their claws but no bloodshed but there there was one that was really gentle. The wallabies are my favourite because they are so tiny, cute and gentle. Andrew was actually really excited to goto Birdworld and I was greeted with a bird that said hello. Trying to train it to say Andrew didn’t quite work though.
We then headed back down on the skyrail to visit the stops along the way. We saw the Barron Falls where we walked through some rainforest and had some beautiful views. Second stop was Red Peak – the highest point on the Skyrail with some huge spiders and trees. There isn’t too much to do in the city so we called it a early night.
Jungle surfing is in Cape Tribulation which is about 2 hours away from here. We decided to skip renting a car to make the 2 hour trek there and back for a 2 hour activity. Bad decision. We ended up leaving our room at 9am-ish and made our way to DFO (direct factory outlet) which was a 20-30 min walk. Both Andrew and myself aren’t big shoppers but that place was very unexciting and didn’t have anything that we liked. We decided to come back to Central Cairns Mall and roamed separately.Didn’t end up buying anything besides a nice lychee gelato and watched bats flying over me around 3PM.
If we knew earlier that Cairns doesn’t have much to do, we would’ve taken a day from Cairns and spent it in Melbourne instead but you live and learn. Melbourne tomorrow!