A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Crossing the Mekong

32 °C
View Travels to far East on TravellingGirl's travel map.

I crossed into Laos at Huay Xai taking the boat across the Mekong, which is the boarder between Laos and Thailand. From there I got the bus to Luang Prabang, I opted not to take the slow boat route down the Mekong which takes two days. I've heard mixed views from travellers on the experience. One traveller I met said on the 2nd day only one boat turned up and 130 people crammed on board, instead of the 70 max. Journeys in Laos are on Lao time; they may or may not leave on time, and so far it always taken at least 2 hours longer to get to my final destination, however there is always a loo break, and if you're desperate the side of the road is a good option. The first bus was a night one and about an hour into the journey it broke down ... for the first time. We piled out into the night greeted by blackness, looking up hundreds of stars where twinkling at us, it made sitting on the road side very pleasant. Plus its not cold here! After the driver had rounded up all the water onboard and poured it on the overheated engine we were on our way ... for 15 minutes. The second time we piled off the bus we were in a small village, the houses were all made of bamboo and were lit up by pale lights making it again a pleasant impromptu stop. I peeked into the houses and each house I looked in I found people happily crammed into a room watching TV. It was a good sight :) 14 hours later we arrived in Luang Prabang, sleep was had, even though at one point I did wonder as the aircon pumped petrol fumes at us.

Luang Prabang is the old capital and a world hertiage site. There are lots of temples on the peninsular and the Mekong flows by it. I swam in the local waterfall, kayaked down the Nam Ou (a tributary for the Mekong), visited Pak Ou Cave with 4000 buddahs, ate delicious pancakes, tried rice whiskey (potent!), wandered through the night market and got up early to see the Monks alms-giving. I took a slow boat up the Nam Ou, the river teamed with life; men fishing, children swimming and playing, women washing, water buffalos bathing. I ended up in the tiny village of Muang Ngoi who only had electricity between 5.30pm and 9.30pm. It was quite refreshing and an amazing night sleep!

I took the bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Apart from a local bus, which was a great experince, this was the first bus i had been on since the epic 14 hours. it was better, it was only 12 hours this time to reach my destination. We started by winding up through the mountains, it was foggy and raining at one point but when it lifted you could clearly see that the numerous bushes we been looking out at were in fact tree tops! The views were fantastic. I arrived in Vientiane in time for the final day of the Largest Buddist festival in the country. It took place at Pra That Luang the most sacred Stuppa and Temple in all of Laos. It was a crazy site to see as outside the temple were beerLao stalls, music blaring, fairground games, stalls selling all sorts. Inside the temple everyone went to say their prayers. The monks led a round of prayers, walking three times around the Stuppa and at the end, fireworks. It was truely magical.

Point to note and share: My Lonely Planet guide has been a most useful starting point in each place i've visited however the one striking thing is that in the 2 years since it was published Thailand remains similar to the pages within the guide however Laos has changed, its developed. If you are travelling to Laos no matter what your guide LP book says there are lots of ATMs and the prices have gone up, Laos is now more expensive then Thailand. I will say this, Laos is well worth the money. The people are lovely and friendly its so easy to get into conversations with them. Even when the English is limited there are lots of smiles. I was sat watching the sun setting over the Mekong this evening chatting with the Lao girl who was sat next to me doing the exact same thing.

Highlight - Buddist Festival and slow boat on the Nam Ou
Lowlight - being tired from the bus journeys.

T+25 days

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Posted by TravellingGirl 06:25 Archived in Laos Comments (4)

Thailand

Bangkok to Chiang Mai

overcast 34 °C
View Travels to far East on TravellingGirl's travel map.

I'm not sure how many people i've met over the past week and a half however its been quite a few and each time the first question asked is 'how long have you been here?' followed quickly by 'Where have you been?' the questions then expand and you find a vast array of different stories converging on you. It's colourful, it's interesting, exciting!

I spent 3 days exploring Bangkok, consicous of my 'newby' status. It is easy to spot the new travellers. Bangkok was once described as the Venice of the East. With this in mind I walked to the river and took the boat to the grand palace then walked down to Wat Po (Reclining Buddah), grand is the only way to describe these, maybe opulent. You know when you have reached a pier as a market has sprung up to tempt people as they board /alight. The more popular the stop the bigger the market! I ate in a street kitchen, walked from my hostel through china town to the river by Wat Po to view the River procession which the royal barge was apart of, I was in amongst the Thai people who had come out to spectate. On the way I walked through a huge street flower market, so colourful, the displays where gorgeous (and for £1 you could buy a nice flower arrangement). I headed into the modern side of Bangkok and the shopping centres which was an experince in itself - you could get lost in them! food markets, cinemas, aquarium, the sky walks joining them, the sky train crossing the city and then the MBK which can only be described as an indoor market, 5 floors!, very different from the airconditioned shopping centres 2 minutes walk away.

From Bangkok I joined a trip which took us trekking in Umphang, by the Burmese boarder. Joining me on this trek were 11 Danes, 1 Dutch & 2 Norwegian. We took a bus to Mae Sot and then headed in sawngthaew (a small pick-up) into the jungle. We drifted down the river for a few hours (via hot springs) and then trekked through jungle to a Karen village, camping one night on route and swimming in a beautiful waterfall. The Karen village had 52 families, approx 300 people and they had a mixture of 3 religons: Buddism, Christianity and the old religion (spirits). The next day we trekked out on elephants. They are graceful animals, quite human in some of their behaviours; they carefully placed their feet to avoid the muddy areas and even better they put their bum off the path when they needed to go to the toilet - very clean and considerate. after a few bamboo bridges our Jungle trek ended back in Mae Sot and i caught the bus to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a lovely place, it is busy, much smaller than Bangkok, with lots of interesting Wats (temples) dotted around. Chiang Mai has an old part which was once surrounded by a moat and wall, the moat is still there however the wall has gone in most places. We quickly found china town (not hard to find!) and ate sticky rice and banana cooked in a banana leaf - YUM. I found an amazing veggie restaurant for dinner, had a fabulous Thai massage (mmmm relaxing), visited Wat Phra Singh & Doi Suthrep, shopped in the night Bazaar and completed a Thai cooking course - I can cook Phad Thai now. It is not hard to see why people stay awhile in Chiang Mai. There is so much to do I have not even done a fifth of it! :)

Quirky Highlight: tuk-tuk with glitzy lights from Night Bazaar to Dorm
Lowlight: Feeling car sick on the winding roads up to Doi Suthrep (and really wishing I was in a pick-up rather than the air-conditioned mini bus - how many times can you say that!?!)

T+10 days

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Posted by TravellingGirl 09:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (7)

The Off!

Final Check List

rain 7 °C

Bag packed - Check, will unpack and repack to see if there are any efficieny savings to be had
Passport - check, will recheck a few more times before getting on the plane
Visas - check, Thailand & Vietnam
Hostel booked - check, 2 nights in Bangkok
Route from airport to Hostel worked out - very nearly: taxi vs skytrain debate ongoing
Electrical items charged - Check (or currently on charge): Kindle, MP3, Netbook, Phone
Mobile phone work abroad? - check, thanks Ross!
Reconfirmed flight - check, flight time changed (by 10mins, good going)
Lonely Planet Guide - check
Luxury items packed - check: Travel pillow, eye mask, ear plugs (although these could be essentials..), Kindle (again, essential?!?)
Great last weekend - check, great to catch up with Fab friends, Afternoon Tea @ Savoy was amazing, lovely to see family and hear their travel stories
Excitment factor - CHECK !!!!!!!!!!

:)

T - 1 day

Posted by TravellingGirl 11:00 Archived in England Comments (4)

Travel Prep

A task and a half

overcast 9 °C

Packing up was organised chaos; sold my furniture, donated to charity, packed my life into 20 boxes, made a tip run, cleaned the flat (more than a lick & a fancy), completed remedial repairs, tessellated objects, a few cups of coffee, 4 people, 3 cars, 1 trailer and i MOVED OUT. Thank you to all who helped me xx

I am now at my parents with The List. The List is ever evolving, it has changed and adapted as the weeks have gone by, at times it has felt endless, however i'm now left with the final bits, although fairly important ones like travel insurance, money, malarials, 1st night accommodation(!), i've 4 days to sort them and pack the rucksack, then i'm heading to London for a weekend of fun in the chilly British weather. i'm looking forward to Afternoon Tea at the Savoy and the Old Crocs in Brighton.

weeks highlight: playing with my nephew - he's a cutie pie
weeks lowlight: saying goodbye to people, i dont like it, its too final, I much prefer 'See you later'

i'm procrastinating - back to The List.

See you later ... !

T - 8 days

Posted by TravellingGirl 09:30 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (3)

My home is a backpack

- the irony of it !

overcast

After spending the past decade instilling (ok, maybe at times lecturing!) on the importance of sustaining a tenancy and having a home, i am ignoring all my advice, giving my home up, leaving my job, saying goodbye to my family/friends and making my backpack my home for the next 9 months. Why?!? to follow my dreams. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Well if you want to know my answer then watch out for more posts... :)

T - 19 days

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Posted by TravellingGirl 14:40 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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