A Travellerspoint blog

January 2015

Laos into Thailand (via Isaan)

From remote haven to tourist...er heaven

sunny

Awoke in the wee hours and quiet serenity, just in time to see the gorgeous sunrise over the Meekong.
Took a share bus from Don Khong to Pakse, and then connected at the terminal for another bus, west bound into Thailand.

The bus stopped at the border for disembarkation and immigration check.
Once we processed through, the bus was waiting for us on the Thai side and we continued down towards Ubon Ratchathani.

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Ubon is curious quiet city; one of the major four of Isaan. It certainly isn't a tourist hub at all, and so feels marvellously un-farang'd.
The streets are quiet, serene, lit up, yet somehow bustling with nice restaurants, and shops and a fantastic night market.

Visitors to Thailand will become quickly aware of the higher proportion of folks working in tourism - hospitality and entertainment are from this region.
Ethnically, Isaan genealogy is closer to Lao, as is the language.
In this humble beholder's view, they're very beautify people.

I stayed at the Sri Isaan hotel at the suggestion of the friendly cab driver who intercepted me at the bus stop.
The hotel was super clean, nice comfortable bed, wonderful amenities and awesomely friendly staff.

In the morning, took the leisurely Air Asia flight down to Phuket.

Upon arriving took a cab straight to 'Bangkok Hospital' to get a sore eye checked out. I assumed it came from swimming in the Meekong....

If you need medical attention in SE Asia, Bangkok Hospitals (locations all over the country) are the best private hospitals I have come across in the world (and this includes Australia!).
I was seen by an eye specialist within about 10 minutes of arriving and registering!

Sadly doc's orders included "no swimming" until the thing had cleared.
After a series of tests it turned out to be a symptom of dehydration...

Coincidentally I had family in town and we call caught up at Bliss Beach Club (http://www.blissbeachclub.com)
Awesome food, vibes and very family friendly.

Phuket is a big diverse island - from the bustling and crazy Patong to the calm and serene Nai Harn.
Here's my entry on Phuket first time 'round

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Next update will be from sunny, mountainous Nepal :-)

Later....

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged lao ubon isaan Comments (0)

Laos: Si Phan Don

Magical, amazing, calm, awe inspiring 4000 islands with freshwater dolphins, amazing hospitality in true Laos culture

sunny 35 °C

Si Phan Don

Si Phan Don literally translates to 4000 Islands, and is an unmissable stop in SE Asia. This was a real highlight of my trip!
The islands are scattered around the vast, wide open currents of the Meekong.
The scenery and atmosphere is incredible... almost indescribably.... but I will try :-)
It really is amazing!

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Journey to the Islands

It was a long trip to Si Phan Don...

I took the long bumpy bus from Vang Vieng down to Vientiane and spent the night.
In my limited experience of Vientienne - it is pretty boring. Not much happening, the night market is tiny and it just felt dull.
In the morning I flew down to Pakse (Laos Air is a great, and cheap option for getting around the country).

When I arrived in Pakse I met a guy who offered private taxi to the port for Si Phan Don (approx 3 hour drive) for about US$20.
It was a good option to take!
At the port, he arranged a boat for me to get across to Don Khong

Don Khong

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This island is stunning yet so sleepy, everything seems to move in slow motion.
The people are so amazingly friendly and laid back... if you wanted to write a novel, this would be the place to do it!
The quiet is so calming, with the currents of the Meekong in the background and the occasional boat drifting past.

I stayed at Pon Arena Hotel, one of the more upmarket places, for a bit of a treat!
They gave me a really good rate - 5* service, food and truly spectacular room for a relatively tiny price.
Pon Arena is right on the river, with truly amazing views!
The owner had family in the neighbouring suburb of where I grew up in Melbourne! Small world huh!

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Exploring Si Phan Don

I took a boat tour going to Don Det, one of the busier islands where the majority of backpackers seem to flock, and then on to Don Khon to see the amazing waterfalls.

We then ventured further along the Meekong to some of the smaller islands.
One of which I took a boat ride out to the Cambodian side, for a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphins!
A definite trip highlight - we saw a pod of around 6 emerging from the water... really incredible!!!

After some cycling around the rest of the island it was time to venture back to Don Khong.

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As we cruised the hour long journey in the tiny wooden motor boat back, the enormity of the Meekong really became apparent.
Passing the colourful houses and huts, that line the banks, with tourists and locals alike lazing outside in their hammocks, as the sun slowly sets I couldn't help but think... this is heaven on earth!

khàwp ja̖i Laos!

Laos is truly spectacular; stunning, quiet, friendly country to explore, relax, immerse and just take your time.

Peace

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:40 Archived in Laos Tagged irrawaddy_dolphins si_phan_don don_khon don_khong laos_waterfalls meekong_river Comments (0)

Laos: Vang Vieng

Hedonistic jungle party zone and fast flowing currents...

overcast 34 °C

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng indeed has a notorious reputation; tubing, soft drugs, hard drugs, police corruption, etc.

The focus however should be the scenery.
Someone described it like being in Jurasic Park. It is so easy toimagine Terradactils and Tyranasauraus roaming this land.
VV is a pretty chilled out place and very backpacker friendly.

Note I didn't take any photos in VV, due to constant water immersion and light stupor.

Meekong Mayhem

This is the big attraction here and it is worth the trip if you're in Laos (I heard this whole thing has been shut down since I was there though).
You go to the registration "shed" - sign your life away, grab a tube, jump on the back of a jeep and head to the starting point.

As you let the current take you down the river, staff at each bar throw a tube attached to a rope out to your group, and you pull yourself/your group in to the pier.
Free shot of whiskey upon arrival at every bar.

Directly opposite take-off is 'Q-Bar' - where most people spend all day. The tunes were good, and everyone was dancing.
Every kind of cocktail bucket is available plus laughing gas balloons.
They day went quickly - we only managed to get 3 or 4 bars in over the course of the day.
I met some folks there who were tubing every day for a week....1 day destroyed me

The next day we got some kayaks and did the tubing route… a much more controlled and peaceful way to see VV.

We stopped at just one bar frequented by a super energetic (see: smashed) group of South Koreans.
"Hi, we are from South Korea… not Kim Jong Ill, OK? hahahaha" :-)

After a few rope jumps and backflips from the pier we moved on and cruised the remainder of the magical path.

Nightlife

VV nightlife is pretty crazy.
It's no Ko Phangan, but there are late night outdoor discos jammed with sunburnt backpackers off their faces having consumed as much whatever as they possibly could, and blasting house tunes.
We found a more subdued bar up the road playing mashups, with a pool table, darts board and more level headed punters... a much better option for me.

Thanks VV, but I won't be back...

I left Vang Vieng with mixed feelings.
It is a beautiful place, but feels tarnished.

The tubing, and loud parties completely contravene's Laotian culture, and this is probably why the government has intervened.
Laotions are music less willing to overlook poor western behaviour than perhaps their neighbours.

2 days in Vang Vieng was more than enough... on to Si Pha Don

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:27 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Laos: Luang Prabang

Lazy and gorgeous LP; jungle trekking, canoeing, awesome food, amazing views, beautiful culture

overcast 34 °C
View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Arriving in Laos

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There is nothing to dislike about Laos, and a million reasons to fall in love with it.
Dense jungle like greenery, immersed in a huge complex of water systems governed by the mighty Meekong; a rich, easy friendly culture which retains and acknowledges the nicer aspects of it's French passed (architecture, great coffee, etc).
Combined with the wonderful adventure sports on offer - Laos is perfect for the intrepid backpacker in search of thrills (of every kind!) to the easy living retirees in search of quiet, calm, beauty, quality accommodation and food.

Laos hasn't been tainted by the farang… yet.
In a way I dread what will become of Laos in years to come when tourism inevitably takes off.
Money and tourism has a funny way of changing priorities and diluting culture in Asia.

When you come to Laos, please tread lightly and relish one of the most peaceful, happy and beautiful places on this Earth.

Luang Prabang

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I took a buddy's advice and stayed at Sopha Guesthouse. It's right on the Meekong banks, suer quiet, and the price is right.
Roughly AUD$15 for a super huge dark wood room, with brand new air con, cable TV, strong wifi, fridge, new bathroom, etc ,etc.
The young couple managing it were really helpful and gave me a discount after returning from a trek.

The Town and Surrounds

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Luang Prabang is gorgeous, super clean, but somehow lacks local feel, like it was purpose built for tourists. This isn't a bad thing, but every shop in the main street was either a restaurant, travel shop, spa, gift store or guesthouse.
Mechanics, plumbing supplies, must all be far out of central LP.
LP is surrounded by the swerving Meekong. There are river views from wherever you look!

Night Market

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The ubiquitous south east asian night market. This one is special, because:
a) it's just gorgeous
b) none of the vendors push their wares. Every seller just smiles as you walk past and invites you to look.
c) THE FOOD!! There is a great food area, selling yummy Lao dinners - from spiced BBQ fish, dumplings, chicken, sticky rice (+banana or chicken or veg) wrapped in banana leaves… all the good stuff. I ate heaps!

Trekking

I booked my treks through White Elephant. Everyone online and the Lonely Planet raves about them, and this is justified.
The dude on duty showed me the treks and kayaking routes using Google maps and knew his stuff. I booked an overnight trek/Khmu home stay/kayak package.

The first day was tough. It was myself with 3 fellas from Italy and our 2 Hmong guides.
I don't recommend trekking in Laos in rainy season. The track was basically slippery, deep mud and we had to slip/climb/slide for the full 14kms.
The views made it worthwhile though.

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Our home stay was at a large Khmu (indigenous Laotian) village - home to roughly 70 families.
They were really hospitable!

I sat down with a large contingent of raucous kids and gave an impromptu English lesson…
I always start with getting them to reply to "how are you?"
Teaching states is a good way to help students express themselves (i.e.hungry, thirsty, sleepy, happy, sad, etc) because you can also show them the actions to indicate which helps associate the word. It adds humour and interaction and helps memory.

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The next day, we hiked down the other side of the pass - a bit easier sliding down than up. Then hit the magnificent Tad Lo waterfalls!

After a brief swim we kayaked downstream, down the Meekkong ... all the way back to Luang Prabang! whoop!

An exhausting day, but worth it.

Utopia

If you want to meet other travellers and have a bit of a night out Utopia is really the only place to go.
White Elephant gives you a voucher for free dinner there. I was ready for tucker then sleep after the trek, and made my way down.
The place is run by an ex-pat (I think Canadian), and employs young locals. The place is huge, serves good food and nice drinks; and there are tables and cushions everywhere for folks to congregate. It was really socially conducive.
By law, all bars must shut at 11:30 in LP…. and there is only 1 place left to go after that...

Night Bowling

When Utopia closed everyone stumbled out to the greeting tuk-tuk drivers…
"you want party more, bowling?"
Sure….
I joined new pals from Ireland and the UK and we ventured to the bowling alley which is about 15 minutes out of town.
Locals seem to take bowling seriously. There was an even mix of backpackers and locals sharing lanes, drinking Lao whiskey (too strong for this lightweight) to the sounds of loud local music.
Was such great fun!!!!
Got home at 3am, and set my alarm for 7am to catch my bus to chaos aka Vang Vieng...

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:53 Archived in Laos Tagged luang_prabang night_markets trekking_laos hmong_tribes Comments (0)

BKK - I love this city!

A shorthand guide to Immersing yourself in the super stylin', futuristic, jovial, hedonistic urban jungle of Bangkok!

semi-overcast 33 °C

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Bangkok

There is no city quite like Bangkok.
Urban Thais are super funky, fashionable, friendly and really know how to enjoy themselves.
On the other side, you can see how this city prospers - the work hard / play hard attitude is apparent here. The hospitality is second to none!

If you have seen Ridley Scott's vision of a future megatropolis in his masterpiece, Blade Runner, Bangkok will look familiar, especially viewed from the speeding Skytrain at night.

I stayed here for 4 nights to decompress after 6 months of rough (but amazing) travelling in India.
This is a summary of what I did, including some tips on how to make the most of your time here.

Khao San Road and Surrounds

Every backpacker at some point ends up on this street. Everything from quality cafes to travel agents, tattoo and piercing studios, big nightclubs, one-of-a-kind t-shirt shops, pad thai carts, a muay thai gym, etc ,etc - are all here in this condensed street.
If you are looking for traditional Thai culture, it isn't here, but it's convenient and you're sure to make new friends or bump into old travel buddies.
The only potential downside is that it's a little way out from the heart of Bangkok and areas like Sukhumvit, etc.

Lodgings

I stayed at Buddy Lodge and would definitely recommend.
Service is great, location is unbeatable, it's super quiet inside and the price is great for the area.

Shopping

I like BKK for shopping more than KL - it's more fashion forward and focuses more on open markets than big malls (though there are some mega malls!)

Chatuchak Market

By far my favourite market on earth. It dwarfs all of the London markets and is a mecca for everything from vintage clothes, records, designer wear, jewellry, pot plants, pets, furniture... a massive food area... You'll be sure to leave with stuff you never thought you needed!
I left with almost more bargains than I could carry!

MBK

Famous MBK is HUGE! An interesting combination of shops and stalls selling fake and real gear - watches, sports gear, bags, shoes, high fashion, etc.

Siam Paragon

The enormous posh shopping centre. This was the only place in all of Asia that I could find sticking REAL backpacker gear (Osprey and North Face backpacks, Merrell shoes, etc, etc. A godsend as my old Osprey had graciously passed on.
The cinemas here are also really impressive (caught Dark Knight Rises - first western film in 8 months!)

Food

Thai food is my favourite by far - light, spicy, nutritious. Bangkok is amazing for food; from street stalls, side cafes to posh restaurants.

Markets

All of the markets in Bangkok have great food stalls offering BBQ chicken, noodle soups, rice dishes, spicy salads, great coffee and bustling friendly atmosphere.

Street Food

Most working / commuting locals dine at streetside stalls; Sitting at shared plastic tables and chairs enjoying steaming spicy chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, etc - ready in seconds - whilst chatting and laughing amidst the whir of activity.

Nightlife and Clubbing

Bangkok's nightlife is like no other - uninhibited, boisterous, classy / trashy (depending on how you like it)

Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit is one of the main thoroughfares of the city, a business district bundled with large expat community, a ton of bars (rooftop and ground dwelling).
Some of the more notable places include Q Bar and Bed Supperclub, at roughly 11pm the market stalls lining the streets make way for streetside bars serving strong coctails, and makes for an interesting bar crawl.

RCA

RCA!!! 3 enormous Ibizan like nightlubs side by side in an industrial estate... classy, huge, marble floors, champagne n coctails, high fashion, livin large, hands up high, electro, house, ambient chill, mashups. This is the place to really party.
What I really loved about RCA was the lack of farang - the place where mostly mad-fer-it Thais go to party!

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok khaosan_road rca route_66_club Comments (1)

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