Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Luang Prabang

February 10 – Woke up and saw Robbie and James, our English friends who’d arrived earlier the day before.  After breakfast we all piled into minivans again where we were taken to the Lao boarder.  Had a very frustrating and hilarious encounter with a group of Chinese tourists who apparently do not respect the sanctity of a line. After we got our Lao visas ($35), we all boarded buses that took us to the Mekong where we would board the slowboat.  Had an amazing first day with everyone on the boat drinking Lao Lao beer and singing along with the guitar songs some of the guys were playing.  Around dinner we arrived in Pakbeng where we got off the boat and walked around town to find a place for the night.  Ended up at a guest house where Sam, Jeremy and I split a queen bed and James and Robbie slept on mattresses on the floor.
February 11 – After a little confusion with the slowboat situation, our little crew found some space on the back of one of the boats where we all sat on the floor.  Another amazing day drinking and playing cards, I honestly was a little sad to see the day end.  Got a taxi with everyone into town and checked in to our hostel, Central Backpackers.  Went out to dinner with Sam, Jeremy, Robbie and James and then went to Utopia, the main tourist bar in Luang Prabang, for a drink.

February 12 – Went to the Kuang Si Waterfall around 2pm and had such an amazing time there with all my new friends in this incredible place.  There are so many different levels of waterfalls and pools and the water was menthol blue it really was amazing to see.  

When we got back into town we went to Lao Lao Garden for dinner, Utopia for a drink and then to the bowling alley to continue the night as everything else in Luang Prabang closes at 11:30pm.  Everything was great until we were driving home and had the taxi driver take us to get some food before heading back to the hostel.  He dropped us at a sandwich stand and everyone was getting food, and then he started getting a little pushy about getting us back, so some of us got back in the taxi and all of sudden Mike, one of the Candian guys in our group and the driver started yelling at eachother and everything escalated rather quickly when the driver pulled out a knife and was threatening to stab him.  A friend pulled Mike away and we all quickly paid and walked the rest of the way home.  We were all just glad nothing bad ended up happening.
February 13 – Sam signed up for a design class for the day, so I spent most of the morning walking around town.  Bumped into Pia, a Chilean girl in our group, and sat down for a coffee with her.  Stopped into Ock Pop Top and bought a blue silk scarf (230,000 kip/$30), took a nap and headed out with a few friends to get dinner in town.  One of the famous Luang Prabang dinners is the 10,000kip buffet, which comes out to a little over a dollar to fill up your plate with all kinds of vegetables and carbs.  10,000kip more for meat and a seat at the tables.  Went to Utopia again for a drink after dinner.
February 14 – Went for a run along the river in the morning and ended up stopping into a local travel agent who booked Sam and me plane tickets to Siem Reap on the 16th.  Ran back, had breakfast, showered and went to sleep.  The whole crew went to the waterfalls again and while it was definitely my favorite place in Luang Prabang, I just wasn’t feeling up to going and I’ve learned that its really not a good idea to push my body here.  Went out for a Valentine’s dinner with Sam and Pia at Tamarind, a restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet book.  Highlights: pumpkin, coconut & ginger soup and the purple sticky rice dessert.
February 15 – Went a bit out of town in the morning to the Ock Top Pop factory to see how all the scarves are made, came back to the hostel to nap, I had the buffet dinner again mainly for the squash and other veggies that were surprisingly well cooked, and Tamarind again so Sam and Pia could have the soup.

February 16 – In the morning we did a little shopping at market where Sam and I both bought fabric that had been used in traditional Lao costumes.  Got a sandwich to go and rushed back to the hostel to catch our tuktuk to the airport with Pia.  Got into Siem Reap and after some initial taxi confusion, finally made it to our hostel for the night - Downtown Siem Reap Hostel ($8).  Met up with Gabe and took a quick walk through town to get some dinner.

Chiang Mai

February 4 – A few of the Pai gang headed out for Chiang Mai in the same minibus group.  Spent a few more dollars versus the public bus for a quicker journey with seats that actually fit our legs.  Laura, a British girl from the group, had stayed in Chiang Mai before so we followed her as we searched for a place to stay for the night.  We all had dinner at the market near Thapae Gate, went to THC Rooftop Bar and then out for the night at the downtown bar area, which was this fantastic little street corner with every bar playing different kinds of music.   Our favorite was the live band that played upbeat reggae music.

February 5 – In the morning we gathered up our things and moved to Deejai Backpackers Hostel, which itself was a really awesome place but location wise was a bit far from the city center.  Had some initial taxi drama and ended up having to pay 100baht each even though we didn’t use the taxi for the day, but at that point police were being called and we all figured we’d rather pay than deal with a bad situation.  After getting settled in, we headed over to the pool down the street and spent most of the day lounging there.  Got some street food for dinner and headed to a muay thai fight (400baht/$12).  They started with young boys fighting and worked there way up to the top age group, where the winner won a few hundred dollars.  Headed down to the bar area after the fight was over and spent the night out there again.

February 6 – Woke up late, walked over to the local park and spent a few hours lying under the trees with a few friends.  Decided to go see a movie, and on our walk over we saw Wat Sri Suphan, this beautiful temple with incredible silver work all over it.  Saw Wolf of Wallstreet which I enjoyed more just because it was such a familiar activity more than the movie itself.  Early night in to rest for the long next day.
February 7 – Woke up and tuktuked over to the tiger kingdom where waited for a few hours to get our fifteen minutes with the baby tigers.  It was really cool to interact with them but tigers sleep during the day so in general they weren’t all that active.  For the money and time spent I don’t think its an activity I would do again.  Stopped at the snake farm for a few pictures with a large python and then drove up to Wat Doi Suthep where we explored the area a bit. 

On our way back into town we were greeted with beautiful lights and music which symbolized the beginning of the flower festival in Chiang Mai which just happened to be February 7-9.  Got dropped off in the city center and walked around all the food and craft stalls.  I bought a beeswax batik indigo scarf (500baht/$15).
February 8 – Slept late and spent most of the day walking around town with Sam.  Stumbled upon this store full of beautiful woven scarves and spent about an hour there admiring everything and talking with the employee there who told us about all the fabrics, patterns and villages that make the scarves.  Bought two scarves, one yellow and one red for 2800baht ($85) – which I struggled painfully with as this was my most expensive purchase of the trip so far, but I really do love them and the prices are incredible compared to what you would pay for a silk scarf in the US.
Spent our last night in Chiang Mai walking around the flower festival and headed to THC Rooftop Bar again for a quick drink.

February 9 – Woke up early and got picked up by the tour company we’d booked through the hostel for a day with the elephants.  We really wanted to go to Elephant Nature Park, but they were all booked, so we went with “Patthana Elephant Park”, which we later learned is really a pseudo name for the Panda Tour Company.  I knew I didn’t want to ride the elephants so I was already skeptical about the whole day, and then when they started training us it just didn’t seem like they were treating the elephants well.  When Sam and I finally did get on our elephant and started walking around the park loop, I really did not feel comfortable on it.  To make matters worst, we had the worst “mahout” there, and our elephant clearly was scared of him, so when he started yelling at it to keep going the elephant was definitely upset, and that’s not a great thing to pick up on when you’re on top of it.  So Sam and I asked to get off and ended the day early.  Really unfortunate that our experience ended like that but lesson learned I guess.

Got back to Deejai, walked to a local market for some dinner, and got picked up around 7pm for the start of our journey to Lao.  Ended up sitting in the front of a minibus with an Australia named Jeremy that would become one of our good friends on the trip.  Six hours later and we pulled into some remote hotel where they put us in rooms for the night.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


January 29 - Got into Chiang Mai two hours after scheduled arrival time, and after getting passed the initial ambush of people trying to sell us bus tickets for 300baht and taxi for 200baht, we found a tuktuk driver to take us to the bus station for 40baht each and booked a public bus up to Pai for 80baht each.  You really do get what you pay for – the bus was slow and extremely cramped.  I had my knees out in the isle because they didn’t even fit in the seat.  A fun ride full of 20 somethings all talking about their traveling experiences and plans.  Got to Pai and walked to our hostel, Darling Viewpoint, and quickly realized we did not want to stay there long.  The “dorm” was really just 12 matresses thrown on a floor together, so we changed our four night stay there to only two and decided to find a new place for the rest of our time in Pai.  Spent the night walking around the streets shopping and eating street food (as we’d do every night in Pai).

January 30 – Our first full day in Pai we met up with Gabe, Emilie’s friend from Michigan who we met on Koh Phangan.  He stayed at Spicy Pai, a hostel we would have stayed at had there been any beds available.  A group of people from that hostel were going around for the day on motorbikes so we tagged along, Sam with Gabe and I rode with James from England.
First we went to the Chinese Village, which to be honest was this really tacky tourist attraction that was extremely inauthentic, with a human ferris wheel and a concrete castle.  We drove up the hill a bit for some tea and a nice view.  Then we went to Mor Paeng Waterfall, which was really cool because some guy was playing the didgeridoo, another older man was juggling and people were jumping and sliding into the waterfall.  That pretty much sums up Pai.

Then we headed to Land Split where the man working there gives you free juice, taro roots and banana chips and you pay whatever you want as a donation when you leave.  They also had the biggest chicken I have ever seen, which also happened to be blind so it was pretty easy to pickup and get a picture with.

We all headed back to Spicy Pai, and I switched from riding with James to riding with Leo from Sweden.  Leo had a Honda Phantom and I was really excited to ride on it and we headed out to the Canyon to watch the sunset.  Leo and I got there about ten minutes before everyone else because he was driving so incredibly fast, and then I got off the bike on the right side – big mistake – and burnt the side of my calf on the exhaust pipe.  I guess they call it the Thailand Tattoo because it happens to so many people here.
Watched the sunset at the canyon, which is the amazing landscape of trails with extremely steep drops on either side of the path.  The group climbed up through the trails but I stayed behind because I was barefoot and my leg was really starting to hurt.  Did our typical Pai routine of shopping/eating and headed to bed.

January 31 – In the morning Gabe came to pick Sam up to go to the hotsprings while I stayed behind because I didn’t want to go in with my burn.  Went for a run instead, which in retrospect was a very poor idea because my wound got really dirty.  Came back, showered and headed to the pharmacy where I picked up some antibiotic cream for burns and some proper bandages.  Packed up all our stuff and Sam and I headed down the road a bit to Family Huts, where we got our own bungalow with a bathroom for 400baht ($12) a night.  We’d been paying 150baht each at Darling so we didn’t mind the extra 50baht for more comfort.  The location was also much closer to the main road where we spent most of our time.

Walked and shopped with Sam during the day.  Got ready for the Reggae on the River which was this concert a good walk out of town.  Had a lot of fun sitting in a little teepee talking with one of the bands that was playing that night.  After a great night of dancing and hanging out with new people, Leo said he would take us back to our place.  I think Leo and I were both a little disoriented in the dark and without seeing our typical landmarks, but I saw a ridge I thought I recognized as the one close to where we live, so he dropped us off there and we started walking.  Turns out we were 10 km out of Pai, so I flagged down a passing motorbike with two young guys on it and without speaking very much English, we somehow communicated that we needed to head back into town.  Thankfully, they agreed to take us into town and the four of us rode about 15 minutes until we saw something we actually recognized.  Made it back to our little bungalow and promptly fell asleep.  Pretty stressful/terrifying experience in the moment but the next day Sam and I had a nice laugh at the shenanigans we got ourselves into.

 February 1 – Woke up late and got breakfast with Sam along the main street.   Spent the day lounging at Fluid, the town swimming pool.  That's about the extent of our activity for that day.
February 2 – Got up early with Sam and walked over to Aya, the local motorbike rental shop, and picked up a Honda Icon.  I think it was around 120baht/day ($4/day), but I opted for the additional damage and theft insurances which brought the total to 200baht/day.  They gave me a two minute tutorial and sent me off on my way.
We headed to Spicy to meet up with the group and headed off to a set of hotsprings where the road was described as “treacherous”.  Already apprehensive about driving a difficult route my first day out, as we were pulling out of the gas station Gabe pulled out of the gas station too quickly and bailed when he saw a car coming straight at him.  So then the three of us were then racing to catch up with the rest of the group going about 80km down the freeway and then realized we got lost.  Somehow we all found each other and paid our 40baht to get in.
Drove for a few minutes with no problems until the paved road ended and the dirt road began.  I trailed the group down an incredibly steep, dusty road full of holes and I admittedly almost ate it at the beginning as the brake (left hand) and gas (right hand) are easily to confuse your first day.  Made it down and watched everyone enjoy the natural hotsprings while I minded my wound and had a lovely time sitting under the trees reading Thoreau.

Lunch across the street from the hotsprings and headed back to Spicy.  Checked out Coffee in Love, spent some time at Mor Paeng Waterfall, and enjoyed a rest at the Strawberry Farm.  On our drive home we stopped when we saw an elephant on the side of the road.  Fed him a few bananas and got our photos in.

February 3 – For our last day in Pai we spent most of the day walking around and soaking up all that is Pai.  Really no pictures do it justice – something about the vibe there is just amazing though.  I bought a dress (500baht/$15) from this lovely woman who we’d visited a few other times, as well as a brass and rose quartz bracelet (300baht/$9) from a street vendor.

Sam and I made it our mission to make it to the big Buddha for sunset, and on our way got a little lost and ended up driving up and down this incredible difficult road.  Somehow we both made it out okay and sprinted our way up to the top of this hill just in time to see the sun set.  Met Gabe for at a bar called Why Not? Because…why not?  Headed over to Ting Tong for our last drink in Pai and headed to bed.