A Travellerspoint blog

Vang Vieng - Laos

Adventure awaits....

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng at around 9:30/10am, which cost 45,000 kip each ($5.40/£4) and arrived in Vang Vieng around 1pm.
The road between the two towns was long and winding going up and over a large mountainous range and sections of the road were missing, replaced by rubble and what looked like clay, from what I can only presume was the result of a landslide.
If you suffer from travel sickness, stock up on pills and pop them all because that journey will send your stomach through an assault course of internal anguish!

We arrived in Vang Vieng and luckily for us, our accommodation was only a few doors down from where the minivan dropped everyone off so we collected our suitcases and walked the few metres to our room.
Our accommodation was a 'guesthouse' apparently but in actual fact was more like a stable behind a restaurant. I'm not talking Mary and Joseph style stable of course but almost like a converted stable with a bed and bathroom inside.
It wasn’t horrible but for the price was acceptable. The whole town wasn’t of a particularly high standard anyway so the accommodation available seemed to follow suit.

We paid for a standard double which apparently means fan-only and to have use of the aircon would have cost us a further 120,000 PER DAY ($14.50/£10.80) so naturally we stuck with the fan and were lucky that Vang Vieng was not as hot as Vientiane had been.
We went for a walk around but to be honest there isn't much to see.
It appears that Vang Vieng is nothing more than one major road, full of restaurants and tour operators and some side streets of much the same.
However there is a nice view of the small river with the backdrop of mountains, but that was it really.

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There is also a large number of Korean establishments, which isn't an issue unless you're not in the mood for kimchi!

We stopped in to a few tour operators to see what kind of activities were on offer and there were many!

Vang Vieng got a bad reputation not too long ago for tourists getting drunk and rowdy by the river and then going tubing where they ultimately met an untimely demise.
However, the town has closed nearly all of the illegal pop-up bars by the river and everything seems to be more regulated now.

We booked an all-day tour of tubing through an underground water cave, kayaking and to visit the blue lagoon.
This should have cost 200,000 kip each ($25/£18) but instead we paid 120,000 ($14.50/£10.80) as he needed to fill seats - always look for a good deal!

For dinner we bought some sandwiches which were hardly in short demand as there were at least 5 venders within arms reach of each other offering the same food at the same price!

Now these sandwiches were only 10,000 kip ($1.20/£0.90) for a basic chicken with salad, fried onion and fresh garlic but they were some of the best and most filling sandwiches I've ever eaten.
We had one every day because they were the cheapest food available that would keep us full.

Ever since we spent more than a reasonable amount in Thailand we've been trying to tighten the purse strings in Laos, which is inherently difficult as you don't get as much money per exchange and everything is more expensive than most Asian places.

With 1,000,000 kip ($120/£90) we managed to buy food (not even expensive or fancy meals!), some trinkets from the night market, a boat trip and some entrance tickets to things like a museum or temple.

With the same amount in Thailand or Vietnam we'd have lived like kings.

Anyway, we got some rest before our adventure filled day the following morning.

We were collected in a tuk tuk, complete with a roof rack full of kayaks, at around 9am and after picking up others on the tour we made our way out of town towards the water cave.
It wasn't a particularly long trip and as we'd become accustomed to, bumpy, pothole filled roads led us to the river.
We put on our life jackets and accepted our free water with gratitude as the morning was already warming up under the suns powerful rays and we walked across a wood and rope bridge, over the river, towards the mountains.

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Our guide led us through a quiet, little village with locals observing us as we passed, their internal monologues most likely commenting on how ridiculous we all looked trudging along in life jackets despite not being near water yet!

After walking through wheat fields and climbing over what looked like and reminded me of old school gym apparatus (particularly the 'wooden horse' you had to jump over during gymnastics!) we arrived at a welcoming pool of water and settled down on the benches provided.

Our guide advised us that we'd be there for a while as after going tubing inside the water cave we'd be having lunch before moving on with the day’s activities.

As a larger woman with even larger breasts, life jackets are incredibly annoying as your ample bosom can go one of two ways, down towards your belly button and putting a strain on your chest muscles, or, as was the case for me, up into your throat.

I looked like a male bird of paradise attempting to attract a mate with my bulbous uni-boob protruding from atop the life jacket opening.

Ridiculous.

We were given head torches and advised to leave our things on the benches as they were ours for the morning and no one else would be using them (I'd have liked our own flag or something to put on the tables to indicate ownership but it doesn't work like that anymore…!).

We made our way down to the water, silently wishing we'd bought some form of water shoe with us, either a thin, porous trainer or even jelly shoes would have sufficed as tiny pebbles and unseen rocks are a foot's worst enemy!

The water was colder than I was mentally prepared for but on the plus side I got a free fish pedicure from the little bastards nibbling away at my feet and legs!

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We were each handed our tube (the inner tube of a tractor tyre) and hopped on, before grasping hold of a rope that would lead us inside the water cave.

Although not connected to each other, our whole group moved as one along the rope-system within the cave and slithered our way deeper inside, marvelling at the vastness around us.

At one point we had to abandon our tubes and wade through the shallower waters within, lest our backsides be grazed and nicked!

A large stalactite hung down, bathing us in fresh water as it poured from an unseen opening above.

Upon reaching an expanse of 'open water' (still within the cave and quite deep under the mountain) our guide instructed us to turn off our headlamps.

Complete blackout.

I wish we’d have a waterproof camera or go-pro as we’ll only have our memories of that adventure when we’re old, but alas, what better way to witness these wonders of the world than with your own eyes.

After making our way out of the water cave, we went back up to our benches and settled in for lunch.

Now anyone who’s been on one of these organised tours that include lunch are probably aware of the usual spread, a little bread maybe and some fruit?

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Well, we got a small baguette each, 2 large chicken kebab skewers and a banana leaf package of rice and vegetables as well as a huge platter of fruit.

Everyone in the group was pleasantly surprised, no doubt from having suffered previous ‘included lunch’ before and we were all happily stuffed by the end of lunch.
This was both a good and bad thing, as we weren’t really hungry for the rest of the day, but after lunch we went kayaking and it put quite a strain on our digestive systems!

Now I’ve been kayaking before in Halong Bay, Vietnam on my previous visit, but the fiancé had never done it before.
If you’re also a first timer for kayaking and you’re considering it, make sure you get some kind of tutorial beforehand or it can be a little scary when your kayak starts veering off and you instinctually choose the wrong side to correct it – as my fiancé quickly learned!

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Luckily for him, I deliberately sat at the back of the kayak as there is more power and control from there so I could correct any issues with our trajectory.
That didn’t stop him from ferociously trying to paddle on the wrong side causing us to change direction, despite me telling him which side – sometimes his listening skills are somewhat lacking…!

We stopped after about 1 hour and lord knows how many kilometres for the others in our group to do a zip-line course (something they’d paid for but we had opted out from).

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I’m sure after my acrophobic fiancé got over the volume of distance between him and the ground he may have enjoyed the adrenaline from such an activity, but given my density I felt being suspended metres above the ground by nothing more than a wire was probably not the best move and that I should never be suspended in mid-air, other than on an aeroplane!

The rain has been following us from country to country and true to form, an unholy downpour was released, masking out the distance mountains and thoroughly drenching anyone caught in it.
Including but not limited to the people from other groups still kayaking on the river and the apparently blissful people gracefully floating down the river on inner tubes.

The fiancé and I sought shelter at the starting point of the zip line and were graciously received and given chairs out of the rain, when the fiancé noticed a small black and yellow banded snake creeping out of the wooden boards beneath us.

Now anyone who knows me will know that snakes, lizards, anything reptilian or amphibious, anything with scales or crystal eyes, does not bother me, in fact I think they’re beautiful, unlike spiders which are nasty little 8-legged demons straight from proverbial hell!

I digress, baby snake – the fiancé has a deep and often comical fear of snakes, including ones in the zoo and fake ones… he really is an amusing man!
I’m in no way belittling his fear, as if you tossed a decorative spider at me, I would most likely soil myself. Fear is real people!

But this snake that decided to join us out of the torrent of rain was:
1) no longer than my forearm
2) as thin as a pencil or one of those thick straws for drinking smoothies
3) at least 2 metres away from us, also heading away from us

It was so insignificant in size that when fiancé first pointed it out, I thought it was a big worm.

I’m the inquisitive type that gets killed by animals for getting to close to them, I’d be one with my face chewed off my chimpanzees or the one destroyed by a hippo for encroaching on their territory, so naturally I got up to get a closer look at the beautiful serpent.

Black with yellow stripes.

Stunning.

It slithered away out of the rain, up a bamboo pole and inside through a little hole at the top.

When I turned around to return to my seat next to fiancé, he had both feet up off the floor and was wildly searching around the base of his chair for any other guest that may join us.

Other than the biggest toad I’ve ever seen, there was nothing else from the natural world coming anywhere near us.

As the rain began to settle, the zip-liners returned and we went back down to the kayaks and continued on down the river.

The fiancé seemed much more suited to his kayaking on this second leg of the journey and we were frequently working the paddles in unison, moving effortlessly along the river.

  • Side note – there was an awful lot of effort, I felt like the hulk by the time we were done, definitely arm day in the world gym!

We got back in the tuk tuk that was waiting for us by the edge of the river and made our way to the blue lagoon which I’m sure would have been more beautiful had the sun been shining but I was grateful for less UV rays attacking me after I felt my shins burning from the first kayaking leg.

I thought the river had been cold but this lagoon, this was ice water I was sure of it and after jumping off of a tree branch and plunging into it, I ultimately felt refreshed and contemplated opening a glass-cutting business with my nipples.

After an hour or so, we made our way back to our accommodation, got a 10,000 kip sandwich from our usual lady, had a shower (after eating said sandwich, we’re not into bathing with our food) and promptly passed out for about 15 hours.

The following day was mainly revolved around eating sandwiches, sleeping and resting our weary bodies, and before we knew it the time came to book a minivan to Luang Brabang and we watched Vang Vieng disappear into the distance.

Posted by Lady Mantle 21:03 Archived in Laos Tagged nature travel adventure laos kayaking snake tubing vang_vieng sandwiches water_cave Comments (0)

Laos - Vientiane

Last piece of the Golden Triangle! Achievement unlocked!

sunny 30 °C

We took a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and after a brief stop-over in Phnom Penh arrived within a few hours of leaving HCMC.

You can get a visa-on-arrival at Vientiane airport but the price varies depending on the country you’re from.
Myanmar citizens get a free 14-day visa on arrival, but somehow my jammy fiancé managed to get a full month without paying the $30 to do so!
I however, with my British passport, had to pay $35!

When you arrive at the immigration desks there are collections of forms to fill in beforehand – one being your arrival/departure card that you should have been given on the flight to Laos, the other is the visa-on-arrival application form that takes all of 2-3 minutes to fill in.
Now because I live and travel in Asia, I always have recent passport photos in my purse/passport holder which is useful for times like these when you need a passport photo (in colour) – don’t worry too much if you don’t have one, you just have to pay an extra $1 for them to scan and copy your passport photo onto the visa application.

For more information on the Laos visa-on-arrival and the costs, please use the following link: www.laos-guide-999.com/laos-visa-on-arrival.html

We arrived at the airport around 7pm and by the time we’d gone through immigration and collected our bags the SIM card place was closed, but luckily, I managed to change $200 at the open currency exchange desk, which gave me about 1,665,000 KIP.

Having just been in Vietnam where they also have large money denominations, I forgot that $200 gives you about 4,500,000 VND and Laos is more expensive than I’d realised and hoped for!

Another important thing to remember about Laos, particularly Laos airport is there is no meter-taxi service from the airport, but rather a fixed rate of 57,000 Laos KIP ($7/£5) to basically anywhere in the town of Vientiane.

I discovered this after being stubborn for about 30 minutes and refusing to take this information at face-value but rather wait it out and see if a meter-taxi would magically appear.

Eventually, realising that unlike some other places throughout Asia, these people were in fact not trying to rip us off, we paid the 57,000 KIP and were quickly on our way.

As an added bonus, the guy at the small desk before you exit the airport (where you pay for the taxi) advised me to not carry around a lot of money in my purse as when I pay for something there may be some opportunists looking to see how much money I have to try and steal it from me later.
Advice worth heeding throughout your own Asian adventures.

We arrived at our accommodation, Ali Backpackers Hotel, and checked in as I watched nearly 1/3 of my money that I’d just exchanged disappear into the friendly man’s hands (406,000 Kip ($49/£37 for 4 nights! That was one of the cheapest accommodation offers we could find, bearing in mind that we were in a private double room with shared bathroom as opposed to a dorm room which would be cheaper plus breakfast was included in that price).

With this in mind, using sites like www.agoda.com / www.agoda.co.uk and paying for your accommodation online saves huge chunks of cash leaving your purse or wallet at once!

What we were not ready for was 4 flights of stairs (no lift/elevator) to get to our room.

As we’re planning on moving to Singapore after this travelling adventure, we have rather large, cumbersome and heavy suitcases, so carrying 30+ kg up those stairs was beyond tiring and not advisable!

The accommodation however was in a good location and we could see Thailand (I believe the north of Chiang Rai) just across the river!

The beds in Laos follow the Asian pattern of being harder than a bag of rocks but the beds in this hotel took it one step further - I genuinely had to check there was even a mattress on the bed because of the firmness.
Add that to the teeny, tiny blanket we were given and the whole sleeping situation wasn’t ideal.
On the plus side though, we did have an excellent AC unit which was desperately needed given that the temperatures outside were constantly exceeding 30®C (85®F) with humidity levels well above 70%.

We got some food in the hotel (about 30,000 KIP - $3.60/£2.70 for a burger!) and hit the hay.

The following day we decided to try and save some money on tuk tuks and motorbike rentals by walking to some ‘nearby’ sites.

First was Wat Si Saket (just over 2km from the hostel by walking along the river) and second was the Patuxai Monument a further 2-3km from there and then 6km back to the hotel after that!

Wat Si Saket is beautiful with lots of Buddha statues around the outside of the courtyard housing a large, inner temple in the middle.

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Entrance was 3,000 KIP ($.035/$0.25) for locals and 10,000 KIP ($1.20/£0.90) for foreigners which doesn’t sound like a lot especially considering a can of coke was 10,000 KIP.

As always, the fiancé took over 1,000 selfies (number not confirmed!) and we walked under the shade as much as possible to avoid the insane heat from the sun, before leaving Wat Si Saket and walking up the boulevard to the Patuxai Monument modelled after the Arc Du Triumph of France.

I hadn’t realised how much the French got around in Asia before now really, in Vietnam and in Laos in particular, influencing not only the architecture and language, but also the food and flavours as well.

We stopped in to the Talat Sao Mall, mainly to enjoy the AC for a little bit and were greeted by a plethora of ‘cheap’ clothes (not cheap by Asian standards, Laos really is more expensive than the neighbouring countries!).

We continued on under the blazing sun, using the boulevard of trees to shade us as we walked up towards the Patuxai Monument.

When we arrived, we paid the 3,000 KIP ($0.35/£0.25) to climb up what felt like never ending stairs to the first upper level, then up again and again and again to reach the very top viewing tower.

Inside, on the first and second levels there were people selling clothes and souvenirs aplenty and some fans dotted about to feel a cool, most welcome breeze before continuing up the stairs.

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As the sign on the wall of the monument details, this was an unfinished piece of architecture so it isn’t particularly beautiful to look at and its used most frequently as a shaded cover for locals to meet and enjoy a cold soft-drink or an ice-cream!

After that we made our way back to the hotel along a different route, stopped into the Laos version of a convenience store and got some burgers (9,000 KIP - $1/£0.80) as it was one of the cheapest options for a meal, and had a well-deserved sleep!

The next day we rented a motorcycle from a different hostel as ours didn’t have any to rent us for 70,000 KIP ($8.30/£6.30) so that we could go further afield and explore.

Tuk tuks for one trip were in the range of 200,000-350,000 KIP ($24 - $42 / £18 - £32) for the same distance we’d travel on the motorbike so we made a good investment for our 24-hour rental.

We decided to go to Buddha Park as it was the furthest thing away from us and work our way back.

Now in my infinite wisdom, I decided to direct the fiancé to take the ‘scenic’ route along the river which after taking a right turn instead of a left turn took us from the real road down a much less developed path.

When I say much less developed, what I mean is that the road looked like it had suffered severely from chickenpox with potholes so deep you could see the earth’s core at the bottom.

To say it was a bumpy ride was an understatement.

We very quickly got the picture from the locals staring at us in awe that foreigners didn’t really use this road as not only was it in a terrible condition, it also, after some considerable time rearranging our internal organs, linked up with the original ‘good’ road we were on in the first place.

Huge trucks and lorries bounced along the road like they were competing to be in a 90’s rap video as we idiotically bounded along beside them.

It was at that point that I was glad to have the fiancé behind the wheel, so to speak, as living in Myanmar his whole life, he’s used to poor quality roads and manoeuvred around most of the craters with grace and poise.

There was one point on our treacherous journey that led us through an overflowing river, which had I been navigating, it would have ended with us wet and paying out for a damaged motorcycle, but he glided through it like an ice-skater.

Brilliant is he, that man of mine!

After consulting google maps, I suggested we take an even more neglected road to cut off some of the painful journey and re-join the actual road system we were on previously.

This was both an excellent choice and an ultimately rewarding one, as despite having to drive on what I can only describe as a water-less riverbed, complete with rocks and gravel, we were privy to beautiful rice paddies and farm land surrounded by forests of trees and some gorgeous puppies!

Life!

The beauty aside, when we finally made our way back around to the main road our joy was palpable and we continued on to the Buddha Park.

For such a tourist attraction, you’d think the road leading to it would be easily ridden, but apparently our detour was not unlike many other roads in Laos and the smooth tarmac we’d been enjoying was in fact the rarity, rather than the other way around.

If you plan to visit Laos, Vientiane and the Buddha Park in particular and will go there by either motorcycle, bicycle or tuk tuk (basically anything open to the elements) it is my strictest advice to you to buy one of those terribly fetching hospital face masks to protect you from the inordinate amount of dust and filth forced up into the air by other vehicles.

Plus, if you do indulge in such a necessary purchase, you’ll be just as attractive as us…!

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Finally, we arrived at the Buddha Park and were not disappointed.

I shall let my photos speak for themselves:
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We decided to utilise our renting of the motorcycle and went to visit the That Luang temple as featured on a lot of Laos advertising and a staple of Laos temple culture.

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The entry prices were the same as Wat Si Saket at 3,000 KIP for locals and 10,000 KIP for foreigners but in all honesty, what you can see from the outside is resplendent enough without actually going inside so we didn’t pay to go in and saved that money for dinner!

As Laos is landlocked between Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, the food available is heavily influenced by those countries so there was no short supply or fish curries, Pad Thai, satay, pho, or egg fried rice but we had yet to find anything distinctly Laos in the cuisine availability.

We walked until we found some locals sitting and eating near the convenience store and purchased some rice and Laos satay – a range of meat kebabs both external meats and offal, all of which were delicious.

I have very much a ‘don’t ask’ approach to food in foreign countries as generally, even liver can be tasty on a BBQ skewer!

And as always, when eating like the locals do, you save a pretty penny as well!

In the evening we went to the famed night market by the river near our hotel and to be honest, I was very disappointed. It was not the Asian night markets people usually envision with a multitude of handy-crafts and delicious snacks on offer, but rather a display of mass-produced tourist tat, poor quality and over-priced clothing with Italian pizza on offer!

We decided to use the motorcycle to view the main town at night as we had it there all paid for and found Joma Bakery and discovered that if you go there after 6pm, all of the baked goods are 50% off!
We got a huge cinnamon roll and a delicious Canadian Maple Syrup donut for 14,500 KIP ($1.70/£1.30) which made it just about a decent price!

The next day we booked our minibus to Vang Vieng (45,000 KIP each - $5.40/£4), infamous for its debauchery-plagued past but trying desperately to reform its image in recent years and made the 3-4 hour journey there to begin the next leg of our adventure.

Posted by Lady Mantle 03:18 Archived in Laos Tagged travel laos vientiane motorcycle expensive that_luang wat_si_saket golden_triangle off_roading buddha_park patuxai_monument laos_airport laos_taxi laos_visa_on_arrival jomo_bakery laos_prices dirt_roads Comments (1)

Vietnam.... we meet again!

Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 31 °C

Those of you who have been following my journey from the beginning, or even if you’re just popping in for a quick visit will know or quickly learn that I’ve already been to Vietnam.
As with Thailand, this time in Vietnam is with my fiancé - Selfie addict extraordinaire!

We flew from Krabi to Bangkok with Thai Lion Air – surprisingly excellent cheap flight provider and their baggage charges are actually reasonable unlike Air Asia which I’ve found to get more expensive over the years. Plus, the seats on Thai Lion Air are wider than most, with good leg room and general space between rows so you don’t have the seat back in front of you inches away from your face and the seat belt is longer than most Asian flight operators so you can get that weird feeling of pride when you can pull the seat belt in and have lots of excess!

We had about 8 hours between our arrival at BKK airport and our next flight from there to Hanoi so we got some food in the 24-hour food court and then went to a temple across the train tracks from the airport.
Now, I’d read online there was a walkway that took you over the road and train tracks and landed pretty much in front of the temple, but us being idiots we ended up taking a different walkway in the opposite direction then had to traverse the road and train track on foot (luckily we’d put our bags in the left luggage hold!).
After an hour or so of walking we finally got to the temple, which wasn’t much to look at but interesting to pass time I guess, and then found the aforementioned walkway straight into the airport.
Livid!

Our flight to Hanoi was fine, with no problems and the hotel we’d booked – HAAP Viet Travel Homestay – was great, they even picked us up from the airport free of charge and we had our first taste of Vietnam’s Pho for breakfast (a delicious noodle and beef soup/broth).
As expected, the fiancé took pictures of the whole experience so you can see the room below:

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We only stayed there for one night as it is only really useful/practical for airport proximity and I’d consequently booked us into an AirBnB serviced apartment, which to be honest, felt like our apartment after only about 1 hour of being it. Such a strange feeling of instantly being at home. Our AirBnB host was Nam and we’d definitely recommend him and this property.

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The fiancé left his phone in the taxi and Nam quickly called HAAP Viet Travel Homestay to get the taxi info and then he called the taxi company and within 15 minutes the phone was returned (for a small fee of about 20p!). He will be forever grateful to Nam for the swift recovery!

I love AirBnB (provided the hosts are not horrendous human beings or the property isn’t as described which sometimes happens unfortunately) – it saves you money by being able to cook your own meals as opposed to eating out every day/night and gives you a real base to work from.

Of course it is not really any different to booking a self-catering holiday but when you’re booking stuff on the fly/as you go AirBnB is great.

Good grief, it sounds like I work for AirBnb but I do not – if anyone from AirBnb is liking this free advertising, feel free to shoot some coupon codes my way! Haha!

Hanoi is like most big cities but I don’t want to generalise as we didn’t go out of our way to see every corner of it during our stay.
We went across town to the Vinpearlland aquarium in Times City - that’s this weird, but massive mall in a new-ish area/complex place. It was all a little fake/staged.
The aquarium was expensive for what was there and not really worth it but it was nice to spend some time out and about and we got some food in the mall as well.

Apart from that we didn’t really do anything.

As a side note, if you want to go to Halong Bay it is actually better to go to Hai Phong as it is closer so it’ll cost you less than going from Hanoi and you can fly to Hai Phong as well which is good.

If you don’t want to fly anywhere in Vietnam, you really don’t need to and can do what we did by taking the sleeper trains.

You can easily book tickets on 12go.asia where you can input your destination and travel date and it will give you all options, 2nd class seaters and sleepers, 1st class sleepers and even VIP Sleepers.
The 2nd class ones are not very nice, especially for long journeys and the ‘beds’ are hard.
We chose the 1st class sleeper to go from Hanoi to Da Nang and then got picked up by our next AirBnB place in Hoi An from there.
We had a sneak at the ‘VIP’ sleepers and they looked much like our own cabins with maybe slightly thicker ‘mattresses’ so we were ok with not paying more for them unnecessarily.

So the 1st class sleeper has 4 bunks, 2 on either side with a small window bench/table between the lower bunks.
We were on the top bunks both times we took the train and they were pretty comfortable with space for luggage under the lower bunks and a little cubby for smaller bags etc over the door for us up top.
There’s snacks and drinks for sale as well as hot food if you want to buy it, which we did as our journey was 12 hours!
Rice with chicken and vegetables and some other undisclosed meat products but it was warm and tasty so no questions asked and barely any money paid!
We paid about $100/£80 for two beds on the sleeper but realistically it meant we didn’t have to pay for accommodation for that 12-15 hours and we didn’t have to get a flight and pay extra for luggage, plus we got to see some of Vietnam’s countryside and mountains on the way so not so bad!

We arrived at Da Nang train station and our driver was waiting for us so we got straight into the car and made our way to Hoi An (about 45-60 minutes away south of Da Nang).
We’d booked another AirBnB place (Green Areca Villas) but this was more of a guesthouse/hotel and we were pleasantly surprised by the general look and feel of the place – quite high-end without being priced as such, and a pool!
It wasn’t as close to things as I’d hoped and after being in Thailand where there’s a 7/11 or Family Mart on every corner/street to a little shack with some snacks and maybe a beer or cola was annoying.

We rented a motorcycle for a day (150,000 VND - $6.60/£5) to go to the old Hoi An town which I’d visited previously but he’d not been (obviously!) so off we went.

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I’d forgotten how beautiful it is there with little streets and lanterns, the river, the old Japanese covered bridge, lovely! Plus, the fiancé loved it too and I loved watching him love it! *gush*

We went during the day and then back again in the evening when all the lanterns were on and it had an exquisitely ancient, mystical feel – if you’re a fan of Ghibli movies it was very Spirited Away!

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We mainly just enjoyed the pool and ate at the hotel which would explain our nearly 2,000,000 VND ($88/£67) bill at the end (room rate + 2x transfer to Da Nang train station + motorcycle + food + minibar!) – Life!

Ah yes that reminds me, throughout our journey things happen that are, how shall we say, annoying as balls? However, the pair of us has taken to looking at these things/experiences as just another example of life and the many delightful and horrible experiences it can throw at you so when something happens (a wrong turn, an expensive indulgence, a faux pas) we would simply say to each other, “Life!” and carry on!

We took the train again from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City, this time around $90/£70 and 20 hours!

Our hotel was horrible, despite positive reviews, but cheap (there were rats in the ceiling!)

Again, we didn’t do much but there is a lot to do, especially Museums etc.

We went to the Zoo and Botanical gardens then walked down to the Notre Dame inspired cathedral and post office before admitting defeat from our tired feet and heading back to our hotel.

As the Mid-Autumn festival happened during our time there, I did a little research for where to go and found an apparent evening palooza at the Crescent Mall so we hopped in a Grab taxi and went across town.

For those of you who don’t know Grab is the Asian equivalent of an Uber and you can get cars or motorcycle taxis from an app on your phone – very useful and efficient!

When we arrived at Crescent Mall there were thousands of people so we thought we were on to something good… there was nothing really.
There was a fake mini Hoi An that had been erected for the event but you had to pay to get in and from peeking inside, totally was not worth it.

So we went for a walk around, grabbed some cheap, hot food from the Circle K (convenience store), took some selfies and then got another Grab taxi back, right before the heavens opened!

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The rain has been following us from country to country!

Luckily, the following day was clear and sunny for our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – home of the Viet Cong fighters during the Vietnam war. Something I’d done previously, but was now enjoying a second time with the fiancé.
It really is interesting and worth a visit, plus you can go inside the tunnels and see the bamboo traps the Viet Cong used to trap and kill US soldiers.

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Here endeth our time in Vietnam – on to Laos!

Posted by Lady Mantle 00:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged zoo saigon hanoi botanical_gardens hoi_an notre_dame fiance ho_chi_minh_city sleeper_train cu_chi_tunnels japanese_bridge vietnam_train 12go.asia Comments (0)

Off Again on an Asian Adventure - Thailand - Krabi 2017

Thailand Part 2 - Krabi

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I find myself travelling throughout Southeast Asia again, only this time I’m doing it with my fiancé.

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This is both a blessing and a (teeny, tiny!) curse.
It is a blessing that I get to see his reaction to places I’ve already been to and experienced, even down to his first time taking a flight!
It is a teeny, tiny curse because I have already seen these places and experienced these things before so the ‘wow’ factor is somewhat reduced.
My fiancé is also addicted to selfies, which when combined with my slightly faster “been there, done that” pace often leaves him alone in a foreign place.

I’m trying to be more empathetic to his situation.
He is me 5 years ago, minus the first time taking a flight thing…
As his eyes were falling on the insanity that is Bangkok or the hot mess of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, I was pleasantly reminded of my own reaction to the first time in those very same places and I felt a radiating warmth throughout my body that I get to not only witness him seeing these places
and experiences these things for the first time, but I also get to share in it all with him.

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It is oddly rewarding.

Now in a somewhat selfish manner, when we started our travelling journey together, we flew from Mandalay to Bangkok and got a bus straight to Krabi as that was an area of Thailand I’d not visited previously.
Even so, we got to see new places together and he got to see Thailand for the first time ever so win-win.

Whilst he is busy taking pictures of, well everything (including himself, a lot!) I’m occupied watching him.
It’s like watching a child discover what we take to be perfectly normal things, like rain, for the first time.
He is truly beautiful to behold in new surroundings (and anywhere else really!)
Unfortunately for all of my infatuated gazing, I didn’t actually take so many photographs of my own, so I will share some of his (non-selfie) photos of our time in Krabi!

We took the night bus from the South Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai) which is essentially a giant bus terminal servicing the south of Thailand (as opposed to Chiang Mai etc in the North) and a mall with various tat and some foods places.
We looked for a reputable bus service (Nakhon Chai Air, The Transport Company and Green Bus, among others) and got some food.
There is a decent looking night market by the bus station/shopping centre also if you’re bus doesn’t leave until late.

We boarded the bus around 6:30/7pm and arrived at around 7am at Krabi bus terminal (miniscule in comparison to Bangkok).
I’d already read about how to get to our accommodation in the cheapest way possible, and obstinately avoided the touts screaming at us to pay their hideous fares (1,000 Baht - $30/£23) for shared minibuses.
We hopped on the white songthaew (essentially a pick-up with a roof and 2 benches in the back) for 150 Baht ($4.50/£3.40) who for an extra 50 Baht took us directly to our accommodation instead of just dropping us off at the usual stop in Ao Nang Town.

We stayed at the Bamboo Resort in Ao Nang, Krabi and despite having ‘Ao Nang Beach’ in the address, it was in fact NOT near the beach and in no way was it a resort. I was actually incredibly disappointed, of course the fiancé didn’t know any better but when I book a Bamboo Resort on a beach I expect exactly that…

What we got were little bamboo houses (nature got in EVERYWHERE) barely big enough in which to swing a cat and the joy of every morning and evening listening to men (and sometimes women) beating all mother of hell out of each other in the Muay Thai Boxing ring on site.
We were essentially booked to stay at a training camp, even though neither of us do Muay Thai or anything of the sort.
The only plus was that the adjoining restaurant had an Italian chef so the food was amazing (but overpriced!)

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All of this would have been manageable if the property was near, umm…anything, which it really wasn’t, aside from a tiny Muslim restaurant (very good and decent prices! Yay!) and a Family Mart (convenience store) about 5 km away, so we had to rent a motorcycle nearly every day (150 Baht/day).

We did the usual boat trips, rides into the mountains, experienced the standard tourist problems – our motorcycle tyre blew in the middle of nowhere/jungle but luckily for us a local Muslim guy on his motorbike told us to wait, popped back to his house just up the road from where we were stranded, came back in his pick-up truck, helped my fiancé load the bike in the back and then took us to an open garage. He even chatted with the guy to get us a good deal and we ended up paying about 150 Baht for a new tyre.
Such kindness you often see in Asia, with the occasional nasty little bastards who pinch your stuff but that’s to be expected I guess.

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Thailand is more expensive than I remember and after 2 weeks and £1000 for the two of us I was glad to be moving on!

Posted by Lady Mantle 06:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand motorcycle expensive muay_thai fiance 7_island_tour bamboo_resort Comments (1)

On the road to Mandalay...

sunny 40 °C

Dear Blogasphere, it has been a long time since my last entry, and for this I can only apologise!

I find myself once again on foreign soil - this time I have moved to Mandalay in Myanmar (formally Burma) for another English teaching position.
This was a somewhat last minute decision, but one I think will bear fruit sooner than anticipated.

I arrived at Mandalay International Airport after a somewhat gruelling 20 hours or so travelling time across three flights and 4 airports to be greeted to an incredible heat.
It's hard to describe the current climate as it's almost like walking behind a bus and getting trapped in the heat of the exhaust without the stuffy, polluted air. It's a thick heat without too much sweating, which is always good. The air smells warm and inviting without being uncomfortable or difficult to breathe.

I was collected by one of my soon-to-be colleagues, a delightfully miniature woman in the form of Jolyn. Though tiny, she was full of smiles and a positive, welcoming countenance that was just what I needed after my nearly full day of travelling.
We hopped into our waiting taxi and were soon on our way to my home for the next year or so.

As we drove along the somewhat uneven highway, we passed huge masses of green trees and fields, lakes and rivers, cows and goats, and people lounging about under the shade of the roadside trees. People haphazardly swerved around our car on the mopeds, three people at least on each bike, helmets on one or two of them, but blissfully riding along without a care in the world.

I saw a long wooden bridge stretching out over a placid lake, and by long I mean at least a few miles, and countless gold topped temples, palaces and pagodas - truly beautiful, nestled in amongst the land's natural wonderment.

As we got closer to town, more people and vehicles began to appear, including a small truck full to the brim with Buddhist monks, inside and atop, giving off an air of pure zen-like contentment; woman carrying what appeared to be obscenely heavy cargo on their heads, items my sturdy neck would struggle to support. This seemed to be a theme as I passed by countless numbers of women carrying various loads, including one women who was supporting a healthy number of bricks on her head at a local construction site.

It seems the Asian vehicular phenomenon is not only limited to the larger countries of China, Thailand and Vietnam, but is in fact a staple requirement of driving or riding in this part of the world.

We arrived at the hotel where I was shown to my room, complete with twin beds and an en suite bathroom, all for me, and proceeded to empty my heaving suitcases into their final resting places of various drawers, cupboards and wardrobes and lying on one of my beds whilst saying out loud "God, I love my life!"

Having not slept the entire way here, I thought it best to stay awake as long as possible to avoid the dreaded jet lag, which over the years, I have become somewhat proficient at escaping.

I met my boss by accident in the hallway towards my room, who took me to a bureau de change around the corner from our hotel to change the US dollars I had in my purse into Myanmar kyat (pronounced chat) and then on to the other teachers rooms around the hotel complex.

What an eclectic mix of individuals; the chilled, almost hippy-esque kind; the somewhat bawdy Londoner; the cute mixed nationality couple; the pixie like gem; the quirky and funny one – all lovely and welcoming, and all with different stories to tell.

It’s a little intimidating to be thrust into a well-knit group of people as a newbie, but a situation I am all too familiar with and can appreciate for what it is; a new and exciting opportunity to be something different to add to the mix!

The sun rises incredibly early here and sets in much the same way, so when a blanket of darkness finally fell around 7:30pm, I crawled into my cosy bed, in my marvellously air-conditioned room, and slept for at least 15 hours!

The next day I went to the small hotel restaurant, even that being too big a word for the space available, to enjoy my free daily breakfast of fried egg, fried rice or noodles, toast, fruit, juice, tea and coffee before meeting, purely by accident, one of the other teachers who told me when to get the bread van to the main teaching centre to observe some lessons.

  • Please note, that it is of course not a bread van, but a small, almost camper van shaped commodity that shepherds us back and forth from the various work outposts everyone needs to get to.

I was soon on my way, learning ever more useful titbits of what to expect from my new life in Mandalay, until arriving at the very off the beaten track building that was to be my new teaching centre.

Basic is not a word I could use to describe it, but everything somehow worked perfectly for the area and purposes required. Discordant harmony is probably the best way to define it, but without any negative connotations! Confusing I know, but do bear with me!

It was almost like this place had decided, whether consciously or not, that they would strip away the frivolous teaching methods, styles and equipment of the western world, leaving nothing but a pure, totally unambiguous and instinctive teaching core beneath. This space was completely, 100% for the love of learning and the desire to be educated without any of the bells and whistles to glam it up. It was actually quite overwhelming, and intriguing.

I observed a lesson and then made my way back to hotel (via the bread van) where I made the fatal error of lying down for a moment.

4 hours later, I awoke to a hunger I hadn’t felt for a long time! The immediate need for sustenance forced me from my bed to the local bar, almost attached to our hotel, Central Park.

I joined some of the teachers I’d met earlier and had some dinner with them, before going back to my room to sleep due to the sneaky jetlag induced exhaustion.

The next day, I had breakfast again before getting collected by Jolyn who, in the bread van again, took me to the centre where I graded some papers and had an interesting lunch of rice, vegetables and some kind of cured meat from a lady with a pop up shack around the corner from the teaching centre.

I stayed for most of the day before heading back to the hotel and napping briefly, and then got escorted to a local BBQ place to have a welcome meal with my fellow colleagues. For less than a fiver, we gorged ourselves on various BBQ classics, plus some fried noodles and beer cheaper than a packet of crisps in the UK!

I was still pretty tired so decided to head back whilst everyone else moved on to a bar, only to walk a few metres from the BBQ place to find my feet not touching the ground as I had anticipated.

Before I knew what was happening, the floor began getting closer to my face as my hands thrust out in front of me and I instinctively turned my body for my back to take the brunt of the fall.

Yes, I had fallen down one of the many holes in the road and had, within hours of meeting my colleagues for at least the next 6 months, promptly fallen down like a blob of human ineptitude in front of them all.

With the skill and grace of a person used to falling over their own feet, let alone pot holes or off high heeled shoes, I laughed at myself before heaving my still quivering mass off the tarmac and brushed off what I can only hope was just dirt from my hands and then somewhat sore arse.

It was only after separating from the group that I remembered the torch I’d so sensibly stowed away in my bag, which I immediately removed from said bag and used to light my way home.

After applying antiseptic cream to my scraped knee, I crawled once more into my soft, welcoming sheets and beckoned sleep to me like a vampire in a coffin.

The following day I made the catastrophic error of not getting up early enough for breakfast, and having not yet located the nearest supermarket, went to work at 12pm without any input of any kind to then work for 6 hours straight using only the odd cigarette break to stifle my hunger pangs.

Luckily though, my new students with their enthusiasm and general loveliness saw me through to the end of my shift by playing countless games, getting-to-know-you activities and having interesting conversations.

As is standard in Asia, the students give themselves their own English names, and without fail, I once again have some absolute corkers, including but not limited to, Starlay, KK, Arr, and Moses.

After my successful lessons and first complete day of teaching, me and a fellow late nighter got in the bread van and made our way back to the hotel before accosting another teacher and heading out for dinner up the road a few blocks from the hotel.

We sat in Central Park after dinner for drinks and long discussions about our lives before Mandalay before walking back to our rooms and saying goodnight on this, my first real day.

Posted by Lady Mantle 10:24 Archived in Myanmar Tagged teacher burma mandalay asia myanmar first_day esl new_students love_my_life new_city new_life Comments (3)

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