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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)

Off Again on an Asian Adventure - Thailand - Krabi 2017

Thailand Part 2 - Krabi

sunny 33 °C

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)

Los Angeles

sunny 31 °C

I drove to Los Angeles with a few stops along the way as it’s a long-ass drive!
It didn’t help that a lorry had overturned so I had to sit in a long line of traffic for a while.
Roads in the US are so long and everything is so much further apart than you realise!

I eventually got to my hostel in L.A. around 5:30/6pm and went to meet Steve from the hostel in New Orleans for a drink on Hollywood Boulevard before he left for his flight back to Australia.
I walked along the Walk of Fame then headed back to my hostel for an early night.

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  • RIP Robin Williams *

Apparently my early night was a little too early as I was awake at 4am and bored, so I got up as quietly as possible (not the easiest thing to do when you’re on the top bunk in a room of 6…!) and drove up to the Griffith Observatory to watch the sun rise.

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It is truly amazing what you can see when you’re awake 4 in the morning in Los Angeles. I saw something being filmed, a movie or TV programme, in a gas station, I got to see the beauty of Griffith Park from the observatory and the pure, silent, unpolluted view of Los Angeles as all her lights twinkled in the early morning darkness.

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I saw a guy propose to his girlfriend, she clearly had no idea it was happening, and as the sun rose over the nearby mountains, the mysticism of Los Angeles faded away in the astounding beauty and power of the morning glow.

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I particularly enjoyed an old Chinese man, ignoring the sunrise and staring, full-bodied at the moon as her light begin to diminish. There was something traumatic about the whole thing. It was almost as if he was contemplating his own life and how much or little time he might have before his own light fades…

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I took lots of pictures of the sun rising over the hills and after the initial beam of sunlight had hit the high rises and the city was bathed in the morning light, I got back in the car to get away from the hordes of people that had suddenly arrived and drove to Venice beach to enjoy some sea air and a casual walk on the beach and over the little bridges along the canals.

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I only got a short amount of time for parking so I had to cut my walk short and made my way back to the hostel to catch up on my missed sleep before driving to Newport to go whale watching.
Now, in order to get to the port to get on the boat to go whale watching, I had to drive to Balboa Island: the weirdest place I’ve ever seen. It was almost like none of it was real. Like the Truman Show meets Pleasantville, but so much more expensive. People were doing water sports and lounging on their private boats whilst I sat in my car on a 3 car ferry to get across the water to the dock, just like the car ferry in Jaws! So weird.

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The boat trip was pleasant enough, I saw a whale, from a distance and some dolphins, yet it wasn’t as enchanting as I’d hoped for, but pleasant enough. I got back onto the 3 car ferry, being the first car is the scariest thing of all as you stare bewildered at the minimal chain supposedly preventing you from diving engine first into the water, drove back to my hostel and had another relatively early night.
The next day I went to Universal Studios and I have to say, as good as it is, it’s ridiculously overpriced for what’s on offer and you have to pay for parking,
even after the extortionate entry prices! $16 for basic, general parking!
I packed some food and a big bottle of water as I wasn’t paying their prices for food and drink but luckily everything else was included in the exorbitant ticket price!
Plus, on the rides in the lower lot, they have a single rider entrance so if you’re travelling alone like I was or you don’t mind getting separated from your group/friends then you basically walk to the front of the queue to fill up empty seats on the rides. I walked straight past the 30 minutes wait like for the Jurassic Park Water ride and literally stepped straight on! Winner!

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Jurassic Park and the Transformers ride (also with a single rider line) were by far the best, and the Waterworld show was great but the Mummy ride was a cheap, poor-man’s ghost house. It was boring and a total waste of time. The only thrill was the accelerated start, it was downhill from there, both figuratively and literally.

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The Studio Tour was pretty interesting and definitely worth doing, but the queue was crazy long after 11am, so my advice would be to do that first. The Shrek 4D experience was pretty good too!

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All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the day but it is an expensive outing, especially for families without a well-stocked picnic basket and an inability to say no to the excessive souvenir shops and tack sellers!

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Now it sounds like I had a horrible time, which just isn’t the case, at one point some street cleaners started performing the most incredible dance routine, I just don’t understand why places with such high footfall need to be so expensive! Grinds my gears!

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I went for a walk down Fairfax Avenue after parking my car in the hostel’s minimal underground parking so as to not lose the space! I got falafel and hummus for dinner and some sushi for the following day and then chilled out.
The next day I did a Hollywood tour, they took you to famous people’s houses, not that you could see anything, but it was relatively informative and fun, if somewhat pricey for the gift of looking to famous people’s very high gates and fences.

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I then drove to the La Brea Tar Pits to see some fossils before going back to the hostel for a late lunch of sushi; some writing and a little TV before free BBQ and drinks in the Tiki Lounge!

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The next day I packed up and checked out of the Banana Bungalows and went to meet the girls for breakfast I had eggs benedict and it was crazy delicious! We went to the Blu Jam Café and clearly made an excellent choice as there was a queue down the street about 10 minutes after we arrived.

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After that, I said goodbye to the girls for the last time and began my drive to Yosemite.

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:36 Archived in USA Tagged sunrise expensive universal_studios walk_of_fame rodeo_drive sushi whale_watching l.a. solo_traveller la_brea_tar_pits hollywood_boulevard griffith_park_observatory balboa_island single_rider fortune_cookie it's_so_fluffy jurassic_park_ride waterworld_show Comments (0)

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