A Travellerspoint blog

Luang Prabang

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There will be a post coming soon about our time in Chiang Rai, Houay Xai and our two days on the slow boat to Luang Prabang, but Stephen has said he'll write that one so it may well be a while!

We haven't done a lot over the last few days, just of a lot of chilling out! But that's been nice for us :)

Day 1:

We arrived into Luang Prabang at about 6pm, after 8.5 hours on the slow boat from Pak Beng. We had booked our accommodation a few days ago through hostelworld - 5 nights at SpicyLaos hostel (one of only 2 hostels in Luang Prabang) for £2.50 a night. I didn't really want to stay there as I really don't like hostels and this one seemed particularly unappealing from the photos, but I agreed to it anyway as Stephen wanted to, and staying in hostels is a good way to meet people. Anyway, within 20 seconds of arriving at the hostel I knew I didn't want to stay there, it was dirty, hot, full of mosquitoes and bugs, the bed sheets hadn't been changed and the mattress was so thin and also completely squashed down so it might as well have been non-existent! There were very few toilets and showers and many of the toilets didn't even have a seat!

After dumping our bags near our beds we went out to find some food and a city map. Unfortunately I couldn't help but cry on this walk - I'd been stuck on an uncomfortable and very slow boat for 2 days and just wanted a decent place to sleep! Stephen wasn't that fussed about the hostel, but he could understand why I wouldn't want to stay there so we agreed to stay for just one night (and hope they didn't charge us for the other 4) and then look for somewhere else the next day.

While looking for somewhere for dinner we realised that everything is quite expensive here, despite it being the 20th poorest country in the world (it's because they import everything). After a decent dinner and some drinks we headed back to the hostel and had a very uncomfortable and hot night's sleep.

Day 2:

I set my alarm for 8am this morning, and got up and packed almost straight away. I'd slept in my clothes and just kept these same clothes on for today, didn't shower and didn't even brush my teeth - I just wanted to be out of there asap! Over breakfast we looked up other possible places to stay and decided to check out the other hostel in town. At only 40p more than SpicyLaos I wasn't too hopeful, but when we arrived and looked at a room we were pleasantly surprised so I am now happy and stress-free again! The only hiccup today has been that I got very upset when I saw some van drivers run over a sleeping dog's foot (not sure if it was a stray or not), but they didn't seem to care at all and the dog was yelping and crying and limping a lot - very upsetting for an animal lover like me!

We didn't do a lot the rest of the day. Stephen didn't feel very well so we did quite a bit of sleeping!

Day 3:

We decided we'd be a bit more productive today and go to the waterfall that seems to be the main attraction in Luang Prabang. After a fairly early breakfast, we organised for a tuk-tuk to take us to the waterfall. He wanted to take us at 11:30 so we had an hour to kill so we walked up to the temple on the hill in the middle of town. There was a a pretty good view over the city from the top:

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The weather looks terrible in the picture but it's just all the smoke from the burning, it was actually quite sunny and hot!

When it got to 11:30 we headed back to the tuk-tuk man and found he had gathered some more people to come along - a German couple, (Marita and Sven) a French girl (Sara) and a Thai girl (Narawak). It was a pretty bumpy hour in the tuk-tuk but it was well worth it! The waterfall was beautiful and we had a fun time climbing up to the top and having a swim.

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Khon Si Waterfall - the water was so blue and it had loads of different levels

When we got back into town we all arranged to meet for beers in the evening after dinner. Stephen still didn't feel great so we decided to go to a nice restaurant we'd seen the night before to play it safe. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a very bad idea. We both ordered the same thing and both ended up throwing up all night - not great when you're in an 8-bed dorm and the water has been turned off for the night!

Day 4:

We'd booked to go on a 7 hour hike today. Stephen felt a bit better, but I was still being sick when he got up so he had to go on his own. Here's his account of the trek:

So after leaving Charlotte in the capable hands of an Irish girl from our dorm I met the 4 girls who would be going hiking with me. We hopped into a pickup truck where we were driven to the start point, an elephant place like the one we went to. On the way I saw a full size JCB digger upside down in the middle of the road with a lot of confused men standing around but alas, no photo.

After a little boat ride we started walking up and down mountains a lot which is quite a difficult thing to do if you've spent all night being sick rather than sleeping and were unable to eat/drink anything before setting off. Some nice views though:

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It would have been a difficult hike at the best of times but luckily one of the girls in my group had lived in India for a few years so we were distracted by chatting about what I should do when I go there and other such things :)

We stopped for a rest in a village where a boy entertained us by sprinting around with some rusty metal the whole time we were there:

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I couldn't eat (a very nice) lunch so gave it to a pig:

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I wasnt allowed to feed these kids instead which was a shame - they looked jealous of the pig!

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Maybe to stop them begging off tourists? Who knows..

After 18km of hills we were back on the pickup truck getting driven to Luang Prabang. I had my camera at the ready but impressively they'd managed to move the digger. Once back I checked up on Charlotte then popped out for a quick dinner with the people from the other night. I couldnt eat that either but it was nice to see them again :)

Back to Charlotte..

Day 5:

It was time to leave Luang Prabang today, I still wasn't feeling great but I felt well enough to sit on a bus for 7 hours so we packed up and went to the bus station. While we were waiting for the tuk-tuk some kittens that lived near the hostel came and sat next to us - they were so cute, I'll miss them!

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The road to Vang Vieng was very curvy and all through the mountains - but the views were fantastic! Luckily my stomach held up and we arrived in Vang Vieng around 4pm and just chilled out for the rest of the afternoon.

Posted by charlotter45 21:16 Archived in Laos Tagged mountains temple trek bus waterfall hostel Comments (2)

Catching the slowboat to Laos

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View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

So its finally time for my long overdue blog post about travelling between Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos :) Sorry its so late!

Chiang Rai was a bit disappointing after Chiang Mai but it was really just a 2 day stopover on our way to Laos and we did find a couple of cool things to do :)

One day we went to the White Temple which, as you can see, is very white and quite good. They started building it about 10 years ago and there’s still lots left to finish. It was already way more interesting than the average temple, what with the skulls hanging from trees and hands coming out of the ground. The architect is also a painter and there was a gallery with some of his (very odd) paintings. If you fancy seeing paintings of aliens and American presidents strapped to rockets you could google him, Chalermchai Kositpipat.

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There was a great food court to eat at in the evening - loads of tables surrounded by 60ish food stalls including one selling a dish called ‘the moustache is tiny squid roasts’. Unfortunately (and one of my biggest regrets on the trip!) we never tried it so have no idea what a moustache tastes like :(

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After dinner we’d go to a pretty crazy looking bar for more cheap beer and some very odd music (obscure and badly recorded 80’s metal). Chiang Rai seems a bit off the tourist trail and we were travelling at an unpopular time so we were the only people ever in there. Oh well!

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A couple of days was enough so we hopped on a bus heading to a village called Huay Xai, just over the Laos border. The bus was pretty much the opposite of the one we arrived on, really cramped noisy and bumpy :( Most travellers are just in Huay Xai for a couple of hours before hopping on a 2 day slowboat to Luang Prabang but we had some time so decided to stay overnight. We spent the day relaxing by the river with cheap beer and met one of the most memorable people of the trip, this 70 year old german man. He’d retired and spent the last 20 years driving his campervan around the world with his wife. He had stories to tell about every country I could think of - Eritrea, Tajikistan, Iran, he’d been everywhere!

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The 2 day slowboat trip to Luang Prabang has a bad reputation. People tell stories about dangerously cramped boats which sink halfway down the river and nothing but a small wooden bench to sit on. We were very happy that things had changed :) Our ticket came with a seat number and all the wooden benches were gone, replaced with (relatively) comfy seats ripped out of old minibuses.

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Unfortunately they hadn’t got around to replacing the engine yet and the rivers water level was very slow so we crashed after about 10 minutes then broke down a couple of hours later! Beer was $1 and there’s nothing like a disaster for making friends with other travellers though so we were standing on a beach watching our broken boat make strange noises and having a great time :)

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Eventually things started working and we chugged slowly to Pak Beng, arriving way after dark. Luckily we’d booked a good guesthouse in advance so we just dropped our bags and got some food.

Every village in Laos seems to have a snooker table and I went to the one in Pak Beng with a German guy I met on the boat. We had a fun game with some locals but things went wrong when they demanded $30 for the game :( I guess its easy and tempting to rip off tourists when they only ever stay one night. It’s a shame though, everyone we met elsewhere in Laos was lovely! We grabbed our bags and started walking away, then running when they started shouting and following us. Luckily the hotel was close so I just got back, locked the door and went to sleep.

The next day was pretty uneventful. We had a less broken boat and spent 8 hours cruising down to Luang Prabang nursing hangovers and admiring the scenery. There’s some of it below:

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The slowboat was fun and way more interesting than just getting the bus would have been :) We ended up bumping into people from the boat the whole time we were in Laos. I’d definitely recommend it!

Posted by charlotter45 22:23 Archived in Laos Tagged slowboat Comments (0)

Chiang Mai

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View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

I think the best word to describe our time in Chiang Mai would be ‘pleasant’. It was very nice, very clean, lots of nice food and a fair few things to do, but it wasn’t very exciting or different from a normal holiday destination.

Day 1:

We arrived in Chiang Mai at 7am on our flight from Kuala Lumpur and got a taxi to our guesthouse. We weren’t able to check in right away as the last people hadn’t checked out yet so we left our bags and went to explore the city.

The first thing that struck me when we got to the old city (the main part of Chiang Mai is an old city surrounded by a moat and a wall) was how clean it was everywhere! Stephen has been to Bangkok before and so I was worried it would be as dirty as he says it is there, but it was just lovely everywhere!

We wandered around for a while and found the cultural centre, a museum on the history of Chiang Mai, so spent a couple of hours looking around there. After this we found a lovely vegetarian cafe where we had lunch – massive sandwich and pineapple shake for £2!

We headed back to our guesthouse to check in and it was lovely, really clean, nicely decorated and friendly owners, then went for dinner and to the night bazaar.

Day 2:

We went to visit the biggest temple in Chiang Mai in the morning, it’s at the top of a mountain called Doi Suthep and was very impressive. There’s normally a good view of the city from the top but you could hardly see anything as it was really smokey (the hill tribes in northern Thailand burn loads of trees for fertiliser at this time of year so the air is thick with smoke all the time – not very healthy!).

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The temple at Doi Suthep

In the afternoon we had a look around some of the bigger temples in town then headed back to our guesthouse for a couple of beers on the terrace, watching the sun go down - heaven!

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The upstairs terrace at our guesthouse

Days 3 and 4:

See ‘Elephant Adventures’ for a post about our time at Bann Chang Elephant Park here

Day 5:

In the morning we headed out of the city and across the river to see what there was to do over there. Turns out not a lot! But we did find a very nice bar by the riverfront so we stopped there for a drink (pineapple shake –my new favourite!)

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Heavenly!

After this we decided to jump in a tuk tuk and go to the zoo. For the price of the zoo (100 baht for entry and another 100 baht to see the pandas = £4 in total) we were a bit worried that all the animals would be in tiny cages and it wouldn’t be very nice, but actually it was a pretty good zoo and we enjoyed our afternoon there. It was pretty cool to see some pandas, and also a white tiger, as I’ve never seen these before.

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In the evening we went to check out the Sunday Walking Street in the city. They close off all the roads right in the centre on Sunday evenings and have a big market. It was really cool and people were selling different things to the usual tat at the night bazaar. The grounds of the temples along the main street were all opened up and filled with street food vendors which all seemed delicious and ridiculously cheap!

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Walking street

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Insect snacks at walking street - we didn't try them!

Day 6:

Today we planned to get up early and get the bus to Chiang Rai. Unfortunately we didn’t end up at the bus station until midday, and were told that the buses were full until 3pm, unless we got a VIP bus which left at 2:30pm. So we paid for our VIP ticket (£5 = expensive in these parts for a 3 hour bus ride!) and got a tuk tuk back to the city to chill out for a couple of hours. In this time I went to get a foot massage which was heavenly (and an absolute bargain at £1.60 for half an hour).

I’m writing this blog on the bus now and it’s the most comfortable bus I’ve ever been on! There are only 24 seats on the whole thing and they’re just like big sofas with pull out leg rests and everything! It’s a shame we probably won’t be travelling like this again :P

Posted by charlotter45 04:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals temple zoo river sun Comments (2)

Elephant Adventures

Baan Chang Elephant Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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2 March 2012:

Today was the day I’d been looking forward to for months – our trip to Baan Chang Elephant Park. We’d booked a 2 day mahout training experience, with both of us sharing one elephant. A mahout is an elephant trainer and the real mahouts at this camp were amazing! They were so skilled at controlling the elephant and really loved and cared for them, we knew this camp was a good one that really did look after their elephants and weren’t just doing it for the money.

We started off by feeding the elephants, which was really scary at first because they are so big – putting your hand inside their mouth is not something that you really want to do! We were then taught how to mount onto and off our elephants so we could ride them bareback, and some commands to make them turn left and right and lie down again so you could get off them.

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Cute baby elephant

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Elephant kisses

After lunch we went for a ride on our elephant through the jungle, I was on the front at first, with Stephen on the back, and we swapped halfway. It’s very hard work on your arms when the elephant is walking downhill! You have to keep them locked tight and pushing on its head to you don’t fall forwards over its head. And it’s even harder for the person on the back! Stephen managed it during his half but I had a bit of a nightmare where I nearly fell off when it was my turn and had a bit of a hysterical moment trying to get myself back into a safe position!

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When we got back to the camp the mahouts took over and rode our elephants into the water so we could wash them. We got soaked but it was really fun, and you could tell the elephants enjoyed it too!

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Our lovely elephant

Out of the 10 people in our group we were the only two staying for 2 days so after we’d showered and changed, everyone else went home. We thought we were in for a boring night ahead but actually it was really fun! We had dinner cooked for us and then we shared a bottle of rum with some of the guides and mahouts round a campfire and learnt a lot of Thai life and culture. They even cooked us desert on the fire – sticky rice steamed with coconut milk inside a stick a bamboo - delicious!

3 March 2012:

As I’d had such a hard time trying to stay on the elephant when I was on the back, we decided to pay extra to have an elephant each for today. This was well worth it, especially as it was just the two of us today. We started the day by taking our elephants to the water for their morning bath. We got to ride the elephants into the water this time which was really fun.

After their bath we hopped back onto our elephants and started on a trek up the mountain/big hill nearby. It was so steep towards the top, I couldn’t believe they could make it! At the top the mahouts made a fire and cooked us some chicken and warmed up some fried rice which was delicious and the elephants were left to roam free in the jungle – they clearly really enjoyed this! The way back down was so steep, I was scared my arms were going to give way. Luckily they didn’t, but I definitely got a good work out!

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Riding up the steep mountain

When we got back to the camp it was time to give them one last bath before it was time to say goodbye and go back to our guesthouse - boo! :(

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It really was an amazing experience and I’d recommend it to anyone – just be sure to choose the right camp though because some of them seem to just use the elephants as a money making exercise- making them paint, play football, walk on two legs etc. We didn’t want to see any of that, and luckily we didn’t!

Posted by charlotter45 03:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals elephants tour Comments (2)

Kuala Lumpur

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Kuala Lumpur was fairly interesting, but it lacked many 'must do' activities, so we ended up just wandering about most days. 4 days was definitely too long to spend here.

Day 1:

We arrived at our hostel at 7am after our overnight train but couldn't check in until 2pm, so we went for a wander over towards the Petronas twin towers as we could see these from our hostel and it didn't look far. They're pretty impressive and there's a nice park in front of them which we hung out in for a while.

When we were finally allowed to check into our dorm beds at the hostel they were amazing! Little pod-like cubicles that were really spacious and felt really private. After a little sleep we walked to Chinatown, which was near the hostel, had a look around and got some dinner.

The highlight of the hostel was definitely it's rooftop bar with views of the twin towers and KL tower. After dinner we went up there for a few drinks and met some typical 'gap year' 18 year olds who all thought we were old - great! :P

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Petronas Twin Towers

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My little pod

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Our dorm room

Day 2:

After a late breakfast we got the train up to Batu Caves in the northern suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. These are some quite impressive caves in a cliff with Hindu temples inside and a massive gold statue of a Hindu god. You have to walk up about 300 steps to get to the main cave, so we were thankful that it was cloudy and not blisteringly hot!

It poured with rain all afternoon but we still decided to go ahead with our plan of going to the bird park, which is the world's largest free-flying bird park (we're going to start compiling a list of all the world records we see whilst on our travels, there have been quite a few so far!). It was really good and some of the birds were really funny. We also saw a monkey tip over a bin in one of the cafes and steal loads of food from it - very amusing!

It was still raining when we got back to the hostel so we decided to just eat in the restaurant there and were pleasantly surprised by how nice the food was :) After that we headed up to the rooftop bar and ended up making new friends and chatting until 5am!

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Batu Caves

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Stephen's new friend at the bird park

Day 3:

We didn't get up until lunchtime because of the late night before, and then did pretty much nothing all day! We walked over the the 'Little India' part of the city, which was quite disappointing as there wasn't much there. After that we got the monorail to the part of town where all the big hotels and shopping centres are and just had a mooch around there. They were setting up Asia's Largest Guinness Bar (another one for the world record list!) for St Patrick's Day, which was odd as it's two weeks away (and even odder as when we returned the next day it was all gone!).

In the evening we went to the Sky Bar of a hotel that's directly opposite the Petronas Twin Towers as someone had told us it was 2 for 1 mojitos on a Monday and the view was amazing - this person was correct on both accounts! It was very posh and we were definitely the most under-dressed people in there, even though we made as much of an effort as we could given our limited clothing supply.

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The view from Traders Hotel

Day 4:

Today we were really scraping the barrel with things to do! We went to Kuala Lumpur City Gallery in the morning, which is a small museum near the main square of the city then went for a guided nature walk through the small conserved part of rainforest around the KL tower in the afternoon. This was really worth doing - it was pretty interesting and the tour guide was hilarious. The downside was that I now have about 30 mosquito bites despite dousing myself in 55% DEET!!

After a delicious meal at a tapas restaurant for dinner (I know, I know - not really immersing myself in Malaysian cuisine!) we went to bed for a an early night as we had a taxi booked for 3am to get us to the airport for our flight the Chiang Mai.

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I Love KL (sort of!)

Posted by charlotter45 07:23 Archived in Malaysia Tagged rainforest market airport city hostel tour Comments (1)

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