Luang Prabang

Our first night in Luang Prabang was a chilled dinner where we had the best lava cake ever and a walk round the night market which was luckily on the same street as our first guesthouse.

The following day we woke up early for our trip to the “rice experience” this was where we went to learn how rice is farmed from the ploughing of the fields right through to eating it. Our guide explained that there was 14 steps to making rice. The organisation who run the farm are called Living Land Lao. It’s a working farm, but through the tours it supports children from poor families to go to high school and university if they wish, for free. They also run English classes that the local children go to for free. Our guide Den, had just finished high school with them. He spoke with fluent English from the classes and was teaching them and working the tours when he could to pay them back for their generosity.

The tour started with showing us which of the rice from the plants is planted for food. There are no waste parts to the process, the seeds not planted are fed to chickens. After we were shown how the seeds were germinated and then using Rudolph the water buffalo we ploughed the fields. During the experience we planted the rice, harvested it, helped to sort the seeds out, prepared it using a large pestle and mortar and most importantly we ate it. The dry season is not the prime season for rice as you get very little grains from the plants and due to he fact no other farmers will be farming at this time the birds and mice will get most of the products as they flock to the one farm.

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After the rice experience we took a bus to Kuang Si Waterfall. The way the path works is you walk through the bear sanctuary at the base and walk upwards through the pools of the falls until you reach the main falls. At the first pool we jumped in the water. In the western world I feel like the pools would have been overly busy but here everyone stood round the edges not going in. The water was pretty cold but the temperatures are mid to late 30’s so cold water was welcome. Haven’t got much more to say on the waterfall so here’s some pictures.

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ue to the bus being full we had to spend a further 4 nights here, after changing Hotel we spent the next four days exploring the city and buying plenty in the night market.

After Luang Prabang we headed to the party town of Vang Vieng.

Houay Xai – Luang Prabang

After crossing the border and having to pay an overtime fee to get our visas we got a tuk tuk into the town of Houay Xai in Laos. It was a flying visit there, we ate dinner by the Mekong and then went to sleep.

In the morning we got up early and got our tuk tuks to the boats. We were going to be taking a slow boat down the Mekong with the final destination being Luang Prabang with an overnight stop in a tiny village called Bane Thanoune (which apparently doesn’t even have a postal address).

After about half an hour on the boat we needed to stop because the mist was so thick it wasn’t safe to continue until it had cleared. So clearly we had to get our picture taken with the boat!

Chao – our tour leader – told us that the boat can hold 100 people. The back of the boat is the owners home. After sailing for 9 hours we finally reached the village. We had our dinner on the beach before heading toward the village.

When we arrived at the village it was pitch black but almost immediately we were surrounded by dogs and their puppies and families with children coming to say hi. The kids were all intent on getting plenty high fives in! After Chao told us about the village we were invited into a hut where the elders of the village performed the Baci Ceremony on us. The Baci involves several chants and then each elder individually comes to each person and ties home spun cotton onto our wrists whilst saying a blessing for us. Normally they bless you for safe travelling, a happy love life and good health. One of the men said that I looked like his daughter and he missed her. So he gave me an extra blessing and told me I was welcome back any time. After the blessings are completed you are offered shots of “happy water” – rice whisky. Each shot symbolises good health for one part of your body. They believe that if you have 1 shot you must have 2 as you have 2 legs, 2 arms etc. I was going to say no to any but Ben who doesn’t drink at all said no and the woman looked like she had been mortally offended! So I obliged and the 2nd shot was definitely nicer than the 1st. You then have to eat sticky rice and a banana. After this they sang us some local songs where Ben and I were taught local dance moves by one of the ladies and in turn we sang if you’re happy and you know it and Take me home, country roads. Where we taught her moves like big fish, little fish and the macarena.

After the ceremony we were shown our homes for the night.

The next morning we were woken up by roosters at 3.46am. I’m still a little bitter as we didn’t need to be up till 6am. We took a slow walk back to the boat (Ben got everyone lost) and then we started our final journey to Luang Prabang.

Before we got there we stopped off at the Pak Ou caves. These are holy caves that are filled with over 1000 Buddha’s.

After 6 hours of sailing we finally reached Luang Prabang. The stairs from the boat to the bus almost killed me with all my bags!

Thailand

We arrived at Bangkok Airport on the 2nd of February, which now seems like a lifetime ago. We had our Stray welcome meeting that evening where we met our first group, it was the largest of our tour groups so far with a starting number of 17.

The difference with this tour is that you decide how long you want to spend at each stop, you can either go with the bus or you can ‘hop off’ this means that the group will change regularly.

We didn’t see that much of Bangkok to be honest, so even though I’ve been there I couldn’t tell you anything about it.

9am the next morning we set off to Ayutthaya. It took around 2 hours where we then had time to visit Pagodas and explore the town before catching the overnight train to Chiang Mai.

I had my reservations about the overnight train but a few people had assured me that it was nice. We caught the train around 9.30pm and our seats had already been turned into beds. Ben took the top bunk whilst I got the bottom. I definitely got the better deal. My bunk was spacious and felt like a little room, the first time I had my own room for almost a month.

Before sleeping, I plucked up the courage to use the train bathroom. There was the option of a squat toilet or a western toilet. Both had no plumbing – everything just went straight onto the tracks below. I managed to sleep off and on all night and woke to “Hi hi get up get up”. Ben had not had the same sleep quality as me, the AC and the lights were directly above the top bunks and the neither were turned off during the night.

Once we had got off the train we were piled into big red tuk tuks, we were dropped off at the Stray accommodation and this is where Ben and I said goodbye to our first group. We decided to hop off in Chiang Mai for 5 nights.

I really enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai, it’s probably one of the most touristy destinations we’ve been to on this trip and everything was much more expensive but the atmosphere made up for it.

On our second night there we took a cooking class with some of the girls from our tour group. We made a total of 11 dishes and we both loved it. We came away with a free apron, spice paste for curry and a cookbook of all the dishes we made.

We then had a day of no plans which felt wrong after having something to do for a month. We had a lazy morning and explored the city.

The following day was my favourite day of the trip so far. We visited a families elephants with Elephant Nature Park. These elephants used to be used in the tourist industry so that the food for them could be afforded but elephant nature park now pay the family for people to visit them so they no longer have to be treated badly. There were 6 adult elephants and 1 baby which was around 2 months old.

To begin with we helped chop sticks and wash bananas for their snacks which we then fed to them. This was an experience, the elephants knew when you had more than one of their snacks in your hand and would just stick their trunks closer to you till you gave it to them. After the snacks were finished we took the elephants for a walk through the jungle where they could forage for their own food. For some reason I never expected elephants to climb so high but they did it with ease. The baby elephant was filled with mischief. Constantly chasing someone or trying to knock us over. He got under one of bens legs and I thought that Bens time had come. Once he had got us down on the ground he would try to lie on us as this is how baby elephants play with each other. Our guides strongly advised we did not sit on the ground with him near as he was over 100kgs. Once back from our walk it was our turn to eat. After this we took the elephants to the river and everyone got in the water with them. It started with everyone throwing water over the elephants and ended in a water fight.

We left the elephants here and we were driven back in an open top truck where we were standing up in the back.

Our final day was also a lazy day in recovery from our big day with the elephants.

Our time in Chiang Mai and Thailand was at an end. Yesterday we drove to Chiang Rai to see the white temple which was beautiful. Potentially the nicest one I have seen so far. After Chiang Rai we continued our drive up to the Laos border.

Singapore

Our journey to Singapore wasn’t exactly smooth. We had booked an airport transfer for 6am but had failed to mention German time not Asian time so our driver showed up 15 minutes late, he then decided to stop for petrol and then he stopped for breakfast! Our experience at Mandalay Airport was smooth until we arrived at our stopover in Yangon. We ended up in the wrong terminal and through security. Turns out, once you’re through security it’s quite hard to get out again!!

After our 6 hours in Yangon we finally caught our flight to Singapore.

When you first step out the airport in Singapore you immediately notice the humidity. After we arrived at our hotel we decided to treat ourselves to a dominos. We arrived pretty late and had no energy to do anything else.

The next morning we had a lie in and set off toward the Marina via suntec city (massive shopping centre). Long story short, we never made it to the Marina we spent all day in suntec. That night we began looking at our next move after our next tour ends in Vietnam. After thinking long and hard, I made the decision to book my flight home in May whilst Ben continues on to New Zealand and Australia.

The next day we did make it to the Marina, after our morning swim! We visited the Gardens at the Marina which were absolutely stunning. I’d add pictures but my internet isn’t good enough! After we had done the flower dome and the cloud forest we went to the top of the Marina sands hotel for panoramic views of the city. This was gorgeous and Singapore might be one of my favourite cities.

Today, we headed to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Singapore airport is like something out of the future. It’s incredible. On the way to the airport I discovered that my card had been cloned and completely emptied from cash points in Indonesia.

This afternoon we arrived in Bangkok where we start our final tour tomorrow morning!

Mandalay

La had mentioned before we arrived in Mandalay that it was chaotic so after our cramped 8 hour minibus (they do not make vehicles for tall western people here) we arrived in busy Mandalay.

The roads were as crazy as Delhi, if not worse because in Delhi cars will slow/stop for you, in Mandalay they do not. The first night we spent in Mandalay we stayed in the Royal Guest House and our room felt very strange with it feeling like it used to be a bathroom. Luckily we had booked our own accommodation for the 2nd night at the Royal Pearl Hotel and even though it only cost us £11 each it felt like a luxury hotel.

For our time in Mandalay we had a tour guide named Mala. She took us to several sites of Mandalay including Mandalay Hill and Kuthadaw Pagoda.

Mandalay Hill is a pagoda on top of a hill which gives panoramic views of the city. Whilst we were up there, Alice and I spent far too long watching a pair of dogs and I’m still not sure what they were doing. Also bathed Buddha on my birth day statue – Wednesday morning, elephant with tusks. You shower Buddha with cups of water – 1 for every year of your life and an extra for luck.

The Kuthadaw Pagoda holds the world’s largest book. This is in Buddha’s language and is his teachings. Only a number of monks are able to recite the whole thing without mistakes and would take several months/years to read the entire book.

Mandalay was where we said goodbye to this tour group before heading off to Singapore!

Kalaw and Inle Lake

After forever on a bus we finally arrived in Kalaw. Kalaw is a village in the mountains. It was definitely a change of pace from Bagan and Yangon and it was welcomed.

Here is where the trekkers went and did the trek and Ben and I stayed and relaxed for 2 nights. We ate at the bakery, went on a walk and sunbathed and it was really nice to just relax in a nice place. In the mornings though, it was cold. On the second morning we could see our breath. The free breakfast we got in the mornings we enough to feed entire families rather just the two of us.

The trekkers we walking to our next destination, Inle lake. We were given the option of the taking the train or the bus. The train would take 6 hours and was a cargo train or the minibus would take 2.5. You can guess which one we took!

The bus driver took one look at my bag, climbed onto the roof with it and strapped it down. The next 2.5 hours were filled with overtaking on blind corners on windy roads down the mountains and I was very glad when we arrived at the junction to Inle Lake where we caught the taxi.

On your way into the Inle Lake region you have to pay a fee of 13,000kyat this goes toward local villages. We stayed for two nights was called Nyaung Shwe. On our first night for dinner we went to a place called Innlay hut for dinner which is an indian. The owners are mother and son. Mum is chef and son is out front. The son is obsessed with Eminem so the decor is very eminem based with slogans on the walls interspersed with buddhas. he wore a top that said “Fack Trump” on the front and still don’t give a shit on the back and was very strange!

On our last day in Inle we took a boat tour on the lake which was stunning. We passed floating farms and floating villages. We visited a weaver, blacksmith and the long necked tribe where they wear rings around their neck. These weigh 13kgs and a new ring is added every 5 years. Originally they were used as protection from tigers but now just for beauty. Once these rings are on they do not come off as the neck muscles become too weak to hold the head up.

This morning we left inle lake for an 8 hour bus ride to Mandalay.

Bagan

Our journey to Bagan started with an 8 hour overnight bus journey from Yangon. I wasn’t expecting much from this because everytime I’ve taken the Megabus from Aberdeen to London I’ve absolutely hated it. Our first impressions weren’t good with the bus having gravestones painted on the side and the lord’ s prayer printed on the windscreen. We couldn’t have been more wrong the seats were wide and comfortable with footrests and loads of leg room. We also had a tv which was showing Tom and Jerry or Rambo 3. I opted for 8 hours of Tom and Jerry. We arrived in Bagan at 5am where our guide met us to take us to a pagoda for sunrise. Sunrise from the pagoda was beautiful. He then took us to 3 other temples, which none of us were interested in as we were so tired. Once we arrived at the guesthouse I had a 4 hour nap to feel human again. The plan for the evening was to hire mopeds and as a group go to see the sunrise from a hill. I gave the moped a go along the side of the main road but didn’t want to drive it on the roads as the driving is insane so I went on the back of our guide La’s moped. Whilst we were watching sunset there were Burmese kids mainly trying to sell their drawings and postcards but a couple were collecting foreign coins a little boy called Juju had 11 countries worth and I added 2 more to his collection – Malaysia and India.

Bagan has over 3000 pagodas in the area and they are everywhere to be seen, so on our second we spent the day riding on mopeds trying to see as many as possible. On our trip with the mopeds we went to old Bagan which was so quiet with houses that villagers had made out of bamboo. Once we were done for the afternoon La went his separate ways and I was left mopedless. Alice was determined to have me riding it without fear so off we went to a back road for me to practice it. I loved it on the back road and drove it back to the hotel but the main roads. Definitely glad I tried it but don’t think I’ll be giving up my car for it! We ate dinner at a place called Sharkys which was very cute and then called it a night before our 8 hour bus journey to Kalaw the next morning.