Raileigh Beach, Southern Thailand
Raileigh Beach, Southern Thailand
It ends here,
All those moments, those expectations have run dry.
Everything has leaked
like it’s bleeding
and the very existence of my life is nulled.
I had happiness planned, and adventures.
They were supposed to be.
But life was really a prison
And my sentence indefinite.
And although I journeyed
And laughed and cried.
It came the time that it had to end,
And all I can do is move on.
After Luang Prabang, it was only a 23 hour bus trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Indeed, although the sleeper buses in Laos are truly terrible (there is a single size bed which they make two people share – I am travelling alone and had to share with a stranger. I am just so thankful it was a girl…), a lot of the time was spent waiting – waiting for a bus connection, waiting at the border etc. The important thing is that I got there in the end.
Chiang Mai’s old city is walled into a neat square. Inside the wall, there are some interesting temples and restaurants, but this town is undeniably sleepy and most of the activities are to be done away in the surrounding countryside.
One of the highlights of the trip so far was visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I was a little wary of this, given that a lot of elephants have been mistreated for entertainment in the past. However, the tour that I went with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, had good reviews.
About an hour and a half drive out of Chiang Mai and down a particularly steep dirt track, there was a beautiful value where different families of elephants lived. We got to feed them and have mud baths and then bathe with them in the river. These animals are beautiful, docile and extremely precious and intelligent. It was a wonderful privilege to be able to get so close to them.
I also did a cooking class in Chiang Mai, which I loved. I did this with Grandma’s Home Cooking School, which I recommend as it is slightly cheaper than the rest when booked online, provided me with vegetarian options and was also done in the most beautiful setting; a farm outside the city. We got a tour around the farm and shown different herbs, and then we were given a class for soup, pad thai and a curry (I chose Thai Green Curry and it was delicious!)
I then moved on to Pai, a 3-4 hour drive north from Chiang Mai on the windiest road in existence. Pai is a beautifully serene little town and I had fun renting a motorbike and seeing waterfalls, a bamboo bridge the Pai canyon and hot springs.
One of my favourite parts of the town was the night market on walking street where you can get great food at very reasonable prices. I got a veggie wrap and some coconut pancakes and was very satisfied!
From here, I head down to the Thai islands!
After spending a few days in Bangkok (more on this later), I treated myself by taking the overnight sleeper train to Nang Chai, a border town between Thailand and Laos. However, it turned out not to be the comfortable journey that I imagined and the spotlight bright lights were on the entire night, meaning the little sleep I got was of no good quality.
Anyway, to stop complaining, I arrived in Vientiane (you have to pay $35 for the visa and the capital city is around a 20 min tuk tuk ride from the border) on the 25th October, which, as it so happens, was the day of a boat race festival to mark the end of Buddhist lent. Except there was no boat race, as far as me and the other people from my hostel could tell. The only boats on the Mekong were the usual rickety old motorboats. There was indeed some large street market, but if this was the festival, then it is the strangest festival I have ever attended.
I moved on from Vientiane quickly via a 4 hour minivan ride to Vang Vieng.
I had not known what to expect of Vang Vieng. A quick google is enough to give one a sense of the history of the place as a backpacker destination: it was known for it’s partying, drug-taking and ominous “tubing” (where you sit in a rubber ring, float down a river, and stop off at bars along the way, inevitably getting shitfaced).
However, nowadays the place is a little changed. There is still a small backpacker community, and tubing along the river is still offered by hostels, but the majority of activities revolve around outdoors and adventure, which, I must say, Vang Vieng is spectacularly placed far.
Just coming into Vang Vieng and going down to the riverside is breathtaking. There are huge, green mountains rising out of nowhere from lush, green fields, and they seem to stretch on for miles.
There is plenty to do here, and I was happy to go on a $13 tour for tubing through a cave (a bit of an odd experience where you sit in a rubber ring and pull yourself along by a rope with a headtorch through a dark, cavernous cave, and also for kayaking, which I enjoyed greatly.
A spent another day exploring the exquisite countryside on a scooter, hiking up to a spectacular viewpoint and going to Blue Lagoons 1 and 3, both of which have things to jump off and both of which I recommend.
An overnight bus, and I arrive at 4am in Luang Prabang, luckily being taken in by my hostel. I, again, wasn’t sure what to expect of Luang Prabang, but what greeted me was a quiet town along the Mekong. There is a hilltop temple, a busy place to go and see the sunset, and a night market with good “fill your plate with veggie food” buffets for 15.000 kip (~$2), but overall there isn’t much else to do, unless it’s through excursions.
But for me, there is no more room in my budget for more excursions in Laos, so it’s onwards and eastwards to the next destination.
Calm as still as water.
And the might of many which bewitch your age.
Feel it as the wind whistles and the birds dawdle.
You are trying to come to terms with your choices,
I have been there before too, staring blankly at the glassy surface.
And hoping, hoping that it can swallow you up.
Because inside you feel it’s all wrong.
And all you did was wrong. And all you will do will be wrong.
But trust me. It will be ok.
There is more than enough time.
To wait and enjoy. In this garden.
Moving on from Ho Chi Minh, I made it across the border with relative ease and only having to cough up $35 for a Cambodian visa.
My first stop was Phnom Penh, the capital city, which in all honesty I wasn’t too enthralled by. The most interesting part was visiting the S21 visit museum, detailing a prison of the Cambodian genocide. The exhibits are again emotive, but it is an important part to understand what went on in the region.
There is also the Grand Palace (remember to cover shoulders and knees! Unlike did and I had to return to the Guest House to get a scarf and change…), which is ok as palaces go and one of the things to see in town.
I moved on to the famed Siem Reap pretty quickly. The difference in the tourism scale between the two cities is immediately obvious, with the market, bars and street advertisments all geared towards the hoardes of tourists who visit here each year, all, seemingly, with a common purpose – Angkor Wat.
Following the crowd as is so usual of me, I went to Angkor Wat for the sunrise, which was quite spectacular in itself. Though I would impress here that a day pass ticket to the temple park costs $37! There was a good walk around the temples, carved beautifully and with interesting architecture. In the park, there are many temples to visit, including Angkor Thom – remnants of the ancient city that used to be there – and a temple with trees growing through it, giving it a weird, natural feel.
I was excited also to see that there are monkeys in the park! But be careful though, they looked a little vicious when approaching tourists…
Despite the many, many tourists, this place is worth a visit. I even managed (after a quick nap back at the hostel – the 4am start had tired me out!) to get back for sunset on the hill temple. A bit before sunset, there was a bit of rain, but also an amazing rainbow which we could see in its entirety from our high viewpoint.
Beautiful sight, but somehow, like many places, the magic is dulled a little due to the booming tourism. I am part of the problem though, so can’t really complain…
I took what was supposedly supposed to be a 12 hour night bus from Hoi An to Dalat. It in fact turned out to be a ten hour night bus with a stopover in Nha Trang (also known as Little Russia… direct flight from Moscow apparently) for FOUR hours, from 4am to 8am. Eventually however, I did make it to Da Lat with an awful sore throat and lost voice, meaning that I was hauled up as an invalid for the rest of the day and night.
The next day, when I had partially recovered and ignored the scooter renter’s comments about how it would be safer if I had a boyfriend who was driving (not the first sexist comment in my solo travels, admittedly), I took my scooter to Dalanta Waterfalls about 4km. A strange and very touristy place, it was necessary for me to take a mini “rollercoaster” down a hill to see the falls. This “rollercoaster” consisted of 1-2 person carts which could be accelerated and braked at your will, and seemed to rely mostly on gravity to get to the falls.
After that and a quick look at the suitably picturesque lake, I boarded yet another night bus to Ho Chi Minh City (otherwise known as Saigon).
My bad luck with night buses continued and the service miraculously arrived 2 hours earlier than I was quoted – ordinarily a good situation, expect this was 4am on a Saturday morning and I had nowhere to stay. I eventually found a hostel to stay in and got some suitable sleep.
Ho Chi Minh City is a chaotic, but strangely likable city. It feels as though I might die or catch a disease every time, I walk out into the street, but once I got over this slightly rational feeling, I quite enjoyed my stay.
A trip to the War Remnants Museum is a must, but visitors should perhaps be warned a little more thoroughly than I was about the distressing content on display. Indeed, I think that it is right that people like me are able to understand the atrocities and true horrors that occurred in the Vietnam war, but some pictures were extremely harrowing and saddening.
Other landmarks include the Reunification Palace, the post office (where I was pleased to satisfy my geeky side and get some stamps), and also various pagodas and the city museum.
Ho Chi Minh is also situated in a good place for some interesting tours, including the Cu Chi tunnels and Mekong delta.
I have to say that, although it was slightly far at 2 hours travelling time, I enjoyed Cu Chi a lot, and found the whole place very interesting. You have a chance to go down into one of the wartime tunnels yourself and crawl through – a claustrophobic, but also interesting experience. I managed to get to 100m, and was very dusty and sweaty as a result!
The Mekong delta tour was a more sober affair, but still interesting in itself. I enjoyed taking the row boats and sampling coconut candy. I only spent one day there, and it is advisable to spend more if you can – to visit the floating markets and get a feel for the place.
Overall, Ho Chi Minh City has been a fascinating place to visit and topped off my time in Vietnam nicely. On to Cambodia next, this time on a day bus…