From Chiang Mai to Lao: The Slow Boat

So many people around me have been backpacking through Thailand. Some of them also made their way across the Lao and/or Cambodia border. Their stories were all about how beautiful, amazing, fun and must-see the countries are. Never had I heard before my trip how exactly you cross the borders and how much hassle it can be, especially getting from Chiang Mai to Lao..

Throwing yourself in the unknown, not planning to far ahead and not knowing how or when you’re getting to the next destination. After walking into what seemed every travel agency in Chiang Mai, we discovered the safest way to get to Lao was a 2 day boat trip. Now I don’t know if you’ve heard the stories about these boats but I can tell you they made the boat trip look like absolute hell. Small wooden benches, more people than seats, animals everywhere, puking people, boats breaking down and so forth. Not something to look forward to..

We booked a trip that would take us from Chiang Mai all the way to Luang Prabang, Lao, including an overnight in Chiang Kong and Pak Beng. The first day was easy as it was a 4 hour mini-van drive. The town itself was just one street but the road along the river gave us our first glimps of Lao. After a night sleeping in a bug invested room, it was time to cross the border!

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Huge killed grasshopper after some panic..

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With the Thai exit stamp freshly in our passports, we stepped on a small wooden boat with our 20 kilo backpack (well, my bag was 20 kilo after 5 months in Bali..). On full power we crossed the fast flowing Mekong river, arranged our visas and waited to be taken to the slow boat.

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There it was, our transport for the next 2 days. No wooden benches, animals or overloading in sight! Instead we saw relaxing mini-van seats and loads of space, we even had 2 seats per person. 2 Days on the Mekong river with the most beautiful views I have ever seen, wasn’t even close to hell. It was an absolute highlight.

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In between we stopped for the night in Pak Beng. A tiny village that relied on these slow boats full of tourists. With a few (pretty damn good) restaurants, one bar and a curview there’s not a lot to do but hey, we weren’t exactly there to party right?

Pak Beng

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So there we were, Lao! More about our adventures there later on..

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Chiang Mai

Everybody has heard the stories about trains in Thailand. Some are positive and some are your worst nightmares. We woke up early to catch the 8.30 a.m. train. All the night trains were fully booked because of the high season so we had no other choice. A very stressful taxi ride later (traffic jams in Bangkok are mental!), we were dropped off at the train station.

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After obsessing about how the hell we were going to survive 12 hours in a Thai train, hoping chickens, pigs and goats pets weren’t allowed on board, a small decent looking train pulled up in the station. We found our seat and were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it was! The seats reclined to almost-like-a-bed mode, airconditioning blasting (glad we had jumpers!) and no pets in sight. In fact, almost no Thai people! Were we even still in Thailand? Yes, we could survive this.

Our survival kit of food was unnescesary as we were served several meals, snacks and drinks along the way. We killed time by napping, listening to music, reading books and staring out the window. By the time we got fed up of sitting in the train we were almost there. With only an hour delay (!) we arrived in Chiang Mai.

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Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand. The place for adventure tours, culture and scenery. Although the town itself is nice to walk through, the places to be are just outside town. From jungle walks to white water rafting, it’s all there. The first day we settled for exploring town in the morning and an afternoon of hights. A good 2 hours of flying from tree to tree at the Jungle Flight and to top it off a 40 meter drop!

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The second day we wanted to ride an elephant and nothing more. Well that was a bit too much to ask. All the travel agencies only offered packaged tours and almost laughed at us when we asked for just an elephant ride! So we rented a scooter and decided we could find the park on our own. No sooner said than done, we were on our way.

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After 2 hours of driving through cold mountain roads with amazing views and a sore butt, we suddenly saw an old, rusty sign for an elephant park. We knew this was not the park we were looking for but thought it couldn’t hurt to check it out. Now I would like to point out here that this is exactly the type of event I LOVE about travelling. Because what happened next was one of my favourite things in Thailand.

We pulled up at what seemed a deserted place. My best friend P, hopped of the back to check it out and suddenly yelled out to me: “I see an elephant! Kyley! There is an elephant!”. It’s such an amazing feeling when you go off the beaten track and stumble on a non-touristy attraction. It was only the two of us, on the elephant with no other tourist in sight. The guide took us for an hour on a small path along the edge of a mountain and even stopped at a waterfall for photo’s..

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A treat for the elephant.

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The park.

The road we had to take to get to the elephant park was magnificent. Right through the rainforest and mountains giving you spectacular views. Because we were on a scooter we could stop whenever we wanted, not to mention how fun it was just driving around!

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The next day it was time to get back on the move, time to go to Lao! I can tell you now it’s not as easy as you would think.. But that’s a whole new story..

Chiang Mai

Everybody has heard the stories about trains in Thailand. Some are positive and some are your worst nightmerries. We woke up early to catch the 8.30 a.m. train. All the night trains were fully booked because of the high season so we had no other choice. A very stressful taxi ride later (traffic jams in Bangkok are mental!), we were dropped off at the train station.

20120903-214220.jpg

After obsessing about how the hell we were going to survive 12 hours in a Thai train, hoping chickens, pigs and goats pets weren’t allowed on board, a small decent looking train pulled up in the station. We found our seat and were pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it was! The seats reclined to almost-like-a-bed mode, airconditioning blasting (glad we had jumpers!) and no pets in sight. In fact, almost no Thai people! Were we even still in Thailand? Yes, we could survive this.

Our survival kit of food was unnescesary as we were served several meals, snacks and drinks along the way. We killed time by napping, listening to music, reading books and staring out the window. By the time we got fed up of sitting in the train we were almost there. With only an hour delay (!) we arrived in Chiang Mai.

20120903-214719.jpg

20120903-214740.jpg

20120903-214758.jpg

Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand. The place for adventure tours, culture and scenery. Although the town itself is nice to walk through, the places to be are just outside town. From jungle walks to white water rafting, it’s all there. The first day we settled for exploring town in the morning and an afternoon of hights. A good 2 hours of flying from tree to tree at the Jungle Flight and to top it off a 40 meter drop!

20120904-141929.jpg

20120904-142034.jpg

20120904-142535.jpg

20120904-142305.jpg

The second day we wanted to ride an elephant and nothing more. Well that was a bit too much to ask. All the travel agencies only offered packaged tours and almost laughed at us when we asked for just an elephant ride! So we rented a scooter and decided we could find the park on our own. No sooner said than done, we were on our way.

20120903-222325.jpg

After 2 hours of driving through cold mountain roads with amazing views and a sore butt, we suddenly saw an old, rusty sign for an elephant park. We knew this was not the park we were looking for but thought it couldn’t hurt to check it out. Now I would like to point out here that this is exactly the type of event I LOVE about travelling. Because what happened next was one of my favourite things in Thailand.

We pulled up at what seemed a deserted place. My best friend P, hopped of the back to check it out and suddenly yelled out to me: “I see an elephant! Kyley! There is an elephant!”. It’s such an amazing feeling when you go off the beaten track and stumble on a non-touristy attraction. It was only the two of us, on the elephant with no other tourist in sight. The guide took us for an hour on a small path along the edge of a mountain and even stopped at a waterfall for photo’s..

20120903-224508.jpg

20120903-224532.jpg

20120903-224555.jpg

20120903-224616.jpg

20120903-224634.jpg

20120903-224652.jpg

A treat for the elephant.

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The park.

The road we had to take to get to the elephant park was magnificent. Right through the rainforest and mountains giving you spectacular views. Because we were on a scooter we could stop whenever we wanted, not to mention how fun it was just driving around!

20120904-141355.jpg

The next day it was time to get back on the move, time to go to Lao! I can tell you now it’s not as easy as you would think.. But that’s a whole new story..

Back on the Move

The first of many stories. I’ve been back home for about 2 weeks now and it took longer than I thought to orden my thoughts, go through the photo’s and set myself to write. But here we are, I’m going to tell you about Thailand!

After a short flight the moment finally arrived, I saw my best friend after 5 long months! Time to start our month long adventure, starting with a few days in Bangkok. Sitting in the back of a cab, Bangkok skyline in front of me, gave me the feeling once again that I am addicted to.. Travelling. I was finally on the move again! A new city, full of things to discover.

Discover we did. The first day we dropped our bags off at our pre-booked hostel near china town and started to walk. Well, it was more of a dance around the cockroaches than anything else.. After a few blocks and confused looks on our map, a nice man stopped us and told us about this travel agency that could help us with our further plans. Sounds good we thought! Little did we know this place was part of the many shops giving tuk tuk drivers a commission on bringing tourists in.. Our first tuk tuk adventure was a fact. The rest of the night we walked around, visited the night market, went to the train station for tickets and arrived back at the hotel exhausted.

We woke up early the next day for a full day of sight seeiing. China town for the market, where you walk through narrow alleys with stalls selling typical Chinese accesories, Chinese fashion and Chinese food. The heat, many people and small alleys made us a bit claustrofobic so we hauled a tuk tuk, negotiated a lot and were on our way to lumpini park. The contrast between the busy city and this peaceful park was like black and white. To see the whole park you can rent sweet pedalos in the shape of a swan, a welcome alternative after walking for hours..

By the time we finished with the pedalos, we collapsed on a bench in the shade, not knowing what to do with ourselves it was that hot.. We watched people running and biking on the asfalt road that goes around the park, stunned how they didn’t collapse of the heat. A cold drink gave us the strength to move on and take a tuk tuk to the biggest and most famous temples in Bangkok. Highlight being Wat Po. What a huge Buddha that is! The only downside was getting back to our hotel. We were so sick of being ripped off and just wanted to get in a tuk tuk for a normal price, which we managed after talking to what seemed 500 drivers.

Wat Po

My moving feet at the standing Buddha feet.

For dinner we had our first street food and man, how good was that! Simple noodle soup with vegetables and pork, jummie! The next day we had to wake up early to catch our train to Chiang Mai, but that is a whole new story..

So there you go, the first of many stories about my moving feet in Thailand. Did I mention we also went to Lao..?!

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Taxi’s in Bangkok