Two overnight journeys, a boat trip and some family time combined to make this quite a crazy week – and the craziness hasn’t ended yet.
15/11 Monday We left Nong Khiaw in the misty morning and headed down the river in a slow boat to Luang Prabang, stopping at an amazing pair of caves that are full of Buddha statues. We fell in love with Luang Prabang, but didn’t feel like we had enough time there; we enjoyed having a beer or six with Graham and Emi from Stray, then eating out at the night markets with everyone else from the Stray bus. We finished the night with a drink at a nice bar on the waterfront.
16/11 Tuesday The day started painfully early so we could see the orange-robed monks receiving alms from people who lined the streets holding bowls of rice and other food. It was more of a spectacle of bad tourist behaviour than anything else, which was a bit sad. The drive to Vang Vieng was strikingly beautiful, the early-morning mist hung around until 9:30, cloaking the craggy mountains in a soft white.
We hated Vang Vieng on arrival, it’s the worst of all tourist towns and has made it to our “places we despise” list (which only had two other places on it before, so it’s quite an honour).
We decided to forgo drunken tubing and instead relaxed in the hotel before finding a restaurant that wasn’t playing American sitcoms at full volume, to watch the sunset and drink seriously bad Laotian wine. The wine at dinner was a lot better, and accompanying it with steak was a stroke of genius.
17/11 Wednesday After a lazy morning, we headed off in the bus to Vientiane. After arriving we didn’t do much, just relaxed then had a nice dinner at the waterfront with Seen and Carolin.
18/11 Thursday After waving goodbye to Carolin, Nicole, Jeremy and the Stray bus, Craig and I headed off to explore Vientiane using a walking tour from Travelfish’s guide to Vientiane.
At 3:30 we started the long journey to Bangkok – first a jumbo tuktuk, then a long wait in an immigration line (with compulsory bribe), followed by a short train journey across the border. We finally boarded the night train at about 6pm. The beds were comfortable enough, and I managed to get a bit of sleep, which was a nice change.
19/11 Friday After arriving in Bangkok a little late, we wandered around trying to find a hotel (with eventual success) then met Seen back at the Stray/Grasshopper office and headed out for an excellent cycle tour of the city. It was fantastic exploring hidden temples, navigating narrow alleys, and eating fresh fruit with salt.
20/11 Saturday Another early morning, this time to head to Ayutthaya to explore Thailand‘s second capital by bike and boat, courtesy of Ayutthaya Bike and Travel. The guides were amazing, and so were the ruins, the Buddhas, the temples and the lunch on the boat – all in all a fantastic day.
In the evening we met up with Alan Perlman for a fantastic street food dinner at the river, watching the barges float past and seeing people launch little boats to celebrate the lantern festival. A couple of beers were in order to end the day with.
21/11 Sunday My dad was in town for a press trip, so we met him at his hotel after collecting our bag from the Stray office (thanks Bhorn!). We headed across the river by ferry for lunch, then navigated back in the driving rain. It was so nice to see Dad, we haven’t seen him since we left in February.
We’d planned to buy a camera but decided to wait until cash-flow was a bit more favourable, so I just bought some headphones instead. It’s going to be so great being able to make Skype calls from my iPod without having to borrow Craig’s pair.
The trip to the airport was straightforward: we caught the train for 15 baht and arrived early. Check-in was fast but the line for customs was a punishment for something, I don’t know what I did wrong! And security – well, our tiny scissors and bottle-opener now languish in a plastic collection box, despite having been perfectly acceptable carry-on items for dozens of flights. And there was a secondary security check at the gate which meant we couldn’t take drinks from the airport onto the plane. All in all, Bangkok Airport reminded me of why I hate airports. Give me a train any day.
At least the flight, when we finally took off, was comfortable, and we shared a tiny bottle of wine to celebrate returning to the wine-drinking world. Now we just need to work out how to finance the habit!