Packed. Ready to move. Destination: SouthEast Asia
Bangkok. Yes, start somewhere. Most of the backpackers start in Bangkok because its cheaper. I did too because it happened that a previous round trip ticket has been purchased with my cousins. It was a short layover. We explored the shopping areas except Chatuchack weekend market. We had the luxury to stay in a decent hotel near MBK Mall. Very convenient for a shopping trip. We also had the chance to taste both the local transportation and the ultimate ASIAN tourist trap, tuktuk. More of Bangkok in the second leg of my trip.
Thailand shares border with some SEAsian countries and one of them is LAOS. Laos happened to be the only destination from Bangkok that could be reached with an overnight train. So what? Well, remember the first time Harry Potter got into Hogwarts? I did fancy that 🙂 and so it was a very Hermoineish experience with the overnight train to Vientiane. It was made more interesting when a group of monks were waiting too. The train is located in Hua Lamphong Railway station that could be reached by bus, LRT-MRT and taxi. Aircon seat cost 600Baht ($20). Taxi from Bangkok City Hotel (Petchaburi Road) to Hua Lamphong reached 80Baht ($2.75). There are food stalls inside the train station however, there are more interesting restaurants outside. I was able to find a coffee shop just a few blocks from the main entrance of the station where I charged my ipad and treat myself to a sumptuous meal. The train departed at around 8PM and arrived 7AM the following day. Aircon ticket comes with a free blanket and they serve food and drinks with minimum fee. I had my single window seat instead of the usual double seater couch. It was a smooth train ride and woke up to a sunrise with a view of the countryside. Arriving at the Thai border, everyone was requested to transfer to another smaller train that was used to cross to Laos side cost 50baht. This border crossing was easy, just follow the other passengers and make sure to buy the border ticket first prior to boarding the smaller train. Upon arrival in the Laos side, fill out the arrival form and pay 30baht to the immigration officer and exit to the minivan terminal. The border is a bit far from the city proper so I had to bargain myself out for a good ride, settled at 100baht. Off we went. This border is special to me as I met my two sisters here, Motomi and Kotone.
Hua Lamphong Station Entrance
The Hermoineish Train to Laos
Vientiane-– where everything and everyone seems to be in chill spirit. This capital city was a stunner to me, simple and old school. My favorite part of the city was the morning market with cheap fruits and trousers. Also the afternoon stroll near the Mekong River. Moreover, I met some great people who played important role in this rambling. Okay, with all honesty, i fell in love with and in this city. Stayed at Vientiane Backpackers Hostel at $5/night with free breakfast, AC bed and wifi also walking distance from everything. My food was not so cheap, lol may be around $5/day because i always bought so much fruits for five days. Places to visit were just within the city, try to walk around or rent a bike ($2/day) to stroll. Two days is enough but I stayed for five days. Yes that’s what love can do.I thought so.
Vang Vieng— this was not part of my original itinerary. Again blame it to ahem emotional imbalance, lol. Anyway, bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng depends on the quality, cheapest was $3 (30,000 Laotian Kip). Trip is around 3-4 hours. My hell on Earth. Sorry A, Jemal and Tom, but I’ve said this before, I never liked this place.This was a place for party, drinking, drugs and sex. Although I had my best times here, like biking with no light except the moon, jumping off a tree to a river, best sandwich for $2 and a cool place to hangout.Paid $8 for a triple fan room (less than $3/night each bed) at Johnny’s GuestHouse with own toilet, wifi and unlimited crazy people to goof around. Also we went on a water tubing at $6 with unlimited party along the riverside. Stayed for f*cking seven days, yeah, couldn’t believe it too.
Vang Vieng View from a restaurant
Luang Prabang–the expensive Laos. Everything was just 2000kip more! Although most of the interesting places to see are biking distance. The best part of it was the Kuang Si waterfall trek as well as the morning Monk parade. Also, the night market was crazy with buffet and expensive souvenir. Imagine eating a $1 vegan dinner buffet with noodles, veggies, crackers, fruits and rice. Just bring water/drinks. Also a good place to watch the sunset and LP city center is Mount Phousi. Make sure to please stay in SpicyLaos Backpackers hostel for $3 fan dorm bed with clean toilet, free activities like countryside picnic, swimming pool excursion etc. And a place to hangout with both locals and tourists. Stayed for four days and take note of the next destination as the bus stations are outside the city center and trip would cost 30,000Kip ($3). Opted to take the night bus to Huay Xai to cross the border to North Thailand. Unfortunately, the night bus from LP to Huay Xai was a nightmare. I had a male local seatmate who tried to touch and get hold of me while i was covered with blanket and sleeping. But I did not allow it to happen and fought hard. I tried to shout but he pretended to be asleep and so were the other passengers. So I was awake the whole night and every time he tried to hold me, I hit him as hard as I can until he stopped. By the morning, when I was about to get off the bus, I pushed him one more time.
Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang Photo by: Anatol Noser
Early morning monk procession in Luang Prabang
North Thailand– The mountain area separated by Mekong River from Laos and Myanmar from the Golden triangle area. From the town of Huay Xai, its easy to get to Chiang Rai with a Thai bus company at 320baht.
Chiang Rai- my personal Thai favorite in terms of temples and fruits. This was a quiet place and a good place to do temple hopping without having to worry about entry fees. The food especially the fruits were cheap! Although the dorm rooms were cheap, the quality is not as good as in Laos. Also, places of interests can be reached through public transport like the Golden Triangle (50 baht one way) and the elegant White temple (25baht one way). Just go to the old bus station inside the city center and make a choice. I stayed with a family owned hostel to which I was the only customer. The wifi was awesome (i think the best of Thailand). Food would cost $1/meal for rice and veggies, around $3 for rice and meat. Local fruits rambutan, lanzones, mangosteen and longan were at less than $1. Dorm bed 90baht ($3/night). Also most signs have English translation.Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai bus cost 144 Baht ($5)
The White Temple, Chiang Rai
The Golden Triangle
Chiang Mai- where the past sits beside the present. This town is divided into the old city center (enclosed by the old walls) and city proper. This town is home to Thailand’s most nature activities like trekking, animal farms and waterfalls among others. The best part of this town was my couchsurfing experience with Carol’s place. Also, the Sunday walking market was my personal favorite as it showcased different locally made unique products and cheap delicious pancake and pad Thai :-). Also, most of the oldest temples were just around the corner and free. For the first time too, I was able to watch an English movie and paid less than watching it in Manila! Also 7-11 was the best option for cheap food and drinks. Oh how I got used to drinking yogurt every meal, lol! But I got sick here, fever and then after a week, food poisoning. But my admiration to this touristy town did not fade. There are many options to where to go next, Pai or Chiang Rai but I opted to rush to the Thai-Burmese border in Mae Sot as my visa was set to expire. From, CM, take a bus to Tak then a minivan to Mae Sot.
Chiang Mai Old City Center
Banana Mango Pancake
the walk to the Doi Suthep Temple located on top of a Mountain
Mae Sot (Thailand)- Myawaddy (Myanmar/Burma) Border Crossing: If planning to use this border to get to Myanmar, check the calendar as the way in and out of Myawaddy has a schedule patterned to even and odd days.
HPA-AN- is the stop over town in southern Myanmar, four to five hours away from the Myawaddy border. Small but very interesting. The journey to Hpa-an though was challenging and watery.Rough road and heavy rain were not a good company during my trip. From Myawaddy border, walk a few meters and then a couple of locals will be ready to offer a sit in their private car for as much as 10,000kip (990 kip=$1) or take a bus straight to Yangon for 12 hours at 15000kip. Unfortunately for me, my pocket had (or pretended to have) 7000kip. Nobody wanted to take ME. But there was this man who saw my desperate plea and asked me to follow him a few meters beyond the group of private cars. Yeah, he took me but with a twist. ME, the foreigner, had to pretend to be a local in every check point we had to go through on the way to Hpa-An. No sweat but hell, I was scared, made it in one piece. So how do you pretend to be a local? Wear sunglasses and act asleep with open mouth, lol. Although it was raining, ME did not stop from exploring the place which led to meeting my uncle Ben. Uncle Ben who took me to a motorbike adventure under the rain around nearby places of interest like Saddar Cave and Temple, Kyauk Ka Lat Lake but we missed the famous Zwegabin Hill. We had to brave through the ugliest rough road with mini mud lakes yet every difficulty became the ultimate adventure. Not to mention the good spirits we met along the way. Too bad I had to leave very soon to Yangon where my couchsurfing hosts KimAndAlisa were excited to meet me :-).
Saddar Cave with the kind-hearted monk who gave me his raincoat 🙂
Kyauk Ka Lat Lake
YANGON- The journey from Hpa-an lasted for roughly 6 hours with a low quality bus that cost 6000kip, not bad. Please note that the bus station in Yangon is outside the city center but almost near to Yangon airport. Condition is not good either, with chaotic system. Upon arrival, and with the instruction of my crazy hosts, I chose to take the local bus to the city center. The backpacker section is located near the Sule Pagoda, the final destination of the bus from the Aung Mingalar Bus station (overcrowded city bus costs 200kip or $0.25). My hosts’ abode was located in Pearl Condominium, just on the way to the center, I did realize this when my bus passed through the area. Instinct told me to stop and get down, but lo and behold, my tongue was tied and the muscles in my mouth were immovable, ME ending in the city center, away from my original destination. To my beautiful surprise, the streets of Yangon were oozing with sexiness, crazy! I fell in love. No words can express my emotional disaster. Whew, the faces of the world right in front of me. Also, the Burmese were just soooooooo kind and friendly.It was already almost dark and I can’t get a bus and a cab to top it all, my energy was just depleting. But the universe was ready to take me out of the boiling misery, a group of strangers standing beside me trying to get a cab, approached me and asked my destination and yes, fate had that we were all heading to one direction. They were students going back to uni to attend a class. We got into the cab and because I was too happy, offered to pay the half of the total cost ($2). The walk around the city center was fascinating with a perfect blend of Burmese culture. I could say that I felt safe too. I was walking around 8pm just after watching the Myanmar-Philippines Football game in one of the restaurants and everyone was so nice and helpful. Although the Philippines lost that game, the Burmese crowd in the restaurant were friendly and still congratulated me and did not ask for any payment nor any order from me during the duration of the game (kapal ko di ba). But the most exciting activity was when I pretended to be a Burmese (of course with complete costume, a local skirt I bought from the infamous Bogyoke Aung San Market for 3000kip). Almost all places of interests in Yangon ask for a certain fees, the most expensive is Shwedagon Pagoda (8000kip). So I tested my costume and my Asian beauty. I followed a local going inside the Pagoda and kept all my touristy stuff like camera, water and shades. Act like a local, pay like a local. So I did, almost. After spending some time admiring the Pagoda under the heat of the sun, I decided to go out, and then just like that, someone spoke in English. My brain just reacted and well, they got me. The guides interviewed me and as they were wondering why I was not wearing a tourist badge, I went away as fast as I can as if I used a teleportation spell like in that Harry Potter movie. The next test was at the People’s Park just near Shwedagon. At first attempt, total failure because they spoke to me in Burmese, no clue. Okay, another idea, use the backdoor. Again, epic fail. They saw my camera and spoke to me in Burmese, again fail.Paid more than the entry fee.Okay, consoled myself by making a mental note that the $5 saving from Shwedagon was used to pay for the lake for $3 so I still saved $2 plus a new skirt. One more test was to purchase the ticket from Yangon to Bagan just near the ooooold train station. To be honest,I could get that $10 bus with a local price but the agents just refused to because they might get busted once I would give my passport for identification. Tried asking the reason for the fare difference and they told me because Burmese people are poor, told them and myself, “so do I.” It wasn’t too convincing. But still, refused to get into a bus that would make me feel bad, so I asked around and found out that there’s a new bus company that offers the equal price regardless of nationality but more expensive though. Just to calm my bleeding ego, I took it, $15. Yeah yeah but more than expensive bus ride and the accommodation, the food was just crazy cheap. One dollar meal included unlimited rice, veggies, fish, curry and one liter of mineral water. But the fruits were expensive, so more rice meals for me, hahahaha! Also the public transport with Yangon was easy to learn just like how it works in Philippines and also affordable. Taxis were not expensive either. More to say, the streets of Yangon was just so full of faith, of all types coexisting peacefully. It was heaven on Earth for me. Awwwww tears tears.
THE Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon by day
Helene as Burmese
Sule Pagoda Yangon city center
BAGAN–Majestic. Just it. And a lot of biking 🙂 Seriously, this was like Angkor Wat multiplied 10 times but less expensive, $15 for five days. Bike rental cost $2 per day.Also the entire town can be cycled even until Mandalay, next town. Just be prepared as the sun can kill. Though this place is crowded with all types of tourists, the people are distributed to the many unique pagodas scattered within the town (you can even choose your own place to watch the sunset alone). The sunset was crazy but Ceedi was just not ready to capture, but my heart did. Before the biking story, let me go back to the bus ride I took from Yangon to Bagan (maisingit lang). So this fifteen dollar overnight bus came with a blanket, reclining seat, toiletries and food (coffee/tea and cup cake) with a cute seatmate :-). Since I had previous negative experience, I was more careful. But my heart melted because I felt that my seatmate was so cautious and careful not to even touch my side of the seat, awwwww. Every single instance that I opened my eyes because of some small movement, he apologized. So I thought, if I would get the chance to talk to him, I’ll make pa-cute to the nth level (boompanes). It never happened. And to my surprise, the bus station in Bagan was located outside the city center and not walking distance.Holy green, since I had a good sleep, walking was the only option. Stupid decision however ego kept on reminding me to go on. Okay walk, walk, walk. Another option was hitchhiking, failed. Until a private car (used as taxi) offered a free ride, I gave in. The driver brought me to my hostel just cycling distance from all the prominent pagodas. I still gave the driver $1 for the gasoline, hahaha conscience. The next couple of days were spent cycling around the town enjoying the magical world constantly bumping to my cute bus seatmate, who would smile at me. Also discovering the places, not included in my itinerary. These incidentals were even better than the original plan. However, on my second day, the heat was just too much that I experienced extreme headache. So I decided to go back to Yangon to wait for my flight back to Bangkok the following day. Paracetamol was not able to ease the pain. Food was slightly expensive compared to Yangon. On my last day in Bagan, I woke up to a simple breakfast and joined two German uni students. The next thing I knew, it was already 6pm and my bus to Yangon was waiting for me. We were talking the whole day and the topic was Asian vs German culture. It was educational and fun too hearing so much similarities between our countries. Then I had to hop inside an overcrowded bus to Yangon.
One of the Incidentals
Just another magical moment in Bagan
My own pagoda 🙂
Bagan Cloudy sunset
After another overnight bus ride, I was back in KimAndAlisa’s beautiful home. Too sick and tired, I ended up sleeping the whole day. Woke up to Ally’s voice asking me if I would love to join them for a Friday’s happy night out. I did. With a new experience: drinking my first tequila shot and the cheapest mojito (less than $1/glass). Yes, being a very alcoholic tourist, I got drunk, wow so me, few hours my flight back to Bangkok. No way, too dizzy to be able to change my clothes, I felt my body landed in what felt like the softest bed I had. And the world became blurr…zzzzzzzzzzz
Notes and Prices
Duration: July 31-Sept 10, 2014
Accommodation Type: Hostel (Mixed Dorm) $3-5 or Couchsurfing
Transportation/Activities (total): $150
Was I able to catch my $50 flight back to Bangkok? The SouthEast Asia Wandering continues…