We woke up early for our bus to Luang Prabang and unfortunately I was still feeling like I was getting sick. The journey was comfortable enough and the bus even stopped for us to take photos of nice views. We arrived and went to a cafe with Mike and Becki for lunch and to use the wifi to find somewhere to stay. The accommodation in Luang Prabang was quite expensive but we all found a place we liked and headed there. When we got there the receptionist said they only had one room and because Mike and Becki had already paid for theres we said they should take it. Charlie and I put our bags back on and went walking around town to find something else. We came across this nice little place on the main street which was cheap enough and looked pretty nice. We took our bags off and got showered before heading out for dinner near the night market. When we got back to our room there was about 10 mosquitos in the room which we thought was weird as we didn’t have any windows for them to come through. After going around the room killing them all we chilled out and fell asleep.
The next day I woke up feeling really rough, the sick feeling I had felt the past few days had turned into a really good head cold. We had to go to the Vietnamese Embassy to apply for a visa so we headed there dropped off our passports, filled out a quick form and were told to come back in 48 hours to collect them, it was so easy! Afterwards we went out for some food and I decided to just rest for the day. We went back to the room where I could have a nap and hopefully feel better. In the afternoon we headed out again for a drink and dinner and organised to meet up with Mike and Becki the next day to visit some waterfalls.
We woke up to meet Mike and Becki for breakfast before setting off to the waterfalls. We arranged a tuk tuk for the day to take us to two waterfalls. We arrived at Kuang Si Waterfall after almost an hours drive. At the start of the waterfall they have a bear rescue centre where you can see moon and sun bears playing in an enclosure. The conditions of the enclosure were quite good but we didn’t really know where the bears had been rescued from. They seemed happy enough though.We continued onto the waterfall which was beautiful. The water was really blue and there were lots of different levels. There was also lots of colourful butterflies everywhere which Charlie managed to get some photos of. Lots of people were enjoying a swim in the lagoons but it did get quite crowded quickly as more and more tour groups showed up, because of this we decided to leave and head to the next waterfall so we could have a swim there. The journey was another long one and when we got dropped off our driver explained we had to pay to get a boat to take us across the river to where the waterfall is. We all paid for a boat and headed down the river to where you can walk up to the waterfall. Once we arrived there were some other tourists at the entrance who told us not to bother as there was no water. So we had paid to get to a dry waterfall… a common trend for Charlie and I lately. We decided not to pay the entry fee and head back to town. Charlie and I enjoyed killing another 20 mosquitos when we got in, got showered and met Mike and Becki at a restaurant for dinner. It was there last night in Luang Prabang and the last night we would have with them. We had a nice dinner before saying our goodbyes, we had really enjoyed travelling with them over the past 2 weeks.
Charlie and I spent the rest of our time relaxing in Luang Prabang. We checked into a much nicer hotel with no mosquitos and good wifi. We explored the night market both the handicrafts and the food. We went to a food stall where you got an empty bowl for £1.50 and could fill it with all the food they had cooked but it was really disappointing… Not only was everything cold but it was pretty flavourless. I still wasn’t feeling great and this cold was really hard to shake so our days were very slow and I spent a lot of time editing video footage for our Laos video. We enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang but feel like we preferred Don Det and Vang Vieng much more. We did get some more nice sunsets there though!Next stop – Vietnam!
We woke up and set off early at 8am for Don Det. Our trip was to be much easier and faster than our previous journey from Thailand to Laos and we were quite excited to have a few nights chilling out on the island. After a 3 hour bus ride we arrived to the dock where we had a quick 5 minute boat ride to Don Det. When we arrived I left Charlie with a beer at a restaurant whilst I went on the hunt for a room for us. I found a guesthouse which was clean, quite new and had the option for air conditioning. We ate a quick lunch at the restaurant before checking in, showering and having a little rest. We headed to a place called sunset bungalows for a beer and to watch the sunset over the mekong river. The place was really cool as it had a ledge that you could run off and jump into the water from.We met another group of travellers before heading to dinner. Don Det is a really chilled out, relaxing place and so the restaurant we ate in was playing friends in order on repeat. We ended up having dinner and a couple of drinks there whilst watching TV before heading to bed.
We woke up for our first full day on the island and decided to hire push bikes to ride over to Don Khone, which is a larger island next to Don Det. We set out in the mid day heat, crossed the bridge and headed to a waterfall which was on our map.The waterfall was quite disappointing but another group of travellers pointed us in the direction of a beach. We rode to the beach and enjoyed a nice cool drink in one of the restaurants there.The restaurant owners son was very interested in Charlie’s camera so Charlie spent some time with him, letting him take some photos with it. There was a couple on the table next to us who also had some nice camera equipment so the young boy would swap between their table and ours. The beach was really nice but we didn’t wear our bathers so we just had a walk around and admired the views on offer.We then set out to find the waterfall park at the top of the island. After a 10 minute ride we came across the entrance and parked our bikes. The waterfall was more like a huge set of rapids but it was really beautiful.We ran into the other couple from the beach restaurant and the guy, Mike, was flying a drone. Charlie couldn’t resist and ran over to ask him loads of questions and see how it works. Mike is actually a professional photographer back home so he and Charlie had quite a lot to talk about. After an hour meeting Mike and Becki we headed off back to Don Det to get showered and head to our favourite sunset spot.After another sunset beer and swim in the Mekong we headed to dinner and on the way ran into Mike and Becki. We decided to eat with them at a place they recommended. The food was nice and it was nice to get to know them more. We made plans with them to meet the next day for breakfast.
We woke up wanting to go on a kayaking tour but after realising we needed to book the night before we decided to have a chilled out day on the island. We met Mike and Becki for breakfast at the restaurant that plays friends on repeat. We caught up with them, watched friends and used the wifi to plan our next few weeks in Laos. That evening we all headed to Sunset Bungalows for a drink and a swim where we met a cute little girl called May. She took a real liking to Charlie so the two of them waved and laughed at boats going past, whilst dancing to Katy Perry.Mike and Becki came to meet us so afterwards we headed out again to grab some dinner together. After dinner we booked onto the kayaking tour for the next day and book our onward travel for the day after.
The kayaking tour started at Green Paradise for breakfast which was included in the tour. We filled up on Pad Thai style noodles and scrambled eggs before climbing down to the Mekong and getting into our Kayaks. We kayaked down stream for about 45 minutes before stopping at another island to go visit another waterfall.The walk there was really nice as we passed through a village where kids kept running out to say hi to us. The waterfall was really nice and much safer than the rapids (although still very powerful) so our guide got some people to go along the rocks and under the fall. Charlie went alone as I am too much of a scaredy cat sometimes but it looked like a lot of fun.We then walked through the island to a beach area where our guide cooked us some bbq skewers and rice for lunch. We then jumped back in our kayaks and continued downstream through some grade 2 rapids which was really fun. The next part of the tour was to see the rare irrawady dolphins. We originally were told at the office there were only 7 left, however our guide believes there are only 3. We were lucky enough to see 2 of them though, albeit from a distance. We then kayaked to another island to visit another waterfall/rapids.Here we got to watch Mike fly the drone again and have drink at a restaurant before setting off one last time to Kayak back (much to my disappointment – kayaking is hard work!).
We had a fairly chilled evening after Kayaking. We headed to sunset bar with Mike and Becki, as well as another couple from Kayaking, Dan and Beth. We all enjoyed a drink and a swim before heading for an early dinner and then back to the room to packed our bags. We really enjoyed out time in Don Det, it was the perfect combination of relaxing and exploring.
The bus ride to Bagan took around 6 hours and if the road conditions were better, it would have been quite a comfortable journey. The ‘VIP’ overnight buses in Myanmar are actually quite spacious. On this particular journey we had a tv in the back of the seat and they even stopped at a restaurant for our dinner which was included in the price! Sadly due to the roads being so bad, its almost certain you are in for quite a bumpy ride.
Arriving at 3.45am ahead of schedule was kind of annoying as we didn’t get as much sleep as we thought we would have. We were dropped outside of town and therefore were forced to pay quite an overpriced fare to get a taxi to the hotel. We drove up to the ticketing gate where tourist have to pay a fee (25,000 Kyats / £14) to enter Bagan, this ticket then gives you access to all the pagodas and temples which isn’t too bad considering there is around 2000 of them.
Our hotel were kind enough to let us check in early, so we dumped our bags off in the room and decided whilst we were up we may as well enjoy our first sunrise here. There was a pagoda 3kms away we had been told was good to watch from so we headed out in the dark, walking quite quickly to ensure we got there in plenty of time. The fun but also annoying thing about Bagan is that some of the pagodas have a ‘key master’ who locks them at night and opens them in the morning. This means that you need to find a sunrise pagoda that will be open. The first one we tried was locked but luckily the next one we found didn’t have a gate. The staircases in the pagodas are very narrow and small meaning those who don’t like confined spaces (like me) will not enjoy going up or down them. Luckily sunrise was approaching so we didn’t have time to waste, also the staircases were full of mozzies so I had no other choice once I was inside and just ran up as quickly as I could. The sunrise was really nice but what was really amazing was that when the hot air balloons were up, they came right over the top of us, making for some pretty great pictures.The hot air balloon rides in Bagan are famous and the season runs until March so we were lucky to here at the time. We found out it costs $380 per person!!! We also felt that we wanted the view with the balloons, which you obviously wouldn’t get if you were up there. After sunrise we headed out for breakfast with everyone before heading back to our hotels for a rest. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was still struggling to eat a bit so I was happy to have a rest.
That afternoon we headed out with Heike and Julia to get a snack, the walk to the restaurant almost made me faint and I was feeling quite bad again as I hadn’t been able to eat properly. I decided to go back to the hotel with some food so I could eat in the aircon as the heat wasn’t helping me. I managed to eat most of my dinner and watch a couple of shark documentaries before falling asleep at 8pm. Charlie had gone out with the others to watch the sunset and then get some dinner.The next morning we woke up for another sunrise. Still not 100% I was very happy that today we were all hiring e-bikes to drive ourselves around the pagodas on. We headed out to a pagoda much further away to get a different view of the sunrise and the balloons. As usual there was a cramped mozzie infested tunnel to climb up but luckily the sunrise was worth it. The balloons were further from us today but still came along either side of the pagoda we were on and we were really happy with the recommendations we had been given.Some of the pagodas were known to get really crowded at sunrise but so far we had managed to escape the big crowds. We went back to the hotel for a little rest and to get our e-bikes battery recharged. After the mid day sun had settled a little we were back out exploring, annoyingly the shop had given us a different e-bike which didn’t have much charge on it and we didn’t realise until we were out so Charlie and I had to turn back to go get the battery changed. Luckily we did as on the way home our bikes battery was almost dead and we were pretty much rolling there (sometimes at as little as 5km per hour). We ended up missing one or two of the pagodas we wanted to see because of this but managed to get ourselves to the sunset pagoda in time to meet the others.We had one more morning in Bagan and whilst I didn’t want to get up for sunrise again, Charlie was very good to convince me that we may as well while we were here. We walked again this time hoping to find another one close by. We tried a few with no luck / no sign of the key master and we were about to go back to the one we knew from the first morning before we could see some small figures on the top of one nearby. We headed there, climbed up and found a spot just in time for sunrise. The sunrise was probably the least impressive of the 3 due to the balloons being so far away but the sunrise itself was still very beautiful. It was interesting to see that every day the sunrise changed and the balloons went in different directions, which was why getting up each morning was worth it.
Our 9 hour night bus journey wasn’t as comfortable as we had hoped. The bus itself was comfortable and even provided snacks, a blanket and had a toilet. Sadly the driver was a bit of a maniac and the roads were quite bumpy so the quality of sleep we got was not too good. We arrived in Kalaw at 4am and had until 8am to wait around for the trekking office to open. The only thing open was an open air tea shop which wouldn’t have been bad in the day but the evenings in Kalaw get down to 10 degrees so we all sat around freezing whilst drinking hot tea for 4 hours.
Finally we went to the trekking office and after a long winded hour and a half of sorting out 35 tourists into 3 groups we had been assigned a group of 11 and a guide. In our group was the 6 of us who had travelled to Yangon plus another 5 people who were either travelling together or solo. A big mix of Australians, Germans, a Brazilian girl a Polish girl, a guy from Colombia and Charlie. Our guide was a 19 year old girl from Inle Lake called Ooh Ooh. For 40,000 kyats each (around £23.50) we had our guide, 2 nights accommodation, 7 meals, a boat tour of Inle Lake on our arrival as well as our big bags transported to our hotels.
The trek to Inle Lake would take 3 days and cover 65km of hills. We set off at 9.30am for a mostly uphill walk through ‘jungle’. It was lovely but the jungle wasn’t the jungle we imagined, it was more of a forest. We made it to the viewpoint where we were given time for a rest and lunch. The view was amazing and we got to eat right on the end of it. We were given nepalese style bread with traditional Burmese Tea Leaf salad, non traditional avocado salad and lots of fruit. Our guide was a young 19 year old called Ooh Ooh who never seemed to get tired, whilst we all struggled uphill, she would just be powering on up front.We continued to walk for another couple hours before having a tea break in a local village in one of the villages house. He was retired and he and his wife looked after their grandson during the day whilst in kids were at work in the fields. The little boy was so cute and kept blowing us all kisses. We also found out that most of the people in these rural villages have their own language and there are around 500 different languages in Myanmar. This means that the villages are left alone but also that they cannot really leave their village as they do not know the Burmese language.We then continued walking until dark where we passed by local villages, rice paddies and plenty more amazing views.
We arrived at the village we would be sleeping in and were greeted by a lovely family who were preparing our dinner. The house was basic, as expected, with a shed squat toilet and thin mattresses lined up in the upstairs room with warm blankets for us to sleep on. The dinner was amazing and very filling consisting of a soup starter followed by lots of different dishes to have with rice. We were all so exhausted when we finished eating and were in bed by 9pm.
We woke up after a surprisingly good sleep to breakfast prepared by the family again. We ate, got ourselves ready for the day at set off by 8.30am. Ooh Ooh had told us today would consist of a lot of walking up and down and up and down and that it would be easy. It is amazing what she finds easy, whilst it wasn’t too hard the ups were quite steep still but not as steep as the day before.We stopped at a small tea shop for a break before heading off and continuing until lunch. We walked through paddies where we stopped where a family of 6 were working and Ooh Ooh translated as they explained what they were doing. They were ginger famers and they gave us lots of free ginger to make tea out of later. The male also told Ooh Ooh that he thought Charlie looked like a football player. We continued up to the village we were to have lunch in and were given a nice break out of the hot sun for an hour or so where a cheeky puppy chewed up one of Ooh Oohs socks. She didn’t want anyones spare socks so she continued the rest of the day and the next day with only one sock!
After lunch we got to walk past a 13th century pagoda which was really cool as it was so old and reminded me of the Angkor Wat temples. I also had some Haribo sweets/lollies in my bag and gave some to Ooh Ooh who had never tried them before. She loved them so I said I would save some more for tomorrow.We continued to walk until dark again but this time we got to walk along one of the train tracks, the trains here are so slow that if one was to come we would have plenty of time to move off the track but Ooh Ooh had timed it just right and as soon as we got off the tracks onto the next path the train went by. We also walked passed another village where Charlie, Heiki and I got chased by a water buffalo up hill. We escaped and had a rest at the top admiring the view. We continued to walk along little paths until we reached one of Ooh Oohs favourite views. We stayed there for a brief moment before being rushed up the hill towards to village we would be sleeping in to see the sunset.The sunset was really pretty and the view was one of my favourites on the trip. We also got to see all the villages coming back from their days work. We arrived to the village and met the next family we would stay with. We had a nice meal and they made a fire for us to sit around. The amount of stars in the sky was so pretty and it was so clear you could make out the milky way. It was such an amazing day to see how local villages live and we felt lucky to see its authenticity before tourism and technology changes it.We woke up and had a typical Burmese style breakfast of potato and rice which had really nice flavours for something so simple. Ooh Ooh put some Thanaka on all of us which is a burmese paste that they wear as protection from the sun.
We then headed off for our last day of trekking, all feeling a little sad that this experience was coming to an end. We walked through more villages where we got to see the local primary school and watch locals make bamboo baskets. We had a tea stop where Ooh Ooh bought some of the local red chewing tobacco that they wrap in leaves with different spices. Charlie tried one but said it wasn’t very nice. We continued to walk down all day finally arriving at lunch in a bamboo stilted restaurant serving home made food on the lake.
The whole trekking experience was amazing and we are both so glad we decided to do it. We met some amazing travellers and got an authentic insight into the culture here that we don’t feel we would have got otherwise.
We woke up and got on the bus to the pier ready for our long boat journey to Koh Tao. The bus was late which made the boat leave late and our journey a little longer than planned but it was nice to be on the water looking out at all the islands going past.We had to change boats at Koh Phangan which was annoying but gave Kev and Su a chance to see a different island, even if it was only the pier, it gave them size comparisons for Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. When we arrived at Koh Tao it was amazing, we were so glad to be back and so excited to show Kev and Su around.
We were staying at Bans diving resort in the jungle house. I remembered Bans being along the main beach front but didn’t realise how big it was and the jungle house was ages away from the main beach. Conveniently though we had our own little golf cart with driver that we could call on to drive us down. We also happily walked back in the evenings as it was much cooler and not too bad a walk. Our first day we walked around the main street and the main beach front before having some sunset beers at A.C.2.We were pretty comfy there so we ended up staying there for dinner before walking back to the main street.We had another beer at Simple Life divers and then went for a walk down to lotus bar for the fire show (with a gin bucket in hand). The fire show was really good and Charlie and I never got to see it last time we were here so we stayed and watched that before heading to Simon’s Cabaret Lady Boy show. We had been here last time with Lolly and her parents so we thought Kev and Su should experience it too. It was really fun and Kev enjoyed it so much he even got involved in the show. On the way home Charlie wanted to stop past a tattoo shop where he booked in for a tattoo in a couple of days, whilst we were there Su decided to get her nose pierced which was really funny but it looked so good, almost like she had always had it done!
The next morning we woke up and headed out for some lunch. We took all our snorkelling gear with us and headed past the pier to Sensi Paradise where Sharyn and Marshall had been staying last time as we knew the snorkelling there was good. We all jumped in the water and headed out to the ship wreck where the water was so clear and there was so much fish life it was hard to believe it was so close to the shoreline. We stayed out there for a while before heading back to our jungle house to get showered and head out for another sunset. We decided to have a drink at Bans and watch locals and tourists play volleyball against each other, we even recognised one of the lady boys from the night before who was playing. After that we headed to Su Chilli for some dinner. I had the best penang curry I think I have ever had. We decided after our big night of drinking the night before that we would just have a quiet one tonight so we headed back to our jungle house.
Another day in paradise and another day of snorkelling planned. We went straight to the wreck again skipping on breakfast and deciding to just have lunch once we were finished. Charlie and Kev stumbled across loads of crabs on a rock while Su and I floated around in the shallows.We headed for lunch before doing some shopping on our way back to the hotel. We made our way back down to the beach and walked the whole way down the other side of the beach this time, stopping for some happy hour cocktails and beers whilst watching the sunset.We wanted to go out for a nice seafood dinner and knew that Barracuda 2 was amazing from when Jaimee and Lolly took us there. It was so nice, the food there is amazing and Charlie and Kev shared the seafood platter for 2. It had a whole fish, barracuda steaks, prawns, muscles, calamari and more. I had the muscles and Su had the ribs which were so big that I got some of those too. Su ended up feeding the bones to a cute little stray dog before we headed back to the main beach. We picked up some beers on the way back and sat on our balcony drinking and chatting together.
Our last full day here and it wouldn’t have been the same if we didn’t go for another snorkel at our favourite spot. After a couple hours there we headed to mom moms for lunch although its called something else now which I can’t remember.We had a big lunch of fruit shakes, pad thai and fried rice before heading back to get showered. Charlie had his tattoo appointment so Kev and Su went for a walk whilst I waited with him. Kev and Su came back and we all sat in the shop watching Charlie’s tattoo get its finishing touches. It looks great and turned out better than he expected so that was good!We had our last dinner and a few drinks on a beach front restaurant before heading back to pack up and get ready for our ferry the next day.
We left our island of paradise and got a ferry across to Sihanoukville. We decided to spend a couple of nights in Otres to chill out and get some upcoming travel plans finalised. We didn’t do a whole lot there but Hannah and Paul were also there so we spent our evenings having dinner and drinks with them, went to a night market and watched a pretty nice sunset.
Our next destination was Battambang but first we had quite a journey ahead of us to get there. We left Otres on a minibus for Phnom Penh which took a nice long 7 hours. We decided to stay in Phnom Penh for a night as we had heard some horror stories regarding the night buses here. After a quick sleep at Base Hostel, we had a 7am start and another long bus ride ahead. This one was another 7 hours where we shared our bus with tourists, locals and their live chickens!
That evening we went to a night market with Hannah and Paul before getting an early night. The four of us had hired a tub tuk driver for the next day to take us around to different sites. Hannah and Paul had been recommended by other travellers to do his tour so we were excited to see where he was taking us.
Our tour started at 9am where our excited driver Phil Lay greeted us at our hotel with a big smile. His tour started at the local market where locals go to buy anything from fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. As you can imagine the smells were quite strong and some of the meat (chickens, ducks etc) was being sold still alive. There was also a lot of interesting items being sold such as snakes, frogs, beetles, eels, mongoose, pig heads or feet, mice and rats. They really don’t waste any of the animal they sell, there were tubs of intestines and stomachs from a anything from pigs to fogs. Phil Lay told us that the middle class to well off locals buy the fish bodies whilst the poor will buy the heads or the guts that are usually thrown away.
After the market we went to the Bamboo train where we got to ride along the broken up tracks on a rolling platform which was really fun and surprisingly fast. At the end of the train we were greeted by a group of kids who were really funny. They kept calling us their brother and sister and hugging us.
We continued our tour driving through small villages and seeing how they make dried banana and rice paper. The dried banana was made by a lady in her home. She hand cuts thin pieces of banana and then lays them out to dry in the sun. Phil Lay purchased some for us and it was delicious.
The rice paper was made by two girls who had a very fast and impressive production line.
Our next stop was the killing field where Phil Lay told us a story of his time during the Khmer Rouge. Originally from a wealthy family, he was one of the first taken from the city and forced into slave labour, working in the fields for 3 years and 8 months. He survived two bouts of malaria whilst living on a ration of half a cup of rice a day. He had to watch his family members starve to death or be killed. After being liberated he walked for 30 days from Battambang to Phnom Penh with nothing but the clothes on his back. Once he arrived he had no choice but the leave to avoid conscription to the Vietnamese army. Turning around and making the 300km/30 day journey back to Battambang. Not liking what was happening there he traveled to Thailand and spent 9 years in a refugee camp, rebuilding his life before becoming a driver in the Army. He then went onto become a policeman in Battambang before retiring and working as a tour guide. He told this story with a smile on his face as he considers himself one of the lucky ones who survived. Another truly remarkable survivor we’ve had the pleasure to meet.
We had time still before lunch so Phil Lay took us to a ruins temple which gave us our first glance at a Khmer style temple. It was built in the same stone that the Angkor Was temples are which made us excited to visit them!
We had worked up an appetite and it was time for a lunch break. Phil Lay took us to a restaurant on a lake where we could swim. We all found a bamboo hut where you could rest up in a hammock or spend time jumping off the hut into the 18m deep lake. We obviously spent our time jumping into the lake.
Our last destination for the day was a the Killing Cave where during the Khmer Rouge people were bludgeoned to death before being tossed into the holes which served as the skylights to the caves. The caves now have buddhas, memorial statues and glass cabinets full of skulls inside.
Like a lot of places in South East Asia, the Killing Cave was home to a lot of monkeys. Charlie had fun taking photos of them whilst I ran away from any heading my way.
We stayed there until sunset where we got to see all the bats inside the cave fly out to hunt. There are over 6 million bats inside and they fly out in a continuous group for 30 minutes.
It was an unforgettable day and we really wouldn’t have seen all of this or even known about half of these places if it wasn’t for Phil Lay. We ended our night at the night market where the 4 of us said our goodbyes to Phil Lay and then chatted about the days activities over dinner and drinks.