Border Crossings: Hatien to Prek Chak on Motorbike

After spending 3 nights in Saigon, we departed for Kep, Cambodia to meet our cousin.

This town wasn’t part of our itinerary but our cousin convinced us to go there. Glad we did!

The Hatien/ Xa Xia-Prek Chak border is the border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia on the southernmost part of the countries. This is our first border crossing by land.

Only few tourists cross here so you get serviced immediately once you arrive. Immigration officials, though, take their time in processing. For one, they have all the time in their hands. Also, manual processing happens at least in the Cambodian border.

Expect that some personnel might not be welcoming to tourists but it’s fine so long as you get your stamps. It takes time getting used to foreigners anyway even if you have the same skin color. :-)

Border Schedules: 7am-8pm

How to get there:

We booked a bus to Hatien, the Vietnam border town, through one of the travel agencies in Saigon. There are no direct buses from Saigon to Kep crossing the borders.

Hours: 9 hours | Price: $12 each including pickup from the travel agency office

The 9-hour bus ride included a 1-hour ride via taxi pickup from the travel agency to the bus station kiosk in town. Afterwards, a minibus transferred us to the main bus terminal. That’s how far the city bus terminal is from town.

We had a sleeper bus which was comfortable (Kumho Bus Line). The driver and conductor were polite as they handed black plastic bags for shoes. Foot wear should be removed before embarking.

The bus ride included a ferry crossing the wide river from a Vietnam town to another before proceeding.

The bus stopped in the local terminal in Hatien. We negotiated for a moto ride to Kep, stopping on the borders for the formalities. My first long moto ride began!

On the Vietnam Border:

The moto drivers stopped just before the border and told us to walk towards the immigration window located on the left side of the building.

We showed our passports. The immigration officers swiped it on the scanner and stamped our exit. No questions asked.

Do ensure that you get an exit stamp instead of another entry stamp. We got delayed in re-entering Vietnam from Laos due to the technical miss in the Hatien border.

We rode on the motos again and stopped just before the Prek Chak border. Then, we had to walk towards the office.

On the Cambodian Border:

The immigration office is just a small hut with officials waiting for arrivals and departures.

We presented our passports and the official gave us an entry and exit form to fill up. Once done, he manually wrote the details from our passport, clips the exit form and stamped the number of days (14 days).

A health station is located beside the office but we weren’t required to go there anymore.

We met with our drivers and headed off to Kep.

Money:

There are no available ATMs nor money exchanges on the two borders as of December 2014.

Bring US$ or Cambodian Riel (KHR) before crossing the border from Vietnam, although it is better if you have KHR so you don’t lose on FX rate conversion since US$1 is fixed at KHR 4,000 in the country except in grocery stores where US$1 = KHR 4,100.

Also note that Cambodia uses both US$ and KHR so sometimes, you’ll find yourself receiving change in the two currencies when you buy anywhere around even if you paid in US$ OR KHR.

Crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam is easier as Vietnam uses Dong as its national currency.

How to get out:

It is better if you get a night bus so you arrive early in the morning.

It takes 20 minutes to get to the Hatien border from the local bus station. According to Lonely Planet, direct buses run from Hatien to the below Cambodia towns at midday and 4pm daily.

  • Kep $12 – 1 hour
  • Kampot $15 – 1.5 hours
  • Sihanoukville $20 – 4 hours
  • Phnom Penh $18 – 4 hours
  • xe om/ motorbike taxis to Kep: $15 – 45mins. to 1 hour

We took the morning bus from Saigon and arrived in Hatien around 430pm. The only available ride were motos. The drivers initially charged us $17 each but we were able to negotiate for $15, although our cousin informed us that a moto ride should just be $10. By the afternoon, your chances of haggling becomes slim.

If you’re already in Cambodia, you can visit Kep from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville or Kampot on cheaper rates.

Others:

  • Scout for the cheapest bus fare possible around the backpacker area in Saigon. But ensure that the bus is one of the reliable bus operators. Kumho Bus Line is one of them.
  • Although we didn’t consider stopping, Hatien looked like an interesting place to explore even just for a day. Its candy-colored buildings brighten the riverbank and paved roads lead to the border.
  • Casino constructions are ongoing in the Prek Chak border. The moto ride gave us a glimpse of the soon-to-be entertainment place. Once opened, the Hatien-Prek Chak border will soon become a popular crossing.
  • The afternoon moto ride to Kep was memorable! For one, it was my first long motorcycle ride. Rice fields dotted the surroundings. Palm trees and mountains also abound and the orange light from the sunset provided dramatic shots.

For information on our other SEA border crossings, you can check the links here.

Ban Kong Lo, Laos’ Hidden Gem

Have you been to a place that felt like it was out of a story book?

Well, I’ve been to a ‘Storybrooke’ (I miss the series!) in the Orient.

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photograb from the net

There are no fairytale characters, only an enchanting landscape allowing visitors to imagine and escape the busy city life even for a while.

This is Ban Kong Lo, a town in the Khammouane Province of Laos whose caves, mountains and forests are part of the Phu Hin Bun National Park.

The 8-hour bus ride was rather pleasant despite the Laos music played the entire trip. We suspected it was just one CD played and replayed until we arrived. I was laughing silently, listening to the American guy already humming to the songs while tapping the back of my seat as if it were a drum.

But all of us visitors on that ride agreed, Kong Lo was a different place. Unfortunately, most tourists miss out on this place. They usually go directly to Pakse or Si Phan Don on the south after Vientiane. Only a few travellers come here by bus besides tourists doing the motorbike loop.

Along the way, we saw this from the bus window.

2015-02-20 18.58.00I was awed. My excitement slowly built up. I liked it already.

As we moved on, beautiful landscapes and scenery continued to capture our eyes.

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I looked out of my window to see a field of harvested produce and a range of mountains ahead.

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We arrived just after sunset but the orange hue from the sun still provided the perfect lighting for an afternoon shot of the village.

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We stayed at a nice guesthouse with the best beds we’ve ever slept on. After settling, we immediately headed out to see more.

Tobacco is the main produce in this village. We happened to see some kids busily arranging the leaves on bamboo sticks so we observed a bit before asking if I can try it. Seemed easy, just get a leaf and push it on the stick. It wasn’t. Ha!

The kids were so fast. They can do maybe 5 to 10 sticks in a minute. I did one for a minute and I even failed. I was mindful of the pointed edge of the stick and the tobacco stem snapped everytime I pushed it on the stick.

The kid checked what I did and said “no”. She removed it and reassembled. That was the end of me doing another round. They were experts already. It might take me a few more rounds before I get it.

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I thanked the little girl who showed me how to do it before moving on.

Surprisingly, we met Gaetan and Alexia again, the French couple we initially met in our Vientiane guesthouse. They were doing the motorbike loop and were in Kong Lo for 2 nights.

We were joined by them over dinner and another German couple, Nicolas and Celina. It is always fun to meet and talk with fellow travellers, sharing experiences and topics from the hilarious to the serious.

We ended up staying in the resto until 11pm before saying our goodbyes and calling it a night. We knew we wouldn’t see them the following day as they all leave Kong Lo. Such is travel life.

the group still chatting way past dinner
the group still chatting way past dinner

The following day, I woke up to the sound of chainsaws and rooster crows. I went outside to be welcomed by this sight. Stunning mountain ranges, with summits still covered with clouds, standing still over tobacco fields.

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Then while having delicious breakfast prepared by our guesthouse hostess, I heard tinkling bells. Cows were walking along the road, being herded to grassy fields.

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Who wouldn’t fall for the town?

That day, we visited the famed limestone cave – the main attraction here – which is a kilometre walk away from the village.

We couldn’t resist stopping every time to capture the beauty of the surrounding.

Everywhere you go you meet smiling locals greeting you ‘sabaidee’ and nature displaying its various colors.

We saw a gate and a sign informing us we arrived.

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As we entered the rolling gate, I felt like we transported to another world deep in the forest. Large trees silently stood still, its leaves rustling with the wind. Foliage carpeted the ground.

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We walked along, entranced by this place.

Our boatman greeted us with our life jackets as he motioned for us to follow him. And then, this came to sight.2015-02-21 08.45.49

By the time we stopped snapping, our boatman was already nowhere in sight. We followed the walkway to the cave to find him reappear from the fish area.

It was time to conquer the dark.

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Kong Lo Cave is a 7-kilometre stretch of massive, eerie darkness with the Hinbun River flowing perpetually through it.

Once you’re inside, sitting on a rickety small wooden boat, you just have to put your trust on the boatmen. With their years of experience traversing this limestone cave, they are already familiar with the paths inside.

Our head lamps, though incapable of lighting long distances, became our eyes in the dark. The life vests our salvation, just in case we splashed into the cold river.

After some minutes, our boatman motioned for us to get down from the boat and walk. He would wait for us further up.

Without a boat and a boatman, we followed the lit path.

It led us to the cave’s beautiful rock formations.

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Another wow moment.

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There was a natural cathedral inside!

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It took us around 30 minutes to explore the formations before meeting our boatman.

We proceeded upstream with a little dilemma on the boat so we helped him pull the boat out of the high-leveled platform. With the 3 of us, him instructing a “1,2,3, pull!”, we were able to get the boat out of the platform and us safely exiting from the cave.

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grateful, cheerful boatman

The other end of the cave leads to the Natane Village, a small community living simply on the outskirts.

Again, scenic landscapes greeted us as we rode along the green river.

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Grateful for helping him with the boat inside the cave, our kind boatman allowed us to explore the island without time limit. Good deal!

Four food and refreshment stores greeted us as we docked into the island.

The entrance to the village is small so you can explore it for half an hour.

Enjoy the silence and scenery, drink some water and take it all in.

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The trek to the main village takes hours so we didn’t push through. A preview was enough for the short trip.
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We left satisfied from all the sights.
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But before heading back to our guesthouse, we fed the fish in the fish area. They already know the drill. The moment I walked up the wooden bridge holding the fish food, they followed me wherever I went.

My brother attempted to catch one by getting closer but wasn’t lucky.

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brother and the old man guarding the fish area and selling fish food

The lake was inviting for a swim. Sadly, I didn’t bring swim wear so I just soaked my feet. Note: Don’t forget your swim wear when you visit Kong Lo Cave! :-)

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I applaud the locals and the government for protecting and maintaining the entire place. You can see where the money you pay goes.

I am a city girl but during vacations, places like these make for the perfect getaway!

  • Kong Lo Compound Fee: 2,000 kip
  • Kong Lo Cave Entrance Fee: 5,000 kip
  • Boat Ride (can carry max 3 passengers): 120,000 kip
  • Guesthouses are now flourishing in the village given the rise in tourism. You can reserve in advance or look around once you arrive. They are cheap and really good value for money
  • For the more adventurous, homestays are offered. Ask around the village. Several houses have plated numbers indicating they are accepting guests to stay in their places. Do note that they offer what they have so do not expect guesthouse or hotel quality but it’s a good way of immersing in Laos daily life.
  • Trekking is offered in the Kong Lo Cave Reception. Too bad we didn’t ask earlier. There are 3 options:
  1. Boat ride to Kong Lo Cave + 7-8 hours of trekking with guide in Ban Natane which would include an overnight stay in the village. Fees above apply. Homestay rates depend on the villagers.
  2. Whole day trekking around Kong Lo Cave Compound with guide for 120,000 kip each. This is if you want to do it as a separate activity.
  3. Half day trek (AM) trekking around Kog Lo Cave Compound with guide for 60,000 kip each.

 

Border Crossing: Mae Sai to Tachileik in a Day

We wanted to stay longer in Thailand so we decided to check out volunteering opportunities. We found one but the problem is we are short of time so we decided to do what other travellers do – cross the border and re-enter to extend our stay.

The closest place to do just that was the Mae Sai – Tachileik border. This is the border between Thailand and Myanmar on the north.

It was already our third border entry to Thailand.

How to get there:

1. Local buses run daily from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai bus station on  platforms 5 and 9, alternating on trips. Ask the conductress on the platforms to ensure you’re boarding the right bus.

Price: THB 39 | Travel Time: 1.5 hours

2. Once you reach the Mae Sai bus station, you will immediately see a tuk-tuk/ songthaew with a sign informing passengers of the destination (border/immigration) and price.

Price: THB 15

On the Thai border:

20150118_123644You’ll immediately see a long line on the entrance but this is for Thai and Myanmar locals. A separate window for foreigners is located on the right side from the entrance. Just present your passport to the border security officers and they’ll direct you there.

Submit your passport and filled up departure card on the window. The official takes your photo then you’re stamped out of Thailand.

Once done, follow the crowd walking towards the Myanmar border.

On the Myanmar border:

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Again you need to fill up a form on the Myanmar side. They ask you if you’ll stay in Tachileik or just be there for the day. If you have no intention of staying in Tachileik overnight or for a few days, just inform them you’re going back to Thailand on the same day. We only stayed for a few hours which is usually the case for most travellers.

The officials stamp your passport twice, already indicating you entered and exited Tachileik on the same day.

Before you enter, you pay THB 500 to the Myanmar officials. Only in the Tachileik, Myanmar border!

In Tachileik:

The government still restricts foreign entry to other parts of the country via this border entry.

You can stay overnight or more in this town if you want to, although there’s really nothing much to see and do.

Expect tuk-tuk drivers immediately meeting you and offering day tours or rides around the town. There are also walking vendors who would sell you all kinds of goods.

We only checked the statue of the king near the market area before roaming around the town market. Carry some shopping money with you as you might find some interesting items there although the prices are way higher, like the rest of Myanmar, than in Thailand and other neighboring countries.

Money:

The town uses Thailand Baht for all transactions. They don’t accept Myanmar Kyat.

There are also available ATMs and money exchanges but it’s better if you already have Thai Baht with you before entering.

How to get out:

After a few hours, you can go back to the border by following the signs. Present your stamped passport to the Myanmar security officials then, walk towards the Thai border.

On the Thai border, a booth is placed in the center of the entrance where you can get the entry and departure form to fill. After filling up, present it with your passport on the passport window and have your photo taken. You get additional 14 days on this land crossing.

Once you exit the Thai border, you will see tuk-tuks/songthaews waiting for passengers going back to the Mae Sai bus station.

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songthaew ride

Ask for the bus to Chiang Rai when you arrive in the terminal.

Prices for the return trip of the tuk-tuk/songthaew and bus to Chiang Rai should be the same as what you paid when you came.

International Border Crossings: Filipino Guide

Hi fellow Pinoys!

Sharing with you a reference guide on border crossings on some South East Asian crossings for now.

READ, READ, READ before hand on the places you plan to go to along with border crossings. This way, you have an idea on what to expect and be able to prepare. Travel forums and blogs provide the most helpful information.

SOUTH EAST ASIAN BORDERS

Part of planning routes on our South East Asia backpacking trip is to research about border crossings. Unfortunately, almost all search engines yield results from a Western traveler’s experience. There were no specifics for Pinoys (and ASEANs, as applicable).

Most of the time, we traveled by land to cross borders as it is the cheapest way to travel in these parts.

I am still a newbie on rough traveling and these are all based on our experience so it’s subjective but at least, you get a view of the process.

The advantage of an ASEAN traveler is we don’t need visas to go around SEA, unless we’re planning to extend than the allowable number of days for free entry. All we need is our passport!

Well sometimes, immigration might also ask for the following so just be ready:

  1. Copy of return flight to the PH or onward flight
  2. Bank certificate
  3. Travel itinerary
  4. Applicable to SG: invitation letter from a friend or acquaintance, just in case

Note: I will eventually link these to the details for easier navigation. 

  • Manila, Philippines ~ Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
  • Poipet, Cambodia ~ Aranya Prathet, Thailand [Origin: Siem Reap, Cambodia | Destination: Bangkok, Thailand]
  • Mae Sot, Thailand ~ Myawaddiy, Myanmar [Origin: Mae Sot, Thailand | Destination: Mawlamyine, Myanmar]
  • Chiang Khong, Thailand ~ Huay Xai/ Bokeo, Laos [Origin: Chiang Rai, Thailand | Destination: Vieng Poukha, Laos]

Visiting Vientiane

Hello hello!

I’m back online after a few days without internet. But IT DOESN’T MATTER because I’ve been to one of the most magical places here in Laos!

But I’d like to share our Vientiane trip first so here goes.

We spent 5 nights in the Laos capital of Vientiane. The reason was more about continuing on a special personal project over seeing the sights. I realize it’s challenging to work on a project when you’re on the road and distracted. So I didn’t force myself. After 2 days of uninspiration, I explored Vientiane.

It is still the high season for most of South East Asia. We were glad we found a guesthouse with the cheapest dorms and rooms in the block. A dorm bed was 50,000 kip and a fan room for 100,000 kip on other guesthouses and hostels but we had a decent twin room for 70,000 kip. Others had signs outside indicating they were already full. That was how occupied Vientiane was.

The Mekong was a view away from the nearby park although I was surprised to see a long stretch of the river bank dry with wild plants and roots growing.

Before sunset, they close the road near the river to allow locals and foreigners to jog and bike. As people fill the roads after sunset, the night market slowly opens with owners arranging their products for potential shoppers. Such is the daily activity on this part of the city.

I did visit the nearby temples only to find them closed including the imposing Presidential Palace and Cultural Center, so I just admired the architecture outside. There was also the National Museum with interesting items on display like the dinosaur bones and archaeological digs but it needs further improvement especially on labels and English explanations.

Vientiane is a city with lots to offer to anybody. After all, it is the capital.

The attractions and activity below are my favorites:

1. Patuxai or the Victory Gate of Vientiane (3,000 Kip)

This structure, built in 1962, resembles the Arc de Triomphe of France.

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Located on the northeastern end of Lane Xang Avenue facing the Presidential Palace, Patuxai is a towering landmark surrounded by palm trees, fountains and garden.

Buddhism and Laos art decorate the first floor ceiling.

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Souvenir shops populate the floors leading up to the view-point on the tower.

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Once you’re on top, you look over the wall divides and see Vientiane’s wide cityscape. Top views always feel good just like how it was seeing the temple towers in Bagan from the top of a big temple.

The gardens surrounding Patuxai makes for an even better snapshot of the city.

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Unfortunately, the structure remains a work in progress. The walls and designs were never continued since its creation due to the turbulent history the country experienced.

For now, it continues to attract crowds with its towering beauty amidst a bustling city.

2. Buddha Park (entrance: 5,000 Kip | camera: 3,000 Kip)

If there is one word to describe this park, I’d say it is quirky.

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Without reading up about this site, you would assume it is a park with formal buddha statues created as a holy site for Buddhists. People come here to offer prayers or conduct ceremonies. Well, I’ve seen some flowers and offerings so maybe. But when I walked around, I saw how different it is from the usual religious sites we’ve seen before.

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Buddha Park is said to have been the brainchild of a rogue monk, who wanted to combine Buddhism and Hinduism in his own brand of religion.

view from the globe
view from the dome tower

Amateur craftsmen helped build the statues and symbols representing myths on both religions. The results are entertaining and refreshing.

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You can identify some symbols, yes, but some are downright questionable where it fits or why it was there.

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Bayon in Angkor Wat also became a fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism but it is impressively stunning. Buddha Park is also impressive in a way that it tickles your funny bone.

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It somehow inspired me to take this angle shot.

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Cement, steel irons and stones were used to build the statues and symbols so some have been destroyed by cracks.

Spend some time on top of the ball-like symbol or the Aztec-like structure for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding.

The cheapest way to visit the park is to take Bus # 14 from the Khua Din Central Bus Station for 6,000 kip one way. It is 25 kms from Vientiane so travel time is around 45 minutes to an hour. It is open daily from 8am to 430pm.

3. Pha That Luang (5,000 Kip)

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That Luang is the most important monument and symbol in Laos.

We entered into a gated compound, the walls serving as protection to the golden stupa.

Surrounding the stupa are prayer alleys with temple relics adorning the walls.

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There are some relics that are just placed on the corners awaiting restoration or proper displayed. It would have been nice if those relics are well-maintained just like the ones we saw in the Lop Buri Museum in Thailand. These are evidences of the past that are worth keeping.

The other two temples within the That Luang grounds also have intricate designs. Both resemble Thailand temples, colorful and decorative.

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A buddha tree near the smaller temple has some golden buddha statues with different poses that adds more drama to the surrounding.

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We walked the whole way for 30 minutes from Patuxai to here. You can opt to ride a bike or hire a tuk-tuk.  

4. Bowling

Bowling is one of my fave physical sport.

I get a high just hitting a few pins with a hard ball. Strikes make it even more exciting.

We happened upon a bowling alley near our place so we got sporty.

You can easily locate it because of the big bowling pin displayed on top of the building and the sign on the gate.

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Without those, it would have been hard finding it as the building itself looked like it was not a bowling alley.

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But as we stepped inside, loud, upbeat music welcomed us to an empty bowling alley. At 10,000 kip for a game, it was reasonably cheap to do a second set.

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We had low hits for the first few games, well it has been a long time, but eventually we made it to a few high hits including a strike from the brother.

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It was worth it. Topping it all was a delicious lunch of toasted baguette sandwich and fresh fruit shake on my fave small kiosk in the corner.

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We left Vientiane a day after V-day (yep, we saw balloons, flowers and dating couples) taking with us life stories shared with various people we met in the guesthouse that made our stay a more memorable trip.

 

Overstaying in Prabang

Must love Luang Prabang.

I think I’ve been using ‘love’ in many of my posts now that it has become overrated. There are just unique things about each place that you can definitely fall for.

We were loving (there I go again *wink*wink*) the atmosphere, food and the Old Town in Prabang that we didn’t notice a week has gone by! Or maybe, we just wanted to grow some shallow roots for a while.

These worked their magic on me, reason why I overstayed:

1. The quietest, colorful night market

The first night we were there, we walked around to check for souvenirs or things we might like for ourselves.

Believe me, it was the quietest, most colorful night market I’ve ever been to!

It’s not because there aren’t many shoppers. There were lots but they all seem to talk in whispers.

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Vendors offer a variety of unique finds from packed souvenirs to paintings to ethnic skirts and wallets to ancient salts. Yes, you heard it right. It’s the first time I saw these salts so I bought a few for some lucky friends who love to cook. Anticipate it. :-)

2. Morning alms walk

This religious ceremony starts at around 530AM where monks and novices (young boys below 20 years old who enter the monastery) walk the streets of Prabang to accept alms from the people.

It is part of the culture that the community provides for the monks.

Old women wearing IDs and sinhs invite visitors to get involved by buying sticky rice and bananas for offerings.

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It was a new experience watching this special ceremony from a distance. Monks walk barefeet and in groups to different directions; locals kneeling on mats, waiting for the monks to get alms from them.

The government issued advertisements for tourists to help respect the solemnity of the alms ceremony. Well, some tourists still don’t honor this. They get really close to take snaps of the monks, reason for the holy men to walk faster than usual.

I took the snaps from afar so it’s not that crisp. But I’m proud of myself for being one of those who paid attention to the sign.

3. Walking along the Mekong River and French-styled buildings

The Mekong presented itself eversince we stayed for a night in Chiang Khong.

It followed us to the border until we entered Laos.

We now fully understand how it has become the most important river in these parts. The connection seems endless, snaking through borders and tying up with other waters.

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view from one of the riverside restaurants

It was awesome watching life go by while walking on the paved street.

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stylish guesthouses and restaurants overlooking the Mekong

The river on one side, French-styled establishments on the other. How can you not fall for that fusion?

4. The Old Town

The moment I walked in the Old Town, I took notice of how similar it looked to the heritage village in Vigan, Ilocos Sur in the Philippines. One difference is that here, temples abound while in Vigan, calesas.

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Cobblestone walkways lead you to charming after charming French-styled buildings. You feel like you’ve stepped into another era. But then you awaken to reality by the loads of tourists and travel agencies surrounding you. Despite these, you still get pulled by the calmness of this part of Luang Prabang.

5. Paintings and the posh restos along Nam Khan

Nam Khan (River Khan) connects to the Mekong on the southwestern side of Prabang.

Walk down the sandy shoreline and dip your feet in the rushing river. Swim if you like so long as you use decent swimclothes according to local standards; that is, no two-piece or one piece. After all, parts of South East Asia are still conservative and tourists should respect regulations. Covering yourself will win you approval from locals.

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If you think the businesses and houses along the Mekong are already chic, those along Nam Khan are more posh.

Restaurants cater to high range travellers who come to relax and unwind in this city.

The paintings are also impressive. One lady selling her paintings learned the art in a technical school for 5 years before she was able to paint one of her pieces about local life and symbols.

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6. Wooden bridge and monks

There is just simple joy walking along a bamboo bridge to cross to the other island.

This bridge connects the locals living in the other island to Luang Prabang. It is removed after 6 months when water rises during the rainy season.

A sign explains why tourists need to pay the 5,000 kip fee to walk on the bridge.

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There is not much to see really on the island. You can venture to the end of the island to the south to witness where the Mekong and the Khan Rivers cross paths.

I also like to take photos of monks and novices in their orange robes. Orange stands out in a sea of earth-tone colors thar makes for a great photo.

Below is a photo of monks crossing the bridge towards Prabang after taking lunch in the small store in the opposite island.2015-02-09 13.05.16

Note: There are two bamboo bridges along Nam Khan. These are operated by two separate groups with separate walkway fees.

The one with the signboard, explaining the reason for a ticket, is 5,000 kip. This is located on the southeastern part of the river. The other spreads in the middle of the river with 7,000 kip walkway fee. It has no signboard.

It is advisable you exit where you entered. We exited in the middle and had to pay 5,000 kip instead of the 7,000 kip after a small discussion on the reason for the separate fees with the gate women.

7. Sunsets and city view

They say, the best sunset view is on Wat Chomsi (20,000 kip) at the top of the mountain.

The sun sets at around 6PM but we arrived 30 minutes late so we missed it.

There were lots of tourists when we ascended. You need to wait for a good view of the city. Lucky enough it was not yet dark so we were afforded a panoramic view of Prabang, nestled along the Mekong and Khan Rivers with backdrop of mountain ranges.

2015-02-09 14.35.56If you miss the sunset on the hill, no worries. You can view it while you dine in one of the local restaurants along the Mekong. Better yet, near the Xieng Man river boat terminal.

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Less tourists, no entrance fees. Just stand there and wait.

8. Kuang Si falls, bear reserve and uphill trek

On our last day, we decided to go to the famous Kuang Si Falls.

It is quite easy to charter a ride for the almost 45-minute ride from Prabang. Tuk-tuk drivers ask around the baguette and fruit shake area for those interested to go. They gather a group of 8-10 people then leave for the falls. Round trip fare: 40,000 kip. The drivers wait for 3-4 hours for tourists to explore. This is the cheapest way to go, unless you know how to drive a motorbike and DIY.

Once you arrive, you pay the 20,000 kip entrance fee and you’re off to the trails leading to the falls.

The falls were AMAZING and HEAVENLY with blue-green waters flowing from the mountain top!

As you go further up, you see layers of terraced falls and swimmers jumping from the trees to the cool waters below.

Too bad, I wasn’t able to swim because of that time of the month ;-).

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We decided to hike up to the top of the mountain after admiring the waters. This is my third time to do some trekking after our 2D1N adventure in Chiang Mai. We thought we would only see the falls and the bear reserve. No one told us of trekking but glad there was.

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where did the waters come from?

You can’t help but admire the beauty of nature. Exactly how did water flow from here, right? Where is the exact source? I know there are scientific explanations but it makes you wonder while you’re here.

There was still time so after walking bare feet on the mountain, we trekked further for 3 kilometres to the buddha cave (10,000 kip). The still forest surrounding you is breath-taking. Cobwebs cover some of the foliage while dried leaves decorate the clay path.

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There is not much to see though in the buddha cave. Buddhas of various sizes are placed on corners inside. There are also a few stalactites decorating the ceiling.

We trekked back in time to witness the bears playing in the reserve. These bears were taken from poachers and rescued from the black markets.

Bear bile was found to be a lucrative business with bears’ lives sacrificed in the process.

The NGO maintaining this reserve continues its efforts to save more bears and educate locals about humane handling of animals.2015-02-09 12.55.06

There is even a catchy ad to further encourage participation in their ‘Free the Bears’ Campaign. Don’t miss out on this clever ad located in one of the view areas.

Note: It is advisable to go to Kuang Si in the morning to get a better appreciation of the place. Tour groups and locals tend to come in the afternoon that makes for a very crowded park. Usually, tours explore the Pak Ou Caves in the morning before heading to Kuang Si in the afternoon.

9. Lao Food

Laos cuisine is also good and varied just like Thai. There are 10,000-15,000 kip vegetarian food buffets in the market if you are into cheap and healthy food.

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There are also various street desserts like sticky rice (favorite!), coconut balls, yoghurts and fruits.

Restos along the Mekong serve delicious fried rice and soups.

Fave resto on the lane. The place needs an upgrade of the place though but yummy food!
Fave resto on the lane. The place needs an upgrade though but they serve really yummy food!

French baguette sandwiches and fresh fruit shakes (you can really taste the fruit, low sugar) line the entrance to the night market area. Vendors even post the comments of previous customers to entice others to buy in their store.

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You will always hear two greetings: “Annyeong Haseyo” for the Koreans (lots of ‘em at the time of visit!) and “Sabaidee” for the rest of the other travellers. You just have to choose where to buy.

We bid adieu to Prabang after a week-long affair and moved to explore Vientiane.

Have you overstayed in a place on vacation? What made you?

My Box of Chocolates: A WordPress Challenge

Here’s something to share as we celebrate the day of hearts tomorrow.

This is in response to the Blacklight Candelabra’s box of chocolate challenge:

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I’m still travelling and got inspired to liken the box of chocolates to 12 guesthouse rooms.

photograb from the web (chocolatemonggo.com)
photo grab from the web (chocolatemonggo.com) – closest depiction

 Room 1: Worker’s Sleeping Area

The alarm clock rang. It was 6:00AM. One of the 7 stay-in workers woke the assigned morning shifters as the night shift staff came in, sleepy and yawning.

Room 2: Double Room

It was 40 years today when they got married in a simple backyard wedding. The old man smiled to his wife as she opened her eyes and greeted “happy anniversary!”. He never forgot.

Room 3: Twin Room

She stretched as she rose from bed, her brother still asleep. They agreed to wake up early to catch the sunrise and jog along the Mekong. She decided to quietly step out and jog solo instead.

Room 4: The Indian Restaurant

The cleaning lady played Laos music on the radio as she opened the door. It’s her usual routine. She swept the floor, arranged the tables and chairs and placed the menus on the tables.

Room 5: Single Room

The young lady is still asleep after a night of clubbing with newfound backpacker friends she met in one of the bars. Headache. Enough of too much alcohol.

Room 6: Mixed Dorm

One of the hippie travelers woke early to meditate. His mission? To find inner peace. His roommates thought he was weird. He annoyed everyone with his meditation sounds and was forced to leave the room.

Room 7: Lounge Area

The business man was smoking cigarette as he checked his phone. He sipped coffee and puffed another smoke. The Skype conference started. He greeted everyone. They need to finalize the deal before noon.

Room 8: Double Room

Their 2-year old girl woke up crying. She might have had a bad dream again. Her parents were worried sick. Might have been the adjustment, changing places. After some minutes, she was back to sleep.

Room 9: Common Shower

The two soccer player imports just came from their morning practice. One started singing in the shower. The other chuckled. They continue their visa run today, hoping they can get it before the season starts.

Room 10: Triple Room

Two friends. They met their third roommate on the sleeper bus. The dorms were full so they decided to take the triple for the same price it will cost them a bed in the dorm.

Room 11: Family Room

It’s another weekend trip for some pampering for four friends after a week’s work in the office. Two glory days for some R&R before another week of the daily grind.

Room 12: Reception

He just turned down a request for room discount from a couple. It’s a tough job. Guests demand different things. He forces a smile as another traveler enters and asks for a room.

Such is travel life – bittersweet but still unforgettable! :-)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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