A Travellerspoint blog

Special Note

For my readers...

As many of you know, I'm currently in Quito, Ecuador, traveling through South America for the next 6-7 months. Just to make life easier for myself and my readers, I've started a new blog specifically for this continent. If you're interested, please refer to my other blog site at:
CLICK HERE

Posted by jessho 23.10.2012 20:22 Comments (0)

New York: a review of shows

The Broadway Scene: Musicals, plays, and contemporary theatre…

large_New_York-8.jpg

Hello! My name is Elder Ho
And I would like to share with you the most amazing place
Hello! You must have been there too
It’s a place famous for theatre from a long, long time ago…
It has so many awesome shows
You simply won’t believe how much this place can change your life…

This place will change your life
This place will change your life
This place will change your life!
check out the REAL song here

book_of_mormon.jpg

For those of you who have yet to see The Book of Mormon, I would highly recommend it. Although tickets are sold out for the rest of the year, I was lucky enough to be able to catch the show on my first night in New York. While crude and unconventional, this comedic musical was also highly entertaining, playing on the religion of the Mormons, and their beliefs in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Yes, it is actually a real religion… I checked.

Note: If you are a religious person, do not see this musical. If you take offense to profanity, do not see this musical. If you do not have a sense of humour, do not see this musical.

Backtrack to the start of my New York stint: So the original plan was to spend the weekend in New York, then travel up to Boston for the autumn leaves during the week. Of course that was never going to happen, because as soon as I took in my first Broadway show, I was hooked.

Rocky_Horror.jpg

The next day I went on a mission to fulfill my childhood fantasy of watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I must have seen the movie at least half a dozen times, but as I was born two centuries too late to appreciate the live Broadway production, it was thrilling to be able to watch a live show at the Chelsea cinemas. Picture this: Midnight on Saturday night, surrounded by a horde of Rocky Horror fans all dressed up in theme, a live (and crude) commentary of the movie, and a live skit performed by actors for the duration of the film. Best $9 spent. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it certainly made my NYC must-see list.

Tip: Bring your own props, or buy the pre-packed $2 bag of cards, toast, rubber gloves and newspaper.

New_York-10.jpgNew_York-11.jpg

Moving uptown to the Lincoln Center, I managed to score half-off tickets to the production of War Horse from the TKTS booth in Times Square… front and center too, close enough to smell the sweat. The play was… in a word, Magical. I was concerned at first of the use of dummy horses instead of real animals, but the movements of the props were so realistic, it actually felt more realistic than watching the film adaptation. When I first watched the film, I thought the critics were harsh to give it a bad review, but now I understand… they must have seen the play first.

New_York-17.jpg

Pleased with my last bargain, I headed back to the TKTS booth for round 2. I had thought to buy tickets to see Jersey Boys, but the beauty of getting in line with other patrons allowed me to eavesdrop on conversations about other popular shows. I decided that since I was only buying a ticket for one, I would have a much better chance of decent seats than others travelling in groups or pairs. So I wound up buying a ticket to the afternoon matinee for Mathew Broderick’s Nice Work if you can get it, a comedic musical about bootleggers and gin.

New_York-21.jpgNew_York-22.jpg

Lastly, on my last night in NYC, I attended Fuerzabruta at the Daryl Roth theatre in Union Square. I’m not sure what the right term for it would be… contemporary expression of dance and theatre? Eclectic fusion of music and dance in a state of dreaming? Hmmm… I’ll think on that…

New_York-25.jpg

So thus concludes my trip to the Big Apple. Although my trip did also include some great food, a stroll around Central Park, a visit to the Natural History Museum, and of course a scenic crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge, I felt like the highlights were the theatrical performances which captured the culture and essence of New York.

Posted by jessho 13.10.2012 19:23 Archived in USA Tagged new_york theatre shows musicals plays Comments (0)

IBIZA: Beach, Party or Wedding destination?

It's Ibiza, need I say more?

Let’s start this one off a day before arrival… While I was due to arrive in Ibiza on Friday, my connecting flight to Barcelona was held up in Rome due to weather conditions, which subsequently made me miss my flight to Ibiza. So now I had a choice: Hang around the airport for 5 hours waiting for the next flight, or stay in Barcelona for the night and book either a boat or plane to the island the next day. Seeing as the boat would have been a 9 hour overnighter arriving at 6.30am Saturday morning, I opted for the flight instead.
It was indeed the better option, as after a few good Spanish meals and a relaxing stroll down the famous La Rambla, I left Barcelona and arrived to the party island of Ibiza feeling refreshed and energized. My first day there was rather uneventful, consisting of a load of laundry, a walk down Playa D’en Bossa, a late paella lunch, and a hot shower. Top that off with an amazing dinner at Sa Punta, followed by pre wedding drinks on the terrace… it was a good start.

Europe-90.jpgEurope-130.jpg

On Sunday, a group of us got together and rented a 10m catamaran, skipper inclusive, for the day. It was a great investment, giving us hours of sailing and sunning, several opportunities to take a dip in the cool, clear waters, and a stop for lunch in Beso, Beso Beach, Formentera. It was a fantastic meal of assorted appetizers, combined with seafood paella the size of a car tyre. And yes… we ate it all. Top that off with apple tart and Catalan strawberries and cream, and it’s no wonder why we practically rolled ourselves back onto the cat. Good thing we only had 9 people with a maximum capacity of 12.

Europe-92.jpgEurope-93.jpg

Europe-87.jpgEurope-136.jpg

In truth, the sun was so hot at midday that after 2 hours we all started seeking the little shade provided by the cat’s sail, so we found the return cruise was much more pleasant, as the sun had begun to drop, leaving a breathtaking view of the Spanish sunset on the horizon as we reached the final shore of Playa Salines. We stopped by that evening at Pacha to meet up with the bride-to-be and her bridal party, and then it was off to bed early to recharge for the next day.

Europe-100.jpg

Monday… Wedding day. I guess everyone’s first thought when they hear that phrase is beauty day, hair, make-up, photos… Good thing I’m not the bride. I spent the day at the beach. Cale carbo to be exact. The sun was blazing, the water was clear, and then all of a sudden we were rushing back to shower and change in time for the wedding.

Europe-141.jpgEurope-144.jpg

The Wedding:

Europe-102.jpgEurope-104.jpgEurope-106.jpg

Talk about polar opposites. Compared to the previous wedding of glitz and glamour I attended in Istanbul, this one was about as different as you can get. It was held in an intimate setting in a private villa in San Jose overlooking the ocean. Hosting a total of approximately 40 guests, the atmosphere was a mix of friendly banter between friends, snap happy bridal party with Polaroid cameras for the guestbook, and an eclectic mix of props for dress up photos. Oh, and alcohol… that mix makes for an interesting night.

Europe-103.jpgEurope-115.jpgEurope-117.jpg

Once the bride was ready, we all gathered on the terrace-come-altar, and after a short speech from the pastor, a tearful promise of love from the groom, and a kiss to seal the deal, we proceeded downstairs for dinner, speeches, and then a “surprise” performance from the bride and groom. After that it was off to Privilege club in San Rafael for the after party, a VIP booth to watch DJs Marcus Shultz and Armin van Buuren spin for the crowds of people, surrounding by flashing lights and spinning acrobats, leading to a surreal experience even if you’re not into trance music.

Europe-110.jpgEurope-120.jpg

On my last day in Ibiza, my plan was to explore more of the island’s beaches, so I rented a scooter, and took off to check out Sa Caleta, Cala Tarida, Torre D’en Rovira, and some other secluded spots on the Western side. The roads were mostly well paved, with clearly marked signs to each beach and lookout point. It was only on the secluded dirt and rock path to Torre D’en Rovira that I wished I’d had a jeep instead of a little scooter. Once at the end of the path, I discovered a breathtaking view of a deserted cliff, overlooking a small cove, shadowed by the red rock landscape all around me. It was a great place to just close your eyes, breathe in the crisp fresh air, smell the salty sea, and fully appreciate the sense of solitude after a busy week. A great end to my trip to the island of Ibiza, not just a party city after all…

large_Europe-124.jpg

Tips: Reapply sunscreen every 4 hours, bring sandals or flats if you plan to go out clubbing, and close your mouth while riding the scooter on the highway: bugs come out at dusk, they’re hard to swallow and spitting is just bad manners.

Posted by jessho 01.10.2012 08:23 Archived in Spain Tagged landscapes beaches wedding catamaran Comments (0)

Turkey's hidden treasure: Cappadocia

6,000 ft up in a hot air balloon, 8 levels down in an underground city... and everything in between.

Cappadocia

large_Europe-45.jpg

When I initially started planning the Cappadocia sector of my trip, one of the common consensus was: 1 day is plenty, just go for the hot air balloon. After spending 4 days and 3 nights based in the quaint little town of Goreme, I beg to differ.
On the first day, having organized for an airport pick up to take us to our hotel, we were delighted to find we could check in early, and found our humongous suite at CCS hotel both spacious and quaint. With its master king bed tucked away in the corner of the cool cave cut-out, the suite boasted extra beds, as well as a separate living room. After a quick nap and time to freshen up , we took a wander around the small town, browsed through the trinkets and souvenirs of the small local stores, and had lunch at a delightful café called Kale Terrase, which served the most amazing Turkish bread I’ve tasted, as well as a local dish called Testi Kebabi, a stew served in a sealed pottery urn. Shortly after lunch, we headed out to the nearby horse-riding center, Akhal-teke horse center, and enjoyed a cool ride around the river and countryside.

Europe-17.jpgEurope-18.jpg

The next day was the start of our full 2 day package tour, which included a private van for the four of us, equipped with air conditioning (totally necessary in the blazing mid-day sun) and an eski filled with ice-cool water. Our tour on this day took us to:
Pigeon valley, a stop on the main road for pictures of our first glimpse of the cave houses from afar;

Europe-25.jpgEurope-28.jpgEurope-29.jpg

Uchisar, famous for its cave dwellers, who have now turned their living spaces into tea houses and souvenir shops for tourists;
Avanos, a stop for lunch and a pottery making demonstration, where yes, yours truly climbed into a super sexy- clay splattered- one size only jumpsuit, and got down and dirty Patrick Swayze meets Demi Moore style with the pottery wheel;

large_Europe-41.jpg

Dervent valley, where many rock formations combined with a creative imagination paints a vivid collection of animals and profiles of famous people. I however, could only ever make out the camel (far right);

Pashabagi, a landscape filled with cave and rock formations. One would normally need only a few minutes to explore and take a few photos, but as we were feeling energetic, we went gallivanting all over to capture many of the more stylistic shots of the day;

Europe-38.jpgEurope-39.jpgEurope-42.jpg

And, lastly, the fairy chimneys of Urgup. Like I said… it was a FULL day of sights. After a grueling day, we were treated to “the works” at a Turkish Hamam, where we were cleaned and scrubbed and detoxed till we literally shed our skins, and headed over to watch the sunset from Rose valley.

Europe-129.jpg

Cappadocia's famous hot air balloons

Europe-43.jpgEurope-46.jpg

It would have been great right about this point to have a day to sleep-in, but the next morning, if you can even call it morning at 4am, we were up way before the break of day to catch our 90 minute hot air balloon flight over Cappadocia. I was skeptical at first, as our tour operator seems to be still driving us to our lift off point as other balloons were already inflated and on their way up, but I soon realized this was because our departure was from Rose valley, so that we could watch the other balloons come up over the horizon, as well as enjoy a more peaceful coast through the valley before joining the masses of colorful bubbles scattered across the skyline. After the first twenty minutes, I had over 100 photos of the event.

Europe-47.jpgEurope-48.jpg

Even our landing couldn’t have been more perfect. Although warned that we would land at an angle and had all practiced the “brace” position, our pilot skillfully maneuvered his way past a field of pumpkins, landing the basket directly on top of the trailer in what would have been a perfect 10.0 score. Plus there was champagne and cake waiting for us after…

Europe-49.jpgEurope-50.jpgEurope-54.jpg

After breakfast at the cave suites, we proceeded to the southern provinces to see the Derinkuyu underground city, built 8 levels into the ground as shelter for Christians during times of religious violence. Dark and cold, I much preferred our walk through the Ihlara valley, a shaded 3km walk with the high valley walls and formations to my left, and the sound of the water from the refreshing stream to my right.

large_Europe-59.jpg

Last stop for the day was the Selime monatery, a must see for fans of the Star Wars series. The apparent inspiration for many of the movie landscape settings, the monastery built into high rock towers gives off a surreal feeling of being in Tatooine, birthplace of Anakin Skywalker, and it was too much temptation to resist a re-enactment of a light saber duel, sans the light sabers.

Europe-63.jpgEurope-65.jpg

Tip: Our very anti-climactic end to a long day was the full Turkish show, inclusive of a whirling dervish. Skip if possible.
Our last day in Cappadocia, we opted for an early ATV tour with Motodocia Tours, instead of a lazy morning. It was cold again at 5 am, and I was glad to have brought my leather jacket to cut the wind as we zipped along in our own off road ATVs, stopping to take some awesome day break photos at Love valley, aptly named for its phallic shaped formations.

Europe-79.jpgEurope-80.jpg

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Cappadocia, with its distinguished air of tranquility, and penchant for adventure tours, and can definitely see myself returning for another trip in the future.

Tips for future travellers: Late summer is a great time to avoid the masses of tourists, but bring some warm clothes and expect cool nights and very, very crisp mornings. Oh, and bring earplugs if you have roommates that snore… you know who you are…

Posted by jessho 26.09.2012 07:08 Archived in Turkey Tagged sunset caves cappadocia sunrise monastery atv hot_air_balloon Comments (0)

Turkey: Bridge between Asia and Europe

Istanbul's treats and treasures

sunny

ISTANBUL

large_Europe-16.jpg

Although it was not my first time in Istanbul, it was the first time I had arrived by plane. Big mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is lovely, but the efficiency of the Turks, the start of my vacation is definitely questionable. After a smooth landing, mum and I debarked the plane swiftly, confident that we would indeed arrive in plenty of time for the first evening of wedding festivities. However after waiting for our bags for just over an hour, and another fifteen minutes for our airport car, we realized that we were going to be horribly late, even if by some miraculous event there was no traffic on the roads… there was. So instead of getting glammed up for a party, we simply dropped our bags off at our hotel on the Bosporus River, and headed out to sample some of the local delights. Not particularly in the mood for a drawn out sit-down dinner, we instead wandered over to the waterside, where the tantalizing wafts of street food such as Kumpir (giant baked potato served with butter, corn, red cabbage, salad, sausage, and basically anything else imaginable piled on top) and Borek (a crispy filo pastry with spinach and cheese filling) drew our attention. Match that with the unbeatable view of the Bosporus bridge, and the idea of looking across a continental gap (the European and Asian sides of the Bosporus), it was clear that Istanbul had much more to offer than what I’d originally thought.

Tip: Take a relaxing cruise down the Bosporus river, day and night time cruises offer a vastly different atmosphere. If headed out for the evening cruise, take a jacket, as spots for the best view get a bit chilly.

Europe-10.jpgEurope-13.jpgEurope-11.jpg

Grand Bazaar… Saturday… lunch time rush hour… nuff said. Imagine this: Hordes of people, both locals and tourists alike, packed like sardines in a can in a never-ending maze of shops, all potentially selling the same junk at exorbitant prices, all calling out “Konichiwa!” Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the hat.

After meeting up with friends for lunch near the palace, a few of us decided to try to find a famous sweet shop, internationally renowned for their milk and rice puddings. Problem was, we only had an address and name to go by… AND it was wrong. After our first cab broke down at the entrance of a tunnel and then proceeded to rip us off, it took us a tram, a train, another taxi, and about 15 minutes on foot until we finally found it. Considering the epic journey it took us to get there, I was worried that no dessert would ever be able to fulfill my expectations… but actually it was pretty darn good. The sweet honey cake with the creamy cheese topping combined both texture and flavor to top the charts as my favorite, followed closely by both the rice pudding, rich and decadent with a burnt top to give it a slight hint of caramel, and the world famous milk pudding, using fine-minced chicken for texture but not taste, the sticky texture of the pudding combined with the light dusting of cocoa was the perfect afternoon treat. Plus I figured after all that walking I could afford the calories anyway.

Europe-1.jpg Europe-2.jpg

Tip: Find a reliable cab to take you all the way there and it will probably only take you 25 minutes from the old town. Do it my way means allowing for 90 minutes of travel time.

The Wedding:

Europe-4.jpgEurope-5.jpgEurope-3.jpg

I could live 1000 years and not see another wedding like this. Well… scratch that, I could see another wedding like this on television screenings of royal weddings, or at the movies. So I’ll never see another wedding like this… live.
Using the Ciragan Palace as the setting, every detail had been accounted for. From the crystal chandeliers as you enter the palace, to the lights and décor of the outdoor dinner setup, overlooking the Bosporus. After the procession of the bridal party in perfect unison, the beautiful bride enters atop the stairs, her full lace dress made for a queen, her glow of happiness radiant on her face. After a long, and ok… slightly awkward ceremony by a Buddhist monk, the couple share their first kiss, and a hundred sparklers lined along the water and the entrance to the palace light up the sky. Obvious cue for applause not necessary. This, along with the several bands imported for the event, made it a wedding well worth remembering.

Europe-7.jpgEurope-9.jpg

Alrighty, now for all the touristic stuff. It’s possible to see most of the old town in a day, as we started out at the old hippodrome area, then over to Sultanahmet Mosque, otherwise known as Blue mosque due to its interior décor, Sophia Hagia museum, and then the Topkapi Palace, famous for its large armory and jewel collection. (Impressive pieces include a tri-emerald dagger, as well as a whopping 86 Caret diamond)
Tip: If you’re planning to propose, don’t do it in the 5 day window before or after seeing this, because comparatively, nothing is gonna match it.

Europe-12.jpg Europe-15.jpg

We then finished our day with a trip to the spice bazaar for local treats such as Turkish delight, or lokum (try stalls 18 and 43, the white honey Turkish delight is amazing, and while it is a little on the pricey side, the owner of both these stalls is a character not to be missed.) and after took a detour to the Galleta tower, to take in the panoramic view of the city.

So while Istanbul, with its eclectic mix of religious history and hustle and bustle of city life might never be quite my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate the cultural heritage and landmarks of the original city of Constantinople, and will never forget my time spent there.

Posted by jessho 26.09.2012 05:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque wedding istanbul Comments (0)

Amazing Borneo

Sabah and Sarawak

It is always an exciting experience to strap on my backpack, charge my camera, and take off to adventure destinations without knowing exactly what my plan is or what I was going to do, where I was going to stay. So... apparently in Borneo it's highly recommended to plan your trip beforehand. Lucky for me, I had enough sense to at least organise my trek up Mount Kinabalu a week prior to travelling, finding out when I got there that many fellow climbers had booked 3-6 months in advance, and that I was in fact lucky to find an available slot for the night.
DSC09579.jpgDSC09566.jpgDSC09556.jpg

Sabah

As I was travelling solo, I found the most cost efficient way of booking my climb was directly through Sutera sanctuary. I arrived at the base, Kinabalu Park, picked up my pack lunch and my guide, and proceeded up the trail. To be honest, the trail itself was not difficult, a clearly marked path with distance and altitude markers as you ascend, as well as numerous shelters along the way to take breaks and refuel, but it was the altitude that finally got to me at around 2800m. I felt dizzy, light-headed and a massive headache on my left temple. I had to slow to a snail's pace, stopping for a few breaths every 50m or so. When at last I arrived to the laban rata guesthouse, I was relieved to find I was just in time for dinner. (5.30pm) Now I'd heard that the food provided was excellent, now I think it's not so much that it's excellent food, but that by the time you get there just about everything would taste good. After a quick freshen up in icy cold water, and a restless 4 hours of sleep, it was out of bed for a quick supper and off to climb the summit. Perhaps it was the fact that I'd already had the time to adjust to the higher altitude, but I did find the steep trek up the cliff face unusually easier than the previous day's venture.
The crisp air and cool wind, combined with breathtaking views and the exhilirated felling of having made it up the 4095m climb, made for an unforgettable experience.
Tip: Pack light, but take lots of energy-filled muchies for along the way. Bring warm clothes for the summit climb, and instead of huddling with the other 140 climbers at the top of low's peak, walk down about 150m to catch the exact same sunrise with privacy. Also, go slow on the climb down, not only did I pull all the muscles in my legs, but I've now had to bid farewell to two of my toenails due to extreme bruising.

DSC09639.jpgDSC09649.jpgDSC09662.jpgDSC09761.jpg

After my climb, I decided to head down to the bus station, to see where I was going to go next. There I met a lovely dutch couple who shared with me their travel plans of going to Sepilok, to a nice little hostel they'd found. For want of a better idea, I followed them onto the bus and to a quaint little hostel/farm, which provided large airy dorm rooms, hot showers, and outdoor hammocks. Note-to-self: a 4.5 hour bus ride after the climb down Kinabalu was, on hindsight, not the best idea I've had for the muscles in my legs. The next day, I made my way over to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

DSC09829.jpgDSC09815.jpgDSC09778.jpg

I found myself in Sandakan, after catching the public bus from the Sepilok sanctuary, and found out that for the months between July and October, if you haven't booked your tour to Turtle Island, you're not gonna get to go. So as an alternative, I booked a 2 day 1 night trip down the Kinabatangan River in search of all kinds of wildlife. A totally worthwhile experience, I was able to catch a few sightings of Orangutans, Proboscis monkeys, short and long-tailed macaques, kingfishers, hornbills and crocodiles. Unfortunately I was unable to catch a glimpse of the Bornean pygmy elephants due to time constraints.
Tip: Bring binoculars, and try to stay for 2 nights instead of 1.

Sarawak

DSC00062.jpgDSC00035.jpgDSC09923.jpg

It's a shame, now that I look back at it, that I didn't have the time to stop in Miri to see Niah caves, but I have to say that the 5 nights that I spent at Mulu were beyond a doubt the highlight of my trip. It wasn't just the spectacular cave system and abundance of wildlife, but also the people, and the constant connection with the nature and simplicity of the surroundings. Again, as I had not the foresight to pre-book my accomodation and tours, I was told on arrival to the national park that everything was at capacity, not only for accomodation, but also for all adventure tours and caves. I then went out and checke in at the first dorm facility outside of the park, and it turned out to be the best possible scenario. The guesthouse was family run by Edward, who was friendly and helpful, and on my first day I was lucky enough to meet and befriend their resident guide, A, a knowledgable and fun-loving local from Kuching, who was passionate about both the flora and fauna in the park. I quickly made the decision to book all of his tours, including the 4 main show caves and the 3 day 2 night Pinnacles hike.

P1100249.jpgDSC09940.jpgDSC09919.jpg

On these tours, we spotted many forms of wildlife, primarily insects, spiders, frogs and reptiles. Highlights would include the nightly trek through the dark trail to find all the insects and animals come to life, the tour to deer caves to watch the "Bat Exodus", a steady stream of approximately 4 million bats of 17 different species come swarming out of the mouth of the caves, and the majestic clearwater caves, with ceilings high enough to house tall buidings.

DSC09967.jpgDSC09957.jpgDSC00050.jpgDSC00005.jpg

DSC00089.jpgDSC00082.jpgP1010019.jpg

The not-to be missed experience for me was spending 2 nights at Camp 5 en route to the Pinnacles, drinking rice wine under the moonlit bridge accross the river, enjoying a rustic meal of wild fern (picked by our own hands) and wild boar stew (freshly shot by Edward the night before), climbing up the mountain in complete darkness with only our headtorches lighting the way, and taking a daily swim in the refreshing river by the camp.

P1010062.jpgDSC00192.jpgDSC00198.jpg

DSC00249.jpgDSC00210.jpgDSC00203.jpg
Tip: Stay at the River Lodge outside the National Park, and ask for the guide there, A. Bathe in the river behind the lodge, the cool refreshing water does wonders for the mind and body, and book adventure caving ahead of time, as this can only be done with the National Park tours and I missed out as it was fully booked.

Posted by jessho 07.08.2012 06:57 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Adventure begins in Laos

North to Central Laos

sunny 30 °C
View Laos adventure trip on jessho's travel map.


Huay Xai:
Having only planned to travel through Laos and not other countries in Southeast Asia all at the same time, I wanted to start my journey in the North, and work my way slowly back to the country's captital od Vientiene, from where I will fly back home. I took a local flight connection in to the Northern Bokeo province, to a little city called Huay Xai, popular as the border crossing town for travellers between Laos and Thailand. It was small, with one main street littered with guesthouses and sandwich shops. After a quiet, uneventful first day there, I departed early the next morning on the Classic Gibbon Experience trek.
It took about 2 hours on the back of the truck, and another hour of trekking to gather at the tiny village where we were outfitted with harnesses and assigned to our prospective treehouses. I wound up in treehouse 7, with a lively group of many different personalities, which I think made the whole experience even more enjoyable. Our treehouse was by far the furthest away, being another 75 mins or so of uphill hiking through the muddy terrain, but when we arrived it was well worth it. We had an amazing view of the jungle, and were also lucky enough to have gibbon sightings on both morning that we were there.
Tip: Bring cards and other forms of entertainment, binoculars would have come in useful, and of course never go without your 90% DEET and a roll of toilet paper.

DSC08874.jpg1DSC08877.jpgDSC08901.jpgDSC08928.jpg

Pak Beng
There are 3 possible ways to travel from North to central Laos: Plane, Bus and Boat. I opted to take the slow boat down the mekong river, a 2 day trip with 7-9 hours on each day, with an overnight non-optional stop in a little riverside village called Pak Beng. The boats have now been greatly improved compared with 4 years ago, now equipped with movable bus seats and adequate cushioning, although I would not have turned down an extra pillow for nap time comfort. Although many travelers do book their accommodation prior to arrival, I would strongly recommend checking out a few of the guesthouses on arrival. Pictures can be deceiving. I stayed at a small guesthouse called Bounmy up the hill (yes, there's just one hill), where the flamboyant host with verbal diarrhea and a nervous tick, obviously high on "something", showed us to our rooms. The next day we were back on the slow boat en route to the UNESCO site of Luang Prabang.
Tip: Bring an iPod, cards, or a good book. Actually... Preferably all three. It's a long ride.

DSC08965.jpgDSC08981.jpgDSC08984.jpgDSC08995.jpg

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is probably the most well known area of Laos, being the country's holy city and UNESCO site. The city has everything to offer, whether you are there for the history, religion, scenery or food. The offering of alms to the Buddhist monks displays a vibrant mix of bright orange robes into the main streets, creating an air of serenity and awe amongst both the tourists and locals. The main street then becomes deserted during daylight hours, as the locals retreat to their homes and shophouses to escape the heat of the day, and the tourists explore the other sites of interest in and around the city. Such examples include the various temples or "Wat"s in Luang Prabang, the panoramic views on top of PhuSi hill, the Rock cave Pak Ou (~1hr by tuk tuk), or my favorite: Kuang Si falls: Several layers of cool clear waterfalls set amongst nature, 45 mins by tuk tuk, or a "mere" 32km bicycle ride up a couple of hills. Tip: Do the bike ride, but start before 7am to avoid the sun. You'll sweat anyway, but it makes the cold waters of the falls all the more enjoyable.
At night, the bustling night markets sell everything from cheap clothing and souvenirs, to dinner buffets for those on a tight budget.

DSC09058.jpgDSC09097.jpgDSC09151.jpgDSC09179.jpg

Vang Vieng
Most famous amongst the party-goers for it's vivacious nightlife, Vang Vieng's most popular attraction is hiring giant rubber tubes to use as buoys to drift down the 4km stretch of river littered with bars on both sides. The "Tubers" coast down the picturesque Nam Song river, pulling themselves into the bars at leisure to enjoy free shots or buckets of lao-lao whisky, "happy shakes", and thumping music. Each bar offers a unique variety of activities such as mud boxing, slingshots, rope swings and slides to lure the tourists into a criss-crossed floating pattern down the river like a drunken fish. There are frequent reports of deaths and injuries, no doubt resulting from the foolish combination of senseless drinking and adventure activities, but as long as common sense is used, it is relatively safe. And of course if you feel you're not quite spent, there are always cafe's in town for "happy shakes and pizzas", or various bars that also entertain free buckets of whisky and the generic "door-doof" music.
Other recommendations while staying in Vang Vieng include Kayaking down the upper Nam Song river (class 2 rapids in rainy season), cycling around to the wide array of caves and waterfalls in the area, or rock climbing (I used Adam's climbing school and it was excellent).
The town itself does actually emit a very chill atmosphere during the day, with all the guesthouses playing reruns of "Friends" on the TV, their furniture organised in a relaxed fashion to accommodate a lazy afternoon of refreshing fruit shakes on a cushioned recline to settle in and watch episode after episode of the classic American sitcom. For those who aren't fans of the show, you can occasionally find cafes which offer "Family Guy" instead.

large_DSC09193.jpglarge_DSC09197.jpg

Ban Na Hinh(Khoun Kham) and the Konglor caves
Totally off my planned route and schedule, I heard about the caves from a fellow traveller and decided it was worth the trek South to check it out. It turned out to be quite an adventure, having taken a VIP bus to Thakek, arriving at 2.30am after a 6 hour ride, checked into a random guesthouse 4km outside of the centre with rock hard beds and rude staff, only to discover at 8am that it was a 5 hour trip one way to the caves and impossible to do in one day. My travel companion and I then went to the local market to charter a ride to a closer village, and wound up taking not one, but two local Songkaews (large tuk tuks with wooden planks for seats used to transport 18-22 locals from one village to another on the bumpy road with potholes) through Vieng Kham to the tiny little country village of Ban Na Hinh. As I gingerly stepped off the second songkaew and rubbed my bruised tailbone, I thought "This cave better be worth it". It was.
After spending the afternoon drinking Beer Lao "Lao-style" with a couple of tipsy locals, we turned in for an early night, and started the next morning early on a motorcycle ride through the scenic rock cliffs and lush green rice fields to the Konglor Park and caves. Even with stopping to take photos and converse with random villagers, the ride took a leisurely 70 minutes.

DSC09236.jpgDSC09240.jpgDSC09256.jpglarge_DSC09265.jpg

The Konglor caves were spectacular, spanning a vast 7.5km in length, using a motorized canoe to maneuver through the cold dark waters of the caves, and disembarking for a short stroll to see the amazing display of stalactites and stalagmites in the heart of the cave. Our canoe was the only one that day, making me grateful that I came in low season, as it made the trip all the more enjoyable and serene.

DSC09287.jpgDSC09293.jpg

Vientiane: Laos Capital
As my flight was out of the capital, I allocated my last two days to relaxing and light site-seeing, enjoying a cycle around the city on the first day, stopping at the COPE centre (highly recommended), talat sao, patuoxay monument, Wat Sisaket, and That Luang, and ending the day with a tantalizing evening meal of whole grilled Mekong river fish, papaya salad, and sticky rice at Khop Chai Deu, a quaint restaurant with a live band. On my second day, I signed up for a cooking class by the Mekong river to learn how to re-create classic local foods like the famous sticky rice, papaya salad, Mok Ba( fish in banana leaf), and Ping Gai (lemongrass grilled chicken). I followed this with a journey on a local bus to the Buddha Park(xieng khan), where you can see the various statues of both Buddhist and Hindu influences, and enter the mouth of the Demon to ascend the steps from hell to heaven... very Dante's Inferno.

DSC09329.jpgDSC09360.jpgDSC09382.jpgDSC09399.jpg

For my last meal in Laos, I dined at Makphet, a cosy restaurant run by Friends International, which helps disadvantaged Lao adolescents learn useful tourism trades, as well as help fund their activities and healthcare. The menu combines both modern and traditional flavor combinations and techniques, resulting in a tempting delight for the senses. Finally, take a stroll to the Mekong river for the night market souvenirs, or head over earlier at dusk to watch their amusing display of "local" aerobics.

Altogether one of my most memorable trips to date, and at present my favorite country in Southeast Asia.

Posted by jessho 15.06.2012 09:13 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfalls mountains trees temples nature caves gibbon_experience slow_boat Comments (0)

Asia Travels: Laos

Laos Adventure Trip

30 °C
View Laos adventure trip on jessho's travel map.


This is my first trip into Laos, but I guess it must be pretty similar to travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia. Actually the only reason I booked it is because I wanted to go away for a few weeks, and there was a special on the flight, so I thought "Why the hell not?" I've since received abundant information and suggestions from friends who have been before, so much so that I almost feel I should extend my trip by another week! I was going to be super organised and plan out the details of the trip beforehand (ie. accomodation, tours, etc), but I found that most guesthouses/hostels don't have websites anyway, so I'm just gonna wing it. I figure: It's rainy season anyway... how crowded can it be?
Figuring that I'll be doing a fair bit of walking, I've packed light, a mere 6.5kg pack, including my standard first aid kit, and my trusty Sony Nex-5. Ill be heading first to the northern province of Bokeo, in Huay Xai. I'm spending my first couple of days at the gibbon experience in the forest, living in the treehouses and swinging on the lines, then catching the slow boat to Luang Prabang via Pak Beng. So far I planned to spend at least 4 days in Luang Prabang, but can always extend or shorten my stay depending on what i find once i get there. After that, local bus to Vientiene via Vang Vieng for a few days for tubing and caving. Well... this is the plan anyway. Who knows what will happen once I get there. All I know is that I have 18 days to get from the north back to the capital to catch my return flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Keep you posted!

Posted by jessho 26.05.2012 02:48 Archived in Laos Tagged landscapes waterfalls trees boats temples food nature caves Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 8 of 9) Page [1] 2 »