We’re off to find some winter sun and escape the gloom of elections and Brexit – four months in South East Asia for the HappiHalls 😀
Having spent a few fantastic weeks travelling around Thailand and Malaysia last winter, we wanted to really go for it this winter and head off for a much longer backpacking trip, taking in some of the South East Asian countries we’d never visited before. After some outline planning and Visa research, we decided to fly into Bangkok, head up to the north of Thailand, crossover into Laos, then spend 30 days travelling down through Laos before crossing into Cambodia. 30 days in Cambodia then we’ll head into Vietnam where we’ll spend our remaining six weeks, travelling from Ho Chi Min city in the south, all the way up to Hanoi in the north.
As we travel, there are some specific places we want to go, such as the incredible temples at Angor What in Cambodia, and the 4000 islands in Laos. But we’ve learnt on our journey over the last couple of years that generally we enjoy not being too prescriptive on our route. So other than planning entry and exit points for each country, and our first weeks travel into Laos, our itinerary is fairly open. We’ll pick up ideas on places to go and things to see from other travellers, locals and research as we go.
And so on a cold damp November morning, the day after Phil’s fabulous Dad’s 90th birthday, we set off on our journey from our small village in the East Midlands of England. After a bus, train, tube, eleven hour flight to Bangkok, taxi, ten hour overnight bus, and a final taxi, we finally arrived at our first stop in Chaing Mai, 700 km north of Bangkok – and boy were we ready for our bed!
We love Thailand, but we’ve never been north of Bangkok before, So we were excited about Chaing Mai, and it certainly lived up to our expectations – we loved it. It was such a cool, chilled place to be, and nothing like the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Our boutique hotel was is in the old town – the heart of the city. There were dozens of hotels all around this area, with prices available from £15 a night. When you’re travelling long term, cheap accommodation is essential, and for those on even stricter budgets than ours, the hostels start from not much more than £5 a night.
After a couple of days relaxing, catching up on sleep, temples, fantastic Thai street food, and nighttime markets, we jumped on another bus for the four hour trip North to Chaing Rai. We love travelling by bus in the daytime, it gives us the opportunity to enjoy scenery we’re not used to seeing, and pass through small towns and villages you wouldn’t normally see.
This was our first visit to Chang Rai, it’s a very sprawling town and it was actually difficult to find the “centre” although the remarkable clocktower roundabout is certainly eye-catching and draws everybody towards it, especially in the evenings when it comes alive with a beautiful musical light show. Plenty of bars nearby to sit, chill and enjoy the show!
Absolute highlight of our time in Chang Rai was our trip down to Wat Rong Khun, better known as “The White Temple” just outside the town. This new temple was built in the 1990s and is certainly a contemporary design. One of the most beautiful, but extraordinary buildings we’ve ever seen. Interestingly the murals inside the main building, contain dozens of modern images such as Micheal Jackson, Keane Reeves in the Matrix, and Superman, alongside images of terrorism and warfare, symbolising the destructive nature of man. (Here’s the link if you’d like to read more).
And almost before it had begun, our first week and time in Thailand was over, and it was time to head North towards the border and into Laos – exciting for us as we were heading for a brand new country, and the exciting next stage of our trip, a two day boat trip down the mighty Mekong River.
To get to the Laos border we took a rickety old provincial bus – certainly very different class from the buses we’d already used, but equally as enjoyable, as we passed through more remote areas of Northern Thailand. Air conditioning was provided by the two fans screwed to the ceiling and the doors and windows left wide open for the two hour trip.
Before we knew it, the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere; all we could see was a few Tuk Tuks by the side of the empty road. “Get in” they said “ We are your transport to the border”, so we duly hopped on and off we went.
Ten minutes later we were at the Thai border. Window 1 – Visa control, Window 2 – passport control, and then onto a shuttle bus taking us from the Thai border across the Friendship Bridge to the Laos Border. Window 4 – Laos Visa submission, Window 5 – Laos Visa issue, Window 6 – Laos Visa Payment ($35 each), Window 7 – Laos Passport control, and all of a sudden we stepped out into Laos and into the arms of the Tuk Tuk men!!
Oh how excited are we for our two day cruise starting tomorrow!
Next Blog Post – Millionaires on the Mekong – our two day boat trip down the Mekong River