Archives for April 2012

Walking in Vientiane.

“But do I really feel the way I feel?”*

I’ve noticed that the more trips I take, the less I plan. My first “backpacking” trip was to Peru in June of 2008. Shauna and I had it all planned out by…February? Pretty early on. Thinking about it now makes me laugh. Of course, some trips do require careful advanced planning, especially if you are visiting a popular destination in peak season.

My tactic now is to do enough research to decide which cities I’d like to visit and what must be booked in advance, and then figure the rest out as I go.

So maybe that’s why I was so in awe my first day in Laos. I didn’t really know what to expect from Vientiane. (Mike had been there before so I was happy to trust his judgement.)

We took a walk our first afternoon and I swear I was stopping every ten feet to take pictures.

A note on crossing the border: It’s really easy. We hired a tuk tuk in Nong Khai to take us to the Friendship Bridge. Once there you walk through immigration on the Thai side (make sure you have your departure card) and get on a bus to take you to the Laos side. Here you pay for your visa (strangely, it’s most expensive for Canadians) and walk on in. At this point we took a taxi to Vientiane, which is still about 20km away.

Of course, the tuk tuk first tried to take us to an agency. Despite Mike explaining that he’d previously crossed the border with no problem, the woman claimed it was impossible to do so without their (400-500baht) services. Don’t believe them. Like I said, it’s really easy.

xo, jill

*Catch it?

Udon Thani

at least we got a tour of the city!

We needed to get from southern Thailand to Laos quickly. The best option we found was to fly from Phuket to Udon Thani, and then cross the border by land into Vientiane.

Because Udon Thani is not a big tourist draw (the highlight is dancing plants) we had limited accommodation options and ended up booking Tanita Lagoon Resort. The taxis at the airport insisted on charging an exorbitant price for the 5km ride so we found a tuk tuk down the street instead. He gave us a good price… but… well, finding the resort became quite the adventure. At first we were confused as to why we were going in the opposite direction of the hotel. And why were we going through the city center? Then our driver took us to a completely different hotel but it’s not what you think. He wasn’t a tout. He was just as confused as we were and wanted to get directions. Twenty minutes of talking and making phone calls later and we were back in the tuk tuk retracing our route. (Okay, actually I stayed in the tuk tuk the whole time and tried to guess which of the Western men exiting the hotels were sex tourists. While I was waiting I read the Lonely Planet blurb and learned Udon Thani is a popular spot with those guys.*)

It’s beginning to get dark and at this point we are outside of town on a busy highway. It seems like we are getting close but no. We’re still lost and Mike is now bleeding in his shoe after discovering a mysterious cut on his foot. More phone calls, a few trips up and down the highway, and a stop at a gas station for directions gets us a bit closer. Finally, after asking at another hotel a woman on a motorbike escorts our tuk tuk the rest of the way to the resort in the dark. Phew. We made sure to pay our tuk tuk driver triple for his trouble.

Later in the evening while I was looking over our paperwork, I noticed a very interesting email from the resort. “Dear Sir, please inform us what time your plane will be arriving. We offer FREE AIRPORT PICK-UP!” (empahsis added). Oops! I’m not sure how that escaped us but…at least we got a tour of the city!

While there isn’t much to do in Udon Thani (if you’re not a sex tourist), the Tanita Lagoon Resort is really lovely. The hot water didn’t work when we arrived but the proprietor and the handyman quickly fixed it, smiling the whole time. The room was clean, comfortable, and spacious. Dinner was served on our front porch and breakfast was delivered there the next morning as well.

As we were leaving for the bus station we were asked to pose for photos with the resort’s sign. I love that. It always makes me laugh and remember that real people run these hotels and guesthouses. (Although, I just looked and sadly we are not featured in their gallery!)

But this next part is my favorite. The hotel not only drove us to the bus station but to our actual bus. He pulled up 8 feet from the bus, ordered our tickets, and told us to come see him again soon. All we had to do was walk up the steps and find our seats. I was tickled. Such great service.

There was a significance to “22” but I can’t remember what!

So while I doubt too many of you will find yourselves in Udon Thani, if you do, check out the Tanita Lagoon Resort, (and remember they offer free airport pick up!).**

xo, jill

*”…Udon sees relatively few foreign travelers other than a large number of sex tourists.” -LP

**This isn’t a paid commercial. I just genuinely enjoyed this property and the proprietor.

Leaving Phi Phi

with a burn and a few extra scrapes and bruises.Our final day on Koh Phi Phi didn’t last long. After breakfast we caught the morning ferry back to Phuket. Unfortunately, I also brought back with me an incredibly painful sunburn. I think it was my worst burn ever. It was painful to wear my backpack or to even lift my arms. Ouch. And I swear I was wearing sunscreen. I even reapplied it several times. No good

Isn’t Mike’s coffee cup awesome? And his ham and sausage funny?
It doesn’t look so bad here but this was my first blistering burn ever.

While I was on Koh Phi Phi I couldn’t help but compare the island to the two others I had previously visited. Was it too touristy? Was it worth the extra cash? I still can’t decide. Check out a few more Phi Phi photos while I mull it over.

The first Thai island I visited was Koh Chang (the eastern one, there are two). Molly and I went to a very secluded beach. So secluded, we almost got stuck there. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was cheap.

Next I went to Koh Payam. It was less secluded, not quite as stunning, but equally cheap. There’s not too much to do unless you stay in town or rent a motorbike (which I promised a Thai friend I wouldn’t do because the roads aren’t paved well and are quite windy at times).

Koh Phi Phi on the other hand is well known, even famous. It had a party scene that the other islands didn’t, plenty of shops, restaurants, and activities, and prices to reflect its popularity. And of course, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

I think that when it came down to our trip planning, we picked Koh Phi Phi because we had limited time and it was easy to get to. We knew of a few places to stay and it was just easy.  (Mike had already been there twice before!) But I don’t think I would have gone there otherwise. I’m kind of frugal. If I can get an equally beautiful island elsewhere that’s more peaceful and less expensive, that sounds good to me. But then again I really did enjoy that snorkeling trip…

Tan lines on my scrape. The rest are on my arms, down the side of my legs, and on my feet and ankles.

So maybe island hopping is the answer?

xo, jill

Quick note.

To the person who found my blog by googling “arab butt cheeks” …

Sorry to disappoint you!

xo, jill

Snorkeling Phi Phi

or trying.
Our second day on Koh Phi Phi we took a half day snorkeling trip in the afternoon. If you know my history with snorkeling, this might surprise you. But I said that I would “try to try to snorkel.” And I did. I put the mask on two times while in the water. I didn’t actually go underwater or get my face wet…but that didn’t stop me from being proud of my accomplishment. Mike was busy actually snorkeling at this point so I made sure to tell him all about it. The other people on the boat didn’t seem too impressed.

Snorkeling trips from Phi Phi seem pretty standard. We met up with a group around 2:30pm and waited quite awhile for the boat to be ready. Then we headed over to Monkey Island to see the monkeys. And here for just a quick moment I’m going to say that people are dumb. Monkeys can be dangerous, don’t antagonize them. Monkeys are good at finding food, don’t feed them. Especially beer and Fanta. I mean, it’s funny to you, but come on.

After visiting the monkeys we stopped for a swim in a rocky inlet. It felt so perfect to enjoy the water in such beautiful surroundings. I think it’s the most gorgeous place I’ve swam.

Our next stop was for the actual snorkeling. At this point the captain of the boat began to prepare our snack. The technique is to toss the pineapple peel into the water to attract as many fish as possible. It worked. When you get back onto the boat, fresh pineapple awaits you.

The last point of interest on the tour is Maya Bay, the filming location for The Beach. The boat drops you off for about an hour to do what you like. It was quite crowded but still very pretty. My memories of the film are pretty spotty but I was suprised at how small the beach actually was. I expected it to be longer. Oh, Hollywood.

At this point in the day a few rain clouds rolled in. In exchange for a few light sprinkles we were able to see a soft rainbow from the boat on our way back to Phi Phi. We reached the island just before sunset. It was $11 well spent.

xo, jill

Arriving at Koh Phi Phi

and the vacation begins.

Mike and I met up in Phuket and set out for Koh Phi Phi the next morning. At this point I felt like my vacation had finally begun!

Koh Phi Phi is one of the most popular island destinations in Thailand. It’s famous for being the location of the movie, The Beach. And because it’s famous… it’s overpriced. Coming from Koh Payam, it took me awhile to adjust to the jacked up prices of Koh Phi Phi. For example, I rented my bungalow on Koh Payam for $10 (300baht). Our bungalow on Koh Phi Phi? $50 (1500baht). To be fair, we were provided with towels, sarongs, and two bottles of water… but I don’t think that was a $40 value. Oh well*.

We spent our first day catching up, walking around town, exploring the area, and taking a dip in the aqua water. Again, I took my photos at low tide so the seascape isn’t at its finest.

Since Koh Phi Phi is quite the party island these days, we decided to stay a good distance away from all the madness, but within walking distance to the shops and restaurants. We ate dinner at a pirate themed Indian restaurant (?) and declined the many bar fliers pushed into our hands in favor of relaxing on the beach. It didn’t take long for the fire shows to start up.

Awesome photo by Mike

I was glad to leave the bars and pyromaniacs behind us as we walked back to our bungalow for the night. And then I fell down a hill. Like, tumbled. It was fairly painful at the time but later proved to be a good source of [dark] humor.

xo, jill

*Obviously, $50 for a bungalow on a beautiful beach is still a pretty good deal and the prices on Koh Phi Phi are very affordable for the average tourist.

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