Laos Here We Come!

Before crossing to Laos we decided to stay overnight in Chiang Kong to leave Thailand on Monday morning with the first boat. We took a cruise to move from Huay Xai, the first city of Laos after the border, to Luang Prabang, which is the cultural centre and former capital of the country. We sailed for two days, and we stopped for the night in a village in the middle of the forest, called Pak Beng.

Booking the cruise was the best decision ever: the boat is very spacious, you can walk, buy food and get to know everyone who is travelling with you. A plus is definitely the changing landscape: stunning mountains, thick green vegetation, small and sparse villages with houses made of bamboo and hordes of children playing by the river. Sometimes the boat stops to leave locals in the middle of nowhere – you really wonder if they will ever get home!

Luang Prabang…

is our final stop. I loved it. By many it is considered The Gem of South East Asia, and I cannot blame them. We were supposed to stay in the city for two nights, but we decided to spend there four days, good sign ;).

Our guesthouse was in the centre of the city, which is a peninsula surrounded by the majestic Mekong. In front of us, an island that can be reached with a tiny boat.

The island in front of the peninsula

Tiny boat we used to cross. We were almost in the water!

Why did I like Luang Prabang so much?

Something in the air, like every French city I have visited in my life. Laos was a French colony, and this influence is particularly visible in Luang Prabang: the houses are a mix between Laotian and French style, and the city looks more like a sleepy and friendly village, perfect to chill by the river. Since the 90s, the city is part of UNESCO for its well-conserved houses, buildings and temples.

Waterfalls and caves EVERYWHERE

We have visited three major cities in Laos: Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, the capital. In every city we managed to explore some of the caves and natural waterfalls nearby. Especially in Vang Vieng, the number of things to see is impressive. We rented a scooter to move around – it was amazing because we enjoyed the landscape so much! It looks like being in one of the scenes of Jurassic Park, with mountains and peaks that seems to have grown out of nowhere, packs of cows running freely. The main paths run next to villages, and we were able to experience a bit of the daily life of the farmers.

We found shelter at the ticket office, it was raining so much

Inside of a cave. You cannot see it but it was HUGE

Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital of Laos, and it is only one bridge away from Thailand. Laos is very different from its neighbouring countries: people here are very relaxed (someone could say lazy) they prefer to enjoy their time instead of rushing and working more than the minimum necessary to have a decent life. The Internet connection is always extremely slow, buses are late, people take their time; Vientiane perfectly resembles its people.

I did not enjoy the city very much, however there is one thing for which is worth visiting Vientiane: the COPE museum. This museum exhaustively describes the effects of UXO – stands for the unexploded ordnance that was dropped in Lao during the secret war the US started in Vietnam. Even though neutral, Laos was the most bombed country in the world, with a total of 270 million cluster bomblets dropped, of which 80 million still unexploded; these “bombies”, as they are known here, cause circa 40 victims per years.

Clusters bombs contained hundreds of smaller bombs, called bombies, which were able to strike an area of three soccer fields

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Retreat in the Jungle

For my birthday we decided to stop for a well-deserved (?) break in the mountains near Chiang Rai. We have been travelling for two weeks, but we are already incredibly tired!

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is famous for its White temple. I was expecting an ancient building but I was surprised: the temple has been designed by a modern artist and it is totally different from what I have seen so far. I didn’t like it that much, but at least it was different, with drawings picturing superheroes or famous artists next to the Buddha.

This artist seems to have conquered whole Chiang Rai. There are several things in the town that are made with the same style of the temple. Street lights, decorations near the roads and even a clock at the roundabout. I find it a bit kitch, but the guy appears to be very proud of his artwork.

Chiang Rai is a tiny city, and I did not find it very special. However, the town is at its best at nighttime, when the food market opens all over the city and the smell of steam rice, which is an everyday constant, mixes with spices, garlic and fried food.

Eating out every day, multiple times per day is a normality here – people stop at food carts for a quick bite or for take away. We perfectly adapted to this habit. Also, food is ready soon after you have ordered it, and it is freshly made on spot – I’m getting so spoilt about these short waiting times.

Retreat

We decided to spend 4 days of total relax in a retreat about half-an hour drive from Chiang Rai. It turned out to be a delightful decision because we had the full centre for us alone, a part from a couple from Hong Kong. It is amazing to travel during low season! You just have to be prepared for a daily hour of rain in the middle of the afternoon, but at least there are way less people travelling, and the nature is so green and luxuriant.

During our time at the Museflower we had a daily massage, two yoga lessons per day and amazing food, which has been cultivated at the organic farm attached to the area. We literally lived in a bubble. The retreat is in the middle of the jungle, and during sunset and night we were able to listen to the nature awakening around us. Returning back to the terminal station to move to Laos was a kind of shock!

Food Corner

I was surprised when I discovered that here people eat with spoon and fork, not chopsticks as I was convinced. Actually, the fork is used to move the food on the spoon – if you join an elegant dinner you should never eat from the fork.

Also, it is common to have breakfast with noodle soup, rice or anything we would consider suitable for lunch or dinner. Eating fruits with yoghurt for example is considered western.

The day we left Chiang Rai we tried noodles for breakfast because we were in a hurry. Thomas loved it, but I cannot tell the same – eating garlic from early morn its not a thing for me;)

North Thailand

After four days of cycling and climbing up the temples we decided we had enough – time to move to the northern part of Thailand. Differently from our past travels by train, we took a bus to reach Chiang Mai. We are very impressed by the easiness to travel around Thailand when it comes to move from one city to another. There are both train and buses departing every hour and half to the main destinations. Buses are even cheaper than trains.

I loved the view from this sink

Luckily I brought a disinfectant hand gel with me, because the toilets at the station are very peculiar, and it is very rare to find some soap.

The bin on the right is used to throw away used paper toilets – the drawing system is not powerful enough. The left bin is a jar of water you use to flush the toilet.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the main city in the North of Thailand. Differently from Bangkok, we see many more backpackers here. The city is well-known for trekking and the elephant rescue centers nearby. Unfortunately, the rain season is starting earlier this year, and we decided to postpone these activities (hopefully we will find a better weather somewhere else).

I don’t know what happens when any electrical problem occurs

Also, I feel a bit uncomfortable to subscribe for a day with the elephants. Apparently only few rescue center are really taking care of these majestic animals. Moreover, a real rescue center should not allow at all to ride the elephants, to reduce their stress. Consequently, a bit for the weather and a bit for the fear of giving money to careless centers, I decided to avoid it.

Vesak celebrations

However, we had the luck of being in Chiang Mai during full moon. The full moon day of May is a particularly holy day for Thai Buddhist – it is called “Vesak” or “Buddha’s birthday”. It celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

Again, we had proof of Thai’s welcoming kindness. While we were walking next to a temple we were suddenly invited to join the celebrations. During the whole day food was distributed for free, people were singing and dancing traditional songs.

Prayers in the temple

Temple Runners

Our first stop after Bangkok is Ayutthaya, which is well-known for its ancient temples. An old fashioned train with an amazing air conditioning system has brought us to our next destination for only 30 cents each!

Our ride through the green and never-ending fields was strategically interrupted from time to time by locals selling homemade food. Since we were still skeptical about street food we had prepared in advance, and we had bought some take away Pad Thai to fill our stomachs on the way.

Pad Thai is the “pizza” of Thailand. You can find it everywhere. It is made of rice noodles, eggs and vegetables. If you like you can choose between chicken or seafood, every version is delicious!

Temple time!

Ayutthaya has been so far my favourite city in Thailand. Maybe it is due to the difference with Bangkok, but I finally feel like being on holidays. We rented some bicycles to visit the numerous temple sites all over the town. The people are kind and friendly, and the ancient ruins are simply impressive.

After two days in Ayutthaya we have moved to Sukhothay, another city known for its temples. The difference between Ayutthaya is that here the temples are in the “outskirts” of the city: it is lovely to cycle in the countryside with the ruins all around you!

Food corner

Despite my recent arrival, I have already developed an obsession for a dessert called “mango sticky rice” , which of course is made of mango and a rice which namely sticks together.

Here there are the best mangoes I’ve ever eaten in my life. They literally melt on your tongue. But what makes this dessert even more special for me is that this amazing sweet mango is served with rice cooked in coconut milk (sticky rice). And I simply love coconutšŸ„„

Two Days in the Capital

We are finally on the go! I’m leaving for a nine-week backpack vacation through south-east Asia; I’ve been waiting so long for this moment that I almost felt disappointed to adapt so naturally to this Asian vibe.

After a one-day travel from Milan, Thomas and I have finally landed in Bangkok. The clearance process was super fast, in one-hour time we both had our visa ready and we were on the metro on our way to the hostel.

I liked Bangkok, it is a crazy chaotic jungle where concrete mixes with nature: there are plants growing everywhere, and the heat is unbearable due to the high humidity in the air. Bangkok is something very similar to one of these cities created in futuristic movies, where crowds of people constantly move everywhere without any rule for personal space, with carts selling street food at every corner and where skyscrapers mix with traditional houses and half ruined shelters.

We decided to leave the capital the soonest possible because we wanted to see the rural Thailand outside the city. We got a bit tired of the constant fight to get the best price for rides or to always look out for scammers. Apart from that, we also enjoyed our moments in the city!

This is the temple part of the Grand Palace. Here the Emerald Buddha is kept

If you want to catch the metro you have to queue on the sides as shown by the signs on the ground!

It is believed that constructing a building disturbs the spirits living in that place. Consequently, the owner of the house makes sure to place a little temple with offerings such as flowers or food to keep the spirits quiet.

The tuk tuk is an amazing way to move throughout the city, especially if you’re lucky enough to find a crazy driver that doesn’t care about common driving rules

Behind the Scenes

I am Diana. At the age of 17 I left my quite and tidy hometown, Piacenza (IT) , to start my first adventure alone: a six-month exchange study experience in Chile. Fun fact, I was not even able to speak Spanish! This was only the beginning. I had the chance to study in the Netherlands and to move to Dubai for a little while.

I love dining out, I never say no to a walk, but foremost, I have a passion for biological juices and shoes. Where I see myself in five years? Follow me and you will know it!

cappello

Why am I here?

Since I booked my flights for my travel to Asia I started thinking, how am I going to remember all this? That’s how the idea of the blog came. I consider this space the perfect combination to keep track of my experiences, to take time for myself and to share tops and tips with my friends and family. I believe that writing about the stuff you love it’s the best way to inspire and be inspired by the people around you.

Please, make yourself at home, if you have any suggestion just write down a comment!