Time for Magic Travel Blog's Trip Update 2! It has been about six weeks since we last did an update. Our first update was from Kuala Lumpur all the way through Malaysia, into Thailand, up to Chiang Mai where we went to the dentist a lot. We ended our trip update just before we were to head off on the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Mae Hong Son Loop
Andrew finally got to tick this motorbike expedition off his bucket list. He had wanted to complete this journey for a few years now. Even though we had lived in Chiang Mai for over eight months back in 2009, we had just not got around to doing it. We made sure we were going to do the Mae Hong Son loop it in style!
Andrew wrote about what we went through while preparing to do the Mae Hong Son Loop. There was actually a lot to organise. Renting motorbikes, safety clothing, helmets, maps, which way we would do the loop, how many kilometres we would ride each day, and where we would stay each night.
Day 1 we rode to Mae Chaem from Chiang Mai via Doi Inthanon. We really should have paid the entrance fee into Doi Inthanon but we didn't as we thought we were just going around the mountain. In the end, we missed a turn off and ended up riding to the top anyway. Whoops!
We got up early on day 2 of the Mae Hong Son loop and started our way to Khun Yuam. We stopped at a lovely cafe / guest house and orphanage in one called Hot Coffee. It was a pleasant stop filled with yummy food, purring kitty cats and glorious views. The countryside got more interesting, more smokey and more mysterious.
Day 3, we left Khun Yuam to reach the city of Mae Hong Son. The ride to Mae Hong Son was exceptionally beautiful and easy. We reached the city in no time and checked into an awesome room in an awesome place in an awesome town. After a little rest we decided to take a ride out to a "Long Neck Village". On the way, Andrew had his first motorbike accident. He had to drive us over 10 little water crossings to get to the village. Concrete water crossings can be quite slippery due to all the algae. It was more funny than anything and neither of us were hurt in any way, except for Andrew's bruised ego!
We ended up having a rest day in Mae Hong Son on day 4. Instead of resting, we decided to climbed a really big hill to check out the temple at the top. The heat and the humidity turned the not so hard climb up stairs to quite the work out. We stopped many times to rest! The rest of the time in Mae Hong Son was spent eating and drinking with a bit of a rest.
Day 5. Our bottoms were quite sore by this stage but we rode on. We stopped at a fantastic village called Ban Rak Tai, which literally means a Thai loving village. Here we were able to sample a lot of locally grown tea and Chinese delicacies like green tea salad. Ban Rak Thai really is an amazing place. If you have time, you can stay there for a few nights. We reached Pai in no time.
We stayed in the hippy town of Pai overnight on day 5 and then again on Day 6. Pai is such a lovely place. If you aren't careful, it could suck you in and you would never leave. We were able to have numerous shots of wheat grass, delicious vegetarian food including roast vegetables, and just enjoy the calmness that Pai oozes.
Day 7 and it was time to head back to Chiang Mai. Andrew enjoyed this ride immensely. Apparently there are 762 curves between Pai and Chiang Mai. That is what the t-shirts say anyhow. I really didn't enjoy the ride. I got motorbike (motion) sickness.
The Mae Hong Son loop was a lot of fun, even though our bums did get very sore. Andrew concluded the Mae Hong Son Loop with a great advice post.
Chiang Rai, Thailand
We arrived in Chiang Rai after spending a final few days in Chiang Mai. The bus ride to Chiang Rai was very relaxing and easy to organise. We then spent a few awesome days exploring Chiang Rai with help from our friend Jane. What a fantastic tour guide she was!
We visited Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple in Chiang Rai. What a beautiful sight. The creator, Chalermchai Kositpipat is a magical man. His artistic talent has turned the White Temple and the surrounding garden into one massive piece of art work. Jane and I were very lucky to have a photo with the creator.
Later that night, we headed into Chiang Rai city and were blessed with an amazing light and sound show from the Chiang Rai Clock Tower. This is also a piece of art designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat.
Chiang Rai was a great place to visit. We spent a lovely time with Jane. We also got to see and experience a lot that Chiang Rai has to offer.
From Chiang Rai, we headed to Chiang Khong by bus. This was our last stop in Thailand before we headed into Laos. For a while anyhow. We always seem to come back to Thailand. We love the country. A lot.
Chiang Khong in Thailand is a sleepy town over the border from Huay Xai in Laos. All you have to do is cross the Mekong river. Thailand on one side, Laos on the other. Borders like this are always amazing when you are from Australia and the next country is a three to five hour flight away.
There isn't a lot to do in Chiang Khong. We took a lot of lovely photos and stayed at a great little guesthouse called Baanrimtaling. From here, we headed into Laos to catch a slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. There are many ways to get to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai. We chose the slow boat.
Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat Cruise From Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang
After a lot of research on how we were going to get to Luang Prabang, we chose the Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat. We chose Nagi of Mekong because they offered the best service. There are plenty of horror stories about other boats jamming in tourists like cattle. Nagi of Mekong was more expensive than the regular slow boat but was excellent value for what we got.
Day 1 of the Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat and we were certainly happy we chose this company. The manager, Adisak, had dropped off paperwork at our guesthouse the night before. In the morning a minivan picked us up to take us to the border. Our guide helped us through through Laos Immigration then we were all on our way to Luang Prabang down the Mekong River. The Nagi Slow Boat had ample space for us all. We had a table and booth seats, unlimited coffee, tea and fruit, and lunch provided. We stopped to visit a little Laotian village before we stopped at Pakbeng for the night.
Back on the boat and it was day 2 of the Nagi of Mekong Slow Boat Tour. We spent around six hours on the slow boat the day before. This day it would be closer to nine hours. Luckily we were doing it in style. We had plenty of time to discuss the meaning of life, finish reading our novels, and to play a round of scrabble or two.
We received a delicious lunch and stopped at the Pak Ou Caves before reaching Luang Prabang. Although we had certainly had enough of being on a boat, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and would recommend it to everyone - young and old!
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang! Laos! How exciting! Luang Prabang was different to any other place we had been to in the past six months. We arrived to baguettes, cheeses and fruit shakes. Oh, and tuna crepes and cakes! We ate a lot in Luang Prabang.
We stayed a week in Luang Prabang. In hindsight, we should have stayed longer. It was a great city and it had a lot to offer. People weren't pushy and we were able to enjoy Luang Prabang in a lazy fashion. To see what Luang Prabang has to offer, we took you on a walking tour of Luang Prabang and showed you the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall.
We also went to one of the best museums we have been to. The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Museum. We learned a lot about Laos, the people and their customs. We also got up early to check out the Sunrise Alms Giving ceremony.
Stray Travel's Long Thaang Bus Tour
We did a lot of research on Laos trying to work out how we were going to get around the country so we could visit the Communist Caves and the Plain of Jars. It is possible but opted for the hop on hop off bus company, Stray Travel. They did all the work for us. All we needed to do was get up in the morning and they would drive us around north east Laos. Fine by us!
Day 1 of the Long Thaang Bus Tour and we met everyone, climbed into a comfy minivan and even stopped at a primary school on the way to Nong Khiaw. A short day in the van and we found ourselves in a small boat getting ready to go tubing down a river. We drank a lot of Lao Lao, ate some delicious food and then went to sleep in a bungalow that overlooked beautiful mountains.
Andrew woke with quite a hangover and we were off to experience what day 2 had to offer. We checked out the Pathok Caves first then headed to Vieng Thong after a long bus ride. Here we boiled some eggs in the hot springs, checked out some carnival action in town and enjoyed life without electricity.
Day 3 and we checked out the Hintang Archaeological Park where I also got to smoke real tobacco in rolled up notepad paper. For lunch we stopped at a lovely waterfall before driving through Sam Neua to Vieng Xai to see the Communist Caves. Vieng Xai is an amazing place. We ended the night at a little restaurant with some local Laotians drinking Lao Lao and eating bamboo rat. What a night!
We were both sad to leave Vieng Xai but couldn't wait to see what Day 4 of Stray's Tour had in store for us. First stop was in Sam Neua where we checked out the local markets then sat on the bus for many many hours. We were all very happy to reach Phonsavan. Here we visited the MAG Information Center and got to experience cold weather for the first time in months.
Day 5, was our last day of the tour. We got to check out two Plain of Jars sites. Then we went to the "Bomb Spoon" Village where we got to see a man make spoons, chopsticks, jewellery and trinkets out of recovered unexploded bombs. Then it was a long bus ride back to Luang Prabang.
We really enjoyed Stray Travel's Long Thaang Bus Tour. Even though there were some not so awesome aspects to the bus tour, it was certainly a convenient way to reach some remote corners of Laos. Check out our review of the Long Thaang for more information.
Vang Vieng, Laos
We left Luang Prabang for Vang Vieng by public bus. The ride only took six and a half hours. We got there safe and sound which is all that really matters.
Vang Vieng is a lovely place when you get past all of the drunk, high, scantily clad tourists. There is actually a lot of different things to do in Vang Vieng. We didn't go tubing in the end. We did however park our bottoms in a Friends or Family Guy Bar and watch numerous episodes of crappy television. Heaven!
During our time in Vang Vieng, we stayed at a great guesthouse - Phongsavanh Bungalows - this place is amazing. Check it out when you are next in Vang Vieng.
Welcome to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We were happy to get here. We had both had enough of the winding, dusty and pot holey roads of Laos and we had just spent another five hours on a bus. We needed to just stop, smell the coffee and enjoy whatever the big city of Vientiane had to offer us.
We stayed in Vientiane for over a week and didn't get up to too much trouble. We certainly ate a lot of really good food and some that was not so great. We spent a lot of our days working in cafes around Vientiane. Our favourite digital nomad friendly place was the Scandinavian Bakery. Such an awesome place!
We had originally planned to go to the 4000 Islands in southern Laos but we had had enough of the roads. The roads were terrible, the bus rides not enjoyable and we were tired. Everything just takes so much longer than expected. A 100 kilometer bus ride takes FOREVER. Just too tiring.
We didn't need much convincing to go back to Bangkok. We love the place and can't get enough! We attempted to catch a night train all the way from Vientiane to Bangkok but the train had been cancelled so we wound up stuck on a night bus, which wasn't as great, but still got us to Bangkok.
While in Bangkok we got to experience Songkran, Thai New Year, for the second time. We've now experienced Songkran in Chiang Mai and in Bangkok. So different!
Our accommodation was fancier than we were used to in Bangkok - the Nanta Sukhumvit 39 Hotel. The location was fantastic. A 2 minute walk to the nearest BTS skytrain. Fantastic.
Oh, while you are in Bangkok, make sure you check out the Robot Building. So cool!
What's happening in the future?
Tomorrow we leave Thailand for Cambodia and head straight to Siem Reap. We are both quite excited about this journey. Neither of us have been to Cambodia before. A whole new country to explore.
We are, however, very worried about the Poipet border crossing. We have read a lot of stories about all the scams that can occur. Here's hoping we will get to Siem Reap unscathed!
From Siem Reap, we will make our way through Cambodia then head on to Vietnam. But who knows what the world has on offer for us.
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