3 Days in Vang Vieng including Kayaking, Tubing, Caving and ‘Happy Menu’

We arrived in Vang Vieng from Vientiane via bus. The bus cost 50 000  kip for a 4 hour journey. We were dropped us off at the bus stop which is a short walk from the town centre. We went for a little stroll to find our hostel ‘Chillao Youth Hostel,’ once we arrived the receptionist informed us that the hostel was overbooked and they are going to upgrade us free of charge (twice in one week, we’re on a winner here!) They shuttled us back to the other end of town and helped us check into Vang Vieng Boutique Hotel, the 3 star hotel honoured the rate we secured in a dorm at a hostel! The receptionist was an extremely helpful and friendly lady throughout our entire stay, the breakfast was great, the rooms were very clean and comfortable, also offering a fridge and kettle, the only downfall was the wifi was only available in the common area downstairs . I discovered the normal asking price was $20USD for a twin or double room, I would definitely recommend this to travellers on a low-mid range budget.

We headed out to find a bite to eat. Don’t hold your breath for the tastiest food you’ve ever had, Vang Vieng averages 30 000 kip for a meal, and I have eaten airplane food I enjoyed more than some noodle soups I tried here. There are some ‘flashy’ restaurants with the price tag to match, but we didn’t bother trying. Fried rice does the trick! But people flock here not for the food menu, but for the ‘happy menu.’  The happy menu includes, shroom shakes, shroom pizza, shroom tea, opium tea, a pre-made joint and a bag of weed or opium. You can find this menu at Milan’s Pizza and its surrounding restaurants. Apparently it’s perfectly legal to intake these drugs whilst in the restaurant, but not anywhere else. In saying that, the government and police force can be incredibly corrupt and will ask for bribe money or threaten to put you in Jail if they wish to. Remember friends, you are still in South East Asia, you’ve all heard the stories of the people that get caught, stay safe, don’t be stupid!

**Did you know**

–          In Vang Vieng, restaurants have the TV show ‘Friends’ playing on a constant loop, and the restaurants are designed in a day bed style. Leaving it very easy to laze around and watch friends all day! (like you see many travellers doing)

img_1610We ventured around the town, scoping out prices for tubing and the tours. We followed a sign saying ‘Smile Bar’, which lead us across a rickety bridge to a small island filled with bungalows, hammocks and a campfire out night.  Smile bar is right on the river and is the final stop for tubers, making it a prime bar for sunset, we spent a few afternoons here. watching the hot air balloons and paragliders pass by.

untitledThe next day we went out hunting for the best prices for a tour and also a price if we were to hire a motorbike and go adventuring ourselves. We discovered hiring a motorbike was 80 000 kip per person, and you have to have them back by 5pm, so we thought we would try our luck at the price of tours. We found a tour which included kayaking, exploring two caves, a picnic lunch and visiting the Blue Lagoon for 120 000 kip. The tour also covered the charge to cross the bridge out of town (10 000kip) and the entry to Blue Lagoon (10 000kip), so we decided the tour was a better deal and we booked it for the following day. It was getting close to midday, and what better way to spend your sunny afternoon the floating down the river on a tube! Tubing in Vang Vieng was nothing like I expected it to be, it took about 3 hours and there was only two bars to stop at, which were empty. I understood that the tubing shenanigans had been shut down, but I expected a little more! We spent our evening hanging out at restaurant playing friends, I think they are onto something, it was great to relax!

kayakThe following morning we met for our tour with a group of 30, a tuk tuk drove us up the river to where our kayaks and guides awaited. Most of the guests taking the tour were from a Chinese tour group in which had never been on a kayak before, so we spent the first 30 minutes ensuring lifejackets were on correctly, everyone had a dry bag and how to paddle.

We hopped aboard the kayaks and headed down the rapid filled river for the next hour. The guides played around splashing and spooking people in their kayaks. Up ahead we spotted a rickety wooden bridge over the river, we were gestured to stop at the side of this bank. The bridge swayed as we made our way across to the other side where the water cave awaited us.

The guides gave us each a head torch and a tube, we lowed ourselves into the small river and floated inside to the darkness. We pulled ourselves along with a rope hanging in the water, the water was very cool in comparison to the river we were just in. Our guide stops and helps us up an extremely muddy and slippery bank, and we wade deeper into the cave. The cave glimmered and sparkled as your light scanned the walls, we listened to stories of the people that used to live inside.

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Floating into Water Cave

‘Watch your head,” the guide said, “It gets very low here.”

Well that was an understatement, on almost hands and knees, we squeeze through the cave watching as insects crawl beside you.

“Okay, this is the exit,” the guide pointed. I could see a small slither of light piercing the cave. We watch as the first guide makes his way out. It was a game of which limb first and what’s safe to grab!

We clamber outside to the abrupt brightness of the sun and make our way through a jungle back to the bridge. Here a BBQ lunch awaited out arrival.

After the DELICIOUS lunch our guides announced that those who purchased zip line could follow him and those that didn’t just had to sit and wait…They tried to sell it to us for an extra 120 000 Kip but we decided to save our cash.

We waited for 1-2 hours for half of the group to zip line, which was a bit frustrating, and then clambered back onto the kayaks. We travelled another 40 mins down the river until we arrived in the heart of town, where a tuk tuk was waiting to take us to the Blue Lagoon.

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Blue Lagoon

The drive was about 15mins, many people were cycling or riding a motorbike toward the same direction. We arrived in the carpark and my heart started to sink a little, there were hundreds of buses, bikes and tuk tuks. We made our way inside, I felt like I had entered Disneyland with the amount of tourists squashed together. Majority in which could not swim and were either clinging to people or things, or jumping from high trees with their new found faith in the fluorescent orange life jacket they had acquired. All in which were still dressed in jeans and jackets, pulling them deep into the lagoon.

The lagoon itself was pretty, but the serenity had been lost long ago. We decided to first make the extremely steep climb to the elephant cave before cooling off in the lagoon. There will be ladies trying to rent you head torches, we just used the lights on our phone.

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Entrance to Elephant Cave

Elephant cave is very grand, definitely worth the climb up, and if you have the time and bravery you can adventure very deep into the cave. We made our way back down and jumped into the lagoon (I’m not kidding about others clinging onto you! Be careful the lagoon can be quite deep.) Finally we gathered the group and headed to the tuk tuk to go back to town.

The same tour is offered at many shops in town, some charging a little more with the same itinerary. I think it was definitely worth the money, just a little disappointing with the 2 hour wait in the middle of the day, maybe try find one without the waiting about!

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Approaching Kaeng Nyui Waterfall

The following day we grabbed a tuk tuk for 100 000kip (between three) and headed for Kaeng Nyui Waterfall. It’s not far out of town, but due to the bum bruising road condition it takes about 40 minutes to get there. Once you arrive you need to walk through the jungle for about 15 – 20mins.

I felt like I was in a zoo! We crossed paths with so many amazing creatures and the butterflies wouldn’t stop landing on us! They were the most beautifully coloured butterflies I had ever seen! Finally we reached the water falling from the sky and I couldn’t believe it… There was not even 10 people there in which most were locals! This is a MUST DO in Vang Vieng.

We stayed awhile, venturing into other pools and playing with the butterflies, until we decided it was time to head back to town to sort of the bus for the following day.

img_1522img_1483We were figuring out the best way to get to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars, after researching bus times, length and time of journey and costs, we decided to get a private car. Find  How I got to Phonsavan and how much did it Cost?

Vang Vieng is extremely beautiful with so many hidden secrets to discover if you have the time. I would advise going to a different Blue Lagoon as I saw others advertised. It had plenty to offer for the thrill seekers too! From rock climbing, hot air ballooning, paragliding, adventuring on all terrain vehicles this list goes on! There’s plenty of backpackers that have stayed to pick up work in this town, maybe for the adventuring, maybe for the happy menu who knows!

Have you been to Vang Vieng? What did you do differently? Are you going there soon? I’d love to help! Please share with me your experiences!

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The Mystery of the ‘Plain of Jars’ FT. The Scariest Road in South East Asia

What is the Plain of Jars?

Laos is home to the largest plain of the mystery limestone jars. There are other instances of these jars across Asia, however this is by far the most dense. The age of these jars is unknown; it is believed they originated in approximately 500 BC.  Legends have it that they were originally created as funerary urns, as bones have been found within them. Others say they were used to smuggle salt across the Chinese border. The ancient myths believe the jars were drinking cups that the giants left behind. No one really knows what the sole purpose of these jars were. There are three main ‘sites’ to visit the plain of jars, the other jars are scatted in over 160 locations. The 3 designated areas have been UXO-cleared (unexploded ordnance) to allow safe visits for tourists. There is speculation as to how these jars were formed, some say they were chiselled out others believe they were created with a mould. From what I saw of the jars, there looked like incidents of both!

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Where is the Plain of Jars?

The Plain of Jars is located just outside of a small town called Phonsavan, located in Xieng Khuang Province.

The entire Xieng Khuang Province was bombed heavily between 1964 – 1973, the area is now severely cratered by the American bombs that fell every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. Phonsavan is an extremely interesting town, with a bit of a spooky feel to it. It was almost as if you could feel the presence from the past, the presence from beyond the grave.

 

IMG_1806.JPGHow to get to the Plain of Jars?

Most people travel to the Plain of Jars from either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, we decided to travel there from Vang Vieng to try and avoid backtracking.

From Vientiane a bus costs 160 000 kip and is 11 hours travelling. These buses depart at 6.30am, 8am, 9.30am, 11am, 4pm, 6.40pm, and a VIP sleeper bus at 8pm.

From Luang Prabang a minivan costs 115 000 kip and is 10 hours travelling. These bus departs at 8.30am and takes 10 hours.

From Vang Vieng a minivan costs 120 000 kip and is 8 hours traveling. This bus departs at 9am. There is also a sleeper bus option that departs at 11pm and is 200 000 kip (they have caught onto the fact that travellers will use overnight buses to skip out on a night’s accommodation.)

Once you have arrived in Phonsavan you can either hire a motorbike for 100 000 kip for the day (which is a popular choice) or hire a van with or without a guide for the Plain of Jars. Please note tuk tuks are not allowed to go to the Plain of Jars sites.

Phonsavan also has an airport, it should cost between 10 000 – 20 000 kip to take a tuk tuk to the town centre.

IMG_1735.JPGHow to get out of the Plain of Jars

We went onwards to Luang Prabang.

Buses to Luang Prabang cost 115 000 kip and take 10 hours. The only bus departs at 8.30am

Buses to Vientiane cost 160 000 kip and take 11 hours. These buses depart at 7am, 8am, 10.30am, 4.30pm, 6.30pm and a VIP sleeper bus at 8pm.

There are also buses from here that cross the border to Vietnam.

 

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How we go to the Plain of Jars

These were our options,

Depart Vang Vieng at 9am, arrive Phonsavan at 5pm – 120 000 Kip per person.

Stay in guesthouse house – 60 000 kip per person.

Hire a motorbike and see Plain of Jars – 100 000 kip per person. (the first sight charges 15 000 kip per person for entry and the second sight charges 10 000 kip per person)

Stay in Guest house – 60 000 kip per person

Depart Phonsavan at 8.30am, arrive Luang Prabang 6.30pm – 115 000 kip per person.

Total for transport and accommodation  = 455 000 kip per person ( x 3 of us travelling 1 365 000 Kip in total)

img_1771Otherwise we could take the sleeper bus and knock out the first nights of accommodation, but that actually worked out more expensive.

If we travelled this way we would have also used three days of travelling to visit the Plain of Jars, and although Phonsavan has many other places to visit. We were short on time and the Plain of Jars was the only thing on my list.

I asked for a quote on a private car, first price was 1 800 000Kip, eventually I got them down to 1 600 000Kip, which was more than I wanted to pay, but agreed anyway. This worked out 533 000 Kip per person.

Our private car picked the three of us up at 6am, our driver stopped at a few places along the way to show us his favourite views and most tasty street cart snacks. We arrived at Phonsavan at 11am. Our driver didn’t speak much English but he did the best he could the try and communicate with us. He climbed trees to pick berries for us to try and pointed us in directions to find hidden caves we never would have found otherwise. We spent 2-3 hours visiting the sites and the went to our drivers favourite noodle soup shop for lunch. After lunch we jumped back in the car and head for Luang Prabang on the SCARIEST ROAD IN SOUTH EAST ASIA to arrive in Luang Prabang at 8pm.

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Now I’ve spent a lot of time on buses in South East Asia. I’ve been squashed on with live stock, I’ve been sold a 9 hour sleeper bus ticket and ended up in a tin of sardines. I’ve watched as the bus seems to get closer to the edge of the mountain at every turn. I’ve had drivers blindly overtake semi-trailers on the wrong side of the road. But nothing compares to the road from Phonsavan to Luang Prabang.

Now you may have noticed the times quoted for bus journeys were double the time our driver took, so you can imagine, he was travelling quite quickly. Now can you imagine that it has been pouring rain for the last 24 hours and the rain has not eased off. On top of that the final 3 hours of the journey was in darkness – just to make sure it’s the scariest drive you’ve ever been on. Add in a heavy layer of fog – you know the type of fog where you put your high beams on and it’s even worse? Oh and I forgot to mention, the road is a constant zig zag, scaling up and down the mountain faces with local Hmong children playing on the road, pigs chasing their piglets, chicken’s chasing their chicks, dogs and cats playing, and road blockages from cows (at one stage the driver skidded to a stop and the cows face was inches from the bonnet). After a few drifts around corners, our driver stopped to let air out of the tyres (don’t worry about maybe slowing down?!) At one stage the road turned to sand and we were weaving in between massive trucks and diggers whilst they continued to work!

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But I am still in one piece! And yet again with another story to tell! The three of us agreed that this was definitely the best way we could have done it. And if there had of been a fourth person, it would have worked out nearly the same price as the bus. I thought I would share my experience as when I tried to research this journey there wasn’t a whole lot of information. Maybe you can use this to save three days when you’re travelling Laos!

36 Hours in Vientiane

We arrived in Vientiane and headed for our accommodation ‘ Dream Home 2’ where we had booked 3 beds in an 6 person dorm room for 55 000 Kip per person, per night. This Hostel included free breakfast, wifi (which has been the best wifi I’ve experienced in Laos), FREE WHISKEY between 9pm-11pm, pool table and swimming pool.

When we check in, the manager, named Pikachu, informed us that he had overbooked the dorms and he would upgrade us to private room with a private bathroom at no extra charge, awesome!

img_1162We dropped off our bags and went to explore. From what I had read up on, there wasn’t too much to do in Vientiane, so we only had 2 nights booked, leaving early on the third day. We set off on an adventure, in the distance, we could see a lot of commotion happening, with many balloons being let go into the sky. The perfectly blue sky, I don’t know whether my eyes were hungry to explore this new country, or the colours in Laos were a whole new palate, it didn’t matter, it was beautiful.

img_1174As we ventured closer we realised that it was a college graduation! With the street venders now suddenly selling balloons, streamers, bears, flowers, all things celebration and the students dressed in their graduation clothing, it was quite an amazing sight to witness. “CONGRATULATIONS!” Rowan shouts to a few of the students. They loved it! “Thank you, Thank you! Come to our party tonight, it is at Maxi’s, it’s on the way to the airport!” The students invited. Rowan replied, “Yeah sure, we will see you there!” (we did actually have intentions of going, but we got a little distracted within the night.)

img_1175We stopped for lunch at Jamil Zahid Punjabi Restaurant, which is a Pakistan family run restaurant cooking Middle Eastern and Indian food, we each had a kebab which cost 20 000 Kip, IT WAS DELICIOUS. So much so that we went back for curry the following night! Mr Zahid will be sure to come to your table and ask if he can take a picture for the Facebook page when actually he’s putting ridiculous Snapchat filters on your face and showing the rest of the table! Great atmosphere and lovely family.

We continued strolling and stumbled upon the night market beginning to set up. This is by far the most organised street market that I have ever seen, each stall within a 3x3m red marquee which creates hallways throughout. On the other side of the vast market we reached the Mekong, where you can see just 200m away, across the river – Thailand.

img_1228The sun was beginning to move closer to the horizon so we searched for a bar to perch upon for the sunset. We stumbled into ‘Bor Pennyang’ which I later learnt meant ‘no problem’ in Laos, however it can mean a few more deep and meaningful phrases such as ‘ I forgive and forget your action’ depending on the tone of the situation. We clambered up the staircases to the 5th floor which revealed a stunning view of the sun closing in on the Mekong. We ordered beers (big Lao 15 000, can be bought in mini mart for 10 000Kip) and watched the sun flirt with the darkness.

img_1266An outlandish character named Jack approached our table, he pointed out the defensive gun boats on each side of the boarder. We got chatting and discovered Jack takes motorbike tours all over Laos, (The company name is ‘Jack’s tours’) we then discovered that Jacks’s other job was bomb disposal – he had plenty of interesting stories to share! How he has had to defuse bombs whilst taking a motorbike tour out into unknown regions, a secret airport that no one knew existed, how he has taken defused bombs through airport security and they were none the wiser, how the military has stopped him entering certain areas because they were trying to illegally smuggle things across the Chinese border, the stories were endless! He pointed us in the direction of all his favourite street carts, and told us what he believes the MUST SEE’s in Laos were (which were the COPE centre in Vientiane, Plain of Jars in Phonsavanh and the secret city of Long Tieng which was run by CIA of USA in the late 1960’s) Jack was a pool of information covering ALL things Laos)

img_1254We made plans to meet Jack at his favourite bar, ‘SAMLO’ which was a local grungy dive bar with rock music and cheap drinks (away from the ‘tourist bars’ where drink prices doubled)

We made a quick stop at the hostel to drop my camera off and headed to a street cart next door to Samlo that Jack had recommended.

Meals were 15 000 Kip, and not a single word of English was spoken – it was a game of charades. We ordered dumplings yet literal chicken feet came to the table? We had a laugh, but we were game to give it ago until the lady sitting beside us (who spoke a little broken English) realised this wasn’t what we ordered and such she insisted in helping us get the dumplings. After a good laugh and a few beers, we ate whatever they decided that we had ordered and continued on to the bar. We learnt some more of Jacks local knowledge and continued on venturing. We explored and drank some more when something had caught Dylan’s eye. ‘Tyson’s kitchen’ a Canadian restaurant specialising in Burgers and Pizza which coincidentally had secured the #1 restaurant in Vientiane on trip advisor. Drunken Dylan had to have pizza (and me too)!

img_1301Rowan had told the restaurant it was my birthday (well, it was a couple of days prior) and the lovely staff brought me out a glass of wine and sang me happy birthday! Tyson’s dad then brought over ‘Lao Lao’ (Laos’s ‘happy water’) and insisted we have shots! The establishment is extremely well run and if you need a fix of tasty western food, this is the place to go! Tyson was hanging out in the restaurant and was more than happy to have a chat, they explained they had only opened 8 months ago and after 6 months had secured #1 on trip advisor.

Eventually our night led us home.

IMG_1317.JPGWe rose early the next day and hired bicycles to see the rest of the city. We rode past temples and made our way to Patuxai for some photo opportunities and then continued on to the COPE centre.

Wow what an eye opener. The COPE centre is a rehabilitation facility to help those in need who can’t afford it. It was originally created for those who were injured from the bombings to Laos in attempt to close off supply routes to the Ho Chi Minh trail. The centre makes prosthetic limbs for those that have lost body parts and teaches them new ways to live. Offering both physical and psychological support.

img_1330** Did you know?**

  • Approximately  270 million cluster bombs were dropped as part of the bombing campaign; approximately 80 million failed to detonate. Over the last 40 years we have successfully found 1% of these 80 million. Leaving the remaining still live and active.
  • From 1964, there was a bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years.
  • 1964 to present over 50 000 civilians have been injured or killed by the bombs that failed to detonate.
  • There were more bombs dropped on Laos then there were in the entire of World War Two.

 

They have illusions in the COPE centre that allow you to look what it would be like if you had a prosthetic leg and to also allow you to feel phantom limb pain.

img_1332There is a dangling wall of prosthetic legs that look extremely old and uncomfortable, these prosthetics reflect a patient that has received treatment and more advanced prosthetics, all COPE asks for in return is their old prosthetic to display.

After leaving COPE centre we heading back the hostel for a chilled out afternoon. We booked our bus to Vang Vieng and at 9.30am the next morning we boarded our extremely over booked bus, with people sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle. The bus was 45 minutes late (which is pretty normal for Laos) and cost 50 000 Kip. The journey took about 3.5hours including a comfort break. Just like that our 36 hours in Vientiane were up.

I don’t believe you need too much more time to see the sights of Vientiane. The only thing we missed out on, was visiting Buddha Park, which was 20 mins out of town. My opinion would be 3 nights max, unless you have found some more hidden secrets in the city that you would like to share?

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand to Laos – Two day slow-boat vs. Flying.

After debating with myself, whether to spend two days on a slow boat on the Mekong vs. whether to fly from Thailand to Laos, I decided to fly. Why?

  1. Money. Crossing via land is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be. To be honest, all the latest blogs I had read had all paid different fees, not to mention the ‘extra’ fees at the boarder if you happened to be there on a Sunday, too late, at their lunch break or I guess if they just feel like it. I had tossed up the pros and cons but flying came out the winner. We flew;

Chiang Rai to Bangkok – $20 (two day lay over)

Bangkok to Vientiane – $60

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When I started to enquire about the slow-boat in Chiang Mai, I was being quoted upwards of 1500 Baht. This included your bus to the boarder, the slow-boat ticket and a night’s accommodation half way down the river. I started researching the individual tickets for buses, tuk tuks and boats rather than the package, but from what I could see, I was only saving about 500 baht. Making the long boat option half the price of the flight. If you are on a very tight budget, then the slow-boat is probably the best option for you. This current trip I had a little more than a shoe string budget, so I went with the flight.

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  1. Time. There’s nothing more gut wrenching than realising the time you set aside to visit the country is halved because you spend every second day on a 10-hour bus journey. And I was well aware that Laos was one of these slow-moving countries. I did think about the experience, and how beautiful the scenery would be on the long boat. But to be honest I’ve already spent a lot of time on a boat down the Mekong, so I decided this time to give it a miss.
  2. Visiting Bangkok. As I’ve mentioned before Bangkok is not my favourite place to travel to, however in my previous visit I didn’t tick off everything on my list. I also was very curious about how the city was reacting with the King’s passing, and couldn’t help but be inquisitive in this monumental time. Rowan had also never been to Bangkok and Dylan hardly left his hotel room on his previous visit, so they were both keen to check it out.
  3. Location. Luang Prabang is right in the middle of Laos, which means travelling around would mean backtracking through Luang Prabang at some stage. I wanted to work my way from one side to another. My first thought was to cross the border at Chiang Rai and head to Luang Namtha in the East and eventually make my way down to Vientiane and If I had the time, down through to 1000 islands. Or if I flew into Vientiane I could work my way up to Luang Namtha, which is the idea I’m currently running with. Which concluded my decision to fly to Vientiane.

 

IMG_1250.JPGNow, let me get to the flight… I’ve never screamed on a flight… until now… I’m not the best flyer, my palms are sweaty before we even hit the runway, but a few deep breaths and you’re in the air before you know it… right?

Our flight took off and instantly started with a hard turn, (so the plane took off into the opposite direction, sure okay that’s normal) after reaching a full 180 degree turn around we continued to hook into another hard turn, (you know the type of hard turns where you’re either looking at the ground or the sun and you’re not entirely sure which direction you’re heading) this is where I started to get a little more nervous. Why on earth does this plane have to circle back in the direction that it came from!? We hit turbulence… it started off gently and started shaking a little harder, then came the drops. You would know what I’m talking about if you’ve felt one. Where it feels like the plane is falling from the sky, but your stomach is still up there. Then came our nose dive, where instead of just falling from the sky, my body was thrown forward and the plane was thrown down. Now let me tell you, I wasn’t the only person who screamed! Now when I boarded this flight, I thought it would be a 2-hour flight. (I had read the itinerary wrong) After 45 minutes the captain speaks, “Please move your chair back to the upright position, open you window shutters and prepare for landing.”

IMG_1502.JPGDylan : What? Why? Why are we so low? Are we landing?! Where are we landing? I thought we still had an hour to go. Jade isn’t this flight two hours? What’s happening?!

Jade: Yeah… I thought it was… I’m not sure… Are you okay? I thought you liked flying? Remember you said, “turbulence, it’s just like being on a rollercoaster.”

Dylan: No. No. Not anymore. I’m like you now. This plane is small. This plane is too small. Excuse me, Excuse me! *talking to flight attendant* Ahh what is happening?

Flight attendant: We are landing Sir.

Dylan: We are landing?? In Vientiane??

Flight attendant: Yes Sir.

Dylan: Ahhhh I see. Thank you.

I look at Dylan and shrug. The plane’s weight sways one side to the other as we decent in our windy landing. Finally the wheels hit the ground and the heartrate decreases.

Dylan: Well, that’s it, looks like I’m living in Laos now.

Rowan: Haha what do you mean? You’re not flying again?

Dylan: Nope. Laos for life.

img_1208We went through immigration, and Dylan and I paid $30 USD for our visa on arrival, (make sure you have a passport photo and US dollars, which is all you need to purchase your visa on arrival) Rowan paid $35 USD for his as his passport is UK.

We walked through to the exit where a line of travellers were waiting to purchase transport to the city. I tried to look for a tuk tuk, bus or shared minivan, but from what I could see this was the only way. We paid 55 000 Kip for a private van to our accommodation which was a 10-minute journey. (The price was a little steep but we weren’t too sure what the alternative was.)

So all in all, I paid an extra $40, saved myself a few days and experienced a small heart attack.. Maybe next time I should take the boat? Haha.

Have you had an experience travelling between Thailand and Laos? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

The 6000 Baht Scam I couldn’t escape which left me Stranded 2 hours from Bangkok

This is my second visit to Bangkok, and it’s sad to say that both visits have constantly had me on edge from the number of attempted scams. Let me tell you a story about the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Scam.

img_0707After arriving in Bangkok, I was determined to visit the Floating Markets as I missed the chance on my last visit. I did my research and started asking for prices on the trip to the market. The price of course always start absurdly high and you barter your way down. The first quote was 1000 Baht, I played the game, laughed a little “too much, “I said. The game continued, “Okay, okay good price for you, how much you give me?” Finally, we reached 600 Baht, which I felt was a reasonable price for three people travelling nearly 2 hours away and then back. But the man became too pushy and I decided to find someone else.

img_0659Later that night we used the ‘Grab’ app (Asia’s version of Uber) which we had found was the cheapest way to get around Bangkok. I asked our driver for a price, “2000 Baht!” I laughed a little louder this time. There was no game play this time. “600 Baht” I said. He laughed back at me, yet 5 mins later he agreed and we organised to be picked up from our hotel at 6am.

img_08466am arrived, Rowan and I met our driver out the front, (Dylan had drunk a few too many cocktails and decided not to come) the drive took just over one and a half hours, we drifted in and out of sleep from the late-night prior. Finally, we arrive at a place with a desk and a small café, there were no people which I knew was extremely odd for the popularity of this market, our driver pointed towards the desk, “You get boat from here.” A little confused I approached anyway. “Do you want to see Elephants or Tigers?” he asked, “No, just floating market I replied. “Okay 4000 Baht,” he said.

img_0792Rowan and I looked at each other confused, the little amount of sleep we had wasn’t helping the situation. “No” I said, “200 Baht for boat.” Like I mentioned, I had done my research, “I don’t want private tour, just 200 Baht for the boat.”

“Private much better, much more comfortable,” he continued. “No, no private, we will drive to market and get boat from there,” I replied. A lot of Thai speaking went back and forth between our driver and the boat man. “I give to you for 2000,” he came back with, “You cannot drive there, only by boat.” Rowan and I then noticed there was a foreigner price and local. “We live here,” I said, “We teach English, we are local.” (They want to scam me? I’ll take them for a ride!) They laughed, “No, you pay foreigner price.”

img_0692I knew this was wrong; a massive scam, I tried to look at a map to see how far the market was. I turned to our driver, “Keep driving.” He looks at me confused and shakes his head. “Drive down this road,” I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, he agrees, mumbling things under his breath.

He drivers down the road that I point down and we see an archway welcoming you to the Floating Market, he pulls over again at a similar looking place. A lady that can speak better English comes to my window. And the same story again, except this time for 1100 Baht. I kept telling our driver to keep going but he wouldn’t listen. “Rowan, let’s just jump out and have a look, see what we can see.”

img_1072I look down the canal where the boats are waiting to take you to the floating market and notice a footpath all along the canal. I say that I want to walk but of course “You cannot.”

I see some tourists arriving back on the boat, so I head over to ask them how long it took to get there. They were Russian and couldn’t speak a word of English, the scam just seemed to grow.

I tried to ask the company how many minutes it takes for the boat to reach the floating market but they continued to reply with “very far.” I then noticed that all the boats had motors, there should be ones with only paddles. I knew we were close, “Rowan, let’s go, let’s just walk, I’ll figure it out.”

By this stage our taxi driver had completely disappeared, we had stood by the taxi for a while but he was not returning until we booked the boat and he got his cut for this scam. img_0929So we started to walk and the ladies came chasing, I became more stern with them and miraculously they start dropping the price, “okay 800 Baht.” We continued to walk and they continued to chase. I looked at the time it was 8.30am, from all the research I had done, people had said that after 9am it was hardly worth going. I turn to Rowan, “It’s nearly 9, I don’t want to miss it completely, we’re going to pay 200 Baht anyway, should we just pay 600 to get the hell out of this scam?”

They said no to 600 Baht, so we continued to walk and low and behold, “Okay 600.”

We climb upon our private motor boat for 600 Baht, (people pay 200 Baht p/p to jump onto a group boat so I didn’t feel too bad with the amount we had paid, I was just annoyed that we couldn’t see a way out of the scam) and make our way a few minutes down the river to reveal the floating markets right next to a road! We laughed, what’s the point in getting angry.

IMG_0965.JPGThe markets were not full of tourists yet, which allowed some great opportunities to interact with the local venders, however there were a lot of floating shops that hadn’t even opened yet. Our ‘private tour’ was only for an hour and we were unable to get of the boat, So I decided I was going to make our driver drive us there.

 img_0860We arrive back to the boat company and there is our driver waiting in his taxi, we clamber in. He mumbles about going home now. “No, you will drive us to the markets,” I said firmly. He looks at me surprised and shakes his head, mumbling about going home. “No, you lied to us, you said you could not drive there, you will drive us there now.” He replies, “Okay, you give me more money.” Rowan chimes in, “No we pay you to take us to the Floating market, you did not take us there.” The driver shakes his head, mumbles about money and going home and starts driving the car, turning the indicator on to head home. “NO!” I Yelled. “YOU TAKE US TO THE MARKETS RIGHT NOW OR WE WILL GET OUT.” No response, he continues to drive. “Let’s, get out, quick.”

img_0863With the car still moving we jump out and begin our walk in the other direction. He spins the car around and pulls up in front of us yelling for money. “I will give you 300, you only took us half way.” I directed. Absolutely fuming he agrees, we hand the 300 Baht ($12 for a two-hour journey he wouldn’t have even made a profit, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have received much of a cut from our 600 Baht private tour!) and he speeds off. We laugh and start walking. I wish we had of kept walking earlier but hey it’s made for a great story to tell you!

 IMG_0938.JPGThe walk took about 10-15mins, it was about 10am by now so we search for some breakfast from the carts. “120 Baht?! So, expensive,” said Rowan, and we continued to walk. The lady chased after us okay we do for 60 Baht (which is more or less a good price) so we shared a plate for breakfast. It was just becoming more and more noticeable how much of a massive tourist scam these markets were (which is what all the reviews say!) It’s all the same stuff you see for sale at every market, for double the price, but I’m still glad we came. It’s still interesting to watch the locals operate their floating venders and I think it was well worth it getting there before everyone else. After perusing around for a while we decided we should find a way home, I knew there was a bus back to Bangkok, and after asking a few people we found a small coffee vender selling tickets for 100 Baht p/p, perfect!

IMG_1036.JPGWe waited an hour and jumped on the next bus, we fell asleep instantly and woke over an hour later, I checked my map, we were on the outskirts of Bangkok, probably another 45 minutes away. However just 10 minutes down the road he pulls over and yells, “Okay bus stop we are here.” I looked again at my map, we were nowhere near the Bangkok bus station that was agreed to be the destination, but off we hopped. (It just made it feel like the whole of Bangkok is a massive scam)

img_1100We started walking in the direction we needed, looking for a bus or train station. An old local bus pulls up beside us. “Let’s get on!” I said to Rowan. No one could speak any English, they giggled as I made attempts to communicate. From what I could gather this was a free shuttle bus going back and forth to the Golden Palace, so we hopped off there before the bus started heading back in the other direction.

IMG_1103.JPGThousands upon thousands were mourning, all dressed in black and white. The Palace was closed to tourists so the Thai people could pay respect, however it has reached capacity and there were now people in groups outside waiting to go in.

We made our way back  to our hotel laughing at the events of the day. In the end, we paid 550 Baht p/p to have a private car pick us up from our hotel, a private boat chauffer us around the markets and slept the whole journey back in our shared bus. People pay a lot more just to join a group tour! Even worse some people would have paid 2000 Baht for the taxi and 4000 Baht for the private boat, falling into the traps of a 6000 Baht scam! But none the less we were still scammed! It was a scam we couldn’t escape! But that’s a part traveling!