Vang Vieng

 I needed to get away from Bangkok for a bit, and it is low season and rainy everywhere. NO GOOD OPTIONS for a mini trip. Or so I thought.

There’s a lot of complaints and fears about low season travel, namely:
1. There will be NO ONE there! – For those of us seeking solitude and some peace and quiet, that’s a POSITIVE!
2. It will rain ALL THE TIME – Not true. In most of Southeast Asia, even during rainy season, the rains come for an hour or two (or overnight) and then stop
3. There will be less transportation available – The number of tourist buses was not inconvenient, and the planes and trains ran as normal. A huge perk was that they weren’t overpacked of sweaty tourists like in high season

There are other major positives to low season travel, including availabilities in all of the hotels and activities, HUGE discounts in pricing, and more comfortable temperatures (the rain cools things down a lot and breaks the humidity).

Low season travel is AWESOME!

Vang Vieng Laos June 2014I was a bit skeptical of going to Vang Vieng, as the tubing scene wasn’t really something I was after for this trip. I have a stressful day-job and just wanted to get away from the hectic city and relax for a bit.

I chose Vang Vieng because it was fairly easily reached from Bangkok (I found a good value flight roundtrip flight), and the photos from my friends’ tubing trips included beautiful natural backgrounds. I crossed my fingers that low season would be less attractive to these travelers.

I was right.

Trip Length:
3 Nights

Hotels Stayed at:
Inthira Vang Vieng – a really nice hotel with all the necessary amenities and then some (even a TV), with breakfast included, for 20USD per night. Located on the main street, but the rooms are set back from the road and past a little garden, so it is super quiet at night

Dos:
Do pack an umbrella/poncho and a waterproof cover/bag for your packpac, especially during rainy season
Bring a waterproof sac for your camera/phone if planning on waterproof activities, unless provided by your tour operator (DOUBLE CHECK that it is waterproof. Lost a beloved iPhone and many photos this way)

Donts:
Don’t be afraind to travel during low season and take advantage of its awesome deals

Planes, Trains, Automobiles:
I found a flight for 120USD on Skyscanner Bangkok to Vientiane roundtrip, and took a taxi from the airport to the bus station, and then a minivan to Vang Vieng. On thr roundtrip, I took a much cheaper minivan all the way to the airport.

Activities:
Half Day Kayak Trip down the river, including a cave tour
Only 10USD (private trip as I was the only one who booked!)

(Traveled June 11-14 2014)

Advertisements

Weekend Trip to Singapore

I took the ARL (Airport Rail Link) from BTS Phayathai to the airport – fast, cheap, and hassle free : therefore better than a taxi in all 3 respects.

Thank you, SkyScanner .com, this amazing web search, you can type in “Bangkok all” (we do have 2 big airports here) for the From and EVERYWHERE for the To. How awesome. Or Thailand to EVERYWHERE. And then it comes up with the cheapest options first, lets you play around with dates and times and voila! You’ve got a trip.

I got the very last minute flight for 211USD return trip. The plane leaves BKK (airport short cut for Suvarnbhami versus DMK, Don Meung, VERY important difference to be aware of as they are far apart) at 945am, arriving shortly after 12pm.

Once arrived at the Singapore airport, take the train into the city. It’s really self-explanatory and easy. There are signs everywhere directly you. I was going to Clarke Quay MRT station, and it took me about 45minutes or so.

Of course, I booked my hostel through agoda, and it was recommended to me by a friend. City Backpackers had the best location of any hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and was only 15USD (great for Singapore). 2 minutes from the MRT (ESSENTIAL), across from Central Mall and the riverside promenade (awesome at night).
The hostel was pretty bare bones, rickety bunk beds, okay showers and toilets, and there was aircon in the room but not in the common areas and I still woke up a bit sweaty. BUT THE LOCATION AND PRICE MAKES IT A WIN.

Little India is a few MRT stops away (at the easily named Little India station, though you can also use Farrer MRT station). Indian food is my absolute favorite, and it absolutely abounds here. You’ve gotta check out Mustafa super store – tons of stuff at cheap (for Singapore. Expensive compared to Thailand)

Chinatown is also an easily marked MRT station, or if you stay at City Backpackers, just turn left out of HongKong street and walk down the main road until you hit it. Really pretty at night

Chinatown at night
Chinatown at night

Orchard MRT station is mall central. Orchard ION mall has a good food court in the basement, inexpensive for Singapore prices but shocking to my Thailand wallet. The brand name clothes (H+M especially) were reasonably priced though, maybe even better than in Thailand.

Singapore Takeaways
-Touts/Hawkers NOT ALLOWED to hassle you – so say goodbye to the annoying tuktuks, shop guys, and suit men you’ve become accustommed to throughout the rest of SE Asia
-Singapore is the safest, cleanest place I’ve been to in SE Asia – what everyone says is true
-The people are not as friendly here, but as said above, they also can’t bother you. Give/take
-It lacked the sense of culture and Asia-ness that I’ve felt in the other countries and felt very antiseptic most places (this is a stupid sounding statement but its true and I don’t know how else to say it)
-I felt safe walking everywhere, the men were more polite and less wolf-whistley, BUT it had a distinctly couple-y feel.. I didn’t see many other solo women (or men even for that matter)

Clarke Quay Riverside Nightlife
Clarke Quay Riverside Nightlife

(If you do not have a year long work or study permit, you will have to leave Thailand every 15 or 30 days, depending on how you entered [note: this is no longer an option 2014]. You can overstay without serious penalty [you may be given the dreaded red stamp 2014] but you WILL be charged 500 baht per day overstayed (which really racks up fast).

I’ve made it a goal to use my ‘visa runs’, as they’re called, to see new places.

So Singapore Weekend Trip. Around 30 hours. I had the goal to pick up some new clothes, see little India, spend a lot of time at the riverside, and the zoo. I got to 3/4.)

It Starts with Words

I’d always said I’d go to Thailand.

I was supposed to study here junior year in university, I was all signed up and had paid my fees for the study abroad program.. when life (aka bad relationship and bad decisions) got in the way. Instead of sightseeing and studying in Thailand, I was splitting my time between crying on my dad’s couch, hanging my head in the shrink’s office, and partying until the sun came up.

That was 4 years ago.

The years flew by – I graduated college, got my shit together in a way that no one really thought I would (even myself), and was suddenly an adult. Somehow I was 24, with a new Jeep, pretty apartment, great job, healthy habits, and an awesome amount of disposable income. 19 year old me would have pissed her class-skipping, alcoholic pants in surprise.

But something was missing. On paper, I had all the things that a responsible, successful young adult should want or need.

I was content. But I wasn’t happy. Definitely not happy. I felt empty, like a shell of a person floating through life, collecting paychecks and making purchases – a cog in a machine… I did not have purpose. I was not fulfilled by anything that I was doing.

I started telling people I was going to Thailand. I don’t know why. Attention? To shock people (I love to shock people)? To have something to say outside of the usual “how’s work? Yeah? good. Me too. good, busy, you know. Just got a raise, working on this project..”

I don’t think I meant it at first. But I realized it felt good. “I’m going to Thailand”. So I started saying it more. Even to myself, when I was alone. To my dogs, even.

But every time I went to buy my plane ticket, something would come up. Some conflict with dates, some reason to postpone purchasing.. And then when I ironed that out, it was credit card fraud issues. ANTICLIMACTIC as hell. I actually got all the way to checkout 3 times before it actually went through (screw you CapitalOne, for to this day never letting me purchase air tickets on the first try).

On the fourth time, when that confirmation screen popped up – I almost threw up. I was shaky and thought I was going to faint. I had gotten to the point where I thought I was never actually going to be able to buy tickets. It was right before I left for Christmas break from work. About a month before my departure date.

I had a little going away party (even though I was only going to be gone for 10 days, Americans don’t travel, get over it), and then had a leaving meal the night before my plane with my family. My dad joked about me not coming back.

My brother dropped me off at the airport, in capri pants, a tank, and a light jacket. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I loved it, it gave me another opportunity to say “I’m going to Thailand”.

Beat the Heat in SE Asia

Its hot in Bangkok. Always. But especially in May.

As my friend Ivar from Norway once so aptly described Thailand, “Sometimes its hot. Sometimes its hotter”

Whether you’re in Bangkok, or the islands, or Cambodia or Indonesia or anywhere around here thats SO FREAKING HOT, don’t let it spoil your trip. Or even your day. Here’s some tips (some seem pretty obvious, but here goes):

Find a hotel with a pool. Agoda has a great option for narrowing down search results to include only those with a pool. In Bangkok, my favorite is City at Fifty for only 250B. In Siem Reap, Jasmine is cheap at only $8, and Phnom Penh’s 88Backpackers for only $5 is a budget choice.
If you find yourself in the Khao San area, D&D seldom checks key cards so regardless where you’re staying you can likely get into their great roof pool

Get up early, or stay out late – avoid the midday sun as much as you can (great time to utilize the afforementioned pool)

Wear breathable, light colored, lightweight clothes, or sweat wicking gym wear. If you’ve got long hair, keep it back and up off your neck

If your hotel has a freezer, use it!! Keep a frozen water bottle ready to go at all times. While walking, hold onto it. It’ll cool you off, and melt into drinkable liquid faster than you’d ever thought possible back home in Michigan (also important to stay hydrated!)

Carry a handkerchief or wet wipes to dab at your sweat soaked face.. arms, legs, wherever. There’s nothing worse than that sticky feeling after dried sweat… or the embarassment of your damp arm brushing up against people in a packed BTS train

Eat in air conditioned food courts instead of on the street – Tesco Lotus, Big C, even MBK have awesome food courts with plenty of main dishes ranging fro 30-60THB

Walk slowly, take your time, and stay on the shaded side of the sidewalk