Friday, November 2, 2018

Those 2 Weeks I spent in Northern Thailand, 3 Months Ago.

The 3 Months Ago 2 Weeks

I'm now notoriously habitual about uploading a post about my last trip, right before a new trip (or occasionally AFTER my next trip). I actually shouldn't use notorious as it implies famously bad and neither I nor this blog resembles anything famous. I began writing A Nebraskan in the Middle East over 4 years ago after I accepted a teaching job at an American school in Kuwait. In those beginning days, I wrote bi-weekly about day to day happenings, cultural nuances and teacher troubles(and joys), and my travels. The blog, with its 2016 name change, correlating with my geographical shift to China, has morphed into mainly just a travel blog.

I do value looking back on my posts and giving thanks via this blog. So, though often posted post-post trip, I keep plugging away.


Thailand


Thailand is the only country I have visited 3 times. In fact there are not many countries I have been to more than once. Interesting, beautiful, travel-friendly Thailand is worth multiple visits. 



It's also affordable. I say that last statement with a little self-loathing because isn't it a little bit ugly to travel to places where our salaries can go farther because their salaries are lower? The issue isn't simple and, as with too many things in this life, my desire, in this case for adventure and rest, dulled my pangs of social conscience. Which is not a little ugly. I do sponsor an adorable little boy, from Thailand through Compassion International. I had planned to visit him, but in the end, it didn't happen. Sponsorship is one way I try to be socially responsible with my money. I do feel I have a responsibility to not spend all of my money on only me. And I want to give and do so responsibly. Through sponsorships I can share some of my extra and build relationships with people different than myself. In this program, both the sponsor and the child writes letters back and forth and I send a small monthly monetary gift to compliment his parent's care. I really believe in this organisation and I was an volunteer 'advocate' going to events to share my Compassion sponsorship experiences with sponsorship in order to get more sponsors for other children, when I lived in Nebraska.

Just the Highlights

My first time in Northern Thailand was divided into 4 cities, Chiang Mai Chiang Rai, Pai and Sukhothai. 

Chiang Mai

First, I stayed in Chiang Mai, with the main intent to rest. Chiang Mai is famous for its old city with its markets and temples, and for elephants. The Old City used to be walled and it still has some sections of the old wall. I stayed right outside of the Old City. At this point in the trip, and in my life, I felt over. done with. don't care... about temples. The elephants were great, but I wasn't wowed by the conditions at the elephant sanctuary. So my Chiang Mai 'highlights' are the food and the Saturday market. I ate at different places, but I frequented a favorite restaurant almost everyday. I don't care for shopping and I am often bored by markets, but Chiang Mai's Saturday market was pretty nice. No one yelled out or pressured me to buy anything and they had lots of cheap, delicious food and drinks. So. Yeah. My 'highlight' is basically just food. Besides having great food, Chiang Mai was also a comfortable place to reflect on life and relax. Thailand has great hotels and Inns.












Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai's highlight was renting and riding a motor bike! I had to have heightened awareness at all times, but it was amazing. The wind is the best AC. I was also thrilled to see a sun phenomenon, and though a self-proclaimed temple grump, I did like Chiang Rai's color themed white and blue temples.





I am not that impressed by temples anymore, however it is interesting to see people's hunger for prayer and the spiritual. The 'white temple' had its own token to write a prayer on, and hang up. I got one and put my prayer on it. I've done this in various places. In China, the 'tokens' are often strips of colored fabric, but the idea is the same. 



Pai 

Pai is a small city with a great nighttime food market. I stayed in a nice hotel and I also got around on a motor bike. My highest Pai highlight was Pai canyon. You can climb the natural and unsafe canyons without any fee or supervision. I can't believe people don't die out there every day! (I think I like being a little freaked out.) This was the first time I have seen anything like this and they just give you freedom to climb wherever. you. want. Driving the motor bike to Coffee Love and chilling with its gorgeous view was on this 'Highlights' list as well. Also bouncing and bumping over dirt roads to get to Pai's long and picturesque bamboo bridge was fun. 











Shukhathai 

Shukhathai, my final summer city stop, is one of Thailand's old capital cities. This is located in central Thailand and took 7 hour on a bus to reach. Within a relatively small area, there are a ton of ancient ruins... ahem... temples. But they were, I will admit, pretty awesome. I leisurely biked around the old city and checked out many of them. 









This was the end of my amazing 1-2-3-4 adventure. One girl, 2 bags, 3 countries and 4 weeks. It was a rich and refreshing summer. 



Monday, July 9, 2018

8 Days in Laos

My itinerary in Laos included 3 locations, two nights in the capital city of Vientiane, 3 nights in Vang Vieng for natural beauty and 3 final nights in Luang Prabang. I flew in and out of the country, but took buses within Loas. I was planning to take a bus to Thailand, but when I found out that the bus would take 20 hours I booked a flight instead, even though it was nearly triple the price. The flight to Chiang Mai is only offered a couple times a week, which meant I needed to stay one more night in Luang Prabang than I originally planned. Which ended up being perfect.

Vientiane 

A quiet capital city with a lot of high quality food choices and nice hotel options. I enjoyed my time there even though there wasn't a lot to see. Besides taking a taxi from the airport to my hotel on arrival, I was able to walk everywhere. I walked to the monument, the park, cafes, and the big temple.



Pha That Luang temple is a national symbol and considered by many to be Laos most important monument. Interestingly it was originally built as a Hindu temple and later it was a Khmer temple. It was made a Buddhist temple in 1556 when the king at the time moved the capital city from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.



Patuxai Patuxay was built to celebrate Laos independence from France. The monument I'm referring to looks like another famous monument, the Arc de Triumphe. It seems an odd way to celebrate freedom from France, but it would be a constant reminder of that country, which isn't too far from the meaning of a memorial. I also understand that they used cement donated for the purpose of making a new airport runway, from America, to make the monument. It makes for a very interesting story and monument.



I also strolled around Vientiane's Chao Anouvong park to checkout a their nightly group exercise dance class (there was actually 3 of them).  Anyone is welcome to join in.


Vang Vieng

I stayed just outside the town of Vang Vieng for 3 nights. The town isn't known for not being really nice. I biked through town on my last morning there and it didn't have anything appealing to me. I went on 3 different hikes with views during my time here. I leisurely biked through the countryside to get to them. That’s what I came for. 





There were 2 recommended hikes for me to go on. After hiking the first intense mountain, I reflected that it was a great view but not the one I came to see. So, I figured the next one would have the view I came to see. When planning my Laos trip, I had seen someone's photo on Instagram and decided Vang Vieng, though being known for a party town, was a place for me. The second view had lovely rice fields, but no. It was not what I came to see. I had to do some research on my own since my accommodations had never heard of the place I was seeking. I found it! And it was literally, I think, maybe, the coolest thing I've ever seen. By the time I ascended the mountain, after the bike chain incident*, the sun wasn’t at the best place for pictures, but I am so glad I got to see it. It would have been great to wait, see it longer and get better photo lighting but, I had to head down the mountain. Because, I would not wish. upon. anyone. to have to climb down (or up) that mountain in the dark. If you go to Vang Vieng you must make sure you see the Namxay view, just be careful because it is a short 30 minute, but steep and treacherous climb. Or at least it was for me. It had rained that day which added to the danger.






*The chain fell off my bike about 6 km from where I rented it. I had to walk it back. And exchange it. And start over. The rental was 10,000 kips!, so it really shouldn't have happened. I'm kidding. 10,000 KIP is 1.19 USD. It only cost 1.19, for the whole day. I didn't mind the walk and I still got on the bike to go down the hills. Haha.



There was a decent enough restaurant at the place I stayed, so I ate there for every meal. Their Laos coffee and baguettes were amazing. The place was in a great spot and had beautiful trees, greenery and flowers, but it was a little rustic. I still had a private room with AC and a balcony though. I paid 54 dollars for 3 nights. I heard them checking in other guests who were walk-ins, so I now know it would have been cheaper to do it that way. They only paid 15 dollars a night. The last place, in Vientiane, I stayed at cost nearly twice as much but the fee included free tea/coffee at any time, a nice breakfast and it was much nicer. 





I think of the Mark Twain quote, "Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions." I'm getting better and better at learning how to pick a place to stay at. I've had to stay at a few places I didn't really like, this year, so I'm learning how to get more out of the reviews people leave about their stays at places. I prefer paying a few dollars more (within reason) and being able to sleep more peacefully, but sometimes it's just hard to tell. I'm getting experience with just that on this month-long-solo trip, as I'm currently in my 9th 'stay'.

Luang Prabang

I knew the least about Luang Prabang so it was a big, happy surprise. It has colonial architecture with temples and orange clad monks walking around. There is a tourist infrastructure which makes being a tourist convenient, and yet there wasn't too many tourists.






I climbed up Mount Poushi which is really just a hill located in the middle of the town. It has great views of the surrounding areas including the Mekong Delta, which I forgot was so brown. People gather at it's summit to watch the sunset each night. 




I went to an really interesting and heartbreaking museum, called the UXO Museum, about the unexploded bombs left from the Vietnam war. 




I also got to check out Kuang Si waterfall. It's deservedly one of Luang Prabang's most visited tourist destinations. For that reason, the government should consider improving the maintenance of the trails and ensuring correct signage. It's truly a beautiful natural wonder.




I also got up early one morning to observe the daily Alms Giving Ceremony, when the locals offer rice to the monks. It's a tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years. It's at sunrise each morning.



On a side note, I'm really having fun keeping track of how much money I'm spending. It's definitely making me more aware of my spending and encouraging me to spend less. Maybe I should start doing this in my normal life.


Laos was one of those places that seemed so exotic and adventurous because I, and it seemed the world, knew so little about it. But as I find with every place I have such thoughts about, it's another location with distinct beauty and people not so different than me.