Thailand Cambodia Laos
Thailand Cambodia Laos
The first part of our trip was a getaway to Phuket to celebrate Markâ€™s 50th birthday. We flew with Mark, Bron and John staying at the Patong Merlin. Many of their friends, including Alex, Allira and Colleen also made the trip with most staying at the same resort. Following Phuket, we flew to Bangkok with Mark, Bron and John for a short stay before they flew home. We then went to Kanchanaburi on our own for a few days before returning to Bangkok for our group tour through Cambodia and Laos Our group consisted of seven and our leader Todd from G Adventures for a 15 day tour through Cambodia and Laos starting and returning to Bangkok.
We flew Air Asia with Mark, Bron and John to Phuket with a five hour stop over in Kuala Lumpur. A minicab across the island to the Patong Merlin Resort in Patong for our 10 night stay. This part of our trip was a getaway to celebrate Markâ€™s 50th birthday with some of Mark and Bronâ€™s family and their children. There was some 20 in the group and most staying at the same resort. It has been 14 years since our last visit to Phuket and like many other popular tourist destinations it has changed for the worst with uncontrolled high density building, overcrowding, congestion and a lot of the tackiness that comes with tourist spots. The Patong Merlin Resort, almost completely occupied by Australians, a beautiful place to stay with most rooms having good views of the lovely grounds.
Markâ€™s 50th at Suay Restaurant Mark did a lot of research to find a special restaurant for this special evening â€“ his 50th birthday dinner which he had arranged well in advance. We all travelled together in mini vans to Phuket Town to Suay Restaurant. This turned out to be a successful night with a superb range of dishes and a delightful setting and was the best meal we had in Phuket.
Phang Nga Bay
Phuket Town Night Market Our group went to Phuket Town in two squeezy tuk tuks, an uncomfortable but fun ride. We sat down for a meal not long after arriving, plastic chairs, a shoddy corrugated iron roof with patches taped over. A very cheap meal and one of the tastiest meals in Phuket. Thunder and lightning followed by a massive torrential downpour, water gushing everywhere off the flimsy awnings and it didnâ€™t take long for the walkways to be ankle high in water.
Patong â€“ early morning walk
Patong Merlin Hotel
An early flight to Bangkok arriving around 8.30am then a fast taxi to Wendy Guesthouse. The taxi driver was booked for speeding and came very very close to hitting a car in front of us. Not long after checking in we met up with Mark, Bron and John and caught the skytrain to Chatuchak weekend market which was extremely hot and crowded. Skytrain back to our guesthouse but not for long as Connie had her final dental appointment which took about 2 hours then went back and a quick freshen up before going out to dinner with the gang. A rushed and very busy first day in Bangkok.
Dinner by the river
We were picked up early morning for our day trip to Ayutthaya. The coach drive north out of Bangkok was notÂ very scenic. Our first stop was at Bang Pa Inn Summer Palace followed by Wat Maha That, Wat Na Phra Mane and Wat Lokaysutharam. After our visit to Ayutthaya back on the coach where we travelled the river where we boarded the River Sun Cruise boat for a sumptuous buffet lunch and then a cruise back to Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River.
Caught a min van from Victory Monument for a two and a half hour drive to Kanchanaburi, yet again the countryside scenery was not at all interesting. We stayed at Ploy Guesthouse and stayed in their only cottage by the river for our first two nights. Went for a walk along the street lined with restaurants and guesthouses, it was very quiet and hardly anyone around. We ventured down a few side lanes toward the river and stopped for some lunch on the way back. Spent the late afternoon in the pool enjoying the beautiful views across the river to the mountains. Had dinner at Mangosteen and then found out it had a very high rating on Tripadvisor and deservedly so, the food and staff were wonderful.
Left 7.30am on a very comfortable Lexus Mini Bus for a three and a half hour drive to Poipet on the border with Cambodia. After leaving our bus we had to walk through a food market which a variety of insects on sale. The process of getting our visas took about an hour, the visa charge is US$20 but they expect US$25! Our next bus larger but not as comfortable but we had plenty of room to spread out having nearly two seats per person. Arrived in Siam Reap around 3pm. We went into the centre on tuk tuks and walked around the main streets, the market and by the river and had dinner at the outdoor restaurant followed by a visit to theÂ night market and a walk down Pub Street.
Tonle Sap Lake Floating Village
We left 11am on our 6 hour drive by private bus to Phnom Penh. It was fast and bumpy on the open road and the scenery was wonderful. There were so many fascinating sights along the way. I wished I could have captured them all on camera but the high speed and bumps made it almost impossible. We passed villages continually, most with activity, people and animals. Motorcyclist carrying double bed mattresses, people sitting on the top of truck drivers’ cabins – one with three women, smiling and on the driver’s cabin just whisked passed us. Trucks laden with just about every conceivable item. We made a stop for lunch along the way and then another with they sell fried, crispy tarantulas. The scenery did not let up for the entire trip, fields of crops, palm trees with reflections in the many pools of water. Men standing vertically on horse drawn carts. Family of four on a motorbike. A truly amazing drive. After a sunny day we arrived in Phnom Penh to a thunderstorm and heavy rain but it passed and luckily as we had cyclos waiting for us at our hotel for an evening tour of the city followed by dinner at a restaurant by the Mekong. Another long busy day.
On the road to Phnom Penh
On the road to Kratie
Departed 8 am by mini van for our 3 hour drive to the Laos border. We stopped at a very impressive Khonephapheng Waterfall. We continued on about 30 minutes in the mini van to our ferry crossing to Don Khong, the larger of the island group known as the Four Thousand Islands situated in this part of the Mekong River. We stayed at Ponâ€™s Guesthouse, a beautiful setting with the hotel restaurants on stilts over the river. Our room also faced the river with a large shared balcony area â€“ a truly idyllic location. We went on a 2 hour bicycle ride around a section of the southern end of the island in the cool of the day at 6am sharing the roads with lots of animals. After lunch drove to Wat Phu, the most important and impressive archaeological site in Laos and has a lower and upper level connected by a very steep and irregular 77 steps. With just a day pack of toiletries and change of clothes we crossed to the Don Deng (Deng Island) 8km x 4km with 3 villages for our overnight at a homestay.
Don Khong bike ride
We were not bothered at all by mosquitoes for our overnight homestay on Don Deng Island. We slept to a symphony of insects outside and geckos inside. A storm during the night brought fierce winds and briefly cooled things down. Bells sounded at 4 am and again at about 5 am and went for a walk to observe the people were starting their day. At 6.30 our group met up and we lined the street with offerings for the monks who approached. On bended knees we gave sticky rice, savouries and fruit as the monks then gave us their blessings. We then walked across the broad sandy beach to the river where cattle were either in the river or laying by the waterâ€™s edge. Then walked further into the village before returning for breakfast that had been prepared for us by the families. As with dinner we sat on mats on the floor, rice porridge, egg with pancake, bread rolls with jam, bananas, tea and coffee. At the nearby school where we spent over an hour and most of this inside with the students and no teachers. Our guide had them sing to us and recite the alphabet. We spent the rest of the morning walking around the village, to the beach and just enjoyed the familiesâ€™ company under their homes. Parents wildly swinging babies in their bamboo cradles, husband and wife speedily yet delicately cutting thin strips of bamboo with sharp knives, playing peekaboos with girls in hammock, shared some fresh sliced mango dipped in chilli garlic mix, twice knocking my head into the low beams under the house.
We flew Laos Airlines to Luang Prabang, staying at Villa Tavandang. Walked through the night market in town and had dinner at a restaurant by the Mekong. Up at 5am and monks already out at the monastery at the next corner. John and I walked into the town centre and there were groups of 15 to 20 monks in all directions walking in line collecting alms. Looked like centipedes following each other and turning corners and crossing the streets. Our group was picked up at 8.30 in an open people carrier stopping at the ethnology museum, followed by a stop at a Hmong village then our drive up into the mountains. It became extremely windy and then the rain started and became very heavy, the driver rolled down the covers to protect us. It was a slow winding drive in pelting rain to the Kuang Si Waterfall. We started walking up the track in steady rain which eventually stopped as we passed a number of levels of these absolutely beautiful cascading waterfalls. Later in the day I cycled by the Nam Khan River and around the peninsula where it meets the Mekong River and then along that road as well as a few of the narrow side alleyways.
Kuang Si Waterfall
Mahout experience at the Elephant Village
We arrived in Vang Vieng mid afternoon, hot and sunny, our hotel on the bank of the Nam Song River in a surreal mountain setting behind the river and not long after we arrived, Todd, John and I hired bikes and rode over the bridge to the blue lagoon, the others all came by tuk tuk. It was far too hot to cycle but we did it anyway taking us some 45 minutes. The water in the lagoon was cold and very refreshing. Connie grazed her knee on rocks in the water. There were butterflies in large numbers everywhere. We then went to the nearby cave, a long steep climb â€“ the cave quite impressive with a lying budda. A very enjoyable leisurely ride back stopping many times for photos in this stunning location â€“ lots of cows, people washing their clothes in the stream and back at the river children plunging off the bridge into the river. At one point cows were all over the road, I stopped to take photos then the cows all proceeding to enter a guesthouse, then several small dogs came running out barking and the cows made a big retreat. Back at our guesthouse we watched the sunset behind this amazing scenery.
Went touring by tuk tuk despite the rain. Our first stop at Victory Monument, a smaller version of the Arc de Triumphe, seven levels with more shops of most levels, it was still raining. Next stop at Pha That Luang, we appeared to be the only tourists there, probably as it was still raining. This was a very impressive site, large stupa surrounded by elaborate buildings and a large temple, with ceilings colourfully painted with a variety of scenes. The temple was filled with people sitting and others preparing food. There were many Buddha statues including a large lying Buddha. It had stopped raining and as we left a number of other tourists started to arrive. We stopped at a shopping centre then had an excellent buy very spicy lunch at Black Canyon Coffee including some excellent coffee. Mid afternoon bus to the border then another bus to the train station and left at 6.20pm. We had hot meals on board. Arrived in Bangkok 9am, said our goodbyes to the group and went to Wendy House for the day before our flight home that night.