January 09, 2018

Pakse Loop: Day 1

​We had so much fun on the Thakhaek loop that we decided to do the other popular Lao motorbike trip as well: The Pakse Loop.

Like everyone else on the Lonely Planet circuit, we dutifully showed up at Miss Noy's to try and rent a motorbike.

I have to say, this was the smoothest bike rental experience we had in SE Asia. The entire operation runs like a well-oiled machine. You show up at some point during the day to make sure you can get a motorbike for the next day. If you manage to snag one, then you show up again in the evening for a detailed info session.

Yves, who conducted our pre-trip info session, was amazing. He was spot on with his advice in terms of which waterfalls were the nicest, which farms/side-trips were worth doing. We stopped at a few waterfalls that he said were just so-so and he was totally right.

The next morning, you return to the shop, put your bags in storage at the back, hop onto a freshly washed motorbike and off you go! Easy Peasy!
Tad Lo: One of the many waterfalls on the Pakse LoopTad Lo: One of the many waterfalls on the Pakse Loop

May 27, 2017

Thakhaek Loop

Our next stop after Vientiane was a small town called Thakhaek, whose claim to fame is its proximity to the Kong Lo Caves.

We had originally just planned to spend two nights there to see the caves and move on. But somewhere along the way (and I can no longer remember how) we learned that instead of just going directly to the caves and back, there was a very popular alternative: a 4 day motorcycle loop that would include the caves as well as other waterfalls.
Phosy Thalang GuesthousePhosy Thalang Guesthouse

This sounded awesome to us, so the next day, we headed to a nearby motorcycle rental shop: Mad Monkey Motorbikes. 

It's run by a German man and his Lao wife and their trip advisor reviews are all over the map. But we didn’t know this at the time, as we rented without googling first. Our experience was good, but I can understand why people may not have been happy. Here are a few things that will help you decide if it's worth going with Mad Monkey...

January 08, 2017

Toronto's real sister city

Wow, I cannot believe that it is already January 2017! Nick and I are back in San Francisco again, after the most amazing year traveling the world. It really was a dream come true for us and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do something like that.

As we settle back into the comforting, well-loved routines of our lives in SF, I am really going to buckle down and finish writing about our experiences. There are so many things that I wanted to share with family and friends, but just didn't have time to cover properly. Better late than never...right? So without further ado, we flash back to December 2015!

While we were in Chiang Mai, we learned that Nick's friend from Australia would be in Laos on business soon. Since the opportunity to see him was simply too good to pass up, we made our way to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to meet him. While Mark was occupied with work during the day, Nick and I wandered around being complete tourists.
SCLEG ParkSCLEG Park: Safe, Clean, Light something something, Green

Although four days isn’t a whole lot of time, it was enough to give us a feel for the place. And my overall impression of Vientiane was...well...meh.

It was far too early in our travels for travel fatigue, and there was no shortage of things to see or do, yet I was totally underwhelmed by the city and I didn't know why. It wasn't until months later that it finally hit me: Vientiane is Toronto.

The parallels are uncanny, actually...

August 10, 2016

Am I part of the problem?

Luang Prabang is one of the most popular destinations in Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage site for a very good reason. Culturally and historically, there is so much worth preserving: beautiful temples and statues, a royal palace, colonial architecture and villages that still maintain and practice age old traditions.

We had a really great time bicycling around the area. We found cute riverside cafes, crossed the Mekong on bamboo bridges, shopped at the colourful and lively night market, enjoyed a sunset cruise, climbed to the temple on top of Mount Phou Si and more.
Kuang Si WaterfallsTat Kuang Si
bamboo bridges in Luang PrabangBamboo Bridges in Luang Prabang

One of the highlights was the day we rented a scooter and went to Kuang Si, a gorgeous waterfall an hour outside the city. In fact, I think we hit up almost every major “to do” in Luang Prabang in our four days there…save the most famous: The sunrise alms giving ceremony.

This is one of the top “attractions” in the city. Young monks (with their bright orange robes) pass through the streets collecting alms — donations of sticky rice — from local residents. If I understand the tradition correctly, the alms-givers believe it will earn them favour in their next life, while the monks themselves rely on the donations to feed themselves in this life (at least historically. I’m not sure if this is still the case in modern times).

Many travelers have described a quiet and solemn tradition that they felt privileged to witness. However, I felt incredibly uncomfortable about going to see this ritual and opted out.

June 23, 2016

Thailand's Festival of Lights

Chiang Mai becomes a total madhouse around the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals. We didn't realize that this wasn't normal for the city until a week later, when everyone got out of dodge!
Morning after the Loi Krathong festivalThe morning after, Loi Krathong style!

Although heat (35 and humid!) and crowds are usually not our thing, we really enjoyed the entire festival experience. There was just an energy all around that you couldn’t help but be swept up in! And it wasn’t just the tourists. Everyone was involved. It felt like all of Chiang Mai was out on the streets, having a good time.

A very happy outcome when you consider that just the day before, it felt like our entire visit would be a bust!

June 13, 2016

Chiang Mai

I wanted to go to Chiang Mai in Thailand for one reason and one reason only: The Yi Peng Festival. Like many, I was awed by the images of thousands of lanterns being released into the sky at the same time and I wanted to witness this beautiful tradition for myself. And since this was to be our first stop after our big trek in Nepal, we decided to stay put for 10 days to give our bodies time to rest and recover.
Lanterns fill the sky like stars during the Yi Peng festival in Chiang MaiLanterns fill the sky like stars during the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai

Were it not for the festival and the post-trek timing, we may not have spent so much time here, or even come to Chiang Mai at all! If so, we would have missed out on a truly charming and wonderful city.

There's a chill and relaxed vibe to Chiang Mai that we really fell in love with. I can see why expats and retirees choose to settle here: people are very kind and friendly; it's tourist friendly, but totally hassle-free (the "no tuk-tuk, no massage" litany didn't begin until we got to Cambodia and Southern Thailand); the food is amazing and incredibly varied; the value for your money is almost too good to be true; and there are beautiful temples and leafy side streets around every corner.

Nick and I had a great time on so many levels. But here are our favourite non-festival experiences in Chiang Mai...

June 02, 2016

Mera Peak Packing: The Misses

To follow up on my last post about the things that proved indispensable on the trek, here are the things that I regret bringing and a few things that I wished I had.
  1. Quick Dry Towel
    All towels are equal, but some are more equal than others. Sigh.

    Nick brought his REI camp towel on the trek...but I did not. I packed a super thin cotton towel from India since this is what I wanted for the rest of our round the world trip.

    I love these Indian towels because they dry in 10 mins in the sun, are really absorbent for their size, take up less room than Nick's travel towel and are big enough to wrap all the way around me. I have used my favourite towel on countless camping trips and international trips over the years and it has served me very well.

    This trek is the first time I found myself wishing I had a camp towel.