Category Archives: Travelling

My travelling journals

3 day Motorbiking trip around Bolaven Plateau, Laos


In Dec 2016, I visited Laos as part of my four and half month trip to south east Asia. I might not have visited too many places, but I think its time, I start sharing my experiences to people who might want to visit these countries. So here goes 3 days of documenting. ūüôā

The¬†Bolaven Plateau¬†is an elevated region in southern¬†Laos. The plateau’s elevation ranges approximately from 1,000 to 1,350 metres (3,280 to 4,430¬†ft) above¬†sea level. Most of the tourists who travel around this region, tend to rent a motorbike and ride around these hills. And I did the same with my friend M.

We rented an automatic scooter from our guest house(GH) for 100,000 Kip/day. We were staying in Champasak town, so we started out trip from there and ended it back there.

I have shared the riding route I have taken over 3 days with Google maps.

1st Day:

We rode from Champasak to Pakse and then towards Paksong. 12 Km before Paksong, we stopped to check out a water fall called Tad Fane. We couldn’t see any path to go down to the bottom of the waterfall. After sticking around for few minutes, we continued to the next one.

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Tad Fane Waterfall

On the way we could see many coffee plantations though we didn’t stop. Believe it or not, both of us don’t like coffee.

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On and on it goes…

The next stop was at a water fall called Tayicseua. The road in this region is pretty new and curvy. It was lot of fun riding through the ups and downs of the road.

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Tayicseua waterfall

 

By evening we reached the Houa Khon waterfalls. We decided to stay here for the night. Before it got dark, we managed to go see the waterfall and even take a dip in the water. So refreshing after the all day ride!

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Houa Khon waterfalls in the background

The GH we stayed, was on the opposite side of the, more touristy part of the river. There weren’t many other guests, rooms were simple, but cheap(50000/60000 Kip). The food was good, the nights were silent except for the various insect sounds from the forest. To reach this GH, take the road just before(going from Attapeu to Sekong direction) the bridge at Xe Noy. The road was a bit tricky as on Dec 2016, but nothing unmanageable.

2nd Day:

Next day morning we rode to Tad Lo waterfall, a very popular waterfall in this region. We passed through Sekong and Thateng towns on our way. The views weren’t so bad. By this time you have come down to the plains and you could see the mountains on your left side as you ride.

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Lao children going back home after school. The Lao official dress for women reminds me of Dhothi in south India.

On the way, we stopped to take a look at the Captain Hook Home-stay. Yes, the name got our attention and we had to see what was there! The owner has his own coffee plantations and he conducts daily coffee tours there. We didn’t take the tour, but decided to order the lunch there. Though it took some time, the delicious pumpkin soup with sticky rice was the best food we had on the trip.

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The children having fun, breaking the coffee beans @captain hook homestay.

By afternoon we reached Tad Lo. Expect a lot of tourists here depending on the season. The waterfall is a bit far from the village, so we went to see the waterfall first. Fortunately, not too many people go close the falls, so we could lie down on the flat rocks and rest a bit, before we start the hunt for accommodation for the night.

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Tad Lo waterfalls. We could feel the force of this roaring waterfall even from a distance.

Around the main bridge we found a place to stay for 40,000 Kip. Really cheap!

3rd Day:

Today was the last day of our trip. There was no major attractions on the way. And we decided to skip all the miniature waterfalls. We took the route via Laongam, back to Pakse and then to Champasak.

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A view from the road. Create your own roof if there isn’t one already!

Having said all this, if you are planning to do a bike trip in Laos and don’t have too much time, I would suggest you do the Thakhek loop. Its more popular among travelers. I haven’t done it myself, but it seems more fun than Bolaven.

 

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Tips on getting a Visa-On-Arrival(VOA) for Thailand


Thailand is one of the most visited tourist destination in south east Asia. Here I want to share my experience on getting a visa for Thailand.

Generally Indian citizens need a visa to enter Thailand. You can get it in two ways:

  1. Get a visa before leaving India. I haven’t done this. You can visit VFS website to know about this more.
  2. Apply for a Visa-On-Arrival(VOA) when you enter Thailand.

I entered Thailand from Laos(via Nakhon Phanom border point) two times – on Dec 2016 and then again on Feb 2017. Both times I applied for a 15 days(this is the maximum you can get) VOA, and I got it without a problem.

Note that, as of September 2016, the Thailand VOA fee for Indians is 2000 Bhat. Make sure you check the Thai embassy website before planning your trip. Thailand is notorious for their frequent changing in immigration rules.

For getting a VOA you need the following documents:

  1. Photocopy of your passport(sometimes they don’t ask for this).
  2. One passport size photo.
  3. A confirmed flight ticket showing that you leave the country within 15 days of your arrival. Yes, you have to show that you leave by air. This is a must. Even if you plan on to visit another neighboring country by road, you still have to show the flight ticket.
  4. Hotel booking reservations showing that your accommodation in Thailand for the entire duration has been taken care off. Out of the two times I entered Thailand, one time they didn’t ask me about this at all, and another time, I had to simply tell the name of a hotel in Thailand I would be staying. In any case, I suggest you do a dummy booking using www.booking.com¬†without paying any advance and carry a printout with you.

Now documents No 1,2 and 4 are pretty straight forward. But what can you do about the flight ticket, if¬†you don’t want to fly out of Thailand? What I personally did was, to book a flight ticket which had the option to cancel the ticket in 24 hours with full refund.

Orbitz is such a cool website which allows confirmed flight ticket booking with a 24 hour cancellation policy. Here is a sample list of flights from Bangkok to Bangalore on 28th April 2017. Note that, not all the flights can be cancelled. So book any flight with a Free cancel within 24 hours tag, on the day you want to enter Thailand and once you cross the border and get your VOA, just cancel it the same day.

 

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The immigration department doesn’t check (at least not in my case) if you have cancelled your tickets or not.¬†By the end of my 15 day visa, I went¬†back to Laos by road. The Thai immigration didn’t ask me, why I haven’t flown out of the country as I had planned. So all went well. And I would do the same thing again if I have to.

 

Cycling along Mekong river and how it turned into a mental battle!


Its still surprising for me, how depending on my state of mind, I see the same things so differently. If I am tired and uncomfortable, I can get angry at simplest things. But if I am experiencing pleasant things, the same things bring a smile to my face. One of the cycling trip I did in Kratie(in Cambodia), reminded me,this side of the truth quite intensely.

Kratie city is a small town in the north-east Cambodia, on the bank of Mekong river. One of the activities you can do here is to cycle along the roads on the east and west bank of Mekong river. To cross to the other side of Mekong river, you need to take a boat ferry. Depending on which ferry you take you can do a round trip of 44 Km and more.

Because of my bad assumption making skills and over confidence, I decided to do 80 Km round trip with this cycle.

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It all went okay in the beginning. I cycled hard in the hot sun, took less breaks than I wanted, had a fast lunch. Some snaps, I still managed to take on the way.

The flooded lands in Mekong river

The flooded lands in Mekong river

100 Pillar pagoda in Sambour

100 Pillar pagoda in Sambour

The juicy fruit saving me from dehydration

The juicy fruit saving me from dehydration

forgetting to smile in the hot sun

forgetting to smile in the hot sun

Smiles for the selfie

Smiles for the selfie

I crossed the river from Sambour to the other shore called, Yeav. By 2:00 pm I was on the other side. Then the first surprise hit me. There was no tar road on the west bank of the river. There were a lot of small villages and everyone was so surprised to see me. Adults with open mouths and Children running around saying Hello.. Hello..  The mud road, was in very good condition and I was going really fast, for a cycle. I was very happy and told myself, this is nice. After the hard and boring ride on the east bank this is what I wanted. The kids saying Hello made me happy, and I also shouted back Hello.

The hanging bridge. So cool to cycle on this one!

The hanging bridge. So cool to cycle on this one!

But slowly things began to change. I was getting a bit tired, sweating a lot. After 15-20 Km of riding the road started to change. There was lot of water on the road, more inhabitants in the area(which made the road even worse). Sometimes it looked like a roller coaster. Sometimes I felt I was cycling slower than how I would walk. The bumpy road made my ass hurt. The fun part of the ride was dying out fast, and the demons inside me were waking up complaining.

The road turned into this. This image was copied from https://goo.gl/Trwv2l

The road turned into this. This image was copied from https://goo.gl/Trwv2l

And the clock was ticking. I need to go 25 Km or more on this road, and get another ferry to the other side of the river, where my guesthouse is. And the last ferry was around 5.30 pm(It used to get dark around 5.50 pm those days). Rather than enjoying the ride, questions started to fill my mind. How long would this shitty road last? Where would I sleep if I miss the ferry? How much extra I would have to pay to the boat man if I had to cross by myself? Would someone give me a place here to sleep for a night? How much should I pay in that case? Cant these kids give me a break and stop saying Hello? I cant concentrate enough on the road with all these people Hello-ing at me.

I had to take deep breaths so many times to let go of the ill feelings in my mind. But then they came back again. It was a cycle of letting go and coming back. I thought of taking a ferry much before the intended destination to end this suffering. But a part of me was saying, this is an opportunity. How many times would you feel so frustrated, so hopeless, so pushed to the end.

So I decided to push myself and finish the trip as planned. All I had to do was being mindful of my state of mind. This was hard though. I was so angry at some points that I was hitting the bicycle handle and screaming. But then there are houses everywhere, so I couldn’t scream too loud. Even at the moment, I found this situation a bit funny. The village kids who made me smile before, was getting into my nerves now!

In the end, I made it to the port around 5.40 pm. The last ferry hasn’t left yet. What a relief!!! The ferry came after 10 minutes, I crossed the river with my cycle and 2 dozen other people, rode to the guest house with a final burst of power left in my body.

What did I learn from all this? I am not sure. I cannot make conclusions and say, I should have done this or done that. Any choice could go wrong or right. What else can I do, than being mindful and centered when it goes wrong?