So far in our trip, we’ve done something new in every city. New for me, I mean, because everything is new to Tim. In Bangkok it was ice skating and visiting an abandoned mall. In Chiang Mai it was motorbiking through the mountains. And in Luang Prabang, our new activity was discovering La Pistoche.

La Pistoche

When we were wandering around the city searching for accommodation, I noticed a bunch of little signs stuck to different street poles and light posts. “Swimming pool & bar” they say, with a little arrow pointing in the right direction. I didn’t take too much notice because the biggest thing on my mind was making sure we didn’t pay $100 a night for a hotel or end up sleeping on the streets. But a few days later in the heat, I remembered the signs.

After a quick Google for directions, we set off for La Pistoche, one of the most popular backpacker pools in Luang Prabang. If you can find one of the signs – very prominent around backpacking areas and the night markets – then you just need to follow them faithfully and they will lead you very easily to the pool. If you can’t find a sign, jump on the net and grab directions. The address is Ban Phong Pheng Village, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos.

Tim 

Entry is 20,000 Kip, plus a 50,000 deposit. There’s bicycle and motorbike parking, or tuk tuks waiting outside if you choose to head back that way. Personally, I’d recommend walking or taking a tuk tuk if you plan to drink at the very cool swim-up bar. I rode my bike back to my hostel a little tipsy and it wasn’t a fun (or safe) experience.

Tags

The 50,000 deposit leaves you with a little tag with a number. DO NOT lose this tag, or you lose the 50,000. This arrangement may sound a bit strange, but the deposit is more like a bar tab. Tell the bartender/waiter your number when ordering food and drinks, and they take it off the 50,000. If you don’t spend it all, then you get the rest back. If you spend more, you simply pay the difference when you’re leaving. A great idea for a bar in a swimming pool, and it means not having to worry about money until you’re ready to go home.

Cocktails

The water was beautifully refreshing, and we know that because we got there so late that there was nowhere to sit. I’ve read that all the lounges go pretty early in the day, so if you want a day of lounging and sunbathing, it’s best to try and beat everyone else. If you’re going to spend most of your time in the pool – there are stools at the swim-up bar – then it’s not really an issue.

Swim Up Bar

The bar seemed pretty reasonably priced. During “happy hours” which are from 12 to 5 you can buy two for the price of one cocktails, and they make them pretty strong. Big Lao beers are 15,000 Kip and the food all seemed pretty reasonably priced too.

In another pool, there’s a volleyball net (nobody was playing) and a slide. Being told of a slide, Tim went to try it out and used our awesome underwater camera to document the results. There’s also a little “spa” connected to the big pool with the bar, but don’t expect warmth or bubbles. It’s more like a dipping pool for those who don’t want to get wet.

Pool

The music is good (and loud), the food is fresh, the drinks are cold, the water refreshing and the company interesting, and potentially amusing. I kept trying to go back on our last day, only to remember my bikini was being washed. Boo. I would recommend this to anyone staying in Luang Prabang for a while who just want to chill out in a traveller’s environment. Far from being “touristy”, La Pistoche has a relaxed vibe that makes you want to stay until the sun goes down. A must on a hot day in the little town of LP.

I finally rode a motorbike by myself!

Okay, it was an automatic scooter, but anything is an achievement for me, especially alone and in a foreign country. I decided that if we wanted to go ahead with our plan of motorbiking through Vietnam (a plan now very twisted and different to how we imagined) then I needed some practice first, so I could avoid killing myself on the first day.

So we went off to find someone to rent us some bikes, and 500 Baht and a held passport later, we had two little scooters with a helmet each. The guy had to explain to me how to actually start the scooter and rev the engine, and at this point he looked worried and asked if I actually knew how to ride at all. I nodded and shakily scooted twenty metres down the road. I don’t know who was more scared at this point – me or him.

We planned on riding the Samoeng Loop. Golden Triangle Rider has some really good info on it, and even a map you can buy and have mailed if you a, plan ahead and have time, and b, have a post box. The one for the Samoeng Loop is out of print and they have a new edition coming soon, but we also managed fine without a proper map. We ended up with two random maps, one from the motorbike rental guy of Chiang Mai, and one from a woman selling strawberries of half the loop.

The Samoeng Loop from GT Rider’s website.

The basic gist of the Samoeng Loop is Chiang Mai > Samoeng > around the Mae Sa Valley > Chiang Mai. Beginners are recommended to do this in reverse, so we took that advice and set off along the highway for the town of Mae Sa. It was pretty basic once we were out of Chiang Mai, you just follow all the signs and try not to get run over. Before you leave Mae Sa you should stop for fuel if you don’t have a full tank, because when you’re halfway up a hill in the middle of the rainforest, having low fuel makes you a bit panicky.

After you turn off for Samoeng, the hills start and it all gets really pretty. Dotted through the rainforest are a bunch of different tourist activities, like the tiger temple, elephant camps, zip lines, etc etc. There are also about a zillion people selling strawberries by the bag. We didn’t buy any but apparently they’re really tasty.

Dark, green, and wet - the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

Dark, green, and wet – the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

We first stopped at the Mae Sa Waterfall, which is pretty and apparently has TEN levels. We only made it to level four, where it was still green and very peaceful. Admission is 100 Baht each, and 20 Baht for motorbikes.

After we stopped for lunch (grilled chicken, yum!) we headed off to the Pata Caves. The turn off is ridiculously confusing – the sign points further up the hill, but it’s down the side road that heads downhill. So we detoured (u-turns on bikes are a big thing for me) and got on the right track. To get there we drove along a really steep road covered in red dust, and went further up the mountain. Also at the Pata Caves was the Buddha Handprint, but when we went to look at it, we couldn’t really figure out what it was meant to be.. It looked nothing like a hand! Sorry worshippers, we just didn’t get it.

Seriously, what IS this thing?

Seriously, what IS this thing?

So we trekked up the hill to go to the Pata Caves. It’s an uphill trek, and when the path forked, we went right. Obviously the wrong way because after another ten minutes of trekking we still couldn’t see a cave! Tim looked like he was going to die, so we decided to pike it and go back downhill, when Tim fell on his butt. His fake cried echoed through the hills and probably traumatised the wildlife.

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

On the way back to the main road, Tim’s bike turned off completely on the downhill slope, which was fun! Not. Once back on the highway, we kept riding further up and around the mountain. It gets pretty cold the higher you go, and sun disappears altogether, so I would wear long pants and bring a windcheater/windbreaker/North Face jacket so you don’t freeze. The cold is worth it though, because eventually you reach Samoeng, and get an amazing view of the landscape from the lookout. It was a bit foggy when we were there, but I can just imagine how amazing it is when it’s clear.

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

Then we headed downhill, and got confused at the turnoff. Left goes to Chiang Mai, right goes to Samoeng. Because we were confused and didn’t realise that going to Samoeng means going out of your way and backtracking to get home again, we followed the directions of a fellow motorbiker and began the ride back to Chiang Mai. We soon realised why they tell beginners to do the route backwards – going home was a lot of very steep and very sharp uphill turns, when I thought I would topple over quite a few times. Once we were past near-death, we were lucky enough to have some elephants pass us by on the other side of the road! It was a really awesome moment, and it made us glad we hadn’t paid to go and see elephants when we could see them for free.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

We finally got on the highway back to Chiang Mai, and after some more confusion and an unneeded u-turn, we found ourselves back at the city. Navigating around the Old Town is a bit of nightmare – so many one way streets! But the ride itself was pleasant, beautiful and really easy for some totally inexperienced riders. All in all, it was an awesome day out and only cost us about $35 in total! Well worth it if you’re brave enough to give it a try. And if you’re not and you have a more experienced friend, go out on the back of their bike instead. I guarantee you’ll still have an amazing time.

Bikes

There were plenty of things up in the mountains to do that we passed by, there’s the Royal Botanic Gardens and I even saw a sign for Monkey School (??) so by no means did we do everything. I’m a bit bummed we missed heading to Samoeng, but there’s always next time!

Easy Rider

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It seems that many things are on the move in Laos lately! My Lonely Planet has once again left me unprepared for what happens at the end of my journey, so when Tim and I got off the boat, climbed up a mountain of dirt and found ourselves at an unknown road, we were stumped for a bit. There were (of course) tuk tuks everywhere, all of them telling us that it was 10 kilometres to town and we NEEDED to pay them all 20,000 Kip each and wait for our tuk tuk to be full so that we could leave. The lovely Tim, however, said “It’s only ten kms. We can walk.”Безопасные SEO эксперименты

It isn’t until we’ve been walking for five minutes and turning back and getting a tuk tuk would leave us scorned, that he decides to tell me 10 kms is the equivalent of his walk to work, to home, and back to work again. GREAT. So we plodded along in the dirt on the way to town, and after a while we passed a marker that said Luang Prabang was only 4 kilometres away. At this point we concluded that either the tuk tuk drivers were lying to us about the distance, or we walked way faster than we ever thought possible.

After about 45 minutes, fifteen tuk tuks crammed full of backpackers passed us, and we assumed it was the last of the people from the boat. We kept plodding along but when a smaller tuk tuk stopped and told us he would take us for 20,000 Kip for both of us, we basically fell into the back and let him take us instead. We were exhausted! And still a fair way out of town, because we came from the back, so I no doubt would’ve gotten us lost if we’d kept walking anyway.

So while I don’t think it actually is 10 kilometres, I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk the whole way into town unless you’ve got hardly any baggage or are really into walking. What I would recommend if trying to save even a little bit of cash is walking for twenty minutes, then getting into a smaller tuk tuk when they inevitably pull over to offer you a ride, and tell them you’ll pay 10,000 Kip each to the night market. They’ll probably offer it to you anyway.

Also, MAKE SURE YOU BOOK AHEAD if you’re going to be in Luang Prabang (or anywhere in SE Asia) during Chinese New Year. Because there is NOWHERE to stay, most guesthouses have little full signs out the front, and you’ll end up going way over budget for accommodation in what is normally a reasonably expensive town. Like we did, but not before we spent an hour and a half walking around town trying to find ourselves a bed.

And now, we get to play the game all over again because we could only book for one night. Joy!

“Getting into Laos will be easy. We go on this stupid little boat to Chiang Khong, then we walk down the hill, take a little canoe across the river and walk up the hill into Laos immigration! Done.”

Those, my friends, are the words of one very cocky traveller. You know, the one who has seen it all before, knows everything and gives other travellers advice on where to go and what to see. That one traveller that you think maybe knows too much, and maybe needs to see someplace new. You know the one? Yeah, that’s right, it’s me.

They’re also the words of one very misinformed and apparently out of date traveller, as I discovered last week. After prepping Tim on an easy and relaxed crossing into Laos from Chiang Khong in the north of Thailand, we had an entirely different experience. Turns out, they moved the border! WHO MOVES A BORDER?? Thai and Laos people, that’s who.

I thought I had the day sorted. We’d go on the stupid 500B minibus from Chiang Mai that makes you want to puke as it speeds round tight bends high in the mountains, and then we’d get some US dollars in Chiang Khong, find a place to stay and cross the border in the morning. Toooooo easy. Except that when we stopped at “Chiang Khong” today, it wasn’t the quiet riverside town I remembered. Instead, it was a large white border crossing in the middle of nowhere. NOT what I expected at all.

Cue a very confused, very cranky Britt arguing with her bus driver about how she wants to go to Chiang Khong, not this weird joint. Yes, Chiang Khong. The town, to cross into Laos. NO this isn’t the place! I want Chiang Khong. Yes, the town. The border. I want to go to Laos! Is this the place? No it’s not! It’s not the same! Oh, it is the place? It’s new? Oh. Okay.

(like a true pig-headed traveller, I didn’t even apologise to the poor guy who looked like he wanted to kill me. I just strolled off and looked confused)

I found out later that the new borders on the Thai and Laos side are only about one month old. So new there’s not even an ATM or clean water. Just toilets and a little Thai lady swapping 1000 Baht for $30 US. Because we were so unprepared we had to borrow some Baht from our new buddy and fellow Aussie Oliver, just so we had enough to pay for our visas on the other side.

So we stamped out of Thailand, paid 20 Baht for the shuttle bus across no man’s land (a five minute bus ride complete with a five minute screening of Iron Man 3) and across the new bridge to the Laos border and finally got into Laos after doing the immigration game. Which is basically filling out a form, throwing it at a guy in a hut with your passport and waiting around to pay the visa fee. And then we paid a 20 Baht “overtime fee” because of course we couldn’t get to the border before 4 pm.

Then, because we somehow ended up without a bus transfer, we took a 20,000 Kip tuk tuk to Huay Xai, the border town that I remembered. Here we finally found an ATM and were able to pay our driver, and go off to find a hostel.

I learnt today that relying completely on a 2012 Lonely Planet (whilst helpful in many other regards) and not checking dates on travel forums can really put a kink in some of the best laid plans. So if you’re headed to Laos from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and have done the trip before by canoe across the Mekong, be warned that this is no longer. Apparently a ferry still operates for motorbikes and little trucks but since I have neither of these I haven’t looked too far into it. Be prepared to cross the border, and make sure you have enough Baht or US dollars as there’s no ATM on the Thai side, and no promises of one coming any time soon.

Learn from my mistakes!

So again, I’ve been majorly slacking. I have so many ideas for this blog and what I should post about, and I’ve been forcing myself to explore Brisbane further so that I actually have more to blog about. And yet, I just write everything in my little black book and forget about it.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m working 60 hours this week and am finding it hard to find time to eat, let alone do anything else. Running on about four hours of sleep a night is messing with me a bit, and I need to work out a better routine for myself. I’m still sure that my body will never get used to night shifts and all of the drama that comes from working in an all-female environment, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try anyway.

Good news for this week is that I’m going to Cirque du Soleil this weekend to see the Michael Jackson IMMORTAL world tour, and at work I managed to meet some of the techies from the show and they’ve promised to take my friends and I backstage when we go on Sunday. I’ve also just booked flights for Tim and I to leave for Malaysia on the 21st of January, and then on to Thailand that night. So exciting! Our rough plan is going to be Luang Prabang in Laos, then 3 weeks on motorbikes in Vietnam and then back to Penang in Malaysia to visit my family because they should be settled and beginning overseas life by then.

We’ll see how that all pans out in reality, but one thing is for sure, I am going to ride another motorbike and try not to crash this time! I’m extremely excited about time off from my hectic work schedule, and even more excited to be travelling overseas with my partner for the first time. I’m sure he’s even more excited about it as this will be his first time backpacking in Asia, but I wish he’d do a little research of his own and tell me what he wants to do instead of letting me plan anything. But since I know he probably won’t, I’m turning to anyone who still reads this blog and I’m asking: what are some fun things to do in Vietnam that we shouldn’t miss out on? Luang Prabang will be our chance to relax after a few days in Thailand, but apart from what I did with my family when I was last in Vietnam, I must admit I’m at a loss.

So let me know in the comments below if there’s anything we should see, something we should eat, or someplace we should stay!

P.S. Motorbike crash injuries from last time that I pray I don’t experience again!

motorbike injuries

If you’re close to me at all, you’ll know I’m one of those people that spends a lot longer in airports than she should. In my head, it’s something to do with the fact I refuse to pay $54.99 a night for a hotel close to the airport and would rather sleep on a chair in a large hallway instead. Which I’ve just spent the past four hours doing, dreaming of looking for a blanket because I was so cold.berryjam.ru

So why am I always sleeping in these waiting places? Probably because the two cheapest flights ever quite match up in time, and in this case, the cheapest flight got in at midnight of the day my plane left at 12. And since I can’t justify a $35 cab fare to the city for cheap accommodation or $54.99 a night for close accommodation, I am reduced to waiting eight to nine hours to check my bags in so I am free to wander with a little less stuff.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if this post is really saying anything, and since I’m half asleep I really can’t reread it and figure it out. This one is probably going to disappear in the morning. And I mean the real morning, not 4 am.

So this one is coming a little late, because by now it’s been about two weeks since my birthday, oops. But it’s finally happens, I am officially an adult. Hoorah!film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 online

Instead of having just my birthday in Bangkok, I decided to be just a little more self-absorbed and treated myself to a birthday week. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘birthday week’ it’s really just an excuse for people with far too much money to celebrate for the week leading up to the big day. Now obviously I am not someone with far too much money, unless I’m in Bangkok, where I become stupidly rich – in my eyes anyway. So let me tell y’all what I got up to.

I could’ve started my week on a Monday because my birthday this year fell on a Sunday, but seven days of myself would’ve maybe driven me mad, so instead I settled for five and began my week on the 20th. On the first day I was moving hostels, so to cheer myself up I went and got my nose pierced, the same thing I did for my birthday last year. Hopefully this now-yearly birthday ‘tradition’ doesn’t continue into 2013, because it hurt like hell this time. Worse than my tattoo! I maybe even cried a little. Maybe. Luckily, I cheered myself up with a fake plum Casio watch, and a real plum Revlon lipstick. I swear, lipstick soothes all my wounds.

On the 21st, I bought the only dress on the street I’d seen that would fit me, and then bought a new handbag to go with it. Hopefully this bag fares better than my last one from SE Asia, which I fell in love with, and in return, it fell apart. *tear*
The 22nd is actually a mystery to me (I should keep a diary) other than what I did for dinner, which was treat myself to the first, last and only real restaurant meal I had during my stay in Bangkok. I went to Himali Cha Cha & Son, a lovely little Indian place where I stuffed my face with palak paneer and garlic naan. Good, expensive times.

When I woke up the next day, I was resolved to go and rewatch 007: Skyfall at the Lido, but alas, when I finally got there only Breaking Dawn: Part II was showing. Not being one to turn down a movie experience, and needing to see how it all ended, I went and saw it. It actually wasn’t that bad, the slightly cringeworthy moments aside. Returning from that outing to the New Road Guesthouse, the gang there announced they were all headed to the Sky Bar, so I tagged along to admire Bangkok from great heights. This is actually an outing I would recommend to you if you visit the city.

If you’re unaware, the Sky Bar is located on the 64th floor of the Sky Tower. This probably sounds super unfamiliar, but if you’ve seen The Hangover II and remember the rooftop confrontation scene, then you’ve seen the Sky Bar in all it’s glory, as it was filmed here. They’re still serving the “Hangovertini” – a specially created cocktail for the cast and crew of the movie – and will probably keep serving it for the next ten years.  Whilst I was up there, my birthday ‘treat’ was the most expensive mojito of my life. Excuse me, but fuck VAT and service tax.

On my birthday eve, the 24th, I played leader in an outing with three Dutch girls to the Chatuchak weekend markets, another outing I’d recommend if Bangkok is your destination. All I bought there was a hairband and some of my beloved smoked chicken which is so good. That night I dragged my new Dutch friend, Florine, to see Cloud Atlas. I’d been obsessing over this movie for about two weeks since first seeing the trailer – which I’ve nicely placed below for your viewing pleasure.

Even though we both left a little dazed and confused, it was a beautifully made movie which I would recommend to anyone who is capable of following multiple storylines. But perhaps read the book first.
Returning home from the cinema, we watched the clock tick over to the 25th, Florine brought me a beer and sang Happy Birthday and then we crashed out in bed.

Finally at the big day itself, I woke up at 6 am and wandered off to Mcdonalds in the rain for the best hashbrowns ever, and when I returned to the guesthouse and awoke after a nap, Florine fed me pancakes and tea and we set off on the boat towards Khao San Road. When we got there we headed off to the “massage garden” that Mark recommended to me, and left about two hours later feeling quite refreshed after our massages in little tents. Following this, I watched proudly as Florine bartered down the prices of some cute dresses for us both, and then we triumphantly took a tuk tuk home, with some obligatory tailor stops along the way. My birthday adventure would’ve ended there, if not for the taxi driver I encountered at the airport on the way to my next hostel.

After driving around for about an hour without the meter on, looking for Airport Backpackers Lounge, we finally found the place and the time came to haggle the price down to something reasonable. Imagine my surprise when instead, the taxi driver offered to take me to dinner. I agreed, and he drove me to Banglamphu, and we ate the best fish soup ever in a little street restaurant. Then he drove me all the way back to my hostel – not without some awkward attempts at handholding and me squeaking “Have boyfriend!!” – and let me out without paying for anything. Oh, and he even gave me a hat as my “present, present” for the day. Such a lovely guy, who really gave the day a great (and slightly hilarious) ending.

All in all, I think that this week and my birthday were perhaps the best so far. And now that I’m an adult, I can happily stop ageing and and never celebrate getting older ever again. But hey, if someone wants to give me some ice cream cake when I get home, I wouldn’t be totally adverse to it.

It’s no real secret that there are a million “teaching English jobs” in Bangkok for people who are travelling and looking for work, and it shouldn’t be a huge secret that most of these “jobs” are total scams. Usually it’s pretty obvious that it’s all crap because there’s no real office, the people barely speak English themselves, etc. Which is where the company that calls itself FTC Educational Services comes in and changes the game.

I saw a flyer for FTC when I was wandering around Banglamphu in Bangkok, which is right near the tourist area of Khao San, if you’re not schooled in Thai geography (and who is?). It was just stuck to a phone box, and I saw a lot more stuck to walls, next to ATMs, outside 7/11’s – basically most of the places that tourists would be frequenting. It has an email and a number for a man who goes by the name of Arthur, Arthur Wood. So, being keen for some extra cash and adorable Thai kids, I shot Arthur an email and told him I would be willing to teach English until I left Bangkok in three weeks time. He emailed me back really quickly and had great English (first reason I thought it would be okay) and told me it would be around 300 Baht an hour and I could come in for an interview tomorrow, and get free accommodation there if I got the job.

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Hanging out on the rooftop at ETZzz Hostel

Sometimes I met really rad people and whilst I will eventually blog about all of them, so far, this has been my favourite gang.

In this group there’s Nick, Josh, Helena, Hanna, Rianne, Ellie – all who are teaching English in Malaysia – and then Jeff, Andre, Leo and myself. This was our party crew for Khao San, minus Leo and Jeff, and then it was our hangout crew/s for the next two days. Team A and Team B, as we were christened by Leo. I just had a really awesome time with everyone, and today the last of the crew checked out and headed on to another location, and I’m the last one left here now ))):

Tomorrow I’ll be checking into my 1 Baht a night (3 cents!) accommodation, and basically I’m praying that the rooftop there is at least half as rad as ours was here at ETZzz Hostel – which I totally recommend staying in if you’re ever in Bangkok!