Livin la vida (laos, vietnam, + thailand)
Six weeks in Vietnam flew by. After Rose and I parted ways I reluctantly booked a tour to Sapa. I hate doing organized tours as they are never as fun as exploring a place on your own and don't allow for much spontaneity but I found an insanely cheap price and decided to take a chance. Upon arriving in Sapa at 6am after 8 hours on the bus, there were a few local guys ready to pick up passengers for their various tours. Naturally, my name was not on any of the lists they had and after sitting on the curb for an hour after the last person had departed I was starting to wonder what the hell I was going to do. I'd met a German guy on the bus the night before who was smart enough to only book the bus and instead rent a bike and explore the town on his own. So I counted my losses and joined him for 3 days of motor biking through misty muddy mountainside rice paddies. We stayed in the tiny valley village of Lao Cai and met the sweetest locals I've come across. The husband and wife at our guest house were so friendly and helpful and ended up contacting my tour company for me and getting them to fund my stay. I swear I have the best karma. We spent the 2nd night across the street at another guest house and I'm still regretting not taking a picture of the old lady who ran it. She was toothless and adorable and the only sentences she said were "tea Vietnam" when pouring our tea and "Sapa brrr" when accurately describing the weather forecast.
After experiencing the cold in Sapa I was excited to get to Cat Ba island where it would hopefully be sunny and slightly warmer. I had no such luck, the island was chilly and foggy and more or less deserted. Once again being on my own, I found the place eerily quiet and decided to spend only one night. I made the most of my time on the island by renting a motor bike and finally after 6 months I drove one all by myself!! It was shockingly easy and I'm now contemplating buying a scooter to zip around on Cape Cod this summer. And despite the fog I still had stunning views of Halong Bay and the enormous limestone karsts.
Back in Hanoi the following night I knew that my time in Vietnam had come to an end. Saying goodbye to my favorite country wasn't easy and I was nervous that the rest of my trip wouldn't compare. With sadness and excitement I arrived at the airport ready for a flight to Laos, deciding that the 30 hour bus journey was too much to handle. It seems that Vietnam wasn't quite ready for my departure either, my flight was cancelled and I earned myself one extra night (free of charge!). Morning came and I returned to the airport and jetted off to my 7th country of the trip.
Arriving in Luang Prabang I had no idea what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised. The city was quaint and quiet with a touch of a French influence. April is dry season, hot season, and the end of tourist season so the city was quieter than usual but I enjoyed a few relaxing days after being caught up in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. I visited the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen, ate at a $1 vegetarian street food buffet every night and did yoga overlooking the river and mountains. I found myself a little bit bored after 4 days of relaxation though and booked a bus to Vang Vieng.
4 hours in a mini van winding through mountains was slightly torturous and once I arrived in Vang Vieng I was so nauseous I had to go straight to sleep. I planned to spend 4 days in VV and ended up getting stuck for a full week as often happens on my travels. The landscape in Laos is beautiful and there is no shortage of activity in Vang Vieng. A pub crawl on tubes down a river, swimming lagoons, cycling, rock climbing, hiking there are lots of adventures to be had in that town. There's also lots of cheap street food and bars that play marathons of Friends and Family Guy all.day.long. It's a stoner's paradise so being lazy is quite easy as well. I found a nice balance of active days and lazy nights and was lucky enough to meet a group of friends in my hostel who quickly turned to family.
Two weeks came and went in Laos and before I could blink my eyes I was back in Bangkok, eating pad thai, drinking Chang, and spending hours at the spa. After 2 days in Bangkok, I reunited with a Dutch boy that I met during my travels in Vietnam and we headed north to Chiang Mai for Songkran (Thai new year) celebrations. The city shuts down for 4 days for this water festival and it turns into an all out war zone. You can't walk down the street without locals dumping buckets of water over your head and foreigners strapped with water guns spraying you down. It's really difficult to describe it, I don't know any country that has any sort of similar celebration but it is quite literally a 4 day water gun fight with an entire city. I spent every day roaming the streets armed with my hot pink Hello Kitty super soaker seeking revenge from every person that aimed in my direction.
We just arrived in Pai and are planning to rent bikes and explore the surrounding area. I only have two weeks left on this amazing Southeast Asian journey and I plan to spend them all in Northern Thailand relaxing by a pool, doing yoga, eating delicious food, trying Muay Thai boxing, and of course spending the last of my budget on unnecessary clothing and accessories. It's going to be very difficult to leave this continent but knowing I have an excited welcome crew of friends and family will make it a bit easier.