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Santorini: The Greek Island Of Dreams

 

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini has been on my bucket list for years. When deciding where to stop first in Europe after Egypt, Greece was high on the list. The tickets were the right price and the flight was short so off I went after my 10 days in Egypt.

Santorini lived up to every expectation I had. The pictures I was able to capture rival those that you find on-line. Honestly, it’s hard to take a bad picture in Santorini. From the beautiful beaches to the hillside homes, Santorini is every bit picturesque and mesmerizing.

SANTORINI’S FAMOUS OIA

I stayed in the slow beach town of Perissa to get away from the crowds of Fira and Oia. That is the one downfall of Santorini. It is one of the most popular islands, which means big crowds from cruise ships and tourists alike. I rented an ATV and went to Oia in the morning. By 11am the cruise ships had docked and the streets were lined with people. There are many great places to take pictures of the hillside, but the best by far is at the Byzantine Castle Ruins. I went during the day to get the best shots. I decided to not come back for sunset, because the area was so small and with all the tourists, I’d be fighting for space to get the epic sunset shot. Not my cup of tea.

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

PYRGOS VILLAGE

I did get my sunset picture though. I spent an evening over at Pyrgos. This smaller village is not by the water but is less crowded and is every bit as beautiful.

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

I spent 8 days in Santorini and was everything I imagined it to be. I’d love to come back in low season when the streets of Fira and Oia aren’t so crowded, but was worth it none the less and can’t wait to come back again someday.

 

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

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Photo Essay: India’s Golden Triangle

 

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

 

I spent ten days in India’s Golden Triangle where I walked the crazy streets of Delhi. I visited a community kitchen that feeds anyone who’s hungry four times a day with a hot meal. I then made my way over to Agra to visit one of the Seven Wonders, Taj Mahal. I thought it was a religious site, but it is actually a token of an emperor’s love to his wife after she died 19 years into their marriage. After Agra, I went on to the final city in the Golden Triangle, Jaipur which has many historic forts. Here is my ten days in a series of photographs.

 

AGRA, INDIA

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

One can not fly to Delhi without visiting the Taj Mahal. It is one of the 7 Wonders of the World and is stunning to witness.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Another tomb in Agra is the lesser known, Baby Taj.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

The details of Baby Taj are intricate.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

All made of marble.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Kids and families play down below Baby Taj, along the river.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

An older man at Fatephur Skiri.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A family of 8 piles into an auto rickshaw.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A family on the streets of Agra.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Women selling fruits and vegetables.

 

RAJASTHAN, INDIA

 

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Abhaneri Stepwells. Pre-Escher, maybe this is where he got his inspiration from?

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Amber Fort.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A stray dog walks down the rails of Amber Fort.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

The gardens inside Amber Fort.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

View of the city below Amber Fort.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

There are many monkeys that live around the fort.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Elephants take tourists up a steep hill in 100F+ weather. Only females are used and they can be seen resisting being forced to go up the hill. Please do your research before riding one, elephants are not meant to be ridden.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Her sad eyes tell a story of being worked hard in the strong heat.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Water Palace is out in the middle of the lake, but soon to be made into a café.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Camels are used for work in India, you can see them in most cities/villages.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A man talks on his phone and rides his horse in the middle of street traffic.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Jaipur market where you can find fruits, vegetables, clothes, and other textiles.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A woman sells pottery at the market in Jaipur.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A woman shows bangles to a girl.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Woman buying vegetable from a vendor.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Fresh dried tamarind ready to be ground into powder.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Jaipur Market.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

More Jaipur market vendors.

A woman sells her vegetables on the streets of Jaipur.

 

NEW DELHI, INDIA

 

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Men washing themselves at Jama Masjid.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Locals seeking relief from the hot sun inside the walls of the mosque.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Worshipers praying at Sikh Temple.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Volunteers peeling vegetables at the community kitchen.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A happy volunteer stirs a vat of dal to be served at lunch.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A women makes roti for the community kitchen.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Cows can be seen walking down the streets of Delhi.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

An auto rickshaw.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A man carries goods down a busy street in Old Delhi.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Tiles of religious figures are mounted to the walls of alleys to discourage men from peeing on the wall.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Laundry is done with an iron heated by coal.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Many stray dogs live on the streets of India, surprisingly there were only a few cats.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

A man sweeps out in front of his shop.

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

Old lady walking the streets of Old Delhi.

 

I’m so glad I made the time to stop in India, even though it was only for ten days. To do it right, you’d really need at least a month or two to be able to explore all the India has to offer. But this little taste has changed my perception of India, as I felt safe and well taken care of while I was there. I know many have had bad experiences, but I opened my heart and decided when I landed that I would not let other people’s experiences dictate mine, and it was an incredible time with beautiful, colorful people.

 

India Golden Triangle - Photo Essay - Robyn Around The World

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Vietnam: A Photo Essay



Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell


VIETNAM: A PHOTO ESSAY


Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I started my trip in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and motorcycled up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In order to get to the trail, you need to cross a river on a small boat made for a few motorbikes and foot passengers.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Did you know rubber grew on trees???? They do and there’s a neat process with how they extract the sap from the trees. They make cuts into them then collect the sap in tins and let harden before sending to manufacturing to make your rubber bands.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding along the Ho Chi Minh Trail I stopped at a bridge that was bombed in 1972. This bridge was an important route to transport goods during the Vietnam War. It was never reconstructed.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Motorbiking through Central Highlands, I was able to interact with many of the farmers, including stopping at a cashew plantation.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The women peel cashews one by one, then transfer them to another room where they’re sorted and get prepped for packaging.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Vietnam has beautiful waterfalls and lakes. One of the days, I stopped at fairy pool which is a natural spring pool. The one in blue, was so refreshing to swim in after a steep climb down.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Dray Nu Falls is called the Niagara Falls of Vietnam. Attracted by locals and tourists alike, is a popular spot for selfies and weddings.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Peppercorns are one of the many crops grown in Vietnam. They harvest the plants once a year.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Vinh Son Orphanage in Kum Tum is an organization that helps children find homes. There are 200 children there ranging from one to eighteen years old. They are funded by donations and a few organizations, including HALO (Helping And Loving Orphans) from my hometown of Seattle.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Getting across rivers in the mountain region one has to cross these wobbly bridges made for motorbikes and foot traffic. Yes, I crossed this, slowly with my feet out!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through Central Highlands is just gorgeous! The green rolling hills are beautiful and go for days. It’s also much cooler in the mountains than it is in the city. Was so nice to get away from the traffic and experience the mountains for a week.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The people in the hills are very friendly. They don’t see too many foreigners in these parts so are very welcoming and love to talk and share their home with you.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I had a chance to see some kids in a small village. These children are refugees from Laos. Their families are supported by the Vietnam government and goto school for free.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

There are pineapple farms everywhere! These small, palm sized pineapples are sweet and taste great dipped in chili salt to bring out the sweet flavor. Try it!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Rice paper is a staple at most meals and if it’s not rice paper, it’s rice noodles. I had the chance to see how they are made. There’s 40 different kinds!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

After riding through Central Highlands, I stopped in Hoi An for a week to relax and enjoy this quaint town.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Women wait for customers to take a ride on the small river through Hoi An.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Central Market is where it’s at! Fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, street food, you’ll find it all here open early morning to late evening.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A lady selling her goods at Central Market.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

After Hoi An, I flew up to Hanoi where the traffic is just as ridiculous as Saigon. Pedal bikes and motorbikes share the same road.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Long Bien bridge is the only bridge in Vietnam where cars aren’t allowed and motorbikes drive on the right side of the road.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

There is also a running train that uses the bridge to cross daily.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

You will find street vendors on nearly every corner selling goods or food. They even provide stools for you to sit on while you eat.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

And if they’re not selling goods, they’re sitting on the street catching up with friends and taking in the view around them.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Some vendors are mobile and will walk around with their goods on their shoulder, stopping for customers along their path.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Some vendors sell goods from their bicycle and park on the side of a road so that motorbikes can pull up and grab items to go.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Another happy vendor in Vietnam, selling fresh coconut water.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I took a day to go visit Ninh Binh where my tour stopped at a temple and this guy was dressed up in traditional clothing for the tourists to take pictures. Not one for organized tours, but I do love this picture!
Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell
I took a ride down Ngo Dac River and all the boat women row the boats with their feet!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The view riding down Ngo Dac River. They call this river Halong Bay on land.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through trees and greenery.
Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell
Halfway through the ride we stopped at a floating market, where vendors sell good from their boat.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through the limestone caves on Ngo Duc River.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Many locals live on the river and do boat rides as their job.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

This looks like an abandoned train track, but it’s not. A train runs through here twice a day. The locals are used to the train coming through and sometimes position their bikes only inches from the train when it passes through.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Passing through Halong Bay on my way to Bai Tu Long Bay by junk (boat) I saw many fish boats, which I learned and soon saw there is a community of fishing villages in these bays.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

One of the fisherman out for the day.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I took a 3-day cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay and had the chance to kayak to a private beach and have a BBQ lunch.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

This was my junk. The sails are distinctive of all Vietnam’s junks. Bai Tu Long Bay is only visted by 5% of tourists because they only allow a limited amount of boats to have permits.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Sunset in Bai Tu Long Bay.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

These boat men and women live in the fishing village and give rides to anyone who wants to see their village up close.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A happy boatman.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The garbage man. He rides around all day and picks up trash from the bay to keep it clean.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A woman from the fishing village rides on man-made raft to get her around.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Locals from the fishing village live on their boat or in floating homes.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The sails on a junk are raised when there’s a wedding. The family gives the new couple a boat as their wedding gift.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A great way to end 23 days in Vietnam was to cruise Bai Tu Long Bay. If you’re thinking of doing a cruise, I highly recommend it, but get there soon. Vietnam is closing all overnight cruises in both Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay in 2020.

 


Koh Lanta – A Photo Essay

Koh Lanta, Thailand

Koh Lanta in low season is a sleepy island with so much to see.  Staying here a full month, I was able to immerse myself in Koh Lanta and explore the island without a lot of other tourists around. You can drive the whole island in 90 minutes by motorbike. I stayed in Old Town, which is a cute fisherman’s village on the East side of the island.  I rented an overwater bungalow with a motorbike to get to places on my own. Here’s is my month on Koh Lanta, in 40 photos.

 

 

Ferry Terminal - Koh Lanta, Thailand
 Riding in on the ferry from Koh Phi Phi you’re welcomed by shops on stilts at Saladan Town Pier

 

Sunset at Koh Lanta, ThailandThe sunsets in Koh Lanta are beautiful. Everyone goes over to the west side of the island to Diamond Cliff Beach to “see the show”

 

Koh Lanta, ThailandDiamond Cliff Beach is also beautiful during the day

 

Koh Lanta, ThailandWatching the morning sunrise from my bed

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Even in low seasons choppy water you can find locals out with their rods trying to catch fish for dinner

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Even in the rain, fishermen will push their loot home across a low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Long-tail boats and fisherman bungalows in Old Town during low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
It looks vastly different in high tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Hermit crabs are one of the many sea critters you’ll see hanging around the bungalows

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand Klong Dao beach is on the west side of the island a rocky beach with a beautiful view

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Most locals own long-tail boats that are used for fishing, tours and transport

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The locals fish everyday, using homemade crab pots

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The ribbons on the front of the boats are sacred, they have been blessed by monks for safe sea travel

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Saladan during low season you’ll find most shops boarded up waiting to open again in high season

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Tugboats are used to carry barges across the water to Lanta Yai

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
A little salesman manning his food cart at the car ferry holding area

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
One of the parks on Lanta Yai

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Many tress are surrounded by water during high tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The life of an elephant on the island is a sad one, babies are chained to the side of the road to lure tourists into signing up for a trekking tour

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
At the bottom of the island is the national park and home of the lighthouse

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
At the top of the lighthouse is a breathtaking view, go early in the morning before the tourists arrive

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From a distance they looked like birds, but once up-close you’ll find super-sized dragonflies

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
One of the many monkeys at the lighthouse eating fruit that looks like candy corn

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
On the drive back from the lighthouse, you’ll find long-tail boats docked anywhere there’s water

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Old Town is a one road street where you’ll find fisherman houses on stilts

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The street down Old Town is bustling with restaurants and shops

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
From souvenirs to fruit stands you can find anything you need in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
These garbage receptors are every few feet on the street and are picked up by the trucks nightly

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
There are many kids playing on the street in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
And ducks farms are common

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
In low tide you’ll see families digging for clams

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Some families have cows which are kept on nose leashes

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Soccer is a big sport out here

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Fishing boat docked in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Another fishing boat anchored in low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Sunset over Old Town pier
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Many fishermen keep their boats tied just outside their bungalows and during high tide you can see them floating with the tress

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The most amazing sunrises I saw were right from my bed during low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
While everyone else is at full-moon parties, I was out capturing the moon on film

 


Kuang Si Waterfalls


Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

One of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen was in Laos at Kuang Si Waterfalls and just a 30 minute Tuk-Tuk or motorbike ride from Luang Prabang. These waterfalls were amazing!  Crazy blue, tiered and just beautiful. There’s 4 different sections you can go to so you can spread out from the crowds.  

The first one you run into has a tree branch you can jump off into the pool of blue water.  I jumped off and was immediately taken back to when I used to quarry jump as a kid, but this was so much prettier. 🙂

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

The second section has a bunch of different pools and is the biggest.  It’s where most of the people go.  It’s big enough to swim and there’s plenty of ledges to lay out on, which is what most people do.  The 3rd is the one you see in most of the pictures online if you google Kuang Si.  It’s the most photographed of all the waterfalls here.  There’s signs stating this section is off limits, but you’ll see many people ignoring the sign and going in.  It’s a great photo-op and no one’s patrolling the area.

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

The last section has the biggest waterfall and is designated no swimming, which surprisingly everyone adheres to. Picnic tables are at the bottom where you’ll see buses dropping off tours to eat their lunch and enjoy the view.  You can also hike up to the top of this waterfall.  The steps are steep, but it’s worth the hike.  At the top, there’s another natural pool to swim in and park benches where you can eat lunch or relax from the hike up.  

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

There are a few options to get here.  We booked a Tuk-Tuk from our guesthouse and got there at 10 am. When we walked in we noticed the waterfalls were already starting to get crowded.  The drivers gave us 4 hours to see the falls before taking us back, but we could have easily stayed all day.  My suggestion? Rent a motorbike, pack a picnic lunch, grab your GoPro and go early (they open at 8:30am).  If you get there right when they open, you’ll get to enjoy the falls an hour before anyone else gets there.  Entrance fee was 20,000 Kip (as of September 2015).  Well worth the trip and not to be missed if you find yourself headed to Luang Prabang!

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Tamarind Cooking School is the place that came highly recommended as THE cooking class to take. I was super excited to sign up, but unfortunately, I came down with really bad food poisoning the night before. Since the class was the day before I was leaving Laos, I had two choices; cancel or suck it up and go. I choose the later.

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Tamarind Cooking School has both a full day course and a half day course; luckily I only signed up for the half-day that didn’t start until 4 pm, so gave me time to rest before I headed out. The difference between the two is the full day course also includes a market tour. As this was my 3rd cooking class in South East Asia, I opted not to take the market tour as I’ve been on them in the other cooking classes in I’ve taken.

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

We arrived at the restaurant, and a songtaew was waiting to drive us out to the cooking school. The school is located outside of city center down a dirt road filled with potholes. When we got out the songtaew we walked into an oasis of greenery with a small private waterfall and a huge thatched roof cooking area. Sit was our instructor for the evening and explained all the ingredients we would be using along with the courses we’d be making (click on links for recipes).

Jeow Mak Len: Tomato Salsa
Jeow Mak Keua: Eggplant Dip
Mok Pa: Fish Steamed in Banana Leaves
Oua Si Khai: Stuffed Lemongrass
Khao Gam: Purple Sticky Rice with Coconut Sauce
Sticky Rice

The ‘ovens’ they use look like big stone mortars where they burn wood and use to roast vegetables on, steam rice, and cook their wok on. Sit said he has two at his home that he uses for most meals and one is dedicated just for making the rice. He showed us first at the front of the class how to cook each dish then we went ahead and made each dish on our own.  I loved learning new techniques as the proper way to wash the rice and how to slice lemongrass.

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

At the end, we sat down together as a group and ate everything we made. They also served Buffalo Laap, which we didn’t make in class due to time constraints of the half-day course. Of all the items we made, my favorite was the Tomato Jeow and Stuffed Lemongrass.

 Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Still being sick to my stomach I tasted a little of everything but wasn’t able to gorge on all the great food like I could have if I were feeling 100%. A few weeks later I tried making the stuffed lemongrass with some minced fish along with the peanut Jeow and turned out better than I remembered.

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

Tamarind Cooking School: A Taste of Laos

 


Taking the Slow Boat to Laos



Guide to taking the slow boat to Laos - Robyn Around The World

Taking the slow boat to Laos from Thailand is quite the experience! I had a great one (mostly)! I went with two new friends I met at my Workaway in Chiang Mai. Below is how to get there from Chiang Mai and my experience.

*Note: all prices were what I paid for my trip June 2015. Current prices subject to change.*

We took the Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. The bus leaves twice a day (8:00 am and 2:30 pm) and is a 5-hour trip. The bus is in great shape!  Snacks and water are given throughout the trip too. It also stopped about an hour in at a food stall market so you can grab breakfast/dinner. I purchased our tickets a couple days ahead at the bus station (which I recommend). When you purchase the tickets, you will also pick your seats on the bus. At the time of publishing this post, prices were 406 Baht for the morning bus and 261 Baht for the afternoon bus.

Once the bus arrives in Chiang Khong, you will need to take a Tuk Tuk to your hotel (~30baht). Chiang Khong is a cute small town (one road) on the river with a street market and plenty of choices for food. This town was super cute!  If my visa wasn’t expiring the next day, I could have easily stayed another day or two.

Slow boat to Laos

Before you settle in for the night, you will need to have your guest house arrange a taxi for you. Our guesthouse gave us a ride at 7:00 am for 250 Baht and also had all the immigration forms for us to fill out the night before.  All we had to do was show up, get stamped and walk through.  Super easy.  We stayed at the Day Waterfront Hotel (Aircon and a view of Laos – picture above was taken from my balcony in the morning)

The new policy is you can no longer cross the border by ferry. The new immigration office for everyone that is not either of Laos or Thai nationality is now at the friendship bridge, which is about a 20-minute ride from Chiang Khong. I didn’t see much in the way of hotel options on our drive there, but there may be more options coming as the immigration office was just opened in 2013.

Get to immigration early. I’d suggest at least 45-60 minutes before the shuttle bus leaves. Once there, they will stamp you out of Thailand, and then you’ll get on the shuttle to cross the bridge. The shuttle costs 25 Baht and leaves promptly at 8:30 am. When you get to the Laos side, go directly to the VOA (Visa on Arrival) office and apply for your visa. Take note that they only accept US dollars. The VOA is $30 but will cost an extra $6 if it’s off season for ‘overtime’ fees. After they give you your passport back, head through the gate and grab a songtaew (25,000 Kip) to the slow boats at Huay Xia.

There is only one ticket office, located right at the boats. They take both Kip (220,000 Kip) and Baht (1000 Baht), but you’ll pay a little more if you’re paying by Baht.

Slow boat to Laos

After you have your tickets, drop off your backpacks and grab food for the ride. There are many places close to the boats that will make you sandwiches for 10,000 Kip.

Slow boat to Laos

Once on the boat get a seat near the front. The engine is in the back and is obnoxiously loud. Right before you take off a guy will come on the boat to give you a briefing and try and sell you his hostel. He will tell you the whole town doesn’t have electricity except his hostel and should book his because he has electricity. This is not true, everyone has electricity in the town. There are just some places where it doesn’t turn on until 6 pm, but there are outlets, lights, and working fans in the guesthouses. Don’t book his option.  I heard from a few guests, the accommodation was sub-par at best.  There are plenty of options once you get to Pakbeng. We, unfortunately, picked a bad guesthouse which didn’t have a name (should have taken that as a clue). There were bed bugs and dirty sheets. Glad it was just for one night and it was only $4 for the room.  Split between 3 people, that’s pretty cheap!

Here’s a list of guesthouses that are decent.  Again, this is a small stopover town, so accommodations are not going to be 5 star quality.  The rooms are basic, but keep in mind you’re only staying one night.

Pakbeng Lodge – $35-40/night

Mekong Riverside Lodge – $20-25/night

Sarika Guesthouse – $20-25/night

Slow boat to Laos

We left Huay Xia at 10:30 am and got into Pakbeng at 4:30 pm.

Right at the boat dock is a street market with many food stalls. These stalls open at 7:00 am so you can get your sandwiches made fresh for the next leg of your trip before you jump on the boat in the morning. Your guesthouse may offer to pack your lunch for you too.

The next morning you will get on a different boat that leaves at 9:30 am. Again, get there early to get a good seat. We got into Luang Prabang at 5:00 pm.

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

The ride itself is beautiful, green hills the whole way. The 1st two hours of the ride you can see Laos on the left and Thailand on the right. The boat stops off along the way to pick up and drop off locals at their villages. It was so awesome to see the kids running to greet their families and playing in the water. We also picked up someone off a speed boat in the middle of the river!

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

The ride is about 25% locals and 75% tourists. I loved the slow boat ride down the Mekong River. There are water buffalo and goats all over and grass huts and fishing boats. Between the beautiful scenery and seeing the locals in their country. It’s a photographers dream!  If you’re up for an adventure and have the time, I’d highly suggest taking the slow boat to Laos.  It’s an experience you won’t forget!

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos


A Guide to Chiang Mai’s Markets


Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

The Chiang Mai Markets were my favorite part of staying in old city.  There’re so many markets to choose from, and all have a variety of choices from handmade goods to the best street food vendors. I categorized them into three kinds of markets. Food markets (North Gate – Chang Phueak and South Gate), locals market (Sompet and Warorot) and the everything market (Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Market, and Sunday Walking Market).  There’s a market every day of the week to suit anything you’d need.

STREET FOOD MARKETS

Let’s start off with the food! I ate at North Gate (Chang Phueak) or South Gate pretty much every night. North Gate was made famous by Anthony Bourdain when he featured the cowboy hat lady selling Khao Kha Moo (pictured is her assistant). Anthony didn’t disappoint; I ate her pork plate four times while I was in Chiang Mai. South Gate has the best seafood pad thai I’ve tasted, and they cook it to order in the wok. Great photo opp 🙂

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

LOCALS MARKET

I enjoyed going to the local markets to get fruits and vegetables and bbq street meat 🙂 Sompet is my favorite. It’s a small market open early and sells fruit and vegetables at great prices. Warorot is located outside of the moat and is the biggest market of them all. You can find flowers, produce, meat, fabric, textiles, toys, and clothes. The flower shops are open 24 hours a day, and if you go early morning, you can witness the trucks dropping off new stems to the shops.

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

CHIANG MAI’S NIGHT MARKETS

The most fun markets I’ve been to are the Night Bazaar, Sunday Walking Market, and Saturday Walking Market. The Night Bazaar is made for tourists. You can haggle all day long there and when you think you’re done and ready to walk away, they’ll stop you and haggle with you some more. I haggled an outfit for my niece from 500 Baht down to 150 Baht ($15.00 to $4.50). Makes me wonder what the actual cost of the product is! Most of the souvenirs here are probably made from other countries, but it’s fun to see. They’re open from 8pm- 12am. To get more local, handmade items, I went to the Saturday Night Walking Market and Sunday Night Walking Markets. These had the best street food stalls and many of the vendors were creating their products right in front of you. You can haggle at these markets too, but these vendors will tell you no if your offer is too low. Both markets start at 6pm and go until around 11pm.

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

My favorite by far was the Sunday Night Walking Market. The market was walking distance to where I was staying. I feel it has the best selection of goods with a food court at the Temple where you can get Khao Soi, Indian food, sushi, street meat, noodle soup, seafood, or juice shakes. Definitely put it on your list of markets to check out!

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets - Thailand

Thailand Hill Tribes


Hilltribes, Chiang Mai

Seeing the hill tribes is something I wanted to do while visiting Thailand.  Me and a friend visited Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village, located just north of Chiang Mai old city. There are 7 hill tribes living here. Karen Hill Tribe, Lahu Shi Bala Hill Tribe, Palong Hill Tribe, Hmong Hill Tribe, Kayaw Hill Tribe, Akha Hill Tribe, and Yao Hill Tribe.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

There have been a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor calling it a human zoo. One of our local Thai friends said the village is a good thing for the hill tribes and not a human zoo as some tourists have been calling it. On this recommendation, we took a motorbike and went there on our own to check it out. We had a different impression. We went early and got there around 10am before the tour buses arrived. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was how friendly everyone was. Each hill tribe greeted us warmly, and they were happy to show us what they were making, and also invited us in to see their home. One hill tribe even shared their cherries and other fruit with us.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village    Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Unfortunately, the older women didn’t’ speak much English, so we couldn’t ask them many questions. But we played with their children and one of the men showed us how to shoot his handmade slingshot equipped with a wooden arrow.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

We did meet one vibrant little girl from Karen Hill Tribe named Maisie, who was just charming and spoke very good English. Quite the little sales lady too, she talked me into purchasing a beautiful scarf her tribe weaved.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village   Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

We also met Sek from Karen Hill Tribe and was happy to talk with us at length about the tribes. Although his family is still in the mountains, he was able to go to Bangkok for school and just graduated university with a degree in Public Administration. He said, like him, some of the Karen Hill Tribe also came to this location to be near the city. It’s better for medicine if someone gets sick. If they get sick in the mountains, they rely on herbs to help them get better. Another main attraction to move here is all the children of the hill tribes go to school and get an education. All of the other Hill Tribes that are here also came on their own accord for a better life for their children.

    Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

When asked about the 500 baht entrance fee, Sek did say the fee we paid to get in did not go directly to the tribes. Before I could get in an uproar about it, he let me know that all the tribes live on the land rent-free and all the goods they sell is their money to keep. The compound also provides transportation for the children to get to and from school, free of cost, which is 15km away.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village     Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

The one thing I was curious about was the Karen Long-Neck Hill Tribe and why they stretch their necks. Sek said the long neck came about as a fairytale. The women thought they’d be prettier, if their neck was longer. They also decide rank by the length of the neck. The longer the neck, the more high up your are, with the longest neck being like a queen. We met one lady of the Karen Long-Neck Hill Tribe who had the longest neck in the tribe. She showed us a picture of herself without the rings. Her neck is strong enough to wear without the rings.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

The tribes hand make the items they sell. They are weavers, painters, wood carvers, and sewers. All the items they produce are very beautiful. Again, anything you purchase from them goes directly into their pocket.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village   Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

So human zoo? If you go there, solely to take pictures and stare, without interacting with them. Then yes, I could see how some would call it that. But, if you take the time to stop, say hello, play with the children and ask what they do, you’ll look at it a bit differently.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Link to the rest of my photos here:

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

 

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