Australia: Road Trip – Perth to Karijini National Park

Australia: Road Trip – Perth to Karijini National Park

Australia: Margaret River

May 23-29, 2019

We hit the road and did a quick drive through central Perth. We realized we didn’t really spend any time in the heart of Perth CBD. Ever since the Camino, big cities don’t really interest me. Smaller towns, outskirts, the beach all peak my interest more than going into big cities. I do feel like I missed out a bit but such is life, we’ve moved on.

We also stopped by Scarborough where I lived for a couple of months and I don’t remember it at all. All the roads and houses looked the same. So we headed to the beach and had our first sandwich making out the back of the van beside the beach. So cool. The beach was long and white with blue blue water. I wanted to stay and appreciate it but we had a ways to drive our first day and I think we all just wanted to get on the road.

A little ways along our first bathroom stop and we stopped at a National Park. We bought a National Park pass so we saved ourselves $10 (cha-Ching!). This park was amazing. Birds flying everywhere in their own natural environment. It was so serene to listen to their songs everywhere we went. And then we hit the koala area. We had no idea there were koala bears here so we were pleasantly surprised! They weren’t held in captivity but the park supplied their food so no need to stray far. We saw about 6 of them just lounging in the elbow of a tree. That was really cool. When we walked back the first one decided he needed some more leaves so moved out of the elbow and we got it all on video. I feel really lucky to be able to see these little guys.

Then back on the highway only to be turned around by an accident and a super long detour.

By this point the sun was getting low and we got to the pinnacles desert to take some really cool photos and send up the drone. The pinnacles are big mounds of rock and dirt that formed Hundreds of thousands of Years ago. A pretty neat thing to see and really cool at sunset. Sadly our sunset wasn’t stunning but the light was really beautiful. Check out the drone video

We camped our first night in a caravan park in Cervantes. A lot more expensive than we thought it was going to be for an unpowered site ($42). But the camp kitchen had sinks and gas elements to cook on. And plugs to charge all our electronics. The bathrooms were pretty good too.

It was rough the first night trying to figure out how the beds go. It felt really cramped and Luc was pretty uncomfortable with the space. I have to admit, it does take some maneuvering of our stuff and people but after a few days we got used to it. It gets challenging when we get more north and it’s hot out, you want to open the door but there’s so many flies or the sun has gone down and there’s tons of moths that love the light inside the van.

The next morning we had breakfast and packed up (more learning on how to pack up the beds) and it took us about a half an hour longer than what it takes us now 6 days later.

Our destination today was Kalbarri National Park. We had a lot of ground to cover so it seemed like we mostly drove for the day until the early afternoon when we stopped at the Pink Lake. It really is pink! Check out the drone video.

Then off to a few view points along coast. Absolutely stunning coastline. Rugged red rocks meet the dramatic waters of the Indian Ocean.

Light was not on our side so we headed to the campground that was 4kms in on a corrugated road. This campground was beside a river and I think Luc said some of the first settlers came there. You could tell because there was old farm equipment everywhere and a tank!

Again, way too expensive for what it was ($57 I think?). I didn’t use the showers as it was a bit too rustic for me and the toilets were so far away. But we had our first fire since we left Canada and roasted marshmallows that Vivi bought in Bali! We hung out with a couple who were beside us camping in their massive camper. They were from the east coast and were taking just over a year to travel around their country with their two girls.

The temps are already starting to get warmer just two days into heading up north.

We woke up, ate and packed up and headed out. The plan that day was to spend some time exploring the gorges on the other side of the park and then head to Denham which is close to Monkey Mia.

The gorges in this area are really beautiful. Red rocks cut out by the flowing water for thousands of years was just breathtaking.

We picked up some fly nets because the flies are getting to be unbearable when we step out of the van. And not a second too soon. Our next stop was Shell Beach and it was swarming with flies. I was really looking forward to seeing this beach as I remember it fondly. The beach is covered by tiny white shells. There really isn’t any sand to speak of. We put our bathing suits on but it really wasn’t warm enough to swim.

Then we pushed on and just wanted to get to Denham so we could have showers, wash laundry and settle in while it was still light out. We cooked in the camp kitchen and watch “The Voice” on the big screen tv.

The next morning we drove over the Monkey Mia. $15/adult and $5/kid. We didn’t want to pay that just to see the dolphins at the beach. So we snuck in through the boat ramp. Luc and Vivi ran over to them and I stayed in the get away van.

We named her too! Her name is Marvel. Because she brings us to marvelous places and she is a super hero of course!

We meandered back to the main road stopping at a lagoon and Eagle Bluff for lunch. Eagle Bluff was incredible. What a view with green/blue water. The flies were bad. To be honest, with the fly net they are just annoying. No where near the agony of the heat in South East Asia.

That night we stayed in our first free rest area. Luc’s favorite place to stay as it was free. There are places along the road that have toilets, tables and where a lot of other campers are (safety in numbers).

We took off in the morning and arrived in Carnarvon. Small town we wanted to check out the tourist info centre.

Then some groceries, gas and we couldn’t find the water fill up station so we went back to the gas station. Well I parked beside another truck and the angel it was parked at, the driver would have had to correct before backing up. Luc went in and I stayed in the van. The driver started to reverse and I could see he was really close to the van. If he didn’t hit the back corner it would have been a miracle. Oh and then he did. Sigh… thank goodness we got extra insurance. This guy was 19, from France, got his driver’s license in January and was driving around without insurance. Ugh….

So we exchanged all the particular info, sent it off to our rental company and set off to get water. Then we realized while we were waiting for water that the guy hadn’t signed. So we needed him to come back.

Back on the road again after a huge time suck.

We stopped at a road house to have lunch for the first time eating out. Another mistake. This just wasn’t our day. So we ordered two burgers and a BLT. My BLT came and it was tragic and $12!!!!!! Then we waited for Luc and Vivis food. I guess were used to not getting served at the same time as in SEA we all ate at different times. But after a while, I was done and their food still didn’t come, so Luc asked and they had forgotten about theirs!!! They got their food and the money back.

Onward we pushed to Coral Bay. We stopped once to fly the drone over a bunch of termite mounds.

We got to Coral Bay and booked a powered site. $57 with no wifi!!!! A travesty. And get this: no where in Western Australia (except Perth area I think) recycles!!!! I’ve talked to a few people who live here and they say it’s too expensive to put in a recycling plant. It also might have something to do with the fact that they produce iron in this state. I HATE throwing plastic, glass and metal in the garbage.

Vivi and Luc went swimming at the pool and then we walked down to the beach to see the sunset. It was stunning. Best sunset I’ve seen since being in Australia.

The next day we leisurely woke up and for ready. It was nice because every other day we were up by 6:30 and gone by 8. All we had planned was a day at the beach.

So back To the beach where we saw the sunset. We set up our free beach awning (we couldn’t believe we had the best awning on the beach and it was free. We were THOSE people! We snorkeled, made sand castles, read an actual book, saw a blue spotted sting ray in the water. It was a perfect day. We left there around 4pm and drove for two hours to another free camping rest area. We timed it so we didn’t have too much time with the flies before they all went to bed for the night (as soon as it’s dark). Then it becomes a battle with the moths as you cook with all the windows and doors open as it was still about 30 degrees out.

We finished burritos and star gazed for a while with our sky apps spotting Jupiter, the Southern Cross and Scorpio.

We slept well and awoke to the beautiful sunrise. Today would be a long drive day. We needed to make up about 450km to Karijini National Park. From there we have a day to chill out there and check the beautiful gorges.

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Australia: Margaret River Region

Australia: Margaret River Region

May 15-23, 2019

We left Jenny and the French and returned our rental car and then got the exact same rental car again. We had to do this as renting the car for two weeks was more expensive then renting the car for one week and the one week. 

We got a ton of groceries and headed south. First stop was in Capel. We rented a room in an Airbnb and the woman, Clair, was so kind. She had a family emergency at the same time so we basically had her entire house to ourselves. Vivi got a small job ($5/day) to feed the 2 cats and 2 chickens which she really liked. 

Our first stop was a winery called Capel Vale close by where we realized that all the wine tasting was going to be free. Amazing. 

I won’t go into all details of all the wineries we went to but needless to say we tasted some beautiful wines. 

We also visited Peppermint Beach where we were the only people there. White sand and turquoise water. We had a picnic there. 

The next day we visited “the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere” at Busselton. We heard this by so many people. It was mildly humorous. There were a few other “the longest, oldest, most curved things in the Southern Hemisphere” that we came across. It’s funny, you never hear about anything being the biggest in the “Northern Hemisphere” but I guess it’s a thing here. 

We also went out to the peninsula where we visited Eagle Bay and did a little walk around a lighthouse. Luc read to us about how the French came on some epic journeys way back when to discover Australia and chart the coach and discover the flora and fauna. And meet the locals of course.

We also visited a couple of other wineries and breweries. We enjoyed cooking in Clair’s full service kitchen and dishwasher! I knew it wasn’t long until we would be without a full range of cooking utensils so I wanted to make the most of it. 

The following day we left there and headed to Margaret River. We stopped at wineries, a chocolate factory and really enjoyed the coast. We stopped at Canal Rocks where the stormy Indian Ocean battered against the rocks. We also tried to find a picnic area but we were all so hungry so settled for a place that had a bunch of cabins but no one was there. Except for a woman who said “it’s private property but you can picnic on the table over there.”

We made our way down to this little seaside surf motel called Surfpoint Resort in Prevelly where they were basically waiting for us to show before heading home. They gave us a run through and said “you’re the only ones staying here so have fun!”  They let us have a double room (we only paid for a single), a massive commercial kitchen for us to cook in, they stoked the fire in the living room and then we were all alone. Was so neat to be the only ones. We played some new games that we bought.

The next day they offered for us to stay at the same rate we were going to pay at our next Airbnb but we had committed to that place so we packed up and set off. 

A few people had recommended that we go down south to Hamelin Bay to see the stingrays that were ALWAYS on the shore. So we drove down there through the amazing Boranup Forest. The trees there are something you’ve never seen. We had to stop and take a few photos. It smelled amazing. We got there and explored around but I think the big storm the night before was still dumping big waves so the stingrays were no where to be seen. Ah well. 

Then more wine and beer touring for our last day. 

We stayed at our little cottage Airbnb and took off again the next morning to do some shopping, get my glasses fixed, look for warm clothes to sleep in, try to find the book “are we there yet” by Alison Lester (no luck) and get some robaxacet (double no luck). It was a errands kind of morning.

Then we stopped at the delicious cheese factory and headed up to the Bunbury Farmer’s Market. This market is like IKEA. You go around and around and get to try samples all the way along. We stocked up for camping.

We said goodbye to the Margaret River region. It was so lovely to spend a few days visiting the rugged coastline and sampling delicious wine and beer. 

We stopped at an electronics store and picked up a new drone! We thought this next leg of our trip, the coast of Western Australia and the Northern Territory would be an awesome place to fly a drone. It’s also something we’ve been wanting for our whole trip. Turns out Luc is a natural at it. Check this video for our maiden voyage (it was me that flew it into a tree).

Next stop our Airbnb trailer in the trailer park in Dawesville. This trailer was a bit out of the 70s but it was a good price. 

We needed to do some prepping for our road trip so we took a day to learn how to fly the drone and I did baked potatoes, quinoa and Vivi and I baked chocolate chip cookies. It felt so good to do some cooking and prepping for our 5 week road trip. 

Just so you know what comes next… we rent a campervan and take off up the coast of Australia for the next 3 weeks. Destination: Darwin. It’s actually only 19 days so it’s a lot of driving but I adore road trips and camping in a van so I’m LOVING life. Remember: I did this exact same road trip 20 years ago with my cousin. 

Then we hop a flight from Darwin to Cairns and drive down to Brisbane for two weeks in the exact same kind of campervan. 

On the 23rd we drove to pick up the campervan. That took a lot longer than we had hoped. But, total score, there was a pile at the camper pickup place of free stuff that people left behind. I grabbed: oatmeal, rice, a big water container, a tarp, a big shopping bag, a beach awning, a thing to suspend laundry from, washing pods for clothing, sponges, a plastic bowl, lemons, and a few other things I’m sure I forgot. 

Then the bad news. Luc thought we didn’t need to get the insurance for the van because he thought it was covered under our Visa but we double checked the fine print and we weren’t covered. So we needed to pay $600 more than we thought we were going to. Oh geez. That wasn’t in our budget. We decided to forgo the extra $130 for windshield and tire repair. Cross our fingers we don’t need that. 

And we hit the road…. 

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Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Vietnam: Part 1 – The North

Mar 8 – 15, 2019

Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi via air and the visa’s we had worked like a dream. I was a bit suspect only because Vietnam is not the easiest country to get into given that if you get a visa at the airport I believe they will turn you around.

We bought a couple of SIM cards, called a GRAB and we were able to get a GRAB from the airport which is a little crazy because usually you can’t. They aren’t allowed.

First impressions of Vietnam: CRAZY traffic. There are motorbikes and scooters everywhere. And EVERYONE honks. It’s excessively loud and sort of in your face all the time. Of all the places, Vietnam has the most scooters and people honk the most.

The taxi dropped us off at our 2nd fancy hotel. Probably one of the most beautiful hotels that I have ever seen – and we were staying at it FOR FREE!

We headed out to the street to find food and I was completely out of my element. It was starting to get dark, the traffic was insane and we needed to cross the road. Cross walks and lights were not a thing where we were (they never really showed up in Hanoi) so you just have to wait for a semi break on one side of the road, walk to the middle and wait for the next break so your essentially standing in the middle of the road with traffic on either side of you. It’s unnerving. Then people are honking, you’re wondering if you’re wearing brightly enough coloured clothing (Be Safe! Be Seen!). It’s a shit show crossing the street.

We wandered and wandered and I just didn’t have my Vietnamese food legs established yet so I was wary. Finally we ended at a place that had Pho (pronounced Fa). There were words written on the wall and we figured they meant Chicken, Pork or Beef but they actually meant well done, medium and rare. The guys didn’t talk hardly any English so we broke out our Google translate that totally let us down. We were so hungry we just didn’t care (ok I cared a little).

Back to the hotel where Luc and Vivi went swimming and I had some much needed alone time in the pub with a delicious IPA and then a soak in the bath tub. Wonderful. I was feeling a lot of stress from the travel and traffic and honking and food choices, I just really wanted a drink and the IPA hit the spot after missing out on good beer for so long.

The next day was a delicious breakfast, and Luc and I walked around the hotel. We then all went for a dip in the pool and enjoyed a late check out (4pm) where we moved into the centre of Hanoi to our Airbnb. But not before going to drop off Luc’s GoPro at UPS to be shipped to the company and hope that we get another GoPro when we got to Ho Chi Minh City. It was totally acting up and causing a lot of frustration.

Something I haven’t mentioned is how much cooler it is here up North. We were enjoying 25 degrees now so it’s much more pleasant and less intense.

Our Airbnb, we’d read, was a craphole on the outside but once you get inside it’s clean and unique. Not wrong. I thought we were walking into a getto apartment when we walked inside, around the bend, up some stairs… it was DINGE. But then upstairs and it all cleaned up nicely. We had separate rooms which I think was a nice treat for all of us. Living in one room night after night gets to be a little much for everyone in the family.

We explored to go get some dinner and totally just happened upon the railroad that goes right through Hanoi. So cute and quaint and we didn’t miss the train passing by either! Second train we’ve seen go right through a market area on our trip.

We decided to walk to the lake and check it out the next day. I think it was a holiday or just the weekend because it was blocked and there were a ton of people walking around. The lake is man-made but really beautiful. We said goodbye and thank you to our much loved and fixed over and over again Reebok backpack. It’s kinda amazing how attached you get to things that have served you well for so long. We bought a fake North Face backpack who’s zipper has since let us down but all in all is doing ok.

Vivi bought a North Face puffy jacket and I think we looked for more stuff but couldn’t find anything we liked. Then we took off for Egg Coffee at Giang Coffee! My cousin, Kelly had mentioned that Egg coffee was something we HAD to try once and it didn’t disappoint at all. Back in the day when milk wasn’t a thing or it was too expensive or not available they used egg to make it creamy. Here is where we tried it. Supposed to be the place where it all began. Then we took in a water theatre which was really unique.

More exploring the next day by foot. A park, a bridge, a Cuban restaurant for drinks, trying to find a free water refill station, and then we had a free food tour of Hanoi with a couple of guys. They were awesome but we had already tried so much food that there wasn’t really anything new they could show us but they did take us to the most famous Pho resto in Hanoi and it didn’t disappoint. That’s how we learned about well done, medium and rare!

Something I’m forgetting to mention is that the air quality is really hit and miss and in Hanoi it was pretty terrible if I remember correctly. I’m surprised about how terrible the air is in a lot of South East Asia. I didn’t realize that it would impact me so much.

One thing that deserves mentioning is the fish that we saw still alive flapping on the street.

Cat Ba

We said goodbye to Hanoi and set off for Cat Ba. Last impressions of Hanoi: super busy and just a little too over the top for me. It reminded me of Bangkok where I really couldn’t wait to get to something a little less fast pace. It changed my mind about how long to stay in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. Much less. I’m learning that big cities are just not for me (I actually learned this on the Camino but I’m reminded time and time again).

A short bus trip with an excellent guide, a quick boat trip, another bus trip and we were on Cat Ba Island. Those of you who have heard of Halong Bay really need to see Cat Ba because I’ve heard it’s just like Halong only less tourists and more peaceful.

We arrived and set off for the beach. It had been sooooo long since I’d seen the ocean and my heart and soul was yearning for it. We got there and it was sooooo beautiful. We frolicked in the water and I was in heaven. I remember taking deep breathes and feeling the water on my skin. Getting really present to what I was feeling and I remember distinctly it was bliss. We walked to another beach and enjoyed the beach there before the clouds rolled in.

The next day we set off on a boat adventure. It started off pretty rough. The bus pulled up and the driver got off. I thought I saw the bus roll back a bit but wasn’t sure if it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. Vivi got on and went straight to the back. Then I got on and the bus definitely rolled back (the road was super hilly and we would have rolled back directly into the ocean after about a 600 meter drop). Then it rolled again. I yelled to Vivi to get to me and we were going to get off the bus. Everyone was looking at me and maybe they didn’t realize what was happening. I was yelling to the people outside to get the driver to stop the bus in case it rolled again and it rolled again! I was just about off with Vivi and the driver got on and put his foot on the break. I heard after that Luc (on the outside) said that the hotel owner was yelling at the driver (who was on his phone) that the bus was rolling but he wasn’t caring. Finally the bus driver saw it for himself so he hurried on. It all happened so fast but I was pissed and scared!

After we got on the boat we trolled through a fishing village that was on the water that was incredible to look at. Then out into the beautiful karsts. Immense and gorgeous. This for me was a bucket list item. I’ve wanted to see these beauties for a while now and was in absolute heaven when I got to be amongst them.

Of course, there was kayaking and Luc and I and Vivi got put into a double kayak with Vivi on my lap so I couldn’t really paddle. This is the last time I will EVER kayak with Luc together with Luc in the back. Ever. Lunch. Then a little swim in the turquoise water – I was the only female that went and there were about 25 females on the boat!

Then to Monkey Island. I’ve realized monkeys aren’t really my thing. The thing I hate about cats is they are too mischievous…well monkey are WORSE! Way worse. We arrived and I asked I could stay on the boat instead of going on the island. The guide said sure but you’re stuck on the boat for 1.5 hours… ok, I’ll go. We get off the boat and the guide is telling us about what and where we should go and I can see over his shoulder a little ways a way, a woman was being attacked by a monkey. She was screaming and he was chasing her. OMG.

I thought that I would be safe in the covered area with seats and tables but a woman who was right beside me had her entire package of Pringles stolen after eating only 3. It happened in about 1.4 seconds. I heard that they monkeys were put on that island only for tourists. Wonderful. They stole someone’s drink and finished it off. Animals!

The day ended with another float through the fishing village.

Tam Coc

We left the next day for Tam Coc. Another recommendations from cousin Kelly that was gorgeous. It was inland but we took to bicycles when we got there and explored a beautiful temple. It was nice to see Vivi on her own bicycle finally and cruising beside the rice fields.

We were still really enjoying the cool weather. We took to the bikes the next day again to cruise down the river but we took a short cut through the rice paddies and Vivi ended up falling off her bike and into the ditch and getting super muddy. We went home, cleaned up and then just walked to the other shorter river cruise. The guides paddle with their feet! We went through 3 caves and it was really peaceful and tranquil. Even a bit too cold as we hadn’t brought our jackets and it was a bit windy and rainy! But still so beautiful to see the karsts on land and also float right beside the rice paddies.

We came back to the homestay and hung out there for the rest of the afternoon with 3 Danish fellows and we played cards with them. It was exactly what Vivi wanted after her epic bail.

I’m going to save the overnight train ride for the next blog. It was a shit show.

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Laos

Laos

Feb 25-Mar 8, 2019

Leaving

We left Chiang Rai EARLY in the morning. I think it was 5:30am. It was an early wake up call for my birthday. For my birthday I wanted to get over the border into Laos with just one company that brought us there. We could have saved money and did it ourselves but it would have required us taking a bus to the border (2 hours away), a tuk tuk to the “checkout” of Thailand and then another tuk tuk to the Laos border to get our Visa, then another tuk tuk into town… Way too much “figuring out” on my birthday. So I pulled the birthday card and I got what I wanted which was for it to just be EASY. One company that herds us along.

We got into the van that was going to take us and the driver immediately wanted to know which passports we had so he could know how much American cash we would need to get a visa. I don’t think he was very happy that Luc and Vivi had Swiss passports because he couldn’t do a crazy ass exchange rate on them – visas are free for Swiss going into Laos. For me, I already had the USD I needed for my British Passport. Canadian passports are the most expensive Visa around to pass into Laos.

Next stop we picked up a couple from France. They didn’t have any USD so the driver said that he could sell them some (for a terrible exchange). Luc said in French to them that we had some extra USD so we could spot them the cash until they could get to a bank to pay us back. Well I guess the driver didn’t know that this had gone on because he stopped at an ATM. We explained to him that we didn’t need to stop because we were going to lend them the cash and he was PISSED!!! He slammed the door and zoomed off. I guess his side business of ripping off tourists wasn’t going to work today.

A couple of times I tried to talk to him but he completely ignored me. Finally Luc made him listen when we all had to go to the bathroom. Nice start to my birthday – piss off a local.

We got to the border and stamped out of Thailand and into Laos. It was pretty easy. Forms to fill, photos to give (I had brought some extras for times like this so I patted myself on the back). We had made fast friends with the French since our little incident which we would continue to hang out with them for a while and meet up with them again in Siem Reap.

We got into the back of a truck and headed off to the boat. But not before we had a stop at the tour guides restaurant where he told us that the beer is cheaper here and such. Total scam. He also told us that he would be with us for the two day tour but we never saw him again.

Down the Mekong

Onto the boat, our assigned seating was basically bullshit and we ended up sitting closer to the back of the boat where the engine is. We were off and heading down the Mekong. The Mekong is stunning. The river is brown but you float past jungle, water buffalo, mountains, small hill tribes… we made about 10 stops that day floating into different places where people would get on or things would be delivered. Then a 360 degree turn in the river to get back on course. At some point some young fellas got on and the drinking began. They were trying to put beer in everyone’s hands. It was really crazy. They kept buying and buying beer and giving it away. It was all a bit suspect to me. There were two girls with them and one of them had about a 6 month old baby. It was kinda crazy.

Oh and Luc and Vivi tried to get the whole boat to sing me Happy Birthday which was really special. We ate instant noodles on the boat for lunch.

We got off the boat after about 8 hours at Pak Beng and about 20 of us piled into a van that was being held in place by a rock on a steep hill. I was sure that I was going to end up in the Mekong and I would leave this world the same day, 44 years later. We survived. The crew was a buch of Canadians from BC so after we got to the restaurant, we ate, I drank a few Gin and Tonics, watched the sun set over the Mekong and then us and the French went to the bar. Annnddd…. We were all alone at the bar. All for us. Vivi had a great time playing beer pong and dancing. My birthday had a wonderful ending.

The next morning I made the mistake of somehow getting onto a website about the exact same boat hitting a rock and sinking in a matter of seconds. People died. I shouldn’t have read that article because after that I was so freaked out. I’m not sure why I was so scared still but I sure lived in fear when I think back to that time.

The 2nd day of the trip down the river was another day of beauty. Not too hot given the breeze from the boat and just gorgeous. We sat at the front this time (away from the Engine). We made friends with Lola and Josh and sat close to Julienne and Roman (our French friends). These two adored Vivi and she loved them right back.

Luang Prabang

We arrived in Luang Prabang in the evening. We hopped into the back of a truck again and got dropped in the middle of the town to find our hotel.

Luang Prabang is a beautiful town with French architecture and flowers everywhere. It was strange to have this French feel in an Asian country. We even ate at a French bakery a couple of times while we were there.

That next morning, we found a place just down the road to fill up our water bottles for free. And we set off to check out the town by foot. We walked all over and then up the hill and down. I was stupid hot as usual. We met up with the French to get the money back that we loaned them and headed to the market for dinner. There we had a fill your plate to the brim with as much food as possible for like $2. Mine was heavy on the noodles.

We decided to get a van all together and with Lola and Josh to go to the Kuang Si waterfall to cut down on the cost the next day. The waterfall was the most amazing turquoise blue you’ve ever seen. We hiked around and then swam with the tourists. They also rescue bears there so that poachers can’t take the bile that’s in their stomachs to sell. Magical because of the colour of the water.

The next day we met with the French and went to Big Brother Mouse to volunteer. Big Brother Mouse and Big Sister Mouse is an organization that helps Laos children read and speak in English. We all jumped in the back of a truck again and headed to the school where there were a bunch of kids aged 4-12 awaiting us to teach them. We had a bit of a run down from the woman who worked there as to what was going to happen. We chatted with older kids on a mat and we played games with them too. Then we went into the rooms with the kids, sang songs and used flash cards that were a little strange to say the least. We had a delicious lunch of very Laos flavoured and prepared foods at the school and then we moved to the school up the hill to do more flash cards and watch them dance. There was this one little boy who was a dance machine. So cute. It was a long day and now I understand why I’m not cut out to be a teacher. LOL! It did feel so incredible to be able to give back to this organization though and for Vivi to be able to also volunteer was really moving for me.

We took it easy the next day and headed to the pool. It was fairly filthy because of all the people (grand reopening). The day after that we rented bikes and toodled around again. Luc got a flat but we still managed to get out to the shop that weaves silk. Another scorcher. Vivi was just sitting on the back of his bike on the little seat.  

If there’s a place you should visit in Laos, it’s Luang Prabang. It’s so beautiful and really quaint. The French colonial architecture really sets it apart.

Vang Vieng

We booked a van ride to Vang Vieng and I didn’t realize how twisty and turny it was going to be. Vivi and I both got car sick and she puked. There was a Mexican couple behind us that was super nice and gave us some meds for car sickness. The driver was driving like a maniac and I was sure that Laos was where we would meet our demise. At the top of this crazy ass hill where he was passing people constantly, we switched drivers to go down. This guy seemed to be marginally better and more safe.

I started to not feel so good in Vang Vieng after dinner. Must have been something I ate. My stomach was not feeling well which essentially took me out for the next day. It’s a little humorous because I was just asking the universe for some alone time (traveling and living with your family 24/7 becomes a bit much for this only child at times) and I got sick. So I guess I got what I asked for!

They headed out for the day on a bike to some caves and swimming holes and I got to stay in the hotel room for the day. I did venture out at one point to mail some postcards, buy some charcoal and I happened upon a Mexican restaurant and I couldn’t pass up tacos. By the time I got home I needed a rest.

Vang Vieng is nice, but you don’t need to stay there long. There’s not a lot in the centre. You need to go out a bit to take in the sports. I also didn’t see much of it due to illness but I don’t really feel that I missed out.

Lotus Flower
Lotus Flower

Vientiane

The next day we bussed to Vientiane. Vientiane is a BIG city. We had about 4 days here before jumping on a plane to Vietnam.

We got up early in the morning, had breakfast and tried to beat the heat. We took a tuk tuk to the COPE Visitor Centre that is dedicated to how Laos was affected by the war. Laos was the most heavily bombed place in world war II. There are still thousands and thousands of bombies still in the ground and people continue to die and get hurt daily. It is getting better though. It was a real eye opener that this little country was such a casualty of a war that they really didn’t even participate in. And the shocking thing is that generations later, that weren’t even around at that time, continue to be killed because of it. And I’m sorry if this offends, but it’s the States that dropped these bombs (because they weren’t allowed to come back with bombs in their planes) and they are doing next to nothing to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a little disgusting.

We met up for dinner again with the French and had a wonderful time. I just adore watching Vivi play with the two of them. The genuinely care about her and give her space for her to be a kid with. It’s adorable.

The next morning we walked to a park and around to a big arch. Then we decided to take in a movie: Captain Marvel (in English)! What a great way to spend an afternoon to beat the heat. Have I mentioned how hot it is in Laos yet?

The next day we hopped on a tuk tuk and jetted off to the airport to catch out flight to Hanoi. We were pretty excited because Hanoi was supposed to be about 7-9 degrees cooler than Laos and Vivi and I really couldn’t wait for it to get a bit cooler.

Reflections

  • While I thought I might finish in Laos, it really is incredibly beautiful. The people, the scenery, everything is stunning, especially the Mekong and Luang Prabang. I would consider coming back one day.
  • I was nervous going into this country. I had heard that it’s less touristy then Thailand (more than Myanmar) so I was a bit concerned about getting around and being understood. I think it worked out just perfect to come here.
  • There continued to be a lot of garbage on the side of the road.
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Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

Feb 10-25, 2019

Chiang Mai

We arrived into Chiang Mai at our so cute homestay. It was the first time we had a little kitchen in a month! It’s crazy the little things that you get excited over.

We took to the streets to explore. So so so so hot. And the air quality was still the pits – I was beginning to wonder when the air quality was going to get better. After 12 days in Myanmar where it seemed like I was choking on the air, I was craving some fresh ocean breezes. Sadly, we were still landlocked and were to be for another month until we saw the ocean again.

We decided to buy masks given how tragic the air quality was. It’s not any cooler behind a mask, let me tell you.

Chiang Mai is a town that, IMHO, is set for tourists. There’s tourist things everywhere. It also has some pretty incredible temples located right in town which we visited.

The next day, I THOUGHT we had to leave for the Chai Lai Orchid which is a place where we were visiting elephants. We packed everything up (on my order), and we were waiting for the bus to pick us up until the people at the homestay said to us “But you stay one more night!” I finally clued in that we were a day ahead of ourselves. Thank goodness it was Valentine’s day otherwise I’m sure would have hear more from Luc about my grave mistake.

We decided to find a fish spa to pamper our feet. OMG, the fish eating your feet is almost unbearable with the feeling it gives you. I ADORE my feet being tickled and touched but man oh man this was almost too much! Eventually it got better. You just had to power through the feeling for about 3 mins. Later on we headed to the massive night market and wandered around, bought a wet bag that I’d been eyeing up since I say the MM Families in Koh Tao, and also a couple of shirts. Starting to get a bit tired of all the markets that are everywhere. It seems like the market is always a place to “see” in the top 10 things to see in “name the place”.

Chai Lai Orchid

The next morning was the actual day to leave so we packed up (again) and waited for our red truck to bring us to the elephants.

We arrived and I asked if the one day tour could be split into 2 half days which ended up not being an issue. So we immediately got to head to the elephants and feel them. The elephants are like no other animal I’ve ever been near. It’s almost like they are communicating with you on an emotional level. There’s this intense draw to be with them, near them, and it’s almost like they are giving you their love. I can’t really explain it but it seemed like all negative emotions I might have been carrying, just melted away when I was near them.

We did a little walk through the forest where Luc and Vivi rode on one of them bareback. The mahout (elephant’s person) said that it’s ok, as long as it’s not for very long and you’re not on a big heavy metal seat.

After that we went in the water with them. The babies are adorable. Again a truly special experience bathing them and connecting with them. It was fun to watch them play around.

After that we hopped into the back of a truck and headed to the rafting point where we were able to raft down a river with a guide at the front. The scenery was spectacular. The only thing that was a little lame is that you rafted past elephants that were still being saddled up with heavy metal seats where multiple people were riding them. It’s hard to believe that this is still being done even though it’s widely considered poor practice.

The next morning we had breakfast and hopped into the back of a truck again and headed to where we were to do a half day hike. The hike was challenging but beautiful! We got to swim in two different waterfalls and lunch was prepared for us. Our guide made bamboo sticky rice over the fire. So delish! We walked through a  hill tribe where we got to watch them weave and learned a bit about our guides family.

The next day we spent the morning chilling out at the restaurant that is there overlooking the river. The elephants stroll past, there are rafts that float back and it’s just to calm. Chai Lai Orchid is such a special place for me. It’s a place that rehabilitates elephants and gives them a better life but it also is a place where women who have been involved in sex trafficking are able to come and get out of that world, learn English, and train in the restaurant industry to gain further skills. This organization is called Daughter’s Rising. I felt so good being here not only because of the surroundings but also because I felt a little like I was giving back by spending my dollars at this place. You can volunteer here and even take home stray dogs that end up here. I was sad to say good bye but hopefully I’ll be back one day.

We drove like a bat out of hell back to Chiang Mai. Not sure but the driver we had was driving like a maniac. I have such a hard time telling people who drive like this to slow down. I feel like an old lady but I just get so anxious when they are weaving in and out of traffic, pedal to the metal and screeching to a halt. Luc, correct me if I’m exaggerating.

We stayed for 2 more days in Chiang Mai. One day was a planning day, where we’re going next, buying plane and bus tickets, applying for Vietnam visas, and then we got massages…… and Luc got a haircut! FINALLY!!

We had been lugging Vivi’s car seat around with us wherever we go and we’ve used it only a handful of times. Luc and Vivi have been trying to strategically forget it places. I’m getting a bit tired of carrying it but never using it. We’ve been riding on boats, busses, back of trucks, cars without seatbelts, airplanes, rafts, and I can count on one hand, how many times we’ve used it. So I got on a Chiang Mai mom’s group and gave away the car seat. So long and thank you car seat for protecting my little girl.

We stayed at this place in the middle of town that was the smallest place we’ve ever stayed. There was literally 3 beds and just enough room for our bags on the floor. It’s the only place we didn’t get toilet paper and it wasn’t included. Say what?? Luc said the guy could sell the toilet paper on the side and make a fortune. We went to yet another night market and ate street food (it just happened to be sushi on the street).

Chiang Rai

We took a 6 hour bus ride to Chiang Rai and checked into our homestay. Although, the guy who owns the homestay didn’t work out that we would be there so we got a room that was tragic. The bed sheet had cigarette holes in it, no AC and it was just dingy. The next day we moved into the room we were supposed to have. We still didn’t have AC but the bed was much nicer as was the bathroom. The nice thing about this place was that the pool was the focal point of the place so it was easy to chat with other people about where they were from and where they were going. Thailand has soooo many French tourists. We made some jokes about there was probably no one left if France because they were all there! But what luck – we speak French so it was easy to make quick friends!

We explored Chiang Rai in the heat, and visited a hill tribe museum where we learned about hill tribes and the opium epidemic that raged in Laos not that long ago (2012 was when they started to put an end to it). We had hamburgers for lunch and walked through a beautiful flower garden.

I remember the place where we went for my birthday. Luc had gone for a run and spotted it and the food was delicious. I had yet another burger for dinner. These two are starting to make fun of my burger and French fry love. I think already by this time I was starting to get sick of noodles and rice. This became a bone of contention between me and Luc for 2 reasons:

  1. He doesn’t like to spend a lot of money – ever. Many arguments and comments about me spending more than he did on food mostly was beginning to really tear at me. I had spent the last 5 years saving my money for this trip, I’m going to spend it how I want. What I ended up doing was contributing $100 of my own money to make him shut up for a while about me buying western food (always more expensive) and cocktails (they don’t have wine and the beer is like kokanee – gross!).
  2. Street food is always way less expensive so he wanted us to eat this all the time. And it wasn’t good enough that it was sushi on the street, it had to be authentic. This also became a “thing” that we fought about. So many comments and issues about food and money that I just didn’t know would be such a problem travelling.


We’ve always, for the last 15 years, had arguments around food. It’s the most problematic issue in our marriage hands down. Travelling just exasperated this issue. It’s not until we get to Dalat, Vietnam where it comes to a head. More later.

We moved after 3 days into Chiang Rai centre. We had great hopes of meeting up with the MM family but they were all really sick and it turned out that Vivi also got quite sick there with a fever so we never ended up seeing all of them (Luc met up with Cam to go to a night market one night). We visited the clock and did a little meet up at a hostel with live music.

It’s always so disconcerting with your kid gets sick in a foreign country especially when it’s a fever. So we stayed home and just rested while we tried to control the fever. The next day the fever had broken but she was still experiencing issues with the toilet so we tried to wait until we thought she was better before heading out to the White Temple.

The White Temple was pretty incredible to see. It’s stunning and fairly new I think. It’s a little on the bizarre side too.

We went to the hospital after that. Reason being is that I wanted to get Vivi checked and get some antibiotics if she needed it before we left for Laos the next day and we wouldn’t be anywhere near a hospital if she got sick again.

The hospital was AMAZING! So quick, clean, spoke English, and we got the drugs right there so no need to go to a pharmacy. It was a better experience then going to the hospital in Switzerland for my kidney stone. We were able to pay, it was so cheap, and out in a flash. I felt a lot better about leaving the next day to go on a boat ride for two days.

REFLECTION:

  • Thailand is beautiful and set up for travellers. It’s fairly easy to get around Thailand and most people speak English. Getting money out of ATM’s was impossible for us (and we are later finding out it’s hard in Bali as well) not sure why. We have Visa and MC and they both don’t work. Also, in Thailand, not many places take credit card to pay for things (restaurant, shopping, etc…), it’s few and far between so we always needed to go to a bank to get money out.
  • We’re learning more and more about each other… The hot is really taking a toll on me and Vivi. Luc seems almost unfazed. For me and her it’s just becomes so intense that it’s hard to even see straight. There sweat pouring out of my face and it doesn’t stop which is nothing like I’ve ever experienced and it’s so uncomfortable.
  • I’m super surprised by the air quality here. I couldn’t imagine living here full time given this. It also makes me so grateful for living on the West Coast of Canada.
  • I love watching Vivi as she learns, explores, and meets new people. She’s such a great little backpacker and super resilient. She tries new foods, new things, and is absolutely fearless.
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