Chiang Mai & Pai, Thailand

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I don’t have a lot of photos from Chiang Mai, because the majority of our time spent there was during Songkran, a massive yearly water festival for Thai New Year. It was total madness, but a lot of fun. People spend a week spraying each other with water guns, dumping buckets of water on each other’s heads, and of course drinking cold Chang all day. The water fighting is supposed to stop after sundown, but after friends of mine were stuck on a corner for an hour waiting for the guys with buckets to go away so that they wouldn’t be totally soaked for dinner, we quickly learned that we were never safe. That being said, the water festival is purposefully held at the absolute hottest time of year (40C+) so it was refreshing too. Also it was so fun because I was in Chiang Mai with two great friends from Korea and my sister, who joined me for the Thailand portion of my trip!

A highlight of our time in Chiang Mai was a day spent at the Elephant Nature Park. We were very lucky to squeeze in a reservation (so book early!) and got to spend a day with the elephants out at their beautiful property surrounded by mountains. Lindsay and I love elephants but didn’t want to ride them, so this park was perfect: you get to bathe them, feed them, take photos with some of them, and just watch them be themselves. They are all rescue elephants so many are disabled, and their stories break your heart. It’s just a pretty special place to be.

Then we headed up to Pai in a minibus and had an absolutely beautiful time there. We rented little scooters for the week, learned how to ride them, and spent most of our time riding around the quiet country roads looking at the gorgeous scenery, out to waterfalls and around fields of flowers. We didn’t love Pai town, it was fairly full of Western tourists of the hippie variety. But we did have some nice nights walking down the market street and ducking into bars with live music.

They were hot, summery days with absolutely beautiful sunsets and lots of laughs. We were still settling into our travel lifestyle, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Favourites:

Chiang Mai

Taste From Heaven: Very delicious vegetarian food!

The UN Irish Pub: They have a lovely garden terrace with fairy lights and yummy (Western) food.

Bamboo Bee: Some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had! I’d had this tiny little hole-in-the-wall recommended to me by lots of different people and it lived up to all the hype. Order the Khao Soi.

The Sunday Walking Street Market: Where we had some of our favourite pad Thai from a street vendor, gorged ourselves on mango sticky rice, bought beautiful scarves and had smoothies. There is a peaceful temple courtyard where food vendors set up on Sundays and sell all kinds of goodies. I wished that this market was every day, except that in the evening you could hardly walk down the street for all the people (but remember too that it was Songkran).

The Riverside Bar: So much fun. They have a beautiful terrace overlooking the water, an awesome cover band were playing, lots of candlelight and lanterns, and a great mix of Thai people and foreigners.

Pai

Big’s Little Café: A tiny place on the main market street with unpredictable hours (often we’d show up just as he was closing) but really delicious food made with fresh ingredients and a charming chef.

A strawberry shake at Love Strawberry Pai: This place is the definition of a tourist trap but we had fun there. The shakes are huge and sweet but perfect to split.

Pam Bok Waterfall: This was our favourite waterfall. It was small but not crowded, stunning, had a small cliff jump, was cool for those scorching days, and very beautiful. We would go for a dip and then get back on our bikes with wet suits underneath our dresses to dry off.

The Land Split: On your way to Pam Bok is this small property called the Land Split (you can’t miss the signs) where a family have set up a by-donation rest stop. Their generosity is astounding: as soon as you come in, they tell you to sit on the hammocks and bring you a huge spread of fresh food, all homemade: rosella juice, tamarind jam, roasted sweet potatoes, papaya, roasted peanuts, plantain chips, and rosella wine.

Secret Garden Bar: You have to go down a long hallway and you come out into a little courtyard where there are delicious drinks, cushions, a colourful proprietor and live music.

Café Boomlicious: Where I had the best bruschetta of my life with feta and homemade pesto, amen. Such fresh, good food here.

Na’s Kitchen: Wonderful Thai food.

Luang Prabang, Laos

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I spent about 11 days in Laos and really only skimmed the surface of this beautiful country. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it there on this trip but I was getting signs from all over – high praise brought up randomly by acquaintances, a feature in a textbook I was teaching my kids – so I braced myself for the high flight costs and went there anyway. There are cheaper options than flying, but I was a touch short on time because I was meeting my sister and my friends in Chiang Mai (and I’ll be honest, I was a little unsure about the slow boat). I ended up doing a land border crossing by flying from Bangkok to Udon Thani, a Thai town that is quite close to Vientiane because the internal flight in Thailand is much cheaper than flying to Vientiane itself. This post is helpful if you’re doing the same.

I only spent 2 days in the capital, Vientiane. It was a nice city but I had a hard time adjusting to the heat (especially after an all-nighter in Bangkok airport) so I didn’t actually do much and in terms of tourist attractions there isn’t all that much to do. I enjoyed myself a lot though, just walking around, having some lovely meals, taking in the streets and a few temples, getting lost in markets.

…But then I went to Luang Prabang and fell in love. Walking around, everywhere you look is like a postcard! It’s such a quiet town and feels incredibly peaceful. There are a huge number of temples so seeing monks in beautiful orange robes is a special but daily occurrence. There are flowers everywhere, and leafy trees, and lovely little alleys. The town is on a peninsula so you can walk or ride a bike all along the riverside – the views are stunning. There’s an eleven-thirty curfew so it weeds out some of the more rambunctious travellers, making it the absolute perfect first stop for me after my whirlwind final weeks in Korea. I spent my days walking around, sitting in cafés, reading, admiring the views, getting a massage or two, exploring nearby waterfalls and Buddha-filled caves and lounging about at bars with river views. It was such a wonderful time.

Favourites:

  • Utopia: There’s no chance you’d miss this bar with the aformentioned riverside views if you go to Luang Prabang. It’s very popular but still manages to be so laid-back and fun. My favourite was to go at happy hour when it was even quieter, lie on the loungers and chat with new friends.
  • Coconut Garden: Delicious food, really good service, and a beautiful outdoor courtyard at the back with pretty lanterns.
  • Big Brother Mouse: Every day at 9 and 5 they host drop-in volunteering for tourists to come and talk with local students so they can practice their English. I went a couple of afternoons and found it such a humbling and fascinating experience.
  • Kuang Si waterfall: The most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Make sure you climb up to the top of the falls – the path on the left hand side is much less treacherous! It’s sweaty and slippy at parts but 100% worth it to wade out to the edge (surprisingly calm at the top) and peer over the bamboo railing to see all the pools cascading down. The water here is milky turquoise and you can swim at a few different spots on your walk up. I spent my 24th birthday here and I’ll never forget it.
  • Night market: Another thing that you really couldn’t miss but worth mentioning anyways. It’s so quiet in the market, full of beautiful art and jewelry and clothes, and nobody hassles you beyond saying “sabaidee” (hello). It’s lovely.

I stayed at Matata Guesthouse, in the dorms and liked it a lot. It’s a bit more expensive than a regular backpacker’s hostel, but I met some lovely people there, it was in a great location, and the place was really nice.

Two Websites for Booking Cheap Flights

How to Book Cheap Flights >> Life In Limbo

With only a month and a half left in Korea, I’m currently in prime travel-planning mode! I am very inspired by gurus like Nomadic Matt and Chris Guillebeau for travel-hacking and am always trying to learn from them as much as I can, but I’m definitely not at their level yet. That being said, I have discovered these two great websites that are helping me book cheaper travel recently.

Cheapoair

How to Book Cheap Flights >> Life In Limbo

This website is awesome for a couple of reasons. My favourite feature is that they offer a “round-trip” search option that is actually a multi-city search. This means you can search for a one-way flight that stops somewhere else along the way, without paying more. Obviously this won’t be helpful for every kind of trip or travel plan, but if you’re looking at more long-term travel and one-way flights, this can be an awesome tool.

I’ll give you an example. When I booked my flight home from Asia to Toronto, I wound up booking a flight from Bangkok to New Delhi, with a “layover” for 6 weeks in New Delhi for my yoga teacher training, and then a flight from New Delhi to Toronto, all for the price of a flight from only New Delhi to Toronto on other search engines, or about $700 USD. Considering that a flight from Bangkok to New Delhi is about $150, I am saving at least that much overall.

I will say that in my experience there are a couple of downsides to this website. First, you sometimes have to do a lot of trial-and-error searches to find out which routes and airports will be cheapest for you. Second, I’ve had to make minor changes in my itinerary twice due to changes to my flights made by the airline, which is obviously not Cheapoair’s fault. Both times, Cheapoair let me know, sent me an email, and made it easy for me to switch to a different flight with only about an hour’s difference from my original itinerary.

Momondo

How to Book Cheap Flights >> Life In Limbo

I absolutely love this flight search engine. It is modern, well-designed, clear, and easy to use with a lot of awesome features.

The best feature is their rating system for flights, where they compare price vs. flight length (including the number of layovers) and give you an overall rating out of 10 for any particular flight path.

There are lots of other features that I love as well. They show great graphs of price fluctuations for different days of the week and times of the year so you can more easily choose a cheap flight. They source flights from almost every airline, even the small budget airlines that don’t always come up in engines like Kayak (a site I also love, by the way!). When I booked my flight out of Korea, Momondo showed me a flight on Jejuair, a tiny airline that surprisingly cheaply flies direct to Bangkok from Busan every night.

One thing I will say is that I have found that on their app (which is just as easy to use!), I am not always able to find the same flight prices as I can on the website using my computer. They seem to be higher in general on the app than they are on the website, I’m not sure why.

AirAsia ASEAN Pass

This is something I’m still looking into right now, but it looks incredibly promising for travel within Southeast Asia specifically. You can buy 10 flights for a period of 30 days for only about $167 USD total – yes, for all 10 flights, plus some airport taxes. These flights go between the major cities on Air Asia’s routes, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Laos. It’s a really exciting idea and seems like a really affordable way to make the most of your travel time without spending a lot of money.

Are there any websites you use to book cheap flights? What’s your favourite website for booking travel in general?

Photo Walk: Yellow

Photo Walk: Yellow >> Life In Limbo

I woke up this morning and felt like going for a photo walk, so I decided to do the next colour in the rainbow I’ve been making: here’s red and orange. At the rate I’m going, there’s no way I’ll finish the rainbow while living in Korea but that’s okay with me. Maybe it’ll take me years to finish and I’ll have walks in a bunch of different cities and countries. I like the idea of that.

And as always when I do a photo walk, I realize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t frame any of these photos individually, but I adore how they look together.

These photos were all taken Wednesday morning on a sunshiney day in Jangsan, my little neighbourhood in Busan.

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You can see all my other past photo walks here.