Laos Diaries: Days 15-17 – Goodbye Laos

Laos Diaries: Days 15-17 – Goodbye Laos

 It is time to say, “Goodbye Laos”. Sad to leave, but happy I came and took the opportunity to see this fascinating country. But before I do jet off and head back home to Australia, I had the chance to have one more decent look at the country’s capital, Vientiane. A city like no other but one worth exploring and getting to know. Here is my last entry into Laos Diaries

Ho Phra Keo Temple

The Ho Phra Keo Temple in Vientiane.

 

The highlights of days 15-17

Leaving Volunteering

Quite simply, volunteering and teaching English was one of the greatest experiences in my life. Meeting the smiling school kids, the monks with a crazy sense of humour and the fellow volunteers who I had built a great friendship with during my stay at the Green Lion volunteer house. It was a special two weeks that will always be remembered as one of my favourite travel memories and it was sad to leave the house.

Settling into Volunteering

Great memories with other volunteers.

 

Intercity Hotel

From the volunteer house, I still had two nights left in Vientiane, before a final Goodbye Laos. I stayed at the Intercity Hotel, located right near the Mekong River, with Thailand in full sight. It was quite pretty picture.

The hotel looked crap on the outside but surprisingly the interior inside was quite decorated and of quality. The rooms were spacious, with A/C, large bed, good shower, television and a balcony in some rooms, with the Mekong and power lines in full view. As far as $50 a night rooms ago, the Intercity Hotel was certainly top value for the dollar.

 

Intercity Hotel

Intercity Hotel, Vientiane, Laos.

 

Bor Pen Yang Rooftop Bar

One of the best bars in Laos which I stumbled into by chance. Stylish, laidback, good music, cheap food and beer on the tap. It has everything you need of a bar with good views around you and the bubbly night markets below. The atmosphere never gets too wild and there is no heavy music where conversation is impossible.

The Bor Pen Yang bar was so good that I went back twice. Of course, I could have explored Vientiane for another great diking hole, but then again it is hard to find a bar with a relaxing atmosphere. Check it out when in Vientiane, you will find it close to the Mekong River and at the doorstep to the Night Markets. In fact, just look for the large Carlsberg advertisement. 

Bor Pen Yang Bar

Mingling at the roof top bar.

Bor Pen Yang Bar

At the top is the Bor Pen Yang Bar.

 

Strolling Vientiane Again

The first time in Vientiane was short lived, this time it was good to be able to spend a good amount of time, by foot, exploring the capital city a little more thoroughly. It is an interesting city, if it can be called that, there are no high-rises, although China is making their way into the city with a few modern features built and on its way.

Let’s recap a few places of interest, I visited in Vientiane, Laos on this occasion.

          Ho Phra Keo Museum: A stunning temple design with a lovely garden display on the outside. Wandering the boutique but very beautiful temple grounds, will leave you refreshed and mesmerised being in a temple that was built in 1565 for the Emerald Buddha.

Ho Phra Keo Museum

Ho Phra Keo Museum.

 

          Sisaket Museum: Only across the road from the Ho Phra Keo, Sisaket is another proud temple that was built in 1818. Sisaket comes with an amazing architecture design, that is unique from other temples in Vientiane. The main temple, stands tall amongst the surrounding terraces and any lover of temples will be delighted to get their camera out for a photo or two. Both temples have an entrance fee of about a dollar.

Sisaket Museum

Sisaket Museum

 

          Vientiane Centre: Built by the Chinese, The Vientiane Centre is a modern shopping centre, with great shops, café’s, food court and a major cinema complex. Great to escape the Laos heat for a few hours.

Vientiane Centre.

Vientiane Centre, Laos.

 

          King Anouvong Statue: Situated at the Chao Anouvong Park by the Mekong, this statue represents the king who led the rebellion as the last Monarch of the Kingdom of Lao. Good to see for a photo opportunity.

King Anouvong statue

King Anouvong statue, Vientiane.

          Night Markets: Also situated at the Chao Anouvong Park, the night markets are full of life, and comes with a lot of decent affordable merchandise. It is great stroll through the outdoor night markets, with the luxury of not being hounded by the stall owners to buy stuff. A rare luxury in Southeast Asia.

Night Markets

Night Markets from above on a wet Laos Day.

 Goodbye Laos

Always sad to say goodbye to a country, especially one you grow very fond of. As much as I loved my stay in Laos, I missed my family back home very much and it is great to be getting back to them. Laos is a very different country to what I have visited in Southeast Asia and I do recommend if given the chance to visit, to take that chance. I will be back to Laos someday and I am sure it will change a heck of a lot in the years to come as it develops and modernises. But for now, it is goodbye Laos.

Check out Laos Diaries: Days 10-14 – Teaching English

Heading to Vientiane, Laos? Check out TripAdvisor for hotels.

Laos Diaries: Days 10-14 – Teaching English

Laos Diaries: Days 10-14 – Teaching English

 Getting back from a couple of nights in vang Vieng, it was time to get into the nitty and gritty of what I was doing in Laos. Teaching English. To be honest I expected to get into the Volunteering a lot earlier than expected, not to say that culture week in week one was not an educating and an enjoyable experience, it was.  I just expected to be teaching English to the locals a tad earlier into the program.

The days from Monday through to Friday, were pretty much similar, the old Groundhog Day you could say. Wake up, have breakfast, teach the monks for a couple of hours, a three-hour lunch, teaching kids in the afternoon, followed by a little volleyball, dinner and downtime in the evening.

Not that the days were not rewarding, it was and much more. The whole program was an experience that I will never forget and forever cherish. It was the life of a Green Lion volunteer and teaching English was the sole reason I came to visit Laos, so let’s get into it.

teaching English

Volunteering the primary kids.

 

 The Monks by the morning

In the morning, we taught the Monks. We would visit the Vat Pana Khoun temple, where the monks from as young as fourteen to an elderly age, meditate, eat, sleep and live. The exact same place where we do our best to teach them English. I say do our best because teaching anyone who barely understands the English alphabet was a challenge. A rewarding challenge I must admit.

The monks desire to learn is strong, even if it is a struggle for both student and teacher. We are helped through our classes with a translator, but still it doesn’t always help erase the confused looks on the students faces. But the monks have a great sense of humour, they are witty and beyond their deep beliefs, they show how human they really are.

The monks made my week, and no disrespect the kids I taught in the afternoon, they were my favourite part of the volunteering experience. To be in their presence was an honour and it was a privilege to teach. And now I have about twenty more Facebook friends. Yes, the monks have Facebook and use it a lot.

Teaching English to the monks

Teaching English to the monks.

Vat Pana Khoun Temple

Monks and teachers at the Vat Pana Khoun Temple.

 

 

The kids in the afternoon

Walking into the primary school in the afternoons makes us feel like rock stars. The kids run up to you, smile at you, wave to you, or in other instances looking at you with odd “you are strange to me” look. Naturally, they are looking upto you, we are about 3-feet taller, but in this case, you are almost idolised.

Each day we are sent to a different class, which makes it hard to fully teach the students or get any proper rhythm going. But the school’s principals are doing their best to share the volunteers around while they have us and of course we understand that, because volunteers are not always available.

Teaching English to the kids is a little bit more challenging. It is hard to keep their attention, they lose focus as any kids do while in school and time in class is spent teaching, singing songs that I have long forgotten and playing games to the best of our ability, where student and teacher try their best to understand each other.

teaching English

kids look on in the classroom.

Laos kids

Teaching the Laos kids a few games

 

Chilling and downtime

The Green Lion household in Laos, is quite far away from anything really, so getting out and about is quite difficult. Around the facilities, there are a few restaurants, markets and shops but besides that any entertainment value is difficult to find.

Most afternoons are made up with a few of the volunteers grabbing a chocolate shake from the market, playing cards, talking about random stuff and a real intense game of volleyball, which is usually against the French volunteers. Besides that, downtime is a given in the house and boredom can sink in.

Nonetheless, the experience was worthwhile and one that will never be forgotten. While it was the hardest thing to be without my family for two weeks, I am glad I came to Laos for what truly was a worthwhile cause. I can only recommend to anyone that is interested in volunteering, whether it is construction, animal care or teaching English, to do it. Memories are made and so are friendships.

Laos Sunset

Beautiful sunset near the Green Lion Volunteer centre.

 

other volunteers

Last night volunteering with a bit of karaoke.

Heading to Vientiane? Check out TripAdvisor for hotels.

Take a look at Laos Diaries – Days 7-9 Vang Vieng.

Laos Diaries: Days 7-9 – Vang Vieng

Laos Diaries: Days 7-9 – Vang Vieng

 

Weekends in the Green Lion volunteer house meant getting away for a couple of nights. Therefore, with a bunch of people from the volunteer organisation, we ventured to the party town of Vang Vieng, Laos for a bit of fun, sightseeing and incredible adventure that will not be forgotten.

Blue lagoon, Vang Vieng

Enjoy the breathtaking Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng.

 

The talking points of Vang Vieng

Where I stayed

For about $25 a night, I stayed in a neat boutique hotel, the Laos Haven Hotel & Spa. For the price, you simply can’t complain about having an air-conditioned room with television, warm shower and a swimming pool to chill from the insane heat and humidity that comes with Vang Vieng.

Check out Laos Haven Hotel on TripAdvisor

Laos haven Hotel and Spa

Laos Haven hotel and Spa.

Laos haven Hotel

The swimming pool of Laos Haven.

 

Hitting the streets of Vang Vieng

There is a different atmosphere in the air upon hitting town, especially if coming from the capital Vientiane. Instantly you are hit with many tourists who have made their way to the popular town to participate in the many activities on offer and to have a little bit of a party, especially at the popular Sakura Bar, if that is your kind of social scene.

The Vang Vieng streets have many Bars, restaurants, cafes, massage parlours and travel agencies to book a day tour that are on offer in the area. So, soak in the moment when in town and don’t rush to purchase your tours. Get the best price possible.

cafe in Vang Vieng

Enjoy a fine cappuccino form a café in Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng

Enter the streets

 

Eating with Epic Views

Along the Nam Xong River there were many restaurants that I had the privilege to dine at, not only because the food was at a crazy low price but the vantage point from the dining table was simply epic, with large hills soaring high in the background and the river in full view nearby, it made eating good food even more tasteful.

I had the pleasure at eating at a couple of the restaurants on the strip by the river, such as the Riverhill and Banana Restaurant. Both served similar foods of local and international cuisine and both restaurants came with stunning views.

dinner at Vang vieng

Great views from dinner.

 

A day trip of thrill and Adventure

For about $30, I had about ten hours of outdoor adventure around the scenic and beautiful Vang Vieng area. The fulfilled adventure was not always tame but the entertainment throughout the day did not relinquish and how could it with a hectic schedule of activities such as the following:

          Kayaking – The Nam Song River was quite the challenge, with the shallow waters and rapids making kayaking a challenge. For 6km we paddled through scenic landscapes, where at times the river was not always tame.

          The Zipline – It is more than 2km of rush when Ziplining amongst the hills of Vang Vieng with the river below. There is no time to fear the heights as you are taken around the obstacles in around 45-minutes and waiting time for each zipline is quite short.

          Water Cave adventures – Quite a tame adventure in the dark caves but certainly not for those who may suffer from claustrophobia. Throughout the hour-long adventure, you are taken through wet, muddy and slippery dark caves with a headlight as your friend through the obstacle.

          Blue Lagoon – At the end of the day it is time to chill and relax in the stunning Blue Lagoon as the adventures come to an end and you take a dip in the cold waters of the Lagoon. The only downfall is the area is quite small and crowded.

Nam Song River

Kayaking the Nam Song River, Vang Vieng.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon.

 

The time in Vang Vieng, was short, too short. But not a moment was wasted, as the time was spent making the most of the activities that were on offer and getting to as many as I could in the short period of time, but still there was plenty I did miss out on and if you are looking at heading to Vang Vieng, I would save about 5 days in your schedule. Happy travels.

 

Vang Vieng

Have an adventure in the caves.

Take a look at Laos Diaries – Days 1-6 Settling into Volunteering.

Take a look at Laos Diaries – Days 10-14 Teaching English.

Laos Diaries: Days 1-6 – Settling into Volunteering

Laos Diaries: Days 1-6 – Settling into Volunteering

New Horizons, new adventures and a new country. It’s all new experiences, settling into volunteering.

Arriving in Vientiane, Laos was a real eye opener, mainly due to Laos not being your typical South east Asian Country. The traffic is minimal, taxis are a rare and everyone seems to be laidback. Real laidback.

That is my first impression of a country I have never been to and while impressions can change and probably will (I have only been here a real short time), I get the feeling I am going to like this change of pace that Laos seems to offer but time will tell.

Anyways, onwards and forwards with the first edition of Laos Diaries, as I get into the highlights of day 1- 6, settling into Volunteering, Laos Style.

Overview of Vientiane

Overview of Vientiane, Laos from Patuxai Monument.

 

The best bits

Flying Thai Airways

The trip starts with a flight as usual and this time it was away from the typical budget flights I am accustomed too. Travelling from Perth, Australia, I flew straight to Bangkok using Thai Airways, a few hours stop in Bangkok and straight onwards to Vientiane.

Flying Thai Airways was a fresh change, from the usual budget carriers, complimentary alcohol or soft drink, decent meal, free entertainment and plenty of leg space, the comforts were no doubt refreshing. Maybe I should fork out the extra bucks more often.

The Green Lion

The Green Lion is the reason I am in Laos. An organisation that gives you the chance to volunteer in a range of disciplines, such as teaching English, childcare or construction. The costs is lower than the other volunteering out there and therefore I figured I would give it a go, in the meantime choosing a destination where I had never been before.

I am here to teach English to kids and while my program runs for two weeks, I only do the teaching part in the second week. The week is taken up with culture week, as we roam the area discovering great spots in Vientiane, Laos. More on that soon.

The Green Lion

Cosy sleeping arrangement at The Green Lion.

 

Highlights of Culture week during week 1.

–          Vat Pana Khoun Temple. A home for the monks in that area Vientiane, Laos. The temples are beautiful as they are anywhere throughout Southeast Asia. It was a real highlight to go through a few meditations and relaxations with the monks of Vat Pana Khoun. You get a whole new vibe towards the Buddhist monks.

–          Exploring a local Village. Every local village comes with a temple and while the name of the village misplaces me, it was a real highlight to walk up the street of the village. The houses are made of wood or bamboo with no windows, dusty old gravel roads and walking through the village, with cows and bulls loose and free on the road, is quite a sight. To see the locals gaze at you as you walk past or the kids run to the edge of the road is a real treat and it is a pure delight to be in their presence and perhaps, brighten up their day.

–          Hike through the hills. Not a huge hike but it was pleasant to walk through the scrubs, past an old broken-down village with a temple (still exist) and through a few laid out statues of Buddha’s, hidden throughout the bush, where the locals come and pray. At the end of the hike is a beautiful picnic spot, on top of a large rock that oversees a great view of Laos. Quite a beautiful reward after a hard slog in the heat.

Laos Cooking class

Settling into Volunteering with a Lao cooking class.

Laos village

The old man and his bull in a Laos Village.

 

Walking Vientiane

On a couple of occasions during the week I had the chance to walk the unique town of Vientiane. I say unique because it is certainly unlike any capital city I have ever seen. Small, not too much traffic for a Southeast Asian country and a great laid-back nature where walking the markets doesn’t mean you are hounded with storeowners begging you to buy stuff. Complete opposite in fact.

A few early notables of what I did in Vientiane Laos, during my short time in the capital city so far. I will get more into Vientiane in a future blog post.

  • Patuxai Monument – They say you haven’t visited Laos, if you haven’t seen Patuxai Monument. The climb to the top gives you an epic view of the city.
  • Golden Palace – A major palace in Vientiane where the Monks come to pray. Popular for tourist with its beautiful buildings.
  • Night Markets – Situated right on the Mekong River, therefore a stone throw from Thailand, the Night Markets is a must visit from 4.30pm every day of the week.
  • Morning Markets – Another bustling market place in a popular part of the Vientiane city.
Victory Monument

The Patuxai Monument, Vientiane, Laos

 

Golden Palace

The Lying Budda at Golden palace.

 

The Laos Taxi

The Laos taxi is in fact a tuc tuc, you know when you get on the back of the tray squeezed against many locals, while perspiring with the heat. The experience is worthwhile and don’t be afraid. The only trouble may be getting to your destinations as English speaking is not too common in Vientiane.

Laos Taxi

The Tuc tuc (Laos taxi)

 

Eating Lao Food

Eating Lao food is more or less the same as eating Thai food. Rice, noodles, Pad Thai, Papaya Salad, all at a very reasonable price and the options of cheap beer. Can’t complain really, because it Laos is an  adventure and it is all about settling into volunteering and it is all a new experiences to me. Enjoy.

Laos Food

Settling into Volunteering with Laos food.

 

Coming to Vientiane? Checkout TripAdvisor for Accommodation.

Check out Laos Diaries – Days 7-9 in Vang Vieng

Perth Diaries – An Easter Weekend Getaway

Perth Diaries – An Easter Weekend Getaway

Camping is not foreign to us and this Easter weekend of 2017 we changed our tune a little bit, while still doing much the same. On this occasion, we decided to pitch our tent in the Swan Valley region in the city of Perth, Western Australia. It was a weekend getaway that the family and I will never forget.

It was fun, entertaining and a perfect way to spend an Eater break, even if we weren’t quite escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city. We didn’t camp by a flowing river or on the sands of the beach as usual, but it didn’t spoil the moment one bit because instead we camped on the edge of a famous wine region with vineyards as our neighbours and tall city skyscrapers only minutes away.

Perth

City of the Perth at a short distance.

 

Where we stayed

We camped at the Big 4 Discovery Park in Caversham, Perth. Not much of a place as it is mainly a residential area with a few campsites. Although we were situated right next to the vineyards of the Swan Valley Region and it was pure gorgeous. Every morning we could watch the sun rise over the lush green fields and large commercial airplanes descent over the campsite to the nearby airport.

The Holiday Park, while less than fancy, still had its Villas, caravans, bathroom amenities, camp kitchen and a swimming pool, so you could keep a little luxury, while roughing it in some sorts. The stay was still to our liking and it fitted into our plans perfectly, which was for a budget stay by the city.

Easter getaway

Easter at Caversham Discovery Park.

Swan Valley

The Swan Valley, in Perth Western Australia.

 

The Best Bit

–          Whiteman Park – Whiteman Park is where we spent most our Easter Sunday and it was a perfect location for the family. It had been over ten years since my last visit to the Park and while it changed a little, the basics remained.

Only a 15-minute drive from the city, Whiteman Park is beautifully located in the Western Australian bushland. The Park, which is free to enter, comes with a boutique wildlife park, a little on the expensive side, but it is a great way to see and get up close to the famous Australian wildlife.

Whiteman Park also has an Open Park area, which is perfect for a picnic or to play a little football. You can take a tram around the large spacious parklands, explore the Antique Car and tractor Museum, stroll the village that comes with a range of Souvenirs stores and hike the many trails that are located in the bushlands of the park.

Easter Getaway

The Kangaroos of Caversham Wildlife Park in Whiteman Park.

Whiteman Park

The open areas of Whiteman Park.

tram

The tram

Highlights of the trip

–          Discovering Elizabeth Quay and the Perth CBD –

I have seen the Perth CBD many times and each time it seems to get bigger and better. The New Elizabeth Quay, which is a stone throw from the city and on the banks of the picturesque Swan River is a must. Stroll the stunning quay, enjoy coffee and lunch at the nearby restaurants, take gorgeous photos of the city and a hot day the kids can run amuck in the water park.

Once you’re done at the Quay, take the two-minute walk in the city, check out little London, which is a fantastic little alley way with antique shops and a café, before entering the busy walking streets of Perth City.

Once you are in the retail area of the CBD you can shop till you drop, enjoy street entertainment and have an affordable feed at several different budgeted locations. It is not quite Sydney or Melbourne but it’s still a great little city that offers plenty for every kind of traveller.

Elizabeth Quay

View of Perth from Elizabeth Quay.

Little london

Little London in the CBD is always popular for tourist.

CBD Perth

Take the bus around the CBD.

 

–          Watching Soccer at NIB Stadium –

Living a couple of hours from the city, we can’t always watch our local A- League team live in person. On this occasion, myself and the boys made our way to NIB stadium to watch our Perth Glory take on Melbourne City. A great night out and even better with 5-4 score line and a win for the good guys.

Josh Risdon

Perth Glory champ Josh Risdon is always good with the fans.

 

 

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Bali Diaries – Day 4-6: Ubud Edition

Bali Diaries – Day 4-6: Ubud Edition

The second and last leg of my Solo Bali trip. Too short for any holiday in Bali. This time it was off to Ubud all the way from beaches of Tanjung Benoa. An area of Bali I had heard so much about but never been to before. Thankfully on this occasion, I had decided to put on the list, because Ubud was everything I hoped and much more.

Ubud

The town on Ubud an a wet day.

 

Best bit of the trip

Balinese Dance – The best $7.50 I spent on Bali this trip. A traditional and cultural Balinese dance called the Legong and Barong Dance. A series of different events and fantastic local music and a great performance.

It starts with lovely welcome dance by the beautiful Balinese women (very pretty indeed), to an epic and somewhat creepy warrior dance. It leads to a great finale with Barong Dance, that is about a warrior whose occupation is a hunter, with misfortunate and comical events. While there are many different traditional dances in Ubud, make sure you get to at least one, because you will be satisfied you did.

Ubud

Beautiful Balinese dancers at the Legong and Barong Dance.

 

Where I stayed

Alaya Resort – The wonderful Alaya Resort, very Boutique and stunning amongst the pretty landscapes of a wonderful resort. Especially the Manisan Restaurant that is in the middle of the lush rice fields.

Once you get off the busy streets of Ubud and into the lobby, it turns into luxury. From the stunning Indonesian designed deluxe rooms, to the beautiful gardens and glamorous swimming pools. The stay was perfect and keep at look out for the Alaya Resort if ever in the area.

Ubud

Relax or swim. The choice is yours at Alaya Resort.

Alaya Resort

Take the path to the Manisan Restaurant.

 

Highlights

–          Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary – A short stay is a good stay at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary and for $5 it is worth the entry price. The monkeys are well and truly alive, inside and outside the enclosure, fighting amongst themselves, scrambling for food and even jumping all over their guest. That’s right us humans.

It will only take about an hour to walk through the forest as monkeys are running amuck and doing their thing. If you buy a few bananas, they well be jumping on your shoulders too. Try not to panic and force them off you, they may decide to take a bite at you. But in general, it is a safe little forest. Enjoy it.

Ubud

The Monkey forest is well and truly alive.

 

–          Walking the town centre – Ubud is a lively little town centre, especially for a town so far from the coast. Boutique market stalls, jewellery stalls, plenty of restaurants. café’s and plenty of massage parlours. It’s even great to wander the town and see the temples and great sculptures that represents the main religion in Bali. A very pretty town, no doubt.

The most memorable part of my time in Ubud was meeting local man Wadi. A local barrister who runs a small coffee shop, The Monkey Cave. It was great to have a chat and the cappuccino was superb. You can find this little coffee box a stone throw from the Monkey forest.

Ubud

Meet Wadi at the Monkey Cave.

Ubud

Take a stroll through the Ubud Markets