Best of 2012

Forgive the silence… would you believe that I ushered in the New Year with colds and fever?  But that didn’t stop me from having friends over for the count down. No.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

This-is-forever

Credits:  Quickpage from JSprague’s 4ever kit, created by Brenda Neuberger

2012 has been good to me.  Even with much less travels this year, I’ve managed a few unforgettable firsts.  Here they are; some I have not even posted but will pre-empt:

1.  The Bus Ride to Vang Vieng

bus-to-VV

A 4-hour bus ride from Vientaine on a sleeper bus made for petite Laotians.  Worst was the bunks were meant for (yes) 2 petite Laotians.  We’re definitely far from petite.  So imagine the trip.

2.  First time on a Hot Air Balloon

vang-vieng

Soaring high in Vang Vieng, watching the town wake up.  You get the best view in town, if you ask me.

3.  The Boat Ride to Y’ami

boat-ride-to-Y'ami

An idea that came to fruition had us journeying to the northernmost island of the Philippines on a grueling 3-hour boat ride off Itbayat Island in Batanes.  Why?  I ask the same question many times over.  An experience hard to topple.

4.  A Night in Siayan

siayan

We had to break the grueling boat ride and stay overnight in an island about 1 hour away from Itbayat (the farthest inhabited island of Batanes) because the waters along the Bashi Channel can be treacherous particularly in the late afternoon.  Getting to the island, beautiful as it is, is an adventure in its self.

5.  Hiking Up to Cape Engaño

Palaui-view

Beautiful sight, up there.  That’s all I will say for now.  Watch out for my post – coming soon.

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath

hirayu-onsen

While it snowed too.  A totally exhilarating and liberating experience, I dipped in those pools two nights in a row.  Awesomeness.

As for 2013, I’ve got some exciting plans already in the pipeline. I’ve been working hard to get that to fruition over the holidays, truth to tell.  It is going to be an exciting year.  I feel it in the air.  How is your 2013 looking so far?

Soaring High in Vang Vieng

With most of Vang Vieng still asleep, we sauntered down before the break of dawn to the hotel lobby half asleep ourselves.  The ride came at 6 in the morning as promised and drove us to an empty lot where another vehicle with the basket and balloon arrived almost the same time.

They flipped the basket sideways, inflated the balloon with a giant fan and simultaneously flames it to give out that required hot air.

“You’re taking the VIP ride”, said a Chinese man in a coat to us.  Essentially, he meant that the basket can fit 4 but with no one else booked, the basket was ours for the next 40 minutes.  With their GPS and radios checked, we were asked to climb in.

By now Vang Vieng was waking up.

The balloon slowly lifted us up allowing us a bird’s eye view of this picturesque town.

With the air still misty, the mountain peaks looked mystical, like a painting almost.

The rice fields stretches out of the town and into the foothills.

The Namsong River beautifully snakes through Vang Vieng, manifesting its charm even more.

From the top, we see that the empty lot is actually the old airstrip and close to it is the road leading to Luang Prabang.

The beauty of Vang Vieng so captivated me; I forget that I was afraid of heights.  Tranquility fused with a rush of adrenalin was an experience unlike any I’ve had.

Hot Air Ballooning over Vang Vieng seemed to have blown away the cloud looming the town lately.

On the bus to Luang Prabang later that morning, I take one last look and say adieu to a town I have, in less than a day, become enchanted with.

Useful Info:

The Ballooning Company
Ban Vang Vieng, Laos PDR
+856-20-9691-8111
email: info@laoballooning.com
website: http://www.laoballooning.com

Fun and Frolic at the River Namsong

Credits:  Papers by Jessica Sprague (Bright Stripes paper), Carina Gardner (Coqu flirt 16), ITM Tricolor (Red tiny dot), QQ Knotty Girl papers; Elements by Carina Gardner (daisy paper bits)

Once a peaceful and quiet town, Vang Vieng used to appeal only to adventure travelers wanting to rock climb, explore caves or to simply enjoy its tranquil surroundings, its people and culture.

Surrounded with striking karst rock formation, the Namsong runs through it contributing to its serene setting.

Since the launch of inner tubing in the mid-2000, the quiet town of Vang Vieng has never been quite the same.

The Namsong now appeal to “partying” backpackers.

The town today is most know for “tubing” down the Namsong and with it came

many bars along the riverbanks catering to those floating downstream either in rubber tubes or on a kayak.

The townsfolk once farmers are now owners of bars and guesthouses – predominantly made up of chill-out bars and dance shacks all offering cheap booze,

some offering more thrills in the form of swings and ziplines.

Along with the bars, lodgings of various types line both sides of the riverbanks.

A short afternoon cruise up and down the river on a motorized boat reveal all these.  It is the easiest way to watch the goings on around the river.

Foreigners partying or simply floating down the river dominate local scenes along the river.

The “party” scene may have appealed to me years ago but today, I prefer the relaxed atmosphere of the down river part of the Namsong.

Watching the sunset over cocktails after a long day is my idea of a good time.

This looks like fun… so we booked a sunrise ride over Vang Vieng on a Hot Air Balloon… on my next post.

Road to Vang Vieng

Credits:  Papers by Crystal Wilkerson’s Room Collection series, Kaboks’ Christmas Treasure Papers; Photomask by Moninda.

A tuk-tuk picked us up at the hotel and brought us to a VIP bus parked along the Mekong River bank opposite Wat Chanh temple.  Before entering, we were asked to take off our shoes and were given a plastic bag to store them in the meantime.  The bus, like most lodgings and households in Laos, is a no-shoes zone.  Although lined with linoleum and seemingly clean enough, I felt strange and a bit grossed out walking barefooted.  But with the current seating, er… bunking arrangement, it was better this way.

The bus had double-decked bunk beds instead of seats.  I reached the end and it was all taken.  What’s going on?  Were we on the wrong bus perhaps?  It seemed like they were out of space, then I heard the conductor shout, “two in a bunk!” Are you kidding me?  These are made for size 0 petites, not the likes of us.  A couple occupying a bunk each gave one up and we thankfully took it.  At first we didn’t know how to go about it until the couple figured it out.  Facing each other, we sat uncomfortably for the next 4 hours.

Two hours down, we stopped for lunch.  Choices of sandwiches similar to Vietnam’s Banh Mi  was lunch for us.

I had a simple but pretty good canned tuna with mayo on a baguette.

At the Vang Vieng bus station two hours later, we made sure to get a proper bus particularly since we will be on the road for 6-7 hours.  Pointing to a photo of a bus with seats, we asked if there were seats available for the next day.  The lady nodded and asked, “what time?”  “10AM for the express bus to Luang Prabang, please.”

After the purchase, we got onto a jeep provided by the bus company that brought us to town.

Vang Vieng is a small tourist-oriented town about 150km north of Vientiane in Vientiane Province. It has only 3 streets, a market, a bus station and a few temples.  Before we even know it, we were on the main street in town.  We could have actually walked to town.

Small it may be but Vang Vieng is bursting with natural beauty.  The small town is beside a river and a picturesque backdrop of limestone karst surrounds it.  Mainly a backpacker’s hotspot until the mainstream travelers caught on a few years back.  Many are breaking a 10-hour road trip to Luang Prabang here, staying a couple of days to explore its natural wonders.  We had the same idea but didn’t have enough days to stay longer.  Wish we had.

In a quieter part of the Namsong River, a fair distance down river from the bars famous with the backpackers is The Elephant Crossing Hotel.  It is an easy walk from the main street even with backpacks in tow.

Because it situated on the banks of the Namsong River, the view was spectacular, but I guess anything along the riverbank would boast of the same breathtaking views.

All 31 rooms of the 4-storey boutique hotel were designed to have a private balcony

overlooking Vang Vieng’s famous majestic limestone mountains.

Their riverside restaurant was calling out to us, and there we whiled the time away with some spring rolls, a few bottles of beer and a lot of river actions.

We could sit there and watch the day go by, truth to tell, if only we had more days to spare.

Useful Info:

Buses to Vang Vieng:  Tickets can be purchased at almost every guesthouses, hotels or even travel operators.  This should already include transport to the bus station.  Several types of buses to choose from:
 
Local Buses — slower without air conditioning. Journey takes at least 5 hours.  Cost: 40,000 Kip (US$ 5)
VIP Buses — run by Malany Bus Company (856-23) 51-1633 and Thavonsouk Bus Company.  Departs 10AM and 2PM.  Journey takes about 4 hours.  Cost: 50,000 Kip (US$ 6)
AC Minivans —   Leaves as soon as it is full and is the most convenient and comfortable transport.  Cost: 70,000-80,000 Kip. (US$ 9)
 
 
Elephant Crossing Hotel:
Ban Viengkeo, Vang Vieng District
Vientiane, Lao PDR
(856-23) 51-1232