13 Weeks of Wandering – Vientiane

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver

Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: When a monk asks to add you on facebook, you don’t say no!

13 WoW – Laos: Vientiane

It was dark by the time I arrived, so spotting this fountain gave me a sense of  security.

It was all very different in Vientiane, I could tell it was the capital by how well developed it seemed to be.
I’d already decided on a hostel to go to; Sailomyen hostel, it seemed to be walking distance so I braved it with my front and back backpacks.

The Hostel

Although a little bit away from the centre and a dollar or two more expensive than other hostels in the area (around $8 a night), this hostel was far superior in decor, ambience, cleanliness and luxury to any other hostel I had stayed in.

Walking through the door was a very pleasant surprise and checking in was smooth, friendly and professional. I was lead to my four bed female-only dorm on the fourth floor, the bunks were so luxurious with curtains allowing for full privacy. It was like each bunk was your own little hotel pod. It was probably the most comfortable hostel in all of Laos, maybe even all of the countries I visited.

Breakfast at Sailomyen Hostel
Free Breakfast at the Hostel

After a very comfortable night’s rest, and a tasty breakfast in the morning, my only complaint was the same complaint I had for most hostels all over South East Asia; the Air Con! 

So I switched to a much cheaper hostel bang in the center where I shared a room with 7 men and had beds that felt so hard that I wondered if they were carved of rock. But thankfully, me and the boys agreed on no air con whilst we sleep!


“Wat” is there to see in Vientiane?


Vientiane is a city full of surprises. It is a combination of traditional Buddhist temples with french colonial buildings and architecture, this is because of it’s history with the French making this one of their trading posts. Also for this reason, you will find some very good french restaurants, cafes and bars in this area.

Bordering Thailand with nothing but the Mekong river between the two countries, you can enjoy some amazing sunsets by the river whilst you overlook Thailand.

Here are some of the things you can’t miss!


In case you didn’t get the pun in the heading, a temple is called a “wat” in Laos (and most parts of SE Asia). Probably because when you see the beautiful architecture you will be going “waaaat” in awe.

The most popular temples would be these three:

Wat Ho Phra Keo
One of the oldest Wats in the capital and former home to the emerald Buddha. This is now converted to a museum.

Wat Si Muang
The site of the lak meuang, or city pillar, which is home to the guardian spirit of Vientiane.

Wat Si Saket
Basically a temple with thousands of Buddha statues.

I have to admit that I didn’t visit any of those, but preferred to explore some of the other temples that I came across whilst I explored such as Wat That Phoun and Wat Mixai. This may or may not have lead to me befriending a monk on Facebook.

Make Friends with a Monk

Meet my friend ພູມລຳເນົາ ສາຍເຊໂດນ, don’t ask me how you pronounce it. Yes, he is a monk and yes, we are facebook friends! Let me tell you how this happened.

I was exploring Vientiane on Buddha day, not sure what I was looking for but as it was Buddha day, I thought there may be something going on about town. As I am walking, a stranger in his car approached me and started to talk to me, but in true British style, as I did not know this individual, I did like we do on the London underground and ignored him.

Ducking into Wat Mixai, I’m admiring the architecture when lo and behold, I am approached by the same man. “Hello!” He smiled widely at me, “Don’t just stand outside, come in! Come in!”
He said it with such confidence that I thought perhaps he worked at the temple, if that’s even a thing, and so I allowed myself to be ushered inside.

Monk Life

I realised too late that inside was a monk, sitting in front of a giant Buddha and my new Indian friend walked straight up to him, put some money on the gold tray and sat in front of him. He turned to beckon me as I contemplated my escape, “Ohh no, I’m good, this isn’t really my thing” I tried to tell him, but he would have none of it!

Before I knew it, we were both sat there listening to this monk telling us the history of the temple, about monk life, anything you wanted to know! It was all very interesting, but then out of the blue the monk asks me, do you have facebook? And I’m taken aback, I mean yes of course I have facebook but are monks even allowed facebook??? How do they log on? What do they post about?

Whatever the answer, I’m now friends with a monk on facebook.

Night Markets


Take a walk along the Mekong Delta past 6pm to see the night markets set up trade by the riverside.

You will be spoilt for choice as you browse through each stall selling various styles of clothing, souvenirs, jewelery, accessories and more.

If you follow the river, you will also come across food markets nearby selling not only Laotian cuisine but varied dishes from neighbouring countries and beyond.

If you are feeling more like a sit-down meal, why not explore some of Vientiane’s restaurants and bars. I was delighted to come across this French restaurant playing live music.




Also known as the “Victory Monument”, this monument is dedicated to those who fought for their independence from France.

Found on the same road that leads to the Presidential palace, this monument sits in the centre of Vientiane standing out in this commercial district.

The stunning water fountain is a centrepiece to the symmetrical gardens which you will be able to see the best view of from the top of the monument.

Victory Monument

On each floor as you go up, expect to find market stalls selling everything from clothes and handbags, to shoes and books. And take a look out of each of the unique windows for a new perspective of Vientiane.


Pha That Luang


This is a large and very ancient stupa in the middle of Vientiane which is covered in gold! It is the most important national monument in all of Laos, both as a religious symbol and as a symbol of independence.


It was amazing seeing monks flock to this monument, even taking selfies (yes I’m serious) with their monk buddies by the monument.

There is so much going on around here, with market stalls outside, monks inside and people selling small birds (poor things) to be released over the monument.

And if you keep exploring, you will find the giant sleeping Buddha, where you may be able to take a nap yourself (or was that just me?!).


So there you have it! Vientiane in a nutshell! Other than not really having anywhere to change money from Kip to Thai Baht (be prepared if you plan to go on to Thailand from here, I had to exchange with some random Australians I met in a bar – it was all very much a last minute panic), it was a very well built up city with plenty of things to do and places to explore. A definite must-visit when you go to Laos!

Follow me as I get the sleeping train back to Bangkok and then prepare to leave Asia altogether!






13 Weeks of Wandering – Laos

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver

Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: “Don’t listen to what they say, go see” ~ Chinese Proverb

13 WoW – Laos

On my quest to get to Luang Prabang, only will power could speed the slow boat on from Muang Khua. A tiring and long journey left my patience in the red when I eventually arrived.

Arriving in Nong Kiaw
Laos Boat

The boat arrived around 4pm in Nong Kiaw and the boat driver was quick to hail me a tuk tuk by pointing at me and yelling “Luang Prabang” to some man. This man helped me into the back of his tuktuk and I  tried to get assurance that I had not missed the bus to Luang Prabang. He waved off my concerns, tried to gather more folk into the tuk tuk but failing that, he took me on a surprisingly long journey.

First Stop; the Monastery. We waited there for around 5 minutes and a monk emerged after this time. He climbed into the back with me and nodded, relaxed, adjusting the “blinds” that supposedly protected us from the downpour of rain.

Next Stop; the ATM. At my request, he dropped me at the ATM and left (with my luggage) to drop off his other passenger, our monk friend. I prayed fervently, remembering my woes in Sa Pa, and inserted my card. When my money was dispersed and my card returned, my heart celebrated despite my being nearly ankle-deep in rain water. To top it off, the tuk tuk returned, with my bag! Huzzah!

Third Stop; The Bus Stop. Couldn’t tell you the name of it, couldn’t tell you how to get there. But can tell you what it looks like:


Cheerful and happy, I arrived, ready to continue my journey to Luang Prabang. The bus stop seemed rather quiet; nobody was around. I approached the window cautiously and asked to get on the next bus to Luang Prabang. “8am tomorrow!” I was told, to my surprise. He then explained that there are only two buses, one departs at 8am and the other departs at 2pm, unless I wanted to charter my own bus for a much larger sum (I vaguely remember 500,000 kip). I did not wish to do this, so I returned to my tuk tuk dismayed with the instructions to take me back nearer the river where I could stay the night at one of the guesthouses.

The cogs in my head were turning as I was ferried by this tuk tuk driver, he must have known the last bus left at 2pm yet he still took me for this long ride.
My patience was on even thinner ground than before as he came to a stop. I asked if there was any other way of me getting to Luang Prabang, he pointed at a building that seemed to be advertising tours.

The man inside spoke very good English, but he only repeated what the man at the bus station had said, “there are only two buses and they leave at 8am and the last one at 2pm”. I knew the answer already but I asked “do all the tuk tuk drivers know that the final bus departs at 2pm?” The answer, “yes”. My patience was gone by now, “So why did this tuk tuk driver take me with false promises of a bus to Luang Prabang?”. He shrugged his shoulders and translated to the driver… Maybe my sass was a little extra, maybe he had been found out and I struck a guilt chord, either way he walked to his tuk tuk, grabbed my bag, dumped it in my arms and then drove off. Thanks for nothing I guess!

Nong Kiaw

Bag in arms, dust cloud where tuk tuk used to be, torrential rain, lost look on face. I did a 360 degree on my surroundings and was pleasantly surprised to spot some friendly faces; the German families from my boat trip lunching beneath the shelter of a veranda. The kids were already smiling and waving, and I was ushered in to join them for lunch.

We chatted over Pho and a mango smoothie about their travel plans and that’s when I found out how they came to be here. The four of them, as youth, had travelled the world themselves backpacking. Now, years later with their children of the same ages; 9 and 11, they wanted to re-live their travel experience with their children and open their eyes to backpacking. As a family, they all decided on Laos for the same reason I had, it was a less-travelled country with many unexplored corners.

The families had been all travelling together with their backpacks, staying in hostels and travelling cheaply by bus, train and tuk tuk. They were now deciding whether to head back to Luang Prabang or to go to Vientianne. Their accommodation that night had not yet been decided, and neither had mine!

When we parted ways, I headed to the river to book a cheap room.
The double bed was dressed with well used sheets and a duvet decorated with a children’s design. There was a DIY mosquito net that was a riddle to set up with wires to attach to two walls. The wifi was a luxury that neither worked, nor did I expect it to work. In short, it was what I would describe back home as a dive, but what was most probably the most luxurious hotel in the small village/town area. Hashtag “First World Problems”.


A Long & Dark Night



The rain continued to beat down, and it got late, but I knew I needed to get something to eat if I was going to take my doxycycline (anti-maleria tablet) so I worked myself up to venture out in the dark, wet night.

I don’t remember which way I walked, or how far, but eventually I came to a restaurant which was surprisingly full. Not keen to sit in the rain, I looked for a table in the balcony upstairs, and who was I to come across but my German friends! I joined them again and we spun stories of our travel adventures until we finished our meals. After paying, and as if on queue to us about to depart, the electricity in the town went out.
We wove our way through the inside of the building, which seemed to double up as a hostel, and lingered at the door where the rain seemed to furiously beat down, with more intensity than earlier that evening.

My pathetic excuse for a mac/anorak was already soaked through from earlier, so I didn’t hesitate. Tightening my hood’s strings and zipping my cold and damp jacket, I secured my flip flops on my feet and stepped into the rain, bidding my friends good night. Thinking myself clever, I fished out the mini torch that I’d brought along and headed confidently in the direction I thought I’d came.

I’d never seen the darkness quite so… dark. Buildings were barely a shadow as they blended into the blackness and my torch did nothing in the torrential rain to guide my path, weak as the light already was due to the fading batteries. Ten minutes must have passed and I still did not recognise anything, there was a turn somewhere, I was sure of it but I couldn’t remember where. I cursed myself for not thinking more carefully about the route I was taking earlier. Other than the rain, all was silent and not even the moon was out to light my path. My imagination started to get the better of me as time continued to pass and I couldn’t recognise anything. I thought about where I would take shelter if I could not find my way back, fearfully I shone my torch over the buildings either side of the road and imagined scary men lurking in the shadows. I was in full panic mode now, it was fight or flight… or apparently freeze, which is what I did when I saw a motorbike’s lights go on and then shortly after breeze by me. I didn’t know whether I was relieved that I hadn’t been abducted by this motorbike man or annoyed that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to ask where I was. I no longer cared that I was entirely soaked through and I accepted that my torch did nothing for my vision, but kept it on as a security blanket to hold onto – I was very aware by now that my rape alarm wouldn’t compete with the powerful sound of the rain.

There was only one thing to be done, return to the restaurant and try to ask for help. They would probably be closed by now but perhaps someone would be there to help me find my way. That’s what I tried to do, but in the blinding rain and the pitch blackness, it was hard to tell after an undisclosed period of time whether I had passed the restaurant, taken a wrong turning somewhere or if I needed to keep going.

The sound of German singing battling with the rain was never a more delightful sound to my ears. I saw flashlights coming my way and praised the heavens for them all! I must have seemed like a crazy person shouting at them from a distance but they soon figured it was me. They knew exactly where they were, and exactly where I should have been… 10 minutes in the opposite direction to where I had originally set off!

Feeling foolish, I headed back cautiously and couldn’t have been happier to finally stumble into my little “hotel” room. Sadly, not only was the electricity off, but the water was also, so I improvised with the last 500ml bottle of water I had, brushing my teeth, washing myself and taking my anti-maleria tablet. #Winning!


One for the Road


I was grateful to wake up the next morning to working water and electricity, I was packed and ready to get my tuk tuk taxi, courtesy of the guesthouse owner, with a new 1l bottle of water for July’s Challenge!

Happy to see that sign indicating the bus station again, I head straight to the window to pay for and secure my spot in the Luang Prabang bus. It was a long wait before we finally filled the bus, although each time I thought it was full, they always seemed to fit one more in. Until one American lady.

She was clearly a backpacker, and she was a fairly large lady with a fairly large bag who seemed to be arguing with the man at the window. The whole bus was curious but it became obvious why she was so furious as the level of her voice kept rising. “I’ve heard about you, you know!” She was yelling, “You are famous on the internet you know that?”
I leaned my head out of the window further, curious as to what on earth she was on about, “Yes, you’re famous for all the wrong reasons! They told me about you, saying the bus is full when it’s clearly not full! Trying to extort us tourists!”

I looked behind me and in front of me and it seemed pretty damn full.

“Fine! If you won’t take my money then I’m going directly to the bus driver then, because that bus clearly is not full!”

We all braced ourselves as she head our way. “You,” she addressed the bus driver, “Here, Luang Prabang, will you take me?” She waved money at him as he smiled awkwardly. One of the boys on the bus was pretty much (annoyingly) narrating exactly what was happening in my ear as it unfolded before us, throwing in his opinion “the bus is clearly full, I don’t know what she wants?” I shook my head but listened on as the bus driver tried to convince her that the bus was full and she would have to wait until 2pm for the next bus. “But it’s clearly not full! Look, I can fit right there!” She pointed to a space just under half the size of the rest of the seats which also happened to be right next to me and I cringed slightly. The argument carried on for longer than we were interested, and the boy narrating in my ear decided to get involved and re-iterate what the driver had just said to her. “He says the bus is full, that the law only allows for a maximum of 16 people on this size bus and you will have to wait for the next bus at 2pm.” She brushed him off, “That’s nonsense! He’s lying!” The whole bus sighed.

Eventually, after threatening to further damage their reputation on youtube by filming them and telling the internet about them she left with a resolve to hitch-hike there. The bus left and we drove past her as she walked on down the road to Luang Prabang.

Now, the funniest part of the story was… she turned out to be absolutely right! Around 20 minutes into our journey, the bus driver stopped and waited in a location. A young woman appeared with luggage which she slung on top of the bus and she sat on that half-sized seat next to me the entire way to Luang Prabang!

What do you think about this? Was the American lady mistreated? Who was this mystery woman and how come she was allowed to sit on the half seat? Chuck your opinions in the comments below!

See what happens when I arrive in Luang Prabang in my next post!

13 Weeks of Wandering – Destination: Laos

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver

Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: The slow routes are always the authentic routes.


13 WoW – Destination: Laos

Before I had made any plans to get to Laos, I had already been warned off going there by land by multiple people who advised me that flying to Laos was the best way. I was also told that there was no way to go into Laos from Sa Pa, that I would have to return to Hanoi before I could get to Laos. Well, I didn’t listen to any of them and thank God I didn’t because I saved time as well as money.


How to get to Laos from Sa Pa

In Sa Pa there are a number of tourist agents and you will see a few shops advertising tours or coaches to certain destinations. In addition to that, most hotels will also have information on tours and may even have the facility to book you onto a coach to your desired destination. I went to the Anh Nhi hotel to book my bus to Laos and the manager presented me with a couple of options on how to get there. I could either do a 24 hour bus directly to Luang Prabang, or I could break it up and head to Muang Khua then hop on a boat the rest of the way.

Now, it didn’t turn out to be quite as simple as that (especially with the drama I had before I even left), but it was cheap (just over 200 VND) and it was an adventure; in the end that’s all we really want!


The Journey

Sleeper Bus
Single Sleeper Beds

At first, it all started well. I’m not a complete newbie to sleeper buses having taken several to get to where I was, so it all seemed pretty dreamy when I realised I’d been booked onto a double bed sleeper bus! So much room!

My first mini drama happened when I spotted, very near my head, a large spider. After pointing it out to the driver, he gave me a look that literally said “bitch please”, rolled his eyes and then walked away. I then had to deal with the situation myself, by using my cap to flick the spider to an unknown location (a.k.a probably somebody’s bed – SO sorry!).

The rest of the journey continued to be relatively uneventful as I took full advantage of the free wifi aboard and dozed in and out of sleep.

The major problem I had with my journey was the language barrier meaning that I had literally no idea where I was supposed to be getting off and how long for etc. So, I decided that Laos is pretty far away, the border is going to be a while to get to and at that stage I would probably need my passport, so I made a plan. The plan was simply to not get off the bus at any point until I saw people getting their passports out. Pretty good plan, I thought. Until…


Left Behind

IMG_4649 (2)

I needed to pee, pretty desperately. By this point the bus had made several stops in which I shot up, groggy eyed, and looked for people with their passports. Some stops people went to buy food, others had been bathroom stops and even drop offs. At all of these stops, the driver had shouted something in Vietnamese and everyone but I had understood. This time seemed no different, so when the bus stopped, I thought I’d make communication with the driver to see how long the stop would be for. I interpreted it to be, 15 minutes.

I dashed to the bathroom which was hidden around the back of the “petrol station” and it was nearly pitch black behind there. I found the lights and paid my dues, rushing to get away from the dark eerie area round back. As I made my way back to the bus, I could hear the rumbling sound of the engine running, and to my horror the bus had begun to move off.

I legged it as fast as I could waving frantically, my heart rate up a million, my mind flashing images of me being stuck in the middle of nowhere with all my belongings on this coach. Luckily for me, the driver spotted me and stopped. As did my heart. And when I was finally let back on, he was laughing guiltily as I tried to laugh back. It was not funny. I did not get off that coach for anything after that.

So, my night was pretty sleepless as I sought for signs as to when I was supposed to get off the coach. When the coach finally came to a rather elongated stop, the driver yelled a few times in Vietnamese and one by one people began to exit the coach. I was not moving, not after what had happened. A good 15 – 20 minutes must have passed before I and some other foreigners started to get suspicious as more people started to get up and exit. I finally tried to ask my fellow passengers, two Japanese boys, who in broken English told me that they think we need to get off. So I approached the driver repeatedly saying “Muang Khua?”

It took a few repeats before he registered what I was saying and then nodded enthusiastically pointing to the hold. I think that meant, “get your bags”. After a while standing by the bus with my bags, the driver yelled “Muang Khua” and another man popped up out of nowhere. It was 5am by this point, my eyesight was questionable. The second man pointed to some seats where I waited with my bags unsure of where I was or what I was doing. Then I was joined by two others, a couple from Barcelona, also going to Muang Khua!


The Local Bus


An hour later, post brushing my teeth in the “bathrooms” that were holes in the ground with “sinks” that smelled more like urinals (deffo used bottled water to rinse). Myself and my two new Catalan buddies were ushered to a minibus with more seats than there should be inside. The bus was soon filled to overloading with locals, parcels, strange smelling packages, food and even chickens. This Spanish couple and I were the only tourists on the entire bus. The bus made many a stop after leaving Dien Bien and each time I thought “we couldn’t get any more in this bus”, and each time we did. One huge roll of plastic tubes atop the minivan here, and one chicken in a box under your feet. But aside from the odoriferous cargo and the stridency of the animals, the most uncomfortable element of this leg of the journey was the spitting.

Asians spit, a lot! Especially in Vietnam. I figure that this is due to the over-population which has lead to severe air pollution in some areas. Heck, I even wanted to spit at times! Ladies and men, boys and girls, young and old all do it, and not just a delicate projection of saliva in discreet intervals. Sorry to describe this, but they give it 100 with their spitting; a long, drawn out snort to clear the throat before launching saliva (and whatever else) far distances.

This may be why the window seats are so desirable, but it didn’t seem to bother the locals if they hadn’t managed to plonk their behinds on the sought after window seat. I learned this after witnessing an elderly lady, most probably in her 80’s, tap a young man on his shoulder, snort, lean over him and spit out of the window!

Feeling rather squeamish, I prayed a silent prayer that nobody beside me would get such a notion. Thank God, they didn’t.


Crossing the Border


This little local bus was the bus I used to cross the Laotian border. What you should expect at the border is A. Completing a fair share of paperwork and B. Going to a number of windows to pay through your ears for various whims (one window took my temperature and then charged me for it). Have a good amount of US dollars on you, and you will want to change cash to Laotian Kip if you have the chance as the likelihood of you coming across a working ATM in Muang Khua is minimal. I had $90 and just managed to get the visa, pay for one night shared room with the only two other tourists on my bus and get the boat in the morning. The visa was close to $45 in the end but I’m sure that could vary.

*Hint: Choose to pay in Kip if given an option or they will try rounding up in their conversion.


Muang Khua

muang khuoa view

The local bus stops by the river where the slow boat departs every day, but the two tourists and I decided to jump out early hoping to get some money out from a cash machine. I had lent them $2 at the border as they also were caught off guard with the excessive charges.

We headed to the first cash machine in the village and found that it was not working and had been out of service for some time. After speaking with locals, we found the second cash machine and the third, but none of them worked! They were the only cash machines in the village, none of them worked, and nobody cared – they didn’t need it!

Hopeful that the banks may be open early the following day, we decided to put our money together and all share one room for the night. Dinner that night would be packet noodles that we shared with some coffee (tea for me) and biscuits. But before we settled in, we had time to explore the little village and see what it had to offer.

*Hint: If, like me, you find yourself stuck without an ATM, but you have foreign currency to exchange, try local shops. I was able to change my dollars (albeit at a bad rate) in the local electrical shop.

Muang Khua is very small and two rivers meet right by this village; Nam Phak which comes off the much larger Nam Ou. The highlight of the area was the suspension bridge where we could enjoy lovely views of the Nam Phak river. We also enjoyed playing a bit of football with the local children who got very competitive, and, following our walk across the suspension bridge, we enjoyed some super fun Karaoke at a local pub where we instantly made new friends.

muang khuoa suspension bridge

I really recommend stopping by a Karaoke bar in this neck of the woods, it’s so warming to see the locals giving it their all, laughing, joking and having a good time!


The Slow Boat from Muang Khua to Nong Kiaw

The next day, the banks were not able to help us get any money out, so we headed straight to the dock in the hopes that we could get the cheapest tickets.

The way the slow boat works is that it only departs once a day and the time it departs depends on the number of people, as does the price you pay. The time it leaves is between 9am and 10am ish, so I recommend getting there at 9 and waiting. You can charter the boat yourself if you miss the regular daily trip but you will pay heavily for it.

muang khuoa dock

As it turned out, we waited from 9am until around 9.30/10 when we had enough people to leave. The good news was that two German families who were backpacking with their 9 and 11 year old kids, topped up the numbers meaning that we could pay lower rates (I paid around 200 kip).

I’ll be frank, the boat journey is not a comfortable one and if it’s raining, you will be wet and cold. But it is definitely worth it for the unique experience and incredible views. Expect it to be a slow journey, taking over 6 hours, with many stops to pick up or drop off cargo and people.

muang khuoa boats

*Hint: Be prepared to pee on a beach somewhere along the way if you need to go!

muang khuoa break

There are small beautiful villages on the way which you could stop at for the night if you have the time to, I recommend stopping in Muang Ngoi. I said good-bye to my friends here as they took 3 days to relax in this stunning location, but I carried on to Nong Kiaw hoping to get there in time to catch the bus to Luang Prabang. My original plans of getting the slow boat all the way to Luang Prabang were dismantled when I was told that the Chinese had built dams that now made that journey impossible.

muang khuoa dam

See if I ever make it to Luang Prabang, and what challenges I face when I arrive in Nong Kiaw with no money, in my next post!


13 Weeks of Wandering: The Prequel

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver

Where To? Bangkok
How long? 3 days (don’t worry, I’ll be back)
Status: I was packed like two weeks ago…

13WoW – Destination: Heathrow

It’s 2 weeks until I set off on my travel adventure and I finished packing last week. Yes, you read that right, enjoy that glimpse into what it’s like to be me!

It seems simple when you first decide to go travelling. Step one: Purchase Flights. Step two: Pack. Step three: Go! But it’s not that simple and there were a lot of questions.

Hoping to save other potential travellers time in the future, I am going to go through some of my preparations pre-travelling.


Step One: Purchase Flights

Actually, step one is figuring out where you actually want to go and then when you’ve done that it’s finding out whether it’s realistic for you to go to all those places in the time (and budget) that you have.

My plan at first was not restricted to the locations listed above, wanting to include the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and all sorts! But after speaking to some lovely people at STA Travel, I had a reality check.



Turkish Airlines Flight

Then the next thing, booking flights. My advice is to look on your own first to gauge an idea on how much flights will be and what the logistics are. It takes a lot of time and is really annoying but it helps you decide on the cheapest times to go and shape out your itinerary. When you are armed with your timeline with where you want to be and when, then approach the travel agents, they have a lot of knowledge and advice they can offer even if you don’t go with them. Having had an idea of prices when speaking to them, they would always try to compete with what I had found. Most companies would match if you could genuinely prove you found a cheaper fare yourself.

Spoke to Flight Centre and STA Travel and in the end went with STA only because they could sort out my internal USA flights as well as my international flights. Everyone seemed friendly and offered honest opinions on the cheapest way to do things. It was Flight Centre who advised me that booking a round trip to Bangkok and then doing USA as a separate trip would actually work out cheaper. And actually, coming back for a day means I have a chance to re-pack my bag and drop any souvenirs off before jetting off again.


So it turns out that the splashing out doesn’t stop at flights, but depending on where you are going and how long you are going for, you are going to have to shed even more cash on visas.


UK Passport holders currently (as at 17/05/2017) get a free 30 day visa on arrival in Thailand.
At first thought this meant I didn’t have to worry about it seeing as I was going to be in Thailand for all of about a day before shooting off to Cambodia/Vietnam and returning to Thailand in July to then get another free 30 day visa at the border.
But after speaking to the Thai embassy (strongly recommend speaking to the embassy where you are going), I was advised I would need a visa due to the round trip booked and my overall stay according to my flights being longer than 30 days. Otherwise would have to have flights out of Thailand within the 30 days to gain the free visa.

Now am having a bit of a mare because I’m not sure if I got the right visa having opted for the Single entry visa (which will expire upon entering Cambodia a day into my trip) rather than the much more expensive multiple point entry visa (£35 or £150… it was a no brainer). So hoping that I will get the 30 day free visa when I try to enter Thailand through Laos but will have to let you guys know how that goes.

Update: I think I could have got away without purchasing the visa above but I had no issues entering and exiting Thailand at all. On the way back from Laos (via train) I had no problems getting back into Thailand.


Have it on good authority (the internet and a couple of friends) that a visa will be obtainable at the border so long as I have at least two passport pictures to hand and around $35. I don’t normally do vague but as I have booked a tour, I know I wont be the only one in need of a visa so am going to just chill on this one.

Update: I had no issues entering Cambodia by foot, but that was all thanks to my  G Adventures tour guide (read about it here). I’m sure you could wing it going by public bus or on foot yourself though!


At present, UK Passport holders can enter Vietnam for 15 days without a visa, but this is only until 30 June 2017 when they will be reviewing this and deciding whether or not to extend this. So after seeking advice from the consular, I applied for a Vietnamese visa online. It was ridiculously easy as you didn’t have to send your passport or anything, just fill out their documents and scan them over via email. It was also ridiculously expensive to do it that way. Say goodbye to £80.

Update: I definitely wasted £80, I could have easily got a 15 day visa on arrival at the border (which I crossed by foot) but things may have changed now so keep checking the gov.uk website.


There seems to be little information on the internet about getting a visa for Laos other than here. But it looks like UK passports get a 30 day visa on arrival and I should expect to pay around $42. Again, will need to be armed with mug shots.

Update: Getting a visa on arrival by public bus was easy enough, make sure you have plenty of cash as they seem to charge you for the most pointless things (read more here) and try to pay in kip if you have already converted your money by this stage.


UK passport holders do not need a visa but must apply for a visa waiver. Was lucky here though as I had a trip to the US last year and the ESTA visa waiver that I got for $14 actually covers me for 2 years.


As a UK passport holder, you can get an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA), but if you’re travelling by land or sea, you won’t need an eTA when you enter Canada. However, you must travel with “acceptable travel documents and identification“. I hope that just means my passport… Update: Yes, it did.



Image Credit: topsy.one

Did you think that was it with the expenses? No, there’s more!

You should prepare yourself to spend around £200 – £300 on jabs and travel medicines such as anti-malaria tablets. And you need to make your initial visit to the travel nurse at least 6 months before your trip. My surgery has an online travel questionnaire you complete first before you book your appointment.

Again, was lucky because I had recently visited Ghana and got nearly all of my jabs then. So only needed a Hep A booster. However, I went in too late for my Hep B and Rabies jabs and was instead warned drastically not to go anywhere near animals, not to get any piercings or tattoos and to take my own sterile needles (which I got from amazon) in case I need a jab or stitches whilst I am there.

I am going to order my anti-malaria tablets (Doxycycline) online as they are available OTC but I will only need them if I enter certain parts of Cambodia and Laos. With Doxy, it’s cheap but you have to carry on taking the tablets for four weeks once you are out of the affected area. Always take them with food otherwise you can feel very very sick.



The final part to the oh so simple “stage one” is planning your adventures!
I’m travelling alone and so wanted something to kick-start my adventure where I would meet lots of people doing the same thing as me. So booked a tour with G Adventures (through STA Travel). It’s a 10 day adventure that will take me from Bangkok, through Cambodia and into Vietnam and it is £599 (or was when I booked it). If you want to look at the itinerary of this “Cambodia on a Shoestring” tour, you can do so here.

Hint: When you book with G adventures make sure you register on their site because there are a number of details that they require you to complete before they will send you the official voucher. It wasn’t until I called asking for more information that I found out; by then a lot of information was overdue.
The G adventure expert I spoke to was chirpy at first but seemed to get grumpy real fast with all of my questions. He then directed me to the wrong site to register. So in case you need to know, you register here.

That tour starts on 5th June, but I arrive on 4th of June so needed to book somewhere to stay for the night.

South East Asia are famous for their very cheap accommodation and food, so it was easy for me to find my first night’s Hostel @Hua Lamphong for only £9. There were cheaper options but this one stood out and I can’t wait to give you guys a proper review when I get there! I booked this one through booking.com and what I like is that it’s free cancellation up to 3 days before and you don’t pay until you get there.

The only thing I need to do is find out how I’m going to get there…


Step Two: Pack

This step starts with the right backpack. And I have no idea about backpacks, I didn’t even know until recently that they are measured in litres!

After seeking inspiration from other girls’ travel blogs, I saw a “how to travel on a 16L bag” post and thought “yeah, I can do that”! Thankfully a gentleman in Millets was there to talk sense into me and convince me to settle for the Eurohike Pathfinder 35L (£25 down from £35). My boyfriend still does not think it’s big enough, his argument being I won’t need to be carrying it for long periods of time as I will leave it in the hostel most of the time. He makes a fair point but #YOLO!

I nearly splashed out on a waterproof rain cover for my backpack but held back and then found out there is actually one that comes with this bag. Bonus!

I think the biggest struggle with this was deciding what clothes to leave behind, had to remind myself about the shopping heaven that Bangkok would be.

Now, I have a question for anyone really… How do you padlock a backpack?!?!

Anyway, here is my packing list for anyone curious, and you will be pleased to know it fits snugly into my backpack even with the sleeping bag inside!

  • Sleeping Bag (Update: Don’t take a sleeping bag!)
  • Microfibre Towel
  • Waterproof rucksack liner & waterproof phone bag
  • Carabiners
  • Sandals
  • Flipflops
  • Plimsolls
  • Day Pack (Go lightweight foldaway)
  • Small Satchel Bag
  • Discreet Money Belt
  • Water Bottle (Water-to-Go 3 in 1 filter – be aware if you get this that it needs a 15 minute soak before you go)
  • Toiletries (incl. hand sanitizer, tea tree oil, suncream, spf lip balm, ear plugs & the usual)
  • Make-up, hair, nails & jewellery
  • Electricals (incl. phone, chargers, powerbanks, torch, worldwide multi adaptor & personal security alarm)
  • First-aid kit & Medication (incl. diorralyte, insect repellent, anti-malerials, sterile needles & the usual)
  • Padlocks
  • Watch
  • Journal
  • Book
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera (more on this in a minute)
  • Modest Clothing
    -Shawl/Sarong thing
    -Windbreaker Waterproof Mack
    -Warm Cardigan
    -Light Cardi
    -Spaghetti top
    -Tank top x2
    -T-shirt x2
    -Mesh top x2
    -Maxi skirt x2
    -Denim Shorts
    -Leggings (I went for sport/yoga leggings as these ones keep you cool)
    -PJ shorts
    -Underwear (incl. pop socks)

Made sure all of my clothes can mix and match/do double duty. For PJ’s could wear any of my tank tops, which is why I only took the shorts. The Brave Soul packamac was actually a men’s jacket but for £14.99 (down from £39.99) that didn’t matter to me, and it folds into it’s pocket!

The things that have taken up the most space (other than the sleeping bag) is honestly my toiletries – all those lotions and potions, and one maxi skirt which is really heavy but too good not to take.

I am going to take a moment to say how proud I am of being able to downsize my makeup mag drastically to my top 6:

  • Foundation
  • Bronzer
  • Eye Pencil
  • Liquid Liner
  • Mascara
  • Lipstick/gloss

Yeah, you’re thinking what more could there be? But somehow my normal makeup bag is the size of a large handbag!


Step Three: Go!


Speaking of “go”, I long debated whether or not to get a go-pro or whether to solely rely on my phone for photos. I procrastinated over this so long that by the time I came to make a decision,  it was quite clear to me that money would not permit it. So took a bit of a risk and opted for a budget alternative, the Camkong Action Camera HD 1080P. I’m not a camera geek so no idea if it’s a steal being reduced from £109.99 to £34.99 or if it’s reduced because it’s shit. Either way, I suspect I will find out! UPDATE: It’s shit, don’t get it! I got the Ion Snapcam instead which was much better.

Before I go, there are a few essentials that I must sort out:

  • Scanning & Photocopying all important documents
  • Have at least four passport pictures
  • Money – a pre-loaded travel money card, credit card & Cash
  • Sim Cards – either upgrade mine, get a world sim or ensure my phone is unlocked to buy a sim there
  • Spare phone for emergencies
  • Check in online
  • Figure out how to lock a bloomin’  rucksack!

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