Angkor Wat: How to Experience it like a Boss

By now I think its safe to assume that most people know about Angkor Wat and how magnificent it is.

From the countless number of stunning photos on the internet to its popularity from the successful Tomb Raider movie, it’s no wonder why it sees millions of visitors each year.

That being said,

Angkor Wat is definitely not to be missed if ever in Cambodia or even close to Cambodia.

I repeat.

Do NOT miss it.

It is awe-inspiring.

And rightfully so.

As the largest religious monument in the world, this Hindu-Buddhist temple complex is also one of the most beautiful of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

And that’s just ONE temple.

There are over 70 temples within the temple complex area alone and several hundred minor temples in the Cambodian countryside beyond.

Or maybe

this is your first time hearing about Angkor Wat.

And if that’s the case, don’t you worry.

Cause I’m going to painlessly hit you up with everything you’ll possibly need to know for your first visit to one of the worlds most marvelous structures.

Which is, quite honestly, up there with Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza.

We’ll cover some quick facts, some fresh tips, and a suggested itinerary to get you the most out of your visit.

Cool?

Wat we waitin’ for?

(Only one joke like this. I promise).

Let’s dive right in.


Facts about Angkor Wat

  • Angkor Wat means “City of Temples.” Oooooooo.
  • It is the largest religious monument in the world.
  • The entire complex is 154 square miles (400 square kilometers).
  • It was built in the early 12th century and orginally was a Hindu temple before transitioning to a Buddhist temple.
  • Angkor Wat is on the Cambodian national flag. And on their beer, for that matter.
  • It took 30 years and 5 million tons of sandstone to create Angkor Wat!
  • It was abandoned and hidden for around 400 years. (This I found truly amazing.)

Ok.
Let’s Begin.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Angkor Wat and Cambodia in general, is anytime between November – Febuary. During this time, the weather will be a bit cooler with temperatures around 70-85 degrees Farenheit (21-30 degrees Celsius). March through June is generally very hot and humid, while the rainy monsoon season kicks in around July-Ocotber.

How to get to Siem Reap

Although Siem Reap is a very popular destination for people around the world wanting to visit the Angkor Wat temples, its airport, Siem Reap International isn’t exactly a major travel hub, especially for visitors coming from Europe or the Americas. Most likely you would have to fly to one of the major airports nearby, such as Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. From there you can fly to Siem Reap fairly cheaply, depending on the season. I would recommend checking out Skyscanner or Adioso for some of the best prices out there.

Where to Stay

When visiting Angkor Wat, you’ll be staying in Siem Reap, a city in northwestern Cambodia, which today has become a popular tourist destination because of the promixty to the Angkor Temples.

The city itself has an Old French Quarter and has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the area, as well as around the Old Market. It also boasts many hotels, restaurants and resorts, all related to the growing tourism. The city also has a vibrant nightlife with many stores, massage parlors and nightclubs. I would definitely spend at least one night on the town to take advantage of what Siem Reap has to offer. And you can enjoy a lot, as Siem Reap isn’t terribly big.

I would recommend to find a place within the Psar Chaa area (Old Market) as it’s the livlier part of town with alot of bars, restaurants and markets.

The prices for hotels around this area can vary, but you can usually find homestay rooms for around $12-$15 per night. Which is not bad in my book.

For the hostels though…

A bed in a 4 person dorm is going to set you back a whole $2.
Which is one of the cheapest I’ve seen in Asia and great for budget travelers, but most hostels range from $3-$10 per night.

You can easliy book accomadation through Agoda or Hostelworld.
Find one that looks good and book in advance, but even if you arrive without a reservation, you won’t have any problem finding a place to lay your head down.

Recommendations

Budget
Onederz Hostel – $8-$10/night (dorm). $26/night (room).
Lub d – $7-$10/night (dorm). $ 26-36/night (room).

Boutique
Kannitha Boutique – $15-$20/night (room).

*Prices vary

Dining

There are many restaurants to choose from in Siem Reap, especially in the Psar Chaa area. A lot of them being family-run restaurants whipping up delicious Cambodian fare with the average price for dishes ranging around $2-$7. That being said, there are also a lot of European and Asian restaurants to be found, along with some interesting French-Khmer fusion restaurants.

But please…

Definitely try the national dish of Cambodia, Fish Amok. Which is steamed coconut fish in banana leaves with coconut milk and curry paste.

It’s Delicious.

Angkor Wat Opening Hours

The main temple, Angkor Wat, opens up at 5am. and closes at 5:30pm.

The other temples open up at 7:30am. and close at 5:30pm.

What to wear

Visitors must dress modestly when visiting the Temple complex and appropriate attire must be adhered to.

This being:

– Long pants to cover the knees.
-Shirts and/or scarf to cover the shoulders.
-No tank tops, shorts or any revealing clothing.

Currency

The currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel but interestingly enough, US dollars are accepted virtually everywhere. When withdrawing from ATM’S you will receive American dollars as well. Usually when purchasing food & other items, you will be paying in US dollars and the change that you receive in return will be the Cambodian Riel.

Stay saavy though and make sure you’re getting back the correct exchange (mistakes do happen). Currently the exchange rate for the US Dollar to Cambodian Riel is for 4,112.00 Cambodian Riel per $1, but definitely check out the exchange rate upon arrival.

Daily Costs

-Guesthouse Room – $5-10
-Local Meals and Street Food – $1-3
-Tuk-Tuk rides – $1-4

Getting Around

For the days that you’re visiting the temples, I would advise on getting a tuk-tuk driver for the entire day and he’ll take you to & from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and around the temple grounds for about $25/day. If you don’t hire a driver for an entire day, which is totally fine, you’ll probably spend around that much anyways.

As for getting around Siem Reap, expect to pay about $1-$2 for a five minute ride and around $3 to take you across town. Not too bad at all.


Now.

I must say that I understand that every traveler/tourist has their own time restraints.

I really do.

Some travelers have all the time in the world to explore slowy.

While others may be doing a quick trip and have to get back to work or their regular routine.

But remember that sometimes, delays, accidents, new plans & emergencies do happpen.

And as a long-term world traveler, I am all too familiar with this.

I myself have had to cut certain trips short.

Maybe because of the date of a certain festival in another place was pending and I didn’t time it right.

Or my visa was about to expire.

Or perhaps my dumbass crashed in Laos on the way back from some waterfalls, therefore I couldn’t fully enjoy Luang Prabang and had to cut my experience there short.

Read & Laugh here:

Luang Prabang: Kuang Si Falls and Unfortunate Events

That being said, to come all the way to Cambodia and to see Angkor Wat for “A day” is unadvisable,.

Angkor Wat is simply too big, too historical, too interesting and too magical.

Therefore, if there is anything you can take away from this post it’s this:

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time.

I mean it.

There is much to see.

And although unlikely,
anything can happen while you are traveling, whether near or far.

You know…

The things I mentioned above.


Angkor Wat “Boss” Itinerary

Firstly, I would recommend that you purchase your ticket online in advance, especially if you want to catch the main temple at sunrise to get those sweet beautiful shots that you keep seeing on Pintrest. (Be aware that there will be a lot of tourists there doing the same exact thing).

But if you feelin’ like a rebel and don’t buy your ticket in advance, you can buy your admission pass or “Angkor Pass” at the main entrance on the main road to Angkor Wat. And that’s actually what I did.


Prices for Angkor Wat

  • 1-day pass: $37
  • 3-day pass: $62
  • 7-day pass: $72

*As of this moment: With the 1-day pass you have two days to use it. With the 3-day pass you have ten days and with the 7-day you have 30 days.


ok, so for all you jetsetters out there that have only one day to spare to see this magnificent place in our world; here is a good One-Day Itinerary to fullfill all of your Temple Oriented Desires (TOD).

One-Day Itinerary

  • Watch the Sunrise over Angkor Wat and explore the grounds
  • Visit the large trees and root system taking over at Ta Prohm
  • Stop for a quiet lunch
  • Visit the giant carved faces at the Banyon Temple
  • Visit the peaceful Preah Khan

And what I would recommend…

Three-Day Itinerary

Day 1

  • Watch the Sunrise over Angkor Wat and explore the grounds
  • Angkor Thom
  • Break for lunch
  • Pre Rup Temple
  • Ta Som Temple

Day 2

  • Ta Prohm Temple
  • Banyon Temple
  • Break for lunch
  • Preah Khan
  • Banteay Srei

Day 3

  • Neak Pean
  • East Mebon Temple
  • Break for lunch
  • Bakong
  • Preah Ko

Or… No Temples at all. (Explanation down below.)

A word on this Itinerary

Believe me when I say that three days of straight up temples is

ALOT.

I’m for real.

It’s called Temple Fatigue.

And trust me, unless you’re a budding archaeologist or extreme temple nerd, you’ll be pretty tired of seeing temples all day that you’ll want to run AWAY from Angkor Wat by the end of your second day.

This is why I also say that, you’d want to give yourself plenty of time to see this spectacular place and to do it as relaxed and as stress-free as possible. To see the temples at your own leisure and not rushed is key and essential for you to maximize the most enjoyment out of your experience while there.

Therefore, I would even say that if you buy the 3-day pass, go and explore the Temples for the first two days and give yourself a break on the third.

Trust me.

Siem Reap is wonderful in of itself, so go and enjoy the city.
Grab some drinks on a chic rooftop bar. Get a relaxing massage in one of the towns many parlors. Eat a tarantula. (True.) Explore the Old Market for Cambodian delicacies and traditional craft. Or party the night away bar-hopping around with the locals through Siem Reaps’ crazy nightlife.

Anything but Temples.

And for the following day,
if you have the time and are up for it,
explore slowly through any other temples that you may have missed.

I personally stayed in Siem Reap for more than a week, as I also spent alot of time exploring the city itself and doing other activities. But quite honestly, I think a good 4 full days is a good amount of time to enjoy Angkor Wat and the city of Siem Reap.

ALSO.

Keep in mind that these itineraries presented here are merely what I’m suggesting. Feel free to use them more as an outline for you to plan your trip. I highly encourage you to do some research, see what temples you would be interested in seeing and make a plan similar to what is provided here.


We made it.

Whew!

Alright guys and girls, that concludes everything you may need to know about planning your trip to Angkor Wat!

I hope you guys enjoyed the read and if you have any questions or comments or just want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you!

Also, for additional information on tourism in Cambodia check out:

https://www.tourismcambodia.com/

Now book that flight to Cambodia and see for yourself!

(When everything gets back to normal that is).

How to Make Authentic Thai Papaya Salad in 25 Easy Steps.

J/K.

But the steps ARE super easy and I’m here to kick-start you into your next budding culinary career in Bangkok.

If you’ve ever been to Thailand (Kudos.), then I’m positive you’ve come across the ubiquitous Papaya Salad or Som Tam, a very common Thai dish that is enjoyed by many Thai and many a Non-Thai people all across the globe.

Or most likely you’ve tried it before at your local Thai restaurant that your cousin twice removed kept bragging about and dragged you to.

Or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it before.

And if that’s the case, climb out from under that rock my friend and come grab this food knowledge!

‘Cause Chef Benny B is gonna teach you how to become an expert in making this Tasty Thai Treat in Two minutes.

Are you ready?

Alright, Lagasse.

But first.

What exactly is Papaya Salad?

Papaya salad is a dish that is actually traced back to Laos and the ethnic Lao region in Thailand, Isan. The dish combines the five mains tastes of the region (sour, salty, spicy, sweet and savory) and it shows up a lot in other Thai and Lao recipes, such as Pad Thai and Pad Kra Pao.

These ingredients are (you guessed it): Lime, Salt, Chili, Sugar and Fish Sauce. All of this is then mixed and pounded together with the green papaya to create Som Tam, which literally means “Pounded Papaya”.

(My Cuban friends and family can go ahead and laugh here).

Moving on.

There are actually many kinds of recipes to make Som Tam and many use an array of different ingredients: plums, dried shrimp, eggplant, small crabs, noodles, etc. The recipe that I’m presenting here is simple, delicious and utilizes few ingredients. And quite honestly, it’s one of my favorite things to eat in Thailand.

Alrighty then,

enough backstory.

Let’s get down and make some Thai food.

Yes indeedy Jim.

Let’s start with the ingredient and tool list.

You’ll need:

– 1 Small Unripe Green Papaya

– 2 Plum Tomatoes

– 2 Small Limes

– 2 Cloves of Garlic

– 3-4 Bird’s Eye Chili

– 3 Tbsp. Fermented Fish Sauce

– 1/2 Tsp. Palm Sugar

– 1/4 Tsp. Salt

Sidenote: Obviously this recipe can be altered to match your tastes and preferences. So, if you like something a bit more tart, squeeze in some extra lime juice. Salty? Add another pinch.

Or maybe you’re feeling Boss and like things extra spicy.

Toss another pepper in.

Up to you, you rebel.

Now, for the tools:

– A Knife

– A Cutting Board

– Mortar and Pestle

– Grater (Optional)

– Peeler (Optional)

– Lime Squeezer (Optional)

Ok. Let’s Begin.

Super Boss” Som Tam Recipe

Step 1

First we halve the limes and chilies and cut the plum tomatoes into quarters. Set those to the side.

Step 2

We then peel the Papaya skin and with your knife in a light chopping motion make cuts into the Papaya (the picture below shows the technique). We then slice off the bits into julienne slices and set to the side. Do this repeatedly until the papaya is finished. This is the method I always see the Thai vendors use but you can also use a grater, which works great. Or greater.

Step 3

With the mortar and pestle crush the garlic cloves. We then add the chilies and plum tomatoes into the mix. Cover the mortar with one hand to prevent any unwanted splashing of unruly chili juice into your eye (you’re welcome). Grind that a bit and squeeze in the juice of the two limes into the mortar along with one half of the used lime. Add the salt, sugar and fermented fish sauce and stir it all together.

The fish sauce brand that I have pictured above is called “Nai Pon” and is the #1 fish sauce here in Thailand, or so all my Thai friends keep telling me. If you can get your hands on it, nice. If not, any other decent fish sauce will do the trick.

Almost done…

We now add the julienned green papaya.

Stir it up all together a bit and…

Presto!

A Simple, Clean, Healthy, Refreshing Papaya Salad to put some pep in your step and help you make better life decisions.

Serve on a plate and enjoy the deliciousness of Som Tam alone or with your friends.

Most likely alone, since you’re supposed to be on quarantine buddy.

Anywho.

Feel free to reach out to me and let me know if you enjoyed this post or if you’d like to see any of your favorite Thai or Asian recipes. I’d love to hear from you!

Also, stay safe and stay in tune for new posts about Cambodia and Angkor Wat later this week!

Peace!

Pakse: 7 Things to See and Do

In Southern Laos where the mighty Mekong river meets the Xe Don river lies Pakse, or Pakxe. The second most populous city in Laos, after Vientiane and the capital of its province, Champasak. It is home to Vat Phou, the Bolaven Plateau and many other interesting temples and sites.

I arrived there in mid-June after traveling through Thakek via bus from Vientiane. The journey was about 6 hours long and the entire ride was through the Laotian countryside passing through small towns and wooden villages. Along the way the bus would stop several times where young Laotian girls and older women would frantically climb aboard to sell all different kinds of snacks and drinks: Grilled skewered organ meat, Khao Lam (sticky rice in bamboo), and grilled chicken sliced lengthwise and tied to a bamboo stick.

Yes. I bought and ate them all.

But only after after being subjected to local high-pressure sales tactics from a young school girl.

I arrived at the local bus station and began walking through its streets and markets, knowing little of what the charming city of Pakse had in store for me. But I’ve found Laos to always surprise me in many different ways.

That being said, here are some of the things I did in my week stay in this interesting city and you should probably do the same!

(You’d better).

1. Vat Phou Salao

Away from the Pakse city center and crossing the Mekong River via the Lao-Japan Friendship bridge you can find Wat Phou Salao, also known as the Golden Buddha in the Hill. With the wonderful gigantic golden Buddha statue aside, the site also offers a beautiful panorama of the Mekong and of the Champasak landscape. Try catching it at sunset for some fantastic scenery and also to avoid some of the heat. I arrived there by a tuk-tuk with some other travelers and climbed the steep stairs up to the site. If you choose to do the same, give yourself some time to do this and bring along some water, as it can be a bit strenuous. If you haven’t been doing your P90X workouts (errr…) and stairs aren’t your thing, you can also reach it through a 4 km paved trail.

2. The Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau is an elevated region in southern Laos with many rivers flowing through it and a number of scenic waterfalls, with Tad Fane (large picture above) being the tallest. It is also known for its lush vegetation and ethnic villages which you can explore by motorcycle, boat rides or trekking. If you’re a coffee lover/addict, then make sure to visit one of the many coffee plantations in the area, as coffee production in Laos is almost entirely produced here. 80% of it is Robusta but they do make some very good quality coffee. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, for about 350,000 Laotian Kip ($40) you can zipline across the Tad Fane waterfall and other areas which includes some hiking for about 50 minutes. This was my first time ever ziplining and it was quite the adrenaline rush and a truly unforgettable experience… particularly because I almost shat myself.

Anyways.

I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for something thrilling around these parts.

3. VAT PHOU

Dating from the 11th to 13th century, Vat Phou is a ruined Khmer-Hindu temple complex which lies about 6 km from the Mekong river. The site was originally a place dedicated to Lord Shiva but it is now a center for Buddhist worship. In 2001 is was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a well conserved archaeological area. The hours of visitation are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee is 50,000 LAK for foreigners and 20,000 for locals. Cray.

4. Talat Dao Heuang

As the largest outdoor market in southern Laos, a trip to Pakse would not be complete without a stroll through the chaotic Talat Dao Heuang. Located near the Lao-Japanese Friendship bridge, the market is especially known for its produce section with all kinds of local fruits and vegetables being displayed along with coffee stalls, a seafood and meat section, local delicacies and a variety of herbs and medicines. There is also a section that sells jewelry, woven baskets, local textiles and imported goods from Thailand and Vietnam. Walk through slowly and immerse yourself in the wonderful madness of this Laotian Market.

Sidenote: You will go mad in here.

5. Visit Lak 40 Coffee

Located in Ban Paksong lies a charming coffee shop and plantation that has been around for three generations called Lak 40. Here they make some very exceptional coffee and they also hold some workshops which teach about its cultivation and production. If you find you find yourself in the area and love coffee, then make sure to stop by Lak 40 or any of the numerous coffee plantations and enjoy a genuine cup of Lao Coffee.

For more information you also visit them here:

http://www.facebook.com/lak40/

6. Wander the city and get lost you bum

Pakse is a fairly walkable city with a good number of shops, markets, restaurants and bars. Whenever in a new town, I always suggest taking a day to get a general idea of the area and to explore leisurely. Pakse interestingly enough, is home to a very sizable Vietnamese community ( In 1943, 62% of the population in Pakse were Vietnamese). Therefore, incredible Vietnamese food can be had everywhere. Go out, meet some of the locals, grab some delicious noodles and for some entertainment at night, head to the Lighthouse Station for some drinks, live music and dance. I would also suggest renting a motorbike to get around, as Pakse can be pretty hot especially before the monsoon season (March-April) but also be weary of some of its roads and always drive carefully. And wear a helmet. And don’t speed.

You know. Logical shit.

Or do speed.

I don’t care.

7. 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)

Laos is a landlocked country and as strange as it may sound, it does have a cluster of islands in the south. About 3 hours south of Pakse lies the archipelago of Si Phan Don scattered throughout the majestic Mekong Delta. After arriving at the bus station you have to take a short longboat ride to Don Det, the main island with bars, restaurants and cheap bungalows to stay. With it’s quiet atmosphere and slow pace of life its definitely worth a couple of days stay or even longer. From Don Det you can visit Don Khong by crossing the old French railway bridge via bicycle, which you can rent for the entire day for a dollar. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind on a hammock with a couple of beers (or 10 if you wake up early) after a long backpacking trip through Laos, then 4000 islands is a great way to end it before heading into Cambodia. Kayak through the islands, cycle through Don Det and Don Khong and definitely visit Khon Phapeng Falls, the largest waterfall in SE Asia!

So, where exactly is Pakse and how do I get there Benny?

Gee, glad you asked! Happy to Help!

Pakse is located in southern Laos in the Champasak Province close to the Thai border and is about 670km south of Vientiane using Route 13.

Air

Pakse International Airport (PZK) is 3 km north of the town itself and located off Route 13. There are daily flights to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. There are also flights to Bangkok, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh.

Or

Wear a cape.

Bus

There are 4 bus terminals in Pakse:

Chitapasong Bus Terminal – Located in the town center close to the old French Bridge. Your best bet.

Kriang Kai Bus Terminal – 2 km east of Pakse with tuk-tuk services available to the city center. 2nd best bet after 1st best bet.

Northern Bus Terminal – Located 10 km northwest of Pakse.

Southern Bus Terminal – Located 8 km east of Pakse.

Where can I stay?

In Pakse there are many accommadations to choose from ranging from cheap hostels to some luxury hotels and resorts. But this post would not be complete if I didn’t mention my wonderful stay at Sanga Hostel.

Upon arrival I was greeted by Leuang, the manager of the property and quite simply the kindest and most hospitable woman I had ever met. After giving me some water and a snack, she settled me into my dorm personally and then helped me with every question I had a about Pakse, from sites that I shouldn’t miss to the better dining options in the area.

The hostel has a very nice and clean restaurant serving breakfast, local coffee and all kinds of Lao and western dishes. The entire staff, which were all lovely young women dressed in traditional Lao skirts or sinh, were very friendly and attentive and made me feel like a true guest. Although it is a hostel, all the beds had privacy curtains and were the most spacious and comfortable in my entire trip in Laos. The bathrooms were impeccable with fresh towels and there was a daily cleaning of the rooms. If dorms aren’t your thing Sanga also has some private rooms. And in the front Sanga has its own boutique store selling all kinds of traditional items and souvenirs.

All in all, if you find yourself in this area of the world I would highly recommend staying here. Sanga Hostel, Leuang and her staff made my stay in Pakse unforgettable and I know they would do the same for you!

http://www.sangahostel.com

Enjoy Pakse!

Vientiane: 7 Things to See and Do

Ahhh…

Vientiane.

Warm capital of Laos and its largest city. Home of many Buddhist temples, beautiful statues, one of three bowling alleys in the country (not a lie) and the most significant national monument: That Luang. Friendly locals, spectacular street food and a lively peculiar nightlife await you. If it’s your first time in this beautiful and fascinating city and you don’t have any idea where to start, don’t fret. I got your list right here!

Let’s Begin!

1. PATUXAI

First on our list and located in the center of Vientiane at the end of Lang Xang Avenue is the Patuxai, or “Victory Gate”. Built between 1957 and 1968, it is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle against France for their independence. Around the monument is Patuxay Park, where you can find some fountains and many Laotians going for an evening stroll.

2. WAT SI SAKET

Built in 1818 and in Siamese style architecture, this beautiful Buddhist Temple can be found on the corner of Setthathirat Road on Lan Xang Road. Considered to be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane, the temple is also known for its cloister wall that houses more than 2000 silver and ceramic Buddha images.

3. Haw Phra Kaew

Just southeast of Wat Si Saket you can find this beauty, Haw Phra Kaew. It was first built in 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha but has thus been rebuilt several times. The Emerald Buddha stayed in this temple for over 200 years until it was seized by the Siamese and taken back to Thonburi, ultimately finding its way to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, where it is considered the palladium of Thailand. Haw Phra Kaew is now a museum where you can find some fine examples of Laotian religious art.

4. PHA THAT LUANG

Originally built as a Hindu Temple in the first century, now stands Pha That Luang, a large gilded Buddhist Stupa in the center of Vientiane. The building includes many references to Lao culture and identity and is also considered a symbol of Laotian national pride.

5. BUDDHA PARK ( XIENG KHUAN )

If you’re looking for something curious outside of the city, then head to the Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, a sculpture park just 25 km souheast of Vientiane. The name Xieng Khuan means “Spirit City” and although it is a tourist attraction, the park is known for its 200+ Hindu and Buddhist statues. In one sculpture you can enter through the mouth of a giant (pictured above) and climb up three stories to get a nice panoramic view of the entire park.

The entrance fee is 5,000 Laotian Kip.

Tip: To save some money and have a local experience walk to the Talat Sao Bus terminal and take bus #14. This bus leaves every 20 minutes and costs about 6,000 Laotian kip, or .68 cents. (That’s a bargain in my book).

6. COPE

For a better understanding of Laotian recent history and the impact of the neighboring Vietnam War it had on the entire country and its people, then I urge you to please visit COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Visitor Center. It is a small non-profit organization in Laos which provides prosthetics and rehabilitation to the people that cannot afford it. Many of the patients are victims of UXO’s (Unexploded Ordance) mainly in the form of cluster bombs that remain in rural Laos and are still injuring and killing children and adults to this day.

For more information or if you would like to make a donation

please visit

http://www.copelaos.org

7. Vientiane Night Market

After running around and doing everything on this list, finish your night off at the Vientiane Night Market located at the Mekong Riverfront. Here you can find a plethora of stalls selling all kinds of merchandise: handicrafts, clothes, street food, electronics etc. Here you can also find many restaurants along the river serving a variety of Laotian specialties. After dinner, do what I did and grab yourself a cold Beer Lao, try some Lotus Flower Seeds from a street vendor and watch the sun set slowly over the majestic Mekong River. Afterwards, if you’re looking for a livelier venue, then head across the street to Bor Pen Nyang and let the night carry you away.

Safe Travels!

Luang Prabang: Kuang Si Falls and Unfortunate Events

June 4th, 2019

We all woke up to a very rainy morning and it felt like it was going to ruin the day. But luckily after an hour and a half the rain ceased and we all rented mopeds. We were going to Kuang Si Falls. There was more than a dozen of us and all from different countries: USA, UK, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy…

Some of the people in our group were nervous because this was their first time riding motorbike in a foreign country but we all fueled up and took off towards the waterfalls. We zipped through the citys’ brown roads and motorists, passing all kinds of houses made of wood and sheet metal. From the center of town it took us about an hour or so to get there. Outside of the Kuang Si Falls were a lot of stalls selling souvenirs and restaurants serving Lao and Thai food. We pick one and all sat down at a long wooden table to have lunch.

To enter we each had to pay 30,000 kip, about $3.40, and begin to walk through a path that led to a bear sanctuary that housed 6-8 Asian Moon Bears. They were rescued from poachers that capture them for their bile to be sold on the market. We then walk up some more paths and made it to a very beautiful cascading waterfall that fell down in steps. As we were a big group many of us got separated naturally and I continued trekking with Vincenzo, an Italian guy and an American girl. I put my valuables in Vincenzos’ backpack, take off my shirt and shoes and dipped quickly into the clear cold water. The floor of the waterfalls was very muddy and squishy, so I ended up floating and swimming around. Vincenzo and the American girl stripped down and got in very slowly… so I had to splash these kiddies a bit to get in.

The waterfalls were obviously very beautiful and relaxing. We swam a bit and jumped off some rocks and met up with the others which were at a higher tier of waterfall. There we found them jumping off a slanted stone column, some of them doing back flips into the water. We must of been there at the waterfalls for 3-4 hours before we headed back and jumped on our motorbikes. We all lined up and took a photo of all of us and sped off. We were all feeling good and confident and rode back the same way we came. Some were riding cautiously and others were going along fairly quickly, myself included. We go down the curvy roads and enjoyed the scenery along the way.We were probably about 30 minutes into our ride when suddenly, a pothole covered in brown muddy water jumps in front of me. I must of been going around 45-50 mph. The front tire dips into the hole and I went flying right over the handlebars landing right back in Thailand on my right elbow and shoulder; rolling over twice on the dirt road.

It happened so fast that the only thing that ran through my head and out my mouth was

“Benny! OH NOOOooo!”

I had crashed in Laos.

My second crash while abroad. And my first in 10 years.

I coughed up the dirt in my mouth and quickly rose to my feet, picking up the motorbike. My first thought was that I hope I didn’t fuck up the bike. I then assessed myself. I was a horrible mess. My entire left leg was road rashed and covered in blood, both of my knees were deeply wounded and my entire right arm was wounded and also dripping in blood. I then began to feel a terrible pain radiate from my right shoulder up to my neck.

The others began to catch up and all stopped to help me. I was more pissed off with myself then the pain. I really didn’t want to be causing a scene let alone already embarrassing myself. I limped around for a bit and some of my friends put water on my cuts which stung and burned like holy hell. I said that I was okay but the entire group had a worried look on their faces.

Just as I was toughening up and about to jump back on my bike like a cowboy (which miraculously didn’t even have so much as a scratch) another girl from our group comes to check on me. As she made a U-turn towards me, another moped with two local girls smacked right into her and went flying.

I could not believe me eyes.

Two accidents within the span of five minutes.

The girl from our group wasn’t hurt. But the Laotian girl driving only cut her ankle but the other was on the road screaming and crying. With a gash on the bridge of her nose. We all rushed to their aid and helped them them with everything we could. Other locals began to show up and soon it was becoming even a bigger scene. We cleaned their wounds, had some people interpret between English and Lao and some people in the group drove them to a nearby clinic. I wanted to go with them but everyone advised me to go back to the city to take care of myself, cause I was in really bad shape.

I was dumbfounded.

I was a bloody mess and the pain began. And my whole body was throbbing.

We all drive back slowly (of course) to the city and some of the group splits off to eat. I went back to the hostel with an Irishman to drop off the bikes, where I clean it first and then walk around several blocks looking like a zombie from World War Z in search for a pharmacy. I buy everything I would need: iodine, anti-bacterial cream, bandages and gauze, and then walked my pitiful ass back to the hostel, stopping at an Aussie Bar along the way.

I walk up to the empty bar and order a shot of Jameson and a cold bottle of Carlsberg from the pretty bartender. I gulped down the whisky and the beer and ordered another Carlsberg. I small talk with the pretty Laotian girls for a bit and in five minutes I was gone.

I take a cold shower and rinse off the blood. I then layed a towel in the middle of my cramped dorm and soak my cuts with iodine, biting my lower lip. I cleaned and dressed all of my wounds and collapsed on my bed like rag doll.

I was out.

I knocked out for an hour or so and I got out of bed in worse pain.

But mustering up a bit of strength, I decided to meet everyone at the beautiful Utopia bar, which overlooked the river close to the hostel. There we all had some drinks and then everyone wanted to go bowling.

Although a bit hesitant at first I ended up tagging along.

And I remember bowling very well, even though I was in bandages and in absolute pain.

We all kept drinking beer well into the night and I was starting to feel drunk.

but I kept on getting strikes.

Vincenzo was amazed

laughing the whole time.

He couldn’t believe I was winning.

So much for Luang Prabang, I thought as I made one last strike and won the game.

We all left through the balmy night

On a tuk-tuk back to the hostel

And the sweet British-Indian girl puts me to bed.

The Mekong: Slowly down the River

It was June 2nd when we all boarded the slow boat to begin our journey. We all settled in the long tail boat and the loud powerful engine started. As we began to make our way down the river, which was wide and brown in color, I noticed that it had spots of swirling trash here and there. On the shores of the river there were large hills covered in trees and small villages with children running around playing. Along the way every once in a while, we would stop at small wooden ports where some locals would get on and off and load and unload small cargo.

It took us about 6 hours to reach the small town of Pak Beng from the border town of Huay Xai. Once arriving, Marek and I decide to share a room together, since we didn’t have anything planned beforehand, like irresponsible backpackers. Most of the group settled in the same guesthouse as ours, which was also close to the port. Once there, after a quick truck ride, the kind ladies there took our breakfast orders for the morning and showed us our rooms. I then quickly settled into the room, showering first before meeting up with the entire group at a place up the road called Hive Bar.

Which gives you hives.

hehe.

As I made my way through the small shanty town, a young Laotian man approaches me smiling and follows me in the dark. Speaking broken English he asks where I was from and then tries to sell me drugs. First weed but then to my astonishment… Opium.

Hmmmm…

I turn down the kind offer but he continues to trail behind me all the way up to the bar thinking I might have a sudden change of heart. I then remembered that this area was the Golden Triangle, the area where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and where Opium had been produced on a large scale since the 1950’s.

I leave my new friend (drug pusher) behind and pass by an older man that was burning wood and plastic on the side of the road, I guess getting rid of his trash. I then join the others at a long table where we eat, drink, dance and play music off the bartenders laptop. The night was warm and in the corner there was a beat up pool table with drunken westerners playing. The place was dingy with faded red paint and full of moths flying around. There I had some Indian curry and some Gin and Tonics, and partied well into the night with the young wide eyed travelers.

The following morning was our 2nd Slow Boat day. This time to Luang Prabang. We all had breakfast and I then bought some more beer and ice, sharing the cooler with the others to store their drinks. It was the same kinda fun from the day before really: a lot of chatting, jokes, playing charades, enjoying the scenery, drinking and overall merriment. At times when the group would get sleepy, I would pop in my headphones and play my new collection of Thai music, enjoying the view as we lazily chugged down along the famous Mekong.

And like.

Becoming one with the like the river mannn.

Floating down the Mekong river was quickly becoming a memorable part of my trip. Not only because of the relaxing slowness and romance of it all but also because of being in the company of quite honestly, the most positive and healthy group of young travelers I had ever met. Their energy was incredible; and to me I felt that every single last one of them was happy and genuine.

And I was glad to be sharing this journey with them.

Chiang Khong to Huay Xai: Lao P.D.R

On May 31st, I took off for the border town of Chiang Khong from Chiang Rai. The day was overcast with small showers here and there and the journey was about three hours on a local bus; and like many times already, I was the only foreigner there. I sat up front with the bus driver and enjoyed the entire ride as we crossed the picturesque countryside that was full of hilly mountains in the distance dotted with rice fields and palm trees. As we made our way towards the Mekong River the bus would stop multiple times not only to pick up people but also food, laundry and other packages. Afterwards, he would make more stops along the way, this time dropping them off at stores and homes. The ride was peaceful and quite memorable in fact. Going through that lush landscape in the rain, with the quiet locals, on that old colorful bus, that would squeak and grind is something I still dream of.

We arrive at the local bus station and I began to walk north along highway 1020 and through a small neighborhood looking for a place to sleep. I find a chic looking hostel called Sleeping Well and checked into a 10-bed dorm that, through divine intervention, had all to myself. During the evening I went to a funky place called Rin Bar that had “Thai Tequila,” which is NOT tequila but strangely enough had similar notes. I then had a delicious Pad Thai down the street in a spot called Baan Yim. I retired to my bed and in the morning began to walk towards the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. About halfway, a tuk-tuk stops and offers me a cheap ride to the border. There I passed through the Thai customs and border police and bought a bus ticket that would take you across the Mekong River into Laos.

After waiting around for half an hour, I boarded the bus with a bunch of people and in 10 minutes we were dropped off at the Lao immigration checkpoint. There I filled out two security forms, gave my passport along with a photo and paid $36 for a month-long visa. 10 minutes later my passport was handed back to me with my visa and I officially stepped into Laos. After passing through customs, I see a sales woman selling a slow boat ride down the Mekong River. I had arrived a bit too late to catch the morning boat to Luang Prabang, which caused me to stay in Huay Xai for the night. I bought a ticket from her for the following morning and also a stay at a guesthouse for 1500 Thai baht. I sat at a small plastic table and had a Beer Lao waiting for my tuk-tuk ride. When it arrived, I joined three Thai people to the town center.

Along the way I received my first impression of Laos, a country that for me, was shrouded in mystery. As we drove into the center of town, I noticed the roads were made of red soil and that many of the village houses were made of wooden planks that were nailed vertically. In these small houses were people looking out into the dirt roads. I saw many people sleeping and young girls were selling snacks and drinks of all kinds.

Everywhere I looked there was lush vegetation with lots of dogs and goats running around. The town itself was very small and rural, probably the most rural I had seen in Asia yet. Along the way, one thing that really caught me off guard was the sight of a young man around the age of 15 walking down the dirt road completely naked: no underwear and no shoes. Just strolling down happily without a care in the world in the middle of the day and with other people out on the street hardly giving him a second glance.

Wild.

(I almost fell off the tuk-tuk from the laughter).

The tuk-tuk drops me off at the B.A.P guesthouse where I check in. It was a big wooden house with many rooms and a dark cluttered living area with old stacks of paper and magazines and all kinds of trinkets, sodas and packaged snacks. A kind lady shows me to my room where I left my bag and went out for a stroll. I had to see more of this strange little town. As I walked up and down the dirt roads I would see the locals from their small houses and restaurants staring at me, some were housewives and others were groups of people watching my every step but I would just smile and nod and sometimes say Sabaidee, the greeting in Lao. I would come to learn that Thai and Lao have a lot of similarities.

I then ran into the Thai trio again and we had lunch at a nearby restaurant called Houyxai Kaew next to the Mekong river. In the river there was a large rusted and abandoned ship that was the same color as the river. There we shared a spicy papaya salad and a spicy mixed meat dish. Afterwards I walked the empty streets again and visited a temple on a hill with a steep staircase. There I made a donation and prayed for a safe journey through Asia. I then ran into an British-Indian girl also traveling through Laos. We walked around the town together and had a couple of beers by the river and then at a place called Terasse. There we talked late into the night and spoke about travel, life and everything in between. We then called it a night. We had the slow boat ride tomorrow.

A tuk-tuk picked us up in the morning from the guesthouse and then picked up other travelers along the way to the long boats. Apparently, this was a very popular way to get to Luang Prabang on a budget. We stopped at some small stores and I bought some beer and a styrofoam cooler with ice. On the tuk-tuk and on the boat I met Marek, a young guy from Weston, Florida and a bunch of young British people, some girls from Denmark and Iceland and a sweet girl named Isla from Scotland. We all got to know each other and pretty quickly we were all laughing and joking around, excited for our two day journey down the Mekong river. We were to stop at Pak Beng for a night and then continue to Luang Prabang the following day. Thus would begin my journey into Laos.