Krabi, Phi Phi, Phuket, Surat Thani, Bangkok, and back home

I needed an appropriate end to my Southeast Asian sojourn, and what better way to spend my last 2 weeks than in the as-yet-unexplored-by-Mazahir parts of Thailand? They got great street food, easily accessible and cheap hostels, amazing nature spots, supermarkets at every corner selling you everything you could ever need, and in my opinion, the perfect blend of Asian and western life. It really is one of my favourite countries.

I flew into Krabi town from Laos, and on my first night I witnessed a Chinese man brushing his teeth in bed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, maybe I just attract the weird Chinese. But trust me, every long term traveller I’ve met has had a few of these encounters. There’s over 1.2 billion of them, and the strange ones are everywhere!

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Had to take this because how else would people believe me?

Top thing to do from Krabi town is to go to Tiger Cave Temple. It’s a misnomer. There were no tigers and no caves. There were, maybe, a few hollow rock formations – but they don’t count as caves in my book.┬áThey say the place got its name from a cave that was discovered with tiger paw prints. But I also saw no such paw prints. They must get this error corrected ASAP.

Anyway, the highlight of this temple visit is a 1,237 step climb to the top of a temple for some spectacular aerial views of Krabi. I know the number accurately because it is advertised, and to put things into perspective, that’s like climbing a 70 story building.

I struggled, oh how I struggled. But there are certain things you need to do in life for a few Instagram likes, and this is one of those things. I huffed and I puffed, and no I did not blow anything down, but actually made my way to the top. And guess what? OVERCAST.

Rain Gods: 1, Mazahir: 0.

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After a couple of days in Krabi town, I switched bases and moved to Ao Nang Beach, Krabi. Made a day trip to Railay Beach from there, got massages, partied, met some really awesome people (wink wink), and had such a nice, relaxing time. Even channeled my inner basic white bitch and got in some beach yoga. Good times, good times.

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Stopped over at the Phi Phi Islands from there, visited Maya Bay (from the movie The Beach), snorkelled with some fishies, dropped my snorkel mask in the water and pissed off the junk boat driver who dove in and found it when I couldn’t, watched an amazing sunset from the junk boat, and scuba-ed with some white-tip reef sharks.

Now I don’t know what it is about islands like Phi Phi, but I absolutely love them. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live on an island where you can just walk from one end to the other?

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I even spent two days in Phuket even though everyone told me it was trashy and full of hookers. Phuket was the last major tourist spot in Thailand that I was still to see, and I just had to go! It was indeed trashy, and even though I found an 11 Eleven supermarket that is obviously better than any 7 Eleven supermarket anyone has ever been to, I’d say skip it.

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We’re now into the final week people, and there was still one tiny thing left that I hadn’t done in Southeast Asia – take a night train. So I made my way up to Surat Thani to take a night train to Bangkok. I was joined by my friend Stefan and we first spent the day exploring Surat Thani, and at around midnight got on the the train to Bangkok together. The second class compartment is a bogie with upper and lower bunk beds along the side and are extremely comfortable. I slept like a baby.

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Once in Bangkok, there wasn’t much left for me to explore. I had spent so much time in the city over the months of travel that I had no tourist spot (not one that interests me anyway) left unexplored. I also just needed time to reflect on the 6 and a half months that had passed so quickly. I ate my favourite Thai dishes (still pad Thai, with pad kra paw in second), walked for hours and hours with just my own thoughts, read a little, and took the last picture of my trip – the fast moving city traffic of Bangkok.

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Do I have final thoughts? Yeah, but the journey isn’t over yet. Expect an update soon. ­čÖé

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Laos

Laos… lazy, lazy Laos. If you ever make your way here, and you should, my only advice would be to head to a restaurant at least 30 min before you think you’re going to get hungry. Time slows down in this country, and Lao PDR, that is Lao: Peoples’ Democratic Republic officially, but Lao: Please Don’t Rush as every travel blog you read will tell you, really lives up to its slow paced life tag.

I flew into Luang Prabang, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site… aren’t they all in Southeast Asia? After Luang Prabang, I went up to the less touristy villages of┬áNong Khiaw (was touristy) and┬áMuang Ngoi (not very touristy), then south to Vang Vieng which is famous for its tubing and parties by the river (liked tubing, did not enjoy or partake in the riverside-drink-till-you-are-about-to-die-partying), and then to the capital of Vientiane (it’s a city, good food).

That is all. This country is lazy, and I am lazy too.

Look at some pictures:

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The beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls.

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Hiking in Nong Khiaw.
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View from the top.
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Also from the top, and one of my favourite pictures of the entire trip.

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Playing with some village puppers.
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Laos’ Arc de Triomphe.
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Sunset in Vientiane.

Northern Vietnam

Phong Nha Ke Bang – a mountain formation that only has a page or two in most travel books, the background for the movie Kong: Skull Island, and the spot for the largest known cave passage cross-section in the world.

Here’s an interesting story about Phong Nha: around the year 1990, a local was walking around and discovered the entrance to Hang Son Doon (the largest cave). Vietnamese people are scared of caves since they think they’re occupied by spirits and steer away from them. The local heard the sound of the water flowing in the cave and the winds that were blowing out of it, was probably spooked, and left thinking no more of it. Many, many years later, a bunch of British researchers working in the area heard the story of a local having found a cave, and reached the house of the local. The passage of years didn’t alter his superstitions and he initially refused he had discovered any such entrance. After a couple of years he came around and took the researchers to the cave… and ladies and gentlemen, that is how the largest cave in the world was discovered!

So; the cave itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site (as is the entire national park), and you can visit the largest cave in the world only via a guided tour that will set you back a measly $3000. No, that is not a typo.┬áThat price was a tad bit beyond my budget, so I settled for some of the other cheaper and more accessible caves, and they were stunning… makes me wonder how amazing this Hang Son Doon cave to command a price like that and still have people that go!

The area is still developing and there’s just a few hostels and guest houses around, but the hostel I stayed at, the Easy Tiger, pretty much ran the place (in a good way, I might add). They hold briefing talks every morning where they talk about the area for free and you can book tours to the caves, that they don’t run themselves, via them, or even on your own. While they are obviously running a business and probably make their money, they employ locals from the area that are likely to lose their way of living once tourism really picks up in this town, teach them English, and overall help uplifting the entire community. They also serve delicious western food and make a mean peanut butter. In short, recommend.

Unfortunately, since Phong Nha is in Vietnam, it gets their fair bit of party kids. While checking in, I overheard a shirtless guy talking to someone at the reception telling him that their group has been in Phong Nha for 3 days, but they really haven’t had the time to explore any of the area because they’ve just been partying hard. He wanted to know what they can do in a few quick hours before they leave Phong Nha to go to their next destination. The guy at the reception took a few seconds to process this, but was too nice to mock this fool, and actually gave him suggestions. My question: why do you need to fly to Vietnam just to drink? Just stay at home and save your parents some money.

Later that night, an English lad came to the dorm around 4 am, unzipped his pants in the middle of the room and peed. Right there, in the middle of the room. I guess that’s why he needed to fly to Vietnam – there’s no way he could get away with that back home.

Peeing also seemed like a tourist trend in the town. I spotted an old Chinese man peeing in the middle of one of the caves with absolute disregard to the cave’s heritage, the security guards, or the women around. Remember how I previously talked about how Chinese tourists are the worst? Add this to the list of reasons.

Now here’s some pictures of the area:

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View from the hostel hammocks (that I may or may not have fallen out of).
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Inside of the Phong Nha cave.

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Casual pee session in the caves.
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Swimming through one of the newly discovered caves.

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After Phong Nha, I had a short recovery stay in Hanoi and made my way up to SaPa, which should be on everyone’s places to see list in Vietnam. On the recommendation of a friend, I stayed at a hostel in Ta Van Village, which is about an hour by road from SaPa, but it’s where most of the trekking tours you do from SaPa will take you. I think this post is all about recommending hostels, because I strongly recommend this one too. It’s called My Tra, and is run by an Aussie bloke called Andrew. He gives you tips on how you can trek in the area along with a hand drawn map, and the beds and food at the hostels are some of the best I’ve slept in / eaten in Vietnam.

SaPa, and the area around it are all rice terraces, the temperature is cooler than anywhere in Vietnam – even in the summer – and overall it was a great place for me to wind down and relax. I spent more nights here than I had planned on, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Right outside the hostel.

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Fansipan cable car.

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Onward to HaLong Bay from there for me, where they have emerald waters, junk boat tours, and loads of floating garbage.

Over-tourism has ruined what this place probably was, and while the natural beauty of the place is still visible, it would be a lot better if the locals stopped disposing of their waste into the waters. I was in HaLong only for a couple of nights, and other than the time a Spanish dude in the bunk above me, picked up my towel lying on my bed while I was away, used it, didn’t bother putting it back on my bed, pretended he only spoke Spanish when I saw the towel on his bed and confronted him about it, and then told me (in English) that he thought it was the ‘room towel’, nothing particularly eventful happened.

I did a HaLong Bay tour, rode kayaks, did a small viewpoint trek, rode bikes across the island, drank a few beers, played some card games, and ate some delicious Vietnamese food.

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My final stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, and the museum hub of Vietnam (along with HCMC).

My departure date from Vietnam would mark the last month of my adventure, and I wanted to spend time by myself. So while I stayed in a hostel (a party one at that too, because it was cheap), I spent my days walking around the city, exploring the museums, and drinking loads and loads of Vietnamese coffee.

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St. Joseph’s cathedral.
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Shards of an American fighter plan at the Military History Museum.

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Central Vietnam

Between the major cities of Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south lies a bunch of ancient Vietnamese towns and cities with an influence of cultures and a centre-point for one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war.

My trip northwards started with the ancient town of Hoi An – a UNESCO world heritage site. The town itself is a small and easily accessible on bike or foot (no motorised vehicles inside the main town), and the highlights of the little town are in a cluster, a few metres apart from each other. Hoi An was the base of spice traders in ancient Vietnam, and the settlements included people from Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands and India. By night, the town transforms into this magical place lit by lanterns; there’s restaurants at every step, but the whole town makes you feel like you’re back in the 15th century (albeit one where people have iPhones and selfie sticks).

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Hoi An by night.
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Japanese bridge – a wooden bridge linking the Japanese quarters to those of the Chinese.

Hoi An is famous for its Cau Lau noodles – a dish of noodles and pork only available in Hoi An. The noodles are delicious, as is the case with most Asian food, but nothing to revere in my opinion.

I also had my first experience with bia hoi in Hoi An – a local draft beer brewed fresh daily and sold in bottles measuring around 700 ml for around 15 cents!┬áLike the rest of Asia, where there is cheap alcohol, there will be 19 year old kids wanting to get shit-faced; and Hoi An, in spite of its culture, is no exception. But the bars are less than a handful, which makes them easy to avoid.

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The highlight of any trip to Central Vietnam is ride a bike through the Hai Van pass – rated by Top Gear as one of the top 10 scenic rides in the world – as every tourist shop will also point out to you. You can rent a bike, strap on your haversack to it, and make this beautiful journey on your own, or you can have an ‘Easy Rider’ do the riding while you sit at the back of his bike taking in the views.┬áIt had been raining on and off during my time there, and even though I really wanted to ride through the mountains myself, getting an Easy Rider seemed like as safer option.

My first stop was the Marble Mountains of Da Nang: five marble mountains representing the 5 elements. The mountains have Buddhist sanctuaries all over, and only the mountain representing water is open to tourists to ascend. The view from the top – breathtaking (mainly because you’ll be breathless after the ascend).

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Top of the Marble Mountains.

The next stop was the Hai Van pass…

Now, there are times when pictures and videos cannot do justice to an experience, and riding through the Hai Van pass is one of those things. There’s wind in your hair, the temperature is just right, and riding through the pass is a feast for the eyes. I was glad I chose to get an Easy Rider because it started raining while we were reaching the top of the mountain, and you’re literally riding through the clouds with a very short visibility range.┬áThe rain clouds also made it pointless for me to stop at the top of the pass and climb up to the very tip for the viewpoint – I wouldn’t be able to see more than a metre ahead of me, but well…

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I was forced to do this, I swear. 

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After we got off the pass, my Easy Rider took me to a waterfall where ‘only the locals go’. Everybody knows that’s tourist talk for ‘it’s where all the tourists and maybe some locals go,’ but I was in for a surprise. The waterfall was actually a place where only locals go, and I was the only non-Vietnamese person there besides an older white man who had married a local.

The Vietnamese were fascinated by my non-white appearance, and the kids were mesmerised by my GoPro. They passed it around and looked at the exact same view in front of their eyes through the screen on the GoPro like it was magic. An old man swam up to me with his friend who spoke some English. They asked me what I did, and were very curious to know what I thought about Vietnamese women. I found out why a few minutes later when the non-English speaking guy offered my his daughter’s hand in marriage…

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While I was being propositioned, my Easy Rider arranged for a simple, but delicious lunch by the waterfall – spicy grilled fish, steamed rice, cabbage and soy sauce – and a lot of Huda beers (a beer company from Hue). He got us 6 cans, but only had 1 because he was riding, which left me with 5 beers to guzzle.

The journey ended in the imperial city of Hue, where I said goodbye to my Easy Rider who would now make the scenic ride back to Hoi An by himself… what an amazing job to have.

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Hue was the capital of one of the Vietnamese dynasties a few hundred years ago, and is host to what is called the Imperial City of Hue: a walled palace that was the seat of the king.

Being at the border of what was Northern Vietnam and Southern Vietnam, Hue was the place where the bloody Battle of Hue took place. One of the longest and bloodiest battles between the Americans and the Vietcong. This also means a lot of the imperial city has been destroyed, but what remains is still pretty amazing.

I’ll spare you the details since Wikipedia has all the information you need about the battle; so here are some pictures of the Imperial City.

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