It’s hard to fathom that we’ve been doing this for four months. As our last month looms before us, I can’t help but feel reminiscent already. I find myself wishing for all of these days back to do it all again.
It’s been an exciting 30 days, finishing off our month in Cambodia, trying to navigate Northern Thailand and crossing border by boat into Laos.
Cambodia – 9 Days
Our last nine days in Cambodia may very well have been my favorite of the entire 30 days in this amazing country. We spent a glorious, rain filled three days in the northern province of Ratanakiri. We based ourselves in Banlung and explored crater lakes and waterfalls and felt the full force of monsoon season upon us as we rode through a torrential down pour on a day out exploring.
Then it was onto a completely different locale, Siem Reap and the long anticipated Angkor Wat. There simply aren’t enough words to describe the emotions evoked from standing in front of, walking amidst, these ancient ruins. On our first day there we headed into the park for sunset and stood in awe of Angkor Wat as everyone filed out. For a moment we had the entire place to ourselves. It reminded me of that time I cried at the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace.
Thailand – 14 Days
Thailand has been a really mixed bag thus far. For a lot of different reasons, it hasn’t been my favorite place on this trip. Maybe our expectations were too high, but we just weren’t prepared for how commercialized Thailand would be, especially after a month in Cambodia.
We initially thought that because we were crossing border by land, that we would only get a 15 day visa waiver. We ended up getting a stamp for 30 days. We felt all kinds of confusion about what to do with this gift.
After a few days of planning and relaxing in Bangkok, we decided to carry on with our original plan to break it up with Laos, but instead of going straight to the south to dive like we’d originally planned, we would avoid the full moon party crowds and head North first. First stop: Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital and home to a plethora of ancient ruins and giant buddhas.
From there we explored Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai. I liked Chang Mai. We ate good food, saw beautiful temples, drank copious amounts of Thai iced tea. But then we made the wrong decision. We shouldn’t have gone to Pai. It simply wasn’t our idea of enjoyable – lots of tourists, lots of burger joints, not enough views of the incredible mountainous surroundings that we went up there for. Lesson learned: planning isn’t always the enemy.
We finished off on a high with Chang Rai. We spent the day there drinking more Thai tea and visiting the White Temple and Black House, both different in more than just color, these creative havens were full of beautiful, quirky works of art.
Laos – 8 Days
It’s safe to say Laos had me at hello. From the moment we set off on our two day slow boat along the Mekong to Luang Prabang, I have been mesmerized by the mountains, however rainy they may be (and boy are they rainy in August).
We spent two days exploring Luang Prabang, one on foot around the center and one on bicycle through the rolling hills and along the river. From Luang Prabang, we headed to Phonsavan, home to mysterious archaeological sites called the Plain of Jars. The province of Xuang Khuang is one of the most heavily bombed regions in the world. We learned a lot about the masses of unexploded ordinances (UXO) that the country is still battling to clear after the Secret War in the late 60s and early 70s.
Now we’re in Muang Ngoi surrounded by karsts covered in green and the brown flowing Nam Ou (river), which is also the only way in and out of the village. The weather is the best we’ve had in months. There’s a small dirt road with shops and a few restaurants and paths leading off into the mountains begging to be explored.
We struggled with Thailand, with how commercial it is, with figuring out how best to see its most beautiful parts. It’s difficult because we’ve arrived at the height of the rainy season. We opted not to rent motorbikes up north because we didn’t feel comfortable with our ability on them in the rain, which meant we were left with wherever the tours and vans would take us. We spent too much time deciding what to do in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and by the time we learned about a few other sights we would have rather seen, we had kind of run out of days.
It feels like we’ve saved the best for last. In the next month (and 4 days), we’re hoping to visit an elephant sanctuary and the only elephant hospital in Laos, hike in the jungle, island hop in the Mekong, then it’s back into Thailand for diving in Koh Tao and exploring all that Bangkok has to offer (especially of the edible variety).