Posts Tagged With: visa

2nd June – Day 14 – Planes, Cyclos and Sunsets

Today was our last flight of the tour – after this it’s busses, tuktuks and our own bookings. The timing was odd today, since our flight route (Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh) is an infrequent one – we actually ended up booked onto Qatar Airways who do a two leg flight between Doha and PP – stopping in Ho Chi Minh. This had one great advantage for us which was that the plane was a Boeing 787-800 – a ridiculously over-specified plane for the 25 minute flight! It was huge, and almost empty – I had my own row in the cabin, as did most of the group!

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Empty plane

Our flight was actually at 15:30, so the whole morning was lost to hotel time and currency exchange – I took my remaining Vietnamese dong to the local currency exchange and swapped to USD, which is the main currency in Cambodia. It was nice to have a lazy morning in the hotel after so many early starts and I made use of it to buy a Vietnam t-shirt as well as some postcards.

Once we made it to the airport, leaving Vietnam was easy – just a stamp in the passport – and we had a ton of time to kill. I had a small meal and a coffee, and still made it to the gate before the plane had even landed from Doha. Shortly after it landed, we were ready for boarding – and after what seemed like no time at all, we were in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian visa process was a little more complicated – there were 3 forms to fill out and we had to queue up for our visa on arrival, in a chaotic system which involved handing over your passport and photo as well as one of the forms and then waiting for your name to be called out (or your passport held up, if they couldn’t say your name) before going up and paying the $30 visa fee and collecting your passport. The system worked, but it was slow and a little stressful compared to the other immigration processes in the trip. Still, my passport is filling up nicely now!

After we regrouped in the airport, we headed to our bus transfer to the hotel – which was a pretty large bus considering we’re a group of 9 people! Our hotel in Phnom Penh is our most basic of the tour, and Dek had warned us not to expect huge luxury – thankfully he warned us because the hotel was really fairly basic. My room had 3 beds in it, and a huge shower room, but that’s about the only good things – the air conditioning never really got the room cool (until 2am, when I would wake up freezing)!

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3 beds to myself

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Swimming pool

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Beer ‘fridge’

By now we were all getting desperate for our washing to be done, and this hotel offered washing at $3 for half a bag, or $6 for a whole bag. The bags were huge, so I threw all my dirty stuff in there and handed it in – we’re here 2 nights so there’s time to get it back before we leave.

At 5pm we met up for another Cyclo tour (noticing a theme here yet??) where we were lucky enough to catch Sunset hour. I love taking photos at sunset.

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Another cyclo tour

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Kiwi mart

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The sunset was beautiful

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Sun setting over the US embassy

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A famous nun

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More sunset

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The central market

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Proud of this photo

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The king of Cambodia, Nordom Sihamoni

 

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More celebrations of the new king

 

This cyclo tour was supported by an NGO which runs the scheme to encourage underprivileged Cambodians into work and it took us past some of the major sites of Phenom Penh. The city actually has quite a few sites, but they’re spread out which means that a tuktuk or cyclo is definitely required to get between them. The hotel is surprisingly close to the Royal Palace and National Museum of Cambodia however, so both of those could be on the hit list if we have time (they’re not on our tour however).

The Cyclos dropped us off in front of the Royal Palace and Dek showed us a big monument to the new King who was crowned a little while ago. He told us that the Cambodian people are a little worried about this King, because he is unmarried and really likes ballet…

The Royal Palace is located on the edge of the river, and we walked up the riverfront which had a really nice vibe to it – a few tourists but also a lot of locals just hanging out by the water and relaxing. Dek had booked us a table at another training restaurant, where locals are taught to be chefs and waiting staff. The food here was okay, although they were unable to cook my first or second choice so I ended up with steamed vegetables and rice – a little disappointing but extremely cheap! Even with a starter and 2 beers, the whole meal came to $9!

After the meal, we walked back to the hotel and to bed – in a room which I couldn’t get cool. Hmm, see you tomorrow… One way or another.

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May 28th – Day 9 – Mountain, Millionaires and Motorcycles

In the peak season, the tour would move on to Vietnam in the morning on this day, but since we’re travelling in the off -season, Lao Airlines only flies in the afternoons to Hanoi, so we had a free morning in Luang Prabang. I was pretty happy about this since I’ve really enjoyed the pace of life in Luang Prabang and I wanted to explore their most famous site, the Phousi Mountain (don’t say it too quickly!).  At the top of the mountain is a small temple which can be seen from all over the town, and it offers spectacular views of the two rivers which converge just outside of Luang Prabang.

I started the day with an early breakfast, around 7, before heading out to the mountain before the heat of the day hit. The base of the mountain path was a short walk from the hotel, and I was able to make good time heading up – after paying my 20,000 kip entrance fee. Almost every tourist attraction seems to charge the same here!

It was 309 steps up to the top of the mountain, but it was worth it – I had the top to myself and could see all of the town, the rivers and the small temple as well. The sense of achievement in doing this was also worth it!

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A view of the river and Luang Prabang from the mountain

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Top of the mountain selfie

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The other side of the town

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The temple at the top

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No idea what this purple leaf is but it was really vibrant and visible throughout the town

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It was a steep walk up the mountain

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Selfie after making it back down

On the way back down I decided to go for another Lao coffee, having enjoyed it the day before. There was some confusion in the shop who seemed to think I wanted a take away coffee and gave me the boiling hot coffee and condensed milk in a plastic bag, like a goldfish at the fair. After clarifying my request, I was quickly brought a new one in a glass and enjoyed it just as much as the first, although I didn’t dare to try and communicate about the doughnut !

Once I got back to the hotel I quickly packed before going for a swim in the beautiful hotel pool. It was still not even 8:30! The early mornings on this tour really mean the day packs in things… I swam for half an hour and by that point some of the others emerged from their rooms.

Since it was so early, I went back to the room for a little cool off and a nap before checking out from the hotel.  I walked back into the town and explored a little of the old town, hunting out some gift shops and stopping for lunch in a tourist restaurant called The Pizza, which served terrible over priced pizza and drinks but I wanted to be gentle to my stomach after the upset yesterday – I also ordered ginger tea which seemed to help.  After I ordered the olive pizza, the waiter dashed out of the shop to a neighbouring supermarket and came back in with a pack of olives and some ginger. Got to love small towns!

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Olive pizza

With a couple of hours remaining in Luang Prabang once lunch was over, I went into a coffee shop for a cold drink and some aircon as well as free wifi… Honestly this day was a bit unnecessary but the flight schedules had determined we should stay until 3pm.

At 3 we regrouped and headed out to the airport, where check-in was smooth and allowed us a little more waiting before we boarded Laos Airlines QV313 to Hanoi.  The flight was pretty much a mirror image of our flight from Chiang Mai – an ATR plane, terrible box meal and a 45 minute hop.

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Laos airlines selfie

When we landed in Hanoi the sky was incredible – the clouds were so dark and low, it was clear a storm was about to hit and shortly after we left the airport, we were presented with a wonderful thunderstorm. The Vietnamese visa process for a UK passport holder was super easy- no paperwork at all, just handing over my passport and getting a stamp at the border. Some of the others had spent upwards of $200 on their Vietnam visas!

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Vietnams visa is somewhat simple after the crazy Laos ones

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Our luggage collection

In the airport I also changed some US Dollars into Vietnamese dong and once again became a millionaire – $1 was worth 22,240 dong so my $100 gave me 2.2 Million dongs!

Our trip to the hotel was in a nice big comfortable bus and we got to see a bit of the hubbub of Hanoi – our hotel was quite central in the city on ‘silk street’ (fittingly the hotel was the Golden Silk Hotel).  The streets of Hanoi are organised by what is sold there – so there is glasses street, coffee street, and beer street. Quite an efficient way of shopping, unless you want a lot of different things at once!

During our bus ride Dek gave us some tips about Vietnam – a country of 90 million people, and Hanoi – the capital city with over 8 million people and over 4 million motorcycles.  The constant ‘beep beep’ of the motorcycles and cars weaving in and out was infectious and I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring! We only got one night in Hanoi before our next destination, so we went on a short walk to Deks favourite local restaurant – called 96 Restaurant. Dek said they have one as well called 69 -although that sounds like a whole different dinner to me!

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Another hotel, another massive bed!

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Pineapple juice

Crossing the roads in Hanoi is something of an art form, as there is never really a break in the traffic – you just kind of ‘go for it’ when you want to cross, and the traffic avoids you. At first it sounds scary, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

At 96 Restaurant I had some fresh vegetable spring rolls and tofu with satay sauce,as well as a fruit juice and it cost 250,000 dong! That feels like a lot, but it’s really about $20.

Once back at the hotel, and safely across the roads again, I quickly replaced my day pack into an overnight pack since we couldn’t bring our full bags for the next day trip to Ha Long Bay.  Tomorrow would be another early start, setting off at 6:30 – so I got an early night again. Excited for tomorrow though – Ha Long Bay is one of my reasons for booking the trip!

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May 25th – Day 6 – Laundry, Laos and Lilypads

Today was quite an easy day – essentially a travel day.  I started with a 9am lie in, followed by almost missing the breakfast closing at 10am – I was the last person there when they closed! Oops!

After a brief breakfast, I popped down to the laundry to collect my 60 baht washing load.  It was really amazing to have everything washed, folded and packed for me for just over £1! As we were due to leave the hotel, I headed to the room and packed… It seems to be getting easier as the trip goes on (which is good, because there’s a lot more packing and unpacking to go!)

At 12:00 we had to check out from our rooms, so I headed down to meet and chat with others outside the hotel for an hour before we headed to the airport.  We were about to fly to Laos so it gave me a chance to read my guide book and clue up on Laos a little bit more.  I also remembered to take my first Malaron, anti malarial drug – nobody else on the trip is taking malarials but since the travel clinic advised it, I decided to go for it.  I read the potential side effects, and it says that 1 in 10 people react in some way… Watch this space!

At 1pm we headed to the airport to prepare for our 15:30 flight.  Chiang Mai airport is pretty small, and the Laos airline check in desk had 4 people handling our little flight check in – it seemed to be a case of each person had one job to do, including one guy who just picked up stuff from the printers and handed them to someone else.  Quite a strange arrangement but I guess it works as we were through check in very quickly.

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Check in in Chiang Mai

After Check-In, Dek warned us that we should probably grab food before we headed through security so I headed off with Karl and Petra to find something suitable.  There were two options – Burger King or McDonalds. I checked my wallet and literally had 100 baht left (£2!) – excellent planning on the currency side, but it meant that I couldn’t buy anything more than a pack of French fries. Karl and Petra gave me 25 baht so that I could get together enough cash for my meal – thanks guys!

Once we’d had a brief meal, we went through the process of leaving Thailand – a departure form and a security check and we were through, ready to head to the gate.  Gate 9 in this case, where Dek was waiting with paperwork.  As Laos has a visa on arrival scheme, we had to fill out a visa form AND an arrival form – glad we got through there in plenty of time.

We boarded QV636 from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang via a bus – it’s a little properller plane (ATR 72-600) and settled down for the short flight.  Lao Airlines are ‘ready to be a national carrier’ for Laos, but so far don’t have that status, but they were putting in the effort – a little box meal on a 45 minute flight, even if it was a nasty looking sandwich and a box of fruit.

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Obligatory plane selfie


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Lao airlines inflight meal

As we approached Luang Prabang, it was clear we were heading to a much smaller town – just 50,000 people live there.  The hills were filled with trees, rivers and a much more natural looking area than Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  I spotted the airport from the plane as we circled and it was tiny – just a runway and a tiny terminal building with what looked like one gate.

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Chiang Mai from the air


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Laung Prabang from the air


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Our tiny ATR plane


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Wasking to the terminal

After landing, we parked quite a distance from the terminal and were let off the plane.  There were no instructions, but people seemed to just walk towards the terminal, so we followed – the rules here are so relaxed about this sort of thing! We were lucky to be near the back of the plane (ATR planes deplane from the rear) so we got to the front of the immigration queue quickly.

The first stage of immigration into Laos was to obtain our visa on arrival.  This was a simple process when we had completed the form and photo in advance – simply a case of handing over our passport and forms, waiting a couple of minutes and going to a different window where we paid the $35 (plus $1 service fee) and obtained a properly printed visa in the passport!  Makes you wonder why so many countries take days or weeks to prepare visas!

After that, the immigration was straightforward – arrival form and baggage collection. Since it was a tiny flight and a tiny airport, the bags were there before we even got our visas.

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My Lao visa

After we all regrouped, and the Canadians complained about their $42 visa (different countries have different costs), some people went to withdraw cash from ATMs.  Since I had USD I wanted to change, I had to wait till later to become a millionaire! In Lao, the currency is the Lao Kip and is worth approximately 8000 kip to 1 USD.  So to become a millionaire, you only need $120 – actually the recommended amount by Dek for our 3 day stay.

During our minibus ride to the hotel, Dek explained that Lao is one of 5 communist countries in the world, and the name here is PDR of Laos – which colloquially stands for People Don’t Rush! He warned us – don’t expect fast service anywhere!

We quickly arrived at our hotel, the Maison Dalaboa.  It’s a really cute boutique hotel next to a lily pond.  My room had a HUGE double bed and there was a lovely pool as well.  Once we checked in (and had another welcome drink), we were to meet at 7pm for dinner and a trip to yet another Night Market!

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MAulson Dalabua


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My huge hotel bed


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Beautiful boutique hotel


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Lilypond outside

Our dinner was at the Coconut Garden restaurant, a fairly nice place just through the Night Market.  On the way there we stopped at a foreign exchange booth and I changed $124 into 1,004,000 kip – making my briefly a millionaire!

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Coconut Garden


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Proof that I was briefly a millionaire

I ordered a pumpkin and coconut soup, steamed vegetables with a spicy tomato sauce and a Beer Lao – the local beer.  Service was predictably slow (PDR, after all!) and the restaurant was quite dark, but the food was tasty when it did come.

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Beer Lao


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Pumpkin and Coconut soup

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Steamed Vegetables and spicy tomato dip

Local shop


After dinner we headed into a local shop to buy some water and some of the group wanted some night booze supplies. It had been a pretty calm day, but I feel like that’s probably the way of life in Laos. 

Looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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