Wrap Up: May 2017

May Wrap-Up - The Atlas Heart | Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

May was the month I turned 27! I started the month in Thailand and ended it in Laos, my 28th country. And let me just say, I’m glad my country count is keeping ahead of my age, I think that’s a good sign.

This month included meeting up with one of my close friends, Pascale, who I met in Thailand a couple of months ago. May was also a month of readjusting to another new Asian culture, and finally discovering Laos for the first time, a country I’ve been wanting to see for years.

This is where I went and what I got up to in May.

PLACES & MEMORIES

Chiang Mai | I started the month in transit to Chiang Mai. I took two overnight buses to get from the southern islands in Thailand to Chiang Mai, consisting of over 30 hours of travel time. Yikes! But it was worth it because I got to meet up with Pascale again in Chiang Mai.

You know those people that you feel like you’ve known your whole life, even though you only met them a couple of months ago? Yeah, that’s Pascale to me. So it goes without saying that our reunion was just as awesome as I thought it would be.

We hung out in the city together for a few days. We experienced the Chiang Mai Mountain Sanctuary, shopped at the famous night market, and celebrated a birthday party with a couple of other travel friends.

Elephant Mountain Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand - Asia Travel
Washing elephants at Chiang Mai Mountain Sanctuary.

Pai | I took a quick three day detour to Pai when I was in Chiang Mai before Pascale arrived. Pai is talked up a lot in backpacker circles in Thailand. I enjoyed it and I can see the draw, but I didn’t think it was as amazing as everyone made it out to be. Sure, it’s a cool little hippie town with a lot of friendly travelers and locals to meet, but it didn’t stand out to me as a whole with where I went in Thailand.

I hung out with a couple of British guys that I met at my hostel for most of my stay. I also met two girls, Anika from Germany and the Ceci from Argentina, who I clicked with when we explored Pai together. I met up with them again in Chiang Mai, for Anika’s birthday.

Lod Cave in Pai, Thailand - Asia Travel
Exploring Lod Cave in Pai, Thailand.

Besides checking out the cute cafes and restaurants in Pai, I also enjoyed the night market, explored Lod Cave, soaked in Sai Ngam Hot Spring, saw Mor Paeng Waterfall, and tried to catch the sunset at the Canyon, but the weather had other plans that day.

Chiang Rai | I went up to Chiang Rai with Pascale, our last destination in Thailand together, and my last Thai destination after four months of traveling around the country. Our main reason for going to Chiang Rai was to see Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple.

Well, we saw it but not when we were hoping. We booked a minivan from our hostel in Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Every other minivan that I’ve booked is just for transport from point A to point B, but this one also included a stop at the White Temple on the way to Chiang Rai, which we didn’t realize.

Wat Rong Khung (the White Temple) in Chiang Rai, Thailand - Asia Travel
Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) just outside of Chiang Rai.

So, we ended up seeing the temple when both of us were sweaty and tired, and during the hottest part of the afternoon. We were also only given 30 minutes to walk around before we had to hop back in the minivan. And the trip took about three hours longer than it should’ve because of extra stops.

We were Debbie Downers about it at the time, but as soon as we got to our guesthouse, took showers and chilled out we were in much better moods. We only had one night in Chiang Rai, so after walking around the city and checking out the night market, we decided to have a girls night – Game of Thrones and Thai smooth red wine anyone?

Huay Xai | I only spent two nights in the dusty Laos border town of Huay Xai, and that was more than enough. I find that border towns tend to either be abandoned or a little on the seedy side. Huay Xai was a bit of both.

Beer Lao in Huay Xai, Laos - Asia Travel
Trying my first Beer Lao in Huay Xai.

The only reason people stay here is usually for the Gibbon Experience zip lining jungle trek, that lasts for two or three days. The other reason is to hop on the two day slow boat to Luang Prabang. I didn’t end up doing either one of those things due to work constraints, so there wasn’t much appeal for me in Huay Xai.

Luang Prabang | The romantic city of Luang Prabang with its crumbling French Colonial buildings and natural beauty. I stayed in the city for a week so that I could sightsee and catch up on a lot of new client work for my business.

I was expecting this to be my favorite city in Laos, and although I enjoyed my time there, it didn’t make the top of my list for my favorite spots in the country.

The night market was one of the best that I’ve seen in Asia, besides maybe Taiwan, and there were plenty of UNESCO World Heritage temples to spend my days in. I made sure to take a day trip to Kuang Si Falls, probably one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen. You just can’t beat that water color!

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang - Laos Travel
Chasing waterfalls and playing in the crystal blue waters of Kuang Si.

I also hiked up to the top of Mount Phousi, which I’d recommend to anyone who wants to enjoy some of the best views of the city.

And I volunteered for an evening at Big Brother Mouse, which is an organization that helps teach English literacy to locals. I met two local Lao guys from there who I had dinner with, and who helped me understand Lao culture better.

Vang Vieng | Vang Vieng surprised me in more ways than one. I was expecting it to just be a party spot where people tube down the river and that’s that.

And yes, although it’s probably the party spot in Laos, there is so much more to this little town than just tubing.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos - Asia Travel
Chilling at Blue Lagoon #3 with Steph in Vang Vieng.

I met a fellow American, Steph, on my first day in town and we hit it off immediately. We spent the next two days hanging out, tubing down the river together, hitting up Blue Lagoon #3, and drinking too much Lao whisky & partying with a bunch of Koreans until the early morning on our last night together.

The food I had in Vang Vieng was some of the best I had in Laos. I still dream about that Massaman curry from Green Restaurant – I had it two nights in a row. Yum!

All in all, I wasn’t expecting to like Vang Vieng that much, and it ended up being my second favorite spot in Laos, after the 4,000 islands.

Vientiane | The capital city of Laos didn’t have much in terms of atmosphere, but what it lacked in ambiance it made up for in convenience.

After four months in Thailand, which is arguably the most westernized country in the Southeast Asia (besides maybe Singapore), it took some time readjusting to traveling around Laos.

Laos is probably the most beautiful country I’ve been to in the region, but it is also a very sleepy place. I found most spots in the country to have poor WIFI (almost Myanmar status at times), there were regular communication issues, and other travel difficulties that came about since I was there during the low season.

Vientiane was like being back in Thailand. There were movie theaters, and cafes with good coffee, and shopping malls! And yes, there were cultural things too. There are numerous temples in the city, the Patusay Monument, the Grand Palace Museum, the Cope Center (which I highly recommend), and Buddha Park.

Buddha Park in Vientiane - Laos Travel
Buddha Park in Vientiane.

I went to most of those spots with Seth, an Australian guy I met in Pakse. We bonded through sharing a bed together on a sleeping bus. You just can’t beat hilariously cramped spaces for hours on end for making best friends on the road.

I actually went to Vientiane two separate times. The first time I arrived from Vang Vieng and only stayed for three nights. I was planning on spending my birthday there, but I decided to head down to the 4,000 Islands instead. My gut feeling was telling me to go somewhere beautiful and adventurous for my birthday, so I listened.

Don Det (4000 Islands) | And I could not have asked for a better place to spend my birthday than the 4,000 Islands. I’m glad that I followed my gut and booked an overnight bus down to Don Det from Vientiane.

I met Irma, a Dutch girl, on the bus down – again, sharing a tiny bed on a sleeper bus has a way of bonding people. We spent the next five days together, including my birthday, and it was wonderful. For my birthday, I went kayaking, chased waterfalls, held baby goats, and had a fun low-key evening with a few other travelers on the island.

I splurged on a fancy hotel room looking out over the Mekong for my birthday in Don Det. I can’t say I regretted it with a view like this.

Don Det, Laos - Asia Travel
The view from my birthday hotel in Don Det.

It was the perfect way to ring in my 27th year.

Pakse | My last stop in Laos before I went back to Vientiane for a week was Pakse. Pakse was the least touristy place I visited in the country (besides maybe Huay Xai), and this is where the low season was really felt.

Most people I met were doing the popular 2-3 day motorbike loop that left from Pakse. I didn’t have that much time, so I wanted to find a day tour to see a few of the sights near the city, such as Wat Phu, the Pakse Market, and the Golden Buddha.

Wat Phu, Pakse - Laos Travel
The ancient ruins of Wat Phu, about an hour outside of Pakse.

I soon found that the city stops running tours completely in the low season. Luckily, at the last minute, I found a local by the name of Kent, who was willing to take me around for the day. It was a jam-packed day full of cultural insights and sightseeing, and I’m glad I managed to see more of Pakse with a local.

READS

I took on a lot of new work for my business in May, so I unfortunately didn’t get to much reading. I finished up the The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz that I started at the end of last month, and I started reading Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, which I’m currently still reading.

Luang Prabang, Laos - Asia Travel
Luang Prabang, Laos

PLANS

In the last couple of weeks I’ve thought a lot about how I want to spend my summer. Originally, I was thinking of heading to Malaysia, then to the Philippines, and maybe South Korea, but I’ve decided to make other plans for the rest of the year.

I’m still planning on enjoying Malaysia for a short time. I just arrived to Kuala Lumpur yesterday from Vientiane. However, I realized in May that I’ve become a bit burnt out on Asia. After being here for eight months, I’m ready for a new area of the world and a fresh start.

It has been wonderful to experience Asia again, and I have a lot of special memories from this trip. I also know that I’ll be back again someday soon to tackle the many more Asian countries that I haven’t been to yet.

Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang, Laos - Asia Travel
The view from Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang.

With that said, there has also been a lot of life changes and sadness that has happened since I’ve been here. I was in Taiwan when Trump got elected, my grandma who I was incredibly close to passed away while I was in Thailand, and my last relationship ended soon after that, also in Thailand. I’m ready to leave all of that behind and enjoy a place that is completely my own.

So, I’ve decided to head somewhere new in the world at the end of June. I’ve already booked my ticket and I’ll officially be leaving Asia in a few weeks.

I’m not ready to tell you guys exactly where I’m going yet, but just know that I have a lot of exciting plans ahead for the summer. Until then, I have a ton of writing to catch up on to share my many travel stories from Asia with you.

Until next month!

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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