Bowling through Laos

There are a lot of reasons not to travel in Laos during the rainy season. The best laid plans can be derailed by a monsoon. The roads can get really muddy. Its shockingly humid. But, in my humble opinion, the beauty outweighs these obstacles. It’s cheaper and less crowded. And I’ve never in my life seen a green so vibrant as the rice fields after a rain shower. Our twenty days in Laos were magical and I hope to return.

Rice field in Xiang Khouang province

Luang Prabang. We flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand. While we’re doing a lot of our travels by ground transport, the convenience of a one hour flight won out over a 24 hour bus over mountain roads. The old town of Luang Prabang is an UNESCO site filled to the brim with temples, bakeries, restaurants and shops. The French influence is really felt here. This was our first stop in Indochina and has been interesting to see the French food/architecture throughout Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The town is situated on a peninsula between the mighty Mekong and smaller Nam Khan rivers. Its a real treat to wander through LP and our inexpensive guesthouse had a lot of perks: excellent banana pancakes, a fresh fruit drink each afternoon and two adorable puppies who patrolled the patio. Across the street was Manda de Laos, an upscale Lao restaurant where food is served next to a beautiful Lotus pond. Thanks to a generous send-off gift from my former DC co-workers, we had a wonderful date night here. On the opposite end of the food spectrum we also went to an all-you-can-eat $2 buffet in an alleyway.

We took a songthaew (benches in the bed of a pickup truck) to Kuang Si waterfall. The waterfall is known for bright blue pools of water because of mineral deposits. Because we’d had a big rain the day before the water was moving too fast to have the turquoise color, but the falls were impressive nonetheless. We also spent an afternoon bowling at one of only 3 or 4 bowling alleys in the entire country. It had been years since either of us had gone bowling and a great way to escape the afternoon heat!

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Kuang Si Falls

Phonsavan. From Luang Prabang we took a bus to the town of Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang province. This area, known as the Plain of Jars, has thousands of megalithic stone jars scattered in dozens of sights around the region. Xieng Khouang is also known as one of the most heavily bombed areas by the United States during the Vietnam War. We visited sites of the “Secret War” with our guide, Mr. Vang. The legacy of the war is still visible today in bomb craters across the landscape and thousands of unexploded ordinance that continue to injure and kill in the community to this day.

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Vientiane. The capital of Laos. Unlike other big cities in the region, Vientiane doesn’t have a ton going on. For me, that’s kind of the charm of Laos. There’s a nice night market and strip of restaurants along the Mekong. We found some really good and cheap ex-pat food. The “sights” like the historic Sisaket Temple and Patuxay Monument can all be seen in about half a day. At this point in the trip we needed a place to spend a day with good internet to plan out the next couple months and Vientiane was a great location. We also knew there was another bowling alley here! We can now proudly say we have bowled in at least half of the alleys in Laos.

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Wat Si Muang

Pakse and the Bolevan Plateau. From Vientiane we took the “King of Bus” (see on our instagram!) overnight to the town of Pakse and launched into a 3-day motorbike loop around the Bolevan Plateau. This is a popular backpacker loop and the Bolevan Plateau is known for beautiful scenery, waterfalls and coffee. The Plateau is also a higher elevation and so was an escape from the heat and humidity. We visited the ancient city of Champasak and Wat Phou. This Wat (temple) is from the Angkor period and was actually built before Angkor Wat. Our first full day on the loop we drove through rain and fog, obscuring the waterfalls. However, it felt great to be off the tourist path and we found a small guesthouse in the tiny town of Paksong. The next day the weather cleared and we were treated with spectacular views of rice paddies and coffee fields. We stopped at a homestay in an ethnic minority village for a cup of coffee (hand round in mortar & pestle and served in a bamboo stalk pour over) and stayed the night by the Tad Lo waterfall.

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Wat Phou, Champasak

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On the road on Bolevan Plateau

Si Phan Don. Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands, is an archipelago in southern Laos along the Mekong River. A French couple we met in Tad Lo had just come from here and recommended the guesthouse Mama Leauh on the island Don Det. In all our travels so far, I have never heard people recommend a place more vehemently than this couple so we knew we had to stay here. It did not disappoint. We stayed in a charming riverside bungalow and just relaxed and explored the islands for five days. The food was phenomenal. Not all traditionally Lao (their specialty was Schnitzel!) but super scrumptious. Despite the humidity, Ryan was able to get some runs in around the island and I rented a bicycle with no brakes for $1 to explore.

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Sunset on the Mekong

Northern Thailand

In the back half of our stay in Thailand we headed north to Chiang Mai and Pai. We had a lot of firsts in Northern Thailand. Ryan had his first experience on a sleeper train as we took an overnight ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I had my first taste of Khao Soi, which became my favorite Thai dish. And we both rode motorbikes for the first time!

Chiang Mai is an incredibly charming city. The Old City, where we stayed, is one square mile surrounded by ancient walls and packed to the brim with temples. Its also incredibly walkable compared to the much larger Bangkok. Because the canal and square city walls were flanked by wide sidewalks it also made a great running loop (something that can be hard to come by in hectic Asian cities). Northern Thailand is also generally less expensive than the coast or Bangkok.

We spent the better part of our first day just wandering around the Old City. There are literally hundreds of temples in this small geographic area. We visited:

  • Wat Chedi Luang. Temple complex includes ruins of a chedi from the old city.
  • Wat Phan Tao. The teak temple. Smaller temple made from beautiful teak wood.
  • Phra Singh Temple. Biggest temple (I think) in Chiang Mai. Several buildings on the complex, including gold covered stupa with elephants.
  • Wat Srisuphan. The silver temple. A one of a kind temple that is made from silver. Apparently the area it is located (just south of the Old City) was known for silver smiths. Gorgeous outside, but the inside is off limit to women.

There are a couple small museums in the city center. We spent about an hour looking through the Chiang Mai Historical Center. The museum goes through the history of the region chronologically and was a nice way to get out of the afternoon heat.

One of the most quintessential things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class. We took the full day course with the Asia Scenic Cooking School. We made Pad See Ew and Pad Thai, papaya salad and spicy chicken salad, fried bananas and mango sticky rice, ground red and green curry paste, and rolled and fried our own spring rolls. I’m probably forgetting something but we left the day completely stuffed and satisfied.


Chiang Mai was also our jumping off point for a full day excursion to Doi Inthanon National Park with a trip to an elephant park. When you book these tours usually you expect to be accompanied by a van full of other people, but we lucked into getting the tour all to ourselves this time! I think it is a perk of traveling in the low season is that that is more likely. We went on a nature walk in the national park with our guide Nop and and then spent the afternoon feeding and bathing a group of elephants. I have some mixed feelings about the exploitation of animals, but we went to a park where they explicitly don’t let guests ride the elephants and they seemed to have a lot of land to roam. In any case, it was absolutely incredible to get up close with the animals and play with them in the stream.

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The other thing I have to mention about Chiang Mai is the Sunday Night Market. Night markets in general have been one of our favorite things in Asia. The Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is one of the biggest night markets I’ve seen yet. It sprawls through the old city and there are so many items for sale. In addition to a lot of food there were clothes and lots of knick knacks and souvenirs for sale. It was quite an experience and I think not to be missed on a trip to Chiang Mai.

After 5 nights in Chiang Mai we ventured further north to the town of Pai. What to say about Pai. Its a really, really popular backpacker destination. That means the town and surrounding area is very touristy and there are a lot of hippies. The countryside is beautiful. Once you get a bit outside of town, everywhere you look you can see lush green rice fields and rolling hills.

Our first day in Pai we decided to hike to the Mae Yen waterfall. Out of the several waterfalls around Pai, this is the only one you have to hike to get to. The hike to the waterfall took about three hours and we had to wade across a river to get to the trailhead.

The trail follows a river upstream and criss crosses the stream throughout the whole hike. I bet we spent 50% of the time wading across the stream vs. walking on land. The last bit involved a pretty steep and slippery uphill climb but in the end, we made it!

The other amazing activity we did in Pai was learn to ride motorbikes. We rented scooters for the day from Vespai (the businesses in town are really great at making Pai puns) and paid a little extra to get a proper lesson. 30 minutes on the side road in front of our guesthouse and we were ready to go! There is a loop around Pai that hits up some of the super kitschy tourist attractions that line the highways around Pai. The loop takes only 45 minutes, so its a great place for beginners. We stopped at “Coffee in Love” (one of the uber kitschy roadside stops) and Pai Canyon before looping back around to the main town. We also biked up to a sunset overlook but only had an overcast view of the valley below.

In the end, I have really fond feelings about our short stay in Pai. Its probably less because of the town itself and more because of the motorbikes. There was also a really good burger place.

The Beach and Bangkok

Ok, we've been in Laos for ten days and I am finally getting around to posting about our time in Thailand! Here's a bit about the first half of our 20 day trip…

After a quick overnight stop in Krabi Town, we set off for a relaxing few days on the Andaman Sea. Though not an island, Railay Beach is still only accessible by boat. The iconic karst cliffs that cut off Railay from the mainland are formed through the erosion of limestone and can be found throughout the region. We waited around the dock until another backpacker joined us to share a longtail boat to Railay.

We came just after the high season, so while we had more rainy afternoons, there were also smaller crowds and cheaper accommodations. The coast was probably the most expensive part of our Thailand trip. We splurged and stayed at the Avatar Railay Resort. A splurge for our budget was $45/night. In real vacation terms it was a total steal and the pool alone was well worth it. Railay is tiny (the walk from East Railay to West took 4 minutes) but there is still a lot to do. Beside relaxing by the pool or on the beach we rented kayaks and spent two nights hanging out at Kamar Bar where the wildly entertaining owner Ning had us laughing all night.


On our last full day, we went on a Phi Phi Islands Tour. We snorkeled, swam in an absolutely stunning lagoon and stopped for a photo op at Maya Bay where the movie The Beach was filmed.

From the beach we took a night bus from Krabi to Bangkok. On our first day we hit up some of the quintessential sightseeing spots like the famous temples Wat Pho and Wat Arun. These temples are across the river from one another so there is a ferry that runs between them every couple of minutes.

Our first night in Bangkok we walked around the famous backpacker area Khoasan Road. Right next to Khoasan Road is the street Soi Rambuttri. Soi Rambuttri is basically a older, tamer version of Khoasan Road. For example, Khoasan Road is where you go to see young drunk people get stupid tattoos on the street. On Soi Rambuttri, the 30s crowd is still knocking back Chang beers, but they at least get their tattoos inside actual parlors.

We also explored several Bangkok markets and night markets, visited the Jim Thompson house, and even went to a free Sunday taping of Muy Thai boxing at the Chanel 7 Stadium. My favorite meal in Bangkok was seafood barbecue at the Ratchada Night Market. It was basically a Thai-style Louisiana boil. They dumped a pile of saucey seafood on our table and handed us each a pair of plastic gloves. No utensils required.

Next up… we take a Thai cooking class, play with elephants and learn to ride motorbikes in Northern Thailand! Stay tuned…

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4 Days in Singapore

After our month in Nepal, we flew on to our next destination. Singapore! From here we launched the SE Asia portion of our adventure that will take us to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam through the end of August.

We arrived in Singapore on Friday, June 9th and stayed through the 13th when we took a bus a few hours north to Melaka, Malaysia. Coming from Nepal, one of the least developed countries either of us has ever traveled in, we had a bit of reverse culture shock landing in a big modern city like Singapore! I have to admit it was very nice to be in a place with sidewalks and street lights and very good public transit after trying to cross traffic in Kathmandu.

Singaporeans are a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian people and culture. As you can imagine, that meant the food was absolutely amazing and there was a ton of variety. We tried satay, chicken rice, noodles galore, roti for breakfast, dim sum… We ate most of our meals at hawker centres, which are food markets with lots of different stalls and types of dishes. My main strategy was to find the longest line at the hawker center and just get that.

A big highlight from our time in Singapore was meeting up with Gim, a friend of a friend back home. Gim was gracious enough to spend all day Saturday with us showing us around Singapore, touring The National Gallery Singapore and Gardens by the Bay, treating us to some delicious local food and even letting us relax and swim at her pool! I can’t say enough what a great time we had. Thank you, Gim!

Since we had such a whirlwind couple of days, I think the best way to share our experience is to share some of our favorite photos:

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Our first night in Singapore we had dinner at the Lau Pa Set food center (satay and dim sum!) and walked around Clarke Quay and the Marina Bay Area.

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View of Clarke Quay (pronounced “key”). We followed the lead of some other tourists & locals and bought beers at the 7-11 and chilled on the bridge rather than at one of the overpriced bars.

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Our first view of Singapore’s famous Gardens by the Bay. You can see the domes and one patch of “Supertrees.”

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Inside the supertree grove around 10 PM. The outdoor area of the gardens are free and open until 2 AM.

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On Saturday we met up with our new friend Gim. Our first stop was The National Gallery Singapore. Lucky for us a new exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s work had just opened! This is the second Kusama exhibit of our trip!

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The exhibit was titled “Life is the Heart of a Rainbow.”

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Pumpkins…

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…and polka dots!

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Ryan and Gim in one of Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms.

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Venus de Milo covered in Kusama’s hallmark colored nets.

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After the museum and lunch we headed to Gardens by the Bay. Here are the supertrees by day!

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Inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay. You can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background through the glass.

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Gim, Ryan and me at the Flower Dome.

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Waterfall inside the Cloud Forest Dome.

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Walkway around the cloud forest.

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Example of peranakan style homes in Singapore.

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View from Gim’s balcony overlooking the pool. We took a late afternoon dip!

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Chili crab! As a grand finale to our amazing day, Gim took us to the East Coast Food Village to chow down on chili crab, veggies, BBQ stingray, salted egg chicken and more! It was a delicious feast.

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This is the entrance to the Ramadan Bazaar on Geylang Street. Thousands of people, lights and vendors selling everything from unicorn milkshakes to carpets and clothes.

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On Sunday we went to lunch in Little India. Ryan enjoyed his masala dosa and mango lassi.

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Umbrella tree art installation in Little India.

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That night we enjoyed fancy cocktails from a rooftop bar. Here’s the view of Lantern, the bar on top of the Fullerton Hotel on Marina Bay.

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Enjoying a cocktail overlooking Marina Bay Sands.

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Ryan and his Singapore Sling.

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On our last full day in Singapore we started out with a tour of the Tiger Brewery.

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I was happy to see that Tiger has several solar arrays on their facility! I’ll drink to that.

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Ryan and his inner tiger.

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Tourguide Mark showing us the ropes. Ryan and one of the other participants got to try their hand at the perfect pour. Cheers!

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The tour ended with a beer and 45 minute tasting in Tiger’s pub. Singapore is pretty expensive so these were probably the cheapest drinks in town!

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After the brewery we headed over to Bukit Timah for an afternoon walk.

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We reached the summit! This is the end of our pics from Singapore. The next day we caught a bus to Melaka and began our tour of Malaysia!

Thanks for a great time, Singapore!