Last night we got back to Sydney after a wonderful holiday to Thailand and Laos with Siena, Ian and TK – unfortunately Keiren couldn’t make it because of his new job at Bloomberg (which is going very well 🙂 ).
We left Sydney on Dec 18th the morning after the BCG Christmas party which was great fun, and meant that we were happy to sleep on the plane! Unfortunately though, our flight was delayed and we only just made the connection in Singapore, and our bags went missing! We had a few nights without our bags which didn’t catch up with us until Vang Vieng, but at least Singapore Airlines gave us a little shopping money in the mean time!
After spending the night in Bangkok, we continued the journey to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, where we met our guide Xang. Xang was excellent, and made our trip to Laos really enjoyable. First stop was the main temple there before heading to the market to pick up some clean clothes – we were all getting a little hot and smelly in our jeans and shirts! After a quick explore of Vientiane, we hit the road for Vang Vieng which was a beautiful, but long (4 hr) drive.
We arrived just in time to watch sunset over the river (Nam Song) from our hotel, the Elephant Crossing, which was beautifully situated just out of the centre of town. Beer Lao was surprisingly good, and about as cheap as water so we indulged in a few before walking in to town for dinner. Vang Vieng is a stop on the regional backpacker circuit, with the main activity being tubing down the river and stopping at numerous bars along the way. As we wandered around town we saw the aftermath of the day’s drinking as backpackers filled the streets – quite a site to see. Jacs, TK and I were all looking forward to our tubing the next day! After a good night’s rest, Xang took us to check out a huge local cave in the stunning limestone mountains, before we headed up river to start the day’s adventures. We began with a kayak as a family for a few hours which ended with lunch at a organic mulberry farm on the river. After lunch, Mum and Dad continued in the kayaks, and Jacs, TK and Ben traded kayaks for tubes, and spent the rest of the afternoon on the rope swings and flying foxes into the river, whilst enjoying the sunshine and buckets of Lao Lao (the local whisky)! Unfortunately we don’t have photos from the river since we took Ben’s waterproof camera but dropped it in the river 🙁
The following morning it was back on the road to UNESCO listed Luang Prabang which sits on the Mekong and we were very excited for! Along the way we stopped to check out a Hmong village, and to have lunch in a restaurant on the hill side with an excellent view. Luang Prabang was a very cute little town where we spent 2 nights exploring. We checked out the night market, and the morning food market (which was eye opening – there were even live eels!), wandered the streets, had traditional massages, visited temples and much more. On our second day there, we began the day by getting up early and giving alms of sticky rice to the local monks, before climbing the 400 steps up Phu Si hill in the middle of town and then going to visit a waterfall about 30 mins out of town. The waterfall was beautiful, and had aqua coloured water in the pools below where we had a swim and jumped off the walls and used a rope swing. Xang had also prepared a decadent lunch which made us feel very spoiled 🙂
From Luang Prabang, we began our 2 day journey up the Mekong to get to Thailand. We weren’t sure what to expect of the boat, but were pleasantly surprised to find we had a boat that was about 40m long all to ourselves 🙂 Other than a stop at a cave during the day, we spent the entire day relaxing on the boat before reaching Pak Beng where we spent the night. Pak Beng was a tiny town but we were surprised to find a yummy Indian restaurant where we spent the evening eating and drinking Beer Lao! We met a lovely German family that night who were doing a similar trip too.The following morning it was back on the boat all the way to the border crossing to Thailand. Sadly, it was time to leave Xang and cross the border. We got off our boat on one side of the river, got on another boat and crossed the river to Thailand. We had loved our time in Laos – it was one of the friendliest countries we’ve been to!
From there we drove to Chang Rai where our hotel turned out to be very luxurious, and was having a ‘mandatory’ Christmas eve dinner. We spent the evening there listening to live music (with some rather amusing accents. One of the performers was an apparently famous Thai song writer called the Pink Panther), eating from the wide selection of food (including turkey 🙂 ) and having a few celebratory drinks.
In the morning it was Christmas, but we were back on the road to Chang Mai. Along the way, we stopped to see the Long neck hill tribes which was interesting, although very touristy, and more like a model village than a real village. After that we had lunch at an interesting place called Cabbages and Condoms that aims to raise money to promote safe sex in Thailand.
We arrived in Chang Mai in time to visit a beautiful Doi Suthep temple on the top of the hill that dad remembered visiting 30 years earlier, before heading to the retreat (Mekhala Health Retreat) where we would be spending the next few days. After arriving, we settled in before having a low key Christmas dinner celebration with the two families.
A family friend from Singapore, Brian Bauerle, has set up the retreat over the past decade and lives there with his wife Jang, and his children Torrin and Mekhala. Siena is now working with Brian on retreats, and they wanted to use us as guinea pigs for a new family program called ‘Families traveling together’. The centre is built on a hill and is really beautiful, with Buddha, Ganesha, and Kuan Yin temples, as well as a steam room, pool, jacuzzi, gym and yoga room. All of the food was organic vegetarian and home cooked which was delicious. We spent the next few days by getting up early for Yoga, followed by breakfast and then teachings until lunch. After lunch we then had private coaching/therapy sessions with Brian, and then had the afternoon free for massages, runs, and exploring Chang Mai. On the third day while we were in the Kuan Yin temple learning about compassion, Jang presented us with our very own Kuan Yin (Goddess of Compassion/Mercy) that she had spent the past 2 weeks blessing and is now on an altar in our apartment. It was a very special gesture!
While there we went in to town to check out the night market, and also managed to visit a Tiger Centre where we had photos with and got to stroke Tigers which was really cool. On the third night, the retreat wrapped up with us launching little ‘hot air balloons’ to rid us of any bad karma which was fun.
Jacs and I had a wonderful time at the retreat and really got a lot more out of it than we had expected! Thanks so much to Mum for organising the trip, and Brian and Mum for organising such a great program.
From Chang Mai, it was back to Bangkok where we stayed in a little hotel just by Pat Pong. Our first afternoon we headed out shopping in Siam Square (the Paragon is incredible and massive!), before going to the Moon Bar at the top of the Banyan Tree hotel which had incredible views over the city, and then checking out the Pat Pong night markets.
The following day we took Siena and TK to relive some of the highlights from our last visit a few years ago. We went to the markets, rode a canal (khlong) taxi, went to the Golden Mount, strolled around the royal area, Ko Ratanakosin, and then met dad at Ko Sanh rd for some drinks and more shopping in the markets. Jacs, TK and I then had dinner and quite a few beers at some street stalls (I even ate some fried crickets) before heading home.
New Years Eve began with even more shopping until TK and I abandoned mum and Jacs and went to see a 3D movie. At 7.30pm we were picked up for our river cruise along the Chao Phraya which was beautiful and included a delicious Thai dinner and drinks, after which we were dropped off at the Sheraton where we sent the rest of the night. There was live music and dancing, and at midnight the fireworks were right across the river and really impressive. We all had a really excellent night and brought in the new year with style.
New Years Day, we had a quiet morning and a final massage before heading to the airport to fly to Singapore. We landed at 10pm, but our next flight wasn’t till 7am, so we headed over to the Balls’ house. The Balls are old friends of the Buchanans and live in the same area as they used to. We spent the night talking and catching up with them which was great, and before we knew it, it was 5am and time to head back to the airport. We were EXHAUSTED and slept the whole way to Sydney!!
Overall it was a really excellent trip!
Hope that all of you had an excellent Christmas and New Years!
All the best for the year ahead
Ben and Jacs