Category: Laos

Traveling As A Couple: Aud & Tonio

By , April 20, 2011 7:00 am

Without my partner in crime, MeAndFrenchie would not be possible. For those thinking of taking the same plunge, here is the dirty truth about traveling as a couple.

We were told many times by friends that if we could last through this trip then he is the one. While that is partly true, it doesn’t mean it is a good idea to dive into a world trip to test your love. All relationships require work, honesty, communication, compromising without over compromising, and much more. While traveling, you both will continue doing those things, but constantly in new environments. The things you like and don’t like about each other usually take years to realize and accept, but traveling will force it upon you both at a faster rate.

Don’t be intimated by all this because those that work as a team, will find that their relationship will grow stronger and traveling will be one of the best things they did together. Seeing the world and sharing that experience with someone special is blissful.

We will be asking a few couples, who we met along our travels, about how it is to travel together.

Up this week are Aud and Tonio who took the plunge after dating only one month! We had the great pleasure of meeting them on the slow boat along the Mekong River and kept bumping into each other over and over again in Laos and Cambodia.

Aud and Tonio

Aud and Tonio

Relationship Status: | Dating for now.
How long have you been together? | 17 months. Too short.
How long have you been traveling? | We’re on a break with travel now. We’ve traveled 15 months.
How long is your total planned trip? | A lifetime!

How do you organize world travel among the both of you?
Aud: We’ve tried picking countries that none of us has visited before to enjoy discovering them together (or ones that we really loved) and then we just play it be ear and decide as we go. We’ve been reading the Lonely Planet guides too.
Tonio: Aud organizes everything; I am just the follower. Seriously, we discuss each travel plan and make decisions then.

What did you learn about each other?
Well, a lot of things as we were dating only for a month before we started our travels.

Would you do it again? What would you change?
Aud: Definitely do it again. And maybe try and read about the countries a bit more before so we know what we really want to do. It always seems like we could spend more time in each place.
Tonio: Of course. Maybe being a bit more organized and having a joint account from the beginning!

What was your most recurrent disagreement?
Aud: I’m not sure; I don’t think it had much to do with traveling.
Tonio: Huuuuuum no clue.

Do you have any tips for traveling with your partner?
Aud: Patience! And don’t just stay with the two of you. When you’re not travelling alone, you don’t go towards people as much but it’s well worth the effort.
Tonio: Being cool, patient, and meet other travelers to “entertain”.

What was your favorite country you visited? Why?
Aud: Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Bolivia, and Argentina. Amazing people, nature and plenty to do outdoors – love the beautiful landscapes and plenty of trekking to do.
Tonio: Japan, Laos, New Zealand, and Argentina. Respectively for its people, atmosphere, nature, and food.

Laos To Cambodia: Border Virgins

By , July 1, 2010 6:00 am

“There is no change of bus, it’s direct”, we were told by the man who sold us our bus ticket from Don Det, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While the 2009 Lonely Planet told us differently, we were hoping some changes occurred since the last edition. So early morning, we left the island with candid smiles and in hopes the bad border crossing stories only happened to the unlucky ones.

The bus dropped us off right at the Laos border. We all piled in line to get our exit stamps. As we approached the officer at the window, he said $2 each person. When did you have to pay to get an exit stamp? Then because I lost Boris’ departure card, the officer said we had to pay an additional $5 for a new departure card. Everyone in front us paid, but Boris and I agreed not to pay. When we refused, the officer instantly threw our passports back to us.

We read about this scam so many times but as naive travelers, it took us a few seconds to process it. We decided to approach another officer by the gate. He gave us a free departure card but could not help us with the stamp.

We looked around for some locals to follow behind. Even the locals were surprised by the fee, but paid. One local told us sometimes you have to pay. We automatically caved in and paid too. Looking back, it was better not to have paid. There was no way they had a working system to track that you did not exit since it was all a loose paper trail with corruption written all over it.

A few steps further, we were at the Cambodia border. The officer said $1 for the health inspection. He took out a thermometer and placed it on our foreheads and said, “Ok, no fever”, and handed us a piece of paper. If there is a nurse or doctor reading this, can you really take someone’s temperature this way?

Onto the next booth where we had to get our visa and entrance stamp. The visa costs us $23 each and $1 for the stamp. It just doesn’t stop!

Once all that was complete, we ended up switching buses twice and waited hours each time. With every bad experience, there is a silver lining, which we had two of.

The first being that the experience could have been worse. We met a guy on our bus who had to pay a $200 fine at the Laos border. The reason was because when he first entered Laos, it was really late and no one was there to stamp his passport. Later when we tried to exit Laos, they require your entrance stamp to make sure you did not over extend your stay. Since he didn’t have the stamp, he had to pay a huge fine.

The second silver lining was that the bus attendant on the last bus hop was very fond of Boris. He hung out with us and even invited us for free drinks at the rest stop. He referred us to a cheap hotel, which we crashed at for the night and was pretty decent.

4000 Islands: Don Det

By , June 30, 2010 7:47 am

The 4000 islands are located at the widest section of the Mekong River between Laos and Cambodia. Among these 4000 islands, only 4 have power since a couple years ago. We decided to visit Don Det, a small island with many cheap family owned bungalows.

During the French colonial times, the 4000 islands were a transit point for gold from the Mekong to France. While we can still see remainders of an old railway and ancient locomotives, the railway was never actually completed. The gold was always transported using bamboo rafts.

Making the transit of gold more difficult, there is a large impressive waterfall between the islands. At this point, they would take the gold off the boat, let the raft go through the waterfall, and then put the gold back on.

Our trip to Don Det was relaxing for the most part. We spent the first day riding our $1-dollar-a-day rental bicycles to Don Khon, another island linked to Don Det by a bridge. We saw the old French locomotive and the famous waterfall.

The second day was too hot for movement. We spent most of the day in a small bungalow restaurant chatting with Audrey and Antoine, who we always manage to bump into.

During the day, the immense blue sky was filled with large white clouds. Wherever you were, you got the same view that promised better days ahead.

During sunset, the sky lit gold then raged with fire. From our hammocks on the porch of our bungalow, we cherished the quiet and alone time we had with the sky, water, and land.

While there are not any not-to-be-missed things to see on the 4000 islands, it is a very nice and cheap place to relax for a few days before going to Cambodia.

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Local Night Bus From Hell

By , June 28, 2010 1:15 am

From the side of the road late one evening in Vieng Kham, we waited for the local bus to pass through town en route to Pakse. After waiting about 45 minutes, we did start to get nervous but luckily we were picked up.

On board, this was when the fun began. We had to hop over bags filled with corn that occupied the entire middle walkway. Of course our seat was way in the back. As I sat down on the pleather seat, all I could feel was the 4 springs beneath me. Last time I was on a bus like this was probably in elementary school.

corn bags all over the floor

Having no idea how much the bus ticket was, we paid the fee that was asked of us. We found out later, we were charged 50% more. Obvious advice: found out how much you are suppose to pay before boarding, from another source other than the bus driver.

Watching the locals come on board was interesting. With each person that came on, there was always about a 5-minute loud negotiation between the passenger and the bus attendant. As I don’t understand the language, this is my interpretation of the events. It usually began with the bus attendant asking the passenger to pay a certain amount. The passenger would nod his head and say another price. The bus attendant would say something rudely out loud and then nudge the passenger a few times. Of course the passenger would ignore the bus attendant for a few minutes. The bus attendant then would say yes to the offered price and the passenger then paid.

If anyone can understand the language and explain how the local bus works, I would be interested to learn the process and how much really goes to the government.

Even more interesting is seeing what the locals would bring on board with them. On one bus, we saw a motorcycle aboard.

motorcycle on board

After a two-hour ride, the bus pulls over the side of the road and the bus attendant screams. Boris and I look at each other with blank stares. Everyone on the bus quickly gets off and relieves himself or herself on the side of the road. OMG! We wanted to take a picture of this “local bus bathroom break experience”, but it would have been rude. 😉

custom speakers and fans

The overnight bus ride took a total of eleven hours. We both got very little sleep and in the morning, I had the biggest neck pain. I think we both agree the local bus was okay from time to time but never a local night bus again.

Kong Lor: Escape From The Beaten Path

By , June 21, 2010 9:47 am

Most of our research usually comes from the Lonely Planet and Internet. After flipping some local pamphlet, we discovered the Kong Lor Cave. It peaked our curiosity but it was not so convenient to get to. After mapping the location, we decided we would take the local path. From Vientiane, we took a local bus to Vieng Kham, then a songthaew (a pick-up truck with benches and a hood) to Ban Na Hin, and then another songthaew to Ban Kong Lo. The total trip there took us one whole day.

On our last hop, we were packed in with people, a hand bicycle, and two large containers of gasoline. During the ride, the gasoline was leaking all over because the plastic containers were melting due to the heat. If that was not enough, one guy aboard was about to light up his cigarette until we screamed and jumped on him.

Our driver was nice enough to show us and the two other westerners aboard, several lodgings. We all decided to stay at the same place. It was a great night of dinner and drinks with our new friends.

The next morning, we did a 2-hour boat exploration through the entire limestone cave that spanned 4.5 miles long and up to 300 feet high. While inside, it was too dark to get any great shots. However, it was a nice relaxing ride through the impressive cave.

After our journey through the cave, we wandered through the village. Many of the residents were in their home sleeping or lounging, as it was a very hot day. The homes were made of bamboo and there was just enough material to have walls and a ceiling. The residents seemed to be self-reliable as they grew what they ate and even had cable.

Overall, Ban Kong Lo is a quiet place to escape to. There were only a few tourists including the helicopter that flew in filled with tourists who did not want to do the local trek in.

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

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