Saying goodbye to all of our friends from our 15 months of living in the Panyu district of Guangzhou, China was not easy. We really made an awesome network of friends loved getting to know our neighborhood so well. But it wasn’t just our friends, saying goodbye to our fellow teachers and students was also really tough to do. One thing is for sure, we will always consider Guangzhou, China as one of our homes in this world. And in this crazy-fun life we are living, we say goodbye to one home and hello to our next home…the road.
Spending One Month in Bangkok, Thailand – With Our Airbnb Rental
While we really wanted to get out and explore China more (because we didn’t really have time while we were working), we were also needing a bit of a break from China — you know, the whole “Great Firewall” can really kill your productivity when you run an online business and blog, like we do. Plus, we kinda wanted a break – and to enjoy some sunshine! So we decided to depart China and head to our familiar stomping grounds of Bangkok, Thailand – where we rented and an Airbnb apartment just outside the city for one month.
We arrived in Bangkok via Hong Kong and Macau (super cheap Air Asia flights between BKK and Macau, by the way) and we were ecstatic to be back in Thailand! It felt good to go somewhere outside of China and finally concentrate on building Peanuts or Pretzels for a change.
For one month, we had no desire to stay in a hotel or hostel — plus, the price can really add up! So we were excited to find an awesome apartment through Airbnb. Our place was located just outside the city which had its ups and downs. While it was close to the skytrain into the city, it was still a long (and expensive) journey and was a bit of a hassle. Lucky for us, we only planned to go into the city a few times – but it was still inconvenient overall.
However, everything else about the apartment was just perfect for what we needed. Fast wifi (super huge plus), a really comfy bed (coming from China – it was a godsend!), a kitchen, and a beautiful swimming pool to lounge around in. In fact, our afternoon pool-break became known as our brainstorming sessions.
Not a bad spot to have a “meeting” and be inspired while cooling off at the same time.
And as pure luck would have it, we just happened to be in Bangkok for the world’s biggest water gun fight…as a part of the Songkrong (Thai New Year) festival! While we’ve known about Songkran and always wanted to attend, the dates totally slipped our minds. This is one of the most fun experiences that we have had on the road, and we didn’t even plan for it. There is just something about walking and hitting people in the face with a quick spray from your water-gun, and then seeing them laugh or say “thank you”
Having experienced Songkrang, we would highly recommend it to other travelers as a “Must Experience Festival” around the world. We spent the whole day – a solid 8+ hours getting soaked in a giant street party along Silom road in Bangkok, and it was the BEST!
Our First Housesitting Experience in Bangkok
We were really enjoying being back in Bangkok. I was also lucky enough to catch up with a close friend from my hometown, Nick, for a couple of dinners and hangout time since he is living there too. We were also getting lots of work done on the site with our fast internet, and we FINALLY got set up with Housesitting — something we’ve been meaning to do for quite some time.
And even better was that we were actually able to find our first housesit through Trusted Housesitter while in Bangkok! We knew we may want to possibly do more housesitting after leaving Bangkok, but it’s all about getting references and referrals to help build your account up. So the timing worked out perfect, and we were able to help do a little pet sitting for an expat couple in Bangkok, and watch after their cat, Anisa.
Even though we still had a couple of days left at our awesome Airbnb, we decided to do the housesit in Bangkok even though they overlapped. Liz and I were able to come stay at their awesome apartment downtown for a couple of days while they went on vacation to the islands in Thailand. The experience was great and we loved playing with Anisa, while cooking up some of our favorite comfort meals from the States for a change (a nice break when you’ve been in Asia for almost 2 years).
We really loved house / pet-sitting! So we will always be keeping our eye out for more housesitting gigs in the future while we continue to move around the world!
Laos or China?
Our one month in Bangkok flew by and before we knew it, our visa was running out in Thailand! We were needing to move on, but where? We didn’t really know if we were ready to go back to China right away, so we decided to head to a country we hadn’t been to yet, Laos.
Without much notice or planning, we booked our overnight train ride from Bangkok to Vientiane. The overnight train ride was an experience in itself. Now we know better to get the bottom bunk because the top bunk is not made for big southern gent like myself 🙂
Waking up on the train while cruising in the Thai countryside, we could feel that the big city was far behind us as we came upon the Thai/Laos border. After arriving at the border we were stamped out of Thailand, then we got on another train that went across the river bridge into Laos. It was really cool to literally cross the river from one country to the next. The flags on the river train line even changed in the middle of the river from Thai to Lao.
Once we got off the train, we had to get our visa and stamps for Laos (and pay $30 USD), then we headed into town, the small capital of Laos, Vientiane. It is actually one of the smallest capital cities in all of Asia, and many travelers to Laos actually skip the “big city” and go directly to the countryside town of Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang.
However, we ended up spending 5 nights in Vientiane – and had a great time exploring this small city! I think the highlight for us was when we rented a motorbike and headed out to the countryside. We jetted out to the underwhelming Buddha Park to explore a bit. The Buddha Park was not a highlight for us (the bike ride was), but we still managed to get a couple of cool shots while having lunch next door.
The very cool but also very underwhelming Buddha Park in #Vientiane #Laos. #simplybeautifullaos #POPLaos #peanutsorpretzels #travel #travelgram #travelstoke #explore #lppathfinders #yourshot #forgedforlife
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Also a highlight for us was exploring the many Wats or Vats in the area. There are lots of beautifully painted and vibrant wats in Vientiane. At one particular Wat, we were able to catch several of the Monks goofing off while working to remove a fallen tree from the Wat grounds. Pretty cool to see the Monks smiling and having some fun while working.
While we were surprised at how much we enjoyed Vientiane, it was time to move on. So we headed out on a bus 4 hours up the highway to the river town of Vang Vieng. I got to ride shot gun on the bus, and had a beautiful, thrilling, and a bit scary ride into the Laos mountains!
Vang Vieng – Loving This Place!
Arriving in Vang Vieng, I immediately fell in love with this town. I told Liz within 5 minutes of walking the streets that, “This is my kind of town!” It reminded me of walking through Shakedown Street at a Phish show. Ok, not really, but the “Balloons Here” and “Happy Pizza” signs brought a little bit of a flashback back to me and my Phishing Days in high school & college.
But we would quickly realize that “Happy Pizza,” and loud 90’s rap is not what Vang Vieng is all about. The reputation of this epic riverside party-town is starting to fade away, with a couple of backpacker bars/hostels holding on strong.
The town is really cool and has a great relaxed vibe to it, but to us it seemed like the town is undergoing a bit of an identity switch. That would happen when you consider that 27 backpackers died in one year alone from all the “Free Whisky” being passed around before people got on death swings into the river.
Yep they were actually called death Swings and people got on them. SMART!
However, the transition of this town isn’t a bad thing. We LOVED this town, without the party too!
Of course, during our visit we did want to check out the river scene, more for the amazing scenery that this picturesque town of Vang Vieng has to offer. Tubing the river in Vang Vieng was great and really amazing. The river felt perfect as floated down in the middle of a Lao heatwave.
We passed by locals fishing, swimming, and kids playing in the river. We stopped off at couple of bars on the river to check it out (and they were really not all that). There were around 20 plus bars at one time and now there were only 2.
It was nice to come off the river and a have a BeerLao with the backpackers for a bit, but we didn’t stay too long. We were perfectly happy just relaxing and floating down the entire river. Overall it was a really cool experience.
While in Vang Vieng we stayed at 4 different hotels and guesthouses. We didn’t originally plan it that way, but we kept extending our stay and even worked with two different hotels. One we stayed with will stay forever in my mind just for the service and pool alone.
The Riverside Boutique Resort was amazing and memorable. It’s always nice to get a bit of luxury while trekking around the world. We only stayed here for a couple days to do some work with them, but we loved the experience and cherished our time at this amazing place. In fact, it was so nice to be in the lap of luxury…we didn’t leave the hotel while staying here! We just worked in the comfy room, lounged at the pool during a few breaks, ate at the fantastic restaurant and enjoyed drinks with the staff along the river.
Another amazing place we ended up staying at for over a week was the Silver Naga Hotel. Sometimes the universe aligns just right and you meet some amazing people that will stick with you forever, and the universe did just that when we met Rachel, the owner and director at the the Silver Naga and also the Elephant Crossing hotel in Vang Vieng, Laos.
Her property has an amazing location on the River, and seriously the best pool in all of Vang Vieng (in our opinion). We loved having smoothies here daily at the pool, and the atmosphere made it easy for these digital nomads to get inspiration for writing and working on the site.
We were also lucky to work with Rachel as a part of our tour through Vang Vieng; however, we were even more excited to learn more about her additional digital marketing needs. So after some discussion with her, we were happy to take her on as a client through our consulting company, PoP Travel Media!
This was part of the reason we kept extending our stay. Initially we were planning to be in Vang Vieng for about 5 days or so. But we ended up staying for 15 days!
We loved the Silver Naga so much that it actually felt a bit like home. Even after a week, we hated to leave this amazing place & we really hope to return again in the future.
Another great adventure we had in Vang Vieng was a simple one, but it ended up being much more strenuous that we thought going into it. For most days, we sat across at the Silver Naga looking at this hill in the middle of a rice paddy with a flag pole on top. Of course I was thinking to myself how great of a spot that would be for a geocache.
So one evening we got a cache container ready and headed towards this “hill” in hopes of making it a new home of a geocache. The walk to the start of the “hill” was a memorable one, walking through the rice fields and seeing daily Lao life happening was stunning.
Well getting to the “hill” was easy enough, but making it to the top was bit of a challenge. Sketchy bridges, giant , boulder-hopping, and some straight up rock climbing made this little hike into a serious epic adventure. The guy at the bottom told us 20 minutes to the top. Well 40 minutes into the hike, we finally made it (breathless and sweaty profusely) to the top.
This was a difficult hike for anyone, but as we get older, we can certainly tell that our bodies are not near as agile as they used to be!
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Finally, we made it to the top and man… it was well worth it. We were given the gift of making it to the top with some amazing views of rice fields, mountains, and of the town of Vang Vieng. After spending a few minutes to enjoy the view (perched atop some super sharp rocks!), we placed the cache at the bottom of the flag pole for future traveling geocachers then set off back to the bottom before sunset arrived. Well worth the trek and the risk.
Another day in Vang Vieng we rented a motorbike and headed out into the countryside. Renting a motorbike is something that we look forward to everywhere we go now. I know what to get Liz when we get back settled and have a home.
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We first went to the popular Elephant Cave, then hiked back through a local village and visited Water Cave — where we hired a local guide, got on some tubes in the water, and ducked into a deep and dark cave! We used our headlamps and affixed ropes to guide ourselves deeper and deeper into this cave while floating on our tubes. It was a blast – even though it was a bit scary.
Then we made our way out to the famous Blue Lagoon!
Both the Water Cave and Blue Lagoon were cool experiences. We had a blast exploring the dark caves with our headlamps, but the highlight was the Blue Lagoon for me. The fresh water was amazing and watching all of the tourists gathering their nerves to jump from the high tree into the lagoon was entertaining.
We spent several hours here relaxing in the Lagoon and doing a couple of high jumps ourselves.
The Rocket Festival
Towards the end of our 2 week stay in Vang Vieng, we were debating whether or not to leave and head to Luang Prabang for something called “The Rocket Festival”. In the end, we decided to stay and experience the Rocket Festival in Vang Vieng and we are so glad that we did.
A few years ago there was an Aussie Movie shot in Vang Vieng about the Rocket Festival called “The Rocket.” Everyone told us about it, and while we haven’t seen it yet — it comes highly recommended (so look it up on YouTube!).
On the day of the festivities, we showed up on the river ready to watch some rockets go off, but we had no idea that what we were going to see would be something that will always be considered as “The Coolest Thing Ever”!!!
The Rocket Festival is a time for the local Lao people to relax and let loose. Technically, it signifies the end of dry season and the start of rainy season. The rockets are meant to be shot up into the sky to ask the gods for rain, and to summon the water serpent “Naga” out of the river and into the rice fields.
The BeerLao starts flowing early in the morning and doesn’t end until way past sunset. It is a showcase of skill and expertise that can lead to year of bragging rights for your neighborhood if you can get your rocket over the mountain. Everyone got involved and there were rockets in all sizes.
The big ones were the highlight, and they took up to 10 people to carry and quite some time to set up on the launch pad. Everyone would get quiet to witness the blast offs. The goal was to get your rocket over the mountain, which was a good several miles up and over! It was quite the sight to see, and something that will always bring a big smile to Liz and I. Amazing!!!
After 2 weeks in Vang Vieng it was time to move on. It was hard to leave honestly, but I think it is not the last time we will visit Vang Vieng.
Hoping not to slide off a Mountain on our way to Luang Prabang
So honestly, I was thinking when booking a bus ticket to get from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang that yeah it may be a bit winding of a road. I lived in Asheville, NC for years and winding roads were nothing to me. Well, a couple of bags of car sick vomit later (Liz) we were just wanting this 100 mile (6 hour) ride to be over!
It was one of the most beautiful, terrifying, and car-sick inducing rides we have experienced yet. Don’t get me wrong, riding though the countryside seeing small village-life unfold was amazing. And the mountains were incredible! However, it seemed like we were driving at breakneck speeds on a giant bus for hours along the very top ridges of these huge mountains. It was beautiful and unforgettable, yet miserable.
If you can, we’d highly recommend renting a car or bike to enjoy it — maybe next time!
Luang Prabang – a UNESCO World Heritage Town
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Arriving in Luang Prabang, you can easily see that this is the most visited city in all of Laos, based on all of the tourists in town. Luang Prabang does have touristy feel to it, but with all its French style architecture, there’s something about it that makes you quickly fall in love with it.
We enjoyed strolling along the river and seeing all the beautiful guesthouses, boutique hotels, restaurants and cafes. So much tranquility in little pockets along the Mekong River.
One of the biggest highlights for us in Luang Prabang and really all of Laos, was renting a motorbike and heading out to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. This is a place of dreams – it really was! The clear blue, cool fresh water flowing down a big fall, then multiple smaller waterfalls makes this one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. With the vegetation, like bamboo trees, bright flowers, bright blue water and picturesque cascades, it seriously looked like something out of a fairytale or movie set…but it is REAL!
We loved swimming and playing in the waterfalls that we actually spent two days out here. I mean can you blame us?
We were visiting during dry season, so this was really the only waterfall worth seeing. But that was great, because it was also low season so there weren’t as many tourists around. It was a really scenic motorbike ride through local villages, and we also did some hiking all the way to the top of the waterfall too. Being there just before closing, we were the only ones swimming at times!
Another highlight of our visit was testing out our embroidery skills at the Ethnology Museum in Luang Prabang. There are SO many different ethnic groups in Laos, and this non-profit museum is a great showcase of the different cultures, traditions, and crafts…including beautiful handmade textiles! We were so interested that we decided to take one of their classes, and embroidery class, with a local girl.
This was a really cool experience that a lot of travelers don’t see or do – but it’s what we love! We were able to sit and relax while gazing out at coconut trees and mountains, and learn how to embroider a small traditional pattern from one of the tribes in Laos. We were the only two people in the class, so we had a fun chat with our teacher and another worker at the museum who was sharing some interesting information with us. They even gave us a few glasses of a local beverage to sip on while we embroidered. It was a great experience and hard to think of a better souvenir than one that you create with your own hands.
Laos will forever be in our hearts
Laos truly surprised us and exceeded all of our expectations. We fell in love with this country and the culture (not to mention the tasty dark coffee and delicious baguette sandwiches!). Liz and I are so happy that we have a connection with Laos and our new favorite town of Vang Vieng. We say this a lot, but this is one time we both know and mean it… “We can not wait to go back to Laos!”
If Laos is not on your radar, then you are missing out big time. Hurry and get there before the Starbucks of the world find this unique cool jewel of Southeast Asia. Yep, not a single Starbucks, McDonalds or other commercial chain restaurant in sight. Loving It!
Next on the itinerary, a flight from Luang Prabang to Bangkok. Then sleeping at the airport until our morning flight back to our second home of China. This time in China we will actually get to see what is considered to be the best part of China – the Yunnan Province. After that, a quick stop in Chongqing and Chengdu before heading to a dream location… Tibet.
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