Sightseeing in Hanoi

IMG_0800Here’s the map I used for sightseeing when I was in Hanoi, thought I would share it with you. Hanoi was kind of difficult to get around in. I like to walk when I’m sightseeing but the traffic in Hanoi was grueling… I would recommend two days in Hanoi. There’s so much to see in Vietnam so I wouldn’t spend too many days in Hanoi, not my favorite city of the country.

Lake House Adventure

This weekend a few friends and I went on Visit Beyond’s Lake House Adventure in Khao Laem Lake reservoir. We spent five days on a house boat having an amazing time.

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Most of the time we spent on the boat, relaxing. The weather was perfect; warm and sunny. I tried not spending too much time in the sun since I didn’t want to get burned. So I did some reading in the shadows in between the swimming, tanning and kayaking.

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Ellinor, a friend of mine, took that wonderful picture, haha.

During the trip we also went on a few trips, like to the coconut island, a waterfall, the monkey island, elephant riding and bamboo rafting. It was all very fun.

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Only downside to the trip was that the food was a bit boring. A tourist version of Thai food that didn’t taste too much. Not that it wasn’t okay, it was just nothing special. And how could we spend five days on a lake without eating fish once?

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Anyway, overall I had a great time. It was so nice getting away from the city. Fresh air and a change of scenery.

Sleeper bus in South East Asia

After this trip I kind of feel like an expert on night buses, and the verdict is: after some initial doubt I kind of like them. I’ve never had a problem sleeping in a bus, but these are definitively more comfortable for really sleeping during the night. I like not wasting a day on traveling, and you get to see quite a lot of nice views and parts of a country you wouldn’t see from a plane. And you save one night of accommodation. It’s a win-win-win situation really.

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I took a sleeper bus from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, from Hoi An to Nha Trang and from Nha Trang to Saigon. The first one was quite long, 24 hours and even if it went totally fine for me I guess some people might get bored out of their minds…

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The only problem I encountered was that even if I’m not extremely tall (175 cm) it was a bit difficult to stretch my legs in some of the buses, but I could live with that. Taller people might get bigger problems though. There were plenty of tall backpackers on the buses and they seemed to do fine with not stretching out but sleep with their knees bent, so if you’re okay with that I guess it’s no problem.

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Taking the train from Bangkok to Vientiane

Getting from Bangkok to Laos over land is a really easy and quite enjoyable journey. Wanting to save money I decided against flying and took the night train instead. There’s no train going directly to Vientiane or Laos, so you have to get the train to Nong Khai on the Thai side of the border.

I got to the railway station in Bangkok (Hualamphong) in the late afternoon and bought a ticket for the night train that departures at 8 pm. I paid somewhere between 500-600 baht for a top bunk.

The train was at the station early, so I got on maybe 30-40 minutes before it was scheduled to leave. And the train left on time by the way. A man working on the train came and made all the beds about an hour into the trip and it became a quite early evening for me.

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The night was rather cold (damn AirCon) so remember to pack a jumper and socks so that it’s easy to reach. We arrived in Nong Khai in time, somewhere around 7.30 in the morning. At the train station in Nong Khai I bought ticket to the shuttle train that would take me over the friendship bridge and into Laos. It costs 20 baht and the train leaves at 9 am. Before entering the train you go through immigration and get the departures stamp in your passport.

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On the Laos side of the friendship bridge you get to fill out yet another arrival and departure card and go through immigration. The cost for a visa is different depending on which country you’re from, but it costs somewhere between $30-45 (apparently it’s free for people from Switzerland), I paid in baht since I didn’t have any dollars on me.

After going through immigration I met an American solo traveler so we decided to share a taxi into Vientiane to make it cheaper. But apparently you pay per person so we paid 300 baht each to get the 30 minutes into town. The van dropped us off at a well known hostel. It was okay to pay in baht (even expected). I didn’t exchange any money into Laos Kip but waited until I could withdraw from an ATM (that were everywhere).

Overall it was a nice trip and definitively worth the money I saved on not flying (and it’s better for the environment as well!).

Getting to Koh Samet

Going from Bangkok to Koh Samet was surprisingly simple, for being Thailand. Since we live a bit north of Bankok, and didn’t want to head into Victory Monument where we knew mini vans departures from, we took a gamble and hoped that the vans would leave from Future Park, Rangsit, as well. So took our bags and took a cab to the shopping mall and then we took the note with Ban Phe written in Thai and basically walked in the direction people pointed us.

We ended up finding the vans, paid 250 baht and only had to wait for about half an hour or so before we set off. We took the van to Ban Phe and was dropped off by the pier. There people dived over us and sold us the ticket to the ferry (50 baht each way) and showed us to the boat. Simple as that. On the island we took a cab to the hotel.

IMG_3943Ban Phe (town where the ferry leaves for Koh Samet) in Thai.

On the way back we did the exact opposite. Except this time we took the “hotel ferry” which took us to a pier a hundred or so meters south from where we had left. We went into a touristy looking place (might have been its own resort, but looked more like a departure hall for tourists heading out to the island) and asked for the vans to Rangsit (we didn’t want to end up in Bangkok and have to take the cab). She made a phone call, we paid 250 baht each and waited for half an hour before the van came along.

The van took us all the way to the big street just a few kilometers from where we live, so we could jump on the small local “bus” and a few minutes later we were home. The last ride we paid 8 baht for.

I think the trip took around 5 hours each way.

 

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus

Right now the most common google phrases that send people to my blog are phrases and questions concerning taking a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. Since there seems to be many people googling it (and I did as well before going) I thought I would write up a proper entry about how I got to Chiang Mai.

Since my trip to Chiang Mai was spontaneous (to say the least) I hadn’t booked anything before hand. It turned out okay for me, but of course I can’t promise you never have to book ahead. Right now it’s still rainy season here in Thailand and most people aboard the same buses I took where Thai so I don’t think the tourists has gotten here yet. Anyway, on the way north I took a taxi from Rangsit to Mo Chit where the buses heading north leave from. If you’re coming from Bangkok with the skytrain, you have to take a taxi from Mo Chit the skytrain station (which is Mo Chit 1) to Mo Chit the bus station (Mo Chit 2). It’s not far, shouldn’t be more than 50 baht (don’t decide on a price before the trip, make sure the driver uses the meter).

At the Mo Chit bus station we just asked for a bus that would take us to Chiang Mai. We got there at 9.30 pm and before half an hour had passed we had found a company that would take us there. We paid roughly 500 baht per person. Make sure not to fall for the VIP signs, all buses seem to be pretty much the same standard.

I can’t remember the company name of the bus that took us north, but it was nice. Got a blanket and about halfway there was a stop for going to the toilet. We left Mo Chit at 11.30 pm and because of the bad weather it took an extra two hours for us to get to Chiang Mai, but we were there by 9 am and I slept the whole way. Me and my friend got the seat in the front on the top floor, and we had the best seats in the bus. Lot’s of space! With the air-con it got kind of cold, so even if we got blankets I was glad to have packed a longsleeved shirt and a pair of socks in my carry on luggage.

On the way south I went to the Chiang Mai bus terminal about two hours before I wanted to catch a bus. Once again I hadn’t booked anything beforehand. I ended up catching a bus from the company Sombat Tour. I paid 563 baht for the ticket, and I’m very happy with the bus ride. During the ride I got snack and drinks, halfway we stopped for food and if it hadn’t been because of an accident with a truck blocking the road, we would have been in time. Ended up coming to Bangkok about 11 hours after we started in Mo Chit.

All in all I can definitively recommend taking the bus between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.