Day 69 | Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok aka the world’s biggest water fight

Day 69 | Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok aka the world’s biggest water fight

We spent our last night in Southeast Asia in Bangkok during Thai New Year (Songkran). Coming from Hanoi this was our one night stopover before leaving Bangkok for Paro, Bhutan the next morning.

For the second night in a row, we were woken up by the Vietnam Railway staff members knocking on our sleeper cabin door. We said goodbye to the Australian retiree couple we shared our cabin with and then left the train. This was our third and last time transiting through the Hanoi railway station. We walked through the streets of Hanoi to the Holiday Gold Hotel, repeating the same path we had tread just three days earlier coming from Hue. The town was almost empty at this early hour of the morning (5am).

We got to the Holiday Gold Hotel, woke up the staff once again and picked up our luggage. The very friendly staff member called a taxi for us and we were able to pay him using a mix of VND that we had left and USD that we had brought with us from New York.

The taxi ride was as expected without traffic. Once at the airport, we repacked everything so it would fit in our two pieces of carry-on luggage and two backpacks and then checked in. But when we arrived at the Air Asia check in booth, we were told that carry on items were limited to 7 kg per bag and that it would cost us $72 to check in our two rolling suitcases which were both around 11 kg. We were outraged by the prices especially because paying in advance was much cheaper at $10 per bag up to 15 kg. There was no way we were going to pay that much. Seeing we were visibly upset, the lady was nice and told we could repack our stuff so that we would only have to check in one of the two suitcases. We did exactly that and ended up paying only $36. Still an exorbitant fee for a single bag but we had no other option.

Hanoi airport

We went through immigration and security without trouble before reaching our gate. It was 7am then: despite our two rounds of playing Tetris with our luggage, we were still super early for our 9am Air Asia flight. We used that time to catch up on writing the latest yolomimo blog post.

The flight duration was about two hours and we landed in Bangkok for the second time. Maurice was anxious to go through the Thai immigration for the third time of our trip after his weird experience of being questioned by an immigration officer in Chiang Mai a few weeks ago. Luckily, he didn’t encounter any issues. We picked up our luggage, changed some dollars to THB and hopped on an airport bus to the BTS Skytrain station. As we walked from the bus stop to the Skytrain station, we started seeing many people selling water guns on the street.

Bangkok's skytrain

We realized the water guns were for the celebrations of Thai New Year aka Songkran. Tons of young people were on the train ready for the most epic water battle of the year. Once we got off the Skytrain, it took us a while to find our hotel. We had to go through the maze of two large connected shopping malls before finally getting to the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok. The hotel itself is very luxurious, probably on par with the Park Hyatt Saigon we stayed at while in Ho Chi Minh City. We were assigned to a corner room.

After taking the obligatory walkthrough video, our first priority was to finally take a shower. We had been unable to bathe ourselves for close to 72 hours by that point! It felt truly amazing! We later took a few pictures of the hotel’s premises. We checked out the outdoor pool which we swam in later that night.

Pool at the Hyatt in Bangkok

The spacious lobby tastefully decorated with trees.

Spacious lobby at the Hyatt

We left the hotel around 2:45pm, searching for Inter, a very well reviewed restaurant serving Thai cuisine in our area. However due to the festivities for Songkran we were unable to walk through the overcrowded streets to our destination. There were tons of people having fun in the streets. We did get splashed a few times on our way.

First we stopped at the Erawan Shrine next to the hotel.

Erawan shrine

Crowds were forming at every overpass over major intersections. It was a long traffic jam getting to the other side of the street.

Crowds forming for Songkran

We were not prepared for the water fight, for example, we didn’t even carry a bag to protect our camera. So we tried to keep a safe distance from getting soaked.

Revelers on line for the festival

We did take some picture of the young people excited to splash others.

Supersoakers ready

This was the core part of the festivities in the Siam Square area of Bangkok. This animation captures the revelers marching down the street.

Water fight

We eventually gave up looking for the restaurant and ended up eating at Peppery Thai Bistro, a Thai restaurant located inside the food court of the Siam Paragon shopping mall. It was great to be able to enjoy true authentic Thai food again! We finished our lunch pretty late, shortly before 5pm.

Pad thai again finally

Since we had to go to bed early tonight we agreed to skip dinner and instead have a lot of desserts! We started with bubble tea from Coco.

Bubble tea

Then we walked to nearby Siam Center mall. We saw Tom Cruise on our way. (Who I don’t particularly like but why not pose for a photo anyway #BeingAsian).

I don't even like Tom Cruise

At Siam Center mall, we grabbed ice cream at Gelate.

Gelato next

Alas our dessert binge ended early as we weren’t hungry anymore. We did pass by Annette I Tim Tuk Tuk, a gelato on a stick food stand built into a tuk tuk.

The walk back to our hotel took a long time as the area was still super crowded with people coming to spray everyone with water.

Never far from the super soakers

We stopped at an overpass to record this animation of the infamous Bangkok traffic in the early evening with cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes.

Infamous Bangkok traffic

At the hotel, we used the business center to print necessary immigration documents for entering Bhutan tomorrow. While I worked with the staff to print out our documents, Maurice sat down on one of the two provided massage chairs in the relaxation area of the business center. That machine, an OSIM ulnfinity, was amazing (we later found out it retails for about $11,000). I joined Maurice and we both stayed there getting a full body massage for a good half hour.

Next we left for the hotel’s swimming pool. The water in the pool was pleasantly warm and for a while we were the only ones there. We also tried the hot jacuzzi which we were lucky to have for ourselves before returning to our room. A second shower and an hour of repacking optimization aka Tetris later, we were ready to fall asleep in the super comfortable King bed. But only to wake again at 4 AM for our 6 AM flight to Bhutan.

Day 38 | Lazy tubing on the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Day 38 | Lazy tubing on the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Today was a very lazy day, a stark contrast with our three active days in Luang Prabang. We pretty much only went tubing on the Nam Song River and went for dinner in the evening. Easiest yolomimo blog post to write ever!

We woke up late this morning, probably a bit tired from our minivan ride yesterday. We just made it on time to the complimentary breakfast at our hotel shortly before 10am. Very basic breakfast food there: tea / coffee, orange juice, some fresh fruits and a choice of eggs or pancakes.

After that we walked around town for a little bit, mostly on the main street. We stopped by Green Discovery Laos first to book an excursion day for tomorrow, we chose the Discover Vang Vieng tour which offers a good mix of activities.

We arrived at a place that was renting tubes for 50,000 Kips per person including a transfer to the location where the tubing starts, several kilometers north. We took two tubes and waited for more people to join as the songthaew needed at least four people. It was not long until two other girls showed up, both of them francophone (one from France and the other from Quebec). They had just met the previous night at their hostel and like us, both of them were traveling through Southeast Asia for an extended period of time (one of them for a full year!). About ten minutes later, we were on the river ready to start our slow tubing journey down the Nam Song River.

Ready to tube on Nam Song River

We took our waterproof camera with us so we could take pictures and videos of our descent. That explains the water droplets on some of the material below.

Soon after the start, we passed by a first bar playing loud music, actually very loud considering it was still the morning. The two girls we were with stopped there to have a drink but we kept going. There was really nobody in the bar and we were not planning to stop at every bar on the way. The folks working at the bar were throwing empty plastic bottles tied to a rope to pull tubers to the shore.

The river is surrounded by beautiful mountains that we enjoyed for the next few hours. We were actually surprised to not see more people tubing since it’s one of the must do activities in Vang Vieng. Perhaps it was because most people prefer to go in the late afternoon. In any case, after passing the first bar that was playing loud music, we resumed our journey in a very peaceful quiet.

Chilling on the Nam Song River

Silence was broken once more when an army of South Korean kayakers passed by. We had already noticed many South Korean tourists in Luang Prabang, but Vang Vieng appeared to be an even bigger hotspot for them. It turned out there was a popular South Korean reality TV show shot in Vang Vieng a few years back which had the effect to instantly make this town the go to spot for travel in Southeast Asia. This group of enthusiastic kayakers went much faster than us and some of them voluntarily splashed us, knowing that we could not retaliate in time.

We kept going for some time until we reached Mr Laoh Lao, the second and also self-proclaimed best bar on the river. Since it was starting to get hot we decided to stop by this time.

Approaching Mr Laoh Lao bar

I was ahead of Mimi and so able to take a video of her stopping. Like at the previous bar, staff members were pulling tubers using plastic bottles tied up to a rope that they threw in the water. Notice that Mimi managed to find a nice wood stick in the meantime which was useful to better control direction and speed. I got one for myself as well.

The bar looked very basic. Much like the previous one, it did not have that many customers.

Front of Mr Laoh Lao bar on the Nam Song River

We ordered one big bottle of Beerlao, the only brand of Laotian beer. The bar had little huts with hammocks and was playing American music non-stop. We stayed there for about an hour at which point our bottle was empty and we were completely dry.

My beerlao and I

Mimi relaxing in a hammock, beerlao in hand

We went back on our tubes with our sticks and in to the water again. The current was very weak so the sticks were helpful to move a little bit faster as we kept going for a very long time and the sun was very strong. At some point we got together to take our very first tube selfie.

Tube selfie in style

As we split up, Mimi kept the waterproof camera to take more beautiful pictures of the surrounding nature, sometimes including her dark pink painted toe nails for the world to admire.

Mimi's adorable feet

She did take some unadulterated pictures as well, here are the ones I selected. The next two hours were really more of the same, us very slowly making our way down.

On the Nam Song River

On the Nam Song River

On the Nam Song River

On the Nam Song River

On the Nam Song River

We had been tubing for over three hours by that point and I was getting seriously bored.

Boredom kicks in on the Nam Song River

So when I saw some rapids at last, it was hard to temper my excitement! It does not seem impressive on video but the current really made a difference.

We arrived at the end a little later and just walked back to the shop we had rented our tubes from. After returning them we got ourselves some fruit shakes at a nearby restaurant. We were tired, tired of being lazy. It was time to go back to our hotel to take a nap!

We woke up later in the evening, hungry. We went to a nearby Laotian restaurant for dinner and called it a night. Mimi worked on yolomimo for a few hours at home while I was already deep asleep.

Day 32 | Exploring Chiang Mai’s old town

Day 32 | Exploring Chiang Mai’s old town

Today was pretty chill and we got to recharge our batteries quite a lot, which was much needed after several successive busy days in Myanmar. While we did walk around some decent amount, the old town of Chiang Mai is quite small and very pedestrian friendly. The two of us also enjoyed a long and relaxing massage during the hottest hours of the afternoon.

We started the day around 9am today with our complimentary breakfast at the 3 Sis Bed & Breakfast. No buffet here but an a la carte menu with just a handful of options. We really liked the open lobby of our hotel with separate areas to relax and browse the Internet.

Lobby of the 3 Sis Bed & Breakfast

By 10am, we were ready to start exploring Chiang Mai. The first item on our agenda was to book a one day trip at Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants in Thailand. Mimi had done quite a lot of research to pick a place where the animals are well treated. After reading many TripAdvisor reviews, it seemed it was the best match for what we were looking for: a way to interact with elephants in an environment as natural as possible for them and without shows or elephant riding.

While walking to their office also located in the old town, we got to discover the small streets and to feel the peaceful atmosphere that Chiang Mai offers. We saw a few really cute pet dogs on our way including this little Shih Tzu that reminded us of Sugar, a senior female dog we fostered last year.

Thai Sugar

We also passed by countless restaurants, cafes and spas which motivated us to look into getting a massage during our stay here. We walked in front of Watphakhao, a small Buddhist temple with a beautiful garden in front of it where people can sit on long chairs to get a foot massage.

Watphakhao in the old town of Chiang Mai

We arrived at the Elephant Nature Park office and I got immediately distracted by an adorable Pomeranian who was napping on the office desk. Good thing that Mimi was handling the paperwork with the staff because I was completely focused on this cute furball for the next ten minutes.

There were many other dogs in the office. All of them rescues. One of the dogs had only three legs. We learned that the folks behind the Elephant Nature Park organization rescue many other animals besides elephants: buffalos, cats, horses, pigs and of course doggies – many of which were pet dogs rescued from natural disaster zones. They have over 400 dogs living at their nature park 60 kilometers away from the city. Of course, the little Pomeranian remained my favorite, and probably the staff’s favorite too if you consider that he was the only one with the privilege of sitting on the desk.

We booked our trip for tomorrow and left the office to continue walking around in the old town. The Tha Phae Gate (Eastern gate) was not far so that’s where we decided to stop next. Of the four gates that allow people to get in and out of the old town, the Tha Phae Gate is the only one exclusively reserved for pedestrians.

Tha Phae Gate (Eastern gate of the old town)

Next, we passed by a small Buddhist temple that did not have anyone in it, so we decided to check it out. Chiang Mai has over 300 Wats but only about two dozens of them get most of the tourist traffic. The nice thing with small temples is that it does not take long to visit them so it can be done as an impromptu activity on the way to something else or while walking around town with no specific goal in mind which we were doing today.

Small very quiet Buddhist temple

After that we passed by a small food market specializing in fruits.

Fruit market

Next we visited Wat Lamchang, or the Temple of the Tethered Elephants. It got named like that due to its location next to a large wooded area where elephants used to transport the king were kept.

Elephant statue, the symbol of Wat Lamchang

We stopped by Huen Phen, a restaurant serving Northern Thailand food. The food there was good and definitely on the cheap side. The restaurant was very crowded and we could not get a table in the A/C room. While eating, we looked up reviews for massage places and decided to try Green Bamboo Massage. We got there around 2pm.

Green Bamboo Massage

Tiny place with only a handful of massage rooms. Except for the most luxurious ones that tend to be outside of the old town, the vast majority of spas in Chiang Mai are very small. We sat down and got our feet washed. We looked at the menu and opted for a two hours massage with one hour traditional Thai massage followed by one hour full body oil massage. We changed to the provided cotton shirts and pants and went to the massage room. It had two massage tables side by side so we were not separated. Our masseuses were two middle aged ladies. It was an amazing experience. The traditional Thai massage in particular was a first for both of us and made me realize just how much more flexible Mimi is compared to me! I guess kudos to her for doing yoga at home while I nerd out on the computer! I could hear her softly giggle at me while I was groaning in (very mild) pain. The oil massage was complete relaxation to the point that both of us actually fell asleep midway through it. After the session ended, we got offered cups of tea, paid and left the place around 4pm, rejuvenated.

We wanted to visit Wat Chedi Luang next, the most famous temple in the old town, and conveniently located steps away from our hotel. On our way there, we saw these school kids directing traffic in a street adjacent to their school. They were taking their job very seriously despite their young age. I suspect it was an after school activity for them.

School kids directing traffic

When we arrived at Wat Chedi Luang, we were impressed by how large a complex it was compared to all other wats in the city. It is made of several structures including the main temple building, the ruins of the old stupa as well as a number of smaller temples. We started by visiting the inside of the larger temple and admired the many Buddha statues including three large ones covered in gold. There were mostly tourists inside and very few worshippers.

Inside the main temple at Wat Chedi Luang

As we walked out, we heard and saw a monk ringing a large bell adjacent to the main building, following an apparently well established rhythm. This is a view from the side, with the old stupa ruins in the background.

Wat Chedi Luang

The ruins of the old stupa were impressive too. The four set of stairs were all restricted so we were not able to get to the top and admire the view. Instead we went around and took pictures of all four sides.

At the top of each staircase, there is a relatively large Buddha statue. This reminded me of all the temples we had visited in Bagan which had a different but usually large statues of the Buddha on each of the four cardinal points.

Ruins of the stupa at Wat Chedi Luang

We saw the other buildings from the outside only as the sun was slowly setting over Chiang Mai.

Sun disappearing behind a building at the Wat Chedi Luang

We got back to our hotel lobby to eat ice cream and freshen up quickly before going back out for dinner. We picked Aum, a vegetarian place and ordered a lot of dishes as well as fresh fruit juices. I learned from Mimi that Chiang Mai is a very vegetarian / vegan friendly city with tons of options for herbivores and their friends.

Delicious vegetarian food at Aum

We were done with dinner by 8pm and decided to walk back to 3 Sis and call it a night, after writing one post for yolomimo that is…