Vang Vieng & the jewels of Luang Prabang

Vang Vieng & the jewels of Luang Prabang

As I have mentioned already, Laos is one of the most colourful countries in South-East Asia. I could define it as rough diamond – the less popular destination – among the shiny gems of the continent. Laos is full of surprises, full of wonderful people, mesmerizing landscapes and fabolous cuisine. Each province, each city or village has its own „magic potion”, what enchants you for sure. Below I would like to share with you some essential infos and personal impressions about Vang Vieng together with ideas – must-see things – of Luang Prabang, one of my favourite places in Laos.

The hell in paradise

At first glance Vang Vieng looks like a sleepy little town surrounded by wild rainforests and emerald green mountains, but behind this idyllic scene hide truly sad events. Over the years, this cute town lying on the Nam Song river has become extremely popular among backpackers, however, the blossoming of Vang Vieng turned into a nightmare.

The town offers fairy tale-like places for trekking, biking, while the crystal clear lagoons and the wilderness of the Nam Song is perfect for water-adventures, like tubing down the river or kayaking. At the same time the floating down the water – drunk or enchanted by opiates – led to tragedy: more than 20 people lost their lives. The heavy drinking, the presence of drugs and the violent behaviour of the travelers – being thoughtless of others – effects negatively the everyday life of the locals, destroys this marvelous part of the country.

The labyrinth of lagoons

Dipping your toes into the silvery waters of lagoons is definitely a must. It is perfect for chillin’ after a long night spent in crazy bars of Vang Vieng or for having fun at its finest and playing the role of monkey hanging on rape swings or zipline.

There are three lagoons, which can be easily reached by bike or tuk-tuk. If you want to be more independent, I recommend to hire a bike. The Lagoon 1 is the closest one, so it is pretty crowded almost all day long. There is possibility to buy drinks and food and if you are brave enough to go deep into the pool, you can get some fish pedicure for free. The other two lagoons are a little further away, what means less people and more relaxed ambiance.

Above the clouds

There are countless peaks to conquer, which offer at the end of the trail superb panorama, as icing on the cake. Some of them are ideal for admiring the pinky-gold performance of sunset, while the others are excellent spots for observing as the sleepy valley slowly comes to life after sunrise.

Some of these trails are not for free, a small amount is required to pay, but believe me, it is worth. I have to mention, that many people come for sunset after visiting the lagoons, what means trekking in swimsuit and flip-flops. I have to tell you: it is not the right dress-code to cilmb up. I was pretty naive and I visited the Nam Xay Viewpoint after I was diving with the fishies, so my outfit certainly was not appropriate for hiking, in short: from heart I missed my hiking boots.

The way to the top of the Nam Xay Viewpoint is about 40 minutes (elevation gain 129m), but it can be longer if you do small stops between the „levels”. There are peaceful hidden corners, where you can take a rest or immerse yourself in the rough nature. The view that unfolds before us is simply mind-blowing. The summit provides a 360 ° – truly painting-like – panorama with a surreal surprise at the edge of the cliff: a motorbike placed there is waiting for you to overcome the sky, or just to take your best Insta photo.

It is fabolous as the setting sun dresses the lush landscape in shimmering shades of gold, especially for those who are as sunset-freaks as me. There are fantastic spots for admiring the beautiful scenery, while a small picnic basket takes care of recharging your batteries for the very steep and slippery way down.

My stay in Vang Vieng was pretty short and according to this I gave you just a little taste of this crazy, at the same time, magical place. Whether it is a heavenly good Lao food, a hiking or a pub crawl about, it is worth checking out the town.

The adventurous journey to Luang Prabang

The journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang takes 5-6 hours and bus tickets can be purchased at several tour offices or at the bus station. The view on the way is simply fantastic: the unspoilt, lush greenery and the silvery mist dancing among the mountains takes us into another world. Into the world of rainforests’ invisible wilderness.

The pearl of the River Mekong

The UNESCO Heritage listed town is undoubtedly the country’s treasure chest. Its architecture invites us into the empire of traditional Lao and French colonial style. The classical Lao houses are built of wood or bamboo. In bigger cities they are slowly disappering, however the unique house design of ethnic groups – like the Hmong, lu Mien – can still be admired today.

The other masterpieces – created by human hands – are the richly decorated, gold roofed temples and stupas. Walking through the dusty streets of Luang Prabang we stumble upon temples on every corner. The mysterious, shiny mosaics, the extremely detailed wood-carvings telling ancient stories fascinate me, wherever I go in the world.

The city is not only the perfect „playground” for history-buffs and lovers of Lao architecture. Luang Prabang, surrounded by two rivers – the Nam Khan and the Mekong – is a paradise for those who want to immerse themselves in turquoise waterfalls, want adventure deep in mountains that rise proud towards the river or just capture the best sunset moment while sitting on the Mekong’s shore.

All road leads to Sunrise

Since I am obsessed with glittery sunrises and romantic sunsets, in my case, really every road – each trip – leads to it. And to Rome, of course. In Luang Prabang one of the most popular spots to watch the sun’s mesmerizing dance is the Mount Phousi, located in the city centre.

This is the town’s holy hill providing breathtaking 360°degrees view, what means that we can see from the top the perfect blend of antique and modern, the amazing fusion of Lao and French elements, the harmony of emerald green mountains and rivers embracing Luang Prabang. The Wat Chom Si at the summit is one of the most sacred temples and the golden stupa’s sparkle attracts the eye even down from the city.

The best option is to climb up from the Sisavangvong Road, where the Royal Palace is located. The number of steps from here is 328, while the other path consists with slightly more steps (355). Climbing up the winding staircase you can discover stunning statues, Buddha images and a small grotto with a temple inside. The atmosphere of the fairy tale-like gardens around is simply special. It seems to be an island of tranquility and peace, particurarly if we leave before sunrise – of course flashlight does no harm – tasting the complete silence of the temple gardens hiding in the mist.

The alms-giving ceremony

Before the sun rises the locals are preparing for the alms-giving. From the stalls the enticing smell of coriander and turmeric flies towards the street lamps’ light, while the elderly women with their baskets sit like colourful garlands on the side of the road. At first I didn’t really know, what was going on at this early hour. After a while I saw: the inhabitants of monasteries, the saffron-robed monks were walking along the street to gather their daily meal.

The alms-giving ceremony is a longstanding Buddhist tradition in Laos. It can be seen in several towns and villages of the country and takes place early mornings, as the sun rises. The locals wake up very early in order to prepare food for the monks, as their offerings. This unique, spiritual tradition is not just about gathering food, it has a much deeper meaning: a chance for man to do something good.

It is a wonderful experience to everyone, even if you are not into the regilion. The offerings – mostly rice, fruit and local snacks – can be bought from the stalls. There are some etiquette rules that are essential to know. Keeping distance as well as covering the shoulders, knees and chest is one of the most important conventions. Don’t talk to are touch the monks moreover women must to keep their head lower than the monks. The offering should be given with two hands or the right hand, but never with the left one, which plays the main role in toilet duties.

The liquid gold of Laos

If you love exploring in the world of coffee, immersing yourself in the silky flavours of a hot drink often called liquid gold, Laos is the perfect choice. The country produces two main types: the Robusta, which is cheaper to grow, while the Arabica is of higher quality. The „simplier” Robusta is used for regular coffees and the other one – characterized by richer taste – is a good espresso base. A little twist in the story: the Laotians are still lovers of powdered coffee – nescafe – which is an essential part of their everyday life. Icing on the cake is the huge amount of sugar and condensed milk.

Walking the streets of Luang Prabang you will be lured into these small, fabolous coffee-paradises for sure. The interior is the perfect mixture of Lao architectural elements and the minimalist style. The furniture made of rose and teak wood along with the coffee-maker tools, cups create a special ambiance. If you are not really a coffee-fan, you still can indulge in the yummy bakery products, pastries that pamper you with the tastes of traditional sweets and French finesse.

See, feel, taste

For foodies, no trip in Luang Prabang – as well as in the whole country – is complete without visiting the nightmarkets, where we can get a touch of real local vibe and flavours. It is the ideal place to immerse yourself in the rainbow-like abundance of spices, to soak the essence of the Laotian cuisine and to get a dash of real „Lao-feeling”.

I advice to come here ravenously hungry in order to try as much delicacies as you can. Whether it is meat with unique seasing, the most special vegetables, colourful tropical fruits or tempting sweets, you will find here everything. The Mok Pa (Lao steamed fish dish), the spicy mango salad, the Khao soi (soup with minced pork and fresh aromatic herbs) is a must, while as crowning of your dinner Lao beer or Lao-Lao – our beloved rice whiskey – is the perfect choice.

After the enchanting gastro journey there is another part of the nightmarket to visit: here you can find the endless selection of beautiful hand-made treasures, such as hand-painted linen bags, diaries, traditional clothing, jewelry and Laotian whiskey fermented with baby cobra or scorpion, simply awesome gift or memory.

The turquoise paradise

The Kuang Si Waterfall is located about 30 km away from Luang Prabang and it is accessible by private van, tuk-tuk or motorbike. It is definitely one of the nature’s most beautiful creations charming everyone with its tiered, silvery sparkling pools.

On the way to the waterfalls we saw the cute inhabitants of the Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre and rare plants. Along the paths of the green jungle, we heard the soft melody of the cascades, while the lianes hugging the trees whispered their secrets. At the beginning of the ladder-like pools the view is picturesque: The huge „water-steps” look like silky slides and at each level we can take dip in the alluring, azure water. The small employees of this „jungle-wellness” – the fishies doing kind of pedicure and peeling – are slightly larger than in the lagoons of Vang Vieng, so not everyone feels the strenght to jump into the turquise-blue basins.

For those who prefer dry activities, there are super trails in the lush greenery right to the top of the waterfall, with impressive scenery of a huge, milky falls and the water steps in a thousand shades of vibrant blue.

As you see, I collected for you a small, but kaleidoscopic „bunch of flowers” trying to introduce some of Luang Prabang’ treasures. The town and its area offers countless ancient sights – as the history’s prints – as well as emerald green mountains with secret waterfalls and a real paradise for hedonists. But first of all: just slow down and look around. Arrive.

Singapore: 3 days in luxury

Singapore: 3 days in luxury

Singapore. This wonderful country with its fabolous gardens, museums and unique architecture is to many of us a mystery, something very different compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. For me it was incredibly perfect, like a painting. The perfectly designed buildings emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the rainbow-like gardens and the colourful blend of cultures are definitely worth a visit.

It doesn’t count to the most cheapest countries in Asia, but Singapore provides something diverse: the still-asian-feeling with a dash of limitless luxury, the miniature-like empires of Chinese, Indian and Arab culture and the evidence, that creating a vibrant city – or country – full of sky-high buildings doesn’t mean that we have to destroy the nature.

The country has much more to offer, than the very „touristy” highlights only, but here I prepared an itinerary, ideas for 2-3 days. So let’s see the treasures of Singapore and let’s get lost in narrow streets and jungle-like parks, while the delicious bites of street food take you for a real „multi-culti” journey.

Take a walk around the luxurious Marina Bay

 

The Marina Bay is located in the most central part of Singapore surrounded by silvery skyscrapers and the most iconic architectural gems of the country. The big cities normally are not my favourite destinations, but this place can be perfect place both for relaxing by the water and diving in hustle and bustle of the city life. From getting lost in jungle through feeling like in shopping part of Pretty Woman – in Singaporian version – to getting sun-kissed you will find, what you need.

Walking around you can reach easily several points of interest, like museums and world-famous symbols of Singapore. The Merlion Park is home of one of the most important, historical marks of this wonderful island-state. The giant half lion, half fish monument is a mythical creature telling us the story about a marshland, a fishing village, from which was born this surreal, hiper-modern empire: the Lion City (Singapura).

The Esplanade is providing unique theatre and concert experience, while passing the Helix Bridge we get another fantastic view of the bay. The Art Science Museum is definitely a must! Trust me, even if you have no ideas about physics, even if you are not interested in it, this marvellous exhibition awakes your senses for sure.

There are many restaurants along the bay offering happy hours and pricy food, I preferred to enjoy the Singaporian breeze and sunset on one of the fabolous rooftop bars located in this area. For breakfast and dinner I recommend to visit the markets, which are cheaper and provide something more local, more unique than the classy restaurants.

Get lost in colours of Gardens by the Bay

 

This place was my very beloved part of visiting, but yeah, maybe it is not the dream-pastime of boys! Anyway, the Gardens by the Bay look like a unique, magical faerie. The Gardens are outstanding in the whole world in terms of wide and rare selection of flowers, trees and other plants, not to mention the special, architectural elements, solutions used by creating these futuristic, lush green paradises. The rainwater is collected from the surface of the domes, while the huge amount of bamboo trees – well known for their reservoir capacity – and the modern cooling system facilitate to save the environment.

The Cloud Forest Dome

 

Entering this misty secret world of jungle, I had the feeling, that I am again in mountains of Bali or Thailand. The temperature is between 23-25 degrees, and the humidity is around 90 %, which is perfect for plants, which can be found in tropical areas of South-East Asia.

At the beginning of my journey in this artificial „lost” world I faced the biggest indoor waterfall of the world (35m high). For taking perfect pictures in front of it I recommend to come very early. While discovering the rare jungle plants, the way is leading us to the top of the „Cloud Mountain”, which has a fantastic view. It is worth to take this „small” trip to the top walking in order to pass the small tunnels full with lianes and get relaxed by the music of waterfalls around.

The Flower Dome

The Flower Dome – as its name suggests – is packed full with different, rainbow-like flowers showing us the awesome flora of Australia, South-America and South-Africa. Colourful exhibitons and themes are telling us the kaleidoscopic story of the garden’s tiny „inhabitants”.

Tip for visiting this part of the Gardens: here the temperature is lower, than in the Forest Cloud Dome. Spending here hours, this small adventure can easily get into freezing walk, so take a hoodie with you! For foodies there is a restaurant located in Flower Dome, where we can try international dishes or just relax in the olive grove, with coffee in hands.

The Supertree Grove

 

It is still the part of the Gardens by the Bay, but these giant wonder-trees can be found outside of the high-tech egg-shaped glass houses. Walking among the trees, I wondered, which universe am I in, especially by night, when the Gardens are changing into glittery sky full of vivid diamonds.

The Supertrees and the show of Garden Rhapsody is definitely worth to see! The green giants „dress” every evening (7.45pm, 8.45pm) into magical, dancing lights accompained by music. I advice to come a bit earlier, if we want to get the perfect spot for the show, which can be visited for free. Another – not for free – option is to purchase the ticket for the OCBC Skyline, or spend a fabolous dinner in the fine dining restaurant – the IndoChine – housed in the tallest Supertree, while admiring the mesmerising dance of lights.

The melting pot of cultures

 

Sinpagore is not about landmarks and luxury shops only. It is the perfect place to get a dash of other cultures through seeing their architecture, feeling their religion and tasting their food.

The best way is to start in Chinatown, in one of the most beloved district of Singapore. Here we can find literally everything: the wonderful, old buildings and traditional temples let us go back in time, while the antique medicinal halls take us into the mysterious world of Chinese healing, or simply into the empire of magic. I have to mention, that the Chinatown of Singapore is the only one in the world possessing a Buddhist temple, a mosque, and a Hindu temple in the same street.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a real architectural gem hiding a secret rooftop garden with atmosphere of tranquility and harmony. Other points of interest can be the Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple of Singapore and the Masjid Jamae, built as a religious place for the district’s Tamil Muslim population. Of course, there are much more enchanting places, temples hiding in tiny streets of the Chinatown, so just let get lost, and enjoy!

For gastro-lovers the Chinatown Food Street is a real paradise of heavenly good bites. My advice is to visit it and jump into the taste-orgy late evening, as most of the food stalls are open its „doors” at this time, and we can enjoy this colourful tour of senses under the mesmerising light of Chinese lampions.

Little India brings us a quite laced and vibrant piece of India with its mind blowing ambiance. Except the beautiful temples and mosques, vendors of garlands, shiny jewellery and dresses faced with gold are waiting for those obsessed with these treasures of the incredible culture of India. After shopping we can not miss the vegetarian delicasies of South India as well as the typical North Indian tandoori dishes like the layered bread (Lacha Paratha) or the famous round pancakes (Roti Prata).

Enjoy the Singaporean sunset

As Singapore is a real kingdom of sky-high architectural wonders, rooftop terraces, there are countless places for enjoying the sundown painting the horizon into gold. If you want something really unique, I have collected for you couple of the must-see spots for sunset and – by chance – dinner.

One of my favourites is located on the top of the world-famous Hotel Marina Bay Sands, which is – I guess – on bucket list of many of us. The Marina Bay Sands has the world’s largest infinity pool stretching among the clouds, which is the most mesmerising place for relaxing, falling in love with the pinky dusk or siping a cocktail under the stars. But here comes the bad news: earlier there were many possibilities to „snake in” and get a dash of the 57th floor’s luxury, but nowadays there are two „legal” options only: either you book a room – even for one night is worth it – or you pay the entrance (20 SGD) for visiting the rooftop bar CÉ LA VI offering spectacular views.

There is no dress code and you can purchase your ticket with entrance to the Skypark. The price includes one free drink, which you can choose from the menu. I assure everyone: this is 100 % worth to see, as the panorama is breathtaking 200 meters above sea level. Gazing at the city’s magical lights, I had the feeling, that I am looking at a glittering picture of stars creating this surreal city.

The Singapore Flyer is one of the Singapore’s highlights, not without reason: it is one of the iconic architectural jewels of the island-state, towers 165 meters above the city, higher than the famous London Eye. It is possible to visit it all day long, but I recommend to book the ride for the evening in order to delight in fabolous, colourful shades of sun going down. For those, who desire something fancy, a four-course dinner is provided above the city in small capsules. It has to be booked in advance and the check-in time starts at 7pm.

Another good idea is to spice the evening with a superb view of the restaurant located on the top of the iconic Supertree. It is simply fantastic, how the descending sun colours the surroundings, the astonishing trees into thousand shades of gold and purple. While admiring this wonderful performance of the nature, we can taste the specialities prepared by the Indochine Restaurant.

As you see, there are countless cool places to dive into the pinky-blue sky. Your job is just to be there and enjoy it to the fullest.

Taste of the Beach

The Sentosa Island – located in the central part of Singapore – could be an independent, little empire, something like the enchanted world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but unfortunately without the weird Umpa Lumpas. Anyway, if you want to escape of the hustle and bustle of the city centre, visiting Sentosa is the perfect choice.

This is the endless paradise for those, who are seeking for adventures, thrills and relaxation at the same time. The S.E.A Aquarium is home of more than 100.000 different marine animals, while the Sentosa Nature Discovery Park let us to take a look into the local wildlife. 

The Universal Studios provides great fun for little ones and big ones alike. If you need something for your blood-pressure, the Mega Adventure Park or the indoor skydiving – which has the world’s largest indoor wind tunnel – can be the best „adrenaline-bomb”.

The themed beaches of the island present diverse forms of recreation. The Siloso Beach is more for watersports, whilst the Tanjong Beach is place of tranquility and peace. My personal favorite was the Palawan Beach. Not only because of its name referring to the Philippines, but because of its tiny „jungle-feeling”. It has a cute lagoon with crystal clear water and crossing the suspension bridge we reach the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. Unfortunately I have to give one bad point for the beaches: enjoying the sun, laying in the golden sand, the view in front of me was kind of sense illusion. Instead of the never-ending blue sky and turquoise ocean giant cargo ships were floating on the water, like huge sentinels at the fortress’ gate.

Mui Ne, Vietnam: the spicy blend of desert, sea & gastro

Mui Ne, Vietnam: the spicy blend of desert, sea & gastro

Mui Ne – located in the southern part of the country – is less popular among travelers, than North-Vietnam hiding real treasures of nature. It is a traditional fishing town spoilt by huge concrete giants and resorts with secret gardens, which lead to the beach.

It can be easily riched from Saigon by bus in 4-5 hours. Regarding the „beach” there are two options for sunlovers and mermaids: there are some guesthouses and hostels with swimming-pool or we can check the luxury resorts providing private beach.

It is not so easy to catch the golden sunset of Mui Ne, while dipping your toes into the water „for free”, but if you are an obsessed foodie or you just have desire for chilling and pampering after long weeks of backpacking, it can be the perfect shelter.

The first impression

After my very hectic and noisy Vietnamese-city-moments I really longed for something different. Something without thousands of thundering scooters and never-ending crowd of people. And then I arrived.

The check-in was adventurous: it means, I went for basic English in order to understand each other at the reception of the – by the way incredibly awesome – hostel. We got our dorm for us only, so it was like we had a whole suite on the third floor, the view from the huge balcony was priceless. There was a nice swimming-pool in the garden: the silent sanctuary after breakfast, the perfect oasis for diving into the refreshing water sun-kissed, the unique spot for stargazing and taking a journey to the Wonderland of Alice. And the fairy-tale like place for falling in love under the shimmering pinky-blue sky.

Are we in Russia?

Yes, it may seem strange the question, but after exploring other parts of Vietnam, one thing is for sure: the basic Vietnamese language would definitely help more than the English or whatever. But here, in this cute fishing village I was sometimes a little confused, where am I?

Most of the locals speak fluently Russian, especially if it is all about bargain and selling the well-known souvenirs embroidered with the red star. The five-pointed red star is not exactly the „embodiment” of nice memories, but we do everything for the business, right?

Mui Ne is a real paradise for the Russians and for reason. There is no language difficulty, the weather is perfect all year round, not to mention the wide range of spirits and wine. A lot of asian countries I have been to, but I didn’t „meet” so much rum, than here.

The heaven of Foodies

Here comes my favourite activity of exploring the world. Vietnam is amazing for waking up your taste buds, but Mui Ne with its heavenly good seafood can be the icing on the cake.

Even here we can find the adored vietnamese flavors of Pho, Bánh Mí or Bánh xéo, however the treasures of the sea are the very best!

Walking on the main road I got pretty confused, what to chose: thousands of local restaurants lured me into their rainbow-like world. Don’t expect nothing luxurious, most of these places wait for their hungry guest with simple, plastic tables and chairs, but the magical music of the waves and the gastro journey licks everything.

The most tasty bites wait for us at the entrance, where we can chose from the fresh – still alive – catch of local fishers. I advice to try as much seafood as you can in order to get the real taste-orgy experience.

And a short introducing about drinks: as I mentioned, there are tons of local and foreign spirits, trust me, everywhere, while from wine the local one – from Dalat or North-Vietnam – is the most popular. For non-drinkers trying the maracuja juice is a must. There are delicious other compositions of vegetable and fruit juices, that it would be a shame to miss it.

For starting or ending our sunny days we took a visit to one of the locals, who was selling mostly beauty stuff, oils, medicinal products and the main medicine served in cute russian, wooden shot glasses: it was a whiskey with fermented cobra, very similar to our beloved Lao Lao – the traditional rice whiskey – from Laos. So we simply couldn’t skip it!

Discover the Fairy Stream

The Fairy Stream is located a short drive away from the centre, on the way to the famous Sand Dunes. It is one of the Mui Ne’s highlights and can be a good idea, especially if the kitesurfing or the endless sneaking into the hotels’ private beaches is already boring.

The atmosphere of this place was magical from the beginning. Slowly stepping down the stairs a mysterious world burst upon my view: the quietly creeping stream surrounded by bamboo, palm trees and lacy rock formations is definitely home of creations of our colourful imagination, the secret nest of Fairies.

The level of the stream never goes upon your knies, so you can walk in its glittering water whilst pampering your feet in golden-red, powdered sugar-like sand. The strange creations of nature – the canyon, the small dunes and the rocks – are changing their mesmerizing colour into endless shades of white, gold, brown and red, while playing with the sun.

If you would like to hike, just do it and capture the moment of freedom looking at the wonderful landscape around you. At the end of the stream a small, but luring waterfall is waiting for us, as surprise or hidden gem of the „fairy-walk”. On the way, in shade of the palm trees tiny food-stalls and restaurants are waiting for those wanting local delicacies or to sip the famous vietnamese beer.

Conquer the White Dunes

At first glance it may seem strange: there is a huge white sand oasis in the middle of this southern seaside village. It looks like a perfect painting, like a crazy blend of lush greenery and desert of the Tales of Arabian Nights or simply the silver playground of fays.

It is possible to rent a quad bike to barrel up and down feeling the sweetness of speed or to discover it walking. If you are fit enough, I recommend to do the latter. Walking through the dunes I got a unique experience: it enchanted me, as the dunes constantly were changing their shape while feeling each grain of sand on my skin.

Coming up to the „highest” point the view is marvellous with the seemingly endless desert surrounded by the sea. The best seasoning at the end of exploring this fairy tale-like place is running down from the top: just „flying” with opened arms, like a bird, whilst feeling as the hot wind is caressing your face.

Catch the sunset at the Red Dunes

On the way back from the White Dunes we ended our day with my favourite pastime: immersed in beautiful pink-purple rays of vietnamese sunset. Going up to the highest point of the „smaller” but still unique Red Dunes the sunset can be a memorable experience, especially if we just sit down and listen to the sand’s faint melody.

Some bad points: here we can find much more tourists, as most of the travel agencies are selling it as the last part of the „Sand Dunes Tour” and apparently there are thousands of sunset-lovers wanting to taste the vietnamese dusk, too. Unfortunately the littering is also very striking, I was pretty disappointed to see the here and there popping plastic bottles and rests of junk food. Furthermore local ladies wait for the visitors everywhere trying to sell plastic stuff for sliding down from the dunes, but I have to disillusion everybody: it doesn’t work unless you are light as a feather.

Anyway, I tried to forget these negative things because nothing is perfect, right? But I can tell you, to watch the dancing silver-blue clouds, the mermerising sunset, while laying in sand was the perfection of the imperfection.

I have very mixed feelings and memories about Vietnam, about the people living there. I could compare this journey to a roller-coaster. Because if you try it, your feelings are changing every second, every moment. Some parts you hate, you can’t wait to leave it and catch the new „chapter”, you are after something more exciting, breathtaking, then comes the „highest point”, the beloved part or the biggest fear full of adrenaline?

Everyone has their own roller-coaster journey. Mine was Vietnam.

Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw situated in Luang Prabang Province is one of the most fairy-tale-like destinations of Northern Laos providing limitless possibilities for all types of travelling. This cute, romantic village surrounded by emerald-coloured mountains captivated me at first sight.

It is the perfect place to enjoy the peace and tranquility lying in a hammock, while the sunset paints the magical Nam Ou river into thousand shades of gold.Nong Khiaw is getting more and more popular, not only among backpackers. It is still kind of a sleeping village, but not for long I guess. Unfortunately.

Anyway, we even had the luck to see this awesome, hidden treasure in all its glory and I collected for you some of the highlights of it.

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Khao Niao – Lao Sticky Rice

I could definitely say: it is the very national food of Laos. The sticky rice is never missing from the table, means the very essential part of the dishes. In daily life of Lao people eating is a rather important social „event” sharing the „princess” of the meals between each other and eating it with fingers.

Tam Mak Hoong – Lao Papaya Salad

It is a mixed salad with green (unripe) papaya, nuts and pungent fermented fish sauce. It can be quite delicious, especially if you are real chilli-lover. I have to tell you: my salad was not seasoned according to my chilli-level. So I ate my salad in tears, hours long, but in the end I survived.

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Try Lao Lao

I am trying to describe it briefly with – or without – my memories. First of all, Lao Lao is a very popular Laotian rice whisky , which is definitely the emblematic spirit of the country. I could write about the very healthy-classy fruit juices, Lao coffee or beer, but my best memories are connected – somehow – to this „magical” liquid.

It is one of the cheapest spirits all over the world, but it has a quite good quality, often “served” with cobra or scorpion in the bottle. Maybe I can attest: I personally did not have hangover. For more infos I should ask my dear friends…

Lao Lao can be found on every corner of Nong Khiaw, and in every small town or village. Better said, the more away we were from the cities, the more Laotian fun-drink we found. If you do not see it in proper bottles, no worries, you just have to ask for it. Mostly it can be purchased in different plastic or glass bottles from Coca-cola, western alcoholic drinks or water. I got my first one in a cute plastic mineral water bottle. I received it in Muang Khua from a French guy as a gift. It was kind of a question for dating, but anyway: it was a cool present.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Discover the waterfalls

Laos could be called as a small empire of waterfalls, which are often hiding deep in fabolous, lush rainforests. The more popular ones can be visited alone – like the Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang – but for getting into this marvelous labyrinth of the nature around Nong Khiaw I really advice to do it with a local guide.

One of the very best hiking trails leads to the 100 Waterfalls with fantastic view and several opportunities to take a dip into the turquoise blue water. Here I have to mention, that this tour is more accessible and easier to walk in the dry season, otherwise the flooding can make it extremaly dangerous.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

Get lost in the emerald green mountains

The entire country is ideal and outstanding for those obsessed with hiking, but Nong Khiaw provides „all in”. I mean, you can immerse yourself in taste of Lao gastronomy, while enjoying the lush nature, falling in love with Nam Ou river or getting refreshed by the steam bath and massage.

You can book trekking for one or more days with a local guide, but fortunately, there are several trails, which can be explored on your own. The Sleeping Woman Viewpoint has a charming panorama for sunrise. By the way: sitting in the middle of nowhere I was admiring the rolling mountains, from wich, after a while, sleeping faces emerged everywhere. So if you are pretty observant, you can see, that the valley of Nong Khiaw is surrounded by mysterious sleeping beauties on every side. Regarding to the spots for sunset I need to mention, that you have to calculate your time well in order to get off the mountain safely. The other – not so back-breaking – hiking trail leads to the Phadeng Peak with fabolous views above the clouds.

It does not matter, what you will decide for, these miraculous creations of the nature full of adventures will not disappoint you.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.

Israel: Road trip across the desert

Israel: Road trip across the desert

Compared to other countries Israel is something totally different. It is not only about its religion, unusual traditions and colourful culture. The winding roads between the pinky-red secret mountains, across the desert definitely mean one of the best road trip destinations ever!

Israel is a relatively small country with a really well-built road network. It is extra easy to navigate even through the whole country making stops at several points of interest. It has everything, what we would need: rich history and architecture, unique small towns and villages, enchanting landscapes and crystal clear water beaches.

Eilat

As we arrived at Ramon Airport, Eilat, this diving paradise was our starting point. The city is very divisive: I couldn’t decide if I like it or I simply want to run away from this crowded hotel jungle. But still, this hotel jungle can be a real jewel for divers, a playground for families or a shelter for backpackers.

The Red Sea, Dekel Beach

Referring to the beaches the North Beach provides the luxury of five-star hotels with several restaurants and bars, while the South Beach has more „take it easy” vibe. The Dolphin Reef and Princess Beach are perfect for observing dolphins in their natural environment or immersing yourself in the fabulous world of the Red Sea. The Village Beach and the Dekel Beach offers sandy beaches, cool live dj sets and israeli flavours, not to mention the beautiful scenery, as the sea merges with the red painted mountains.

 Red Canyon

It is a short ride (25 min) to reach the Red Canyon from Eilat. Here I have to mention, that the route is quite adventurous: the road surrounded by the vast mountains seem to be endless and to lead to nowhere. The unique formations can be seen by different trails for hikers:

  • Green trail: I can describe it as a small adventure park for families providing short (2km) and longer (5km) version. At the beginning the canyon is wide, but after a while it starts closing and we can reach the deep, narrow part by handles.
  • Black trail: If we follow this trail, we can go back to the parking lot or follow our tour along the Southern Wadi Shani. Please note, the way back to the starting point leads up the canyon and mountains, so I really don’t reccomend it for those who have a fear of heights.
  • Red trail: it is a 6 km long trail, mixed with the black-marked trail.
  • Blue trail: it is much more longer leading to the Mountain Neshef.

Colours of the Red Canyon

The Red Canyon was my top „must-see” place in Israel. I have to tell you guys, it was worth to see: the whole reserve, the surfy creations of nature are fascinating, especially as the sunlight plays upon the rocks changing their mesmerising gold-red colour.

 Timna Park

The next stop of our road trip was the Timna Park located in the Negev Desert. This barren, yet enchanting area – 15000 acres – surrounded by golden mountain ranges hides magical desert tales, which come alive at night under the stars.

Seeing the breathtaking masterpieces of the nature – the different geological formations – I had my doubts: some of them look like man made statues and giant rock-hewn faces.

The Sphinx by night

The park provides marked trails for hikers and for bikers as well. Some animals are active during the day, so not to follow the trails is forbidden. I really recommend to arrive at the park by car, because the distance between the formations and canyons is fairly large, not to mention that the oasis is located literally in reserve’s centre. It is the green gem of the desert with a luring lake, palm trees and super cool camp site in case, if we want to enjoy the „desert-feeling” by night.

 And yes! We tried it, we loved it: the sundown painted pink-purple abstracts on the sky, while the mountains dressed fleming red. The visitors left the park, so I had the feeling the entire desert is just mine. The marvellous creations of the Timna Park are lit up at night showing us something totally different: the „Wonderland” of ancient times. My very favourite one was still the oasis by night. I just stared at the scenery taking a journey to another world, to the fabolous world of Aladdin’s Agraba.

The magical view from the campsite

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea or rather floating in its „wonder-water” is simply one of the Israel’s highlights. We can take a dip in its emerald green, healing water at several free beaches, like in Neve Zohar, in Ein Bokek or Ein Gedi (for an indefinite period closed).

I choosed the free beach of Ein Bokek, but my original plan was to visit the coast in Ein Gedi. Ein Bokek provides free amenities, like drinking water, shower, toilettes, umbrellas. The only think that was not really me: never ending, sky-reaching hotel buildings behind me. For seeing the more natural part with the awesome dried salt clusters along the coast, we had to leave the public beach. Apart from that „swimming” in this incredibly oily-salty water is firmly superb experience. The water is extremely rich in minerals, it has countless health and skin benefits and… to be honest, who wouldn’t want to float carefree, weightless at the lowest place on Earth, while getting younger, silky skin and sunkissed?

The untouched shore of the Dead Sea

For our stay I found in Ein Gedi the best camp site ever! A damn good place with painting-like scene, authentic israeli draught beer, hummus and the best pizza – yes pizza – in the country. The camp site is kind of luring hippi paradise up the hill with the magical Dead Sea in front of you. Ben, the guy at the reception welcomed us following: „Enjoy your stay, and you can do here everything. But really…everything.”

Ein Gedi Camp Lodge

The perfect ending of our Spa day was just looking at the sundown by the sea, listening to mixture of country and jazz music from the hammock and getting high from not our joint. I swear, from not our!

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

It can be kind of mini stop while staying in Ein Gedi or on the way to Jerusalem. Ein Gedi is Israel’s biggest oasis hiding hazardous trekking trails, siren springs and waterfalls.

The nature reserve is open every day 04.00 pm except Friday and holiday eves. I can assure you, even if you don’t like hiking, you will appreciate the refreshing water surrounded by lush vegetation, hills, desert and the Dead Sea.

Refreshin waterfalls of Ein Gedi

Jerusalem

It is about 1,5 hour drive from Ein Gedi and offers something different after hiking, floating in the Dead Sea and chilling in hammock. This surreal place brings to life the tiny pieces of history and religion while walking silent in the Old City of Jerusalem. The four quarters, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian show us exactly, how special Jerusalem is. For more relaxing time with bars and restaurants is recommended West Jerusalem, the modern part of the city.

In case, if you want to continue your trip, this place is perfect to reach Tel Aviv or Haifa, but we took the direction back to Eilat.

Israel is the place, where the desert meets the sea, the elements of different religions melt and lush green oases come to life in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

 

Koh Rong, Cambodia: the reality behind the paradise

Koh Rong, Cambodia: the reality behind the paradise

Cambodia always was for me something special, like a rough diamond in South-East Asia’s treasure chest. I was deeply interested in its history, the sorrowful life of the people there and I am sure it is a bit platitudinous, but stills of the movie Beyond borders touched me, when I was a child. I simply decided: I have to see this remote, but enchanting part of the world.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries of South-East Asia. The marks of the French colonization and the Khmer Rouge can still be seen. The „dream” of the brutal regime was to create a communist state removing everything what is in connection with the intellectuals, the knowledge. Everybody, who was educated in any way, was an intellectual or weared glasses, was transported to special centres – death camps – and forced to do unhuman work. Most of them were tortured and executed.

But then why did I use the term of „paradise”?

I wanted to plan my trip with less touristy places, so I decided to catch the beach-life feeling of the khmer islands, which can be defined as paradise for backpackers.

The best way to reach the islands is taking ferry or speedboat from the small town of Sihanoukville. If you take the smaller boat, you can start praying for a journey with no engine problems. Otherwise you can chill floating on the turquoise water hours on end. Most of the islands are easily accessible by boat from this port. About the possible itineraries and tips you can read here.

As I mentioned, it took us a bit longer to reach the magical island of Koh Rong, but to be honest, the incredible view made me up for everything. Here I have to share some infos with you: if you do not want to stay at the central point of the island, you have to continue your boat ride, which is mostly provided by the owner of the choosen accommodation. We wanted to sleep in tent, so we were on one of the most remoter, emptier part of this kingdom of coconut trees and luring beaches. Exactly in this hides the true charm of the island: it is not spoilt by sky-high hotels, tourist-luring shops and high infrastructure. Simply some tents, restaurants and bungalows serve the convenience and „luxury” – or the biggest nightmare – of the visitors.

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong is the right place for hiding from the world, from the „money is everything” thinking and the selfishness. Perfect for those, who want to experience, how it is to spend the days poor, but yet rich. The endless ocean, the palm trees and the rainbow color painted sky was our best company. Nothing else. The flip flops or my lovely Converse lost their function: who would not love walking in a powdered sugar-like, twittery beach sand?

From Koh Rong several other islands can be visited. Some of them are so extremely uninhabitated, that the prints of the human destruction do not exist. Here I have good news for the adventurers: there is possibility for staying in a tent for 1-2 nights in order to get a dash of Robinson Crusoe-feeling.

My lovely tent far from the village

I was lucky to get this feeling on the „secret” beach of Koh Rong, which can be reached through the jungle. Here I could see it, feel it and taste it. We met four foreigners living here, like the biggest king in his golden palace. The „furniture” was very rich, in paradise way: snow white, powdered sugar-like sand under our feet, in thousand shades of gold playing sunset, a small wooden hause, fireplace for romantic dinner and the autenthic khmer beer. The four guys left for years ago their home: the rushing, selfish western world. For one of them was even Thailand too materialistic. They just did not want to live in this way anymore: with hate and being shallow.

„At this place the money counts nothing, it does not matter, that we spend the whole day barefoot.”

The “palace” of the guys

It makes me wonder: we started for more than 1000 years ago from here, we needed only, what is necessary. Nothing else, nothing more. But today we want everything and even more. The lack of „luxury”, the lack of a pillow makes us totally disgusted.

In a better case we wake up, like the Sleeping Beauty from her dreams, and we go back to the basics. We start loving the nature, valuing the very simple things.

But what does hide behind this adorable paradise? What do not we see… or rather we do not want to see?

The reality behind the curtain is often ignored in order to not spoil the wonderful holiday.

The first thing, what I was terrified of, was the problem with the canalisation, in other world the small, dubious colour rivulets and ponds running out from the secret world of toilettes. The only thing I can advice: please do not even dip your toe close to these „this-is-no-Spa” creeks!

No Spa creeks

The second thing can be seen, if you wake up very early. The mesmerising turquoise water and the shore looks like a colourful plastic blanket, but not in a good meaning. I have to mention the outstanding positive attitude of the locals, which means, that they work really hard every morning in order to see the ocean and the beach in its natural beauty again.

The human destruction

If you are traveling with open eyes, you can see in several bars or restaurants of Koh Rong, that you will be asked by one person and served by another one. The reason is for it the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. There are still many people, who can not write and/or read. As we drunk our favourite, perfect roasted coffee at the beach – brewed coffee is very rare on the island – my friend asked the waitress and owner for translating and writing down one word in Khmer. She answered with a sad smile:

„My brother is the only one, who can read and write, but he comes later in the afternoon. I am very sorry.”

On the hidden islands, in tiny villages of Cambodia the knowledge is something special, a really rare treasure.

The marks of colonization can be found on every corner, too. It is common, that the owners of the restaurants, hotels and bars are expats, mostly French and English. I think, it is no problem, our world became nowadays so „small” without distance. But sometimes I was ashamed, that I am european. I was ashamed as I saw the exploitation of the locals. I was almost crying, as I walked down the pier to my room and saw those guys sleeping on the floor, who prepared my coffee every morning with a gorgeous smile and happiness.

One of my favourite moments

The chance of the local people for something better, for way out is minimal. The things, which are for us so trivial, like reading, writing, just learning something about our amazing world, is for them the biggest gift. Still, their smile, their bright shining eyes enchanted me. Teached me.

The time spent here was not only a paradise, it was a lesson at the same time.