Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How-To Plan The Most Interesting Asian Backpack Trip?

Backpacking is a term that has historically been used to a form of low cost, independent international trip. Term such as budget travel or backpacking trip are always used interchangeably.

Backpack trip is notably lower in budget and the length of trip is significantly longer compared to a conventional trip, or luxury travel.

And because of its nature, backpacker's experience is significantly more challenging and exploratory. Words that describe a backpacking travel are such like adventurous, budget, low cost, excitement, tough, tricky, taxing, mad, crazy.

The decision to book a ticket and fly out of country to a far land on a budget trip for several weeks to months needs to be backed by emotions.

What do I need to do?
  1. Decide where to go.
  2. Decide how much time I want to spend.
  3. Check the fare with one of the low cost carrier.
  4. Book if available.
  5. Google some info & reference, get a travel book from the store for reviews and guide.
  6. Plan my trip (itinerary can always change depending on context), usually 2-4 weeks before I fly.
The places where backpackers commonly gather and visit are very safe, but I've also heard a lot of losses to snatch thieves that made some bad experiences. It's moderately safe to travel alone but you can use a company on your first trip.

Tho survive everyday on a fixed budget is a very challenging task, I always request for a moderately acceptable discount and find out the interesting activities and excursions everywhere I go.

Use your emotion, try to book a return flight ticket of 7-10 days to nearest South East Asia cities, and start planning 6 weeks before your trip, start by asking friends who had experienced a trip to your next destination. Am sure you friends can share some thoughts and experience.

The good thing about staying in Asian countries is that I can make couple of trips to the nearest countries at different time and pick it up again where I left off because the air fare is low compared to European travelers could probably decide to stay longer due to higher traveling cost to fly down from home.

How do I survive with $35 per day?
  1. The simplest benchmark I have is an average USD$35 or RM100 per day and multiply by how many days you have for a trip.
  2. If you wonder how much can you do with RM100 per day trip, that includes accommodation, logistics, break fast, lunch, dinner, supper and some other entertainments and travel packages in most of the Asian countries.
  3. Wines, cigarettes, beers, marijuana are very cheaply and easily available too.

How do I book a guest house?
  1. I never need to pre-book guest houses to save some couple of dollars.
  2. I normally visit at least a few budget hotels or guest houses from the list that is recommended by my travel book or from my researched list.
  3. I take rooms between USD$8-12 for a decent single/double bed room that could probably have a private bathroom. 
  4. A room may or may not comes with private toilet and air conditioning, you would have to ask for it, and of course there's a price for those facilities, normally an additional of $1-2.
  5. Always ask to check the bed room first before you confirm the room from the care taker, and you can always reject the offer politely and walk out to check another and return if you feel you feel the other way.
  6. Most of the time, during semi peaked season, you can always negotiate for a good rental rate. You may ask politely to take the air conditioning remote away because you don't need it and ask for additional discount.

What Backpacking means to Me?

Backpacking gives me the opportunity to understand and explore uniquely about a country's souls and historically rich cultures of our neighboring roots that many had either forgotten or foregone.

It gives me the renewed thrust to move forward with positive energies, opening up my eyes that were so narrowly set a couple of years ago, that were almost blinded materialistically.

I'm more mentally prepared, confident in such a way that I'll survive an awful lot of storms ahead in years and yet, I feel blessed.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Luang Prabang, Laos

    The only thing that I felt inconvenient about traveling alone was when I need to use the toilet badly yet I couldn't leave all my gears at the dining tables.

    Do not take the risk of leaving your belongings for even a few seconds, bring it with you wherever you  go, that would be my personal advice to you.

    Luang Prabang

    I had earlier posted about of this extraordinary town in Travel Laos for 8 days 7 nights (part 2). I supposed this blog is part 3 of it.

    Luang Prabang - Sisavangvong road
    The monk in black umbrella
    At the center of Luang Prabang small town, there was the Mount Phousi (yes, it is pronounced exactly like something else) located, was an easy hike, 250 steps to the top and the clear 360 view of the beautiful town.

    Steps to Mount Phousi
    The debate of demand and supply thing will never end and let's not talk about it, I did what I supposed to do to free the poor bird at the top of the mountain for 10,000 Kip. Oh ya, the entrance fee was 20,000 Kip.

    Safe the birds, don't buy from the seller.. I'm conflicting myself..
    She's freed like a bird..
    The temple's corner at the peak.

    The view from top was phenomenon.

    View from top of Mount Phousi
    A far Wat
    A Japanese lady that I was too shy to say konichiwa
    The street came to life when night market started around 6pm and ended 11pm daily, it was the tourists' favourite shopping choice, I needed no superb bargaining skill to bring the prices of items down to 50% off their initial prices, it was easy to do business with them.

    While rainy season runs around May to October, August has the most rain drops. A quick snapshots of how the market setup looked like during the rainy season.

    Night market during the rainy month (August)
    There were an awesome lot interesting souvenirs to take home.

    Support the craft works
    The umbrellas came to live
    That night, I met Nick again, the Canadian lawyer. He said he nearly died coming to Luang Prabang, his VVIP was hit by the hand of the crane by accident while he was on his way from Vang Vieng. He was sleeping while everyone was diving to the other end when the bus was tore apart. Well, this is one of the many funny stories you'd never share with your parents. At least what I had gone through wasn't so bad after all compared to his experience.

    And Magalie, a dentist with deep French accent from Quebec, a province in east-central Canada. It's the only Canadian province with predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level.

    Nick & Magalie, a lawyer, a dentist
    The next day, breakfast was no other than having it at my most favourite stall at the street, this time I had the local beef and pork curry noodle soup. It's a coconut based curry soup, moderately spicy to me.

    The Lao pork/beef noodle is clearly the popular choice of food to the local, I suggest travelers to try it, the ingredients were always safe for anything to do with noodle soup.

    12,000 Kip indulging beef & pork curry noodle soup
    If you are lazy to walk on your feet and need to save time, the easiest way to roam the small town is to rent a bike at less than 15,000 Kip. You need to surrender your passport to rent a bike, it's generally ok to do that.

    Some random street shots in the morning that made my day meaningful.

    Zebra crossing that no body cares
    Me and my trailing shadow
    I like the vibrant colours that usually make me feel younger

    I spent some time walking Khem Khong road in the afternoon, near the jetty and Mekong river where most of the river side restaurants were located. There were some interesting lives there, plenty of trees, quite chilling and easy.

    Rice store
    Time to eat, chicken noodle soup for 10,000 Kip

    I met two lovely ladies from Yun Nan who were both lecturers in their native province, we spent hours sharing our travel experience. They were really nice people and we shared so much fun talking and joking, we exchanged contacts and moved on.

    I'm going to end the blog with this shot I took from the restaurant toilet that I needed some time to get used to (actually I will never be, lol). It did look like a storeroom, and the odd positioning of the toilet bowl that I actually pee awkwardly facing the door.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Travel Laos 8 Days 7 Nights [Part 2]

    Third day was full of surprises, I bought minibus ticket with the tour company but ended up traveling with a local married couple further north to Luang Prabang, the site of Wats that were frequented by the royal family back then, still a site of devotion for local Lao Buddhists, is one of the oldest cities in Laos with crumbling French architecture and Unesco Heritage listed.

    The boss said I was a lucky man as I could travel more comfortably with the his friends (a married couple) and they would pit stop at places where the buses never stopped, but it still cost me 100k Kip/$12.50 and 5 hours to get there (VVIP bus would take longer).

    One of the most delicious Lao curry noodle soup (chicken) I ever had in Vang Vieng

    The couple made a few of stops to stock up and this market was remarkably selling parts of wild boars, squirrels, tortoise, and "happy" whiskeys.

    First pit stop

    Hello squirrel

    Happy whiskeys

    Hello tortoise

    Hello wild boar

    Route 13 had stunning views of deep mountains, my eyes were locked on to the green hills, tiny huts, agriculture plants and the home to local ethnics.

    She's telling something through her eyes

    These kids were really cute, they waved at me everytime I took their photos. They reminded me I was once as happy and care-free as they were, but somehow along the way life's get tougher and more sophisticated and we were less happier and care-less.

    Local Lao ethnic kid

    Waving future
    The super curvy road to Luang Prabang was nut, the super relaxed driver was always one hand on the steering, and the other often too busy with something.

    The tyre kept making noises everytime he went cornering, I really felt the car was going to be skidded off and there goes the car down the cliff (it's high up the hill, I could feel it's getting colder up there), AND the best thing was there was never a road BARRIER!

    Embarking roller coaster excursion

    So intensed back there, I held on to anything I could grab. The fella did not understand what I was saying, so I failed to talk him in to slowing down the car. And the poor Lao guy behind me I think he threw up one whole pack of 'substance' he ate that day.

    All I could do was just pray, and I vowed to God that I'd be a vegetarian for a week if I survived this, I made it to Luang Prabang unscathed. Now I need to pick the day to go on vege.

    Luang Prabang

    At this time I was worried about how I supposed to return to Vientiane on the same route i came, I literally hesitated.

    I bumped into Nick on the street that night, a Canadian lawyer, we met in Vang Vieng. He said he almost die on the way to Luang Prabang. He was sleeping, everyone dived to other side of the bus when the hand of the crane that was fixing the road hit and tore part of the bus, that's crazy!

    Enough of the horror story, I touched down Malaysia safely couple of days later! Don't worry too much if you are going to Laos, seriously, it's horrific experience but fun to remember.

    I walked a few blocks and settled down at Soutikone guest house (exact geo location on google map - 19.896408, 102.1411), it was absolutely a nice place to stay. Clean and quiet at night, the rate was reasonably cheap, $10 or 80,000 Kip per night for queen sized bed room.

    Soutikone guest house, 80k Kip/$10 per night
    The room had a little balcony

    Cosy shared balcony Soutikon guest house

    The owner was a sweet lady, and she owned a beautiful dog, Petty.


    At night, I walked the Sakkaline street (main street of the town) and did a little shopping at the night market. The night market started as early as 7pm and ended at 11pm daily, local friendly sellers were selling interesting handycrafts and stones on the street.

    Those things were already cheap before bargaining, although 50% discount is ideal, but I suggest 30-40% to make their lives easier.

    It resembled 'Pasar Malam' (night market back in Malaysia), I felt home a little.

    Second day in Luang Prabang was fascinating

    I loved the Lao beef noodle soup for my breakfast (RM4.50).

    Lao beef noodle soup for 12,000 Kip

    Pork (with internal organs), I didn't try this..

    I did politely ask her to smile..

    There were plenty of Wats and old buildings around, and I decided to only visit the nearest and well known ones, the busy streets were just so lifely, they were definitely interesting enough to stop me to snap a few photos. It was the most enjoyable moments to walk the busy streets.

    Wat at Luang Prabang

    Blink blink Buddhist sculpture

    Wat Xieng Thong was built in 1560 by the Lao King, was situated near the Mekong river and very popular tourist spot.
    Wat Xieng Thong

    Wat Xieng Thong

    The gigantic guardian ship in the Wat
     I continued with my random takes on the French/Lao architectures & activities.

    Door way

    Origami by the window

    Little Lao corn seller

    Corn seller on the street

    One of the few places you couldn't have missed, I believe is the morning market and laying back at the river front restaurants along Khem Khong street to have your own little quiet moments with Mekong river.

    Morning market

    Morning market

    The view of the Mekong river from the restaurant were different at noon and sunset, I've blogged about the magic moment.

    Mekong river
    The vegetable sticky rice came to me by surprised because I ordered beef rice, it must be the sign, or reason, so I took it.
    Vegetable with sticky rice
    Next up, amazing Kuang Si waterfall excursion, and funny incident on my last night in Luang Prabang with two American friends.