Experiencing the slow boat from Thailand to Laos

Neil the Northern Irishman always wore a green cap.


He boarded the minibus, with a clinking plastic bag bulging with Chang beer bottles, and a toothy grin on his face. It was 9am. He excitedly introduced himself to Cindy, myself, and the driver in his thick Irish drawl. These three days could be pretty entertaining, I thought to myself. He cracked a beer, took a seat, and starting running through his plans for Laos.

We were beginning our transit from Chiang Mai in Thailand’s far north, through Laotian border control, ending in Luang Prabang, Laos. A well-known pilgrimage for the adventurous (or budget-conscious) backpacker who wants to do the border crossing the scenic way. We chose the three day slow boat, the cheapest, and, my god, the slowest way to do this crossing.

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A few nights on the banana pancake trail

The banana pancake trail: a nickname given to the popular tourist routes through South East Asia, where foreign influence has shaped that place to cater for foreign taste (ie. banana pancakes for breakfast in Asia!).

In June 2012, I had a little transit through Thailand, inbetween Vietnam and Myanmar. It was just four days; enter, visit the Myanmar embassy to apply for my Burmese visa, Exit. Cindy, who I was excited to see since we parted ways back in Borneo, was in Kuala Lumpur doing the exact same thing, and in a few days we were going to reunite. It felt strange to just ‘pop in and out’ of a country like that, especially one I’d never visited before, but I knew that I’d find time to explore Thailand properly later.

Doing as the Thai do
Doing as the Thai do

Applying for the visa was quite easy; read about it here.

So, with my visa being processed, 4 days to kill in Bangkok. What to do? Pad Thai. Cold beer. Relax. I followed Jeff’s advice, and tracked down a tiny family-run guesthouse called Apple Guesthouse not far from Khao San Road, the tourist centre of Bangkok.

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Khao San Road culture

What is this place, the infamous Khao San Road? And more importantly, why did you end up here, even if you didn’t mean to?dav

Basically, it’s everything that a party-oriented backpacker loves about Thailand, distilled and westernised and easily accessible. It has food, accommodation, and drinking, without the hassle of having to navigate the mighty urban labyrinth (and it is a labyrinth!) that is Bangkok. It’s a party street, without the red-light-districtness of Soi Cowboy.

You’ll be surrounded by travellers just like you. Most locals don’t come here; just those who work in the tourist trade. From anywhere on Khao San Road, you could turn a corner and run into a street food cart (most famously Pad Thai whipped up on the spot, and sliced fruit served with a skewer). Tuk-tuk drivers stalk passers-by with their eyes like vultures, asking to take you around, probing with that infuriating catch phrase of “hey you, where you go!?

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Getting a Myanmar visa in Bangkok

It seems scary, applying for the Myanmar visa, with many rules and limits and strictures, just like ordering a soup from Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’. But don’t worry, it’s dead simple.

It was actually quite straightforward in Bangkok (I applied for my visa in June 2012). A few weeks earlier in Hanoi I tried, but the embassy asked for all sorts of unusual paperwork, such as a recommendation letter from my employer (?), proof of inbound and outbound flights, and a detailed itinerary. So after a little internet research, I decided Bangkok was far easier.

Here’s what to do.

1. Go to Bangkok.

From my experience, and those who I talked to, applying here is a very smooth process. Kuala Lumpur is also a good option. You don’t need an agent to take care of it, it’s easily done at the Myanmar embassy.

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Why a three day trek in Chiang Mai is an amazing experience


I ticked an item off my bucket list in Chiang Mai. I rode an elephant. It felt strange to step on it’s great grey head as I boarded it, but once the docile pachyderm lumbered lazily along the path, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I admired it’s ancient face and envied it’s cheeky child-like attitude. Its rough skin was the shell of a coconut spotted with sparse wiry hair, it’s ears were huge, overcooked pancakes. The betel-chewing driver hit it on the head with a cruel spiked stick now and then; controlling it around the short jungle path seemed hard work, but the animal eventually and lazily complied. The curious trunk would occasionally unroll backwards, presenting us with two pink floating nostrils, noisily sucking in air as it demanded treats of sugar cane. Read more