Alex and I planned our trip to Portugal and Spain (tagged #portupain on Instagram of course) and on Thursday, August 13th started one of the worst plane experiences. Since Alex documented the whole thing in detail, here’s an exerpt from our experience.
Q and I woke up early on Saturday morning (Nov 22nd) and, after a quick breakfast, packed the car for our weekend adventure. The day and the weather forecast didn’t look very promising, so we weren’t in much of a rush to get to Queenstown. On our way, we stopped in Cromwell to get a coffee and then at Mount Iron to do a short hike for some views of the area. Sadly, it was quite clouded over, so I didn’t get any good pics, but the walk itself was a good workout and a nice stretch of the legs after the car ride. We then continued into Wanaka, stopping to look around there for a bit at the shore of Lake Wanaka before continuing onto Queenstown.
Upon reaching Queenstown, we were starving so we stopped for a Fergburger – a notorious spot with arguably the best burger I’ve ever had. The only annoying part was waiting 45 minutes for them to make our burgers. I found out later though, that the easiest thing to do is call and order on the phone and then pick it up later. With a few hours to kill still and the weather not looking promising for great views, we opted to go to a winery in the area. The one we chose was called Chard Farms and I ended up choosing a bottle to take back to the hostel with us to have with out spaghetti. We stopped by the AJ Hackett bungee location (the first official commercial bungee jump in the world) then went back to the hostel to prepare dinner.
After dinner, the weather had started to clear up, so we decided to go for a walk around Queenstown. The sun was starting to set, but you could finally make out the mountains and it became clear why they’re called The Remarkables. We popped into a pub to have a couple of drinks. They had a great band, but drinks were almost $10 each for simple things like rye and coke, so we headed back to the hostel. We booked our Milford Sound boat cruise ticket for the following afternoon and hit the hay.
In the morning, we were up early again and this time the sun was out! We made a quick breakfast at the hostel then packed and were on our way. We decided to leave much earlier than needed so we could stop along the way for pictures. The drive from Queenstown to Milford was truly amazing. It was hands down the most beautiful drive I’ve ever experienced. I took lots of pictures. Below is one of my faves.
When we got to Te Anau, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at Miles Better Pies for a chicken pie. (Mince meat, chicken, etc pies were a big thing for takeaway.) Then we continued our journey towards Milford (of course stopping more times for pictures on the way).
When we finally reached Milford, it was just as amazing as I’d always imagined. We parked, sat by the shore for a while, did a quick walk up to a lookout point then walked to the dock to wait for our boat.
We were the second set of people to get on the boat, so found a great spot right at the front – we were able to sit down and be out of the wind which was necessary since it was quite breezy. We cruised out to the mouth of the sound, turned around, and then returned back to the dock. They pointed out some key features like coastal points, waterfalls, and sea lions, but I was just in such awe of the view that I hardly took notice.
On our drive back to Te Anau from Milford, we stopped to do the Key Summit Hike. Although the weather had been great, thankfully, for the cruise, it turned cloudy quite quickly and our views from the top weren’t all that great.
We then went back to our hostel, checked in, and had leftover spaghetti for dinner before crashing for the night. In the morning, we finished off our food, then went for a 4 hour hike that was the start of the Kepler. It was fairly flat, an appreciated change from the Key Sunmit.
When we got back to town, we rested in the sun on a park bench and the grass (looking, I’m sure, partially like homeless people) before deciding to have an early dinner of pizza before I had to get on my bus to Queenstown and Q had to drive back to Dunedin.
My bus back to Queenstown went quite well and I was happy to get to see the scenery of the Te Anau to Queenstown trip once again. When I got to Queenstown, I made a dinner of eggs and granola bars, don’t judge, then hit the hay quite early to be up with time to spare in the morning to board the Stray bus.
After my very long journey from Luang Prabang to New Zealand, I was happy to be back on solid ground and know I wouldn’t have to fly for at least a few weeks. Quentin was waiting for me at the airport gates and I was both excited and relieved to see a familiar face. We got to his car, had a slight pay-for-parking issue which ended up working in our favour since we got free parking then, and made our way back to his house. His house was very cool. It was used to film a movie called Scarfies – a low budget 1999 thriller/action/comedy about a scarfies (a nickname for students in Dunedin apparently) house that turns scary when the actual owner comes home. It’s since been completely redone and is very modern inside. Q had some chili in the crockpot so we each had a bowl, then tried to go to sleep shortly after since he had to work in the morning. Sadly, despite being given his ridiculously comfortable (and cozy with a heated blanket) bed and having had little sleep in the last 24+ hours, I was still on Laos time and couldn’t fall asleep for the life of me. In the morning, I also struggled to wake up, which is completely not like me.
In the morning, Q went to work and I slept in for a bit before managing to pull myself out of bed, get ready, and walk into town (the downtown was about ten minutes from his house). I stopped at a coffee shop on my way, then popped into CrossFit Dunedin to enquire about going to a class later, then set out to find some jeans (so I didn’t look like either a bum wearing my sweatpants or a hippy-hiker wearing my MEC convertible pants). Unfortunately, Dunedin was not a great place to buy jeans apparently. I had to settle for a pair of jeans that were a bit too big in the waist in order to be long enough (and even so, they’re a bit shorter than I’d prefer). While in town, I also got a NZ SIM card for my phone and met up with Q for lunch at a cute, but expensive (compared to SEA of course) cafe. After lunch, I walked back to Q’s and waited for his friend Amandine to pick me up to go with her sister, who was also visiting, and her to see Tunnel Beach. At first I assumed that the “tunnel” would be a sea eroded rock similar to many other places in the world that I’ve seen, but this was a tunnel that had been commissioned through the rock so his family could use the beach that was otherwise inaccessible.
After the beach, we went to a cafe on the shore of St Clair, a suburb of Dunedin with Amandine and her sister before heading back to town. When I got back, I got changed and headed back into town to do my first CrossFit class in over a month (since Bali). The gym was very nice and the trainer, who had actually competed at Regionals this past year, was extremely good. He had some great pointers and pushed me without letting me overdo it on my first time back. Following the class, one of the girls from the class dropped me back off at Q’s before cleaning up so we could go out for dinner with some of his friends. We went for a delicious Japanese restaurant (BYOB so we brought a bottle of wine) and then to a pub (Albar) for a couple of pints before calling it a night and walking home. Sadly, again, I had trouble sleeping and didn’t want to wake up in the morning.
When I did finally get up, Q had gone to work. I had a quick breakfast then headed out to find a sweater (since it was so much colder than I had packed for) and then went to a famous fish and chips place called Best Cafe that has been serving up fish and chips since 1932! They were definitely good and made it understandable why the place had been open for so long.
Following lunch, I toured around the area for a bit – going to the Dunedin Railway station and the Otago Museum – before going to get a coffee and slice of caramel cake while I waited for Q to finish work. When he was done he met me and we took off in his car for a tour of the Otago Peninsula. We got a little lost, but it was a beautiful drive and I was happy to have seen the area.
We got some groceries for our weekend adventure then headed back to Q’s to have a dinner of leftover chili and pack our bags since we planned to get up early the next morning to head to Queenstown.
Flight 8 ✈️ Luang Prabang to Bangkok
My trip to my final country on my tour, New Zealand, began when I departed from Luang Prabang International Airport on Nov 18th at about noon. I got a tuk tuk to the airport and, true to form, was there way to early, so I finished the book I was reading (a physical book that I was given and glad to have gotten rid of). The plane to Bankok was with Laos Airlines and was actually a pretty decent flight – we even got a meal!
Flight 9 ✈️ Bangkok to Sydney
In Bangkok, I had a five hour layover approximately, so I toured around the airport, found free wifi, charged my phone, and just relaxed generally. On the plane, which was with Emarites, we got two delicious free meals (best meals yet by far) and I consumed more than my share of the free alcohol. I basically threw every rule I had read about avoiding jet lag out the window and did the exact opposite – lots of alcohol, little water, and a coffee. Needless to say, I had a hard time sleeping and only got about 2 hours total.
Flight 10 ✈️ Sydney to Auckland
For my two hour layover in Sydney, I got some food, perused the shops, and then went to my gate to board. On the flight, I sat next to a woman who’s father was born in Woodstock, but hadn’t been back to visit since she was about eight. Small world! (Last name was Ruby and apparently she had lots of family still there.) The flight itself was fairly seamless. I managed to sleep a bit and got another decent airplane meal – the highlight being the pineapple, coconut Popsicle.
Flight 11 ✈️ Auckland to Dunedin (with a stop in Wellington)
In Auckland, I had to disembark, get my bag, and go through a special kind of customs. Because New Zealand is now so mindful of bringing in animals and plants that may become invasive (like the beautiful Russell lupin I later found out), they make you fill out a form consenting that you’re not bringing anything into the country, talk to an officer stating that you understand the rules, scan your bags to ensure there’s nothing in them, and also have security dogs sniffing around. Once through customs, I had to take a shuttle to the domestic terminal about five minutes away and check in again. I grabbed a quick salad (the first I had had in a while which made it the best salad ever of course), and waited the remaining 30 minutes for my flight to board. Once in the air, the flights were seamless – one hour to Wellington, a 30 minute layover approximately where I didn’t have to get off the plane, and another hour before landing in Dunedin.
When I got off the plane in Dunedin, I was greeted with a warm hug from my good friend Quentin. After over a month of traveling, it was sooooo amazing to see a familiar face.
Before leaving for my Hilltribe Trek in Chiang Rai, I booked my slowboat ticket down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. On Nov 14th, at 6am, I was the first one picked up by minibus to head to the Laos border. We picked up another eight people around town before heading out on the road. Before we got out of town, the driver offered me the front seat and even reclined it for me! It was awesome and I actually slept for about an hour on the drive. When we got to the border, we had to get out of the minibus, go through Thai customs, then get on a coach bus for a ride across the border where we disembarked, filled out the appropriate paperwork to get a Laos Visa (Canadians had to pay $42 USD for a Visa… the highest of any country!), then get in a tuk-tuk (or songthaew… I never know what they’re called in each place) to get to the pier (with a stop at a shop that sold sandwiches and would convert currency for you at a very steep charge of 11%!).
When we got there, we waited for our guides to get us tickets, then got on the boat. When we got on, one guy, who we found out later didn’t work there, told us it was full while another guy was telling us to get on. It was all very confusing and disorganized. I was thankful that we had gotten there when we did though. There were people who had been on the boat since 10:00 am and it was almost noon by the time we got on! We were lucky to get seats near the front of the boat (since the back was smokey and very loud from the engine). Once we finally got moving at about 12:30 the ride itself was quite nice, but took a while. We arrived at Pak Beng at around 6pm as it was getting dark. This was a bit of a pain, because we had to disembark in the dark. It was also not very well organized yet again. There was one place for everyone from both boats to get off and they didn’t unload any of the bags, so you had to find your own bag.
When I got my bag eventually, I walked to town. The first place I passed offered accommodations for 20,000 LAK (Laotian Kip, or $3 CAD). I was excited and then when I tried to sign in and pay, they said 70,000 ($10 CAD). I was too lazy to have to go out to the street and walk around to try to find something cheaper so just agreed to pay and went for dinner. I found a restaurant that looked decent and had a very good coconut chicken dish with rice and spring rolls. On my way back to my hotel, I bought a little banana bread loaf and, even after all of the junk I’d eaten all day, downed that as well before bed.
At about 2am, all the junk food I had eaten all day (two sleeves of Oreos, three packages of M&Ms, a snickers bar, a sandwich that was mostly just bread, and two containers of cut up fruit) finally caught up with me and I had a splitting headache. It was so bad that for quite a while I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach and got thinking about how I was possibly going to ride the boat for eight hours the next day. Thankfully, after some Aleve, water, and a little more sleep, but 6:30 am I was feeling better – not perfect, but better. I woke up and went out to get some breakfast and something healthier to eat for snacks during the second day so as not to repeat the previous day’s issues. I got papaya, bananas, oranges, a mini loaf of banana bread, and four boiled eggs. I then went back to my room, packed, and headed to the boat for about 8am to get a good seat. The boat started going at 9:30 am. The second day was fairly uneventful. I had 2 seats to myself so I could sort of spread out – I say sort of because then people in front of me and behind me both turned their seats around and eating up a large portion of my leg room. I tried to not care, but found myself getting frustrated and wishing I had a group of people with me so I could have “fought back”.
We finally “arrived” at Luang Prabang at about 4:30 pm. I say “arrived”, because they actually dropped us off at a “pier” that was 10km out of town so that the local tuktuk drivers can make a little money off the tourists! I was livid. I’m not sure why it made me so mad (perhaps the 2 days on the boat, perhaps I was hangry, perhaps I just hate being taken advantage of), but I was angry enough to decide to walk with a few other people towards town to hopefully get a cheaper ride. It did end up working and instead of paying 20,000 LAK (about $3.50 CAD) for a ride to town, we each paid 10,000 LAK. When we were dropped off, we wandered around for a bit. This was the first time I hadn’t booked my accommodations before showing up, which I think was a bad idea, because I ended up just going to the first place I found with availability. It was 80,000 LAK per night for a double bed and ensuite bath with hot shower though so I thought it was reasonable and just went with it. After getting cleaned up and decided to treat myself for a yummy dinner. I went to Blue Lagoon, which turned out to be an excellent choice! For about $25 CAD I got a glass of wine, a soup appetizer, as much bread and herbed butter as I could ever have eaten, a shrimp ravioli in lemongrass parmesan sauce, and a chocolate mousse dessert. It was unreal and aside from the slightly over attentive wait staff, one of the best meals I had had in since I left (or even before)!
The following day, I woke up fairly early to go exploring. I first found breakfast, a delicious little cafe where I got a huge spread for no more than $5 CAD that included eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and a coffee. I then explored the Royal Palace Museum (the former house of the King of Laos and his family) which had some incredible artwork and very old Buddha statues etc. One of my favourite things, which I took a picture of even though you weren’t to take photos in any of the buildings, was a 14′ “Sea Horse” boat that was made in Canada that the King apparently used to use. I continued my explorations to see Pha Bang, an 83cm-tall gold-alloy Buddha for which the whole city is named. Its arrival here in 1512 spiritually legitimised the Lan Xang royal dynasty as Buddhist rulers.” (Lonely Planet) It was housed in Wat Ho Pha Bang.
I then climbed to the top of Mount Phousi to get a view of the whole city. It was quite beautiful despite being overcast. I climbed back down and went to Ock Pop Tok to book my dying and weaving class for the next day. I was so grateful that they had space. I rented a bike, and toured around the city for a while stopping to get a 1 hour shoulder and back massage and to get some lunch before heading over to a place called Utopia to do some yoga. I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find, so I went about an hour early to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of trying to find the yoga place in Ubud. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised – the place was very chill and had a fantastic view of the river. It was actually a restaurant that they used one of the platforms for yoga a few times a week. Below is a pic of where I sat for a while chilling. It was this platform that was then used for yoga. While I was waiting for yoga, a few people started up a beach volleyball game, so I played for about 15 minutes. It definitely made me miss it!
After yoga, I dropped off my bike (which was actually harder than I thought because I couldn’t remember exactly where I had gotten it from!), then went for dinner. I was considering going to the night market, but instead chose to have another delicious dinner since I reasoned I wouldn’t be able to get half as good of a meal for twice the price when I went to NZ. Again, it was delicious, but maybe overpriced this time (at a restaurant called Tangor). The following morning, I was picked up to go to the Ock Pop Tok Dying and Weaving Class! It really interesting, had great food, and I would definitely put down as one of my trip highlights.
When we got back to town, I wandered around for a while before deciding I wanted to see the sunset from the top of Mount Phousi to see sunset. I ended up being just a little too slow to decide this and had to basically sprint up the steps to just barely catch the tail end of the sunset. It was definitely beautiful though.
I then walked down, got a quick bite to eat, did a little last minute shopping (mostly at Ock Pop Tok), then headed to the market and found the 10,000 LAK buffet, which surprisingly was very good. I then called it a night so I could wake up early the next morning for Tak Bat. I woke up around 5am to be out there before 6am. When I got to the main street, this pushy woman offered to sell me some biscuits and rice for 100,000 LAK. I declined because it was way too much for what she was offering me and because I really didn’t have that much money to spend on it. She finally negotiated herself basically down to 20,000 for a tray so I agreed, she put out a mat for me, and I got to participate in Tak Bat by giving to the monks.
The woman kept filling up my basket with stuff. I actually didn’t want anymore and started getting bored, but she just kept coming with more. When they were gone, true to form, the woman wanted more money and then got upset when I only gave her 20,000 LAK more (which I shouldn’t have even given her but I felt a little guilty). Flustered, I walked down the street to get a fruit shake, then walked around the morning market looking at all the crazy things that you could buy from the curb vendors. I then got breakfast, headed back to the hostel to shower and pack, and finally picked up a tuk tuk to Luang Prabang International Airport to start my voyage to New Zealand!
One of the things mentioned in the Lonely Planet Book as a “splurge” was learning to dye and weave silk fabric in a traditional Laotion manner at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. I decided it would be my “big event” in Luang Prabang.
The morning of the class, I was picked up from a bakery near my hostel and taken by tuk tuk to the Living Arts Centre. I met a girl, Sara, in the tuk tuk who I ended up working alongside for the day. We sat down in their cute cafe and had a tea while we waited for our instructor. We were then shown around to where the women were weaving, where they died the silk, and also a brief introduction to the many stages involved to make a simple piece of fabric (from a silk worm, to spinning the silk, to making the dye from natural ingredients, to weaving).
We were then lead to the area where we would be dying our silk. We each got to pick three colors, so I chose red, blue, and purple. Each was fairly complicated on how to make and each was made from local, natural ingredients, which I found fascinating.
After we dyed our silk, we spun some previously dyed silk of the colors of our choosing onto bobbins to use for weaving after lunch.
After lunch we started weaving. The woman who was helping me started my placemat for me and had about two inches done before I got started on it. The first part was just a solid color. It wasn’t until the pattern that it really got complicated. We wove for almost four hours before I finished. When we both finished, we took a quick picture and went on our way. This was a great way to spend a day. I love learning new skills even if I’ll never be anywhere as skilled as the women working there, it’s still nice to know that I could make a piece of fabric if I wanted to.
From Chiang Mai, I made my way to Chaing Rai. (Why are the names so similar? I have no idea but I stumbled more than once while traveling in the area.) I opted to take the public bus, which saved me some money and was probably actually nicer. The bus was actually quite nice (AC, reclining seats, and I had a window seat so great views). The only problem was that although I’d paid 3 THB to go to the bathroom right before I had left, I had to pee sooooo badly by the time we arrived in Chiang Rai! By the time we got to the hotel, I had to run to the bathroom!
I shared my room at The North Hotel with a girl from Montreal, Annabelle, and a guy from France who’s name I don’t think I ever got. Annabelle and I went out to get food and book onward tickets and tours once we got settled a bit. We found the night market and I got pad Thai, spring rolls, and a mango, banana, coconut shake (my new favourite). After we ate, we found the tour office and I booked my transport to Luang Prabang – bus, taxi, slow boat. Then we went back and just chilled for the night.
In the morning, I packed my bag (small one with stuff for my hill tribe trek and big one with everything else to leave behind at the hotel). I had breakfast at the hotel, then got picked up around 8:30 am to head to The Mirror Foundation for an introduction for my Hilltribe Trek (which I’ve once again done a separate post for).
After the third day on the tour, Nov 13, I was dropped off back at The North Hotel. I had previously booked my last night in Chiang Rai before leaving for the trek, so I checked in, showered, and then went for a delicious American-food dinner at a bakery/cafe called Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie and got a sandwich and smoothy that were both very good! I also got a slice of chocolate mousse cake that I took back to the hotel with me and devoured later.
*** Smoothie! So good!
On my way back, I stopped to at the 7/11 to get some snacks for the two day boat trip to Luang Prabang. I got a sleeve of Oreos, three packs of M&M’s, and a snickers bar with the intention of eating all of that over the two day journey. When I got back, I met the girl I shared my room with, also ironically from Montreal. She went out for dinner and invited me long but I said I’d eaten and I needed to pack for the early morning pick-up.