Top five… in South-East Asia

23 04 2010

There are now two weeks since we were in South East Asia and we have had a little time to digest all the things we did and all the memories that we created.  Therefore I decided to create a few “top five” lists.

Top five places we visited in South East Asia

  1. Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and the surrounding temples – just stunning
  2. Ko Phangan (Thailand) – the beaches and the sunshine and the food – what more do you want?
  3. Halong Bay (Vietnam) with its 2,000 limestone islands and relaxing cruises
  4. The Cham towers in Nha Trang (Vietnam) had a deep impact on me
  5. Dalat (Vietnam) and surroundings – great relive from the heat

Top five activities we did in South East Asia

  1. Mahout elephant training close to Luang Prabang in Laos
  2. Snorkeling in Ko Phangan in Thailand and Nha Trang in Vietnam
  3. Thai cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand
  4. Zip wire ride with Jungle flight in Chang Mai, Thailand
  5. Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Top five foods that we ate in South East Asia

  1. Thai red curry with rice – hot and yummy
  2. Fried coconut pudding (Thai sweetmeat coconut) – so delicious
  3. Tom Yum soup with shrimps – will be a regular back home
  4. Cambodian amok – a more subtle curry than the Thai curry
  5. Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls – they melt in your mouth

Top five disappointments/annoyances of South East Asia

  1. Theft on Thai busses (Bangkok to Surat Thani)
  2. Plastic garbage laying around almost everywhere
  3. Loud traffic in Vietnam and drivers unnecessarily honking their horns at us
  4. Annoying and pushy tuktuk drivers everywhere except in Laos where they are too laid back to be bothered
  5. Expensive and ultra touristy Andaman coast

We have done some much in the past three months that I’m sure that I’m forgetting something.

How would YOU catch squid?

3 04 2010

While on Ko Phangan it is difficult not to notice all the fishing boats that are catching squid around the island at night.  First we just saw the lights out at see and started wondering what those would be and as we found out they were squid fishing boats.

Most of the boats are fairly big with a couple of poles with big lights attached to them that can stretch out to either side of the boat.  The boat on the picture below only has one small light pole.  The smallest boats look like circular tee filters with a diameter of maybe 1.5 meters and are made of bamboo but the majority are 10-15 meters sturdy wooden boats

The boats all stay close to the shore during the day but as the sun is setting they start moving to the proper spots.  It seems like most of them like to fish about five hundred meters from the shore and quite close to each other.  After the sun has set they extend their light poles and turn on their huge lights.  From the porch of our favorite restaurant on Ao Mae Haad we could see about ten boats all lined up glowing in the dark.  The lights are to lure the squid to the surface where it is easy to catch.

There is a lot of squid available in Thailand both dried and fresh.  A lot of street vendors are selling dried squid in the streets.  We never tried it but I’m sure it is similar to the dried cod or haddock that we eat back home.

We have however had the fresh squid on numerous occasions and it has never disappointed.  It has been great with fried rice, fantastic fried but like the squid best in a hot Tom Yum soup …I just start drooling when thinking about it.

Robbed on the bus from Bangkok!

31 03 2010

Last time we met, we were on our way from Chang Mai in Northern Thailand and all the way down to Ao Mae Haad on Ko Phangan in Southern Thailand.  In 48 hours we spent 30 on a bus and two in a boat but it was all worth it when we came to Mae Haad.  This is not the first time we’ve been here, we came here near the beginning of our trip as can be seen in previous posts: Island hopping, Little piece of heaven and From one island to the next.

The journey wasn’t without its incidents as we discovered when we arrived in Mae Haad.  When we opened our bags it was obvious that someone had gone through the bags in search for something.  After a closer inspection we were only missing a flashlight, a watch, a wallet with 1,000 ISK and one roll of gaffer tape.  Since the Icelandic króna is practically worthless these days it wasn’t such a big loss :) maybe the biggest loss was in my watch but I’m sure I’ll make up for that in China!

We have been warned on several occasions not to leave any valuables in our big back pack and fortunately we have our ears open once in a while.  We had all our valuables with us – it was unlucky that the watch was there but I had bought a nice fake watch in Chang Mai.  Of course I won’t tell anyone which kind because I want you to think that I have the real thing ;)

The life for the past five days here in Mae Haad has been wonderfully simple.  We wake up around nine and go to the beach – eat lunch when we get hungry and then head for the beach again until about sunset – then its time to clean up before dinner – eat dinner and go to sleep.  The beach here is beautiful and great snorkeling.  There is plenty of people during the day but most come here by bike and go back before dinner so the evenings are quiet.

Once a month there is a big Full Moon party here on Ko Phangan with up to 30,000 visitors.  On the day of the Full Moon Party we rented a motor bike and drove around the island.  We tried to drive to Bottle Beach, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches around, but the road was so horrible that we turned around when we could almost see the beach.  There is possible to get there by boat so we might try that before we leave.  After Bottle Beach we went to Haad Rin where the party takes place.  We thought that we would be able to catch the beginning of the party before heading home but it started very slowly unlike an Icelandic “Verslunarmannahelgi” and we kind of missed it :(  The roads here are not that great that we wanted to be driving in the dark on the busiest night of the month. 

Mae Sai Visa run and then back to Bangkok

26 03 2010

Before entering Thailand from Laos we had heard that we might only get a fifteen day visa exception into Thailand, which would be too short for us, but the Lonely Planet book told us thirty days so we didn’t worry.  When we were at the border we discovered that the 30 day visa is only granted when you fly into Thailand so we only got fifteen days.

That meant that our visa would expire before we fly to Hong Kong and the fine for overstaying your visa is 500 baht per day ($16).  To escape the fine we needed to make a visa run.  A visa run is to go to a neighboring country, only for a few minutes, and then back to Thailand to get extra fifteen days.  The cheapest option is to go to Burma (Myanmar) (Laos $30 and Cambodia $20) where you can get a day permit for $10 or 500 baht, which is very strange since $10 is actually 330 baht ?!?!

For our visa run we drove up to Mae Sai, a small border town by the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.  The Golden Triangle used to be the world’s biggest opium producer but that has all been cleaned up – at least on the Thai side.  The four hour drive up to Mae Sai was painless and once in Mae Sai we just walked through the Thai immigration office to get stamped out and into the Burma immigration office where we paid the fee got our Burma passport stamp and walked back into Thailand with a new fifteen day visa.  The whole process took about ten minutes and was as simple as could be.

After getting our stamp we drove back to Chang Mai to take the ten hour sleeper bus to Bangkok.  We are only staying the day in Bangkok before talking another sleeper bus down to Chumpon and from Chumpon we take the boat back to Ko Phangan where we intend to load the batteries before taking on China – The Middle Kingdom.  I have a few topics I want to address while on the beach so stay tuned :)

Guest houses and hostels

7 02 2010

On this page I intend to keep track of the guesthouses and hostels where we stay along the way so others can either stay away from the bad ones or go themselves to the good ones.  I’ll use the 5* rating system below.

***** Greatly exceeded our expectation
**** Exceeded our expectation
*** We got what we paid for
** Hardly worth it
* Stay away

South East Asia


Central Asia

Hong KongChina


Bangkok, Khao San Rd. – Charoendee ***.  The room was clean and the reception area was cozy and the location is perfect, right in the middle of Khao San Rd.  760 Baht for a double room with A/C and a hot shower is not too bad for this location.  We would probably stay there again if we end up on Khao San Rd. again.

Koh Tao – Freedom Beach **.  After a very long walk from the pier we arrived at Freedom Beach after having looked at two other places.  The bungalow was ok, it was one of those not yet renovated.  The view was amazing and the snorkelling great.  The have a good restaurant and are in the middle of renovating the whole place.  We paid 500 Baht for the bungalow with fan and cold shower.  Might be the best location but we should have gone for a better bungalow but unfortunately they were full.

Koh Phangan, Haad Kruad – Haad Gruad Resort ****.  We got a free taxi from Thong Sala so we went for it.  Unfortunately we got the last bungalow and it was their worst.  We paid 350 Baht for fan and hot shower, which is quite cheap but we wanted a nicer bungalow so we went to Haad Yao after one night.  They had a lot of nicer bungalows that looked fantastic and the place is nice if you have a scooter but we should have gotten to Ao Mae Haad sooner.

Koh Phangan, Haad Yao – Silver Beach Bungalows ***.  There are two ladies competing for the guests at Silver Beach Bungalows.  We got a bungalow that was either A/C for 900 or fan for 700 Baht.  We opted for fan and were quite happy.  The bungalow was right on the beach but the surroundings weren’t that great.  We checked at all the other places and this was the best deal around.  Next time we would either check all the places again or more likely head straight to Ao Mae Haad.

Koh Phangan, Ao Mae Haad – Island View Cabana *****.  We rented a great little bungalow with fan for 500 Baht.  The bungalow was clean and nice, the restaurant and the massage was great  and the surroundings were astonishing and everything is priced a bit lower than in other places on the island.  We hope to stay there again for sure, one of our favourite places on this trip.

Koh Samui, Na Thon – Nathon Residence ****.  A very nice hotel close to the main shopping area and the night (food) market in Nathon.  The room was clean and quite large.  It had A/C, hot shower and a fridge for 550 Baht.  A very nice hotel that we would definitely recommend to anyone.

Khao Sok National Park – Bamboo Bungalows **.  The bungalow at Bamboo Bungalows looked very very nice in the beginning but the bathroom was horrible and we were visited by spiders, ants and a mouse during the night.  If you like that kind of stuff then great but if not there are plenty of other options in the neighbourhood.  I think we paid 500 or 600 Baht but we should have looked at other options.  Next time we would at least check the other options.

Ao Nang (Krabi) – Seebeer Guesthouse ***.  The prices in Ao Nang seemed to be quite high and too few budget options available.  We therefore decided to try a double room with fan and a shared bathroom.  The room and the restroom was very clean and the old Chinese couple were very nice.  They hardly spoke any English though so we needed to go elsewhere for direction and other help.  We paid 450 Baht and were quite happy.  We wouldn’t go to Ao Nang again but if so, the Seebeer is a nice, cheap option.

Ranong – The Asian Hotel **.  We came into Ranong after dark and there was a long walk from the bus station to the downtown area.  Being tired we took the first hotel we saw.  It was far from nice and we should have opted for the guesthouse across from 7Eleven a little bit further down the road, which was much nicer and even cheaper.  We paid 260 Baht for a double room with a cold shower.

Bangkok, Siam Square – Muangphol Mansion **.  A big big hotel close to Wendy house.  Plenty of rooms available and a good location.  We got a A/C room for 800 Baht.  The room was just OK and the free WiFi only worked occasionally.  We should have looked further.

Aranyaprathet – Market Hotel ***.  We slept there one night before crossing to border to Cambodia.  The room was descent but the main attraction is the cozy restaurant area with free WiFi.  We paid 300 Baht for a double room with a fan and were happy with that.  We would be happy to stay there again if we are passing by.

Chang Mai – Libra Guest House ****. Libra guest house came highly recommended so we were looking forward to the experience.  Libra is perfectly located within the old quarter, a short walk from the sunday market and about 15 minutes from the night bazaar.  The staff were very helpful, spoke perfect english and the food was really good.  We had a double room with a hot shower and a fan for 300 baht – a very good deal.  The last night we stayed in a room with a cold shower for 200 baht.  That room was a bit smaller and more basic, maybe good for one person.  We will surely be staying there next time we are in town – but in the bigger room.


Siem Reap – Mitri Guesthouse ****.  We stayed 5 nights at Mitri Guesthouse in Siem Reap.  We bumped into the guesthouse after being turned away by a few full ones and were in for a pleasant surprise.  Mitri is situated midway between the old market and the night market, up an unsuspecting dirt road.  The staff was very friendly and the place had a nice atmosphere.  There is a cheap but good restaurant at the guesthouse, free internet and the rooms are quite nice.  We paid $7 a night for a double fan room with hot water and fan and it was well worth it.  We would stay there again for sure.

Phenom Penh – Fairytale Guesthouse ****.  We wanted to stay at the Sunday guesthouse but that was full.  We were referred to the Fairytale next door.  There we got a great A/C room for $13, the best room so far.  Everything was as it was supposed to be and we even got a Cambodian scarf as a present.

Phenom Penh – Sunday Guesthouse ***.  After the great room at the guest house next door, our room at the Sunday Guesthouse didn’t seem too fancy and the band practising for the Chinese New Year didn’t help either.  To be fair the room was clean and we only paid $8 for a double fan room so we couldn’t complain.  Next time we would at least look at other options and if it is hot and humid – just go straight next door for the A/C that wasn’t that expensive.

Sihanoukville – Sunday Guesthouse ***.  This is a sister guesthouse of the one in Phnom Penh.  It is quite new and everything looked nice and moderately clean.  Our biggest problem was the location, it is a 7-10 minute walk to the beach and I’m sure we could have gotten a similar deal closer to the beach but we got a free transport from the bus station and were only staying 2 nights so it was OK.  Next time I would pay slightly more (if needed) to be closer to the beach but the guest house was ok.


Long Beach, Phu Quoc – The Lounge ***.  After the host went crazy after a night of boozing, apparently hitting his girlfriend, I can’t recommend this place to anyone unless the Frenchman is gone.  The girlfriend and her mother were very nice but the bungalow was nothing special.  We paid $15 for a bungalow with fan and hot shower, which is an OK deal I guess (minus the crazy host).

Dalat – 171 Hotel ***.  Finding the Dreams hotel below full for the night we headed up the street to 171 Hotel, which had the only free room in the street.  We got a room that could have fitted four and paid $25 so the deal was not too bad except that we were only two.  The hotel was ok and the room was nice.  The only problem were some noisy teenagers staying there, screaming in the night and doing teenage stuff.  Conclusion, ok if Dreams I and Drams II are full.

Dalat – Dreams Hotel *****. Easily the best hotel so far.  The staff was extra helpful, the breakfast was absolutely wonderful, the room was very clean and cozy and the location perfect.  We had a  double room with a hot shower (no fan nor A/C needed in Dalat) and the wonderful breakfast included for $20.  This is THE place to stay in Dalat and we would come to Dalat again just to stay at the Dreams if for nothing else.

Nha Trang – Pho Bien Hotel ***.  Recommended by Lonely Planed.  Nice and clean hotel very close to the beach and the main tourist area with the restaurants and bars.  The room was clean and spacious with hot shower and A/C for $12 for the night.  A very good value and we would surely stay there again.

Hoi An – Huy Hoang II ***. This was an OK hotel.  The location is perfect, right by the market in the Old Town and that is its main attraction.  The service was nothing special and the room was ok – relatively clean, double bed with a fan for $12.  If you want budget accommodation with the perfect location, this is the place.  We would probably stay here again.

Hue – Phu An Hotel ****. The bus from Hoi An stopped right out side so we decided to give it a try after figuring out where exactly we were and the location ended up being excellent, quite close to the citadel and the emperor’s palace. The hotel is new with all new rooms. We got a double A/C room for $12 and were very happy.  As I said, the room was new, cozy and super clean.  A very good place to stay if in Hue.

Halong Bay – Boat & Holiday View Hotel on Cat Ba Island ****. Both the boat and htel were excellent. Very cozy and a lot of space. Since both were a part of a package I don’t really know the price.

Hanoi – Hanoi Guesthouse ***. A small guest-house near the East Gate of the Old Quarters. The room was relatively clean, had A/C and hot shower and was only $10 with breakfast. The main asset of this guest-house is the super helpful staff that is ready to help you with anything.


Luang Prabang – Sokdee Guest House ***.  We looked around in the middle of town and found an OK room with hot shower, relatively clean and included WiFi in the room for 120,000 Kip, which we negotiated down to 100,000 Kip – the standard rate for the location.  The room was quite simple but had a nice garden with chairs and tables so we took it.  We would probably stay there again but they have a lot of similar ones in the neighbourhood.

Vang Vieng – Somphathiai Guest House ***.  It was the first guest house we looked at and the room was big and clean with a hot shower for 60,000 Kip so we just took it.  Not the coziest or anything but fine to sleep in and was right down town.  We would surly go there again if in town for a couple of days.

Vientiane – Phonepaseuth Guesthouse *.  For 100,000 Kip a night it surely wasn’t worth it.  The room was small and windowless and the sheets were dirty – but free WiFi was a plus.  We didn’t want to look further for one night though.  When we went to sleep we discovered that the room had bed bugs and we weren’t too happy.  Ended up paying 50,000 Kip but still, that is too much for a room with bed bugs.  The first stay away warning!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong – Causway Bay – Marlboro Hostel **.  We had our eyes on a different hostel in the same street but couldn’t find it.  We were lucky that an old lady saw us and directed us to this one.  At the reception we were told that the price was 370 HKD which was more than we wanted to pay.  We checked out the room anyway and it wasn’t anything special.  The room was very small but reasonably clean.  We managed to haggle the price down to 300 HKD, which I guess it an OK price in this area.  Even though the location was great I doubt that we would stay there again.


Beijing – Beijing Forbidden City Hostel ***.  We found this hostel on  Location was perfect for us, close to the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square.  The rooms were windowless but clean and nice.  The hostel has a restaurant and a service desk that sells train and tour tickets.  We had a double room for 160 Yuan.  If we will stay in the same district when we return to Beijing we’ll stay at the Forbidden City Hostel again for sure.

Shanghai – Le Tour Traveler’s Rest Youth Hostel ****.  A really nice hostel with a great location close to Nanjing Road and Jing’an temple subway station.  The rooms were very nice and clean and the common area were very nice.  Helpful staff that speaks good English.  We had a double room for 210 Yuan, which is OK for the expensive Shanghai.  When we return, we’d love to stay there again.

Hongzhou – 4 Eyes Backpackers Youth Hostel ***.  The rooms were nice and clean but the hostel was a bit run down.  The location is very good if you want to bike or walk to the west lake but a bit away from the main city centre.  We paid 170 Yuan for a double room.  Even though it was not that bad, I’m not sure we would stay there again.

Nanjing – Jin’s Inn ***.

From one island to the next

25 01 2010

It was with great regret that we left The Island View Cabana at Ao Mae Haad. Not only were we saying good-bye to a great beach town and a great resort with very entertaining Burmese waiters, we were leaving the wonderful Ko Phangan and saying good-bye to our Canadian friends, Isabelle and Kyle. We hope though that we will see them again in a couple of days in Krabi, before they head down to Malaysia.

With Isabelle and Kyle from Canada

With Isabelle and Kyle from Canada

We on the other hand took the ferry to Ko Samui, the biggest island of the three we have visited and most westernized. On Ko Samui you will find an international airport, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut and a lot of fancy resorts for package travelers. It had worked so well for us on Ko Phangan to go against the stream that we headed away from the main beaches on the east coast and took a taxi towards the west coast. This time we weren’t as lucky as before and didn’t find the town we ended in too exciting. We therefore took another taxi to the east coast and ended in the town where the main port is located.

...we're on the road again...

...we're on the road again...

Yesterday we managed to try three of the five types of taxis that we have seen here in Thailand. First we took the “regular” taxi to the port in Ko Phangan. The regular taxi is a pickup truck where the passengers go in the back with the luggage. If you are lucky there are benches on both sides and some sort of a roof, other times it is just the naked back side of the pickup (what ever that is called :). From the port in Ko Samui we got a party van with a huge stereo, disco lights and an mp3 player and to the port town we got a motor taxi, which is just a scooter and a driver (we needed two sets ;). The driver managed to put the bag between his legs and we jumped on in the back. The other two types that we haven’t tried yet are the normal yellow taxi and a tuk tuk, which is a motorbike with three wheels and has a bench for two in the back.

The night market

The night market

Last night we went to the food market down by the peer. The market consists of maybe 40 booths, each selling its own specialty. To name a few of the dishes the booths were offering they had:

  • Fried chicken either whole with the head and everything or single pieces (definitely something for you Deepak and Bob)
  • Grilled chicken and duck on a spear with the hearts, liver or feet available on a spear as well
  • Fried noodles with pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, crab or fish
  • Grilled squid or white fish of all sorts
  • Sausages or hot dogs made of pork, chicken or tofu
  • Some kind of meat balls made all sorts of ingredients
  • All kinds of different curries with rice or noodles (red, green, masman, etc.)
  • Dumplings with curry, fish or meets
  • All sorts of juices and shakes
  • Crepes with bananas or chocolate
  • Jelly and cakes and rice boiled in syrup and sesame essence
Fried chicken

Fried chicken

Different types of curries

Different types of curries

Jelly and other desserts

Jelly and other desserts

Coconu custard

...and our favorite - Coconu custard

…and a lot of other stuff that we didn’t really recognize. We finally settled on a box of fried chicken, a couple of spears of grilled chicken and meat balls and for desert we had the rice boiled in syrup and sesame and some sort of fried coconut pudding. Everything except the meat balls was absolutely fantastic and ended up costing us 120 baht with water or less than $4 all in all. We are planning to go again before we leave and hopefully we will be even more adventurous.

The meatballs waren't so nice :)

Everything except the meatballs was very nice :)

You need rest

You need some rest when you are full :)

ps. can someone update me on the Tiger Woods story ???  Are they back togeather?  Is he dating someone else?  Did she break is jaw with the 9-iron? Is she dating Björn from Abba? Is he a ladyboy (well he is half Thai)?