We are luxuriating at a serene beach on Phu Quoc Island for a few days before making our way back towards Thailand for AJWS orientation. Our original plan for the trip back north was:
… a boat from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia, and then another boat up the Mekong into Cambodia. Stop in Phnom Penh and potentially Battambang.
This was, of course, before we had done much research related to boats up the Mekong. After doing some reading, it turns out it takes almost a full day to even reach the Mekong. We decided that a shorter boat ride from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien and then a few days in Kampot, Cambodia would be much more pleasant. We spent some time scouring the Lonely Planet and various web forums today for information on boats, Cambodian visas, border crossing process, and overland transport to Kampot. After sketching out how we might orchestrate the border crossing, we took a stroll out to the main road from the beach and saw this:
Easy transport options from Phu Quoc to various destinations in Cambodia
So we’ll probably just scrap all of those plans and book transport from here to Kampot with John for ~$30/person on Monday.
Of course, none of this research would be necessary if there were a boat from here to Kampot. Apparently such boats actually exist, but Gerard at Mai House warned us to steer clear of these as they are highly illegal and usually unsuccessful at making the crossing (but they do successfully take your money). As a result, what should be a 45 minute trip will be a six hour multi-transport adventure, thanks to international borders and historic territorial disputes.
Kenny pointing out the absurdity of our six hour border crossing trip to a destination only 30km away
After our two nights in Kampot, we’ll have two more in Phnom Penh and then we fly to Chiang Mai via Bangkok.
I can’t take any credit for the title, that one’s all Matt… but he’s clearly not the only one to come up with this joke. As seen in the Lao Airlines magazine:
What happens in Vientiane, stays in Vientiane
We are in the Luang Prabang airport, waiting to board our flight for Hanoi. Our current plan for the remaining weeks of our pre-volunteering holiday:
- Two to four days in the Hanoi area, which will probably include some time in Ninh Binh and/or the national park nearby. We’ll skip Halong Bay because we’ve been there, and Sapa because it’s apparently quite cold there right now.
- A few days in Nha Trang, because nine days in the Thai islands just wasn’t enough beach time.
- A few days on Phu Quoc island for the same reason.
- About two days in the Mekong Delta area as we make our way towards Cambodia (this may involve a night in Can Tho and another in Chau Doc, but we need to do more research).
- One day in Phnom Penh before we fly to Chiang Mai to start orientation.
We’ve had nine glorious nights on the beach here on the Andaman Sea (first Phuket, and now Ko Lanta). Now that we are tan again, we are ready to go see some temples. We have a full travel day ahead of us tomorrow: mini-bus (including two ferries) from Ko Lanta to Krabi airport, short flight to Bangkok, slightly longer flight to Vientiane, Laos.
We don’t know how long we’ll be spending in Laos and we don’t have a guidebook yet (unless you count the really bad one that we downloaded the other day). But we have booked two nights in Vientiane and three in Luang Prabang, although based on everything I’ve heard I expect that we’ll extend our stay in the Luang Prabang area for a few more nights.
The last 2.5 weeks in the US have been fabulous – we made the rounds to visit all of our family in Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, and now New Orleans. We got to meet our adorable new nephew Jadon and attend Rob and Jenna’s fabulous Miami Beach wedding.
On Friday, we head back to Los Angeles for one night, and then out to Bangkok (via Taipei) on Saturday morning. We have 5 weeks to travel around Southeast Asia before our AJWS orientation on February 14. We are thinking of something like this for our itinerary:
- Get out of Bangkok as soon as possible and head to the beach. Last time we were in Thailand, we visited Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Samui. This time, we may try Railay, Ko Phangan (but no Full Moon Parties for us), and/or Ko Tao.
- Make our way north through Chiang Mai, potentially stopping for a cooking class and to see some of the temples that we missed on our last visit.
- Stop in Chiang Rai and/or other interesting towns in northern Thailand.
- Make our way, either over land or by boat, to Luang Prabang, Laos. The boat option sounds interesting, but from the reports I’ve been able to find, may not be particularly safe or pleasant (supposedly the boats sometimes sink). As a fallback option, we could always fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang.
- After some time in Laos (trekking? visiting temples? I don’t have a Laos guidebook yet…), head into Vietnam. Unfortunately I think a long bus ride is unavoidable for this part of the journey.
- Consider trekking in Sa Pa or other northern Vietnam activity out of Hanoi. We’ve already been to Halong Bay, but I’d consider going again if the weather is really nice (it was cold and foggy last time).
- Spend a few days in Nha Trang, one of my favorite beaches in the world. I need to remind myself whether or not Nha Trang is more beautiful than Mandrem, in Goa.
- Fly to Phu Quoc Island, off the southern coast of Vietnam. More beach time.
- Depending on time remaining, consider taking a boat from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia, and then another boat up the Mekong into Cambodia. Stop in Phnom Penh and potentially Battambang.
- Plan to arrive back in Chiang Mai for AJWS orientation by February 13. We don’t want to arrive much earlier, because our 60 day visa + 30 day extension will just barely get us to our US return flight on May 12.
- After orientation we’ll head to a small town near the western border, where we’ll be based for 11 weeks doing volunteer work.
If you’re still reading, and you’ve been to any of these places, we’d certainly love tips!
I was pointed to a list of useful travel gadgets, which is primarily interesting for the comment stream. In particular, I thought this was an inventive way of storing some extra cash or passports:
It’s not exactly a gadget, but whenever I trek-travel, I wear a low-profile sports kneepad: cut a slit at the top, remove the foam insert, and what’s left is a pouch that’s just the right size to hold my passport, immunization docs, a list of emergency contacts and emergency cash. Check out the Tachikara TK-2000 Volleyball Knee Pads ($17.99) or the Wilson Flex Senior ($12.99), both avail on Amazon
We are still working out the details, but here are our current ideas for the fall:
- 1 week in Shanghai – this is a work trip for Kenny. He’ll be in the office during business hours, and we think we’ll have social engagements with his co-workers in the evenings. I’m just going along for the ride. I’ll probably do some sightseeing on my own, and may spend some of my free time trying to flesh out some details for the fall (like finding places to stay).
- ~2 weeks in Nepal (with a 3-day layover in Delhi) – this is our “vacation” – since we haven’t taken one since December, and we’re both currently wound up like tops, we thought it would be nice to take some time without any responsibilities to do some trekking and unwinding. And we’ve heard that Nepal is a really beautiful place to do this.
- ~2 months in India – we expect to spend most of this time volunteering (probably in Bangalore with our friend Sean, but this isn’t set in stone yet). On the weekends, we may make some short trips to other cities in the south – we definitely want to visit my former boss Vivek in Hyderabad. We’ll probably spend the final week or two touring in the north.
- ~2 weeks in the US – we’ll be back in the US late December-early January, starting in Seattle, then a few days in Los Angeles followed by a few days in Miami.
After that, we’ll head out to the next destination. We think this will be somewhere in Africa, and we have various feelers out for NGO work in a few different countries. Some of those feelers may actually materialize as volunteer opportunities in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, even back in India), so we’re keeping open minds.
I haven’t written here in quite some time because our lives have been crazy and completely disorganized as we try to sell our condo and figure out where the heck we’re going this year. But we’ve made quite a few developments:
- We’ve officially arranged for time off with our employer. Kenny is “out” to everyone at work, but I’ve only started telling my co-workers.
- We have dates worked out – our last day in the office is September 18.
- We have plane tickets for the first leg of our journey – which is actually a work trip for Kenny – a week in Shanghai, flying out on September 19.
- We have some rough ideas of what we might do this fall – more about this later, but we’ll most likely be in Nepal for a couple of weeks followed by India for a couple of months.
- We are contacting NGOs and filling out applications for opportunities in Africa starting in January. We have nothing solid worked out at this point.