A little over a month ago I set off a new adventure with a twist. I was off to South East Asia with Contiki to document life on the Mekong river for The Travel Project.
We made our start in bustling Bangkok! We spent a day exploring the city and getting to know our new travel buddies. In the evening we boarded a sleeper train to make our overnight journey to north Thailand and arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning. While in Chiang Mai we had a cooking class and learnt to make Pad Thai, sticky rice and curry.
Next stop was Chiang Rai where we saw the amazing white temple; Wat Rong Khun. We also visited some of the hill tribes in northern thailand. At first it was a little daunting but once you get talking to some of the people there you can learn a lot. Among the tribes were the Karen Long Neck tribes who have historically lived on the Myanmar side of the Thai border – however thousands have had to flee over the decades due to political unrest. The women wear heavy brass rings around their necks, arms and shins. It might seem that the Karen women have long necks but their traditional rings actually push down their shoulders and rib cage to make it seem like its longer.
After crossing the border into Laos the next couple days were spent cruising down the Mekong on our own private boat – stopping overnight in Pak Beng. About 40% of the Mekong river flows through Laos and 75% of the jobs in Laos are in agriculture – therefore people rely on the Mekong for their crops and livelihood. The scenery in Laos was captivating.
We ended our river cruise in the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site – needless to say it was completely picturesque and swimming with culture and good vibes. We set off on a bike ride around town and met an elderly man alongside the Mekong river selling Snake Whisky aka Mekong Moonshine! This snake infused alcohol is given out in shot form and is supposed to help with strength (especially men … in the bedroom). We spent the night eating great food with a fantastic view of the river and then took full advantage of the cheap spirits at the bowling alley (yep, you read that right .. bowling. A weird MUST in Luang Prabang). The next day our local Contiki guide Dua was kind enough to take us to his home & show us his beautiful butterfly farm. He usually has over 1000 butterflies in the garden farm which he sits in of a morning with his children for tea and viewing the butterflies hatch from cocoons. In the afternoon we spent a few hours swimming in the famous milky green water at the Kuang Si Waterfalls followed by an evening strolling through the night markets.
Our last morning in Luang Prabang we woke at 5am to participate in one of the most sacred Lao traditions – the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony as the sun rises. We were given rice in a small basket which is a common offering for the monks who depart from their temples to gather their daily meal from locals and travellers giving alms.
After a spiritual morning we set off in the bus to Vang Vieng! It was probably my favourite stop on the trip – (very) closely followed by Luang Prabang! Vang Vieng is a small but lively town alongside a river and surrounded by stunning mountains. You could say it was a bit of a backpackers town and I fully understand why so many people visit and never want to leave! We spent a morning kayaking along the river, exploring some caves and interacting with locals along the way. In the afternoon we made our way to a river bar to relax to the max with our contiki family and fellow travellers. We had a couple hours in the sunshine till the heavens opened and started pouring. After 10 minutes taking shelter under the little bar deck we uttered a collective ‘f*ck it’ and spent the rest of the afternoon dancing out in the rain, downing bucketed and having the time of our lives till dusk arrived and we got in our tuk tuks back to town.
Unfortunately my adventure ended in Phnon Penh, Cambodia – however I had time to visit the killing fields and learn about the heartbreaking local history which was a humbling end to an unbelievably rewarding journey.
If you’ve enjoyed reading my story and think you’d like to share one of your own I encourage you to jump over contiki.com/sixtwo and share your story and become a contributor to The Travel Project community! A massive thanks to my friends (and absolute legends) at Contiki for taking me on an adventure of a lifetime.