In the frenzy of packing and getting prepared for my trip, I didn’t get the chance to blog as much as I would have liked about my proposed itinerary for my next 10 weeks in Southeast Asia. When I plan a trip, I usually try to opt for planned spontaneity rather than a strict itinerary. This means that I research a ton of options in each place I hope to go, and then can pick what to do when I feel like it once I’m already in each place. Southeast Asia makes it particularly easy to do this, with its low cost travel options and guesthouses. Now that I have a spare minute in my volunteer placement’s guest house in Chiang Mai, I can let you know what I’ve got planned, loosely, for the next 10 weeks:
Chiang Mai, Thailand
In Chiang Mai I will be volunteering for an organization called Art Relief International, which is under the umbrella organization Cultural Canvas Thailand. I knew that I wanted to do something related to art, wanted to travel, and wanted to start off my trip with a program to help get acclimated to a totally new way of living, and this perfectly fit the bill. While I’ve been here, for a whopping 30 hours, I’ve gotten settled in the very nice volunteer home with an international bevy of girls. My volunteer orientation is tomorrow and then I’ll begin the actual work Tuesday! If I get a chance to take a day or weekend trip to hippie town Pai, I’d love to, but there is so much of Chiang Mai to see and enjoy that I may not get a chance! I’m also planning on going to play with Elephants at the ethical Elephant Nature Park, which cares for abused elephants.
Chiang Rai, ThailandThe main appeals of Chiang Rai to me are the Black and White temples there, and that the location is en route to Laos. After my program I’d love to go spend a night there on my way to Huay Xai, the Laos border town, and explore what Chiang Rai has to offer for a day or so. The photos are magnificent.
Huay Xai, Laos
This is the border town between Thailand and Laos, on the Laos side. This is also where you can catch a two day slow boat to Luang Prabang, a much more popular tourist destination. I would like to stay in Huay Xai while passing through so that I can get to see how Lao people really live. There is a great volunteer placement opportunity where I could spend a week working on women’s empowerment projects and other things at the Daauw Home as part of Project Kajsiab, a fantastic local NGO. I’m not sure if I will end up going to Laos after my volunteer placement in Chiang Mai is over, but if I do and if I have the energy, I would love to volunteer there for a week. I think it would be a great contrast to the program in Chiang Mai and a great way to get to understand real Laos beyond the tourist attractions.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Whether or not I wind up volunteering in Huay Xai or taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang from there, I definitely hope to check out Luang Prabang with its french colonial architecture and most importantly to me, the Ock Pop Tok weaving and natural dying workshops. If I am in Laos at the right time, there is also an elephant festival that sounds incredible somewhere in northern Laos. I’m also curious about river tubing in Vang Vieng and seeing the chilled out capital city of Vientiane, but they aren’t must-sees for me, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stomach the bus ride. Plus, there aren’t any direct flights from Vientiane to Siem Reap – my next destination
Siem Reap, CambodiaSiem Reap is the base from which to explore the fantastic and renowned Angkor Wat! There is a complex of several enormous and stunning palaces at this world heritage site that I am very excited to see and maybe sketch if I feel so inspired. There are also interesting things to do and see in the town itself including the Artisans of Angkor with an excursion to a silk farm. Perhaps most exciting of all, I signed up for a 5 day yoga retreat near Siem Reap where I will be able to cleanse and relax midway through my travels and hopefully do some art as well.The Hariharalaya retreat is top-rated on trip advisor with amazing reviews. It is the only thing other than Chiang Mai volunteering that I have booked and paid for in advance.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Since I am visiting Cambodia, I feel that it is my duty to learn about the atrocities that took place there in fairly recent living memory. I know very little about the genocide of the 70s and I am planning on going to the killing fields and learning as much as I can about Cambodian recent history and its impact on today. There are also some art workshops I’d like to see and I’ve heard that it is a very interesting and chaotic city. En route to or from Phnom Penh, I’d like to check out Battambang, a small town, and Sihanoukville, a beach area, but I’m not sure what I will be up for and how much time I will have.
Obviously I can’t miss Bangkok!!! I have half a mind to skip straight to Bangkok after Chiang Mai and explore more of Thailand all in one go, particularly since I spent $80 on an unneeded 60 day visa. However, geographically, it makes the most sense to save Bangkok for the end of my trip with the easy connections to Hong Kong for my flight home. I am so eager to see the mix of old and new and to experience this city beyond memories from one of the only America’s Next Top Model episodes I’ve ever seen where they run around Bangkok and have photo shoots on elephants. From Bangkok, I will definitely go to one or some of the southern Thai islands, a tourist essential.
Hong Kong or Vietnam
If I do have time and energy at the end of my trip, I might spend a few days in either Hong Kong or Vietnam. I was planning on skipping Vietnam altogether because it’s too massive to see much of it on this trip, but then I discovered that Vietnam airlines has flights through a special deal for as low as $29 USD to and from various cities. We’ll see!!!
After all that travelling, I am sure that I’ll spend my first few days back home mostly savoring my comfy bed and actually hot shower. And then it will be time to hop on a plane to florida for my engaged friend’s “friendimoon” bachelorette party, and hopefully after that it will be time to figure out my next adventures.