Four months on the road

The map above shows the different places we have stopped along the road. Use the – & + signs to zoom in and out or just click view larger map to see the complete map with descriptions. Click in a blue point for a detailed description and related blog posts.

In Ventiane this woman gardner is avoiding a suntan

In Ventiane this woman gardner is avoiding a suntan

We have thrown in a few pictures from Laos and Cambodia that don’t really relate to anything. Someday when we return to “normal life” we will really miss all of these odd things that are part of our everyday here.

A woman at the floating market in Thailand - she is cool!

A woman at the floating market in Thailand – she is totally rad man!

We have been on the road for four months now. We thought it might be fun to share a few tips from two middle-aged people who have been traveling for a while.

Almost Starbucks in Bangkok

Almost Starbucks in Bangkok

  • A Frenchman never goes anywhere without his knife.
  • As we were packing for our trip to Asia many months ago Michel gave me the gift of a small folding knife. I was surprised at the time as I could not imagine what I would do with it.
    Michel and I both carry our knives with us everywhere we go. My knife has proven to be indispensable. Restaurants in SEAsia provide chopsticks, a fork, and a spoon; no knife. There is a lovely sandwich that can be eaten all over SEAsia. It is convenient to cut the sandwich into smaller pieces. Also, cutting your fruit, meat, and string into smaller pieces.
    Just remember to put the knife in your checked bag before you board your plane.

  • Getting over your fear of water taps
  • Like many tourists I have met on the road, I too was convinced that if I brushed my teeth using anything but bottled water in a foreign country I might get sick. However, Michel and I have brushed our teeth using tap water in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia without issue.

    Calling Buddah in Luang Prabang

    Calling Buddah in Luang Prabang

  • In Laos it is okay to drink the water
  • The Laos people have poisoned their own rivers. I was told the gold miners in the north have used mercury while slushing for gold.
    This might be the reason all Laotians drink bottled water. Even the poorest locals and people in the local market will serve you filtered water from the bottle delivered by the local water company rather than water from the tap, local river, or stream. Typically there are glasses and a pitcher waiting for you when you sit down.
    I have mostly drunk water from bottles in Cambodia, although in good restaurants they serve a glass of filtered water.

  • Let serendipity be your guide
  • Don’t book your hotel in advance. At least half the time that I book a hotel in advance (which is almost never anymore) I book a hotel that costs more then it should. Most of the time they are not located near where I want to be either. It is better to just get off the bus and find the place you like. Notable exceptions to this rule: First night in a big city; it’s better to be able to tell the tuktuk driver where you want to go. During Christmas and New Years; even in high season we have never had an issue finding a hotel right off the bus except in Don Khone during Christmas week.

  • Don’t trust your travel agent, just go to the bus station
  • In Cambodia we were dropped off outside of Strung Treng in what looked like the middle of nowhere. We were approached by a young man who said there were no big buses from Stung Treng to Phnom Penh. He sold us 3 seats in a minivan for $50 dollars leaving the next day. An outrageous sum for any bus ride in Laos but we had just arrived in Cambodia and were confused by the remoteness of our bus stop. After we got into town we discovered a single seat in the minivan buses at the bus station costs 11$ so obviously we were overcharged. We confronted him and did get some of our money back.

  • You can eat anything in the market
  • Really, you can eat anything in the local markets. And most of the time you will be really surprised by how good everything tastes. After all, this is the food the local people eat every day. They like to eat food that tastes good too. If you are worried about the meat sitting out next to the cooking area it’s okay, the locals really understand the art of partially cooking their meat. This allows the meat to sit for a longer time without going bad. Michel and I have had some of our most pleasant eating experiences right there sitting on those plastic seats. Also, most of the local people really appreciate being able to introduce you to their food.

  • Your fear of mosquitoes is justified
  • Fortunately we are in the dry season right now. Michel and I have encountered very few mosquitoes. I have met at least 5 people in Laos that have caught Dengue Fever which can be anywhere from mild to life threatening. We have also met a few people suffering from Malaria. Unfortunately there is no vaccine yet for Dengue Fever although I heard they are working on it.

  • You can fit 20 people in a minivan
  • “Taxis” or local buses in Cambodia are minivans that move local people between towns. 11$ (Stung Treng to Phnom Penh) buys you a seat on the same row as 4 other people. Not really sitting but leaning against the window partly on your neighbors lap is considered a good seat. Also, sitting on the floor between the driver and the first row of seats is also a valid seat. Drivers drive at speeds ranging between almost out of control fast to comfortable but bumpy. Roads range from non-existent to at least paved.

    Dreaming away at the local market

    Dreaming away at the local market

  • Bring your own toilet paper
  • If toilet paper is important to you bring your own. In some toilets there is a little hose with a small sprayer for cleaning your nether parts. Air drying is the best way to continue from here (thank you M). Some public toilets will sell you toilet paper on the way in.

  • Get ready to get up early – we love Mosques and Wats
  • Most people in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia go to bed early and get up early. The Mosques begin to sing their prayers and the Wats pound their large drums well before daybreak. I love these sounds now and wake up to them with a smile on my face when they are nearby.

    Chickens on a motobike

    Chickens on a motobike – not appetizing

  • Carry your sarong in case you need to pee
  • Most local women in Laos carry a Sarong which serves many purposes. You can cover yourself when you bath outside in the river. You can wrap it around yourself when you squat down to pee at the side of the road. Much better than scrambling for that illusive bush when the 8 hour bus stops in the middle of nowhere.

  • Your sheet and your extension cord are your best friends
  • There are almost never sheets provided at the hotels. There is a cover but it is heavier then a sheet. I love the sheet I brought with me from Florida. It has saved me many nights from dirt and insured my comfort. The multi-plug extension cord that we bought in Tha Bo has saved us many times in our hotel rooms. Sometimes there is only one outlet in the room and we are still able to charge phones and computers.

    A contradiction to say the least

    Painted Bomb – A contradiction to say the least

  • Don’t fall into the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor trap
  • If you are using Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor to plan what hotels to stay in and where to eat then you’re missing it man, you’re missing it. Okay, we do have a Lonely Planet for Thailand and Laos and I do write reviews for Trip Advisor. But we try to use either source as a base line to get descriptions of places. The hotel right next door or down the street from the one in Lonely Planet is going to be cheaper and provide better service. The food reviews in Trip Advisor are written by people who prefer burgers and pizza. Some of the most amazing places we have been to on this trip are barely existent in Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor. One caveat; The getting there and away sections have really helped me out from time to time.

    Golden Buddah's must be manufactured too - Savannakhet

    Golden Buddah’s must be manufactured too – Savannakhet

  • But seriously folks, our insights are just for fun.
  • We recommend that you follow your own instincts. Following our dreams is really as wonderful as we ever imagined. There are surprises around every corner and adventure around every bend. What more can anyone ask for? After four months on the road we are loving today, looking forward to tomorrow, and all the days after that.

    Claire waiting for Michel to come to bed on our overnight bus ride

    Claire waiting for Michel to come to bed on our overnight bus ride

    Categories: Cambodia Travel, Laos travel, Thailand Travel

    Tags: , , , , ,

    10 replies

    1. Hey! there Free Birds, I really got a kick out of reading your tips,couldn’t be more true, it’s exactly the way I go about travelling and it’s the way for most seasoned travellers. But you’ll always have tourists who prefer to have a “safety net” and follow the guide books, reserve the whole trip in advance (let alone a few nights) and only eat in restaurants designed for Westerner.
      Your stories and Michel’s pix give me itchy feet.
      Savour each moment, XOXO Bri

    2. C est exactement ça ! Suivre son instinct et ne pas craindre de tomber malade même si l eau dans la carafe a une couleur jaunâtre !! 😉
      Je retrouve aussi les souvenirs que j ai vécu, et mon aventure continu pour ma part bientôt au myannar, encore un autre périple a découvrir et à se familiariser ..
      Grosse bise à tous deux,
      Miss you

    3. Incredible. Wonderful.

    4. Great post Claire! Love the random photos. Nice to see your travels on a map too, you guys have really covered some ground! Keep smiling.


    5. Hi Claire, Catching up on your last two posts! Loved the pictures and tips. Glad you are having such a good time. So many interesting things to see! How exciting that you are doing reviews for trip adviser. Stay well! Our health is really such an important gift…. something we cannot fully appreciate until we begin to loose it!
      Have fun and give my love to Michel.
      Love you,

    6. Claire,
      I am so happy that y’all are having such a great time. Trust me, there is major jealousy on this end. Keep posting.

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