A day on Railay Beach

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Railay Beach was one of the main reasons we decided to go to Krabi, so we rented a long tail boat for a day trip to the beach.

We opted for just a day trip rather than an overnight to save on money (both accommodations and food) and so we could explore the rest of Krabi. It was a decision we didn’t regret! We drove our motorbike 15 minutes from Krabi to Ao Nang beach (amazing ride!) to catch a long tail boat for 100 baht ($3 USD) each way. The boat leaves whenever it has enough people, which for us took less than five minutes.

It’s worth mentioning that the beach town of Ao Nang is worth checking out, even as a place to stay. Packed with beach stores, food options, and a good beach vacation vibe, we really wished we had known it was such a happening place. Compared to the somewhat underwhelming town of Krabi, it may have been a better home base for this leg of the trip.

The long tail boat ride was about 15 minutes and the ride itself was gorgeous. Sailing past all the rocks and peaks coming out of the water and getting to see the beach up ahead was truly breathtaking. Our anticipation to get to the beach grew and grew the closer we got.

Once we arrived, we didn’t set out our towels to relax just yet. There are many different beaches on Railay, all within walking distance, so we wanted to pick our favourite. We walked from Railay West to Railay East and then to Ao Pranang. On Ao Pranang, there are some really cool rock climbing setups and you can check out the Pranang Cave. Overall, Pranang beach was our favourite place to sunbathe.

The beaches didn’t get too busy while we were there and the water was perfect. We explored the island, met some monkeys, checked out the caves, and grabbed an incredible chicken shwarma from an expat who owns a little shack. It was the perfect day trip to take in another beautiful Thai beach.

With that, we figured only pictures could do the rest justice. Enjoy!

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The Buffalo Run part 1: Monkeys, caves, and rowboats

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We stumbled upon a group tour called The Buffalo Run, a 7 day haul from Hanoi to Hoi An, and decided it would be a good idea to let someone else do the planning for a change. We did a TON over the 7 days, so we’re going to have to split this post up into two episodes!

Oh, and we also uploaded a whole bunch of pictures from Vietnam to our Flickr, so you can check them out here.

Day one

We got up a bit too early and headed to Hanoi Backpackers Hostel for pickup at 6 AM, excited to meet the other people on our tour. We were greeted by Tom, our tour guide, another Tom from the UK, and a Scottish couple, Ryan and Amanda, before hopping into the van.

IMG_20141031_105403The first stop was Cuc Phuong National Park, where we got to see a bunch of endangered monkeys at the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, and turtles at the Turtle Conservation Program. It was feeding time at the centre, so the primates were flying around their cages, stoked on life. Little baby gibbons played with their families and the langurs groomed their friends.

The centre has over 150 primates, which they breed and try to reintegrate into the wild. For some critically endangered species, they don’t reintegrate them as their numbers are so drastically low. Of the critically endangered species, they have the grey-shanked douc langur, Delacour’s langur, Cat Ba langur, as well as the “Endangered” Hatinh langur, black langur and Laos langur. It was really sad to see some beautiful species which were so close to extinction.

After we had lunch we biked an extremely hot 20km, stopping to see the cave of the prehistoric man. This guy’s remains were found and his bones are dated at roughly 7,000+ years old. Truth be told, the cave he was settled in would have made an incredible home.

In Cuc Phyong, there were bugs everywhere – in our room, on the paths, at the dinner area, and in the bathrooms. I suppose it was to be expected, since we were in the middle of the jungle, but it’s definitely not ideal for a person who hates being outdoors. Luke got two nice big kisses from leeches on his foot, leaving quite the murder scene in our room. We made the best of this wilderness insanity, however, by doing a midnight safari into the jungle. With our flashlights and headlamps, we tried to see how much disgusting insect and animal life we could stumble upon. Due to the season, it was mainly stick bugs, massive spiders and assorted oversized crawlers.

Day two

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Up nice and early, we started with breakfast and a trek around the park to see the 1,000 year old tree. It’s important to note that it’s been the 1,000 year old tree for years, so we’re not sure how accurate its name is anymore. The tree was somewhat anticlimactic, but the scenery leading up to it was well worth the hike.

Once we were dripping in sweat once again, we hopped back into the van PANO_20141101_095936to head to Trang An in Ninh Binh. Here, we took a beautiful row boat up a clear river, through caves and between mountains (see top photo). A journey lasting almost three hours, this one local woman rowed the entire time, sometimes switching things up by rowing with her feet! Quite impressive. Navigating through dark caves where we had to bend right down to get through, it was a really gorgeous (and sometimes scary!) boat ride. Some of the best views on this tour were, not surprisingly, adorned with picturesque temples. All in all, it made for a very relaxing and beautiful journey with tons of photo ops.

Not long after that, we were off again for a 10 hour overnight bus to Phong Nha National Park. I wasn’t mentally prepared for such a long bus journey, but it was fairly manageable. You get seats that recline almost entirely down, with places for your feet, plus pillows and blankets. Luke, unfortunately being 6’3″ and size 14 feet, couldn’t really fit… but of course, he still slept like a baby.

Day three

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Up nice and early once again, we were off to Paradise Cave. The cave is 31 km long and can reach up to 100m high and 150 wide at some points. While we were only allowed to enter one of the chambers (not the record setting areas), what we got to see was breathtaking. In Luke’s words, it seemed like we were in the dwarven cities you see in Lord of the Rings. Standing inside something so big, damp, and cold was surreal. The colourful rock formations grew up from the floor like creepy alien spires. We took pictures, but they didn’t do justice to what we saw.

After that, we went for another lunch by a clear, fresh river, which rumour has it originates all the way from Laos. Probably the coldest water we’ve felt, but it was a perfect aqua blue and a nice refresher on a hot day.

Vang Vieng’s Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham Cave

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Luke gearing up for a flip in the Blue Lagoon.

Coming to Laos, the one thing we were most excited for was finding the tranquil blue lagoons pictured by so many travellers before us. When we planned our trip, we didn’t even know where they were. Upon arriving in Vang Vieng, we discovered that it was home to the simply named Blue Lagoon.

The road to the Blue Lagoon is bumpy, so we were told by some friends that either riding a bicycle or taking a tuk tuk ride was the best way to go. It’s hot enough in Laos to fry an egg on your back — I swear — so we opted for the tuk tuk. Tuk tuks were charging 150,000 ($21 CAD) kip for the trip, since they take you all the way there and wait as long as you want before taking you home. We rounded up a total of 6 friends, and haggled it down to only 20,000 kip ($3) each.

To say the ride was bumpy is the understatement of the year. It was a knock your head on the roof, feel your organs slosh together, be thankful you’re still alive at the end kinda bumpy. The ride even includes a “are we going to make it through this?” puddle partway through. Just don’t eat lunch before you go, or you may need to eat again once you get there.

Once there, it took a few minutes for the beauty of the lagoon to set in.

This. Place. Was. GORGEOUS.

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Me and Jane, enjoying the day.

The water was a thick aqua blue that I’ve never seen in my life. There were these shiny fish swimming in such a way as to make the water look magical. There was a perfectly placed tree with rope swings, ladders, and a high and low branch perfect for diving. There were places to lounge, tubes to float in, and venders selling food.

People were doing backflips, front flips, and dives off the tallest branch. There were people (like me), scared out of their minds to jump, but were encouraged by everyone with clapping, countdowns, and cheers. With some encouragement, I got over my fear of jumping and made it off the lower branch twice. Luke, on the other hand, was jumping and flipping all day off the highest branch.

Tham Phu Kham cave

Another great part about the Blue Lagoon was that you could trek about 10 minutes (200m up) to the Tham Phu Kham cave. Definitely bring some good hiking sandals for this part, since the walk up was pretty steep and rocky. There were some bamboo railings to help, but it can be a bit nerve-wracking at times.

At the cave, we needed our phones’ flashlights to see. If you have head lanterns or more powerful flashlights, try and remember them! You’ll need your hands to brace yourself against rocks as you go. Slowly but surely, we made our way down into the cave on some slippery rocks. Once deep inside, the depth and height of the cave left us speechless.

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The air was damp but fresh, and there was a bronze reclining Buddha fittingly basking in the sunlight that shone through an opening. I stopped and let Luke carry on further inside of the cave. He said that as he went through some more tunnels, he popped up into another chamber about the size of a small stadium. The size of these caverns made us realize how small and fragile we really are compared to nature. And on a side-note, it also made Luke want to go camping inside a cave system some day.

We uploaded a whole bunch of pictures on our Flickr, so make sure to check them out here.