Thailand, Laos and Vietnam Adventure
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There are few places on Earth that still seem exotic and mysterious. Laos and Vietnam are two of those places for me. I received an invitation to visit Laos, Vietnam and Thailand and jumped at the opportunity. I've been to Thailand many times before, but always relish an opportunity to return. It would be my first time visiting Laos and Vietnam. Using Bangkok as a point of entry, I flew from Toronto to Chicago, Chicago to Japan and then on to Thailand. I decided to book a seat in Economy Plus on United Airways, another first for me. The four extra inches of room were well worth it on the long flight.
Upon arrival in Bangkok I was met by a representative of Royal Silk Holidays and taken to the St. Regis Bangkok Hotel. The St. Regis incorporates all the splendour of Bangkok and is located near the city's elite business institutions, superb restaurants and fine boutiques. The hotel is steps away from the Skytrain station that provides access to two favourite Bangkok sites – Siam Square Shopping Centre and the Chatuchak Week-end Market. Food is very reasonable and a variety of hotels offer a wide range of accommodation to match every budget.  
After such a long journey, the first order of business was a famed Thai massage, at the Oasis Spa. Feeling revitalized, I decided to brave the markets for some shopping. As a lover of all things open-air market, I relished the street upon street of goods and was surprised they weren't more crowded. It was the perfect reintroduction into Thai culture. It also made me realize how inexpensive things are in Thailand.
The following day I had another dose of Thai culture with a visit to the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddah, Wat Pho and Arts of the Kingdon Exhibit. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and enjoyed a casually elegant dinner at the hotel.
After a good night's sleep, we set out for Chaing Mai. Located in the northern part of the country, Chaing Mai is the most culturally significant and largest city in northern Thailand. Located amongst the highest mountains in the country, the city is encompassed by a water-filled moat and large walls, creating a sense of history and culture. Tourists from all over the world visit this beautiful city for its festivals, open-air markets, cooking schools and, my personal favourite, elephants.
The highlight of Chang Mai for me was painting with the elephants at Elephant Life Experience. Situated just outside of Chang Mai, Elephant Life Experience allows visitors the opportunity to interact with one of the most interesting and awe-inspiring animals on the planet. Although tame and trained, the elephants are in their natural habitat set in the beautiful and tranquil hills surrounding Chang Mai. This unique experience gave me the chance to step into the river with the elephants, spend time with their trainers (manhout) and learn about their reward-based approach to encouraging the elephants to paint. Each elephant is different and has a different style of painting. Overall, my Elephant Life Experience was wonderful and I came home with a beautiful souvenir, an elephant painting. A must for anyone lucky enough to visit northern Thailand!
The following morning I departed on Lao Airlines for my first trip to Laos. Bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Thailand to the west and Cambodia to the south, Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. With a rich political history, Laos has recently become a popular destination for tourists, specifically students taking a year off to travel.
Ground arrangements in Laos were hosted by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. I was picked up at the airport and went directly to the Villa Santi Resort and Spa. Similar to Thailand, I had dinner and some shopping at Luang Prabang's Night Market where hundreds of vendors display and sell their handmade handicrafts. I also took the opportunity to have another massage, it cost me $10 CAD and was one of the best massages I've had in all my years of travel.
The following day I did a boat trip to visit Pak Ou Cave and Whisky Village, as well as Wat Visoun, the site of the impressive That Makmo Stupa. With its beautiful rounded domes, That Makmo Stupa was originally constructed in the early 16th century and is filled with hundreds of small Buddah images made from precious metals and crystal.
If you're looking for a place to get away from it all and just relax, this is the place. Laos is laid-back, with fantastic and friendly people, great food and amazing architecture. The sense of history and the vibrancy of the country blew me away.
Next on the itinerary was a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. I wasn't sure what to expect from Vietnam, but I was nicely surprised. Vietnam was exactly as I had pictured it: rice patties with oversized straw hats to block the sun and ox carts pulling goods.
Although similar in certain ways, Laos and Vietnam are vastly different. The streets of Hanoi are an adventure. No stoplights mean you take a chance as soon as you step out on to the road. The food in Vietnam is excellent, the shopping is amazing and the people are friendly and welcoming. Vietnam offers beautiful beaches, gorgeous lakes and vast mountain scenes. I spent the first evening at Emeralda Resort and was impressed by the size of the rooms and the first-class service.  
While in Vietnam, I visited caves used as a hospital and to store ammunition during the war. I also took a daylong boat trip to visit Ha Long Bay-a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This unique bay has breathtaking views of crystal blue water and limestone pillars jutting out from the sea. The unique environment of the area created a biodiversity that includes greenery, ocean and seashore systems. Wildlife, birds and sea life are abundant here, making it a popular tourist destination.  
After a whirlwind and wonderful trip to Laos and Vietnam, it was back to Bangkok before returning home. Once back in Bangkok, at the Sukhothai Hotel, I couldn't leave without having one last massage.
Thailand is very safe, has great restaurants and five-star hotels with everything a traveller would need, including world-class golf courses. As a destination, or a stepping off point, Thailand has so much to offer. If I was to do it all again, I would do it the exact same way: start in Thailand, continue on to Laos and then end with a relaxing holiday in Vietnam.

Comments

Julie on July 18, 2014 - 20:14