A Travellerspoint blog

Lovely Luang Prabang

4 days in Luang Prabang, Laos

sunny 80 °F

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We reluctantly dragged ourselves from Thailand after a brief 8 day tease in the Northern portion of the country and headed to Laos. We boarded our small prop plane to Luang Prabang, and were rewarded with a smooth ride and lovely views descending in to the city. As soon as we arrived in this beautiful little oasis, a feeling of pure relaxation came over us.

During our trip, we’ve discovered that while we enjoy living in a big city, we prefer traveling in small cities. Luang Prabang is as charming of a small city as they come, and was one of our favorite places in all of South East Asia. Nestled in the middle of lush green mountains, Luang Prabang is quaint, quiet, and delightfully peaceful. The city is located in the north central portion of Laos, at the junction of the Nam Khan and MeKong rivers. A very special place, you get the feeling that it has been frozen in time, where streets are safe, and traditions and family are kept close. Kids play in the streets at all hours, folks have barbecues on the sidewalk, and everything is left unlocked. The old town center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s easy to see why.

A very small city, you can walk from one end of the old town to the other in maybe 30 minutes. Along the way you’ll see many Buddhist temples and monasteries, mixed in with French colonial architecture. Streets are lined with great shopping, twinkling lights, dozens of tuk tuks, and tons of hammer and sickle communist flags. Monks roam the streets in their colorful orange robes, and locals give you a friendly greeting and a smile as you pass. Every morning at dawn, hundreds of monks walk in a procession accepting alms offered by locals. The centerpiece of the old town is Wat Chom Si, which sits on very steep hill next to the royal palace.

Beyond being wondrous in and of itself, Luang Prabang is surrounded by abundant natural beauty including waterfalls, caves, and farmland. On top of this, the food is delicious and the old town has lots of places to relax. Paradise.

Luang Prabang has inevitably become a very popular tourist destination. This makes everything a bit more expensive, but it was worth it. Everything closes down early, but for backpackers who are determined to party there is a bowling alley that is open late night. It was a bit of a juxtaposition seeing young backpackers stumbling in from the last full moon party still wanting to party all night long - it didn’t feel like the right place for that. Luckily, it was pretty isolated so it didn’t really feel like it penetrated in to the culture.

We had a wonderful hotel, and we discovered we were upgraded to a huge room (the ol’ honeymoon card really works!). The hotel faced the MeKong river, and offered free bicycles to tour the town. The first night of our visit, we wandered the streets of the city, soaking in the atmosphere and marveling at how serene everything felt. The smell of incense and barbecue fills the air, and at dusk the night market lights up the main road with colorful red and blue tents.

We spent our days exploring various sights around the area. One morning, we got up before dawn and watched the monk procession through the main street. It was a beautiful experience. The sunrise combined with the sacred tradition and the monks in their bright orange robes was such a sight to behold. We were not the only ones who got up to watch the procession - many people got right up in the monks path to take pictures - we did our best to stay out of the way and just watch, taking pictures from the other side of the street. On another day, we took a day trip to the Kuang Si waterfall outside of the town. With crystal blue water, it’s a popular place for a swim - we did get in, but boy was it cold! Another notable thing we did is a take a long boat on the MeKong river to the Pak Ou caves, which house hundreds of Buddha figures.

At night, we spent our time wandering through the night markets, going to a few places for happy hour, and dining. We got lots of sleep and reading done here, as well! We saw one spectacular sunset from Watt Chom Si, at the top of the hill at the center of the city.

Luang Prabang was the perfect cure for our ailment. That is, we were somewhat burned out on museum going, navigating big cities, and being general tourists. We were looking for a place to just “be”, and Luang Prabang proved to be the perfect solution. I really can’t say enough positive things about this place - if you ever come to South East Asia, this is a must see, and is a easy flight from Vietnam or Thailand. We left Luang Prabang feeling recharged and well rested - ready to take on Vietnam!

Around Luang Prabang:
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On the bottom right is a man night fishing with a net: large_fishing_guy.jpg
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Tyler blog writing:
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Beautiful Sunset:
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Monk Procession:
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Kuang Si Waterfalls:
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Long Boat to Pak Ou Caves:
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Posted by tylerandshawna 01:32 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Touching down in Thailand

Chiang Mai and Pai

sunny 90 °F

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I was looking forward to the South East Asia portion of our trip but it seemed to perpetually be a month away so I was particularly excited when we touched down in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For this portion of our trip, Shawna and I decided to slow the pace of our travels as both of us were feeling a little exhausted from our touring. We gave ourselves six nights in Chiang Mai and two nights in Pai, a small town a few hours drive away.

Chiang Mai is an ancient walled city in northern Thailand; a must when visiting there. The old part of the city was build 700 years ago and is surrounded on all four sides by a formidable brick wall and outer mote. The city of Chiang Mai itself is home to over 300 different wats or Buddhist temples, many of which are found within the old city. Although Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in northern Thailand, the area around the old city has experienced little vertical growth giving it the feel of a much smaller town. The old portion of the town is small enough to walk across in an hour or so.

Chiang Mai is one of the top tourist destinations in Thailand; a fact illustrated by the large number of westerners walking the streets and filling the bars; cheap and delicious restaurants abound. The locals are incredibly warm and friendly and happy to help with directions or simply join in a conversation.

Chiang Mai is a pleasure to explore on foot and, after spending three weeks on driving tours, Shawna and I had practically lost the ability to walk any significant distance. Our hotel was right outside the southern gate giving us easy access to all the city has to offer. Inside the ancient walls, traffic is minimal and streets are easy to navigate. Centuries old wats and temples are found on almost every block and an array of street food is available at every turn. One could spend four days simply wandering, eating, drinking and enjoying the sites.

We were fortunate that the sun shown on us the entire time we were there with little humidity. We selected a recently built hotel near the outskirts of the old city and were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was considering the price. There was a restaurant with decent food on site and nice pool to escape the heat.

After taking an extremely long red eye in from Sri Lanka, Shawna and I took an overdue nap at our hotel after we arrived. Once rested, we headed out to the night market which was located next to our hotel. The entire market is several blocks long and took over an hour to walk the length of. The streets are blocked off to cars and scooters and quickly fill with pedestrians. Both sides of the street are lined with food vendors, glass blowers, people selling beautiful paper lanterns and all types clothing. Local ladies sell half liter bottles of Thai beer out of plastic coolers on the sidewalk for 50 cents a piece.

With beer in hand, we strolled from food vendor to food vendor sampling all sorts of street cuisine. On the menu are all sorts of marinated kabobs, small bowls of spicy curry, piping hot spring rolls and an array of deep fried bugs and spiders which the locals munch on like snacks and the tourist dare each other to try (no, we didn’t). We grazed and shopped for a few hours until the heat and the crowds drove us to find a proper meal elsewhere. We picked the best rated restaurant we could find which happened to be a very authentic Thai restaurant called Huean Phen. This was our first Thai meal and we were quite impressed. Thai food is wonderfully spicy and hearty.

The next day, we decided to explore the old city on foot. There are many Buddhist wats inside the old city and several ruins as well. It is easy to fill a day or two walking from wat to wat. Eventually the heat sent us back to our swimming pool to cool off. We decided tonight was the night for a classier meal so we ventured to a restaurant on the river outside the east gate in an old teak house called, not surprisingly, Teak House. The house itself was teak from floor to ceiling with tables on the veranda as well as down on the front lawn. After dinner we headed up stream to a bar with live music overlooking the river. We drank Chang beer and shared desserts until late into the evening eventually making our way home via tuk tuk. A tuk tuk is a three wheeled scooter with a bench in the back used to ferry tourists around the city. They are found in most asian countries and are a convenience the west would be wise to embrace.

Unfortunately, Shawna woke with the dreaded “Chang over” and wasn’t up for exploring. I decided to head out on my own for a day of sight seeing. It was quite enjoyable to soak up the local culture, shop for $3 teeshirts and sit and sip thai coffee while watching the locals go about their daily business.

Thailand has been a tourist destination for much longer than much of South East Asia. It certainly felt more accessible than some of our other stops. It was striking how much more Thailand caters to tourists after visiting Africa and Sri Lanka. Food is tailored to western palettes, and it is very easy to get around. One hears languages spoken from many countries around the world; we encountered more Americans here than at any other point on our trip. One could make the argument that the emphasis on tourism distracts from a more authentic cultural experience but, for me, it was a welcome change. Thailand certainly had a more casual comfortable feel than many of our previous destinations.

We decided to spend a day trekking in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, about and hour and a half west of Chiang Mai. Being that we hadn’t had any real exercise in a while, we decided to do the full day hiking tour to a waterfall. This turned out to be plenty of exercise but a challenge we weren’t quite up for. By the time we were headed back down to our truck, the sun was setting and we were stumbling down the mountain, barely able to lift our legs.
We decided to spend the next two nights in Pai, a quaint little town in the mountains north of Chiang Mai dubbed “Little Switzerland”. The way there is an arduous three hour drive up a winding mountain road (762 curves in all). Luckily Shawna and I had the foresight to take some dramamine before the trip to ward off car sickness. Once in the mountains, you almost forget you are in a tropical country. Pine trees line the roads and the temperature can drop into the 50s at night.

Our first morning there, we decided to book a tour to the peak to watch the sun rise over the valley. I’ve never seen a sight quite like it. Words can hardly describe the experience. You feel as if you are sitting at the same level as the sun as it climbs over the lower peaks in the distance. Fog fills the valley below you like a viscus liquid. It looks like an artist’s painting of a fairy tale. <insert pic>

After the sun had risen we made our way back down to our hotel to make up for the sleep we had missed getting up before sunrise. After we awoke, the sun was quite intense so we opted to sit by the pool for the day and read. That evening, the whole city was celebrating the Thai king’s birthday in town. The streets were full of revelers and merchants selling food and souvenirs. Contrary to how most people celebrate their birthdays, the king actually outlaws the sale of alcohol on his special day. Luckily we found the one restaurant in town that was willing to sell beer, albeit in paper coffee cups, to people willing to risk the kings wrath. We alternated between sipping beer and watching the celebration go by and hopping from food cart to food cart sampling various spicy Thai dishes.

The next day we headed back to Chiang Mai for one last night before heading off to Laos. We decided to try our hand at Thai cooking. Our cooking class was one of the most enjoyable I can remember. We each cooked four separate dishes and each person in class we responsible for cooking the entire dish themselves. We made spicy curries, crunchy papaya salad and piping hot spring rolls amongst other things. We intend to practice our culinary skills once we return home.

Chiang Mai was certainly a highlight of the trip for me and a good introduction to Thailand. It is one of the first places I’d like to come back to on my eventual return to this wonderful country.
Night Market
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Chiang Mai
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Trekking
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This thing was a foot long. No kidding!
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Pai
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Cooking
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Posted by tylerandshawna 02:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Sri Lanka, Land of Tea and Spices

rain 80 °F

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After leaving the Maldives, we spent the next week touring Sri Lanka, a short 1.5 hour flight from the islands and 30 minute time change (wrap your brains around that one). This stop was bit of an after thought, originally intended as a quick layover on the way to Bangkok. Staying here was a great last minute decision. Sri Lanka is small country, about the size of Ireland (but with over 20 million people), off the southern coast of India. We explored a good portion of the island, and we were surprised to see the vastly changing topography as we drove through. This country has beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, and is home to 8 Unesco World Heritage sites. On top of this, the country is teeming with wildlife, has delicious food, welcoming people, and it is relatively safe. Spirituality and religious traditions are very important here, as evidenced by the many intricate temples throughout the country. About 70% of the country is Buddhist, with the remainder being mostly Hindu and Muslim. We felt lucky to come here when we did; the country has so much to offer, but is still a relatively calm tourist destination. It will not be this way for long - tourism is rapidly expanding as they just ended their devastating 30 year civil war in 2009. Since the war ended, the country is rapidly improving infrastructure, building roads, and the economy is starting to boom. Definitely visit here if you get the chance - and soon!

We started our trip in the capital of Colombo, driving up to Habarana, then to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya in the Hill country. Since it was raining and we were coming from the Maldives, we opted to skip the beach towns and go straight in to the heart of the culture. Driving through Sri Lanka was in and of itself is quite the adventure. Between every major city, there is only one route to take, usually a two lane road. This creates an intricate maze of trucks, cars, a million motorbikes, bicycles, dogs, cows, and kids running through the streets. I have only seen similar traffic in India. Our trusty driver Ranjan navigated the streets like a pro. He complained that tourists ruin the roads, because when you try to drive “following the rules”, it just doesn’t work. Drivers here have their own secret set of road rules - silly things like lanes and traffic laws are only guidelines. From what we could figure out, the bigger vehicles have precedence, and there is a hierarchy of power depending on your outfit. Big truck > small truck > car > motorcycle > bicycle > walking. The big guys just drive where they please and expect people to get out of their way. Unless you’re a cow or a dog - all traffic will stop for stray cows and dogs, which are everywhere. Yes, that’s right. There are lots of stray cows. Apparently religious organizations donate money to save cows from slaughterhouses - at which point they are let out to wander free, with a “do not kill” status that everyone must obey, unless they want a lifetime of bad karma. Additionally, some farmers let their cows out for the day to graze, and the cows know to return at dusk, and always do. So, the phrase “until the cows come home” actually means dusk here.

We spent our first night in Colombo - this is not the most exciting city, and it was raining, so we just relaxed. The next morning, it was time to start our adventure, and we headed to Habarana. En route, we stopped at the Dambulla cave temples, a series of 5 caves with hundreds of images and sculptures of the Buddha. The caves are situated on a large hillside, which affords visitors a wonderful view. It was beautiful! We then headed to our hotel in Habarana for the night. This was one of the many, many new constructions that are being built in a hurry across the country. We noticed that architectural standards are not very well monitored - many of our hotels were pretty new, and had some pretty significant oversights, such as leaks, funny floor plans, uneven stairs, and faulty lighting. We spent the following day climbing to the summit of Sigiriya, or the “Fortress in the Sky”, a World Heritage Site from the 5th Century which was once a royal palace, and more recently used as a place of worship for Buddhist monks. It is also known as Lion Rock because of the huge lion that used to stand at the entrance to the Palace on the summit of the 600-foot high rock. On the long walk up, there are many beautiful paintings on the walls, and partially restored parts of the palace. The top of the rock had simply amazing views. After we climbed down from the summit, we visited a local village, where we had lunch with a family. They made roti from scratch along with a delicious and fresh, spicy, coconut sambol. To get to the village, we took a cart pulled by a bull (the first form of transportation in Sri Lanka), then a small wooden boat across a lake. To get back to our car, we took our first tuk tuk ride of the trip. Tuk tuks, also called auto-rickshaws, are a common means of transport all over Asia - essentially three wheeled pieces of sheet metal with motorcycle engines. Intended to hold about 3 people - we have seen entire families of 8 pile in to these things! This was probably our favorite day of the trip.

The next day we left Habarana and drove to Kandy. Kandy was the former capital, which finally fell to the British in 1815, the last part of the country to be overtaken after holding their own from the British and Portuguese for 3 centuries - this is a huge source of pride for the people here. Kandy was for a long time very remote and hard to get to - I’d believe it driving through the windy roads here. It took the British 16 years to build a road connecting Colombo to Kandy. The city is beautiful, with lots of steep, green hills situated around a lake in the center of the city. The hills are speckled with very brightly colored houses, temples, and hotels. We only had one night here, but we made great use of it. We went to a cultural show, and saw some demonstrations of local dancing of the surrounding villages. We then went to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which houses the most important Buddhist relic in Sri Lanka. Believed to be the tooth of the Buddha himself, most Sri Lankan Buddhists will make a pilgrimage to this temple at least once in their lives, as they believe this will greatly improve their karmic value.

The next day, we continued our very windy journey to Nuwara Eliya in the heart of hill country. En route, we stopped at a spice garden and a tea plantation. The drive was breathtaking, with steep green hills and waterfalls on all sides. The hills are covered in tea plants, which makes everything green and lovely. It’s somewhat sad when you realize how much of the indigenous jungle was destroyed to make way for the vast tea plantations, but the effect is still stunning, and tea has been a huge source of export, income, and pride for Sri Lankans. The tour of the tea plantation was very interesting, and a highlight of our day. We finally started to buy things as souvenirs and gifts, as the price is right and we have less time to have to carry things around. We bought some delicious curry powders at the spice markets, and lots of tea at the tea plantation. We spent two nights in Nuwara Eliya, often called “Little England”, which makes total sense. The weather is very similar - very grey and rainy, and the British influence and architecture is all over this city. The city was just uninhabited forest before the British colonized the area, so it is fully a British creation. The city becomes a party town in summer, with lots of horse and car racing, and the most liquor we have seen in all of Sri Lanka, though the women do not drink here. We were a bit disappointed, as we were supposed to go see the Knuckles mountain range from here, but it was way too far of a drive to make it worth it. So, we spent our day here visiting a Hindu Temple, walking around the lake, and walking up through the farm lands to get a bit of exercise. We were starting to get a bit stir crazy at this point, as it poured rain through most of Sri Lanka and we spent a lot of time at night in our hotel, as it was not very easy to get around in the rain.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food, the glorious FOOD here! Some of our best meals cost about $1.50 on the side of the road. Meals are cheap, hearty, spicy, and delicious. Lots of curries, daal, vegetables, roti, rice, etc. YUM.

The next day, we had probably the crappiest travel day of our trip. We drove from Nuwara Eliya to Colombo, which took about 5 hours through lots of construction on VERY windy roads, then were taken on a tour of the Colombo. Traffic was awful, so we pretty much ended up sitting in the car for another couple of hours. Our flight was not until 1:40am the next morning, but we got dropped at the airport around 6pm. Colombo is not a very fun airport to be stuck at for 8 hours. We found one cafeteria, and that’s pretty much all there was until we got through security. This was the first day we got pretty home sick. It was Thanksgiving, and we were just sitting in cars and airports, missing home. The employees were decorating Christmas trees in the airport, and there were so many family members saying goodbye to their kids. This one particular family was just so sweet - the entire extended family was at the airport seeing off a young family member. They were all crying and waving goodbye to him while he was in the security line for about 20 minutes. His full grown 40 something year old brother, mother, and grandparents just had tears streaming down their faces, and his nephews kept running in to the line to give him kisses goodbye. It really choked me up! We finally boarded our plane at about 1am for our overnight flight to Bangkok (only 3.5 hours). There, we had a layover, and landed in Chiang Mai around 11:30am. It was a long 24 hours and we got virtually no sleep, but we were really excited to start the SEA part of the trip!

Dambulla Cave Temples/Misc:
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Sigiriya and Habarana area:
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Kandy:
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Nuwara Eliya:

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Posted by tylerandshawna 07:49 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Magical Maldives

85 °F

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The Maldives were a welcome break after roughing it on Safari for 2 weeks (we weren’t really roughing it). The Maldives are a collection of small islands in the Indian Ocean. The biggest is Male with a population of 105,000 people. The Maldives is the flattest country in the world rising a mere 2.4 meters above sea level.

Our resort, The LUX, was located about 20 minutes by seaplane from the main airport. The seaplane offered an amazing view of the islands surrounding Male. Their white sands dot the green ocean, some barely breaking the surface of the water. Many have resorts on them, some are so small they have no vegetation at all. The ride was much smoother than the bush plane in Botswana to our relief.
When we touched down in the ocean beside our resort, we were greeted by ten LUX staff members; it was obvious this was going to be the luxurious part of our travels. The resort encompasses the entire island which is 1.8 km long. it consists of two sand roads running the length of the island with bungalows facing the ocean on either side. The premium bungalows were on stilts over the ocean, allowing guest to step out of their rooms directly into the ocean.

Once we had disembarked from our plane we were given the rundown of the resort. There were three restaurants on the island, Italian, Japanese and Indian, each with an accompanying bar. Bicycles were scattered throughout the grounds. Guests could take one, use it and leave it wherever they pleased. However, the activity that would consume most of our time was searching for messages in a bottle which were hidden all over the island.

Every morning before guests awoke, the staff would hide 25 glass bottles with messages inside over the entire island; some in bushes or in trees, some even out in the water. In the bottles would be coupons for goods or services which could be redeemed at the resort. The coupons ranged from free coffee to massages to free bottles of wine. Purchases on the island were especially expensive so, being on a budget, searching for bottles was a valuable use of our time. Our strategy was to wake up on the early side, find some bikes and head to the ends of the island where the bottles were most abundant. Occasionally, early in the morning, our paths would cross other bottle hunters. It was always awkward. In the end, our final tally comprised of coffee for three days, ice cream for three days, two bottles of wine and two cocktails, a cash value of over $200!

The staff was also incredibly attentive, there were around 600 employed on the island. Every day when we came home from our days activities, there would be a different intricately folded towel animal on our bed, sometimes with flowers, sometimes with a special message.

The Maldives cater to honeymooners. We were given a cocktail making class along with all the other newlyweds, a honeymoon dinner, a stargazing cruise and a bottle of champagne, all on the house. Along with our haul from the bottles we found, we accrued a substantial amount of free swag.
Our room itself sat on the beach facing the ocean. Most of the time we had the whole beach to ourselves and could go swimming at sunset right outside our door. Unfortunately, we had some gray skies and rain so we didn’t spend too much time sunbathing.

Snorkeling in the Maldives was a real treat. Guests could borrow equipment, swim 50 yards and be surrounded by corral filled with aquatic life. We saw all kinds of colorful fish, crustaceans and sharks. There were even giant clams.

By the end of our 4 night stay, Shawna and I were thoroughly spoiled. It would be hard to go back to ordinary traveling after being so pampered but island fever was beginning to set in so it was time to move on.

From Above:
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Paradise:
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Snorkin':
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Animals Towels:
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Posted by tylerandshawna 23:42 Archived in Maldives Republic Comments (0)

Lions and rhinos and boars, oh my!

Chobe River, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park.

sunny 90 °F

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The second half of our South African safari was spent on the Chobe River in Botswana, at in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and at the Kruger National Park in north eastern South Africa. This trip would, sadly, conclude our African travels for now.

From the Okavango Delta we headed north into Chobe National Park. On arrival, we embarked on a sunset cruise on the Chobe river, the river separating Namibia and Botswana. The Chobe River is teeming with wildlife. On the river buffalo, hippopotamus, crocodile and elephants can all be found.

The most abundant animals we saw on the river were herds of hippopotamus lurking in the river or grazing on the island which splits the river. The hippopotamus sit with their eyes and ears above water, silently watching the tour boats pass by. At first they appear to be harmless, somewhat awkward creatures, that is, until they do a hippopotamus yawn. This is when they open their bear trap jaws to reveal four large dagger like teeth.
Hippos are incredibly fast on land given their mis-proportioned bodies. They can easily out run a human and their preferred method of dispatching a person is to bite them completely in half. Hippos cause more human fatalities in Africa than any other animal. They are also completely herbivorous, meaning they kill only for sport, leaving their victims for the crocodiles. Another fun fact about hippos is that they are poor swimmers and spend most of their time in water that is just deep enough to stand in, fully submerged.

Nile Crocodiles can be found lining both banks at regular intervals. Nile Crocodiles are fresh water crocodiles and not as large as their saltwater brethren. Our boat captain joked that their favorite meal was domesticated dogs that occasionally make their way down to the river banks. The only natural predator of the crocodile is the boa constrictor which are also found in the area. Crocodiles and boas are evenly matched; large crocs will eat boas and larger boas will eat crocs.

There is an island in the center of the Chobe River who’s ownership is disputed between Botswana and Zambia. It is a small spit of land with no human development on it what so ever. On the island only grass, and the buffalo and hippos which graze on it are found. At the end of our cruise we were lucky enough to experience an amazing sunset before heading back to our accommodations.

The next morning, from Chobe, we headed off to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls arriving early enough to beat the crowds. Being that it was the low water season, the falls were beautiful if not a bit underwhelming. The pictures that you see in National Geographic are definitely shot during the high season. We spent the morning taking photos around the falls and soaking up the beauty.

Around noon we headed off to our accommodations which were some of the nicest we had experienced on this safari so far. They had two swimming pools, a hair salon on site and in room WIFI (joy!). Here I experienced my first Zimbabwean haircut. I must say it came out quite well and only cost $5 USD!

Zimbabwe no longer has their own currency due to hyper-inflation during the late aughts. Restaurants had trouble keeping patrons because the price of a meal would double before the meal was over. The result is that the government stopped printing Zimbabwean dollars and began depending on foreign currencies instead. Stores in Zimbabwe accept Euros, Pounds, Rand and, especially, USD. It is common to receive a barely legible, 30 year old US dollar bill as change for a purchase.

We spent the afternoon sitting by the pool and relaxing. At one point a family of warthogs strolled up to the pool for a drink. I, of course, jumped out of my lounge chair and assumed a defensive position, thinking warthogs were as dangerous as every other animal on the continent. The pool attendant laugh and assured me that they weren’t dangerous. They are, however, one of the most unattractive animals I’ve ever seen.
Monkeys were also a problem around the pool. They would watch as a hotel guest would order a fruity, well garnished drink and settle in to their lounge chair. Once the monkey was convinced the guest was dozing off, they would sneak up, grab all the fruit off the top of the drink and run off before anyone could stop them. As far as I could tell, the hotel had one employee who’s sole purpose was to stand guard with a slingshot and keep the garnish stealing monkeys at bay.

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Sadly we had to leave the pool area early as we had signed up for another cruise that evening. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and there was no sunset on the water that evening. Later that night we had dinner out and said goodbye to everyone from our tour who was headed north to Kenya.
The next morning, the few of us who were headed back to Johannesburg boarded a different truck (named ‘Luther’) for the two day trip back to South Africa. Aboard Luther, we met a few people who would be joining us for the last portion of our safari. The first day’s drive was rough. It was an 11 hour drive all the way through Botswana ending just before the South African border. Our nights accommodations were the same place we had stayed the first night of our safari. This was the place we had given an SPF (SPider Factor) rating of 9, the highest of any of our lodging to date. To say that we weren’t looking forward to our accommodations that night was an understatement. Of course, everything worked out for the best, as they often do. Our room was in a different part of the camp and had a much more acceptable SPF rating of 4. It also gave us a chance to get to know our new safari friends over dinner. The next day we rolled into Joburg early enough to relax before dinner and prepare for our trip to Kruger National Park the next day.

We headed out for our fortuitous trip to Kruger in the morning. We were able to see the big five animals in our first 24 hours at the park. The big five include lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinoceros. We were also lucky in that our new guide, Norman, happened to be an excellent cook. We went from eating polony (some sort of french preserved meat loaf) and butter sandwiches, to eating spaghetti with home made sauce, bacon and eggs and all other sorts of delicious meals.

Our first day in the park, we went for an all day game drive. We were lucky to see a leopard and a cheetah at close range. Both of these animals are exceedingly rare to see in Kruger. We also spotted a hyena sitting by the side of the road, his jaws still stained with blood.

The following morning we set out early for a morning bush walk. Sensibly, in South Africa, guides are required to carry loaded rifles in the bush, making Shawna and I feel much more confident. Sadly the largest animal we saw that morning was the dung beetle, which is quite large, but not large enough to necessitate a firearm. Deciding that I had seen enough animals, I optioned to stay behind for the days game drive. Shawna, who decided to go, was lucky enough to see a mother rhino suckling her young.

Rhinoceros have had some tough luck in recent years. Rhino poaching in Kruger has skyrocketed due to demand in asian markets. It seems that certain cultures believe that ground rhino horn makes them more virile. The horn is composed of the same material as human hair and fingernails; consuming rhino horn will make you as virile as bitting your nails. Poachers, who are highly organized and well funded, can fetch half a million USD for a single horn. As a result up to 10% (estimated 1,000 this year) Kruger’s rhino population is killed every year and there is little the park services can do to stop them.

That night we went on a night time game drive. A night game drive consists of driving around in an open air jeep, the driver shining a light into the bush looking for animals while simultaneously trying to keep the jeep on the road. Seeing an animal’s glowing eyes shining back at you from the pitch black is a little unnerving and I was glad to be in the jeep and not on foot. We started our game drive with sherry, amarula and potato chips on a mountain top while watching the sun go down, an odd combination but delightful none the less. Side note: it turns out I like sherry, does that make me a grandma?

We spent the last night having dinner with the group that we had been on safari with for the last two weeks. It was bittersweet, some people were going home, some were continuing to travel in Africa. We were flying to the Maldives to unwind after safari life. The next day we said our goodbyes and headed to the Joburg airport hotel. Our flight wasn’t until the evening of the following day so we had plenty of time to do laundry and enjoy the abundant hotel WIFI. Next stop, paradise!

Chobe:

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Victoria Falls:

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Kruger:

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Driving back to Joburg on the Panorama Route:

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HUGE spider Shawna stepped on

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Johannesburg has a violent crime problem. Presumably this is where citizens can check their weapons before a flight.
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Posted by tylerandshawna 02:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

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