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The best experiences and highlights of my Vietnam travel have always been with local families. When I explore a new place in Vietnam, the first thing I do is find a local family to live with.

The easiest way to do this is by finding a homestay with a local family and then becoming a part of their lives to experience how they live

First Time in Ninh Binh

It was 2 A.M. when I first reached Ninh Binh after a 5 hour bus journey from Ha Tinh (where I had celebrated Tet 2019 with a local Vietnamese family).

I had done no reading about Ninh Binh as I was too busy eating, drinking, sleeping, and playing during those first few days of the Tet holiday.

At 3 A.M., I had a new Zalo friend who was going to rent me his motorbike in Ninh Binh city and at 4:00 AM, I sent a booking to ‘Ha Lan Homestay’ in Trang An.

I was convinced Trang An was the location I’d base myself in and Ha Lan was the homestay I would sleep in. I only booked the first night through Booking.com and my decision came from all the 10 star reviews I saw.

I had no idea I was about to find a new family of my own

Becoming Family

Thanks to my amazing Vietnamese skills, friendly nature, and a great sense of humor, I was ‘in’ the family on the second day of my stay, which I decided to extend indefinitely.

I had a new elder sister Yen (Chi Yen), who is also the primary host at the homestay.

The family liked me and I liked them.

I helped with the work, the restaurant, guest interactions, and online marketing.

Here are some of the best experiences at Ha Lan Homestay.

Family Dinners with Guests

We had frequent family dinners with guests with a lot of good food, live music, and a lot of drinks.

This is from one of the hot-pot party we had at the homestay! Everyone loved this dinner and said it was the ‘highlight’ meal of their entire Vietnam trip.

And I agree..

After a lot of eating..

Always a good time to pose.

Toward the end of the dinner, the homestay had become a home and family for all the guests.

So once we’d done eating (as the food never seems to finish), we decided to explore Bai Dinh like a local.

Explore Bai Dinh like a local

Ninh Binh is one of those destinations in Vietnam which combines stunning landscapes and architecture with really local experience.

And what could’ve been better than exploring with a local!

On the way to Bai Dinh

And so, we were at Bai Dinh!

Never miss a chance to talk to the locals!

Making Khoai Lang

We always had family dinners together.

And sometimes, after dinner, we used to cook sweet potato, Vietnamese style, on coal.

Khoai lang nướng

Playing Rummikub

What happens when your guests like playing Rummikub?

Well, if you’re a good host, you’d spend the night playing Rummikub with them!

And that’s what we did..

It’s Rummikub time!

After 3 days, it was time for me to pick my mom from Hanoi who was coming to travel Vietnam for the first time with me.

I was excited and decided to get here to the homestay to experience the local family and see Ninh Binh.

The homestay is located in Trang An which makes it close to all the interesting sights.

Here’s the location on the map:

I had decided to come back to the homestay and stay for a few weeks next time.

I will share my experience living here soon

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My first experience celebrating the lunar new year

Celebrations begin many days before the first day of the new year and usually start with a lot of cleaning, followed by many ceremonies, visiting relatives, eating, drinking and exchanging gifts and loads of lucky money!

Before we start celebrating, let’s learn about this lunar calendar thing.

Year of the Pig

2019 is the year of the pig (lợn in Vietnamese). The pig has the 12th place of all the zodiac animals. He probably overslept when the animals were ordered to visit the Jade Emperor’s party to decide the zodiac order. We will never know the details.

The 12-year cycle

You can easily find the other pig years by subtracting 12 from 2019 and so on. So the recent years of the pig are 2019, 2007, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947.

The Five Elements

The Five elements in Vietnamese are as follows:

mộc — wood
hoả — fire
thổ — earth
kim — metal
thuỷ — water

Relation between the elements The 60-year cycle

When the zodiac animal is combined with the 5 elements, the cycle repeats after 60 years. 2019 is the year of the pig and earth. The last year of the pig + earth combination was 1959 and the next would be 2079.

So the other pig years with the combination of their zodiac animal and elements would be as follows:

1935 - lợn, mộc (pig, wood)
1947 - lợn, hoả (pig, fire)
1959 - lợn, thổ (pig, earth)
1971 - lợn, kim (pig, metal)
1983 - lợn, thuỷ (pig, water)
1995 - lợn, mộc (pig, wood)
2007 - lợn, hoả (pig, fire)
2019 - lợn, thổ (pig, earth)
2031 - lợn, kim (pig, metal)
Year of 2019

In this blog, I will be using the lunar calendar dates. For reference, here’s the Gregorian-Lunar calendar conversion for 2019.

Convert your dates

. . .

Let the celebrations begin..

Ngày 23 Tháng 12: Ông Táo

Mr Tao goes to heaven.

On this day, we have a small ceremony of sending Mr. Tao to heaven on carp fish.

Take him with you, dear fish.

Mr Tao is also known as the Kitchen God. It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, he goes to heaven to report the activities of each household to the Jade Emperor.

This annual report is used to decide the punishment or reward for each household.

. . .

Ngày 24 Tháng 12: Flower Market

Seeing the lucky plants of Tet

The Hoa Đào Walk in Hoi An

Hoa Đào (peach blossom) is iconic of North Vietnam and Apricot Blossom (Hoa Mai) is popular in South Vietnam as the lucky plants for Tet.

The Kumquat tree (or Cây Quất) is another common sight during Tet.

Cây Quất trees in Hoi An

The trend for the Kumquat tree apparently comes from Feng Shui as are other elements of Chinese traditional borrowed by Vietnam.

. . .

Ngày 25 Tháng 12: End of Year Parties

Year end goodbyes as we all leave for our hometowns

Almost everyone leaves the cities and their ‘workplaces’ for their hometowns a few days before Tet.

There are year end parties in all offices, organizations, and families and as Tet comes closer, it becomes a more homely, private family affair with visits to close relatives.

Last day in Hoi An

So it was time to say goodbye to my friends in Hoi An as I was going to celebrate Tet with the Anh Family in Ha Tinh.

. . .

Ngày 26 Tháng 12: Leave for Hometown

Time to go to the family hometown

We took the overnight bus from Da Nang to Ha Tinh.

It was a comfortable sleeper bus and we were all excited to head home.

. . .

Ngày 27 Tháng 12: Meeting Family

Lots of food, meetings, and celebration

The most important element of Tet is meeting all your family (Tourists please note this!).

And that’s exactly what was on the agenda for Day 1. We left our home in Hà Tĩnh to meet the rest of the family living in Vinh.

Family dinner in Hà Tĩnh

This dinner meant a lot to me as I had got in a local family and everyone loved me!

A big, happy family together is all I wanted for Tet and I got it 

Oh yes, we also went out shopping for a new Hoa Đào and got it home..

Back home in Ha Tinh.

. . .

Ngày 28 Tháng 12: Cooking Bánh Chưng & Bánh Tét

And a lot more, of course!

It was the right day to start cooking the traditional, Tet special, Banh Chung.

It’s made with glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and onions. I volunteered to make my ‘an chay’ (vegan) version with rice, mung, and onions.

Getting all the ingredients

As you can see in the picture, the hardest part is to master the wrap with the leaves using the wooden square. Once you get that, it’s quite easy to work with the ingredients.

The order in which the ingredients go in is as follows:

  1. Rice
  2. Mung Dal
  3. Pork (Meat version)
  4. Onion
  5. Rice

So the rice basically layers the cake on the top and bottom (and sides).

The foundation

Here’s a video on how to get the box right…

How to Wrap Banh Chung For Tet - YouTube

Rice followed by mung bean go in

(Skipping the pork here)

Onion goes in

Add the last layer of rice on top and wrap..

Ready to be steamed!

After we were done, we were hungry and headed for lunch.

Post lunch, it was time to visit the memorial of the great Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Du which was just 200 meters from our house.

Nguyen Du’s Memorial Selfie :D

We took some beautiful pictures (like true Asians) and got back home as it was time for me to cook my own vegan version of Bánh Chưng and Bánh Tét.

And so I did..

Getting the base right Folding for so dep In goes the stuff Pack and finish Be proud!

And next up..

Bánh Tét!

(The cylindrical one)

Need help for this one!
A lot more strings attached The Red ribbon to identify the vegan ones Time to cook em! Enter Big Brother

They’re cooked with wood and it’s a long process — around 6 hours cooking time.

At around 12:30 AM, they were ready and we took them out of the cooker.

Overnight, we kept them under some pressure to remove the additional water.

I’m pretty happy with my first Banh Chung and Banh Tet. Can’t wait to try them!

. . .

Ngày 29 Tháng 12: Family Ceremonies

Ending the year with ceremonies and more food

It was 29th morning, I woke up thinking about all the celebration we’ve done and realising Tet has barely begun!

On 29th, I started the day slow owing to all the cooking done the previous day.

Star fruit tree at a friend’s home
A new page, a new day.

I visited some of the friends’ families and tried some interesting snacks. Wine was served all times of the day during Tet.

Loved this one!
Simple chay lunch

Laster during the evening, we visited the ancestral tomb to pay respect.

One of the tomb’s was of my friend’s father’s sister who was a martyr as part of the American war.

We paid our respects including a ceremony where we presented the tomb with symbolic clothes and money — items that are believed to be of use to the ancestor.

We ended the 29th day with a family dinner..

Family dinner — End of Day 29

. . .

Ngày 30 Tháng 12: Ceremony & Fireworks

Welcome the new year

The last day of the year was filled with family time and a lot of food and sleep at home.

Toward the end of the day, we cooked Bánh Trôi Nước to offer prayers to the sky and the earth.

Offerings for the sky and earth

Once done, we left to see the fireworks in Vinh city which were scheduled for 12:00 AM.

I’m not a fan of fireworks but the idea was to get the family together.. And that, I love!

Chúc mừng năm mới 2019

And then..

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Living the Laotian life like the locals

It was 15th January 2019 and I had been on Route 13 in Laos for almost 2 weeks now..

This road runs along the Mighty Mekong river, which acts as the natural boundary between Thailand and Laos.

This road wasn’t an acquaintance anymore. Route 13 had now became dear to me.

When you go unplanned, without baggage and tourism, and let the road lead you, the road becomes dear to you. The road becomes a part of you and you become a part of the road.

And being the offbeat traveler you are, you know you’re going to venture out on the side-roads and the road knows that too. And she knows you’ll come back to her.

Then there are others on the journey. And they know this too! We all know our paths are going to merge on the public road.

Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginning-less, 
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights, 
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to, 
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it, 
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it, 
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you, however long but it stretches and waits for you.

The road waits for you. And let’s you venture free.

I decided to stop by every interesting village I found on the road. And after a 10 days offbeat adventure trip, I decided to spend the next week just living the local life like the Laotians do.

Laos is known for the slow, sleepy culture and it was my pleasure to indulge in this slow-paced life.

Here are some of the simple, yet beautiful, moments from my local Laos life on Route 13! How to capture the sunset while still enjoying it :)
Magical Mekong Sunsets The View From Pak Kading
The real key to manliness: Carry your boat everywhere
Appreciate the slow life The Art of Lao Cooking Village Sunsets We both hate studying. Always ready to pose. Village sunset with a twist. Family meals and bro time! Stalking the sun. Tramps of days. Rest of Nights. Another beautiful day at the village. Meet Leo. Meet Non. Good siblings eat together. Boating time, yet again. Cafes along the Mekong. The Gods of Route 13. The Picnic. DIY village picnics. Sticky Rice Freaks. This is home. Laos-Korea Dee-Dee. Grow organic, eat organic. End of the days.

Cheers to all the moments along Route 13 and the Mekong.

Goodbye Laos 
Nomadic Dev
24th January, 2019

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Here’s a fun stat before we start..

35.38 million tourists arrived in Thailand in 2017 compared to only 3.86 million in Laos in the same year. Further, 1.19 million Indians arrived in Thailand in 2016 compared to just 8249 Indians in Laos in the same year.

That makes Laos quite the offbeat destination for Indians.

Well, it is also an offbeat destination in general, for everyone.

This is why it was the fastest Visa on Arrival I ever got.

I landed at Wattay International Airport in the capital of Laos and there were just 5 people in the queue and probably 50 people in the entire airport apart from the staff.

The process was a breeze and took just 10 minutes from start to finish.

In this blog, I’ll share all the information you need (and there’s not much needed) to get the VoA in Laos.

Visa Fee:

The Visa on Arrival (VoA) fee is $40 for Indians. You should pay this in USD.

You also have an option of paying the fee in Thai Baht but avoid that as an extra conversion fee gets charged with it.

Visa Documents:

You really don’t need any special documents to get the VoA.

All you need to get is:

  1. Your Passport
  2. A Passport size photo

And you get the visa form at the airport which you have to fill, along with an arrival / departure card which you’ll get in your flight.

So you don’t really need to get anything else. A lot of blogs have talked about accommodation proof, proof of sufficient funds, onward and return tickets but none of this is needed.

I’ve traveled in January 2019 and unless you read a fellow-travelers’ blog who has been there after Jan 2019, you can consider this information as the latest.

Visa Process:

Step 1: You fill the arrival card in your flight

Step 2: You go to the airport’s VoA counter and fill the Visa form

Step 3: You go to the first counter with your filled visa form, passport, and picture

Step 4: They take your passport and move you to the next counter where you pay the fee

Step 5: In the 3rd counter, you get your stamped passport back.

That’s all.

Airports where you can get the VoA are listed below:

  • Wattay International Airport, Laos
  • Pakse International Airport, Laos
  • Savannakhet Airport, Laos
  • Luang Prabang Airport, Laos

Please note as an Indian, you cannot get the VoA at the border crossings. You must fly in to Laos.

Also, If you don’t have a passport size photo, don’t worry. You will still get the VoA. You might have have to pay a dollar or two extra.

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You don’t need your Facebook news feed.

Step 1: Delete the Facebook app from your phone.

Step 2: Check Facebook only on the web version during your distracted times of shallow work.

Step 3: Even on the web, keep your shortcuts to a maximum of 3 most important links on Facebook.

Step 4: Eradicate your newsfeed from the web version using a plugin.

You should end up with something like below. Beauty & Bliss.

No newsfeed! :D

Remember the 80/20 rule.

Stay focused.

Be minimalist.

Go deep on a few groups and friends instead of many.

Remove distractions and engage in deep work sessions instead.

Read the 25 principles of transformational productivity here.

Your Facebook newsfeed is doing you more harm than good.

Yes, I’m a marketer. And I’m asking you to get rid of your newsfeed.

Brands will find you somewhere else and so will your true friends. Enjoy a life of FOCUS.

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Sabai Dee!

Welcome to my guide to essential Laos phrases and words.

And yes, the how are you in Thai is the greeting in Laos.

And that is ‘Sabai Dee’. This is an equivalent of Hello and works any time of the day.

And if you’ve been following my guide to Thai or if you can speak Thai ‘nit noi’ (a little bit), then you should have no issues navigating Laos.

Laos people consume Thai media and hence, almost all of them, understand Thai.

With that said, let’s jump right into learning basic Laos (the language is called Lao or Laotian).


Sabai Dee




Sabai Dee Ton Sao


Khop Jai

Thank you

Jâo Sue Nyung?

What is your name?





La Gon




Swai Lai

Very beautiful

Swai Lai Lai

Very very beautiful




Foreigner (Typically Western)

Bhasa Lao Nit Noi

I speak Lao a little

Thak Lai


Mee Dee

No Good



  1. FOOD:


Food, Rice (same word for both)





Sep Lai

Very tasty

Sep Lai Lai

Very Very tasty







Baw-mi sin, Baw-mi pa

No meat, no fish

(This one was my favorite hack to explore the Laos vegetarian options – which are not many)



Nam Manao

Lime Water

Honestly, I got away with just this much Lao sandwiched between my limited Thai vocabulary and didn’t really need anything else.

Since I was only in Laos for 3 weeks and didn’t really plan to visit again, I made do with my Thai vocab here.

And yes, the numbers..


The most important part of your vocab, even though there is no need for negotiation in Laos.

Laotians are very honest and if you ask for a discount, they might even sell you stuff at their loss. So it’s better not to!

And yes, Good news again for Thai speakers & learners..

The numbers are same as the Thai numbers.

The only difference is 20 is sao (and not yee seb) and 100 is loi.

Also, you’ll be using thousand here a lot (much more than Thai because of the currency) and thousand is ‘phan’.

Just follow my Thai guide to learn the complete numbers in both Thai and Lao.

You can also use most of the words from the Thai guide in your Laos trip as well

Enjoy Laos!

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This article has been published on Medium.

. . .

And the ruin of the human brain in the age of distractions

This book is a combination of a personal story and reflections of a world in which the art of reading for deep contemplation and flow has lost to the newer, more addictive and unsavoury sources of information and dopamine hits — the internet.

I read this book last week sitting in the Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok and made a few notes while reading. Summarising them below as the key takeaways from the text.

Some of the observations apply to literature but I’ve realised most of the author’s thoughts apply to all kinds of texts in general as well.

1. Fallacies of teaching literature in the classroom

1.1. The classroom tries to ‘make sense’ of literature by breaking down each metaphor and form.
1.2. This doesn’t go with the actual creative process with which the author has written the text. The flow of storytelling remains mysterious to the authors themselves.
1.3. In schools, most students are forced to reach just to finish off an assignment.

2. What killed literature?

2.1. Technology has created a sea of endless distraction which is the internet.
2.2. This has led to the lack of appreciation for long form written textual content and the lack of patience to consume it.
2.3. There has been a ‘breakdown of authority’ specifically due to the blogosphere and social media.

3. The new ‘information’ landscape

3.1. ‘Information’ has become a distraction or diversion. It has become a form of entertainment rather than empowerment.
3.2. People’s brains are busy trying to process information from all directions that they’re losing the tendency to think and feel.
3.3. All the information online feels important and claims our attention — but almost none of it sticks.
3.4. Our attention is being chopped into shorter intervals and that’s not good for thinking deep thoughts or contemplating — which is what good books require.

4. The power of reading

4.1. Reading requires deeper thinking, contemplation, and it brings us more in touch with the realm or our inner life.
4.2. Books open a new world for us, sometimes almost transforming us to a different life.
4.3. This magical power of books help us experience other landscapes or lives than what we currently know of.
4.4. We have a short life and books are a gateway to seeing many more lives in one. They’re like life passports.
4.5. They’re also a way to be completely in the moment which is where all our living happens — in the present moment.

5. Filtering through the noise

5.1. To read books, we need a special kind of silence.
5.2. This silence means to immerse in the book, to contemplate, to think deeply.
5.3. Our ability to filter through the noise is becoming weaker because of the ‘over-networked’ society and ‘endless’ distractions.
5.4. Since every rumour becomes an ‘update’ and we’re wired to consume each ‘update’, we need to distance ourselves from our notifications to be able to filter through the noise.
5.5. Once we do, we know books are a way to reach the state of flow, and flow is happiness.


Even when you distance yourself and give yourself completely to the moment, to deep work, deep reading, deep meditation, or doing anything else with flow, you will still notice in some weird sense that there is something out there trying to claim your attention, even though it really has zero merit. That is the trouble and dilemma of our rewired brains.

6. To annotate or not to annotate

6.1. The author explains the concept of annotating and noting while reading.
6.2. He explains that making too many personal notes on the top of the writer’s thoughts may eventually obscure the latter.
6.3. It is better to use shorthand symbols or highlights without disturbing the state of flow while reading.

7. On re-reading

7.1. Reading has more velocity, re-reading has more depth.
7.2. Reading shuts the world to focus on the text, and re-reading includes the world to make a new sense the text.
7.3. The most remarkable thing is: re-reading contains reading. It including a memory of the reading.

8. The illusion of intimacy

8.1. In the name of connectivity, technology distances us from each other ever more. It distances us even more from our own selves.
8.2. The constant impulse to post updates or consume them offers an illusion of intimacy by sharing the most mundane details of our existence (Example: “I think I’ll reheat the stir-fly for lunch today”).
8.3. Most of these don’t reveal anything of substance or our inner self.

9. Reading vs the internet

9.1. The internet short circuits our concentration in favour of emotional hit-and-run.
9.2. When we come across links, our prefrontal cortex has to evaluate (each time) to click or not. This, processed over in loops again and again every day, impedes overall focus, retention, and memory.
9.3. Reading requires what is completely opposite: deep, long term focused attention that leads us to the state of flow.
9.4. This is how the two differ and this why the increased use of internet has led to humans losing the art of reading. Losing it more each day.

10. Reading print books vs e-books

10.1. The author explains how ebooks take the charm out of reading.
10.2. Ebooks miss the feeling of the sharp black letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth’.
10.3. Ebooks don’t give the joy of ‘lending’ a book to a friend.
10.4. A paper book aids concentration by offering nothing else to do but read it.
10.5. Hyperlinks and other electronic innovations break the flow of language, interrupting the immersion in the word.
10.6. E-reading also fuels our building addiction to digital and tech.

I love how the author combines a philosophical sense of our lives with some great actionable advice about reading.

I really enjoyed reading this book in the library without phones and notifications.

Sadly, I also happened to be the only one in the library, probably because other things in Bangkok are more appealing to people, but it also proves a lot of the author’s points about the lost art of reading.

Now, If this post has left you wondering what to do instead of just fuel-ing your addiction or practicing distractions daily (and I know you need a way to fill the void), Here’s a simple 5-point guide you never should’ve needed:

1. Avoid internet distractions unless of absolutely deep value.
2. Connect with your loved ones (Outside social media).
3. Nurture your health and stay close to nature.
4. Avoid commerce in the modern form more than what’s essential.
5. Drink tea, eat green vegetables, find silence, and give back.

And yes, it is as simple as it sounds.

. . .

This post is a part of my ‘Life Academy’ series.
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An offbeat journey of an offbeat traveler in an offbeat country

. . .

2019 was here, and I wanted to move to a new country.

I picked Laos, the landlocked country squeezed between Thailand (west border), Vietnam (east border), Cambodia (south border), and China (north border).

Interestingly, Laos is the only landlocked country in South East Asia.

And this doesn’t make it boring — at all.

But it helps to get the beach-bum travelers out of the way. And less tourism means more opportunity to go local, go slow, and go offbeat.

P.S. I love beaches too! And since I’d spent a month (Dec 2018) in South Thailand, I was happy to take a short break from them to explore local Laos.

How offbeat is Laos?

Well, talking about ‘offbeat’, Laos as a destination is pretty much offbeat in itself.

Here are some stats:

“In 2017, total tourist arrivals declined by an annual 10%, for the second consecutive year.”

This may not be the best news for the communist state’s tourism campaign, but great news for me.

Because I still go by the rule: Everything popular is wrong. If you want a real taste of local culture and life, you have to go where the tourists aren’t.

Here’s another interesting data point:

35.38 million tourists arrived in Thailand in 2017 compared to only 3.86 million in Laos in the same year. Further, 1.19 million Indians arrived in Thailand in 2016 compared to just 8249 Indians in Laos in the same year.

So, Laos was a clearly offbeat choice considering both my people (Indians) and all my people (Everyone).

I chose to head South.

That being said, the explorer I am, I decided to go even more offbeat and head South as most tourists head to the North.

I had just 3 weeks in Laos (which could sound like a lot of many) and since I travel slow, I wanted to pick one direction.

And as with most of my travels, I picked South.

The sleepiest capital ever.

I landed in the capital of Laos (pronounced Lao), called Vientiane (pronounced Vienchang) which, as I discovered, was the sleepiest capital I’ve ever been to.

P.S. Blame the French for the different pronunciation and spellings.

I have always felt the ‘speed of life’ increase when I arrive at any capital but not at this one. Not at all.

A Lake in Vientiane The fastest Visa on Arrival ever.

This was the fastest I got a VoA ever. There were just 5 people in the queue and probably 50 people in the entire airport apart from the staff.

The VoA fee is $40 for Indians (and other developing / under-developed countries) and cheaper for most developed countries (Americans and Europeans pay around $30) except Canada which is $42.

They didn’t need a hotel booking, return ticket or onward ticket. Just the fee and a passport size photo.

Mobile Internet (4G) in Laos

There is no contest on the fact that Unitel is the best mobile network in Laos. They have the best only-data plans.

You can walk-in to any general store and ask for the ‘net-only’ SIM.

Unitel 4G data plans in Laos

The other thing you need is a motorbike.

Motorbike Rental in Laos

There are 3 kinds of motorbikes in Laos:

  1. The Good Brands (Honda, Suzuki, TVS — reliable)
  2. The Korean (Kolao — the middle way)
  3. The Chinese (cheap, fake, unreliable)

And yes, I mentioned TVS! TVS, our own Chennai company, has a good presence in Laos. Unfortunately, I couldn’t communicate with them before arriving in Vientiane and I was looking for a budget option so I went with the middle way — The Kolao Venus.

My Kolao Venus

Venus seems like a lower-quality version of the Honda Click and it wasn’t the best option. I would recommend going with something from option 1 instead.

So, let’s start the trip..

. . .

DAY 1-3: Living in Vientiane

Vientiane usually just acts as a ‘transit’ for most travelers as they just arrive there and move to the North Laos.

I decided to live in Vientiane like a local for the next 3 days.

This included buying fresh vegetables from the local market and cooking my own meals.

I had taken an apartment with a kitchen a little away from the city centre where I can cook!

My meals were mostly Thai-inspired as I’d eaten so much Thai food over the last 2 months and wanted to try cooking it (based on what I’d eaten).

My experiments with the Thai cuisine

And Jogging around the local lake.

Yes, this was a beautiful part of my mornings.

Rising sun on the lake

As well as my evenings..

Sunset jogging session

The reclining Buddha in Vientiane is quite the beauty.

And so is the temple..

Heading South

There was no plan. I had none. I just decided to take the motorbike and head south.

I took the ‘Route 13’ which is the road connecting Vientiane to the Southern parts of Laos.

The river Mekong runs along a major part of the route assisting you with beautiful sunsets over Thailand 

The river acts as a natural border between Laos and Thailand — which doesn’t really matter for the locals as they can just go to Thailand by boat without any VISA requirements! (The benefits of being ASEAN).

I feel kind of limited because I’m just ASIAN but not ASEAN. I would prefer the latter.

. . .

DAY 4–5: Houy Siat, Paksan

This was my first stop. I stayed here for 2 nights.

Houy Siat is a region in the small town of Paksan, which is marked by a big reservoir.

The Huay Siat Reservoir, Paksan

I found a nice guesthouse near the reservoir and my morning runs were based in the forest surrounding the area.

My home (house #5) in Paksan

You can also spot my motorbike parked inside the house!

And my sunsets..

They were based along the Mekong river.

Those boats would cross quite often, taking Laotians to Thailand and back.

Time for sunset.

Paksan is an unexplored gem, and I saw absolutely NO tourists here.

The only foreigners I saw were Chinese and Thai — and they aren’t foreigners to Laos really. They’re now part of Laos.

At least, they’re not ‘Falang’. But then, neither am I.

Staying away from Falangs was the best hack to discover offbeat destinations.

Speaking of the Chinese, I discovered an amazing riverside Chinese restaurant that would cook vegan meals for me every day in Paksan.

Enjoying the meal and the river in Paksan.

Before continuing my journey South, I decided to give my motorbike a shower.

And what’s the Laos way of bathing your motorbike? — Of course, the Mekong.

Everyone likes a clean motorbike

And those beautiful array of lights on the other side is, of course, Thailand.

The Thai charm never fails, even on Laos side!

. . .

DAY 6–7: Pak Kading

My second stop on the trip was Pak Kading, the meeting place of rivers.

The Nam Kading rivers comes and joins the Mekong here at a point in Pak Kading.

And people don’t have any clue about the Pak Kading region apart from this.

Which is why when a fellow-explorer like myself asked about Pak Kading on a forum, someone replied: “There is no real reason to stop at Pak Kading”.

Though I’m not sure exactly what comprises a ‘real’ reason. But for me, and for you..

Here are 5 reasons to stop at Pak Kading (+ 2 days itinerary):
  1. Watch the scenic Mekong streams

2. Take a swim break!

River time. You can also find some private diving spots like these!

3. Play with the local kids

It’s a swimming contest.

4. Drive along the limestone hills

Just me and nature (and side roads)

5. Catch a unique sunset everyday!

The small hill makes for a unique view of the setting sun


Find a new, private river beach everyday!

And just chill — Laos style.

Private river beaches

You can do much more in Pak Kading and explore the side roads talking you to new villages based along the rivers.

My dinners at Pak Kading were simple veggies, rice, and egg.

Joined by Viet friends

After 2 days in Pak Kading, it was time to move further South.

. . .

DAY 8: Ban Nakham

I headed to Ban Nakham from Pak Kading.

‘Ban’ means village in Thai and Laos and this was a small village stay. I had chosen this village as it was a good stop between Pak Kading and Konglor (which was my next destination).

Another reason to pick this village was the river!

The Namsanam river passes along this village and I spent most of my day around the Nam Hai Bridge where the river offers stunning sunset views.

Sunset from the Nam Hai Bridge

. . .

DAY 9–10: Tham Kong Lo

It was time to explore ‘Tham Kong Lo’, more popularly known as the Kong Lor Cave.

I spend 2 days exploring the cave, the river, and the stunning scenery around the region. Here are some of the highlights from this region.

The beautiful paddy fields on the way to the cave..

I love taking paddy fields pictures all around Asia!

The mouth of the cave..

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Going off the beaten track in Thailand, Slowly.

. . .

Disclaimer 1: This itinerary is for slow travel.

Disclaimer 2: No parties, sex tourism, or pretentious insta-luxury travel included.


I decided to experience Thailand differently, and hence I moved North or South and never stayed central.

The regions of Thailand include North, Central, South, and East (or North East).

Of this I focused on the North and South most of the time. The East is the flatlands region of Isaan with friendly locals. I skipped this because I knew friendly locals can be found anywhere outside the touristy towns and also because I was headed to Lao next and the culture of Isaan and Lao seems somewhat overlapping from what I had read.

Going North (12 days)

I started with the North — Hills, Trekking, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Nature Trails. I skipped the hill tribes and elephants as I wanted to be a responsible traveler.

Sunrise in Pai

The loop I did included the Lampang, Mai Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai areas.

One of the cultural highlights in the North was my first Loy Krathong Festival. I was joined by my family here and it was my birthday time too.

The Lantern Festival, Loy Krathong 2018

I must say Chiang Rai is one of the most beautiful provinces in Thailand and deserves much much time on your next Thai trip.

Discovering Heritage (7 days)

I wanted to explore heritage capitals and ancient ruins of Ayutthaya and Sukothai. The Sukothai Kingdom was the first (1238–1438) and was replaced by the Ayutthaya Kingdom. And Ayutthaya was later destroyed by the Burmese.

Exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya

The temples here and not all gold and glitter. They’re ancient ruins and you can only imagine the size of the heritage sites by looking at what’s left from the destruction.

Going South (21 days)

Next, I moved to the South.

Koh Yao Yai (7 days)

Using Krabi as the base, I took the boat to Koh Yao Yai — one of the lessor visited islands in the Andaman Sea.

The island is still unspoilt with tourism but I’m sure that’ll change very soon.

The Beach Peninsula in Koh Yao Yai

You can take a Kayak from this island and visit a few small islands around. I explored this island along with my brother and we sailed back to Krabi from here.

Once back in Krabi, I decided to do a solo motorbike trip and move further south. I has realized most people are island hopping and hence the mainland would be my offbeat.

Trang (10 days)

I picked a few beaches on the mainland Trang province and started my journey South. I had no idea I would find much more than beaches here. This including small, islands I would walk to and a hill range with a wide system of waterfalls.

My roadtrip around the Trang province is documented here.

Road trip in Trang Province

I went all around the borders of Trang and Phatthalung and the borders of Trang and Satun but stayed inside Trang for this trip.

I highly recommend Trang for anyone who’s looking for a coastal experience with friendly locals and almost the lack of tourists.

Sunset in Sikao, Trang

The other days were spent in Krabi while using it as a base to the other places around.

And even though Krabi is for tourism, you can experience some amazing sunsets and hikes there.

As for the new year, I decided to celebrate it peacefully in a local village in Trang. It was the best new year I’ve celebrated.

Here’s the last sunset of 2018, Enjoy!

My Last Sunset of 2018 - YouTube

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Sometimes I feel spending on water is like paying for something that is my right just by arriving on this planet. How much we’ve taken it for granted is astonishing.

Anyway, one almost hidden cost of travel is those little plastic bottles of water. They add up to a lot of our travel budgets and in the process, we consume a lot of plastic.

You won’t hear ‘Save water krub’ or ‘Save plastic krub’ slogans in Thailand but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Over consumption of plastic is like a way of life in Thailand but please keep your Western sensibilities intact and don’t get carried away by all those takeaway options.

While traveling in both North and South Thailand over the last 2 months, I explored many travel hacks and I can safely say I have mastered the art of getting free water in Thailand.

And I don’t mean drinking directly from the tap – Please don’t try that!

So here’s how to get free (or almost free) drinkable water in Thailand and also use less plastic.

1. The big boss method: If you’re going to stick around in one place for a week or longer, get the big 20L white bottle.

Price per litre: 1 Baht, Plastic consumption: 0

You will see the big white 20L bottles being used in local restaurants and houses.

And I mean white. Not transparent.

Find a local grocery shop anywhere (711 doesn’t count as local) and you can buy these. Once you’ve used the water, return the big bottles to the seller. They can be reused again. So you’ve gone almost waste free without spending much.

2. The machine refill: If you’re going to travel around cities, bigger towns or the hotspots, get the 1.5 liter bottle once and refill it at RO machines

Price per litre: 1 Baht, Plastic consumption: 1 bottle for the entire trip

There are many companies who make the 1.5 liter bottles. Get any one of those.

And then, you can refill them on any of the water vending machines which are available through out the country specially in the cities, towns, and hotspots.

This is how they look.

One hack to find these machines is to go to any self-service laundry or under any of the apartment complexes. That’s how locals living in apartments get their water.

Here’s another one I found at a laundry.

For 1 Baht, you can fill the entire 1.5 liter bottle (almost) and since you’ll be buying the bottle the first time, we’re going to assume a 1 Baht / litre cost of this method while consuming just one bottle.

I suggest washing the bottle once every week if you’re traveling for a long time. You can also buy a new bottle each month and you’d still be far better off than any of your fellow travelers who are consuming less mindfully.

3. The magic cup method: Get the reusable cup at 7-11 and you can refill it at any 7-11 for free.

Price per litre: Tends to 0 Baht the more you reuse, Consumption of plastic: 1 cup

All 7-11s have coffee vending machines which basically give hot water and you can take the coffee power and make your own coffee.

You only pay for the cup or glass and you only pay the first time you take it.

Next time, you can refill the cup with water without the coffee and tell the counter it’s just a water refill.

Keep the original bill of the first time when you paid for the cup just in case.

And of course the first time you can buy coffee and then reuse for water.

The machine gives hot water but you can also add some ice to it.

4. The go local method: Eat at local restaurants and get free water

Price per litre: 0 Baht; Plastic consumption: 0

This is as simple as it sounds. Most local restaurants (I mean really local not the ones which have ‘local Thai food’ written on their menu in English) have jugs of water on all the tables, next to the beautiful set of Thai toppings including soy sauce, chilli powder, and peanut powder.

In fact that’s your test. If you don’t see free peanut powder on tables, you haven’t gone local enough.

Anyway, so all these local restaurants have free water. Drink up and refill.

And don’t shy away from tipping them as the price of the food will anyway be lower than other restaurants. I’m talking in the range of 30-50 Baht per meal.

Because it’s not just about saving money it’s also about helping the locals and reducing consumption of plastic.

So enjoy free drinking water in Thailand!


The fifth way is my favorite one but it’s not really for everyone. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls and limestone caves in Thailand. You should never run out of free water!

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