And since life’s short and unpredictable, I don’t waste any opportunities for deep, blissful experiences.
I tramp the perpetual journey.
My signs are nomadic freedom and openness of the mind.
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair.. I have no chair.
I lead no one to a table exchange.
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere… On water, and on land.
Shoulder your duds, and I will mine, and let us set forth,
Wonderful nature and free nations we shall fetch as we go.
And so I did.
I fetched amazing experiences on my journey.
I will turn 30 this year.
So here’s a list of 30 of the best experiences I’ve had so far before I turn 30.
Motorbike Trip to Unexplored South Thailand
A bike trip to unexplored beaches and private sunsets
Location: Trang Province, Thailand
Unexplored beaches, private sunsets, the woods, speaking Thai, local food, motorbiking, amazing motorways, conversations with the locals, waterfalls.
Solo Trekking the Himalayas & A Tribute to John Muir.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
― John Muir
The sunset at Naddi
The next morning, I started my trek from Naddi village to Kareri village.
I found myself alone on this trek as most people now use the new road connecting the two villages, thereby “transporting” themselves from one point to another, missing out on the experiences walking with nature.
The trek begins
Crossing the river
Taking a break
The next stream with a beautiful bridge
Beautiful pond with tadpoles and fish
We trekked together, got lost together, and rested together. And when we used to get lost in the woods, we felt safe.
“One should go to the woods for safety, if for nothing else.”
― John Muir
Reaching the village
After around 7 km of the trail crossing through valleys and mountains, I reached Kareri Village.
My homestay in Kareri Village
Every trek has something new to offer. Each a new experience, a new learning, and a new world.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
― John Muir
Trek 2: Kareri Village to Kareri Lake
Trekking to the universe…
The night at Kareri was accompanied by strong thunderstorms. I decided to wait till the next morning to see if the weather lets me trek up to Kareri Lake which is a glacier lake around 11 km uphill trek from Kareri Village.
The morning turned out to be better than the night and I starting preparing my way up to the lake.
Planning my route
The news of the weather made the locals cancel their treks on this day. While I knew I should listen to the locals, I still went ahead with the trek.
Another crazy brother joined me as we started our trek up to the glacier lake.
The weather was friendly to us as we started
The stream was with us all along
Snow patches covering our trail presented a challenge
We had to cross the stream multiple times to avoid the bigger patches of snow. This made our trek longer and tiring.
After a few hours, it was getting dark but we were lucky to be there near a full moon night. The moon stayed with us as we found our way to the top.
Reaching the top made every challenge worth it. And as we got our first view of the snow mountains, our tiredness disappeared. We were healed — externally and internally.
“Earth has no pain that earth cannot heal.”
― John Muir
It was dark. We set up our tent and camped overnight.
The next morning, the sun invited us to the beautiful views of the lake.
At Kareri Lake
“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!”
― John Muir
The Greeting of the Universe.
View from our tent near the lake
“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill.” ― John Muir
Trek 3: Kareri Lake to Kareri Village
The Western Disturbance Hits…
17.05.2019: The rain started, so did the thunderstorm, and the hailstorm. I lost my phone, my action camera, among other stuff… It was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had.
The weather wasn’t as friendly to us when we started our descent. A storm hit us and the stream got flooded. Most of the trail back down was flooded too. My friend decided to camp halfway down.
I decided otherwise…
8:00 PM: I reached the village after 6 hours of trekking through the storm. I had lost my phone and I was tired. That night I slept the best.
“It is in the darkest times, when storms are blowing, that the most impressive displays are made.”
― John Muir
Thankfully, I had changed the memory card on my action camera and hence could retain all the pictures for this blog so far. However, I have no pictures of this day. On this day, I couldn’t even feel my hands and feet.
I had left my Canon digital camera in the village which would serve for the pictures of the next treks.
I decided to continue the next morning back to Naddi from where I would head to my next treks.
Being without the phone gave me a new found freedom. More than ever.
Trek 4: Naddi to Guna Devi Temple
Just me and the mountains…
With minor injuries and major pains, I was back on the trail. It was time to trek from Naddi to Guna Devi.
But first, it was time to welcome the sunrise at Naddi.
5:30 AM, NADDI.
Locals waiting for the sun
Shining on the mountains
The first rays
6:45 AM, The spotlight on Naddi
“The sun shines not on us but in us.”
― John Muir
I was ready.
Soon as I started my trek to the temple, two Shera-s (beautiful mountain dogs) joined me.
Taking breaks together
The trek up to the temple was beautiful and spiritual, with local devotees greeting me and my Sheras along the way.
View from the top
I was also treated to a temple lunch with the locals. I had found new friends. I felt great and knew it was time for my next trek.
Trek 5: Guna Temple to Bal Village
Staying with the locals…
I trekked down from the temple to Bal village where I stayed overnight.
Here’s a look at the local life at Bal Village, a beautiful village surrounded by the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas.
View from my village homestay
Beautiful village home
Say hello to my little friend
I always saw him sitting there
A village scene
Look at that bucket!
Breakfast with a view
My thoughts on one of my most thrilling experience, ever.
Nothing to Declare…
No custom offices, no biometrics.
No stamped identities, no bags.
Just walking the earth as it was meant to be.
Without luggage, tickets or tags.
It was 15th April 2019, comfortably cold early morning in Mộc Châu, Vietnam. The previous day was filled with explorations of the beautiful tea plantations of the rural paradise.
Today was still an empty book waiting to be written… Another beautiful chance to experience life anew. Another chance to live a lifetime in a day’s time.
My religion is to live and die without regret. My religion is to not wait for tomorrows. My religion is to plunge into change, move with it, and to live the experience. My religion is the moment.
I always loved to watch the borders and get an immense sense of freedom in crossing them. The mindset as a global citizen cannot be tamed by the immigration checks, the wars, and the border police. This is because the mindset is stronger than the protocol.
While the society runs protocol, nomads think freedom.
9:00 AM: Begin the journey
I made my way from Moc Chau toward the Laos border — stopping on every small waterfall I found on the way and enjoying the rolling hills all the way.
11:00 AM: Rejected entry at the checkpoint
After a beautiful journey of 2 to 2:30 hours, I was at the border. I was aware this particular border was only for Vietnamese and Laos nationals but still gave it a try to enter the checkpoint.
I was rejected. It was time to head back.
I was struck with an unknown feeling of freedom teasing me.
I was being invited… The forest sounded welcoming, the hills made way.
Everything made me walk — It was like a walk to freedom.
It had nothing to do with visiting the country or opposing the law.
It had everything to do with putting the mindset to practice.
As I was one with the earth — the borders erased.
12:00 PM: The trek into Laos
I traced the surrounding hills and forests for the opportunity. In around an hour, I found myself in a valley with a beautiful water stream. As I washed my face and stopped by the stream, I saw a beautiful family walking by. I looked into their eyes and knew I was there. I was in Laos.
Geographically, I was in Laos. Mentally, I was free.
I had no visas. At this moment, It was as if I didn’t exist.
2:00 PM: Exploring the first village of Laos
After celebrating the victory with BeerLao, I had a good meal and explored the village ‘Pa Hang’ until evening.
5:00 PM: Entering Vietnam Again
After a few hours in Laos, I trekked my way back into Vietnam. Everything was available to me. The planet felt mine. I felt more location independent than ever.
I had experienced something so beautiful in my first illegal border crossing. I had experienced the absence of borders.
I might not cross borders illegally again but I will always live with the global citizen mindset.
Remember the mindset is stronger than the protocol.
It was early morning and I was ready to continue my drive to Mai Chau.I had started from Ninh Binh on my semi-automatic ‘Wave’ motorbike.I wasn’t hungry and decided to make a quick stop to get the Vietnamese ‘Ca Phe Sua ‘.I happened to cross this little sugarcane Heaven on the way.The feel of crossing the sugarcane fields is just amazing.Location: Ân Nghĩa, Lạc Sơn District, Hoa Binh, VietnamI was tempted to stop for some fresh sugarcane water but decided to continue my search for a beautiful cafe.And I found it soon after..The river view was a treat and so was the coffee..:)The owner is a friendly guy who also showed me around.He’s built a small trek upto the river with beautiful views.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
Good siblings eat together.
Boating time, yet again.
Cafes along the Mekong.
The Gods of Route 13.
DIY village picnics.
Sticky Rice Freaks.
This is home.
Grow organic, eat organic.
End of the days.
Cheers to all the moments along Route 13 and the Mekong.
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.
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.
You really don’t need any special documents to get the VoA.
All you need to get is:
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.
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.
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.