Thursday, July 3, 2014

From Thailand to Laos on a Sleeper Train

I rested a few days at home after my HK-China-Macau trip before flying off again. This time it was to fulfill my dream to visit Laos as I had to cancel my trip last year due to work.

My friend was heading to Laos too so I decided to join him even-though his trip will only end up to Vientiane while I'd be traveling to Luang Prabang on my own. Direct flight to Vientiane from Kuala Lumpur was pricey during that time, so I opted to fly in to Bangkok where I'll meetup with my travel mate. It was planned that I'd buy the sleeper train tickets to Nong Khai from Dom Meaung Bangkok train station. And from Nong Khai we'll cross the friendship bridge into Laos. Double passport stamps!

Annoying travel-mate with our main transport in Vientiane. 
Annoying how?

I actually have a number of nicknames for my annoying travel-mate Alid, such as hunchback, devil of Jawa, heartless, animal-phobic, Mr Narsis.. yeah.. to name a few (hope he doesn't read this post). He's only made tolerable because in return he tolerates my annoying traits. :)

This is how my route went for the next five days or so. I didn't know that I was coming to Laos during the final days of their Buddha year and as a bonus, I personally experienced their pre-Songkran festival which is celebrated every year from April 14 to April 16. The celebration coincides with the hottest time of the year in Laos! Normally, Songkran or Lao New Year is celebrated for 3 days but can last for more than a week in towns like Luang Prabang.

The route I took from Thailand to Laos.
I resided the upper bunk of a sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai for less than 700 Bahts. The journey took the whole night before reaching its destination the next morning. I've noticed that the upper bunks are relatively more cheaper than the lower bunks because it was windowless. Bummer, I won't be able to gaze out the window and enjoy the view. Alid was given a bunk bed in another carriage. Thankful for that, I can now eat my snacks without sharing (eh).

Overnight on a sleeper train was actually my second experience after India. My first in a ASEAN country. There was a pillow and packed blankets on my bunk as I climbed my way on it, making it quite a comfortable ride. I peeped through the curtains that I pulled covering my area and saw a guy with a tattooed arm staring back at me. I blushed and pulled the curtains to a close. Being certain that no-one was gonna see me, I pulled off my hijab and fell asleep to the lulling sound of the moving train. 
The waterfront of Vientiane facing the shallow Mekong River
I really can't say much on the ride as I slept all through the night. Haha!

The next morning, I was surrounded by noises as people around me started to stir and folding their upper bunk beds. I too decided to do the same and sat with a local Laos guy whom I saw last night. The window was open and sun rays were beginning to creep in. I forgot the guy's name as we shared stories. I was never good in remembering names. Sigh.

He was working in Bangkok in a french embassy. Having acquired an interest in learning the foreign French language, he was easily employed there. What surprised me the most was that he has never been to France itself to test his skills! Or none to the neighboring countries for that matter except Thailand as he thought it was expensive! Haha! I spent the whole time before reaching our destination, convincing him that he was wrong and that he should at least try traveling via AirAsia. :)

Upon touching down Nong Khai and reuniting with Alid, he helped us on where to board a motorized tuk tuk to the border. We parted ways soon after as the Laotian guy had to do some shopping there while Alid and I headed to Laos. From the Thai border, we had to go through immigration before hopping on another bus to get to the Laos side. The funny thing is.. if you don't ask for the immigration form from the counter (which is free!), you'd have to pay for it from some guys who were selling it around. -__-

Thankfully we asked first. Why do they have to sell the forms? Why aren't there any signs saying that the forms should be taken from the counter? Kan susahkan orang begitu! 

After immigration was cleared from both sides, we then headed to our fist destination. It somewhat become a habit of mine that I let Alid to do all the itinerary plans while I'd just follow. This was maybe our fourth trip together? Forgot, heh! Tambahan aku malas mau fikir. Muahaha! 

So if you're traveling with Alid, be ready to drag your large backpack around as that's his style. There's no checking into accommodations to keep your bags first when the tourist attraction is just within reach from the arrival point. So yeahh... what he plans to go, I follow! Next stop is....... on my next blogpost!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Roadtrip to West Sumatera - Part 2

Continuing from my previous post on Padang here... We just left Bukittinggi and headed to Batu Sangkar to visit the iconic Pagaruyung Palace.

My travelmates in front of the grandest Mingakabau palace - the Pagaruyuang.
Pagaruyung Palace

Rumah gadang, or also known as a grand palace is an icon of West Sumatera and can be found in many parts of the province. They are solid wooden structures, beautifully carved and has sweeping roofs with pointed ends. This is also known as the Minangkabau style.

The pointed roofs were believed by the Minangs as the reminiscent of the legendary water buffalo that helped won for Sumatera in a fight against the Javanese bull. I was fortunate enough to visit the grandest and most distinctive of the rumah gadang at Batu Sangkar.

Its shape has the likeness of the buffalo horns, no?
Pagaruyung (also Pagarruyung, Pagar Ruyung and, Malayapura or Malayupura) [Wikipedia] was the seat of the Minangkabau kings of Western Sumatra. There is little known about it and I've read that it was also a Malay kingdom. This palace has 5 stacked sweeping roofs, eleven sharp horns, and three storeys, the biggest of its kind. It is actually a replica of the original one which was burnt down due to fire back in the 1800s during a war. Sadly it was burnt again in 1861. The original palace was called Istana Si Linduang Bulan.
It is a huge, colorful, and heavily carved palace. Even the ceilings are lavishly decorated!
It was not until 1974, that the government decided to initiate the reconstruction of the once grand palace as symbol of the great Minangkabau land by building a replica of the Si Linduang Bulan Palace on a piece of land inherited from the kings’s family. The original site was actually on a hill named Bukit Batu Patah. However, disaster strike again and the palace burnt down to the ground after being struck by lightning in 2007. Haha. Now, the newly rebuilt replica can be visited by the public near the roadside at Batusangkar. It is easily seen while on the way to Lake Singkarak. [source]
Now the palace is a museum that showcases the arts and culture of the Minangkabau heritage.
We were lucky that the palace was open that day and we were able to enter until the third floor. There were many tourists taking pictures and trying out the traditional costume of a wedding gown. Initially Nur and I wanted to try them but I kinda chickened out when I found out that Yayan (who is a Minang) will get married in those clothes. Heck... felt awkward wearing wedding gowns when you don't know who'll you end up marrying to! What if... errr.. nevermind. :P  *terlebih fikir*
The Minangkabau brides... wannabe. Hehehe
After looking around the first floor, we headed to the second floor which was just a wide space with more intricate wood carvings. It was only on the almost empty third floor that we started to rest and enjoy the natural breeze coming in from the window.

Cooling down at the windowsills of the third floor! The view was awesome!
Having our fill of the sights around the palace, we then headed down to go to our next destination.

The palace in many ways seemed slanted to me. Or has my eyesight been tricking me?
Our final stop before heading to Padang would be the unnamed hill in Danau Singkarak. I already posted about that here. So this ends my posts on my Padang trip. ^___^

Before closing this chapter. it's best if I end it with a group photo to immortalize the amazing memories I had there. 

Thanks travel-mates!! From left - Syahrial, Siti Nur, yours truly, and Yayan! 
I do hope we'll have another trip together in the future! I had the bestest of time! Thank you all for making it happen! :)

~ The End (for another New Beginning) ~