Small Group Tours of Malaysia
Tour Malaysia with Baktrax and meet the warm and friendly people of this wonderful country and cherish the warm memories you will take away. You will be captivated by Malaysia’s gorgeous landscape, its varied races and religions, and many wonderful attractions. Grab the chance to tour Malaysia with Baktrax, and see the wonderful culture which has existed since the 14th century.

Baktrax Tours to Malaysia
Let us show you the very best of Malaysia, and at the lowest all-inclusive prices you’ll find anywhere.


Meander In Malaysia Tour
Get a tour and an even more relaxing holiday at the same time. With three cultures in one there’s not many better places for a meander than Malaysia…. Continue reading →


Malaysian Masala Tour
This Malaysia small group tour is ideal for either the first time Asian traveller or the Asian travel addict.
We believe it is the best value small group tour in Malaysia today… Continue reading →

Malaysia is a bubbling, bustling melting pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony.

Multiculturalism has not only made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise, it has also made Malaysia home to lots of colourful festivals. It’s no wonder that Malaysians love celebrating and socialising. As a people, they are very laid back, warm and friendly. In fact if Laos has the best beer in the region and Yunnan the best noodle soup then Malaysia may have the nicest people. With such lovely people in all the Baktrax destinations that’s the biggest call we will make in regards to the best of, but forced to make a decision and Malaysia is the choice and would be up there with any country on earth also in regards to friendly people.

Geographically, Malaysia is as diverse as its culture and one of Malaysia’s key attractions is its extreme contrasts. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts. Cool hideaways are found in the highlands that roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.

For the perfect holiday full of pleasant surprises tour Malaysia with Baktrax.

Malaysia’s most recent history started with independence from the British in 1957 and with then Singapore to form the Malay Peninsula. In 1965 They split with Singapore to make what today is two countries. Since then Malaysia has continued to grow and hopes to reach developed nation status before 2020. So while it still has a way to go it is the most developed of all the Baktrax destinations. The same political party has been elected ever since independence but recently the gap between parties has gotten much smaller and any election soon may see a new government in control.
While the principal religion is Islam a more tolerant country in this regard would be hard to find as you will see Chinese and Hindu temples as well as Christian churches intermingled with some magnificent Muslim Mosques almost every step of the way.

HIGHLIGHTS: There are numerous highlights like in most countries but the highlight of highlights to begin with is just being there. Nowhere else does this feeling take on more significance than Malaysia. Think people and food and that’s enough in itsef to get repeat visitors. One elderly Australian couple we met had spent the last 35 Christmas’s in Malaysia, primarilly in K.L. And while there is far more to Malaysia than the capital we think that’s the best recommendation we have ever heard.
For individual highlights we will start in K.L. with Chinatown right beside your accommodation with Petaling street the main tourist shopping area. Not far away and easy to get to via the new sky train systems is the Petronas Towers, the Lake Gardens and Bird Park, Batu caves and the colonial style railway station. Within walking distance is the Central Market, numerous museums, mosques and shopping opportunities. A Malay, Chinese or Indian restaurant will never be far away either.
MELAKA is one of the most historical places in S.E. asia and with good reason.
Historical buildings and other attractions from its long rich history as a major trading post are still there today. Lots of museums and other things to discover as you meander the atmospheric old town. Different food choices again such as Nonya which originated in Melaka also.

The cooling Cameron Highlands is next up where blankets are needed at night most of the year. The rolling tea plantations landscape and cooler climate make walking one of the most popular pastimes in between meal times. Again lots of great restauants but South Indian cuisine is some of the best in the country in the main town of Tanah Rata with its large Indian population. Another one of those special places you will reluctantly have to leave too soon.

PENANG ISLAND is next up and for overall food we would probably pick it for the best food place in the best food country. It is not unknown for K.L. residents to drive all the way to Georgetown on the weekend just for the food. Georgetown has an atmosphere all of its own also. While nothing like the world heritage listed places of the other countries we think it would be our favorite place in all of the Baktrax region. Modern shopping malls stand alongside street vendors and historic buildings giving Georgetown a unique feel as you window shop. Penang Hill is the main actual tourist attraction where you can get good views of the island from the top.
KUALA KANGSAR and TAIPING are two lesser known but no less enjoyable towns you will visit also. Here you may not even see another touist. A fascinating look at traditional Malaysia.

LANGKAWI ISLAND just north of Penang is probably the best known of all the Malaysian islands and it lives up to its reputation of the fabulous resort island it is. Beach out or party are the usual island pastimes and Langkawi is no different. Just a bit more beautiful than many others.

PANGKOR ISLAND residents and fans may disagree though as Pangkor island may be lesser known but is no less beautiful. Stunning inland greenery and warm sandy beaches is how to think for both of them.
LUMUT is the place to get the boat to Pangkor and is another great place to experience pure Malaysia along the way also.

SHOPPING: Malaysia or maybe Thailand gets out vote for the best shopping in the region. It doesn’t get much better than k.L. or Penang whether it be big modern malls or local markets in tiny back streets. Electronics in particular can be great bargains if you are knowledgable in this area. Penang road in Georgetown and Petaling street in K.L. are probably the main tourist shopping areas in the country. like Thailand, Malasia has just about everything shoppers will want and more.

FOOD: While Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food is far more famous Malaysia easily gets our vote for best food country in the region. Maybe some of the other countries have better single dishes but overall Malaysia easily wins. Malay, Indian and Chinese means the best of three worlds. We don’t always say it is the most healthy but for sheer mealtime enjoyment Malaysia has no rival. We will wet your appetite a little for now with just a few suggestions. Start the morning at least once with an array of Indian breads and sauces. Dosai, Roti, Vardai and Idly are all different types of bread dipped into a variety of dipping dahls and curries. Finish it all off with a final Roti covered in sweet milk. All washed down with tea or the local style of strong coffee. Next day have Dim Sum at a Chinese restaurant and the next try the local Malay fav of Nasi lemak. Time also to have baked beans on toast if you wish also or any other western breakfast. For lunch it can be an Indian buffet style restaurant with as many choices as you can imagine. Most agree this is up there with the best of the best meals. Eat your choices served on either a banana leaf or plate and use your fingers instead of a spoon to get the delicious tastes of curry and other sauces intertwined with your chicken, prawns or vegies. One Malay lunch worth a mention is Laksa which originated and is still the most famous in Penang but now comes in a number of regional varieties also.
For dinner the choice is usually a tough one. Another indian buffet perhaps or Tandoori chicken with garlic naan bread washed down with a mango lassi would be a great starting point. The usual Chinese fare will be easy to find also for the more health conscious. For dessert, Indian sweets are always on hand but on a hot Malaysian day it doesn’t get much better than an Ice Kachang. A weird collection of jellies, corn, beans and syrups are put on top of a large bowl of crushed ice. Sweet tooths will be in heaven. Restaurants, food courts and street vendors will always be nearby no matter what you decide on.
DRINKS: All drinks are available in Malaysia. Carlsberg and Tiger are the two major beers. The only downside is that while they will still be cheap compared to your home country they are the most expensive in the region. Apart from Langkawi Island that is where duty free status makes alcahol comparable to all the other Baktrax countries. Many imported beers not seen in most of Malaysia have been spotted on Langkawi also. For non alcaholic drinks there is a delicious array of local specialities also. Fruit lassi’s are available at most Indian restaurants. The Malay favorite is Cendol and a great way to cool down. Made from crushed ice, green squiggly pieces of jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar it is available from street vendors and in food courts for the most part,
The same places also sell Ice Kachang as a rule and Baktrax know the best two places for these in all of Malaysia. One in K.L. and one in Penang. Worth travelling half way around the world for these alone.
TO SUM UP MALAYSIA: For first time visitors to Asia we would steer you towards Malaysia as our number one choice when taking everything into account. The original Baktrax tour of Thailand and Malaysia would still be our one tour of choice today also, especially for first time Asia travellers.

Click on the following link to see what is on offer.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Small Group Tours of Cambodia

Cambodia has had a pretty bad run of luck for the last half-millennium or so. Ever since the fall of Angkor in 1431, the once mighty Khmer Empire has been plundered by all its neighbours. It was colonized by the French in the 19th century, and during the 1970s suffered heavy carpet bombing by the USA. After a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia promptly plunged back into the horrors of civil war in 1970 to suffer the Khmer Rouge’s incredibly brutal reign of terror, and only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 did the country begin to totter back onto its feet.

Much of the rural population still subsists on less than the equivalent of US$1 a day, the provision of even basic services remains spotty, especially in rural areas, and political intrigue remains as complex and opaque as ever; but the security situation has improved immeasurably, and increasing numbers of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia’s temples and beaches. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, now sports a wide range of hotels, chic nightspots, ATMs, and an airport fielding flights from all over the region, while Sihanoukville is getting good press as an up-and-coming beach destination. However travel beyond the most popular tourist destinations can still be a bit adventurous. Thankfully transport options and roads to the main attractions have improved rapidly over the last decade from the moonscape type roads on third world buses to paved roads on a variety of vehicles old and new. Tourism does have its benefits after all.

Baktrax Tours to Cambodia
Visit Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville for less on a small group tour with Baktrax.


Centuries in Cambodia Tour
This Cambodia small group tour of gives you the chance to see the real Cambodia and as the roads of the Khmer nation have been greatly improved recently this trip is no longer the arduous adventure it once was…
Continue reading →


Laos Cambodia Combination Tour
The very best of both Laos and Cambodia on one tour, taking in Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and… Continue reading →
It is important to remember that Cambodian history did not begin with the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s incredibly harsh regime has garnered most attention, but the Cambodians have enjoyed a long and often triumphant history. Anybody who witnesses the magnificent temples at Angkor can attest to the fact that the Khmer Empire was once wealthy, militarized, and a major force in the region. Its zenith came under Jayavarman VII (1181-ca. 1218), where the Empire made significant territorial gains from the Vietnamese and Cham. The Khmer Empire stretched to encompass parts of modern day Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.

The period following the fall of the Khmer Empire has been described as Cambodia’s dark ages. Climatic factors precipitated this fall, where the Ankorian civilization harnessed Cambodia’s water for agriculture through elaborate systems of canals and dams. The Khmer Empire never recovered from the sacking by its neighbours, based in Ayutthaya (in modern day Thailand), and Cambodia spent much of the next 400 years until French colonization squeezed and threatened by the rivalries of the expanding Siamese and Vietnamese Empires to the West and East. Indeed, on the eve of French colonization it was claimed that Cambodia was likely set to cease to exist as an independent kingdom entirely, with the historian John Tully claiming “there can be little doubt that their [the French] intervention prevented the political disappearance of the kingdom”.

The French came to dominate Cambodia as a protectorate from the 1860s, part of a wider ambition to control the area then termed Indochina (modern day Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos). The French were always more concerned with their possessions in Vietnam. Education of Cambodians was neglected for all but the established elite. It was from this elite that many “Red Khmers” would emerge. Japan’s hold on Southeast Asia during the Second world War undermined French prestige and following the Allied victory Prince Sihanouk soon declared independence. This was a relatively peaceful transition; France was too absorbed with its struggle in Vietnam, which it saw as more important to its conception of L’Indochine Francaise.

Prince Sihanouk was the main power figure in the country after this. He was noted for making very strange movies in which he starred, wrote and directed. His rule was characterized at this point with a Buddhist revival and an emphasis on education. This was a mixed blessing, however. He succeeded in helping create an educated elite who became increasingly disenchanted with the lack of jobs available. As the economic situation in Cambodia deteriorated, many of these young people were attracted to the Indochinese Communist Party, and later the Khmer Rouge.

As the Second Indochina War spread to Cambodia’s border (an important part of the “Ho Chi Minh trail”), the USA became increasingly concerned with events in the country. The US Air Force bombed Cambodia from 1964 to 1973, with the period from March 1969 to May 1970 being particularly intense. During this campaign, which was codenamed Operation Menu, 540,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped. Estimates of the civilian death toll range from 150,000 to 500,000. In total, from 1964 to 1973 the US dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia: more than the combined amount dropped by all the Alllies in all theatres during World War II.

In March 1970, whilist overseas to visit Moscow and Beijing, Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol and other generals who were looked upon favorably by the United States. Sihanouk then put his support behind the Khmer Rouge. This change influenced many to follow suit; he was after all considered a Boddhisatva. Meanwhile the Khmer Rouge followed the Vietnamese example and began to engender themselves to the rural poor.

Following a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns. Over 1 million people (and possibly many more) died from execution or enforced hardships. Those from the cities were known as “new” people and suffered worst at first. The rural peasantry were regarded as “base” people and fared better. However, the Khmer Rouge’s cruelty was enacted on both groups. It also depended much upon where you were from. For example, people in the East generally got it worse. It is debated whether or not the Khmer Rouge began “crimes against humanity” or a protracted “genocide”. There are claims there was a disproportionate number of ethnic Chams killed, and the ethnically Vietnamese also suffered persecution. Nonetheless, the Khmer also suffered often indescriminate mass killings.

A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside and ended 13 years of fighting (but the fighting would continue for some time in border areas). Cold War politics meant that despite the horrendous crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge they were the recognized government long after the liberation of the country by the Vietnamese, indeed they continued to receive covert support and financing by the USA. As a result of the devastating politics of the Khmer Rouge regime, there was virtually no infrastructure left. Institutions of higher education, money, and all forms of commerce industries were destroyed in 1978, so the country had to be built up from scratch. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy, as did the rapid diminution of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces.

TOURIST HIGH LIGHTS: Some of these should sadly be referred to as low lights simply because they revolve around the brutal history of Pol Phot and the Khmer Rouge.

SIEM REAP & ANGKOR WAT: We will start with one of not only Cambodia’s high lights but something equal to any high light anywhere on the planet. We refer of course to the Angkor Wat complex. This is a must see for anybody who considers themselves to be a world traveller but even if you are a once only overseas traveller this is about as good as it gets. The area is so large it would take weeks to see it all in detail. Luckily the major temples are close enough to see in a few hours with your Baktrax local guide. This leaves enough time for those wanting to explore even further afield.

The main temples being Angkor Wat itself, Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. With the latter a must see because of the huge tree roots having become entwined over the years with the ruins. Further afield the smaller but no less intricate temples of Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei are well worth a visit for those who don’t temple out and for really serious explorers a tough walk up a steep hill will get you to the river Linga’s which are carved into the rocks of a river bed. ( best visited in dry season). Far to many other temples to mention here but put simply, just a totally awesome complex of high lights.

After a hot day of exploration you will most likely feel like Pub street but for shoppers there are plenty of opportunities for that also.
If you havn’t got enough souvenirs and T shirts from the countless vendors who will follow you around the ruins then the numerous shops in town aimed at tourists will fill your bags for you. The Angkor Wat market has stalls selling handicrafts and numerous other sovenirs and is well worth a wander around also.
Just meander around and you will find plenty of fascinating things to see.

PHNOM PENH: Now its time for the low lights of Cambodia. These are must sees also. The infamous killing fields with the memorial stupa full of Skeleton heads are the first place you will be shown. After that you will visit Tuol Sleng prison known in the 70’s as S21. Has there ever been a mort inhumane place on Eearth? Here you will see how the pure evil of Pol Phot and his Khmer Rouge cadres went about creating their idea of utopia. Hire your own personel guide and you will hear some of their own true life stories but just wandering around on your own will be enough to see and feel the evil of the place. How could this happen to these wonderful people you are meeting today?
After all this depressing stuff the afternoon can be spent meeting some the lovliest people on earth while exploring one of the many large markets of the capital. Lots more clothing, handicrafts and souvenirs to be had at very cheap prices for those who can barter the best. There is a skill to it so learn fast and save money. The first and best tip is to always keep smiling
The central market is within walking distance and easily found with the strange looking art deco building standing out like a beacon. Take a short moto ride to get to Psar Tuol Tom Pong or more commonly known as the Russian market for even more great bargains or Psar O Russei for more upmarket food and imported products.
After all this activity the Corner Bar or one of the many other great bars or restaurants along Sisowath Quay will be the order of the day.

FOOD: While Cambodian food may be no where near as famous as its neighbours you will still get a good feed whether it be international or local.
The capital and even more so in Seam Reap there are numerous international food restauants from French to Mexican or Thai with the local food a must try also.
Fish is one of the main staples with all the water around and cooked in a banana leaf with various herbs and spices it will be hard to go past. Like its neigbours also, the popular Asian bowl of noodle soup in its various forms is a full meal in itself and can be had roadside or in a local market for a dollar or less.
Lemongrass, coriander and mint are but only three of the many herbs and spices used with fermented fish paste to lift flavour levels also.
One particular Khmer delight which came about as a result of the food shortages during the Khmer Rouge era is fried Spiders. It seems they were such a hit that they are still enjoyed today in a few places. Pizza or chips may be a better choice for a full meal though. Passing through local non tourist places with Baktrax will always turn up something new and surprising to first time visitors.

DRINKS: Beeer is regularly enjoyed by the population as much as anywhere else. So that wont be a problem to find. Angkor beer is the local brew and it’s as good a drop as can be found anywhere. Bars and pubs are all over the tourist areas with a draft beer costing a dollar or less. More expensive international beers will usually be available also but why would you bother. One drinking hole worth a mention for its atmosphere in the capital is The Garden Bar “in the shade”. Not many better places for a pre dinner drink than sitting in a colonial style wicker chair overlooking the Tonle Sap river. Your shout at 5.00.
Pub street in Seam Reap lives up to its name also after a hard day of temple exploration
While regular wine is readily available when locals talk about wine it usually means fermented rice wine as powerful as rocket fuel. Non experienced drinkers stay completely away.
Regular spirits available also.
SOFT DRINKS: All the regulars will be found along with one particular local fav of fruit shakes. Similar to smoothies these are made with fresh fruit and hold the egg if you dont want it too frothy. Delicious!

We havn’t much mentioned the best of all in Cambodia as yet though. That being the people themselves. When you see all that has happened and the terrible poverty that is still apparent in places it will be hard to understand how they can still be as happy, nice and hospitable as they are. You may encounter people with missing limbs due to past as well as the many still active land mines still laying in wait for some poor unsuspecting farmer. A more stoic people than the Khmer would be hard to find. Many speak english also so no communication problems for the most part. Again, simply put the word Charming first comes to mind of the population.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Low Cost Small Group Tours of Laos. (Pronounced LAO).
Lao PDR should stand for Lao – Please Don’t Rush
Laos is among the very poorest countries in the world.
Lao is the most laid back country in S.E. Asia. One of the trademarks of Lao is the diversity of its people and cultures. There are a number of traditional arts and crafts that represent their way of life. Lao has a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic traditions. The mighty Mekong river also plays a very important role for much of the land locked population.

There exists across the country many distinctive monuments and architectural styles.

Baktrax Tours to Laos
We have a range of fantastic tours that visit Laos only or take in Laos and a neighboring country or two.

Check this link for all tours that include Laos



A highlight is a cruise up/down the mighty Mekong. River scenery/life just doesn’t get much better. Comfortable boats have now fully replaced the 10 or so backpackers lying on the floor recycled fishing boats of a decade ago. Now you can enjoy the passing parade with a hot coffee or cold beerlao as well. the scenic memories will stay with you forever. The next highlight will be one of many, if you are a beer drinker. Beerlao is usually voted the best beer in the region by most travellers and Baktrax fully concur. At not much more than USD$1.00 a big bottle it wont break the bank either. Beerlao is a source of national pride.

LUANG PRABANG: Possibly the most charming city in all S.E. Asia.
The top highlight of many in Laos really is Luang Prabang. Along with Hoi An in Vietnam Luang Prabang is up there with the best when it comes to Heritage listed towns and cities. While modern restaurants and bars ply the main road most are still in the original old buildings dating back to colonial times or even further. A joy to behold as this is one place that all travellers love bar none. Again a beerlao or other cold drink by the river at sunset is another must do. Just being there is enough to get you on fire with excitement and that’s even before you take in the numerous attractions. A real feel good destination if ever there was.

VIENTIANE: Without doubt the most chilled out capital in S.E. Asia makes that a highlight in itself. Walk to most of the main attractions. Enough things to see and do to keep most busy for a day or more.
One of these is the most notable buddhist temple of Wat That Luang, the most Sacred Stupa, in Lao. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics (parts of Buddha’s body).
Then there is the Arc De Triomphe look alike of Patuxai, the National Museum and numerous other temples & cultual attractions. Coffee from the bakery beside the central fountain circle will make for a pleasant rest break during a busy day.
Lots of shopping opportunities all over the place and while not as extensive as Thailand you will still get a chance to purchase something interesting. This may include anything from world class silk products to a $2.00 beerlao T shirt.

PAKSE: The next real highlight is probably the lesser known Pakse in the far South towards the Cambodian border. Nearby Wat Phu Champasak is another world heritage listed monument from the Angkor period and is the main reason tourists are starting to arrive. But even without Wat Phu, Pakse in itself is another charming as well as a typically Laos laid back town. Meandering around town is another true local experience as you can join the locals at the Pakse Plaza just to begin with. Another amazing feel good destination. Add in possibly the best all round restaurant in Laos of Daolin and this place will only become more popular as word gets out. Get there fast. Until the tourist hordes arrive a la Luang Prabang Pakse will keep our vote as the chill out capital of Laos.

UDOMXAI. Time to get on the Baktrax and see both a real Thai town and even more so the passing of tiny villages between Luang Prabang & Udomxai. A fascinating days travel which will show you how the other half live. Expect lots of waves from smiling locals. This is probably, along with the Savanakhet to Pakse bus, the days travel you will be telling people back home about the most. Eye opening to say the least for first timers to Laos.

VANG VIENG: Again another fascinating days travel either to or from Vang Vieng. V.V. has been on the backpackers banana pancake trail for 20 years now so is more of a party town than anywhere else in Laos. A number of adventure activities to do before the beerlao comes out in the evenings adds to the appeal for many. Thankfully it can still be a quiet destination for those who want an early night also. The scenery both coming and going as well as in town is some of the best in all S.E. Asia.

SHOPPING: Without the range of it’s neighbours you will still find something to buy along the way. The biggest choice of produce in the country in one place is the Talat Sao or morning market in Vientiane, (open all day), which has everything from local produce to precious stones and silver as well as a myriad of souvenirs and other junk. Better from a tourists point of view is the evening market in Luang Prabang which sets up daily on the main road which is closed to all traffic and has great handicrafts, clothing and all manner of things you never knew existed before you arrived but now want desperately. Bartering is again the order of the day as it is in all Asian markets and the smile is always a key ingredient to getting the best price. Lastly; gold and silver shops are not uncommon and some good deals can be had if you know your stuff. Buyer beware with gems is the usual advice also.

PAKBENG: Little Pakbeng deserves far more time than the evening arrivals and early morning departures than most people give it. This extremely scenic Mekong river side town now has enough infrastructure to keep most people content for some extra laid back time.

HUAY XAI: Many years ago Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the Mekong was the stop of choice for those heading into Laos. Thus it has now become over run with Tourists and is far too spread out to see in a single one night stop. Across the river in Laos is Huay Xai which while now seeing a few visitors is far more compact, laid back and charming than its Thai counterpart. Not having to get up as early to cross the river is just another plus for staying here prior to heading down the river or onto Chiang Mai.

THA KHAEK & SAVANAKHET: Both these central large towns again sum up Laos. Beside the Mekong, laid back with colonial buildings to relax in and with only a few other tourists to compete with.

FOOD: Lao food is not unlike Thai food only without the diversity of the more famous cuisine of its neighbour. Plenty of spicey heat for those wanting it also. Add to the chillies, coriander, mint, lemongrass, ginger and basil among other fresh ingredients and a good meal is always only a short walk away. While Vietnam and Cambodia also have the Frech legacy of Baguettes for breakfast it would seem Laos has the best of these filling favorites. Noodle soup as usual is readilly available at all hours.
One of the best Laos dishes is Laarp, This dish can be firey or mild depending on your taste but consists of minced meat,usually chicken or pork mixed in with lime juice, garlic, onions and mint leaves and chillies among other things. Served with sticky rice and a side salad of lettuce leaves. Roll a small ball of rice in your hand and mix it with the laarp then roll it all up in a piece of lettuce and the taste can be sublime.

DRINKS: As mentioned beelao is the staple for locals and it a source of national pride and you will rarely be more than a few minutes walk away from a local drinking hole or tourist bar with the former being far more fun. Homemade rice whiskey in the poorer rural areas is often the drink of choice because of the very low cost. Lao Lao as it’s known is best left to the locals for the most part. A good bottle of imported wine can be easily found in the main tourist areas.
Laos grown coffee is considered to be as good as any and this strong brew goes extra well with the morning baguette. Often mixed with sugar and a large amount of condensed milk it will get you going for sure. A weak chinese like tea will often be given as a chaser also and is a great palate cleanser.
Drinking water in bottles is readily available at a very low cost everywhere you travel. Tap water is not safe to drink at all. Water offered to you in jugs in restaurants is safe to drink also. Fruit shakes and other western soft drinks are very common and even more so in the tourist areas.

THE LAOS POPULATION: Exactly like all their neigbours – Extremely friendly with broad smiles the order of the day. These smiles only get broader as the beerlao or lao lao goes down also. Two Baktrax customers were almost moved to tears by the heartfelt friendliness of the locals at one stage.
SABAI DEE LAO. (Welcome to Laos) Always just pronounced Lao also rather than Laos. How would you possibly know of the poverty though when Lao is so safe and friendly overall and all they do is smile and say chock dee (good luck) with a beerlao in hand.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Bangkok is the worlds second most visited city after Hong Kong. With good reason obviously. A fascinating place where the tourists attractions are amazing and where you can still experience life with the locals. After Bangkok most visitors go to only 5 of the other 76 provinces. These being Chonburi (Pattaya), Surathani, (Koh Samui, Koh Tao and  Koh Pang Ngan; Chiang Mai and the obvious one of Phuket.

I have been to 74 of the 77 with the only three not visited being two of the unsafe ones on the Malaysian border and Phuket. I have never been to Pattaya either but rather to two of the other lesser known districts of Chonburi.

The reason I travel is all about seeing other cultures. Sure I want to see some of the tourist attractions also but it is the local way of life I am fascinated with.  To do this you must get away from the more famous destinations. Luckily for those like minded travelers there are plenty in Thailand which rarely see a Falang, (Foreigner).

Baktrax travel to the following on the regular tours. Obviously  they are some of our favorite places in Thailand.

THINK: Local markets, bigger than the usual  smiles from the locals and local prices. Would you pay 500% more for a beer back home? So why do it in another country? Baktrax don’t visit places that partake in this game.

  1. Mukdaharn.
  2. Roi Et.
  3. Chai Naat.
  4. Ratchaburi
  5. Phetchaburi
  6. Prachuap Khiri Khan.  ( Not the district of Hua Hin).
  7. Khon Kaen. ( away from the ex pat and other tourist areas).
  8. Kalasin.
  9. Phitsanulok.
  10. Samut Songkram.

It is unlikely you will see more than one or two other tourists if any at all as you stroll around the above towns or sit with the locals for the best real Thai food in a local market. Grab a beer at 7/11 and simply ENJOY with the atmosphere being unlike anything back home.

Want to get even further off the baktrax then there are still another 50 or more Thailand truly undiscovered destinations. Baktrax can put together custom made tours to any these or with a mix of the more visited areas . Think Isaan, (North East), or Central Thailand for the most part. Truly wonderful travel experiences. There are exceptions also. Chiang Mai sees mass tourism but still retains its’ local charms unlike some of the others. There are only about 8 places we do not go to. Thailand is far better on the baktrax.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

tipping in S. E. Asia.

tipping in others countries can be a problem for some visitors. In S.E. Asia it should be no problem at all. It is not expected anywhere as a general rule and it is most certainly not compulsory. In certain favorite places I will tip as I know the locals and they give me excellent food and service. These are only restaurants for tourists though. In 22 years I have never tipped in a locals only restaurant. I once told a lady to keep the 5 baht (20 cents) change but she chased me down the street to give it back to me. If i have one major gripe with certain tour operators it is charging customers up front with a “compulsory” tipping charge prior to starting a tour. Tipping made easy is what they call it among other rip off names. I call it exploitation in many cases. Locals will be paid by tips only in some cases. $10.00 a day per person on a 2 week tour in this region is totally outrageous. This is purely an extra tax on your holiday costs. Because westerners have started a culture of tipping some places now hope for tips and when given they are much appreciated as anywhere in the world. But no one will ever expect a tip.  Your Baktrax tour coordinator will always offer advice on local protocol and cultural norms.
In some better class local bars where locals sit at tables drinking there are often barmaids who hover around the tables immediately mixing whiskey drinks on a continual basis as soon as a glass is empty. Likewise even when you take a mouthful of beer they will immediately top  up the glass from your bottle. This is Thai culture only and at the end of the night the locals would tip them. Most westerners do not  even want or like this service and will make that clear. But even a tip without the service would be much appreciated in this situation although no problem either way.
So the bottom line is always; IT IS TOTALLY UP TO YOU ON ALL OCCASIONS . Nothing or as much as you want but never feel obliged/guilty/embarrassed whichever way you go. Try the following tour to experience different cultural norms among real locals only.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Many people see these two countries as dark and dangerous, especially Cambodia with it’s more recent history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having been to both countries numerous times I can only say I feel much safer walking around, any time of day, than I do in my native Melbourne. So for me, there is no reason to avoid these fantastic countries. Depending on what you google they both usually come up in the poorest 20 countries in the world. The majority of the top 20 are in Africa so compared to it’s neighbours the poverty will hit you up front even more so. BUT! It seems that poverty equates to friendliness in this region. Sitting down at the corner bar on Sisowath Quay in Pnom Penh for a happy hour 50 cent beer or a beerlao beside the Mekong River in Laos will have you surrounded by friendly faces as you watch a totally different world pass by from that back home. The culture will delight you just to begin. Now to the actual tourist attractions.
No one needs to mention Angkor Wat in Cambodia anymore as it had 2 million visitors in 2016. The town of Siem Reap has now developed along with these arrivals. Twenty years ago the local market and odd Western restaurant were the only choices. Today, French, Italian and Mexican among many others are the choice. Luckily there are still locals markets where cheap Khmer food like the delicious national dish of Amok is available, surrounded by locals. Did you really come to Cambodia to eat pizza?
Pnom Penh has numerous attractions like the Silver Pagoda and fabulous national Museum to mention two as you wander around the back streets to see local life as the even bigger attraction. Unpaved roads in the city will give you a chance to see how lucky you are back home, even more so in rainy season. Recent history is on display also at the Killings Fields and Tuol Sleng museum. Heading south to the beach in Sianoukville will give those who want it another option again. But it will be travelling through rural Cambodia and Laos that will give you a bigger insight into just how poor these places/people are. A visit to Kratie to take a look at the local fresh market may see you with your first case of culture shock but yet again surrounded only by friendly faces. Likewise there is no better way to see local life in Laos than the local bus from Udomxai to Luang Prabang or on a Mekong River slow boat.

UNESCO heritage listed Luang Prabang is  the Laos equivalent of Angkor as the number one highlight. Obviously there is good reason for that also. No one  s stand out thing to see apart from Kuang Si waterfall as the must see for most.   L.P. is the entire highlight in itself with a charm that bewitches most visitors. Another of the great highlights in all S.E. Asia.  While L. P. has all the creature comforts you want it will be Udomxai that will show you  real Laos  local life.  Next up Vang Vieng is as a beautiful a town as anywhere with it’s wonderful mountain panorama location.   Even though it has been turned into somewhat of a tourists party town it still has more than enough charm for a day or two for those seeking an early night. The Laos capital of Vientiane is declared by all to be the sleepiest capital in Asia and I won’t say anything to deny that. A joy to walk around after Bangkok and/or K.L. among many others. Numerous tourist attractions like the Laos equivalent of the Arc De Triompe of Patuxai, Wat That Luang among numerous other temples are mostly an easy stroll away. The National Museum or a local market will keep you occupied also. Lastly to the less visited South of Laos is Savanakhet and even more so Pakse, with its Heritage listed Wat Phu Champasak, being as laid back as it gets in laid back Laos.

Safe and extremely friendly, local culture, food and beer to rival any and many actual tourist attractions  as good as anywhere on earth. As cheap as you want it to be also. So time to visit before the fast food chains arrive and the culture is gone. Both countries have real tourist attractions as well as being for real Baktrax travellers.


Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment



The main reason is aimed at those who think the world revolves around their own posterior. I also thought this until I travelled. I was never a racist or bigott like many of my fellow Australians but I had no idea of what else goes on in the world outside the footy and a TAB. Only recently a tourist survey concluded that Iran was the friendliest country towards tourists. IRAN!  Who would imagine unless you had been there that this would be the case. No I havn’t been to Iran but it is now on my  list. I have heard nothing but good about the place. Watch only the news in your home country and nobody would ever go there. Likewise most of Asia. I believe it should be compulsory for every Australian to be conscripted after school. If there name comes out of the hat they should be forced to travel on their own to either Africa, Asia or South America. Government funded. My wordly education came from the first two and the other is still on my list. I have learnt far more about the world at large by travelling than I ever could have at school, Arden st or a TAB. In Asia where I have now spent most of the last twenty years, not once have I felt to be in danger or threatened in any way at all. OK!, the roads are not the safest is an under statement. But violence wise it is far safer than Melbourne or London not to mention the U.S.A. Yet those who say”I would never go to Asia”  have this preconceived view of death at every corner. How further from this could it be. “BIG, DIRTY, DANGEROUS BANGKOK” One young Australian girl told me adding she would die if she went there. Well i replied ” I have lived there and visited 100 other times and I am still here a hundred metres away from the local cemetary, with now hosts lots of people who never left home once”. Then she said Bangkok is Bali isn’t it? Ignorance really is bliss

The following are just a few of the  reasons why people travel to South East Asia but not the most important ones in the opinion of the author.


THAILAND:  Friendly locals – History –   Beaches – Islands –  Shopping* –  Food* – Culture* – Scenery – Temples –  Value for money* – Cheap beer.

MALAYSIA : Friendly locals* –  history –  – Beaches – Islands – Food* – Scenery –  Culture – Shopping –  Value for money – Penang*

CAMBODIA:  Friendly locals* –  Beaches  – Food – cheap beer –  Culture – Angkor wat* – Ancient & recent history* – Value for money.

LAOS – Friendly locals – History –  Culture – food – Luang Prabang* – Pakse – Best and cheapest beer in the region* – Temples – Mekong river life*.

VIETNAM: Friendly locals – History – Cheap beer –  Culture – Food – Shopping –  Mekong River – Sapa* – Hoi An* – Halong bay*.

*Indicates the best of the best.

Finally the two main reasons  it should be compulsory to travel in South East Asia.


100% true on both counts. While even a short tour is guaranteed to broaden your mind it may take a little longer to experience the latter. Unlikely to happen on a short visit but stay long enough and it will occur. Nothing to worry about for the most part though. Rushed and numerous trips with no further complications for the vast majority. Take extra care and you  may even be lucky.

2. When you get home you may never moan again. It seems the more we have the more we moan. After experiencing meeting some of the happiest people on the planet who have only a fraction of what most westerners have especially in Cambodia and Laos and with infrastructure at levels most westerners can’t even imagine you will realise how lucky you are and will never Moan about petty annoyances ever again. Trains do not run late in Melbourne nor does it have any traffic problems and yes Aussies and Brits are really very good drivers after all.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment


The following are my prognostications on food in S.E. Asia after twenty years of living and travelling in the region. It is in no particular order in any way shape or form. It is written from memory only and some of it closer to twenty years ago than today. So it is a hiddly piddly memoir of some of the best food on the planet. I also gleaned my taste skills under the guidance of a French expert. the food king of the world when it comes to eating. Any non local who always buys the best durian is not to be ignored when food is mentioned. He can also eat 6 roti chanai everyday and not put on weight. Now that’s about as impressive as it gets.

These stories come from Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam & Yunnan.

My first arrival was in Malaysia in 1995 and it is still by far the best place for food overall. Thailand runs a good second and is usually much healthier also. AND! Make no mistake Thailand has by far the best street vendor food even if Malays may not agree. AND! No body in the region eats as much chilly as Thailand either. Malays think their food is spicey. Only a dream compared to Thai food. Ok, Malay Laksa has a good bite but not much else. But for pure taste Malaysia wins overall apart from a few exceptions.

Sorry no photo’s. use google images.

Let’s start with best of the best for breakfast.

The perfect breakfast, first discoveered in 1995 begins in Malaysia with one Roti Channai, one Dosai, one Vardai and one Idly all dipped into dahl and other delicious sauces. Broken into bite size bits with the left hand only and served on a banana leaf it doesn’t get any better than this. Unhealthy with high calories it may be but once a year is ok. Kopi Susu to wash it down and then another coffee with another roti, this time smothered in sweet milk to finish off.

We’ll stay in Malaysia for lunch and dinner also. Curry Laksa for lunch is all you will need after breakfast as it is not so big. The best one i know is in the little vendors court at the end of chulia St in Georgetown, Penang. After this you will again want something sweet so walk down Penang Rd towards Komtar and  head into the second last street on the left before the pedestrian overpass and join the locals for the best ICE KACHANG on Penang. Shaved ice with a number of jellies, beans and syrups make this a cooling, sweet and delicious tropical desert. Just dont forget the scoop of ice cream on top.

Special mention: The best Ice Kachang with ice cream is actually in K.L.  in the food court on the top floor of the Kota Raya shopping centre opposite Jalan Sultan in Chinatown.

Not enough calories? Want more?

Dinner time on Penang.

1 of 3. The three course dinner. Centred on the corner of Chulia st and Love lane.

a. The table that sets up in the evening offering all sorts of yummies on coloured sticks. Each colour equates to the price of that stick. Dip the morsels into either Satay or Chilly sauce and stand with the locals and eat as much as you want before they count up the sticks to pay your bill. This is about as more-ish as it gets.

b. Second course is directy opposite and not so unhealthy for a change. Fish or chicken rice porridge is about as good as it gets in the porridge stakes. Then go left into Chulia St for some fresh fruit from the vendor who has been their since 1995 also. All this for the cost of a few dollars.

2a of 3. Turn left from Chulia into Penang Rd and the first Muslim Indian restaurant you come to has the equally best Tandoori chicken. Many other equally as good  also. Tandoori chicken with garlic Naan bread and a mango Lassi is all that’s required for dinner tonight. Again only a few dollars.

2b of 3. Turn right from Muntri St into Leith st and a little night food market means yet another choice. Lots of stalls selling Laksa, seafood and a myriad of other choices although geared up more towards tourists so expect to pay a little bit more. Although the Laksa is still a bargain. Waiters will come to your table with a beer also making this an extra special place.

3 of 3. Yes, the best is last. Numerous Indian restaurants all over Malaysia but again Penang has more than it’s fair share. My fav thest days is Jaya. Open 24 hours in Leith St close to the Chulia St, Penang Rd corner. Dozens of pre cooked plates on display so you can just look and point. Fish, chicken, squid, vegetables in all shapes and sizes in various delicious sauces, curries and spices. Alas no beer is available at most of these places. Mango lassi is how to think. Lastly make sure you watch what sauces the locals put on their meals and just say same same. It may not look normal to first timers but it is the best.

Special mention:  In Little India is Krishna Villa restaurant (breakfast, lunch or dinner), where for a dollar or two you will get a bottom less banana leaf vegetarian meal. If you do not fold over the bana leaf they will continue to give you more of the same. Rice with vegetable dahl with a number of  side condiments such as pickles, yogurt and other sauces all mixed up and eaten with the right hand. Spoons available for novice eaters.  Other non veg and Indian breads are also available along with the best collection of Indian sweets in the area.

There are so many great restaurants in Geortown at budget prices it would take a year to try them all.  Some people from K.L. have been known to drive the 5 or 6 hours to Georgetown just to eat lunch. The best single place for food in the best country for food in the region.

Of all the places I have been to Penang is still my favourite after dozens of visits. Atmosphere and food says it all. Julia and Grant think so also. So that means I must be right. Hope to see you for a 5.00p.m. pre dinner drink a at 75 soon.

Very honorable mention:  In the middle of Chinatown in K.L. is a food court with mostly Chinese offerings. Right at the front is a buffet table with ECONOMY FOOD.  They hand you a plate of rice and you can put on any amount of numerous choices before they add up the price which will be economy for sure. Sit down with the locals and before your first mouthful you will be asked what you want to drink. Carlsberg beer please. Sit back and enjoy the English tunes playing such as Limbo Rock and other 60’s and 70’s tunes from boney M and more. Are we really in Malaysia? Again a sublime experience.


Breakast doesn’t get close to Malaysia apart from a good bowl of rice porridge. (Jok in Thai). Add minced pork, mushrooms, ginger, coriander and a few other things and it’s also damn good . Most tourists stick to the regular fruit salads, banana pancakes or eggs on toast as a rule. Locals tend not to differentiate between meals so it could be the same for breakfast as for dinner. Fried eggs on rice is one local fav and with a bit of maggi suce mixed in is a good and readily available choice also.

Lunch again is usually served on rice and even after twenty years I still only know a few of the very local choices you see from time to time. Often wrapped in banana leaves in markets with most non thais having no idea what’s inside. Sometimes good and sometimes not. A bit of a lucky dip for those who are game. No real outstanding choices in this area except the one for the grand finale. Usually a plate of mixed vegs on rice and the best one on the planet for price, size and taste is at Air restaurant in Pai. A hole in the wall place with no sign sign next door to the also good Vegan restaurant. Air specialises in also great, local Shan food but it is her vegie stir fries that make her number one in Pai, if not the world even. Yes, she can add meat also. Almost forgot, Air does best Khao Soi in Pai also. Egg noodles with chicken in a coconut sauce with fresh and sour vegetables on the side.

Special mention for Daret’s restaurant in Chiang Mai also.

Daret’s is one of the best overall tourist restaurants in all the region also.


Som Tam in Thai or Green Papaya Salad is the best meal on the planet for less than $2.00. probably the best at any price actually. Every Saturday for lunch when in Pai I turn up at the best of the best that I know of. Opposite Aya Service is Penhs hole in the wall restaurant. 10 chillies and garlic first go in the mortar and are crushed with the pestal before adding tomato , long bean, egg plant, lemon juice, fish sauce, peanuts, palm sugar,(ok it shouldn’t be used ever but just this once please), and then the main ingredient of grated green papaya. Pound and mix well and the taste is sublime. This is a set meal that is eaten with sticky rice and barbeque chicken or pork. Roll a small ball of rice and dip into the juice and some papaya and chomp with a bit of chicken also.

Handy tip. Thai dinners normally add crab to this also. Most westerners dont like this including myself. It ruins the taste and as they add shell as well a broken tooth is not unusual for first timers . So just say mai ao puu.  (no crab).

Honorable mention to the street vendor behind Wat Chanasongkram opposite the Gecko Bar in Bangkok whose Som Tam is also excellent.

LAOS: Laos is very disapointing in comparison. Tourist restaurants are the norm, SADLY.   One dish worth high praise if you get a good one though is Lao Laarp. A spicey minced meat dish that when good is great. Alas Laos is more expensive and Laarp is also these days. Beerlao is the one exception on prices as it is as good a beer at the cheapest price in the region. Beware of tourist restaurants in Vientiane is the first rule as they are often very expensive compared to all the other countries. Budget food can be found but only after a little effort. Drink more Beerlao to keep the bill down.

If you do want to spurge or are homesick then Pizza and red wine wont be far away. Scandanavian bakery likewise for a cappachino and cake. So to sum up; Not as good as elsewhere but still good food to be had.

CAMBODIA:   Same  same Laos.  Very few locals restaurants speak English so hard to get a local meal with the locals. I recently did find a really good one in Siem Reap though near Lucky Mall and their Fish Amok was excellant. Amok is possibly the national dish. Only locals and excellent food three times a day at this local restaurant. Siem Reap though has so many choices these days from Mexican to French and many in between. tourists en masse for the most part though.

VIETNAM: Better than Laos and Cambodia but not as good as Malaysia and thailand. Western breakfasts for the most part and Pho for luch is how to go. Locals eat Pho any time of day. the local variety of noodle soup is fantastic value.

then when it comes to 5.00 p.m. it doesn’t get much better than rice paper fresh spring rolls with the bottle of Tiger. Dipping sauces vary and  make or make better the experience.


YUNNAN; China.

Need i say anything about Chinese food except that it’s better in China than back home. Usually in bigger than needed portions also. Just one famous dish in Yunnan is Acoss The Bridge Noodle Soup. Small, mediam or large is often the choice. Small is huge from my experience. A large bowl of boiling broth is put in front of you along with a tray of numerous other raw things like quail eggs, vegetables and spices. Throw them in and they cook in the broth. Best noodle soup in all the region for ravenous soup experts. Alas with devolopment arriving in China is it no longer the bargain it use to be. Frugal travellers may give it a miss and head for a mac instead if price is important. Touristy places in Yunnan are now often well over the top in regards to price. Lijiang was once backpacker heaven. Now it is totally over run with domestic tourism. The fabulous cheap restaurants have now been replaced with all the major western fast food chains. Harly the cultural experience any more.

AN ALMOST PERFECT FOOD WEEK IN S.E. ASIA: Try to stay a bit healthy also.


Breakfast;  Malaysian Indian as above.

Lunch; malaysian Laksa as above. Ice Kachang.

Dinner; Malaysian as above.


Breakfast; Thai fried eggs on rice.

Lunch; Air stir fried mixed vegetables.

Dinner; Repeat Monday.


Breakfast;  Thai rice porridge. (Jok).

Lunch; Bowl of vegetarian noodle soup at Vegan restaurant next to Air’s in Pai.

Dinner; Pad Gaprao chicken. Daret’s restaurant Chiang Mai. ( Spicey minced meat on rice). the spicier the better.

Leo beer mandatory as the side dish.


breakfast; Repeat Monday.

Lunch; Repeat tuesday.

Dinner; Maybe a Red, yellow, green, Masaman or Penang curry in Thailand.


Breakfast; Baked beans on toast sadly. Western & oriental cafe. muntri St penang.

Lunch. Across the bridge noodle soup.

Dinner; Repeat Monday.


Breakfast; repeat Monday but only just a roti and a dosai as must keep empty for lunch.

Lunch; Only SOM TAM can be had when available.

Dinner; A good spaghetti dish with at least salami and olives with a side salad, garlic bread and red wine.


Breakfast; Monday.

Lunch; Saturday. Followed by an Ice Kachang.

Dinner. Monday.


For the perfect S.E. Asian culture and food tour visit

For a great local Thai market food experience visit:

Or even better again visit:











Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ON FIRE WITH EXCITMENT X 5 TIMES. (5 of the best travel times).


1: The first best day of my life had nothing to do with travel apart from a short train trip to the MCG and was to eventually pale into total insignifigence. Go back to September 1975. I got off the train at Windsor station to walk home thinking the world is perfect. North Melbourne had just won their first ever flag and I was in heaven. I still have great memories of Schimma, Greigy etc etc but how unimportant in the overall meaning of life are they now. I loved the footy and North even more so. How easily we are brained washed at birth. Luckily things got better. Although ignorance is always bliss also as they say.

2: As someone who stayed home for the most part when on annual leave I was 38 when I decided to drive from Melbourne to Cairns and back over three weeks. Firstly it opened my eyes to parts of Australia I knew nothing about.  Outback towns in NSW now fascinate me.  They say if you havn’t got something good to say about a place you should say nothing.  OK.   Then to Cairns where I had the first great travel day of my life.   After doing a bungy jump on my way to Port Douglas which by the way I still cannot explain why I did it, it was a day on a boat to see the Great Barrier Reef. A group of tourists and crew set out on a Catarmaran and all day was just sensational.  Coffee and Anzacs were served.   Sitting on deck was just amazingly exciting and relaxing at the same time. Then we put on the aqualung and with hand held  I did what is called a tourist dive.  Fish, coral and a giant clam later it was one of the best days in my life.  Lloyd Bridges I was calling myself. Does it get any better than this I wondered?

3: A few years later it was off to Africa for the first real adventure. During that fabulous five weeks it was leaving Maun in Botswana with legs dangling outside the truck that i was again on fire with excitment.  Twenty of us were having such a great time on the overland truck with three fantastic crew I was overcome with the feeling of how lucky I was to be there.

Nearing the end of the five weeks we all went white water rafting below Victoria Falls down the Zambezi river with Shearwater. A number of boats travel together through these massive rapids. Guido from Belgium went in a boat where he had to row with a small oar. I choose a boat with only one oarsman where the rest of us just held on.  Hence he was the Belgium Fool and I was the Aussie Coward being the only Male on our ten person boat. What a fantastic day was had by all. It does indeed get better than the reef. One giant rapid flipped us over like a fried egg and we were pulled under the water while all still holding on with the white knuckle death grip until our life jackets popped us up again with adrenelin  going full tilt. The trip with Guerba would influence my life forever. 11 out of 10 for the perfect score they were. Lions, rhino, elephants en masse and numerous other animals plus the Namib desert the worlds largest meteor and poppa falls ( possibly the worlds smallest water fall), before lastly standing on top of Victoria falls feeling again ever so lucky to be there and realising I was now addicted to travel. And Heather and myself became expert rubbish holes creators. Others were taking photo’s by trips end of the perfect hole dug out of concrete like ground. What a fabulous time.

Footnote: 1. When i returned to work I showed a workmate photo’s of lions eating a baby elephant. That’s cruel she said; Why dont THEY feed them?  She is probably very rich now and still working and will never know anything else. How sad.

2. Showing photo’s to my brother of the worlds biggest sand dunes in Namibia I was also told I took them at Rosebud Beach.

4: 1996;  After 18 months in S.E. Asia it was time for Nepal and three weeks which I would now say is the best thing i have ever done. Annapurna Base Camp or ABC. If you want animals go to Africa and for mountains it’s Nepal. The friendly people in both places are worth more than a passing mention also.  So trekking up to ABC was not only the hardest thing i may ever do but also the most rewarding. No words can describe the beauty of the mountains. Before i did this i was like many others who could never understand why people wanted to climb mountains.  Well i only trekked to base camp but I now understand exactly why. Ask anyone who has done this and they all say the same thing. Going over 4,000 metres was only half way to where the climbers go but still sensational. At base camp you look back down the valley and never tire of looking at it. Look up to the top of Annapurna and it looks like it’s a stones throw away when it is actually another 4,000 metres away. Playing scrabble after a hards day walk with other trekkers was a great way to relax also. Or play shithead if you wish also. Dahl baart replenishes the petrol tank also. Back home in Australia and I boast of doing this. Alas the same people who want the lions fed have never heard of the Annapurna mountains. So i must get back to Nepal one day to do Everest base camp. An American doctor who trekked with me and  who had done Everest once replied when I asked him which was harder?  “both the same as they only go up” Air thinner on Everest as you get higher is the big difference he continued.

5: Cambodia 2009.  One of the most enjoyable single days of travel.

I had been to Angkor Wat before but now with Baktrax i had customers with the day at the complex with a local guide.  I had met Grant and Julia in the Gecko bar in Bangkok and we crossed paths in Siem Reap. I wanted to visit some of the other attractions so we teamed up with another Aussie girl who was first time overseas. Big first up destination I said to her.  Have a good Kmere friend in melbourne she said so why not. So we hired a Tuk Tuk and driver and set off for some of the lesser known temples.  So it was the smaller temples of Banteay Srei,  Banteay  Samle and the land mine centre. But what we looked forward to the most was the River linga’s. These carvings in a river bed looked fantastic in guide book photo’s. Little did I know that it was an Annapurna type trek to reach them and thirteen years later I wasn’t as fit and agile as i was. And no snow to cool down, only heat and humidity to make the short walk as hard as the Nepal mountains. An hour or so later i made it to the Linga’s. Puffing and totally exhausted but very happy i got there. Sadly unlike the mountains the carvings will go down as one of the most boring things I have ever seen let alone trekked to.  We all agreed on that one. The two temples were great even though we were attacked by giant green ants at the last one. The mine centre showed the barbarity of those evil things also. So overall because of the company and circumstances one of the most enjoyable days of my life.

With my bad knees i had even more trouble coming down from the river so luckily I had Grants large shoulder to lean on all the way down meaning  30 minutes rather than 100 or more on my own. He still demands I buy the beer every time we have cross paths  since and I recognise him.  Hopefully in K.L. again soon which is always a great day in the economy food centre listening to the Limbo rock or similar with a Carlsberg.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bus tales from Laos.

Having travelled around S.E. Asia for most part of the last 19 years I was recently reminded of the most illogical travel i have ever encountered. I refer to Laos. That wonderfully friendly land locked country which i have visited many times. Always a joy to visit with like most others my favourite place being wonderful Luang Prabang followed closely now by Pakse in the south.

I first went to Laos on an organized tour in 1995 when independent travel was not allowed. Hardly a westerner in sight apart from our own group in our own private van with driver. The roads were more like the surface of the moon and much of the time was spent driving off the road as it was much smoother. Over the next 19 years the roads have vastly improved as tourists are now as common as locals in many places. Alas the logic, or at least logic as westerners know it has not improved at all. A few years back when trucks with two rows of seats in the back, (Songtaew, literally TWO ROWS), were the usual bus it was a case of mud in the rainy season and dust the rest of the year. Often when the seats were full the rest would stand on the tail gate as dust billowed out the back.

On one particular day many years ago I was travelling with my late best mate who was around 85 at the time. Sitting at the guest house restaurant in Nong Khiaw over a lazy breakfast we were suddenly called across the road to the bus stop as they knew we wanted to go to Luang Prabang. Hurry up they yelled. Leaving soon! So we leave our coffee and rush aboard. Sitting on a long bench with a few others at 8.45 a.m. I finally ask what time do we leave. 9.00 he replied. Thirty minutes later i again ask him and again he says 9.00. So I show him the time and he laughs and says 10.00.  so we all sit and wait. Time continues until at 10.15 I again ask ,when? 10.00 he again says followed by me showing him the watch before he again laughs and says 10.30. Now 10.45 and the same thing over again to 11.00. When 11.00 clicks over he tells everyone to get off and buy their tickets at the nearby window. 11.10 and finally we depart. OK, not quite yet. We drive for ten minutes to a river side pier where a few back packers had just arrived by boat. So they jump on board and off we go. AGAIN, not just yet. We then drive back to the window so they can buy their tickets. Finally 11.30 and this time we go. Alas 20 minutes later they stop and a huge ice box full of ice is tied to the tail gate containing the biggest fresh water fish i had ever seen. So off we head to Luang Prabang. The five hour trip had seen us sitting on a wooden bench for seven and a half hours in total.

All these years later this sort of thing continues unabated in Laos and i still cannot figure out why. In all visits to Laos it is almost unheard of for the bus/truck/songtaew  to leave at the time you are told or even happens to be on the timetable at the bus station.

Fast forward to the next vividly memorable bus trip. Now late 2013 and I am in Udomxai bus station at 8.00 a.m. for the 8.30 bus to Luang Prabang.  The timetable on the board beside the ticket window says 8.30 a.m. and the ticket sellers confirms it. Five hours away we are told. I have a coffee with another traveller and an  English ex pat who now lives in L.P.  Shortly after the best double decker bus ever seen in Laos turns up and we are told that’s the one. I am all smiles. At 8.20 we say, Best get aboard. We three get aboard but are the only ones on it. 8.45 and the locals start to turn up. By nine it is nearly full and off we go. The ex pat tells us they always tell tourists an earlier time so they dont miss it. He also says it may take up to 8 hours during rainy season. At best the road is a narrow but  cement road and at worst a muddy dirt one but at least not too many pot holes. as we pass within a metre or so of houses and young kids playing beside the roads in villages of wood and bamboo and not much else. Then the first of our three long delays as the road is covered in mud and rocks from an avalanche.  Steep cliff on our left and a 200 metre drop on the right. No where to go untill the road is cleared. Finally I walk up past the line of vehicles to take a look. One man with a shovel is working away on a massive pile of mud and rocks to clear it. Two others came to help him roll a huge rock out of the way. Two hours later we move off. Next avalanche only an hour away only took half an hour to wait. The houses of the villages were built only metres from this huge bus passing by with children in rags even closer. The rain continued as the roads became muddy but still passable tracks. Then our last avalanche and as i thought to myself how many people and equipment would be used back home I look up and see a small grader clearing the way. Ten and a half hous after we left we arrive in L.P. And people ask why i drink so much Beerlao when I’m there. Because it’s as good a beer as there is.

Many less memorable but equally as slow journeys were had in between.   Now August 2014 and time to head to South Laos again via Isan or N.E. Thailand. I catch the international bus in Mukdahan across the river into Laos at Savanakhet. After Immigration the bus was suppose to take us to the bus station. I was to slow wasn’t I as it didn’t wait for everyone and the few left were at the mercy of the Tuk Tuk boys. So as to far to walk i get done. No other choice. After two enjoyable days in Savan it’s time to get the bus to Pakse which I have done before but a while back now. Only 230 kilometres so how long can it take. Your in Laos so don’t even bother asking. I am the only non local on board.  INCREDIBLE! It leaves at the time I was told. The roads in Savan itself were the worst I’d seen in a long time but once out of town they improved to be very good. Thirty minutes later all going well i think. BUT! We then stop beside a small truck with sacks of rice on it. Thirty minutes later all the rice is now under the bus. Twenty minutes later we stop again for more cargo but as they are loading it onto the roof i can’t see exactly what was going up there. It was only later at a toilet stop I saw numerous boxes and bags plus two upright motor bikes.  Not very soon after we seem to stop every ten minutes to pick up passengers, at one time two stops only fifty metres apart. At two stops in small villages we were beseiged by ladies selling chicken on a stick. Large pieces of roast chicken wedged between two pieces of bamboo. Possibly a dozen girls holding at least six sticks in each hand and half boarding the bus to get sales and the other half waving the delicious sticks through the always open bus windows. Twice there were more sellers than passengers. After what I estimate was at least thirty stops on what i call a waving hand bus,  ie a bus that stops for every waving hand, we arrive in Pakse six and a half hours later.  And not once did a local question anything that was going on. Probably I was the only one who had any sympathy also for all those chicken sellers who never made a sale. And people back home complain if the train is a minute late. Really makes you think doesn’t it.      After Pakse I decided to see two new places I’d always wanted to visit in South Laos. Salavan & Attapeu. The latter descibe by someone as the wild east of Laos. For the next four days I never saw another westerner which is always good in itself. Firstly an old big bus from Pakse to Tat Lo in Salavan province on an uneventful big bus. Then it was in the back of a Songtaew to Salavan town with eleven locals with bags of vegies, chickens in a cage and the usual hard seat but only one and a half hours so no big deal. At Salavan bus station the next day a mini van was waiting to take me to Sekong. Again nothing abnormal as it left on time and on good roads arrived without incident. I had planned to stay in Sekong but as the driver said he was continueing to Attapeu i decided to continue and did so without any problems at all along the way. By the way all of these new places had nothing of interest for me apart from a beautiful waterfall in Tat Lo. So after a night in Attapeu I decide to head back to Pakse. What an unforgettable day it was for the 185 kilometre trip. The bus station is out of town and to far to walk to so the night before i ask about bus times and where i can get a taxi at 6.30 a.m. In the nearby market i am told with a bus leaving at 7.00 a.m. At 6.00 a.m. I get to the market with no a taxi in sight. Finally a guy on a motor bike with his cute young four year old girl tells me in broken english wait here and after he buys some food he will take me. Ten minutes later the three of us with my big backpack on my back and small one in his basket we head off at around 6.40 a.m. Ten metres later another tropical downpour begins. After five minutes of this he turns off the main road to his nearby home. Outside is a small truck. I’ll take you in that he tells me. Ten minutes later, still pouring he says he can’t find the key. So i sit outside his house on a verandah with his wife, two kids and grandma with another man beside me squatting down and cutting the husks off coconuts to sell. The familly eventually all squat around a tiny table and start eating which I am invited to do also. The two kids are by the way terrified of me as if i am a monster. When i first arrived and tried to shake hands they both bolted with shrieks into the house often coming out at a safe distance to have a look and finally laugh. Forty five minutes and still no keys but with rain not so heavy we get on the bike and he takes me to the bus station. As we stop i hug him as he saved the day. I offered him money but he totally refused until i gave him 20,00 kip ( less than $3.00) and insisted he buy his kids an icecream each. He accepted this. A nicer human being I have never met. So with many buses to Pakse I only had to wait ten minutes for the next one. A comfortable enough big one. 185 kilometres on decent roads wont take long will it I think.The road out of attapeu was smooth enough by laos standards with a few small pot hholes.  So WHY WHY WHY did he drive at not more than walking pace for the first forty five minutes.. not one other person got on. So as nobody else said a word i did the impossible and said nothing either. After this time he sped up to regular speed of about 50 or 60 K’s an hour by now raining again. This is Ok for a while before the mountain fog starts to drift in. Soon visability was almost down to a metre as all you could see was the road directly in front of the bus. Did this cause us to slow down?  We drove in this heaviest fog i had ever seen for over an hour and at least we were moving.

A  SIDE STORY ALONG THE WAY:   Many years ago I read a book called Just Passing By, by a traveller who told of one day having to squat with a bad tummy besdide a packed bus in a third world country and do his biz in full view. I always thought that one day it would happen to me. well now i am proud to say it finally happened. A number of times the bus had stopped and passengers went off to do their biz with many often in clear view. One women in particular got off three times and while totally covered by a huge sari like dress to the ground she clearly squatted beside the bus.  Men are usually lucky in this regard unless of course you can’t stand up. So I wanted to go but was not desperate at the first three stops so held on. But my time was coming. At the fourth stop I was really desperate, even worried that as soon as i stood up it may happen. So with always handy paper in hand i go as fast as possible to a muddy but smoooth patch of dirt and almost burst out laughing as I could see the people on the bus see me. Sqatting is never my preffered choice so I was all smiles as i got back on the bus clean as a whistle and long burning desire achieved. You can’t say you have ever travelled until you have done this.

OK, back aboard, fog gone and good roads  we arrive in Pakse. 185 kilometres in six hours. More beerlao was to follow for the next four days. Mission acomplished to see the new places and now I know i never need go there again but I will continue to return to Savanakhet and Pakse that  I enjoy as much as anywhere. Pakse in particular sums up laid back Laos to perfection and has Wat Phu champasak as a real tourist attraction  also.

Sadly after all this latest travel i realised i must be getting rich and old. Ok maybe not the first but definately the latter. After Pakse I headed back to Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand with the intention of getting a ten hour bus or train back to Bangkok. After three days in Pakse I email my travel agent and two hours later i have a flight in a few days from Ubon to Bangkok. Total one hour for 1,800 baht rather than 500 baht or so for a ten hour or longer road or rail trip. This is the first time ever I have changed to comfort instead of cash and I suspect more to come with so many budget airlines now in the region. Sad but true. May have to cut down on the beerlao to save some cash. NOT BLOODY LIKELY, so i must be rich.

You too can see Laos the easier way with either cash before comfort or vice verca.   or or
























Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at