Where I’m At is the monthly travel and site update for Nomadic Notes, and random ramblings from myself that don’t fit into a blog post. I also post weekly updates at the weekly travel newsletter, which includes the best travel reads from around the web.
Where I’ve been
An overview of where I’ve been over the last month.
May began in Saigon, where I was enjoying being back in Vietnam again after departing in such uncertainty last year. When I was in Vietnam in 2020/21 I made the most of my time by visiting provinces that I hadn’t been to. I even made a map of the provinces to keep track of where I’ve been.
I only had one month in Vietnam so I didn’t have time to visit new provinces. I visited Da Nang and Hoi An to do some articles for Future Southeast Asia. On this trip I compiled a Da Nang construction report, and then I stayed at An Bang Beach (the beach of Hoi An). I like the beach communities of Da Nang and Hoi An, and like my last visit I ended up splitting my time between the two.
I left Thailand in March thinking that I would not be back until November, yet here I was again. Tourist visas in Vietnam aren’t extendable yet, and you can only stay for 1 month. I booked a flight to Bangkok without knowing what to do next. It turned out to be the most fortuitous of bookings because the day after I was scheduled to arrive I found out that a railway conference was being held in Bangkok.
The Asia Pacific Rail Conference was the reason I was in Bangkok in March 2020. That conference was cancelled but I went to Bangkok anyway, which happened to be my last international trip of 2020. This was my first conference since 2019, and it was good to participate in the reopening of in-person events. The conference is B2B and not interesting from a passenger perspective, but is is good for me to get information about Southeast Asia railways.
I was going to stay in Thailand for a month, but then it was announced that Laos was fully reopening without any testing or quarantine requirements. I’ve been waiting to visit Laos ever since the Laos-China Railway opened in December 2021. To continue the rail theme I got the train from Bangkok to Nong Khai.
My last visit to Laos was in 2018 when I visited Luang Prabang. I was visiting the construction sites of the Laos-China Railway, so I have been eagerly awaiting for this historic line to open.
There are 5 stations on the express service from Vientiane to Boten (the others being Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Muang Xai). My mission on this trip was to visit them all. There is no website for the railway yet, and buying tickets is still difficult.
For my inaugural trip train in Laos, I was joined by my friend Calvin, who was on a convoluted visa run from Saigon. We got the train from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, and then I continued north after he left.
Luang Prabang was one of those places that often got mentioned in overtourism articles before the pandemic. It was strange to come back and see it looking like a ghost town. It was even more depressing to see shops with “for sale” and “for rent” signs everywhere. There were some foreign tourists here, but there is a long road ahead to see tourist numbers back to 2019 levels.
I arrived in Laos 9 days after the borders reopened, and tourists are only now trickling back in. I stayed at a guest house in Muang Xai, and I was told I was the first foreigner to stay there since the pandemic. I booked a guesthouse in Vang Vieng, and when I arrived I found it was still closed. They had not taken down the listing on Agoda, which they didn’t realise until I turned up. I also scared a 2-year old girl at a noodle place as I was the first foreigner she has seen in her life (at least that is what her mother told me).
I will be a review of the rail trip and a guide on riding the Laos-China Railway.
Blog posts and other site news
I’m slowly blogging my way through my travels, and I am now into 2022!