Armed with a well studied itinerary born from intermittent, albeit careful planning, I was once again traipsing through Manila’s NAIA Terminal 3 with a baggage that’s unusually and bafflingly heavy (almost 9 kilograms). I should have become a sophisticate where traveling light is concerned. Apparently not. Have I been printing too much web materials inspite of my 2 Lonely Planet books (Asian Shoestring and Laos)?
One thing’s sure though. After more than half a decade of almost quarterly international travels, I know I have earned my stripes and have become an authority in this regard. And I was beset with stark realization: this hullabaloo has become easier! Like second skin; like second nature; like it’s part of my profession though, in reality, it’s too far removed. But I like the duplicitous nature of these exercises. During these travels, I am able to partake on a different kind of life, much like a schizophrenic does with a variety of personalities. Who can’t be smug with such privilege?
Last night has been a sound slumber. There was a time "sound sleep" was an impossibility the night before a departure. I worried on a lot of things: customs, immigration, leaving passports, tickets, phones or wallet; the usual stuff from an OC mind; the usual travel jitters. They have since evolved into pure excitement. Less of the anxiety. I am getting older, dang!
There was an unusually few crowd gallivanting around NAIA. After paying my travel tax (P1620/$38.27)), I proceeded to the web check-in counter. If you wanted faster check in, web check is it: less queue, faster turn over, but I am not advertising, lest it catches fire. There was a spectacular Christmas manger beside the stairs leading to the food plaza where, at Dimsum and Dumplings, I pleasantly wrestled with a delicious sparerib topping (1st photo above) at just P79 ($1.87). Out of gluttony and curiosity, I also ordered Crabstick with Bird’s Nest Soup (2nd photo), but it was particularly bland.
With a heavier stomach, I sauntered to the pre-departure area, paid the hefty P750 ($17.72) terminal fee, and exchanged laughs with a friendly Immigration lady. Heaven bless her, we need more of her kind, especially when we’re stepping out of our country where a sliver of our soul gets left behind. After checking out the shops (posted earlier), I settled placidly into one of the pre-departure chairs contiguous from my departure gate.
Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino
I reached inside my backpack and retrieved my planned itinerary. Four long pages of detailed itinerary – it would shape the seemingly strenuous month ahead of me. New names of places from three countries, and images of carefully considered accommodations. There were more hotels than guesthouses this time, and I have become wiser at planning my finances. There was a time I’d stay in more modest places, eventually coming home with oodles of left-over cash from my allotted budget.
So as I gazed at the names of my hotels and guesthouses, I was swept with an overwhelming sensation of delight. These accommodations have become part of the adventure: finding them, navigating around the areas, discovering narrow and not-so-narrow streets in strange new towns, finding restaurants and post offices and ticket booths and riverside cafes and internet shops and markets. And I am flushed.
My booked hotels: Krungtong Hotel, Imoun Homestay, Champasak Guesthouse, Pon's River Guesthouse, Sri Isan Hotel, Bangkok Rama Hotel, After Glow Hostel, Champasak Palace Hotel, HI City Home Guesthouse, Chiang Saen Riverhill Hotel, Baan Bua Guesthouse, Siam Star Hotel
My itinerary covers more strange names from Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar; countries I’ve visited several times in the past. These transits have strangely become comforting! Like an anchor to the familiar! This trip includes 6 to 7 plane rides; 4 border crossings (even possibly 6); river crossings and boat rides on catamarans; taxi rides; motorcycle backrides, tuktuk journeys, and miles of plodding bus rides. Let’s not forget: kilometers of walking. This itinerary is flexible in specific legs, but not where airline schedules are concerned to avoid incurring additional unnecessary expenses.
THE ITINERARY (Abridged version)
- Manila to Bangkok by Cebu Pacific
- Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani by Air Asia
- Ubon Ratchathani sightseeing
- Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse: cross Chong Mek-Vang Tao border to Pakse
- Day tour to the island of Don Kho and visit the temple in the enchanted forest
- Day tour to the Bolaven Plateau: see the waterfalls (Tat Fan, Tat Lo, Tad Fane, etc.) and visit villages of some ethnic tribes (Laven, Alak, Katu, Su-ay), coffee and tea plantations
- Pakse to the lethargic Champasak Town
- Visit the Angkorian temple of Wat Phu Champasak (World Heritage site) and Tomo Temple (Uo Moung) which are quite a distance from each other; visit Wat Muang Kang
- Day tour at the island of Dong Daeng from Champasak Town
- Champasak Town to 4000 Island’s Don Khong (SiPhanDon's biggest island)
- Optional: Visit Don Det and Don Khon
- Back to Pakse: stay at the Champasak Palace Hotel, a real royal palace turned into a hotel
- Pakse (Laos) back to Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand): cross Vang Tao-Chong Mek border
- Stay near Moon River
- Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok via Air Asia
- Bangkok to Chiang Rai via Air Asia
- Chiang Rai sight-seeing: visit the White Temple and all other temples
- Chiang Rai to Mae Sai (Thai border town near Tachilek, Myanmar)
- Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachilek (Myanmar)
- Tachilek back to Mae Sai (Thailand)
- Mae sai to Chiang Saen (Thailand), the country’s northernmost town
- Day tour to the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet)
- Chiang Saen back to Chiang Rai
- Visit the Black Temple (Baan Daam)
- Chiang Rai to Bangkok via Air Asia
- Bangkok to Manila via Cebu Pacific
Random images of places I will be visiting:
Will I get to see them all? Which will I miss?
This itinerary, as I said, has flexible legs. Each city or town will take a minimum of 2 days and a maximum of 3-4 days depending on the list of must-visit places to check out. Most accommodations have been booked via Agoda, a booking site that I never used until last year. On the “free legs” of this trip, I will look for accommodations once I get there (one day in Don Khong, another day in Don Det, Chiang Rai and Tachilek in Myanmar since I wasn’t sure on the duration of days in these places). Planning an itinerary should account for the possibilities of extensions and trip cancellations to avoid the hassle of incurred fees which are, more often than not, designed to be expensive.
I was curious as to the veracity of the photos and the condition of the accommodations booked, but this is part of the excitement. Will they look exactly the same – or have they been “sugar coated” to lure the innocent? Isn’t this what adventure is all about?
What's interesting in this rather "busy" schedule is how, in the end, I'll be able to fulfill this schedule. How much of these places will I see? Moreover, how much of the photos in the montage do I get to visit?
There’s a “hole” in the early part of the itinerary though; one that I couldn’t bring myself to decide until I’m there: one of those crazy, anxiety-ridden “crossing-the-bridge-when-I-get-there” moments. Let me tell you all about this dilemma. But before that, I have to get to my 5J-931 seat for Bangkok. Amidst worries of floods closing in on the Thai capital, I am amped to discover and document another leg of my solitary travels in the bowels of spell-binding Asia.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
NAIA T3 Pre-Departure gate