I continue to be amazed by Chloe O’Brien from Intrepid Travel Group. Her travels and stunning photographs taken while exploring with Intrepid make me want to feel exactly what she feels and see exactly what she sees when she travels. I habitually follow her on instagram and I don’t think there’s a single post I don’t like of hers. Chloe shared a recent travel experience with me where she travelled to Thailand and Laos back in December.
Chloe decided on this adventure as she really wanted to visit Thailand and see what the street food hype was all about – if you know Chloe personally, you know she’s obsessed with food. She also hadn’t visited Asia before, and wanted to include a country that is more off the tourist track and unfamiliar to her so she could learn something new. She joined Intrepid’s 13 day tour ‘Thailand & Laos Adventure’ which is part of Intrepid’s ‘Original’ (most popular) travel style. The ‘Original’ travel style has a great balance of included activities as well as free tome to explore on your own. There’s a combination of public & private transport as well as staying at tourist class accommodations.
Chloe says you can expect to see the incredible (very large) city of Bangkok with wonderful day & night markets. Spend time on overnight trains for a local experience. “Being lulled to sleep by the clicking of the tracks is so fun!” Chloe says. Eat until you bust at the Chiang Mai night markets, spend a few days cruising down the Mekong river in a traditional long boat, learn about the tragic history of Laos, swim in cascading aqua blue waterfalls, and see the French meets Laos culture in Vientiane. The trip overall surpassed her expectations – this itinerary specifically is the best in terms of pace, inclusions, value, and price that she’s done to-date. “It’s phenomenal and a perfect introduction to SE Asia.”
Her favourite spot on the trip was Chiang Mai. This is a popular traveller’s destination and it’s not hard to see why. From mountain top temples and beautiful look-offs, to local night markets filled with delicious ultra-affordable take-away to one-of-a-kind local nightlife, this city has found the balance to cater to tourists while still maintaining a local vibe.
Tour Leader: Their leader Tony J. grew up in Northern Thailand and was very familiar with the culture and customs. They were also joined by multiple local guides in Laos to bring in their experience to contribute to the group’s tour experience. Tony loved photography too like Chloe, so he appreciated the chance to stop and take an incredible photo as well as share Chloe’s passion for local food – he made great recommendations on where to eat as well as taking the group to his favourite local lunch gem in Chiang Mai.
Food & Drinks: According to Chloe the choices were endless as they moved from Bangkok into the North and then again over into Laos. For Chloe consistently having fresh and spicy hot papaya salad is a must. In Bangkok she ate so many fresh BBQ pork skewers and little bags of sticky rice. (breakfast every day!). In Chiang Mai she couldn’t get enough of the local dish Khao Soi (Chloe is still obsessed even now that she’s been home since). In Laos, it was deep fried buffalo with deep fried garlic, and usually served with a hot chili jaew. Tony J. also introduced the group to fermented fish that had been deep fried which was unexpectedly delicious.
Cooking Classes: There’s a traditional Laos cooking class at Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang. The school location is out of the city, surrounded by beautiful greenery and gardens. The group prepared an extensive menu of traditional dishes, all cooked over individual clay pots prepared with smouldering wood fires. The flavours were beyond anything Chloe had ever eaten before, plus the group was given a cookbook to take home.
The locals: In both Thailand & Laos, Chloe loved the mentality that nothing goes to waste when it comes to food and food by-products. In fruit and vegetables, the leaves and un-edible products are used to wrap and steam fish, etc. In butcher shops, every single part of the animal has a purpose in a dish. Chloe says to come with an open mind and give the fresh dishes a try with the help of your local Trip Leader.
A surprising location: For Laos in general, Chloe was expecting more tourism then what the group actually encountered. It was less than she expected.
Souvenirs to bring home: Chloe brought home a great interpretation of a Memento film poster from a local artist, lots of curry powders, pandang leaf candies, and two little sticky rice baskets that typically you would get with every meal.
What to bring on this trip: The northern part of Thailand and Laos, can be quite chilly in December. Chloe recommends bringing a warm jacket (a light down filled shell). It can also be quite humid and warm, especially in Bangkok so breathable layers.
Travel tip for SE Asia: Get to know the locals, they have phenomenal stories and have seen a lot off change over the decades.
**Follow Chloe on Instagram!**
“By meeting people from different cultures and understanding how much we all have in common, travel has changed the way I see the world while making me a more independent woman.” -Chloe O’Brien