Part 8: Chiang Rai and a day trip to Myanmar

Before moving further in Thailand we opted to spend two days in the city of Chiang Rai. Except for a short day visit to Myanmar and the Golden Triangle (of drug fame), basically our only plan was to visit the White Temple and eat local food.

The White Temple of Chiang Rai is actually not that old and, despite being a “real” temple, it is in fact an artwork made by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997. To tip: come early if you want un-crowded pictures. It’s a few kilometers outside of Chiang Rai, so we rented a taxi that picked us up in our hotel and then waited outside while we visited the temple, before taking us back.

Food: Sai Oua and (Thai) Khao Soi

Khao Soi in Thailand is very different from the herby, tomato-y Lao version we had in Luang Prabang. In Thailand the broth is coconuty, and apart from boiled noodles, the soup is also topped with deep-fried crunchy noodles. It also included chicken and optional flavourings such as lime, chopped onion, and something pickle-y.

We also had sai oua sausage which like Khao Soi has its Laotian version, but where the Thai sausage it’s spicier and in my mind more flavoursome.

The restaurant we visited was called Four Stars and was located very close to the Chiang Rai clocktower.

Day trip to Myanmar

Before leaving for our trip, we had found out that you could do a day trip to Myanmar from Chiang Rai, and since I have my visit-new-countries-habit, naturally we had to go.

We booked online with a company called Green Trails, that is seemingly owned by Chiang Mai A la Carte (we received confirmation and communications from both companies which confused us a little at first).

Despite booking many months in advance, our (super funny) tour guide arrived on the minute in our hotel, and then drove us straight to the border, while giving a lot of interesting context of the region and of Myanmar.

At the border, we were stamped out of Thailand and then literally walked across the bridge to Myanmar. There, to our guide’s great surprise, they did not keep our passports as per usual protocol, but instead handed them back to us. Apparently Swedes are trusted to not escape into the country as you’re only allowed to visit Tachileik city on the land border visa we got. Also remember that you can only enter Thailand by land border twice in a year (at least as an EU citizen). As we used a land border to cross into Thailand from Laos, this was our second. This might be easy to forget, as a day trip might not seem like a ‘real’ border crossing.

In Tachileik we hired a tuk tuk and then went around town, visiting the sights such as their golden pagoda, a wet market and a few other markets and temples.

We finished the visit with a yummy Burmese lunch consisting of a buffet of local dishes.

Deep fried samosas, spring rolls and buns to start. Super tasty.

Little bowls of deliciousness: pork curry, corn, bambo shoots, okra, fermented funky fish (okay, not that delicious), soy beans, vegetable soup and more. As Myanmar also borders Bangladesh, the food also has a touch of Bangladeshi and Indian flavours.

After the lunch we went back to Thailand, visiting the Golden Triangle Area. We made an interesting stop to the great museum The Hall of Opium, and also visited a couple of nice viewing points from where you could see Thailand, Laos and Myanmar at the same time. A loooong but very interesting day.

This was pretty much what we did and saw in Chiang Rai. It’s a nice town, and I would love to return some day to see more than we were able to during our two days.

Part 7: cruising the Mekong

After a tranquil week in Luang Prabang, it was time to hit the road, in this instance: a floating one.

We had researched the different companies doing the cruise from Luang Prabang to Huai Xai and ended up with Luang Say cruises. In hindsight I did regret it a little since they charge around $450 per person when booking in advance online, and when in Laos we found that in their local office the price was almost half at around $250. There is also another company called Shompoo cruises that was around $150 that we saw during the trip that looked fine as far as we could tell. Their boat looked similar to ours.

Anyway, there are fortunately quite a few positives as well with Luang Say. At the morning of departure we were picked up by a tuk-tuk driver and taken the few hundred meters from our hotel to the pier, located below the Callao Hotel. The boat is clean and quite comfy, and we had a super friendly guide that spoke very good English. As the boat was only half full (at best) there was also plenty of space – maybe lower those online prices a bit Luang Say Cruises? 😉

As we began our cruise, breakfast was served mini buffet style at the small bar towards the end of the ship. We had fresh delicious croissants with jam and butter, baguette, boiled eggs and coffee. Meals, coffee, water and tea were included in the cruise by the way, and I do not think I’ve ever had so much coffee.

First stop: the Pak Ou caves an hour or so from Luang Prabang.

Lunch, also buffet style – with mushroom and chicken stew, woked pork, fried fish and rice. Tasty, but not amazing in any way. Since the cruise was pricey (I know, I’m bitter) my hopes for the food was a bit higher.

We visited two villages accompanied by our guide during the cruise. It was quite interesting and at the same felt a bit weird to walk around and stare at people doing there daily routine. We did contribute to the local economy though by purchasing some silk shawls made in one of the villages, and our guide teached us how to spot the difference between locally made and mass produced Chinese which was nice.

And after approximately 10 hours on the river we were in Pakbeng, a small town on the Mekong.

The perhaps biggest perk with going with Luang Say Cruises is that they own a lodge, aptly named the Luang Say Lodge, next to the river, where we stayed the night. This is the view from our room, a small hut connected to the rest of the hotel with wooden walkways. So cool. I would’ve liked to stay a couple of days here.

Dinner was served and while totally edible not very impressive either compared to all the amazing food we’d eaten in Luang Prabang. I know I am whining, but if you charge a lot of money, why save on cheap basics such as ingredients? Drinks were extra by the way and a beer was $3 and a glass of wine possibly $6 or 7.

Day two was similar to day one. We had breakfast at the lodge and then cruised until lunch where we had another lunch onboard featuring curry and rice.

After lunch we made our second village visit, and after that we were on the final stretch.

The best thing with the Mekong cruise in my mind is the views and the tranquility. You do not really have much choice but to lean back, listen to the sound of the engine and just take in the mostly amazing views of the river, life on the river and the surrounding landscape. I really appreciated this.

Around four in the afternoon we gently docked in Huay Xai. We were then taken by mini bus to the border crossing to Thailand, got instructions how to cross, and then we suddenly walked into Chiang Khong. Thailand!

We had pre-booked a transfer through Luang Say ($85) and our driver was waiting with a sign with our names on. Two hours later we were in the city of Chiang Rai for a week of Northern Thai food and adventures.

Part 6: Luang Prabang

We arrived Luang Prabang and Laos by a comfortable direct 1.5 hour flight from Siem Reap in a Vietnamese Airlines airbus A320 (I do not love to fly in propellered planes that otherwise are common on donestic routes in the region). A top tip is to buy a local sim with a data package in the airport, they had a booth at bagage reclaim and it took like a minute, costed $7 for about 8 gbs lasting a week, and they did all the setting up for me.

Luang Prabang, also spelled “Louang Prabang” is a cozy little city of approximately 50 000 people, situated by the confluence of the mighty Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers. It’s old town where we stayed at the excellent Mekong Riverview Hotel, is filled with French colonial buildings, temples, a former royal palace, small restaurants, guest houses, shops, markets and bars. And, importantly, being in South East Asia it’s surprisingly super relaxed. We had just arrived from Siem Reap’s hustle and bustle with crazy traffic, stray animals, thumping music and drunk tourists, and were therefore prepared for something a bit similar. How wrong we where.

There is pretty much a general sense of calm at all hours in Luang Prabang. Of course there will be the odd vendor calling for attention, or tuk-tuk drivers offering a ride, but not that often. You can also walk everywhere as the roads and sidewalks are good and traffic as mentioned is quite calm.

The views of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers are everywhere as the old city lies on a peninsula surrounded by them. You can also see large mountains towering in the distance. It’s a super scenic place, and we really loved it.

What to see

Except for eating a lot of food we also climbed Mount Phousi to watch the sunset (as will many others, it’s quite crowded). We also visited the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall, a top tip is to arrive early before the crowds. We hired a taxi driver and arrived just as they opened at I think around 8 a.m.

Much also happen on the river(s) and there are plenty of different cruises and boat trips to go on, for instance to Pak Ou Caves.

[Breakfast in our hotel Mekong Riverview Hotel, on of the best I’ve ever had, especially considering the view.]

How about the food then? Well I can honestly say that we had a few of the best meals of our almost six weeks long trip in Luang Prabang. Lao food is quite similar to the more famous northern Thai cuisine, with shared dishes such as the local sausage Sai Oua, which in Laos is made with pork and herbs – in Thailand they also add chilli and lemongrass. Both are incredibly good. Other shared dishes are the famous spicy herb laab (also known as larb or laap) salad, and khao soi noodle soup. The latter is only similar by name though, and that they both are noodle soups. The Lao version is tomato-y while the Thai uses coconut milk.

Below are our favourite Luang Prabang restaurants:

Phonheuang Café

Make your own spring roll wrapper with crunchy chopped up spring rolls, cold noodles, spring onion and herbs. Put in a lettuce leaf, roll and dip in the amazingly delicious sesame dipping sauce.

The black stuff in the upper left corner is the local specialty kaipen, which is crispy river weed with sesame seeds.

To the right is pork laab, one of the best we had during the trip. This place is quite tiny but you’ll find it using Google maps.

Price: Inexpensive.

Saffron coffee

If you miss your big city latte art hipster coffee, fear not, Saffron’s got you covered. We saw at least two outlets in Luang Prabang and they serve a quite decent cup of coffee. Their tamarind and apple tarte was decent but served icecold.

Price: Medium

The Belle Rive

The Belle Rive is a quite touristy (but not in a terrible way) place which offers one of the best views of sunset over the Mekong River. They also fortunately have very nice food, and given the location, prices aren’t that bad.

We had (from left): Oua Si Kai, lemongrass grilled chicken (so good); Jeow Mak Khuea, smoky eggplant dip, served with veggies; spicy green papaya salad with ground peanuts, and fresh spring rolls filled with veggies & rice noodles, served with a peanut dip.

Price: medium

Xieng Thong Noodle Soup

Only open at lunch time, this place serves a delicious bowl of khao piak sen which includes thick rice noodles, pork, bean sprouts and spring onion in a quite mild salty broth. Finally a pile of crispy roasted garlic is added which gives the soup a really nice depth.

Price: inexpensive, a bowl was around $1,5 or 15000 kip.

Paste at the Apsara

Our first proper fine dining meal of the trip was at Paste Laos on New Years Eve. Paste also has a restaurant in Bangkok which has been awarded a Michelin Star so we were super excited to try their smaller Lao sibling’s fine dining take on local food.

Jaew bong: Mekong river crab, river weed, chilli relish.

Seared scallops, tossed in a salad of mangosteen, lemongrass, young coconut.

Sour River Fish Soup with lemongrass,chili, sugar cane,shrimp paste and fermented fish sauce (pa dek). Finished with young tamarind leaves.

Crunchy cured rice balls with sour sausage, kaffir lime zest, red curry paste, river weed and rose pepper leaf.

Salad of cured eggplant, air dried buffalo, ginger flower with kaffir lime, guava and dry spice mix.

A recreation and slight reinvention of the classic recipe for Laos Duck Curry-Kalee Ped.

Stir fried glass noodle with mixed mushroom, sweet bamboo shoots and fermented bean curd sauce.

Banana with coconut milk cream and fresh jackfruit.

The food was delicious. It tasted exactly like I had hoped, local but with fancy cooking techniques that made it an exciting contrast to the more ‘home cooking style’ restaurants we’d so far visited. Especially the salad dishes were “out of this world” (I’m starting to sound like my mom now- thank you thirties😩).

Price: Expensive, about $140 for two with a shared large beer and one glass of wine each. They pour super small servings of wine so buy a bottle, or stick to beer which was more reasonably priced.

Khaiphaen

Run by the Tree Alliance Group that employ and train former street kids and other marginalized children and youth in hospitality. We had some of the best food in Luang Prabang here with a yummy, spicy chicken laap salad; crispy crackling pork belly with pumpkin puree and the best grilled Lao sai ua sausages on the whole trip.

Price: A tiny bit more expensive than other restaurants we visited, but still very affordable.

Khao Soi Luang Prabang

Located on the main street, Sakkaline Road, towards Wat Xiengthong, we found a great Lao khao soi shop. It’s just a few seats, but usually quite busy with a lady spooning up delicious bowls of the local version of Khao Soi. As you might know, Khao Soi is a famous dish of Northern Thailand, but apart from being soups with noodles in, they aren’t very similar. The Lao version contain minced pork that has been slow-cooked and then it’s added to a spicy, tomato-y broth that kind of reminds me of a South East Asian take on a bolognese. In the soup are rice noodles and the usual “choose yourself” fresh herbs such as mint, coriander and spring onion. Incredibly delicious.

Price: Not much.

Xieng Thong Phonsavanh Restaurant

We found out that our hotel was next door to famous food blogger Migrationology’s favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang, so we though it would be wise to pay it a visit. We tried their (very delicious) fish laap salad; tasty holy basil fried chicken, and, after being told off by the chef/owner for not ordering it, also their super spicy and delicious fish roe dip ”jaew kee pa”.

Price: Slightly more expensive than other restaurants in the area, but still very affordable.

Part 5: Siem Reap

In Siem Reap we had one main goal, and that was of course like most other visitors to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple area.

We used a company called Journey Cambodia, which offered a combination package of a Angkor Wat sunrise tour with a half day trip to the “floating village” on the Tonlé Sap the following day for $59 per person. The Angkor Wat tour was a full day starting with a pick up at 4.10 in the morning, allowing us to buy permits to visit the Angkor Wat park ($37 per person for a 1 day permit) before lining up in front of the small lake facing Angkor Wat and wait for sunrise. Unfortunately, many others does the same and it’s quite a crowd waiting for the perfect photo. So be early, or there will be a lot of people in your pics. After the sunrise you’ll be having breakfast before visiting the other temples in the area. A loooong day, but worth it.

The Tonlé Sap floating village tour was more comfortable though. We were only four people in total sharing a mini bus and as we were early did not see many other tourists during our visit. Unfortunately it was very dry when we visited so the normally floating village wasn’t very floating.

Food and drink in Siem Reap

We had a few nice experiences in Siem Reap when it comes to food and drink.

Pot and Pan

Inexpensive and quite tasty, we had taro spring rolls, chicken Amok and a chicken and peanut stir fry. Total cost with a beer was around $9.

Khmer Touch

Recommended by the New York Times, and when we arrived totally deserted. We initially though we’d give it a miss and go somewhere with people. But then we changed our minds and decided to try it. Fortunately that was a good decision. Their green mango salad with deep-fried tofu; the velvety chicken curry and the beefy Lok Lak were all fantastic. We took advantage of some kind of wine promo they had, so the bill (including a shared dessert) came in at just under $40 for two with all food and a shared bottle of white.

Num Pang Paté

Cambodia’s answer to the Vietnamese Banh Mi. A crusty baguette (Cambodia used to be a French colony) filled with patê, pork, a custard-meets-mayo sauce, pickles and papaya slaw. Can’t exactly tell where this was, but you should be able to find them in the night market.

50 cent beers at Pub Street

Siem Reap’s infamous pub street isn’t so bad if you’ve been out in let’s say Patong, Thailand. But it’s quite lively in the evnings and nights, and yes, a draft beer in most places are 50 American cents, or two beers for $1.

Miss Wong

1920s style Shanghai Bar. Good cocktails, amazing decor. Also a tad pricey (or super pricey compared to the 50 cent beers on Pub Street a stone’s throw away. But worth a visit.

Coffee

We visited four cafés while in Siem Reap and they were all high quality and similar in price so I won’t go into too much detail. I have however put them in order after which I found the best.

Missing Socks Laundry Café. Tasty cheesecake and great coffee.

Brother Bong. Great coffee, dry cookie.

Red Fox Espresso. Also great coffee but slightly more expensive than the others.

Sister Strey, good coffee, nice location. Decent vegan “snickers” cake.

Where we stayed: Khmer Mansion Boutique Hotel.

$70 a night with free a la carte breakfast that included eggs benedict, laksa (pictured above) and fried noodles. Room’s were nice, but some nights the volume from nearby bars made it hard to sleep. The small pool and garden are quite nice as well and usually not too crowded. Staff very friendly, but almost overly friendly at times. An extra bonus were free airport transfers in the hotel’s car.

Location is quite good, close to Pub Street and plenty of restaurants, and also a few smaller temples. We walked pretty much everywhere, but tuk-tuks were (extremely) available. 🙂

Part 4: a night in Sihanoukville

After arriving back on the mainland we checked in at the White Boutique Hotel in Sihanoukville.

The last five years has transformed the former relaxed beach town of Sihanoukville, mostly to the bad, according to the locals. Gone are beach shack bars and pure white beaches, instead; high rises under construction, Chinese owned casinos and hotels, as well as pollution and dirt.

We did not spend much time on the actual streets of Sihanoukville, but from what we saw, the rumours were true. It felt like a giant construction site; dirt roads, half finished skyscrapers and trash.

Fortunately, the White Boutique Hotel was a small oasis. As soon as you enter the lobby, and this might sound exaggerated, it’s like another world. Lounge music, a pretty swimming pool and a sort of New England style beachy vibe. There’s also a (small) private stretch of beach, but you need to cross a road that according to our sources 🙂 was decided to be built going straight through the hotel area despite their opposition.

Breakfast is a choice of a few local and Western dishes as well as a small buffet with toast, toppings, fruit and similar. Included were also fruit shakes and “specialty coffee” such as cappuccinos.

Sihanoukville – Siem Reap by private taxi

After our night at the WBH we got picked up by our pre-booked driver, who drove us straight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap in the north, which took about 10 hours including a lunch break. The company can be contacted through their website Cambodiaprivatetaxi.com, if you’re interested in doing the same. I sent them an email a few months in advance and got quick replies and a decent quote (approx $180) for the trip. The car used was a roomy Lexus RX300 and the driving felt very safe despite the road from especially Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh being relatively basic.

Part 3: Koh Rong

After eventually finding our way to “the drop off” which is where the Sok San Beach Resort, where we were staying, we were on a boat ($20 per person, per way) to the island of Koh Rong.

The Sok San Beach Resort is quite a place; super pretty and quite laid back. The beach area has plenty of sun loungers and after that it is a wide stretch of totally empty white sand if you don’t mind to sit on a towel or similar.

The rooms were quite basic. There was air con and a fan and a decently comfortable bed. No tv. There is also free wifi, shower and a toilet, of course. Note that we lived in the “cheapest” standard rooms, which I think was a garden villa. Unfortunately I got a little bit sick day 2, so spent more time than I had hoped for in our tiny room.

Service wise it was pretty much all good. The staff spoke decent English (a few very good) and were all friendly. One weird thing to was that they refused to help us book a table at a restaurant in the nearby village “as they had their own restaurant”. That is a first for me, I mean it’s just weird to try to force guests to eat in your own restaurant by making it harder for them to reserve a table somewhere else. Of course we still went and ate there, and all the hotel got was some “bad will”.

Speaking of the hotel restaurant, there are actually three places where you can eat, or two, depending on how you count. In the lobby and main bar area you eat breakfast, and there two restaurants (or more menus) to choose from; a Western and an Asian.

Breakfast at the Sok San Beach Resort.

Food is on the expensive side, but not terribly. A main is around $10, a beer during happy hour (5-7) was half price meaning $1,25. Rice was usually an extra $2, but included in a few dishes. Food was reasonably good, but nothing spectacular.

Kampot crab rice.

Kuy Teav, rice noodle soup with prawns.

Okra with minced pork and oyster sauce. Probably my favourite dish in the restaurant.

In the nearby Sok San village, which is walkable from the hotel in maybe 5 minutes, you’ll find a couple of small restaurants, bars and shops.

We had dinner at Moon restaurant, situated on the beach, which served up quite delicious Thai and local food for approximately $5 per dish. Rice was included. 🙂

We also had dinner at Italian owned and managed “Eat, Pray, Love” where we had a really good gnocchi with ragù sauce, and an okay pizza. Quite expensive (from around $8 for a main), but nice setting in a stilted house, and friendly service. We managed to book through their Facebook page, they did not respond to email.

Part 2: Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

To get us from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in the south, from where the ferries to Koh Rong depart, we had booked tickets with Giant Ibis. I’ve done a bit of reading and they seemed to be the recommended company for bus travel in Cambodia. Although Raffles was just a short walk from their bus station (we did not know this when booking) they came and picked us up in a mini bus for I think $1 extra. The tickets where approximately $25 for the both of us for the entire trip Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville.

Onboard the bus was free wifi (worked so-so), we also got free water and some kind of pastry along the way. The bus wasn’t super clean, but not that bad either. The driving style on the two lane road between the two cities is quite death defying at some points, but the drivers (they had two taking turns) were good and drove well. There was also an English speaking host onboard that could help you get shuttle transport to and then tickets to the Koh Rong ferry.

We arrived Sihanoukville approximately 6,5 hours after departure (we had a ~30 minute lunch break along the way) and were not dropped of at a bus station which we had thought, but pretty much just roadside. We had emailed our hotel to come and pick us up (which they had confirmed) but no one was there, so we took an expensive tuk-tuk (waiting where the bus stop was) to where our hotel boat would leave.

Good to know is that Grab does not work in Sihanoukville as of writing (February 2020).

Part 1: Phnom Penh

The first four days of our trip was spent in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The three days after arrival we stayed at the semi-swanky but quite affordable Plantation Hotel. Their breakfast by the pool was really nice, and in general it was the pool area that made the hotel great. Rooms were only so-so.

In quite close proximity to The Plantation was both the Royal Palace (which require an entrance fee), the river, as well as Romdeng restaurant.

At Romdeng restaurant, which is run by Tree Alliance, an organisation that emply and train former street children and other marginalized young people in the hospitality industry, you can have Cambodian classics such as fish Amok, tarantula (yes the spider), or beef with red tree ants. Food is pretty good – a little bit pricey, but not terribly – and you’re contributing to a good cause.

In Phnom Penh we also took a food tour with Lost Plate that was pretty cool. Food and “unlimited beer” (or soft drinks) was included and they took you around town in tuk-tuks in which you were constantly handed new beers. It’s not a party tour per se, but there’s quite a bit of (voluntary) drinking involved. Food was not that spectacular, but the first stop where we tried Num Ban Chouk in a streetside restaurant was really nice. It was a fun tour but my hopes for the food part was a little bit higher.

Cambodian ‘bird nest’ prawns.

The last night in PP we splurged a bit and stayed for a night at Raffles Le Royal. It was a beautiful hotel, but we actually enjoyed the Plantation better, especially since it was a third of the price.

What was really nice though was the Elephant Bar were you could enjoy a Tamarind Sour, or a Femme Fatale, the latter crafted for Jaqueline Onassis, former Kennedy, during a visit in the 1960s. Both cocktails were great and they have a happy hour stretching until quite late which means half price cocktails.

Next stop: Koh Rong!

Stockholm-Malta by train part 7: Sicily (Catania) to Malta

After pretty much exactly 24 hour hours in the Sicilian city of Catania, it was time to hit the road again. This was the last major part of the trip, and while the headline says train, this final leg of the Stockholm-Malta by train trip was actually done by bus and ferry.

We checked out from our hotel in Catania and walked down to the harbour, which took about 20 or so minutes. We errounously entered from a side street and spent some time trying to find the Virtu Ferries office in the Complesso Vecchia Dogana complex, where you check in for the bus that takes you to Pozzallo Port from where the actual ferry leaves. We asked in another ferry company’s office and they pointed us in the right direction. Our mistake was that we did not enter the building from the main entrance, but instead followed Google Maps directions to the Vecchia Dogana building, it looked much easier to enter from the main entrace, we realised too late. 🙂

Bus from Catania to Pozzallo
Check in time was 1 hour before the bus’ departure and was quite easy. We showed our passports and a print out of our booking confirmation to the staff members in the tiny Virtu Ferries office. They handed us boarding cards and told us that the bus would arrive 1 hour before departure and that we could leave our bags at that time and then could board the bus 30 minutes before departure. The bus left from just outside the building and arrived promptly one hour before departure. The driver just left though, probably to take a break or similar, so no leaving bags in the bus. He returned with one of the check in girls who seemed to tell him off 30 minutes before departure, and we finally got in our seats. The bus ride went smoothly, and we arrived Pozzallo about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

 

Pozzallo, Sicily to Valletta, Malta in Virtu Ferries Club Class
After jumping off the bus, we took our bags and just followed signs and after a short walk reached a security check. We had paid extra for Club Class, which entitled us to priority boarding. We were first in line, and were let on immediately after clearing security. Club Class means that you have access to the onboard lounge with its own bar/cafe up a set of stairs. The boat which we were on, The Saint John Paul II, felt super new and modern, and both the common areas as well as the Club Class lounge looked great. There were nice leather lounge chairs and plenty of seating. Flat screen tvs showed information and destination information. Upon arriving we were also handed a complimentary glass of orange juice, and there were small nibbles such as olives, chips and nuts that you could have for free.

We had not have any dinner so we bought some food and drinks, note that credit card only works as long as internet signal works (which is not that long). We had a quite small amount of cash, and we barely could pay for a second round of drinks an hour or so into the trip.

We had a pizza, which came fresh from a bakery it seemed, it looked quite nice, and was sold per slice. I can’t remember exact price, but it was probably around €4-5, wine was priced similarly. It wasn’t many people that took the evening ferry, so it was a lot of space in the club lounge. The lounge also has its own sun deck which probably is really nice during the day time crossings. We also took a walk on the 2nd class deck and had a look into the shop which had a small “duty free” kind of assortment of snacks, sun glasses and I think there was wine as well.

Just 1 hour and 35 minutes after leaving Sicily we got reception back on our phones and shortly we entered Valletta’s harbour. The city is beautiful and it was especially cool arriving at night. I have arrived Malta once before with a cruise ship during daytime which also is a fantastic experience.

We had priority departure and was off the ship a few minutes after arriving. We had booked a transfer through our hotel in Valletta, and those who had prior arrangements could leave straight to the pick up zone, without even entering the ferry terminal. Super convenient.

All in all I was surprised how smooth everything worked out, and especially the state of the ferry. It was really comfortable for the 1,45 hour trip, and the extra €20 or so felt definitely worth the perks priority boarding and disembarkation; and the relaxing lounge area onboard.

Stockholm-Malta by train part 6: Salerno to Sicily (Catania)


After spending three days in fantastic (but super expensive) Positano, we were back in Salerno for a last night at the Hotel Plaza. After breakfast we went to a nearby sandwich shop to stock up on some provisions for our next leg on our way to Malta; Salerno-Catania on a Trenitalia intercity train.

Salerno-Catania in Trenitalia Intercity First Class
As the grafitti covered train rolled into Salerno Centrale station we realized that we might not be as happy with this trip as our latest onboard the amazing Italo. We had paid roughly €30 per person for “1 classe” which was about the double from 2nd class, but still a worthwile upgrade for the nearly 7 hour ride. The carriage felt quite modern, and there were electrical sockets so we could charge your phones which is always appreciated.

Unfortunately we sat on the wrong side of the train, going backwards, and in a seat where we were facing our co-passengers. Great if you want to chat with other people for a while, but not fantastic if you want privacy and to mainly relax for a 7 hour trip. To add to this the grumpy guy that sat on the “right” side of the train shut his window blind meaning all the pretty sea views were gone. The lady that sat facing us tried to convince him to open it up, but no success unfortunately. After about three hours with constant stops (meaning the air con was turned off) we arrived Villa San Giovanni from where we was to take our second train ferry of the trip, the one crossing the Messina straight over to the city of Messina and thus Sicily.

The ferry ride was a quite nice break from the train, and we went up on the deck to get some air and eat our sandwiches we bought in the morning. I did not check the ferry interior, so not sure if there are any restaurant or similar onboard (there isn’t any on the train). We were free to stay in the train, and some of the other passengers did. The views from the ferry is quite nice though, so in my mind it is definitely worth it to get up on deck. We left our bags while away, but as mentioned the train is open (unlocked) if you have valuables with you.

A few minutes before arrival in Messina we were told via loudspeakers to head back to the train, and shortly after we rolled off the ship and into Messina Centrale. Here we had to stop for about 30 minutes for an unknown reason, and many in our carriage got off getting some air. Since we did not understand the announcement that was made in Italian (and too lazy to ask someone) we remained onboard. After 30 minutes we took off again, only to stop every 10 or so minutes for about the same time. This time though, we sat on the right side of the train and could view the beautiful Sicilian coastline while slowly progressing. A word of warning here, the train stops shortly at the smaller stations, and a couple of older tourists missed their stop, just because they were too slow disembarking. So they had to go to the next station and get off there instead, which probably was a good 20 minutes later. Eventually and finally we reached Catania, where we stayed at Hotel Villa Romeo, which as most of the other places we stayed was basically next to the railway station.

This was probably my least favorite train of the trip, but if we’d have had our own seat pair I think it would’ve been an entirely different story. The carriage was quite nice and modern, but it got super hot since the regular stops meant that the air con was off and did not fully cool the train until it was time to stop again. But this might have been extraordinary and not something that always happens.

Ristorante I Moschettieri
We arrived quite late and through Google Maps we found a restaurant next door that had good reviews and decided to head there. While not maybe a 4,6 as the current rating states, we were quite happy with the food and the price. The food was rustic and tasty, and we had Sicilian starters, a huge plate of spaghetti alla norma (eggplant tomato sauce) covered in ricotta salata, and a mixed grill platter with sweet Sicilian onion & tomato salad. All this was washed down with house wine, and I believe the total bill was around €40. Staff spoke good English and were very friendly. A classic cozy family restaurant, that felt super Italian.