A Travellerspoint blog

Vientiane

Last stop in Laos

semi-overcast 25 °C

I’m sitting on my bed watching The Beach on satellite TV in a nice 2 star hotel in Vientiane. But this is all a few days after the previous post, so I’ll reverse up a bit.

Vang Vieng was where we were last. One of Anita’s friends had described it as ‘a sleepy village’, which it still is. But it is a village that is dirty and dusty and full of nothing to do. The most entertaining thing is to go ‘tubing’, in which you sit in an inner tube and float down the Nam Song. I think I talked about it before, with bars to stop at and have a drink. We didn’t do this, but we did book a tour to see four caves and then wander through a local village to the Nam Song where we got onto our canoes (Designed In New Zealand, Made In Thailand) and did an easy couple of hours paddling down a grade 1 river back to town. Along the way we passed the ‘bars’ setup for the tubing. Some of them were packed full with lots of the tubers, pumping music entertaining them. Some also had swings and slides to use to get back into the river. Looked like good hedonistic fun. For young people :o)

The trip to the caves was interesting, all of them were large and went for miles. To get into one meant sitting in a tube and floating yourself into the cave. As the day wasn’t the hottest, Anita opted out of getting into the cold river. The wuss. In fact, we have hit some rather coldish weather now – it barely gets over 25 during the day. In the evening we even have to wear jeans when we go out for dinner! Its terrible.

Since there was not that much to do in Vang Vieng, we booked ourselves a bus to Vientiane, leaving after three nights. The bus ride to Vientiane was as good as any of them were out here – windy roads in a mostly comfortable bus. This one was only 4 hours long, very do-able.

Vientiane is a small, laid back capital city – only 200,000 people according to Wikipedia. With lots of tourists and ex-pats. It took us a little bit of wandering about to find some accommodation, as most of the place s were full and the rest were more expensive than we thought they would be. It seems that Vientiane has increased its prices significantly over the past two years. The place we are staying is in our guidebook at 15USD a night. We’re paying $25. We’re staying in the middle of the city, so it’s not too far to get to anything, not that there is too much to do here. One sight is the ‘Buddha Park’, about 25km south of the city. It is full of statues of Buddha: loads of them. So we went out there today to take a look and some photos. We braved the local bus service and made our way out there and back. Very brave we are.

Yesterday we booked a flight from here to Hanoi, leaving Monday night (tomorrow) and also gave the nice lady at the travel shop our passports so we can get our Vietnam visas. That is pretty scary actually – my passport is at the moment in a drawer in here shop, waiting for Monday morning so it can be taken to the Vietnamese Embassy. We should (fingers crossed) get them back Monday afternoon, in time to dash to the airport and catch our flight.

We decided to fly to Vietnam instead of going over a land border for a number of reasons. First, all the land borders are described as dodgy – scams are abundant. Second it involves a 12 hour bus trip (that apparently takes more like 24 hours). And third because that part of Laos still has a large number of UXO – UneXploded Ordinance – left over from the Vietnam War (or Second Indochina War or American War, depending on what country you are in). Laos is the most (per capita) bombed country in the world and a third of the bombs dropped didn’t go off.

So that’s where things stand at the moment. Tomorrow we hit the next country, the penultimate one for this part of the world. Also looks like things will be getting more expensive now, due to December being a ‘High Season’ month (the room we had in Vang Vieng we paid 70,000 Kip for, in December it goes for 350,000 Kip, Ouch). I hope the budget can survive it!

That’s all for now
G

Posted by Big.G 09:44 Archived in Laos Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Moving East, and South

or: Into Laos We Go

overcast 23 °C

Wow, Luang Prabang is such a wonderful place! Everyone needs to take a holiday there I think. Everyone. Go book now.

The slow boat down the meeeekong was fun, as well as eventful! We got on the minibus from Pai at 8pm and headed out towards the Laos border. Six dark hours later (with some fitful dozing and a few stops so the driver could have a smoke or two) we got to Chiang Khong, the town on the Thailand side of the border. The border being the Mekong River. Part of the price of the trip was the “nights” accommodation. Since we arrived about 3am, and had to be up at 7am, it’s not really a whole night is it? Anita and I were pretty tired and thus got to bed pretty promptly. Unfortunately three nice Italian boys had a rather loud (and I’m sure animated – I swear I could hear the wind whooshing from their hand movements) conversation in their room. Now I do think that they were just talking at a normal volume, but there was not another sound at that time of the night, which meant we could hear everything they were saying. At 3:30 Anita got up and firmly (with a VERY teacher sort of power) asked them to “PLEASE BE QUIET!” which they suddenly were! Note to others: travel with a teacher. :o)

Next morning we were up bright and early to get breakfast, supply our ticket for the boat so we could receive our sticker (so they know you have a ticket without asking – genius), and buy a cushion each for 40 baht to save our bums on the hard wooden benches on the slow boat! By 9am(ish) we had checked out of Thailand, crossed the river and filled up another passport page with the Laos visa! Country number four! We now had a nice 3 hour wait in the blazing sun before the slow boat left! Nice and hot. To help pass the time I found a bank that was open (note to others that have guides to Laos saying there are very little to no ATM machines in the country – there are loads) and changed our ten thousand baht left over from Thailand into Laos Kip. Walked out with 2.7 million. Since the biggest note they have is a 50 thousand one, you get a fair wad of paper to put in your wallet!

Midday came around finally, and we found ourselves sitting on a long boat with wooden benches and a roof, with a few other intrepid explorers. These boats are made to take about 70 people, so we were led to believe. So when I say ‘a few others’ I mean about 150. Roughly 100 of them were on our boat before a lady somewhere near the front of the boat (we were near the back because we’re cool, and it was closer to the bar) started organising a rebellion! She (and a couple of others) paced up and down the boat announcing that the boat was over crowded and thus dangerous, and demanding another boat be put on! Her posse marched off the boat and stood on the bank, calling for everyone else to follow, mostly directed at the people that were not sitting on hard wooden benches. The problems that we were having with all this were:

    1. the people on the floor were sitting there by choice, there were enough spare seats all around the place for everyone
    2. the boat was not overloaded at all, the one next to us was full to the ceiling with full rice sacks, and it was still floating
    3. it was time to leave!

So… we didn’t move. But after 20 mins of chanting “two boats, two boats” the boat people gave in and put on a second, slightly smaller boat, about 30 odd people jumped on that one, and we set off! Down the mighty Mekong, the life blood of this part of the world! Wooo!

After 6 hours it wasn’t so wooo. We managed to read quite a bit, look at the stunning scenery, Anita even got a bit of sleep on some cushions on the floor! But my bum wasn’t enjoying the benches much, so it was with a bit of relief that we arrived at Pak Beng, our stop for the night. We wandered off the boat and up the hill to the sleepy little village and found ourselves a nice clean place to sleep, got some food and hit the hay. Not much to say about Pak Beng as it is a tiny one street village full of guest houses and restaurants, although it does have a fantastic bakery that we bought our breakfast and lunch from the next morning! Which is all we did between waking up and getting on the boat, two different boats from the ones we had the previous day!

Day two was an eight hour trip down to Luang Prabang (or LP as I will call it). More stunning scenery and we even stopped to pick up some goods (sacks of stuff and around 10 thousand eggs) as well as a monk! This trip was marked with the boat, at one time, listing enough to have water splash in and scare a few people (I think the revolutionary lady from the first day would have been rolling out the life boats if she had been on our vessel), but otherwise it was simply enjoyable uncomfort mainly. (yes, I realise that might not be a word, but it works in my world)

So, onto Luang Prabang. It’s a UNESCO protected town, thus it is well preserved, making it look wonderful. Add to that the Laos-wide curfew of 11:30pm (everything must close) and LP is such a nice place to go to! We found a very affordable place in the middle of the old town and over the next two days did all that we wanted to do in the area – not that much really! We climbed up a hill to see both the Wat on the top and the view the first day, but it was silly hot so we went indoors at 2pm and resurfaced in the evening for dinner and then to meet up with friends that we found! This well-worn trail through SE Asia is so small, we’re now running into people that we first met back in Malaysia! There is a nice place called The House in LP that serves Belgian beer, including my favourite: Leffe! I was really in the mood for something more refined than the local lagers, but at a price of 50 thousand Kip for a small bottle, I couldn’t do it. Instead I got 4 large bottles for 30 thousand Kip. Not all for myself obviously.

The second day in LP we negotiated a price with a TukTuk driver to take us to see some caves that are full of Buddhas that are not good enough to be in Wats. While we were there the heavens opened, stranding us in one of the caves for an hour while watching the steps turn into a river, drenched tourists trying to get out of the rain, and one tourist slip and fall into the river while trying to board his boat! Drama!! The rain stopped long enough for us to get back to the TukTuk, both of us slipping, sliding and getting stuck in the mud, caking it all over our feet to our ankles! Lucky for us a very nice old man noticed us and offered a bucket of clean water to wash our feet with! He chuckled to himself all the way through the process though!

Next day takes us through to today and a bus ride through the mountains of Laos (more stunning, incredible scenery) to Vang Vieng. The whole bus ride of 6 hours seemed to be totally in or above the clouds, looking across and down on the distant purple mountains and green valleys. Vang Vieng is another small village, but a dirtier, dustier version, with large numbers of guesthouses, travel agencies, bars and internet places. It is famous for tubing, where you float down the Nam Song in a truck inner tube, stopping at various ‘bars’ to get a drink. The river is the colour of weak chocolate which is not appealing to Anita. [also did you know that some American servicemen in Laos in 1975 managed to catch themselves a fish-thing in the Mekong? A 7.8 meter fish-thing. We saw a picture in LP – google it to see if it is true] Vang Vieng is also famous for the restaurants they have. Not because of the food, but because they play DVD’s of either Friends, The Simpsons or Family Guy continuously. There might be other TV programs they play, but I have not seen any yet.

That’s all for now
G

PS The 2.7 million Kip is gone. We're such spendthrifts!

Posted by Big.G 01:38 Archived in Laos Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A slice of Pai

Tattoos, giant spiders and fire balloons

sunny 34 °C

We spent our last day in Chiang Mai mostly doing boring stuff like laundry but in the evening we decided to go and see some Muay Thai Boxing. G was quite keen to see it in Bangkok but it was really expensive, being 5x cheaper in Chiang Mai we decided to give it a go and it definitely gave us an interesting night. We found the stadium in a more seedy part of town, the cute hand craft stalls were replaced by ‘hostess’ bars, old men with young Thai girls hanging off their arms and lady boys encouraging us to buy a ticket – so we did! The quality of fights varied throughout the night, with the best one probably being the two girls who gave it their all for the full 5 rounds. They also put on a ‘show’ fight, where 3 fighters went into the ring blindfolded and then proceeded to punch until they made contact with someone – even if that was the referee! The ref went down several times much to the crowd’s amusement.
We were up early the next morning for our journey to Pai. We got a minivan up there which cost us about £3 each for a 3 hour journey. It may have been a cheap journey but it certainly wasn’t the best we have ever had! Apparently there are 726 curves between Chiang Mai and Pai and we really felt them as we were on the back seat of the minivan. We were both feeling a little queasy by the time we arrived at lunchtime. We spent the afternoon at the pool soaking up a bit of sun and recovering from the journey. We found the place we stayed at on the internet as it had rave reviews, I rapidly went off it after looking up when I was on the loo to find the most ENORMOUS spider right in front of me. All of you that know me well, know that spiders are really not my thing so as you can imagine I spent the rest of the night trying desperately not to need the toilet but doing the exact opposite and making G go and check each time where it was before stepping in there! We then spent the night being kept awake by God only knows what running around in/on (???) the roof sporadically throughout the night interspersed with a bunch of cockerels doing their cock-a-doodle-do’ing on and off well before dawn!!! A 3am conversation resulted in the decision to move guesthouse as soon as we got up the next morning!!!
Day 2 in Pai started with a move to Mr Jan’s, a lovely place where the owner proudly shares his bananas with anyone stepping foot through his gate! We settled in and then hired a bike for the day to go and explore the area around Pai. It is such a stunning place, surrounded by tree covered mountains, colourful fields and little rivers. The sky was brilliant blue with just a few fluffy white clouds and our few hours riding around were a really nice way to spend part of the day. But what to do for the rest of the day……?
For a long time Gerald has been thinking about getting another tattoo and since being on our trip we have ventured into several tattoo places to check out their books and get inspiration. He knew he wanted a gecko and so over the last 3 months he has been gathering inspiration and sketching his ideas as best as he can. Pai seemed like the perfect place to make the ideas become reality as the streets are lined with tattooists. We checked some out and the third place we came to seemed to be the perfect one so after a lot of discussion a deposit was handed over and they went off to draw a one off gecko based on everything Gerald was trying to get across – always easy when you speak different languages!!! Anyway we went back after an hour and saw the design which perfectly portrayed everything that had been mentioned. After 2 hours on the table and a lot of grimacing (a face which reminded me of last week in the taxi back to Bangkok!!) and toe curling, G walked out a proud owner of a bamboo ink tattoo. Bamboo tattoos are so different from the machine ones we have both previously experienced, first off there is NO blood whatsoever, they heal so much quicker and you can go in the sun/swimming pool immediately too. G said the pain is different, more intense but over much quicker. Anyway the finished result looks great and already looks fully healed now all the redness has gone down and it’s only been 2 hours since it was finished.
We finished the night by buying what looks like one of those paper lampshades. They have little rings underneath soaked in some kind of fuel. The idea is you set the ring alight and let the heat rise into the paper making it take off and float off into the night, bringing you good luck. We took ours down to the river and then set it off watching it rise high into the star filled sky until either it got too high to see or burned out!
Tomorrow we leave Pai to head to the Laos border, we will be getting the slow boat down the Mekong over 2 days which we have heard is slow and uncomfortable but with the most spectacular views you can imagine, apparently it has to be done – so we are!
Anyway, til next time
xxx

Posted by bumblebum 21:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

We've gone north!

its cooler and calmer...

sunny 30 °C

Bangkok has been and gone! And so have the illnesses – I say it in plural because Anita had the same sort of thing (stomach cramps) the other day, but hers didn’t amount to the same end effect as mine!

We stayed the one night in Bangkok and then jumped on our sleeper train to Chiang Mai the next evening, 13 hours north. The train was very quaint, Anita and I had an upper level bunk across from each other. It meant we could chat over the aisle, but also meant that the ceiling lights flooded our ‘beds’ the entire night. We got a good amount of sleep, but it was broken and a bit restless.

On arrival in Chiang Mai at 7am the owner of the guesthouse we had previously enquired about met us at the train station and drove us to the guesthouse, on the outskirts of the old city, in his nice BMW 525. Owning a guesthouse must be profitable. He also showed us around the area to make sure we knew the best places to get transport into town, dinner, and groceries. A very nice and helpful man! The room we are in has two rooms. Ha ha! Upstairs is the mezzanine bedroom, downstairs a little room with a comfy chair or two, a desk to work at, and then the bathroom. All very nice and clean and comfortable! It would be perfect if not for the loud person who was talking at about midnight last night, waking both of us up! I think we are getting old and grumpy :o)

We spent yesterday wandering about the city and checking out the Sunday market that they have – they pedestrianise a bit of the city and there must have been about a thousand (yes, a THOUSAND!!) stalls selling stuff! And not the cheap knock off t-shirts, caps and trainers you see in lesser markets about the place, but really nice and original artwork and traditional clothing! Was enjoyable just walking about looking at it all. But we also splurged out and bought a few things that we needed. Helps the economy and spreads the wealth. We’re so kind!

We also visited a jewellery shop that advertised (we read about it on the web) silver smithing courses! We signed up and today headed off to the workshop to make some jewellery! Over the course of today we made each other a ring (aren’t we just precious?!), both of which turned out so much better than we both had hoped or even thought they would when we were half way through making them!

Tomorrow is an admin day – laundry and organising transport to Pai and then to Laos! We are running out of time slowly, so are thinking that we need to move on and hit a new country by next week! Eight weeks until our flight to Sydney! Argh!

So, that’s all for now!
G

Oh, saw an elephant walking down the street while eating dinner. Surreal.

Posted by Big.G 07:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The death railway

and feeling slightly better than death warmed up

semi-overcast 28 °C

We have just arrived back from a few nights in Kanchanaburi, a city a couple of hours west of Bangkok. We arrived around lunchtime and checked into a guesthouse on the bank of the River Kwai and apart from having a wander around the immediate area spent the rest of the day relaxing.

We booked a full day tour for our second day and had an early start. Our first stop was a gorgeous waterfall made up of 7 tiers, it took quite a while to climb to the very top but it wasn’t as hard as any of the others we have climbed as the temperature was much cooler and there weren’t any rivers to cross either! After the hike we had lunch before setting off again, this time for a half hour elephant trek – we both agreed that we didn’t really enjoy this bit as some of the elephants seemed to have a bit of a skin disease around their heads and ears and we figured this is probably because they are not being looked after as well as they should be, a few of our group did make a complaint and suggest that this bit of the tour be omitted in the future. Next it was bamboo rafting down the river kwai – weirdly though we were towed up river first to then float down back to where we started from!!! It was a much more commercial bout of rafting than when I did it with Kirsten several years ago in Thailand, this time it was a raft with sides and seats and a canopy – not really your stereotypical image of a raft at all!!!! Our next destination was The Death Railway, our guide was great and told us lots of info and facts about the building of the railway and this infamous spot in particular where over 5,000 men died in around a 2 week period. There is a cave right next to it that was used as a makeshift hospital area for all the POWs that were dying from malnutrition, malaria, dysentery, beatings etc. After the war the Thais had it cleansed by a monk as they were worried about the ghosts that would be there, having all died in such awful ways and there is still a huge golden Buddha in there now keeping the area sacred. We caught the train and travelled down some of the Death Railway and then headed to our last destination of the day – The Bridge over the River Kwai. We got to walk along some of it and saw the train pass over it just as the sun was beginning to set.
The next day we went to the Death Railway museum. It was a really interesting place and told an in depth story of the plight of the POWs during the building of the bridge. Over 100,000 died during its construction. After reading and hearing all about it, it is amazing to know that some did survive. We also visited the memorial cemetery across the road from the museum which was very moving, thousands of graves in beautifully tended grounds, full of graves belonging to men mostly in their early 20s to 30s. It was an interesting but slightly depressing morning….

Today we set off to return to Bangkok, half way through the journey Gerald developed really bad stomach cramps and ended up being very sick – luckily the bus had a toilet. Once we got off the bus we decided to get a taxi all the way back to Lorraine’s as Gerald was still feeling unwell. He curled up on the back seat with his head on my lap trying to sleep and ignore the ever increasing cramps until they got too severe. He ended up shouting out for the taxi to stop (on a 3 lane motorway style road!) jumped onto the central reservation where he proceeded to curl up on the floor and start projectile vomiting. The taxi driver was looking like he was regretting letting us into his cab, traffic was trying hard to avoid our taxi blocking the lane, I was worrying like mad about Gerald but also worried that everything we owned was sitting in the cab and that the driver could easily drive off with it all!!!! After a while Gerald began to look slightly better than death and managed to get back into the taxi and make the rest of the journey back to Loza’s. He has not been sick since the central reservation and the cramps are getting slightly better so we are hoping that it is just a bug and by tomorrow he will be feeling much better, fingers crossed.

Well that’s it from Nurse Nita, until next time….
xxx

Posted by bumblebum 07:45 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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