Published: November 27th 2010November 27th 2010
Saturday 20th November
Today we are off to the airport to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos. We don’t know what to expect but Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is supposed to be beautiful. Siem Reap airport is brand new and very swish and ours is only the second flight of the day to leave. Stacey had warned us about Laos airlines – apparently they don’t have a very good reputation – and worry was heightened when the check-in guy asked us if we would like the Emergency exit seats! Stuart asked “Why, do you think we will need them?”. I’m not sure that the check-in guy got the joke though! When we go through the gate onto the tarmac, we see our plane – the oldest plane ever – a Fokker 70, whatever that is! However, we have a very pleasant flight into L.P. which is very different indeed from anywhere else that we have been. It is quite mountainous, and as we fly in we can see the terraces for growing rice below us along the banks of the Mekong. It’s very pretty.
We take a taxi into the town ($6)and when we get to our guest house we are very impressed. It is the L.P. Bakery and Restaurant Guest House and only has 6 rooms. We have a balcony overlooking the main street, Sisavangwong Road, and we can see the night market which is huge and takes place every evening from about 5pm until 10pm. It’s fair to say that we have been charmed by Luang Prabang.
Sunday 21st November
After a lovely breakfast, we have decided to do the walking tour of L.P. a la The Lonely Planet which starts at the National Museum just opposite our hotel. We take a tour of the Royal Palace, the King’s Car exhibition which consists of 4 cars in total, 3 American monsters, a Citroen which is falling apart, a very old Land Rover and a small speedboat! All in all, not very interesting for 30,000 kip each (that’s £3) and makes no mention of the fact that the Royal family were murdered by the Communist party! Apparently, the locals won’t visit as they believe that it is haunted by the Royal family’s ghosts!
We continue our walk until we come to the Nam Kham River. It’s very hot and so we decide to stop and have a drink as we watch the local kids jumping in from a rickety bridge. The guide book suggests that we might like to join them. We are tempted until we see that there is a sewage outfall straight into the river, just above the bridge! Not a great place to take a dip.
We stroll on until we get to the bottom of town where the Mekong and the Nam Kham meet, and we watch the Monks coming and going from there Wat’s. By the way, there are alot of Wats here, and thousands of Buddas! We finish our walk through beautiful streets lined with French colonial style wooden houses.
We return to our hotel and decide to relax on our balcony and watch the world go by. We spot a monk coming up the road. He must be from the “Monastry of Silly Walks” (yes that is an awful pun!). None of the locals take any notice of him as he does a “John Cleese Monty Python” impression walking up the High street! I will leave it to your imagination! I shouldn’t laugh really, but it is extremely funny.
At about 4.45pm we start making the climb up the 328 steps - the stairway to heaven - to the top of Mount Phou Si where we can watch the sun set. It costs another 20,000 kip or $2 each. Unfortunately, when we get to the top, it appears that everyone else who is staying in L.P. has had the same idea! We are all squashed in together like sardines – not what I had imagined at all! Oh well at least it isn’t cloudy!
Monday 22nd November
Yet another beautiful day is dawning over L.P. so we decide that we need to take an excursion into the countryside. We take a minivan to the Kouang Si Waterfalls about 32 kms outside the town. Beautiful hills covered in trees, small villages with fields bearing what look to be abundant harvests.
When we reach the waterfalls, you first walk through a bear sanctuary. All the bears have been rescued from terrible conditions and now have huge enclosures where they can live a happy life. Very commendable! We start walking up and when we see the first set of waterfalls and pools, we are amazed how lovely they are. We are tempted to stop and swim but decide to go all the way to the top first. The water is beautifully clean and cold, and looks turquoise in colour because of the minerals it picks up as it tumbles over the limestone. The most spectacular waterfall is at the top and must measure 75 metres. The prepared path ends there, but as we are now fully fledged mountain climbers, we decide that we should definitely climb to the very top!
Luckily the route is dry – it would be absolutely treacherous if it was wet – and we climb a long, steep route through the trees to the source of the falls. It isn’t very spectacular, and definitely not worth the walk. But it was good exercise I suppose.
So, now hot and vey sweaty, we clamber down and find a nice cool pool to have a swim in. And it is certainly very cool and bracing! In fact, it takes your breath away as you jump in – but it’s worth it. The time seems to have gone by really quickly so we have to get back to the minivan. We could have easily managed another hour.
Tuesday 23rd November
This morning I have set my alarm for daybreak, so that I can go and see the Monks take Alms from the local people. As I said before there are several monasteries here, and every morning at dawn they process down the road holding their bowls so that local people can donate food. It is a spectacular sight, but it has been spoilt by the tourists – well isn’t everything? I try to keep a respectful distance, turn the flash off on my camera and bow my monks wanted to stop the ceremony as they don’t like the fact that it has become a spectacle, but the government have insisted that they must continue to allow the tourist dollars to continue to roll in. The Buddist monks can only eat what is donated to them – they must be doing pretty well as hundreds of tourists join in with this ritual and donate sticky rice and fruit. They process in level of seniority, with the older monks leading the way, and the small “boy” monks at the back. I didn’t see the “mad” monk with the silly walk though!
After breakfast, we pack our cases again and take a tuk tuk to the tiny airport. Our tickets say that our flight leaves from Gate No 1, but on further investigation it looks as if there is only one gate in the entire airport! Our little Laos airlines plane is sitting on the runway waiting for us. It’s a ATR-72 (it only seats 72 people max!) and is a turbo prop. People have suggested that Laos airlines is a bit suspect. I have to say that we had a very comfortable flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The landscape around Chiang Mai is also hilly. We are on the lower foothills of the Himalayas! I didn’t realise that they stretched this far. It is very green and wooded – very pretty. In our experience it is wise to pay for a taxi at one of the counters in the arrivals hall of the airport – it always costs less and you can’t get conned by an unscrupulous driver. Our driver is genuinely nice, and gives us a great tour of Chiang Mai on the way to our hotel, The Imperial Mai Ping.
Now, whilst we have been travelling, we have chosen to stay in small, boutique guest houses or hotels. Number one because they cost less, and number two because they are more personal and usually in a good location. But today our hotel is a large, swish hotel with two swimming pools, a spa, many different restaurants etc. The room is lovely, and the shower is excellent! I shall sleep well tonight. We have chosen it so that we can have a few days relaxing in the sun before we go home. I think that we are both tired and deserve a rest before we go home to England. It’s currently 31 degrees C here and only 5 degrees at home!
Wednesday 24th November
We are just planning a lazy day by the pool today. The weather is beautiful again today – sorry to rub it in! - and the pool is lovely.
We decide to spend the evening at the Night Bazaar which is situated just around the corner from our hotel. We are wandering around looking at work by local artists when Stuart spots “Lou Carpenter” from Neighbours! Now anyone who knows me is aware that I have watched Neighbours ever since it started over 25 years ago! Yes – I am a saddo, but I am a huge fan! So I pluck up courage and go over to shake his hand and ask if he would mind if my husband takes a photo! We smile for the camera and I thank him. As we walked away, Stuart tells me that the camera ran out of battery and died just as he tried to take the photo! Oh well, never mind.
We then find a little bar called the “Chiang Mai Saloon” which looks nice. So we sit down at the bar for a drink. Am I dreaming, or are there two elephants just walking past the door? Yes – a Mummy elephant and a baby elephant! They are cute, but it’s a bit like a circus. Not sure that I should condone the use of elephants to make money anyway!
It’s time to head back to the hotel, but just as we come out of the bar a very tall, thin “ladyboy” asks me if I would like to go to see the Thai boxing! Maybe tomorrow!!!!! It’s fair to say that Thailand is a weird place and I am not sure that I like it. There are western men of a certain age everywhere. They could be gay I suppose, but I think it is much more likely that they are “sex tourists”. There are massage parlours everywhere – all seem to have “private” rooms too! Say no more.
Thursday 25th November
Weather beautiful (again) so that will be another relaxing day by the pool then!
Friday 26th November
What a shame. It’s hot again so I will have to sit by the pool again! After dinner and another look around the market we head back to pack up our backpacks for the last time. It’s time to say goodbye to my trustee flip flops which are now well and truly broken, and chuck out some clothes that I just won’t need anymore. That lightens the load for a few souvenirs that I bought along the way. At the moment I think that they are all lovely of course, but when I get home I shall no doubt ask myself why I bought them as they are all “tat”.
Saturday 27th November
Today we are up early as we have a long journey back to Kuala Lumpur. We could take a direct flight from Chiang Mai to L.P. but it is double the cost of breaking the journey at Bangkok, so we have taken the second option. We end up in Burger King for breakfast and spend the last of our Baht. Our flight is with AirAsia again and I have to say that they have been excellent. Very efficient, always on time and quite cheap. I can recommend them to anyone travelling around S E Asia.
After lunch in the Priority Pass lounge (free of course) we are off to Kuala Lumpur.
Well. We made it! 6 weeks travelling around S E Asia and we didn’t get lost in the jungle, fall off a mountain, get eaten by tigers, swept away on the rapids, mugged or seduced by ladyboys! We didn’t get malaria, food poisoning or even diorreha!
We’ve seen mad monks, elephants, snakes, monkeys, oranutans. We’ve travelled by bus, bicycle, train, all manner of tuk tuks, boats and airplanes. Our passports are chock block with visas and stamps!
The people all around S E Asia have been incredible, travelling has been easy, the food has been lovely and in general, the weather has been fantastic.
All I can say to you is getting saving, take some time off work, pack your backpack and come to this wonderful part of the world. You won’t regret it.
This is a summary of my favourite things
Country Vietnam (North)
People Definitely the Cambodians. They are so genuine and they can’t do
enough for you.
Hotel Eden 54 in Kota Kinabalu – Ling Ling the manageress was fantastic
Meal For me it was Khmer curry in Cambodia
For Stuart it was the huge grilled river prawns he had on the Mekong
Temple The Royal Palace in Bangkok
Most beautiful people
Local Market Hoi An closely followed by Kota Kinabalu
Souvenir Market The Night market in Luang Prabang, Laos
Waterfall Kuang Si Falls in Laos
Wildlife Meeting the Oranutans in Borneo
Challenge Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Spectacle Millions of scooters in Hanoi. You have to see it to believe it!
There haven’t been many disappointments on this holiday, but Ha Long bay was a bit of a let down. Too commercial and the water is very dirty. The country I least liked was Thailand. I didn’t find the people very genuine at all. They are all smiles until they realise that you don’t want what they are selling and then they switch off or are rude to you.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! I can’t wait to start planning our next adventure! Africa here we come!