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Asia » Laos » South » Tha Khaek
October 4th 2009
Published: October 4th 2009
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Ok now we finally have the proper chance to update our blog - I believe the last proper update was written around the time of Miss Teen Thailand 2009... an exciting day all round... since then we have travelled on into Laos and have carried on having a fantastic time... from where we left off last time I’ll fill in all the main bits...

From Chiang Mai we took a kinda ting to Lampang on some bus or other which took a while... It looked really close on the map, about 1cm away... When we arrived we held up a Sawngthaw (a glorified pickup with benches) and searched the city for a place to stay... After an hour or so we discovered TT&T get hao which was a sight for sore feet... Nice place, nice owner, nice price, all was well and good in Lampang. We set off along the river to find some nice place to nosh and slurp, and were introduced to the gravity defying Riverside Restaurant (Curry Yum) whose main bulk hung over the river at a 75 degree angle... Character: yes Health and Safety regulations: no... Into town after toilet shenanigans in ‘I Love Coffee’, we felt compelled to take advantage of the only city in Thailand that still uses horse drawn carriages as transport... We approached the horse stand and Lucy attempted a pow wow with the horses receiving none of the warmth that she offered... Our idea of a romantic trot through the neighbouring park was soon utterly and maliciously uprooted as John Wayne (from his too-old-to-be-in-films-but-nonetheless-continuing-to-appear-on-the-silver-screen days) geed up the horse (who bared strange resemblance to Ginger from Black Beauty in both appearance and temperance) forward into the main road... This frankly embarrassing ordeal continued for almost an hour, covering such sights as KFC and including such entertainment as mad-horse-bucking-continuously-for-an-hour-show. We disembarked apologising profusely to the horse and scurried off to the shack tumbling gradually into the river (The Riverside Restaurant) which was soon bombarded with fireworks and obese rain... We retired to TT&T but not before purchasing a ‘Sesame Street Fighter’ tee-shirt which I will be buried with... (When talking about the amazing tee-shirt - which we often do - Sesame Street Fiiiiighter is always said with lots of aggression)

The next day we awoke bleary eyed and grumped to the bus station on a... well I don’t really know what to call it... I think Motor Seat will probably describe sufficiently, although ‘very broken Motor Seat’ would probably do more justice to this particular brand of Tuk tuk. (It is also worth mentioning here that the driver was probably not a tuk tuk driver -or didn’t know he was-as he seemed to have no proper bearing of where the bus station was or of the town in which he had, without doubt, spent the last 79 years). Another important ingredient to this incident was his bargaining skills: He suggested 200baht as the fare (For those without baht experience this is about 4gbp and is the cost of a room for the night). We politely declined and walked about 4metres down the road before he caught up with us and offered us the trip for ‘point one finger point one finger’ insinuating he had had a change of heart and was prepared (I take this back, he wouldn’t have been prepared for inhaling if a billboard had been constructed in front of him with clear instructions accompanied by simple diagrams of the respiration process) to take us both for 20 baht (40pence).

We took the bus to Chiang Mai and jumped off on the motorway opposite the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre. This place was really nice and peaceful save the irregular trumpets of the nellys and the hordes of primary school children. We watched the ‘phants and their mahouts bathing before enjoying the show which included ‘Elephart’ (surprisingly brilliant) and feeding them nanas. (The experience described somewhere as an industrial wet Hoover seems very fitting!) All very enjoyable. Our spirits were at heights and we barely noticed the 500 degree heat. This ambience was soon demolished whilst waiting on the side of the heaving motorway with our four-ton backpacks for the next bus to Chiang Mai to arrive. (I’d like to add that the wait was over an hour and the bus we were trying to hail down was presumably coming round the blind bend at 90mph as the rest of the traffic whizzing by had been...) The mood was not helped by a western guy driving a pickup (an empty pickup!!) stopping to ask if we were going to Chiang Mai. We replied in the affirmative upon which he seemed contented and drove off... Livid...
Anyway, we finally got the bus and got back to Chiang Mai but only to find that the bus we wanted to get wouldn’t go again until the following morning. Angry and hungry and tired and dirty we tuktuk’d back to Chiang Mai and stayed the night.(Returning to the same Siri get hao we had stayed in for a week previously Jim the owner was very surprised to see us after we had bode him farewell and he had wished us luck for our journey ahead - ‘Robin my friend... What happened?! ...’)

Finally, after an early rise, getting nearly beaten to death by an old beggarwoman and a very long bus journey we arrived back in Chiang Khong where we checked into the lovely PP get hao and chipped off for food and a Movie (corrrnet-oh) before hitting the hay.

The next day was Laos day and we got the ferry across the Mekong to the border town of Huay Xai in the Bokeo province. Here was our first Communist government paperwork experience which was relatively painless so there! Visas all sorted we proceeded to ask a local the way to a particular guest house only to find ourselves miraculously booked into his own hotel. Not too bad and way ‘cheap cheap for you’. (Here in Huay Xai we climbed an impressive white staircase which had beautiful green dragons carved all the way up, which lead up to a beautiful temple and monastery... - The Buddhist monks and nuns were all either praying or meditating whilst a boisterous group of youngsters ran around eating frogspawn from a fountain. The main attraction of this cluster of building was a tower with a large bell - positioned at the top of the hill it was sure to have amazing views over both this part of Laos and across the river back to the north of Thailand.. Having sweated my way up the stairs... I wasn’t too impressed with the sign at the bottom which read - Please lady, no go up the stairs... with envious eyes I watched Robin climb to the top where he assured me that the views were as amazing as we had envisaged...) With this guy we also sorted the tickets for the two day long boat trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang via Pak Beng. Sounds nice you might say and in certain aspects you would be right: Beer Lao was flowing and densely forested mountains loomed up on either side of us with only the occasional village punctuating the banks complete with naked diving Lao kids. However, the journey was long and the seats were hard and the Canadian girls were paralytic as they dangled over the edge of the boat. Met a nice Irish couple (Frankie and Kate - Frankie was in the army and Robin got to talk about war with a Beerlao stuck nicely to his hand - he was in his element) who made the trip a lot more bearable than it would have been... Pak Beng finally appeared and we walked the plank (for me - a challenge in itself - my lack of co-ordination, clumsiness, my four ton backpack and a few too many bottles of Beer Lao combined this seemed like a mammoth task... I think I closed my eyes and hoped for the best!!) With a good few bottles of Beerlao in us before being ushered to a guesthouse by one of the myriad touts waiting for the fresh falang meat at the docks. This was the first place we had visited which had no continual supply of electricity and the 10:30 silence that came with the blackness was deafening...

The next morning we had brekkie and headed down to the dock to see a group who had been on the boat the day before sitting in the speed boat section (these, although much faster have a much higher casualty rate next to the slow boats none... hold on...that particular statistic may not have been as reliable as I’m sure you all assumed it was...I seem to remember that on the boat trip we were all drawn to the half submerged slow boat that several locals were attempting to recover...an exception to the rule I hope). We realised why they had made such a drastic change in transport as we approached our boat: It was not our boat but a much smaller fare with what seemed twice the amount of passengers aboard. This journey was hell incarnate... With remnants of the previous day’s alcohol attempting to re-arrange the organs inside us as it has a habit of doing, we positioned ourselves in our seat with the least amount of space imaginable... The six hour ride passed stunning scenery, including Pak Ou caves which we were later to return to, but my eyes were fixed, with considerable bitterness, upon those early risers who had nabbed the comfy racing car seats at the meagre expense of less sleep. My iPod ran out far too early and I boat was resigned to counting trees as they past whilst Lucy delved into the second half of ‘The Beach’(which I did whilst balancing on the edge of the boat my neck craned to fit inside the rickety old thing....)Finally, reluctantly, the boat drew into Luang Prabang docks. This arrival was something from a dream. (One of the guys on the boat even jokingly said if this Luang Prabang I think I’ve died and gone to heaven...) The Mekong around the city was shrouded in a low, silver mist and the banks looked like a fairytale, this was enhanced by the realisation that we had reached our destination (this realisation did not come easily to the jaded passengers, including ourselves, who had long since refused to believe that any good was in the world). Luang Prabang: God bless...

We spent a week in this UNESCO World Heritage City and would have spent longer if it were not for visa restrictions and our exit point being at the other end of the country. Beautiful city, friendly people, delicious food, engrossing night market and cable TV in our room... Glorious. The highlights of the week would be our trip to the lavish Kuang Si waterfalls which, after falling 50m continue to drain into several mini falls and pools, one of which we swam in. On the way back to Luang Prabang we were given 10 minuets to wander round a Hmong Village (Hmong being one of the many ethnic minorities that populate Laos). This was an uncomfortable experience for both of us as we followed a concrete path through the village. The experience can only be affiliated with a walk through a zoo. We both felt as though their poverty ridden lifestyle was noting but a tourist attraction and as though we had no right to brisk through. We have both since talked about going to stay with a village if only to really connect with their lifestyle and not treat them as merely an attraction. If we did decide to do this then there are eco-tourism branches throughout Laos who would arrange a ’Homestay’ with the majority of profit going to those who need it most: the villages. It is a complex issue and one that is not resolved simply by staying with a family in a village but it is nonetheless a beginning for us to comprehend the lifestyle and needs of the ethnic groups. Rest assured that these Homestays are professionally arranged and pose no threat whatsoever to neither the hosts nor the guests.

On my birthday we visited Pak Ou caves which hold hundreds of Buddha statues in a natural hollow in the cliff neighbouring the Mekong (This as well as major spurges on food and market: the most amount of steak for 3quid each). On another day we ventured to scale the modest Phu (hill/mountain) Si which rose from the centre of town. (Over 300 hundred steps... and as it was a holy temple I had far too many heavy clothes on for this mountain of steps!) From the top was a beautiful view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding rivers and mountains. The summit also held such wonders as a cave with a Buddhist shrine inside and, believe it or not, an imprint of Buddha’s (the Buddha) footprint inside a concave in the rock face... He was pretty big ol’ Buddha... More, I’m sure did occur but at this point our memories forsake us both...

The bus from Prabang to Vang Vieng was pretty insane scaling enormous mountains on constantly snaking roads for a good seven and a half hours (at least half of which was in pitch black) arriving in Vang Vieng for 1am. Finding a guest house still open at this time we gratefully collapsed into our care bear clad beds and cut the cords...

Vang Vieng is home to the tubing phenomenon that has hit the Laos travelling scene. The concept is simple: a rubber ring and the Nam Ou River. We started our tubing experience about two hours up river from Vang Vieng, plopping ourselves in the rubber rings or tubes and pushing ourselves into the current of the river. For about 10 yards before we were thrown a line by the first of several make-shift bars along the route who offered irresistible free shots. After taking advantage we once again set off and carried on down the river for about half an hour. This stretch saw Lucy failing to navigate at all and heading straight into sharp reads in the centre of the river surrounded by rapids (she got over it). We stopped again shortly after this incident and were pulled into the shore by an old Laotian(this poor old man threw a bottle to me which I was meant to grab and missed, then got a long piece of bamboo and dragged me back along the bank about half a mile... now with this you have to take into consideration this man probably weighed the same as one of my legs.. and was pulling me over rocks against the current of the river... he swiftly wiped the sweat from his head with a towel and sat down with a beer...) who directed us up a sandbag staircase into a wooden thatched bar where we were given a free bottle of Lao Lao (local whiskey...ooh) and a little shot glass as well as a bucket of further alcoholic beverages (i.e. A further bottle of whiskey, Fanta and red bull). We thoroughly enjoyed this as well as the, again free, fresh papaya. The owner then offered to show us the nearby cave which we cautiously agreed to. The cave was half submerged in water which we had to wade through (neck deep...and my flip flops broke!) into the pitch black opening. It was WICKED. Although here occurred the single most regrettable incident in human history which I like to refer to as ‘The toe stubbing incident’ in which I stubbed my toe (our host promptly poured a load of Lao Lao on it once we had returned as way of an apology). Again we set off on the last, and least eventful, stretch, dipping out for a swim and missing the exit point by a good 200 yards before crawling back onto land and heading back to base.

We also attempted another cave which was set 400 ft up the side of the Karst limestone Cliffside. This was afterwards always referred to by Lucy as the ‘400 steps, 500 mosquitoes, pitch black horror’ cave. It got too dark too quickly before we had even made it up the cliff so we simply ventured into the entrance chamber and looked about a bit before tumbling back down the carved out staircase. (at the bottom of this cave was a lagoon - the blue lagoon - the colour was so vivid it seemed too good to be true, it looked as though someone had filled it with blue food colouring... as it was late and dark and the mosquitoes were out in force we decided not to swim in it and started the 20 minute walk in the pitch black back to our tuk tuk.)

We left Vang Vieng the following morn and entered the second Capital of our journey so far: Vientiane. It used to be the playground of CIA spooks and war hungry Journos but now it’s just another city with no real distinctive features. However it was here that we made our infamous purchase of the Laptop. This adventure was shared by us with Mr Khamphat the tuk tuk driver who first took us to an internet cafe before carting us to the airport and then finally to the appropriate Jiro Computer where the entire staff crowded round us in excitement of a purchase (one of the sales assistants even began hiccupping in trying to contain her exhilaration). We bought the cheapest (not before having to draw out 2million kip from the nearby ATM) and hurried led back to our room before chipping out to buy Lost Series 5 for five pound. Great Buy, great buy.

(I’d like to add that Mr Khamphat was lovely... the guy at the internet cafe had helped up translate what we needed and where we needed to go, he informed us that Mr. K would take us and he would like to come inside with us... where he thought we were going at first I’m not quite sure... at the airport where he took us he got out and took off his grubby shirt to reveal a pristine tee-shirt... he brushed his hair and had the hugest grin as he hurriedly walked us over to gate 6 at the airport... he also took us to an ESK-esque shop amongst others before Robin directing him to Jiro computers... - all in all he was absolutely lovely though and went completely out of his way to help us.... we love you Mr. K!)

However, after this day certain events occurred which took control of our attention causing us to stay in Vientiane longer than we had expected. The numerous earthquakes and typhoons in the pacific had (and still are) affecting both Cambodia and Vietnam. Cambodia was next on our itinerary and we are still trying to assess whether we will be able to go there... We will keep you updated...

After a few days of feeling as though we were in Limbo, we decided to continue to the south of Laos as originally planned. We caught the bus to Tha Kaek (from where we are transmitting this belated update) and settled in the Tha Kaek travel lodge. We are currently sitting outside our room in the beer garden and as soon as it opens (tomorrow) we will be booking a trek with the tourist information office to explore the surrounding countryside. We now have the facility of this laptop to prepare blogs for the populous and will be attempting more frequent updates. Love to one and all and news re the situation in the pacific would be gratefully received as our access to detailed info is scarce and expensive...

Peace Out and we love Soy sauce even though it is generally distributed by Nestle who, rest assured, will one day be taken down by all those righteous.

Just a quick note as well, as we’ve sat and cried with laughter writing and re reading all this we would like to request that we also here all your news... and your anecdotes... hearing from home is lovely and we really like knowing what you all are up to, we really are having the most amazing time and even in the short time we have been away it has become all to clear for us both how lucky we are to have the great family, friends and home life that we both do... We love you all sooooo much.




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4th October 2009

summer squint
yes people - the summer squint follows me around asia.
4th October 2009

email sent
Hi, have sent an email with bits of my life which seem very pastel compared to yours - you are packing in experiences so thickly! It was a lovely blog and very welcome. Robin it was weird not seeing you on your birthday. Lots of hugs and kisses Nancy
4th October 2009

stuff
are you wearing socks or sandals ? please, please dont say both . . . xxx

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