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Published: February 17th 2010
We left you in Bangkok. Before leaving the humid, traffic filled and hectic city Lindsay and I struck a deal that she would do Yoga on arrival in Chang Mai and I would do Thai Boxing at a local gym.
Lindsay completed her flow session without breaking a sweat and in serene fashion while I was beaten up repeatedly by a Thai instructor who didn't know that I didn't know what was happening. Surely he must have caught on a bit. He would repeatedly shout "head" (meaning kick me in the head) and I would be thinking "you're joking. I can't even reach my toes with straight legs". Then an English instructor appeared and helpfully explained that he could easily kick me in the head despite being 52, so if I can't I must be some kind of women or a homosexual. Fearing for my well being I began to try and kick him where he was holding his pads near his neck but succeeded only in smashing my toes into his stomach and rib cage! He refused to believe I was being serious and would smack me in the head every time I got it wrong. Repeat for 5
The French built this Arc de Triumph look-alike during their rule from 1858
mins, three times. I bought some Thai boxing shorts to pretend I was a pro next time, but there was no next time. Lindsay bought some yoga pants. We're too embarrassed to wear either in public.
And so to Laos, where we had heard so many things about the people. The country is famous for its beautiful countryside and its easy going population who never seem to be in a rush. Queue: English lady complaining about her US$5, 10 hour bus being 5 mins late: "Do you have any idea how rude it is to be late without apologising to the passengers?" she asked of a non-English speaking Lao. A tut and a humph followed quickly before a couple of Aussie women called her a wicked witch and everyone laughed.
Indeed, the people are very relaxed and never in a hurry. The majority of them live in the countryside and work to sustain themselves and their own family without a thought of profit or luxury anywhere to be found. They are nevertheless very proud, honest and hard working people. I bought a stuffed elephant (a scaled down toy obviously) from a girl at a street market thinking it
cost 30,000 Kip ($3). She stopped me from walking away and gave me my change. It had actually cost 1,300Kip (13 cent) but had said the price wrong to me.
We arrive at Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is beautiful and it sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in amongst the hills and rain forest. However, development has created a town where every street is lined with bars and restaurants and guest houses and where there is no industry other than tourism. There are so many tourists here. The city has no soul as a result (am I sounding like a "traveler" now?) but the surrounding areas are completely different and are full of local families going about their everyday lives. As a whole, they are the friendliest people I have ever encountered.
We met At, a guide at the elephant camp, during our three day residential Mahout course. A Mahout is an elephant driver - typically a very slight an agile nutter of a human without fear of the largest mammals on land, despite continuously prodding them with sticks to make them move when they are eating. We stayed
in a lodge overlooking the Nam Khan river and woke up each morning to go and find the elephant where they sleep in the rain forest (they sleep for two hours, from 12-1 and 1-2. How they know what the time is no-one knows but they can't sleep for longer as they get too hungry and wake up. They constantly eat and work).
All of the elephants here have been 'rescued' from brutal logging companies (now illegal here in Laos) and I suppose a 7 day week ferrying tourists around is the lesser of two evils. The majority of tourists come and sit in the chairs for a quick lap but we were lucky to find ourselves in a small group with an American couple and a French-American couple with whom we got along well, and learned commands to control the elephants as well as about their diet and hygiene - Lindsay particularly enjoyed washing behind the ears of her three tonne beast!
Lindsay was continuously on the neck of a playful female who would keep her wet and cool all day by finding water and spraying it at her every few steps. If there was no water
(and this was the dry season) she would blow spit all over herself and Lindsay. My one was the 'big daddy' who found it hard to sit down and would do what he liked - always taking the effort to do the opposite of what I 'commanded' him to do.
It was a brilliant trip and as At was an ex monk we found out a lot about the process of becoming a monk with him answering a question that had been bugging me - how do you get little monks if the adult ones take a vow of celibacy? The answer: You take time off from being a monk to have a family. I didn't realise it was so much like a club. I suspect it isn't really but that's what he did anyway.
Excellent news: when asked who were the worst tourists the guides all said the Germans!
We finally sorted VISA's for India and Vietnam, the latter is where we head next. Halong Bay in Vietnam and then down the coast. I can't wait for the 24 hour bus ride - the last we did had no air con and no windows and was
full of mosquitoes that couldn't get out. I must have killed fifty with seemingly no effect on their numbers. This one is in a public bus as all the tourist buses have shut down for Chinese New Year. The last public bus we were on was full of locals with motion sickness. There were four couples sat surrounding Lindsay and I and all four of the women were continuously sick for the 10 hour journey. I suspect this is not out of the ordinary as the conductor handily produced a hundred vomit bags from somewhere. These bus journeys seem to evoke an irrational hatred of the locals in me. I do feel bad about some of the things I think but at least I don't say them unlike some of our western cousins did!
Love to all back home. Only six weeks left now.
George and Linz
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