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Published: March 1st 2010
Zac wanted to call this entry 'Laos and Cambodia and Shijiazhuang with a bit of Beijing in the middle and the end all a little bit before returning to oz for just a short time before once again returning to beijing where it will be slightly warmer but not as warm as Australia' but Sof said it wasn't catchy enough. On reflection, Zac agrees. Kinda.
The day before heading off to Laos, it was -15 degrees in Beijing. That same day, it was 35 degrees in Vientiane. For the first time of a few, we thought we were going to die. 50 degrees difference is terrible stress on one's digestive system, according to ancient Chinese medicine. (As we know, ancient Chinese medicine experts were well up to speed on consequences of international air travel). The very next day, the feeling of an immanent death came upon us once again as we stood on the tarmac of Kunming airport, looking at the tiny 'plane' that was to take us on the journey south. We were convinced that it was covered in designs of tropical flowers just to make us feel better. The resulting turbulence wasn't anywhere as bad as the flowers;
the worst thing to happen was Zac having half a bottle of coke spilled on him by the air hostess; and we both arrived 'safely' and Sof arrived dry in Laos. Hooray.
The first afternoon was petanque, mojitos and Beer Laos at Celeste and Luke's lovely abode on the Mekong, along with Ana and Chas and Vicki and Rob. We contemplated swimming across the river to Thailand, but decided it was a better use of resources to get drunk instead. Drunkenness continued into the evening at Pack Luck club, aka 'The Lady-boy club'. Many a dance, many an 80s tune, many a short dress, many a 'Is that breast real?' true Priscilla style.
The following day's hangover 'cure' was a restaurant boat trip, where we were served a delicious food-poison-inducing traditional Laos meal of goodness. This was the highlight of Vientiane, but the gastro bug soon knocked us down one by one. The stats of the evacuations from both ends started racking up from all parties. Zac became the self proclaimed winner, only because he was the only one who bothered to continue counting into double figures.
24 hours later we were back on our feet and
Temple in Vientiane
we visited the COPE visitor centre. This organisation has been set up to both assist people who have lost limbs from unexploded bomb accidents, as well as educate the public on the massive problem that faces Laos of thousands and thousands of unexploded bombs scattered all around the country as a result of the air-raids during the Vietnam war. Before going there, we didn't even know this was a problem. We totally recommend that you read up on this, http://copelaos.org.
Next stop was 4000 Islands. It is what it sounds like - a shitload of islands on the Mekong, bordering Cambodia. Seriously doubt that anyone has really counted though. I mean, come on. 3 days of relaxation, including beers in tubes floating down the river, barbeque boats, beach soccer with locals, boozy fruit shakes, wildlife in the bungalows, river dolphin watching from QUITE A LONG WAY AWAY and general fun times with good friends.
As we left the wonderful Laos PDR (people don't rush) for Cambodia, we endured a 16 hour multiple bus journey which resulted us in realising that China is more organised and less money-grabbing than we think. We were just lucky that we had a
Looking out the window
On the bus to 4000 Islands
seat the whole way, rather than being stuck in the luggage hold. Still bitter about handing in our US$2 with our 'We don't have H1N1 so stop asking' form however.
Things looked up when we were met by our driver at the bus station (who'd been waiting 4 hours) from our hotel, who presented us with a) an air-conditioned car, and b) an esky full of FREE cold beer. Nice.
The next 2 days around Siem Reap involved many a temple. All of them with funny names. And all of them with a rating. In order that we visited: Angkor Wat (13.45), Bayon (16.1), Phimeanakas (7.333), sunrise at Sras Srang (5.6), Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple with a big 15.49), Banteay Kdei (8), Banteay Srei (9.219835), Kbal Spean (a creek not a temple but still with carvings 12.02) and Banteay Samre (13.3). 2 days was kind of enough. Having a tour guide and driver for this was totally un-Zac-and-Sof but totally worth it. We learnt so much about the history and Hinduism and Buddhism and wars and struggles and etceteras.
Siem Reap is also home to a number of NGOs that are full of positivity. Things
On the moon
like 'Senteurs d'Angkor' and 'Artisans d'Angkor' which train and then employ people in fields of art, silk, botany and soap making. Wood and stone carving are also largely prevalent. In our souvenir buying we tried to support these organisations as much as possible, and were able to buy so many beautiful things. And coffee that tasted really good.
A much less drama filled bus trip took us to Phnom Penh, quite literally, as the in-bus movies "Anacondas" and "Iron Man" have less drama than a peanut. Or a larch tree.
On a more sombre note, we visited one of many 'Killing Fields' and S-21, the Khmer Rouge prisoner camp. Out of the 20,000 people to be tortured at S-21, only 7 survived. It was a wholly depressing experience, but again we learnt a lot about Cambodian history. It's so hard to believe that in such a friendly country full of such peaceful people there was civil war raging everywhere until just 12 years ago. It was wonderful to see the recognition of the mistakes made in the past and how they want to make the public aware of the tragedies so that it does not happen again.
Some of them only came up to Zac's knee
We completed our travels with a couple of days of NGO shopping, swimming in hotel pools, drinking fruit shakes, playing scrabble at a hip little bar that sold Australian style hamburgers, and doing our best to ignore tuk-tuk drivers who are desperate for a fare. In Phnom Penh, our favourite thing was our walk home every night, seeing the different faces of the city and the subtle nuances that make life on every street a little different from every other. A totally fascinating city. Although, it can get a little stressful as the millions of motorbikes and the lack of footpath make for death-adventure-number-3.
4 days in Beijing felt cold, then a weekend in Shijiazhuang (2 hours out of BJ) was colder. Our good friend Yan who lives in Sydney, invited us to stay with her and her family as she was visting them in Shijiazhuang (try pronouncing that, it's really hard). An awesome weekend of home-cooked food and Chinese hospitality in a city with really not very much to do. The locals say that 'Under the light, it's black'. Beijing is the so-called light, and Shijiazhuang is the black. i.e. SJZ is in the shadow of Beijing, and
gets all of it's old scrap technology and polluting factories. Mmm. There was, however, and awesome temple, probably the best we've seen in China, just outside of the city. The rating is yet to be decided, but it was pretty cool.
So as we enjoy another 5.5 days in Beijing before hitting oz for a month, we think about all the fish and chips we'll soon be eating, but the spicy sichuan food which we won't be able to get delivered for 2 ducks (devotees will remember the duck currency system).
Yi huir jian.
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