Leaving for Laos

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December 18th 2008
Published: December 18th 2008
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Sangkhla buri was one of the nicest towns I was lucky enough to visit in Thailand. There's not an awful lot happening there and it's pretty unspoilt by tourism as yet, but that's the beauty of it. Don't go there for a party, but if you want to chill out, or, if you want to get involved in some volunteer work, it's one of the nicest places you can be.

Coming across Whispering Seeds was fantastic. Meeting Jim was a very humbling experience for me. He's the same age as I am and he's done so much good with his life. The kids there had the worst possible start in life and yet now, they have opportunities they would probably never have dreamed of. Good luck to them all. In addition, I got to learn hands on about natural building....something I'd been interested in for years. All in all, it made my trip up there even more special.

It probably would have been special anyhow, just for seeing Sangkla and the surrounding area. They say the road up here is one of the most beautiful in Thailand. I can vouch for that. It is beautiful. I was actually glad the bike was slow as it gave me lots of opportunity to take it all in!

When I left Whispering Seed, I was only going to stay one more night and head off in the morning. This rapidly turned into 2 nights and very nearly into 3, but being that the end of my visa was getting ever closer, I had to rapidly pull myself together and head off on the bike for Kanchanaburi.......that is after one last breakfast at the Baan Unraak bakery! That was the place to eat in Sangkla. Run by another orphanage in town, it had the best value meals in town. Coconut Shakes and fruit salads to die for......not to mention the chocolate cake :O) So, after breakfast and having found a new helmet being that I'd somehow managed to lose mine in the 2 days since I left WS :O/, I headed off.

On the way up, I thought on the way back I may stop at the Dam near Thong Pha Phum, or maybe one of the national parks....either Khao Laem or Sai Yok, but on the way back, it really wasn't calling me. Instead I just enjoyed the ride back. I was amazed to do it in half a day. On the way up, I'd taken two, but then I had stopped at various places on the way. I wasn't pushing it on the way back either. It probably took about 4 or 5 hours or so, with a couple of stops to let the bike cool down. The poor old bike! I don't think it'd ever done that amount of miles before and up n down all those hills.... especially with Michael and his rucksack on the back! He kept telling me it was his rucksack that was heavy as the bike was groaning away in first gear up this hill! Truth be known, it may have been heavy, but the bike would probably have been groaning even without the rucksack! Still, it made it, even though I had slid it up the road after hitting a muddy patch on the way back to WS one night, and a pair of new wing mirrors later, it still looked good as new and was on top form heading back to Kanch. There's something to be said for these little 125 step throughs. It may not have had the character of a bigger bike, but it was cheap as nuts and very little trouble.

Apart from the fantastic scenery, the journey back was pretty uneventful. When I got back to Kanch, I headed back to Apple n Noi's guest house where I'd left my bag. I'd probably have gone back there anyhow for the night. It's a lovely place to stay. Both Apple and Noi are fantastic people who can't do enough for you. I passed the night away with a quick trip to tescos for one of the best icecream sundaes in thailand -mmmmm dairy queen's chocolate something or others!, and a quick wander round the market. After that, I headed back for a good night's sleep so I could get up and head back to Bangkok the next morning.

In Thailand, it seems any trip you do, unless it's on the same road, you have to go back to Bangkok to get the bus. You can try and get connections at bigger towns, but it take so long, it's normally more time effective to go back to Bangkok and start again. I didn't have too much need to go back to Bangkok this time. Originally, I wanted to fix my Ipod, but it had miraculously started working again when I got back to Sangkhla from WS. :O/ don't you hate it when that happens? I guess it's good it's working, but on the other hand, being that I'm about to leave Thailand, I'd rather it had just broken and been done with it so I could have at least got it sorted before I left the country. Still, ho hum, I have music, which is def something to smile about :O)

Somehow, when I left Kanch, I managed to get on the wrong bus and ended up at Southern Bus Terminal instead of the Northern one which I needed. It wasn't too much of a hassle, and it was probably quicker based on the fact that they leave 3 times an hour instead of once, so there were probably fewer passengers and therefore fewer stops. When we got there, I even managed to find out how to get to the Northern terminal by bus....my thai must be getting better! I'm not too sure how much planning went into the highways around Bangkok you know. I'm sure it took about a third the time to get across Bangkok as it did to get from Kanch to Bangkok! And that wasn't down to traffic....it was purely the going round n round in circles to get on the right highway in the right direction to go where we wanted! Moan moan moan!

Anyhow, once I got to the right bus terminal, I booked myself onto a bus to Chang Rai that night, (overnight busses here are actually ok and what you save on a night's accommodation offsets the bus fare!) found a left luggage place to leave my backpack for a few hours and headed off to enjoy western style shopping one last time before I left Thailand. I didn't need much, just a couple of things from boots and a new bikini, being that I'd put mine outside to dry after Erawan and that's where it remained! I also stocked up on McDonald's McFlurrys before leaving the country. I'm not sure what delights Laos holds in store, but I'm pretty sure McDonalds isn't one of them, so to tied me over, I had two :O)

Northern bus terminal is definitely easier to get to as well. I still have nightmares of trying to get back to the southern terminal in time for the bus down to Surat Thani before the meditation course. The traffic had been awful and after being stuck in it on a bus and then in a taxi, I'd finally paid through the nose for a motorcycle taxi to get me there in time. I have to say, he'd earned his money He was obviously proud of the 18 minute time as well.....and rightly so, if I'd stayed in the taxi or the bus, I may still have been there a couple of hours later, waving goodbye to my bus and my 15 quid ticket! Still, back to now, the northern bus terminal is pretty much right on the skytrain line, so you can get direct from there to the shopping centres and back no problem. You could walk between the two, or you can get a motorbike taxi, which I tend to go for now in the first instance wherever traffic is involved!

Having retrieved my bag and got a bottle of water, I headed out to bay 101 which my ticket assured me was where I'd find my bus. There it was....... and how nice it was to get there without my heart reaching some outrageous number of beats per minute, holding onto the back of a motorbike for grim death with my eyes clamped shut! I found my seat with about 5 minutes to spare before the bus pulled out.

The bus seemed fab. Seats that reclined right back with a footrest that simultaneously rose up for full body support! A reading light that worked and didn't wake up everyone within 5 feet of you. Air con vents which switched both on and off again......wow, this seemed too good to be true! As we pulled out the air hostess (or host posing as hostess! :O) ) came round with some yummy pastries and bottles of water to keep the hunger monsters at bay during the journey. In addition to that, we stopped at a roadside cafe around midnight for another round of snacks included in the price of a ticket. All very nice, but probably not actually needed after the snacks earlier and two mcdonalds icecreams! Still unfortunately they insisted on waking everyone on the bus up before we stopped there so it seemed rude not to partake!

My fully reclining seat proved fantastically comfortable, it was just a shame about the mosquitos buzzing around my legs. Still I wrapped myself up as well as I could in the blankets they provided and was soon fast asleep. I didn't wake up until it was light and we were nearly in Chang Rai, but when I did, my legs felt like I wanted to rip them apart. And it wasn't just my legs. Every part of me itched like hell, it was unbelievable. I don't think mosquitos were acutally the problem. Is it possible to get bedbugs on a bus?? I'm not sure, but the bites I was covered in were much smaller than mossy bites and lots closer together, and all over the back of my body which was up against the seat. I'm guessing they were some kind of bed bugs.....and they itched like f***. In the last couple of days since then, I've gone through a ton of tiger balm and probably used half the clicks in the lifetime of my mossy clicker trying to stop myself from ripping the top layer of skin off my body :O( Even as I'm writing this, I'm scratching! God knows what the people next to me think :O/ Unbelievable really. Knew that bus was too good to be true!

Having got to Chang Rai, it was a bit of a disappointment. There's nothing there really. I was going to do a boat trip up the river from there up to a place called Mae Salek which is supposed to be remeniscent of a chinese farming town. However, after one night in a room where the toilet smelled so bad I didn't want to go in there to brush my teeth, I headed up here to Chiang Khong instead.

Chiang Kong is a border town between Thailand and Laos. It's one of the most northern points from which to enter Laos and crosses over to Huang Xia, the Laosian town on the other side of the Mekong. When I was in Sangkhla buri, Kevin and Edna, (a really lovely couple I met there, originally from Newcastle, now from Yokshire and I'd say getting on towards retirement age) had said that Chiang Kong was also a really nice little town .......bit like Sangkhla they'd said. Hence, I wasn't too worried about spending a couple of nights here instead of staying in Chang Rai. They were right too. I've found a fab place to stay right on the river.....a homestay called Huanthai Sophaphan homestay. It's right next door to Tamilla guest house. I can definitely recommend this place if you want a good view of the river. It's a beautiful old teak house with bags of character and a view to die for. They advertise package costs including meals, but if you ask they also do room only. I've got a fab room for 300 baht. I can also recommend this little vegetarian restaurant on the back road running parallel to the main street. If you go down the road next to easy bar and turn left at the end, it's up there on the right. Otherwise go down the road opposite the turn off for the homestay and turn right. She's a lovely little thai lady who doesn't speak any english, but if you know a few words thai, or even if you don't; if you like vegetarian food go and try her out. For 50 baht, she kept coming out with fab things to try, rice, veg, some minty tasting dish, siouxe type things. All fantastic. I gave her 70 bt just because I thought it was well worth it, and she then ran round getting me a bag of takeaway siouxe and half a dozen bananas to take away with me! It's a shame she doesn't have much advertising and she's stuck on the backroad, otherwise she'd probably be packed.

So tomorrow, after a couple of lazy days here (aren't they all? I hear you say!) I'm heading over the river to Laos. First stop there is trip to play with monkeys! There's a gibbon reserve a good friend of mine recommended which I'm checking out....gibbonx.org. It sounds pretty cool.....you get to stay in tree houses and swing through the jungle canopy on high wire contraptions to check out cute little black gibbons! Sounds very cool and I'm really looking forward to it. After that the plan is to get a slow boat down the river to LuangPrabang. Another place Kevin and Edna recommended.

I'm not overly sad to leave Thailand. It's a nice country, and I guess it's pretty easy for the traveller, but for say 90% of the time, I don't get the feeling people are that genuine. There are some people in the other 10% who really blow that statement out of the water, but it's a shame they've been few and far between in my experiences here.

Everything I've heard about Laos has been good. I believe it's not as modern or western as Thailand, although apparently it's a whole lot more touristy than it was 10 years ago. I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but I know I'm looking forward to it. Playing with monkeys will hopefully be just the start to a lovely Laotian adventure. :O)


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