A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

semi-overcast 27 °C

Luang Prabang was probably the best place I've ever been to! We both decided we wanted to live there...in a shack with a couple of hammocks, between the waterfall and the town centre... it was the most laid back and peaceful place I've ever came across and completely different to Thailand.
On our 9 hour slow boat on the second day we talked to an Irish girl called Emma and a dutch girl called Claudia and after disembarking from the boat we all stayed together as we tried to find a few cheap rooms from the touts that surrounded us. After seeing two guesthouses we eventually ended up staying at the first guesthouse we'd been offered (the guy had literally tailed our tuk tuk on his motorbike and took us one by one on the back of it (with our massive back packs) to the guesthouse 2 minutes away. The rooms were great, clean and had en suite bathrooms and were close to the town centre (and cheap - 180 Baht). As we arrived in the early evening it was decided that we'd all get showered and dressed and meet in the Hive bar across the road to get some food and a few drinks and to get to know our new companions. As it turned out we ended up having two for one cocktails in the Hive bar and moving on to the bar down the road called Lao Lao bar which had a massive beer garden out the back and a very good menu. We ate, we drank, we talked. Iyt was a very enjoyable evening until we read the back of the menu which had information about Laos and we discovered there is a midnight curfew in Laos, meaning that all the bars kick out at 11:30pm... however...we left the bar and were immediately confronted by several tuk tuk drivers asking if we wanted to go to the bowling alley. At first we just laughed as this seemed like the most bizarre destination but wesoon found out that the bowling alley is the only place that stays open until 3am and serves alcohol. After a brief discussion and much amusement we decided that we only live once and even though 75% of our group hate bowling (me being the exception) we headed to the town outskirts for Beerlao and bowling (actually we didn't play at all). The only problem encountered was that the tuk tuk home cost twice ad much as it did on the way there and we the driver pocketed a 10,000 Kip (that's less than a pound) when we were paying and we had to pay again (it was more about the lack of honesty rather than the loss of less than a pound!).
The following morning we all arranged to meet at the cafe/bookshop to arrange our trip to the famous waterfall. Emma and Claudia were trying to get us all to cycle the 32 kilometres in the midday heat...up hill, but luckily we managed to persuade them that this was a very silly idea when we could be driven there by tuk tuk.
The waterfall was....breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it in my life. On the walk up the path we came across the lowest pool (which you could swim in) and thought is was beautiful until we realised that there were two more swimming areas and the highest fall to go. The last stop was incredible. We decided to go back to the first pool to swim in and it was freezing...so much so that I had trouble catching my breath the entire time I was in there! Claudia and I then decided we were going to jump off the waterfall (there was also a tree with steps nailed to it that you could jump in from) so we decided to scaled the slippery rocks. I was terrified, so much so that my legs were shaking so much when we were ready to jump that I thought I was not going to be able to push myself off! After a 1-2-3 we jumped. Well, Claudia jumped and had hold of my hand so I was basically pulled in! I felt incredibly brave and had an adrenaline rush!
That evening we booked ourselves in for a well deserved massage and discovered the night market, which someone joked that unlike Thailand where your are practically dragged over to stalls, you actually felt like apologising for trying to buy things!
The next day in paradise we climbed the hill steps which took us to some Buddhist monuments (and Buddha's giant footprint in a cave) and had our massages (I have decided I don't like them...) and got an early night ahead of our departure by minivan to Vang Vieng the next morning.
Vang Vieng as the guide book told us was a strange place dedicated to reruns of 'Friends' in every guesthouse and a phenomenon known as 'tubing'. We loved it!
We got dropped off in the middle of town and literally walked into a guesthouse and got a room then settled into some serious Friends addiction. The next morning was tubing day! Tubing involves being taken 3km up river being issued with a giant tractor wheel inner tube and floating downstream. Now this may seem harmless however there are at least 8 bars on the way down, and a swing jump into the river - the first of which was 10 metres high! I managed to work up the courage to climb up to the swing and then promptly (well after about 5 minutes of 1-2-3....no no no!) decide that my life meant more to me than embarrassing myself in front of a bar full of 'tubers' by chickening out.
The next bar had a smaller swing and Clare prompted me into action by saying she was going to do it. Not to be outdone, I went first. And successfully avoided death (and landing face first!). Clare managed to get four steps up then sat back down again!
Several bars and sings later though she did redeem herself and completed the second largest swing and we have video evidence luckily the video obscures the fact that she had to be pushed off the tower by a kindly man to save her the shame of descent via the stairs!
We had however spent far too long in the bars as the tubes had to be returned by 6pm and at 5:30pm we were back on the river trying to make it back in time. Darkness set in which did not please me so I left the safety of our group of tubes and paddled frantically downstream before realising that there were no signs to tell you where to stop and I should just land anywhere I could (around a mile past the end it turns out - long walk back for me and a worrying wait for Clare). More drinks followed with the Canadians we made friends with and a trip to one of the island bars for music before the curfew.
The following day we were sure we'd go tubing again however the paddling/singing/lifting beer had taken it's toll on our arms and the beer had taken it's toll on our heads/bodies/ability to move. More Friends and lots of food later we headed to the river to watch the tubers coming in and the sunset in hammocks. Followed by more hammocking and beer in the bar we'd been in the previous evening.
We left Vang Vieng the following morning for Vientiane (the capital city of Laos) where we are currently enjoying a mixture of sunshine and rain. As it is a Sunday everywhere seems to be closed (such as the National Museum) so we're a bit stumped as to what to do. Vientiane is not the best place to be entertained we have discovered and...we now realise that the country is indeed still a Communist state which explains why I keep seeing the hammer and sicle flag everywhere and why there's a curfew (people have been trying to tell me I'm wrong on the way but I'm sure it's just a mild form of Socialism here, hence you can get a Pepsi and other American brands). We're thinking of heading to Vietnam tomorrow night on another 20 hour night bus (I'm so happy about that....) but we're not sure about going to see the Plain of Jars on the way out of Laos...

Posted by garvie 23:26 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Phuket to Bankok to Chain Mai...to Laos

sunny 32 °C

Oh my Buddha (a new saying which has me in stitches), it's been a long time since I've written anything so I'll try to get everything in and not make it too long.
Our bus journey from Phuket to Bangkok - a nightmare because the bus driver thought he was Lewis Hamilton, we did survive though. It was 2 hours of 'interesting' driving and we arrived in Bangkok at 6am. By the time we managed to catch a taxi from the bus station to the city centre (one that was metered at not a crazy price) it was 7am and we soon realised that nothing in the MBK/Siam Centre area opened until 10am so we killed some time eating noodles in a 24 hour restaurant. Then we got approached by another very friendly Thai lady who, of course, was very helpful and showed us where (her brother's no doubt) Travel agency was so we could get tickets to Chiang Mai (20
Baht Tuk Tuks are always a con, they should cost around 60 for legitimate fares).
However, we needed to find a travel agent to leave are bags in and get tickets so we actually made it a great deal. We got accommodation, bus, trekking, slow boat into Laos and a smile for around 100 quid each (for 10 days).
So we had around 11 hours to kill in Bangkok...we basically hung around the Siam Centre which was quite fun because it was the 2nd birthday and it was Japanese themed music and clothing so there were loads of kids dressed in some interesting stuff.
The bus to Chiang Mai was pleasant as was the guesthouse we stayed in. We got there at 4am and the next day was a 'free day' (not trekking, bus, boat etc) so we just walked around looking at the night market and admiring the moat and wall surrounding the city centre. The next day we were supposed to be trekking but the weather meant we couldn't go until the next day so Clare decided that we were both going to do a Thai cooking course (yes, I did protest...I was not happy). Actually, I will admit to having lots of fun... and the pictures of me proudly displaying my spring rolls say it all.
Clare then, unfortunately, spent the night being very ill...so trekking was postponed again whilst we took her to see a very friendly doctor. Whatever medicine (and shot in the bum) he gave her seemed to work so we went two day trekking (not three as planned) in the jungle. Firstly we got to do elephant trekking which I'm not sure I enjoyed as I've heard that the elephants are mistreated, but it was funny having the greediest elephant who refused to move unless he was fed 4 bananas and who tried to steal everyone elses with his long trunk.
Trekking was amazing, I absolutely loved it. Although, I was worried about Clare and her sickness (which was food poisoning by the way) and the 3 mile hike up hill and the heat but we both made it unscathed. We stayed the night in a shack basically with mosquito nets and a thin mattress and pillow. Having gone to bed at 9pm we were rudely awoken by the family's cockerel at 6am and by the time we all surfaced, they had all started their daily work in the fields. We stated next to a village which disappointed me somewhat as it was supposed to be some tribe who lived basically and it should have been like stepping back 1000 years but they had electricity from solar panels and cable TV.
We then had to start the trek back which was another 3 hours and our legs were already aching. However, it was really fun and we got to stop at a waterfall half way and go for a swim. It was beautiful and walking through a waterfall is really tough as the water pressure is immense.
The rest of the trek was easy going and we got picked up by the truck and taken to the river for some bamboo rafting. It started sedately but by the end we were soaked and laughing. Basically the bamboo raft is long and flat and 4 people plus a driver can fit on it. the driver uses a long pole to push us down the river...seems simple as a concept but when I took control I immediately got us stuck on a rock and when the water got bumpy I immediately found myself in the sitting position. Clare....oh Clare....she simply is no good with water vehicles (think back to the kayaking incident). She had us heading (at great speed) toward a massive rock, no evasive manoevers were employed nor did she try and save herself. Cue us hitting said rock and Clare being projected into the 'hugging rock' position (luckily she escaped any injury but I feared for her face when she hit the rock).
The following day we had to get a minibus to Chiang Khong. It was a 5 hour journey so it was a piece of cake to us and we arrived at our hostel for the night at a reasonable hour. There is not much to do in Chiang Khong at all apart from do the border run to Laos over the might Meh Khong river which we did the following morning. It took a long time to process the 3 boat loads of tourists. And get us organised for the slow boat (yes, I did buy a cushion). The first day was 7 hours on the boat, pretty cramped conditions (we were on the floor) and we had to stop at Pak beng for the night. This was a very small river town and the electricity only came on between 6pm and 10 pm everyday and was powered by a generator. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong guesthouse.... I was in bed by 9pm and by the time the lights went out at 10pm we were infested by flying bugs... literally thousands of them. I was woken up by the bugs crawling on my face. It was awful, we decided to sit outside as there were less bugs there for an hour. Then, dressed in hoodies and trousers we crawled back to bed and hoped for the best. In the morning there were dead bugs covering the floor. Nasty.
The second boat was 9 hours long. and has brought us to Luang Prabang which is truely wonderful. I will explain more in my next post.

Posted by garvie 05:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Phuket

sunny 30 °C

We've been in Phuket for 2 nights now. Phuket is an island (which I didn't know before) and we're staying in Phuket Town in a hostel called Thalang Guesthouse. It's a nice place, we get breakfast included every morning of coffee/Tea, Toast (with marmalade) and a banana! We managed to get a boat from Phi Phi to Phuket which was direct however we were both slightly worse for wear from the preceding night as it had been a the night of the beach party. We decided to have a couple of drinks in the Irish bar then head to the Reggae Bar to see the Lady boys....They were supposed to be on at 10:30 but in true Thai style we had to wait an hour. I'm growing very cynical of the Thais and their cunning ways of getting you to stay longer and drink more and having to pay the lady boys for the photos we were practically forced to take after the show..then the inevitable "Now you tip me!" then 100 Baht wasn't enough....I think I had a rant about it to Clare who helpfully pointed out that things don't come for free...
Anyway, after the show had finished we got talking to a couple who had been sitting in front of us and whilst Clare discussed things with the girl, I talked football to the bored looking boyfriend! It was aound 1:30 that we decided to then make our way to the beach party...surprisingly the 'boring man' accosted us as we were heading for the bar and told us to come and dance with him and his other new friends. By the time we'd got our drinks and were finally getting to dance the music stopped playing....the party was over! Determined to have some fun we headed off in the direction of Hippies Bar which we were assured was open until 5am. We flip flopped for a good 10 minutes before finally finding the bar which appeared to be shut! However the TV was still on and it was the Man Utd vs Barcelona game but the bar was shut. We had to wait for these teenage boys to wander in with plastic bags filed with beer before we could get a drink (which was 100 Baht a can - you can pick the cans up from the 7-11 for 25 Baht) so after attempting to haggle (maths is apparently not my strong point when drunk haggling - I offered 75 Baht for two and was surprised by his rejection of this!). Anyway two beers later, the match was over and we decided we really should have been tucked up in bed a long time ago if we were getting a boat the next afternoon.
The boat journey was a joy...we both ended up on the deck as the constant rocking of the boat which usually resulted in Clare sleeping had actually made her (and me!) quite ill - "watch the horizon"
We landed in Phuket and got a taxi to the town where we stumbled across the first hostel listed in our Lonely Planet guide and decided it wasn't worth looking for the one I'd wanted to stay at (the On On Hotel where they filmed part of The Beach, room 38 I've been informed). We ended up with a triple room as they had nothing smaller but the price was reasonable compared to Phi Phi and the room was massive and clean.
The next day we decided that we had to visit Patong beach which is literally like some Spanish resort crossed with Brighton. The streets are lined with shops, bars and clubs. Selling novelty hats, T-shirts, silk and in the window of a pharmacy there were some 'Borat' style swimming trunks with added wings and horns (Google it if you have no idea what I'm talking about!).
We had a great day at the beach....there were rows and rows of sun loungers (which you had to pay 200 Baht for the day), parasailing, jet skis, surf boards and body boards. I immediately wanted to get a surf board however, Clare had to remind me that without lessons first I would simply drown. So I opted for a body board instead (200 Baht an hour) and spent most of the time battling with the massive waves that were crashing against the shore. I did catch a few big waves though and was thoroughly impressed with myself! Next time though I will have to wear a rash guard as my stomach got a battering from the waves I discovered when putting on after sun that evening (ouch!).
We caught a bus back to Phuket town around 5pm and visited a travel agent to see how we were going to get from Phuket to Chaing Mai. We decided upon a night bus (arriving at 6am!) as the plane tickets were quite expensive but either way we have to go via Bangkok again (our trip appears to be not very well organised!) but this happens to be a very good thing as we didn't realise that we need to sort out Vietnam visas before we get to the border and this can only be done in Cambodia or Bangkok in one day! Once we pick up our visas we will have to get another night bus up to Chaing Mai which will be quite tough two nights in a row (I'm sure I'll be a delightful traveling companion!!).

Posted by garvie 22:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Phi Phi

sunny 33 °C

We left Krabi on the afternoon after Clare's celebratory cocktail (and several beers!). We got a small taxi followed by a bigger taxi (these are just pickup trucks of varying sizes) to a bus after a 20 minute drive to the port. We boarded a very sturdy boat which had life jackets on each seat (reassuringly) and headed off to the wonder of Phi Phi island (pronounced Pee Pee.........titter!). We arrived in the late afternoon and were immediately faced by the usual flock of people who greet the boats and tout you for their business (they want you to stay at their guest houses). After safely navigating past these people we set off with a plan which involved me sitting ina bar and waiting for Clare to roam the very narrow streets to find the cheapest and cleanest accomodation... whilst she was gone the waiotress at the bar asked if we needed a room much to my amusement and we accepted it as it was 200 Baht cheaper than most of the rooms and better than the 600 Baht room Clare sent me to check out after her wander. the room has air con and a tv but we're not sure what it's called. We presume it has something to do with the bar/restaurant which is called Cosmic but we could be wrong!
On the first night we decided to just walk around the streets and discover all the places to eat or drink and look at all the boards advertising exciting things to do on Phi Phi. We decided upon a full day boat tour for the following day and headed to find some food. Whilst eating we realised how small a world we live in as the guy we'd been chatting to oh Koh Pangnan stooped outside and was chatting to other people...we unfairly refer to him as the 'boring guy' as his conversations are tiresome...but in true polite fashion we shouted our 'hellos' and he came over for a chat. He hastily retreated as the food came to our table but we said we'd meet him in the bar opposite after food for a few drinks with his new-found friends.
We went across to Jordans (the local Irish bar) and played Connect Four until they arrived (who knew how competitive Clare could be...and how ungracious she can be in -several- defeats?!). The other kids arrived (I say 'kids' because they were ranged from 19 to 21...) and we got talking....the conversation turned to music as it seems to be the thing that can untie people and we took over the music for about 4 hours with our requests to the DJ... I must say it was a great night in the end, maybe because it turned into weird form of karaoke...but we left around 1am as we had the boat trip the following morning and didn't want to be facing the open water with too much hangover!
The boat trip was amazing... our first stop was on Maya beach which was the setting for the film The Beach. We stopped in a cove and were told to don our snorkelling masks (but not flippers) and to swim (with flip flops on hands) over to the rocks on the far side. I did so with gusto, maybe too much so, as I didn't realise what lay ahead! We had to struggle with the waves and try and put flip flops on in the water dodging the coral under-foot so we could try and grab the ropes leading to the smae gap in the rocks which would take us to The Beach. I flailed around for a while whilst Claer slowly made her way there before scambling across the coral to the small gap. At which point I realised I'd sliced my finger open on the rocks and was bleeding all over myself... Regardless we made our way along the path surrounded by lovely trees and beautiful scenery to The Beach. A total disappointment awaited me... The Beach was swarmed by boat trippers, the water full of speed boats...my hopes of finding the most beautiful place on the planet were dashed by roaring boat motors....we made our hasty retreat back to the boat...and snorkelled in the bay we'd moored at.
The second stop was the Long Beach for snorkelling with the Reef Sharks (I saw none!) then to Bamboo Island for kayaking (never EVER do this with Clare!) and more snorkelling. Then to Monkey Beach (I saw NO MONKEYS!) for a swim and more snorkelling.
Luckily this was our last stop as I was all snorkelled out and ready for some food. We ate....then went to bed as the day had been long and tiring. This meant that today has been mostly spent on the beach...sunbathing!
One more thing to add...Phi Phi was devastated by the Tsunami in 2004. Today we found the only building that remained standing after the waves struck, it's a hotel and it was used as a medical centre in the aftermath...this is a truely haunting place for me... and the evacuation route signs send chills up my spine.

Posted by garvie 03:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Krabi

sunny 34 °C

We've stayed in Krabi for three days now... Clare decided (after a lot of deliberation) to do her PADI qualification so she could become a scuba diver! They shortened the course to 3 days so we didn't have to stay here too long and today...she qualified!
On the first day of her training I hired another scooter as I wanted to get to the local beach which is a couple of miles away. I took off along completely the wrong road and ended up on a three lane motorway headed towards Phuket...not an ideal start I must admit so I took the first left exit (as I did not fancy doing a U- Turn on the busy road and headed back towards Krabi. I visited a 7-11 for a drop of water and consulted the map (a particularly useless one!) and decided which roads I needed to take to get to the beach... I successfully hopped back on the bike to find it wobbly wheeled and I knew something was wrong! I stopped as soon as I found a good spot and tried to figure out the problem...a few seconds later I spotted that the back wheel was flat...I was stuck on the side of a dual carriageway with no clue how I was going to get the bike anywhere when a little ice cream man (the have mopeds with caged sidecars) came back down the wrong side of the road to come to my rescue! He spoke no English, he simply left his wife with his ice cream and wheeled my bike across the busy road and straight to a repair shop... It was amazing! After a lot of thank yous they guys set to work on the bike...after a lot of hammering and chin scratching later they had the wheel off and showed me the huge rip in the inner tube. They replaced it for a total of 150 Baht and sent me on my merry way in the most horrific rain storm!
Basically it felt like someone was throwing buckets of water in my face and I could barely see so I trundled back to the hostel to change my very wet clothes and wait for Clare to finish. It was a truamatic day!
The next didn't get any better... I sent Clare off to 'school' and sat down at a cafe and tried to decide what to do with my day (no scooters!)... I decided to have a wander around town however the first corner I turned was carnage! Some poor holiday maker had been run over by a van and there was a lot of confusion and blood!
Luckily though she managed to get to her feet and was helped into the back of a police pcik up truck and taken to the hospital. It was at that moment that I decided that a brisk walk along the river and then back to the safety of the hostel were the best course of action!
I sat there watching the only English speaking tv channel...which happened to be the Australia network which was showing an Aussie Rules football game... I still have no understanding of it but was was rooting for the Collingwood team who are nicknamed the magpies...of course!
Clare found me 3 beers later looking dazed and confused at the tv....
She had a great day doing her first dive (but I'm sure she will write about that herself!)...and we headed to the diving school/bar to have a few drinks with some girls from Manchester, then onto thte night market for some lovely (and very cheap) food!
Today I was allowed along for her second day of diving and I snorkelled around the reefs with a Danish guy called Morton who was very inquisitive. Clare did two dives today which seemed to take forever but on the first dive we were joined at the boat by two other with sightseers from Thailand who were also snorkelling. They fed us some melon and a banana and had lots of questions and basically wanted to try out the very few words they knew in English. The day was great though, I swam with lots of pretty fish on the surface whilst Clare was weighted down and sent to the bottom...she did get to see seahorses though but she's a bit jealous that I saw four swordfish!
I spent quite a lot of time on the deck of the boat though and even though I regularly applied the factor 30 I seem to have forgotten to do my knees as they are now red raw and very hot...much to Clare's amusement!
We got back and showered and Clare had to sit her exam which would have been more tense if they had made her go upstairs to the classroom but instead she sat opposite me slurping her Sprite as she ticked boxes and scratched her head!
92% and she only needed 75% to pass! So she has now got her temporary PADI card so she can go diving in the next 90 days whilst she waits on the official (and no doubt laminated) card!
I got her a cocktail as a celebration...

Posted by garvie 04:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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