A Travellerspoint blog

Vang Vieng: Our spiritual home

sunny 29 °C
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On arrival to Vang Vieng, following a (surprisingly) pleasant and uneventful journey we sat ourselves in one of the many bars, near the tubing drop-off point. We were still a bit confused as to what tubing entailed, but knew we were likely to enjoy it when we saw tuk-tuks full of drunk people arriving, soaking wet dragging their tubes behind them. Vang Vieng had been described to us as an Asian Malaga - this is exactly what it is. A small town of nothing but bars and Westerners. Tubing is the only daytime activity.

Sat at our vantage point allowed to bump into almost everyone we've met in the last 3 days, including two English girls, Becky and Katie who we decided to go to dinner with and join forces with for tubing the next day, as it was their first time here too. We had already decided before we began, that our trip to Vang Vieng would consist of nothing but eating and drinking and this is what we've been doing for the past 2 days.

We got up early to meet the girls and line our stomachs...we were recommended to hit tubing at 11am. We were a bit delayed as there seem to be only two cashpoints in the entire town - neither of which were working until after breakfast, so that we could finally get some alcohol funds for the day. What follows is hazy in our memories, but between us, we have tried to piece together what we can.

Now that we understand tubing...we'll explain it as best we can. You begin in Vang Vieng, signing away your life to rent a tube (rubber ring), you are given a number scrawled across your hand in permanent marker...you are then squeezed into a tuk tuk with 30,000 other people and the tubes tied on top to be dropped off 3km upstream. We were about 2 bars ahead of most people, which meant we mostly beat the crowd, but left us fairly bemused when we got left at the riverside and wondering what to do next.

The four of us took charge throwing ourselves with our tubes into the river making a pact to stop at every single bar to take advantage of the free shots from each. People stand on the side of the bars throwing ropes out to pull you into their bar. We made sure, having had our free shots, to buy a bucket in each bar. The shots (tiger whiskey) mostly came from bottles containing a number of animals including, to Donna's horror, massive bees. Needless to say, she opted for the snake bottle at that bar.

As we drank more and progressed down the river, we got enticed by the activities offered at each bar. These were mainly trapezes 40ft above the river which you could swing from, but included zip wires and a massive slide as well. We were worried about the embarrassment of falling as soon as we jumped off as we were concerned that we had irreversibly damaged our arms from the rope swing in Louang Phabang. After a couple of drinks, however, we no longer cared, which was fine as we both managed to keep our grip. Most of these were free...although some required you to buy drinks at whichever bar they were at. This was how we spent most of our day and meeting lots of people along the way as well. Laura, of course, believes it to have been the best day of her life, and for once, Donna thinks this not to be a ridiculous exaggeration. We made drunken plans to visit again every year.

Despite the fact that we were almost first to arrive, somehow we also managed to be almost the last to leave...paying a small fine (20,000 Kip) for late drop off of the tube. We proceeded to eat our own body weight in food on the five minute journey back to our guesthouse, before venturing out again for dinner...we have a feeling the girls may have passed out as they didn't manage to make it for dinner!

Luckily we have both escaped with our lives and no broken bones, but mishaps include Donna losing both her sunglasses and her flip flops, slipping over on her arse to bruise all along her legs, and managing to gash her toe. Laura doesn't have a mark on her, but has kindly given Donna some antiseptic wipes. We're slightly concerned about Becky's leg as on one of her trapeze outings she leg-flopped the water and had a delightfully red leg for the rest of the day.

Whilst eating dinner we went to one of the many bars constantly showing re-runs of Friends, but neither of us could face more alcohol, so once we both started to fall asleep, we called it a day and ended up in bed by half ten. Neither of us could face tubing today and are happy to keep what we can of the memory. We have high hopes for the photos, but Laura has recently revealed that she struggled with the view-finder on the waterproof camera and so just pointed the camera in the vague direction, hoping for the best.

Posted by noodz4loz 19:10 Archived in Laos Tagged disabilities Comments (0)

Laos: Every experience is a positive experience

overcast 20 °C
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Before catching our 12.30 mini-van to Chiang Kong, we needed to pay Jim for all the accommodation and the transport. The offer to pay him was met with cries of 'No, no! You have long time' (45 minutes), as he encouraged us to play with his gorgeous baby. We doubt Jim is actually Thai - he was completely uninterested in our money throughout our stay, asking us on our check out how many nights we had stayed. Jim left as we went to get our bags...and never returned. When our driver arrived, we attempted to pay his very young daughter who spoke hardly any English. She fetched her mother to give us the 200baht change we required - she preceded to throw 1000 baht notes at us until we were honest with her about what we were owed. This was unfortunate since we have been trying to get our money back from the Thai people since the ping pong show theft. We would have felt better about our honesty, did the following not happen...

The journey began well. We were further encouraged to believe we were British princesses when we were offered the front seat in the minivan. Laura kept insisting that she was Queen because of her Angel Gabriel locks and the fact that her seat was higher than all the others. This soon proved unfortunate when everyone else fell asleep and she realised she was the only one missing a head rest. Naturally Donna had been asleep for hours by this point. We were thrilled to see our driver repeatedly ignore signs for Chiang Kong...but finally he put on celebratory music...his fave Taylor Swift song to which he knew all the words announcing 40 hours remaining (Thais are big jokers).

We were concerned when we arrived and the minivan had seemingly pulled into a tiny village and what seemed to be someone's back garden. Laura was ecstatic to realise that we were finally being sold to a guesthouse, which she had been keen to learn more about since learning about it in the guide. She demanded a price for the night, expecting an extortionate price for the Queen of England and was vaguely disappointed when it was by far the cheapest guesthouse we had been to costing us 2 pounds each for the night. Luckily the guesthouse also provided Laos fast track visa services and a pretty speedy journey across the border and on to Louang Phabang. What we had forgotten from our time in Chiang Mai, is that you can trust no Thai. Although the visa situation was undoubtably made easier, the journey was far from what we had anticipated. Unfortunately for us, the apparent 'once in a lifetime experience' on the 2 day slow boat down the river Mekong to Louang Phabang was not to be due to record low water levels. What we hadn't realised was that we would certainly encounter a once in a lifetime bus journey to the same destination. In this case, once in a lifetime meaning you are probably pushing your luck to expect to survive more than one attempt. We feel both lucky and stunned to have escaped with our lives...so much happened on this one day that we can only summarise our main fears:

1. Tarmac does not seem to exist in Laos. We can only presume roads are not frequently used. This doesn't seem to affect the speed of any drivers. The smoothest you can hope for are mud tracks including huge potholes.
2. Drivers do not stick to either side of the road...we can only assume they drive on the right here. Our driver seemed both surprised and angry to encounter any oncoming vehicles when we were driving on the wrong side of the road.
3. Horns are used for fun.
4. The driver seemed more interested in watching us sleep, regularly turning on the light and taking his eyes off the road to laugh manically at us. We also feel he enjoyed our fear.
5.There is no flat or straight road in Laos. All of this occurs on a cliff edge with a u-turn in the road imminently ahead.
6. They love to overtake...on corners, on cliff-edges, when there's not enough room in the road. When you meet a vehicle, you overtake a vehicle.
7. Our driver must have had a bladder infection. He frequently halted on the middle of a cliff top, exited the van with no explanation to wee approximately 1 metre away from us. He then stopped to eat what can only be described as a raw onion in a manner suggesting he had never eaten before.
8. He decided we would have (one of our many) breaks in a bus station, declaring that we had in fact 5 hours remaining (we had been debating whether or not we had arrived at our destination), when he called a dinner break and drove off with the van full of our rucksacks and again, not a word of explanation. Oddly enough, we were pleased to see him return, even if this meant continuing the journey.
9. He also refused to let us listen to our own music...whenever an ipod was in sight he turned up his weird Lao music to the max...listening to anything else was impossible.
10. You know it's bad when the driver is swerving away from an oncoming lorry with one hand clutched to the ceiling for dear life and a grin on his face.

Needless to say, and to everyone's surprise, we arrived healthy and well, albeit 4 hours after the Thai guesthouse had told us. This wouldn't be a problem, had Louang Phabang not been an 'early to bed, early to rise' town. Never has such a phrase been so true. By half midnight, it was a ghost town, not a person in sight. We walked towards the very centre of town and even in the heart of Louang Phabang, we must have tried approximately 20 guesthouses before we found one with someone awake. We felt like we had been dropped in the middle of nowhere, when in reality, it was where the best guesthouses were (invisible at this time). We weren't happy to pay the extortionate price of 5 pounds each for this guesthouse, but enjoyed the luxury of having towels, a TV, and a lovely room. We moved to the cheaper area the next day and had to barter to get a room sold to us as being 'crap' in an effort to get us to pay for a better room. They're like the Thais, it's perfect.

Louang Phabang is like nowhere we've yet stayed, it's very pretty and quaint, although after 10pm, suddenly becomes quite depressing as everywhere closes. We loved our first day, having a delightful breakfast with two people from our mini-van, a Norwegian girl and Canadian guy. We then explored the town, finding our favourite temple so far as it was really different from the others we've seen. We also went for a walk along the river, and were shocked to find on our return, that the night-market was in full swing... at only 6pm. We then went to supposedly the 'best restaurant in Laos' which was fairly disappointing as we're starting to realise the food we like most is often the cheapest and from the more unlikely places. However, Laura has already gotten over her fear of rabies, as a cat (clearly not with rabies G) sat on her lap in the restaurant, with Laura declaring how she 'laughs in the face of rabies'. She almost cried with delight at the temple when she saw a 'kitten on a leaf' and a monk surrounded by sleeping kittens. Monks and kittens are now her idea of heaven.

Today was taken up by tours...a boat-trip on the Mekong to some caves, the worst Whiskey village in the world (we hope you enjoy the fruits of our boredom D-Dog and Ian) and in the afternoon a very angry English woman and a very fun waterfall. Things obviously didn't go without a hitch, highlights include:

1. Our boat breaking down and us drifting disconcertingly far back down the pretty fast flowing Mekong before having to jump ship to another boat.
2. Laura's highlight of waiting until we were in the darkest depths of the cave before shining the torch in Donna's eyes and shouting 'What do you think Donna?! Time to go!'. She enjoyed the power of being the torch bearer.
3. Donna, once again, who has been bitten approximately 3 times, being approached by a French tourist pointing at her legs exclaiming 'Mosquitoes!'.
4. Donna convincing Laura to do the rope swing into the freezing cold waterfall and then Laura (wuss) deciding it didn't count if she didn't do it 3 times as she was so excited. Donna did it 4 times...bitch. The final straw was Laura deciding, after Croatia, she couldn't be the Girl Who Didn't Jump once more (Mairi, you're still the Girl Who Didn't Jump Out Of The Boat).
5. Waiting for our mini-van back and being approached by a Lao man saying 'You come with me'. We put up a mild fight until he insisted we go into a bus with other English-speaking tourists...which turned out to be a bonus of sorts as the was a free stop-off at a village on the way back.

We eagerly anticipate our next mini-van journey to Vang Viang.

Posted by noodz4loz 04:32 Archived in Laos Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Chiang Mai, the finale

sunny 30 °C
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Having written our last blog entry, we returned to our guesthouse to give ourselves some time to get ready before taking part in our Thai Cookery Course. We realised a "power nap" was in order and so settled down to sleep. Laura was awoken by Thai screams of 'Donna! Donna!' by Jim and frantic knocks on our door. Of course, Donna slept through this, but luckily Laura realised what was happening...our pick-up for the course had arrived and we nearly slept through the whole thing.

The first part of the cookery course, luckily for us, included tea and very strong coffee before a tour of the gardens and market. Just as we were starting to wake up and feel comfortable, 3 obnoxious American girls settled themselves at our table. From then until the end of the course, our ears bled due to their loud and hideous accents...and then the bitching began. As if the accents weren't bad enough, we learnt that they had been teaching in Thailand for 5 months, and therefore according to them they were Thai, and felt obliged to lead the cookery course, inform us when we were wrong and give us information on the whole of Asia, including Laos, which they had spent approximately 12 hours in, and had concluded was "exactly the same as Thailand". We were concerned about the four hours that were to follow in their company. To our delight, an opportunity presented itself on the market tour...we were given exactly 7 minutes (the Thais like to keep to a strict schedule) to explore and take any pictures. Having taken a sufficient four pictures, we were thrilled to discover a 7/11 around the corner allowing us to stock up on our new Babe on Tour, Chang beer. This thoroughly entertained the Thai cooking teacher, who informed us we could bring our beer with us for every small move around the kitchen. We felt that we were superb representatives of the United Kingdom.

Before the beer had a chance to kick in, we found ourselves preparing the ingredients for Pad Thai. We had both decided that in order to avert disaster, our chances would be vastly improved if we cooked exactly the same dishes (there was a choice), at exactly the same time, and keep as near to each other as possible. Once we'd finished the preparation, we made our way to the hobs and woks. To our horror, we were the last in the group to take our spaces and were separated. Panic struck, however, having survived supposed torture and car crash the day before, we survived...Laura was saved by her litre of oil by our teacher distributing it from her wok elsewhere. What a brilliant start. However, once we ate our concoction and opened the Chang, we realised that our pessimism had been caused only by the negativity of our family and friends and that we are actually immensely skilled in the kitchen. It was at this point that we decided to plan a Thai dinner party for our return, yes, Nancy, Mairi and Kat, prepare yourselves.

We then prepared the ingredients for the three following dishes: Khaw Soi Curry,Cashew Nut with Chicken Stir-Fry, and Coconut Milk Soup. A lot of chopping was involved, and we were aghast to confess to one another amidst the giggles of the American "professionalism" that we were both very much feeling the effects of the Chang. Thank Buddha, our new saying (thanks to Rocky), we made it next to each other for the subsequent cooking. All went very well, until the stir frying of the 'easy to burn, hard to cook' cashew nuts. As our teacher rotated the room, she had nothing but praise, until she moved to Laura's exclaiming 'You like them crispy?!' before moving to Donna's, 'You like them black?!'. Nonetheless we were thrilled with our meals and were the last ones eating as the others all asked for Doggy bags. Needless to say, we didn't exchange emails with the Americans.

We woke up early this morning excited to embark upon our excursion. We eagerly anticipated our companions for the tour, and were not disappointed. We both guessed American, when we saw a group of four people, two of which were wearing hideous Thailand t-shirts. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that they were from New Zealand and absolutely hilarious, as was our tour guide for the day, Rocky. We spent the whole day laughing at all of them. When Rocky informed us that we could ask him any questions throughout the tour, the Kiwis (as they called themselves) led the way by probing as much as possible into his personal life, promising to find him a wife in New Zealand. Rocky loves to talk, and frequently commented on his heart...favourite sayings included: 'My heart is empty without woman', everything was 'given from my heart', 'By day I am sweet, by night I am spicy', 'My name may be Rocky, but my heart is soft'. We loved Rocky. On the journey home, Rocky made the fatal decision to ask if we had any more questions. As he had one headphone in his ear, he was asked what kind of music he likes. He attempted to sing, when we couldn't recognise the song he put it on loud. We were thrilled to discover he had been listening to one of Laura's favourite hits, none other than Ronan Keating's 'Nothing At All'. A classic of our time (Donna may not agree). When asked about Thai songs, he appeared to make up a tune with 'Thailand' as the only lyric. Considering his genius, we decided he should be saved not for a New Zealander, but for our fave single gal, Mazzykins Warrington - be expecting a phone call soon (or alternatively a visit).

Back to the excursion, we had a truly amazing day, with and elephant ride, tribal tour, trekking, waterfall, entertaining lunch (where we were convinced not to touch any Aussies, in particular, surfers, but to go for the much more sensible New Zealanders instead). At the waterfall, we were both left horrifed for completely different reasons. Laura managed to slide onto her arse and straight into the water, in front of many many people. Donna acquired a new friend who without anyone else realising, managed twice to approach her from behind and whisper in her ear 'Mosquitoes love you' in a scary and unrecognisable accent. Donna only admitted this to Laura on the second occasion, when she nearly died laughing as the man had disappeared from sight, leaving Donna left very scared.

By far the most fun of the day was bamboo rafting. They took us through some Thai villages, and with it being a Sunday, many villagers were out by the river drinking beers and, we felt, laughing as they tried, and successfully soaked us as we passed by. Oddly, many of them took pictures of us, and instead of being embarrassed, Laura could only conclude that our ginger and blond locks combined with our porcelain skin made them believe us to be English princesses. We are.

Posted by noodz4loz 07:03 Archived in Thailand Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Chiang Mai, the beginning

sunny 29 °C
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We spent our last day in Bangkok with Warren, as Ed had supposedly set off for Koh Tao, we still wonder whether he made the 6 am bus after we realised we left him quite drunk at 2am the night before. We went to see the reclining Buddha which is pretty scary and we're still unconvinced that Laura's only fact (that the smile is 5m wide) is true. Having walked round various temples for over an hour using that fact as a guide to finding the famous Buddha...we realised we'd walked straight past it at the entrance, heading instead for the souvenir shop. Brilliant.

We then made our way to the river and got a 3 baht (6p) boat across to Wat Arun and ventured into the much less touristy parts of Bangkok. We had lunch there and the three of us managed to eat and drink for less than 5 pounds. It was one of the best meals we've had so far. Laura was thrilled to see White Jew's Ear on the menu.

We got our first Tuk Tuk to take us back to Khao San Road and were pleased that we managed to barter him down, until we arrived at our 'destination' where he waved at the road and insisted this was it. It was a ten minute walk away and we were very pleased we managed to find our way back to our safe space. We said goodbye to Warren who we hope to see again in Vietnam and got a taxi to the train station.

What follows is an unusual tale of three days of Thai people being nice to us and willing to help without charging or seemingly wanting anything else in return. We both remain suspicious and fearful of the consequences of our tentative trust. The first taxi driver was happy to take us to the station on the meter immediately, dropped us off at the correct location and expected nothing but his 66 baht fare. On entering the station, tourist information told us exactly the tickets we needed, led us to the ticket office and waited to make sure everything was ok. Unfortunately, the overnight train was already fully booked, so he led us to the booking office for coaches and told us this was the next best thing. He left without asking us for money. Wowzers. The lady in the ticket office was absolutlely lovely, and offered us a good fare for an overnight bus "with meals" and "leaving from the station"...which seemed almost too good to be true. It was. We were also offered the chance to leave our bags in the ticket office FOR FREE, but neither of us felt massively comfortable and so we waited approximately 2m away for the 2 hours until the bus.

Then to our horror, a taxi driver appeared shouting Chiang Mai and we were the only people waiting to go there. We double checked with our friendly lady who smiled and waved us to follow him 'in taxi'...WHAT? We got in the taxi and spent the entire journey convinced we'd die...in Laura's mind this was torture, in Donna's a car crash. But no, we arrived at a bus station! The bus journey was absolutely hilarious, and the mixture of fatigue and relief made us somewhat hysterical. The conductor on the bus was a very angry woman and apparently very unsteady on her feet...she unsuccessfully carried a tray of drinks past Laura and covered the man in front with coke. We could hardly contain ourselves, but were a bit scared of her reaction if she was to see us laughing.

Concerningly the bus frequently pulled into lay-bys and petrol stations. Laura fancied a toilet break and was shocked to be offered toilet roll FOR FREE from a nice Thai lady. She then got onto approximately 3 wrong buses and nearly started crying when she eventually stumbled across the correct bus. The journey itself was pretty scary, Thai roads are horrifying...this was illustrated when we heard a screech of tyres and looked out of the window to see a car catapult up the curb and into a park, with a massive thud. Everyone carried on driving. Again we laughed.

We arrived around half 6 and made our way into the old town to find a guesthouse. We were absolutely exhausted, so after a bit of exploring and a foot massage (of course), we went back for a "power nap" and reluctantly awoke four hours later. The evening was good fun, apart from a worrying hour when neither of our cards would work and we were left with only 250baht. We went to the night bazaar and feel that our bartering skills have been significantly improved from our time in Bangkok. We had dinner in the centre, a red thai curry which was amazing. Our favourite Chang beer (6.4%) is also a lot cheaper in Chiang Mai, so we kept it flowing. We ended the evening with a 3 hour, 8 match thai boxing experience which was good fun, and not as gory as we'd imagined.

Today, we were given an amazing deal at our guesthouse for a Thai Cooking course and a trekking day for tomorrow, which again has us disconcerted. We've just finished a bit more exploring, seeing all the main sights in Chiang Mai, our map-reading skills have vastly improved, especially with the map our guesthouse man, Jim, gave us FOR FREE. Our excursion included the Wat Chiang Man temple, the Thai Art and Culture Hall, the Three King Monument and the Wat Phra Sing temple. However the highlight was the Wat Chedi Luang including a temple ruined by an earthquake and much to Laura's delight, 'Monk Chat'. She has been bothering Donna about going to this since she first saw it in the guidebook. Donna said it would be ok providing Laura prepared a number of questions vetted by Donna which would not involve us ending up in a Thai prison. She did very well, and we had a lovely discussion with our monk...who suprisingly recommended that we go tubing in Laos. If we get drunk, it's his fault.

Posted by noodz4loz 22:27 Archived in Thailand Tagged women Comments (0)

Bangkok: Grasshoppers and ping pong

sunny 34 °C
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Having woken up several times in the night due to the ridiculous heat in the room, we were thrilled to realise that we had fully functioning air conditioning turned off...this was a brilliant start to the day. After breakfast we met Ed and Warren to go to the Grand Palace only to be told by every Thai person we encountered, that it was shut until the afternoon. Note to self: No Thai can be trusted. We ignored them and really enjoyed our morning at the palace. Lozzy bought an amazing sarong and the boys hired some fabulous gypsy trousers. Laura was thrilled that in our now fully air conditioned room, she could sort out her rusksack, which until now had had its contents strewn about the room, much to her disgust.

We all decided after the last two days that we deserved a foot massage, and Ed led the way, ordering them for us. To our bewilderment, we were led upstairs, past all the foot massage booths and told to lie down on the mattresses found there...as the person before us re-dressed himself after his massage. We were concerned, and Ed confessed he had put us down for a thai massage. What ensues can only be described as Thai torture as we were trodden on, stretched and kneaded. We emerged half an hour later feeling not only sore, but that our thai massagers had found the entire episode hilarious.

Having failed to locate the thai boxing stadium, we decided to go to the night market in Patpong. We got confronted by many people selling ping pong tickets and went with the cheapest at 100 baht...only to be presented 15 minutes later with a bill for 5500 baht. Although the very personal show was priceless...we were completely conned and luckily only paid about 8000 between the four of us. Ed still maintains it was very much worth it, but we were the targets for the ping pong balls themselves.

Feeling fairly disheartened, we returned to our 'safe space' on Khao San Road and our favourite bar to cheer ourselves up with some beers. We also got the most incredible foot massage so are feeling pretty happy. We even dared to eat some grasshoppers on our way back to the hotel...not recommended, although they tasted ok, we can still feel their legs in our throats...YUM.

Posted by noodz4loz 10:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged women Comments (0)

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