Sunday 24th June – Luang Prabang, Laos

Sunday 24th June – Luang Prabang, Laos
Oh my god… what a hangover! My head is pounding and I really don’t want to get up! I drag myself out of bed, in the shower and then over to the girls guesthouse. Surprise surprise they are still fast asleep! I knew it! When I dragged them out of bed we went and got some breakfast then agreed a price with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the caves in the morning and the waterfalls in the afternoon. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to the waterfall as I have already been and I wanted to look at the white water rafting. I also REALLY need to buy some sunglasses as I either left mine at home, or lost them in Bangkok, so I haven’t had any since I have been here!

The cost for the tuk-tuk for a whole day, to take us to the caves and the waterfall, one 25kms North and the other 25Kms south of Luang Prabang was a staggering US$6! Not bad at all! We also got another couple of people to join us, which helped bring the price down.

The drive to the caves was interesting as there were 3 rather painful hangovers going on, and bumpy Laos roads, and the heat, don’t really help!

When we got to the caves we had to pay extra for the boat over the river to the caves and then extra to get into the caves. So all in all, that part of the trip had cost us about US$5, which is quite a bit in Laos. Unfortunately the caves were not quite what we were expecting. I thought they were going to be a big cave that you ride a boat into with some amazing scenery. Instead, it was quite a small Buddhist shrine with a lot of small statues of Buddha. There was a second level to the caves, which meant climbing quite a few steps, but since we were there and reasonably disappointed so far we had to go see it.

So up we went, hangovers and all…. And at least one of us (not me) managed to be a little “ill” on the way up!! Again, unfortunately, it really wasn’t what we were hoping for!

The cave was pitch black and we ended up taking photos in the dark and then looking at it on our cameras, which kinda defeated the object of being there in person! You could hire torches, but we were so over it by then. Time to get to the waterfall.

We walked back down, got on to the boat, crossed the river and back into the tuk-tuk for a 2 hour journey south back to the waterfall I visited yesterday.

The waterfall was much the same as it was yesterday, but with different people, as the Thai’s would say “Same Same, but different”. We had a lot of fun and swimming was as great as it was yesterday.

On the way home I started to feel a bit of heart burn. Until now I had decided that I wasn’t going to take any Malaria tablets. From the people I had spoken to I didn’t really feel that it was all that necessary, but after talking to a few more of the travellers out here, I decided that maybe I was being a bit too blasé about it and it might be a good idea to take them. I started last night, and the first tablet of Doxycycline I took about 20 minutes after dinner and felt some mild bloating and heartburn. These are common side effects, and other people on the same drug said it is best to wait about an hour after eating then take it, as this massively reduces the side effects.

I hadn’t even taken my tablet yet today, but was feeling a little bit of heartburn on the journey home, but not enough to worry about it. I met all my group for dinner and had a nice chicken sandwich and a fruit shake. I have been craving fruit recently, so think I need to top up the vitamins I am getting from my food. As I ate though, the heartburn got worse and worse, to the point where it was unbearable. I hadn’t even managed to look at the white water rafting for tomorrow, but it was so bad I had to head home. I stopped at the pharmacy on the way back for some ant-acids and a couple of large bottles of water.

John had recommended I just neck as much water as I can to flush it all through and the ant-acids should help settle the acids in my stomach that cause heart-burn. Apparently he gets is quite a bit and is used to it.

I got home, popped 2 ant-acids and drank about 2 litres of water over the next 10 minutes. Over the next hour my stomach did settle and I feel much better. I also thought about whether to stop taking my malaria tablets or risk taking another one to see if the heart burn returns. I decided to give it a go, and I see to feel fine now. I’ll see how I feel in the morning, hopefully I will get to go rafting, but if not, never mind. I will have plenty of opportunity in the future. I bumped into Laura and Renata on the way home, and they are heading off to Viang Vieng tomorrow, so we swapped emails and will hook up in a couple of days when I arrive there.

And now, it is 1:30am! So much for my early night, I am writing my journal instead, but it is definitely time for sleep. 

Saturday 23th June – Luang Prabang

Saturday 23th June – Luang Prabang
The gang met up early, well early in Lao terms, had some breakfast and off we trundled to the waterfall. An hours tuk-tuk ride and 25Kms south of the city brought us there. And we were not disappointed. The waterfall is set over a number of tiers. The top part is a large waterfall and pretty stunning to look at. Since it is a limestone waterfall, the water has a gorgeous light blue colour to it and just looks stunning.

A short walk up to the top of the water fall, via a path next to it, give some really nice views down over the area. Back down the bottom of that walk you get to the first swimming area, and dipping into that water was like heaven on earth. The water was just on the chilly side, but it was the perfect temperature for the heat we were in. The water here also had the great blue colour to it, but it was still pretty mirky and you don’t get to see very far under it, so that means that you are not sure what you are standing on… and the bottom changes a lot There are tree roots and rocks to contend with, so you find yourself walking very carefully checking out what is ahead! And when you swim, you try to swim with one arm out in front of you to make sure you don’t swim into anything! All very funny. There are also some deep sections that you can jump into from a small height.

After spending a good couple of hours at the various swimming areas we headed back down to the bottom where there is a rescued Indochinese tiger (the last count says there is only about 1200 of them left in the world… a sickening thought) and some bears. We saw 3 dear cubs playing in their enclosure, which I am happy to say is pretty big. These were pretty awesome sights to see. I don’t think I have ever seen a real tiger up close and after 4 months of wanting to see a bear in Whistler, I finally got my wish here! They were so cute.

In the evening we headed back to the Hive Bar and found our fan assisted table again. We were acting on limited numbers tonight. Only me, John, Laura and Eddy made it out, but it was fun. A few Vodka Oranges later and we were starting to feel quite happy. The cocktails are served with bamboo straws, which, to us are pretty cool! So every drink we managed to steal our straws! We moved to a table outside, which is a much nicer environment to drunk in, and the Laura and Renata turned up again and came over to join us.

I was planning on another easy day tomorrow as I felt tonight was going to turn into a bit of a large one! But the girls said they were heading off to the caves in the morning and I had heard mention of them before, so I said I would join them.

At midnight when the bar closed, the girls decided to head on to the bowling alley for a couple more drinks and I was happy to accompany them. All of my group who had made it out weren’t up for it, so it was just the 3 of us. Finding a tuk-tuk at midnight is pretty easy! The majority of the bar was heading that way, so we all jump in and set off on our way. One thing I noticed here was just how often you get offered Opium in Laos. Almost everywhere you go it is there to be bought!

We got to the bowling alley and it really was a bowling alley. There were about 10 lanes and LOTS of people! So many that we didn’t get to play a game, so we had a couple more large Beerlaos to keep us entertained. It is a really weird atmosphere every one standing around this bowling alley drinking, when in any other country we would be in a club right now. A very bizarre experience. And way too many westerners for my likening!

The girls and I got a tuk-tuk back to the guest house and we got a couple of beers and sat by the river for a while. This was nice. I like these girls, they are fun. We went back to their room for a bit and then I headed back to my guesthouse at about 3am. We had agreed to meet at 9, but I seriously doubt they will be up when I get there!

After the caves tomorrow I plan to find out about White Water Rafting for Monday, so that I can leave on Tuesday morning for Vang Vieng and the tubing it is so famous for. 

Friday 22nd June – Luang Prabang

Friday 22nd June – Luang Prabang
The last couple of days have been quite hectic here in Luang Prabang.

Friday was a fairly easy day, where I managed to post my last journal entries and upload my photos. That ate up most of the day. In the evening the olf gang met up; me, Lisa, Francois, Laura, John, Jo, Amelia and Eddy, an Australian guy that John and Laura met at Luang Prabang Airport.

We headed out to Hive bar to see where the action was at. When we arrived at about 5pm it was not open yet, so we headed next door to the Lao Lao Garden. We had some food there and a few local cocktails. The local drink in Lao is Lao Whiskey, or Lao Lao as it is commonly called. This is a spirit made from sticky rice and is generally 50% by volume. I actually quite liked the “welcome drink” that we were given when we first arrive, which is a shot of some flavoured Lao Lao. Not everybody agreed with me! We sampled a few of the local cocktails. Which are pretty similar to the cocktails of the same name back home, only here they are made with Lao Lao. As expected these went down quite well. For some reason I just couldn’t get drunk that night. I had drunk plenty, but I think a combination of the heat and tiredness, my body just refused to give in the alcohol and kept me at quite a low energy for most of the evening. I think everyone else was pretty tired as well as it was all fairly tame. At about 9pm Sergio (the Chilean guy we had met a few days ago) told us that the thermometer on his watch was reporting that the temperature was 33degrees! Yup.. 33degrees at 9pm!

That just goes to show how hot the sun is during the peak part of the day. It must easily be reaching the late 40s in the sun. And it shows. Everywhere you go the Laos people are operating almost in slow motion. People sit around in their shops, and there is almost always someone asleep. Even when we are walking around town at this time sweat is just streaming out of your pours. You are constantly drenched. And after walking for a few minutes, you have to stop and take a rest. The heat is just an absolute killer, as is the humidity, which makes everything so much harder to deal with. I am quite surprised at myself though. Normally, in this kind of heat I just find it so unbearable that I am too uncomfortable to do anything and I cannot normally bear it. Although, out here, I am dealing with it pretty well. Whether it is the fact that I have acclimatised to the weather over the last few weeks, or I am just dealing with it better than I used to, I am unsure.

Whatever the reason, I am glad. It means I can make the most of my trip without constantly moaning that it is too hot, or just wanting to sit in some air conditioning. In fact, before Ania left I was planning on moving to an air-con room to make the evenings a bit more bearable. For some reason, my room feels a few degrees warmer than outside!

However, after she left, I decided that, actually, it is not too bad with just a fan. And it isn’t even a great fan in the room. A ceiling fan doesn’t appear to offer as much air movement or coolness as a smaller caged fan that moves as it spins. I decided to stay in my fan room and suck it up. It actually makes it a lot easier to go outside as well. If the room is so much colder than outside, as soon as you walk out into the heat it just hits you and you start sweating. By being more acclimatised in my room, it makes the heat outside a lot easier to deal with.

So, back to the Lao Lao garden. We drank up and cleared the bill. That came to a staggering 265,000kip. That is a quite a few Beerlao’s and cocktails for about 10 people.

And doing a quick conversion, our entire bill was around £35. The numbers on the notes here are just huge and it takes a while to get used to it! I am just starting to get a feel for the currency here, and don’t have to convert back to Baht, Pound or Dollar any more.

We moved on to the Hive Bar, at about 10:30pm, to see what was going on, and that place had really picked up. We found ourselves a table by the door and ordered some more drinks. I was still pretty tired, or chilled, I can’t seem to tell the difference any more, so the conversation in our group was fairly relaxed, even though the party was really going on around us. As soon as we sat down at our table we were sweating like pigs! It was one hot place. Fortunately we found another table not long after that had a fan facing directly on it, so we moved over there and instantly we all had a lot more energy!

Lesson 1, find a table indoors with a fan on it. Not long after we arrived a couple of familiar faces walked in the door. During our trip from the Laos border to Luang Prabang I met a couple of girls who were travelling together called Laura, from Toronto, Canada, and Renata, from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Renata recognised me and I waved them to come join us. At this point, my energy did manage to pick up quite a bit and we all had a great chat. In Laos, the law says that all persons have to be at their registered address of residency at midnight. Apparently this law is loosely enforced for individuals and tourists, but any business owners who serve past this time face large penalties, loss of license and possible incarceration, so they are pretty prompt at midnight to close up and send you home. There is a place open late night in Luang Prabang, and this is where everyone carts off to after the main bars close. And this place is a bowling alley of all things! We all decided that we were a bit too tired to keep going, so everyone headed back to their respective guest houses, I walked back to the river with Renata and Laura, since they lived in the same area as me. They are nice girls, but CRAZY!! They makes me laugh so much!!

I am not sure what the girls are doing in the morning, but the rest of us have decided to head off to the waterfall tomorrow. We have heard great things about it. It is meant to be pretty stunning and there are a couple of swimming areas. I am so looking forward to dipping into a nice cold pool after all this heat! 

Monday 18th June – Thailand / Laos border crossing

Today was the start of my trek into Laos. The target is Luang Prabang, but it will take a couple of days to get there. I have read and heard about the river trips in Laos, which are meant to be breath-taking, so rather than taking the 2 day boat straight to Luang Prabang from the border, I am travelling, with Francois and Lisa, North to Luang Nam Tha and then back south to Nong Khiew and then a 7 hour boat ride to Luang Prabang.

The trip to the border (Chiang Khong) was a little bumpy. As the bus got closer, the road conditions really did start to deteriorate. I have heard that the Laos roads are some of the worst in the region so I guess this is a good warm up!!

When I got to Chiang Khong, the Thai border, things went very smoothly. I simply filled out my departure card that was issued when I came into Thailand and got on a boat! 5 minutes and we were done!!

The crossing to Laos is via the Mekong river, so it only takes about 5 minutes. On the Laos side, which sets you down in Huay Xai, things were just as simple. Fill in the arrival card, pay the immigration officer US$36, give him a passport photo and voila, a 30 day visa! Unfortunately I didn’t get a nice sticker in my passport, which the others had by pre- booking. You have to pay an extra US$15 an d pre-arrange it for the sticker visa. Never mind. It’s really not that important!

As soon as we got into Huay Xai we looked into getting a bus or boat to Luang Nam Tha, which was meant to be our first stopover. The next bus / boat was leaving in the morning, so that pretty much decided that we were staying in Huay Xai for one night.

We went to find a guesthouse in town so that we could drop our bags off, then come back to book our bus or boat. We found a nice guesthouse called XXXXXXX and checked in.

The rooms were basic, with a fan (no air-con) but were clean and more than adequate for a night. It did have a nice roof terrace where you can sit, drink a Beerlao (the local brand of beer) and take in the river views.

The ticket office where we booked our bus / boat ticket closed at 6pm so we decided to pop down and get that sorted. We were pretty starving at this time as we hadn’t really eaten since breakfast, apart from a bag of crisps and some crackers, so after booking our ticket food was the top priority!

There are 2 options when taking the boat, there is the slow boat which takes around 2 days, or the speed boat which takes about 6 hours. After reading in the Lonely planet and hearing from other travellers that the speed boat is for true adrenaline junkies only and crashes on a regular basis (yes, it does hurt when it crashes.. quite badly for some) we decided that the speed boat was not really an option!

If we wanted to take the 2 day boat, rather than the bus, then we would have to get a group of about 10 people together. There was 3 of us already, and the ticket office closed in about an hour. We had a quick walk around town to see if we could rustle up a few more travellers to fill the boat up. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough people around to make up numbers. Most people we met were taking the bus to Luang Prabang or travelling in the other direction. So, a bus to Luang Nam Tha it is.

Huay Xai is a very small town, population about 15,500. Although it is small, it is well catered to the large number of tourists that pass through from Thailand. It is not as busy at the moment as we are in the middle of the low season, but that has been the case ever since I got to Thailand and will be the case the entire way through my trip.

We sat down for some dinner at a restaurant over the road from our guesthouse and ordered. At last.. a proper meal! There was a girl sitting on her own on the table next to us, so I asked if she would like to join us. I know how it feels when you are travelling on your own and, especially eating on your own, when you can see groups of people around you and you just want to be invited over. She was very happy when I asked, which made me feel good. She turned out to be a lovely Polish girl called Ania and was also taking the same route as us, up to Luang Nam Tha and then back down to Luang Prabang. When she found out we were on the same bus she was so happy to be able to travel with us.

Everywhere in town appeared to close at about 10pm, so it turned out to be an early night, which was fine as we had done a lot of travelling today and we were all pretty tired. 

Thursday 21st June – Nong Khiew

Thursday 21st June – Nong Khiew
First thing after breakfast we took a walk to the boat landing on the other side of the river to try and charter our boat to take us to Luang Prabang. This is the journey I had been waiting for, and pretty much the whole point of the last 3 days travels was to get here for this boat trip. I had heard and read that this was supposed to be one of the most stunning boat trips in Laos. When we got to the boat landing we were told that it was a Million kip to charter a boat, and it is normally split between about 10 people. We had 6.

We had spent the previous night asking all the westerners that we met if they were going the same way to try anf build up our group size, but didn’t find anyone going the same way. A group had told me that they managed to barter the charter boat down to 600,000 kip for a group of 5 or 6 coming the other way…. So that was my target. That would work at 100,000 kip each, or about US$10 each.

When we got to the boat landing the guy came straight out with a Million kip to charter the boat. I said we only had 6 people and he cames straight down to 850,000. I asked if he could do anything better than that and he thought for a bit, spoke to his friend and then say 760,000. I asked if he could do 500,000 and he said no. 700,00 was the lowest. I said 600,000 and he stood there thinking about it. Holding my ground for a bit, he agreed. Not bad bargaining I thought!

The boat was leaving at 11:30 so we had time to pop back to our guest house, chill for an hour and then come back with our bags.

As we loaded the boat, I figured it wasn’t going to be the most comfortable rides! Wooden seats that look like they are made for Kindergarten schools! Still. We were

here for the views and it was only going to be for 6 hours.

The sun was baking hot and yet again, I have managed to slightly burn my shoulders and back! Not too bad, just a bit pink. As soon as my tan gets better I won’t have to worry about it as much!!

The scenery did not disappoint. Ania and me just spent the entire time taking photos. She is also interested in photography, so we spoke a lot about that and compared stories. The mountains around the Nam Ou river were stunning, with great, vibrant

greens and a gorgeous blue sky. There was a lot to shoot on the river as well. Lots of people fishing, buffalo, kids playing in the river huts on the side, and much more. I was a bit irritated as I wanted to keep swapping the lenses on my camera between my shorter lens and my zoom lens. I think it is almost time that I started to carry 2 cameras, so I can have the best of both worlds. Of course this is extra cost, weight and worry. I’ll leave it until I get to Singapore and see what the prices are like. I also spent a lot of the journey just playing with my camera, trying different settings, seeing what works and what doesn’t work. This was a great opportunity for experimentation which I haven’t really had up until now. So I learnt a lot about my camera here. I struggled massively with getting the skies and foreground in the shot. I was using a polarizing filter, but I think that I need to invest in a graduated filter that will let me darken the skies whilst keeping the foreground visible.

We arrived in Luang Prabang after about 5 hours and headed straight up the steps to a road where there were a lot of guest houses. Business is competitive in Luang Prabang as this is probably the most common destination in Laos for travellers, apart from Vang Vieng maybe, so every guest house had touts outside trying to drag us in to see their rooms. We looked at a couple which were generally fine, all very similar, but we decided to go for rooms in the Phousi 3 Guesthouse. I am sharing with Ania again, and the other guys got 2 double rooms next door.

After checking in I handed my laundry into reception and met a nice Canadian girl from British Columbia. We spoke a bit about Whistler and hopefully I will bump into her again while we are here. She told me her and her friends would be drinking in Hive bar tonight if we wanted to go along. Sounded like a grand idea!

A quick stop in the internet café was called for as I hadn’t checked my email in a few days. We knew that John, Laura, Jo and Amelia (Part of our fun group in Chiang Mai) were coming into town today as well so we wanted to see if they had emailed us say they were in and where they were staying.

John and Laura had arrived, and we walked up to meet them at their guest house. No word from Jo and Amelia yet, but they were coming in on the 2 day boat from Huay Xai, so they might be a bit later. I am sure we’ll catch up with them tomorrow.

After a bit of dinner, I had the chicken curry again with sticky rice, but it was nowhere as good as the one I had in the small town of Nong Khiew, which was disappointing. We tried to fins a bar for a couple of drinks. Everywhere seems to close at about 11pm around here. There are a couple of bars open later, like Hive bar, but we were all so beat we just got a bottle of Beerlao and sat by the river. Then off to bed.

I am expecting to stay in Luang Prabang for a couple of days. I am really keen on trying out a 1 or 2 day white-water rafting trip from here, so I need to see if anyone else is keen. I might move on to Vang Vieng before Francois and Lisa, as they have a bit more time to spend in Laos than me, but hopefully a bunch of us can head down together. The tubing

and other outdoor activities are famous in Vang Vieng, and I am keen to give that a go.

Apparently there is a nice waterfall around Luang Prabang, about 32Kms out of the city, so we might try to hire scooters one day and head over to that. 

Wednesday 20th June – Nong Khiew

It is a good job that we got to the bus station nice and early. At about 7:45 there were just a few seats left on the bus! We met Ania at the bus station and bought our tickets. The 4 of us managed to sit on the back seat, but as departure time got closer, the other seats filled up and the aisle of the bus also filled up, with luggage, bags of rice and fruit and more people. And more people. People were literally sitting on strangers knees and standing in the door way. It was crazy!

Our bus was taking us to Udomxai (pronounced ooh-dom-sai) where we would change and continue on to Nong Khiew.

This was probably one of the worst bus journey’s I have taken!! The roads were super bumpy, it was super crowded and the driver played some sort of Thai Kareoke Video CD at a super loud volume! It was the most ear-piercing music I have heard and very very loud. I even put my iPod on to try and drown it out with noise cancelling earphone, but no. I could still hear it. I think by the 5th or 6th run of the same damned CD we were ready to throw it out of the window… along with the driver! There was one toilet stop on the journey, at the side of the road and some tree’s. Not so bad for guys, but I felt a bit for the girls! Still… This is Laos!

When we finally got to Udomxai, we found the bus to Nong Khiew. It was leaving in an hour, so we had time to go buy some provisions for the journey. Again, we hadn’t eaten at all and were getting rather hungry! The next bus was more like a Thai taxi.. which are trucks with 2 benches along the sides for people to sit on and an open back. A bit like a big Tuk-tuk. They are not the most comfortable of vehicles! Especially when 6 of us were wedged in on one side and 4 people on the other side taking up all the space! I had managed to blag the seat right at the back, so had a bit more room, by which I mean one foot over the back tailgate and resting on the step you use to climb in! That was a tad scary when going over the big pot-holes… I thought I was going to fall out!

The centre of the bus was again filled with bags of rice, fruit and god knows what else. This was even more uncomfortable that the bus we had before, but since the scenery

was beautiful and I had my camera handy I was more than happy. It really didn’t bother me too much that the trip was uncomfortable, bumpy and hot as I had expected this from Laos roads.

Poor Francois got the seat next to a Laos girl who was ill the whole way… yep for about 4 hours she was throwing up right next to him. I had no idea this was going on until he turned around and said to me “Just to let you know, if you feel a spray, it’s not rain, it’s the girl next to me!!” Gross!

I think she was actually sick inside the bus as well as we stopped in a small town called Pak Mong and were told to change busses. So all of us, apart from the girl who was ill and her friend (they got out there) crammed into another bus… the same type but about half the size! At least out bags got put on top, rather than by our feet and all the rice and fruit got out with the ill girl. She did look rough, poor lass. I helped unload their bags as they were pretty heavy and the driver didn’t look very interested. But that is a bad move when you are wearing a white shirt and the bas are covered in dust and, I think some of her sick. It just looked like bits of red fruit… but I am now told that is what she was throwing up. Even more gross.

As we were about to set off we saw the Chilean couple who were making the same journey, but were on a different bus to start with. We loaded them up and off we went.

This driver was a nutter! He drove so fast, swerving around the pot holes and at one point nearly had a head-on collision with a lorry coming around the bend in the other direction. First we were facing the hedge, then back towards the other hedge before we straightened out and carried on as if nothing had happened! So from here, his driving was a little scary!!

We all managed to survive and we got to Nong Khiew a couple of hours later.

Oh My God. Nong Khiew is stunning… I mean just simply stunning. We had a couple of guest houses to check out and our bags felt really heavy, but it just took us about half an hour to walk over the bridge because all 6 of us had our cameras out taking photos.

Checking in could wait, this was stunning and we couldn’t take our eyes off it.

When we finally got ourselves together we walked to the Sunset Guesthouse which we had read about. They are supposed to be really nice rooms in bungalow’s overlooking the Nam Ou. When we got there to take a look at the rooms we were not disappointed, even if it did take a bit of finding, down a small alleyway. The view from the balcony of the bungalows was simply magnificent. Stunning. Nothing else to say about it. And the rooms were fantastic. Basic wooden bungalows on stilts, but clean, with mosquito nets and a nice clean en-suit bathroom. Ania and I decided to share a twin room to keep the cost down. The bungalows were 100,000kip per night, so this came down to 50,000kip each. Oh yeah, there is about 17500kip to the pound, so we are talking about US$5 each per night! Pretty bloody good!!

All 6 of us checked in here… Francois, Lisa, Ania, Me, Sergio and Mandy (the Chilean couple). We showered up, had a Beerlao and then took a walk out to find a restaurant for a well earned meal. After probably the hardest day travelling I have had so far, the cold Beerlao and chicken curry with sticky rice was VERY welcomed! The yellow curry was fantastic, so tasty. Yellow curry is not very spicy and cooked with meat, potatoes and some vegetables. The sticky rice really is sticky and you have to pull clumps out with your fingers, roll it up into a little ball and dunk it in the curry sauce, then eat it. Good job I carry my dry disinfecting hand wash around with me!!

Nong Khiew was another small town that closes down early. So, again, we finished our dinner and headed back to the guest house. I think we were in bed by about 10:30pm! 

Tuesday 19th June – Luang Nam Tha

The trip to Luang Nam Tha was a little confusing! When we booked our tickets we were told that a shuttle bus would pick us up at 08:30 and take us to the main bus station, where our bus leaves at 09:30. No problems, but as we were still on the mini-bus at 09:25, somewhere on a mountain road and no bus station in sight, I was a little concerned that we would miss our connection. As the mini-bus continued to drive, it dawned on us that we were not to be changing busses! The minibus was going to take us all the way to Luang Nam Tha. Not a problem, apart from a slight lack of air-con and rather small seats, so not much room for the 6 hour journey! Also on our bus was a couple from Chile, Sergio and Mandy. They were a nice couple, but kept themselves to themselves.

When we arrived at the bus station in Luang Nam Tha, it hit me how much hotter it is here than it was in Thailand.

The town looked small and sparse, which was expected. I enquired about the bus to Nong Khiew the next day and was told that the one about to leave right now was the last bus. So I asked if there was one tomorrow. Nope, apparently not. So, just when was the next bus? Never apparently. As far as our conversation went, that bus about to leave was the last bus to go to Nong Khiew ever! I didn’t quite believe this, so they were either trying to get us on that one, or they just had no idea what I was asking and “no” is the only word they understood!! As it turned out a bit later, we could go to Nong Khiew but not directly.

We would have to get a bus to Udomxai and then change. Udomxai is about 6 hours away, with another couple of hours after we change. Tomorrow is going to be another Looooong day on the busses!

We looked at a couple of guesthouses but decided to stay at the Bus Station Guest House. As the name implies it was right next to the bus station, and handy since we had to get our tickets at about 07:30 in the morning. The guest house was similar to the others, basic, but clean enough. I am starting to get used to fan rooms, and air-con is not a huge requirement any more. As long as it isn’t too hot!! Ania and the Chileans decided to stay in another guesthouse, that was a bit cheaper.

Luang Nam Tha was very similar to Huay Xai, but a bit larger. There are some nice enough restaurants and a few shops. After some dinner and a couple of beerloa’s we were ready for bed.

There is absolutely no street lighting in Luang Nam Tha, which feels very strange as you walk back. I believe the majority of these small towns run on generators, so conserving power must be quite important. There were lights on in houses and small local restaurants, but the streets were pretty dark. The occasional scooter provides a bit of light for a while. It really had a very quiet, serene feel to it. As soon as we got to Huay Xai yesterday and all through today I could just feel that they pace of life in Laos is about half that of Thailand… or anywhere else I have seen. It is so laid back here that it is impossible not to get into that way of life. Nice and chilled. Nothing to worry about.

Peaceful. 

Monday 18th June – Chiang Mai to Laos

Monday 18th June – Chiang Mai to Laos

The last few days in Chiang Mai have been relatively peaceful. After covering a lot of miles in my first week I needed a bit of time to relax and get ready for a long slog through the other SE Asian countries.

I had travelled up to Chiang Mai with Lee, a guy I met in Bangkok, which made things a lot more enjoyable. We also made friends with Lisa and Francois in Ayutthaya who we then bumped into again, randomly, in Phitsanulok and travelled the rest of the way up to Chiang Mai with them, so we had a nice group.

After the hill tribe trek we made friends with a few more people, Jo and Amelia, John and Laura, Mike and Sioux, Sarah, Barry and a couple of others. My friend, Angela, the Dutch girl I was keen on left the after our trek and is now somewhere in Laos.

The last few days have just flown by, with us not really doing much other than sitting by the Pool, playing cards and drinking in the evenings.

The main bar area in Chiang Mai is around the Night Bazaar (night market) where there are lots of small open-fronted bars, each with a free pool table. There is also a stage in the middle of the square where Thai performers sing and dance. We never quite worked out if some/all/none of the performers were lady boys or not! Our favourite bar also had Jenga and connect 4, which always entertains! I also highly recommend a bar called the Rasta Café. This bar had a live Rasta band that were really good and very entertaining staff. The “buckets” went down well (a sand pale full of Whiskey and coke), and a free T- Shirt every time we bought 2 was inspired!

I had an interesting experience in the toilet of a club called “Spicy” after the Rasta bar.
As I was doing my thing one of the toilet attendants came up and started massaging me. This wasn’t too much of a shock, as the same thing happened when I was in China, and I

wasn’t “special”, everyone got a massage unless they asked to not have one, as you are expected to pay for it. What WAS unexpected was after washing my hands he grabbed my head and cracked my neck… Both sides, then my back, then my shoulders. That was a shock. I thought he was going to break my neck!! It felt bloody good afterwards though!

I did feel one was enough and asked for “no massage” after that!

We also spent a lot of time in The Local, a supposed English bar, even though it was nothing like anything I have seen in England, and only one girl spoke a bit of English!

Still, it was next door to our guest house (S.K Guesthouse), was friendly and had a pool table. Oh yeah, it did a mean all day breakfast, WITH baked beans! One night Jo decided to buy a “Thai Kebab”, as we dubbed it. Basically a plate full of deep fried crickets! Now, I REALLY don’t like creepy crawlies so there was NO way I was going to try one. Jo kicked it off with a small one and then all eyes were searching for the next person to try. We were all adamant we were not going to, but for some reason, I still don’t know, I just picked one up and in it went! One bite and it pretty much disintegrated in my mouth. And it actually tasted pretty good! Just like barbequed meat. I was expecting to find bits of leg and wing in my teeth for ages after, but none. The thought of eating it, and the thought of what I had just eaten were far worse than the actual cricket itself! A good exercise in mind over matter, although I have no reason to repeat it! I did it and don’t need to prove it to myself again. None of us tried the big cricket. That was just too bloody big and looked like it had a juicy tail that would explode in your mouth and a crunchy head…. Eeeuugghh.

One of the days, Lee, myself, Lisa and Francois hired out scooters and took a ride up the hill next to the city to a Temple. This was a lot of fun, the roads were very windey and, in places, quite steep. Since Lee and I were sharing a scooter (I was driving) it was rather underpowered on the steep bits. Riding back down in the rain was kinda fun! As was navigating the Chiang Mai rush hour. It was like being back in London, only crazier. The general rule of the road is to “Grab your balls and go for it”! I loved it!

I also had time to arrange my Visa for Vietnam, while I was in Chiang Mai. Thailand, Laos and Cambodia you can get a 15 day visa (some say you can also get a 30 day, but I’m not sure yet) when crossing the border, but Vietnam you have to pre-arrange.

I am now sitting on a non-air conditioned bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It isn’t too bad. The windows are open, so when we are moving we get a good flow of air.

Unfortunately the seats are not very wide and I’m next to a “larger” Thai man, so I am pretty much “one cheek on, one cheek off”!

Lisa and Francois are pretty much doing the same trip as me through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, so we are starting out together. Lee went back south to Bangkok and then on to the islands. It is sad to see him go as we have been roomies for the last 2 weeks.

From Chiang Rai we get another bus up to Chiang Khong where we cross the Thailand/Laos border, by boat, into Huay Xai.

A boat ride from here will bring us up to Luang Nam Tha where we will spend a couple of days coming back south to Luang Prabang which is meant to be gorgeous. It is also quite likely that we will met Jo, Amelia, John and Laura in Luang Prabang as they are going there directly on Thursday.

Up until a couple of days ago I had only suffered about 3 or 4 mosquito bites which went quickly and didn’t itch. I hadn’t even worn any Deet (insect repellent) until my hill tribe trek. The last couple of days I have been bitten a bit more, but these are still small and, on the whole, not itchy. Unfortunately some of my travel companions have not been so lucky, with lots of bites and some that grow to look like bullet wounds! I am still not wearing Deet, but will do when we are on the river. I guess I am just not that tasty to mosquito’s. I’m a little bit offended that I’m not that tasty, but somehow I think I’ll get over it! 

Sunday 10th June – 2 day Hill Tribe Trek

Sunday 10th June – 2 day Hill Tribe Trek
Monday 10th June – Hill Tribe Trek

I signed up for a 2 day hill-tribe trek, which involves hiking through the Thai jungle for a couple of hours, finishing up at a small Thai village for the night.

I met the rest of the people on my group, which turned out to be a
large group of English, about 11 of them, a really nice Dutch girl I
had met the night before. And Lisa, one of my current travelling
partners who I met in Ayathaya with her husband. The English group were all around 18/19 years old so I had my concerns about them being rather young and in a large group.

We started by driving for an hour and a half out of Chiang Mai to a waterfall. The rocks were made of limestone, so there was enough grip to walk up it. The water was the perfect temperature and great for a spot of gorge walking.

After the waterfall we drove another hour up into the hills where westarted our hike through the jungle.

The hike lasted about 3 hours with a mix of uphill, down hill and
flat. It roughly followed a creek that was running down the mountain and was a lot of fun. The heat certainly added an extra level of difficulty to the trek and I’m glad I had lots of water with me. I
spent most of the hike talking to Angela, the Dutch girl, who actually is a lot of fun. My kind of girl.

At the end of the hike we took an Elephant ride for the final hour to
the village. How cool? I had no idea there would be Elephants in Thailand! And I’m riding one! The ride was pretty much as I expected
it would be, once you got into the rhythm of the animals movements it was actually quite comfortable. What amazing animals. Ours seemed to want to lead and at every opportunity tried to overtake those in

front!

We arrived in the village which houses around 200-300 people. We were shown around the centre of the village, which included the hut where
we would all be sleeping, the hut where we would be eating, the toilet and shower. The shower was an outdoors hosepipe behind a wooden fence. Pretty much what I was expecting from a small village such as this. There is running water, also used for irrigation in the fields,

but no electricity and the only construction is thatched, wooden huts, surprisingly well constructed.

Our group chilled out in the sleeping hut, while a couple of us sat in the dining area hoping to mix with the village folk.

I was hoping that our guide would tell us something about the tribe, their history, customs, etc. but this never happened. I did overhear
him later tell one of the group that they are originally from Myanmar (Burma). We also didn’t get to speak to any of the village people,
even though they don’t speak English our guide could have translated. In fact, before dinner I only saw about 5 of the locals.

Our guide cooked us a really nice Thai curry with chicken and vegetables and we had a couple of beers.

After dinner 12 of the female children performed a local dance and song for us. I felt some of the young English group were quite rude
in not paying attention and talking amongst themselves. When the performers finished, the encouraged us to join in and dance with them, by dancing around the campfire. Again, the English group showed their ignorance by not getting involved.

After this, we were asked to sing a song back to the tribe. The English group, again, pretty much ignored them and I had to step in to get them to join in. I suggested we sing something simple and fun… But they decided that Wonderwall, and Hey Jude would be more appropriate. I thought these were pretty poor choices and surprise surprise we was terrible. After each rendition they hustled up into their group with more alcohol to talk between themselves, and in my opinion, appear ignore our hosts. I was quite embarrassed at the way we appeared to conduct ourselves in front of our hosts.

After this, the tribe retired to bed and the English group stayed up drinking whisky, tequila (or rice wine) and beer. Whilst half of them are sitting talking in the sleeping area. The thought of getting
drunk and dehydrated before our 2 hour hike home tomorrow is silly. Also really annoying for us (oldies) trying to sleep.

I also hope they are not being too noisy and disturbing our hosts. We have a great opportunity here to meet some really great local villagers and I don’t think I have had the experience I could have. I think our guide could have integrated us a bit more and these kids could have a bit more respect. I also accept that I probably would have been exactly the same at that age.

I am lying under my mosquito net writing this waiting for them to shut up so I can go to sleep! I’ll update on tomorrows part when we get back to Chiang Mai….

After going to bed at 9pm, I finally got settled just after 1pm, when the kids finally shut up (after a couple of prompts from me!)

Tuesday 11th June – Hill Tribe Trek

Woke up this morning after about 5 hours sleep and had some breakfast. Angela, Lisa and I were the first up and I had to give the others a gentle nudge!

After breakfast the tribe set up a small market where we could buy some locally (maybe!) trinkets, hats, jewellery and other typical Thai Market stuff. I bought some new beads to help them out.

After this I took a quick walk around the village to take some photos. As we walked we noticed about 4 big Satellite dishes and some Solar panels! So they obviously have some electricity and access to the outside world!

It turns out that some of the local tribesmen were up with the English guys last night and it occurred to me this morning, that they probably wouldn’t have a problem with people staying up late making noise as they will be buying more alcohol and providing more money to the local economy. So I didn’t fell as bad about the noise as I did last night, well from the tribe point of view, I was still annoyed at being kept awake!

We started our trek back to Chiang Mai, and the walk today was much easier than yesterday. We only trekked for about an hour and the terrain was not as gruelling. After an hour, we got into a car and drove on for about half an hour to the Bamboo Raft place where we were to take a quick raft ride. I was hanging on to the back of the car as there wasn’t enough space for us all to sit inside. This was fun and quite cool as you got a good breeze being on the outside!

As we travelled to the bamboo raft centre I got to know some of the other guys a bit more and they were all really nice people. I guess yesterdays issues were down to them not making it easy for us to integrate into their ready-rolled group.

The bamboo raft was a lot of fun. As expected not everyone managed to stay on the raft and there were a lot of us changing rafts a few times!! Very funny. According to the guy punting our raft, this was pretty common!!

The rafting lasted about an hour and a half and after this was a car back to Chiang Mai.

Overall I really enjoyed the experience, but there were a few things that I thought could have been better. The hiking and the activities were great, but I thought we could have had a better experience with the tribe. I still don’t know what they are called or anything about them, their customs or history. That is a shame. I guess next time, I will have to make sure I ask more questions! 

Friday 8th June – Phitsanulok / Sukhathai

After finding some nice food last night at the Phitsanulok night market I got a good nights sleep. It was sooooo nice to have a cold shower and a shave. I was so sweaty and dirty after the trip up that I really needed it!

An early rise today, about 8:30 for a free breakfast and then on to a bus to Sukhathai. We bumped into Francoise and Lisa, who we met in Anathaya, this morning and agreed to go to Sukhathai with them.

Sukhathai is a historical site, about an hour away from Phitsanulok, that once served as the capital of Thailand.

We hired bikes for the day and rode around the ruins which have been well preserved. There are four main sets of ruins to see and also a big Buddha just outside to go see.

It was a gorgeous blue sky day and probably the most perfect light conditions for taking photos that I have ever seen. It was also BAKING hot. I mean HOT HOT HOT!! It is at the point of being almost unbearably hot. I don’t know exactly, but I think it has to be over 100degrees now. I am currently on a bus back to Phitsanulok, sitting next to a Monk no less, where I am SO looking forward to anither cold shower. Ooh, weird, the monk just got a call on his cell phone! That reminds me…. I missed an amazing photo opportunity when I was on the boat trip in Ayathaya. An old, wrinkled Monk, sitting head down and slanted in thought…. But looking at a mobile phone! Classic and missed:(

Tonight is going to be dinner at “The Steak Cottage” restaurant and then another early night.

Tomorrow I will continue my trip up to Chiang Mai where I will spend a few days. I need to rest and sort out my visa’s for Loas, Cambodia and Vietnam. A far as I can tell, I can turn up at the Loas border and get a 15 day visa, or pre-arrange a 15 or 30 day visa. I am not surre if 15 days will be enough, so i’ll try to get a 30 day one. Cambodia, I believe I can get a 30 day visa at the border but Vietnam I need to pre-arrange and give them specific start and end dates. I might need to plan the next few weeks a bit!

Also in Chiang Mai you can take Thai cooking lessons and a 10 day (3nhours per day) Thai massage course. I am liking the sound of that!!