Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Three weeks in Lao!

Sabadee! *(that's 'hello' in Lao!)

Well, I had an awesome almost three-week holiday. I'm now feeling almost 100% after not feeling so good for a bit, but my post-holiday relaxed frame of mind and my tan have both faded. However, I've just booked a ten-day holiday in Cambodia in March to cheer myself up. As you do!

So, I'm not one for souvenirs as they just equate with clutter really, don't they? But I did bring back: 23 DVDs, most of which work on my DVD player, 1 shirt, a new pair of sunglasses, a suntan, an A6-notebook filled with 76 pages of diary entries, about 300 photos, a swollen toe (better), a peeling ear (no longer peeling) and a bacterial stomach infection - see below post (but more of the latter three later!)

So, how DO I abbreviate 76 pages of scribbles and notes? Well, if you are me, you don't really. Well, maybe a litle bit!

I've got hundreds of pictures of wats, stupors, statues, landscapes, the Mekong, sunsets, roads, animals, people, buildings and so on and I'm including a small selection for you to enjoy.
PLEASE DO NOT REPRODUCE ANY OF THESE PHOTOS WITHOUT GETTING PERMISSION FROM ME.

So, here goes:

Getting to Narita:

With a great deal of excitement I went straight from work to the airport and had an uneventful trip to Thailand. 'Uneventful' is nearly ALWAYS a good thing when travel is concerned. When travel is concerned with me at any rate. Of course, before this, I'd been super-organised, got up early with loads of time before leaving the house, etc, had a heap of fruit to use up and over-smoothied myself to the point I had to tip a load down the sink. Of course, this gave me bellyache later. I'd also overlooked that in my hyper-organised state I'd already put my keys into one of my bags and had a moment of panic, tipping entire contents of bag onto floor, and then remembering I had a spare key... got to work and realised I had both with me. Oh well.

Tokyo to Bangkok:

Got to Narita and had the joy of photo and fingerprinting. At least there was no 'Foreigner: quite likely to be criminal' t-shirt to wear! The flight was fine. Thai airlines has no backseat TV (I mean HEY! in this day and age to have no back seat TV!) - The movies they showed on the big screen were okay (when the kids in the bulkhead seats weren't jumping up and down) and the vegan offerings weren't too bad either. I'm sure passport control at Bangkok airport has gotten much slower since last year. Felt like it took forever anyway.

Regarding food, I didn't deliberately eat any non-vegetarian food all trip (by 'not deliberately' I mean I can't swear meat or fish products weren't used in dishes I had) and managed to stay pretty vegan for most of it. Actually, I managed to stick largely to raw while I was away. I did my best anyway and ate at Indian and Lebanese restaurants a few times.

Bangkok was hot. I'd missed the heat. It was so nice to have my feet not encased in socks and boots again. I'm sure my feet belong in flip-flops! Within two days of being in Thailand, my skin had cleared up almost 100%. Within the last two days of being back in Tokyo, I've got little patches that have flared up again.

My time in Bangkok was spent mooching and unwinding. I was in Bangkok last year so I felt no need to do any sightseeing this trip. On the one hand, it was kind of nice. On the other hand, there was a bit of a feeling of 'what shall I do then'? But only a bit! - I wandered anyway, browsed in shops and markets and, of course, had a mani- and pedicure. In fact I fell asleep while having it done, so they gave me a very strong coffee to pick me up! I spent the evening in the cinema after not succeeding in my plan to meet up with someone. Something I excelled at this trip. I managed to not meet up with five people I'd had loose plans to meet up with. Mainly because I kept changing my plans!

The Xmas music being played had me giggling a few times - references to snow in the heat of the city WAS odd! But then it doesn't take so much to get me giggling.

Bangkok to the Thai/Lao Border:

The next day I managed to do quite well: blistered two toes wearing my Crocs for the first time and wandering around (I came to love the Crocs after the blisters had healed); managed to not set my alarm properly, but luckily body woke me up in time; took a taxi to the airport (it was early - leaving the airport I always use the bus) and the driver was unable to change the big note I had. Had to run around in the airport trying to get it changed by a very grumpy exchange bureau clerk.

After paying the taxi-driver I was very happy to see the check-in queue was pretty small. And of course, I was very happy because I'd booked the flight the week before on the internet and got a TOTAL bargain for the flight to Chiang Mai....

Well, it would have been a total bargain if I'd turned up at the airport on the CORRECT day - and not a day early.

Stuck with the choice of spending lots more money in Bangkok and losing a day of my trip OR buying a new (full-price) ticket, I chose the latter (and they didn't have any direct to Chiang Rai, or I'd have done that).

Oh and the flight cleared out the Baht I had changed up so had to pretty much unpack entire pack to find buried Yen to change up more money! Then stood for about 20-minutes in the passport control queue in Bangkok airport - before realising I was in international and not domestic departures.

Got to Chiang Mai. Went straight to the bus station - and found out I couldn't get a seat on a bus for another SIX hours. Killed the next few hours eating, drinking and having a foot massage (again, I'd spent time in Chiang Mai last year so didn't want to do lots of wandering, plus I'd forgotten I'd packed my Chiang Mai map in my bag!)

Yes, probably WOULD forget my own head if it wasn't bolted on!

Had a not particularly comfortable 4 hour trip through the twisty turny mountain roads from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai but luckily there was a break in the middle and I had my iPod with me to help things pass, as much of the journey was down in the dark so I couldn't really see the landscape to enjoy it!

Spent two nights and a day in Chiang Rai, wandering around, visiting a hill tribes museum, market and eating nice veggie food but mainly just enjoying the sun and winding down and down.

Kept bumping into a Moroccan-Belgian guy, Ridouane but could never figure out exactly why he was in Chiang Rai. Some sort of gold wheeler-dealer was the nearest I could get to why he kept visiting the north of Thailand, but who knows! He said it wasn't drugs. Anyway, he shouted me a coffee and was quite amusing for a couple of hours.

Stayed in a guesthouse I really liked ('guesthouses' and 'hostels' are basically the same thing in Thailand and Laos) - although the two nights in Chiang Rai AND the next two nights, I got woken up early by roosters. I started feeling very murderous towards chickens after the second night!

After the second night in Chiang Rai I headed off early by bus for the two hour trip to Chiang Khong which is one of the Thai-Lao border crossings. Of course the border would have been pretty impossible to find without a tuk-tuk, even if it did seem extremely next to Huay Xai on the map! Getting to the border was fine at any rate thanks to the tuk-tuk.

There was a little bit of 'eh, where do we go?' with the other foreigners standing around but we figured it out and it was all straight-forward enough and quick enough filling out the forms and getting the visa. I'd had some pictures taken in Chiang Rai as I needed one for the visa. I have 19 spare pictures of me in a pink top, should anyone ever want one!

Got a boat over the river and chilled out in Huay Xai - which is kind of a single street. Bit like a few other places I visited actually. But I just couldn't believe how totally relaxed I felt. I think it hit me here. Actually, it probably hit me before. But that feeling of 'I don't HAVE to do anything' is just SO good. It's also one of the reasons why I like travelling by myself so much.

Of course, sleepy little Huay Xai woke me up early the next day thanks to fucking cockerels AGAIN! I had a lovely wander around in Huay Xai though, soaking in the heat and just watching life.... and walking and walking... I did so much wandering on the holiday. Felt great! I was knackered by the end of every day!

Huay Xai amusements included a not very interesting market a long walk away (I'm a market freak! love them!), a temple (one of several 1000 that I felt I'd seen by the end of the holiday!) and a LOVELY massage and herbal sauna place. Did I mention how sleepy Huay Xai was? Well, that lovely temple I saw: my advice is don't get a hostel withing ten minutes of it as the monks chant FUCKING LOUDLY. Now, while I DO like listening to monks chanting, from time to time, when you're trying to get to / stay asleep is definitely NOT the time. The monks, plus the cockerels, plus the dogs, plus all the early traffic, plus the noise from the kitchens, meant I was hugely more sleepy than the town by the time I had to get up the next day!

BANGKOK AND CHIANG MAI PHOTOS:
I love massages and other pampering treatments on holiday. Some places I feel are better to avoid though:

Pre - Christmas sights (okay, the elephant in Chiang Mai isn't a xmas sight, but I like it):




Huay Xai to Luang Prabang:

So, early in the morning, I set off to go and get the boat to Luang Prabang. I'd arranged the boat ticket through a travel agency (yeah, I'm not sure why either) and they sent me off in a tuk-tuk to go and get it. Also in the tuk-tuk, were two lovely people, a Spanish girl and her Swiss boyfriend, who I spent a lot of time hanging out with and then bumping into over the next few days.

The boat was far from luxurious, but we were early so managed to nab benches and cushions and settle down to wait and wait while the boat filled up. Everyone kept shifting trying to find a comfortable position.. and having to get on the boat meant walking along a plank - which scared me witless!

On the first day we were on the boat for about six hours, stopping and starting at what I can only imagine to be spots along the river near to villages, although these villages were not in evidence from the boat. The hours passed by in a mix of listening to my iPod, nattering to the Spanish/Swiss couple and others, munching on a vegetable sandwich, bananas and other snacks, reading, lazily and dreamily staring out at the Mekong....

We stopped for the night, soon after sunset, at a 'town' called Pak Beng. Pak Beng really consisted of a street jammed with guesthouses, restaurants and little else, and all within about five minutes to the riverbank. At ten thirty pm all the electricity went off but I'd had the foresight to put my torch into my bag before going off to get some food - I'd never have found my guesthouse, let alone my room, without it.

That night I picked a nice looking restaurant to eat in - and was joined by the Spanish/Swiss couple and another guy from the boat. It was all just so utterly laid back and relaxing!

There was a very cute little kid - must have been about 18 months old - who burst into tears when she first saw us, but later came over and started to play with me. I got my camera out later and took a couple of pictures about her, but they didn't come out too well. It was cute though: she stood still to let me take the picture and then came running over to see herself - I wonder how many (100's of) tourists have taken her picture before!

The next day we had an early start for the second leg of the boat trip. Well, the start time was early, but I got woken up even earlier - by a damn cockerel again! I mean, don't cockerels crow to signal day breaking? The ones I'd been encountering in Thailand and Laos had obviously not been told this as it was definitely dark when they started up.

Anyway, again we had to cross over a scary plank bridging the land and the boat ie over water again - and my sense of balance is SO crap I feel I have reason to be scared shitless by this feat - and I had earache which I told myself would probably be making my balance even worse. Honestly. But I never did fall in the water, so I guess I'm not that crap. Okay, okay, I needed help every time!

The boat on the second day was bigger than on the first - thankfully - as we were on it for over 8 hours this time. Thanks to an evening of running into each other - frequently - the atmosphere on the boat was very different. It was very sociable and a lot of the people stood around talking with each other. The time passed by really quickly - and a bit more comfortably.

HUAY XAI PHOTOS:
This is part of a lovely temple. Unfortunately, my guesthouse was pretty close to it and I was kept awake and then woken again by monks chanting. Loudly!



Aside from early morning when everything got really busy, this is what the roads in Huay Xai tended to look like for much of the day. Bliss!



All of this money is probably worth about $5. Okay, I'm kidding but considering 1,000,000 kip (the Lao currency) is worth about £50 or $100, you get my point. I've never seen so much physical money in one place at any rate, so couldn't resist taking a picture. This was in a Huay Xai travel agency:




TRAVELLING TO LUANG PRABANG PHOTOS:
Our luxury vehicle for the trip to Pak Beng. For the second day we switched to a larger boat. But if you want to travel cheaply this is what you get. I enjoyed it at any rate:



Especially as it meant hours of staring out at landscape and sights like these:






Luang Prabang:
I really liked Luang Prabang. Other people have described it as boring or over- priced, but I liked the feel of it. It was very chilled and very pretty. Very unhectic. Very friendly. $15 a night for a central guesthouse was a tad more than I'd been expecting to pay - but that's life. And it was nice and big and clean. Other nights I was paying two or three dollars, so it was what it was. And it did take a bit of time to find a guesthouse that had an available room.
Luang Prabang is very green and flat. It's surrounded by hills and two rivers. There's not that many things to do there: but that was one of the beauties of the place. You spent a lot of time running into the same people again and again. People from the boat, people you randomly had conversations with in the streets, people you started chatting to in beauty salons or restaurants. Once you'd spoken to someone once, you kept running into them. It's one of the things I love about travelling alone: I'm much more inclined to talk to random strangers if I'm on my own than if I'm with another person. And the beauty about random strangers in situations like this, is they are very revealing. They tell you interesting things about themselves, where they've been, what they do, and so on. And then you part ways. Well, until you bump into each other later on at any rate!
I visited some wats (of course), climbed some 450 steps to see a stupor - which was absolutely worthwhile as the views were amazing over Luang Prabang from there - spent a lot of time wandering around enjoying the peace and the sun and watching people, and having manicures, pedicures, massages... And more wandering around the streets, the markets, etc.

I had a lovely tofu pad thai overlooking a beautiful lily pond - just when I thought things couldn't get any more relaxed. And I had a kitten to cuddle thrown in for the price!

The animals in Lao were so friendly. In Thailand most of the dogs scared me shitless.

I had a lot of conversations with novice monks this trip. Novices are the 'trainees' - aged between 12 and 20. They have a strict lifestyle but the number of rules they have to follow is very small compared to that of a monk. In Lao, becoming a Novice is the only way some of the boys get to have an education and many of them who are studying English are very keen to practice it. A lot intend to leave and get jobs when they become 20 - in hotels, etc.

In Vietnam and in Thailand, I normally couldn't find any monks to talk to me (well, I remember one really old monk in Chiang Mai who chatted to me at one temple - with the help of an interpreter). Maybe they just didn't speak English or didn't want to speak to a foreign female. I really enjoyed the chats I had with the Novices at any rate.

In the night market they had some really beautiful crafts - bed covers and so on. I spent a lot of time in Luang Prabang dithering about whether to buy one or not. And finally decided I would - just as all the stalls were packing up. Typical. I ended up without getting one.

LUANG PRABANG PHOTOS:






LUANG PRABANG TO VIENTIANE PHOTO:
If I hadn't been feeling poorly on the bus trip between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, I'm sure I'd have really enjoyed the sometimes breathtaking scenery:

Vientiane:
You know those 'why' moments life sometimes throws at you? Well the next days 'why' moment revolved around 'why' I'd decided to make a nine hour bus journey instead of flying from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.

I'd eaten a LOT of jackfruit from the market in Luang Prabang the night before. I've always eaten street food when I've travelled and I've never had any trouble. This was just bad luck I guess. Anyway, I woke up suddenly in the night, felt terrible and chucked up the contents of my stomach.

Felt extremely rough when I had to get up, but I'd already booked and paid for my bus ticket and wanted to get moving anyway. Had the bus journey been gentle and smooth, I might have felt okay. Sharp twisty turny roads for hours on end with a cramping stomach is not to be recommended though. Luckily my stomach behaved itself until I got to one toilet when things kind of literally, er, exploded out of me. Lao loos have lots of water in them. Thankfully. Ahem.

When the bus stopped and everyone else went to eat the lunch included in the price of the ticket, I couldn't face any food.

I ate the fruit on December 29th. My stomach and digestion are now, probably 85-95% okay. Depending on who I'm talking to mainly!

As for the bus journey. The scenery WAS stunning - but for most of the journey I didn't feel able to enjoy it, and hanging on for dear life going round bends could have been quite amusing if I hadn't spent so much time hoping my stomach would behave (which it did).

Actually, a good sleep would also have been a nice way to pass the nine hours - but this really was an impossibility. As soon as you nodded off, you went around some steep curve and got jolted back to life!

I'd booked on to a VIP bus with toilet but the toilet seemed to be unavailable - well, the aisle was blocked with plastic chairs, so the bus tended to stop every hour or so for people to hop off and pee! And the aircon also seemed unavailable - but the windows and open door let in a nice breeze!

I arrived in Vientiane not in the best of frames of mind. My first impression was it was polluted, noisy and I didn't like it. I'd reserved a room in a guesthouse a couple of days earlier that looked really nice and which I thought was fairly central, not realising how big Vientiane was (well, it wasn't so big once I'd got to grips with it, but the first night it certainly seemed that way). The guesthouse wasn't in the centre. The tuk-tuk/taxi driver had agreed a price with all of us he was dropping off and then charged me more. (Yes, I was in a foul mood, and yes, I did get angry - but I was ill. I'm not a reasonable person when I'm ill). Then the guesthouse was pretty grotty, but I couldn't be arsed to take my bag back into the centre and wander around with it, trying to find a room.

I dumped my bag, wandered into the centre, popped into a couple of other guesthouses and found one that was in the centre, reasonably priced and had a lovely room and friendly reception staff - the opposite of the first one, in fact.
Having eaten just a few bites of dry baguette during the day, I felt ready to risk a banana crepe and found a nice little place to eat it in, and then cheered myself up further with a lovely foot massage!
Vientiane was an odd place. On the Saturday, everything was shutting/shut by about 5.30pm. On the Sunday, a lot of places didn't bother to open at all. The main problem this presented was that I had plans to fly from Vientiane to Pakse - but hadn't bought a ticket yet. I got what I wanted eventually!

In the warm daylight, Vientiane wasn't so bad. The pollution was very low in the daytime compared to later in the evening, and the sun made everything feel much better anyway. I was also very relieved to have moved to the nicer guesthouse. I wasn't feeling 100%, but I was feeling okay. If anything, it was once I'd gotten back to Tokyo that I started to feel a lot worse. On holiday, as long as I was in a relaxed frame of mind (most the time) and near enough to a toilet, the holiday wasn't really affected by having whatever it was I had.
Vientiane's weather was perfect. The streets weren't so busy, the temples were lovely and the monks were very friendly. I can't imagine their lives: they get up at 3.30am, wash their faces (okay, I can imagine that: I'm not a complete grungeball), sweep the temple, prayer, wash their bodies, go and collect alms, study (Monday to Friday), finish all their eating for the day by noon, after which they're only allowed drinks (water, coffee, bovril!). Then the afternoons are spent meditating, cleaning, more praying and hanging out. They're not allowed to do sports or have any money... although rather a lot seemed to use the internet on the computers around town!

The first day in Vientiane was very relaxed and enjoyable, although exhausting as most of the day was spent just walking and walking and walking. I had 'lunch' about 4pm and went back to my room, knackered, at about 6 or 7pm - where I had the energy to shower and collapse in front of the TV in the room. My holiday, my choice!
The next day I went to a Buddha Park. The first challenge of the day was figuring out which of the public buses actually went there - and also dissuading an old lady from patting my oversized arse and laughing... The roads were very 'basic' and bus was extremely crowded. I was feeling okay though so found the 45 minute trip rather amusing I loved the Buddha Park. Basically, it's a field with dozens of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes and forms and a huge structure that you climb around and ascend through three levels. It's meant to represent heaven, hell and earth - or something like that. It was cool anyway.
I ricketted my way back to Vientiane on the bus after a few hours in the park and went off in search of a vegetarian restaurant I'd read about earlier that day. Had a lovely veggie buffet. I was good with the food. It was impossible to stay 100% raw vegan but the worst I 'slipped' to was cooked vegetarian - and as vegan as was possible. Of course, I don't know what was in dressings or sauces, but I tried my best at any rate.
The kip, the Lao currency, is ridiculously low. I withdrew about £50 from an ATM. It came out as 1,000,000 kip. Actually, back in Huay Xai, I was in a travel agency when they got a delivery of cash. They had huge bricks of notes on the table. I'd never seen anything like it in my life: they let me take some photos of them!
That night was New Year's Eve. It was cold and I was knackered and had mild period pain and, by about 9pm, the overwhelming desire was to do nothing, just relax, although that felt kind of wrong, being NYE and all... Anyway, I had a bite to eat, wandered around some of the sound stages checking out music that was playing, contemplated life in an end-of-year kind of way... and finally decided it was MY evening and I could do whatever I wanted - and what I really wanted was to go back and chill out in my room. Which I did. I heard and could see the midnight fireworks from my room, but was happy in the knowledge I was warm, and outside wasn't. (Getting old?!)

I'd had a mani- pedicure earlier that evening and the girl hurt my toe. So much so that it got a bit infected and 'that' took a couple of weeks to recover! Grrr! Still, at least my toes and fingers looked pretty: apart from the one slightly swollen one!
VIENTIANE PHOTOS:






I didn't eat here, but I don't think I've ever seen 'Crocodile Steak' on a menu before. Had I not given up meat, I may have been tempted to try it:



Here are some of the photos I took from the Buddha Park, just outside Vientiane:
This was particularly fun. It was three levels high and you walked in through the mouth and climbed up to the top inside:





Pakse:
On New Years Day, I flew further south to Pakse - in a cute 64 seat plane with propellers at the front.

Pakse is a very convenient place to be in to get around to other places, but in itself, it's really not much. It's small, half-built and - due to it being January 1st - it was mainly closed! But that was okay, I just enjoyed wandering around, looking and enjoying.
It had been very windy in Vientiane that morning and Pakse was also affected by the wind. It was still hot enough though. I did a lot of walking - all trip I estimated I must have done around 2-5 km's a day walking -sometimes a lot more. I felt healthy!
Weirdly (maybe) Pakse was the only place in Lao I encountered people asking for money. I'm not sure why this was.
PAKSE AIRPORT PHOTO:
Look at this cute little plane, with it's little propellers!:

Si Phan Don - The 4,000 Islands:
The reason I was in Pakse was to go the 4,000 Islands, down south. And, no, I didn't count them. Early the next morning I headed down in a mini-bus to the boat area across the river from Don Khong Island. For 'boat area' read 'bit of sand'!

The little island of Don Khong was utterly beautiful and peaceful. There were practically no vehicles, just the odd tractor and a handful of motorbikes and bicycles only. It was real picture postcard stuff and dotted with such basic wooden houses, temples, fields, trees and lazy animals. My understanding was that the island was meant to be pretty self-sufficient.

After the pollution and dust of Vientiane and Pakse, Don Khong was so clean and fresh... I rented a bicycle and got around quite a bit of the island - well, it was a pretty big island without a motorised vehicle! - I didn't need to 'see' everything anyway. I got a good taster, had fun and just lapped up the serenity. After a brief afternoon nap (hey, I'd gotten up early), I went for another cycle along the river and through the village. Every person I passed shouted 'sawadee' (hello) at me and the peace of the village was incredible. Things being burned didn't give out the nicest of smells but everything else was pretty much perfect.

The next day was spent doing a lot of floating on the Mekong, looking at the sun glistening on the water and watching the boat passing by who knows how many different kinds of trees. As far as I could see, for a couple of hours, all I could see were more trees, more river, the odd hill in the distance and a blue sky peppered with light clouds, as we moved further south. It felt a world away from anything. Heavenly!

I shared a boat with a lovely Polish couple who live in Australia, and spent much of the day hanging out with them. We visited Don Det and Don Khon - two more of the 4,000 islands and went down further towards to Cambodian border to attempt to see the apparantly famous Irawaddy Dolphins. I may have seen some. Far off I certainly saw something that may have been a jumping dolphin or more! Before we went to play 'spot the blob on the horizon' we'd spent a couple of hours in the boat and then walked a bit to see some waterfalls before getting another boat to the rock where we sat to look for the dolphins.

After that, we went to see the only train and railtrack in Lao! Well, it was a carriage and a couple of metres of track that had been sitting and rusting there since the French left it behind after the second world war. I found it very amusing that this was being touted as a tourist attraction!

Over the two nights I was in Don Khong (not to be confused with Don 'Khon' which is smaller and further south!) I found and ploughed my way through a thick trashy detective novel. It had been ages since I'd had the chance to do that. Felt good! Earlier I'd finished reading Amy Tan's 'The Kitchen God's Wife', which I'd absolutely loved and the only other book I had with me was a collection of short stories by Murakami. I adore Murakami - but short stories are designed to be read one at a time, not to be treated as something to plough through. Shame. My biggest holiday fear is always that I'll be left with nothing to read!

SI PHAN DON - THE 4,000 ISLANDS - PHOTOS:
Peaceful. Quiet. Lazy. Scenic. Slow. Warm. What more could you wish for?:




I saw a few of these. It's a very basic vehicle with a engine attached at the front. The locals used them and the didn't go very fast. But then they didn't really need to, did they?

A view from the road with the guesthouses. There's really only one road like this in the main village on the island of Don Khong:

Champasak:
The next day I got up early (okay, most days I tended to get up early) and took a local bus up to Champasak. I'd dithered about whether to go there or give it a miss, but the ancient temple ruins there sounded very worthwhile to see.

I got to Champasak early - it's a very quiet little place - found a guesthouse, hired a bicycle and cycled about 10km's to see Wat Phu Champasak. I asked the hire guy how to find it and he explained that I should follow the road over a couple of bridges and then turn when the good road becomes a bad road. His definition of a 'good' road was very different from mine as it was very bumpy and very potholed. I spent quite a while laughing at this while I cycled!

The Wat was an amazing complex set in beautiful surroundings and well worth the cycle to get to. I mean, I could have gone by tuk-tuk, but where would the fun have been in that? I spent a few hours wandering around, taking photos, exploring and having random conversations, before heading back down and having lunch on the way to returning to the town.

The air in Champasak, and down in the 4,000 Islands (when not being that of burned trash) was of incense. It filled the air. The streets and fields had chickens, ducks, geese and other birds I can't name, just wandering around lazily. Dogs and cats were too lazy to fight and also just wandered around. Cattle, buffalo, pigs, goats and people just sat around... and the children mostly seemed really well-behaved. I heard almost no kids crying or screaming.
I'd totally fallen for Lao, basically!

After the cycle - during which I'd not realised how hot it was, hadn't worn a cap and, initially, hadn't bothered with suncream, so I'd managed to burn my left ear! - I headed back to the guesthouse and had a little nap.
When I woke up it was pitch black and I was hungry. I managed to find one place open! -Which kind of also begged the question, where was everybody. It was still reasonably early and I know Champasak is a quiet place, but I was very surprised to not see more than two other tourists. Not that that was a bad thing!
After breakfast the next day, I went for a little walk - again enjoying the sun and the tranquility. It was such a calm and quiet place. And so pretty - surrounded by the river and hills. I kept shocking myself realising just how relaxed I felt...

CHAMPASAK PHOTOS:
Wat Pho. A lovely Wat set over a large area of grounds:

Quite a lot of steps were involved in getting to the top. But it was worth it:


View of the top, from the town:

The main street in Champasak:

One of many French colonial buildings, this one on the second busiest road:

And one of the shops along the road:


Pakse again:

After my wander, I went to get the boat (I will ALWAYS pick boats over buses given the choice and time) back to Pakse. It was a two-hour trip and we had cushioned wooden chairs to sit in this time! It was so peaceful.. I mean, local buses are amusing, and planes are convenient but boats really are the best way....
The boat trip was amusing. There were four French people on the boat (who I'd seen in a restaurant the day before), a cute German guy (who I'd chatted with at Wat Phu the day before) and a Japanese guy (who I'd never seen before but who was 'doing' four countries in three weeks!)
Spent quite a while chatting with the German and the Japanese and the cute little Lao guy who worked on the boat and who seemed to be spending quite a bit of time removing water from the boat and returning it to the river! he was hilarious and insisted on us taking photos with him.
Back in Pakse, I had a couple of hours to kill before getting the bus to Ubon Ratchathani (in Thailand) where I was going to fly back to Bangkok from. The weather was good and Pakse was bigger than I'd remembered it being. Oh and the German was cute. Did I mention that?
Anyway, bumped into the German a few times around Pakse and then he booked onto the same bus to travel to Ubon where he then went and got an overnight train to Bangkok and I stayed for a night.

CHAMPASAK TO PAKSE PHOTOS:
A slightly more luxurious and spacious boat than last time. I mean we got padded wooden chairs to sit in!

Bailing the water out of the boat!:

Me with Noi (the guy bailing above) and Jurtz (a German I kept running into):

Japanse salaryman on holiday, with beer at 9 in the morning. Classic. I couldn't resist taking this shot:
Ubon Ratchathani:
Arriving at Ubon Ratchathani was a complete shock to the system. After spending so many days in such quite, relaxing places without tons of vehicles or people, and surrounded by beautiful landscape, I found Ubon to be the absolute opposite. Completely urban and manic. I must have been like a deer stuck in the headlights for the first few hours of being back in Thailand.

I didn't have a Thailand guidebook with me - which isn't that ideal when you want a hostel and you are in a new place. But I'd looked on the internet, seen one place that seemed okay (ie cheap) and decided I'd head for that. A Japanese guy who'd been on the same bus as me had the same idea and was also heading for the same random hostel. Somehow we managed to communicate with the local bus driver, found the hostel and - luckily - they had available rooms for about 100 yen a night. Okay, slight exaggeration but I think the rooms were well under 500 yen at any rate - first guesthouse I've stayed in that had a squat loo in the ensuite at any rate, but it was clean.

Ubon amused me for the day. After finding my hostel had no maps to give out, I got directions to the park I wanted to go to which was pretty cool. Interesting statues and very relaxing. From there I stumbled upon a big building that I thought may have been a museum I was trying to find. Stood staring at a big map outside trying to figure out where I was, without much luck, but saw an elderly couple of Europeans that I started to chat to and - thankfully - they were able to tell me where the tourist information was - so I was able to grab a couple of maps.

Found the museum, wandered around a lot, saw some wats (of course) and had a few random conversations with other random tourists randomly wandering around.

Ubon is a pretty quiet place. It's not really set up for tourists but I'm glad I decided to explore it before heading back to Bangkok.
One of my most surprising realisations this trip was that I don't like big busy cities as much as I thought I did. I've always considered myself a real city chick, but this holiday it was definitely the quieter places that I enjoyed more.

Ubon had a huge Tesco. Sadly, I can't really explain just how excited this made me. I got a big bag of pick-and-mix salad from there and nuts and bits to munch on for lunch and I was one extremely happy bunny.

The other day I went to the international supermarket National Azabu, in Hiroo. I was massively overexcited by that too. Mainly because I could read the labelling on everything and found out what the vegetables I've been eating for the last three years are called, but also because they had TAHINI - which I've not seen anywhere else. But I digress.

One thing that upset me was on passing a gymnastics academy I saw the coach forcing a kids legs into higher than splits and the kid was in so much pain and crying. It was horrible. Of course the watching parents didn't react. I guess everyone defines 'cruelty' differently.

Anyway, my day in Ubon basically involved almost seven hours of pretty much non-stop walking. I was knackered! And my pedicure-infected toe was hurting me - mainly because it was getting exposed to dirt, dust, sand, etc. Eventually I had the sense to buy some antiseptic cream and to cover it up.
And then early evening I left Ubon and had a super-quick flight back to Bangkok.
UBON RATCHATHANI PHOTOS:
Me! With wavy hair. I have no idea how that happened!

Huge golden statue in the park:

T-shirts I resisted buying:


This was outside an English language school and made me laugh. I mean look at it: "I can say the diphthongs sounds!" (It amused me anyway.)

A beautiful sight for a Brit who has been out of England for 3.5 years!:
And a beautiful dragon:

Back in Bangkok:

I flew into the old airport which is so much more convenient than the new one, I think. I mean the airline runs a free shuttle to the nearest MRT station. Certainly made life easier and quicker. I like it that the new airport has lots of buses but they are extremely slow...!

That night in Bangkok was for shopping in the market in Sukhumvit. It was the whole reason I'd gone back at the time I did was to go and shop before returning home! I had a nice wander around some of the seedier bits of town too. I hadn't actually realised just how seedy that area was. It was all very amusing anyway and I saw lots of fakes: fake dvd's, fake watches, fake women... It really did seem that everything was for sale in Bangkok.

My final day in Bangkok was SO hot! I'd already made the decision that I wouldn't do any tourist sights but I did feel like having a laugh - I mean a look - at people so I headed for the Khao San Road, found a cafe and watched people pass me by for a couple of hours, surreptitously taking lots of photos of them at the same time! Some sights were more interesting than others. I mean for the guys who wandered around with no t-shirts on - WHY? What was confusing you into thinking Bangkok was a beach resort? Ditto to the girls walking around in bare feet with dreads, the guys walking around wearing large fake tattoo 'sleeves' and the pairs of friends all walking around that had seemingly made conscious decisions to wear the same clothes earlier that day. I mean, why? But I thank you because you helped me pass some very amusing time laughing at you all and some of you colour combinations were REALLY out there.

The rest of the day was spent with more wandering around, having a Thai massage, shopping and a movie - and not a single wat or museum.And that was it. Back to Tokyo feeling fitter, more tanned and totally energised.

BANGKOK PHOTOS:-
These were taken on Khao San Road. Possibly the least Thai place I've seen in Thailand but I find it highly amusing and a great place to people watch. Last year I spent a couple of nights in cheap hostels there.
A couple of tuk-tuks and a taxi for you:



Bare foot in the city:

No sense of style in the city:

Bare chested in the city:

And still the street looks so 'normal'!:

Like I said before: you can buy fake everything in Bangkok. Here are fake student cards, press passes, etc:
And I loved this poster outside a bra shop. I've not decided which mine are:


And that was that. Time to go home:

Back to the cold:
And rain of Tokyo!

I keep thinking of more things I could write about. But I think this is long enough, don't you?!

5 Comments:

Blogger The Pixy Princess said...

aah darling... thanks for this lovely post. Just the pick-me-up I needed today.
SO many things to comment on... where do I begin??
- the boat rides sound amazing and remind me of floating down the backwaters in Kerala, India.
- the lush greenery almost made me weep as all I can see out my window is a blanket of snow.
- am now missing the rooster that used to crow at 4am SHARP every morning outside my house in Bombay
- am very happy to know that you are feeling better now and should tell you that you look GREAT (love the pink shirt)
- I believe I have grapefruit like boobs.

4:55 am

 
Blogger Jo said...

lmao! thanks nik. actually, i'm thinking of going to india next xmas holiday. not sure where to go though, so will start picking your and sanchia's brains at some stage in the autumn probably.

it was awesome. and i totally recommend it. not being woken up by the birds though. i don't miss that.

2:06 pm

 
Blogger The Pixy Princess said...

Will be MORE than happy to send you my list of "must sees".
Be warned though - there are many many birds in India. All early risers, all noisy.

12:37 am

 
OpenID baroqueprincess said...

Wow what an awesome report! The photos are gorgeous, and there is so much happiness in the stories you shared. Loved it! Made me want to experience Lao.
/Jen

9:10 pm

 
Anonymous irishnomad said...

Great pictures. Your journal makes me really want to go there.

1:46 am

 

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