Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Late again!

Well Hi to all

I am a little late in updating my blog a mix of having no time to go to the Internet, poor if no internet connection and a felling of 'can't be bovered'.

Well anyhow I have been up to quite a bit over the last week or so. I have been in 3 countries since!

Laos and the 4000 islands.

Well first off let talk about Pakxe, a rubbish transit town that I was stuck in for 2 days. Its pretty much the point to stop off if you want to go trekking or get down to the Sii Pan Don (islands in the Mekong river). Trekking was pretty high on my list of things that I wanted to do but not for $165 for two days! I went to the tourist office to enquire and it was just to expensive for me to even consider doing a trek. As a compromise i decided to rent a moto from my hotel and spend the day driving around the Bolaven Plataux, the coffee growing region of Laos. It was pretty interesting beautiful country and some awesome waterfalls! I did manage to fry my arms and fall off the moto on a particularly tricky piece of road. Luckily I was going so slow that no damage was done to either myself or the moto!

After spending the day around the Bolaven Plataux I headed down south to make my way across to Sii Pan Don or the 4000 islands. This was a nice retreat for a couple of days. I pretty much spent all of my time either in a hammock reading or cycling around the small islands. I also went to go see the biggest, by volume, waterfall in Asia! It sounds impressive but its not really, just looks like any old waterfall!

It was also on these islands that I split from travelling with Tom and Nicole to become another lone traveller. They wanted to get on to Phnom Penh before I did + I fancied another day on the island of nothing!


SO afterwards I headed south to Phnom Penh for the mere sum of $23, a complete rip off but they know that you have no other options! I was cramped for most of the journey and at one point did not actually have a seat to myself. We had to change the bus 3 times!

Once in Phnom Penh the usual 'I have tuk tuk but only my place no other' men appeared everywhere. I ended up just getting in one of these with a French guy called Alban and a South Korean called Yousung. The first night was a laugh ended, of course, in a few beers in one of the cheap backpacker bars. The following day was spent seeing the Khmer Rouge sites in Phnom Penh... the Killing Fields at Cheoung Ek and Tsol Stueng Museum (S-21 prison) rather depressing places and to think that it happened only 30 years ago. They pretty much massacred any one they thought opposed their reign of power; this included small children, women and babies, sick.

Anyhow on to least depressing adventures. This day was followed by another night in the local bars before having to rise at a stupid time in the morning for a bus to Siem Reap. Off to see the temples of Angkor Wat and wat an impressive sight they were. [did you get that one, oh god cheesey humour is not good for the soul] We managed to get a free tuk tuk from the bus station to our hotel because the driver thought he was going to be taking us (the Korean guy and I) around the temples for the next two days; he however gave us a stupid price so we sought other transport with the assumption that we would not see him again, and of course we did see him again!

Angkor Wat is a pretty Impressive place but extremely expensive to see, about $57 for two days driving around all of the temples. It is however a necessity if you are coming to this part of the world. Angkor Wat is pretty impressive just for the pure fact that it is the largest religious building in the world, those Khmers certainly know how to build with elegance and style! The carvings on the rocks are just amazing seeing as they are nearly 1000 years old. For atmosphere however there are other temples which are far better just for the pure fact that there are far fewer tourists around; namely Ta Prom or more commonly known as the Tomb Rader Temple. This temple is by far the coolest out of all of the ones at Angkor Wat, its in the middle of a forest and the forest has decided to take over all of the buildings in style draping themselves over 1000 year old buildings... impressive!

Our driver for the two days was a guy called Rath, pronounced Rot! He was a legend really nice guy full of useful information. He had a pretty hard upbringing as he has no parents and spent his formative years being a monk in one of the local temples withing Phnom Penh. At the age of 18 he left the temple in search of work eventually ending up in Siem Reap driving tourists like me around. He earns very little but still wants to give someting back to the kids of Cambodia. He offers ever tourist a free tuk tuk to the local children's hospital for a concert held by this Swiss guy trying to raise money for several children's hospitals throughout Cambodia. I went to one of these and it was a thoroughly enjoyable event, made me feel good.

Bangkok part 2.

After a long and boring bus ride from Siem Reap to Bangkok I ended up sharing a room for the night with an English guy called Shaun and an Italian/ German/ Swedish guy and what a night we had. We thought it would be a good idea to bar crawly Kho Sanh Road. Great ideal at the time I really enjoyed it as it was a random event but boy did I ever regret it the next day! I had to be up at 6 to get the bus to the airport in time for my flight to Kuala Lumpur, I felt haggard.

Kuala Lumpur and my weird arse flight.

So there I was sitting quite happily reading my book waiting for the plane when this German guy sits next to me and starts talking, for ever. I found out that he worked for Interpol in Thailand, had visited most of the worlds war zones, supposedly set up the governmental aid scheme for Tsunami victims in 2004 and wait has the best idea in the world. He thinks that building a load of towers throughout America and the world dedicated to charity is going to work. He also informed me that he had an invitation to meet Barak Obama, Valadimir Putin, the Jap Prime Minister among others to explain his idea. Weird. He also insisted that I wear a surgical mask on the plane because of the influenza scare. Interesting.

Well Kuala Lumpur is an Awesome City. I have spent the day today just walking around all of the sights. Seeing some of the old colonial British buildings and of course the Petronas towers. The towers are amazing they completely dominate the skyline both at day and night! I also went up to the sky bridge to look at the sights all around this was an amazing experience and also a really scary one! It was scary because the bridge is at the height of the bungee jump that I want to do in NZ, whoooaaaa it is high! I think I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it!

Well anyhow I have been jabbering on for far too long now, off to the Perhentian islands tonight on a bus then Singapore.

Adios till next time.


Friday, 12 June 2009

I am now a Mahoot... well kinda

Howdy from Vientiane the capital of Laos

Reading the news over the last few days it looks as if labor got a kicking, who'd though that was going to happen!

Anyhow traveling is more interesting than politics!

So Luang Prabang... a really nice place to sit and do..... well nothing really but walk around and see the sights. The town itself has something like 750 + Monks and 52+ temples in the centre! Everywhere you look there is a bunch of novice monks walking around in their orange robes with a whole bunch of books. The temples are amazing, there was one in particular at the very end of the peninsula that was decorated in high images made entirely of colored mirrored glass, it was great to just sit here and read whilst watching the sun set with the monks in evening chant in the background. The food was pretty good too, lots of quaint little art cafe's which were half art gallery half restaurant. There was also a pretty good night market where you could pick up almost anything at a bargain price. A couple of the evenings we ended up going to the local book shop to watch a film for free before going for a couple of drinks in the bar next door.

Luang Prabang was also where we booked our elephant trekking from! It sure did cost a few squiddlies but it was worth it! The first day we got a bus out to where the elephant village was, about 15 k's from the town out in the countryside. We arrived and pretty much got straight onto an elephant. Of course there was the obligatory welcome, do's and don't etc but they were all common sense. I was lucky enough to be on an elephant by myself so the mahoot said I could sit 'up front' on the neck! Not as easy to sit there as you might think. Its right on top of the animals shoulders so you end up having to lean on the head to save from falling! We were out for about 40 minutes before coming back to the camp where they taught us to drive the elephants, i.e. pai = go, how = stop, sai = left, khawp = right, seung = bend your leg so that i can step on it while you push me up, map = lay down, wai wai = speed up!

To get on the elephants is strange, you have to grab a hold of its right ear shout seung, step on its leg and haul your ass up there using its ear!

The afternoon was spent in the river. I'd though it's be a good idea to swim across to the other side of the river as the current was 'not that strong'... boy how wrong was I. I made it about half way across when I started thinking oh boy I'm not going to be able to make it to the sand bank, I then thought it would be a good idea to swim harder against the current, only to knacker myself out! Fully fledged panic now as I could not touch the bottom and I was being swept further down stream and did not fancy a long walk back. On the other side was when I started thinking how on earth am I going to make it across. I ended up walking 100 odd yards up stream to give me plenty of time and angle to swim across! Nice water though. After this, we headed back to the elephants and walked them into the jungle where they sleep before heading for dinner.

The next morning was by far the best bit, we walked out to the jungle where we dropped the elephants off at about 6 in the morning to go back to the river to wash them! The elephants just piled right in to the middle of the river before completely submerging themselves and me! They seemed to really like the water and would angle their head for you so that you could scrub and splash water over them. There was no where near enough time to do this but still it was fun.

That same afternoon we got the bus to Vang Vieng the travelers must go to point of Laos. Its basically a town of bars bars and more bars selling cheap food and booze. It is also the location of the famed tubing in Laos. They give you a tractor inner tube bus you 4 klicks up river drop you in and you float leisurely back via some more bars of course! As it was obligatory we thought it'd be a shame not to do this! We only spent one night here as we wanted to make our way down south via Vientiane.

Vientiane, not great as we already knew, got here last night and am leaving tonight for Pakse. Its your typical SE Asian capital, lots of people (to Laos standards) and loads of smog everywhere that its almost choking. We only cam here to get our Cambodian visas.

Any how next update will be from Pakse, off there to go trekking in the Bolaven Plateau (Coffee central for Laos) and to sit and not do much in Xe Phan Don (4000 islands, a bunch of river eytes), then Cambodia.

Adios for now


Sunday, 7 June 2009

Bong's, Busses and Border crossings!

Hi all, this time I am writing from Louang Prabang, Laos a beautiful country!

The last few days, well week of my travels have certainly been interesting.

My last day in Sapa before heading for the border was a really good one, muddy and wet yes, but good. Rather spookily in the room next to me was Audrey, a French Canadian girl whom I briefly spoke to all the way back in Hoi An! It seems that in Vietnam once you have met some one you'll keep seeing them time and time again. Well anyhow it turned out that Audrey had managed to find a local guide called Chi to show us round some of the local villages. I had spent the day before asking around to see If any of the locals could show me around but it seemed that there were only tour companies who charge ridiculous prices. Speaking to Chi it was also apparent that the hotels etc keep 75% of the price, FOR WHAT! ringing up a local guide for you using their phone... scam.

Well any ways we set off towards the other side of the town away from all of the other tourists to a couple of villages before getting a moto back up the mountain to Sapa. It was really nice as it seemed that we were getting off the 'beaten track' and seeing some of the villages that other tourist don't go to. The morning started off a little dreary from the the low clouds that seemed to haunt Sapa during our stay, but soon enough we had dropped down low enough to evade them and boy what a sight. There were rice paddies everywhere on some pretty unbelievable slopes too! Well Chi led us right through the middle of them, walking along the paddy walls getting covered in the clayey mud, wet too. It was really good traveling with Chi as she had some much knowledge of the surrounding plants, she got me to scrub the plant in my palms which turned them indigo blue for 4 days! She also pointed out to us all of the hemp (which stank), tea and herbal remedy plants that they use for all their minor ailments. At the end of the trek we went to the local village where Chi cooked us up a lovely vegetable noodle soup before heading back up the mountain.

After getting a well needed shower we headed out to the local food stalls for some dinner and on the way we happened to pass quite possibly the coolest bar in Sapa. Artista Cafe owned by guy called Lhung, pronounced Hung with a low U and a G with your tongue held at the back of your throat. Anyhow Lhung brought us out a whole load of permanent markers for us to draw all over the stools and tables, cool huh! After a few beers and a chat with Lhung about his cafe, life and family etcetera he brought out what appeared to be a huge bamboo bong. I'd seen these all over Hanoi before but had never asked what they were, whackey backey or just plain old tobacco. As it turns out is tobacco, not just any plain old tobacco Black Hmong tobacco from the hill tribes around Sapa. You can guess where this is going, Lhung offered it to us to try and as I was the nearest to him I tried first; the guinea pig! MISTAKE! So Lhung lights the bong gets it going and passes the pipe over for me to try, well here goes I took a big old puff and WHOOOOAAAAAA I thought I was going to pass out, the biggest head rush! It was ridiculously strong tobacco I ended up coughing an spluttering all over the place belching smoke much to the amusement of everyone in the bar! Safe to say the next person took a much smaller puff!

Now here is for the really interesting part of my travels and this bit relates to the title of this post. We had heard from loads of travelers that the northern Vietnam/ Laos border crossing was the worst, and yes it was. At least it was an unforgettable experience!

The next day we wait for the bus, 1/2 hour late and already pretty packed with people! We thought that as the bus was full we were the last to be picked up, wrong, the driver managed to find space for 4 more people to get in! Okay so we start out and 10 minutes later we stop, whats going on, oh the drivers must be changing... no they decided it would be a good idea to light up a bong like the one i spoke of earlier and take a few chugs. It turns out that every 40 minutes the drivers decided to swap and smoke the whole time during the 10 hour slaughter to Dien Bien. On the way to Dien Bien we had to wait at two road blocks for landslides and a burst tyre! Although it was cramped and yes it was long this part of Vietnam is the most remote and has some of the best scenery which made it worthwhile. So we get to DBP stay the night and get up for the 05:30 bus the next morning to the Laos border. This border is in the middle of nowhere not a village in sight for miles just two grand border gates sitting atop adjacent mountains, pretty cool. We pass through with relative ease, a rarity, and make our way towards Muong Kiew. This took about 8 hours but no landslides this time just beautiful scenery. Rather disturbingly there is deforestation everywhere, slash and burn style, speaking to some people it appears that the Chinese have a hand here getting at all the timber out before anyone else!

Mong Kua, a nice riverside town of dainty little shacks. Well anyhow the bus drops us off right at the river edge and we have to get a small boat over to the other side before carrying on to the next stop.. Udomxai... a dump. Im glad that we only had one night here before getting a bus to Nong Kiew and a longtail boat to Muong Ngoi. The boat up the Nam On river to Muong Ngoi was interesting as its the rainy season out here the rivers are high and quite turbulent :S! Well Muong Ngoi is a nice little village, our shack was pretty cool looking over the river and mountains from the hammock. I spent the first day here just sitting in the hammock reading, bliss. The second day we trek up one of the local paths to a cave with a Israeli girl called Sharet. Luckily I bought my dive torch with me so that we could illuminate the whole darn cave! We went right inside so that when I turned the torch off it was pitch black, thinking now we would have been totally screwed if I'd ran out of power! A little further down the path we come across a few rice paddies and a small collection of villages, it raining pretty hard at this point so we decide to head back to the village for another afternoon in the hammock asleep.

After Moung Ngoi we got the boat/ bus to Louang Prabang but I'll save this town for my next blog with the elephant trekking tomorrow!

Adios Jared

Monday, 1 June 2009

Dead Unkle Ho, the night train and a wet wet Sapa!


This time from a rather wet Sapa, it seems to just rain here meaning that you can't see a damn thing!

Any how on our last day in Hanoi we though it would be a good idea to go and see good old Uncle Ho in his huge mausoleum! It was certainly interesting. We some how managed to enter the site via the tour/ pre booked appointments point. Before you even enter the site you have to hand your bag into security and walk through a metal detector! Any how we were in the line waiting to go through the detector and I got talking to a S Korean spacial needs teacher who was on a tour. They were all very nice and asked to have their photo's taken with us! Well as we walked through the detector towards the que, some 400m long, a guard gestured to us to return to the rear at which point the Korean spoke out and said that we were part of their tour group! This meant that we managed to get right to the front of the line, much to the disgust of the rest of the tourists in the line!

Telling the truth its not all that impressive [a sin to the Vietnamese] you get chaperoned through rather quickly just getting a short glance at Ho Chi Minh. The way it is set up with the lighting you would have no idea that the person was real, it looks like a wax figure at Madame Tussuad's. I can still say that I have seen Ho Chi Minh in the flesh!

After seeing Ho we went to another pagoda in Hanoi and then pretty much sat about for the rest of the day waiting for our train. The train is quite possibly the best way to travel long distances, so comfortable that I actually managed to get a full nights sleep!

Sapa, what a disappointment, not because of the town just for the pure fact that its constantly cloud shrouded! I can't see anything and these are meant to be the best mountain views in the whole of Vietnam! We ended up renting moto's and driving up the the highest pass in the country 1920m but just ended up getting totally soaked and not seeing anything. I did have tea in a shack with two hmong girls. Today I think we're going to walk down the valley and see if we can go to some of the villages.