Tuesday, 29 December 2009

"Nothing to do"

Sorry it's been a while. I'll carry on, like in the last post...

19th - Spent the day with Jinny's family who were lovely. We went to a school sports day, which was rather a sports day held at a school for all the local people. Different areas played each other a football, tug of war, sack races etc. It was great, and so many people were involved and having fun. We were also the only westerners there which meant we turned a few heads, it really wasn't a touristy area at all! We then met Jinny's friend Petoya again - she was a lovely lady, and had taken us for dinner at her restaurant the night before where we ate an amazing meal. She wanted to see us again, and to feed us, so we went to her restaurant for food. It was much busier than the night before, and we decided we could help wait on tables! It was good for a laugh, and we surprised quite a lot of the diners and got lots of photos taken with people!

20th - We spent the morning riding bikes with Jinny's nephew around the village. He was about 5 ish and happy to show us round, us chatting away in English and him chatting away in Thai. We left at about 11.30 to go back to Bangkok, where we arrived about 3 ish. We went straight to the meeting place for the bus later and dropped our stuff off, and then wandered round the corner for a look at a monster 7 story shopping mall. We were back at the meet for 7pm, where we were ferried by minivan across Bangkok back to the backpacker central - Khao San Road. There, we were sat on the grass right by 3 busy roads, with rats scurrying about in the bushes, waiting for our "VIP" bus. We didn't leave till 10pm - the bus had broken down round the corner, and some people had been waiting since 6pm. Luckily, the bus arrived before a scene developed! The bus ride wasn't great - the seats reclined right back but they showed a film and had the volume ridiculously loud for the 3 people that were awake and watching it.

21st - We stopped at 1 am for the driver to eat, and then again at 3.30 to let people off who were going to Koh Tao. We arrived about 6.30, only then to wait till 8 before getting a tuk tuk to another bus to drive 55 minutes to the pier. It was absurd, and to cap it all, our bags were put in a compartment right next to some moving parts of the engine, and got covered in black sooty rubbish.

We were on the ferry at 11, which took us to Koh Samui first, and then us on to Koh Phangan. We were in our resort by 2.30, pretty much an 18 hour mission, and fell asleep immediately on the beach. We headed into Thongsala the nearest town at about 9.30 to get something to eat, and found everything to be shut, or a bar playing hard loud trance with 1/2 men and a host of ladyboys. We ate at the resort restaurant and went to bed wondering what this island was all about.

22nd - We rented a scooter to explore, and saw a meditation retreat and some of the jungle before I managed to slice my foot open by standing on some glass. A swift trip to hospital, 3 anesthetic injections to the sole of my foot - the most painful thing I have ever experienced by miles, and 4 stitches later, I was told to rest, keep my foot up and to not get it wet. I hadn't even been in the pool, and had been in the sea once. Frustrating doesn't do my feelings at the time justice. Not only that, but I managed to rip one of the stitches through by going too hard on my still numb foot that evening, which was unpleasant to say the least.

23rd - Spent all day on the beach, apart from going to get the foot cleaned and re-dressed. Thankfully the Doctor didn't need to replace the busted stitch! I also got some crutches - Long John Silver style under the armpit ones - as I could barely put any weight on my foot at all. Even the 25 metres to the beach was a struggle, but we really were close!

24th - Another day of lazing on the beach. We slowly went to the next resort along for food - crutches and the beach are awkward, and then chilled out in preparation for the Half Moon Party, Sara having had a war with some cockroaches in our bathroom - i've never seen a horrible bug move so fast! I was pretty immobile, so Sara was whacking away with a brush and squirting it with the bum gun to try and get it down the drain. We got someone to come in and spray bug repellent around the place, which meant that any more that came in were found dead and on their backs and not scuttling and scampering about. We flushed 3 or 4 dead ones. Regarding the Half Moon party, the island is known for it and the Full Moon party, and we were there for this one so we had to go, even though I was on antibiotics and crutches so no drinking or dancing! We people watched mostly and had a bit of a laugh with two chaps we'd met at our resort who kept us company for a while, before we (I) hobbled off about 3.30am.

25th - Where else but the beach!? Our Danish chums Thea and Penille from the tour popped along on their quadbike to see us for a while, and then we went to a place up the road for a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings - the mash was out of this world! A Hungarian chap came with us to try an English Christmas dinner which was nice, and then we decided to go the next day to Koh Tao for a day, so we got some tickets and packed an overnight bag!

26th - We took the boat in the morning to Koh Tao, we arrived about 10.30 and found somewhere cheap to stay the night. It's the smallest of the 3 islands, and something of a scuba heaven - there were dive schools everywhere. The town we stayed in was tiny, on an amazing on a beach that curved round the west coast of the island for about 1.7kms. The only problem was that there was an pen drainage system running along which you had to cross to get to the beach and it stank.

On the beach however, the water was crystal clear and an amazing blue, and Sara tells me the sand was as soft as silk underfoot when you were in the water. We watched the sun go down, and then went for some food where I got a discount for being a "Sick Man"! We then went to a bar on the beach, where we watched a fire show, 5-6 thai lads doing poi and fire sticks to music which was incredible. They were throwing these fireballs up and down the beach and catching them, lighting cigarettes with them, and spinning them over our heads in the crowd. It was amazing!

27th - We were on the beach by 10.30, but decided to stay in the shade having got a bit burnt the day before. We lay under a tree on the beach and read until the afternoon when we ot the ferry back to Koh Phagnan. That evening we went for some grub with Chris and Emily who we'd met in Nha Trang and who live in Headingly and met at the Met! Hopefully we'll see them in Oz too!

28th - We'd packed up the night before to be ready for our 6am start - we left Koh Phangan on the ferry at 7, and arrived in Georgetown at 9.30pm (it's an hour ahead of Thailand) via another bus and two minivans. The difference between Malaysia and Thailand is immediate, with many more Indian people in Malaysia, and many more Muslims as soon as you get to the border and beyond. We had literally gone 10ks on from passport control when the heavens opened and we drove through a massive thunder storm, with some incredible flashes of lightning and some huge drops of rain! The journey was ok, just long, and also notable for the fact that as we waited for our first minibus, I had an argument with a chap who pushed in front of me in a queue to get some food. I said to Sara I bet he's with us all the way, but there were loads of people so the chances of that were slim. Said chap was then on the minibus with us all the way to Georgetown. Typical. Our hostel in Georgetown is really nice, and we're staying on a street called Love Lane, but we only had time to grab some food and then crash out after a long day bussing.

29th - We've been out for a wander today, getting our bearings and seeing some of the old colonial buildings. I also had my stitches out which is great, but I'm still bandaged up for the next few days. Roll on the 31st when all should be well again!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Louis & Sara

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A bit of a catch up!

Sorry everyone for the lack of a recent update, Laos was pretty cut off internet wise and we haven't stopped since we got back into Thailand. Anyway, at the moment we're staying with with our friend Jinny at her house, 3 hours or so north of Bangkok. She lives near the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, but out of the city enough for it to be quiet. Sara's tagging in...

The whole village is basically made up of her family, literally every house she points out is an uncle or someone – its really nice! The house opposite has cattle in a pen and their house is a wooden one on stilts, proper traditional rural like! Jinny's house is brick, it kind of reminds me of a French south of France type house, but she isn't happy with the builder as he didn't stick to her design so its somewhat half finished haha she even refuses to paint! Although to be fair she does spend most of the year in England and her sisters house is opposite!
She took us for a relaxing pamper day yesterday, we had our hair steamed, and then we went for a massage before her friend took us for dinner. (Me and Jinny took so long at the hair dressers that Louis the “Movie star/ Super star” as he has been named went ahead on his own for the massage, we had already been before our hair appointment to make a reservation, the place looked a lot like a hospital, but Jinny explained it more as a health centre. When we booked our massage they took our name, date of birth, height and WEIGHT! Haha I couldn't believe it! Apparently a real massage should be more of a health check! With our Laos massage in mind I was terrified and fully ready to be pinched to death! Louis went along and a full near 2 hour experience and in that time was lunch time so many of the nurses and staff came to have a look at him! Jinny tells us that the locals never really see tourists here, and its true - we've only seen one old white (pretty tanned now) man and nothing is really in English here , most of the locals only know Hello and Zankyou (That is the Thai word for overtaking someone! :). Its is very different to Bangkok and Chang Mai, its feels a bit more Thai and not nearly as commercialised – although there is a Tesco Lotus!

The hairdressers took so long because there was only one woman and it was also a corner shop, a lot of people popped in for bits and were shocked to see us sat there, Louis even served a few people, most just left the money in a pot. I am the first foreigner ever to have been to the salon and she liked my hair very much, although they were insistent we looked more Arab than English – I fear they have pretty low expectations of the English! Haha I had never heard of hair steaming, but it's basically intensive moisturising, the lady washed my hair with a gorgeous smelling shampoo and then an equally nice conditioner, using literally a fist full not the meagre midget portion you get at home, the water was cold, but I was about a million degrees so it was welcome and she washed and massaged my head for about 30 mins, a nice massage – I nearly fell asleep, it involved the ears as well which was a shock at first but really pleasant. She then caked on a conditioner of a sort and put my hair in a plastic cap, under 2 wet towels and then into a steam machine. It was hot but not uncomfortable, when I was finished we washed my hair again and started blow drying it, she was surprised that my hair was so different the cream was still there so I got my hair washed a third time! That is why we were late heh, my hair is so soft and shiny now though.

There is a reason Louis writes this blog as you can see, I could write 100's of pages and still miss things I'd love to tell about. This has been one of my favourite days of the trip, really easy going and relaxing as well as a really fun experience of real Thailand– Back to Louis now :))

Now a quick catch up since the last post, i'll try and keep it brief! Where were we when...?

10th Vang Vieng Tubing

11th Travel to Luang Prabang, Laos old capital, had a lovely night market with a lot of local handicrafts, and an amazing veggy buffet on the street that was about 35p per heaped plate of amazing food!

12th Luang Prabang – Elephant Riding! Can't stress how brilliant this day was, we had an amazing time at an elephant rescue village, where the elephants give rides till 1pm and then have the rest of the day n the jungle to muck about. They were mostly ex-working elephants, ours was a logger. She was so sure footed, even when going down some very steep slopes and getting into the river!The Mahout, elephant rider, sang to her all the way round, and it seemed that our money was going to a good cause! We then went to by fast boat up the river to see a waterfall, in the jungle – only five of us went, the rest stayed to sunbathe, but we were rewarded by a dip in a turqoise blue jungle pool. We were back to the elephant centre for lunch, and then back to town to look round some of the temples. We met a monk called Lai who asked Sara if she knew Steven Gerrard – he said he missed playing football, if you're a monk you can't! Walking back to town we stoppped for a Laos massage – it was more like GBH! We giggled our way through it, laughing as they did something to hurt us in a knew and ingenious way! The day ws rounded off with some more shopping and a trip to Mr.Veg again – his prices had gone up for the weekend, scandalously 25p more!

13th By 7am we were on our Longboat to ride all the way up the Mekong to Pakbeng that night and then Chiang Kong, Thailand the next day. It was a very relaxing day, although freezing in the morning before the sun came up – we had every layer on, scarves round heads, the full works to keep warm. Once the sun was up, the roof slid back and we had a good bit of sunbathing until we reached Pakbeng, a tiny stopover town with no electricity after 10.45, and a very good Indian restaurant!

14th Long boat all day back into Thailand - Chaing Kong, we did a total of 19hrs on the boat over two days! Went for a dip in the Mekong – it was pretty cold! On the way down to the water a little fluffy dog started yapping and then jumping up at me. I don't like dogs, Sara nearly wet herself laughing.

15th Drive to Chang Mai – stopped at an amazing white temple – an artisit had come back to his home town and built this white temple covered with little mirrors. I can't realy descrbe it, it was mental – have a look at some of photos! In Chang Mai itself, Charin (one of our guides) took us sightseeing to a couple of temples, we took part in a bit of “Monk Chat”, with a monk who could do a cracking "Liverpooooool" accent, and then part of the group left as per the original itinerary back to Bangkok – we'd decided to stay another nght in Chang Mai.

16th Charin sorted out a day elphant riding, trekking through the jungle past a big waterfall, seeing some of the hill tribe villages and then bamboo rafting down the river. Night train to BKK.

17th Very delayed night train, hour and a half late leaving meant 3 hours late arriving into BKK, arrived at 10.30am. Wandered round China town with Signe buying bracelets at wholesale price.
Taxi through rush hour to meet Jinny at the bus station, then bus with her to her hometown and picked up by her sister at 11, grabbed some street food and then crashed out.

18th- Sara's epic tale above!

We'll catch up properly once we're at the beach on Monday when we've got nothing to do for 5 days! Love to all!

Sara & Louis x

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Elephant Riding in the Mekong!

We'll write more in here later - it was the most amazing day!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Vientienne and onward bound to Vang Vieng

The last 3 days have been heavy on the travel, with 12 hour, 6 hour and 5 hour bus rides on consecutive days. We're now in Vang Vieng havin been through Lac Sao and Vientienne, the Laos capital, we're off to hit the tubing!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Hanoi and the Long Road to Laos

We spent 2 nights in Hanoi, having arrived back from Halong Bay around lunchtime. We went for a wander with Kris who took us down through the old quarter and to the lake. The old quarter was like a market of sorts, where every street sold a different product – shoes one street, DVD's another, one dedicated to Christmas decorations. We had to walk in the road, because every shop extended their wares onto the pavement. You're quickly used to putting your faith into the scooter riders to avoid you. On the first night, we went to see a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show. It was really weird, the puppeteers behind a screen, frantically thrashing wooden puppets about in a green pool enacting Vietnamese fairytales and religious stories – most odd.

The next day, we went to see Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum – there was drama on the way as we thought we were going to miss the opening hours – we ured our taxi through the traffic and ran in, only to find we'd gone into the Ho Chi Minh museum instead! We found the right place and saw the man himself – it's strange, apparently he wanted to be cremated. Next was the post office, and Sara and I dragged our stuff across town to put in a big package and send back – literally weight off our backs! That evening was the last for some of our group, so we saw them off with a nice meal, and then hit the hay for a monster travel day to Laos.

Up at 5.30am for the bus at 6, we began an 11 hour bus ride to Lac Sao, a town just past the border. We travelled through some stunning scenery, Vietnam is incredibly beautiful, the mountains go on for ever. We wound our way up to one of the highest points, where a lady was renting a toilet with one of the best views I've ever seen – the gents' at least!

The border crossing was easy, but the guards were a bit pervy over the ladies of the group, and from there we made our way to Lac Sao, a town 45 mins from the border with an amazing view of a sunset over a mountain and not much else!

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Long Road to Ha Long

This morning we arrived in Ha Long Bay, and have a room with the most amazing view. We had a couple of hours to chill before heading out on a boat into the bay to get up close and personal with some of the limestone rock formations.

We spent yesterday in morning in Hue, and went on a brilliant scooter tour of Hue and its surroundings, led by a legend of guide, Mr.Cook - it tanked it down with rain for the first part of the ride which was an experience, and Mr. Cook lent Sara a Poncho because he was a pro! The tour encompassed the tomb of the Emperor, local handicrafts, a large Buddhist pagoda and monastery, an elephant and tiger Colosseum, and a phenomenal vegetarian lunch at a nunnery followed by some time with the orphans who live there. We saw incense and conical hats made, learnt about Buddha's seven steps to enlightenment, and rounded off in a way that touched all of us. The nunnery hosted many children, from two weeks old all the way up. They were adorable, and obviously happy with their lives there. We learnt that some of them were orphans, while others where there becuase their parents simply couldn't provide a life for them. The motorbike tour brings tourists to the nunnery and supports the local community in a positive way, so was a perfect way to spend the morning, and got us both thinking about volunteer work somewhere.

From Hue, we left on the train to Hanoi at 3pm, due to arrive at 4.15am. The train was comfortable, and there was even complimentary tea and biscuits...the biscuits were actually make them yourself cheesy breaded hotdogs...most odd. We got off the train, bleary eyed and made our way to the bus, waiting half an hour as Kris had unfortunately misplaced his ticket! Our dear leader! It was then a 3 hour bus ride to Halong bay, where we arrived, planned a nap but rather watched the boats go by from our amazing room with a view!

At midday, we set off aboard a junk of sorts to go out to the rock formations and have lunch, which was a bit of a seafood banquet, only ruined by the spotting of mouse droppings around the seating area just as we were finishing...

Some of the group wanted to see the Top Gear bar from the Vietnam special, so a stop was arranged for us to hop on a small boat and whizz past it for an extra 40,000 Dong each. We ended up whizzing in a circle on a suspect boat, going through one of the rock formations and then coming back to the junk, with no sign of Clarkson's footsteps. As a whole, we thought this wasn't on, so held the smaller boat hostage while we got half our money back. In the end it was entertainment, but everyone was a bit stressed out by it!

From there, we chugged round some more rock formations which seemed to get bigger and bigger, and then stopped at one to look round some caves. The stalagmites and stalactites were amazing, and it was all lit up in different colours. A Japanese party off older tourists went round giggling at rude shaped rocks, which was ridiculous! As we we're on our way back to the hotel, the sun finally peeked out over the top of one of the rock stacks and we sunbathed our way back to the mainland!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Vietnam So Far...

So, today we're in Hue, having had another day in Nha Trang, shopped till we dropped in Hoi An, and then bussed it up and over a mountain to make our way to Hue.

The mudbath in Nha Trang was great, and fun experience was had by all. We also met another English couple there, who followed us on our scooter up there. Yes we had a scooter, it was a great way to see the town and get around, as the traffic wasn't too bad there. That said, there were a couple of moments when going straight on at a roundabout seemed the easier option than going left, even though I was then going the wrong way. Anyway, these guys were doing a similar trip to ours but without the South American leg so we got their details and might see them in Oz, NZ and possibly Koh Phangan.

From Nha Trang, we got the night train up to Danang and transferred to Hoi An. This train wasn't as swish as the fist one by any means, and needed a bit of TLC all over. It had the added bonus of a direct link between the smoking area and the air con system which gave a pleasant working men's club aroma to our cabin throughout the night. Stinky as it was, I think our tickets are first class - we saw the same cabins with 6 bunks further down the train, and even further away were simple high backed wooden bench seats. This trip does make it easy!

Hoi An was tailor town. We both got made to measure suits, shirt, and dresses...only Sara got dresses. We went to a few different tailors, choosing fabrics and styles and then getting measured up to come back tomorrow. In the morning, we had fittings, where the clothes were further adjusted to our liking, they knocked the suits up over night! The second day we found our way to the cloth market, where I got 2 shirts tailor made for $5 a go, and Sara got a lovely white cotton dress. They had them ready in 3 hours, it was incredible. The one error was a yellow shirt I bought. It's not yellow, more mustard/cack brown so I'm not sure what I'll do with that! It was a great experience, and they've got our measurements so we can email them for more and they'll send them back. For the price it seems a shame not to!

We left Hoi An this morning and for Hue on a smallish bus. We stopped an half an hour in to go up a mountain to see a temple. It was incredible, there were these caves in the mountain which housed Buddhas, one of them absolutely huge but smoky with incense. From the top of the mountain
were great views of the coast, and some noisy kids that wanted photos with us but didn't really say thank you and generally were a bit annoying and rude - we told one off for throwing stones off the top of the mountain!

Hue itself seems smallish, it used to be the capital city in the c19th and we went round the Imperial Citadel which was a bit of a let down to be honest - it's quite run down and not that impressive when compared with the way Ankor Wat is kept. On the way there, we had a kickabout with some school kids, sly scamps kicked the ball into a slippy bit and guess who ended up in the mud...

Heading out tonight for Sian and Signe's birthdays tonight, 21 and 22. Was thinking about whipping the suit out but it's started raining...maybe next time...