A Travellerspoint blog

Good Morning Vietnam!

A end of Cambodia and the start of Vietnam

Louise woke up in Battambang with a bad case of Bottombang. At point point Chris suggested Louise should get some sleep, to which she answered "okay, but don't let me sh*t the bed". We're settling in to married life well... ;-)

Thankfully Louise was okay the next day, (we think it was a random Doxy outburst) so we hooked up with a Batman themed (Batman logos and T-shirt) Tuk-Tuk driver, called Mr Blue for the day. Battambang literally means 'lost stick' and a big roundabout in the town has a statue of an ancient king holding his big magic stick (ahem). Another king challenged him so he threw his stick at the challenger to kill him, but threw it too far and lost it. The challenger then killed the king and it is said that if you find the lost magic stick of Battambang, you will become king! Battambang's main attraction is the Bamboo train, literally a bamboo platform on 2 sets of wheels powered by a small motor. The beauty of the design is that if a train comes in the opposite direction, you can hop off, dismantle it and put it back together in seconds. The biggest train (or the one carrying a motorbike) gets to stay in one piece! The tracks were worse than anything Network Rail could be proud of and the driver had no problem hitting about 30-mph bouncing us over the joins in the track. It was unique, if a little scary. A the end of the track we were dropped off at a 'station' (i.e. a shop) in the middle of no-where and chatted to the locals. The children made us bracelets, rings and crickets out of coconut leaves. Lu got a quick craft lesson from one of the young boys.

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We finished the day at the local vineyard but sadly the fruit had already been harvested. Still we tried the local tipples and Chris left a bit pissed, much to Mr Blue's delight! It's the only wine made in Cambodia and was favourably compared to paint stripper. The ginger and honey grape juice was very nice however, so we took a few bottles home with us. If only we knew some people that like ginger... ;-)

After declining Mr Blue's offer to take Chris (and leave Lu at the hotel)|to a dog meat restaurant, we compromised with an evening at the circus. We'd already read in Lonely Planet that it wasn't any normal circus. It had been set up 20 years previously to give disadvantaged children circus skills and had enabled a number of them to become professionals on the international stage. We were blown away by their performance but most of all their enthusiasm and sheer joy at being under the spotlights. At one point they got so hyped up, they started an impromptu dance routine from Gangnam Style (Google Psy's video, it's HUGE out here and you can break down language barriers easily by doing your best impression). Great night out for sure.

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We spent the day after on a marathon bus journey to Sihanoukville, 14 hours on a bus for the sole purpose of getting our visa for Vietnam (done in 15 mins). Once there we just chilled out on the beach, topping up the tan, reading and drinking. It was a nice relaxing day except for 30 mins madness where Chris decided to rent a scooter and teach himself to ride in the Cambodian traffic. Made it home safe, but an eye opening experience. The evening was spent watching Skyfall and Taken 2 in the 'cinema' (basically a few 'VIP' rooms set up with 40inch flatscreens, popcorn, comfy settees and the choice of 500+ pirate DVD's).

We were itching to get to Vietnam (hence the 14 hour bus journey for a visa) and the following day was spent on another bus, this time to Ho Chi Minh City. By the time we arrived it was late, so we grabbed a quick Pho (our fave, Vietnamese noodle soup) and found a hotel. We found a cool Youtube site and spent the rest of the night learning basic Vietnamese as we plan to do the full 30 days here.

So, to the first day in Vietnam! First things first, there is a lot of motorbikes and when we say a lot, we mean a lot (like literally 20million a lot) and to make things more interesting, there are even fewer road rules then the rest of South East Asia. To cross the road, you literally have to walk out and trust the moto's to swing by you. We started the day around lunch (comfy bed at last!) then headed for a swanky rooftop restaurant called Shri (to raised eyebrows as we were dressed like scruffy hippies) to overlook the city. We got a bit homesick at this point because the restaurant was covered in Christmas decorations (inc. a huge tree) and was playing Christmas music. We knew the Vietnamese loved Christmas, but it wasn't until walking around the city later that night that we realised how much.

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After lunch we headed to the War Reminants museum. Outside it was a collection of American tanks, planes etc and inside was a very disturbing collection of war photos (very communist biased). It was interesting, except for the Agent Orange affected foetuses preserved in formaldehyde.

In keeping with our slightly classier day (and perhaps a knee jerk reaction to weeks of living on the cheap), we headed to Temple Club for tea (a white table cloth affair) then an upmarket Ice Cream parlour called Fanny's for dessert. To cut a waffling story short, the food in Vietnam is up there with the best.

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At night HCMC lights up in a sea of neon and motorbike lights. We spent early evening walking round the big French boulevards in the city centre, marvelling at the skyscrapers. Walking past the big department stores with their very impressive Christmas displays (lights, trees santas, snow, music, polar bears etc), we could easily have been in New York...the atmosphere was magical and Vietnam looks like it will give us a good Christmas party!

We rounded off our night getting slowly drunk in the local disused opium refinery, which has been turned in to a courtyard bordered with nice bars. In the other countries we've been to, the small towns have always won out over the bigger cities so we weren't expecting to love HCMC as much as we do. It was Monday when we both realised how much we love this place.

On Tuesday we had a guided tour round the Reunification Palace home of the famous scene where the tanks crashed through the gates to end the Vietnam war. If we're honest the palace was a bit boring and were shown round countless state rooms which differed only in colour and chair design. A tour guide made a point of making sure we knew why each colour had been chosen ("this is the yellow room, chosen because yellow make you happy!") Not exactly scintillating stuff, but hey!

Wednesday was much more exciting as we visited the Cu Chi tunnels. At their peak, they were the largest tunnel network in the world at 256km long. They were used to hide from and launch guerilla attacks on the French firstly in the 1950's, then the Americans during the Vietnam war (or American war as its called over here). Our guide to the tunnels (Mr Bean!) was a little bit extra, as he was veteran (American side) from the war and had a lot of explicit opinions on the Communist propaganda which is the only side of the story you'll officially hear in Vietnam. He didn't hold back with his story telling and seemed to be good friends with Oliver Stone, John McCain and John Kerry (all Vietnam vets). There was something a bit spooky about being led round by someone who knew the tunnels before they were a tourist attraction, especially when he sat us all down on the ground to tell us one of his accounts. The highlight of the trip was a chance to go through a 100m stretch of the original tunnel network, but it was so small and cramped (Chris was on his hands and knees, apparently the VC used to run through them) we had to bail out after 30metres. Still, an experience and Chris has learned more about the war in 3 days than a 2 year A-Level managed. We ended the tour with a group rendition of "Hey Jude", led by Mr Bean. Every day's a surreal experience.

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To finish the day, we nipped to the local hospital to get Louise's bloods checked out. Don't worry she's fine, but with the weight loss the meds have been reduced! :-)

And finally, on to Thursday! :-)...Chris started the day with a lovely new take on the ham omelette - a ham sandwich, before we headed off to the local theme park called Dai Nam. It was in a 'Don't Miss' box in Lonely Planet, so we thought we'd try something a bit different. With it being a weekday, we expected it to be quiet, but not a ghost town. There's something very sad about a theme park with no people, the rides not running and the vendors looking bored to death. We wanted to go on their big rollercoaster, but we couldn't find the ticket attendant, we think he may have gone to lunch. Just bizarre. The first and only ride we could find that was working was memorably called the 5 Unicorn Labyrinth. It was supposed to be a Buddhist version of Disney's 'It's a Small World' ride and took us through different rooms leading up to the final Nirvana room. It was a proper Blue Peter job but Louise was still screaming while Chris couldn't stop laughing. After this we headed for the "beach" (concrete) resort they had built in the middle of the complex and messed about in the wave machine pool for a few hours. We took the bus home and were both mezmorised by a lady who had ripped the end of a French baguette and was using it in lieu of a nose mask to protect from traffic fumes. Either that, or she just massively loved bread.

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Today we're in Nha Trang after a 11hour bus ride yesterday. It's beachy, but then we head to Dalat the honeymoon capital of Vietnam. We've heard some very kitsch honeymoon stories about Dalat, but we'll save them for the next blog...

Posted by cjandthepeagan 22:48 Comments (0)

Angkaaaaaawwwww what!

sunny 30 °C

Before we'd even set foot off the bus in Siem Reap, we had tuk-tuk drivers trying to attract our attention through the windows. We wrestled our way to our bags and eventually got chatting to our driver to be 'Kia'. He started the conversation by trying to convince us that Siem Reap was 8km away from the bus station and it would be an expensive fare, but Lonely Planet had it down as more like 3km. He answered this by exclaiming "this is the new bus station", whilst pointing to a rusting corrugated iron shelter (even he couldn't take that seriously and we all laughed)... these are the types of exchanges we're getting very used to in South East Asia and didn't let it disuade us and hired him for the next couple of days. We got an early sleep as we agreed to a 5am rise to watch sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Day One

If it wasn't for the wind in our faces, we would have happily caught up with some much needed sleep in the back of the tuk-tuk but Kia zoomed across town overtaking all the cars and tour buses to assure us a good spot to watch the sun come up! The beauty of sunrise at Angkor is it's so dark you literally can't see anything until the sun rises. We stumbled up the stone steps and across the causeway, jostling for position among hundreds of tourists to find a good spot. As the sun rose the beauty of Angkor Wat was revealed in all its glory.

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The temple was built in the early 12th century and is the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. The carvings inside reveal the skill of the Khmer people in stone carving. We took hundreds of photo's but picked out our favourite 'bas-relief' (3D wall carving) below, which is called "The Churning of the Ocean of Milk" (we're in danger of sounding like we know what we're talking about here, so Google this one ;-) )

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It had only just gone 8am and were knackered, so we grabbed some breky and head over to Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was one of the last temples to be completed and the artwork is much more sophisticated than the earlier constructed temples. It's widely regarded as displaying some of the best examples of stone carving in the world. Because of its pink hue and dedication to Shiva, it's also known as the 'Ladíes Temple'. Its was here that we encountered (as you seem to at every famous landmark), the hordes of japanese tourists armed with uber-professional cameras and not moving for anyone. On a side note, a Dutch couple we met told us Japanese tour buses in Amsterdam go round all the famous spots, let the snappy-happy tourists off the bus to take a snapshot holding a board with a number on it, then quickly gt them back on board. At the end of the day, they are given a sheet of paper with the numbers listed next to their corresponding landmarks. Efficiency gone mad.

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Next we headed up to Kbal Spean, known as "The River of 1000 Linga's" (A Linga is phalic symbol...a 'winky'). Its not a temple, but a carved riverbed with displays of 1000 linga's and other Hindu gods. The carvings end at a beautiful waterfall setting, where the butterflies seemed to want to have us for lunch.

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We ended day one with a trip to Pre Rup. Not one of the big hitters, but a nice high up temple to watch the sun go down. This took 12 hours from start to finish and we earned a pint or two in the evening! Phew!

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Now on to Day 2...

What can we say about Day 2's first temple? Beng Melea has been deliberately left in the state it was found in (except a few wooden boards to navigate in parts) and it was truly the place to get your Indiana Jones on. Over the course of the past 2000 odd years, nature had been allowed to reclaim it's place and trees had literally grown in to every nook and cranny.

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It was a tough scramble about dodging the spiders, slipping on moss covered stones and trying not to bang our heads to much, but we were helpfully guided about (put through our paces) by a 50year old limping Apsara Caretaker. She was even so kind as to take our water (and lots of photo's) but when Louise asked for it back, she replied "yes, its wooden!", lifted her trouser leg up and knocked on it. She then told us she'd stepped on a landmine 25 years ago. Immediate respect. Anyway, this was certainly Louise's favourite of the bunch.

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Ta Prohm was up next, known to some as the Tomb Raider temple, as this is where Tomb Raider was filmed (funnily enough!). It was in a similar vein to Beng Melea, but it had clearly been manicured. Lots of famous tree photo's have been taken in here, so here's our efforts below.

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Ta Keo was the penultimate and least impressive temple we visited that day. It is unfinished, some say because the king died before it could be completed, the more superstitious say it was left unfinished after lightening stuck it during its construction. Either way, there was no detail, just a lot of blocks...perhaps we'd been spoiled a bit by the site's other more impressive temples.

We ended the day at Thommanon, but didn't stay too long, as it looked like they were setting up for a wedding (lots of spotlights, a stage, candles etc). Kia later informed us that some tour groups put on traditional Khmer dances and buffets at some of the sites. Expensive.

On a side note, we went home to Skype Chris's Mum and Dad, but 20 mins before we were due to chat we experienced the 2nd blackout in 3 days. Lucky we weren't half way through a blog eh?!

And finally Day 3...

Day 3 we decided to say goodbye to Kia and hire some mountain bikes to explore the final few temples. We started in Angkor Thom, "The Walled City" which has many sites within its grounds temples. The first of which, and one of the big hitters, is the Bayon. This is the temple where the King resided and wherever you walk you're being watched by one of his 216 faces carved into the stone towers (ego!). Its an extremely impressive site and one of our favourites.

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We then explored the rest of the site, there's so many temples we don't want you to loose track like we did! :-) We had a little break to feed some monkeys, then headed on to Preah Khan and Neak Pean (a lake temple), before heading back to Angkor Wat for sunset.

It made sense that we finish where we started and although a lot of people head for the hills to watch the sunset, we were rewarded with some stunning photo's of a quieter Angkor with perfect blue skies. We watched the sunset with a friendly Buddhist monk who was eager to practice his english ("Hello my name is SiBon, I live in Siem Reap and i'm a Buddhist monk....) and chatted about monastry life and his/our travels. The situation couldn't have got anymore textbook if it tried, but it was lovely.

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After such peaceful end to the day, we were confronted with Cambodian traffic (THE most mental we've ever seen), in the dark, with a million tour buses, cars, tuk-tuks, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, chickens, dogs, you name it, all making their way back from Angkor at precisely he same time. We're pleased to say we joined in the fun and were happily turning left in front of oncoming vehicles, going through red lights and just generally disregarding any highway code we'd already learned (what's the point if you're the only one following it?). We worked out we'd cycled 26 miles that day and are now in Battambang chilling out after a exhausting but absolutely amazing 3 days. We loved it.

Posted by cjandthepeagan 06:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia Comments (0)

Laos to Cambodia

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Hi!

We've been in the back of beyond for a couple of weeks, which has meant very little internet access, so sorry about the silence! Also, we've just been having a really good time :-D

So to pick up where we left off, which was Vang Vieng in Laos (seems ages ago now), we spent the next day exploring the town on bikes and the local caves on foot. Specifically Tham Phu Kham. We spent a couple of hours getting lost in the huge, pitch-black cave, with no guide, trying to dodge massive spiders (whose eyes lit up in the torchlight), jagged rocks, puddles and unmarked ravines! Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures from this day, and for a few days afterwards, due to an incident with the camera whilst tubing, i.e. the waterproof bag we bought, wasn't.

Next stop, Vientiane. For a capital city there wasn't really much going on, very sleepy as we'd come to expect from Laos. We hired bicycles and visited the few museums and temples as well as Laos' version of the Arc de Triomphe. We also visited the night market where we bought some books to hand out to village children and got a bracelet made from salvaged bomb metal. The amount of bombs and land mines in Laos, many still unexploded, is so extensive that the people use them as plant pots, boats, jewellery and cutlery.

From here, we moved on to Tha Kaek, which we used as a base camp to visit Konglor Cave. The cave is 7.5km long and we travelled through the inside of it in a longboat, with only head torches to see by, the sound of the boat's motor and an occasional bat. On a side note, the day before was the last day of Chris'antibiotics, so he was officially well again! Naturally, he smashed his toe on a stalactite in the cave and we're currently waiting for his blackened toenail to drop off ;-)

Chris on the boat the other side of Konglor Cave:
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Pakse was our next port of call, again just used as a base camp, this time to visit an ancient Khmer temple in the style of Angkor Wat, called Wat Phu Champasak, another UNESCO World Heritage Site (Laos is full of them). We hired bikes in the village and the 6km to the temple was passed by waving back at smiling children and families, all eager to practice their English or just shout 'Sabaidee!' (hello) at us as we rode past. The people of Laos are really the most special part of the country. The temple itself was stunning, the architecture, sculpture and sheer size of it was overwhelming and it was a great warm-up for Angkor Wat. In fact, we spent so much time wandering around the gardens of the temple, that by the time we made it back to the village (partly walked due to a broken bike chain, kindly fixed by a Laos bike whisperer) we'd missed the last bus... uh-oh! We were faced with a 28km walk back to our guest house, which after riding a bike for 12km in the baking sun we weren't keen on, so bit the bullet and stuck our thumbs out! The first flat bed truck to pass took pity on us, a lovely, if very confused, Laos family, that, after a stumbled conversation in broken Laos/English and much gesturing they let us hop on the back and drove us back into town. Lu was so excited from hitch-hiking she went into the nearest shop and bought a hula-hoop. She's been carrying it from country to country since. Practical ;-)

Some stone carvings on the main temple at Wat Phu Champasak
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Louise hitching on the back of a truck:
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Lu having a hula-hoop
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After a week of travelling down the length of Laos we'd had enough of buses and needed a bit of RnR. This, coupled with the fact that our room in Pakse had mice and fleas, meant we were ready to spend a bit more on accommodation and a bit less on doing stuff. We arrived at Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) and checked into a $40 (24 pounds) room. In Laos this gets you a beautiful rosewood bungalow with a private beach, a terrace overlooking the Mekong and the Islands, breakfast and most importantly, a hammock. Eat your heart out, Travelodge. We spent our time here recharging our batteries ready for Cambodia.

Our lovely place in Si-Phan-Don
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One 14 hour bus ride later we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. What can we say? After the sleepy, laid-back, village life atmosphere of Laos, Phnom Penh was a shock to the system. High-rise buildings, neon lights, the constant sound of bike horns, all mixed in with ancient temples and people in extreme poverty. It was both exhilarating and heart-breaking.

During the first day we visited the National Museum, the Silver Pagoda and the grounds of the Royal Palace. We didn't get to see as much night-life as we might have done, due to the fact that Barack Obama was visiting and the Cambodian government felt it necessary to stop the night market running and 'clean up the streets' i.e. lock all the beggars, street children and pavement sellers in a social detention building throughout the visit in order not to get any negative feedback.

The following day was harrowing to say the least. We'll not go into too much detail, but we visited the sites of the infamous S-21 prison and the Cheung Ek Killing Fields. The prison has been largely left how it was found when Vietnamese soldiers entered it after overthrowing the Khmer Rouge. It was used to detain, torture and interrogate 'traitors' (e.g. anyone wearing glasses or who could speak a foreign language) during the regime and the cells have been preserved down to the bloodstained floors. From the horrors of S-21 the prisoners were transported to Cheung Ek where they were executed. It's difficult to put into words the thoughts and feelings we had that day, but these pictures tell part of the story.

The view from C block - S-21 detention centre, now museum.
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Babies were literally picked up by their legs and smashed against this tree as a cheap way of execution.
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The reflection of the tress behind, in to the memorial momument window at Cheung Ek.
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Today we arrived in Siem Reap and tomorrow we explore Angkor Wat. We've seen a lot of temples and Khmer architecture on the trip so far, but Angkor Wat promises to be unlike anything else. We've read up a lot on it and we're really excited to get our Indiana Jones on!

Posted by cjandthepeagan 04:04 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Goodbye Thailand - Hello Laos!

Huay Xai, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

sunny 35 °C

Country number 2! One month down! It's flying by so fast!

Just for anyone who was worried, turns out Chris had typhoid, (diagnosis by our own Dr Drewby), but is absolutely fine now.

We arrived in Huay Xai via a slow rickety wooden chug-chug boat over the Mekong. We were very excited, but sweaty and hungry. We headed in to the first cafe we saw, to be greeted by a very panicky waitress who after shouting for support from her colleague told us "I sorry, today is no food". There was at least 2 tables full of people eating, we're still laughing about it now. Thankfully, the cafe next door didn't have the same issue. One of our jobs for the day was to change our Thai baht in to Lao kip. We headed for the local currency exchange place and walked in to be greeted by more panicky faces. A guy came out from the back, walked us to the door, pointed to the local bank and told us very politely "go...away". We laughed all the way to the guesthouse and decided it was probably a good idea to shower! ;-)

We were very lucky to be in Huay Xai that evening, as they were celebrating the end of the monsoon season with a 'festival of the full moon'. The skies were filled with Chinese lanterns and the locals floated home made banana boats down the Mekong.

An elephant boat during the celebrations at Huay Xai:
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We spent the next 2 days on a slow boat to Luang Prabang. We spent a good 7 hours on the boats each day (Lu spent most of that time scouring the river banks for a glimpse of wild elephants and on the second day with an hour to go, we saw them! Bathing in the Mekong, cool as you like), overwhelmed by the absolute beauty of the scenery surrounding our boat. Its hard for us to put in to words just how beautiful this country is, because words like 'beautiful' and 'amazing' don't do it justice. It's easy to understand why 'Simply Beautiful' is the tag line used by the Lao tourist board.

Wild elephants having a bath in the Mekong:
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The sunsetting over the Mekong in Luang Prabang
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Laos used to be owned by the French and Luang Prabang is a mixture of French colonial buildings, Lao Buddhist temples, bistros, patisseries and the laid-back Lao culture. This combination gives it a romantic feel and it justly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Status. One sign we saw perfectly encapsulated the Mekong way of life, when it stated "Stop rushing around, no-one else is". We spent our time in Luang Prabang relaxing by waterfalls, on boats and in riverside restaurants. It didn't feel like there was loads to do, but we also didn't want to leave. If we had to pick our one highlight, it would be our day trip to the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. Clear turquoise pools and a 40ft cascade set in the midst of tropical jungle, gave us the sense we'd accidentally gone to Jurassic Park. The grounds also housed a sanctuary for Asiatic Black Bears rescued from poachers and street-dancing. Surprisingly, Louise bought a t-shirt :-p.

A fisherman reeling in his nets at sunset in Luang Prabang
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Kuang Si waterfalls
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We spent a bit longer in Luang Prabang than we planned (mainly because of the bakeries), but we've now made our way to Vang Vieng. It has a reputation of a bit of a party town, but because of recent 'history' ( http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/life/24-signs-partys-over-vang-vieng-965782 ), we found it to be much quieter than we'd anticipated due to the closed down river bars. We spent most of today gently floating down the Nam Song river in the inner tube of a tractor tyre ,surrounded by yet more amazing scenery (it's relentless). Loads of people do it, its established, we didn't just nick one... its imaginatively called 'tubing'. We weren't sure what to expect when our Tuk-Tuk driver dropped us off, chucked us a tube each and drove off again with no instructions, but we figured it out and it has been one of the best things we've done (despite Chris getting a bruised bum when the current carried him on to a rock!).

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting, it makes the time we take doing this worthwhile :-)

x

Posted by cjandthepeagan 05:22 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Chris has been to hospital...

sunny 35 °C

Hello!

So we left you In Chiang Mai. Got up the next morning and headed to Pai on an 80 year old bus built for children and Hobbits. The luggage rack was your lap, and the seats (for some) was the aisle/stairs. It was a 4 hour journey consisting of 762 curves up and down a rainforest covered mountain with amazing views. Pai is well worth 4 hours of having your knees up by your ears though. A little village full of vespas, VW campervans and travel-worn hippies who'd finally found 'home'. We both slotted in easily and spent a couple of days relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere before heading back to Chiang Mai to visit some elephants.

The Elephant Nature Park is a place for elephants that have been rescued from abusive/dangerous homes and its as special a place as it sounds. We'll not go into the stories of the elephants (you can read them here: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/herd/index.htm), except to say that the majority of them were truly harrowing. Lu started crying on the way there when the tour guide showed us a documentary about the park... she'd just about stopped on the bus home. Our tour guide was called Bee and she expected us to be with her at all time, unless we were having, as Thai's call it, "Happy Time" (toilet breaks). As "when we're happy, we don't need Bee!" Our time there started with feeding the elephants and there was a strict order of banana, melon then pumpkin. We didn't try this, but apparently if you tried to give them pumpkin first the elephants would toss it back to you, knowing you were hiding bananas!

In the afternoon, we got to bathe the elephants. They waded in to the river and we splashed them with buckets of water in a quickly moving current. Most of the water hit the elephants, though we did cause a few screams as people were unintentionally soaked! Once they were nicely clean and cool, they headed straight for a session in the mud pit and gave us loads of great photos (the elephants that is). Before another afternoon feed, we gathered in the conference room to watch a documentary about Lek's (the parks founder) efforts to rescue and help elephants prior to her starting the sanctuary. The documentary was a tear-jearker and very graphic, but the stunned silence turned in to laughter when one of the 300 rescue dogs they have on site started jumping and attacking the projector screen whenever a dog appeared. In truth he was probably a bit tapped, a few of them were. We could write for days about this place, its somewhere we'll certainly go back to and its a MUST for anyone going to Thailand. Very humbling experience.

We'd been putting off Chang Rai until we could squeeze in the Elephant Park, but now that was done we headed further north. We arrived on Sunday and did the usual reccy explore/find our bearings. It isn't big enough to be a big city with lots of stuff to do, but also not small enough to be quaint and peaceful. A regular Thai city i guess, reminded us of Phitsanulok. The first night was spent in the market square while one of us grinned their way through ladyboy cabaret, and the other enjoyed the Liverpool derby. Can't think who's who?!

But probably the most exciting thing we've done so far in Chiang Rai has been a trip to the hospital. DON'T WORRY!! Chris had been poorly for a few days and we decided to check it out as the symptoms were similar to malaria and weren't passing. After a very impressive 4 hours, in which we were openly stared at, pointed at and talked about, including a nurses triage exam (in the packed patient waiting room), a doctors exam (in which she gave us a shy smile and "okay" every time we nodded that we understood her broken English), bloods (which drew a crowd), results, diagnosis and pharmacy time, Chris was diagnosed with 'Gastric Fever'. Got given LOADS of drugs to take, but Chris has woken up today feeling fine anyway.

We're heading to Loas in the next few days, as long as we get through passport control with all our mountains of (legal) drugs, so next time we write we'll be writing from another country. Thailand has been fantastic and a good place to learn the ropes so to speak, which is good as Laos promises to be a step up. We've loved it though and have already talked about coming back!

Posted by cjandthepeagan 01:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

"More spicy, more sexy"

Toilets, Thai-treats & terrifying treetops

sunny 27 °C

So the last time we left you, we were due to go the highly rated Bhan-Thai cookery school. We finished our lazy day last Thursday (just a bit of R&R) and rounded off the evening with a few drinks at a local rooftop bar. Great views, great tunes, great cocktails and a cosy atmosphere. One drink led to another and way earlier than expected, we were hammered (...and then invited for our 2nd threesome of the year ((both declined)), this one had a twist to invitation, as "Gangnam Style" was the promised soundtrack). We left the bar and Chris was a bit of a mess, which isn't too unusual, but we should have had alarm bells when we'd not even drunk that much. As for the next day... least said the better, but we spent it either comatose on the bed, or banging on the bathroom door, waiting for shower, toilet or even sink space. Needless to say we couldn't make it to the cookery school that day and we won't be drinking again while on Doxycycline.

We woke up feeling war-torn but okay-ish the next day and followed through with the original plan of heading to Baan Thai Cookery School. The host's unintentional tag line of the day was "more spicy, more sexy", to encourage us to put as many chilies in our dishes as we could take. The day started by heading to the local market in the morning to buy the ingredients we'd be cooking with in the day, before going back to school where we picked 5 dishes from a range available then sent off to start cooking. Despite our dodgy bellies, the day was enjoyable and we learned how to make our favourite, Spring Rolls! The tragedy of the day however, is we went there to make wonderful Thai dishes to recreate at home, but because were still feeling ropey, the result was that we haven't been able to look at/smell another Thai dish since. We went home and resumed our positions from the previous day!

We made these!
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Our guesthouse was becoming untenable, the room had become a reminder of 'the incident' and waking up to bedbug bites every day meant a quick change of accommodation was first job Sunday. We think it was Sunday, but we are losing track a little bit now with days of week and dates...

Don't let the bed bugs bite...
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Sunday was all about a big bike ride round Chiang Mai, as we didn't feel we'd had the chance to really explore it yet. We got a couple of fixie bikes for a quid and did our best to take on the Thai traffic rules. There didn't seem to be any. Simple things like right of way, pedestrian crossings, red lights, give way, lanes, side of the road are just irrelevant in Thailand and all in all its one of the scariest things we've done. Managed to explore a bit, but then wondered why we were getting beeped so much, before realizing we'd just taken a left on to the 'Super Highway' (motorway)! After a couple of detours, we were all good though and called it quits and went for an Italian. The waiter was clearly very new and there was a distinct language barrier. Chris ended up with well known Italian aperitif for his first drink 'A Bowl of Vanilla Ice Cream'. The waiter didn't bat an eyelid, despite the fact we'd already ordered our mains and they brought it out with Lu's Lemon Ice Tea. Chris tried to hide the embarrassment by putting it in the middle, so it looked like we were sharing it as a starter. Not exactly textbook, but it was really nice... may happen again on purpose ;-)

Monday was a trip up to Doi Suthep. The site where a white elephant lay down and died, after being tasked by the King (a long time ago ;-) ), to go and seek out a new location for some Buddhist relics. The site offered AMAZING panoramic views over Chiang Mai and Chris spent some time ringing bells for good luck! The temples are all very impressive, but we're both starting to feel a bit 'templed out' as there's only so many positions the Buddha can sit in, before you wish he'd taken a yoga class! Just jokin' of course...We headed up to Phuping Palace, (insert you're own punchline here) the residence of the royal family when they hit the north. We paid to get in, had to borrow appropriate clothes to cove our shameful shoulders and knees, walked all the way up to the palace... it was shut (feel free to substitute the vowel for a more appropriate one). No complaints though as the weather has been so sunny and the gardens were amazing.

Chris çatalogue posing''his mandatory western fit pants at the Royal Palace gardens:
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So all in all it had been a pretty quiet few days, due to us being drained by the illness a little bit (fine now, don't worry)! So we took the plunge a little bit today to get back in the deep-end and did this:

http://www.treetopasia.com/en/thailand-holiday/chiang-mai

It was very different from what we've done so far, but absolutely amazing. Soaring through the rainforest, to the sounds of the gibbons singing to each other (and Louise screaming) was one of the best things we've done in our lives let alone on the trip. The rangers pointed out a family of wild gibbons, who were just as interested in us as we were in them and quite happy to show off a bit and leap through the trees. We lost count of the amount of zip-lines, but they included: zip-lining in to a cargo net, fighting against each other on 2 parallel zip-lines, a superman zip-line where, suspended by the back, you ran and leapt off a platform face down in to a huge drop in to the canopy below, a 40ft abseil down a massive bamboo tree and the world's longest zip-line running 800m over the top of the canopy from one side of the valley to the other. Chris isn't great with heights, so when crossing a ridiculously high rope sky bridge (with big gaps between each wooden stepping board) Lu commented on how amazing the scenery was, to be met with "JUST KEEP WALKING" by Chris! Breathtaking.

Chatted to a few other people today who told us about the Elephant Nature Park, ( http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ ) just outside Chiang Mai. We've avoided doing anything involving elephants because of the ethics of using wild animals as tourist attractions (shows, tricks, rides etc). The Nature Park is a home for elephants who have carried tourists and suffered spinal damage, stepped on landmines when out and about, been abused or abandoned once too old and expensive. The park offers us a chance to see these magnificent animals interacting with each other, without having to contribute to the numerous trekking 'Adventures of a Lifetime' which cause so much damage to these amazingly proud animals. So that's Friday's plan. But before that, we're heading up to Pai for a couple of days. A 2 hour drive away and known as a bit of a hippy type place! :-)

Hope all's well with everyone x

Posted by cjandthepeagan 05:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

“WHO’S COLONEL RASHID?!”

sunny 30 °C

We have loads to write about so we’ll try and keep it brief-ish.

River Kwai was amazing, the train ride was like being on a roller coaster at points, partly due to the ropey wooden bridges built by the POW’s in WWII, but also due to the driver’s ability to start moving then suddenly hit the brake. As we went over the Death Pass, Louise stood up to take some photos but almost fell over her chair, saving her dignity but almost getting bum-raped by an armrest! Also went to see the ‘Konye Cutting’, which got its nickname ‘Hellfire pass’, because of the fires and torches burning all night, bringing to life the shadows in the darkness of men being beaten and cutting in to solid rock for many months. Emotional.

We made it round the museum in time for the last bus, but there was a scary 45 minutes where we were planning how we’d get back from the remote location of the museum when we hadn’t seen a taxi in the time we’d been waiting and we didn’t even know if we were at a bus stop, just a yellow hut on the side of the street. Eventually it came and we must have looked relieved, as the whole of the front of the bus had a good snigger at our expense!

Next day we visit Erawan National Park, the home of a 7 tiered waterfall and a popular place for Thai’s to go picnicking and swimming. We climbed up to pool number 5 out of 7. The paths were becoming precarious with just a piece of red plastic tape to stop us tumbling down a ravine and narrow, steep paths with no real footholds, so we called it quits and went for a swim. There was lots of fish in the water and everyone found it entertaining to watch Louise jumping about in the water yelping, as her feet got nibbled on by the fisheys.

Monday was spent on buses and trains travelling north. Probably not much more we can say about that, other than the fact we seem to get consistently shouted at by transport officials. Cries of “THIS ONE, THIS ONE, GET OFF, SIT DOWN THERE, COME OVER HERE”, as well as being randomly thrown off a bus in the middle of the street with no explanation before being told to board another, when we weren’t confident it had the same destination. All ended up good though and they were only trying to look after us, though the Thai accenting can make English sound very aggressive. We landed in our next destination, Pitsanulok.

Average Thai town really, with the main attraction being the usual….a temple! The reason we went was to see Sukhothai National Park, basically, a locally restored set of ruins. It was the hottest day so far and also the one we chose to hire a bike and pedal about the 6km complex. We did use it as an excuse to try a small local banana. Lovely.

Everywhere we go, we’re reminded how much Bangkok doesn’t represent Thailand at all. Outside the capital the people are always smiling, waving and will always try and help us. A major highlight for us that day, was when we were sat outside in a roadside-food-joint (literally millions in Thailand) having some dinner and a little 3yr old girl came up and planted us both with a kiss on the cheek. Cute!

In other news, the Thai people ARE genuinely tiny and Louise amuses herself daily with Chris’s cries of “AAAGGGHHH” as he bangs his head in to yet another door frame/roof/ceiling fan/anything ‘high up’ really. Can’t work out why he doesn’t just open his eyes, Chris want more signs aka “Fan Up-head”. Feeling very sentimental for the UK Health & Safety rules right now. Never thought we’d say that!

And now we are writing this from Chang Mai. Went to the night bazaar last night and managed to buy a genuine Liverpool shirt for a tenner, negotiated down from 20squids and Lu picked up some typically crazy hairclips in the style of pills and crayons. Highlight of the night was when we went to see some Muay Thai fighting in the middle of the local bazaar. The main event was a French fighter versus a local Thai guy. The French guy looked terrified before the fight but came in to his own and eventually scored a couple of knockdowns to win the fight. Much to the crowds delight, everyone loves an underdog. It all felt very Jean-Claude Van Damme, as you can imagine, Chris was loving it. Louise spent more time marveling at the “Beautiful, amazing” lady boys (I think she may want to be one – Chris). Was a great evening and the first chance we’ve had to relax a little since Kanchanaburi, cos we’re packing in so much good stuff!

Chilling out today, then we’ve signed on to a reputable cooking course for tomorrow. We NEED to learn how to make these Spring Rolls 

Over and out xxxx

p.s. You’re probably at this point wondering what the hell the title is all about? Well…for those who don’t know (and there won’t be many who have witnessed this), Louise has a fantastic ability to have extremely vivid and imaginative dreams, which can sometimes result in us having full blown conversations while she’s fast asleep. So the other night we were writing our journals, just before sleep o’clock and Louise drifted off literally about 30 seconds after us having a chat (no offense taken ;-) ). I was then suddenly asked the question in a rather loud tired voice “WHO’S COLONEL RASHID?!” my response of “Erm, what?”, woke Louise up and we both had a good laugh. Bit random, but makes for an interesting subject title :-P

Posted by cjandthepeagan 00:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

We've started sweating red!

sunny 28 °C

Oh my Gods, it's hot! Phew! 28 degrees, 90% humidity..

Arrived today in Kanchanaburi, the town made famous by THE Bridge over the River Kwai... glad to be out of Bangkok, if we're honest... it's nice to say we've been, but it's nicer to be able to walk down a street without someone trying to sell something, or scam us out of our money. Khao San road is a great base to learn from and we both feel a bit more street savvy, even though it was a bit of a 'sink or swim' experience.

We managed to walk 4 miles to Bangkok train station by following our dodgy little Burger King map (given to us by an 'official' tourist information tout) which had questionable scale and very few road names (misspelled). After surviving that (there are pedestrian crossings, but they don't seem to apply to the traffic), we took on third class on a three hour train ride to Lop Buri, aka Monkey Town. We very kindly bought the monkeys some sunflower seeds, but one of them had seen us do it and claimed them as soon as we walked through the gate, it was a scary experience, Chris almost lost an arm... this was fine, at least the seeds were meant for them, but it didn't take them long to notice Chris' bottle of water and they had that too! Cheeky, but we got loads of photos out of it :-)

We have started sweating red by the way... hoping it's the anti-malarials (which made Lu throw up in the middle of Bangkok today, way to promote westerners...) and we're not just rusting in the humidity...

Anyways, we're off to get a drink, it's 'attitude adjustment hour' in one of the local bars (hoping that means happy hour) and then an early night before catching the Death Train over the Kwai tomorrow. Really feels like we're on the road now.

xx

Cheeky Bugger!

Cheeky Bugger!

(sorry, can't seem to rotate the picture)

Posted by cjandthepeagan 05:38 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

We're here!

all seasons in one day 28 °C

So we managed to get here safely after a 22 hour trip from Manchester and its already been awesome. Can't remember flight food being so tasty, though Lu had to survive on my bread rolls (no innuendo please!).

Arrived at our pre-booked hotel on Khao San Road; safe to say there's never been a hotel there. So, first job, find somewhere to kip! Nothing like a bit of 'in at the deep end'! Never felt more like tourists in our lives... think the massive backpacks,cameras, jeans and pale, sweaty faces gave us away! Lost count of the number of times we've said "no thanks!" to lighters, tuk-tuk rides, suits (it's 30 degrees) and wooden frogs... we've managed to ditch the backpacks, may do without the sun tan lotion tomorrow!

Anyway we did get in a Tuk-Tuk, he didn't take us where we asked him to. We ended up booted out on a random road, in the middle of nowhere and to make matters worse, it started to pour down with rain. We asked several different people for directions (using our crappy tourist information map) but each person gave us a different location. Anyways, a lovely Thai lady restored our faith in strangers and pointed us to a cheap, double room with air con...13 pound, bonus! So, sorted for the next few days and can enjoy a bit more of Bangkok :-)

We've got some exploring to do, so will update when we have a few more interesting stories! Pictures, as soon as we can find somewhere that can do it x

Posted by cjandthepeagan 05:44 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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