You would think that now that the key members of the Blog Appreciation Society have reached Thai soil, the pressure would diminish. But no. Not only have they left a support team at home (thanks Taylor) but Mum continues to chirp on and on about the bloody blog on an almost hourly basis. I think Mum is just dying to see her name in print but before I can grant her wish – better do the final instalment of my Indochina Discovery trip – through Laos and back to Bangkok....
It feels like a very long time ago that we hauled our asses out of bed at 6 am, after dam all sleep, and got on board our bus to head across the Vietnamese border and into Laos. If you recall, the night before had been rather large. Too many drinks, too much dancing, too many indecent photos left on my camera and too many people in taxis that were way too small.... All in all, 6 am was way too bloody early. This was perhaps demonstrated by the fact that some people didn’t manage to haul their asses out of bed at all at 6 am and after a bit of wake-up calling (not all to the right room it must be said), we pulled off around 7am. The group was seriously diminished at this stage with 5 veterans and the new ‘baby John’.
The drive to the border and across to the border town took us around 9 hours. 7 – 11 literally did not exist to me. I was completely comatose – we all know how I like to sleep in the car! We got out to take some pics at a pretty spot. This was pretty much the highlight of the day so though I should include some shots!
We made it to the border in the pissing wet weather to find that there had been a landslide and all the electricity was out. Good one Laos. So after filling in all our formalities by candlelight and waiting ages for our visa, we emerged into pouring wet Laos and boarded another bus to take us to our border town for the night. Things looked up as the electricity jumped into gear just as we arrived at the hotel. Things did not carry on this way as we were allocated rooms on the third floor and, as per, no lift. NO LIFT?! Have these people seen the size of my bag?! It’s like asking a tuk-tuk full of Houstons to climb Everest – it doesn’t happen easily. We went out for dinner in this seriously quiet town and reminisced about the past two weeks. Bit of a depressing night if we’re gonna be honest! 6 people instead of 16 felt like a serious diminution! Particularly after a couple of good nights out in Hanoi.
After another early start and 5 hour drive, we arrived in the capital of Vientiane. The sun had come out and there were other people to be seen so Laos immediately began to improve its rating in my books! After some lunch, we all piled into a new type of van/tuk tuk/flat bed trailer hybrid and did a bit of a tour around some of the big sights. Gonna be honest – don’t remember much about them. Photos, however, seem to indicate that we stopped at a big gold temple...
And then onto Monument Gate which is supposed to represent L’Arc de Triomphe. Bit of an insult to the French, a mon avis, but hey, all part of our guided tour!
Afterwards, we headed to the Morning Market (lies), buying some new specs (mine were left in Vietnam) and sorting out a new phone (lost in Vietnam). The little man at the phone stall was giving some little old lady the hard sell on an iphone 4. This particular brand of iphone 4 came apart to reveal a Nokia battery and he advised her that it didn’t work with iTunes. Peculiar. Ah well, my little brick still works two weeks on so can’t really complain. Hope the sucker didn’t buy it though...!
After some rather good grub, we went to the local bowling alley and played a few games for about 2 quid. Laos is a bit more expensive than some of SE Asia but it’s still ridiculously cheap! I lost. Magnificantly. Twice. Ah well, ‘in it to win it’ has never been my motto when it comes to sports. Only time I got a placed sticker at sports day at primary school was when I was streamed into, effectively, the special Olympics race and I still didn’t win the bloody thing.
After another three hour drive the next day, we made it to the backpacker capital – Vang Vieng. We arrived at a rather swish hotel, to be told that we had no booking there so grudgingly reloaded the bus and relocated – still pretty nice. AND we had mosquito nets. Perhaps no bad thing considering TJ’s current count of 41bites. And they were rather fetching too..
We had lunch at a very chilled little spot where we kicked off our shoes and lounged around for a bit, arranging our plan of attack for the next couple of days. Not really a decision to be made though – you go to Vang Vieng for one reason – TUBING! So whilst Pauline valiantly filled us in on canoe trips, rock-climbing excursions and other wholesome activities, we will promptly rounded off lunch and headed off to the tubing station. Ignoring any GAP advice to the contrary!
For the uninitiated, tubing basically involves signing a all-singing, all-dancing disclaimer, renting a big rubber ring, taking a packed tuk-tuk down to the river and spending the rest of the day on a river based pub crawl. NOT TOO SHABBY! The guys at the office write a number on your hand which apparently enables them to dentify you if found floating up the river – how reassuring! The tone of the afternoon was immediately set when a bottle of whoknowswhat was passed around the tuk tuk and we piled out at the river to the sound of blaring music and the sight of people swinging off rope swings into the ring-filled river. Our afternoon followed suit – free shots, rope swings and ungainly manoeuvres involving rubber rings characterized the rest of the day. Some of us took to the whole experience more enthusiastically than others.... Gold star of the day has to go to Laurent who embraced tubing with open arms – along with the free shots, buckets of cocktails, debaucherous mud volleyball and explicit messages spray painted across his chest. What a star. Laurent, I value our friendship and won’t include photographic evidence, but applications on a postcard from any interested parties...!
In all honesty, we didn’t make much progress on our first tubing outing. Rings had to be returned by 6pm to avoid losing our deposits so we bailed out at 5.45, believing we were at the end of the river. After we watched a couple being tasered for bouncing on one of the rope bridges (!!!), we got back on a tuk tuk and headed back to town. It later transpired that the river takes about 3 hours to float down – we spent approx 3 hours in bars and half an hour floating so it appears we actually only made it to the first corner. EPIC FAIL. Just meant we needed to have another go the next day..
After a sober-up nap and a (much needed) shower, we headed out for dinner. I say ‘we’ but Laurent failed to make it out. Showing up in reception at the allocated time with his choice spray painted messages still across his chest, in a mild panic because he had lost his room mate, it was clear the best place for him was bed!
Dinner and drinks were a calmer affair – good grub and some more buckets.
When in Rome hey? All in all, a very fun day. We hit the sack before too late – in preparation for a repeat performance the next day.
The next day followed a similar pattern. After a bit of a lie in, I went for a massage – the stress must be getting to me. After lunch, we hit the river again. This time aiming to spend more time on the water – mission successful! We made it to the whole way down the river - resorting to taking our buckets with us rather than spending hours in the bars. Clever. We met a couple of lovely London gals (DLKW massif Janus?!) who we spent a fair bit of the afternoon with. Laurent had chosen to abstain from the second round and Baby John took his place as the day’s drunkard! Seems us gals can drink you under the table boys?!
Thanks to some unnecessary dawdling about as we headed back to town, I managed to lose my deposit. TJ was more successful in her efforts. Must learn to speed up. After another nap/shower combo, we went back to the same spot for dinner. On the way to the bar afterwards, TJ and I took a small detour for a massage. Thought I better include a pic of the outfits we were given – so fetching! Thought I'd let you do the modelling TJ!
We met up with the others in the bar afterwards and continued on our bucket campaign whilst playing a few games. All very wholesome.
We met up with Cordelia and Becky, our London ladies, for a drink and sauntered over to the limbo bar where a crowd had assembled to watch a select group of absolute idiots playing limbo under a flaming pole. No one could beat the Laos prostitutes tho – those girls (?) could literally bend in half. I’ve never seen anything like it before and hope to never see anything like it ever again!
The next day, a very long and very windy road took us to the other main city in Laos – Luang Prabang. It was, however, seriously beautiful – Laos definitely gets the prize for most beautiful country in SE Asia. Stopped to take some pics..
Not sure all the group had the chance to appreciate this and there were definitely some delicate souls who found the journey a bit of an endurance test!
We arrived in the city late afternoon and headed for a walk around town and down to the riverside to watch sunset with a drink – all rather nice.
There was a lot of activity around the river in preparation for a race the next day and the festival marking the end of Buddhist lent. Unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to see the celebrations but it looked like it was going to be pretty impressive.
All 6 of us then visited the booking office for our elephant tour which we had all agreed to do for the next day. At 65 quid, it was the most I’ve paid for any single thing since I left Australia I think! Bit of hesitation from some members of the group but as seen below, it was the best money spent on this trip so far...
After some dinner and another (completely unnecessary) massage, we had a dander through the night market which was absolutely beautiful. Definitely my fave market so far. Did some rather panicked shopping – market panic took over. Got some lovely stuff though so seems market panic is an effective tool! When the market shut, we met up with Amy and Rusty from our group who were in Laos which was so good! Did some serious reminiscing about the previous three weeks and drank some beer – I’m definitely learning! Still not a massive fan but at least I can now stomach the stuff!
After a night characterized by excitement-induced insomnia, we had a really nice breakfast with Amy and Rusty at a European cafe in town. Grub was excellent but, as much as I enjoyed it, the breakfast date was not the reason for my insomnia. That credit goes to – the elephants!! The company picked us up at 8.30 and we drove for an hour to the elephant sanctuary. I made a complete fool of myself on the way there by exclaiming that I had spotted some elephants in one of the fields. Turned out to be cows – definitely need to search for those glasses. Prefdictably the whole episode caused much hilarity at my expense – think I asked for that one though. The sanctuary was beautiful and all the elephants were lined up and waiting when we arrived, having a chill out and eating some of their serious quote of food.
After a bit of an intro chat, we climbed the mounting tower and took our seats on the elephants. TJ and I shared an elephant and sitting on our little throne felt very safe! That didn’t last long.... We must have been on the elephant for about 5 mins before the mahout (elephant trainer) turned round and instructed me to swap places with him – ON THE ELEPHANTS HEAD! After a wobbly start, I began to settle in a little. Although it turns out that the ability to ride a horse is NO HELP in this situation. Although perhaps in light of my history with horses that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We walked through the river and to our alarm, the mahout jumped off at once stage to take some snaps – all a bit hairy! We survived though – it seems TJ and I are pros!
After that, we came back and did some elephant feeding. Those guys would show even the Houstons how to eat. Good opportunity for some photos tho.
We then had a session on how to control the elephants. The hardest part of this is getting onto them! As the biggest animal on the planet, it is almost impossible to mount an elephant whilst retaining any level of decorum. They simply bend one of their knees and your supposed to grab their ear and haul yourself up – all very inelegant. I actually surprised myself by my agility and didn’t require the extra ass shove that others needed! Once on, we were taught how to start, stop, go left, go right etc.
Lunchtime followed which was pretty dam good. Curry and rice, just for a change! But it was really nice and we could eat it in the cabanas on the riverside if we wanted. There was even a resident puppy to play with – the cutest animal I’ve ever seen. And he made Poppy look like an Ethiopian. Literally, the fattest fool of a dog that ever walked this earth. Think the tourists may be to blame for that!
After lunch was bath time for the elephants. This time, there was no throne to sit on and we had an elephant each. Once we got into the river, my mahout asked if I was able to swim which felt like a rather ominous question as you are supposed to stay on your animal throughout! The next thing, my big lady completely submerged herself and I was up to my shoulders in the river. Pretty amazing experience. We were then given scrubbing brushes but I have to admit that the scrubbing got largely forgotten in the excitement, particularly the hilarity of TJ sliding right off the arse of her elephant – twice. Only two of the elephants submerged themselves in the way mine did so I got pretty lucky on that one – real once in a lifetime moment.
For the rest of the afternoon, we jumped into a boat down the river and visited the waterfalls where we mucked around for a couple of hours.
On the boat down
The weather has been absolutely amazing in Laos which has really helped – sun shone all day with the elephants and at the waterfalls.
We got left back into town and after some more cake at the European bakery, I headed off for another massage. Standard. Pauline has a friend who owns a guest house in Luang Prabang so that evening, she cooked us dinner. Bit of a hidden talent it seems! Had some of the best food I’ve had since arriving in SE Asia. After another bout of market panic, we met up with Cordelia and Becky who had made it to Luang Prabang and had a few more beers with them. All in all, definitely a day for the Top Five list – we had a ball!
After an early start the next morning, some of the group went to watch the giving of alms to the monks. At around 6.30 every morning, the people line the streets to offer free food to the monks from the nearby temples. I didn’t get up – surprise surprise. But I stole a photo from the others...
We then headed to our boat, which we would spend the next 2 days on, to take us to Thailand – sleeping on the mainland in between. Not going to lie, the boat was pretty dull. Very dull in fact. Both mornings, I got on and slept until 11/12 and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading/watching the new obsession Prison Break etc. We did some mass photo swapping from the elephants etc but time seemed to stand pretty still whilst we were onboard!
At the overnight town, we had dinner and played cards but it was a pretty sleepy little place. And SHOCK HORROR, we had new AIR CONDITIONING! Now TJ and I like our air con – we usually set it to 16 or so. Bloody Baltic to most people! We made it through the night tho, against all odds, and re-joined the boat for our next day down the river. Highlight of the second day was our plasticine models. As I say, dull.
We eventually got to the border where we checked out of Laos and into Thailand. In between check-out and check-in, we got a little boat to take us across the river and onto Thai soil. That night, TJ and I upgraded our room to air con. One night with only a fan was enough for us! Main point of interest was Pauline fighting with the hotel man. Angry angry Pauline. Interesting how you can tell that someone is very angry even when a conversation is in a different language! We had our first Thai meal (other than Paulines) since leaving Thailand and went for another foot massage. I got ripped off massively. My lady seemed to take a bit of a dislike to me and spent most of the 30 mins bashing at my foot with her ‘reflexology stick’ (battering ram). TJ seemed to get a much better deal – enraged. After some goodbye drinks for the Danish ladies, who were due to leave us in Chiang Mai the next day, we headed to bed. Little did I know that my passport had been left in the bar!
After another early start and more time spent on a bus, we arrived in Thailand’s second biggest city – Chiang Mai. All four of the remaining group headed to Tiger Kingdom where we got to get up close with 6 week, 6 month and 2 year old tigers. Massive photo op so thought I’d include a selection!
It was at Tiger Kingdom that I realised my passport and I had parted company. Hmmm. Didn’t worry too much until we made it back to our bags and I realised I had really properly completely and utterly lost it. I was pretty sure it had been left at dinner or the bar but when we phoned them, neither seemed to have found it. All very stressful. It quickly became clear how my free time in Bangkok was going to be spent!
After saying goodbye to the Danes, we headed to our last night train back to Bangkok. After some dinner and some more prison break fix, I popped a sleeping pill and passed out. Until 3am. When we were told we had to get off and do the rest by bus because of the floods. So out we got (I was like a zombie) and waited for an hour in a torrential thunderstorm for our bus. Needless to say, we were all in great form by this stage! Got into Bangkok around 8 am so can’t complain really. Still think that hour at the train station may have been the darkest moment of the holiday thus far!
Day one in Bangkok was spent dealing with The Passport Crisis. After reporting it lost at the police station, we trundled off to the British Embassy to order a new one... I could have got home on Emergency Travel Documents but the flipping US of A won’t let me over their door without a full passport so had to apply for a new one from Hong Kong. Any Academy readers may find the whole fiasco slightly reminiscent of a certain episode in Rome. Except no Mr P to sort it all out for me! The Embassy was full of sleazy old men and little Thai women obviously trying to register weddings etc. VERY ODD! But got the passport application off so job done. After a much awaited and equally enjoyed McDonalds I decided I better go and talk to the US Embassy about my ESTA visa waiver for the US which is currently done using my old passport number. All very dull. To cut a long story short (yes I am occasionally capable of doing such a thing), it took all day! Came back in time for a massage at the hotel (maybe for once justified?!) before we met up with the rest of the group and headed out for dinner on the infamous Koh Sain Road. Rusty and Amy had caught up with us by this stage so we had dinner with them and after a serious rain storm, went for some really good ice cream – good old Pauline!
After a really good foot massage, we watched some crazy street dancers doing their thing in the middle of the Koh Sain Road and headed home to bed. Except that TJ and I didn’t go to bed – we watched WWF instead. Because that’s the only thing that was in English!
On our last morning, we waved goodbye to Pauline. Bit sad really – she was a fantastic guide and it was odd to be under our own responsibility again!
The goodbyes were made a bit less sad by Little John who showed up just as Pauline was leaving. John had been the life and soul of the trip for 3 weeks so it was great to see him again. We all headed off to a big shopping centre where the rest of the day was spent - I think the group thought I lost control of myself a little when it came to the retail opportunities. I even managed to buy a pair of trousers, lose them and have to go back and buy them again – just as well they were about 2 quid! After angering a little Indian lady by indirectly stealing her chair at the crepe stall, we headed back to get our glad rags on for a final night out with a semi-reunited crew!
After pissing about in an Irish bar and whipping some ass at the pool table, we got some dinner and the gals went for another massage. Got to make the most of a good one when you find it! After managing to decline all (highly tempting) invitations for a ‘PING PONG PING PONG’, we sat at a bar and watched some of the goings on down the Koh Sian Rd – quite an eye opener!
The next morning was spent doing a MASSIVE REPACK (cue minor packing panic) and some sad goodbyes with Rusty and Amy before I headed off, with my backpack, to the Four Seasons and then the airport. Three hours early. Couldn’t cope with the digs if I hadn’t been there when they arrived....! But our Thailand tales are for another entry.....
LOVE TO ALL xxxxxxx