Saturday, November 26, 2005



I got the sleeper train back into Bangkok. There was a big festival that night, Loy Krathong. A kraythong consists of flowers and incense that can float in the water, and loy means float. During the day, kraythong sellers lined the streets, but at night the crowds appeared. It seemed like all the residents of Bangkok had come down to the river to launch their krathongs, it was heaving! I couldn't really seem much down at the river pier, although they also had a few shows put on. The occasional kraythong bobbed about, but the boats were making large waves and probably drowned most of them. I decided to head up to one of the bridges spanning the river for a better view. It seemed like everybody else had the same idea, but I managed to find a spot to watch the proceedings. I don't think I've ever seen so many cameras in the one place. Everybody was snapping away as the big boats came down the Chao Praya.

It was like a float parade on the water, with colourfully lit boats drifting along. At one stage the river was covered in boats, both floats and tourist boats, set against the backdrop of the illuminated Thonburi bridge. Some of the roads had been sealed off and crowds of people roamed the streets some singing a traditional song, about Loy Krathong. The long day & night took its toll and I retired for an early night.

The next day on Khao San road I bumped into a guy I had met in Penang. Went for a drink, and I made the mistake of trying the cuttlefish from the street vendor. DONT TRY THE CUTTLEFISH! I didn't feel well the next day. Anyway I survived and felt better later on, I had arranged to meet up for a korean barbecue. It was close to where I stayed before. I had eaten there before but didn't realise it was Korean-style. You get a big plate of raw meat (I recommend the pepper-steak!) and slap it on an upturned metal bowl which rests above hot coals. Then you try and cook it, turning (dropping) it with your chopsticks. A tasty meal and you can eat as much as you want for not much more than a quid. No wonder it is popular with the Thais. When we walked it in was full, but they soon made space and grabbed some chairs from somewhere. On the edge of the main dining area actually outside a BMW garage, next to a big group of rowdy students.

I went along to the Royal Palace, it was very busy with tourists. A huge complex with decorative temples and wats everywhere you turn! I saw the emerald buddha, a holy relic with magical powers and some natty clothes, which get changed three times a year, one for each season. It has been discovered inside a clay buddha. At one point, it was in Laos, I had seen a wat there that had been built to house it, but the Thais nabbed it back, much to the annoyance of the Lao people.

Next stop Siem Reap to see the temple of Angkor!

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I tried to find a room with a window, but they seem in short supply in Vientiane. Not exactly the "Paris of the East" judging by the state of the roads, open sewers and dust!
There seem to be a lot of roads being re-surfaced when I was there, or perhaps just being surfaced. This consists of one truck schlooping tar down, followed immediately by another with guys shovelling stones and then by a road-roller. Instant road!

Although one day, they had flattened the mud road and it rained. The next day I saw a truck halfway inside the road, it had sunk. Vientiane seems more like a small town, rather than a capital city. The local English paper runs to about 10 pages. Apparently the local Vientiane's eat almost a kilo of rice a day. A lot of rice!

I had a look around a few of the temples in town. One had a ridiculous number of buddhas in it!

I went along to see Laos play a friendly against a league team from Thailand, Bangkok Bank. Unfortunately they lost 3-1, but they did score the best goal, a thumping volley into the corner of the goal. The kick-off was a bit late, but after the game I went across the road to the Laos Cultural Centre to see some "Jodaiko" (Japanese for passionate drumming). It was good, as the drummer started off with a giant drum and a log for a drumstick! The crowd was funny as the all clapped wildly when he hits the drum. None of this being quiet during the performance! Then he did a little drumming number starting with a simple rythmn, and repeating with embelishments, until the rhythmn is stuck in your head. Next up, another drummer come on, to beat the other side of the drum. Started off gently, prancing about playful and then BANG! they start beating the crap out of the drum, almost like a martial art.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vang Vieng

After some faffing about with the buses, I got underway. I had previously bought a ticket for the bus but didn't turn up early enough and now the bus was full. Another 3 people were in the same situation. The overflow gets shoved on a minibus and leaves when it gets enough passengers. Although they put another guy going to Vang Vieng on an empty bus, instead of with us. Confusion reigns. Eventually he got moved onto the minibus and we got underway when one more person arrived. This being Laos we actually arrived before the normal bus, passing it on the way, although we left an hour later.

Vang Vieng primary reson for being on the tourist map is to break up the journey between Luang Prabang and Vietiane, otherwise it's close to a 12 hour journey. I doubt many people live here that are not dependent, if indirectly, on the tourist revinue. Lots of cafes showing Friends. All day. Every day. Odd.

A popular day trip is to float down the river in a tractor inner tube. I wasn't sure about this, but ended up following the trail when I went out for a walk. I walked down the road, stopping off at the small market for a quick nosy. After a while I reached an organic farm where they 'tubers' get dropped off. I decided to loop back and follow the river back down to town. The path comes and goes mostly along the river bank, through some shaded forest and back inland to farm fields. Dotted along the way are small wooden bars where people can refresh themselves with a BeerLao. At one bar there is a death slide, I stopped for a while to watch people slide along. One girl demonstrated how not to go on the slide. She let go nearly immediately at the top and plummeted into the water. Looked a long way down!

I passed a young boy who had been out fishing. Not of this line fishing for the Lao's! He had a spear and an old scuba mask. Also carried a fishing trap, which maybe left out overnight. One of these one-way traps, full of small fish and other squidgy stuff. At the riverbank there were these bright red dragonflies which posed nicely for my camera. Going back along through the village, I saw a big green praying mantis. And then I came across some strange beastie! At first I thought it was a twig in a spiders web, but I noticed it was alive. It floated about, although it was on a thread, it looked like it was flying through space. Very strange anyway.

After a hard days walk it was down to a riverside restaurant for a cool drink. There I chatted with a Japanese farmer. I had always imagined Japanese farming as a traditonal family thing pass down from generation to generation. But, it turned out he had just bought the farm (literally!). Then went for a game of pool, where the table was rubbish! The next night, some Irish geezer decied to arrange a game of killer, the prize a crate of beer. Needless to say, I didn't win. It was the tables fault!

At night I had walked past a Laos marriage. The band were playing some songs. Electric keyboard, electric guitar and vocals. Not sure how traditional that was! But they all got up and shuffled about. They didn't seemed to into the dancing anyway. The bride wore what from a distance looked like an intricate silk dress, while the groom had a white tuxedo ala Saturday Night Fever, smart.

Now it's on the Vientiane, the Paris of the East!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Luang Prabang

After finding a guesthouse, it was time for dinner. I had a nice roasted fish at the street market. You can buy something from the stalls, and then get a plate of pick and mix from various veg, rice & pasta dishes. As much as you can fit on one plate for 5000kip. The money is a bit crazy here, prices are given in kip or dollars. Usually end up paying in baht and getting kip back, most confusing! After dinner it was off to a Halloween party at Hive. People had been handing out fliers when people got off the boat, so a lot of the people from the boat came along. Probably enticed by the promise of a free shot of lao-lao (local spirit) with the flier. It got pretty busy, the bar had at least put in some effort on the halloween front, with a skeleton halloween DJ and various other bits and bobs. Halloween special drink was pumpkin, whisky and lao-lao, eurgh! I'll stick to the LaoBeer, nice tasting beer which is very reasonably priced :)
The next day a few people were sporting sore heads. In the morning we went up to the small hill in centre of town, where lurked a small temple, but the main attraction is the view across town. Strangely enough there seem to be a lot more palm trees when viewed from above, rather than at street level. Gina & I managed to get a big group of ten people and hire a van to take us to the waterfall. A very scenic spot, where a few souls braved the cold water for a swim in the natural pool. I took a walk up to a higher level. After some stairs, you had to cross over a minor waterfall, but it meant I'd have to take my trainers off anyway. A bit slippy underfoot in places. There was a bamboo hand barrier, but in one place, it had been broken, I wondered what had happened to the person who had broken it? It was a long way down. You can see that Laos is getting into the tourist way, by charging for entrance to the waterfall and the walk up is surrounded by vendors. Some with just enough English to say "Buy something!".
After that it was a quick stop off at the Hmong village, which was a bit like a zoo. I don't think many people were impressed. Also all the children surround the tourists as soon as they get off the bus and start begging for money, obviously must work sometimes.
After a rather bumpy journey back it was time for dinner, back to the night market. I had my eye on a rather tasty looking chicken. I decided half of one would be more than enough, the vendor then set about it with a cleaver quickly chopping it into lumps, straight through all the bones.
The next day it was over to Wat Xieng Thong for a look about. A temple situated close to the delta of the Mekong and erm.. that other river. Inside one of the wats was a large funeral carriage for the king. I hadn't realised what it was at the time, but in the afternoon I went along to the former Royal Palace and they had a model and an explanation of what it was. The Royal Palace, was as you would expect very fancy. Specifically the main hall, the bedrooms were somewhat austere in comparasion.

Later that night I bumped into another person from the boat, who had a group of people going to see a performance of some Laos ballet. Not my usual thing, but I went along to see what it was like. Turned out to be a story from the Ramayana being re-enacted. We got the cheap seat up the back! It was reminiscent of the Indian Kathakali I saw in Kochi, probably because of the similar looking characters, with odd green & white masks and from the same text. Not bad, but I don't think I'll be a regular attendee.

The next day, was fairly lazy, I did however learn (& forget) how to make some Lao food. The dishes were beef laap & steamed fish. The beef was sliced up thinly and vegetables added, some chicken stock and chilli. The beef is cooked very quickly in a hot pan and mixed all together. I think I cut the beef a bit thick in places, so a bit raw in the middle! The fish was nice, with mint & lemon and greens added and then wrapped in a banana leaf package and place in a steamer for 15 mins. Yummy!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I had asked the guesthouse in Chiang Mai if there were many buses to the border, they said they left every hour, so I headed over to the bus station at 10:00am to find out the only one leaves at 13:00. Oh well, I had wander around getting used to the backpack again. Found a mall nearby and sat in that for a couple of hours waiting for the time to pass. Then the bus took a lot longer than I expected and the upshot was that by the time I got to the border it was shut.
The next day I had to pay 200baht for overstaying my Thai visa for a day, fair enough. Unlike the people in front of me, who had been told that their visa was for 2month when it was only for 1. Ooops!

After a couple of minutes on a longtail boat, it was across the Mekong and into Laos. With the paperwork done, I went for a walk. One travel agent with a huge queue seem to be selling all the tickets, but if you walked another couple of minutes you got up to the main road. I decided to try and just get to the boat pier. So after talking to a driver, I agreed a price to go to the speedboat pier. On the way, we stopped to pick up a couple of locals and a new bicycle crammed into the back of the truck. Transport is a truck with the back roof taken off and a couple of benches placed inside. After a detour we dropped off the locals and then on the wait to the pier. Didn't look like I had saved any money by going direct to the pier, same travel agent ticket sellers there. After a lot of hanging about, I was told I could go now. I went down to the riverside and then there was some more hanging about. Basically you quickly learn that transports doesn't leave to schedule but when full. So we needed eight people to be crammed onto the speedboat. And I do mean crammed, I had my knees stuck under my chin for 3 hours, while an engine roared in my ears, the wind blasted my eyes and then later the rain smacked off my head. I was glad to get off, everybody else was continuing for 3hours down to Luang Prabang. I got off at Pak Beng, roughly half way.
I seemed to be the only foreigner here. I quickly found a cheap guesthouse nearby, and had a nosy about. A quiet little village, a few guesthouses and restaurants with English-written menus, and then it seemed like residential area with small huts. I walked past a pool hall, where some teenagers invited me for a game. They only played with four balls set in a diamond, potted by number. The table was in the worst condition I have ever seen! Still, they seemed to enjoy playing it. Later went for some food, a nice creamy chicken dish, quite mild, no chillies.

The next morning I went down to the pier to see what time the slow boat to Luang Prabang leaves, turns out a lot earlier than me getting out of bed. So another day in Pak Beng. Turned out to be good though. I tried to hire a bike from across the road, but as I wasn't staying in their hotel they wouldn't let me hire the bike. Hmm, interesting usually they just take your money!

As there wasn't much else to do I decided to go for a long walk. The road goes from the pier inland, yes there is only one road with no branches, so not much thought needed as to where I would walk! I continually passed small villages separated by a short distance, the further I went the more people stared at me! I continued on for a few hours, I had seen buses occasionally whizz past so I hoped I could take one back rather than retrace my walk. A few boys on their bikes had been talking to me as I walked down. I asked one if I could get the bus back here, he said I could wait here. So I stopped walking and waited. It seemed like half the village had come out to stare at me. I had a group of around twenty people a few safe metres away just standing looking at the strange foreign guy. The kid then suggested I buy some food from him. As I was a bit peckish, and I had noticed the complete lack of shops outside town I agreed. He ended up inviting me into his house, where I sat down on a tiny stool and they brought out the sticky rice (in a bamboo container) a plate of chilies and a plate of something else. It was dark inside, not helped by the fact that the twenty onlookers had crowd round the door to watch me eat! I dipped the rice into the chilies and found out they were very hot!! Then I turned my attention to the other dish, as they encouraged me to eat. Oooh, some French cuisine, escargot. Oh well, I didn't feel I could refuse, so I picked one up and pulled it out the shell and chewed. Actually not too bad infused with herbs, something similar to mint. But the idea doesn't agree with my stomach so I just had the one, then stuck to plain rice!
After I paid the old woman who had served the dishes 5000kip (25p??). She seemed happy enough, repeatedly thanking me, then back outside into the bright light. The kids then said I could take one of their bikes back to town. So I jumped on the bike and we set off, actually it was quite far. One of the kids made the mistake of trying to show off by going no-handys he wobbled left, right, bam straight into the ground. Unfortunately I was right behind and the bike had no brakes, and I crunched right into his bike, but luckily not him. Still, he had a few cuts, which he covered up quickly chewing some nearby plants and placing it on the grazes to act as a plaster and stop the bleeding.
Another kid tried to outrace me, hah, I'll show him, so we both pedalled furiously going neck in neck (he was a lot lighter than me, it was easy for him!!) much to the amazed looks of passerbys, seeing the crazy foreign guy whizz past on a local bike.
The next day I headed down early to make sure I got the boat, and a mere 8 hours later I arrived in Luang Prabang.