A Travellerspoint blog

Mugged by a Coke Addict and Oh My Good Ganesh!

Well now that we are all back into real time and up to full speed with the blog, hopefully this means that when you guys ask questions on facebook we kinda remember what actually happened haha! (As a sidepoint tho we promise south east asia really isnt as fast paced as we make it sound, there is still plenty of time for strolling aimlessly along roadsides being harassed about this and that and all these different tourist site you apparently need to go to!
Because of this we may as well go through phrases your likely to hear in a few of the different locations we have travelled to so far.

Luang Prabang, Laos:
Mr Tuk Tuk: Tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk, tuk tuk waterfall? (they will also alternate with the word caves, just for good measure.)

Hanoi, Vietnam:
Mrs Scary Local Food Lady: Booooiy, you want eat? (roughly translates to: you want to gamble with your life with some chicken i found defrosting on the roadside this morning?)

Hoi An, Vietnam:
Emma (look back to the Vietnam blog if you need an example of who this is): Sir, you need suit, you want look, no buy, just come in and emma will look after you (notice the use of talking about oneself in third person. If your looking for a trait map of her, think of a rather interesting combination of over the top gay designer, mixed with creepy cat lady that likes to throw things.)

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam:
Scary, would-be-biker-if-my-scooter-did-over-30kph guy: Moto moto moto moto moto, Sir, you want motorbike? (to describe these bikes would require someone with a far more sound of bikes than myself, but just imagine the state of them after spending a lifetime in japan, then being shipped to a first world country for another life, then sent to vietnam, then some bright spark decideing that a kerosene blend didnt seem to make them spontaneously combust so must be good for it.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
Khmer Mr Tuk Tuk: Tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk, you want killing fields? you want genocide museaum, killling fiielllds!!!!!! (yes aparently these are the only two tourist attractions worthy of being shouted to tourists hmmmmm.....)

So anyway, on with the show, and i believe we were up to the bus ride to phnom penh (not to worry, we had sufficient nightmares reminicent of our bus to luang prabang to reconsider, consider, send back, send forth, then buried under a tree for six months before finally deciding we were going to give the whole cheap bus experience another go.) Well, as with all our city changings we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6am, attempted to close the zippers once again (if you are ever planning on going overseas, just invest in a kathmandu bag, they are quite possibly the best investment you'll ever make...it is impossible to destroy the zips...so far.) Headed down to the ABC Bakery which also by chance sells New Zealand Natural Icecream (but not L & P, i asked almost everyone who worked in the store, thats 7 DIFFERENT people and they all had no idea what I was on grrr), got a few last minute supplies and jumped on the bus.

At this point there really was no words for just how amazing the bus was, we got free bottled mineral water, seats which both recline, and return to an upright position, and most importantly air con that worked! ahh this was the life, and I was more than happy to spend the next half day travelling to Phnom Penh (for those of you planning a trip this way, we used Kumho Samco Buslines). Not long before arriving at the border, our passports were taken for some unknown reason, and then asked for 25 USD to sort out the visas for us which were already firmly glued in... oh well had to fit in one last scam before we left the country. Went through customs at the border and got shot between the eyes with a laser...not really sure of the purpose there but looked like the customs guy was having fun.
Then it was back on the bus and rumbling our way towards our new home to the sound of Aqua, Backstreet Boys, and other one hit wonders from the 90's (yes singing along was involved much to the dislike of the others on the bus (a few australians joined in as well...somewhat ashamedly haha). Once we arrived and the tuk tuks were ready, full of fuel and ready to go, managed to get one to take us round a few places for $3 which ended up being pretty darned good, and we found a good place for $8 a night with private bathroom, twin beds and a window! (you'll notice the lack of a closing bathroom door once again, but that would just be being picky) It was on the third floor of a place with no lift (well get to regret that over the next few days about why we didnt settle for essentially an identical room on the first floor...once again we'll blame that stroke of genius on the heat) .

Then it was out into the city on foot, and we had a look around the area we were staying in and the first thing we noticed was how everything had changed since the last time we came here. (maybe it was just a case of seeing the city in a different light / from a different perspective) Things firstly seemed to be a lot more developed, and a clear attempt at building a real first world city was emerging. Like most developing cities in Asia, they all seemed to take their inspiration from the west being Las Vegas, and giant mega buildings like Nagaworld (we dont really have a western equivilent so you get to look that up for homework) and many more similar ones under construction. As far as cities go, this seems to be one which is really putting in the effort to become world class. But of course there is a downside to all this. The cheapest meal we have had so far is a $3 McDonalds immitation, with restaurants starting at around $4-6 for a decent meal and working their way up to a whopping $10 for my indian meal tonight (knew it was going to be expensive when I had to order rice seperately...and then specify which of the twelve types I wanted......oops.)

After getting our bearings we decided it was time for one of those laid back strolls along the riverfront, where we decided to take a break with a can of coke and some icecream, and just generally soak up the awesomeness that is being in Cambodia. As is fairly usual you get a few beggers coming up asking for money or food or both, and normally a generic no will send them on their merry way to the next tourist, but theres always one thats a tad more persistant.

This one guy seemed to take our bulk standard no fairly well but then just sort of stood their with his eyes kind of glazed over spotting an unprotected can of coke. Now why this can was unprotected is very simple. I had icecream, and there was no way on earth that anything was going to seperate me from my first icecream in weeks on a night thats over 30 degrees. Nothing. This may be why he just decided to pick the can up and then continue to look at us. At this point none of the three of us were quite sure who was most suprised, this guy with the fact he was now in posession of an ice cold coke...or us, still mid-swallow with icecream that this guy was holding my can. Nothing really changed from this point, and he sort of left when the fact that we were staring, saying such things as "dude, you cant be serious" - not quite sure how that would be understood in khmer, but no certainly wasnt getting across with him.

After feeling rather dumbstruck we made our way back the hotel to marinate overnight in our sweat (no air con here sadly), and the next day played out fairly plainly. Few things to note about changes in the past 14 months.:
Traffic lights now seem to be everywhere, and they are those cool, timed ones that give you a countdown until it turns green. Nothing cooler than having your tuk tuk rev next to 5 others in those final three seconds before you speed off at 15 kph as these poor bikes are now having to haul over 600kgs including the weight of the trailer, with no modifications to them except for a hinge on the back hooking you up! So all in all its been a fairly peaceful reintroduction to Cambodian culture, the people are still as friendly as always (though they do seem a little more westernised with bargaining, no longer is the case you pay 50% of what their starting price is and often the best you haggle for is a few cents, but that could all come down to a change in economics over the past year).

Thats actually probably the high points of the past couple of days, everything else has been more a case of trying to understand 3D maps and negotiating with tuk tuk drivers about a $4 charge to go to the shopping mall on the other side of town (we paid up...) but i guess thats mainly coz of our location essentially in the bottom right corner tucked behind nagaworld and the phnom penh post office.

Will update you all on our christmas tomorrow night!

Thats all folks!
(insert looney tunes theme song)

C :)

Posted by carl.adams 06:19 Comments (0)

Bed Bugs in Brothels - Part Two

So we left off with me getting all rather sleepy and headed off to bed, promising to come back today and finish off catching up on the tales of Vietnam, and more specifically Ho Chi Minh (Saigon - ill use both of them here), and the weird and wacky underworld that is district 6. (I'll try my best not to disappoint). Now in order to 'get you in the mood' for Saigon, I was taught in primary school that an important writing technique is to 'set the scene' as they say, so ill try my hand at this now.

Now if we cast our eyes back to the last episode where i was talking about the size of Hanoi, and just how massive in size that was (I used the repetition of the word 'really' to emphasize that point) Saigon was bigger, about 5x bigger in fact than the former city and in keeping with mathematical theorem, we figured it was only normal to be 5x more terrified about coming to this city, especially with the whole ordeal that was Hanoi, and the fact that the entire country was coming down from one of their biggest upsets emotionally with regards to them losing a soccer game to Malaysia (think NZ after losing to France) - all in all, we knew we were going to be dealing with a particularly cheerful bunch - especially with everyone having a theory about how the game had been corrupt, and that their team 'threw' the game..aah just like home....

But regardless, we packed up ourselves from our nice hotel, knowing that the chances of having a room anywhere in the near future with a closing bathroom door, or an opening window in the near future was rather unlikely...and headed off to the airport. Once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we were actually genuinely surprised about how fancy everything was, there were no big taxi touts, just a line of taxi's waiting patiently and bright LED Billboards for as far as the eye could see, and that was our first impression of the city. Now one of the mates we met in Hanoi actually happens to live down in Saigon (you'll get used to me switching in and out I promise), but he was down at the beach so couldn't come and help us find a hotel (the beach is a 3 hour drive from the city) but, he told us to simply get in a taxi, head for district 6 and he'd come and find us later on. Simple enough, we were whisked off down the street in air conditioned comfort, getting ourselves reintroduced to vietnamese road rules with the masses of scooters back out in force and before long, we arrived at an area known as district six.

So this area, is basically one you would find in any background view of blood diamond, or slumdog millionaire (one of those views that sort of speeds over the slums, giving you split second looks of poor people, then continuing with the story.) But fortunately for us, there were four high-ish rises with the word hotel emblazoned on them and after choosing the one that looked the most fancy from the outside (it had a picture of mickey mouse on the door and the words 'happy new year' written besides so we figured we were in good hands.) We were sort of ushered inside by two very young looking women in bright red 'outfits', complete with santa hats all trying to act very seductively but not really pulling anything off, into an elevator, and headed up a few floors to check in. Without really thinking too much at this point (it was 30+ degrees outside and we had just flown from a city of 10,000 to a city of 8,000,000) we were shown a room that had both a closing bathroom door AND windows, AND just for a new feature at this point a balcony too. Needless to say that our hearts were won over by this, we sorted out check in where we were asked the, now famous question of 'how long' to which the response '√° few days' probably more than startled the poor young guy but we agreed on a price and took the bags to room 404. Now for those asians in the audience, your probably already feeling a bit uneasy with the presence of the number 4 in the room number not once, but twice (asians have this comical thing about the number 4, sorta like our thing with the number 13 but for asians, 4 is the sorta number that'd punch you in the guts and steal your lunch money just for the fun of it). Call it an omen...but i hadn't actually realised that until now haha.

It was at this point we began to notice a few little things about our room. Firstly there were a few 'ínteresting' stains in different places, there wasn't, out of all 7 paintings on the wall, one female in any of them wearing clothes (we failed to notice this before). And all just to add to the awkwardness of the room was a picture of Mary holding Jesus, looking at us, sitting above the TV. With this, we decided to sing out about our little problem down at reception, where we soon realised we had already spoken to the only guy who could speak any words of english bar "You want girl"?... this was becoming one of those "oops" moments but we retreated back to the room, finding the whole thing rather comical that we were now staying in a brothel and knowing that eventually everyone back home would find out. so we headed back to the lift, into our room, and decided we needed to get some air for a bit and spotted a market on the map we thought would be a good idea to check out (we figured we really couldn't go wrong from here), gathered up a few bits in the room and back into the elevator.

Now one would assume that to get out of the building you press the level "G" in the lift, but that only took us face to face with two rather unpleasant security guards who weren't too keen on us leaving the lift (in the two seconds we spent on whatever that level was, i pressed the 'door close' button on the lift about 12 times, but eventually we found a way out of the building, past a row of girls eying us up (to be fair we were the only guys under about 60, and weighing less than 90kgs so I did feel slightly sorry for them). We then began what became an arduous 2 hour trek to a small supermarket, zig-zagging through streets in and out of traffic (footpaths haven't quite been invented here yet). We even entered one building that saw us being greeted with one guy yelling "STOP" and then 10 of his closest boys in blue pointing tazers at us before realising we were just two white boys with a map, and clearly out of our depth!
But, we eventually made it to a supermarket (the market we were looking for didn't exist apparently), stocked up on a bit of food and caught a taxi back (our eyes were starting to blur and those headaches you get from essentially stuffing your face in scooter exhaust fumes get to you rather quickly, without any particularly pleasant side effects.
A few hours later, with our headaches now replaced with a sugar high, we were picked up on motorbikes and taken out to hit the town which proved to actually be a lot of fun (they all found it rather hilarious where we were staying, apparently district six is like saying ''go to Auckland' to a taxi driver...and we were bound to end up where we were, rather than the rich part on the other side (ahh the joys of being young and single). But we had some local food, sitting on stools that 3 year old's would think are small ( I wouldn't even use one as a foot stool it was that small) and then we retreated back to the hotel ready to check out in the morning.

Walking back into the hotel we noticed the "one star' rating on the door which we found rather amusing (well skip the trip back to the room so that people under the age of 15 can continue to read this haha) and feel asleep to some rather ambient' noise along with Vietnamese karaoke and in particular one guy who seemed to think that the drunker he got, the better he could sing, and thus the louder he needed to sing...grrr.

IN the morning we began to check out, with them finding all kinds of excuses to keep us there, from not speaking any english again, to the offer of free girls to be send to our room, to the possibility that they had lost our passports, needless to say that we became somewhat less than friendly for the first time on the trip so far, but we eventually got out, in a taxi and off to the backpacker part of Hanoi and saw the first white people in the past 24 hours. (We knew we couldn't be in the right part of town because no-one was trying to sell us things, and kids were saying hello! like we were the first white people they had seen in years). After finding a new place we ventured out again to do a few things like check in with the only NZ embassy we would get to see for our trip (none of the other countries we are going to have one), and to buy our bus tickets to Phnom Penh on the next day. After a rather long time in a few taxis, not finding anyone who could really speak english at the NZ embassy (the consular general was out), and realising that the international buses didn't in fact leave from the other side of town (those who can appreciate the size of Saigon will get the idea of just how much that taxi cost to get there and realise we were SO in the wrong place) but that they left from a place less than 2 mins walk from our new hotel. Awesome.
We decided to take refuge at the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, it had only been open for less that a week, was fully of security and were now well and trully with the Vietnamese A-list'ers (full of their REAL Gucci, LV and so on bags and clothes etc...and of course prices to match...the whole meal for us was close to a million dong (ouch!)...but so worth it given the change in atmosphere in the past 24 hours.
So that really takes us up till Cambodia which ill start to talk a bit about tomorrow, but seeing as everyone wanted the gossip from the Viet, figured id best get that out the way first

John Reap Plrea
C :)

Posted by carl.adams 03:43 Comments (1)

Bed Bugs in Brothels, and "Your Safe With Us"

Well hello there!

So now before you go and get all accusatory of my general lack of updating this thingy magigy, now is probably a good idea to let you know about this amazing new thing the Vietnamese government has decided to implement. So basically, they have decided that there is a new need to curb all of this 'free radical' thinking that is sending shock-waves around Vietnam and the world and so have decided to block a few websites including access to travellerspoint (where I write the blog, and facebook). So anyway we decided that especially since we were going to be on the move so much in Vietnam, and breaking the law wasn't exactly on my to do list (we'll get to where that bit changes later on i promise) we decided to postpone the Vietnam part of the blog until we got to Cambodia...and so after 8 hours sitting on a bus through some of Cambodia's best roads (for a similar road in New Zealand, look up Meremere dirt track club).

Guessing the best place to start would be where we left you all last time, on tenterhooks about our upcoming flight with Lao Aviation and taking bets about how likely it was we would actually arrive in Hanoi) Well, we set off from our friendly guesthouse, leaving a few little momento's behind like a sheep sort toy etc (they had a few babies in the household that worked as the perfect alarm clock for morning alms at 6am), jumped in a 2 person tuk tuk (motorbike with 2 seats coming out the side rather than from behind) and hurtled out to the airport at a great rate of knots. (for those pondering the 2nd part of the title, its the motto/tagline for Lao Aviation. . and doesnt instill nearly as much faith as they would have liked)

So we rocked up at LP airport a killer 3 hours beforehand and figured we would try our luck at getting on the earlier flight, no luck there but we would soon find out that this was in fact a blessing in disguised as that flight would be delayed around 8 hours, and as is the way in Lao we found out purely by chance...not a single infomation board in the whole airport! But everything all went fine, got on the plane and off we set to Hanoi. Now for those of you who havent been to Hanoi, its big, really, really big. And there is at least 3 times as many scooters as there are people in the city (dont ask me how that works, im still working on that too..) Couple this with being in a developing nation and all in all you have yourself set for quite possibly the last night of your life (that may be being a tad dramatic, but its for dramatic effect and thus i'm forgiven). So that's what we were set for, giant dirty city full of scooters, noise, and scams. And we weren't disappointed.

Once we landed we met up with a few chicks from germany and the netherlands and set off to try and find a hotel for the next couple of nights, and saw us weaving towards the general direction of a lake which promised to be backpacker salvation.

Found a place aptly called the bamboo hotel (for piece of mind it was neither made of bamboo, nor really a hotel, but did the job), checked in, went to find yet another room with no windows, and a bathroom door that wouldnt close (to date we have only had one with both of these qualities) and then attempted to venture out into the city. Now normally when you are heading down one of the main streets of a foreign city and you see a mass of 200,000 people chanting, revving motorbikes, with communist flags, and lighting fires you might think, especially in somewhere like Vietnam, you might want to head the other direction. Now call it jet-lag, tiredness, or just a side effect of the malaria pills but that idea didn't spring to mind at all at the time, but there was probably a reason we were the only white people in this crowd. So, hypothetically, what would you do, being a complete foreigner, and having not been in the country, let alone the city for more than 4 hours? Well, we started to lead a few of these chants. Turns out, chanting "Vietnam Chian Thien! (Vietnam are the Champions)" gets you alot of freinds very quickly, and we soon had our own crowd of 10,000 taking lead from us (now properly equipped with flags, bandana's and stickers). So we had our photo taken quite a few time by a guy sporting a lanyard with some vietnamese newpaper written all over it (so if you have seen us in any newpapers, let us know...we'd kinda like to find a copy haha!) and had probably over 100 photos with complete strangers being complete posers. All in all, we were starting to warm to the city. That was until, we tried to get to sleep at the hotel to the sound of literally non stop honking from these bite sized scooters blaring their way through the streets, but we survived, just, and woke up the next morning with a headache to match the experience from the night before.

The next day, to sum up the rather boring morning, we spent most of it trying to buy a sim card (2 hours of paperwork...ahhh Vietnamese efficiency) and getting completely lost around 1/10th of the city. In the afternoon, we met our vietnamese saviours (a guy and his freinds who also went to Rangitoto College) and they have us a whirlwind tour involving icecream, the first university in Vietnam, and taught the edible art of dehusking and eating sunflower seeds with iced lemon tea (the travel doctor would have a hernia reading this). Then it was off to try this sort of meat/noodle/breadcrumb kebab (the above were sort of minced together then skewered - i figure the travel doctor advising against all of this is still away having his hernia) and off to see the lowering off the flag at Ho Chi Minh's tomb (sorta like vietnams answer to the changing of the guards at buckingham palace, but with a distinctly socialist feel to the whole process.) Feeling all very awe inspired and patriotic about vietnam (oh a quick fun fact about Ho Chi here, he goes on holiday once a year to Russia to get re preserved (I guess itr must be rather like re pickling onions), and when we went we had just got back, so was all sparkling new again.

Afterwards it was milk tea, followed by cocktails at some ritsy restaurant overlooking a Ho Kiem Lake, and bid farewell to our rather brisk introduction to Hanoi...but at the same time , ready to leave the hustle and bustle for some down time in Hoi An (yes I know we hadnt been in a big city for more than 48 hours before needing to 'escape' from it all but meh im kiwi, and thats good enough excuse for anything haha!).

So the next morning, it was back in a taxi (another small scam here, but nothing particularly noteworthy) and off to the airport to ship ourselves down to Da Nang. Now in order to save a bit of time here we are just gonna summarise everything about the 4 days we spent here into a few key points:

1. Vietnam Airlines like to change flights....alot...so we left 2 days later than we were planning to.

2. Da Nang (and Hoi An ) have their own eco system basically which means that only in this city is it the rainy season from october to march (EVERYWHERE else in south east asia this is the dry season), and thus it rained like monsoon every single day.

3. Emma (she decided on this name herself) is quite probably the single most outrageous woman/suit fitter i have ever met "Dont worry darling, Emma will sort everything out for you" (yes she did refer to herself in 3rd person, which I though was rather cool)

4.Our hotel was AMAZING, like actually. $12 a night got you an air con'd room, pool and gym, and just the general uber-fanciness you would expect from a hotel.

SO, thats pretty much the main points from the first 5 days in Vietnam, im off to bed now and will cover Ho Chi Minh ***(shudder)**** tomorrow as thats going to require a whole blog in itself haha.

See you all then,

Thats all folks!

C

Posted by carl.adams 04:29 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Scary haircuts and other trans-gender experiences

Anyway, so to fill you all in on the past couple of days...well where we left off, twas planning to have a nice quiet day...which almost eventuated! SO after writing the blog, it was decided that i was in desperate need of a haircut as due to the last minute rush in leaving NZ, didnt really get round to it, so this was sort of my punishment for not planning in NZ...I had to endure a Lao haircut (this would be the part of the movie in which you would see the vampire festering in the background, eyeing up the woman lying innocently on the couch for those of you who need to visualise it).

So off i wandered aimlessly into the streets of LP, determined not to go to one of the many places that you wouldnt dare even let your sheep get shawn in. So finally I setteled upon a 'beauty parlour' which looked rather decent and had all these wedding photographs outside of what I just assumed was peoples hair that had been done for their wedding...so looked like a pretty safe bet.

Got in there and all was running fairly smoothly, was summoned to sit down and wait for someone who was coming (aparently in asia only men cut mens hair which is a tad odd but anyway). SO while we are all waiting for this guy to turn up, twas decided that i needed my hair washed so was once again led by no less than 4 women to this dentists chair looking contraption with ice in a sink at one end. Its at this point, you reall start to question the whole procedure....normally you associate the use of ice on skin with the need to subdue swelling/ numb an area. but anyway we went forth and placed head in the sink, thinking of all different variations of sweeny todd this haircut was going to take. So had the little scalp massage and ice bath wash (which did the trick as far as numbing my head goes) Thenit was back to waiting, all the while I wasnt entirely sure who was more scared, me or the girls who looked terrified i might say something in english again (people who have been to asia will know this feeling well!). But we got through, the guy arrived and everything got underway. Now its at this point that im giving you guys all some homework to go away with. Why, oh why do Lao guys have this incessent need to grow the nail on their little finger to bigfoot sized proportions. Like this guy was not only obsessed with running his fingers through my hair, but each and everytime taking a small sample of my dna with it. After running his fingers through my hair enough for me to start sending command s about what I want done, he summons over one of the women who starts setting up all the different equipment and then....says hello in english. Now normally this wouldnt be a cue for climax, however in this instance it was said in quite possibly the deepest voice I have ever heard...then you notice the adams apple...from here im not entirely sure what happpened physically for the next 10 minutes, what with the emotional trauma of realised I was surrounded by girls who were guys...questioning about my love life (aparently they can learn sufficient english to scare the pants off you in this regard)...and with my scalp completely numbed, all I needed now was some valium and I would have been set for another 12 hour trip back to Vientiane with the state I was in.

Turns out tho that they can cut hair pretty good and all in all actually left with a more or less decent, if not short haircut, and all for 30,000 kip (around 4USD). So that's what happened after the blog and that pretty much concludes the journey through Laos, so now its off to go and see the insane mess that is Hanoi (you can tell im really looking forward to it) but then we head down through Vietnam in our quest to find a decent beach before Christmas!

Off to go catch a plane,
pop gahn mai
Carl

Posted by carl.adams 18:51 Comments (0)

Machete Backpacks and Spotting Big Bird

sunny 32 °C

Well...apoligies time first haha, was supposed to do this last night, but got around 10 minutes into it before giving up and going to be at the insanely early time of 8pm and sleeping soundly for almost twelve hours! Having said that, hopefully ill make a bit more sense than I will have last night, things might just be a tad out of order from what i remember...but with that disclaimer here we go again!
So we left off last time being all rather excited about our day of elephant trekking through the forest to Tad Sae Water, but like all things Lao, things never really turn out quite the way we had thought.

It started off rather plain and simple with or tuk tuk turning up at 8:45 with two guides (one was in training...and the other had been at it for a whole month! (Youll see why this is significant later on) so we jumped on fortunately remembering to bring our uber-touristy jumpers with us, proudly emblazoned with Lao PDR everywhere.
OK, brief interlude time... just in case I havent really spoken about the weather here lets sort this out here and now....so waking up most mornings its an increadibly chilly 10 degrees outside which means you need jumpers jackets, scarfs and all. Its also overcast (whether its clouds or not i really havent been able to work out, but you never get that 'bright' blue sky ever...seems to be sorta muted even at the best of times but anyway on with the story).

After piling in, we found out that we were the only two on the trek today (notice how the word elephant had conveniently been left out) which meant that we had one each and we would more or less be going straight out to start! This is also rather interesting as for the past couple of trips when we have been going on these tours, we get packed into these minibuses, do a loop around the entire city (takes around 10 mins), then pick up another person and so on, so more often than not, we have come to expect that getting out of actual Luang Prabang should take around 90 minutes by the time we actually manage to pass the stadium.

So off we trundle, getting up to the hair raising speed of 40kph (no jokes about the hair raising part...not only was it freezing but when you try and overtake a truck with a bus coming in the other direction on a street that we in the west would affectionately call 'one way', small things become scary rather quick. So we start to head up into the hill on what would be our longest tuk tuk ride yet, learning a few valuable things about tuk tuks and just general Lao transport along the way:

1. Suspension is taboo - obviously not one of the things that are neccessary to drive the engine and thus not needed in transport is instantly excluded from the DIY tuk tuk kit (yep...you strap basically a trailer to the end of a motorbike and voila)

2. They have all the reliability of santa at christmas during a recession...we broke down at least 6 times on the 30 minute drive out into the middle of nowhere, all conveniently uphill so it would be a case of the engine stalling...starting to slow down...keep trying the engine....tuk tuk not going...throw on the brakes rip up the seats and tinker with the lawnmower engine on the inside and away you go again.

3. Tuk Tuks think they are alot faster than they actually are...so many times we tried to overtake other cars and trucks etc only to have to sulk back behind them because we couldnt get over 40 kph bruises the drivers ego quite a bit and only makes then more determined each time....

But we eventually go to the middle of nowhere, loaded up our backpacks with water and off we started down a dirt footpath...no elephants to be found anywhere. Turns out something else got lost in translation...it was an 8 hour trek with an elephant ride at the waterfall (remember that asian emoticon you used a few blogs ago...this would be a great time to copy-paste that in). Clearly being two of the fittest people in New Zealand we reluctantly let out a softened 'yay' and off we went. Now heres where you culutre geeks are going to get all high and mighty as its today that we found out quite a bit about lao people, and lao life in general, so instead of moaning my way through a trek on here, we'll just summarise with the interesting points about the people and move on.

So, firstly, there are three type of Lao natives. The hmong, who have migrated south down from Mongolia and speak Lao. The Kamul, who have come up from Cambodia (or Kampuchea if your trying to work out how the name came about) and they pretty much have their own language. Then finally there is the Lao, who noone really knows where they come from or how long they have been here...our guides best estimate was 25 years, so feel free to prove him wrong if you wish. Now these three 'tribes' arent exclusive and you can have a mix of one, two or all three tribes in one, with a community usually making up around 100 families and everything all going rather hummingly from there.

Then the conversation started to turn towards jobs and what these guys wanted to do in the future. Being a tour guide is very much like working in fast food in New Zealand, its a great first job while you are studying, but then you want to move on. The 'top' job in Laos, seems to be being a customs official at either Vientiane or Luang Prabang Airports, for which you need decent english aparently (not quite sure how this myth came about but wasnt the case when we arrived!) That seems to be the biggest status symbol here and in doing that you make your family all very warm and fuzzy inside.

Walking through all these different villages where they grow kill eat and sniff all very different things, begs the question what passes the time up here, to which the generic response seems to be smoking. Now, for once this doesnt seem to be a western influence thats migrated to the mekong, they have all grown and dried their own tobacco leaves, and are all very proud in giving a large bamboo pipe to their babies to put their head in (tho they did seem to quieten down a bit after a few minutes on that so it couldnt be too bad for them afterall right?)

But, in keeping with the general flow of storylines and keeping my english teachers back home all very happy, well stick with the topic of kids for a bit, and see what they do with their spare time (apart from drying and smoking their own little supplies). So the kids here have that sorta mean streak that gets hidden from tourists and would make any kiwi boy incredibly envious of them. Getting to carry around machetes and slingshots all day seems to be their hooby, and aparently they go around and shoot birds, then cut them up, which seemed to me rather odd given that they are 3 years old but twas assured its completely normal.

BUT, this is where the story takes a bit of a turn and where we relate the title back into the storyline. While we were having lunch in this shack there was clearly something rather large up on the roof the kids were shooting at (prompting us to more than once duck and cover as carved rock flew around). This bird was clearly not particularly impressed, and ended up snapping the main roofline in no less than 3 places. Now this roofline was made of bamboo, which really makes me wonder if it is that strong or if its just something to tell the falang (foreigners) to get then to walk across this dock youve constructed without too many questions.

Nonetheless we decided to take the lead after being directed through most of of the dirt tracks (with rather a bit of consulting going on between the two at each dirt intersection in Lao about which way to go, but hey we are in the middle of nowhere... what can go wrong right?) and meant that we were able to speed up considerably and meaning that we were starting to leave our little Lao friends in our dust...but mean that we were able to complete the trek in a little under 4 hours..if theres anything I hate more that walking...its doing it for 8 hours which meant I was keen to get it done asap (when we arrived tho, we were told by these two, rather out of breath laotions that we are 'very fit' and 'very fast' which was probably the nicest thing ive heard on the trip so far regardless of how true it may or may not be.

Oh and to quickly finish up (we'll skip the bit at the falls - it wasnt really all that impressive, like a very mini Kuang Xi...and the elephant ride was not too dissimilar to the one at Angkor Wat). This whole area seems to be like a living Old McDonalds farm, with pigs, dogs, cats, chickens and all sorts of other things leading their young around the city in little groups, which im sure is good for the food chain and judging by the shear size of some of the ducks, they cant be eating too badly here at all haha!

Anyway, off to have a rather quiet day and recover from yesterday a bit, so ill see you all tomorrow...where ill attack that pile of questions you guys have, as we arent really getting up to all that much today...

CIAO!!!

Posted by carl.adams 18:35 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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