A Travellerspoint blog

Bathing suits for water funny!!!

sunny 32 °C

Sabaidee and welcome back, sorta took it a bit slow yesterday and being slightly preoccupied about an idea for New Years, but were back, its freezing clod and perfect time to keep the fingers typing!

So first things first, the title, perfect for any sideswipe column but not really the most trust invoking thing to have written into a lifejacket, in fact it was even worse than that as they only had small on board, and that was rated up to the mega weight that is 35 kilograms....needless to say we didnt tell the little old American couple sitting in front of us this, as the lao people sitting on the boats around us were getting a rather good chuckle that someone was actually wearing these bathing suits!

But more importantly, this is probably the best time to explain why we were sitting in a less than waterproof boat, making fun of people actually wearing life jackets...

Well, this was supposed to be our first real immersion into Lao culture with a trip up the mekong to the caves in which many dynasties have travelled to over the past 500 years to pay their respects and take their buddha lookalikes to sit with all their friends (someone would have really made a mint back in the day with this little gem of an enterprise - there would have been over a couple of thousand in the one cave alone)... and then we were to travel to a 'local' village to try some LaoLao or Lao Whisky...55% alcohol...and probably contributing to the reason you didnt get a blog yesterday, along with sheer laziness haha! So to start the trip off, we headed down to the travel agency that booked it for us at 8am and waited patiently for our tuk tuk to arrive...which it never did, so we piled onto the backs of a couple of motorcycles and raced down towards the ferry 'terminal' (like all things lao, we use these terms very loosly) - also if anyone from southern cross happens to be reading this, we were most definitely traveling in a minibus, and would never do something as silly as to potentially void our travel insurance. And with that small disclaimer we can move on.

Right, so we arrive down at this shack at the top of a muddy hill, with boats not entirely sure what they were doing down the bottom either, but we met a whole heap of other tourists (we were still the youngest by around 10 years, but still the only ones of the entire group of 30 who could say hello, thankyou and goodbye... which meant we were instant hits with the boat driver.

So after checking in, we sort of slide down the mudbank close to a pile of boats down at the water, we say pile because the method in which boats get so land, is sort of shunting and pushing each other, and in fact to get to your boat, your quite likely to have to climb over another 3 just to get to it. But we got in, 6 to a longboat, with the water level sitting precariously at chair level, but we set off using a rather ingenious means, sort of grabbing onto other boats, and pushing yourself into the middle of the mekong, hoping your engine just doesnt get ripped off to easily....

So off we went, chugging along in our little boat, heading upstream the Mekong, with not reall any idea of quite how long it would take, but from the looks on the map, and our travel agent saying that a tuk tuk would take around 10 mins, we were sort of savoring the unique trip and enjoying every minute of it.

90 minutes later however, we were still chugging along, having overtaken almost every other boat on the river (by this point we were the only boat we could see, which in itself is quite a feat for a tourist hotspot like Luang Prabang.) Soon (not quite soon enough but..) we arrived at the caves, and sort of tiptoed along the bamboo dock ( I really couldnt care less how strong peple say bamboo is to walk on, hearing the sound of cracking and splitting is never particularly good is what ive learnt so far. Got up to the caves tho (once again feel free to google Pak Ou Caves to see what it looks like...my visualisation techniques are a bit rusty this early in the morning. Then we headed off to a local village, this time heading back downstream, and an even more precarious dock that involved mud staircases and clinging onto bamboo poles (this, i was grateful for). Feeling all very intrepid we arrived at the top to find another tourist market like any other in LP and our hopes became slightly dashed of experiencing local culture. This was short lived though as we were summoned up to a set of giant cauldrons containing fermenting rice, a boiling point, and clear liquid dripping out one of the ends, this could only mean one thing, rice whiskey...and the Americans among us were a little bit unsure about how strong to call it as it went above their '100 proof' scale...needless to say they took our advice on just calling it acid strength and we all moved on. Almost all.

Us two, still determined to get our moneys worth and experience some Lao culture, asked to try some...something that was met with a very guilty smile on the Lao's behalf, one you would have sort of expected from kid thats just eaten a whole tub of ice cream. So he started us off on the weak stuff, 15% stregth rice wine, that we never really could pin down the taste of except that it tasted like raspberries, but knowing that they dont grow here, we decided it was safer to just say mm nice, and leave it at that. We slowly worked our way up and through the varieties of LaoLao to the mother of all whsikeys, the one at 55%...ish (ish, because his estimate was only really because we forced it from him..but other claim to get up to 80 percent, so once again, just agree, and send it down the hatch. I can thoroughly reccomend drinking, and then jumping back onto one of those longboats, you do feel safer after drinking LaoLao. Of course this wasnt quite the end of the day, Chris was determined once we got back, to send some stuff back to New Zealand like clothes he wouldnt wear over here, and a few bits and pieces he just didnt want to carry on the way back, So we went down to the post office, threw everything in the box, they sealed it up and sent it on its merry way, and THEN hit me with the price...a whopping 400,000 kip or close to around 60USD for 4 kilo's...and thats via seamail taking 2-3 months...we have now learnt tho, to obtain a price for shipments before allowing them to seal it all up, and signing customs declarations.

Will try to answer some of your guys questions tomorrow, we are heading off to the waterfall to have our first decent power shower...and will let you guys know how it goes tomorrow... Ciao! C :)

Posted by carl.adams 04:08 Archived in Laos Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Kop Jai La La!!!

Kia Ora Everyone!
For those non-lao in the audience, Kop Jai La La is thankyou very much (just Kop Jai if you wanna be a bit of a grump...but yes once a suck up always a suck up...even in Laos haha!)

Today has probably been the day where everything has started to fall into place and started feeling like we werent really these obnoxious tourists that seem to jump off air conditioned buses here every two hours with their rollerboard suitcases, and high heeled shoes (tho purely for reasons of entertainment, watching people walk into potholes in high heels is one of the funnies things ever, but small things i guess haha!

Anyway firstly to clarify a few things that people have asked me, especially with regards to comparing our last trip to Cambodia, and the differences/ similarities. Best place to start I guess is with the people. Here in Laos, whether it be for economic reasons or whatever, but people arent out hawking on the streets, jumping on any unsuspecting tourist that happens to walk their way. Thats not to say they dont want your money, and they wont try to part you with your money at the easiest convenience but they are just far more casual and laid back, which is nice for an introduction to south east asian culture! I think also, especially here in Luang Prabang, there is alot more respect for one another, with even the tourism in many respects being religiously based, and things like the morning alms part of every tourists to do list while in LP. But yes, its quite funny with the midnight curfew, all those things you'd expect to happen much later, seem to start mid afternoon, which brings us to today yeeha!

Well, woke up this morning bright and earlyat 4am when in fact both the bird and the worm were still tightly curled up in their beds (got to love adjusting to time zones) at which point I realised that I wasnt the first one up, and the reason for me waking up was the kids playing tag just outside, and im not entirely sure how its possible, but being on the other side of the wall it actually seemed to amplify the noise rather than reduce it, but it was 4am and i was still recovering from the bus ride so managed to get back to sleep fairly quickly. Back for round two at 8am, waking up far more civilised (that early bird had welll and truely eaten its worm and was off doing the chores by this point) and this is where I have to make a bit of a confession. All those people back home who have said how hard it must be, and how they couldnt handle the food etc, well, turns out the french left behind a few momentoes when they got booted out a few years ago. So we headed down to one of the many cafe's and and munched on crossaints, and pain au chocolate's with fresh orange juice (all for a rather expensive $2 breakfast) and all in all had a pretty good start to the day.

Then it was time to attack the daily chores and oooh we switched rooms at our guesthouse for one with an inside bathroom which means we could finally have showers (sooo keen!) and we started to feel like maybe we werent really out of our comfort zones with ensuites, fans and lockable rooms but ahh well this is what holidays are for and im sure we'll make up for it in Cambodia eeeshk!

Then we really tourist-ed up for a few hours going and taking photos of various things (buddha's footprint is probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city centre and there was this lady at the top, who to be completely honest should be teaching economic theory somewhere. Going up and asking for a bottle of orange juice in lao, we got a bottle for the rather average price of 5000 kip (or around 75 US cents for those accountants out there....) but then watching the american busload arrive behind us with their fancy nametags, and sweating to the point that they looked like one of the extra's for flubber (great movie btw) and them rather abrasively asking "well how much is that in USD!?!?!?!"...and but with a cunning smile, our little lao entrepreneur responded $5, the transaction was completed and everyone went on their merry way (me and a few others had a chuckle with the lady afterwards about the price which she thought was hilarious!

Seeing as the top of the mountain we were at was too picturesque to really describe, youll have to wait in anticipation till I can get some photos up, which might not be untill vietnam, but ahh well youll cope. This does however bring me to a rather important point:
- Before booking a one day hike, you should probably enquire exact geographic readings as opposed to 'little bit up, little bit down'. Im not entirely sure what the travel agent thinks he is getting the tour guide into, but lets just say that after seeing lao's answer to the himilayas im starting to thing that travel agent has a rather black sense of humour....
Just about to go out again and delve back into the night markets... i sort of sulked back in here after spending an insane amount of money (close to $15 on various things) but the problem with becoming good at bargaining, is that it sort of becomes a hobby you want to show off. As this really is a bit of a hot spot for the amercian tourist (who for some odd reason when you ask what country they come from are obsessed with just saying the state...the ones we were nearby happened to be from Florida), if you ever want a really good deal, just switch languages and you cant go too wrong haha (think they ended up getting a shirt for $12 in the end aww how cute their bargaining skills were......)

Well off to go grab some dinner now, will promice to "try" and be a bit more ethnic with the food...possibly....
Will update you once we get back from the caves tomorrow.

C :)

Posted by carl.adams 03:59 Comments (0)

Champa and Champi, a Laotion love story

31 °C
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So, just who are these two characters? Well, these would be the two macsots for the SEA Games (South East Asian Games). Now, why is this of any significance at all, well this is the bit where it gets interesting.
Firstly, its important to remember just how little planning has been done around this tri as really, any sort of planning at all would have thrown up the event that is the SEA Games. For those of you playing at home, the SEA Games is like a mini version of the Olympics, much like the Commonwealth Games etc. Turns out that Vientiane (Captial of Laos) won the rights many years ago to host the games in 2009.
Now of course we wouldnt be silly enough, as backpackers wanting cheap accomodation/transport to book to arrive in Vientiane on the day of the opening ceremony would we? Well, this is where we get back to that all inspiring planning factor, one we have made very little use of. With that in mind, lets racap the past 36 hours.
So we left the last blog, about to jump onto the plane in KL not really knowing where we were going or what we were getting ourselves in for. Well, after boarding the plane, we starting seeing all these yellow shirts starting to pop up during the flight as people slowly began switching into bright yellow shirts emblazoned with Malaysia on the back and SEA games written on the front. Naturally at this point, after seeing a group of 60 people doing this, you may start to begin thinking that something may be up, so we enquired. Turns out, that asking someone from pretty much any asian country what the SEA Games are, is like asking westerners what McDonalds is, or what the Olympic Games are. Skipping ahead once again to the good bit (you can google SEA Games for more info) we landed, went through security and saw a city in absolute hype and desperate to impress. Police stading almost one every ten metres aound the city just making sure tourists are safe wasnt really our idea of a good time, and after 2 hours of insanely inflated prices and no free accomodation we decided that our time in vientiane was up and it was time to move on...
So we get out to the bus station meet up with a few other westerners, one who had been to over 60 countries, and another who had been to Laos no less than 6 times and booked our tickets to Luang Prabang. What we didnt realise at the point were a few things you might want to take note of when travelling on buses around asia:
1. There is no such thing as an 'Express' Bus, despite whats written on the side, and despite the driver rather optimistically telling you.
2. Take the time the bus driver tells you, and double it, for a rough estimate. Again, Lao Bus drivers are an optimistic breed.
But in vain, we boarded our bus at 1pm in Vientiane, almost looking forward to our 5 hour trip around scenic mountains into the world heritage site that is Luang Prabang. Fortunately for us, we managed to book one of the luxury, air conditioned buses which meant that we would at least have seats, but beyond that , well theres not much hope. Seats which decided to recline at any given moment and stay that way for your trip, air conditioning that was actually hotter than outside the bus (which was around 31 degrees for you mathmatically inclined folk) and suspension which makes you feel like your sitting on the jackhammer from our stay in KL.
But, nonetheless we got on our way with our broken toilet, and sitting in the back row, still optimistic about reaching LP by sundown (around 5pm-ish). Within 5 minutes we had already stalled twice, and the average time it took to change gears was around 10-15 seconds (which would make climbing up the mountains over the nex few hours more like a game of russian roulette than ever before (gravity seems to like buses that much more).
The first two hours seemed to pass by fairly seemlessly with the bus slowly getting fuller and fuller, and the infamous plastic seats beginning to fill the aisles crammed with people aged 8-80. After this things started to go downhill (well not literally - we were still climbing as we had been climbing for another two hours)

Stops started becoming increasingly more common, at least every 20 mins or so to pick up and set down more people, and the hills got increasingly steeper and windier. By 5pm we got to a place called Vang Vieng when the sun was staring to set, and we realised our chances of making it to LP by dark were fairly slim.
Managing to find probably the only pideon english person on the bus, we found our that from here we only had around another 6 hours to go and we should be in LP by midnight....(insert asian smiley that would best describe the look on your face after hearing this!!!) And so we continued, with our legs starting to cramp and blister from rubbing on the seats in front, and the tiny lao lady in front of us, who was beginning a guiness world attempt to vomit her weight over the next 6 hours, and all in all we were set for a rather soul destroying trip into the mountains.
To save you a rather depressingly long story about howbad it was, when you tell outher back in NZ, just summarise that it sucks, and reccommend that they dont try and be a hero by doing it via bus (you can fly).
Arriving at 12:10 in the morning, the first thing that e realised is that there is aparently a midnight curfew for foreigners (ooops...) and also, that the chances of finding somewhere open to stay was rather slim... but after an hour or so of searching we found a place, checked in and crashed for the night.

So anyway, thats pretty much whats happened recently, its currently 5pm the next day here in LP, but fortunately we have managed to have a fairly low key day just wandering around the small city getting a few supplies together and starting to think about what to do over the next week here. Having decided that there is no way on earth we are getting back on the bus for the return trip, to transfer to another 24-hour busride; we forked out the $130 for the direct flight to Hanoi, which we do on the 14th.

Off to have dinner now, and have an early night, tomorrow we are hopefully off the the caves and waterfalls for a swim and will update you when we get back, or maybe on tuesday! Also will get around to telling you what LP is like, coz you will have probably pretty much fallen asleep reading this, and means i get to build suspense writing this which is kinda fun.....

Have Fun,

CIAO!!!!

Posted by carl.adams 02:17 Archived in Laos Tagged transportation Comments (0)

It's closed... you must be joking

sunny 31 °C
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Well now, you see this is a blog that was supposed to be written around 6 hours ago just after we landed to give you an overall impression of whats happened so far ..however that would be far too easy as you'll soon find out (ooh my intermediate school english teacher would be so proud of me now for building suspense!!!!)

We landed in KL at the "low cost carrier terminal", which is a rather interesting experience in itself. Imagine a giant carpark full of planes with sets of stairs (most likely around 60 planes all parked back to back) (ahh a visualisation...extra points) So we went on this massive chase to find this elusive 'terminal' which in fact turned out to be little more than a glorified bus shelter. And oh what a tour it was, managed to lead these people somehow around the fancy behind the scenes bit where they load the bags into containers..the container people weren't as amused as I was...but fortunately pointed us in the direction of the terminal.

Very straight forward and airport bland for the next few moments, so like any good visualisation technique ill skip to the good bit. Well after clearing customs, we made our way to try and find this "plaza premium lounge". After circling the terminal no less than eight times, and almost giving up any hope, we found lounge, along with a nice little sign on the door that read: We are closed, feel free to call us on XXXXXX. So this left us with the rather interesting conundrum of what to do for 7 hours in an airport that any accountant who had a thing for minimalism would instantly fall in love with. After walking outside and realising that was still 30 degrees, and that I was still wearing jeans we gave up on the "lets go for a walk around the airport area" idea pretty quick.

And so, we found ourselves along with 100 of our nearest and dearest backpacker friends hunting down shady spots in the terminal (and getting rather territorial might i add), to attempt to try and get some sleep.

So now, we are back at the bus station, preparing for our real journey to begin, and not entirely sure of what city we'll be staying in tonight but we'll keep you posted if/ when we find out ourselves. (Given our complete lack of sleep you might not hear from us till Monday)

Oh yes, and one last piece of wisdom, time zones suck. Like really suck. Like we thought we had two 1 hour flights going from Bali-KL-Vientiane. Turns out they are both 3+ hours... hehe one of us is kicking themselves they didnt upgrade themselves for the extra $4 for extra legroom but well let u guess who that is.......

Posted by carl.adams 14:36 Archived in Malaysia Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

I thought you said Vienna, not Vientiane!

Indonesian Macca's and only 20 hours until bed!

sunny 34 °C
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Well everyone, here we go go go!

Instead of starting from when I woke up this morning in Auckland, which while logical will probs hold your attention span for no more than 3 seconds, ill start with the most interesting points and that way when you fall asleep while reading it, ill at least feel somewhat vindicated hahahaha!

SO, getting off the plane in Bali is probably when the culture, wow we are going to Laos factor actually hit me for the first time, and I realised that I was completely unprepared for anything, so first port of call was to race back into the air conditioned terminal to repack money and everything into various places etc, and generally start being more cautious. This was probably the result of hoards of taxi drivers determined to take us into Kuta and not really liking the idea of us saying no but we got back to safety in the end!

Well after 45 minutes huddled into a corner next to check in counters with our baggage we decided to venture out into the world again, and generally give Bali a second chance. Instantly with a more positive outlook, we befriended a local taxi driver who taught us some of the 'sign' language that taxi drivers use between each other, shared a meal at McDonald's and generally poked fun at American tourists, while giving him a few lessons on how to attract potential customers. (Including one that got completely lost in translation, and ended up in him trying to look like some sort of mistress which was rather odd...)

Oh and by the way, to any Virgin Blue staff at Sydney Airport, sorry (but not haha) for distracting the person making all the announcements for our flight, when it was soo easy to get her to break into hysterics on airport wide soundsystems, it was an opportunity not to be missed! (And, as it turns out the other 4 announcements she then tried to make, before passing on the mic to someone else and forcing us on the plane) (cheater)

Posted by carl.adams 14:01 Archived in Indonesia Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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