Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Don Det to Ban Lung - What a palava! 28th February

Don Det to Ban Lung:
We stuffed our breakfast down in a mad rush, not wanting to miss the boat to Nakasang, where our bus was set to depart from. Today we will also be crossing into Cambodia. For some reason border crossings are always fun, and add a little tension to the day.
After a lot of faffing around from the local boat drivers and ticket collectors

Vientiane & Don Det (4000 Islands) - 24th to 28th

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, what can I say?
We arrived around 11am, it was bloody roasting.... By 2pm it had hit 39 degrees celcius.... Too much for our frail bodies.... Rather than exploring the city, checking out the temples along with the two museums which provide a plethora of information on the country's US tortured past, we stagger limply into cafes, slurping cold juices, inhaling litres of water, anything to replace the perspiration that continuously streamed from our skin. With no breeze to shift it, sweating became a pointless exercise for our bodies.
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The relentless heat (39 to 40 degrees) forced us in doors for a very long lunch. We planned our exit of Vientiane as we searched for our lunch time eatery, deciding that neither of us wanted to be in a city in this meltingly hot climate. We already longed for more tranquil destinations. As we walked, we discussed heading straight across Laos, and out into Vietnam, almost directly East. 24 hours on a VIP (the term VIP used loosely, as the people seated in front of me on the 'VIP' bus (a mini-bus) currently have my knees wedged firmly into their backs. Our seats being the only ones with no leg room whatsoever... The air conditioning has just kicked in though! Bonus!!) bus. If we chose this option, our pre purchased Vietnamese Visas would not have been a waste of £130. We whiled away an hour in a beautiful little cafe called 'Fruit Heaven', which served fresh veg juices and delicious fresh food. Little veg juice places are hard to come by any where in South East Asia. Lots of restaurants and cafes offer fruit shakes, which are a combination of fruit, sugar, milk and ice all blitzed up. Not as healthy as it initially sounds eh? We scanned Vietnam forums,

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Nan Ngum Lake 22nd to 24th

Sunrise at Ang Ngam
When we finally arrived at Ang Nam or Ban Na Kuen, whatever the hell it was called, one thing was for certain, we'd happened upon a vast beautiful sheet of water, peppered with little islands. Our Tuk Tuk stalled on the final ascent and the driver was struggling to get it moving forward. I got out and pushed. He dropped us off near a little harbour area, where as it happened, there were no Guesthouses whatsoever, we got back in the Tuk, and the driver 'tuk' us back up the hill to a rather posh looking resort. Further around there was a slightly more upmarket establishment, so our choices of accommodation for the next couple of nights were limited to say the least.  We agreed a price of 150,000 Kip per night for little cabin style rooms, fronted with a little wooden decking areas out front. Breakfast was also included so not all bad. The first evening the regular food debacle took place, the waitress speaking no english whatsoever, with no one being certain of what their actual order was intended to look like when it finally arrived. This usually finished up with one of our dishes being eaten by our new travel companions. The resort's food was edible, lets leave it at that. The breakfast was also edible if you like stale bread with double cold fried eggs.

The next morning Amanda was still feeling a little sinusy from the truck ride to the lake, she just wanted to chill for the day. I grabbed my fishing gear, a big kayak and hit the lake.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Vang Vienne - Feb 17th to 21st - New Pictures added 27th Feb

We departed Luang Prabang via a private minibus. The ride time in total was approximately 7 hours. A very cramped drawn out affair, but we got there in the end.
We arrived in Vang Vienne, then began the usual hunt for a bed.
After deliberating over a bridge toll of 4,000 Kip (33p) per person to a quieter section of town, we eventually bit the bullet and paid the 'Troll on the Toll'. As miserable a woman as you will ever see. Funnily enough the locals don't have to pay to cross these bridges, just the 'Farangs' (local name for Tourists/Foreigners). These bridge tolls would become a future form of angst and entertainment. It didn't matter how many times you crossed a little bamboo bridge, you would only receive a return pass.
Accommodatin wise, we struck lucky. A family were renting out a beautiful looking wooden cabin. It had three double bedrooms on the first floor, and Sam managed to convince John & Cathy to cough up for a separate teenagers bungalow at the bottom of the garden. A perfect pad.
So, what's in Vang Vienne? It has become notorious for 'Tubing'. What's Tubing I hear you ask? Well Tubing is when a load of 18 to 25 year olds hire large inner tubes and float down stream between various alcohol selling establishments along the river bank, getting smashed out of their skulls as they travel downstream...... We weren't here for Tubing, we were here for Vang Vienne's beautiful surroundings.

Caves, Rivers and Mountains surround the town, giving visitors great opportunity for exploring via kayak, mountain bikes or if you fancy braving the rocky outcrops, ropes!
Next day we grabbed kayaks for the afternoon, our guides no doubt assumed we'd be stopping at the bars on the way through, but this wasn't what we had in mind. We paddled gently downstream with the current assisting us on our 8 km journey. The surroundings were stunning. After an hour or so of the sounds of nature, our peace and quiet was pushed aside as we took on a little riffle of water that carried us around a sweeping corner on to a stretch of river that I could only class as 'Booming & Boozy'. We pulled our kayaks onto a shingle bank

Monday, 20 February 2012

Slow Boat, Luang Prabang and Steamy Massage 12th to 16th February

When we finally arrived in Huay Xie after the Gibbon Experience, we were planning on grabbing our backpacks from the hotel and boarding the 5pm bus to Luang Prabang (The Jewell of Laos), but due to Amanda being so ill that idea had flown straight out the window.  We rebooked into the hotel, and she snuggled up in bed, still nursing a high fever.  Noortje (Nora) was equally as ill.
John, Cathy & Sam were heading off on the 2 day slow boat journey the next morning at 10am.  We'd deliberated the slow boat, but decided against it in the end.  None of us wanted to stay in the border town of Huay Xie and longer than we wanted, but with the ladies so ill, it looked like we may have to stay the next day too.

Bicycle on the roof of the Slow Boat

I still held out hope, knowing how quickly the virus had welcomed itself into my system, then departed within 24 hours without as much as a simply thank you for allowing me to use my body as a vessel to pass it one to the majority of others in the tree house.
Whatever way we decided to travel, it would either be an 11 hour 5pm overnight bus, or a long boat down the Mekong, a six hour trip the first day with a stop at a little village almost half way, then 7 hours the next day.  The river cuts it's way through some beautiful landscape, so I assumed the scenery would be pretty impressive.
We woke early the next morning.  Amanda was feeling alot better, still tender, but well enough to travel.  I almost whooped with joy.  I walked 10 minutes to the

Monday, 13 February 2012

Gibbons, Zipping & Projectile Vomitting - 09/02/2011 to 12/02/2012

The local, young entrepreneurial couple handed us our pre-ordered sandwiches and drinks, all ready for the journey to the Gibbon.  As we paid for our salad baguettes a jolly, smiling (coffee induced) American lady named Cathy was doing the same thing.

Tommy, Sam, Paul, Bas, Amanda, Cathy, Noortje and John John
Big John towering at the back
Across the road The Gibbon Exp office was getting ready to show the comedic zip lining safety film.  The large group were then split across 3 vehicles and shipped out to the Bokeo National Reserve Rainforest.  The adventure begins.
During the night ahead of the Gibbon I was feeling a tad rough.  A slightly dodgy stomach but nothing serious, so nothing to worry about.
The ride in the open fronted Toyota truck was blustery, and I began to feel increasingly cold.  Young Aussie Paul  was playing human windbreak on the opposite side of the truck, he too was suffering a slight wind chill from the 50mph vehicular generated wind tunnel.  The six in the back all wished we'd opted for the cabin seats!
I mumbled to Amanda that I was feeling a little achey around the back and ribs, a little worse for wear, but nothing that wouldn't pass.  I continued having fun with our new compadres in the back fo the Toyota, exchanging travelling stories.  An hour passed

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Thailand to Laos: Luang Namtha - New Images Added 14th February

We boarded the bus from Chiang Rai headed for Chiang Khong, on the Thailand/Laos border, separated by the mighty Mekong river.
We dined on Pad Thai street food style, which Amanda grabbed before getting on board.  It was absolutely superb.  As we travelled through the North Eastern countryside, the last of the paddy fields glistened in the late afternoon sun, whilst the workers with their 'China Man' style hat's laboriously harvested the crops of rice.
We arrived in Chiang Khong at 3pm, booked into a guesthouse on the Mekong then headed back up into the town to check the market.
With such a vast waterway on our doorstep, I thought it would be rude not to throw a line into the Mekong's strong flow.  At the market I bartered hard with the vendors for a chunk of liver and a couple of chunks of catfish, finally settling for their original asking price......
I walked down through the Mekong vegetable allotments, a stunning selection of fresh veg, fed and fertilised by the water of the upper Mekong.  By 5pm I was casting out into a large area of slack water just off the main flow.  A long tail boat zipped up the river.  I held onto the rod, just waiting for something to happen, a bang, then a pull, then who knows.  As the sun settled down behind the trees and buildings opposite, my hopes of catching a fish from the Mekong gradually faded with the light.  I tried

Friday, 3 February 2012

Chiang Rai & Atta Hill

We headed to the bus station in Chiang Mai after the crazy night!
The terminal was incredibly busy, and the next available bus to Chiang Rai was at 5.30pm..... almost 4 hours away.....
As I paid for two of the last six seats left, Amanda snuck into the queue and told me a 'local entrepreneur' was trying to get ten passengers for his minibus.
He would be charging 300 baht per person, the bus was 260 baht..... He had told Amanda that he only needed 2 more passengers after us.
I asked for a refund as the transaction had just completed, we were charged 60 baht for the trouble.
Our local Thai Del Boy, had also bent the truth ever so slightly, as we were his first passengers.  The next 45 minutes was spent approaching all westerners to see if they were heading to Chiang Rai.  Del Boy managed to another 8 passengers together, but seemed happy that I was willing to help out.
Nutritious & Crispy
We arrived in Chiang Rai, then spent 45 minutes wandering around looking for Ben Guesthouse (which we'd booked), which was tucked away amongst a set of little streets.  It was on the outskirts of the city, but the arsehole of nowhere simultaneously.  Amazing!
We wandered the street market that night searching for some half healthy food.... I became distracted with the deep fried crickets, which one of the stall owners let me try.  To Amanda's disgust and surprise, I promptly purchased a bag of the tasty little hoppers.  Better than crisps let me tell you.  I also tried a crispy, soft centred maggot type critter.  That tasted like a nutty potato, but I didn't enjoy the soft centre.
The next morning we checked out, not really wanting to remain on the outskirts or indeed 'inskirts' of another city, so we called a couple of little mountain resorts.
We settled for Akka Hill Resort, it sounded