Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Although, I went for a bit of a wander. There are too many goddamn people here. It just makes me nervous. I don't wanna take my camera out, and if I can't take pictures, I don't wanna bother. Plus there are elephants wandering the streets. Ok, I'm exaggerating. I only saw one. But where's there's one elephant, one can only assume there are more right? They're well trained right? Maybe. I know they aren't well treated. I can't imagine owning such a beast of an animal and not respecting it. Case in point: A few weeks ago a local elephant owner left his money maker tied up for a few days and without food. Jeez, Wonder what a huge beast of a starving animal might do if left alone for a few days? It went on a rampage through Bangkok. Thankfully it only took its anger out on cars, but the potential for disaster is there.
So nervousness and claustrophobia, and vacation in general, leads to beer. So I stopped in a cafe for one. I noticed this particular cafe allows you to bring your own wine or liquor, but they do charge a modest "cockage" fee. I wonder exactly what happens to your bottle when you pay this cockage fee?
Anyway, I've found someone to get smashed with this evening, which was really my only goal here. I'll attempt some sight-seeing, but I'll be honest, I'm over it. Its too damn hot to wander around looking for another freakin' temple. There is a a forensic museum with ghastly things unrelated to any culture, but interesting, and I'll hopefully check out some Thai boxing on Friday. Then I'll head south for some lazy time on the beach. Gotta catch some rays before the deep abyss of grey in Russia!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Above is the sunset on Don Dhet...with some white balance askewment...
So I've made it Bangkok. The bus left an hour late but arrived 3 hours early. Go figure. So I wandered around bangkok at 4am. I did dirty things, like eat at Subway. And then went to a bar around 5am where I met some interesting people willing to put up with my stench. Well one anyway. The other two buggered off, hopefully because it was 5am and not because of my smell... But I spent the wee hours of the morning admiring prostitutes and making fun of fat slobs who come to Thailand with the sole purpose of laying a hot chick.
I've checked into quite a nice room. Its 11 dollars a night, which is actually quite pricey. But I'd be willing to stay...except they're booked the rest of the week. Bollocks.
Its New Years and I don't know what to do. Shower is on the top of the list, but there is only one for 10 rooms, so I don't know when I'll get the chance. Its about 830am, so I have time to nap, shower, wander and get drunk to ring in the New Year.
Happy New Year!
PS--Also found out I got bit by a leech! Yay for firsts!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Anyway, the day before Christmas, I decide to take the bus to Phonsevan, AKA jump off point for the Plain of Jars. If you are unaware, this is quite a place to see. Its thousands of enormous jars, whose origin is not definite. Most likely they are funerary urns. Definitely they are amazing. Also, they find themselves in the most bombed part of Laos, which if you didn't know, is the most bombed country per capita in the world, thanks to the good ole USofA. But lets not be political...
In the below photo, you see the markers put out by MAG (an organization that finds and destroys UXO or unexploded ordnance or the America's gift that keeps on giving). On the white side, you're safe, they've unearthed all the bombs. On the red side, could still be bombs. Notice the placement of the walking path to the marker:
So on Christmas Eve day we see these amazing jars, and an amazing turkey...
Sorry, but I've never seen a real turkey all puffed up. I just thought it was a cartoon thing!
This sign I guess warns of the danger of baby-eating mosquitoes:
And this one is just terrible. Check the bottom right image:
A 3 story building using sticks for scaffolding:
Here's a squeasel drying at the guesthouse I stayed in:
Ok, so here's something from the market, a veritable variety of Squeasel. Actually, its a porcupine and a bowl of dried rats, and their owner taking a nap:
Eventually the Italian guy I'd been hanging with takes the bus to Vang Vieng (readers will remember this as the place shel and I lost all dignity) and I join a couple of Dutch guys for beers. They immediately miss their bus, so we have more beers and then we jump on a night bus to Vientiane. I know the bus has a toilet, so I'm not worried about having to pee immediately from the beers. As we're waiting to leave (the 7:00 left at 8:00, but that's Laos) a tiny Laotian man sits in my lap. Yep. I was sitting on the aisle, with my bag in the window seat. He didn't even attempt to communicate, "Move your bag", he just sat on my lap. And he ignored me when I tried to communicate with him. Eventually, I'm able to move my bag and myself over, all the while, he's in no hurry to get off my lap. He gets off...and I realize...my pants are wet. Soaked. My entire lap. Yeah. I jump off the bus behind the Dutch guys going to smoke before we leave. We all three smelled my pants and determined it not to be pee...hopefully... (either way, my pants are being laundered as I type) My guess is that he had washed his good pants to go into town, and didn't have time to dry them. More a hope than a guess I suppose. So I spent Christmas eve, and the early hours of Christmas, on a bus with wet pants and a tiny Lao man leaning on me. We passed a place where the road had fallen off down the cliff. Barely enough room to pass. Quite comforting.
The Dutch drunks get dropped off appropriately in Vang Vieng.
So I arrive in Vientiane, the capital of Laos around 6am Christmas morning. I take a tuk tuk into town. I want a good breakfast, no rice. I want to call home. I want to get some money from the ATM. So I get a fancy little candy cane mocha, some fruit with yoghurt and granola (usually referred to as Muesli, and one time we saw a sign that said Fruit with Yoghurt and Muslim) and a ham and cheese croissant. I felt quite decadent. And still it only cost about 5 bucks. I got some money. And I tried to call home. Not one of my family members answered the phone. So feeling a bit off, I headed off to the bus station, to continue my journey to Savannakhet. A town I thought would be nice to spend Christmas night in.
It was a nice enough bus ride. At some point, the girl next to me offered me an egg. Thankfully I did not take it. I believe it was in fact a late term abortion of a chicken. Quite gross to watch her eat. But interesting nonetheless.
I get to Savannakhet, to find a dull, boring shell of a town. I check in at my hostel, and go searching for anyone that might speak English to have Christmas dinner rice and noodles. No success. I did have a nice dinner of fried morning glory and glass noodles, but alone.
I get back to the hostel, and take off my shoes and try to take them upstairs, not wearing them, because you don't wear shoes in the house here. The owner doesn't want me to take them up. I finally get my point across that these have to be packed in my bag. Then he tells me to be quiet upstairs. What? I'm by myself, I'm not drunk, its only 830. Whatevs, I go upstairs and start working on my computer. Just before 10 I go to plug it up and go to bed. His rickety ass shelf couldn't hold up the weight and I dropped my laptop on my foot. Within seconds, he is banging on my window, yelling "I told you to be quiet! What are you doing in there! Be quiet!" I had nightmares all night about him breaking in. The ironic thing is, he never said anything to the neighbors about their dogs that barked ALL night.
So basically, Christmas Eve was pretty cool except for wet pants. Christmas day blew. But hey, I left knowing Christmas would be pretty much alone, so its cool. And today I met a nice Dutch couple, and we're going to dinner at an Indian restaurant. And the Pakse is nice enough, and I have a great cup of coffee. So things are cool.
Hope you had a great Christmas!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
My point though. After weeks of curry and fried rice; no matter how much love both, you start to feel like your veins are running coconut milk, palm oil, and curry. I'm sure I've gained weight no matter how much walking I've done. And still, I just want a pizza! We're definitely spoiled for choice in the west. People in developing nations can't just pop around the corner for tex-mex, brats, or Italian. Some of that exists here, but the locals can't afford it. I always wonder why travel books tell you where to get western fare. Now I know. Dare I say it? I may have overdone curry and rice.
Ok probably not.
Its christmas, and I'm spending like so many days before. Eating rice, drinking beer, and going to bed to prepare for tomorrow. Except tonight, I've finally made it far enough south to have to really contend with mosquitoes. Not a lot going on in this town, and no one really knows its Christmas, so makes it easier not to miss home. Plus, everyone has to be in their residences before midnight, and guesthouses even earlier, so that puts a damper on celebrations. Good ole communism.
While I'm on the subject, let me address the worst part of communism. Our guide to the Plain of Jars (pictures one day) was a younger guy. His favorite band? The Backstreet Boys. Communism at work my friends.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I've spent a long time uploading this blog and photos. They are all at the top and in screwed up order. I cannot be bothered to fix it. Under the pics is my story of this one day.
Comments: The men eating on the ground. One guy is wiping his face in one. Because he wanted me to take the picture and he wanted to look good. Note the other guys face. He does not want me to take it, but agreed to one.
Little boy with two different expressions. He mostly walked around with a frown, but if he I smiled or poked him, he had the most beautiful smile to return.
Truck. They just decorate them ridiculously.
I would like to point out that this blog is formatted stupidly and it looks really long, but I think thats only because its such a narrow place for the type.
Anyway, no more excuses, read on. Also, I think I fixed it so that anyone can comment without being a registered user...hopefully...
I’m tired. I’m dirty. I’m bruised. My clothes are soaked in more sweat and caked in more dirt than I thought cotton could hold. I’m hungry. I’m cold. I’m bleeding in multiple places for reasons I don’t remember.
I just finished trekking through the jungle in Laos.
I want a beer. I want a hot meal. I want to have the words and the pictures to describe how intense this hike was. How gorgeous this hike was. How utterly amazing this whole experience was. I’ll try. I’ll try.
Shel and I took a boat yesterday, 7 hours, to a little town on the Ou river called Nong Khiaw. We were meant to continue on to another small town, but thought we might just see what this town offered. We found a trek that sounded about our speed and hopefully was not full of “falang” (local word for Caucasians, westerners, crackers, honkies, etc). A little guy tells us to bring boots and trekking sandals. He’s got the water and food. We get in the back of a pickup and head off. After about 2 minutes, we come across a landslide. So we hang out for a few minutes while a tractor clears enough away to pass.
The truck drops us off at a little Hmong village. If you are interested in housing, these people build their huts on the ground. Wooden walls and bamboo leaves for the roof. Apparently a bamboo roof can last up to five years, unlike banana tree leaf roofs at only three. (Keep that in mind if you get trapped on an island with multiple leaf types for your roofing.) Unfortunately, we’d just missed their New Year. From what I’ve read before, it’s a fantastic celebration. They get all dressed in their traditional garb. The singles in the town play a game involving tossing a ball back and forth between partners. From what I read in one village, PDA is encouraged in this game, to the embarrassment of the participants. But we missed that, so we continued on through their rice paddies. A rather grizzled gentleman in an old Soviet style jaunting cap proceeded to follow us along the narrow path. We thought he was just going the same way, but when we stopped for pictures of the landscape he refused to pass. I realized he had been appointed by the village, or perhaps just took it upon himself, to make sure the falang did not disrupt anything. We had a guide with us, but he was from town, and perhaps not to be trusted. Eventually the old man fell away; we’d reached the end of his villages paddies. It’s the sowing season, so it’s not the lush green paddies you see in the movies. Here and there are scattered seedling plots. But mostly its brown squares, each square a different family’s. They build huts in the paddies to break at midday, sometimes to stay in if they work too long. There were the occasional large pig or what I believe is a water buffalo, scattered through the paddies.
Our guide was named Boon-Home, or at least that’s how it’s pronounced. He guided us over streams and through paddy after paddy. I told him that his name sounded like BonHomme in French, or snowman, so I called him that, and joked that he should start his tour company, “Snowman Jungle Treks.”
After a while, we found ourselves in a Khamu village. Their houses are built on stilts. I would guess to avoid flooding. Our guide had mentioned having us buy paper and pencils for the kids, but when we arrived, the only thing to buy was candy. So we did, and it bought us a few pictures of the kids, who were priceless by the way. We watched a woman weave (things white people like: taking pictures of brown people working…) We watched a man deftly maneuver his blade up and down bamboo poles, making ¼ inch wide slats for material for their walls. We watched a little girl carry endless pails of water from the river to a group of elders making Lao-Lao, or local rice whiskey, or moonshine. I had a sip. I did actually view what I believe could only be called a “Squeasel”. A man came up to talk to our guide, holding what was obviously a small rodent, gutted and dried. At the time, I thought this was to be our lunch. I won’t lie; I was a little excited to give it a try. Unfortunately he ran off before I could take a picture, and fortunately or unfortunately, we did not eat in his village. Our guide did scramble up the ladder of a home to buy cigarettes for our local guides from the village. At the time, I thought, Why do we need two more guides? We were now two falang, and three guides. Did Shel and I look that needy? Or perhaps that out of control? Do we put off the impression that we’re going to run rampant through villages setting fire and raping the women?
We were now Becks, Shel, Snowman, Flip Flops and the Silent one. Flip Flops was better in his namesakes than we were in our expensive boots, and the Silent One; rarely a peep, only a blow of the machete.
We set off into the jungle. And for a while, it seemed that these extra guides only came to make noises with their machetes and pretend to do something so they could get paid. As usual when it comes to deep jungle situations, I was wrong. It was easy enough at first, but before I knew it, we were going straight up hill. A tiny narrow path, made for tiny Lao people. I don’t hike, I don’t do uphill. I’m out of shape and before I left for this trip, two doctors told me my heart may be, well, not at peak performance. There were so many times I thought I’d have to be left in the woods. But this was not hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, or even the AT, when a ranger isn’t too far away. I either got out on my own, or Shel, and these tiny Lao guys would have to carry me. But getting out wasn’t anywhere near, because we hadn’t even fully gotten in yet. We hiked up, up, and more up, for hours. At one point, Shel stopped to take a picture just to give me a breather. Other times, I didn’t wait for an opportunity, my body just stopped. Eventually, we came to a piece that was flat, still only 10 feet worth before the next hill, but enough to stop for lunch. Our local guides cut down banana leaves to use as seats and a table cloth. BunHom pulled some boxes out of his bag full of different kinds of foods, some bananas, and enough stick rice to constipate Napoleon’s army. We ate, I entertained our guides with impressions of Ho Chi Minh, using the bokchoy as a moustache. And then we had to press on. Up, up, up. Bunhome-Only a little more up. More up, more up. Then down! Praise jesus, allah, and the animist gods the locals worship! Thankfully, the guides had also cut us some bamboo walking sticks, because for as difficult as the up was, the down was equally treacherous. Now where Shelly had taken the “up” in stride, as if she were sauntering through the mall window shopping, I found my strong suit. Although I get a bit of vertigo going down long flights of stairs, or even short ladders, I can come down a hill with the best of mountain goats. Partially due to being able to quickly see where I plant a foot, and partially I think my weight just propels me down at a rapid speed. Perhaps it’s more like the giant ball in Indiana Jones, than it is mountain goat, but either way, I felt pretty comfortable. There were times that our path was a dried up narrow stream, left from the rainy season, full of rocks. There were times that our path was a narrow hole between boulders and tree limbs. A keen knowledge of acrobatics or perhaps contortionism would have been nice here. For the most part I took it in stride. Shel had a few tumbles, but our man Flip Flops was right behind to pick her up. I proudly only fell a few times, but they were doozies. Apparently, on the really bad one I actually bounced. How appropriate, because earlier I’d been telling Shelly about the claymation Rudolph movie; “Bumbles bounce!”
We started getting tired, and making stupid moves, and stumbling more. We heard voices! A village! We’d been in the jungle for hours now, we had to be near a village! But alas, it was a group of men sawing lumber for a house. They had a seat made from large bamboo poles stretched between wooden “sawhorses”. They offered a space on it, I took it, and I took it right down. The low point in the day perhaps; making these men’s’ bench collapse, but I was too tired to care. Once on the ground, it was all I could do not to just sleep there, but locals laughing heartily at me propelled me up, that and a few hands. So we bid farewell, or Sabai Di, and continued through the jungle, even more tired for the brief rest. Bunhom always saying we were close.
Finally! Back to the wee teak forest on the edge of the paddies, and then the hour trek through the paddies, through the streams, and on, to a new village, where small childrens cries of “Falang! Falang!” were heard as we walked through. Our guide pulled up some chairs outside one of the local guide’s family house. Needless to say, I tested its stability before sitting down. The local children gathered around me, so I took their pictures and showed them to them. The town’s women gather around, but kept their distance. While they were smiling, a man stayed near the children with a scowl. He did not appreciate the town’s children being so happy about falang. You could spot his boys, the older one, about five, kept pulling his younger brother away from the kids and the falang, but you could also tell he wanted to play too. He kept smiling and laughing with the rest, but if he caught you looking at them, he’d pull his brother back. I’d pick my camera up, and point at the kids and say “You? You?” asking if they wanted their picture taken. They didn’t understand, they just started pointing at each other and me, excitedly mimicking “You?! You?!” It was beautiful. Around this time, I hear our guide tell Shelly, “Truth. I have never done this trek.” WHAT!? HAHAHAHAHAHA! All the sudden I didn’t feel so bad. Maybe I’m out of shape, but this trail had never been tested on falang. We may very well have been the first white people to walk through that part of the jungle. And I realized then, that we had not seen another westerner all day. Only locals. It was amazing. Bunhom then gathered us up for a short walk to a river, where a small canoe type boat with a motor on it was waiting to take us down river back to Nong Khiaw. A few minutes down and our guide had to clamber to the back to start bailing water. We watched the sun set behind the mountains as our boat moved through the waters, around rocks and islands. It was an amazing way to end the day. I was bleeding from my feet, I was now, only an hour after sweating and dreaming of cold beer, freezing and dreaming of hot curry. But it didn’t matter, because we were alone on the river, enjoying this all to ourselves.
I’d really love to have a glass of red on the Danube right now. But I’m perfectly happy with a beerlao and a plate of noodles on the Ou river. And I’ll do it with a great friend and an amazing feeling that I just completed one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. But I’ll have a shower first, I mean come on, I’ve been trekking in the jungle for eight hours!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Perhaps Shel and I like our drink a bit much. We have found ourselves in Vang Vieng. Visitors to
Let me try to regain some travelling dignity. As I write this, its very early in the morning. I’m sitting in a cabana next to a river. The guesthouse I’m staying at is a working organic farm. They grow mostly mulberries, but also they raise goats and ducks among other things. They operate a mojito bar next to the river where the tubers put in. The profits go to support a bus that delivers kids from 3 villages to school. There is a restaurant onsite, serving things from the farm. You can volunteer on the farm or in the school. One guy comes from
We were meant to take the bus north today, but the roads are treacherous, and with these hangovers, we would surely chunder all the way. So we’ll stay here at the farm for another day. I’ll nurse my bruised knees, maybe have one mulberry mojito, but just one. Maybe we’ll even try tubing again, but without the aid of alcohol this time.
Wrote that a few days ago. I'm now in Luang Prabang in the north of Laos. There is so much to see and travel is so slow here. I think I'm going to save Vietnam for another time. Heading off for a boat trip tomorrow. When we get back in about a week, I'll have some time to sort through pictures properly and write up about Angkor Wat, monkey bites, motor oil, etc.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Traffic Laws. I've yet to see hard evidence that they in fact exist in Phnom Penh. The roads are definitely two way. You know this by the yellow line down the middle and the general flow in opposing directions. Do not let this fool you. Lane directions is only a suggestion. You may drive any direction you want.
If you happen to go down the one road that has traffic lights in the capital of Cambodia, stop if you want, but its not necessary.
Thing is, traffic is so slow around here, it doesn't really matter. You drive where you want, you walk where you want. They just go around you. It's beautiful really.
There is no public bus, metro, etc. There are tuk tuks, motorbykes with a carriage attached, or less popular, regular bikes with a carriage attached. Regular bikes have room for one maybe two people, motorbyked tuk tuks can hold four. This holds true for westerners, but locals can carry out feats that will impress any clown car fan.
On any given street corner there are from one to fifteen men on plain motorbykes. This is the easiest way to get around. You just hop on and go. Well, in theory. They don't always know where you want them to go, but usually it only takes a minute to figure it out.
My first night here I took a moto to a "companion bar". The next day, I took a tuk tuk out to the killing fields and the prison museum. I had been sitting outside my guesthouse reading. Driver comes up and asks where I'm going. I say Killing field, but not till later. He had trouble understanding "later", but I got my point across. He says he'll come back for me. I laugh and continue to read. Eventually I go for internet down the street and on my way back he pulls up. "You ready?" Why not, so I hopped in. He didn't know much English, but was quick with a genuine smile. When he dropped me off at the museum, he asked when I wanted him to come back and we agreed on two. I got out a little early, and went for a wander. There are about 15 drivers standing outside anywhere that may attract tourists. One in particular comes up and asks if I already have a driver, I say yes, he says, "He is not coming" kind of joking. I say, no I'm early, he'll be here. Sure enough, at exactly two, he finds me in a store a little ways down the road. A good tuk tuk driver is good to have. He takes me back to my guesthouse and asks what time to pick me up tomorrow. I do not realize at this point that not all drivers are so pleasant. I say I don't know what I'm doing and he leaves. I half expected him to be outside my guesthouse the next morning. He wasn't and I wandered down the street and jumped on a motorbyke.
This morning I walked, everywhere, so far. Then realized I'd left my passport in my room and was not comfortable with that so hopped a byke toute-suite to get back there. When we arrived, I told him to wait because I wanted to go back where I was. When I came back out, who's standing next to him? My tuk tuk driver from two days before. He asks where I'm going today, I tell him just around. For some reason I tell him I'll be back this afternoon. I think I was thinking about having him take me somewhere. I jump on the byke and leave him with his tuk tuk. I come back around 2pm, and I see him sitting in a driveway a few down from my guesthouse. He doesn't spy me. Here's the kicker-he's taken the carriage off his tuk tuk. Its now just a motorbyke. Coincidence? I don't think so. He saw that I had been going around on just a byke and he came back with just a byke. He has now driven past the guesthouse about 5 times. Ironically, had he been sitting outside in his tuk tuk, I probably would have had him take me out of town. But I don't want to drive an hour on the back of a byke. Plus now I'm creeped out and don't want to go out of town with him anyway!
I leave for Siem Reap/Angkor Wat in the morning. Meeting Shel there and apparently we already have a tuk tuk driver arranged. Sheez. The things I get myself into.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
K. I'm currently getting eaten my mosquitoes. And while I should use this time to write some elaborate blog on how amazing everything is, I'm just not in the mood. Thinking about hopping a motorbike to a pub. Here's some pics to get you going though.