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East Cambodia: Done & Dusted

Dusted & Stoned

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Ban Lung
Whilst stopped at Stung Treng for three hours ("only one hour sir for next bus"), I met two Canadians, J & C. They were heading the same way and wanted to see same sights so immediately struck up a conversation. The eventual bus took off, like a rocket, down an unsealed road, me sat in the middle, my cheeks flapping somewhere near the back. This trip, apparently should take four hours but the way it was hurtling, tree branches zipping past my window, I was thinking maybe 30 minutes.

Four hours later, in the relatively early darkness of the evening, we arrived in Ban Lung and clamoured past the hoards of guest house reps all badgering for our custom.

The road on the way was made of red dust which got everywhere. The trees outside were cloaked in red, giving somehow a proper northern hemisphere November feel to them. Even with the windows closed, the dust was getting in the bus. My throat was lined with it, so croakily asked about the wares of each hotel on offer on arrival.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Ban Lung: here

We opted for an out of town abode overlooking the lake, appropriately called Lake View Lodge. It promised free internet access and a swimming pool. It was a nice guest house but they no longer had internet access and the swimming pool was full of fish.

It was dark, I was tired and my room had cable TV so I dropped my dusty backpack off my back, kicked off my dusty shoes, removed my dusty shirt and settled back for some Planet of the Ape action.

In the morning, I saddled up to the restaurant and had breakfast where the manager offered me a trip to see the surrounding waterfalls and crater lake, "your friends are also doing it", he said. Cool, it's always better with others, I was in.

Jen & Coll came down and had brekky too. The manager looked at Jen and said with an honest and straight face, "Do you like cock?". In a flash, our eyebrows raised, jaws dropped and then uncontrollably fell into hysterics. Poor guy, he eventually caught on, but purely and innocently was referring to the toy rooster she had with her.

ooh, here comes more dust

I'm not a great bike passenger but dug in and spent all day on the back of a moped, going over all types of terrain, driving literally through roadworks, into ruts, breaking down, seeing waterfalls and taking a trip and a dip to a nearby lake which is an old volcanic crater. It's amazing how clear and how warm this lake is, which is allegedly 50m deep. It was good to get rid of some of the dust from myself too, which now lined, not only my airways but the complete surface area of skin too, possibly even some more layers of epidermis. Nice tan effect though.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Ban Lung: here

We were going to do a three day trek the following days but the heavens opened that evening and a quick squizz at the web showed it was to be relentless for a few days in this region so plans changed to catch a bus down south.

I ummed and ahhed about the merits of going straight to Phnom Penh or stopping by Kratie. Kratie did have the option of possibly seeing the worlds rarest freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins but the chances of seeing them are somewhere between slim and none and even then you may see only a fin popping out of the brown waters of the Mekong, so I opted against and booked a minibus straight to Phnom Penh. As it happens, David Attenborough showed me the teamwork and fish catching skills of freshwater dolphins in the Ganges on cable TV that night.

Phnom Penh

What a long bus journey, broken up at a few rest stops to see two mad women fighting (it looked like the wasted one with the ripped shirt and bra showing hadn't paid the bill and the owner was beating her with a rubber hose - mental note, pay the bill) and another stop to have a taste of fried tarantula. Hmmm.. well the legs weren't that nice - a bit chewy - but the body had the texture of olive and a taste of liver.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Phnom Penh: here

The minibus made a few stops in PP (Phnom Penh) and with it came mad running tuktuk drivers all wanting a piece of our action. It's the same walking about the city. It's ok and I don't despise them because it's their job but it's so incredibly annoying and after being asked 56 times in the span of 4 minutes if you want a tuktuk, it really gets on your tits, especially after the peace of Laos.

In PP, I stopped at one guest house near the Boeng Kak lake and the ground floor room had paper-thin flimsy walls and it was right next to the bar and the stuck-on-permanant-loud TV. "No worries", I thought as I'd be up to watch the United match that they told me they had on. I hadn't reckoned on mob rule later on when a crazy Israeli guy thought it'd be better to start banging on about democracy and that he and his mates should watch the wacky (and Israeli?) Zohan instead.

A guest house that allows a dictatorship of on-demand movies, or more especially one that doesn't allow me to see a 5-0 drubbing of Stoke after promising it would, will do well to secure my patronage so I waited for the heavens to stop and the two foot deep street rivers to dry up (ie. the next morning) and chose a far better, quieter and sturdier walled hotel round the corner: Grand View Guest House, Tel: 012 666 547, www.grandview.netfirms.com

Security Office 21

Anyone who comes to PP visits the killing fields and S-21 and I was no exception. I was briefed to go to S-21/Tuol Sleng first to get an understanding of the horrors of the genocide in the 70's here. S-21 used to be a Tuol Svay Prey High School but it was turned into a prison by Pol Pot's forces, impressionable children also used as staff, and the classrooms were used to interrogate, torture and execute "new people" who had western influences, crazy things such as education or wearing glasses. The Khmer Rouge wanted a country with simple folk working on rice fields.

--see more photos of S21: here

I watched a sad movie there then wandered round in silence, unable to comprehend, as with Auschwitz months before, how any group of high ranking individuals can force their obscenely mental and tortuous plans onto subordinates to carry out these fucking horrific plans of theirs.

Afterwards our tuktuk driver took us to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where thousands upon thousands of individuals were cold-bloodily executed and buried in mass graves. All around the craters of the graves dug up are there to see and there is a huge but tasteful and moving monument there full of only a fraction of the skulls that have been excavated from the graves.


Our tuktuk driver wasn't the fastest in the city but it gave us time to reflect what we had seen on our slow journey back to the centre.

Unconditional Love

We paused at a market to buy some supplies and then Villa took us to a local orphanage: National Action Culture Association (NACA) Orphanage / www.myspace.com/peaceandfreedom_sm. The younger ones ran straight up to us to see what we'd brought them and immediately went about colouring in the books with the brightly coloured pencils that came with them.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Phnom Penh: here

Some of the older ones were a bit more restrained (seen it all before I guess) but an hour later when it was time for us to leave, after several piggy backs and helping them with their drawings, even these wrapped their arms around you in appreciation of just stopping by.


One girl even ran after us and gave us a paper flower she'd made. Bless them all. There was a folder inside the orphanage which told you about each kid and how they ended up being there which made for sad reading but funny too as they each described themselves and their favourite colours and food. Mostly pizza. The lady that ran the place is an angel. I do hope they have successful futures ahead of them. They sure are happy.

I got dropped off at the Royal Palace which after the full day before me, was a bit of a come down. The highlight was supposed to be the Silver Pagoda, so called because the floor is composed of solid silver tiles, but they had carpet over it all. The highlights, if I really searched to find themha to pick them, were seeing clothes donated by the Fab Four (possibly not true and maybe just in my head) and seeing models of a royal procession which reminded me of Kim Jong-il in Team America..

I'm so ronerey..

The next day I went for a wander, a read, the museum (many statues of Vishnu or Buddha) and a few draft beers. I think I like this city better than Bangkok but they have to sort their waste management out. It looks like a tip in most places. That night we had half a happy pizza each and asked if we could put the rest in their fridge till tomorrow morning. They were ok about that. The following morning I tried to get up to go to the animal sanctuary and could hardly lift my arms and legs - they were seemingly made of lead. Nine hours and was still stoned. I went downstairs in case the others were there and was relieved to see Jen walking into the restaurant like a zombie who's head looked as vacant and cabbaged as mine. What was in that pizza?

I want a mate

Needless to say the rest of the morning was written off but then we forced ourselves to go out and took an enormous tuktuk ride to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, the sister site to the Luang Prabang one. It was bigger and less intimate. Obviously they still had cages but it didn't seem as friendly nor as much effort put in. The guide was just after money to feed what he would have been feeding them anyway, but the animals as ever were amazing. Monkeys crawling about everywhere. One gibbon looked so sad to be without a mate inside while the otters were happily frisky and playful.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Phnom Penh: here

After a long ride back during rush hour, we stopped by the restaurant to see if they still had the other halves of the pizzas for us (don't ask, we were starving). Not only did they, but they also heated it up for us again and never charged us. How great is a restaurant that will store your leftovers and reheat them for you the next day? BKM Cafe I think it's called.

Today, as I am finally up to date on my diaries, it's a day of chilled out wandering around again, (maybe bump into Ben as he's around) ignoring the calls for motos and tuktuks, sitting in the aircon web cafes and avoiding viruses, nipping to the post office (who's the lucky one?) and sipping a couple of Angkor and Anchor beers before relaxing for dinner, a movie and heading up to Battambang on an early bus tomorrow. I've had my fill of Phnom Penh.

Next update: sam wat time, same wat channel...

Love n hugs
Suggs x

Posted by suggs69 15:11 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rice, Elephants, Jars & Bombs

The Laos Bits Inbetween: #2

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Muang Ngoi Neau / 29 October 2008

I took a minibus and then a boat up to MNN as there is no road access to the village. I never knew how long I was going to stay here and organising a trek for the next day was proving to be difficult as there were not many visitors and if you didn't combine it with someone the prices shoot up.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Muang Ngoi Neau: here

As it happens I met Peter on the minibus section and he wanted to do a one day trek. That was good for me too so we shared the cost of a guide. There is no electricity from the national grid in the village. They only have power when they crank up the generators between 6pm and 9pm. I had a quick meal before the lights went out and got up ready for a full day's hiking.


Our guide was forever informative and although throughout the trek I reckoned we could have walked this ourselves we surely wouldn't have learned as much. We trekked through the greenest of paddy fields and through a few villages, stopping for lunch at one, jumping in the nearby river to cool off at another (and flicking the leeches off me - incidentally, apart from the odd insect, I've had no trouble with mozzies in Laos) and thinking that I'll come back and stay longer as these villages look in harmony - all the animals live with each other cats, chickens, dogs, pigs, ducks without trying to eat each other - the people in the hammocks look like life relaxed. I checked my diary and it looked like I couldn't stay more than a couple of days this time as I still had my elephant training to book in. Shame that but it gives me something for another visit.


Lao people constantly amaze me with their resourcefulness. They will use anything for everything. No more so that when we came to a small river and they had made a small dam and used a boat propellor to generate electricity for their home. There was a huge satellite dish next to it so I assumed it was for important communications as they were so remote - naaa, the electric was just to watch Thai TV.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Muang Ngoi Neau: here

After the hike Peter and I watched the locals play petanque before being invited to challenge them. It was a rudimentary petanque court and surprisingly we won the first game although overall (and strangely when we played for money) we lost the most games. That evening the local guys invited us to their BBQ which was dog. Dogs are working animals to them (security), just like cats (rat catchers), chickens (egg layers) and water buffalo (tractors) so at some point they will eat it. They used every single part of it. Initially the stew was nice, but the harder bits of meat afterwards were rubbery and the "blackpudding" was getting a bit too strong in taste for me, so I thanked by guests with a Lao Lao toast and retired to my pit.


Mahout Training / 2 November 2008

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Mahout Training: here

Rather than an hour on the back of an elephant, I wanted to learn more about them and spend some quality time with them so chose to partake on a Mahout training course which is two days(ish) with elephants and their trainers and learning to control them when riding. I never looked at the details of the course. There was a lot more to be had on these two days. There was just me and two others enrolled and the first thing was a ride on the back of an elephant but on a seat.


However, not long into the ride, the mahout (the trainer) offered me the neck to sit on. This was more like it and a little scary too. It's a long way down from up here and despite the thick skin of the elephant I was cautious about digging my knees in too hard.


It got better after lunch when we were taught the basic Laos commands to control the elephants: forward, left, right, STOP!, lie down, and the most important: spray, for when we were taking them to the river to bathe.
We climbed aboard again and guided our three elephants down to the river to bathe them. The only word that didn't work was spray. Awwwww blummin flip!

The commands:
PAI: forward
PAI-XAI: left
PAI-QOUA: right
HAO: stop
TOI: back
YA-YA: no (stop doing bad)
MAP LONG: lie down
LOUK: stand up
HUB: bend knee up
BOUN-BOUN: spray water

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Mahout Training: here

After this we let them rest in their jungle and we did some tubing back to the lodges where we were overnighting. I would say there was no expense spared at these lodges, as from the front and from the inside they looked incredibly comfortable - and were - but they seemed to have scrimped on the thatched when they were making the bathroom. If you wanted to pee or shower, you were doing it sans roof. After a delightful dinner (I was expecting sticky rice again) and a bizarre Thai/Australian elephant movie which couldn't make up it's mind which language to speak and subtitle, it was early to bed for a 6am rise to pick up the elephants and get them ready for the day ahead. Unfortunately we didn't have much time with them and looking back would have preferred more time and information on the big hairy gentle giants but alas we had other things on the itinerary.


We caught a boat in the rain to Tad Sae waterfall where we had a dip in the fresh and cold waters, had lunch and then caught a boat again to pick up kayaks to travel down the Nam Khan all the way back to Luang Prabang. The river is quiet and meandering and it was a relaxing way to end a great couple of days.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Mahout Training: here

Phonsavan / 4 November 2008
My last excursion from Luang Prabang was to see the Plain of Jars (or Plains of Jars) around Phonsavan. It was a long, bumpy uneventful bus journey and Phonsavan welcomed me with a cloudburst of epic origins. It's not a great town to look at, pretty much a one road town that caters for PoJ tourists. But this is when I became ill too so my appreciation of most things took a hit. I checked a couple of guest houses, not much to shake a stick at but opted for this one as it had an interesting collection of armoury in the reception area.


As it turns out, all guesthouses and shops have old weapons here there and everywhere. The american military has a lot to answer for in this region (and a couple of provinces in the south) as they littered the countryside with millions of tonnes of bombs, mostly clusterbombs, in a secret war as nobody knew. Not even the american public knew of this. It was during the Viet Nam war and America wanted to stop Laos being used as a route for the North Vietnamese so, even though they signed the Geneva convention saying they were not at war with Laos, USA still dropped almost the equivalent of 2 tonnes of explosives per member of the Laos population. If the weather was too bad to drop bombs on Viet nam, then the air force were instruicted to release them over Laos instead of trying to land back with them.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Phonsavan: here

The sad thing about this is about 30% of them didn't explode so now there are all these horrific injuries from farmers and children finding one and either trying to use it for scrap metal or playing with them thinking they are balls. I popped by the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to read about it and watch a couple of videos and was surprised to find that their head office is on Newton Street, Manchester. They have a website which shows (and it can be used with Google Earth) how many bombs were dropped over Laos at www.maginternational.org/laopdrbombingdata.

I went on an organised tour of the Plains of Jars as the other option was hiring a bike and I wasn't sure of the weather. As it turns out it was miles to get to the three main sites so a minibus was the better option.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos of Phonsavan: here

Of the three, I prefered site two best up the hill. The jars are from "x" years ago, possibly 2000 years ago but no-one seems to be able to put either a date to them or a use. They think they were used either as funeral jars or distilling alcohol. Let's hope not both.


As the heavens opened again on the way back, I thanked my lucky stars I didn't hire a bike and then shivered and sweated my way to my very poorly and uncomfortable bed. That was it for Phonsavan, I needed to get out and get better so was on the next bus out and back to Lunag Prabang.

Incidentally, I was always under the impression that Laos was pronounced like it never had the "s" (so that it rhymes with wow) and that only Americans pronounced it with the "s" (so it rhymes with mouse). After speaking to many locals, they said it is Lao (rhymes with wow) if you're talking about the people, but they would say Laos with the "s" when talking about the country.

Posted by suggs69 23:37 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Last Days of Laos

...3996, 3997, 3998, 3999, 4000 Islands

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Bum Luck

Hmmmm. I spoke to soon about not having the shits.
This is where the toilet bum jets really come into their own.

Leanne suggested it could be the anti-malarial larium I was taking and when I checked the possible side effects; nausea, dizziness, affected sleep, diarrhoea, it certainly seemed so, and other things were affected: my energy, strength (my pack seems twice as heavy), appreciation, humour, sociability. Therefore I'll definitely have to find some new ones.

I was now reduced to eating basic food: bread, rice, but everytime I ordered something, it transpired my luck was also affected. The food was always different and more disgusting to what I expected and whenever I ordered the more exensive western food, I could only manage a quarter of it. Paying more to eat less. Brilliant.

..and other things around me got ill too: just after posting my last blog my USB stick got a trojan virus which then got on my mini-laptop which meant there was no way I was connecting my camera to it (as it removes and replaces folders with an identical exe "folder").


I made it in this state to Champasak. I got off the plane at Pakse and several of us got a tuktuk to the local market and found a local bus down to Champasak for two reasons:
1. Pakse had nothing going for it;
2. Champasak has a temple since the 5th Century that has had a lot added to during the Angkorian period.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

Incredibly, they were pondering whether to load up the back with 5 panes of glass with the passengers but fortunately saw the light and sent them separately. Instead it was choc full of people and bags of food, and lastly the driver put on two big sack o' spuds, one near my feet.

Only when we set off, these spuds starting squealing. Like a pig. ARRRGH!

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

There's a pig kicking around at me. Poor bugger. Obviously distressed, and possibly overheated, I wanted to pour some water over it but had no idea where it's head was and certainly didn't want to waterboard it. Then after an hour or so, it had found a hole and when I next looked down, it's snout was out and resting on my foot so I offered it some water. It declined. PIG!

In the morning I hired a push bike and cycled to Wat Phu Champasak which was 9km away..

..allegedly. With my energy levels low it felt like 25km and upon arriving, there were huge steps to climb to reach the temple up the hill.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

It was ok but I was a little underwhelmed at it but put it down to illness and tiredness. Cycling back, on my bicycle with basket on the front, with a brimmed hat on and long sleeve cotton shirt, I figured I looked like an old english vicar and all that was missing was for me to cycle past a buxom young blonde, do a doubletake and then swerve into a hedge.

Then a little bit more south to...

Si Phan Don

More commonly known as 4000 Islands, due to the numerous rocks and sandbars and isles set in a 14km wide part of the Mekong. 14km wide!!! Depending on the time of year and level of the river, the number of islands will change.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

I arrived on Don Det exhausted after a long day's travelling without any decent food. Was invited to sit at an aussie couple's table but declined and said I wasn't feeling very chatty. Still on basic food, I even went for basic hut which wasn't bad overlooking the river for 15,000 kip a night. This was on the north of Don Det, the "traveller part" but I still couldn't get into the party scene though as I wasn't drinking still and was getting tired way too early. I hired another bike and crossed the bridge to the other island and promptly got a puncture. A local came and fixed it using a combination of rubber and fire.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

I continued and saw Tat Somphamit waterfall. This is one of several waterfalls at this point of the Mekong where boats can go no further and beyond this is Cambodia.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

I also saw the 2 aussie girls again, Suz and Caitlin, apologised for being a grump last night and asked if the offer to join them at the table was on offer tonight. I was clearly feeling better and more sociable, and their friendliness helped too.

The following day I ran into Peter from Muang Ngoi and then just relaxed by kipping in the hammock all arvo and popping to the bakery which is divine. All trip I've avoided sweets and chocolate and now I'm ill, I've got a a taste for iced Ovaltine drinks and doughnuts.

Not sure what the forks are made out of down here, they look like metal but are paper thin and as soon as you put a pica-joule of force onto them, they bend like Uri Gellar at a weirdo festival.

For the last night in Laos, I've opted for Noy's bungalows. Relatively expensive at 100,000 kip but large and tiled and clean and the beds are the comfiest yet (pillows not like a sack of sand) and just a bit of luxury I need to sort me out before heading to Cambodia. I am starting to feel a lot better. And my pack feels lighter.
--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

Just crossed the border and waiting to change buses. It's amazing how many different spellings of the Cambodian border town there is in the space of 20 metres.. even in the stamps on my passport: Dong Crorlor, Dong Cralaw, Don Kalaw, Dong Kralor..

Posted by suggs69 05:23 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Tubes & Rocks

The Laos Bits Inbetween: #1

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Vang Vieng / 21 October 2008

Could it be anymore fun?

Vang Vieng is like a party town. It's the kind of place you'd go on a stag do/hen night. It's a holiday away from travelling. It's a place I could easily get sucked into and stay longer. In the end I woke up on day 6 and had to get the next bus out of town :o)

The town itself isn't much to look at but the surrounding views are spectacular. Limestone cliffs rising out of the fields and overlooking the many guesthouses and bars showing endless reruns of Friends or Family Guy. You can order an opium shake or ask for any meal "happy" and they'll throw in a few magic mushrooms for you.
For the record, my recommendation is Phoom Chai Guesthouse, Tel: 020 532 7622 as it's new, clean and quiet and only 40,000 for 2 people.

There are cliffs to climb, a river to kayak or tube, caves to explore but the one thing that everyone does...


Fun? You betcha

Jean, Nick and I started day 1 while Dee recovered in bed but met up with Scott, Ben, Donna, George, Rachel, Alison.
All 4 of us did the second day of tubing and on my third day of tubing, where I finally got a number under 100 (ie. 99.. but no flake), I went along with Ben, Jayne, Paul, Tash, Joanna, Lucy, Claire and met up with Simon, Dan & Nancy from speed boat, Rachel and Alison again, Nene, and many others.

Day 1 Start

Day 2 Start

Day 3 Start

--see bigger, better, brighter photos for Tubing Day 1: here
--see bigger, better, brighter photos for Tubing Day 2: here
--see bigger, better, brighter photos for Tubing Day 3: here

Calling it tubing is a bit of a misnomer as there is very little tubing involved. Basically, you rent an inner tube and then get taken up river a few kilometres where you then proceed to "float" down, stopping at various riverside bars for the odd drink or three. The first bar is before you touch the water. The next is 20 metres down river.

Each bar has something to keep you amused, usually something designed to injure the weak, in the guise of swings, zip wires, slides or mud volleyball. And copious amounts of drink too. The tubes are merely a way of getting from bar to bar. Fortunately, I had a waterproof camera which proved invaluable, as did the float that I bought for it too, especially so when I jumped in the water off a swing and saw the camera float downstream.

The swings start from a high platform and you should let go when you're well over the river or fall into nearby rocks. The zi wires are straight forward as long as you let go before the arm wrenching end.


The volleyball court has to be the most dangerous. Without seeing the floor, it's an ankle breaker under all that mud. But so much fun too.


At every bar you also get a free shot of "Lao Lao" (rice wine/whisky.. the jury's still out), the best bar for getting this is Mr Lao Lao's, who must have the best job in the world.

Mr Lao Lao

You're supposed to return the tubes for 6pm but, apart from us scraping it on day one, it's almost impossible and you find yourself drifing down the river in pitch black, staring up at the starlit heavens, wondering when to stop and get out. It's not too hard.. you see the island bars and know that Bamboo/Bucket Bar = stop and drink for the rest of the night. So much fun and a great way of meeting people too. I think on the last day I got a bit of whiplash from one of the zips/swings. Of course the more you drink the more confident you get. I understand the local hospital is a queue of westerners from tubing. While I was at the volleyball, some unfortunate dislocated his shoulder and had to pop it back in himself.

Three Manchester Boys

Watch me and Jean on zip here (skip 30 seconds if you can)
Watch me on the slide here
Watch Jean in the Bamboo Bar here
Watch Dee on the swing here
Watch Jean on the zip here
Watch me and Jean on the swing here
Watch video of ZipCam here (I couldn't hold it properly)
Watch Ben on the swing here
Watch Natasha & Jayne on the zip here
Watch me on the big swing here

Rock Climbing in VV

Dee and I joined another group and went climbing at the nearby cliffs. I already knew Ben from Thailand (biker boy) and got introduced to a great crowd of friends.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos for Rock Climbing: here

Rock 9: me, Dee, Ben, Tash, Chloe, Dave, Rachel, Jayne, Paul

We walked through fields and up towards the cliff face and after the guides set up the ropes, I had first go. It was tricky in the heat and even more so the day after tubing. If I do this again or if I'm recommending, I'd say have a dry day before climbing. I was so dehydrated.

Everyone gave it a good go though and it was a fantastic day. I only managed three main climbs but finally got to the top of the last one and the views from the top are stunning. The rocks were quite sharp and I've several cuts and scrapes to show for it afterwards but that wasn't to say it's not professional., The guides looked after us very well indeed and gave excellent tuition. On the way back some of us travelled on the top of the tuktuk which felt like it was going to topple at every corner. Fun bunch of people some that I travelled back to Luang Prabang with later on.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos for Rock Climbing: here

Posted by suggs69 12:22 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Moonbase Luang Prabang

The Luang Prabang Rubber Band

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Time to get to Luang Prabang. "Sod it!", I thought. Let's get the speed boat. I do like a bit of adventure after all. I paid and committed myself then went for breakfast. Met a couple who had come up on it day before and they said it was the only way to travel. Then went to the pier and saw Rudy, a German living in Thailand with friends in Luang Prabang, who said he'd done this trip 50 times and there was nothing to worry about.

There has been many stories of the boat hitting submerged rocks and flipping and rumours that westerners were not going to be allowed on them. Rudy told me the drivers knew the river and therefore where all the rocks were. The issue was fallen trees from the wet season that had become stuck under the currents.

That said, we still get issued with helmets.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here
Speed boat 6: me, Simon, Rudy, Dan, Nancy, Scott

Well, what a hoot. Of course we were apprehensive at first and donned the helmets as asked but how easy was that? I'd recommend it to anyone*. You've got more chance contracting Deep Vein Throbosis so I would say take as little hand luggage as possible as there isn't much room in the cramped seats. And this is where I have to doff my hat to Dan who gave up his front seat, and leg room resting on the backpacks, at half way for me. Cheers!

Watch the speed boat here

After halfway, we were helmet-less which made for a better journey. The only incident was near the end when we went over someone else's wake and Scott's helmet flew off and out of the boat. We even had a race.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

  • but I'm not responsible should anything happen

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a lovely peaceful town. Buses and trucks are banned, there is a curfew at 11.30pm so all bars close and it has an old french colonial feel to it. There are food stalls everywhere. My favourite being chicken on a stick. A good bit of BBQ'd chicken for about 10000Kip (66p).

In the mornings around 5.30 the monks from the nearby wats walk round town accepting food gifts from the townsfolk (and tourists) in a ceremony called "Receiving the Alms". Mostly rice, this is what they eat for the rest of the day, so I'm told. It's an orangey sight to see, spoilt a bit by the odd tourist getting to close for photos (haven't they heard of zoom?). When I was there it was a coachload of Americans but could very easily have been French, English or German next time. There are photos in nearby restaurants with text underneath saying: Please Dont Do This (and they look like americans too). At the end of the day though, the fault lies with the tour guide on the coach as they should be telling them what to do and not to do.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

I met up with Jean and Dee again and no sooner as I got there we were off on a spectacular, if not up and down and windy, road to Vang Vieng. The scenery is amazing, on a par with NZ south island perhaps crossed with Thailand.

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

5 Days Later

After Vang Vieng, I came back here, a few cuts and bruises more to add to my gibbon cable burn on my right arm (more on Vang Vieng in another chapter). I came up with Paul, Jayne, Natasha and Ben (who I met on motorbike back in CR). We went to the Kuang Si waterfalls which are absolutely amazing. We hiked up to the top but didn't see much. There are bears too in a rescue centre which are lovely and there was supposed to be a tiger too but.. RIP Phet, May 2008 :o(

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--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

Jude who works there told me there is a similar rescue centre in Cambodia which I should visit. They rescue more animals so will pop along there next month. Paul, Ben and I thought we'd help out the local Red Cross and so went there for a massage and steam bath. That night after food and drinks we went bowling. It's hard to imagine a town like this having a 10-pin bowling alley and it is a tad surreal. It's the full electronic one. I think it also has a niche market because this lies just outside of the town curfew and can serve drinks till 3am: at 11pm it suddenly gets hammered. Bumped into Rachel and Alison from tubing here getting hammered :o)

The following day after saying goodbye to the others, I went to the Museum closed today) then went to the Heritage Centre (closed - see website for info) then tried to find the Kids Library to help but couldn't (map crap). At least I found the Big Brother books where you can help out proof reading english documents for them (they never had any). But I did stumble across a wicked Indian restaurant (Nishi).

--see bigger, better, brighter photos: here

There is a night market here which is fantastic and I wish I had a bigger bag. There is also the Phou Si temple which is set on a hill which is what the town is based around. Sunset up here is stunning and would be better minus the many many coachloads of tourists. Ah well. I'm one of them I suppose.

And then it was time for me to head up north to Muang Ngoi Nua..

3 Days Later

Back in Luang Prabang. It's Halloween.

I bumped into Ben yet again.. he's back after smashing into a minibus coming the other way. Scary stuff. At least he's ok. No idea how he's ok though after hitting it almost head on.. he must be some kind of cybernetic machine.

I didn't fancy doing too much so went to the a Khob Chai bar and watched Stephen King's IT (most bars had Halloween themes). IT? More like SHIT. What a waste of 2 and half hours of my life. The owner agreed, apologised, gave me a beer and gave me the DVD to smash up so it would never darken his TV again.

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The following day I just mooched around, popped into the museum (open today), wandered round the local village and then nipped into a travel agent and found out that all flights are booked from Vientien to Pakse so will fly from here on 8 Nov down to Pakse. Then watched United just beat plucky Hull. Bumped into Ben, his mate Nick, Rachel and Alison again after the final whistle.

2 Days Later

Back again after learning how to be a mahout and ride elephants. And some more charity work helping out the Red Cross. Well wouldn't you know it, I bumped into them lot again. It seems that none of us can escape Luang Prabang. So we had one final night out (possibly) at the bowling. I was rubbish. First two balls went straight down the gutter and I was on my arse. Alcohol affected.

Luang Prabang 4: Rachel, Alison, me, Ben

I managed to get up early so booked a bus immediately and left eastwards for the Plain of Jars..

2 Days Later

Once more I'm here but I'm feeling rather delicate. May possibly have a bug. I've been sweating one minute then chilly the next and hardly getting any sleep. Also hallucinating in bed and I haven't had any mushrooms. It's so annoying, I'd rather have the shits than no sleep. Lack of sleep knackers up the next day. Will take it easy, rehydrate and have some comfort food and hope I'm ok before I fly down to Pakse tomorrow. Think I'll help out at the Red Cross once more to see if the herbal steam bath can get any toxins out of me.

I normally love to play devil's advocate but I have to side with the majority here. This really is an amazing country. The scenery, as said, is beautiful, the people are wonderful, the food is fantastic and the life... well.. well chilled. Whereas in Thailand the rule is to hassle and ask you to buy something, here it's the exception. Here, the kids don't ask you for anything when you walk, tuk-tuk or kayak by, they just wave and say "sabaidee" (hello) with a huge smile on their face.
It's ace.

It seems like here in Luang Prabang everyone has found the best guest house. Well for what it's worth, the best place I stayed during these visits was Villa Aphay, Tel: 20 5671519 sks99@yahoo.com, perfectly positioned round the corner from and inbetween Lao Lao Garden (the usual evening drinkerie), L'Etranger Tea and Books and the Laos Red Cross (massage and steam bath). Best local food is at any of the street stalls. Best western comfort food was the tapas and pizza at the Hive. Best indian was Nishi and best breakfast was at Cafe Croissant.

Tatty bye.
Steve / Suggs x

Posted by suggs69 12:00 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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