Sparky Travels

August 31, 2009

Chiang Mai

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The border crossing at Huay Xai on the 28th August was fast and uneventful and soon we were in our minibuses speeding to Chiang Mai, 6 hours away. We stopped on the way at a restaurant that promoted the use of condoms!? The food was very tasty though and not at all rubbery. It’s nice to get back to Thai food after the relatively bland fare on offer in Laos.
Once we’d checked into our hotel we went out for our goodbye meal. This trip felt as if it has flown by and it was nice that everyone integrated into a group where some of the people had been travelling for over a month together already.
After the meal we began a pub crawl which ended in the red-light district of Chiang Mai. It consisted of a boxing ring surrounded by salubrious bars. Not being the typical sex tourists, we played Jenga, pool and connect4. Live Thai boxing started around 10pm but it was soon apparent that they were just sparring for tips.
The next day was one of checking out and planning our trip to Ko Phanang. Three of the girls from the trip are heading to the Full Moon Party so I’m tagging along too. In the evening we headed to the night market and then to an Irish bar near our new guesthouse to watch the football. I saw the end of the Liverpool Bolton game and then the Man Utd Arsenal game after.
Yesterday we attempted some culture by looking at dead, stuffed monks in a couple more Wats and then heading to the public park. Its feels like ages since I was last in a park so it was nice to sit and relax there for a while. The famous Chaing Mai sunday market took up the rest of the day and though I didn’t buy anything (other than a nail brush in Boots) I did eat lots of tasty street food. The best was Chicken&Cheese balls which were similar to croquettes and were moist and tasty.
Today I’ve been catching up on the internet before we catch the night bus to Bangkok.

August 27, 2009

Mekong River

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After breakfast in Luang Prabang we clambered into our river boat for the two day trip up the Mekong River towards Thailand. We had the boat all to ourselves (except for the family who own and live on it) so we could relax and spread ourselves out. It was a good 8hours of sailing non stop except for one stop. A couple of hours in to the journey we docked at the buddha caves which are unsurprisingly a bunch of caves with lots of buddha statues in them. It was quite underwhelming.

We reached Pakbeng in the early evening. Pak Beng is a frontier town with no purpose, in my eyes, other than as a stopping point for boats up the river. We only had twelve hours there and the electricity got turned off at 10pm so we didn’t get to explore it anyway. The only thing of note was that the restaurant we went to had the best music I’ve heard in Laos.

The next morning was similar to the last. Slow boating up the Mekong river for 8 hours or so. It was nice to be able to relax for a couple of days on the boat and was a much more enjoyable form of transport than any other option. Smoother than a bus. Roomier than a train. Faster than walking. The time was spent almost exclusively playing cards, listening to music, looking at the scenery, reading eating, or napping. I could have no complaints.

We arrived at Huay Xai in the evening, ready to cross the border tomorrow and leave Laos for what I hope is not the last time.

August 26, 2009

Luang Prabang

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The bus journey northwards on the 23rd August was quite a gut churning route up through the mountains, punctuated by stops for the ‘happy room’ and lunch at the top with a glorious view across the mountain plains. After 8 or so hours we arrived in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the capital of Laos. When we got to our guest house we went straight out to explore the town. We were situated very close to the centre and we found a shortcut through a monastery filled with monks in orange robes. The town is reminiscent of Hoi An (also a world heritage site) in Vietnam with its lanterns,craft shops and relaxed feel and it sits on the Mekong river. The problem with Luang Prabang is that it has a 11:30pm drinking curfew but it was probably a blessing in disguise given our last few days.

The next day, we were given an orientation walk by our Lao guide. It basically covered the areas we’d already seen the previous evening  along with a trip to a couple of obligatory Wats. In the afternoon a few of us went to the palace museum which was surprisingly enjoyable. The night market was the destination for the evening and it was excellent. It covers the whole main street and is held every evening. As with all these markets there is a lot of repetition in terms of whats for sale but this one had really high quality merchandise. I managed to limit myself to a single Beer Laos t shirt. My opinion of Beer Laos has fallen slightly since I first had it. It tastes as good as ever but it also gives you a real kick-in-the-nuts hangover. seriously, 3 beers (admittedly large ones) the night before and you wake up as if you had more than twice that number. Shame. Given the curfew, we went back to the guest house and sat playing cards for many enjoyable hours.

The 25th was always going to be a day to look forward to given that it was ‘elephant ride’ day! We got a 30mins tuktuk (how I’ve missed tuktuks while in Vietnam) ride out of town and then a half hour trek through the jungle and corn fields to the river. A short hop across on a long-boat and we reached the limestone waterfalls (I’ll try and remember their name later) where we got to swim in the chilly mountain water. After lunch was the main event, as we clambered aboard the elephants for what we expected to be a bit of a jungle trek. In fact, the elephants clambered down into the waterfall pools and gave us an exhibition on how big lumbering animals are not suited to extreme gradients. We hung on for dear life while trying to snap pictures of each other. It was good fun, but I think  I’d rather a journey on an elephant than an obstacle course.

In the early evening we climbed Phousi (careful boys!) Mountain , a 100m high hill to watch the sunset over the area. The clouds shifted just in time to give a decent view and it was nice and relaxing to watch the sun go down while sitting at the bottom of a big gold stupa.

On the morning that we left Luang Prabang we got up around 5am to go and take party in the giving of alms (gifts) to the monks. That involved buying a big bag of sweets or sticky rice and sitting on the pavement waiting for a procession of monks to come along. As each monk passes you drop one gift into their bucket and thus feel like a better person. At 5:30am though, I felt more like a dinner lady than anything else. I’m sure it’ll be good for my karma though.

August 23, 2009

Vang Vieng

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After the trip on the VIP ‘balloon’ bus for a few hours on my birthday we arrived at the party town of Vang Vieng. The town has become famous for the backpacker essential attraction that is tubing down the river. That would have to wait until the day after my birthday so we went off for a birthday meal with balloons in tow. After my authentic Laos macaroni dinner our guide brought out a chocolate cake with candles and I got to blow them out. All I wished for was a safe tubing trip the next day, particularly after seeing the many walking wounded hobbling around town. Next up was the Bucket bar where we drank Laotian Whiskey and coke in big plastic buckets while swinging in hammocks. Bliss. At the end of the night our tour leader and three of us guys then ended up back in our room playing snakes and ladders. Aptly, I won. (I’d forgotten how boring a game snakes and ladders is!)

Then next day was tubing day so with great excitement we picked up our tubes (essentially car tyre inner tubes) and got a tuktuk to the top of the course. 2 mins after dropping into the water we were getting dragged out of the water at our first bar stop. The bars all hang over the river or overlook it and you just wave to the ‘doormen’ who through out a line and pull you in. After a strategic cheese sandwich we started making our way through the many drinks on offer. Ever so often we’d jump back into our tubes and head off to the next bar or swing on 15m rope swings, stare at beautiful trees or the stunning scenery surrounding us.
After missing the last bar we found ourselves at the end of the course, helpfully placed right by the town. We were just too late to go down again so we got dinner, washed and changed and headed off to an irish bar for a couple. The intention was to do tubing again the next day. A number of beers, half dozen JD and cokes, buckets and rice wine shots later and we were all in bed by 1am. All I lost was my flipflops and my dignity. Not bad in the general scheme of things.

The next day, the 22nd was a write off. No tubing, no drinking, as much food as I could stomach and a lot of water. I was rough.

The next day we got up early for a bumpy bus ride to Luang Prabang with the hangover just about receded. I just can’t drink like I did when I was 26!

August 22, 2009

Quick update

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I’m hungover and tired but I thought I’d post to assure everyone that I made it into my 28th year (For the hard of thinking that makes me 27). I had a great birthday and a stunning day after going tubing. I’ll form my thoughts into coherent sentences and post them up soon. Thanks for all the birthday wishes, they have been most appreciated.

August 20, 2009

Vientiane

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It didn’t take long to get accustomed to the Laos way of life once we’d arrived in Vientiane. The quiet streets and lack of hassle from vendors and taxi drivers lulled me into a relaxed mood within the first few hours here. My main aim that night was to try the renowned Laos Beer. It didn’t disappoint with its crisp and light taste hiding the 5% abv. We went to the Victory Monument which is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe and a stroll round some buddhist Wats.

We left on the morning of my birthday and when I got down for breakfast I found balloons everywhere, a cake and presents. It was a lovely gesture by everyone for someone they had only just met. Much of the day was spent on the bus to Vang Vieng with balloons strapped to everything I own.

August 18, 2009

Vinh

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We began our trip on the 17th with a 7 hour private bus journey as we made our way south to the town of Vinh. Vinh is a pretty much a stopping point for the trip to Laos, so we just went for dinner and got to know each other over some beers. I did have goat for dinner though which was really tasty. I think that may have been a lucky occurrence so I am not planning on having it in Laos.

The next day was 12 hours or so of a bus journey into Laos, arriving at Vientiane (the capital of Laos) in the evening. It has been a real relief getting to a place where the pace is slower and you don’t always have to watch your wallet. The scenery on the way through Laos was exceptional. I’ll post pictures when I next have my camera to hand.

Internet time is running out so I’ll update later…

August 17, 2009

End of Hanoi

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Flyers started appearing around Hanoi advertising ‘Girl Talk’ doing a mashup set on his worldwide tour. It was for Saturday the 15th so it seemed like a great idea given the lack of good clubbing in Hanoi. A dozen of us from the hostel joined a few hundred other random westerners converged on the banks of the river where a sweaty american gave us a mediocre example of the art of mixing many songs that no-one had ever heard of (save for a couple of Dr Dre and a few cheesy classics). Needless to say, we danced like crazy dudes, drank with gusto and boogied the night away. At about 2am things got a bit silly though. Everyone started to leave, I decided to get a motorbike taxi home alone and ended up down a side street with the driver threatening to kill me. I talked my way out of an early end to this blog and began to wander home. I was chased for a while by a prostitute, got lost in an area I should really know by now and got home about 5am. Oh, and I woke up with blue paint on my face. Weird.

The hangover from that night was NOT enjoyable. But I met Malena for a drink in Le Pub anyway and regaled her with patchy stories of my night. After wishing her good luck in Hanoi I went and met my new travelling companions for the journey through Laos. There are 10 of us in this group with the usual mix of Aussies, Canadians, Americans, a dutch girl, irish girl and me. There’s a healthy 4 guys on this trip and one football fan so things will go swimmingly I’m sure.

August 14, 2009

Sapa

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I managed to see Claire and Lou before we each left to get our night trains. T’was lovely.

The night trains that bookended my trip to Sapa arrived early as usual and shared my cabin with English lads both ways. They were good laughs and I’ve added more potential destinations based on their experiences. Three of us were on our Sapa trek and after a quick shower we were of on a 14km hike through rice paddys and along muddy mountain paths. The views were exceptional but most of the time was spent ensuring that the next step wouldn’t send us sliding down the mountain. We were followed all the way by local H’mong (the H is all important) women who glided effortlessly along while we stumbled and slid. We declined to buy from  them. We ate a substandard but substantial meal and then headed to our homestay inhabited by a very welcoming family. The rest of the day was very relaxing and we had a chance to wash our weary bodies in the river before a tasty feast and some rice wine with the head of the house. He spoke no english but that was no problem given his never-ending laughing and giggling. An 8km trek back towards Sapa in the baking sun and a few hours at the market ended the trip. It was a wearying experience given the tireless insistance of the hawkers trying to sell us any old tat, constantly, despite saying no, repeatedly. The views and homestay experience (my 3rd or 4th so far and always a highlight) were worth all the trouble though.


I’ve got a couple of days left in Hanoi and then I’m off to Laos with my new Intrepid group.

August 11, 2009

Still Hanoi - Part of the furniture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 6:07 am

I’ve now been in Hanoi for over a week and certainly feel at home here. I’m ready for something slightly less relaxing so I’m off on a 3 night trip to Sapa booked through the hostel. I know a couple of the people going and it should be good fun. Many travelers have rated Sapa above Halong Bay which is quite an endorsement. Sapa is also up in the mountains so it should be cooler than the claustrophobic heat of Hanoi.

I’ve met Lou and Claire a couple of times in the last couple of days and will hopefully see them today before we get on our respective night trains. Its been nice to see familiar faces and I’m sure they’ll have a great time on their trip through Nam.

My cultural experience for the last few days was a jaunt to the Ethnology museum which has exhibitions about the 54 or so ethnic groups in Vietnam. It was interesting to see the different cultures and styles of the groups but by the time I’d done the whole thing they’d all merged into one in my mind. In the grounds of the museum are recreated traditional dwellings which was a little more ‘hands-on’. I’ll see a couple of the ethnic groups in Sapa so that should cement them in my mind.

Got a mosquito bite on my ear last night (talk about easy target) and as it flew away from my grasp I swear I heard it laugh, a buzzy vicious laugh.

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