Friday, 30 December 2011

Lazy Days in Christchurch

We've been extremely lazy in Christchurch.  It's been great.  I'm not going to post day to day events but I'll give a little info of what we've been doing besides watching TV and reading.  We do walk the little dogs every day so we get some exercise.  If you're worried about us and the earth quakes we are a good 20km for the epicenters.  We have only felt one after shock and as Beau described "it was like your belly rumbling from the outside."  So just one little rumble that's all. (Actually we just had another one a little bigger than the first but even the dogs are not overly alarmed by it)  The buses have been really easy for us to get around and there is a nice park nearby.  Unfortunately the weather isn't all that nice right now.  It's over cast and slightly rainy.  Max it's 20 so we've been curled up under blankets in the house.  I have baked cookies though!
We went into town one day to the botanical gardens and had lovely weather for it.  We wandered around and got some ice cream.  It's was sunny and warm.  I was hoping to find 1 of the 2 bead stores downtown but both were closed due to the earth quakes. We've done little more exploring though.  Maybe after the new year we'll drum up some more energy.  Not sure what we're doing tonight for it.  There's fireworks downtown but we don't know how we'd get back from them.  I'll let you know how it goes.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Me and Jackson

Molly, Jackson and Beau

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Merry Flying Christmas

We survived our flight to Christchurch and our night in the airport.  We had no trouble getting to our house-sit and have settled in well.  The two dogs we are sitting are very sweet. Molly is a Pekingese cross Spaniel and Jackson is a Pomeranian.  I'll post pictures of them soon.


Dec 25 – Merry Flying Christmas
Alarms going off at 4am are never fun... especially when you won't be catching Santa sliding down the chimney. We were up and off the catch a 4:45am shuttle bus to the airport. Unfortunately we weren't all that clear on which airport we were going to so we got off at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. AirAsia doesn't fly out of this airport though. So we had to run for the shuttle bus to the Low Cost Carrier Terminal and of course had to pay for that too, oops. We arrived at the LCCT and went to check in only to find they wouldn't issue our boarding pass until we could prove we had an onward flight out of New Zealand. We hastily logged on to the airports free wifi (yay technology) and booked our onward flight to Melbourne for March 3rd. Hopefully we don't want to stay more or less time than this :S. We finished check in and went through boarding pass control, immigration and security. We picked up a little duty free before finding a seat. We had much less time waiting around than we thought we would. Beau attempting to Skype his parents but the internet was too slow. I found us some buns for breakfast although Beau wasn't to sure about his chicken curry doughnut but I enjoyed my red bean doughnut. Shortly after we boarded for our flight. The aircraft was very nice and very basic, pretty much everything is an add on. It didn't have a plane wide movie although you could rent little personal movie players. The flight was quite empty too but hey it's Christmas. The flight went fairly quickly and I guess we slept a little. We landed in Christchurch around midnight. We cleared customs and bio-security easily. They didn't even ask us about onward travel. I traveled on my British passport and can stay for up to 6 months and Beau on his Canadian can stay for 3 months. Not really sure what the point is in having to have an onward ticket when you can stay for so long. Now we need to kill some time in the airport till the buses start up at 6am.

Dec 26 – The house-sit
It seemed like forever but 6am finally rolled around and we set off the get a bus. We had been given some instructions to catch a bus slightly away from the airport so we didn't have to pay the $7.50 for the bus only the regular fare of $3.20. We did have to change buses once but made it down town. Down town was bizarre after being in Asia. It was deserted. Granted it was 7:30am on boxing day but the bus station is right next to the area that is cordoned off due to the earthquake last February. We wandered a little to find us some breakfast. We found a little mall that had a Subway and split a sub for breakfast. We still had some time to kill so we went into the mall and explored a Zellars like store called Warehouse. We headed back to the bus station and purchased a Metro Card. This gives you a discount on bus fares. We took a bus to Halswell and found the house. We met Tracey there and the two little dogs, Jackson and Molly. Tracey showed us the ropes and we got ourselves settled in. Jackson is a Pomeranian, a sweet little fluff ball, and Molly is a Pekingese cross Spaniel, who is also very sweet. We had a nap on the couch, we've been up over 24hrs with only little naps on the place. After napping we had a short walk to the grocery store and picked up some food for the next few days. We had a nice dinner of lamb, pasta and salad. We also bought some wine and enjoyed a nice glass of red. We last had wine when we were in Canada, actually I tried a glass of Vietnamese wine but it wasn't good. We watched Braveheart, which was on TV. We went to bed fairly late though but we don't have to go anywhere tomorrow!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Kuala Lumpur

Our two days in Kuala Lumpur have been enjoyable. We've been traipsing around and are a little footsore now. It would be worth spending some more time in the city to see some of the other sights besides China Town and the Petronas Towers. Beau and I are confident we will be returning to Kuala Lumpur at some point. We wish to explore the east coast where there is supposedly good diving.


Dec 23 – Kuala Lumpur China Town
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur this morning at 4:45am. Ugggh, I cat napped a little on the bus but not nearly enough. Our hotel was very easy to find though and they let us check in early. We had booked 2 beds in a 6 bed dorm but those beds were full that night so they put us in a 2 bunk room. So we still got a private room and early check in for the same price. We went to sleep for a few hours and woke up again around 9 or 10. Our hotel provides breakfast of toast and coffee so we made use of that. While eating we met a Jamaican girl, Fae, who has been teaching English in Japan for 2 years. We had a nice chat with her and then finally got our acts together to explore around 1pm. Our hotel is situated in China town. All the signs are in Chinese and English, there are Chinese book stores all over and to make it perfectly a China town there is a street full of stalls hawking knock off products. You can buy Louis Vuitton purses, Gucci sunglasses, and soccer jerseys. It's what you would expect from any China town, although not really what you find in China. We had some lunch and then continued onward towards to Central Market. This was mostly tourist items but still quite expansive. I picked myself up a purse though. Beau's on the look out for a new book, so we went into a couple of used book stores but they were quite overpriced for what they were. We head back to the hotel to give our feet a rest. There is quite a nice common area with couches and a big flat screen TV. Later we went for dinner and then headed back into the China town market which had doubled in size (really there were double the number of shops in the same area). I picked up a new tank top and t-shirt and Beau got a Spain football jersey. Back at the hotel we made ourselves some instant 3-in-1 coffee and did some computer work. We also saw the end of Horrible Bosses which looked pretty funny. We'll have to watch it from the beginning sometime.
China Town Street Market


Dec 24 – Christmas time in the City
After some peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast, we hopped on the metro to head to the Petronas Towers. These are the famous two towers in KL that have a large sky bridge connecting them. I think they are the ones from the movie Entrapment. We were thinking about going up the the sky bridge but it cost almost $20 and they were sold out of tickets for the day. Beau was still on a book hunt so we entered the massive 6 floor mall that was connected to the towers. There was a huge Christmas display and Christmas music playing throughout the mall. Being in the mall with all it's pretty decorations put us into the Christmas spirit. Beau browsed through the book store and I took a little wander around the mall. Beau found a book to his liking and then we went for lunch. We did some more wandering of the mall but we couldn't afford to buy anything here, it's a little more expensive, and legitimate, than China Town. It was also packed with Christmas shoppers. After much wandering we headed back to the hotel. I stopped into a few bead shops but they were about the same price as home so there was no point in buying any. Once back we started reorganizing our bags. Mine was being checked while Beau was taking his as carry-on. We headed out for some dinner after we were organized. We asked at the desk for a good place for Malaysian food and found one of the buffet style places. The food was delicious and super cheap, you just had to ignore the little cockroaches. It was an outdoor eatery. Back at the hotel we prepared a couple of peanut butter and jam sandwich for the flight. We got into bed relatively early but had trouble falling asleep. Looks like not much sleep for us for the next few days.
Beau at the Petronas Towers

Christmas Decor

Friday, 23 December 2011

Last Days on Langkawi

We survived the night bus and found our hotel very easily. They let us check in at 5am and we were able to have a nap before setting off to explore Kuala Lumpur.  There's apparently been earthquakes in Christchurch but it can't be help.  Fortunately, I don't think our flight will be affected.  We just might have to brush up on our earthquake procedures :S

Dec 21 – Beach Ball
For a bit of a change this morning we went for breakfast at a different place. I had baked beans on toast, it was delicious, a nice change from eggs. After we went in search of a beach toy. We found a pretty cheap beach ball and headed to the beach. We went to our usual spot but the security guards caught on to us today so we were shafted to the beach. We lazed around, but it wasn't too hot out today as it was pretty cloudy which was good since we weren't in the shade. We went into the water and started playing with the beach ball. It was really fun until Beau stepped on a shell and cut his foot :( We headed back to the room so we could clean his foot out and then we went in the pool for a little bit. Afterwards we headed to find some lunch. We went to a different place that was serving Nasi Campur and tried a few different dishes. They had really good butter chicken and whatever else I ate. It was super cheap and super good. We looked into a bus ticket for the morning of the 23rd and were told they were sold out. We couldn't believe it! They has said to just book a day in advance but here we were two days in advance and no tickets to be seen. We were able to procure a ticket for the night of the 22nd. This wasn't ideal because we were going to be on a seated bus over night, not conducive to a good night's sleep. Gotta roll with it though. We had to talk to our guesthouse before booking the ticket because we had already paid for the 22nd but the owner was very nice and gave us our money back. We picked up some beers and Popsicles as a consolation for the bus stress. We skyped Mom, Dad and Elaine in NZ for a bit. They seem as ready for Christmas as you can get without snow. We went out to the Duty Free shop again to check the price of liquor and some clothes. We were going to return to the place we had lunch but they didn't have their Nasi Campur out so we went further up to the place we ate on the first night. We had a yummy Indian meal. We were so full that we decided to forgo our usual dessert and settled for just coffee. It was a little sad to have to do that as it's our last night on Langkawi.

Dec 22
One thing I won't miss on Langkawi is the lumpy pillows at our guesthouse. I get such a kirk in the neck from them! We got ourselves all packed up, breakfasted and checked out by 12am. We grabbed a cab down to the Kuah ferry jetty where a ferry will take us to Kuala Perlis but not 7pm. We dropped our bags at the left luggage department and did some exploring of the ferry terminal and the grounds. There is a great big eagle statue next to the ferry terminal. Langkawi means something like eagle I think, hence the statue. Beau was being goofy, as usual, and I took some pictures of him. We discovered that the Langkawi Fair Mall, the largest mall on Langkawi (mockingly), was near by and spent the rest of the day wandering the mall. We thought we should pick up some clothes that are a little warmer than what we have so we both bought a pair of cheap jeans. We figure when we get tired of carrying them around we'll just ditch them. We also found a few stores selling diving masks. While we had lunch we did some research on the net and decided to buy masks for our Christmas present to ourselves. We are now the proud owners of scuba diving masks, now we need to go diving to test them out! We headed back to the ferry terminal and had a beer on a bench. We grabbed some dinner to go and loaded up onto the ferry. The seats on the ferry were a hodge podge of all different aeroplane seats. We arrived in Kuala Perlis about an hour later and walked the one block to the bus station. We had a short wait and boarded our bus. We were having trouble falling asleep, surprise, so we watched The Hangover 2. It was pretty funny. Would have been a little more perfect if we had actually spent sometime in Bangkok though. We attempted to sleep again and hopefully we'll suceed with a few Z's before arriving.

The Eagle Statue
Goofy demon Beau (the eagles wings are coming out of his head)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Scooting around Langkawi

Well plans have changed again, we are going to Kuala Lumpur on the night of the 22nd since the buses on the 23rd were sold out. It's frustrating because they tell you to just book the day before and if we had left it another day we might really be SOL. Fortunately our guesthouse owner here was very nice and refunded us the money we had paid for the night of the 22nd. Now we'll be spending that night in a bus seat. Ce la vie!

Dec 19 – Scootering around Langkawi
We set an alarm this morning so we could be up in time to get one of the first scooter rentals from one of the travel/Mini marts. It was about 7 ringgit cheaper if you were there for in time for the first 2 scooters of the day. And we made it! Rentals are much more here but they also seem more legitimate than the ones we rented in Vietnam etc. We actually had to produce a passport and drivers licence and have insurance. We had some breakfast, then set off to the north to explore the island. Our first stop was Seven Wells Waterfall. This is right near the cable car, which would have a very nice view from the top I'm sure but we weren't willing to spend $10 each. We climbed up the many stairs to the top of the pools. From here we could continue to the peak, which we did. It was quite a hike up and a little disappointing when we reached the peak. The view was obscured by all the foliage, it was quite a jungley trek. It was also very hot and sweaty. On the way back down there were a bunch of monkeys in the garbage can and playing in the woods next to the stairs. They were fishing out water bottles and food wrappers. We went down to the waterfall and went for a dip in the pools below. It was very refreshing. We went back down the stairs to the bottom where we had a nice lunch of fried rice. We hopped back on the scooter and went towards the north west coast. We drove along the coast for a little bit then the road started to climb. We went past a couple of fancy resorts but then we could go no further as there was a gate blocking the road. I'm assuming the road continued onto the resorts private property. We turned around and headed back along the coast. We stopped at two beaches, Pebble Beach and Pasir Tengkorak bbeach, along the way to check out the view. We then headed towards the north east side of the island. Along the way we stopped at the side of the road for some photos then went to a craft center. The craft center was okay, it had some really pretty batik wall hangings. We then continued on to Tanjung Rhu Beach. At low tide you can apparently walk out to the limestone formations in the bay. Unfortunately we were there during high tide. We sat at the beach for a little bit then had a snack. We headed back into town for a shower and some dinner. Beau finally got to try Nasi Campur which is essentially Malaysian buffet. After we went for ice cream as per usual.

Monkey playing with garbage

Seven Wells Waterfall

One of our roadside picture stops

Tanjung Rhu Beach, at low tide you can apparently walk to these formations
 
Dec 20 – Back to the Beach
This morning started a little earlier than most with Beau skyping his buddy Ryan from Brockville. It was good to talk to friends from home. We went for breakfast and splurged a little on Eggs Benedict. It wasn't as good as making it at home but it'll do for now. Egg Benedict is going on the “to make” list. We headed to the beach to soak up some sun and some heat. It's a rough life sitting on the beach reading. Later we went down the beach for some lunch then continued down further to the Duty Free shop where we picked up some beers to have at the pool. Tall cans of Carlsburg cost 2.50 ringgit or about 80 cents. We hung out at the pool for a bit with our beers and goofed around in the water some. We got cleaned up and went out for dinner. We've developed a little bit of a routine: wake up, breakfast, beach, lunch, pool, dinner, ice cream. Like I said it's a rough life :P

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The travel holiday time

Beau and I are calling this time on Langkawi our travel holiday.  It's our little holiday from traveling.  We had been hoping to take a night train to Kuala Lumpur on the 22nd but the train is full so now it's a morning bus on the 23rd.  So we will only have on full day in the city but we'll spend the rest of the time on the beach.

Dec 17 – The beach life continues
Our new room was not as nice as our old room, the pillows are lumpy, the beds okay I suppose, and the lack of hot water is a little bit of a bummer. But we have internet now! Another near by hotel has an unlocked network so we are using that. And it's super fast!! We went for some breakfast and then dropped laundry off with our hotel. We're staying here for a few days so we paid our hotel up to the 20th. It was a very slow start to the day today. We didn't get to the beach until about 1pm. But we are on holiday so it's okay to sleep in and be lazy. We went back to the same spot as yesterday and got us some beach chairs again. The weather is very changeable here, one minute the sun was out, then it was behind a big black cloud and it started raining. Our beach chairs were tucked under an umbrella like tree and kept off the bulk of the rain. It was a typical tropical down pour that didn't last too long and then the sun came out and it was bright and sunny again. We went back to the same place for lunch and then returned to our beach chairs. It was very hot out again so we went for a our first swim of the day. Later we decided to head back to the pool. There was a group of people at the pool about our age, goofing around and drinking beers. We hung out with them for awhile but it was fairly windy and we were starting to get cold. We showered up and thought about joining the other group for dinner and drinks but they were going to a pricier restaurant and we were just too cheap for that. Plus we were looking forward to banana splits again. I've been itching to get a sarong for the beach and found one I liked. They are about $7 here but I bought one that has good quality material not just a pattern printed on it. The time is about 1hr later here so we keep going to bed fairly late. I guess that could explain the sleeping in too!
Relaxing on the Beach

Dec 18 – More of the Beach
Another slow start to the day. After breakfast we headed to the beach. We sat in the sun for a little bit but it was so hot we were just sweating our sunscreen off. We went for a dip then shifted to the shade. Being in the shade definitely keeps the heat down nicely. We sat and read for awhile then decided it was lunch time. As we started towards on of the restaurants the sky clouded over and threaten rain but luckily it didn't actually rain and it got sunny quickly again. After lunch we walked back to the hotel and sat poolside for a little bit with our music. It's always windy at the pool though so it kept us cool. After cleaning up we decided to check out the far end of the beach strip. There were several duty free shops that we checked out and picked up some beers and chocolate. We looked at some of the restaurants down that way but most were more than we were willing to spend. We found one place that had a good set menu deal but they didn't actually have chicken curry so we left. We ended up at a burger kiosk and had burgers and beer at a picnic table. We then went to our favorite little restaurant, we eat breakfast here most days, and ordered a little snack and then some ice cream. It's the cheapest place to go for a banana split on the island, only $2.
It's Sunny!

Yay swimming

Playing around

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ahhh the Beach

We've just been chilling on the beach the past few days.  It's been awesome.  We've gotten a little pink but no burns, just need to be more vigilant about reapplying the sun screen!

Dec 15 – Puala Langkawi
Upon arrival in Hat Yai we quickly got off the train and went to the ticket booth where we were able to purchase “standee” tickets for the same train we were on that was continuing through Malaysia. The first two cars disengaged from the rest and they were the only ones to go on. We got on the train and asked a young Australian couple if we could sit with them, by this time all the beds had been folded back into seats so there was room for twice as many people. Our Thai exit customs and Malaysian entrance customs went off without a hitch. We arrived in Alor Setar around noon. We didn't realize what a small train station we were getting off at and were a little confused at first. A German couple had gotten off the train too so we pooled our resources, talked to some locals and got a cab to the ferry terminal to take us to Pulau Langkawi. We made the 1:30 ferry just in time, it would have sucked to wait around for the next one at 3pm. We got a taxi once we were off the ferry to Pantai Cenang, a beach town. We were dropped off at a guesthouse which turned out to be full along with the other 6 guesthouses we tried. We finally found a room for the astronomical price of 70 Ringgit, or $23.33. We weren't quite prepared for those kind of prices. We took the room and decided we'd look around for something cheaper for tomorrow. We walked to the Cenang strip trying to find another room. Cenang is essentially a road that runs parallel to the ocean with buildings on either side so you can't actually see the water. We had only marginal luck finding another room but we figured some might be available tomorrow and the guesthouses just didn't know yet. I did something silly though and wore my new flip flops for all this traipsing around town and ended up with blisters on my toes. Silly me. After we ate and I changed shoes we walked the opposite direction down the road and Beau found a $100 American. Lucky us!! We were still a little hungry since, besides what we had earlier, breakfast and lunch had consisted of crackers. We went to a little Indian/Malaysian restaurant, a pretty common combo here. The Malaysians have very different eating habits, they use their hands to eat everything. So the just pick up a handful of fried rice and shove it in their mouth. Not the most elegant way to eat, I think I'll stick to a fork. It was nice to sleep in a real bed.

Dec 16 – To the Beach
We had a lovely sleep in our overpriced room. We knew we couldn't keep paying this much so we set off for breakfast and a new room. Fortunately we struck gold and the first place we checked had a room coming available as did the second places. We got some breakfast and headed back in hopes the people had checked out, they hadn't yet but the lady let us have a quick peek at the room. It was good enough, no hot water though or internet. It does have A/C, is about 25 ringgit cheaper and has a pool. We told her we'd take it so we packed up our goods and checked out of our other hotel. The room still needed to be cleaned but we were able to leave our bags in the room and headed to the beach. The beach is fully lined with hotels but we found a little break between buildings we could walk down. The beach is beautiful with gorgeous white sandy beaches. We sat on the sand for a bit then had to go swimming since it was so hot. The water is very warm here. We were outside of some sort of resort that had a bunch of empty beach chairs in the shade of palm trees. So we snag two since no one was using them. Down the beach it looked like a building had caught fire. There were huge plumes of smoke and we heard sirens. They did get it put out. After sitting in the shade a bit and going for another swim we were hungry for some lunch. We walked down the beach and found a reasonably priced restaurant. After eating we continued our walk of the beach to see what else there was. Mostly it was hotels and water-sport places trying to rent out jet-skis. We asked about diving at one of these and the guy said 300 ringgit, or $100. Seems high but I think it's because there is only one diving area and it's a 30km boat ride away. We were feeling a little crisp so we headed back in and went to our pool for a little bit. We got cleaned up and realized we both had caught a wee bit too much sun. We were both a little pink in the face and else where. We headed out for dinner. Most food is some sort of fried rice dish, nasi goreng. I'm started to get a little tired of rice. We saw the building that had caught fire, it was a short building on the road that housed all sorts of different shops. One of the shops caught fire somehow but I don't think it spread to the other ones, although they will have suffered smoke damage. After dinner we went to another restaurant to use their internet and had coffee and dessert to go with. Many places don't sell beer, probably due to the high Muslim population, so we settled for ice cream, not a bad trade off.

Smoke for the fire

Some islands seen from the beach

The mountains in the background have a big cable car.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Trains Trains and More Trains

We have made it to Malaysia in one piece.  Unfortunately I'm not sure our wallets will stay in one piece.  The accommodation is double what we thought we would be paying but I guess it's still cheaper than the Western world.  A room is about $20 here we thought it would be more like $10-$15.  Ahh well such is life.  It took about 33hrs on a train to get from Laos to Malaysia. We are currently in Pulau Langkawi and are going to spend a few days on the beach... if we can sit still that long.

Dec 13 – The train to Bangkok
We booked a train to Bangkok shortly after breakfast.  We had to get more money out of the ATM which is tricky because we don't want any left over kip and we don't want to run out of money for the day. We checked out of our hotel and left our bags their with their left luggage. We went in search of a new book for Beau since he had finished his other one. We refound one of the bookstores we had visited on our last trip to Vientiane. After having book success we went wandering around the city. We went into a department type store and picked up a bunch of travel snacks. We also purchased some little oranges as well, which were delicious! We were being picked up around 3pm to go to the train station. On our way back to the hotel we blew the last of our kip on some nuts keeping aside about 6,000 which we were told we needed for departure tax. We got picked up by a large tuk-tuk and were taken to the train station. We had to go through exit customs there and pay our departure tax. Turns out our departure tax was actually 10,000 kip each not the 3,000 we were told at the travel agency. Lucky for us we still had some small American bills so we could cover the fee. While at the station we ran in Lea again who we met in the 4000 Islands and ran into in Luang Prabang. We took a very short train ride just to cross the boarder where we got off the train to go through Thai entrance customs. This took forever since they only had one window open and there were quite a few of us. We finally made it through customs and boarded the train to Bangkok. The train was very nice, with bunks that fold out. We started all of us sitting in seats but then one of the train employees came through and lowered the upper bunk and set up that bed. Then he folded the seats down, laid out a foam mattress and set up the lower bunk. The bunks were quite spacious although almost too short. Hopefully it won't be a bad nights sleeps.

Beau on the train (seats folded into beds) with our dinner of bread and cheese.

Dec 14 – Bangkok then onwards
We arrived in Bangkok bright and early this morning. As soon as we arrived we looked into a train to Malaysia. We had been contemplating different routes to get there to try to avoid the city of Hat Yai. This city is on a travel advisory, along with the rest of South Western Thailand, due to some unrest with the Muslim groups down there. We were talking with an older American gentleman who had done the same route two weeks before with no trouble. The groups aren't targeting tourists and this is the easiest way to get into Malaysia. We decided to go ahead with this route in spite of the travel advisory. When we tried to book our ticket butthe Malaysian portion was fully booked so we just booked on the same train as far as Hat Yai. We were assured we'd be able to buy a ticket once in Hat Yai. We then had about 6 hours to kill in Bangkok. We found a road side soup shop that served some disappointing, bland soup. After eating we started wandering around the area, there really wasn't much to see near the train station so we went a little further afield towards the river. We found a mall which we wander through but it mostly contained Asian antiques. We continued walking around the city and found ourselves in China town. We had a nice wander around this section then got ourselves some lunch. We picked up more travel snacks and got an Drumstick like ice cream as a treat. We headed back towards the trains station and actually found it with out getting lost. We boarded our new train and left Bangkok around 3pm. It was interesting seeing the outskirts of Bangkok in the day light because you can still see flooded areas. Actually, within Bangkok there were sandbags everywhere and concrete barriers in front of doors to keep the water out. Outside of Bangkok the lower lying areas around the train tracks still held quite a bit of water. It was difficult to tell whether some of these areas were supposed to be ponds or if the water hadn't found a way to drain yet. We ordered dinner on the train which turned out pretty good and was quite tasty. Beau and I had lower bunks again but no one was above us this time.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Lots of Bus Travel

The last few days haven't quite worked out the way we hoped and not for the better. We spent a full day on a bus, were told our room had been booked for the next night, had laundry come back dirty and could afford to rent a motorbike to explore Luang Prabang. I guess not everything can go smoothly but hopefully our travels down to Malaysia will be smoother than all our buses in Lao.
*Look on the post below for the rest of the Elephant Conservation Center

Dec 10 – Back to Luang Prabang
We had to leave the peace of the Elephant Conservation Center to board a bus back to the Luang Prabang. The bus was one of the smaller ones with the fold up seats, it wasn't the most comfortable ride but it was relatively on time. Back in Luang Prabang we headed to the guesthouse we had been staying at before. We pre-booked a room before we left but when we got there they said they were full except for one room. They made it sound like they were doing us a favour by letting us have this room even though we had given them a deposit. But we took the dinky little room they offered. We went out for some yummy soup lunch and wandered around the city a little. It has cooled off considerably so we were all bundled up in our sweaters. We looked into renting a motorcycle to go see a supposedly gorgeous water fall in the area but they were charging $20! We couldn't believe the price so we scratched the waterfall off our list. We were hunting for a new book for Beau but didn't have too much success. We pretty much just wandered the rest of the day trying to stretch our legs after being on the bus.

Dec 11 – Biking around Luang Prabang
We rented bicycles today to try to see a little more of the city. We went to a local market that catered to everyday people. It's always fun to see where the locals shop for their wares. It's like a departments store but soooo much better. We got to try some beef and pork jerky and Laos cookie, which we bought for a bus snack. We followed the river around the town and had lunch at our favourite little restaurant. We went back to our hotel to have a shower and collect our laundry. Unfortunately our laundry did not really come clean... we have a feeling that they used fabric softener instead of laundry soap. Our hotel also told us we couldn't stay after tomorrow because the room was booked! We were essentially being kicked out of our hotel the next day, luckily we were planning on heading back to Vientiane anyways. We headed back out for dinner and to return our bikes. The guy had said to bring them back for 7pm, when we arrived at his store it was closed even though it was 7pm. We were not impressed, we had left Beau credit card with the guy as collateral. Now we needed to come back in the morning and wouldn't be able to leave the city until we had the card back. We weren't having the best of luck today. Again we returned to the waterside restaurant, the food is inexpensive and super good. We were pretty disgruntled with our hotel, our laundry and our bicycle situation!

Dec 12 – Back to Vientiane
Our day started with trying to return the bicycles right away, which didn't work since the guy hadn't opened yet. We had hoped to be on an early bus back to Vientiane but we weren't able to return the bikes till just after 8am. The guy also claimed he was there till 7pm but I don't know what clock he was operating on. We hurried back to our hotel, checked out and hopped a tuk-tuk to the bus station. We arrived in time to catch the 9am bus back to Vientiane, otherwise we would have had to wait around till 11am for the next bus. Turns out what we thought was good fortune by catching this bus was bad luck. We broke down on the side of the road in the mountains. I'm not sure how long we were there for but one of the bus guys had to borrow a scooter for a local and ran off with some sort of pipe to get replaced. We weren't sure whether it was a brake line, fuel line or hydraulic line. Some time later the guy returned, installed the part and we were on our way again. We stopped for lunch some time later, it way about 3pm now and stayed stopped for another hour while they worked on the bus again. We didn't reach Vientiane until almost 11pm. It took 14 hrs to go about 300km. They claim it should take about 8-9hrs, I thought maybe 10hrs. We hadn't pre-booked a guesthouse which was a big mistake as many places were full. We found one with a room but it was 100,000 kip we took it since we didn't have too many options. The room was sub-par to say the least. Oh well it's one night and hopefully we'll be out of here on a train to Bangkok tomorrow.

Elephant riding and elephant babies

Here's the rest of our elephant excursion.
Dec 9 – The Elephant Conservation Center
We were up early this morning for a 7:30 breakfast. Afterwards we went on a walk through the woods with the elephants, their Mahouts and our guide. It was a nice walk and our guide pointed out different plants to us and had us taste a few too. The ones he had us taste were quite sour. After our walk we were at the training center and got to not only mount the elephants but try to give them directions too. It was really cool. We had to get the elephant to go, stop, go backwards, turn right and turn left. I think the mahouts helped us out a little. The elephant I was on, Mae Kham Ohn, didn't want to back up for me. She's apparently the stubborn one. After we gave the elephants a treat of banana tree. The don't like the bark so they peel it off and then eat the insides. It was interesting to watch them hold part of the tree in their trunk while using the tip to pick out what they wanted. The trunks are amazingly dexterous. The elephants were taken by their mahouts back into the forest for their lunch while we had a little free time before our lunch time. After lunch we went with a different guide into the elephant nursery area. She told us about future plans for the area, they hope to build a platform so guests can safely watch the mother and baby elephants. We went down to the lake and got on the boat that was tied up there while the mothers and their babies made their own way down to the water with their mahouts. There are two mothers and two babies. One baby is female and about 6 months old, the other male and is only 2 months. The mother elephants share the care of the babies and work together to feed them and keep them safe. They were very protective of the babies at first, keeping themselves between the boat and the babies but after a little bit they relaxed and the little ones were allowed to romp around. The baby girl was rolling around in the water and was curious about us on the boat. The little one was a bit shy and kept hiding under mum and weaving under her legs. The two babies played together too. The little one was biting the others ear. It was very sweet and reminded me a lot of what human children do. We headed back to the center by boat and the other three elephants were having their bath time again. Mae Boun Nam was having a great time dunking her mahout as usual. There were new guests that had arrived this afternoon so it was a full house at the center. While the new people went with elephants back into the forest, we had a shower and relaxed a little with a beer. We headed up to the restaurant around dinner time and Beau played a little Boche ball (they called it something different) with the locals. Dinner was close to ready and all the lights went out at the restaurant. This is the problem with depending solely on solar energy for your power. It was very overcast today so the batteries didn't charge up enough. We ate by candle light and eventually one of the workers got back from town where I guess they picked up a new battery. The lights came back on right as we were finishing dinner. The center has a few little kinks to work out still but eating by candle light isn't so bad.

Momma with her little boy
The 2 month old male is on the left and the 6 month old female the right

The little boy

One of the mums trying to push the tree over to eat, you can see the little boy between her legs

Girl left, boy right

Us on the boat

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Elephant Conservation Center

Three days ago we had a very dusty local bus ride to get to the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayabouly. The bus ride was an amusing experience, much better than these “VIP” buses. We took a tuk-tuk to a little boat to get to the remote center. It was a lovely little elephant paradise that has only been open for a month or two. They started 11 months with a forested 100 hectares and now have bungalows and a veterinary clinic. Currently the center owns three elephants, Mae Dok who is 50 years old, Mae Boun Nam who is 17 years old and Mae Kham Ohn who is 19 years old. There are also two mother elephants and their babies which are on loan as part of a elephant nursery program. The people running the center have some very lofty goals and I hope they achieve them all!

Dec 8 – To Sayabouly and the Elephant Conservation Center
We were up early and on our way to the bus station to buy our bus ticket to Sayabouly so we could visit the elephant conservation center. We bought our ticket and had breakfast at one of the little stalls at the bus station. While enjoying our noodle soup breakfast we got to observe the bus station workers loading two motorcycles onto the top of our bus. When we boarded our bus we we noticed there was more leg room than the “VIP” bus, the seats didn't recline, and everything was covered in a thin layer of dust. This bus is obviously just a local bus, there was no A/C, the front passenger side windsheild was busted up, and everything just seemed a little worn. It also seemed that our bus would not reverse so we were pushed out of the bus terminal! It was quite an interesting ride... the road changed between paved and unpaved. The unpaved sections were soooo dusty. It fully explained the dust covering the everything in the bus. People kept opening and closing their window depending on how much dust was kicked up. It was also a very bumpy and windy road. We had to cross the Mekong to get to Sayaboury Province on a ferry. You could see they are starting to build a bridge. We reached the Sayaboury bus terminal about when they said we would. We couldn't believe our bus was on time!! Our tuk-tuk driver picked us out no problem as we were the only white people on the bus. We took the tuk-tuk for about 10min and then we met up with a boat. The boat took us for a lovely ride on the lake, Nam Tien lake. We reached the Elephant Conservation Center around 1:30. Turns out this place was only started a year ago and they have only been open to guests for about a month. It's just beautiful though. We got a tour around the center. They have a little elephant museum that explains much about elephants, mahouts (elephant drivers) and how they fit into Laos culture. The center is trying to promote elephant conservation, sustainable elephant tourism and also, in the future, a Mahout training center. One of their main projects right now is trying to increase the live births of elephants. Most elephants work in the logging industry and it isn't cost effective for an owner to get it's female elephant pregnant. It's also quite expensive to pay for the stud service of a male elephant. What the ECC is doing is called the Baby Bonus Program, female elephants who are pregnant or have just given birth come to the ECC and will spend the next three years here with their Mahouts. The owner is given a hang tractor to replace the elephants services and the ECC also pays the Mahouts salary while the elephant is at the center. Elephants have a 20-22 month gestation period and it's another 3 years before the young is weaned. The idea of the program is to allow the mother and baby sufficient time together so that the baby elephant has the best chance of survival. Right now there is apparently only one elephant born for every ten that die. After learning about the center and getting taken on a tour of the veterinary clinic (the only one in Laos), we got to meet the 3 elephants owned by the ECC, Mae Dok, Mae Boun Nam, and Mae Kham Ohn. All female elephant names start with Mae which means mother. We also got to try mounting the elephants which was very cool. After getting up on the elephants and being lead around a little we gave them some bananas as a treat and a thank you. Then their Mahouts took them back into the forest to graze for the night and we followed along. At night the elephant is chained to a tree with a 20-25m chain so it doesn't go wandering off. Each night she is tied in a different area near a some water so she has lots to eat and drink, elephants only sleep about 3-4 hours the rest of the time they spend eating. After going with the elephants we had a nice cold shower, next month they hope to have a solar water heater. All of the electricity at the center is provided by solar power. Dinner was tasty although kind of standard. We went to bed fairly early but that is typical after a long day of travel and the excitement of the elephants.
The Elephant Conservation Center

Me on Mae Dok

Beau on Mae Boun Nam

Bath time!
The internet has decided to become slow as molasses so I'll post the rest tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Luang Prabang

We have been to the elephant conservation center and are now back in Luang Prabang. The center was in a word EPIC. I will post more later, for now just know it was incredible. This is what we did in the few days before going.


Dec 6 – To Luang Prabang
We decided to move on to Luang Prabang today. We had breakfast before going to catch a tuk-tuk to the bus. As usual, the tuk-tuk was crammed full of people. It took much longer than it should have to reach the bus since we stopped to rearrange the people between tuk-tuks. We were taking the “VIP” bus which allegedly had bigger seats, A/C and a toilet. We were also to arrive at 5pm. Typically, none of these turned out to be true. The seats were regular sized I guess but had little leg room, there was no toilet, the A/C was pitiful and we arrived around 7pm. Such is the life of a traveller. The ride was intense. We switched back and forth up a mountain and then zigged zagged back down only to switch back and forth up the next one and zigg zagg back down. It was a slow twisty turny ride. We also stopped several times to add water to the radiator. The views were pretty spectacular but with the winding road I found it best to try to sleep instead of look out the window. We finally arrived in Luang Prabang and started the usual GH house hunt. We found one reasonably priced and then set off for some dinner. After eating we checked out the night market. This consisted of many many tents set up in the street, which was closed to traffic, all selling handicrafts such as purses, douve covers, skirts, pants, and what not. The colours are all so pretty at these markets it's hard to not stop at any shops but I know I shouldn't buy anything. We did get a delicious little ginger cake.
The view from our bathroom stop

Dec 7 – Luang Prabang
I got to Skype Mom and Dad this morning before they go on their holidays. The internet has been painfully slow here so we could only use the audio. Afterwards Beau and I set off into town to see what we could find out about buses to Sayabouly and also getting to Vientiane and Bangkok. The information we did find just confirmed to us that it is cheapest to buy our tickets directly from the bus station. We spent the day wandering Luang Prabang, hunting for cheap flip flops to replaces the ones that were left behind while tubing. We had a bit of trouble finding some reasonable ones but fortunately we had success. Later, we ended up at a river side restaurant which was just tables set up on the sidewalk. We had some nice fruit drinks and relaxed with our books. We came back to the same restaurant later this evening for dinner. The prices were quite cheap and the food very good. There were candles on the table too so it was almost romantic. There was some sort of film festival going on in town and there was a huge projection screen set up in a square. After having some cake and coffee we ran into Lea from the 4000 Islands. We chatted with her and her companions for a bit and then we watched the movie the was showing. It was very strange.... sort of like Lord of the Flies, so it was disturbing. We headed to bed after since we have another bus to catch tomorrow.

I think a museum in the city

The Nam Khan River

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tubing in the Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng has beautiful scenery but is very touristy. The mountains are awe inspiring with limestone cliffs the likes of which we have seen through out south Asia but still incredible. The touristiness comes from the many guesthouses, restaurants and shops. Almost all the restaurants had big LCD TV's playing either Friends or Family Guy. We were hard pressed to find a restaurant where we could enjoy the scenery in relative peace and quiet. All the shops were selling “Tubing in the Vang Vieng” or Beer Laos tank tops along with water proof money cases. Obviously the town is thriving on tourists but there isn't much Laos character to the town. We still really enjoyed our time here though.


Dec 4 – Biking around Vang Vieng
We had a leisurely start to the day today which included some breakfast just down the street from our hotel. The power was out at our hotel and the restaurant but fortunately with open air places there is plenty of natural light. We rented some bicycles and toured around across the river. The pathway took us to a cave and mountain that we could climb. And so we went up, carefully. It wasn't really a proper pathway and had some ladder bridges to take us over some of the more rugged terrain. It was quite the interesting climb but had a lovely view of Vang Vieng and the mountains around. It was an awkward, careful climb down from the top. From here were continued on to another cave but they were charging admission as well and we weren't quite willing to pay it so we headed back to town. It was well after lunch time at this point and we were famished. Once back in town we got some lunch at a restaurant with a lovely view over looking the mountains and the little hill we climbed earlier. We just relaxed here for awhile enjoying the beautiful view. We biked around town afterwards and I was able to buy an inexpensive charm for my charm bracelet, its a little happy Buddha. We went back to our hotel for a shower and then headed out again to find somewhere with wifi and dinner. It is a little bit difficult to find somewhere to eat that isn't playing Friends and Family Guy. It's kind of ridiculous how much these two shows are played at all the restaurants here. We found one that had a back area where we didn't have to listen to the TV. We had dinner and did some research on what to do in New Zealand.
The view from town, we climbed the little one on the right.

In the cave

 

Dec 5 – Tubing on the Nam Song
Today we are doing the infamous “tubing” of the Nam Song. We rented an inner tube from the tube place which also makes you put down a deposit to make sure you bring it back. And hopped a tuk tuk which took us about 3km upriver to the launch point. In theory it should take 3hrs to float down the river, that doesn't include stopping at bars. When we arrived we were blown away, every 100m there was a bar on either side of the river. At each bar there were guys throwing you ropes to pull you ashore so you could buy a beer or a bucket from them. It was crazy! Many places also had rope swings, slides and dive platforms. At one bar we went down a slide but unfortunately I forgot to take off my sunglasses so now I need new ones. We had started our tubing adventure around noon and you have to have the tubes back by 6pm. We were at our last bar and it was getting close to the time so we hurried down to our tubes and forgot our flipflops.... another purchase we need to make now. It was getting quite cool out too. The sun had gone behind the mountain and the water was chilly. We were hailed by a tuk tuk driver from the shore so we pulled over and took a tuk tuk back to town. Just in time too. We walked back to our hotel, barefoot, and I had a nice hot shower. We had some dinner, I had a delicious chicken burger. We then went to another restaurant with internet and Beau proceeded to have second dinner. We drank lots of water to try and recover from our afternoon.

On the Nam Song River


One of the many bars

Beau on the slide I lost my sunglasses to

Just a floating along

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Vientiane to Vang Vieng

Today's bus ride was brutal! The bus broke down and we waited around 2 hours while they fixed it then we almost had a bus accident! Not a good day for buses but all is fine now.  We are in one piece.  Just remember everyone that these things can happen at home too.  We are feeling better though. I don't think it was related to anything we ate.  If possible I think our crappy bed just messed up our bodies and this is just how it manifested itself.   But tonight's bed seems much more comfortable.. no springs!


Dec 2 – Vientiane
Today hasn't been the greatest of days.   Beau and my stomach are both acting up a little. Nothing major just enough to cause some discomfort. So we didn't do all that much today because of it. We walked around a little and tried to eat a bit, mostly rice and fruit. We spent the bulk of our day curled up reading on the lobby couches. The only highlight of the day was Skyping with Elaine, although we couldn't chat for too long. Beau and I are having an early bed tonight and hope things right themselves with some sleep. We board a bus to Vang Vieng tomorrow and nothing sucks more than being on a bus and feeling crappy.

Dec 3 – To Vang Vieng
Today we caught a bus to Vang Vieng. In theory this is only a 3hr drive but of course it took much longer than that! We had driven maybe half an hour and the bus started making a weird buzzing noise so we pulled over at what we think was a mechanic. We were stopped for about 2 hours while the driver and some other guys worked on the engine. Finally we were on our way again with no more buzzing. We had been driving for max an hour and the bus swerved and almost went off the road into the ditch. Turns out the side mirror had been clipped by a van going the other way. The road is just wide enough for two buses to pass each other but I guess one of the drivers misjudged a little. Fortunately there wasn't any noticeable damage and we didn't end up in a ditch. We finally made it to Vang Vieng in one piece. In theory we were supposed to arrive at 1pm and instead arrived at 3:30. At least it's still light out that's the main thing. We found a cheap hotel and then went in search of some food. We had some good food then wandered around to see the town a little. We settled into a restaurant for some wifi and drinks. We are staying away from the beer since we felt off yesterday but today we are much better although not quite 100%.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Vientiane

I like Vientiane. It has a good feel to it. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, fortunately lots of guesthouses too. I don't think I can put my finger on what I like about it though. It has some nice Wats and some pretty architecture, also some not so pretty architecture. The river front is really pretty though. I think it's the overall atmosphere and vibe of the city. I definitely am enjoying this city. Unfortunately today Beau and I are both feeling a little under the weather so we haven't done too much exploring today. Hopefully we feel better tomorrow because we are on another bus to Vang Vieng.

Nov 30 – Onwards to Vientiane
We took a tuk tuk to the bus station this morning and caught the 8:30 bus to Vientiane. It was a bus ride like any other although one time we picked up some women who were selling fruit, rice and other things to eat and then we dropped them off about a km from where we picked them up. I forgot to mention about the circus that gets on the bus every time we stop. Women and children selling bags of sticky rice, mangoes, eggs in a bag, eggs on a stick, meat skewer, and something wrapped in a banana leaf. They all climb on the bus and yell in Lao and stick the stuff in your face trying to get you to buy it. Then they all clamber off the when the horn honks or in the case of today they do all this while the bus is moving. It is quite the production. Any ways we arrived in relatively good time around 3:30. Its about 330km between Tha Khet and Vientiane so I guess 7 hrs isn't too bad. We had to take another tuk tuk into town, actually it was a Sǎwngthǎew, a pickup with a covered bed and benches down both sides. There were about 18 of us in the back and a chicken. It was the typical Asian squish as many people as possible into a small space. This thing took us the 9km to the city center. From there we started hunting around for a room. There were a plethora of guesthouses and hotels but most were full or too expensive. So we just wandered up and down a couple of streets till we found one cheap enough that had a room. We were starving at this point so we went down to the street near the water and had a beer and some food. The water front area is very nice. There are no restaurants that directly over look the river but there is a nice park area and then a little hill up to a boardwalk area. The river is quite low right now, I'm a little surprised since dry season didn't start too long ago. Makes me wonder how low the river will get. We walked along the board walk and watched the sun finish setting. In one area of the park there was a large aerobics class going on. There was also a large night market just finishing setting up in the park selling clothes, bags, paintings etc. We wanted a little something more to eat so we headed to a restaurant near our hotel and ordered pizza. I had a craving. It was pretty good, could have done with more toppings but it was tasty. Sometimes it's nice to have a change from rice and rice noodles.

Dec 1 – Around Vientiane
After having a nice and cheap breakfast, complete with near American style coffee, I got to Skype with Mom and Dad. They are off on their own adventures in a little over a week. We chatted for a bit but the call was dropped a few times, the internet is pretty slow here. After finishing with Skype, Beau and I headed out on foot to explore the city. We were hunting for bookshops, Beau found he wanted something to read while we were on all those buses. We found quite a few some with new books some with used but in the end Beau found a book he wanted to read, he's not into fiction so it was a little difficult. We spent most of the day walking around enjoying the feel of Vientiane. Traffic is a little less crazy here and drivers actually stop to let you cross. We went into a market/mall. Once upon a time it was a market with covered stalls now it's a mall with stalls all inside. Kind of weird but interesting none the less. We had a late lunch at a burger stall which really good burgers, Yum! We are indulging our Western cravings lately. We went to the river side to watch the sun set. It was kind of hazy but there was a cloud just above the horizon and as the sunset behind it it peaked out the bottom for the cloud too. Very pretty. We went to a little sidewalk restaurant that set up in a construction zone and had some bbq squid and fried rice for dinner. After we enjoyed a beer at a restaurant called the “beer garden” which we had eaten at the night before. It actually had a very pretty garden you could enjoy beers in. While there a group of 3 came in, two of the people in the group we have seen everywhere. They were at a couple of the same restaurants in Tha Khet, on our bus to Vientiane, now they are actually stay in the same hotel as us. It is all quite random but we actually talked to them this time although we didn't get any names. I don't doubt if we continue to run into them while in Vientiane.

That Dam Monumment

Laos National Culture Hall

Another beautiful sunset over the Mekong

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tha Khet

We decided to get the heck out of Savannahkhet and escaped to Tha Khet.  Tha Khet is a much nicer town! This has meant that we have spent way too much time on buses and with us going to Vientiane it'll be 3 days out of 4 on buses... yuck

Nov 28 – To Tha Khet
This morning we went out in search of an ATM and breakfast. Our low opinion of Savannakhet was not improved by the our morning exploring. What was called romantic with some crumbling french architecture was really just a dump. We quickly found our way to the bus to get a ticket out of there. We purchased a ticket to Tha Khet and Beau zipped off to our hotel to pick up our bags and check out. We spent about 14hrs in Savannahkhet and that was quite enough. Our bus ride to Tha Khet was pretty uneventful although we did stop for an hour at some other bus station so again another slow ride. I think that will be the standard in Laos, buses taking a long time to go relatively short distances. I miss knowing that you it will take you about 2hrs to go 200km. We arrived in at Tha Khet bus station and started looking into getting a tuk tuk. We were talking with some other travellers and got a deal on the ride for all 6 of us. It was a pretty cramped ride. We started looking around for a room, the first two places only had more expensive rooms available but we found one for a reasonable price. We headed to the river front for a snack and got this really delicious pancake/crepe type thing. I don't know what it was made with, the guy used some sort of pastry, looked toffee like, and rolled it out super thin then put it on his grill and cracked an egg into it. Once it was all cooked up he poured condensed milk onto it, YUM! We then went to a restaurant and had a beer while we watched the sun set. While sitting there we saw two guys from the tuk tuk so we went for dinner with them and the other tuk tuk couple. We had a nice dinner together by the river side. We made plans to meet up with them tomorrow morning to discuss going to see some of the caves in the area. We realized when we got back to our hotel our room was right next to a karaoke club. The music was quite loud but some how we were able to sleep, I don't think it was open too late either.

Nov 29 – The Caves around Tha Khet
We met up with the group at the tourist information center, they were interested in going to one cave in particular which is about 7km long and you go through by boat. This cave is also about 200km from Tha Khet and chartering a minibus to go see it was just too big of an expense for us. The other four went ahead with the trip though. After having some noodle soup for breakfast, with not so yummy noodles, we rented a motorbike and decided to check out the caves near the town. The caves we went to were Tham Xang, Tham Pha Pa, Tham Xieng Liap and Tham Nang Aen. We were a little let down by our experiences. The caves we went into were mostly set up as alters and there wasn't much exploring to be had. Near the end of the we went to one which had more facilities but it was also more money to go in and there was the option of renting a boat. We had been let down by the other caves and decided against going in this last one. We just could drum up any enthusiasm to go in. We did go to a lake, Tha Falang, which was very pretty. The water was Caribbean blue, not really sure what made it this colour but it was quite clear. We head back into town and had a much needed shower. The roads were very dusty so we were covered in it. We went to the only restaurant that offered wifi, there were internet cafes though, and got some food and some beers. After eating and catching up on our e-mails and blogs we found the magnificent pancake man again and this time ordered two one with banana and one with egg. We had thought last night there was no way to improve on the deliciousness but the banana proved us wrong. We relaxed by the water front with another beer before heading back to our hotel. Beau and I have rediscovered TV a little but mostly its on the news station. Tomorrow we are going to try to catch an early bus to Vientiane.

Funky looking rock that looked like a face

Inside one of the Caves

Tha Falang, the pretty lake


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Don Det to Savannahkhet

Savannakhet was a big let down we are moving on to Tha Khet. Hopefully it will be much better.  The bus ride was super slow with it stopping every few km to pick up people, scooters and even animals... there was a chicken.  The seemingly disorganized bus ride and having to change vehicles numerous times undid the relaxed feeling I had in Don Det.  Lets hope the next day of travel goes a little more smoothly.  Sorry I didn't really take any photos the past few days.

Nov 26 – Hanging in Don Det
Today was to be a quiet day. We went for breakfast then headed more into town to find some internet. We hung out at a nice riverside restaurant for the bulk of the day. We ran into Gregory breifly while there before he and the girl hopped on a boat to the main land. Mostly we just spent the day catching up on computer stuff and relaxing. It was nice. We tried to go to go watch the sunset at one restaurant but we got there a little late and the menu was quite overpriced. We went to the reggae bar for some beers but it was kind of pathetic as far as reggae bars go. There was no reggae music playing actually there was no music playing period. We moved on to find another restaurant for dinner and then head for an early bed. It was nice to have a quiet do nothing catch up day. We did buy a bus ticket today to go to Savannahket tomorrow, suposed to be a kind of pretty and romantic although a little run down.

Nov 27 – To Savannahket
We've been eating at the wrong places the past few nights. The restaurant attached to our guesthouse, which I hadn't really noticed before, had super cheap food. We ate here for breakfast which was a little cheaper than elsewhere but we could have had dinner last night for half the price. Boooo ahhh well you win some you lose some. We waited at the south west ferry terminal for our boat pick up around 11am. We were the only ones waiting there and were a little nervous about the fast but fortunately a boat showed up to take us to the main land. We had our own private boat although we were without shade on it. From the boat we caught a maxi bus to Pakse. This bus was bigger than a mini bus (a 15 seater van) and smaller than a coach bus (a greyhound). It also lacked air-conditioning but the windows opened and the bags were on the roof. From Pakse we transfered to a bus to Savannahkhet. This bus took a long time to get anywhere. We stoped every 500m for the first 10 km picking up passaengers including 3 motorbikes and a chicken. I don't understand why these people could go to the bus station to be picked up! Honestly! So it took forever to go 200km. We were told we`d arrive around 7pm and arrived at 9:30pm. We were dropped off outside of Savannahkhet and directed towards a jumbo, a pickup truck with benches in the back. The jumbo took us about 300m to another van. We were talking with a Lao girl, around my age, trying to figure out where we were. We found out we were dropped 35km outside of the city center. We were supposed to take the van into town but no one really indicated this to us but fortunately the Lao girl helped us figure this out. We were operating off the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides book and asked to be taken to a guesthouse which turned out to be closed. We were driven to another which was good enough for 9:30pm so we checked in. We then went in search of dinner and got some chicken noddle soup for $1. After this we went back to the hotel and for once turned on the tv. Low and behold there was a movie on so we watched Couple's Retreat before going to bed.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Laos and the 4000 Islands

Don Det has been a great place to recharge for a couple of days.  The quiet island life is exactly what we needed after cramped mini buses and long rides.  So far life in Laos runs at a much more sedate pace we'll have to see if this just island life or if it's like this everywhere.  It would be a nice change from the rest of the hullabaloo that is Asia.

Nov 24 – To Laos
Today we head to Laos. Our minibus picked us up from our hotel at 7am. We were one of the first stops since there was only 1 girl on the bus. As usual we picked up people till the mini bus was full and then some. The problem with mini buses is there is no room for luggage storage. They fill every seat but leave no space for bags. By the end of the pick ups there were 13 of us in a 13 seater mini bus but not everyone had a proper seat. The back seat, which sits 4 had 2 people plus bags, our row which sits 3 had 4 people with Beau sitting on a cushion in between seats, 3 in the row ahead (the older couple had paid extra for another seat but obviously they didn't get it), and 4 in the front with the driver sharing his seat. I think they need to learn about roof racks! It took about 2 hours to reach Strung Treng, we didn't actually go into the city just changed to a big bus to take us to the boarder. We were given visa papers to fill out and entrance/exit cards. We wanted to use our British passports to enter Laos, the visa was $11 cheaper than the Canadian, we were told we couldn't do it. It would be allowed. I think it would have been fine if we were doing the visas ourselves but a guy from the bus collected all the papers and passports and got our visas for us. We had to wait at the boarder while this happened thankfully under some shady tarps then walked across to a new bus which was to take us on to the ferry to Don Det. This ferry ride was infinity quieter than our last one, we didn't get stuck or anything. We arrived on Don Det and went in search of a room. Most places had very basic bungalows with a shared bathroom, we got one for 50,000kip ($6) with our own bathroom and shower. We walked around Don Det into the “town” which didn't take very long. The town is about 1km from our bungalow. We stopped for lunch and then headed back to the bungalow. We lazed about in hammock for the afternoon reading, napping and relaxing. Ahhh the island life. We went off in search of internet and dinner and found both. We ate at a nice little riverside restaurant and were able to use the internet. Most restaurants advertise free wifi since none of the guesthouses have it. So far Don Det seems like a nice little island.

Nov 25 – Don Det and Don Khon
We decided to rent some bicycles today to check out our island and the adjoining one, Don Khon, the two are connected by an old railway bridge. After breakfast we rented bikes from our guesthouse and set off to find an “ATM.” There aren't actually ATM's but you can take money out using your credit card with there credit card machines, we're just hoping this is seen as a sale not a cash advance. We were also thinking about doing a kayaking day trip but it cost abut $20 per person and upon further enquiry didn't sound that great. We biked along the western side of Don Det which was lovely. We stopped to talk to a guy (not sure where he was from Australia, NZ or South Africa) who was building tee-pee bungalows. He's trying to set up his own guest house. When we hit the bridge we ran into a few people who had been one our boat and bus from Strung Treng. The one girl was actually the girl who had been smushed on the mini bus with us, her name was Leah from Switzerland. The other two were Gregory and Loren from Belgium. We went to see Tat Somphamit, or Li Phi Falls, which were pretty nice. They were quite wide not all that high but there was quite the torrent of water flowing through. We walked along the path a ways and ended up in a sandy area where our new friends had gone swimming and met some Spanish dudes as well. It actually wasn't recommended swimming in this area so we headed off to another place with everyone else in tow. The beach was okay but the water was crisp and refreshing. The Mekong is pretty silty right now but we were told it was okay to swim. Beau had gone swimming and forgot he had money in his pocket so he had it all strewn over a bush to dry out. We ate lunch at the little beach side restaurant. The food was good but it was quite slow to get our meal, then again I don't think they normally have to prepare 8 dishes at one time. We headed back to Don Det and took the eastern route this time along the river. We had a little trouble with the bikes with chains falling off and getting stuck but we made it back okay. We had a quick shower then join Gregory, Loren and Leah at their bungalow to watch the sun set. After the sun had set, which was pretty spectacular, we headed to restaurant for some dinner, it also had a snooker table. I can't recall what my dinner was but it was very tasty and pretty spicy. Beau had some sort of Laos dish which pretty much burnt his face off, I think he liked it. Gregory and Beau played some snooker and the Spanish guys were coincidentally at the same place. After dinner and hanging out we headed down to another bar called Pai in Laos. They were open later then most other restaurants. There was a guy who put on a fire show, with a flaming baton and flaming balls on chains. It was pretty cool but a little scary too, you just had to hope he knew what he was doing. After all the excitement and exercise we were quite ready for bed so headed back to our bungalow. The stars are amazing here on the island with so little light pollution!

Beau on his bicycle

A tee-pee bungalow

Tat Somphamit, or Li Phi Falls
At the waterfall

A money bush

Sunset over the Mekong

Sunset