Posts Tagged With: Thailand

Write about Laos

We made it. The border crossing was a bit painful, but we did get across and back up the river in time for the slow boat. Leaving the guesthouse at 8.30, I was sat on top of the bags in the back of a pick up truck, with the hostel owner chatting to me and getting excited about the new border. The two towns we were going to and from are just a couple of hundred metres apart across the river, and yet we had to travel around 15km south, across the bridge and back north.

The brand new border control

The brand new border control

After paying 40 baht for the ride to the bridge (they wanted 50, but the older Dutch couple we were with, and who were doing the trip mainly to write about it on travelfish, were having none of that), we queued up and 3 people took our passport details in order to get the 25 baht bus across the new bridge. Getting stamped out of Thailand was quick and easy, and then we rode the bus through no-mans-land to the new border checkpoint on the Laos side. It was fairly disorganised, with groups piling off the bus, and then mobbing around a small office. There were no signs up, so it took a while to work out which way to go, but we finally got it right; queue for forms, go away and fill out the forms, queue back up to hand them in, wait for everyone’s passports to be passed around the small office with 5 people copying things out, then pay the $35 for the visa. Finally, we just had to deal the “tuk tuk mafia” outside, and haggle down from 80 baht per person to around 40.

How many people does it take to sell a bus ticket...

How many people does it take to sell a bus ticket…

Welcome to Laos

Welcome to Laos

A flat tyre as well... Come on Laos!

A flat tyre as well… Come on Laos!

Eventually though, we made it to the slow boat port in Huay Xai, and were actually among the first people there. The ticket office staff were pretty relaxed about the new border situation, and just laughed when I asked what time the boat would leave. It finally left around 2 hours later than normal, and we were off into Laos down the Mekong.

The slow boats

The slow boats

Home for two days

Home for two days

The slow boats are long, thin, cargo and passenger boats that float down the river at a relaxed speed, hence the name. Around 80 people were on ours, mostly tourists, and it was a mix of independent and group travellers. It seems like car or bus seats have been taken out of their original homes and placed in rows up the boat, and there isn’t a huge amount to do other than sit and watch the spectacular scenery pass by. Law described it as a cross between Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park – she is awesome.

Jungles, mountains and bamboo villages dot the shore, and the six hours passed quite pleasantly. Just after dark on the first day the boat stops at a small village called Pakbeng, where touts practically jump aboard to get you into their guesthouse – we had a plan though, so while I waited for the bags Law zipped up the hill to get a nice room for a good price. The second day we woke up early and headed off around 9 down the river, and it was more of the same. Amazing countryside, and a good opportunity to read a lot.

Orcs patrol the eastern shore

Orcs patrol the eastern shore

Snug

Snug

We arrived almost at Luang Prabang at about 5.30, but actually stopped about 10km up river from the town. This is a fairly recent thing, where they now drop off all the passengers and then charge an extra 20,000 kip (about £1.50) for a tuk tuk into the city. It’s clearly a scam, but there is an actual ticket office and this is just what happens now. I’d read about it online so we were a bit prepared, but a lot of people were mad and tried to stick it out on the boat until it moved. We saw one couple later who’d waited another 30 mins and still ended up getting the tuk tuk.

Luang Prabang is a very nice city. It’s another odd of mix European cafe style architecture (thanks France) and temples and pagodas. It is a bit pricier here than elsewhere in Laos, but it’s a cool place to just wander round in and the market is full of great cheap street food. Beer Lao is also very cheap, and it might be my favourite beer of Asia so far. As well as visiting the various Wats and temples, we’ve also been to Kuang Si falls, an amazing set of pools and waterfalls outside the city – the water is bright turquoise and even the rain didn’t take away from it’s beauty.

Luang Prabang, a lot of temples

Luang Prabang, a lot of temples

Tiny dumplings on a stick! Night Market

Tiny dumplings on a stick! Night Market

After a couple of days chilling in LP, we made our way to the bus station to spend the day winding around the mountains to get to Phonsavan and the famous and mysterious Plain of Jars.

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

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Not quite in the golden triangle

After getting back into the civilisation of Chiang Mai, we had a nice last night there meeting up with a couple of fellow ex tattoo residents, Shany and Jenny. The following day, like proper backpackers, we headed off with nothing booked and made our way to Chiang Rai, nearer the Laos border. The bus was surprisingly on time, and after 3 hours we were in the town, where we found a nice guesthouse near the centre.

If Chiang Mai was a breath of fresh air compared to Bangkok, Chiang Rai is the same again to CM. Every other building in CM is a tour office or western restaurant, and while it was nice, CR feels a lot more relaxed. We went to the night bazaar on the first night, which was a much more pleasant experience compared to the miles long packed intensity of the CM night market. We had some excellent, and cheap, street food and then watched a hilariously bad show of miming and ’dancing’.

Chiang Rai Night Bazar

Chiang Rai Night Bazar

The following day we visited the (in)famous White Temple, a bizarre building apparently designed to make Buddhism more relevant to young people. It’s still being constructed, but you walk around most of it and it is really weird – bright white, with mirrored glass mosaic’d onto all the walls. There are some pretty gaudy statues outside along a bridge, and inside the walls are painted with a mix of Buddhist and modern images, including superheroes, Star Wars and 9/11. It was a few KM outside the city, but fortunately the local bus was easy to take there – worth a visit but I’m glad we didn’t pay any money for a tour!

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

Predator welcomes you to The White Temple

Predator welcomes you to The White Temple

Later that day we visited the Hill Tribe Museum, which was a really interesting place and gave a lot of good insights into the people who in around the jungles and mountains.

We are planning to head into Laos tomorrow, but decided to spend a last couple of nights in the jungle before leaving Thailand. Law found us an amazing place outside CR called the Bamboo Nest, and we relaxed there with no internet, electricity or roads!

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai

We trekked an hour or so to a nearby waterfall, via a small village where we finally succumbed and bought some handmade bracelets (the Museum in CR told us this was okay…). It was beautiful there, and especially nice being able to hike around on our own without a guide, and to lie in a hammock overlooking rice paddies.

A waterfall in the jungle

A waterfall in the jungle

Hammock time

Hammock time

We are currently in Chiang Khong, looking over the river at Huay Xai in Laos. Tomorrow we attempt the border crossing, and possibly could have timed things better… A bridge over the river opened today (11 Dec), and apparently this is the way we now have to cross. What used to be a simple 5 minute, 40 Baht boat ride, now seems to be a 10km trip over the bridge. We will be amongst the first tourists to cross it tomorrow, so there is no set amount for Songthaews (minibus like things), with no way of knowing whether or not we will make it to the town in order to catch the slow boat down the Mekong. Exciting times (maybe) ahead!

Our last Thai dinner, overlooking the Mekong River and Laos

Our last Thai dinner, overlooking the Mekong River and Laos

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Welcome to the Jungle

Trekking is supposed to be great in Northern Thailand and we had been looking forward to a hiking trip in the jungle. It’s really hard to work out which company to go with as there seem to be hundreds in Chiang Mai trying to sell you their services, so we just went with our hostel recommendation for a 3 day trip and we were really glad we did, as the trip was one of the best things we have done so far. It was only Sam and I with one other person and the guide and we didn’t see another tourist the whole time we were away.

We started the trip by visiting a beautiful waterfall, swimming underneath and almost accidentally stealing a little boy that followed us for ages, including swimming in all his clothes.

Waterfalls Waterfall 2 image

We then went to the Huay Nam Dung national park, where we started hiking. We stayed each night in local villages, with no electricity, amazing food, camp fires and some great views of the stars. We got up close and personal with some interesting wildlife including a tarantula, a water snake, a green snake and a python, as well as a friendly elephant!

Trekking

Water snake

Water snake

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A tarantula!

A tarantula!

Elephants are awesome.

Elephants are awesome.

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A hilltribe village

A hilltribe village

On our final day we went bamboo rafting. This was a proper homemade bamboo raft, made of just bamboo and reeds, unlike the “bamboo raft” we went on in China which had an engine and comfy seats! We stood up with our feet practically in the water, steering the raft with a bamboo pole. It was great fun and a beautiful way to see the river and the jungle scenery.

Bamboo rafting

Bamboo rafting

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Ten days in Thailand

After 6 weeks in Cambodia, crossing the border into Thailand was a pleasant relief, with paved roads, lots of English everywhere and people driving sensibly on the left.

Crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand

Crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand

We’ve realised that we’ve got a lot of Asia left to pack in before our flight to Australia in January, so have decided to head straight to the north after one day in Bangkok and then go to Laos and Malaysia for Christmas. We will have to save Thailand’s southern beaches for another trip.

Bangkok was just like people had described to us – crazy busy and sprawling, so one day was enough for us to see some of the main sights and get started on eating a lot of thai food.

Bus station Thai curry

Bus station Thai curry

We saw the world’s largest solid gold Buddha and the world’s largest reclining Buddha and managed to miss any sign of the massive political protests that are going on somewhere in the city.

Reclining buddah

After some good street food we were happy to get the night train to Chiang Mai, although they weren’t a patch on the Russian trains! Chiang Mai was a nice place to spend a few days and to use as a base to explore the jungle and mountains that surround it.

Our first job was to find a cooking class so we can recreate some of this yummy food for ourselves (and maybe our friends and family) when we get home. We spent an awesome day at a farm on the outskirts of the city learning how to make lots of different dishes, including pad thai, green and red curry, spring rolls, thai beef salad, tom yam soup and mango with sticky rice.

Cooking school

It was all delicious, and hopefully we will be able to find all of the ingredients we need in Penryn Asda.

Food

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Ex-ex-pats

Yesterday we arrived in Thailand after 6 and a half weeks in Cambodia, 5 of which we spent living and volunteering in Phnom Penh. Way back when we started planing our trip, working or volunteering abroad was high on the list of things we wanted to do, and we spent many hours researching. When we finally found an organisation called UBELONG, both affordable and offering different types of placement (teaching English for me, something other than working with kids for Law!), we then settled on Phnom Penh as well. Having this last few weeks booked in advance helped us planning a lot of the rest of our time in Asia.

CCH

We finished last Friday, and are still digesting the experience I think! For us both, it ranged from rewarding to frustrating at times, and it took a while to get to grips with the Cambodian way of doing things. Timekeeping, organisation and the pace of work are ’different’, so in some ways 5 weeks doesn’t really feel like enough time to make a discernible impact. On the other hand, it also felt like time to move on; being in one place for such a long time was weird after so much travel.

It’s probably with rose tinted specs, but I really enjoyed my experience. I think it’s easier to see if you’re making a difference with teaching English, as the kids either improve or they don’t. I was lucky in that I had a small group to work with for at least 2 or 3 hours each day, so I could plan my lessons and see what worked and what didn’t. I also enjoyed the time I spent with the other, younger students, but such short lessons with bigger, mixed ability groups were harder to move forward. By the end of the last week, my older students had definitely improved at least a little bit and they seemed sad to see me go as well.

Grade 2

I’ll miss the students, especially the older group, and hopefully they’ll have another teacher take them over soon. They were funny, and gave me a hard time at points, but most of the time we got on very well. The melodramatic, comedy response of “Teacher, no!” to most of my instructions will always make me laugh.

The boys

Pheakdey... The little shit

It does make me think I’d like to teach English as a foreign language again possibly, but also makes me wary of short term volunteering – there were maybe some people we met during our time in Phnom Penh that were more voluntourists. Some of the orphanages and NGOs also seemed to be more interested in the money the volunteers bring, rather than the skills they might have.

Cambodia is a country with thousands of NGOs and orphanages, with huge problems with corruption and a big reliance on foreign aid, as well as a tragic recent history. Living and working here for even a short while has been a really rewarding and interesting experience. We’ve met some awesome people, had some hilarious nights out and hopefully made a little difference somewhere at some point!

Since finishing, we’ve spent a night on a desert island, met up with some Vodkatrainers, had a hassle free border crossing into Thailand, and celebrated are 12th anniversary of being together. Off now to spend another night on a train, this time to Chiang Mai.

Koh Rong Samloem

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