Apologies for the wait, the internet in Laos totally sucks so we have not been able to upload any photos until now (cos we're back in Bangkok). I know Elin's gorgeous photography skills are the real reason you're still interested but I'm gonna try and sum up our recent adventures anyway. Deep Breath...
OK, Chiang Mai is amazing, It's not the biggest city in Thailand but IMHO* it's the best! We were invited to stay with Elin's friend Abi in the jungle just outside the city, which was a highlight of the trip so far (thanks Abi, you're shipment of Irn Bru and Marmite is in the post as soon as I'm back!).
For those who haven't been let me explain. In SE Asia these days the tourist infrastructure is so well established that there is always someone offering you anything you could possibly want to do. The locals know what we want and they are very good at delivering. Once Abi taught us a little Thai, however we were able to eat/drink/shop in Thai-only areas, at last away from the well worn toursist trail. Otherwise you're basically just doing stuff everyone else has already done!
So, therefore, a lesson in how to experience Thailand like a Thai:-
1. Hire a moped.
2. Pack too many people onto it.
3. Drive like an absolute lunatic through the traffic. Ignore all road signs and traffic lights wherever possible.
4. When you reach the temple (or wherever you're going) show some respect by taking your shoes off, and for god's sake wear a shirt!
<Note to all Swedes reading this, in case you hadn't noticed most British people cannot behave abroad! More on my fellow countrymen misbehaving later.>
5. Only eat where you see a restaurant full of locals, the food's better and is less than half the price. You have to order in Thai so may not get exactly what you want, and may well be served by a ladyboy, but don't panic.
6. Before your night out, buy a bottle of rum from the 7-11.
7. Then take it round all the pubs, only ordering soft drinks and ice at every stop. TIT! (This Is Thailand - in other words you can do what you want)
8. Then drive your moped home
(Only joking mum we didn't do the last one!!)
So, after our crash course in Thai behaviour, we went even further north to a bizzare little party town called Pai. Pai was originally a tiny hippie hangout (and still is in a way) but now attracts over 360,000 visitors a year! It's like a Ko San Road for Thai people. And hippies. Bizzare.
Again, neglecting all the foreigner activities, we just grabbed a moped and went exploring the counryside ourselves, visiting waterfalls, hot springs, etc - absolutely stunning!
After a few days we got sick of the 'dreadlocks and tofu' people so decided to leave for Laos.
We took a slowboat down the Mekong, which was again absolutely stunning. However the half naked drunken British Lager Lads fighting on the boat (and almost breaking the engine) had us thinking - what is going on? Is Laos not meant to be super chilled?
Anyway after an overnight stop and another day sailing we arrived in Luang Prabang, the glorious former Laotian capital. LP is lovely, the nicest city in Laos, but has recently been discovered by Mick Jagger and several other American celebrities, sparking a fierce real estate grab. A house now costs upwards of $250,000 on the peninsula - in a place where the minimum wage is less than $1 a day! Apparently the lack of uncensored foreign media (no MTV, BBC, CNN etc) means the celebs can holiday here (in $1200 a night hotels) and not be recognised. For ordinary backpackers like us it means European prices for food - bit of a downer...
Still, we were now a six strong team after picking up two Dutch pals and an English couple en route, and we were having a ball. And as we got closer to Vang Vieng the reason for all the neds (drunken Brits) became apparent..... TUBING!
Vang Vieng is a tiny town halfway between Luang Prabang and the capital (Vientiane), with not much going for it - Ok, apart from a few waterfalls and caves. Then, about ten years ago, someone had a bright idea. 'Lets take a bunch of toursists 4km up the river, give them a tractor inner tube each, let them float back to town, and then charge them for the privelige!' It quickly became really popular, and, not one to miss a trick, the savvy locals began building rickety bamboo 'bars' along the route, until it became what it is today.
Tubing is a lot of fun. As you float slowly down the river, every 100 metres or so there is another bar where the staff throw you a rope so you can haul yourself in and party for a while. Each tries to outdo the other with louder music, better free drinks promos (free shots/free bottle of whisky/free bucket of whisky etc) and ziplines and swings to throw yourself into the river. This all culminates in the Big Swing Bar, a bar sporting an absolutely huge trapeze swing that catapults you high and far into the river. I did it four times in a row. After losing my shirt and my shoes. Wearing a yellow bandana and with 'I Love Laos' spraypainted on my chest! Enough said.
After that hilarity Elin and I decided enough was enough, so we are currently on our way to the beautiful islands in the south of Thailand for some hard core beach lounging. The Dutch are planning on joining us there.
So we are currently in Bangkok again, waiting for a tropical storm to vacate the Islands so we can travel down there... Happy days, I could think of worse places to be stuck!!
Thanks for reading, caring and commenting folks, we promise to update you all more often in future.
Peace and Love
Gus and Elin
*If you need to read this you are probably over forty - 'In My Honest Opinion' ;)