Greetings from Laos
We’ve made it out of the jungle with only a few scrapes and bruises and we’re back in civilisation, here’s our ridiculously long run down of how we’ve been passing the days.
Our time on the Southern Thai islands soon dropped into a regular pattern of late breakfasts, scooting around (the first blog entry we can make without noting any mishaps), and cheap beers from the 7/11. Of note though was our adventure to one of Ko Phangan’s half moon parties in the jungle. With anticipation we set off to the party with dreams of excitement and partying hard to come. However it seemed our excursion was to be marred by the ridiculous as the first taxi driver to pull over was obviously completely wrecked, and when we told him to drive on he refused to leave us alone, meaning no other driver would stop. The situation was rectified by us all hiding in the dark of our closed hotel restaurant until a taxi was coming, Justin hurtling out to flag it down before the evil taxi driver (who was parked down the road) could stop us, and us all shooting off as quickly as possible. Once there we bought our first ‘Mekong bucket’ (literally a children’s bucket and spade bucket filled with a bottle of rum, a coke and a red bull) from the stand outside only to be informed that no drinks from outside were allowed in. We thus took a pew and slurped it down in double quick speed. We then made our way in, the girls getting luminous paint on their face on the way in, to the jungle clearing dance floor to get our trance on. Getting there about 11 the party was in full swing with the music booming, drinks flowing, tops off and some serious shapes being thrown on the dance floor. Justin and I immediately joined in adding our naked torsos and shapes to the mix, with the ladies soon joining us with another bucket in hand. The rest of the night turned into a haze of dancing, drinking (though not to previous levels as all the drinks were so expensive) and body paint (thanks to the tube we found). Amy and Justin decided to scoot at about 4am while we toughed it out till about 7am. Tired we set off home to sleep it off for the rest of the day. Once home I slept until about 2pm waking to find Rach sitting bolt upright claiming not to have slept and been strolling around the streets covered in body paint looking for water for hours. She’s now been banned from fizzy drinks after 9pm.
Our next island was Ko Tao considered by many to be the most beautiful of the islands. However when we got there we decided to settle in the slightly trashy touristy bit and so missed out on the islands full beauty, but did get to watch knock off DVDs in the bars, follow the sporting action from around the world and take advantage of free BBQs. We did get to see the island though on a days snorkelling trip where we swam with big sharks (as long as Rach but not as snappy) and saw loads of beautiful fish and coral. However all this lying around on beaches had to stop and it was soon back to proper travelling.
Our bus pulled up at 3.00am and blearily eyed we stepped off and wondered where we were. Avoiding the army of taxi drivers offering to take us to our accommodation for the same price we’d just paid to cross half the country, we began our slow plod of the streets. On our walk up one particular street we were met by men selling ping pong shows, a small army of cross dressing lady boys, drug dealers, stag dos, Thai cover bands, break dancers, couple after couple of middle aged western men and Thai teenage girls, hippies and one midget. This was Kao San Road and we were back in Bangkok. Managing to avoid the many temptations of this fallen street, (though I did have to keep a very close eye on Rach when we walked passed McDonalds) we spent a good hour and a half looking for accommodation, with no luck. We ended up in a dump of a place where the only luxury was the free hair on the bed left by the previous resident. The next morning we found a cleaner hostel for a cheaper price (£3.50, though no free hair) which still retained its cell like qualities.
The first afternoon was spent walking around the backpackers area before we all set off in search of the Grand Palace. We met the usual tout on the way who informed us that the Palace was closed (the rogue) and when we got there found it open and rammed to the rafters with tourists. In honour of the glorious king (they may be monitoring this) an extremely strict dress code was imposed to get into the palace and whilst I was fine and Rach scraped through, Amy and Justin had to join the giant queue to get clothes to cover up. This plan was soon abandoned when the size of the queue was fully realized so they set off to other temples. Rach and I headed to the palace and began to queue for tickets until we realized that it was 14 quid to get in and it shut at 3:30 pm so we would only have an hour in there. Left this for another day and headed to the Wat Pho, home of a gigantic reclining Buddha. This Buddha was massive! The Buddha had a beautifully serene look of calm and happiness upon his face, as did we after we’d snuck in the Thai only entrance for free. The bottoms of his feet were inlaid with mother of pearl and must have been the size of a living room they were that big! That’s right a real living room.
The next day we were whisked away on a day trip tour of Kanachaburi and the Death Railway with an early start for the 3 hour journey out of Bangkok. The first stop was a cemetery for the POW’s killed in Thailand, the majority of which were British and Dutch. Loads of people from Derby and Lincolnshire though no Eleys or Da Costas. From here we went to the ‘JEATH’ museum, which we were convinced was a typo, but in fact stood for Japan / England / Australia / Thailand / Holland. The museum itself was strangely creepy filled with original items from the Japanese rule and set out in no discernable order with everything covered in a thick layer of dust and falling apart. We then walked to the bridge over the River Kwai to push our way through the mass of tourists and try our best not to fall in through the massive gaps. On rejoining our tour group we were shuffled between another 2 groups before setting off, convincing Rach there was absolutely no chance of us ever getting back to Bangkok. The Death Railway was next and we were herded onto a rammed train carriage to take in the sights of the River Kwai. The River Kwai was extremely pretty surrounded by untouched countryside and was well worth the crammed hot compartment. Confusion followed as we were unsure which tour group we were actually part of as everyone was going out on different activities we hadn’t paid for. Nevertheless we were ushered about to the right places and a delicious lunch was had before a chance to check out all the locals at a waterfall. The place was full of kids jumping into the waterfall and swimming around with inner tubes and huge family picnics set out on the rocks all around them. The journey back to Bangkok was long and the minibus driver decided to turn boy racer in an attempt to avoid all the traffic building up for Chinese New Year. I though was obviously asleep.
The next day we returned to the Grand Palace only for Justin to again be sent away for being inappropriately dress (he refused to take off his belly dancing outfit). However Rach and I braved the crowds and were rewarded with a beautiful temple, the much revered Emerald Buddha and the King’s massive house. That evening it was bye bye to Amy and Justin and back to travelling on our own again. The remainder of our time in Bangkok was spent wandering, sorting out our Laos visa, eating Pad Thai and selling our used books before we caught the night train north to head into Laos.
Fast forward through a 12 hour night train (which wasn’t too bad) followed by a much worse 10 hour night bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang (spent mostly sweating next to a French giant with a baby on the back seat, which was only broken up by Rach jabbing me in the ribs when I fell asleep on top of her) and we arrived in the lovely Mekong surrounded Luang Prabang. Life in Laos doesn’t move too quickly and we spent the next three days strolling the quaint peninsula streets, eating good French cuisine and visiting the odd temple. On the end of our third day here we set off to Huay Xai with the hugely exciting prospect of the Gibbon Experience. Even standing by the side of the road next to our third blown out tire after about 14 hours with another 4 to go our spirits couldn’t be dampened (even when Rach was guess what? Sick), especially as we got to meet another 4 people heading into the jungle with us. Once there we got a room, signed away all liability for any personal injury, mental distress or death to the Gibbon Experience, got some beers and tried to guess what the hell we’d need in the jungle.
The next morning we set off, after watching a very sketchy safety video, on the back of a truck for the 2 hour drive into the jungle. Once we were as far as the truck could go it was another hour and a half’s walk into the deepest jungle to our 6 man and Rach tree house built at the top of a huge tree. As the couple of the group we were allotted the penthouse suite (eg. the mattress on the roof) which had an incredible view with jungle as far as you could see in any direction. To get there we took our first zip wire across the jungle canopy, which offered amazing views and excitement. The next two and a half days were spent zipping across the jungle at break neck speed (videos to follow), some proper trekking, trying to spot wildlife (we managed a gibbon and a barking deer), eating loads of good Laos food and listening to the amazing noises of the jungle at night. We returned to Huay Xai tired and smelly having made loads of good chums both agreeing it’s probably the best thing we’ve done so far. Even another 14 hours on the night bus back to Luang Prabang where the local music was blasted out loud couldn’t dampen our spirits. Next stop on our travels is Vang Vieng for the infamous tubing, so expect the next blog to start with an injury.
Loads of pictures to follow of the Gibbon Experience as two of our group were well into their photography and insisted on hanging for hours on zip wires to get good pictures of us. I’ll try and put the three videos I made now.
Loads of Love
Joe and Rach x x x x x x x x