Hello again! We've now made it to the luxury islands of Thailand and what a jam packed time we've had since the last blog!
Sam left the last blog with us arriving in Luang Prabang. This was a great little town. Every night the main street would turn into a big market with so many things that I could of bought…if only we were going home next week! I had to resist, hoping that there'll be one nearer the time we go home. There was also a street going off from this one that turned into a big food market. There were big buffets where you could get a plate for the equivalent of 75p and pile as much food as you wanted onto it. Pretty good value really! There was another stall where someone, supposedly from Australia, had written on a sign 'world's best pork'. This sounded good and it looked good so we decided to give it a go. The person could not have been more wrong. It was the world's worst pork or should I say fat. Don't think there was any meat on it!
We had a wander around Luang Prabang. There was so many different Wats (temples) and therefore a lot of Monks. One morning we decided to go and watch the Alms Giving Ceremony. This takes place every morning at sunrise, the monks walk single file through the streets, people will kneel down and offer them food. It's a very religious ceremony however we were shocked as to how many tourists disrespected this. We sat on the opposite side of the street watching quietly but there were many others getting up very close to the monks, taking pictures with their massive cameras with the flash on. The ceremony is actually under threat because of this; apparently lots of the monks become distressed because of all the tourists which is perfectly understandable!
Whilst in Luang Prabang we also did a trip out to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. These were stunning, you walked up past lots of smaller waterfalls with pools that you could swim in up to the main one at the top. There was also a bear sanctuary there with a number of bears from Laos that have been rescued. Some of them were just lazing around in the hammock in the sun but then some of the others were a lot more active constantly play fighting. We spent a fair bit of time watching them! We also visited the UXO (unexploded ordnance) museum. This was really interesting. Laos is most heavily bombed country per capita in the world, but a large proportion (80 million out of 270 million) failed to explode and so consequently many people are now getting injured or even killed when they find them. Now there are professional teams that go round looking for them to dispose of them safely however unfortunately there are other people that go around searching for them so they can sell them as scrap metal as they have so little money that they fell they have no option.
Next stop was Vientiane mainly to get our Thai visa as we weren't sure that we would be able to get one on the border for long enough. Our bus journey there was one of the worst. It was pretty slow, the air con didn't work too well and we were constantly stopping for the men to look at something in the engine and putting in water or something…not the 'VIP' we thought we'd paid for. Anyway 30km before we got to Vientiane at about 7pm the driver decided the bus couldn't make the last stretch. We waited by the side of the road for a while whilst men were climbing under the bus to try and fix it however no luck. Then about 10 of us clambered into the back of a pick up truck and headed towards the bus station. We were just about there when our bus, the one that had broken down over took us with the rest of the people in!
We didn't do too much in Vientiane as was only there for a day. We went to a similar museum about the UXO's and a company called COPE who's main purpose is to make high tec but low cost artificial limbs. We also visited the National Museum but this was pretty dull and could do with a revamp! We got our passport and visas back and then moved on to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. We had to get a night bus there and it was definitely the most uncomfortable one so far. The seats were just like normal seats with a bit of extra leg room and tilted back a bit further. We didn't get a whole lot of sleep! We arrived at about 6am so camped out in McDonalds for a bit and a lot of other people had the same idea!
Once we found a place to stay, lots of places were fully booked as apparently lots of people are going to Chiang Mai instead of Bangkok because of all the protests, we got looking into what we wanted to do. We booked onto 4 tours/activities, this week was looking like one of the best and it definitely was!
First was a jungle trek. We started by riding elephants, extremely hungry elephants. As we went around there were people in little stalls where we could buy sugar cane and bananas to feed the elephants went along. The elephants had definitely done this before as they'd always go straight towards the huts! We then walked to some waterfalls and stopped for some lunch which was fried rice. After lunch we trekked for 2/3 hours in the boiling heat to a village in the middle of nowhere. There was no electricity here and not touristy at all. We were the only group there which made it much more special. Our beds were all under one hut just with mosquito nets over them!
The next morning we were woken up very early by the cockerals and frogs making a lot of noise! This started from about 4am, not sure I could cope with that every morning! We had a leisurely breakfast and then carried on walking. There was a local guy with us who would be constantly firing rocks from his sling shot, they use them to go hunting. In the afternoon we got into the deep jungle and reached our place for the night. There was just a hut for us and another hut where they do the cooking. It was right next to a little waterfall with a pool which we all got into to cool down! There were lots of little fish in the pool like the ones you get at the fish spas, no need to pay money for it when you can get it for free! We then had a quick shower. The shower though was just water coming from the waterfall out of a piece of bamboo. It was pretty clever but just a bit cold and you couldn't really use soap or shampoo as it just went into the river.
We had dinner which was a delicious thai curry and vegetables then we all sat around the fire drinking beer, it got pretty chilly in the evening. The guides then decided they would go catch some fish. So off they went into the stream next to us with just a bucket, an hour later they came back with a little crab and 10 small catfish which they'd caught just using their hands. They then put them on a skewer made from bamboo and got cooking them. The fish were still flapping a bit when they first went on the fire but the heat soon killed them! 30 minutes later they were ready to eat. It was amazing just seeing all the different skills they learn to survive in the jungle with no need for electricity.
The following day involved a 2 hour walk in the morning back to a village which had electricity where we had lunch. We then went on to do bamboo rafting. The rafts were made of about 8 long pieces of bamboo all tied together and then there was a local controlling it with another long bit of bamboo. We went down the river on this for about an hour, it was very scenic with a couple of bumpy rapids to go down! The tour then ended so we headed back to Chiang Mai.
Next day we did a cooking class. There was 12 in the group and we all got to choose whichever dishes we wanted. We weren't sure how this would work as surely it'd be pretty complicated to teach everyone different things however it turns out that most of the dishes use the same base ingredients and just add different ones at the end so it wasn't too hard. We were there for nearly 5 hours eating a ridiculous amount of food but came away with a good recipe book at the end. One of the dishes that Sam had chosen was called 'drunken noodles', not sure why he chose that one but you definitely wouldn't want to cook it whilst you were drunk. It involved lots of flames coming out of the pan and would probably end with you burning the house down!
We then had white water rafting to do. This was great fun. The river was quite low and so every so often we'd get stuck on a rock and have to try shuffle our way off but fun never the less. There was about 5 rafts going down at the same time so whenever we got into a calm bit of water we'd have a water fight to cool down a bit! Sam's already been looking for more white water rafting for us to do in South America!
Our last booked activity was a day at an elephant camp. When we got to the camp we were given some clothes to change into as we were potentially going to get dirty! He then taight us the basic commands that we would need to ride the elephants bare back. We walked over with a massive bucket full of sugar cane and bananas and met the elephants including a 9 month old baby which was very playful. We fed them all the food and then each got on and practiced our commands. I'm not convinced the elephants listen to us that much but it was still fun! In the afternoon we each got our own elephant and rode them bare back for about 90minutes to the river. We rode them into the river and the mahouts (the thai people who the elephants do listen to) wasted no time in telling all the elephants to get us soaking wet! We jumped down into the river and tried to get our revenge on the elephants, the y definitely won! The baby who had come along with us was loving it as well constantly ducking down under water and popping up somewhere new! Sadly the time had come to an end so got back on the elephants and rode back to the camp. All day our guide had been taking photos so he put them onto a disc for us each to keep.
We then spent two more days in Chiang Mai. There was a big flower festival going on so big food markets and a stage with lots of different acts. There was an International Beauty Contest one night which involved 25 foreigners each performing their talent. It was pretty entertaining but only about 3 of them were any good! The following day there was a big parade that started at about 5. There was lots of floats and bands marching through the streets. One a half hours later it was still going strong and we'd had enough so decided to go and get some food. The parade didn't finish until about 9.30! amazing how long it lasted.
Next stop was the beach. We spent 2 days getting down to Ko Tao on the east coast. Here we had arranged to do our PADI Open Water Diver Course. Ko Tao is known for one of the best places to learn to scuba dive as it is much cheaper than a lot of places. The course lasted 3 and a half days and we had homework to do each night which was a bit of a shock to the system after nearly 2 years of me not having any! We spent the mornings doing the theory and then we went diving in the afternoon. We could go down to a maximum of 18 metres, you have to do another course if you want to go any deeper. It was a bit scary to begin with but once you got used to it it was so much fun! On the final day we had to do an exam!! There were 50 questions, each was multiple choice but you still had to think! We both got over 90% and officially became scuba divers!
We then moved to Ko Samui as we were considering going to the Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan but had left it too late to find anywhere to stay on that island. When we arrived in Ko Samui we did some research into it and decided that it was going to be pretty expensive and maybe not worth it so didn't bother. We had a night out in Ko Samui instead which is very much set up for this with lots of bars and clubs everywhere!
We're now in Ko Lanta off the west coast of Thailand where it is more of a place to relax than party. With only 3 weeks until we fly home it's time to make the most of the sun and beach!