A Travellerspoint blog

Just Keep Moving On

sunny 26 °C

Following the formalities of passport and ticket checks I made my way down the steps, roughly cut out of the muddy slope leading to the waters edge. Declining the chance gravity presented of dipping my toes into the Mekong River, I wobbled accross a plank to the safety of the boat. I say safety, but the wooden benches certainly wernt the most inviting when put into the perspective of a two day slow boat journey to our final destination and I had forgoten to bring along a pillow. People arriving late onto our boat were kindly led to the adjacent vessel, which sported such luxuries as airline standard seating and a television. A mental note was made of this late arriving tactic.

Our boat pulled away first which was a small but ultimately insignificant victory for all of us aboard. We were also carrying on our boat many locals and cargo which ment many stops and as we scrapped (and I use this word litterally) into dock for the first night the other boat had beaten us there.

I have neglected to mention the amazing scenery along the Mekong, and it is really beautiful but I didnt enjoy it as much until the second day of our trip. As everyone made there way down the mud banks once more we found that the organisation had decided to attempt a circus trick as you may have seen involving clowns and a small mini. The two boats worth of passengers were to be amalgamated into one. Remembering the day before and holding back slightly, once the dust of the revolt had settled Kyla and I stretched ourselves out on the deck of a sparce boat along with a couple we had met the day before Will and Alex. Again locals joined us on our journey as did a whole array of cargo such as baskets of chickens and bags of garlic, all sorts. We sailed slowly down the Mekong, drinking any Beer Lao we could get and playing cards, communicating with the locals through a code of funny faces and bold hand actions and seeing the various settlements along the way. Water Buffalo grazed and waded on the edge of the river and locals exchanged various cargo.

We arrived at Luang Prabang as a bright sun set in front of us, casting a gentle dusk light on the town.

In the true light of day the town is welcoming, the architecture displays French influence but there are predominantly fellow tourists to be seen walking the streets. In fact the tourists are different from Kyla and myself as they are what I heard someone call 'FlashPackers'. This type of traveller is generally middle aged or above and when accidentally splashed by a muddy puddle screams such things as, "These trousers are dryclean only" "I'll send you the bill then shall I?" Regardless of the fact I'd just fallen down some steps. The palace museum in Luang Prabang is a favourite hang out of the FlashPacker but worth venturing into. Along with the normal displays there is a display of gifts from various countries including some moon dust given by the United States of America.

The journey down to the capital of Laos will go down as the best and worst bus trip of the entire year. In appearance the buss resembled a metal school pencil case and was packed to bursting with people and cargo. We drove through stunning scenery and passed little settlements where people gambled, worked and even cut their hair in the dusty streets. The roads were winding up and down the mountains and we passed a couple of vans that had turned over off the road until about half way the tyre in front of my window burst. Efficiently the tyre was changed and we set out again. Bang, the tyre blew again, this time conveniently near to a small restaurant, so we rested as the repairs were made. Maybe an hour later, the tyre blows once again, this time it is so hot that buckets and buckets of water are poured on. With steam rising, it takes ten minuites before it has cooled enough to be changed. Backpackers bailed out at Vang Vieng, even a guy who was meant to go all the way to Vientienne but he couldnt hack it, so just Kyla and I went on with no more problems, making it to Vientienne 5 hours late.

Before crossing to Vietnam you must et your VISA in advance and as we had arrived on a Friday and the VISAS are processed in working days, we found ourselves stuck here for longer than expected. We did little more than you would need a couple of days to do but contrary to what people had told us it is definately worth a couple of days stop off. The oldest Wat in the city has a graveyard of Buddhas broken through various wars, this is on the corner of a long road which at the end has a huge concrete arch reminiscent of the Arch de Triumphe in Paris. Following a road from there, we visited Phat Lung where a festival was on creating a hubub including pick up tucks carrying live bands.

Once your Visa is sorted a bus connecting Laos' capital to Vietnams is easily arranged and for the price of 24 hours of your time you can make such a journey. Starting about 7 in the evening we drove to a bus stop, slept there for a few hours before making our way to the border check.

Posted by FlatCapped 16:29 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Elephant tales continued

semi-overcast 29 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

From Lampang we had to get a bus to Chiang Mai as they don't allow the elephants to carry you that far. But not before enjoying dinner by the riverside sound tracked by a Thai group playing amazing soft rock covers. Brilliant.

In Chiang Mai, Kyla was enrolled onto a Thai Massage course and so finding myself with a bit of free time, I wandered around the towns streets and markets, meeting Kyla daily for lunch. After Kyla's course I had booked a tour out into the surrounding jungle for us where we could visit a couple of the traditional hill tribe villages as well as do some trekking. It was great to do a small amount of trekking again after what seems like ages however even more enjoyable was getting to ride an elephant again, this time not in the seat but on its bare back right up behind its head, feeding her bananas as we went (the elephant not Kyla)

After the hour or so elephant trek we made our way to the river where we boarded a bamboo raft and were steered downstream at speed by a skilled Thai gentleman. The man spoke little English so we aptly communicated by splashing each other. Invariably the gentleman won as he benefited from having a 3 meter long pole which he was using to punt along with when not slapping it into the water to drench us all in river water.

Making our way toward the Thai/Laos border we stopped at Chiang Rai where legend tells of a jade Buddha that had been lost by the Thai people, eventually retrieved before falling into the hands of Cambodians when the returning ship crashed on their shores. The idol was then stolen back and hidden by a monk, being sealed within a bricks and mortar pagoda. The story goes that one stormy night the pagoda, with its tall pointy peak was struck by lightning, cracking it open like an egg, revealing its holy green secret. There is a jade Buddha now displayed in a chamber at the temple however I believe the one the story tells of, resides down in Bangkok. Still, the stories a good one.

So I've moved from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, then to Chiang Khong before crossing the river into the neighboring country of Laos.

Posted by FlatCapped 16:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

PICTURE SPECIAL

-17 °C

Ok, I am not very good at providing quality images to illustrate my travel stories, in fact I dont provide any at all. So to make up for it here is a selection of photos from the last month or so. There may even be more to come.

Tea.jpg
Tea Plantation in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

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Monkey on stairs up to shrines in Batu Caves just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

kk_village.jpg
Historical Village in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo Malaysia

brunei_mosque.jpg
Darrusalem Mosque at night. Darrusalem, Brunei

sultans_palace.jpg
Local woman and children sat outside Sultan of Brunei's Palace

monsoon_season.jpg
Monsoon Season. The rain over us at Phan Nga Bay, Thailand

beach_lunch.jpg
Fried Rice lunch on a beach in Phang Nga Bay

007_Island.jpg
James Bond Island in Thailand (not sure which Bond Film)

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Taxi Boat, the only way to get around the island. Ko Tao, Thailand

sand_sketch.jpg
My Sand Turtle on Turtle Island (thats what Ko Tao translates to)

Posted by FlatCapped 03:22 Comments (0)

What Wot Old Chap?

sunny 26 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

The Central pert of Thailand offers many Temples or Wots to visit. In Ayutthaya, the outer Wots can be best visited from a boat and so I found myself steeping cautiously down steps submerged in brown river water to clamber into the boat we had hired the services of for the morning.

Some of the wats are in use but the more interesting to view and explore were the ruins. After a brief lunch and a short walk I was pleased to find the next wat we visited was also in a ruined state with various beheaded buddhas including a head constricted ad trapped by the roots of a tree. The Historical Park makes Ayutthaya worth the visit as the other parts of the town are not so desireable. However within this oasis in the centre of the town trooped elephants giving rides and colourfull market stalls stood around busy wats. It was really something different for this trip, the atmosphere of all these things. We left Ayutthaya before we were all wotted out and travelled to Sukothai to visit the old city and more wats. The museum here provides an insight into the meanings and history behind the statues and temples that you see. After touring the accessible inner area of the historical park a very hot walk along the road was undertook to search out a Wot with elephant statues all around the base looking out. This was much more peaceful than the others and great to just sit and take it all in.

Train is the cheapest method of travelling through Thailand but not always the most comfortable but via a few journeys on these hard plastic seats, encountering some lovely people we made it to Lampang. Lampang struck me as more civilised than other towns in Thailand we had visited and is frankly overlooked in the guide book we read. A local juice shop offers free internet and friendly service, a bar by the river provides good food and entertaining live music that gives a great atmosphere. None of this was the reason I was here however, I was here as it is the easiest place to get to the Elephant Conservation Centre from. At the centre we were treated to a display of how they were used as work animals as well as a few other talents they've picked up such as painting. The elephants also bath in a lake and you can sit, sheltered from the hot sun, as they play and cool off in the water. Both Kyla and I were keen to have a ride on an elephant and so with sugar cane as a gift to the young elephant that was to carry us we rode off into the undergrowth. The youngster, possibly more playfull than older ones, pulled down trees and whipped around grass and water with its trunk whilst we bobbed around on its back.

To be continued....

Posted by FlatCapped 20:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bark at the Moon

sunny 26 °C
View The Restless Ape on FlatCapped's travel map.

I was welcomed into Thailand with a beautiful view of Phuket Island out of the window of the plane. Once on the ground a taxi was easily arranged and we headed to the Guesthouse. En route we came accross one of the vegitarian festival parades and traffic came to a standstill as drums banged, firecrackers crackled loudly and people filled the road displaying various forms of faial mutilation, generally through the cheek, with swords or pipes. One man even had a hack saw through his face.

The place we stayed for the first few days was much quieter than the parades we had passed but we soon moved over to Phuket Town where the parades were daily and when they werent there were always firecrackers being thrown around. Phuket Town appeared to have no draw but the vegi festival and consequent vegi markets so after a few days we caught a bus to Phang Nga.

Phang Nga bus termainal is the stomping ground of a few tour companies of which Mr Kean was the most keen (get it?! I could have used the word eager but I couldnt resist.) to acquire our business and so immediately we set out to spend a night at the Muslim Island Village in Phang Nga Bay, arranged by the charasmatic Mr Kean, before leaving for a long boat tour of the bay and its many caves, mangrove forests and Islands. One of the Islands here is used in a James Bond film and is unimaginatively called James Bond Island, it must have had a name prior to this but I could not find it anywhere. Thats tourism for you.

Rather than Winter and Summer, here the seasons would be divided into a hot weather season and then the one that we are in South East Asia for... Monsoon Season. It rained from the start of our journey toward the pier at the end of our boat tour, constantly through the night. And it has rained pretty much every night since, luckily remaining mostly dry in the day.

We had planned our time to coincide our stay on Ko Tao with the full moon. This cluster of Islands, particularly neighbouring Ko Phang Na, is famed for its Full Moon Festival and a good party can always be expected. Or so I thought. On the night in question we ate on a bech front restaurant, watched big lanterns beeing lit and let loose to light up the sky and felt generally good about the less rave-like take on the full moon partying we'd opted for by staying in Ko Tao. Down to the advertised club we walked to see fire poi being performed on the beach but upon closer inspection the club was dead and none of the hedonistic party excess I may have expected, not even relaxed drinking and chatting. No one there to utter a word.

Leaving the southern part of Thailand and taking a long overnight journey up to central Thailand we arrived in Ayuttaya off the train and began a more kinetic stage of our Thailand tour.

Posted by FlatCapped 10:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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