Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Goodbye Bangkok

So, it appears to be the end. I am actually cheating and writing this final blog about our adventures from the comfort of my own bed (which also appears to be covered in cat vomit - but oh well, its home). It is nice to be back, I guess there are perks such as being able to flush toilet paper down the loo without fear of the toilet regurgitating what just went in - pleasant. There's also proper cheese here, like Camembert, which is unbeatable. However, 48 hours into being back home, I am already planning where to go next - I appear to be somewhat of an addict when it comes to this travelling malarkey.

Indeed, good old Bangkok gave me an excellent argument to go back ASAP in my last few hours on her hippie-ridden streets. As I sat waiting for the drivers of our airport-mini-bus to squeeze a few more exhausted backpackers into the vehicle (usually you're lucky if you get your own seat), I observed a rather excellent scene. It was 6am on Khaosan Road and the last western drunks were sitting in a bar, nursing their oncoming hangovers with Sang Som (Thai Whiskey). They were the usual types: donning a couple of stray dreadlocks, ridiculous tattoos which usually depict either some form of Indonesian prayer or a good old tribal tramp stamp. In a Chekhov-esque fashion, one such man was staring into the middle distance, and the middle distance suddenly became a Bangkok police-man. I thought something was going to kick off as the policeman decidedly strode towards this one particular drunk/druggie/hippy. But to my surprise, the policeman patted the inebriated man on the shoulder, sat down and took a massive swig out the bottle of Sang Som on the table.

Now, how is that not a brilliant sight? Don't get me wrong, the police in Thailand are no cuddly teddy bears and respect for the authorities is of paramount importance, but that policeman summed up what I love about Thailand: it is relaxed, fun an above all, it is welcoming. While I have spent quite a bit of this blog slating my fellow travelers, I have perhaps neglected to praise the countries I have visited. So here it goes: if you have the chance to go to Laos and Thailand, then don't think about it, BLOODY GO! Grab your shorts, your bikini, get a good travel insurance, leave your hash pipe behind (you can buy that on Khaosan Road if you want, don,'t you worry) and go. In the words of one wise lady boy, "It's one life and there's no return and no deposit" (yes I have just quoted 'I am what I am' from a lady boy drag show - but they've got a point, although in a slightly different context). Anyway, I had an amazing six weeks and cannot wait for my next trip to South East Asia. Keep an eye on this blog, we shall see each other again in the future. Thanks for reading. x

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

People-Watching on a Ferry to Koh Phi Phi

Good day, dear reader. Today I write from the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi in the Andaman sea, and what a glorious day it is. Koh Phi Phi is where the movie 'The Beach' was filmed, based on the book by Alex Garland - you know the one with Leonardo DiCaprio on the beach, pretending to be a hippie on the beach, and then pissing all the other hippies on the beach off? Yes that one. ANYWAY. It is BEAUTIFUL! When I say 'it' I also only definitely mean the scenery, not the people.

Generally, the travellers we have come upon in the south have been of varying degrees of interest and, lets be quite honest here, different levels of ludicrousness. The best observations have been on the boat to Koh Phi Phi. I begin with the 'Three Blind Mice':

The 'Three Blind Mice' were three charming Italian gentlemen sitting across from us on deck of the 'RMS Nutcase'. I use the word 'charming' in a loose sense, since the three were rather on the overripe end of their raver's careers, and they knew it. They knew it so well that they had clad themselves in the hippest hip kid kit in Italy: Ed Hardy and pink neckties. It wasn't just that. I mean, I am judgmental, but not THAT judgmental, oh no no. The first blind mouse had given his graying hair a buzz-cut, but still donned an impressive waxed moustache, that looked like he had acquired it straight from the Oktoberfest. Lovely. On top of this, he appeared to have pierced his ears with pink straws. The second gentleman had a tattoo on his calf depicting his late dog 'Bruno', and the third made interesting use of his travel towel as an additional necktie. I was impressed.

Now we come to the American girls. Now, I understand that in the US of A, one cannot drink until one reaches the age of 21, unless of course one illegally procures some form of alcoholic beverage. Please note, this does not mean that it is OK to get wasted on Bacardi Breezers (really how old ARE you?) on deck of a very rocky ferry, whilst spilling your cigarette ash on your fellow passengers. Nor does it make it acceptable for a rather obese female member of the group to attempt a belly flop on the way to the loos and in the process to reveal her 'once-white-now-very-yellow-thong' to the public, no to speak of the part of her bum that the thong failed to cover.

We arrive at my favorite passenger; Deborah, 58 from Perth. Deborah is a vivacious blonde at the peak of her life, she demonstrates this by donning a neon 'I Love Fullmoon, Koh Phangnan 2011' T-Shirt, downing a can of lager and smoking her body weight in cheap Thai cigarettes. But the T-shirt was not the only thing Deborah acquired at Full Moon, apart from a hangover/shroomover she also picked up her Spanish 24 year old toyboy, Juan, and probably chlamydia. You go Debs!

Oh, I do love people.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Mudslides and other Laotian Joys

Just to calm your worried souls: we are in Thailand, in Bangkok to be more specific. Thailand is an amazing country, mainly because it has tarmacked roads and a working train system - among other things, I guess. I think that I have distanced myself enough from Laos to be able to tell you the tale of the mudslide, the bus in the ditch and attempted hitch-hiking through Laotian mountains. Although, I daresay, I might need a stiff drink after recalling that fateful day.

So, we got a bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng - it was meant to be a casual 6 hour journey that turned into a 10 hour ordeal. In a nutshell, there was a mudslide, the driver got us out of the bus, the bus tipped into a ditch at a 45 degree angle and the driver sat inside and fell asleep, whilst we got stuck outside in a heavy rain storm. Lovely. So we trekked downhill to a local village, where we managed to blag some melon and were generally ogled at by the village children.

Three hours into waiting for something, just something to happen to our bus (apart from sinking deeper into the ditch), G and I decided to attempt hitch-hiking. Brilliant idea, just that we were crap at it. To be fair at this point we looked rather like a pair of drowned rats and any amount of exposing a bit of leg just made us look like some mental-asylum escapees. Although, I'm not sure if Laos has mental asylums, or even much of a police force, seeing as a mudslide on a state road did not seem to warrant any official presence. Anyway, nobody wanted to help us - not even the buses stopped. Until, some enterprising bus drivers decided to make a bit of money in the side by demanding 80 000 kip to 'help' us out. Oh, you've got to love an opportunist.

Obviously we accepted the offer and were thrilled at being wiped down with wet wipes and dried by a pair of charming Italian men. Sadly it was not as raunchy as I made it sound, they really just didn't want to sit next to some mud-covered, soaking, sweaty lunatics. Fair enough.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tubing in Vang Vieng- A bit like Malaga for posh kids.

Why are those guy's eyes so red? Why is that girl dressed only in a thong in the middle of town, on a Tuesday afternoon? Why do I hear the voices of Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey blaring out of every speaker?

'Why', you ask? Well, it is because you find yourself in the rather awake town of Vang Vieng, Laos. Awake as in: "OMG, I HAVN'T SLEPT IN THREE DAYS SINCE I TOOK THAT PILL THAT TUK TUK DRIVER GAVE ME!", or 'awake' as in a drunken (British) bitch brawl over a pair of denim shorts - which ended with one of the girls involved, ripping her shorts off and stomping back to her hostel in nothing but her thong and the monsoon rain dripping on her bare arse. Classy. Yes, Vang Vieng is full of stoners, druggies and drunkards. You must ask yourself; why, but oh why, would one travel to such a godforsaken place. Well, there simply are two reasons: 1. Cheap booze (and for those who are druggies, cheap drugs). 2. Tubing.

On the first point: drugs are so readily available in Vang Vieng that one can order off the happy menu. This menu is placed on your table in most bars and offers weird choices ranging from 'magic mushroom garlic bread' to an 'opium milk shake'. Georgina and I spent an evening watching a group of what we thought were good looking guys, ordering off the 'Happy Menu'. Let me tell you, after a magic mushroom pizza and god knows what else, these guys had turned from 'fitties' to babbling baby boys swaying to dubstep beats, with their hands in the air and their eyes the size of serving platters. Also, oddly, next to us sat, what looked like a couple of English teachers in their early fifties sipping a 'shroom shake'.... oh dear. I suggest approaching these bars and happy menus with caution as bars do tip off the police who make a bonus on busting youths...so if you do ever decide to go to Vang Vieng, be cautious.

Now secondly, tubing. How can I explain tubing to you gap yah novices? They give you a large rubber ring (tube), scribble numbers on your wrist, sit you down in a tuk tuk with other westerners, drive you to a place up stream on the Nam Song River, chuck you out of the tuk tuk, place you in a tube and send you downriver. People at bars then throw ropes at you, in order to fish you OUT of aforementioned river to then get you pissed/wasted/sloshed/off your bloody face/drunk. They do things like thrust bottles of whiskey in your mouth, which really is a form of alcoholic rape, if there ever was one, especially to a person such as myself whose stomach shudders at the very thought of the amber drink - or in my dictionary: godmother of vomit.

The bars also have various attractions, which seem to be particularly popular with the testosterone fuelled male drunk. They are, generally, slightly dangerous attractions such as a tiled water slide which leads onto the heads of people tubing, a giant air-filled pillow on which to jump onto and slide into the water (that is the idea, but I know of three casualties resulting from this activity). You can also just swing yourself off the bar and hope you land in a rather non-shallow end of the river - but hey ho the fun's in the risk eh? What is especially fun, I find, is the general glazed over look on the face of the guy trying to impress me by jumping off the bar decking. No you douche-bag, I will not sleep with you if you jump off a platform into a river, particularly as you are at risk of turning yourself into human mush. Whatever happened to romance here boys? Also, 'motor boating' isn't a way into a woman's heart, just a way to involuntarily fondle her breasts, with your nose, what gain there is in that, I do not know. Just to say.

But to be honest I am not surprised that men/boys in Vang Vieng react this way to women/girls, when looking at the calibre of some of the females available. One English girl had 'Je suisse un chien' written across her stomach which loosely translates to "I Switzerland a dog". Yes love, how very cosmopolitan of you to express yourself in such a complex foreign tongue, shame you lost your dictionary on the way downriver, you seem to have lost your clothing at the same time.

ANYWAY. Tubing in Vang Vieng seems to be a sort of rite of passage for the youth of today and I daresay that Georgina and I did this rite proud - seeing as we didn't die. FYI, only one pot-head a year dies tubing in Vang Vieng. Yay for tubing!

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Tale of the Fermented Cat

Yesterday, I discovered that in Laos there are more uses to be made of your cuddly pets than first meets the eye. I observed this on a trip down-river from Luang Prabang to the Buddha Caves of Pak Ou.

You can get a boat from the city to these absolutely mesmerizing caves which are a sort of Buddha grave-yard: they are full of old or unwanted Buddha statues that have been placed there for hundreds of years. Yet, on the way down, of course, the boatman ensures that you fall into a tourist trap. This particular trap is referred to as 'Whiskey Village' and is just a plain Laotian village that sells tourist souvenirs and their own brand of 'fire-whiskey'.

So I thought I might have a stroll through the village, and as I entered a particular shop, I was faced with huge glass jars of whiskey, in which lay fermented cats and dogs. I didn't know what I was looking at until I spied a little paw, pressed against the cool glass, with its little claws almost scraping the jar. Yeh, too much for my Western sensitivities, so my best response was to take a picture, to ensure everyone else can be grossed out as well!

Colonial Dave and Restauranting in Luang Prabang

Welcome to Luang Prabang, Laos. A town not on the typical 'gap yah' backpacker's route, whose main Laotian destination, by the way, is the drunken town of Vang Vieng. Where the Happy Meal on the typical restaurant menu involves more highs and lows than a 'flying' Pink Power-Ranger toy - I still can't get over that particular childhood disappointment - but I digress. Anyway, Luang Prabang is rather more highbrow than its southern pot-head sister Vang Vieng. This is mostly seen by the type of traveler you run into here. To illustrate what I mean, I will describe the archetypal example, whom I will christen 'Colonial Dave'.

Now, 'Colonial Dave', as the name suggests, is to be found in colonial towns - Luang Prabang is perfect with its white French villas and antique shops. 'Colonial Dave', generally has a fondness for donning panama hats and wearing all white, all khaki, or a tasteful mix of khaki AND white - if he wishes to push the boat out. Incidentally, we bumped in to a 'Colonial Dave' who clearly had his collection of a white clothing washed with his wife's red dress. So he somewhat diverged from the typical uniform by boasting an all pink wardrobe - but the intention was there.

Anyway, G and I stick out like sore thumbs in the places 'Colonial Dave' likes to frequent. Us, with our grubby toes, Beer-Lao t-shirts and cheap jewelery. No, we are the 'Anti-Daves', and the sad thing is that the local barmen, restaurateurs and waiters also know just this. Indeed, we stumbled into a cafe, quite by mistake and ordered food. Expensive food. BUT, they served us free bread. Now, any savvy traveler will know that, if you eat ALL your free food, they will bring you MORE free food - hence, you have to pay LESS for expensive food. It's just simple maths. But the waiters realized just this, and with out extra bread basket, we also received snickering laughs as well as evils from Colonial Dave, who wished to enjoy his Alaskan Salmon without such grubby tramps to spoil his appetite. Disgusting.

On the same note, we got chucked out of a restaurant last night. It was monsoon. Monsoon is a sort of heavy rain that happens every year in Asia. We got chucked because we were wet. Because of the monsoon, which happens every year in Laos. We got chucked out, out into the rain. So upsetting.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thai Massage

When you go for a Thai massage, check who your masseuse is. Or, if you make the same mistakes I made, you might end up with a 70 kilo Thai man taking a stroll on your back. Because that is what a Thai massage is: painful. They twist you, bend you, walk on you, and stick their fingers in your ears. It's like a form of revenge for Western tourists taking over Khaosan Road, getting pissed and wanting to see 'ping pong' shows (google that if you don't know what I'm on about). Revenge for the behavior of tourists like Sean from Ireland, who we found wandering Khaosan Road at six in the morning, drunk off his faced and convinced that fish were eating his feet. But I am diverging from the point. If you want a nice relaxing lovely massage, you know, like the ones in movies, don't get a Thai one. And if you do, that's your own loss, you bloody masochist.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Also note - came across a very bizarre Buddhist temple on the way to the Thai-Laos border: Wat Rong Khun. From a distance it is a beautiful glistening white temple - the brightness hurts your eyes. Yet as you look closer at the decorations of the temple, it becomes clear how morbid it is. The moat around the temple is made up of hands and claws grasping for help and as you walk inside you are faced by a wall of evil, a kind of depiction of Buddhist hell. On the mural you can identify really evil bastards: Osama Bin Laden, the Twin Towers, Michael Jackson, Mobile Phones, Spider-man and Kung Fu Panda. Yes. Kung Fu Panda.


A brand new day, a brand new country. On this fine morning we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos in what can not necessarily be described as 'in style'. No, it was rather and ordeal best described by the words 'vomit' and 'near death experience'. It was a night bus. On Laotian roads. Two things that should NEVER, EVER be combined.

The roads in Laos are far from luxurious, or tarmacked. This is no surprise in a country whose economy is still up and coming and where the short trip across the border from Thailand plainly illustrates different levels of wealth. Whilst Thailand has tarmacked roads, street lamps and a wide-spread mobile phone network, Laos is not so steeped in such infrastructure - this is most noticeable in riding through the Laotian night in what appears to be a converted soviet tank. The Laotian night is pitch black. The constant glare of city lights has not yet permeated this country, which gives it an air of mystery and, if you are stuck for 17 hours in the aforementioned bus, it also gives off a distinct smell of panic and pad Thai in reverse.

But hey ho, we survived - mentally scathed if anything. The highlight of the border crossing into Laos was traversing the great Mekong river from Chiang Khong Thailand to Huay Xai Laos. We did not cross the river by bridge, too boring. Nor by ferry, no no don't be silly. We were given a lift in what appeared to be a rickety fishing boat. And it was AMAZING! It probably would have fit about 10 Laotians and their children, but with four travellers and their rucksacks, thew old wooden boat was groaning in agony. The fisherman looked rather dismayed at the lack of people he could ferry over at 40 Bhat per person - they should really charge for rucksacks.

Upon arriving in the Laotian side of the border we came across the world's most depressed visa official. I saw tears in his tired eyes as he weakly lifted his chubby arm to receive my passport. He slumped back and stared at the cover - and then after an endless couple of minutes handed it to his colleague who processed it. He then slumped back and gave Georgina the same agonising stare he had graced me with, slowly extending his pudgy arm to take her passport, staring at its cover and handing it to his colleague. To be honest, I would be depressed as well if I were the Laotian border guards' "official visa cover reader".

But on we went to the last passport controller, who checked our visas. All was fine until I attempted to take my passport from him, whereupon he said "You learn Laos phrases now." You what now? Yes, whilst dangling my passport in front of my face he made me recite useful Laos phrases like "Sabai-dee" (Hello) or "kalunaa" (please). It was very informative really, just that I kept mispronouncing everything, and that there was a queue forming behind me. And although I am German and queues aren't meant to bother me bla bla bla, six years of living in the UK have made me prone to near panic attacks when I am the main perpetrator in holding the queue up. But the border guard just sat there smiling at me, and encouraging me to get it right - clearly my grasp of the Lao language was of far superior importance than a queue of grubby foreigners. So I would like to say "khap Jai Mr. Borderguard", thank you for your help, I am sure I will be a brilliant tourist in Laos because of your private tuition.