Friday, February 20, 2009

In Laos now...

Last week we spent 2 long days in the cramped quarters of the slow boat down to Luang Prabang from the Thai border crossing. (Although we were lucky to have reasonably good seats because we arrived early both mornings.) The scenery was nice though. Very different from anything else we'd seen so far and we passed lots of little villages with bamboo huts, people out fishing and washing in the river and they were nice to see too.

On the first day here we just wandered around the town here. We treated ourselves to massages after the 2 days stuck on the slow boat. It was nice enough but a lot of slapping, pinching, squeezing and squashing. A bit strange, very different from at home!
On our second day we decided to go to the Tam Ting (Pak Ou) Caves where people come and place statues of Buddha. It was a long and very bumpy ride to get there, especially since the last 10km of the drive was on a dirt road and after that they were a bit of a let down.
We were up early yesterday morning to see the Morning Alms. It was nice to see but very touristy (says me the tourist) but we stayed across the road and took some of our photo's from there whereas there were others who were nearly blocking the monks paths and standing right in front of them with flashing camera even though you're asked not too and there's signs up all over town to that effect.

We hired bikes then and cycled out to a local craft village called Ban Xang Kong where they do a lot of weaving and make handmade mulberry paper. It was great to get to see the weaving and 2 very kind ladies let me have a go on their loom. It might have been more for their entertainment though, I wasn't very good at it and they were in stitches at me. Still I was delighted to try it out.

We got to see the paper making process in different stages along the way to. In one place we could see them boiling the mulberry bark and Foss had a go at mulching it up.

Then in another shop we saw a girl making a sheet of plain paper using the mulch
and in another shop we got to see a ladie adding in flowers and stuff.

It was interesting to see the whole process. I was in my element and managed to pick up a 'few' sheets of paper very cheaply.

On the way back we passed the school here in Luang Prabang and there were signs up inviting people in so we had a nose around. It was very basic and the classrooms seemed very small but when I asked how many were in each class I was told only 15 -18. Batt O Keeffe would want to take a leaf out of their book.

Yesterday we spent a really amazing day in the Kuang Si National Park. First thing you see when you enter the park is a bear sanctuary where they have bears that have been rescued from poachers and other places that bears shouldn't be I suppose.

Further in there is one main waterfall and as it flows along through the park there are lots of little falls and it has created 3 really beautiful swimming pools. The water there was lovely and blue and the pools were surrounded with all these trees and plants. It was amazing, like something from a film or a travel magazine. In one of the pools there is a tree with a rope hanging from it. We had a few goes on that but we were nowhere near as good as the locals who were like acrobats. There's a high enough waterfall there too so we took a few jumps off that as well.

We spent most of the day splashing around the pools there and had great fun. It was lovely. Such a fantastic day.

We rounded it off with an evening in the 'cinema' in L'Etranger watching SlumDog Millionaire. It's really a bookshop and on Tuesday evening we went there to swap books. We had missed the start of the film for that night and when we asked what was playing the following night they let us pick out from a choice of 3 so then we had to go back to watch The Accidental Husband. I had picked up a copy of SlumDog in the market and asked if they'd be able to play that but he said it's so popular they play it every Saturday night. So last night we found ourselves sprawled out on the cushioned floor watching SlumDog Millionaire. It was a great film, loved it.

So after 5 days in the care of Mama and Papa in the Oudomphong guesthouse,

we left Luang Prabang, and one long, cramped, bumpy and windy minivan journey later we've arrived in Vang Vieng. Hope to do some tubing here over the next few days.

Anyway that's about all. Don't forget to leave a comment or send us an email, we'd love to hear how everyone is and any news from home.

Cheers, Jan and Paul

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hill Tribe Trek

We're after leaving Thailand for the time being and are currently in Laos. We spent 3 days on a hill tribe trek in Northern Thailand. We were trying to decide whether to go from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. In the end we went with Chiang Rai because it's supposed to be quieter so there's less people in the groups on the the treks. We went with the PDA company which was recommened by the Lonely Planet and the Tourist Authority here because they give some of their profits back to the communities that they visit on the treks.
We started off with long tail boat trip about an hour up the river.
After that it was on to an elephant ride. It was very uncomfortable altogether being bounced around the place plus our elephant was the worst behaved and as slow as a wet week.
When we got off the elephants we had lunch and because we hadn't actually gotten too far away from civilisation it was just take away rice and chicken.

It was on to the trekking then and it was about 2 hours of up hill and down through the 'jungle'. It was cool seeing things like bananas, tangerines and pineapples just growing all around you. We were able to just pick bananas straight from the trees.
We arrived at Ban Yafu, the Laku village and were shown into our bamboo made house.
It was amazing to see how people get by without so many things we consider modern conveniences. They did have electricity alright though from solar panels. Had a nice evening there trying out the rice wine provided by our wonderful guide Kao and playing cards with the others in our group.

The next morning was tough going hiking up to the top of the hill to the view point over all the surrounding area. It was nearly as hard to get back down but lunch was worth it. Kao and one of the local tribesmen prepared, cooked and served lunch using only bamboo. The fire was lit using bamboo, we got water from the river using a hollowed out bamboo tube and the veg and meat was boiled inside in it.

Our cups, bowls and chopsticks were all made from bamboo right in front of us while we were waiting for the food to cook. It was unbelievable, and really tasty too. We even had boiled fern and banana flower that we had gathered while trekking.
After lunch we headed to a waterfall and we went swimming there. Pretty impressive I have to say.

The trek on to Ban Apa, the Akha village where we stayed the second night was a fairly flat path except for the last 15 minutes or so. The villagers there seemed much more outgoing and our bamboo guesthouse was much bigger. We even had our own room.

On the last day we trekked back over the hill we had come from. It was tough going because it wasn't the normal route and so in some places there was no path and we just had to figure it out for ourselves. We got a longtail boat up to Pha Soet hot springs then. A nice way to unwind after 3 days hard walking. We got a pickup truck back to Chiang Rai then, with the six of us sitting in the back.
Overall it was a fantastic experience to see a completely different way off life and some wonderful sceenery and nature.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A few photo's from India.

So before we move too much further afield here are just some photos that kind of show the quirks and culture of India, along with a few landmarks. Look out for the school 'bus', the roadside 'restaurant', the furniture workshop, some of our newly acquired Indian 'friends', the laundry epicentre of Mumbai, the bullet hole in the glass of Leopold's and my own personal favourite, the Indian version of turf (horseshit and cowshit that has been collected and patted by hand into lovely little cakes, I know our turf has a distinct smell when it burns but can you just imagine throwing that on your fire).

TFL, Jan and Foss

Farewell India

Well we've left India. We spent 3 lovely relaxed days in Udaipur city. The City Palace there was beuatiful, probably one of the best preserved/restored ones we've seen. We did a day trip to the fort at Kumbalgarh. The wall around the fort there is 36kms long, second longest in the world only after the Great Wall in China. There's a palace there and approx. 300 temples and shrines. We wandered around the place and explored a few of the temples near the entrance. We drove to Ranakpur then to see the Jain Temple there. It had 1,444 marble pillars and each one had different carvings. Some of the workmanship and carving that we've seen in all the places we've been is spectacular and it's hard to imagine how they did it.
We spent 2 more days just wandering around Udaipur and it was lovely. The people were friendly without hassling us and even though they were trying to get us into their shop or whatever they were fine if we didn't want too.
It was on to Mumbai then and on first arrival we were sorry we went there. We had no room booked and the amount of touts who were following us and haraunging us was terrible. Added to that all the guesthouse were up about 4 flights of stairs, which we had to climb with our backpacks in the dead heat. The standard of the guesthouse was terrible (imagine a one floor of a building about the size of the downstairs of an average house, divided up into shoebox size rooms with plywood or something to that effect, with communal bathrooms all for way more than we've paid anywhere else in India) Not happy campers to say the least.
Anyway as we'd been traipsing up and down the backpacker area (Colaba), Foss had spotted that Leopold's Cafe was really busy and he suggested we go there for dinner. the food was so nice that we went back the following day too. It was busy enough, so we were seated with a Swiss gentleman at a table for 4. It was only when he started pointing out the bullet holes that Foss realised it was the Cafe that had been at the centre of the terrorists attacks. I thought he knew! Our 'hotel' was quite near the Gateway of India too and we hadn't realised that it looked out on the back of the Taj Hotel, well it would have if it had windows.
Anyway the last two days weren't as bad as our arrival but I still think we might have left with a nicer impression of India if we'd left after Bundi and Udaipur.
In Bangkok now and it's fine. Can't believe that people say to get out of here as quick as you can. It seems so much cleaner and more civilised than India was, but it is more expensive. We did a little bit of sightseeing today, went to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (despite the best efforts of any Thai person we met who all told us they were closed and to go to this other place or that other place). I'd say that's all we're going to do here though after temple/palace overload in India. We have to stay here an extra day because we're waiting on our Vietnamese visa's and Monday is a public holiday. Don't know what we'll do for the 2 days, maybe just chill out by the pool :)
Anyway hope all is well, don't forget to email us with the news. We'll try to put up pictures again soon.
Jan and Foss