Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The end of an era

All on my lonesome in Bangkok and spent day sunbathing, wandering around the sights, a little bit more shopping and lots more people watching. Just when I thought I was ready to leave Bangkok, I was sitting in a cab on the way to the airport laughing with the driver as he noted I looked same, same, thai and I just kept seeing so much more I hadn't seen. There's the night bazaar and thai boxing matches I didn't get to, crocodile wrestling and the emerald buddha. And then there was all the stuff I love about being in SE Asia that I would miss too, the people's warmthness, the yummy food stalls, the helmetless moto rides, the shopping, the drinking, the crowded transport (asian style), the countryside, the rivers, the beautiful sea, the architecture, the eating, the new people you meet...god, I could go on forever!

Same, same amazing in Japan...

As I went through immigration and the the guy at the desk double checked my passport to see I wasn't thai - just same same, I just smiled and hoped I'd be having a same, same amazing time in Japan.

Now in Osaka and goddamn, it's nippy in Nippon (Japan) - bring on the summer!!

3 beers and 3 different directions :o(

Missy G's goin' home!!!!

Having spent most of the last two weeks shopping like crazy in Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai and then Bangkok, our finances are looking decidedly low...

Did a little bit of research on Japan, our next destination, and it looks like it's going to cost about 500 quid for the week. Missy G figured she'd rather head for the beaches again (SO wanted to do the same but who knows when I'd get the chance to go to Japan again?) but unfortunately changing flights proved not to be so easy. So, she's headed for home a week early. We spent her last day shopping (naturally) and ended up bumping into our old friend Gimmi who we met in Don Det which is another one of those lovely things that happen so unexpectedly when you're travelling. So we had a beer and then Gimmi headed off for Kho Pangan, Missy G would be heading home the next morning - at silly o'clock - and as for me, I had a flight to Osaka the next night. Felt so strange sitting there, drinking our beers knowing the next day we would all be going to different places :o(

Monday, March 28, 2005

Thailand part 2

Another stint in this wonderful country, this time visiting the delights of Chiang Mai and Bangkok.

Wonderful world, beautiful people...and some elephant snot

Definitely one of the best things about travelling is the unexpected new friends you make. We started off just wandering the streets of Chiang Mai looking for a place to stay and ended up in a lovely guesthouse called Tawan's. Made us feel so at home with it's big garden and bungalows - made me feel like I was in the countryside again despite being in the biggest city in Northern Thailand. On our first day, we did a cooking course with Tawan's wife - Noi, (don't be expecting me to come home a first class chef by the way - even Tawan felt the need to ask me if I ever cooked at home as he watched me chop some veggies) and then stuffed ourselves silly on the final 6 dishes - chicken green curry, sweet and sour pork, pad thai, bananas in coconut milk, tom yam soup and a papaya salad - YUM!!! And if you do want to try something, we have a cookbook - you could borrow mine or get friendly with Carly as she's more likely to try it out again. As for me, I'm already waiting for an invite to one of Carly's dinner parties...

Ever since we had our first massage, both me and Missy G have wanted to go to Chiang Mai to learn the art. Carly went hardcore and went to a proper school so she could get a certificate and, me, I went for the easy option of asking Mae, who works at the guesthouse, to teach me what she knows. But the end of day 2, we'd both decided it was too much like hard work and figured we'd spend the 3rd day shopping. Carly had to tell her teacher she needed to leave the city early...ssh, don't tell anyone! So if anyone fancies me practicing what I learned (apparently I've got the power bit right...just need to practice on the technique a little - don't want to be breaking any bones now) - just give me a call. There's cycling on the person's thighs, lots of finger and toe cracking, lots of pressure point pressuring and even a bit where I get to sit with my knees on the person's bum and just rotate - sounds dodgy I know but am sure there's someone out there willing to take me on...

Nights were spent checking out the live music at the Brasserie and dancing our socks off with Mae and Paa at Bubble after a bday celebration for Mae's son - Plam.

Before our night bus to Bangkok we visited a temple on a mountain, an orchid and butterfly farm and an elephant conservation centre with Tawan, Aimee and Bouay - two girls also working at the guesthouse and training to be tour giudes. The elephants were brilliant and very clever. We got up close and personal feeding them bananas and sugar cane. I did have a small incident with one where he tried to pick me up with his trunk. Ended up with a little bit of elephant snot on my trousers - every girl's dream way of being picked up, I'm sure!

By the time our bus was waiting to pick us up for Bangkok, Tawan was giving us advice on watching out for bad people (just like family in the Phil. did) and we were giving everyone hugs and kisses like we'd become their adopted kids. All the other farangs (foreigners) just looked on wondering what all the fuss was about. We felt so special ;o)

Hot and sticky in Bangkok

Our second time in Bangkok and this time we stayed a few nights. Although cities generally aren't what we look forward to - particularly ones famous for it's pollution...this would be different - I was getting to see my big sis for a day before they she and her friends headed south to Samui ;o) And she paid for mine and Carly's accom - she's such a good big sister!

We spent most days shopping - the thais are SO hip and trendy, it's unbelievable! Places to shop that we loved: Weekend market - like spitalfields but a thousand times bigger with really tasty street stall food to gobble down when you need a break from getting your wallet out, Khao Sarn Road - backpacker central and easier to shop for all those backpacker and souvenir necessities and then there's Siam Square - shopping malls galore and a super funky square where all the young and stylish go. Honestly, can't believe what amazing shopping there is here...just a god damn shame I'm broke! (I've resisted to my best ability...unfortunately, I'm incredibly weak willed...oops!)

Nights out, we spent at CM2 - a club at the Conrad hotel (super posh) where we shook our hips and shoulders to a Nicaraguan band and also at the club at the Novotel (also super posh and where my sis and friends were staying - backpackers, they ain't!). We also went to Tokyo Joe's to check out the jazz scene - not bad but all just a bit too wholesome for us, where's the dark and smoky??

1 week left...........

Monday, March 21, 2005

Khawp chai lai lai & sabbai sabbai

My favorite words we've learned so far (as well as 'yo' which is vietnamese for 'cheers').

Khawp chai lai lai is Lao for thank you very much

Sabbai sabbai is Lao for Take it easy

I just feel so sad I won't be able to say it anymore...(at least, for now)

Here's how we spent the rest of our time in Laos

Oh my Buddha

After saying our goodbyes to our new friends in Don Det, we made our way to the capital - Vientiane. A big city it ain't but defnitely one worth a visit! We only had a couple of days so we spent it doing a bit of shopping, a visit to Buddha Park (where we got chatting to some local guys who were just pleased to be able to practice their english and teach us a little Lao), some BBQ hunting in the evening and a beer lao by the river (where you can see Thailand!). We also managed to fit in a herbal sauna and massage by a temple - Wat Sok Pa Luang. And, oh my Buddha, it was good! Guys walking around in short sarongs (seriously, David Beckham just got the length wrong!) and monks coming in for the sauna later. Relaxing as the masseur did his stuff - you know, minding my own business, I spotted a monk come out of the sauna only to lift up his sarong and answer mine and Carly's question of whether they wear their orange scotsman style. I'm sure it was an accident, but how many hail marys and holy buddhas do you reckon I'll have to say for that??

A kid's world

Recommendations from Gimmi and Oscar inspired a trip to Mung Ngoi to find mama's place...she makes good egg sandwiches! On the boat ride (over the Mekong river again - how amazing is this river?!), we saw kids fishing, kids selling fish, kids driving boats and the odd water buffalo lazing in the sun. Arriving at Mung Ngoi we were greeted by 3 kids all offering to take us to their guesthouse so we looked at each one and ended up at the last one - right at the end, like it's very own little village. Somehow, along the way, we managed to acquire 5 more kids following us to the bungalow. Settling in involved us all sat on our balcony floor eating oranges, mocha cakes and the rest of our ritz biscuits. I love how you don't really wake up with any other expectations other than you're going to a new place because that morning I'd never have guessed that later that night I'd be dancing with five 12 yr old girls to thai pop and the Buena Vista Social Club...dancing that ended up in karate poses and monkey mayhem.

Carly & Luna's village and rats with minty fresh breath

After a heavy night with the local kids, we spent the second day starting out on a little walk and ended up on a 2 hr trek. More kids found us taking a rest by the river and we all had a little attempt at fishing - hands only and searching under the rocks. I was shite. So we decided to give them our goggles and we went back to their village for a late lunch and a beer lao. In the evening, we had dinner with Che who wants to be a tour guide when he grows up and very helpfully answered our questions about village life while making his own watermelon shake. Back at our village (decided to call it ours seeing as out of the 6 bungalows around, ours was the only one occupied and grandfather and grandmother (of the kid that showed us the place) tended to be elsewhere, we looked forward to a good night's sleep. The rats thought different. They scratched and chewed throughout the night keeping us awake and scared shitless (such sissies - I don't want to shine the torch, what if I see one?!). In the morning we found our toothpaste and face wash half eaten. Not quite sure what kind of rats like this stuff but they do now have minty fresh breath and, I guess, very clean faces. The next night we were prepared - we emptied the bungalow of anything plastic and waited. At about 11pm, we heard them and by 11.30pm, they were gone. Carly swears she heard a swish of their heads, a little sniff and a sigh as they realised there would be no minty fresh breath that night. Why not, sounds good to me - they were gone ;o)

We spent our last full day watching footie with the locals, Mung Ngoi vs their neighbour - Nong Kiew. Kinda hard to watch when you can't figure out who's your side but we had a little boy called Sai with us who would get very excitable whenever the blues had the ball, so we cheered along with him. After the footie, me, Carly and Lin (our new friend) headed for the river to swim but more like a bathe as the spot we'd chosen was so shallow. All the locals seem to bathe in the river, women in their sarongs and guys in their pants. SO gonna miss having half naked men wandering around. The morning we left, Lin woke us up with breakfast - sticky rice and seaweed. She doesn't speak much english but really is one of the sweetest little girls I've met - just oozes goodness! She blessed us and wished us good luck with some white string and the grandfather paid us a visit and did the same.

More monk spotting

We spent out last day in Laos in Luang Prabang - a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and the Mekong river. A small town with fantastic shopping (just check out the night market), a great cafe culture (could easily have spent days in cafes reading and drinking coffee lao) and just a little walk away and you could be out of the town enjoying the beauty of the countryside. On our last morning, I decided to take a final stroll around the town, visit Wat Xieng Thong and to hand over my malaria tablets to the Red Cross (I take them so randomly and inconsistently I figure they'd do a world of good to someone else). Wat Xieng Thong is really spectacular - it's decorated with coloured glass mosaic portraying different stories about the Lao people and sparkles in the sun. On the way back, did lots more of mine and Carly's fave new hobby - monk spotting (can you tell?).

I'm in love with Laos and can't wait to get back. 2 weeks just ain't enough time!! Khawp chai lai lai to all the lovely people we met - some of the most smiley and generous I know. They could so teach us a thing or two about taking it easy. Sabbai sabbai ;o)

No-name cat's new mission

No-name cat and Lin Posted by Hello

Our new friend, Lin, very kindly blessed us with some white string (me and missy G have been very blessed so feeling uber protected) so we decided to send no-name cat on a new mission. He has protected us well and been around for the good times and the great times throughout our trip but I reckon we're good on that score now. We've left him soaking up the sun, the Mekong and the mountains to protect Lin ;o)

Khawp chai lai lai, no-name cat. It's been fun and you've been the best travel buddy ever (Carly, you're not reading this are you??)


yum yums from Luang Prabang Posted by Hello

Carly and Lin - saying our goodbyes Posted by Hello

Me and Lin Posted by Hello

Grandfather doing some gardening Posted by Hello

Go Mung Ngoi!!! Posted by Hello

Little footie fan taking shelter Posted by Hello

Watching the match Posted by Hello

Mung Ngoi vs Nong Kiew - we want the blues to win Posted by Hello

Carly, Lin and our bungalow in Mung Ngoi Posted by Hello

Picking flowers Posted by Hello

Watching the locals play kick ball Posted by Hello

Buying rice wine. Lin and her big sister pour some in a bottle for us Posted by Hello

Che looking smoothe Posted by Hello

More fisherkids on their way back to their village Posted by Hello

Kids fishing under the, I tried but got squeamish anytime I touched a rock (they were slimy!). Don't think fishing is in my future. Posted by Hello

And their catch Posted by Hello

The fisherkids Posted by Hello

View from our bungalow Posted by Hello

Buying and selling fish on the way to Mung Ngoi Posted by Hello

Except for Carly, The BVSC inspired her to make like a ling (monkey) Posted by Hello

Oddly enough, listening to the Buena Vista Social Club inspired us to make like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Posted by Hello

All the pic taking, can you spot the posers? Posted by Hello

making faces Posted by Hello

Side view from our bungalow in Mung Ngoi, Laos Posted by Hello