Ok, my deep and meaningful diversion is over and there is a bit of catch up to do with regards to our trip. Last I wrote we were about to travel to Laos.
From Pai, we had to travel via Bangkok, which meant a trip back to Chaing Mai (the very unpleasant one for me as you might recall), then an overnight train back to Bangkok (a pleasant journey), a day of killing time in Bangkok where we went to MBK to watch ‘X-men’ and enjoy shopping mall air con. We are over BKK sightseeing, sometimes it gets like that, those who have been travelling for a while will understand. Everyone then went to close by Chinatown to get some train supplies, I stayed at the station and enjoyed some very questionable Thai music videos played on the big screen and chatting to a Bulgarian sports teacher who lives in Thailand, bonkers, but nice enough fellow. He was telling me all about the protests in Bangkok as he lives right bang smack in the middle of the epicenter of the activities… turns out it was pretty hairy few months back.
The gang returned armed to the teeth with food, snacks and tales of the crocodile they have spotted in the canal… there was not photographic evidence, but I chose to believe them: it’s more fun that way.
Train from BKK to Laos border was a little less pleasant: the bottom bunks were singles and the dude pushing food on the train was extremely displeased with our superb organisation skills. He sat in the bunk close to us and gave us evils for few hours as we did not need to buy anything. Well, we ate handsomely, wished him ‘chock dee’ with our beers and rum (‘cheers’ or more accurately ‘good luck’ in Thai) and had a jolly good time ignoring him, which riled the
dude up to no end but amused the lady in the next bunk who drank like a trooper and tried making conversation with us despite her lack of English and our lack of Thai … We established that she was Lao and was a better drinker than us (well, me at least!). Suppose the trip was not too bad!
On the border we had to stamp out, get the 15 minutes train to Thanalung and get our visas, at which point we met an Australian guy named Flyn who lives in BKK and an American guy named Ben, who lives… well, no one knows. We all shared a tuk tuk fairly cheaply thanks to Flyn’s language and bartering skills and were soon in our hotel in Vientiane.
Vientiane is very quiet and laid back for a capital city, especially if you are coming from BKK. As we have re-united with yet another friend from back home and kept in touch with Flyn and Ben, our time was spent largely drinking, eating and more drinking. We did a little sightseeing, but rest of the time was spent socialising and catching up. Both Flyn and Ben turned out to be interesting characters, especially Ben who traveled literally everywhere and had some crazy
After a couple of days, we caught a night bus to Pakse, down in the South of Laos. The bus was a bit trying: you get actual beds like in China, as opposed to reclining chairs like in Vietnam and Thailand, but they are double beds, very small double beds and sharing with a stranger would have been bad enough, but sharing one of these with 6.5′ Ste was almost impossible! I spent 2 hours sitting on the floor and seething that we did not think to book two seats each like our friend Mark (the friend from back home that we met up with in Vientiane, not to be confused with Marc of Marc and Gen) who had the who whole thing to himself and was really comfortable. I did manage to fall asleep awkwardly after 2 Valiums (over the counter medicine in South East Asia… Gen went into a pharmacy and asked for something to alleviate a headache, Tramadol was promptly plopped on the counter… ‘Eeermmm…. maybe some paracetamol or Nurofen to begin with?’ was our response).
stories to tell, not boasting, but more sharing the wonder. For example, this guy spent unknown amount of time hanging out with an Iowaskan shaman and taking part in the rituals and by the end assisting the shaman… Bruce Parry: eat your heart out!
Pakse is not a big place, we got dropped off at the bus station, intercepted by a tuk tuk driver who took us into town for what I imagine was a reasonable fee (or probably not!) and then we set off looking for a place to stay. Tired, hungry and grumpy I was not best pleased when boys set off looking for a place straight away carrying our massive bags around, so I threw a hissy fit (not my proudest moment…) at which point myself and Gen were allowed to sit down in a restaurant type place on the corner with all the bags and order some food while the boys went off to check out a hostel Mark stayed at previously. The place on the corner was DaoLin, where we would spend a lot of time: they were a bit pricey for Asia, but the food was good, so were the shakes and the vodka shakes! Plus the service was with the smile and what can I say: we are creatures of habit.
We spent the first day and evening eating, drinking and hanging out in the hostel playing the guitar, well, Marc, Mark and Gen were, I was just listening (tone deaf and a voice of a strangled cat, so no signing from me unless I hate people I am with). We were joined by a couple of people and then the crazy American turned up… Seemed normal enough to begin with, just a little intense and then the dude turned crazy … forcefully following us to dinner, being rude to the restaurant staff, talking a LOT of nonsense (some racist, some just plain bonkers) and then pulling out a machete for no good reason except to show us he had it and waiving it about kinda crazy… but no one was harmed during this outburst of craziness and we did not bump into the guy again after that evening, so all is well that ends well.
Pakse is a point of departure for the Bolaven Plateau and 4000 Islands and we were up for both. Bolaven Plateau is a 1 to 3 day trip on a bike vising waterfalls, villages and coffee plantations on the way. As Gen and Marc had limited time only, we rented the bikes for a day. Unfortunately, we did not make it as the roads were busier than we thought, the storm was coming in and some of us were less experienced at staying upright on the bike. Although the day was not a complete waste, as Ste got used to the semi-automatic bike in preparation for the Vietnam trip and we did have a bit of a ride about half way to the first waterfall.
Next day we left for Don Det: one of the 4000 Islands… whether there actually are 4000 of them is not clear, but who will count?
Don Det is one of the more popular islands with the younger backpackers and although it is a bit of a dive, I can see the appeal for the younger generation (the kind that brag about ending up in hospital 4 times in their travels (or an Asian 3 month booze cruise if you will) and then proceeding to lick spilled booze off the floor… hospital trip number 5 I feel is coming up.
If it were just the two of us, we might have moved to a different island, but as the aim of the game was hanging out with our mates and relaxing, Don Det was perfect enough: there is beer, hammocks, river views, a place with a decent snooker table and a few nice places to eat… what else does one need? Food on the island was good in only a handful of places: the place right on the front of the island did a hit and miss food, hits were real hits and misses weren’t too inedible. Ev’s a bit further down the road, which was actually called Seaview Cafe and run by an Ozzie guy called Darren, but he reminded us so much of an Ozzie guy we met in Darwin called Ev, that we just called the plac: Ev’s and might have actually called him that to his face accidentally once or twice. The place was pricey, but well worth it! Best breakfast, best western food on the island and best mash in Asia (yes, I will go that far!). Then the Crazy Gecko, even further into the island: best Lao food on the island, especially the lentil pumpkin curry! And they have a good pool table I mentioned… or snooker, I do not claim to know the difference.
So most of our time was spent chilling in the hammocks and agonising over where to eat. We did take a day trip on kayaks which almost nearly was disastrous. Marc and Gen did not go as unfortunately Marc caught a bit of a traveler bug, turned out they made a right choice. The guides were not very good at explaining basic rules of kayak operation in rapid waters and since the only other time we were in a kayak was in Halong Bay, which was calm open water, we capsized, got stuck in the bushes and were generally the entertainment for the rest of the group and especially Mark who kept going past in stitches (he does claim he helped at some point…). The worst were the bushes, as Ste is arachnophobic and the said bushes were full of various types of spiders that promptly were all over us and the kayak and as hysterical as it is to recall this now from the safety of the spider free hotel room, Ste was bordering actual hysteria at the time. But in the end it all worked out: we saw some rare dolphins in the wild, some stunning waterfalls and got back safely as the sun was going down.
Marc and Gen left for Bangkok few days before the rest of us and then the 3 of us departed the same way as we felt we needed some relaxing time on a Thai island beach (Koh Chang), 4000 Islands chilling was just too tiring!
And now for the photos, again, in no particular order and some are from Gen and Marc’s camera:
Brunch time by Hua Lamphong train station in BKK, Marc just eaten 3 very hot chilies, which I might have egged him on to do…
The BKK to Nong Khai train, if you look really closely, you will see a man sitting at the end of the carriage looking grumpy… the above mentioned food pushing man…
Boat selfie on the way to Don Det
Game of pool at Crazy Gecko… or snooker…
Occupying Mark’s porch…
Stormed in in Pakse… but its OK
All checked in in Vientiane
Vodka shakes in DaoLin in Pakse
Butterfly on Don Det
Largest and strongest waterfall in South East Asia
Children playing football with a bottle…
Don Det rice fields
Pakse Big Budha
Sunset over Mekong in Pakse
At Wat Si Saket in Vientiane
Patuxai – Arch of Triumph in Vientiane
Photographers on duty under Patuxai…
Railings could do with straightening out (top of Patuxai)
View off the Patuxai
Spiral stairs… who does not love those?
A Wat at Pha That Lunag in Vientiane
Pha That Luang, rumored to be covered in carat gold…
On the Wat steps
Marc n Gen with their bike in Pakse
Don Det dog
A tree that no one claimed they could climb and then did not…
More Mekong views (4000 Islands)
Back of our hotel on Don Det, a boy riding a buffalo
A minor waterfall somewhere on 4000 islands
Sacred tree… rescued by helicopter, encased in a glass box and fanned all day to prevent rot…
Enjoying the huge waterfall view…
A duckling on Don Det
Raised herb garden on Don Det
Don Det piglet
A buffalo taking a cooling bath…
On the other island…
Liphi waterfall on Done Khone (an island connected to Don Den via a bridge)