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Laos - Boat Trip from Huay Xai to Pak Beng

Boat Trip from Huay Xai to Pak Beng

We woke up early to watch sunrise for our roof and then set off to the border post. We had been warned that the border would be a bit of a nightmare so we were happy when we found a tour company that we could buy our boat tickets from and would help us through the border post. After clearing Thai immigration we got on a little wooden boat and were ferried across the river to the Laos side. We stood in a chaotic queue and finally managed to get our visa a which we had to pay for in US dollars.

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The moment we stepped into Laos we noticed the French influence - the architecture has a French feel to it and the street stalls all solved baguettes and coffee. The houses were all very colourful and loads of blue painted wooden buildings. After a lot of waiting around we finally boarded the 'slow boat' to Luang Prubang. The trip takes two full days and we stop off in a little village called Pak Beng to stay over. The slow bat is the most common way to get to Luang Prabang and the only other option is a 16 hour bus trip on terrible roads or a speed boat which basically takes 6 hours to ride 350km. The guide books all advise not to do this as its very dangerous and seeing the boats speed past - we see what they mean!

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The scenery along the Mekong river is breathtaking. It literally is exactly what you would expect to see on a post card with traditional fisherman along the river banks in little dug out boats and beautiful jungle either side. Every now and again we passed a group of locals panning for gold and there were herds of water buffalo drinking at the waters edge

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There are about 80 people on the bat and we travel for 8 hours. It's so relaxing we just read books sleep and watch the world go by!

We stopped over in Pak Beng which was a bit of a culture shock! It's he only 'formal village' on the trip and its by rural! Accommodation was very basic and electricity goes off at 22:00 besides a few generators.

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Before we had set off on the boat trip I had done quite a bit of research on the trip as well as accommodation on offer. Trip advisor warns of a hotel that is riddled with bedbugs and that if anyone tells you to prebook it (to avoid not having a room on the other side) you should decline. I had forgotten the name of the hotel but in the back of my mind I knew that it started with an S so thought I'd just void any S hotels.

Before boarding the boat another friendly chap stood up to give us 'travel advice' about Pak Beng and warned us about the bad people who would try and rip you off when you get there. He warned us that they would steal from us and that we should be very careful not to leave anything in the guest house and keep our passports with us at all times. He then went on to explain that he wanted people to return to Laos and that he understood that if we had a horrible experience it would be detrimental to Laos tourism. After the long speech he whipped out a board with a lovely hotel ( different to the one that I had read about - it also started with a R) and said that this was a good hotel and he would pre book a room if we wanted. A little voice inside said 'don't do it' but we were tired and decided to just go ahead to avoid mission ing or accommodation at the end of the long day. When we got to our seat on the boat, we both said 'well at least the hotel doesn't start with and S - we should be ok'. Greg pulled out the reservation slip and sure enough the hotel written on the receipt was not the one we were shown and . . . it started with an S!!

When we arrived at the hotel I asked to use the wifi so that I could check the reviews and the man behind the counter said 'No! Check in first and then you can use the wifi'. Alarm bells raised in my head!

Luckily we had our wits about us and we refused to go to our rooms and insisted that we use the wi fi first and they finally gave in - probably to stop us from making a scene (by this time a small crowd had gathered)! We checked trip advisor and sure enough we had been scammed and sold the dodgy hotel room! We were furious and warned everyone in the hotel after they would not refund us and we left to find a new room in the village. With that about 6 other people started checking out as well.

An American couple we had left stood quietly as this all went on but didn't follow suite. We thought to ourselves that they probably thought we were overreacting and a bit paranoid. Later once we had checked in and thoroughly checked our new room we went to a curry in the village. We saw the American couple walk past back to the dodgy hotel so we knew that they had decided to stay there despite the mass exit. A few moments later there were standing at our table with wide eyes and said that when they had got back to the hotel they had pulled back the beets to find at least 20 bed bugs crawling in the bed - needless to say they hightailed it out of there as quickly as they could!

The next day on the boat, people stopped us to thank is for warning them about the bedbugs and they all had horrific stories of blood stained mattresses and infestations!

Luckily we managed to dodge the dodgy hotel!

Posted by Waldos on Tour 00:34 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Thailand - Bus Trip to Chiang Khong

Bus Trip to Chiang Khong

To get to the Laos border we needed to take an 8 hour bus trip to a town called Chaing Kong. Due to availability we had to take the green line bus which is the least luxurious of the transport options and stops quite a lot along the way.

We woke up early to catch a taxi to the bus station and got there in good time. At 08:00 the load speaker chimed and everyone stood up around us and the Thai national anthem started to play. We felt a bit out of place so we awkwardly stood up and did what everyone around us was doing. Everyone seemed to be perfectly comfortable doing that so we think it may have been a normal thing?

The bus eventually left and luckily for us we had a lot of sleep to catch up on so we very easily managed to fall asleep! When we woke up we were being rocked around in the bus driving through a stunning mountain pass with jungle all around us. The more north we went the more traditional it became and the scenery was really interesting. We drove through large areas of rice paddies with traditional farm workers working in their straw hats!

Eventually we arrived in the town of Chaing Kong which is right on the Thailand Laos boarder and sites along the Mekong River. The town is quite touristy but so peaceful and we sat and had a beer on the roof of our hotel looking out across the river. We then set out to find a place to eat dinner and found a restaurant that looked quite full so we thought that it would be ok. When we sat down we suddenly realised that we were the only tourists in the whole place and the waitresses could not speak any English! We struggled along and eventually managed to order a few dishes which were absolutely delicious!

Posted by Waldos on Tour 00:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand - Jungle Trekking

Doi Inthanon National Park (Chiang Mia Region)

We booked to do a trek in the Doi Inthanon National Park which was about 2 hours from Chaing Mai on the Burmese boarder. It was a 3 day trek that took us through the jungle to visit the Karen hill tribe and then ending off with elephant riding and white water rafting.

The first day we walked for about 3 hours through the jungle right up into the hillls - it was exhausting in the humidity but the scenery was stunning. There were a few waterfalls along the way to swim and we arrived at the hill tribe just in time to watch the sunset over Burma - magic!
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Our guide then prepared a delicious curry and we sat around a big table on the deck and had dinner. There was no electricity so once the sun set we had a big fire and candles - it was so much fun.

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The accommodation was interesting. We spent the night in a traditional house and slept in a dorm like rooms with 14 people all on bamboo mats. I think we slept about 1 hour in we definitely won't forget it!

On day two we trekked about 16 kms through the jungle and stopped off in another village - we walked to another waterfall and our guide pulled our lunch from his pack. It was two minute noodles wrapped in a bamboo leaf that he had cooked on the fire before we left - they were delicious and the packaging all bio degradable!

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We walked all along the river through jungle and every now and again through lychee and banana plantations which up until 10 years ago was all marujana and opium fields. We ended our hike at the elephant camp and stayed in another 5 star bungalow next to the river. We all jumped into the rapids and had a lovely swim before another candle lit dinner and a drinks around the campfire.

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We met such lovely people on the trek, all different ages and all taking a similar trip to ours so we picked up loads of tips and were even able to give some advice ourselves!

We had another nights 'sleep' on the bamboo matting! We were so cold we wrapped up in everything we had but were happy when we heard the rooster crowing and we could get up again.

The next morning we went to the river to brush our teeth and Greg was brave enough to have a swim - it was still very cold! As Greg was about to get in a huge elephant with a Thai man on its back got into the river and started wading towards us and sat in the fast flowing water- it was incredible the man was splashing him and washing all the dust off his back. Once the Ellie had moved out Greg jumped in and in no time another two elephants had arrived for their morning bath. Greg grabbed bucket from their handler and got tuck in giving them a bath and swimming with them. They rolled over in the rapids and were thoroughly enjoying playing in the water. They took their trunks under the water and felt for Greg's legs he got a huge fright!

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Once they were done we went up to have a ride - we sat on a little seat on top and walked for an hour along the river side only stopping to buy them some sugar cane! It was such a brilliant experience they knew straight away that we had a treat for them and their noses came straight up to see what the was to be had. When we got back to camp he let out a huge trumpet - must have been happy to be home!

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A huge Bakkie arrived piled high with white water rafts and we were given out 'safety briefing' before we hit the rapids! It was a lot of fun and we managed to hold on even when we hit a rapid and had two men overboard! We finished up by floating along on a bamboo raft and watching the scenery - very relaxing to rest our legs after all the trekking.
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We cleaned up and made our way back to Chaing Mai - looking forward to hot shower and a good nights sleep on a proper mattress.

Although we were exhausted we decided to meet up with our trekking group for a few drinks - we went to a blues bar in town which had live music and had an awesome evening

Posted by Waldos on Tour 00:29 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Before heading off for the airport we managed (after spending a bit of time reviewing our options) to download a app for our phone that is perfect for tracking spend in different currencies and payment types against a budget. May seem dorky, but its a brilliant tool to give us a live feed of our finances and budget, and will give us a bit of peace of mind whilst we are travelling.

After leaving bangkok we caught a 1 hour flight up north to a lovely town called Chaing Mai. It is a really nice lad back town with loads of Wats (temples) and monks everywhere.

We visited a few wats in the evening and watched the monks all dressed in their
orange robes worshiping and having lessons from the old monks - each
with a little watch dog lying at the door keeping watch. It's so peaceful watching them. Each Thai family has to give one son up to become a monk and the entire community takes responsibility for them. Every day the monks walk along the streets in a procession collecting food that the people provide for them - its called the alms giving.

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On our first day in Chaing Mai we did a Thai cooking course. It was a half day course and we learned to make 5 dishes - Pad Thai, curry paste, curry, spring rolls and a soup. We strated off by catching a song-thaw (a refashioned bakkie used to carry passengers)to the local food market where we wer taught about all the diffeerent ingredients that are used in Thai food. About 10 min into the market tour I saw Greg's face start to drop as we moved onto the fishy ingredient list - shrimp paste, dried baby shrimps, fish sauce, oyster sauce etc etc! Every recipe we made had some kind of a fish element to it but he embraced it and by the end he even had a taste of pure shrimp paste without even being prompted! Once we had finished in the market we went to the cooking school which was a simple Thai kitchen with a few gas cookers with woks and a prep area. The food was absolutely delicious and we didn't need to eat again for the day.

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We visited the night market which was lots of fun - and I finally convinced Greg to join me for a foot massage. We arrived at the massage place which was in the middle of the market and they showed us to our wicker chairs. The ladies took one look at Greg and had a giggle - they swapped him between the ladies until eventually one sat down to do the massage. She grabbed his leg hairs in her fingers and she and the lady doing my massage laughed and said something in Thai to each other. They then looked at Greg and said to him 'you have golden hairs - it's like Thai silk!' We laughed so hard - they are obviously not used to seeing light haired people despite the market being quite touristy!

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Posted by Waldos on Tour 00:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged chiang mai Comments (0)

Thailand - Bangkok - Day 2

Bangkok - Day 2

After another late lie in we set off at 12:00 for our second day exploring the city.

We made our way to the main train station where we were planning to catch a ride to Khoa San Road and China Town. Within moments of hitting the street we were approached by a very friendly tuk tuk driver who advised us that the markets were closed during the day and that he knew of a really good river cruise that we should do instead. We thought it sounded pretty good so we headed off with him. When we got to the dock (which was pretty much in the middle of a residential area with no shops or taxis anywhere), the friendly chap gave us his price for the tours. As expected the tour was seriously over-priced and we soon realised that we had very nearly been victims of the classic tourist trap they warn you about in the guide books. We thanked him and moved swiftly on to find our own way.

On route got side tracked with a tailor outfit who make all sorts of suits and formal-ware. In terms of pricing and too-and-fraying decided to decline any prospect of getting something made. In terms of pricing and net of all the bartering and vat removals etc. it looks like a suit at this place is not too different from what you get in London. There would need to be at best plus 50% discount on any London suit to make a punt worth while. Apparently central Vietnam is the place for any tailoring so we can check the scene out there, but for now, at least we have a point of reference and have started refining / practising the art of the counter offer etc.

We started off at Jim Thompson's house, an American man who formalised the Thai Silk trade and mysteriously disappeared in the Cameroon highlands of Mylasia. We had a tour of his house built in traditional Thai style. He collected amazing oriental antiques and his garden was so tranquil full of fishponds with turtles and loads of orchids and ferns - like a little oasis in the middle of bustling Bangkok.

We then made our way to Khoa San Road - the famous backpacker street where there are loads of bars and market stalls where you can get anything from a tattoo to a fake degree! Don't worry we didn't go for a tat but we both now have our doctorate which will hopefully help with the job hunt! I also decided this was a good place to have my first Thai massage - 120 Thai Baht (about £2) for 30 min. Greg wasn't too keen so he sat and had a Chang beer in the pub next door. The Thai are amazing at massage- they have little wooden tools like pens that they use to work the pressure point on your soles - will defiantly make a habit of this and try and convince Greg too!

We then moved on to the infamous Patpong market where you can buy lads of fakes - Rolex, Jimmy Choo, Polo - all very 'good quality' apparently?! The market is lined by Bangkok's red light district which with lads of ladies all coaxing you to come in and watch their shows.

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After that we caught a tuk tuk to China Town which was really interesting. We felt like we had stepped straight out of Thailand into China! Suddenly the streets were filled with Chinese stalls selling lotto tickets, broiled duck and loads of herbal things that could have been anything really? The food stalls were amazing and each street was packed with different options and the seafood was incredible - the biggest prawns I have ever seen! We soon learned that shark fins are completely acceptable and loads of shops were displaying them in their windows alongside the broiled ducks and pork scratchings. We saw the biggest shark fin hanging on display - it could easily have been 1m in length! On the way back two men had an altercation in the traffic and they quickly hopped out and started fighting in the middle of the street. Their style of fighting was like karate kid! We moved away and watched from a distance. They quickly got it over with and moved on.

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After a long day of haggling we decided to head back to the hotel to get some rest but unfortunately another sleepless night of jet lag!

Posted by Waldos on Tour 00:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged - bangkok day 2 Comments (0)

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