Thursday, November 30, 2006
Karlys Birthday, 007 and the best Elephant in the world!
On our last few days in Chiang Mai we tried to cram as much touristy things in as possible. We visited a Buddhist temple on one day and then booked a jam packed day of sight seeing on the next. This included a ride on a bamboo raft, a trip on an Ox Cart, a visit to an Orchid farm, a visit to a Butterfly farm and (the best bit) an Elephant show.
Neither Andy or Karly had ever seen an Elephant show before (as they probably wouldn't really be allowed in the UK or Oz) but it was absolutely brilliant! Amongst other things the elephants balanced on two legs, danced to music, gave a 'thai massage' to a member of the crowd and even painted a picture! We were also allowed to ride them for a bit, but the best part was that the elephants played football. One elephant in particular was able to grip a football in his trunk, throw it into the air and then volley it (without it touching the ground) across the field! Andy thinks that this is perhaps the best thing he has ever seen in his life.........and probably ever will.
In the evening we met up with Gubby and Sarah (the 2 Irish girls we first met when Kayode came to visit us in Vietnam). As they were doing roughly the same journey as us, we knew we'd be able to catch up with them at some point. All together we visited the local night market, and had some Pad Thai. We then went for a drink in a bar run by Lady-boys, while watching a few Thai Kick boxing fights (which were blatantly over acted for the tourists benefit!).
After leaving the girls and Chiang Mai, we flew down to Phuket. This is an island just off the coast of mainland Thailand, and it is truly unlike any other place we have seen so far on our trip. The best way to describe it, is to say that it's worse then Tenerife (for the Brits) or Surfers Paradise in schoolies week (for the Aussies). It is cheap, tacky, full of drunk English people and sex tourists. And it seems to have more Lady-Boys then we've ever seen before. The island itself was quite badly hit by the Asian Tsunami but apart from a few signs about the nearest evacuation point, you would never be able to tell. It is by far the most over developed place we have been on this trip.
On the 1st December Karly celebrated her 28th birthday, so to celebrate we went out for a nice meal and a few drinks. The meal consisted of a large seafood platter and buffet all for about 8 pounds.........bargain! And Karly had her first glass of wine for a very long time (as most places here are either too expensive or don't sell wine).
After dinner we went for a walk along the main touristy stretch in Phuket. This is a mass of neon signs advertising Irish themed pubs, strip clubs and Lady-Boy cabaret shows. It was Karlys idea to go there, not Andy's.
Our first stop was to a bar that is ring side of a Thai Kick boxing ring. Here we watched some more over-acted fake fights (just for the tourists benefit) while drinking cocktails. After this we went to a bar called 'Cocktails and Dreams' (which Karly tells Andy is the name of the bar from the film 'Cocktail'). This was a bar run by Lady-Boys (our 2nd one now!), which had a cabaret show every 15 minutes.
Most of the lady-boys in the place we actually very good imitations of women (some were very attractive). However, the first lady-boy that approached us wasn't perhaps the hardest to tell 'she' was actually a 'he'. See the photo to decide for yourself.
After the cabaret show, we then went to another bar to 'people watch' the numerous weirdo's walking past (usually old fat white men with young attractive Thai girls.........or boys).
Today we went to see some islands off Phuket, called Phang Nga. The James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, was filmed here in 1974. The main island that we visited today was where the baddie (Mr Scaramanga) lived. We saw the beach where James Bonds plane blew up, the stairs where JB nearly shots Nik-Nak, and the massive rock where a giant sunreflector thingy comes out of the top. Brilliant...........well Andy thought so, but Karly didn't seem that interested.
Tomorrow we have hired a car and are going to drive around Phuket a bit more to explore, as the Taxis here are very expensive.
Heres the photos of above (there's quite a few of elephants........and Karly):
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Lovely Westernised Thailand.
This last week has perhaps been the most boring and tedious week we have had so far in the trip. We spent 3 solid days travelling from Laos to Thailand.
The first 2 days were spent travelling on a slow river boat (which was very overloaded with boxes, food, people etc.) up the river towards the Thailand border. This boat was relatively comfortable (it had a toilet at least) and the views were quite spectacular. Getting on and off the boat was quite tricky (especially with backpacks) because it pulls up along side another boat that is five boats away from the shore. They then connect all of the boats with planks so you have to climb on and off boats and walk planks, all the while carrying an extremely heavy backpack. On one occasion this was all a bit much for Karly and she fell off. Luckily it was the last plank so she only got her shoes wet but she strained quite a few muscles. On the first night we stopped off at a small village to sleep. Unfortunately this village was in the middle of no-where and the Guest house owners knew it (hence they tried to charge us $8-$10 for a room where everywhere else charges $3-$4 for a similar room). Karly had an argument with a very rude guest house owner.
All in all, we think that this sums Laos up. The facilities are very basic (which we didn't mind too much, as it was nice to try and do "authentic" backpacking for once), and yet the prices charged are ridiculously expensive compared to other parts of South East Asia we have visited. Most of the over charging is purely down to the lack of competition, so tourists are pretty much forced to pay the over inflated prices......................Though obviously compared to Western prices it's still very cheap.
We then crossed over the Laos - Thailand border. Here we tasted our first bit of Westernisation for a long time. Thailand has ATMs! Laos didn't have any ATMs that accept international cards (so we used travellers cheques instead), whereas Thailand is full of them!
After a quick meal, we got on a mini-bus for the 6 hour journey to Chiang Mai. This is Thailands 2nd largest city (after Bangkok). We've been here 2 days now and we've done very little, apart from wander around the local market, check emails, post some stuff back to England and watch a bit of footie on ESPN. On a brighter note we did have our first McDonalds for about 2 months. We think were going to like Thailand.......
Oh yes and Karly has just finished a Thai cookery class. It was lots of fun and very informative. The food was great all though the noodles in her pad thai stuck together, her green curry needed to be a little thicker and her chicken salad was a little too dry. But she's sure with a bit more practice the dishes will get better. So from now on if you're invited around to Karly and Andy's for dinner you can pretty much guarantee Thai will be on the menu (or maybe just sausages and mash).
On wednesday we are flying to Phuket in the South of Thailand. We couldn't face the 24 hour bus journey to get there!
Heres the link to the photos (apologies they are quite boring, but this was a very boring week of travelling!):
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Laos. Not much to say really.
Although we've been in Laos for nearly two weeks, we haven't done much at all. After leaving Don Det (the island in the Mekong where we ate pig) we travelled up to the capital of Laos, called Vientiane.
There's not much to do in Vientiane, in fact as capital cities go, its quite small and boring. As a result, we only stayed there for one night, had dinner then left the next day.
We then took a 6 hour bus journey to a place called Vang Vieng. This is a very relaxed backpacker town, where they serve Pie & chips, and even have a discotheque! But Vang Viengs main claim to fame is the Tubing. This basically involves sitting on an inner tube (from the wheel of a lorry) and floating down the Mekong river for 3 hours. Along the way are various places to stop, have beer and dive into the river using rope swings etc. So we stopped and bought a beer, and had a thoroughly relaxing time just floating down stream.
After 2 days in Vang Vieng we got another bus (this time 7 hours) to a place called Luang Prabang. This is a little picturesque town, that has lots of nice old buildings, so its a UNESCO World Heritage site. We are staying in a hotel that is right next to the river, but our view is obstructed by trees so basically all we can see is the road.
Every night there's a market, which it seems is largely just for tourists (as it only sells souvenirs etc.). We have tried to haggle with the sellers over a couple of things, but they all seem to have fixed there prices pretty much the same, so its difficult to haggle properly.
We've also noticed that all shops in Laos seem to have a bit of a scam going with the exchange rates. Everyone excepts US dollars or Laos Kip, and the exchange rate between the two is 9,500 kip to the dollar. However, depending upon where you shop they seem to change the rules so that when you pay the bill there are only about 9,000 kip to the dollar (meaning you have to pay more), but when you get the change back they use the exchange rate of 10,000 (so you get less back). Very annoying.
One thing going for Laos, it has nice weather.
Tomorrow we're leaving for the border with Thailand, on a 2 day boat journey, and we've just realised today that we only have a month left before we fly to Oz!
Here's the photos of above:
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Silence of the Pigs.............
Still in Cambodia, we dragged ourselves away from the beach and headed back to Phnom Penh, where we hired a tuk-tuk for the day. We started with a visit to the Killing Fields, this is where the Khmer Rouge executed and buried 17000 people in the late 70's. They've exhumed a lot of the bodies now, so there are lots of big empty pits with signs telling you how many people were found there (and whether they were men, women or children). There are also signs pointing out what the different trees were used for, whether it was to hang a megaphone that played music to drown out the cries of the people being killed, or if it was used to bash young children to death against (so that they didn't waist precious bullets). There's also a big glass memorial that holds 8000 of the exhumed skulls. This was a particularly horrible site.
As if the Killing Fields weren't enough gruesome history for one day, we then went to the S21 museum. This was a high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison. You can see what the cells and interrogation (torture) rooms were like. While another section of the museum has the mug shots of many of the prisoners that were kept there before being transported to the killing fields. There are so many pictures and lots of them were of children.
Towards the end of the museum was a room that had information on the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Their pictures had been graffitied over and Pol Pots had actually been removed. There was a knife mark where his eyes probably would have been, but after seeing the Killing Fields and the S21 museum, we can completely understand why.
With the horrific sites and a bit of shopping out of the way we made like Brad and Angelina and headed for one of the local orphanages. We took a 50kg bag of rice and a football. The kids loved the football but weren't too fussed about the rice, although it will apparently feed all 47 of them (and 6 volunteers) for 2 and a half days. Andy joined in the game of football while Karly played with some toddlers. Karly really had to confront her germ issues when one snotty nose kid wet his pants and then wanted her to pick him up. You can't say no to an orphan who wants to be picked up. He then coughed all over her. But he was cute. Some of the boys put Andy to shame while playing keep ups with the football. Andy could barely do 2 while one boy, who was about 8, could do 87 (with no shoes on).
The next day we headed off on our two day journey to Laos. The first day was awful. Our seats were in the back row of a bus where there were 5 seats. However, there were 7 people in our row, the aircon didn't blow in our direction and the road was one of the worst we've ever been on (it was dirt track, full of pot holes). We spent one night in a hotel in the middle of nowhere before continuing our journey.
The next morning we were put on a rather unstable boat full of locals, motorbikes and god knows what else and sent across the Mekong. We were then put in a van and driven to the border. At the Cambodian border we had to pay the officials $1 for each of our passports. Apparently this was to keep their office supplied with paper and pens. We then had to walk through no-mans-land to the Laos border where we had to pay a dollar each again. But this time it was for ink for the stamp. We were then collected by another van that took us to another van that took us to another van that took us to a boat and the boat eventually took us to where we wanted to go.
So we somehow arrived at Don Det which is one of the Four Thousand Islands in the Mekong River in the south of Laos. We found a hut on the river bank and settled in for a few days. The island didn't have any electricity so the whole experience was very rustic. The were no fans (let alone air conditioning) and there was only cold water! But it didn't take us to long to come to terms with things and relax into the laid back way of life. We basically spent four days laying in hammocks waiting for the amazing sunsets. And we spent our evenings laying in our hammocks chatting by candlelight with our neighbours (a couple from Guernsey in the UK).
We did have one productive day where we visited the largest waterfall in South East Asia (looked more like a rapid than a waterfall) and then rushed back to our guesthouse to see the slaughter of the pig we would be having for dinner. Mr B, the owner of our guesthouse, had been to market the day before and bought a pig and then sold us all tickets for the BBQ. Andy watched the slaughter while Karly opted to just listen to the pigs squeals from our hut. Basically they killed it, shaved it, gutted it, marinated it, chucked it on the barbie and then we ate it. Andy's had a funny tummy ever since. No one else seems to have been affected so maybe it wasn't the pig (although he did try some of the tongue, which no else had, so it was probably that).
So we've now left the island and are sitting in a town in the middle of nowhere waiting for a night bus to take us to the capital of Laos.
Here's the photos of above. WARNING: Some of these photos are very graphic and gory, so if you are easily upset or offended then don't look at them!
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Finally a sunset....
It's taken over 3 and a half months but finally we have seen a truly spectacular sunset! We're in Sihanouk Ville on the south coast of Cambodia and the sun sets over the water creating a very colourful ocean and sky. Well at least it was on the first day, every day since then it's been a little hazy and overcast which really ruins it.
So we've been here nearly a week now and haven't really done anything except lounge around on the beach. Um....... Karly's had a manicure and pedicure, we've done alot of reading, we've been constantly harassed by cute and cheeky children selling jewelry and fruit, we've had a few drinks with other travelers, eaten lots or seafood and um.... well that's it really. Not much else to write about. But that should be about enough to make you jealous as you read this from work.
Here's the photos.......