Australian traveller, James Lane, journeys through Thailand and Laos
Saturday, 14 September 2014
Just been in Thailand for 2 days now, after a long day of travel from Darwin – Brunei – Bangkok. Had to be at Darwin Airport at some stupid time, 3 am, and arrived finally in Bangkok probably 18 hrs later. Brunei wasn’t too bad, but not entirely exciting, great Malay – Bruneian food for about $2. The highlight probably wandering round a village that is build on stilts above water for a few hours, won’t spend the 40 hrs planned here on the way back. The houses varied from nice wooden houses to rusty tin on a burnt out wooden shell and everything in between. The water was filthy and I expected to see a few three eyed fish, but no such luck.
Bangkok was initially disappointing, after LP describing it as dirty, with heaps of traffic and people I was disappointed to see orderly traffic, with everyone obeying the road rules more or less, nothing like Malaysia, let alone India where if you can drive down the wrong way of one way street to cut out a traffic jam you will. Also pretty clean as well, so don’t know what all the fuss is about. Though my throat is getting a bit sore now 2 days later from the pollution. The only real excitement on arriving was bargaining a price with the taxi drive having worked the scam of getting a taxi from someone out at the arrivals area, and then arguing about going on the toll way.
Am staying near Kho San Rd which is a street mentioned in the book The Beach with a Scot and a Swede who I met in Darwin and Brunei respectively. It really is the McDonald’s of backpacking. It could be a market area in Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore or wherever. Backpackers with designer dreadlocks, sunglasses, clothes and backpack. And it offers everything from Fake Oakleys and Tag watches to Egg and Bacon for breakfast, …oh and you might find some Thai food on the menu.
If you can manage to escape here though Bangkok is quite a bit of fun. The people are genuinely friendly, and go out of their way to help, the Dubah type food stalls are great. Pad Thai noodles and the likes for less than $1.50. There are more temples to see than even a Japanese tourist would photo graph, so have ditched the lot. Spent the day wandering around some of the old city and catching a few buses. Had lunch in this great little dive which was full of military men singing karaoke. They all take it quite seriously, no ribbing or anything like you would expect if whites did it, and everyone just carries on chatting or eating until they get the mic. One of the Officers took us under his wing and translated the menus as I think we where probably the first whites to visit the place.
We had to see the red light district to see what all the hype was about. It turns out it was all just hype. The whole area was full of markets and touts outside bars trying to get you in with a full list of what was on offer to watch. Looking in there where women in bikini’s swinging themselves around some poles and walking on table. In all i think you would see more on a beach in aust, at least in the main bar.
I am escaping all this in 24 hrs thank goodness and hope to see some real Asia. I received my 30 day Laos visa (I hope, as i have heard there are scams around) today and will catch the train up to the border on Sat evening and will be in the capital Vientianne by Sunday. Have no plans as yet as I have been told their is still a lot of rain and flooding up there. Will hopefully get some more info once I am there. If all else fails I will end up back in Thailand.
Wednesday, 18 September 2014
I am in now in Laos, in a town called Vient Vieng or something spelt like it, about 120 north of the capital Vientiane. The capital was really just a large village, but 200 000 people or more, I was told 2 million but it couldn’t be true. Spent the time with a Canadian guy. After spending so much time in BK I really didn’t want to hang around as I wanted to get out into the country.
We hired a scooter rickshaw type thing and saw some sites for the afternoon, a pretty rush tour of the town, Buddah park, the large Pha That Luang, the nation symbol of Laos, a large gold coloured column thing plus a few other temples and the likes. Got into a big argument with the driver. Lucky the opinionated Candanian took the brunt of it all.
We both went out for a Lao massage and sauna for $5 and $1 respectively. I still have the bruises from the cups they put on you back. Vang Veign is a nice little village on the edge of a river, surrounded by steep mountains that rice from the flat rice fields below. Spent the day riding around and exploring caves in the area with a Lao girl, who is friends of a NZ guy I met on the bus here. It is so nice I will probably spend another day or two here before heading north again.
The food is great of course and everything else is fine. Staying at a hotel by myself for $6 a night with hot water, so a bit of a luxury. Went out for dinner tonight with the NZ guy and an american. Had rice and chicken (you cannot be vego up here), and a large bottle of beer for $3. The NZ guy according the the Lao girl is a paedophile, however you spell, or at least likes young men, he has apparently come to seem a lady-boy, as they call them he met on his last trip. All that aside he seems a decent guy to have a beer with.
Wednesday, 2 October 2014
Well, am well and truly in Laos now. Internet access is not exactly what you call available in this country, and when it is usually both painfully slow and extremely expensive. For that matter apart from one or two cities even electricity is only on in the evening, let alone telephone. Briefly I have just done a loop in the North of Laos from Vientiane, through a few towns and then up to a place called Luang Nam Tha, where I did a three day trek. It was great, wandering through rice fields and jungle. We stayed in local villages at night. The villages are really quite basic in a lot of aspects from bamboo houses and water drawn from the river and of course no electricity, and some women walking around half naked, and then you go to the village leaders house and he has gold teeth (a sign of wealth) a a VCD player and a big TV.
As I may have said already Lao people are just great. They are really friendly and really giving when they really don’t have much to give. It is traditional to have Lao Lao, rice wine in a lot of places with meals and even just visiting people. It is hard to say no to these people so you end up having two or three shots of this 45% rocket fuel before even lunch some days. The bottle usually has something floating around in it. It mostly looks vegetable, no animal yet. Still it does ease any sensation you have of aches in your body and you don’t feel the heat and humidity so much for a while. Travelling around here is terrible to say the least, and the cost of travel varies according to the time it takes, not the distance, so when you have to pay as much for a 100 km trip as a 300 km trip you know you are in from one hell of a ride. Some roads are more pothole than anything else and you can end up sitting in the back of a truck with bags of sugar and rice, breathing fumes for 4 hours.
I have just flown in from Xeing Khuang province, and the capital Phonsavan and am now back in Vientiane before I will head south tomorrow. I gave up getting a bus after a 36 hour trip there including a truck, two buses and being rescued finally by the French Red Cross, who incidentally couldn’t speak French, who bought me lunch and dropped me off at a Guest house. Xeign Khuang was heavily bombed by the good old USA and the landscape is marked with craters of different sizes. You basically don’t wander of the tracks unless because of mines and unexploded bombs. Laos was more heavily bombed than Vietnam and Cambodia, and Xeing Khuang was the most bombed of them all and it had parts of the Hoi Chi Minh Trail.
We hired a flamboyant guide with all the latest designer western clothing and visited what is called the Plain of Jars. Large vessels up to 6 tonne in size, thought to be 4000 yrs old. Quite amazing. They are still trying to work out what where for. Bombs had been dropped in and around them so many where damaged, plus the Americans stole quite a few. The largest site was near a VC bunker and there was a fair bit of damage. A few hundred metres away there is a current military base with ancient looking Russian Mig planes and tiny anti aircraft guns dotted around the place. You kind of get the feeling that the Laos army isn’t up to much. Course they still have a few mine fields around it so you can’t just wander up and take a photo.
You have to have a massage while you are here, you pay up to about $2 us d for about a 50 min massage. I have had a few basic (as in the primitive sense) massages, one which was pretty well just little girls grabbing hungs of flesh on you back and legs, before cracking your toes and fingers, not really relaxing but they at least seemed to be having fun, but the rest haven’t been too bad.
Friday, 7 October 2014
Lao in many ways is similar to India in terms of travel and doing things, but with out the filth and dirtiness of India. The people are just really nice, and always have a smile and helpful. You always tend to get someone on a bus that gives you sign language about stopping for food and the conductors always stop at the place you want to get off when you give them the name of the place you want to go. The country side is nice too spectacular in places but it is definitely the people that have made it a good experience. yea my birthday passed by without a fuss. I think i had a Beer Lao at night, which I would have had anyway. Actually I spent half the day on a nightmare bus journey and had to sit next to a fat guy, got a rip off tuk tuk at 11 pm at night as had no choice and stayed in a dirty hotel so nothing that memorable.
Friday, 11 October 2014
Hi, Well reality is now beckoning. I left Laos yesterday and now am in BKK after pretty well 24 hrs straight travel a boat, two trucks, two tuk tuks and a train later. Ended up getting a 3rd class seat on a train overnight to BKK with another fellow traveller as 2nd class was sold out. We thought of going 3rd class anyway, which would have been a mistake, and it was anyway, if that makes sense. Still it only cost $5.50 Au for the 10 hr trip. The people trying to sell food in you face at 2 am was included in the price apparently.
I spent my last few days in Laos down in an area call Si Phon Don, or translated, 4 thousand islands, a kind of delta area of the Mekong river at the border of Cambodia. Stayed on one of the larger Islands in a bungalow made of bamboo and grass right on the edge of the river. It was really nice. Could just lie in the hammock by the coconut and watch the boats go by. Nothing much else to do apart from wander around, talk to stoned backpackers, eat and drink.
The trip down there was interesting. In this bus with hardly any windows, the rest broken or taped up. Half the seats where attached to the floor by one nail on only one side, and rocked around, others tied down with electric cord. The usual suspects on the bus, chickens, pigs, old toothless ladies, hippy old couple, breastfeeding mothers… I had to put my bag over the hole in the floor in front of me for fear of loosing a eye or some other vital organ from a stone being flicked up. We of course had the traditional flat tyre, which was replaced by an equally bald tyre.
The road was actually quite good by Lao standards, pretty straight, flat with the odd pothole that could swallow a bus. As you pull into villages along the way you get swamped by women a kids selling all sorts of life cooked on a stick, shoving it in your face. The usual protocol judging by what the locals do is you grab a stick, finger and prod the dead animal, do the same with a few more dead animals before making your selection. If you are luck you have bought something that has only been handled by the last four buses passing through. Still I haven’t been sick, so can’t complain. After eating or drinking your beverage you just dispose of it out the window followed by a few hearty clearing of the throat and spits to remove any remains.
Was going to go to a place call Apatpeau where you can go along the Ho Chi Min trail, and hopefully see some wild life that the locals haven’t eaten (apparently tigers, rhinos, elephants), but got warned off by a few stoned brits as a waste of time. The elephant trek got called off as it has a fungus, which no doubt it a common occurance. The only choice I had left was to head towards what we call civilisation in BKK. Planning of trying to go diving somewhere around here, but it may not be a possibility, as only have a few days left now.1