March 26, 2009

Laos: It's Laos with a "s," Lao are the people.

Vang Vieng to Vientiane, the capital. I was actually rather impressed with Vientiane since I previously hadn't heard great things. We went to see the look-a-like Arch de Triumph and took a tuk tuk out of the city to Buddha Park, which is the coolest place. There was a reclining Buddha which was huge, much larger then the one in Bangkok. Sara and I had so much fun posing with and in the sculptors.

 


March 25, 2009

Laos: Tubing

Phonsavan to Vang Vieng, tubing! A town built around the drinking backpacker. Vang Vieng is famous for drinking, tubing and playing Friends all day long in the local restaurants. There is no culture, the average age is about 23 and everything is for the backpacker. We met up with two other girls that we became friends with in Luang Prabang (London and Holland) so there were four of us. On our first full day we went tubing which is actually more of a bar crawl because the river consists of bars every 50 feet. The tubes are really just for show as you float to the next bar. It was an awesome day and something that you really can only do in Asia were safety rules don't exist. The next day Sara and I spent the entire day watching friends and eating all three meals at the same restaurant. Yup, we did everything in Vang Vieng that you are suppose to do except for the caves  because it rained the third day we were there.




March 23, 2009

Laos: Plain of Jars

Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, the Plain of Jars. I was mistaken no glass jars, big limestone ones made by the the locals a hundred years ago or so. The town was a total dud but the jars were worth seeing. It is so interesting that there are dozens and dozens of jars but no one knows why they are there. In two years there are some archaeologist coming to discovery their history so keep your eyes out for the answer. The rumor is that the jars were made to keep Lao Lao (Laos whiskey) but I don't believe it unless the village people were total alcoholics. I mean we are talking about gallons of whiskey being stored. They are going to have to come up with something slightly more believable. The jars are hard to describe. They are so oddly placed and rather large. Some where much taller then me. They even had giant limestone lids. Along with the jars there were giant crater holes from bombs that went off back in the early 70's and also a cave that was used as a hospital during the war, battler or bombing (the name of what it was I am not quite sure).


March 22, 2009

Laos: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, how beautiful. French and fancy. The first day that Sara and I arrived we checked into a hostel, SpicyLaos Backpackers which was a total home away from home. Free internet, free breakfast until noon and a bed that was comfortable. The first day Sara and I walked around town visiting temples and shopping.


 


The second day we went up the Mekong to visit a whiskey village and caves that are filled with Buddha statues. The whiskey village teaches you how they make Lao Lao, just incase we were wondering.


The next day we went to a waterfall outside the city which was awesome. The water was turquoise because of the minerals and you could even go swimming (I passed because the water was freezing).

March 18, 2009

Laos: Bussing

After another uneventful night in Huay Xai Sara and I took a 13 hour bus ride to Luang Prabang. The roads in Laos are not that bad but they are windy. The view outside the bus was pretty as we passed through villages and jungles that stretched for miles. But inside the bus it was a sick disaster. It seemed that Sara and I, the only Westerns, were the only ones that were able to hold in our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Throw up bags were handed out when we first got on the bus and they were defiantly being used-- iPod's on and load music was the solution.

Another local adventure to add to the list.

March 14, 2009

Laos: The Gibbon Experience

We arrived in Huay Xai (pronounced: way seigh), the boarder crossing town in Laos, two days before we had to leave for the Gibbon Experience. We arrived early just so that we had some room to spare in case our overland travel from Chiang Mai did not go as smoothly as planned, which ended with Sara and I spending way to much time in a town that consists of one road and one temple. The first night we just putzed around eating and drinking Beerlaos. We had planned to go to the temple up on the hill the following day but that night there was a festival up there so we climbed the steps that night. "Well, we just completed our one activity for tomorrow." The next day was a repeat of day one adding in a afternoon nap.


Finally, The Gibbon Experience. In morning we met our group of eight and hopped into a truck bed and took off for the jungle. Sara and I happen to sit across from two English friends that were traveling together and their stories of SE Asia where hilarious so for the 2.5 hour drive we were quite entertained. We arrived at the starting point, which was a village up in the hills. The villages here amaze me. They seem to be way more community organized then in the other countries that I have driven through aka Cambodia. The houses look much more civilized, however, the children still run around with no pants on (poo bear style) with dirt in every crease and the parents hardly seem to look their way. After taking in our environment we met our tour guide, Max. A 19 year old boy who has been married for three weeks with a baby on the way. His wife is 17. He has been a guide for The Gibbon Experience for the last three years. Before that he worked in an opium field with his parents until the government came and told them to change their career path or head to jail. As Max was an expert on opium he made sure to point out the fields that we passed on our three hour hike.

{ Max and the opium field }
That afternoon once we were well into the jungle we started to zip and it was so much fun! We even had to zip in and out of our treehouses. Our first treehouse was huge with two floors. The "basement" consisted of one of the zipline landings and the bathroom which had a very scenic view. But our jungle bathroom had so many bees so taking a shower or going to the bathroom became more of an adventure then a relief. The top floor was where all eight of us slept with plenty of room and a small kitchen. In the afternoon on our first day we zipped to a near by waterfall where we swam and zip where ever we wanted (hoping to not get lost). After the waterfall we all went back to the tree house were we found our dinner waiting for us. What service. At about 6:30pm, after dinner, it started to get dark so we lit candles and crawled into bed. As we all laid in our sleeping bags and talked we started to notice bugs every where. Not little bugs like mosquitoes but centipedes, cockroaches and some huge bug with wings. It turned into a night of man vs. nature- "kill it, kill it all" became the slogan for the next couple of days. The laughter/screams that was barreling out of our tree house could have been heard for miles.


After a full nights sleep of 12 hours we were woken up with Max and his side kick "Smokey" (we named him that because of how much he smoked) zipping into the tree house. We got up and zipped to a picnic table where Max and Smokey had breakfast ready- warm omelets, potatoes, vegetables and rice. Delicious. That morning we zipped/hiked to our next tree house and spent the afternoon zipping around the jungle. By early evening we all zipped back to the tree house to discover there were way more bees in the bathroom (we had it easy at the first tree house). This time there was an entire beehive above the roof. As we tried to shower it turned into an all out war against the bees. It was an endless battle but kept us entertained for a couple of hours.

Max checking out the beehive on the roof
 

On our last morning of The Gibbon Experience we woke up at 2:30 am and began the adventure to see the gibbons. The one rule we were told on the first day was we were not allowed to zip at night. Well, rules are made to be broken. Zipping off our treehouse into the dark was an adrenaline rush. We zipped and hiked in the dark for two hours. We finally made it to where the gibbons hung out at about 5am, still dark we all passed out on the jungle floor for an hour until the sunrise. At 6am we woke up and zipped to a platform in the trees where we waited... all of a sudden Max spotted a gibbon flying through the air and swinging from trees. There were about 4 - 6 gibbons and 150 yards away. Besides seeing them the best part was hearing the noise they make. They sound exactly like a siren and loader then anything I have heard before. It was amazing. To reinforce how cool this was that we got to see the gibbons... no one ever actually sees them.


That morning we hiked back to the starting point and waited in the village for our truck to come and pick us up at noon. Waiting in the village was also a highlight. The people and their lifestyle interests me so much. In another life I want to pitch a tent and live there with them.

 


 

March 12, 2009

Thailand: Exploring Chiang Mai

I flew into Chiang Mai where I met up with Sara (I met Sara studying aboard in Italy) at this funky guesthouse for another two day sneak peak of the city. After living in HCMC Chiang Mai seemed like the country. After a western breakfast we explored Chiang Mai. We shopped at the day market and then took a tuk tuk ride out to the bus station to confirm our bus to Loas. In the afternoon we rented a motorbike and drove up to Doi Suttep, which is a temple way up on the hill side.

 

The next day Sara and I headed off to the Golden Triangle, Burmese boarder and the Long Necks. The Golden Triangle was pretty cool as we could see Burma, Thailand, and Laos all in one sitting. Next was the Burmese boarder at Mae Sai, which also confirmed that yes, Americans can go into Burma and we are planning on it. We then went to visit the villages of the Long Necks. It was amazing but I felt like it was a museum, everyone sitting so perfectly with their crafts displayed nicely. I had mixed emotions about it all as I have heard they Long Necks are only their for tourist. We then stopped off at a hot spring where Thai women were cooking eggs in the water. Talk about sulfer smelling like eggs.


 

 

March 11, 2009

Thailand: One Night in Bangkok

It all started last Saturday. On top of having quite the situation with my Vietcombank Visa card and getting stuck in a huge rain storm on my motorbike our house almost flooded. Our door is not fully sealed to our house (our door is a gate) so the front entrance is raised up for this exact situation. There was an inch to spare before the entire first floor would have been covered in the most stinky, polluted, gross, black water. Thank goodness the rain stopped right before I left that night to catch my plane to BKK but I still had to walk through about a foot and a half of water running down our street to get to dry land to catch a motorbike taxi to the airport.

 
{ The water is rising }
I got to BKK without any problem which is shocking with my luck at airports. I am in the customs line when I friended this girl from Switzerland and that was the start of my night. We both caught the Airport Express bus to Khao San Rd (the backpacker capital of the world). While on the bus I asked her where she was staying and she said her dad had prebooked her a hotel room. She then offers for me to stay with her (okay... a free room even if it is a with a stranger, sounds good enough to me). We headed to her hotel which was just off Khao San Rd. As we arrived we found out that her dad had booked her a single room. At that point I was willing/wanted to head to the hostel that I always stay at where the rooms are 200 baht but no, she instantly said no problem we can just share the single bed. Uhhh, okay? I ended up having to pay 200 baht anyways because we were adding an additional person to the room. So I ended up sharing a twin bed with a European stranger and paying 200 baht. By the way here name was Tiffany. We introduced ourselves at the hotel check in. It was a crazy night in Bangkok with strangers left and right but a fun one. That night I got about two hours of sleep before I had to wake up at 4:30 am to get back to the airport to fly to Chiang Mai to meet up with Sara (I met Sara studying abroad in Italy).

March 5, 2009

Vietnam: HCMC Street Food

I can't just eat Western food or the well-known Vietnamese food for the next year. It's time to branch out and start pointing to things that look good. Sounds easy, I know, but over here you never know what you are going to get or what that large brown lump in the corner is that she keeps plopping over everyone's rice. Branching out could end with a bowl full of chicken feet but I am trying it out!


The other day I had a Vietnamese-type desert from a moving food stall. Thick coconut milk and sticky rice in a little plastic bag to go. Delicious. I can tell it's going to be all about recognizing the food stalls that serve the food you like. For example, this stand consists of many large metal pots. Last week I passed a lady who was sitting on the sidewalk surround by people. I figured whatever she was making had to be pretty good. I watched for a little while to make sure I wasn't getting myself into something funky and then I placed my order, which means I point and say "same" (the one English word every Vietnamese knows). She was throwing together rice paper chunks, mango shreds, spices and eggs from every direction into a plastic bowl and mixing. Then scooping it into a plastic bag to go with chop sticks. Her food stall consisted of two baskets that hung from each end of a thin piece of wood that lays over the shoulder. Since I hardly speak Vietnamese I call it the Vietnamese mango salad. And it is the most delicious snack ever. So far my branching out has turned into a great success.

March 2, 2009

Vietnam: Motorbike burn

Spring has sprung- oops, I forgot I am in Vietnam. This can only mean one thing... heat, heat, more heat and the rise of humidity. Just when I thought I was getting use to the heat the humidity picked up and the constant feel of stickiness is back just like day one in Bangkok. The worst part is I am a teacher now so I can't just run around in my beer t-shirts and fisherman pants. I actually have to wear real clothes. My teaching outfit is simple, I wear a moderation of one thing - a long sleeved button up button up and black capri pants. I have, however, started wearing skirts. This cuts down on the internal heating problem I am currently dealing with. I have become best friends with the market ladies who sell the Ralph Lauren button ups. I can't tell you how many times I have stopped there before going to school and changing on the spot.

About a week ago I got my first motorbike muffler burn. My leg was on the muffler for about .5 seconds which was just enough time to create a burn the size of an extra large US dollar coin on the back of my calf. Scabs, blistering and pain. I had never noticed the back of peoples calves until this little event. Every other person in Vietnam has a scar left over from a motorbike burn on their leg. It may just be a right of passage.