Thursday, June 10, 2010

laos, Thailand


Laos and Thailand

Laos, Cambodia ,Thailand

Cave tubing, extreme biking, crossing the river, caught in the rain

Vang Vieng - tubing

To the Other side and Back

We chilled in Haad yao for 2 two nights and then decided to make the trip over to the other side where the islands sit in the Andamann Sea. Our taxi picked us up at 6am and around 12 hours later after a lot of lugging our bags in and out of tuk tuks, on and off boats, buses and eventually mini buses we finally arrived at our hotel in Phuket just as the rain was arriving too. We took a walk around and felt like we were in Torremolinas (think strips of bars, Mc D's Burger King, Starbucks, an Arsenal shop and anything else you could think of in a taccky beach side resort) except with worse weather. It was still really warm but there was a strong wind, a storm brewing and it wasn't long before the downpour came. On the plus side we had a really nice room , huge with AC and clean bathroom with hot water for just over 10 euro between us so we took respite from the rain and made arrangements to hook up with some friends we'd made in Koh PhaNgan.

That night we had drinks with the Kiwis and some Aussie girls and got great entertainment out of the owner of the bar - Bill ,from Scotland who'd been living in Phuket for 11 years. We haggled him for a cheap round of shots and he told us we could have them on the house if we guessed what age he was! Unfotunately none of us got it right! He then challenged the boys to some one handed side pressups on the roadside and gave a very impressive demo of falling face first towards the ground before saving himself at the last minute!!Not bad for a 58 year old!

The next day it was overcast again so we hit the internet cafe and the gazillions of stalls and got back to what we're good at - haggling!! We didn't do too much damage tht day and were quite proud of ourselves! That night we headed for a slap up meal (in Thailand this involves something without curry or rice in the title!) with our mates from Kiwiland as it was their last night. On our way to the restaurant which was just off the main drag of bars and restaurants there was suddenly an explosion and a lot of sparks. Everybody got a bit of a fright but didn't think too much of it. It was about 20/30 metres away from us and we just thought it was some kind of firework or something. However , we got about 3 more metres down the road and BOOM! another explosion and this time heaps of flames.

Nobody knew what was happening, we stood shell shocked for a moment and then decided to run. Except for a few people who decided it'd be a good idea to go nearer and take pictures! There's always one! So we moved to what we thought was a safe enough distance away and thanked God that we hadn't been walking any faster or we'd have been practically right at the point of explosion where there was now the front of a building on fire, some poor local's souvenir stand melting into the ground including a traffic cone and huge sun umbrella, some injured people sitting on the side of the road and flames shooting up the electric cables. Turns out it was a transformer box that blew up, not helped I'm sure by their extremely dodgy overloaded wiring system they have in Asia. Nobody seemed to be too badly hurt so we went onto dinner and the explosion was the talk of the table and restaurant for at least the first 20 mins! Nothing like a bit of excitement to liven up the night!

After a yummy dinner of pizza, ice-cream and beer we headed to a local bar on the corner which had a really cool live band which we lost at least 3 litres of sweat dancing to for the rest of the night! About an hour and a half after the explosion we were surprised to see a truck with 5 men in the back and a brand new transformer box on its way to the site of the explosion. Half an hour later they were heading back up the road with the burnt one in tow. You'd never see anything being replaced that quickly at home! We spent one more cloudy day in Phuket and then decided to move onto Phi Phi and see if the weather was any better there. Five minites into the boat journey things were not looking good, the sea was getting rougher by the minute and peoples' faces were beginning to pale. Jo saw my face and thinnking I was feeling sea sick handed me some ginger tablets, when I told her I wasn't feeling sea sick just really scared she quickly lent me an ear piece of her headphones and put on some calming music!

Soon the waves were bigger than I'd ever seen, coming right over the boat and the top of the boat was way too near the water for my liking. I'd never been great on boats , sea sick wise but on this trip I've managed to conquer sea sickness - so far anyway! However I've never been nervous on a boat because I thought it was going to capsize but nervous doesn't even begin to explain how I was feeling on this boat ride!Another huge wave hit, things were flying everywhere and Jo and myslef both reached out and grabbed each other's hand at the same time. Clammy hands and planning our evacuation routes in our mids this is how we sat for the longest hour and a half ever more of the journey.I've never been so close to putting on a life jacket and as I looked out the window I wasn't sure how anyone would actually survive if we did go in. I tried to imagine how I could get our passports and ATM card into my dri bag and keep them safe while trying to keep afloat if we did, it was all looking quite dismal in my mind! But the prayers worked, the captain did well and two hours later people began to breathe again, colour and smiles returned to faces as we sailed into Phi Phi pier.

Nobody really cared that it was bucketing down rain and all our bags were getting soaked, I think everyone was just glad to be off that boat! We found some accomodation and followed our 'taxi' (man with trolley that wheeled our bags through the pedestrian streets to our hotel) as we followed him on foot while getting a free soak with the pouring rain and well above ankle height puddles we had to wade through. Once settled into our room we made the most of the break in the rain and dashed out to explore the town.

I had been here in 2002 and had really fond memories of Phi Phi and had been lookinng forward to returning. However, I didn't recognise one thing about the town. When the Tsunami tragically struck in 2004 Phi Phi was hit the hardest and the whole town and most of the island was destroyed. I knew they'd had to rebuild most of it , but until now never really knew to what extent. Basically they had to rebuild everything and building still continues today. The town has changed a lot, it is now much bigger, much more commercial but still a great island and when the sun shines Phi Phi and its surrounding islands, bays and beaches are some of the nicest in Asia to explore. It was jsut a shame we'd come at a bad weather time. Anyway we made the most if it, bumped into some more friends form Koh Pha Ngan, hung out with them for a couple of days and even managed to get a few hours sunshine uexpectedly! We hiked up to the famous viewpoint which is now the official Tsunami evacuation route and it was quite emotional to sit up there and look down on the beach and imagine how terrifying it must have been the day it hit. If you'd been up on the hill that day it was probably the only safe place to be, but how awful it must hae been watchinng the disaster unfold below you. Yet again and I'm sure not for the last time we thanked God and our guardian angels for keeping us safe throughout the year.

After two days in Phi Phi and having scrutinised the following weeks weather forecast we made a team decision to go back to the other side of the Gulf and try and catch some better weather for our final week and a bit. Typically on the day we left the sun shone , we weren't complaining though as it made for two very smooth boat crossings. Two boats, two buses and a tuk tuk taxi later we were back in Koh PhaNgan and settled into Coral Bungalows. we couldn't beleive how quiet the town was because it was no longer the week before or ater a 'Full Moon'. This place really survives on its infamous Full Moon Parties. However, it's nice to chill for the last leg of the journey and hopefully catch some rays before the final journey. We truly cannot believe we only have a week left and are both finding it hard to come to terms with. We are again experiencing rollercoasters of emotions as the time gets nearer to say goodbye to the trip of a lifetime and each other for at least a few weeks! As a friend of ours put it the other day, 'it's been a long time since you guys and reality had a coffee'!! How true!!

Full Moon Party

Fluro paint, 80's headbands, dancing on picnic tables and buckets = Full Moon Party!!

27th June we took the 1.5 hour very overcrowded refugee like ferry across to Koh Pha Ngan where on docking at the pier I was immediately brought back to 22 years old again. I smiled as I remembered Jude and myself disembarking on this very pier 8 years previously , full of energy and enthusiasm as we began our Australasia trip. If only I had the energy I had then! We hopped in a taxi, bartered the price and bounced our way in the back of another rickety yute up and down some serious hills until we reached Haaad Rin Nai or Sunset Beach (the quieter side of the Full Moon Party beach area).We were definitely showing our age not wanting to be in the midst of it all! After some more hagglig we got oursleves a beach front 'bungalow' less than a 10 minute walk from all the action yet we feel like we are on a deserted private island here. The waves lap outside our door, the breeze blows (but not nearly enough to provide any relief from the heat) and the fruit shakes are good at the bar 10 metres away! The difference in price between the fan option 'bungalow' and the AC one is very noticeable in the construction materials used! being on a budget AC is not really a luxury we can afford, however the amount of natural airation there is in this shack should technically provide some air - but it doesn't. Not even the two excuses of electric fans are a help except for creating some white noise if you wanted to block out the beautiful sound of the ocean lappig , which is the only other noise you can hear here!

However ,it's a beautiful spot and once you ignore the fact that there is a 2 inch gap in the door when it's shut, that the bathroom door doesn't shut at all, that you have to use a bucket of water to flush the toilet, that the dribble that comes from the shower head is salt water, that the holes in the bathroom walls and floor are letting bugs in and that anytime a more than slight breeze picks up it sounds like the corrugated ir,on roof is going to fly off it's a lovely rustic place to stay in! The view is spectacular and sure it's only to sleep in and with the amount of dancing we've been doing on the beach that isn't much time.

Last night was Ben's last night and the official Warm-up party to the famous monthly Full Moon Party on this island. We were soon in the swing of things with a bucket of strange concoctions bought from our new best mate Pinky who gives out free hugs and fresh flower necklaces with each bucket sale !! Next it was off to find a picic table to dance on, more sea breeze and better views from up high!Considering this was the warm-up party there was quite a crowd. We danced our pants off until about 2.30 am and then headed off home to the 'deluxe' shack to get some sleep before the real thing tomorrow. The last time I'd been in Koh Pha Ngan was 2002 when Jude and I caught the Full Moon Party enroute to Oz. The party itslef hasn't changed that much but the town has got much more commercialised, lots more shops and restaurants and an unbelievable amouont of medical clinics (which doesn't bode well!) , yet it still maintains that island charm and the beaches on Koh Pha Ngan are really beautiful.

Next day we strolled the whole 3 metres from our bungalow to a clear sandy spot by the sea and there we sat until luchtime when sadly we had to say goodbye to Ben who had to start making his way home to London. The weather was heating up today and as we wandered through the town haggling for more essential supplies of fluro paint and some day-glo costumes and headbands there was definitely a party atmosphere in the air. By 9.30 we were on our way back to the beach , not expecting too big a crowd yet but thought we'd get some people watching in before things started gettting crazy. However, once we stepped onto the beach it was clear that the party had most definitely started! There were thousands of people already dancing like crazy all over the beacch, there were people sliding down slides through hoops of fire (obviously they'd already had a bucket or two!!) and there were people playing with fire up and down the beach. We made a beeline for Pinky, ignoring the hundreds of other bucket sale hagglers trying to grab our attention with offers of free stuff we definitely weren't looking for! Pinky was delighted to see us, remembered our names from last night and gave us another couple necklaces.

Armed with our bucket we headed straight for a patch of free sand / picnic table and spent the rest of the night dancing like lunatics. I'd forgotten how great a party it is, as carlsberg would say it's probably the best party in the world!! We grafittied quite a few people with fluoro paint and Irish phrases and made friends with some crazy Asians amongst others. We arrived home as the sun was getting up, tired but elated and the only negative of the night being that we were down one camera -long story but we were both safe and in a lot better shape than some of the people we'd seen along the way through the night. One new addition to the party that they didn't have last time was an official sleeping area!! This was an official taped off area with a sign that you could go for a nap in and know you'd be relatively safe or you could leave your friends there and come back for them after a powernap. Hilarious and quite ingenious!!

Next day we we chilled out on the beach again and then headed to visit some friends at their fancy resort. With a pool they were our new best mates! As things have a habit of happening our planned chill day and relaxed night turned into a bit more active as all ended up at a pool party down the beach, well when in Koh PhaNgan....!! So night 3 of parties and I was feeling like I was 22 again but with not quite so much energy!! However according to the young ones it was great that I was still 'living the dream' and they hoped they'd be back here partying when they were my age!! Not sure whether it was more of a compliment or a comment that made me feel old!! Anyway one thing I've learnt on this trip don't let anyone ever tell you you're too old to party .And if I've anything to do with it I hope this isn't the last Full Moon Party I'll see. Jude maybe we should come back for our 40th/ 50th bdays!! One last night in our beach side bungalow and then today we packed up, said goodbye to Haad Rin beach and caught a taxi to the north west of the island to Haad Yao where things are very much more relaxed.

For the same price as we were paying Haad Rin for our shack we havve a beautiful and huge bungalow, with concrete walls, clean sheets, folded towels that actually smell clean, a fan that works, a shower with hot water (not salty water!) , a sink and a toilet that flushes - we are in heavan!!! Whats more there are no nails to stand on on coming out of the floor and our balcony , although it doesn't look onto the beach is big enough to house a family of five! The beach here is also quite corally so it's hard to get any depth to swim in and the water is so hot it's not refreshing at all. After lying in a puddles of our own sweat for about half an hour we decided we needed to do something to cool down. We're far from complaining about the fab weather but with absolutely no breeze it was uncomfortably hot. We relaised the restaurant / bungalows behind where we were sitting on the beach had a swimming pool so we sidled on up and ordered 2 sodas and got the most out of our 35 baht drinks by sipping them at their pool for the rest of the day, padded sun chairs and shaded umbrellas and all!!Flashpacker style! On our way home we went to enquire how much it was to stay there as apart from the pool it looked fairly similar to our place. Not so similar in price though! At almost 3 times the amount for the basic room there we decided buying a less than 1 euro soda and sitting by their pool was a better option than actually staying there!

Koh Samui - Koh Tao

Having missed the last ferry of the day to Koh tao we decided to stay in Koh Samui for the night and get the first boat in the morning. We asked the taxi driver from the airport to drop us at some cheap accomodation. We quickly realised that Thailand was expensive, well compared to Laos and Vietnam anyway, I suppose 5 to 7 euro a night for a room each a night can't really be classified as expensive compared to back home! Anyway he dropped us at 'Sandy Resort' which was very fancy , in Bophut, near the ferry and we couldn't really believe this was what he classified as cheap. An hour later we were settled in our fan bungalow having moved from the one with ghcko poo on the bed sheets and on our way to the pool adjoining the beach - what we like to call a 'flashpacker' type of accomodation!! We decided to get straight into island life and ordered a Pimms, sat by the pool and played 'Jackpot'.The final holiday of the holiday had truly begun!! Or as we've heard some people say 'We're on holiday from travelling'!!

Next morning we joined the hoards of day trippers off to Koh tao to go snorkelling and the island just beside it which had some amazing coral reeefs. Koh Tao is famed for its diving and snorkelling and has some amazing bays but really only one sandy beach. We had arranged to meet Ben at his accomodation on Sairee Beach and a short taxi drive later (the back of a yute) we arrived to find there was no bungalows left here.However next door had the exact same set up for 100baht more. Bartereing was a no go but for a bungalow with a western toilet 50 m from the beach for just over 10 euro who's complaining! We spent our first evening sipping a very watered down bucket of cocktail on cushions on the beach while watching the local guys do their thing with fire sticks and poys. When we started to get gasoline on us we decided it was time to go! We have spent the last couple days on the water enjoying the best of Koh Tao. Ben and myself rented stand up paddle boards ( if you haven't heard of these they're like a giant surfboard that you stand up on and paddle like a gondalier). Took a little time to gain my balance and once we'd reached deep enough water not to worry about hitting the coral if we fell off. We got the hang of it and paddled our way around the bay towards the next island. Passsed some beautiful exclusive cabins up on the hill, pure honeymoon spots and Ben even spotted a shark. About 50 m from the shore on the way back Ben decided to make it Extreme Paddle boarding and while trying to manoeuver around an incoming long tail boat managed to fall through the perspex panel at the front of his board used for reef observation. Woops! Some perspex removal and a bandage later and he was good to go , but unfortunately 500 baht down as seemingly this perspex was the original from Hawaii - how true that is we're not sure!

Next day we rented kayaks and the three of us headed to Ngan yuan , which takes about half an hour to kayak to. It was really beautiful, has an amazing view point after a hot climb up through the trees and rocks and some really great snorkelling. We hung out on the isalnd for a few hours and then paddled back home. That night there was a huge storm, got completely soaked running to the restaurant so much so that I could wring my underwear out. Today weather not great , still warm but overcast from storm and a bit windy and showery. Locals seem to think there's more to come! Spent the first half of the day doing a one day thai massage course which I'm sure Adam will be happy about as I will need someone to practice on. Jo very kindly came as my model and endured 2 hours of Thai massage! Then it was my turn to have it one on me to see what it should feel like and then I had to do it one more time on the instructor. It was funny seeing people's faces as they walked by and saw a western girl giving a Thai woman a massage! I'm sure they were wondering what was going on! Anyway it was a lot to take in but enjoyable and look forward to practising my skills on loved ones only though!Think it will be a while before I'm ready for anyone who would be paying to have a massage!

Take us to the island

Just when I was liking Laos again after some market retail therapy and some yummy food we got ripped off one more time at 6 this morning while trying to get to the airport. Now under normal circumstances we wouldn't prepay for a tuk tuk pick up, but the woman in the agency where we booked our flight to Bangkok seemed very reputable and above board so when she asked us if we wanted to book a tuk tuk with her driver to pick us up for a discounted rate we saw no reason to say no. At the back of my mind when we were paying I did think, hmm how do we know he'll turn up?But then I thought no stop being so negative, trust her. Should have trusted the element of doubt! We walked up to the top of the road to meet the driver and presumed the one lingering was ours. He pretended not to have much English when we asked him if he was our driver and had our receipt and instead offered to take us to the airport for 30baht. Funnily enough this was the exact price we'd paid and well below what they normally quote before haggling . This was his first move in making us suss.

We ignored him and waited a little bit back down the street. At 6.15 when we really needed to be in a tuk tuk and were contemplating what we should do he appeared again, more suss. At this stage we were pretty sure he was our driver who'd already been paid and was chancing his arm knowing we had to get to the airport. We eventually had to make a call as time was ticking so we loaded our gear in and told him we'd pay him. When we approached the airport we got all our bags on first and then handed him a roll of notes,less than what he'd asked for. As I gave it to him I told him this would have to do, it was all we had.He didn't even complain or try to get the rest out of us. This confirmed our suspicions, he must have been our prepaid driver and now he's just done us out of almost double the money. We left Laos angry and feeling sick form being conned. Such a shame as Luang Prabang had been such a nice town.

Two fligths, 5 hours and 2 inflight snacks later we landed in the boutique airport of Koh samui. As we were transported from the plane to arrivals on a very colourful golf cart come Bray Seafront train ride carriage we felt like were in Disneyland. We were excited to be back at the coast and picked up on everyone else's honeymoon / 'we're on holiday and we have lots of energy and clean clothes' vibe and an hour later sipping Pimms and playing Jackpot by the pool Luang Prabang and its thieves seemed a long long time ago! And it is on these beautiful islands that we will spend our last 3.5 weeks of this amazing trip.Although you all think we've been on holiday for a year we are now exhausted and looking forward to spending more than 2 or 3 nights in the same bed and even more so the thought of a night in our own bed! So we plan to kick back, enjoy the sea and sand and contemplate our trip of a lifetime!

Mugging on wheels

Our last day in Laos we decided to hire some bikes and go do some exploring and generally get some exercise, it's hard to do any decent exercise in this heat and humidity though. Outside the rental shop I tried to adjust my saddle, however when I asked for a tool to do so I was told that was the maz it would go. Even by Asian height standards this was low , but having just filled out a pile of forms and paid a deposit we decided to live with low saddles rather than get everything back and start looking for another rental company with higher saddles. So, looking like giant adults on kids' bikes we awkwardly rolled on down the main street. Within moments I knew my planned cycle of around 30 k would not be happening with the saddle this low, my knees were nearly touching my chin every time I took an upward pedal. We decided to take the river route and see where that took us. Turning down the hill off the mmain street I quickly realised I had no brakes. At least my feet were low enough to the ground to be able to use my runners along the road as some form of breaking mechanism and as I flew towards the T junction at the bottom of the hill I hoped nothing was coming along the road as I couldn't really stop at any high speed! Luckily it was clear and we tried to avoid steep hills for the rest of the day!

The route along by the river was really nice and biking was a good way to admire the narrow bricked back lanes with cascading pink bouganvilla and old world architecture, full of cafes, galleries and other quaint shops. There was a never ending row of restaurants along the river to take a pitt stops in and the French Indochine influence gives the town a really nice atmosphere.Even today here French is the official second language of the Government and there are even a few bilingual schools.Fortunately the crepes and croissants also stuck around! We followed the road out of town, not making huge progress due to the awkwardness of the saddle height and the heat. Soon we came to a turn off that said 1km to waterfall. The road was quite stony off the main road but we decided to give it a go anyway. At least a km up we were met wth a steep upward hill and still no sign or sound of the waterfall. I went to investigate what was over the top of a slightly less steep hill only to find a few random houses. I also discovered the bike couldn't deal with much pressure as my chain came off twice going up the hill. We gave up on the idea of finding the waterfall and made a plan to go our separate ways for a few hours and meet back at the hire shop later on. I had planned to continue out on the main road for another half hour , but 5 minutes into it and two small hills later I was fed up with having to fix my chain and feeling quite manky by now with sweat and chain oil all over me. I turned around and headed back into town.

About a km out of town my Buddha good luck ran out. A motorbike came right up beside me and before I knew what was happening the guy on the back had his hand in my basket and was grabbing my bag. I couldn't believe waht was happening, I grabbed the strap but they obviously had an advantage to me being on a motorbike and more of a hold on the bag. As the tug of war continued and I was pulled out of the saddle and almost over the handlebars I realsied this was not a fight I was going to win. Screaming at them and swearing obscenities as they rode off into the distance I shouted at some passers by to help. They looked at me with a 'stupid tourist look'. I thought about hailing a tuk tuk and getting it to chase the bike but they were almost out of sight and I risked losing the hire bike if I abandoned it on the side of the road to chase them. Instead I decided to chase by pedal power - a very unrealistic idea! Within seconds my chain was off again. As I crouched on the side of road trying to fix the chain while at the same time shaking and crying I thought about everything they'd got. At first I thought it's just cash and only about 20 dollars and my favourite wallet from Peru. Then reality hit,I remembered I'd put my Iphone in as I'd been checking my email at breakfast and even worse I'd packed my credit card this morning, something I never ususally have in my wallet but had wanted to buy a present in the jewellery shop later. Enraged I eventually got the chain back on and made my way back to town. Along the way I swore some more at the thieves as I relaised my expensive special face suncream was in there and it was my bag form NZ. As I rolled into the hire shop I don't blame them for looking at me strangely, I must have been quite the sight, covered in oil and tears streaming down my face blabbering about soemone stelaing my bag!

I was anxious to cancel my credit card and my phone but without a phone I couldn't do either. I thought about getting my laptop and using some wifi to Skype but Jo had the key to the room and I wasn't meeting her for another 3 hours.Furthermore, I had no money to buy something in a cafe in order to use their wifi. I hoped that by wandering around town I might bump into her, but in the meantime I wobbled towards the police station in order to get a statement which I knew I'd need for insurance. Typically it was closed and wouldn't be open for another hour. I stood on the street corner hoping Jo might just appear and my wish came true about half an hour later as I saw a vision in a green dress wave chirpily as she pedalled towards me. On seeing my face her happy expression changed and on seeing her familiar face the tears started again. As she has done many a time on this trip she held it together, calmed me down and made a plan, a true legend in times of Jane crisis!

Our first stop was back to the hostel to get her phone to cancel the cards and the phone. Enroute we bumped into some other backpackers we'd met a few days ago and on hearing the story offered their assistance, a shoulder to cry on and a hug. Such a nice gesture from people who were basically strangers to us. Having successfully cancelled the card, we biked back up to town and carried out the next part of the plan, visit the police. The sign on the door still said closed but it wasn't locked so I gave a little tap and we gingerly wandered into a dark hovel where there were two men lying on a table each having a nap - obviously crime levels weren't too high today!! They were soon awake and had the statement book out. After endless questions many of which were impossible to answer i.e what was the number plate on the bike, what colour was the bike, how old were they, what did they look like??? I tried to explain that they approached me from behind so I didn't get a good look at them and that it was hard to tell how tall someone was when they were sitting on a bike and as for a full description the most I got in the commotion was black hair, dark skin and a red t-shirt. I made a mental note to be more observant and take notes if I was ever mugged again while moving!

I explained to them that really I didn't expect them to be able to retrieve my things , but that all I really needed was a statement for insurance reasons. However, they insisted that I go with them on their bike and show them where it happened so that they could question some people to see if anyone saw anything. I told them it was on a stretch of road with nothing else in the immediate vicinity and that anyone that was around ignored my shouts and kept going.They ignored this and so onto the back of the policeman's motorbike I get and off we head to the crime scene. I knew the general area it happened in but I was hoping my bottle of banana boat suncream which had bounced out of the basket at the time would still be sitting on the road marking the spot. It wasn't, but I showed them the spot to the nearest 5 metres and wondered who they thought they were going to ask about it as there was nobody around except for a lone man selling baskets about 50 metres up the road. They instruucted me to stay with the bikes as they went off to do their CSI stuff, but not before having a cigarette!

Five minutes later they were back and asking me if I was sure I called out when it happened because the man who was having a siesta 50 metres up the road in amongst his weaved baskets hadn't heard anything!Seriously if this was their only hope of solving this case I wouldn't hold my breath! I assured them I had called out , but that I didn't expect that man up the road to have heard or if he did to have cared. They lit another cigarette each, leaned up against their bikes, huffed and puffed a bit and then told me that they really didn't think they could catch the person if nobody had heard me calling out. I was so exasperated with the situation by this stage, I told them once again that I didn't really expect them to be able to retrieve my stuff at this stage and that all I really needed was a statement. Back to the 'station' / dark hovel we went and after going through it all again and writing a written statement we got the copy and were released from questioning with a warning to tie our bags to the basket in future. However, in hindsight I think if it had have been tied I may have ended up worse off if they'd persisted in keeping a hold of the bag while it was attached to the bike and I was still on it. Well, maybe not, but I have to take something positive from it!The next step was to go to an internet cafe, download the insurance claim forms and fax them off at the extortionate price of 5 dollars, daylight robbery. Anyway to make up for it and try and leave Laos with a better taste in our mouths we went home, scrubbed the oil off me, put on some nice dresses and went and had a crepe followed by fresh apple cake on the street for dinner - yum! Thak you Mum for all the help that day with phone stuff and numbers too, love you xo

Angkor Watt to Vang Vieng, the home of tubing

Team BEvans on the move again, good bye Angkor What???, Hello Tubing!!

Next morning we got our regular Tuk Tuk guy to drop us to the airport where we paid the extortionate tax to leave Cambodia and flew to Laos via a quick stop in savanahacket where we had to pay again to enter Laos. Having Ben with us we found out it's cheaper to be an Aussie than a European for this transaction! Another short flight later we arrived into Vientiane where we then went straight to the bus station and boarded the 3-4 hour journey to Vang Vieng , the home of the infamous tubing Laos - seemingly a must-do on every baackpacker's list.

We boarded the bus with our snacks consisting of Wasabi flavoured crisps which you can make EXTREME by adding varying degrees of extra wasabi powder and a box of Blueberry and Hazlenut pringles - they had to be tried! Let's just say unlike regular prigles once you pop it's quite easy to stop with this flavour!. To get to the only spare seats down the back of the bus we had to clamber over 3 giant rubber tubes which were taking up the whole length and width of the aisle. Then we settled ourselves into our very plastic and therefore extremely sweaty seats and prepared oursleves for 3 hours of EXTREME bumping and sweating mixed with a couple of roadside communal pee behind, beside and in any hedge you can find stops.

Around 3 hours later the bus stopped on the side of the road in what looked like the middle of nowhere and we were told this was our stop. Being the only Westerners on the bus we didn't have any backup to confirm we were actually in Vang Vieng so we took their word for it as they threw our bags out onto the roadside and every face on that side of the bus was now glued to the window staring at us and our bags as if we were some rare alien species. This seemed to becoming a regular occurence! It was almost 5pm and the sun was still pumping out the heat. We hitched our bags on and approached a lone tuk tuk driver to ask him how much into town. Seemingly it was only 1k away so when he told us it would be 10 dollars we told him where to go and proceeded to walk / wobble towards the town. within 3 minutes we had been approached by a guy on a scooter who told us he had a triple room with AC so we followed him about a k and a half and by time we got there we were ready to take our bags off and not put them back on for at least 3 days!

So we settled in to our very nice looking cabin with fan and Ac and pushed the two rock hard beds together to make enough room for the three of us. They weren't the most comfortable beds we've ever slept in but they did the job. Within 10 minutes of wandering around the town we all felt very old and sober and realised this was a town full of 18 year olds wearing not a lot and drinking goodness only knows what concoctions from buckets. If there was any place I could be to make me feel old the week I turn 31 this was definitely the best place for that! However , we had plenty of people watching fuel and we knew we were only here for a few days so we'd deal with it and have fun.

On our first day we decided to hire two scotters and go explore some of the caves.We bartered down the only two automatic scooters they had in the shop as Ben's horror stories of losing toes on manual bikes had put us off manual bikes for good! After a little test drive up and down the street as this was my first scotter driving experience we headed off in search of some adventure. About half an hour later we were lost in a very small village with an even smaller map. We quickly established we'd overshot the cave exit and made an about turn. Soon we were bouncing down a very muddy and rocky path and negotiated a good few unknown depth puddles. At the end of the road was the river and a local woman seleping under a bamboo shack signposted 'bike parking' It didn't take her too long to wake up enough to get money out of us for parking. I had momentarily turned my engine off as we were deciding whether we were in the right place and when I tried to start it again to roll into the parking place there wasn't any life in her. We tried everything and even got a local involved who couldn't figure it out either. Even the manual kick start failed , so we wheeled her in and decided maybe it just needed a rest after going through the puddles so we'd let her dry out, go see the caves and hopefully there'd be some life in 'My Lover' as its graphics said when we returned.

When we got half way across the rickety bamboo bridge another local appeared from nowhere with a little book of tickets and very angrily demanded 5,000 kip from each of us to cross the bridge. Already annoyed that we'd had to pay to park our bikes under a piece of bamboo we refused on principle to pay her to cross a public foot bridge. Instead we took a look at the local kids playing in the river and decided if it was safe enough for some little nippers to swim in surely it would be okay for us to cross. We stripped down to our bikinis and boardies , loaded our gear into the dry bag and proceeded to cross the river much to the amusement of all the kids who thought this was the funniest thing they'd seen all year.

It got even funnier , for them, when about 5 metres in the water level suddenly got very high, I went under, the dry bag which I'd been carrying above my head went with me and the current rapidly took me along with it. I surfaced just in time to grab onto a rock and recovered there for a bit while I analysed my next move and spat out as much of the manky brown river water I'd just inhaled. The kids thought this was great and stood and watched me cling to the rock with a mixture of smiles and looks of 'what does she think she's doing' looks as I hoped Ben and Jo would learn from my bad move and take a better approach. After a few minutes clinging to my little rock and feeling the fast current on the lower half of my body I decided to pick a line and just go for it. I'd either make it or get dragged with the current as far as the bridge we'd refused to pay to cross! Paying the 50c to cross it was now seeming like the more sensible option , but where's the adventurein that?! We had now officially become Team BEvans Extreme! I held the dry bag in one hand, hoping it really was waterproof as the camera was in it and cautiously let go of the rock. The current was quite strong so I had to do some rapid side stroking to make it over to the next rock. Fortunately made it without another dunking although ended up in a scummy pile of stagnant water - nice! I clambered out and watched while Ben and Jo made thier last moves to join me. Soon enough we were all on the river bank in one piece and walking past the lady who'd tried to charge us to cross with smug looks on our faces!

We followed a path for about a kilometre which led us through a tiny 'village' which seemed to have more farm animals than people in it. Pigs, chickens, cows and rabbits crossed our path and we only saw about 4 humans, 2 of which were bathing naked in the dirty river estuary/irrigation for field. We soon arrived at 'Water Cave' which is one of the four caves in this area. Here we hired a tube, a head torch attached to an extremely heavy and dodgily wired battery pack and a guide. We floated into the cave which was pitch dark, propelled ourselves along for about 15 metres and then left our tubes on a rock and followed our guide up a manky muddy slippery slope where he promptly got down on his hands and knees and started crawling army style through the cave. We had been expecting to spend our time in the cave gently floating along admiring the stalagmites andd stalagtites so this was a bit of a surprise to say the least!

You wouldn't want to be too claustrophobic in here either, let's just say anyone bigger than us would have found it a bit of a challenge seeming as our bums were getting stuck on the roof as we crawled along. Poor Jo who was behind me had a lovely view of my muddy ass as I crawled along ahead of her. After about 15 metres of this we were able to stand again and then we followed our guide in a crouched position through some shallow water parts of the cave. Soon it was back to crawling on our hands and knees. He didn't have much English at all and just kept laughing along with us as we laughed at how funny we must have looked and wished we'd brought the camera into the cave. He then started shining his torch towards the ceiling of the cave and making some weird whistling noise. I looked towards the light and realised he was trying to wake up the bats. I really don't like bats and especially not when they're less than a metre above my head and now on the move. I tried to avert my attention from their beady eyes and get the guide to move on. Another 20 minutes or so later , stiff from all the crawling we returned to our tubes and floated back out into the daylight. We decided that was enough caves for one day and made our way back to the bridge. We bought a couple of drinks from the lady who was manning the bridge (and only from her cus she was the only one selling drinks) . As we got up to leave and cross the bridge we couldn't believe she sent the old man down with the ticket book to get us to pay to cross. I told him there was no way we were paying after buying drinks from their shop and he continued to shove the ticket book in my face. with a determined 'no way' I brushed past him and just kept walking , hoping he wouldn't send scary woman after me. Without looking back I called back to Jo and Ben to keep walking. I heard Jo say 'well she has the money', smiled to myself and within moments we were all safely across the bridge and back to the bikes!

Unfotunately the whole 'wait for the bike to dry out' theory didn't work and there was still no sign of life out of 'My Lover'. Not such great Korean technology. In true local fashion all 3 of us hopped on the other bike and made our way back to town. the locals were loving the fact that 3 westerners had all fitted on the one bike because as maths goes in Asia, 3 westerners equals 4 Asians (size wise)! As we got back to the hire shop we got some strange looks from the owners as seemingly it was against hire rules to have 3 on one bike. Bit strange considering the locals usually have at least 3 on theirs! We explained that 'My Lover' was requiring some attention 10k away which they weren't too happy about and were even less happy when we demanded our money back for hiring us a dodgy bike.

An hour later we were still sitting there, I had glued myslef to the cash desk and was refusing to budge until we got some mony back. They produced a contract and said we couldn't get any money back according to it. Luckily this was the first we'd ever seen of the contract as they'd obviously forgotten about it that morning. Hence they had nothing on us, not even a name or where we were staying so we knew we had an advantage. Then they tried to claim that I should have checked the bike mechanically before I hired it! I asked them if I looked like a bike mechanic and then we told them that that was the most ridiculous thing we'd ever heard of. That was until they told us that actually we should be paying them because it would cost them more to fix the bike!! They were seriously mad in the head. A few phonecalls and some more arguing later we eventually settled on a deal for half the money back and 4 large bottles of water! Then we took our other bike , which we still had an hour of hire time left with and wheeled it out of their sight before loading all 3 of us back on it and off we went in search of the famous 'Blue Lagoon' . Another bumpy road later and some more pudles we arrived at a dirty bend in a river, and decided that this couldn't be the blue lagoon. With the petrol light in the red we opted to return back before dark instead of having to tell them we'd left their other bike 10k away!We would just have to imagine what it looked like!

Next day we went tubing (a different type of tubing)- what Vang Vieng is famous for, basically you rent a large tractor tube, get a tuk tuk 4 km up the river, jump in your tube and float / paddle down river back to the town. Where's the excitement in that I hear you ask? Well the 7 bars , ropeswings, giant slides, music , mud volleyball and more along the way adds to the novelty factor of it! This town doesn't really have that much to offer but thanks to two random backpackers many years ago who decided floating down the river in a tube having had a few drinks would be a good idea it has become a must on every backpacker's list of places to go in Laos. It is great fun but unfortunately the town is full of very young, very drunk and very unclassy youths, especially young Englsih girls wearing dresses far too tight and short for the amount of buckets of alcohol and choco bnbana pancakes they've obviously beeen putting away since arriving in this town!!

It was around 12pm when we arrived at the start and it was soon obvious that most people just floated back and forward between bar 1, 2 and 3 where all the action and most exciting rope swings seemed to be. Some on legit tubes, some on yellow / pink / orange kids tubes, some in armbands and some just swimming or hanging onto other randomers tubes.There was a sign on the tree at bar one that said 'Please buy a drink before going on swing'. I wasn't sure whether this was beacasue they thought one needed Dutch courage to go on the swing or whether it was rude to use their swing without buying a drink in their bar! Anyway one fruit shake later I decided it would be a good idea to do any rope swinging I was going to do early in the day.Seemingly this was the highest one on the river and by the time I climbed to the platform via a rickety wooden ladder up a tree I admit I was actually shaking a bit,it was quite high up there! I reeled in the elastic cord and bar and with a few charade actions of a demo from the local beside me I was off.

Once I'd stepped off the platform my nerves went, it was fun in the air until I had to decide when to let go in order to time it that I landed in the deep water. I let go at the right moment but unfortunately released on some weird angle and ended up hitting the water fully on my left leg. As I surfaced I realsied my leg was totally dead and after a moment's respite I very awkwardly swam over to the side and in extreme pain climbed out. That was the end of my rope swinging for the day and I'm now the proud owner of a lovely bruise over my entire left thigh! Still could have been worse and I live to tell the tale. I'm surprised there aren't a lot more casualties on the river with the shennanigans we saw going on from those under the influence of the local 'buckets' , basically any combination of alcohol you want served in a bucket, generally speaking the traditional child's sandcastle type one!. 6 hours later after an enjoyable day on the river only tainted by the momentary blip when some girl stole my tube and we had to chase her down we were back in a tuk tuk and on our way back to the town. It was a great experience, glad we did it , but also glad to be leaving Vang Vieng, there's only so much teenage antics I can put up with in my old age!

Next day Team BEvans went their separate ways as Ben went south toward Thailand and Jo and myself headed 6 hours north in our very fancy mini bus which we had to ourselves to a town called Luang Prabang where we are staying for 4 nights. It's a pretty chilled town, lots of activities to do nearby, waterfalls, kayaking, biking etc. Whatsmore it has amazing restaurants and a daily evening market - danger!!! On arrival at the bus station we were met by some guys tryng to get us to come to their guest house, it looked pretty good so we bartered them down to $2.50 each a night and loaded our bags into the tuk tuk and off we went.

Day one we went on a tour to the waterfalls after a yummy bday brekkie. Hhaving seen the amazing Iguazu Falls we are a little biased when it comes to waterfalls now and it takes a lot to impress us so after an hours drive we were pleasantly surprised to be impressed by these ones. There was a series of cascading pools and the water was an amazing aquamarine colour. After a sweaty and slippery hike up to the top we then took a refreshing dip and watched others have a go on the rope swing - I was still sterring clear of them after my dodgy landing! It was a nice way to spend my 31st birthday and later that evening I treated myslef to some decent French wine in a nice little wine bar and Jo bought me a ginger cake and attached the candle from the restaurant table to it - thanks Jo, it 's never really a birthday without a cake and a candle so that meant a lot especially being away from everyone else at home.

Today (the next day) we took a kayaking trip to some caves in the middle of nowhere where people have placed hundreds of buddhas there in a shrine. Getting organised quickly wasn't a strong point of the company we were with , it took them so long to get everything ready. Then we had to laugh when just as we were taking the kayaks into the water and the guide was tightening everyones lifejackets like it was a sure thing we were going to capsize he asked us if we could swim. We said yes ofcourse and he replied, 'oh, good because I am just learning so maybe you can help me!'Glad that we were obviously better swimmers than him and hoping he at least knew the best way through the rapids we hopped in and off we paddled.

We paddled downstream for about an hour and a half and successfully negotiated the rapids ,although there was one or two where we ended up grounded on top of the rock instead of steering around it. However, a few skillfull paddle movements and we were out of it and still upright! We ended our trip on the river with a stop at 'Whiskey Village' where they make traditional Laos Whiskey out of sticky rice. Some of it is 50% alcohol so we only tried a couple sips. The black sticky red rice wine actually tastes like port, quite nice! We were shown some very weird looking jars that contained a mysterious liquid along with varying objects such as snakes, scorpions, bears' feet and elephant's penis and vagina - nice!! Seeminlgy these are traditional drinks for helping one sleep or get energy or basically they have one to cure any illness. Think I'll stick to traditional medicine or at least soemthing not containing an animal body part for the time being!