Posts Tagged ‘Laos’

Climbing on Koh Phi Phi

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

I am just as beat today as I thought I would be… When I got to the climbing centre yesterday, I was told that I’d have to pay more to do lead climbing, but my guide, Timi from Hungary, told me when we got up to the wall that she’d let my do it anyway. 🙂 I first had to prove to her and myself that I still knew how to climb, however, and she set up the first top-rope climb. I saw before I started that it would be like walking a flight of stairs, so I climbed that one barefoot… The next one was a bit harder, so I wore climbing shoes, but still ran up it quite easily. Those two climbs convinced us that my body still remembered, even though some technique had to be refreshed. My greatest weakness is still that I rely too much on upper body strength, not using my legs enough.

I did a few leads, setting up climbs that the other climber up with us, Asaf from Israel, could climb top-rope. He had climbed a bit on indoor walls, but this was his first natural outdoor climb. The last climb i led was a 6a, and it was a bit touch-and-go on the top as to whether I’d make it, but after a couple of rests on the rope on the last bolt, I made it to the top. 🙂 We rounded off the night on a tough bit, and I managed to get up a 6b+ on top rope, and was satisfied with myself. Today my fingertips are raw and my hands, arms and back ache, but I definately want to go climbing again before leaving Koh Phi Phi!

Today Helena is finishing her Open Water, and I went out to a beach that seemed suitable for camping out. 🙂 It took me an hour twenty minutes to get out there, since I didn’t quite know the way, but I got back in three quarters of an hour. The snorkeling out there was decent too, and we might head out with mozzy nets and blankets to spend a night under the stars.

I am again sitting at the Ozzy bar with free WiFi, and while I was sitting here unsuspecting of anything, I was assaulted by Simone and Cecilie, the two Danish girls I stayed with in Vang Vieng! They’ve spent the time since then in Vietnam, and got to Phi Phi yesterday. We haven’t made any plans, but the island is so small that I’ve already seen them once more since then, and we’re counting on bumping into each other again in the next few days. 😉

Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Friday night I took the night bus from Bangkok to Chumporn, and the boat from there to Koh Pha Ngan. I walked around for a bit, looking for a guest house, but all I could find was way too expensive, so I was preparing to find a place to store my luggage and just sleep on the beach, when I found a place that had bungalows at a price that wasn’t blood curdling… I had just checked in, when another traveller in the same situation came walking up. He was a bit put off by the price, and I suggested we share a bungalow, seeing ass they all had two beds anyway. His name is Lucas, he’s from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, but has been living the last seven years in London. He’s a fun guy, friendly and outgoing and flamboyantly gay. 😛

The atmosphere here is a little like Vang Vieng, with lots of people out to party, but it’s both a bit less laid back and has a bit older crowd, i.e. more people my age… The reason why I came here was the full moon party last night, and it was a lot of fun. 🙂 All the guest houses and restaurants along the beach rig up with bars and music and lights on the beach itself, and the whole beach is crammed with people dancing, eating, drinking or just sitting around talking. I met Helena again, that I went sightseeing in Vientiane with, Lucas attracted both girls and gay guys, and we ended up being a big group of people having fun together. I’ve also seen a few other people that I’ve met around South East Asia, but not as many as expected. The party was even bigger than I’d expected, apparently tens of thousands of people, and the chances of meeting people again in such a throng are not very great.

This morning we watched the sunrise on the beach, and then went to bed for a few hours before we had to check out. We found an even cheaper place to stay, at an Israeli guest house, and have moved there now. Lucas is really happy that it has aircon, but I’m afraid I’ll get a cold again… Today has been spent like the last two days, lounging on the beach, and my nose is peeling from too much sun. I am generally good at remembering the spf, but on the boat out here it was packed in my big backpack, and I spent all three hours of the crossing on deck, which was a thoroughly stupid thing to do. The water is so warm here that it doesn’t really cool you down very much, so people spend hours on end in the sea. It feels nice, but it’s not helping my sunburn, seeing as there’s no shade out there… 😛

Tonight I am planning to head to bed early, and tomorrow I might rent a moped and drive around the island. There are supposed to be some nice beaches away from the crowds out on the east side of the island, so I’ll try to find one of them and relax with my new book. I couldn’t find any of the books I was looking for in the book exchange store I went to, so I decided on a classic, Anna Karenina. I am looking into doing an internship for my Dive Master course, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I hope to find something out on Koh Similian or Koh Phi Phi, because those islands have the best dive sites in Thailand, but I’m also trying to find out about diving in Malaysia.

Bangkok stopover

Friday, June 5th, 2009

On Tuesday Hannah and I rented bicycles and headed south on Don Det, to the old railway bridge connecting it with the larger island of Don Khon. We rode past the remains of a small, old French locomotive, and west out to the Tat Somphamit waterfalls. The part of the Mekong that runs west of the islands comes crashing down through rocky canyons, and the mighty river, that has turned brown with the tons of silt washed out by the rains now in the rainy season, roars with a deep bass that resonates with something deep inside the stomach. It was a truly breathtaking experience! From there we cycled south, to a much lauded beach that turned out to be a smelly stretch of dirty, brown sand, where we stopped for a soda in the heat. We turned our bikes east on a small dirt path, until we reached the course of the old railroad again. The French built the little stretch of rails to transport goods from boats downstream of the waterfalls to the boats waiting to take them further upstream to Vientiane and beyond, but now the rails are gone, and we bumped south on the coarse gravel on which the tracks used to lie. My travel guide informs me that the government is talking about restoring the little railroad, but warns me not to hold my breath waiting…

We reached the tiny village of Ban Hang Khon at the south tip of the island, and across the river was Cambodia. It is possible to rent a boat to go out and try to spot the rare Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins, but like in Lake Baikal it was both too expensive and also the wrong season to go fresh water dolphin spotting… Instead we turned back north, and followed the eastern edge of Don Khon up to Don Khon Village. We stopped for a late lunch, and while we were sitting there, a mighty rainshower turned the road to mud, which the scorching hot sun turned dry again before long. Back in our guest house on Don Det, Mama Tan Orn’s Rasta Cafe and Guest House, the rest of the day was spent in exactly the way we came to the four thousand islands for to begin with: In hammocks with our respective books. 🙂

On Wednesday Hannah had to catch the boat and bus back to Vientiane to pick up her new passport from the Australian Embassy. She left at eleven, and shortly after I went to enquire about tickets to go to southern Thailand. I found that the best way would be to just buy a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchatani, and find my own way to the railway station and buy a ticket on the night train to Bangkok from there. For lunch I went to a bakery run jointly by a Laotian family and a man from Australia that has some amazing cinnamon rolls for next to nothing. I sat there for hours, reading, until an incredibly fierce rainshower crashed down over us, while the sun was still shining  just as strongly as always. After about three minutes it stopped as abruptly as it had started, and it was difficult to comprehend how much it had rained just seconds earlier! The only other customer and I looked unbelievingly at each other, and simultaneously exclaimed “That was unreal!”

We got to talking, and discussed what was worth doing on the islands. Her name was Lisa, she was from Germany, and she’d rented a bicycle that morning, but hadn’t found the waterfalls. I told her where they were, and that they were worth an extra trip out there. We figured that there was just enough time to go out there and back again before it would get dark, so off we went in a hurry. While we were out at the waterfalls it started raining so hard that when we found shelter after a couple of minutes I could wring several deciliters of water out of my T-shirt… The only other traveller out there so late was Kaye from England, who was hoping to get some video shots of the sunset over the waterfalls. She wants to be a TV announcer, and was using her travels as an opportunity to compile a show-reel to send with her applications when she returns home, and I remembered seeing her filming herself buying a donut in the bakery earlier that day. We all waited out the rain, but there was no sunset to film. The three of us headed back to Don Det together as it was getting dark, and then went out for dinner together. Kaye was tired, and went to bed early, and Lisa was leaving for Cambodia early the next morning, but we stayed on the back porch of my guest house until almost midnight anyway, because she wanted to see some photos from Nepal, as she was thinking of going there later.

Yesterday morning I bought the bus ticket I’d forgotten all about the night before, and had breakfast with Kaye in the bakery before I went to the pier to take the boat to the mainland. From there I went to Pakse in a minibus, and from Pakse across the border on a VIP bus. We arrived at the border just too late to change our Laotian Kip into Thai Baht, and the bus driver offered a totally unacceptable rate, so I got in a sawngthaew, a pick-up truck with two benches along the sides in the back, to go to the train station, hoping to be able to exchange there. I got to talking to a Lao man who spoke incredibly good English on the truck, and he told me there were no places that would accept Lao Kip anywhere outside of Laos and it’s borders. I almost considered going back to the bus station to make the change with the greedy bus driver, even though that would mean missing my train, because I had way to much Kip left to let it slide, when the guy offered to buy the Kip from me! We looked up the going rate online on his palmtop, and I insisted on giving him a slightly more favorable rate, seeing as he had just saved me from a much greater loss. I find that the people around south east Asia are extremely friendly and helpful, it’s just too bad that communication is so difficult when I don’t speak their language, and very few of them can speak enough English to communicate properly!

The train ticket was cheap, and I bought the cheapest option with a bed, second class with fan, upper bunk, but I couldn’t buy a ticket all the way to Suratani, where the boat to Koh Pha-Ngan leaves from, I would have to buy the Bangkok-Suratani ticket in Bangkok. I spent some time in the restaurant car, and had several “conversations” with Thai people who spoke no more than five words of English between them, but insisted I sit down and share their food and have a glass of Thai beer with ice. 🙂 When the restaurant car closed at 22hrs, I went to bed, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica on my laptop, and slept like a baby until the conductor woke me up at 7:25, five minutes before we rolled into Bangkok station.

When I got to the ticket counter there, it turned out that because of the upcoming full moon party, all the trains were fully booked… I went instead to a travel agency, that managed to find an available seat on a night bus, with the boat ticket included. The bus doesn’t leave Bangkok till seven pm, which meant I had over ten hours to kill in Bangkok. I used the facilities in the train station to brush my teeth and have a shave, before I caught the subway out to Lumpini park, where I had breakfast at the food court. A very outgoing lady there wanted to serve me a Herbalife shake for breakfast, but laughed with me when I broke out in laughter at the thought of ME drinking a weight-loss shake when what I really needed was something that would put some meat back on my rather lanky frame… 😛 It’s funny how when I travel, I loose weight even when I feel I do nothing but eat!

The lady showed me where the best food in the food court was, and pointed out her favorites, all the while talking about her friend in Bergen, and her involvment in CISV, Children’s International Summer Villages. I got her card, and she urged me to try volunteering for CISV when I return to Norway. After breakfast, I walked around the park for a while, looking at the wealthy and bored Bangkokians working out, or just enjoying a morning stroll in the painstakingly trimmed green lung in the middle of this smoggy metropolis. It is weird to think that only a few hundred meters away, people are struggling to eke out a living in the squallor of Bangkok’s slums…
When I came out of the park, a Tuk-Tuk driver immediately pulled up, as I was rifling through my Lonely Planet guide to come up with something else to pass the time. He asked me where I wanted to go, and looked a little confused when I said I didn’t know… A little explanation later, he understood my situation, and suggested to give me a tour of the main sights. I lied and said that I’d seen them all, and was just looking for a way to while away eight more hours. For some reason, Bangkok is not a city where I feel the need to see the temples, pagodas and museums, but I didn’t think I would be able to make him understand, seeing as I don’t really understand it myself. It’s just something about the city that tells me to observe the things that I accidentally come across, instead of seeking out the sights. The driver pointed out a couple of things within walking distance, wished me luck and a good journey, and drove off in search of people with a little more specific goals for the day…

I walked aimlessly up wide boulevards with noisy, polluting traffic and down narrow alleys with exotic, but by now familiar smells coming from the food stalls lining them, until I happened upon a Starbucks… I haven’t been to Starbucks since Xian in China around Christmas time, so I decided to treat myself to a Grande of Today’s special coffee, and surf the net. It turned out I have to pay for the web access, but the Columbian blend was completely worth it, although it cost twice as much as my entire breakfast in the park… I have gotten to actually enjoy the ice coffee with sweet condensed milk that’s served in street stalls and small side walk cafes, but a nice, hot cup o’ joe, black as sin and bitter as an old widower, consumed sitting feet-up on a soft leather couch in an airconditioned Starbucks is a luxury I’m thoroughly enjoying, and charging my laptop while I’m at it is an added bonus. 😉

Here’s hoping there’re rooms available in Koh Pha-Ngan tomorrow, so I don’t have to sleep on the beach. 😛

Four thousand islands in the Mekong river

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

On Thursday I got up early-ish, and headed out to the Thai embassy to get a visa. They are giving away 60 day visas until June 4, so I figured I’d take advantage of that. In the visa office I met a Norwegian-Swedish girl called Helena who stayed at the same guest house as me, and that I’d spoken to a bit the night before. It was a looong wait to get to the counter where I handed in my application and my passport, and then an almost equally long wait to the next counter where I got a receipt for it. We talked most of the time, and decided to do some sightseeing once we got out of there. We first went to see the golden stupa, Pha That Luang, which is a symbol of Laos both nationally and religiously, but it wasn’t all that impressive, to be honest. The best part of it was that we met a couple of monks that were sitting around studying English and Japanese, and they wanted to talk to us to practice their English. Helena had recently studied Japanese for a few months, so they accidentally got to practice their Japanese as well, while all I said was wakarimasen, I don’t understand… 😛
On the way back we went through the Patuxai, which is a symbol of peace, but looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Wat Si Saket as well, which was the only temple to survive the Siamese sacking of Vientiane in 1828, but it was closed, so we didn’t get in. We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant by the Mekong, where I ordered Mekong fish, and got a giant barbequed fish
on my plate, with some stickyrice on the side. 🙂

The next morning we met at breakfast in the guest house, and both had to go pick up our passports with the Thai visas, so we stuck together again. We stopped for lunch on the way, and almost got to the embassy to late. It was open till 3pm, and we got there at 2:59, but with the result that we were in and back out in less than a minute! That night we went out with two Brits and an Australian, to the same place at the Mekong riverfront. Me and Helena were planning to pick up dinner at the night market, but since the others were eating there, I couldn’t resist getting what they called a “hatched egg”, which basically means a boiled egg with a foetus inside… It looked thoroughly disgusting, but it tasted like a hard boiled egg. For dinner at the night market I picked up some beef jerkey, fried rice, a really nice sausage, something that turned out to be herbs and liver in an intestine, and a bag of deep fried beetles that looked like giant stink bugs… 😛 The food was good, but the beetle-snack was just salty and dry as dust, so I passed the bag around, and a Swedish guy ended up finishing it!

That night I got to talking to an Australian girl, Hannah, in my dormitory, who’d lost her passport and had been in Vientiane waiting for a new one for nine days. I told her I wanted to go out to Phu Khao Khuai National Park to go Elephant spotting, and she asked if she could come, so Saturday morning the two of us took a local bus out to the park, and a Tuk-Tuk to the nearest village, Ban Na. We found the office, had lunch, and headed out into the park. After a few kilometers we reached the Elephant Observation Tower, where we were going to spend the night with our two guides. They were two “for our protection”, but armed with flip-flops and umbrellas I’m not entirely sure they could do much than try to distract any giant pachyderm trying to attack us… We had a dip in the water hole where the elephants come to drink, and then settled in for a night of Elephant spotting. The tower is built right on a salt lick where they come to add some much needed minerals to their diet, by licking the salty rocks. It was a gorgeous night in the jungle, but the closest we got to wild elephants was a prodigious snort deep in the woods.

Sunday morning we headed out for a trek, and saw where the elephants had gone through last night. We went to a beautiful waterfall where we were playing around in the water for a while, and when we got back up, our things were literally COVERED in butterflies! I had to shake them off my camera bag to get out my camera, and it was hard to get good pictures, since they kept landing on the camera while I was trying to photograph them. When we were packing up to leave again, I had to wave the butterflies out of my backpack, camerabag and shoes… We stopped for lunch by another stream, and had another dip there to cool off in the killingly hot and damp jungle. A cool thing about that stream was that some of the water went under a ledge, and came bubbling out of a hole further down the stream, so it was like a natural jacuzzi!
We were back at Ban Na village a little before 3pm, and walked out to the river to catch a bus south to a place in the Mekong river called the four thousand islands. At a quarter to four a bus came past that was going to Pakse, and we got on it. Twelve hours later, we arrived in Pakse, where we had to wait for three hours before we could get a bus to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands. From the bus we got a ride on motorbikes down to the river, and then on a longboat across to the island of Don Det. We arrived at 11am, on Monday morning, a good 19 hours after we left… Needless to say, Monday was not a very active day on our part, we spent most of it in the hammocks on the terrace in our guest house, which is built on stilts over the edge of the Mekong. Here I met some Dutch girls that I spoke to in Vang Vieng, and that I might meet up with in Koh Panang on Sunday. This morning we’re planning to rent bicycles and go around the island of Don Det, and cross the bridge to Don Khon. Hannah has to go back to Vientiane tomorrow morning to pick up her new passport, while I’m staying another day before I head back to Thailand, and down south to the islands. The idea is to get to Koh Panang in time for the full moon party, the biggest beach party in the world. A lot of the travellers in South East Asia try to catch one of those while they’re here, and I expect to meet quite a few of the people I’ve met around the place in the past couple of months. 🙂

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

On Wednesday night my train left Bangkok a little past eight. I was travelling with Daniel and Joachim, whom I€ met in Pattaya, and in a bunk near us was a Dutch girl who was going to do an internship in the tourist industry in some National Park in Thailand. The girl was nice, and had a deck of cards, so we sat in the cafe carriage playing until they kicked us out. We returned to our own carriage, and probably kept people awake with our talking long into the night.

When we got up the next morning our train soon pulled into the city closest to the Laotian border, where we bought tickets for the final 15 minutes into Laos. We went through the Thai border control before boarding the train, and got our visas with surprising efficiency when we reached the other side. We shared a minibus with some other backpackers the 20 minutes ride into Vientiane, where Daniel, Joachim and I eventually found the bus station where the cheap local buses for Vang Vieng leave from. Apart from a couple of girls from Denmark, we were the only westerners on the bus. It was an old and rickety bus without aircon and with broken fans, but the windows were open, so I wasn’t too hot. One funny incident on the way, was when we passed an overturned pick up truck in the road. The truck lay on it’s side, and it’s load of fruit had been gathered up on the side of the road. The bus pulled over next to the truck and everybody got out. We promptly tipped the truck right side up, got back in our bus again, and continued on our way.

When we reached Vang Vieng I asked the Danes whether they had a guest house booked, because that’s often how I get to the cheap places to sleep, by leeching off of other people’s research, not to mention it’s a great conversation starter when you meet beautiful young women… 😛 They didn’t have a reservation, but we set out together to see if we couldn’t find a decent place anyway. The first one we stopped in had a nice laid-back lounge up front, with lots of DVDs, hot water, free wi-fi, a roof terrace, free drinking water, and basically seemed nicer than most places. Since we arrived at the same time, we were asked if we wanted a room for five people, and after a little deliberation and some overdue introductions, that became the arrangement, so that night we were five Scandinavians heading out to an Indian dinner together.

Vang Vieng is located in beautiful karst scenery, like Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, and this has been developed by the locals, to offer kayaking, climbing, caving and tubing. Seeing as the young crowd these things attract don’t necessarily have a lot of money, the place is set up to cater to backpackers, and the prices follow suit. The small town is packed with backpackers’ guest houses, restaurants-cum-TVroom that show Family Guy, American Dad or Friends non stop, not to mention bars galore. Thus, after dinner, Daniel, Joachim, Simone, Cecilie and I headed across a plank bridge to an island in the middle of the Nam Song river, and a place called Sunset Bar. The place is outdoors, but has platforms with roofs over for those rainy days, and hammocks and pillows strewn all along the platforms. We all really liked the place, and stayed there till it was time to head home to sleep.

Friday morning we all got ready to go tubing, which is the main attraction in Vang Vieng. That meant that we put on our swim suits, rented inner tubes from trucks’ wheels and got driven by Tuk-Tuk three kilometers out of town to a place in the river where we got dumped with our tubes to float our way back down on the river. All along the banks were bars with swings, zip lines, water slides, mud pits and the like, and we had a lot of fun. On the way, when we stopped along the banks, somebody took two of our tubes, though, but we decided to return the next day, and just swim down the river instead. 🙂 The mud pits were at the last place we stopped at, and we didn’t get all the mud off, so our bathroom was literally COVERED in mud by the time we’d showered. After some pizza we headed back to Sunset and the hammocks, but were so exhausted from tubing that we soon went back and to bed.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at one of the places where you lie down on pillows by a low table, and watch Friends. After breakfast we checked out of the Babylon, since the power was gone, the water was gone, internet wasn’t working, and the owner was a psycho who hauled Joachim out after his hair when he asked when the power might be  back… We checked into a much better AND cheaper room in the guest house next door, called Nazim. Like we had planned, we went back to the river without the tubes, and had a great time again, and again rounded off the night at Sunset after dinner.

On Sunday we decided to go explore a cave, after our long Friends-breakfast. We rented three scooters between the five of us, bought a map, and headed out of town. Some 15 kilometers out we turned off from the main road, and followed a gravel road a few hundred meters towards, and across the river. From there it was more of a path than a dirt road… 🙂 We finally reached the cave, where they rent out tubes and torches, and we started swimming into the cave. A tributary to Nam Song River runs out of the cave, and although you can wade in during the dry season, it’s been raining enough lately that we had to swim. The cave is apparently 500 meters long, but we didn’t follow it all the way to the end. It was a really weird experience to be floating around in a tube, deep inside a mountain! On our way back it got dark, and it was time for dinner. After dinner we decided to honour the Scandinavian tradition of a Vorspiel, before-party, in our hotel room, so we bought some beer, and sat around playing games and listening to Kim Larsen… 😀 Once again, we rounded off the night with our friends in Sunset, since that was THE place to meet people.

Monday morning saw us at the Friendsfast again, and I went tubing with the girls, while Joachim went for a looong ride on a rented scooter, and Daniel was stuck in bed with problems of a digestive nature. At the end of the  day’s playing in the river and dancing at the bars, we didn’t even TRY to rinse off the mud from the mud pit, and instead headed into town covered from head to toe, assaulting other, cleaner specimen of tubers… 😛 I thought the bathroom was dirty the first night after tubing, but after we’d helped each other get rid of all the mud on this day,  we had to shovel the mud from the floor! Even though it was still early, the others fell asleep as soon as they’d dried off from the shower, and in one case before, so I just headed out on my own for a baguette for dinner and went to bed myself.

Yesterday the boys headed back to Bangkok to get some clothes made and stuff before going back to Norway, and the three of us that were left moved into a smaller room in the same hotel. A slow day was spent watching Friends, buying bus tickets out of there, getting a massage, playing pool, and as usual rounding off in the hammocks. This morning the bus left at 10am, and we arrived in Vientiane around 2pm. I said goodbye to Simone and Cecilie at the bus station, where they were getting on a bus to Hanoi in Vietnam. I myself took a Tuk-Tuk downtown, and I’m finishing this post in my room here. There’s unfortunately no wifi here, but I’m hoping to get this posted somehow before I go to bed.

May 17 in Pattaya

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

May 15

I reached a decision as to where to head next on Wednesday, and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok for the following morning. The dreaded road from Siem Reap to the Thai border has been renewed, and is now one of the best roads I’ve seen in months. The border crossing was long, hot and tedious, and the wait for our connection from the border into Bangkok was just as bad, but around 6pm we were finally there. I tagged along with some other travellers from the same bus, and we found a cheap guest house in the pouring rain. The rainy season is just on time, and at least a shower is to be expected every afternoon, but that doesn’t make it any colder, only more wet… 😛

This morning we all went out for breakfast together, before I started looking for a way to get to Pattaya. A crowded inner city bus took me from the backpacker area around Khao San Road to Siam Square, and from there I got on the Sky Train. It’s been over six years since the last time I was riding that same line to my then hotel on Sukhumvit Road, with the aircon blasting, and an ingratiating female voice announcing the stations, my favorite being NANA, pronounced in a distinctive nasal voice… I got off next to the bus staion on Ekkamai, bought a ticket, and was on the bus about ten minutes later.

Last night I did a CouchSearch, and put out a request for a couch in Pattaya. When I arrived here, I found a place where I could use the net, Viking hotel and restaurant, and found to my surprise that the request went through, on such short notice! One of the girls working here let me borrow her cell to call the guy, and now I’m expecting him here in a few minutes.

Tomorrow I guess I’ll see if I can find the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, and on Sunday I’ll be celebrating there, with the Norwegian community here. I’m curious to see what it’ll be like, I’ve never been to an official celebration the Norwegian National Day outside of Norway before. When I lived in Italy we’d get together for a breakfast and some waving of flags, but here I’ve read they even have a march! 🙂 For all of you back home, enjoy the weekend, and have a good 17th of May, hipp hipp hurra!

May 16

So. Things don’t always work out as planned. The couchsurfer I was going to stay with showed up, but he had a Thai girl with him, and said I couldn’t come because she was going to stay with him. We went out for dinner, I met a couple of his friends, and I checked into a crappy guest house instead. Pattaya is known for the sex tourists coming here, but I had no idea to what degree before I got here. One of the couchsurfers’ friends was showing me around, since my host was “busy”, and the friend stated quite matter-of-factly that he’d slept with 20 girls in the past 10 days, but he did not consider himself a sex tourist, since he didn’t go with girls that wanted payment, only the opportunists looking for a rich husband. He was in his mid-thirties, doing his job over the net, and doing quite well for himself, so he put himself in a different category than the retired old men who come here for whores. Like he said, “they know that I’m only in it for the sex, and I know that they’re only looking to land a rich, western husband or lover and benefactor, so the playing field is level and we both know the rules…” He did not appear to have any qualms about taking advantage of the fact that these girls have only that one chance to find a way out of poverty, or even considering himself to be taking advantage of it. He was an otherwise nice guy, and wanted to show me more of the city today, but I didn’t know if I could take another evening talking to someone with opinions that deluded, so I claimed to have plans…

I found out in other ways too, why the Thais in Bangkok that I asked about how to get to Pattaya looked confusedly at me and wondered if I was sure I wanted to go there… There are at least two “Go go bars” or strip clubs on every street. The pubs that aren’t strip joints, have “bar-girls”, pretty girls who hang around and shout lewd suggestions at people walking by, or physically ambush them, to get them into the pub.  There are at least three massage parlors on every street, and two of them will offer a “happy ending.” The staff at any kind of establishment will also offer other services, like this example from yesterday: I needed to do some laundry, so I took a bag of my dirty clothes to a place that offered laundry service. One of the women working there sorted through the clothes, told me how much it would cost to clean and also wanted to know if I’d like to have sex with her while the clothes were being washed!

This morning I checked out of my guest house because it smelled too much of mould in the room, seeing as it had no window, except one facing the hallway… At noon I headed over to the church for the Saturday Rice Porridge, and met some of the people who live here. There were a lot of retired people, as I had expected, but also a couple of other backpackers, here to celebrate May 17 as well. I asked one of the volunteers there if there were any decent but cheap places to stay, and she was going to show the three of us to an OK place. One of the retired people I’d talked to over dinner, Liv, came over as I was talking to the other backpackers, though, and said she had a spare bedroom, and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a couple of nights! Here I am now, in a big appartment on the 31st floor, with my own bedroom and bathroom! 🙂 Tomorrow we’re getting a free May 17 breakfast at the church before Service, and later there’ll be the celebrations.

May 19

SjomannskirkenThe celebrations for May 17 were very nice. At ten am there was a short service outside the church, and then a proper Norwegian breakfast. At noon there was the parade, but the marching band was exchanged for a pick up truck with a sound system. 🙂 The parade ended on a big lawn, where there were the usual speaches, ice cream, hot dogs and games. Most of the time the weather was swelteringly hot, but we had a half hour of tropical rain as well… There were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, most of them retired people who’d moved out there, but there were a couple of other backpackers as well. They were going to Bangkok the next day as well, so after we’d spent the evening together, we made plans to meet up the next day and go together. We arrived back in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow we’re headed out to Laos on the overnight train.

We met some nice Brits in Bangkok last night, and with them, we tried crickets and some roachlike insects. They were pretty good, but they obviously look gross… 😛

Siem Reap – pool days

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

On Friday I did meet up with Patrick, and he brought a whole bunch of other travellers he’d met too. I ended up going to the night market with one of them, a British fella who’s name’s escaping me at the moment, and I had a weird and funny experience… We were walking through the market, and came upon a place where a bunch of people were sitting around a big fish tank, with their feet in the water. It turns out that these little fish, who live off of algae in the wild, love dead skin as well! So for three bucks we sat down, stuck our feet in the fish tank, and the fish flocked around our feet and started eating off the dead skin… It tickled at first, but then it was just a very strange, but pleasant feeling, and my feet probably haven’t been so soft since before I could walk! 😛

On Saturday I managed to find the place with the miniatures of Angkor Wat. It was cool to see how it looks from above, and I took some photos, but it was only interesting for about ten minutes… Saturday night I treated myself to Norwegian food at the Soria Moria hotel, where they offer everyting on their menu at half price on Saturdays before eight. I had a feast on Norwegian poached salmon, with boiled potatoes, carrots, cucumber salad and Sandefjordssmør, and for dessert I had Norwegian waffles with strawberry jam… Heaven!

On Sunday I managed to find an international church in Siem Reap on google, and I went to the service at the non-denominational Christian Fellowship of Siem Reap. It was quite nice, but I didn’t really get in contact with many people that go there regularly, although I did speak to a Danish couple who work for an organization operating orphanages in Cambodia.

Yesterday I decided I wanted to learn how to cook some traditional Cambodian dishes, so I headed out early, and signed up for a cooking class at a restaurant called Le Tigre de Papier. At 10am I returned, after a hearty breakfast and an interesting conversation with a German guy who has treasurehunting as a hobby… Not old treasures, but “treasures” left out by other afficionados! They hide something somewhere virtually inaccessible, take a note of the GPS position, and post it on the net, at geocaching.com, then others can go out and try to find the treasure…

Another German, Jan Eric, was the only other person doing the cooking class that morning. We met up at 10am, decided what we wanted to make, and then headed off to the market with the chef to locate the ingredients. We didn’t actually buy anything, but she showed us what everything looked like. As a starter I made Nem, Cambodian spring rolls, and my main course was Amok, a very famous Cambodian fish curry. Jan Eric made a mango salad, and a variation of the Amok with scallops. For dessert we boiled tapioca and bananas in coconut milk. It was DELICIOUS, and we shared the food we ate, but weren’t anywhere close to being able to eat everything!

After the cooking class we decided to head out to a place called Aqua, that Jan Eric had found the day before, which has a swimming pool with a bar in the middle, and a pool table, pun intended, where we played pool in our swimming costumes. 🙂 He went to Phnom Penh this morning, but I went back to lie in the sun and read, and float around in the pool with an ice coffe in my hand most of today. I am considering moving on into Laos soon, but I’m also thinking about heading to Thailand to spend the Norwegian Constitution Day, May 17, at the Norwegian Church Abroad, Sjømannskirken, in Pattaya.

Politics, religion, environment, health, work and commercials

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Wednesday March 11

Commercials
I’m sure it’s just me that’s blazé when it comes to advertisement but I have a feeling that the ads on billboards and TV down here are a tad on the naïve side. I mean it’s been a while since car and MC commercials back home were fronted by slogans like “Admiration Guaranteed!”, “Always In The Limelight,” “For Real Men,” “Are You Man Enough,” by a deep resonating baritone voiceover, while the hero is surrounded by beautiful young women… Or this amazing TV commercial for an all terrain car: “When you’re on your deathbed, what will you remember? The corner office? The corporate jet? Your portfolio?” *pan camera across gorgeous landscape, ending up at a 4wd on a cliff* “TATA SAFARI DICOR!”
Shampoo commercials are a tad less sex fixated, but they always make sure to throw in the word “Guaranteed” several times for good measure, without really letting on exactly WHAT is being guaranteed.

Religion
On Tuesday the Nepali hindus celebrated a different kind of religious holiday called Holi. I’m not entirely sure what the religious significance of the rituals are, but they consist of everything shutting down, then everyone who can walk, crawl or roll go out onto  the streets to throw water and smear paint on each other. I would’ve taken pictures, but I didn’t dare to bring a camera out into the mayhem… Biking down the street to the shop (which was futile, seeing as everything was closed) literally EVERYONE I saw, young or old, men and women, were covered in bright colors, and dripping wet!

Health
I’m guessing it’s not the most interesting thing to read about, but whenever my health is not as it should be, it is strongly on my mind, so I don’t give a crap. Or rather I do so way too often. For the fourth or fifth time in the past eight weeks I am suffering from diarrhea. This time around it’s a bit different, it started with a strong fever on Monday, and the diarrhea set in that evening. On Tuesday the fever settled down, but my neck got sore and stiff. This morning I went to the private clinic at Patan hospital with a stool sample and a description of my symptoms. It might be a recurring viral or bacterial infection, or it might be a chronic amoebic infection. I’ll get the answer from the lab tomorrow. Until then I will be taking antibiotics to help my stomach fight the infection, and rehydration powder to stop from getting dehydrated. The rehydration solution is basically sugar, salts and electrolytes that you dissolve in clean water, and that tastes like sweetened brackish water. No matter what it is, it will be a relief to find out, and get some professional assistance in killing it.

Politics
I had tickets to go to Royal Chitwan National Park on Monday, and come back today. I have not been to Chitwan, and it is not because of my health. Late last week there was a Bandha (demonstration/blockade) in the Terai region near the national park, and two people got killed. When this kind of thing happens, there are no systems in place to care for their families unless they are declared martyrs by the government. Now the local communities are blocking all the roads in and out of the area, and say that they won’t open them again until the government agrees to declare them martyrs. It seems quite safe to assume they will be declared such but it might take some time. There is a small chance I might be able to go on Monday March 16 instead, but that will be my last opportunity, as I leave Nepal on Thursday 19. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to go bathe elephants and spot rhinos and crocs and bengal tigers! *fingers crossed*

Environment
Elephants in Chitwan can bathe in the river, but the river here in Kathmandu is dry. I mentioned that the water situation is getting worse, and it’s escalating quickly. Kathmandu is now a city where only the rich have clean drinking water. Even the “clean” water needs to be uv-filtered to be drinkable, a single unfiltered drop swallowed can make you sick. However, the trucks that deliver water are now so over worked, and clean water has to be transported so far, that there’s a three week wait to get clean water delivered, and the clean water has become so expensive that a normal Nepali working family can not easily  afford it. You can still get dirty water at a lower price, but that’s so dirty you have to boil it to use it for washing. Kathmandu is a city of about a million inhabitants, and not enough clean water to keep sanitary standards to a necessary minimum. We all try to save water, but even I realize that flush toilets which use about 10 litres of water in a single flush are probably the biggest waste of clean water ever. When I shower, which I now have cut down to a couple of times a week, I stand in a little plastic tub, to gather up the water, so I can re-use that water to flush the toilet later. Still, I use over a thousand litres of water a week, and more when I have stomach trouble and need to flush more often. Right now I am out of water again, which means I have to climb into the cistern again, to scoop up some of the water that the pump doesn’t get to… Some technical genious ought to come up with a system that can effectively flush a toilet with a lot less water! (The squat toilets that are typical for Asia use less water, but they hardly ever flush clean, which is why they so often smell.)

Work
My time working here in Kathmandu is almost over, and although I’ve enjoyed it, I would have to think hard about staying here on a more permanent basis. I think I need a place with less filthy air, and definately closer to the sea! I am really looking forward to moving on, and to travelling Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with Annikken. Only about a week to go, and I am counting days!