Posts Tagged ‘night train’

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.

Kazan – minarets and church towers

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Grave of the Unknown SoldierMe at Red SquareYesterday I took the metro downtown, and walked around Moscow, but not really for long. I saw the changing of the guard at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, with the soldiers marching in that peculiar way without bending their knees! Then I went to the Krasnaya Ploschad, Red Square, took a picture of Lenin’s tomb, and marvelled at St.Basil’s cathedral. The cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561, after Ivan the Terrible’s victory over the stronghold of Kazan, where I am now. Then I walked around the Kremlin, before I went to meet the couchsurfer, Arthur, who helped me get the train ticket.

The Moscow metro is worth a mention. Most of the stations, at least those close to town, are almost breathtaking in their decoration. Taking a trip on the circle line, and getting off on each station, to walk around for a few minutes, is like being in the world’s busiest art gallery! Another thing I’ve noticed is that russians read a lot! I’ve seen countless people at the metro, dangling around from one arm, with their gaze firmly stuck to a book in the other hand!

After I’d gotten a ticket for the night train at 00:35, I went back home, and had some supper. I spent almost an hour getting what I needed for a really good Russian meal, in an overcrowded supermarket at a mall near Kievskaya. When I finally reached the check out, however, the cash registry broke down… I literally left my groceries on the counter and walked out. I went to another supermarket, but by then I was so hungry that I grabbed a frozen pizza and some coca cola…

My host Jimmy with his kitten               I spent a nice evening with my host Jimmy and his two cats, before I went to catch the train to Kazan. Being me, I was of course a bit on the late side, so when I reached the Komsomolskaya metro station, I had to RUN to Kazanskii station to catch the train. (You try running with a full 85 litre backpack on your back, and a stuffed daypack on your stomach, and you’ll soon find out that it’s not necessarily a good idea…) I managed to huff and puff, soaked through with sweat, up to the train as it was about to move out. Luckily the provodnitsa (train car manager) let me on! As soon as I got through the door, it closed, and the train started moving.

My two train trips so far have been on “platzkartny” in an open sleeping car, which is the lowest fare you can get and still have a “bed”, and it feels quite safe.  So far I haven’t met anyone who speaks English on the train, but everyone is very eager to try to communicate, and I had hardly even sat down on the the train last night before the guy next to me insisted I try some of the food he’d brought! After a while we made our beds, and climbed in. A roll-out-mattress, pillow, woollen blankets, clean linen and a small hand towel are included in the price, and handed out by the provodnitsa. It is, however so excruciatingly hot in the trains, that the blankets are absolutely superfluous. To put it that way, if my bedroom at home was that hot, I’d forego both pajamas, blankets and sheets. I lay on my bunk watching a couple of episodes of a tv show I have on my computer, before trying to go to sleep, but because of the heat it got pretty late before I managed. When I woke up around 10:30 this morning, the view from the window was hypnotizing, with the White Birch standing amidst the black trunks of other trees, like ghost trees, and all covered by a thin layer of the year’s first snow, and still some snow drifting through the air.

Kul Sharif MosqueThe train started moving right on time, but at my arrival in Kazan it was an hour late, so I got here around 14:30 instead of 13:25. Pavel, my host, had taken time off from work to come meet me at the station, and hence lost an hour more of work than planned! Pavel is actually not a couchsurfer, but he lives with his boyfriend, Michael, who is. Michael, however, is out of town but Pavel has agreed to host me nonetheless. He’s a really nice guy; not only did he wait for me at the station for over an hour, he’d also bought me food, so I could eat as soon as we got home.  He’s at work again now, but tonight he’s taking me to a sort of show that some of the international students here in Kazan are putting on, so I’m having a latin-american evening in Russia!

I also need to get train tickets to Yekaterinburg, preferably for late tomorrow night, because I unfortunately need to keep moving, if I’m going to be able to get out of Russia before my visa runs out on November 30.