Posts Tagged ‘Vientiane’

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. πŸ˜›

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. πŸ™‚ 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… πŸ˜›

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. πŸ™‚

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 shiningΒ  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. πŸ™‚ 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… πŸ˜› 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. πŸ˜‰

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

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… πŸ˜›
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. πŸ™‚

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… πŸ˜› 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. πŸ™‚

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… πŸ˜› 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. πŸ™‚ 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 beΒ  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… πŸ™‚ 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… πŸ˜€ 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 theΒ  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… πŸ˜› 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,Β  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.