Chilling about in Thailand and Lao


I met up with Charlotte in Chiang Mai (a friend from London , and we decided to travel together for a bit). It kind of makes things a little easier I think, especially when meeting new people. Conversations seem to flow a little easier if there's someone else to carry it occasionally.

 We spent a couple of days in Chiang Mai, just chilling. Met a nice couple from Manchester, some lads from Ireland (hooligans) and a Dutch guy, so there were a few rowdy nights in the local pub (the one run by the English guy that I was talking about). I've not got much idea about days and dates (I seldom even know what the time is anyway). There only seem to be 4 times; Daytime, Nighttime, Hungrytime and ponkytime.

 One morning we got up early and rented a couple of motorbikes from just round the corner to go exploring.Pretty decent bikes too. 125cc Honda Dream 4-stroke things. So riding them didn't sound like being chased by an angry wasp. Crash helmet in the basket (it is the law to where them in Thailand , but no-one does. It's too hot) and off to try and find a nearby National Park. 1 hour later we were still going round in circles in the chaos of Chiang Mai trying to find the right road out, in the end I think I was stopping every third person to ask directions.

 Once we were out onto the open road though it was great fun. They have a kind of extra little lane at the side of the road for motorbikes (and they drive on the left in Thailand ) and anyway, every vehicle was giving us a massive berth. Crazy farang (Their word for foreigner) keep well clear seems to be the attitude. It took about an hour or so to find our way to this waterfall that was in my guidebook, what views. Jungle, mountains, little villages; Breathtaking. Stopping at little cafe's for drink breaks. What the guide book neglected to mention, was that the waterfall only has any bloody water just after the rainy season. Opps!!! I've seen more impressive water flow by pulling the flush on a toilet.

Talking of toilets. Should I talk of toilets? I'll save them I think, they are a tale in themselves.

 Right back to the bikes. Oh, and how cool was I. Shorts, white t-shirt, Oakley shades (or a cheap Thai rip-off anyway). Tom Cruise would have been jealous. Jer Topgun. At least until I took my t-shirt off. I still haven't quite managed to get rid of my stripy T-shirt suntan, serves me right.

The bikes jer, the bikes. There's more (bored yet?) Waterfall rubbish, go elsewhere. So we headed of to another nearby part of the national park that was on my map. What a top place. There was a rapid river flowing over little rocks, with loads of little rapids and hundreds of Thai kids. It must be a real popular Thai daytrip place. Across the river, in a kind of wooden shed/house/garage/hut/god knows thing was an older Thai lad with a guitar, The Cranberries seem to be a real big deal in Thailand and he started playing Zombie. Then we had about 40 or 50 Thai kids all screaming 'Zombie, Zombie, Zombie' at the top of their lungs (probably for our benefit), but it was hilarious.

We decided to head for Lao the next day (mostly because Charlotte 's visa had run out and there is a 200baht fine per day for overstay. 200baht isn't a great amount, about 3quid - but that goes a long way in Thailand and even further in Lao). Now the nightmare; not really, but actually getting somewhere is by far the worst bit for me (especially as I just can't sleep on public transport and some of the journeys take ages).

 Getting to Lao --------------

This involved getting up at 4:30am (Yish!!!), we'd already arranged with our local friendly tuk-tuk driver to be there at 5 to take us to the bus station. Sure enough, there he was. erm.. I mean there she was. There He - she was...Bizarre. It was just like the taxi driver from the League of Gentleman (Babs). A dire effort at a bloke being a lass. Oh, and talking of ladyboys, they even set up a big stage in the middle of the market and had a ladyboy competition. Too much - One of them even had a full on beard.

 Get's I to the bus station, to get a public bus to Chaing Khong, which is the only place up north like where farang (this is pronounced falang, by the way, for those of you who are reading aloud) can leagally cross into Lao. The first challenge was finding which crazy bit of Thai script meant Chaing Khong, so I knew which darn window to stand at to purchase oneself a ticket. I managed to suss this in the end, from some book or other, because the last letter (or picture. don't understand their alphabet of nuffin like that yet) looked like a bloke head-butting a leaning door; perfect. Except, here was only one person at the windows, and she wasn't at the window I wanted, and there was a huge queue of Thai people at her window anyway. And then Jer, stood at the next window all on me tod and the queue wasn't getting any shorter either. New people were arriving as fast as she could serve them and nothing is fast in Thailand . The go at their own speed. That's just the way it is. The strangest thing of all is that it just doesn't bother me. ME? Mr. Patient himself. Here it's not a problem. It's the way things are. C'est la vie, non? And I've seen westerners getting angry too. Nothing seems to amuse the Thai more than a stupid red faced angry shouting western plonker. (Fortunately, I've only seen a couple and most people just seem to get into the swing of things here).

What was a talking about? Oh yeah, stood at a window, being ignored with the bus departure time getting ever nearer. In the end I did have a wee soupcon of panic, and managed to attract the attention of someone else who had arrived behind the windows. (She was having a fag and a rummage in her bag I think).In the end I needn't have worried, someone came in the end to serve me with plenty of time to spare.

 Then the bus. Not nice. Not nice at all. Not made for wide-arsed westerners like myself that's for sure. It's a good job I was with Charlotte, who is tiny, or we'd have been taking it in turns sitting in the isle. As it was we had to synchronise our breathing. I breath in - You breath out and vice versa. I'm joking, but it was a right squash and no mistake. Charlotte says - 'I can't sleep on buses', followed 30secs later by snoring in my ear. Thanks - I'm SO jealous of people who can do that (sleep on buses that is, not snore in my ear). 700 million thousand trillion hours later, we get to Chaing Khong. 7 hours really, but that's what it felt like. Some of the journey was ok, especially when we went up into the mountains. The views were breath-taking. Although the road was pretty hairy and bendy in places, with some sheer drops down into god knows what and the bus drivers are lunatics. They think nothing of overtaking on blind corners (mainly I think, because the whole country is made up of blind corners). He'll just lean on his horn; stick his lead slipper on, and hurtly round whatever bizarre tractor fused with motorbike thing that happens to be crawling along the road. Sleep probably a good idea.

We arrived in Chaing Khong at 3ish in the afternoon and the border shuts at 5:30pm , this was the first time I got myself proper stressed. Not with anyone else, but just at the situation. Chaing Khong was a dump and I really didn't fancy spending the night there (and it would have meant another 200baht fine for Charlotte ), but we hadn't sorted out a Lao visa or anything. Most people do it either in Bangkok or Chaiang Mai before they leave, but hey, I'm not most people. We finally found this little guesthouse on a dusty lane that offered a Lao visa service in 30mins. We got charged double the price mind (The visa cost about 20quid altogether (not bad really and nowhere near as expensive as Cambodia or Vietnam , but another day for that). We had to let them take our passports away. Obviously, this is just the biggest NO NO. Never let your passport out of your sight, it what everyone says but it was ok and we had visas by 4.

Then a wee ride on a ferry across the Mekong and I was in Lao for my first time. My 4th country in a week I think; England - Jordan - Thailand - Lao. So cosmopolitan I am.....

We were in a little town called Houy Xai. Not a great deal there, but it is nice enough. My guide book (The Rough Guide to Lao) was just the best thing I've ever bought I reckon. It has little maps of all the towns, with descriptions of the guesthouses and places to eat. It's been invaluable. We went to one called Arimid. WOW!!!! Little bamboo hut's on stilts, with thatched roofs, a luvley restaurant and a short stroll down to the river. Met a couple there called Andy and Rachel that have since become real good friends. He's a dispatch rider in London and she's a French/English translator. They've recently bought a house in Brittany , so I see a few convenient French holidays on the horizon. J The Loa lady who owned the guesthouse also used to be a french teacher (Lao being a former French colony and all), so communication was much easier. Some of my school boy French even came back to me; j'habite a La Rochelle and J'ai onze ans. Very useful.

The only real way out of Houy Xai is down the Mekong . It's a 2 day journey by slow boat to Louang Prabang (the capital of Lao's Northern Province ) or a 6 hour speed boat journey. The guide book describes the slow boat journey as a 'Once in a lifetime experience'. So we bought a 2 day ticket for the slow boat. Now see, I misunderstood completely. I think what the guidebook must have meant was 'There's no way you'll ever want to do this more than once in a lifetime'. It was hell. Loads and loads of tourists packed like sardines onto this long thin boat (they wouldn't even let you on the roof - and they were the most unfriendly people I've met so far) and it took ages. 7 hours again I think. Pure torture. We had some big hairy dumbass brit-abroad ugly witch sat near us with a bottle of whiskey. More and more drunk and more and more annoying. I considered throwing the dumb cow overboard. Oh, and Charlotte ? Straight to  sleep of course.

pretty.jpgBoats don't travel the Mekong at night, so we stopped in a tiny little village called Pakbeng. No electricity, a couple of guesthouses and rows of people trying either to force you into a particular guesthouse (they're all on commission) or sell you opium. Probably, so they could then go and grass you up to the local police. That's a big scam here, but you'd have to be a bit of a plank to fall for it; people do and you hear the horror stories. The look on people's faces when we got of the boat in Pakbeng was classic. You'd think someone had pulled up an elephant turd and asked them to sleep on that. I loved it there. Weird init? It was the guidebook again, it recommended a guesthouse that was the furthest away and it wasn't too bad. After I'd managed to kick Charlotte up the hill (she's none too keen on walking with her rucksack). There was no electricity, because they couldn't get their generator to work. But there was a bed with a mosquito net and a candle. What more does one need? We went out to find somewhere with a generator to get some food and managed to choose the same restaurant as the rowdy-hag from the boat. Oh well. I think she was in a bit of a mess by then, so she was looking more ill than rowdy. Bless!!

 Laou Lao - The very necture of Bhudda himself. I love the stuff. Sticky rice is a big thing in Lao. You take a handful, roll it in to a little ball and dip it into various soups and sauces and things. Good fun! But Laou Lao, is a rice whisky that they make from sticky rice. I can't equate the taste to anything really, but its fire water, makes your legs drunk and taste's lurvley.

Once I'd finally re-mastered the art of standing and walking I swayed back up the hill to my guesthouse, sat outside with a battered guitar was the young Lao owner (he was 27 I later found out). He had the most beautiful voice, and after I expressed an interest he came up to the balcony (where there were some really comfy leather chairs) and played and sang some Lao drinking songs for us. Then I played some classical guitar for him. (His guitar really was mashed. One of the strings was a bicycles brake cable) and I wasn't much less mashed either from me Lhou Lao.But he loved it. Bestest buddies. He was a student in Louang Prabang for half the year studying computers, so when hefound out that I worked with computers too, even bester buddies. His English was quite sparse, and my Lao way sparserer but we managed (helped by the big bag of weed that he fetched from somewhere perhaps). J He was saying. With me and you it is 50 - 50. A lot of farang come here and think that they are better than the Lao people. He was really appreciative of the fact that I made an effort. I got my walkman and speakers out in the end and we sat around drinking more Lao whiskey, smokingbig fat ones and listening to the Fun Lovin' Criminals. Life's so tough. - I'd much rather be sat on the M6 in the rain looking at all the other miserable people. People here have a fraction of what people back home have but they are much happier on the whole I'd say. I've only been here just over a week so obviously I'm no expert, but that's the impression I get.

I COULD NOT face that flipping slow boat again. NO WAY !!! So Andy and Rachel a Danish couple, Charlotte and I did the journey from Pakbeng to Louang Prabang by speedboat. Top fun. Ear pugs in, crash helmet on (the driver arranged us in the boat so that the weight was spread evenly) and off we hurtled. Got totally soaked, but it was great. The scenery was changing fast enough to remain interesting and Charlotte .... fell asleep. Unbelievable! It was so noisy! I even had to catch her to stop her falling out of the boat at one point and she head butted Rachel when she nodded off. I suspect Narcolepsy ...

Posted on Saturday, May 20, 2006 at 17:40 by Registered CommenterJam | CommentsPost a Comment