Travel Blog: Week 32
17.06.2013 – 23.06.2013
Lazy morning. I woke up feeling about 150 years old. Every part of my body ached including my hands. We had breakfast at the Eco restaurant over the road – I had the big breakfast. Basically Laos version of the full English. I was hungry and relished every single mouthful. We stayed there all morning making use of the fast wifi and the fan. Another hot day.
I really couldn’t be bothered today. For some reason I was super tired and so just went back to the room and slept most of the afternoon while Nicole had a walk around the town and hired a bike. We met up again in the evening and bought food from the night market to take away. At last we had found somewhere that sold fresh spring rolls not to mention the papaya salad. The took the food back to the room and watched the movie which Nicole had rented from iTunes but had taken days to download. Coincidently, it was a Canadian film called ‘Picture Day’. Very entertaining for a night in.
That was the sum total of my day and I loved it!
Feeling much more energetic today and surprisingly hungry considering I’d done nothing the day before.
We had breakfast at the guesthouse and decided to rent a bike for the day. Nicole wanted to try out a bike with gears – it was more powerful and not just the usual stop start excellerator. I was happy to let her drive. We set off in search of a town in the north east – Muang Sing. It was about 60km away which in the beginning seemed easy. The scenery was amazing but 60km of pot hole filled roads, ups, downs, bends, oncoming traffic, and chickens and dogs running out into the road took its toll. By the time we arrived at the town neither of us could feel our bodies from the waist down. Oh the joy of the open road!!
The town was tiny with not much to see. We parked up and decided to go for a wander around. That’s when the bike toppled over and Nicole fell on her knee. Luckily it was not cut but badly bruised so we took some time to right the bike (with the help of a local who obviously knew much more about these things than I did), apply a cold can of coconut juice (the coldest thing in the nearby store) and elevate the foot. A good excuse to watch the world go by in this sleepy town. We stopped at a restaurant and had a mango smoothie – forgot to say no extra sugar so ended up with a drink so sweet I couldn’t finish it.
A very persistent women tried to sell us bracelet, necklaces, head bands, belts – we had to say ‘no’ to each and every item placed in front of us before she went away. Nicole did buy a bracelet so the woman went away almost happy. We carried on along the road – apart from a few locals and cows there was nothing much to see. We did see the road to the China border which was less than 10km away – an idea filled our heads. We jumped back on he bike did a and did a spin around the town. We found a market selling mostly food. Lots of green vegetables, but also herbs, spices, fruit and every part of a chicken, pig and cow. Even the intestines were hung up to dry. We also saw live chickens being traded and half expected to see them getting the chop, but it never happened. Maybe these were the egg layers.
We found a stall selling noodle soup and settled in next to the locals. I was about to ask for meat in my soup when I saw the pot of meat – some kind of blended concoction which could have been anything. I decided to stay vegetarian for this culinary event. The broth was pretty tasteless so needed lots of the assorted sauces, herbs and spices left on the table. It was not the best soup but it kept us going.
We were heading for the border. We passed rice fields and could see the mountains in the distance. At last we saw the border. Nothing to write home about – just immigration, passport control and a red and white barrier. We could go no further but this was the closest I’d ever been to China.
Before we knew it we were counting down the last 5ks and then were back.
Tired and dusty we showered, changed and had dinner at the guest house. I decided to brave the Spag Bol – it was delicious. Ahhh, pasta I’ve missed you. I also got spring rolls most of which would be kept for the bus trip tomorrow. I booked my ticket back to the border by local bus, where I would hopefully collect my passport and new visa, then onto Chiang Mai by minivan.
I made a quick trip to the night market to buy a locally woven bed throw I’d seen the night before and my new favourite snack of dried banana – both places were closed!!
An earlyish night to pack the few things I’d bought with me and bed. It would be a relatively early start in the morning.
Awake at 6:30 for a 7:30 pickup. Nicole and I had time for a last chat before we separated – the first time for about a month. I had very little KIP left, which was great, but it meant by food options were limited. I order breakfast from the guesthouse to take away and stocked up on water.
I met two other guys doing the same trip as me, David from Germany and Peter from Denmark, and we all waited for the transfer to the bus station. We had been told the local bus left at 8. It was after 8 when our ride arrived but we still made the bus.
It was packed and rather cramped. This was going to be a fun 4 hours. We stopped a few times and more people got on. The time passed quickly – I enjoy moving and watching out of the window, as long as you can ignore the driving (madness). Villages came and went, children playing along the side of the road, dogs sleeping, roosters coc-a-doodle-doing every now and again, a near miss with a piglet and a toilet stop. Soon we were at the border and we could stretch our legs. It was around 1pm and we thought we were leaving at 3pm. In fact the boat across the river was 3 and the minivan 4:30. Time to kill and very little money between us. I was actually rich compared to the boys. 15,000KIP versus their 2,000 between them. We pooled resources and bought water. Played cards and I collected my passport with the all important 60 day tourist visa.
I eased through Laos departure immigration and Thai arrival immigration. I was back in and with 60 days to play with. We were taken to somewhere to sit and wait for the bus. Free wifi was a bonus. We saw tourists come and go and gave them some tips for what to do in Laos. I even bumped into some guys I met in Pia weeks before. It’s quite common to cross paths with the same people here. I’ve heard many stories were travellers have met up 4 or 5 times in different places.
I tried to find a mobile top up provider as I wanted to call the place I had rented to check in early. My phone was out of credit – over here the phone provider sends texts updates and charges you for them so even if you don’t use your phone you can find you are out of credit. Did I tell you that already!? No luck with credit or with food. Bananas was all we had and I was starting to feel like a banana.
The mini van didn’t leave until after 5 and then it drove in a big circle and we arrived back at the border. Grrrr – I’m not good in these situations. I was originally expecting to leave at 3pm and now it was 5:30pm. We would be late into Chiang Mai and I still needed accommodation. From experience I know many reception desks close at 7 ish. We would arrive well after that. There was nothing for it but suck it up and enjoy the ride. At last we got moving.
There was loads of space in the van so we all had a chance to stretch out and have a bit of a snooze. It was a five hour journey and it rained most of the way. There were a few pick ups and drop offs along the way but mostly we kept on truckin’. I had been dark a while by the time we reached Chiang Mai. We were dropped near the east gate to the old town. Peter immediately swung into action. He waved down a Song Tao and we were off to a backpackers he knew. It was quite the happening place and more importantly it was still open and willing to take in 3 waifs and strays. We all bunked in the same room which was like a sauna but was clean and comfortable. We opened the door and window and soon the heat was bearable enough to sleep – its always a toss up between being cool and being bitten by the mossies. We were all tired and hungry – there’s only so many bananas you can eat in a day. I’d grabbed a bag of cookies from reception and that was enough to keep me going tonight. I got ready for bed whilst the boys went out for food.
It was a fitful night. It was so warm. We did have a fan but as I was on the top bunk the moving air never seemed to reach me. I did get some sleep and the boys must have been quiet when they came in last night. However, my legs were dotted with bites – not sure if they’re mosquito or flee – but something had a feast.
I think it was around 8 when I eventually ventured to the bathroom, averting my eyes from the two scantily clad 20 year old boys I’d shared a room with, and showered, dressed and headed downstairs in search of food. I was Hank Marvin! The menu was great and I treated myself to bacon, eggs, beans and toast. The boys turned up shortly after. We said our goodbyes and I headed to find my new home. Hope they could put me up a few days early. I wasn’t quite sure where I was, but I knew it was within the walls of the old town and the good thing about that is that you’re never very far away from somewhere you recognise. Sure enough I soon found my way.
The good news, actually no the fantastic news, was that I could have my room early. I took my bags up the two long flights of stairs, which will help get me fit, closed the door to my room and sighed a huge sigh. This would be my home for a month and would allow me to rest, relax, have a base from which to travel light and generally chill. This area has such a great vibe and I’m sure will have everything I need for a while.
I had an easy day. Unpacked, did two lots of laundry in one of the road side coin machines using proper washing liquid and fabric conditioner, bought stuff from the market, watched a bit of crappy TV (at least it was in English) and just got settled. My clothes haven’t smelt this good since my time with Ange and Nigel in Oz.
Before I knew it the day was over and I switched off the light – happy to know I wouldn’t need to pack and move for a while.
I slept so well!
Took it easy and went to Addy’s for breakfast with added cereal and yoghurt from the bakery. Bliss!
I collected provisions from the market so I could make some lunch. So wonderful to eat something fresh rather than fried all the time. I’m sure I’ll crave the local food soon enough but for now a spicy salad was all I wanted. The selection here is mind blowing and much of what is on sale is still unknown to me. Maybe over the next few weeks I’ll give them a try. My salad ingredients, bananas and a big bag of lycée was my lot today.
As I turned the corner back to my new home “Dream House” there was piano music coming from the corner coffee house. It was so good a bought a smoothie and sat and listened for a while.
Back in my room a made lunch and just chilled. It’s such a pleasure to have peace and quiet and the choice to do nothing if I so desire.
In the afternoon a walked around the north gate area. I hadn’t really seen much of this side so decided to have a look. It’s still so hot and you constantly have that sweaty, sticky feeling. So walking very far is a bit of a non starter. I found different cafes, shops (including a beauty store with a lady boy serving behind the make up counter – that’s a first), more temples and the hill tribes craft store. It was packed with hand made products from all the hill tribes in this area and they were priced similarly to the nigh market. I bought a couple of things happy to support the traditional crafts.
OK, so now it was Friday night…….what to do? I took a quiet stroll around the old town. I also ventured into the most rocking corner I’ve found so far. This is where the densest population (that could mean 2 things) collect at night. Various tracks blasting from all angles as well as the obligatory flame dancers. Not somewhere I lingered for very long.
Nicole came and met me at my room. We sorted out her flight for the next day and headed out for breakfast. With so much dawdling and window shopping this turned into lunch. We went to Blue Diamond again and shared a salad and fish cakes. Sadly, Nicole didn’t like the fish cakes which meant I gallantly finished them all myself – its a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.
I took the plunge today and got my haircut at a little place recommended by Waew – my landlady. A tiny place so tucked away that Waew took the three of us on the bike. Just so we’d find it. It was tiny and so was the hairdresser. She looked about 10 with long hair down to her waist. Always apprehensive about getting my haircut I too a seat at the sink. Oh my god, what luxury to get my washed with a head massage. She also knew her stuff. In no time my locks had been snipped and looked Moore cared for than they had in a while. Not only did I get my hair washed, but a blow dry and straighteners. All this for, wait for it………£3!!! Even if I did look a bit like I’d stepped out of a 70s band.
The afternoon was lazy and we took ourselves off to the cinema. Another great film – ‘Mud’. Getting out of the complex was much tougher than getting in. Apart from the cinema everything else had closed. After trying various options we ended up leaving via the car park down the spiralling car exit. Never done that before. No Song Taos in sight so we started walking back along the main highway. Eventually we got a lift and not long after a one armed man who designed surf boards, and built them in a factory here, also jumped in – i kid you not, i dont have the imagination to make these things up. He shared his story with us and also suggested some great places to visit. We jumped out and grabbed street food for dinner.
This morning I met Nicole at her place just outside the old town. Not the easiest to find but I managed it……eventually.
Bless her, it was our last morning together and she presented me with a wonderful card, beautifully written as always, and a bed throw. The one I never got to buy in Laos because the store was closed on my last night.
We went to the bakery on the corner and met the charming owner who so reminded me of a Thai Shirley Bassie. A collector of fine antiques, a pianist, artist and cafe owner. What a women. Her English was outstanding too. I had the best club sandwich and feeling totally decadent we had cheesecake for afters. The morning and early afternoon whiled away.
Time to get off our butts and do something. We took out the bike which gave me a chance to practice my road skills. We hadn’t gone far when I had a very close shave with a car. A little shaken but totally OK (Mum, Dad – we really were fine) we pulled over and rethought our plans. I wanted to continue my practice alone so Nicole wandered around on foot. I needed to get gas and somehow found myself heading out of town with the fuel needle on empty – past empty actually. Just to add o the excitement it started to pour with rain. Not the time to be wearing a white top!!!! I was on a highway but managed a quick u-turn back and almost within the same breath a gas station. I half filled the tank and waited out the rain, and waited and waited. At last it subsided and I took the road back into town. By now my confidence was back and I felt at ease around the roads. I took a spin around the old town before parking up.
I chilled for the rest of the afternoon. Nicole and I had an evening at the Sunday market which would need all our shopping energy.
As usual the Sunday market was heaving. We started at the east gate where we started well on the food front – fresh spring rolls, fried taro, dim sum and mango sticky rice. We also had successful shopping – Nicole bought a potential wedding gift for friends, I found a bargain handmade leather belt bag from a very passionate (sadly, only about his work) craftsman, and a going away gift for Nicole. Then out onto the main drag through the market, more food, more bargains, more food, more shopping and some special moments – a beautiful young girl performing a traditional Thai dance in the street to help fund her tuition, an old man selling hand made singing spinning tops (this so reminded me of my grandfather who was an expert at the Diablo) one of which I bought, a young man trying out the traditional Thai flutes at a market stall (how wonderfully he played) and the children laughing and playing simply in the streets. Time for a foot massage. We originally went for 39 minutes but soon realised we would only be able to leave if we took the hours massage. A mixture of pleasure and pain and all wrapped up in deep discussion with my friend and travel companion, Nicole. What a way to spend our last evening.
NB:- I’m taking a week off from writing next week. It’s time for a break!