After my adventures in
I really enjoyed myself in Chang Mai before and was determined to do so again, and see some more of the city. The main reason for the trip was for self improvement, I was going to learn a little about Thai Cookery, and a fair amount of Thai Massage. It was the festival of ‘Yee Peng’ when I arrived, and all day and all night the sound of fire works breaks the air. During the day, it is relatively quiet with a stray firework being lit on average once a minute, usually by one of the monks. In the evening however all hell breaks loose, with informal recreations of battles raging round you constantly. You head home after getting caught in the thick of it with a case of shell shock. Your ears are ringing, the smell of gun powder clogs the nose and you can't quite remember the way home as you are now feeling quite dazed and confused. The festival lasted 3 days and to tell you the truth it was a relief when it was all over.
I decided that I had better brush up on my culinary skills as I have not cooked for myself since leaving on this trip. There is little point in me trying as it is more expensive and wasteful, if it is even possible, for for me to cook than it is to go to a restaurant or eat in the hotels here. The cooking course was a lot of fun, as we learnt to whip up six good dishes. The real question is if I am still able to make spring rolls, and Pad Thai, as They would be very useful.
The Massage course was really rewarding and I was given one to one tuition eight hours a day for three days. By the end of it my hands were hurting and I needed a massage myself. I learnt a lot in a short period of time and completed round about 25 hours of massages before being let out to try this in the real world. And just a few days later I had a few victims to try out my skills on.
My last day in Chang Mai I visited Doi Sutep which is on a hill 16 km from town. I though that this would make a nice stroll for the morning.
It was quite a bit harder than I had imagined and by the end of it was simply dripping in sweat in the hot and humid air. As card and trucks passed my you could see the drivers and passengers shake their heads at me with pity, while others laughed. I think they thought I was mad, and three hours, a blister and three litres of water later I was inclined to agree with them. The temple itself was a glittering golden structure that shines on the top of the hill overlooking Chang Mai with friendly monks who seem to enjoy talking to stupid tourists who know very little about Buddhism.
After my educational experience in Chang Mai I decided it was defiantly time to see a beach or two. Krabi on the
Here the rocks were no longer vertical but curled right overhead. The good climbers from the previous beach here was replaces by trainee spidermen. Clinging to surfaces that were parallel to the ground in a manner that seemed to defy gravity. I could not even manage to make one move up the cliff before I realised that I just was not cut out for that kind of sport. At least for the time being.
I left wolf again, happy as Larry and headed across to Ko Phi Phi. The island where the fill the Beach was filmed. It was however a disappointment and was far from being the tropical utopia that was portrayed. It had more of the feeling of Benidorm, and the accommodation was all very expensive. After just a single night there, I was on the move again on to Ko Lanta, which was for me at any rate a utopia. Wide open and empty beaches, relaxed evenings and I had a beautiful bamboo bungalow all to myself.
Time just seemed to flow effortlessly there and before I knew it I had to make my way down to
I headed out to
So not a very good tale today, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
On leaving the Internet Cafe I little man stops and chats to me in the street as naturally as a cow chews the cud. We chat for 5 minutes or so and he asks me where I was from. I tell him that I was from Scotland, and he exclaims that his daughter was going to Scotland soon to be a nurse. He asked if it would be OK if I spoke with her about Scotland to help her get prepared for her move. I have to say at this I as a little suspicious, but agreed as it is nice to help where you can.
As soon as I agree, he flags down a taxi and he jumps in, with myself following a little more slowly. We drive out of town towards the airport, and something in my head was buzzing and saying 'Keep your wits about you'. I was paying attention to all the road signs and looking for land marks of which there were plenty. We arrive at what was supposed to be his house but had now become the flat of his brother-in-law and get out of the taxi only after I had paid for it.
The flat was nice and the patter of speech in English I could tell was for my benefit to try and relax me. It did the opposite, and watching those two guys explain the daughter was still at the hospital tending to her sick grandmother was like watching a spoof of a badly acted soap opera. Anyway the offered me a cup of coffee, which I accepted, but should not have thinking about it. (Drugging is known to happen) They said she should not be too much longer and did I know how to play cards. The buzzing in my head earlier had now become a chain saw and I could almost guess what was about to happen.
We went through into the next room another was a little card table set up and ready to go. After I sat down, he explained this method of cheating at cards, using a combination of hand signals. The second he finished, the phone rang and the best part to the soap was about to begin. It turns out that this friend from Jordan had just arrived at the Airport and wanted to do a little bit of gambling, in fact he wanted to do a lot. He I was told had just made $38,000 and why did we not try and take some of this off him and split the money.
He hands me $250 to play with and as much as I try and give it back he is insistent. I get the feeling I was being a hard customer, by not already handing over a big chunk of notes. Anyway that second his friend from Jordan walks in and introduces himself in a strong Thai accent and slaps US$2000 on the table to buy some chips.
It was at this point I started to wonder if I was going to get out ofthis one alive let alone with any money. I started to sweat in the coolair conditioned room. Play commences and I am winning but refuse to touchthe cards my self as I do not want to get involved anymore than Icurrently am. Play continues, and I am really starting to feel sick nowas I feel like I am starting to fall down a long dark slippery hole.
We get to a point in the game where there is more than $1000 dollars on the table and all that is needed for me to win is $20. When I as that I am sorry and cant put the money in, play immediately stopped, and the guy from Jordan walks out with hardly a word. The uncle says that he does not blame me for the loss. I I’m promptly told the daughter is not coming and I am more or less shown straight out the door.
A wave of relief swept over as I got out and found my way back to a taxi. The little guy with the non-existent daughter followed me back and was trying to back up his story all the way back. I toyed with the idea of getting the taxi to take me to the police, but I realised, that the little guy could get nasty, or the police would be completely ineffectual.
So what’s the conclusion? Don’t get in cars with strange men is one. Keepyour wits about you, another. And finally there is always another scamaround the corner in Bangkok.
Crossing over the Friendship bridge from Lao to Thailand was a fairly uneventful experience, in-fact it has been the most organised and chaos free border crossing so far. The only thorn in our side was that we left Lao with around $100 US worth of the Laotian Kip, which is about 4 months
salary for the average person there. The street side currency exchange ladies, managed to give us one of the worst exchange rates ever and we walked out 1 minute later with $60Us worth of Thai Bhat. The only thing that puzzled us was that we could have sworn that we had got a good deal for about 4 hours until we went over the numbers and realised that we had been royally stitched!
Anyway we were heading to Chang Mai in northern Thailand and first had to make our way to a town of a reasonable Size to catch the bus there. The town in question was Udon Thanie about 50km south of the border. It is a town that gets very little tourism and within minutes of arriving we had a small crowed of people trying to help us in buying the ticket we needed. In the end a man in a restaurant indicated that we should wait for a moment, so as soon as we sat down he jumped on his moto and sped off down the street. 10 minutes latter he reappear with his sister who spoke English and she took us to the right ticket office and everything was now fine.
We still though had 5 hours to wait and our now friend 'Boom' took us off to see the orchid nursery. Here a man has spent the last twenty years breeding Orchids in order to be able to extract their essence for perfume. His orchid ‘Udon Sunshine’ is apparently the only variety with which this is possible. And they did smell fantastic.
The highlight for us however was his dancing plants. The good doctor in his spare time had managed to breed these plants that when you sing to them in a smooth even voice, move their small top leaves back and fourth. Batteries not required. It was absolutely incredible to see, and I found
out that these plants seemed to appreciate my singing! The alternative is I guess was that they were writhing in agony. The 30 Bhat (50 pence) you pay to see the plants is sent to the local hospital to help care for HIV/ AIDS victims. If you are ever in Udon, then do go and see this.
We arrived in Chang Mai the following morning and checked into one of the nicest places that we have stayed in so far. We were in Chang Mai for a little trekking and so signed up for a three day trek, with the guest house. WE spent the day catching up on a little sleep and headed down to the Night market to pick up a few things. The Night Market of Chang Mai is pretty enormous and cater almost wholly for the tourist market. The thing that surprised me most about Chang Mai was the number of Tourists. Over the last few weeks we have been for the most part, part of a small
contingent of tourists who got to know one another following more or less the same trail.
Chang Mai was full of new faces and we saw nobody we had seen elsewhere on our trips. Well that is not strictly true... Emma ran into an Irish guy she had met four months ago in Australia, and he ended up on the same trek. A strange coincidence, but it just shows you that so many people visit the same places for more or less the same length of time all over the word. There really are passageways through out the world which certain groups of people move through.
Anyway the trek started rather strangely. We got about three quarters of the way to the starting destination, about 15km from the Burmese border when the guide pulled over and asked if it would be OK if we went to another place to begin the walk as he said the queen was in the area and that the army would not let us through. We were a little sceptical, but if he had said nothing, none of us would have been the wiser. The reason it turned out later was that the previous groups guide got himself in an argument about opium transport out of the tribal villages and into Chang Mai, and had been shot and killed. We knew nothing of this until we got back after the trip, as I do not think that many people would have continued.
We got to our revised destination, a local Karen hill tribe and we all spent the night in a bamboo hut on a steep hillside. Our group consisted of about ten of us including this one guy Freddy who had quite possibly the slinkiest feet ever know. People complained so much that he had to leave his shoes not just outside the hut but across the other side of the path and in a bush! That night people were still complaining of the smell. But in the morning we discovered that there were a couple of cows tied under the hut, that kept very quiet, but their natural aroma seeped into the accommodation. Poor Freddy!
The Second day consisted of about 8 hours of walking. Ranging from crossing the tops of jungle covered hills and followed by moving though dark jungle streams. In the streams everybody got leaches attached to their feet and legs. I managed to get four and the bleed for two days as I burned them off before they were finished drinking my blood. After a little bit of river rafting, including a 6 foot drop off a waterfall we got to the second nights accommodation. The local people of the village
were celebrating a festival and we were all plied with Thai Rum and Whisky no matter how much we protested. The local costume was incredibly bright almost florescent pinks yellows and greens, and was a throw back to the good old days of the eighties. The evening ended with a lot of dancing and fireworks, followed by fierce hangovers in the morning.
The Last day started with Elephants who got us out into the sunshine and we rode them through rives and down paths for most of the morning. The surprising thing about elephants is how quietly they walk. They are not especially fast but even when walking over gravel they appear to be a lot quieter than humans walking over the same surface.
The Elephants dropped us at the mouth of an enormous river cave, filled with snakes, bats, stalagmites and stalactites, the cave was about 4km long and it was rather wet as we scrambled through in the dark. My little torch was next to useless and all I was able to do was light up the
ground immediately in front of my feet, but it was enough, just.
Anyway It was a fantastic three days and I left the following evening for Hue Hin, about 4 hours south of Bangkok, we went down on the overnight train and got very little sleep over the night as it was rather uncomfortable. On getting back to Bangkok I had to say goodbye to Emma who was leaving for India that evening and carried on south to Hue Hin.
Hue Hin is a well developed costal resort favoured by the king of Thailand and local Thais. It has also been adopted by middle aged overweight couples on two week beach holidays. In addition it is full of men with their young Thai 'girlfriends' most of whom seemed not even to know the names of who they were with. It was a little depressing to see it so obviously so often.
However after all that it does have a great beach, white fine sand, and if you walk down to then end of the beach going south you come to the Monkey Temple. The Monkey Temple gets it name for fairly obvious reasons. There are plenty of the blighters hanging around. I have never had a good relationship with monkeys, starting from when I was very young and got savaged by a load of them at London Zoo when I had wondered off by myself. In India I learnt not to go near them when they were getting aggressive by the Taj Mahal, and in Vietnam one almost tried to take my finger off when I offered it a banana.
My next stop was back to Bangkok to head over to the Kanchanaburi and the bridge over the River Kwi. I went on an overnight trip as it sounded like it would be a lot of fun. On reaching the bridge we rafted under it without much of a song and dance other than working out how to fit 10 people onto a raft made for 6. The solution of course was to squeeze everybody on and hope that we had enough buoyancy to stay afloat. Two people fell in to the river as soon as we got mid stream and ended up swimming under the bridge. Oh well at least all that happened to me was my feet were a little wet.
The museum and the cemetery were very solemn reminders of the grim aspect to the construction of the Death Railway, which actually started (or ended) at the bridge. During its construction more than 12,000 of the 60,000 allied prisoners of war died from disease, sickness malnutrition and exhaustion. The Japanese kept no records of these deaths and it was not possible for anyone else to do so. The original bridge was downstream a thousand feet and made of timber, remnant of which are still in place at the museum. The film incidentally was actually made in Sri Lanka. After this we got on the train and chugged up to Nam Tok along the death railway. The whole route was built by POW's during the second world war and every rock was hand broken and placed by them in appalling conditions. The work included the construction of Hellfire Pass so named as work continued into the night, the area was lit by flaming torch light and as the prisoners approached they thought they were entering hell. Hellfire pass is carved into the side of a steep hill over the river and
a dangerous curved wooden bridge take the train across.
The rest of the trip was much more pleasant to think about and consisted of swimming in gorgeous waterfalls and sleeping in floating huts on a beautiful lake, with the odd elephant or two thrown in for good measure.
I am back in hot and steamy Bangkok and heading back to Chang Mai tonight for some Thai Massage and cooking courses.
The story today starts from where I left you last in Hanoi. From Hanoi we were making for Savanakhet, in Lao. After 24 hours on buses being abused by chickens sacks of rice and peeing kids we arrived in Savanakhet. As soon as we arrived we wanted to keep moving, but being late we decided to try and find some where to spend the night. There was nothing we could find to commend this place to us, the few travelers we met said that is is the first place in Lao that they did not enjoy. In fact the only thing of a positive note was that we could see Thailand across the river.
After a night in an exceedingly dodgy hotel, with power cuts that affected only certain rooms of the hotel at some times, the shower refused to work and everywhere were ants and cockroaches!
Surprisingly enough the next morning we decided to leave and went straight to Vientiane the capital of Laos. The trip was eight hours and passed through the most remarkable of scenery. gorgeous mountains filled with beautiful jungle every turn made by the bus we found ourselves wanting to stop and have a quick hike into the undergrowth.
Vientiane, is quite possibly the steepest capital city I have ever seen.
There is little traffic, 80% of the cars on the roads were ambssidorial, and the rest were from the EU or UN. Many of the streets were not lit at night and combined with the extensive open sewer system, walking around at night can be hazardous to your hygiene.
A couple of days by myself and wolf were spent in Vientien, seeing the sights and taking things slowly after spending the best part of a long time in non-stop movement. Meeting friendly monks, visiting enormous golden stupas, and chatting to people we met.
Through chatting to other travelers ver heard about this town Vang Vieng, which was not mentioned in our guide books but was supposed to be a outdoor haven. Taking the bus, we ended up on this strip of dirt that served as the bus station and airport for the village. We should only see a few huts and were wondering if we have been the victim of a prank. But sure enough after crossing the runway building appeared and we were is this tousity village filled with backpackers.
We managed to spend six days there kayacking, cycling, swimming in deep lagoons, tubing down the river, exploring enormous caves going back 2km in some of them, and trekking in the jungle searching for more caves.
To say the scenery is spectacular is not going nearly far enough. If you can try and imagine the most georgouse of tree covered steep sided mountains, Jungle below the mountins with all the strange sounds, cries and screeches. Through the jungle is the river, with red and purple dragon flies skimming over the surface. All is pristine and all is beautifle.
But unfortunately I was rapidly running out of time, having spent more time than I should have in Vietnam. I left wolf to continue his adventures in Laos starting with Luang Probang. I headed back to Vientiane with my new friend Emma.
We arrived in Vientiane, and every hotel we tried was full except one witch ended up being more expensive and less hygienic than the one in Savanakhet. We are making our way for Chang Mai, Thiland for some dancing plants and jungle trekking.
In Hue, we met up this this mad woman named Thu, she is 31 and not yet married, almost unheard of in Vietnam. She told us that if she did not marry soon she would "become a nun and live in a Pagoda". Anyway she has 10 bothers who she employs as motorcycle guides round Hue. She very swiftly talked us into going on one of her tours, and proceeded to entertain us with her command of the English language which for the most part she had learnt from foreigners...She was able to swear better than both of us!
The tour itself was for just a day and we went hurtling down little country ally ways, passing through the hearts of little villages and seeing the temples and monuments, and into the DMZ. The highlight of hue however was mad Thu, and her brothers. If you are ever in Hue and and a loose end, then pay this lady a visit.
From Hue wolf and myself decided to make our own ways up to Hanoi about 700 km north. Wolf opted for the bus, which was a bit of an 18 hour ordeal. Dealing with self centered isralies and too little leg room. I opted for a little more luxury, and traveled up on the train.
The train to Hanoi, was an experience, on the surface very similar to any train in the world, however just below the surface gloss, you started to see the differences. To begin with getting on the train, it was necessary to talk to around eight people, to shout at the driver and get him to unlock the carriage, my ticket was examined so many times, that by the time I got to my bed it was looking fairly travel worn. The train stopped in Hue for the best part of an hour, before creeping off before hitting its top speed of about 50km an hour. I looked out the window, and became the official entertainment of the carriage as various people stopped by the carriage and tried out their English on me. It was very nice and was great to be the center of attention. Some food arrived in due course, which had been pickled in a mix of viniger and bleach. 10 or 15 minutes after dinner the consensus was that everybody went of bed. So though it was just past 7pm, I obliged as much to hide from the mossies as anything else. A couple of hours later, the compartment was stormed by 6 guys brandishing rice wine, and would not leave until we had worked though all they had. I think the reason they insisted I dank everytie they did, what that they loved to watch me sufferer every time I had a sip. Once the petrol/ rice wine was finished I was allowed to try and get a little sleep.
On most trains if it starts to rain, you shut the window, and in theory you stay nice and dry. Not so here, the window was just a steel mesh, and the glass was long since missing.So I woke up at one point in the evening fairly soaked as rain lashed in through the window. Turning round meant that only my feet got wet, a better option. Traveling by train, was great fun, and I still got a hell of a lot more sleep than wolf.
Hanoi, is a relaxed city, filled with French colonial style buildings, the pace of life is much more relaxed when compared to the rest of Asia, and the street vendors do not give you as much hassle. We are staying in the old quarter, and overlooking what we affectionately call the intestines market. Every morning at around 6 it seems as if half the wildlife in Vietnam is executed and prepared for the days market. About this time the market has a wonderful aroma, of blood and rotting vegetables.
Asides from these delights, we were in Hanoi for business. We had to track down visas for Lao. Ideally without being completely fleeced in the process. We found the Lao embassy, after a bit of work, as it had moved twice in the last two years, and it looked as though is would be moving again shortly. With a big sime on his face he told us that we could have the visas for $50 and $55 for wolf as he carries an american passport.
This was about the best price we had been quoted and so were fairly happy just to have this arranged. On our way back, we met a couple of girls we had bumped into easrlier in thier trip, and said they had just got thier for $30 at the very same embassy. Such is life, even government it pays to be a woman.
We have spent a few nice days in Hanoi now seeing the sights and playing in paddle boats on the lake,and sampleing the local specialities.
Yesterday we sampled some rice wine, inculding one that was titled "one night, five times" which according to the label was a harmonious blend of herbs and rare animal testicals. I have to say that it tasted as bad as it sounds. It amazes me that is was the drink of coice for the emporors of old. Addmitidly some of them had as many as 300 wives and concubines, so mabe it was usefull for them!
Anyway tonight was leave for Savanakhet in Lao, on a journy by bus that is suppoed to take 24 hours, but we have herd reports that it has taked as long as 104 hours! We are not looking forward to it! We have plenty of supplies so it should be a laugh.
Saigon is a great town, and it is quite something to just wonder around watching people going about thier daily lives. It still freaks me out a little being propositioned by professional women on the street corner, but a simple no thank you with a smile and they leave you be.
We spent a few days in Saigon, wondering around and in the evening playing silly games with the vendor children selling books, postcards, chewing gum, and plates of spring rolls that looked as though they were fresh last year.
We made a trip to the chu ci tunnels round Saigon, which were used by the Viet-Cong to great effect during the war with America. Crawling along these tunnels was very different, and it has to be said rather nerve racking. The tunnels themselves are may be at most two feet high and very long. We crawled along about 70 meters of a section of tunnel leading into an old command bunker. It was so close and humid, the dark oppressed and you could imagine the fear the Americans would have felt as they tried to enter these enclaves. Knowing that round any corner there could be a trap or a rifle waiting.
Wolf shot of a few rounds on an M60 heavy machine gun to pass the time.
It is the kind of thing that rambo or arnie carries round. And the amount of noise it made was astounding. Walking back from the shooting range you could hear the gunfire cracking in the distance through the jungle, and unsettled every one we were traveling with. The life of a soldier is not for me. You get to play with some big toys, but at the end of the day, it is all for a reason.
After Saigon, we headed out to Delat, in the central highlands. At 1500 meters up the coolness of the air was a relief. In the evening we even had to wear jackets. The scenery is in some respects very reminisant of Scotland, except for the Vietnamese, the sun, and of course the bamboo.
We spent a couple of days there visiting waterfalls, and local tribes.
Avoiding the local motor cycle guides generally communing with nature. A couple of university students from Delat befriended us and every evening we would go out for dinner, and drink incredibully strong coffee. We would talk about Vietnamese culture, and in return the wanted to know how to sware like sailors. So being the good sararitans were are, we obliged.
From Delat we went down the coast to Nha Trang, which is very much the
party town of Vietnam. And the only reason we had to leave in the end
was that it was so dam expensive on our very limited budgets. We ran into almost everybody we have met so far on the trip, and each time it was insisted that we have celebratory drinks and dancing. The diving in Nha Trang is supposed to be pretty god, however we decided to wait until we hit Thailand as it is supposed to be that much better and we have plenty of time there.
We are in Hoi An, a town filled with tailors. At every corner we are offered suits, shirts, dresses(!), and anything else that could be sown.
We arrived in Hoi An after a 12 hour night bus journey. And were immediatly tricked into buying shorts and shirts. They did a great job and it is quicker to have clothes made for you here than it is to wash you own.
That about bring us up to date, next we head to Hue, then Hanoi.
So take care everybody, and have fun.