Well, my wife is into making jewelry, and she's asked me to post this like so she can cash in on a free offer - so here you go!
...and my eternal search for Wi-Fi
Well, my wife is into making jewelry, and she's asked me to post this like so she can cash in on a free offer - so here you go!
13.03.2009 - 08.04.2009
Thought I'd do a quick post for those of you that assume we've disappeared off the face of the earth! :-)
We are back in Italy now, in Pederobba, renting the house we were in last time off a good friend. We've decided this is most likely the place or area we will move to permanently.
Italian is coming on well. We initally looked into attending school, but their term ends in a few weeks and does not restart until October so that;s no good. Viviana, a friend here, has been teaching us, plus we have started on a comprehensive computer based course. I'm actually really enjoying the challenge. Soon I'll have Italian and French to my name! (well, very bad but manageable French). I'm currently plugging away to the tune of about 2 hours per day. K will start later today so I've got a 3 day head start, though she is learning lots locally too, just through conversation.
Arriving back here was fun. We bought a cover for the car that we left here last year. They had several metres of snow and a LOT of rain. Seems the cover we bought for 40 Euros was a sun cover and NOT waterproof. Doh! Opened the doors to find a forest of mould inside...
That took a lot of cleaning, and it will take weeks to properly dry. Battery was dead too. Cue another 60 Euros :-(
Was rather chilly too. Still plenty of snow on the mountains...
.. though most of that has melted now and it is really warming up outside. Had several sunny days in a row now.
We've been up the mountain a few times this week to help Elizabetta manage her chestnut forest. Everyone here owns a chunk of the mountain - all passed on through families, and growing chestnuts is a local passion - they have a chestnut festival each September.
Elizabetta has recently had all the trees cut back so there are about 30 piles of small branches that need burning. So that's what we've been up to!
(The rake must be centuries old!)
Very hard work I'll add!
K went to investigate Italian lessons at another school and inadvertently ended up helping in an English class :-) - She's currently investigating what options are on offer for her to make money from this!
I got my PC flown over , and we bought a telly, so we are quite at home now. We also brought an amazing amount of stuff with us on our flight over. Easyjet don't have a weight restriction on hand baggage, only that you must be able to lift your bag into the overhead locker on your own. So I stuffed the bags full, including one of my remote control helicopters and all the associated guff. It went over 20Kg, just for one of the two bags. At security we got separated and they asked K to lift the bag over her head. She JUST managed - I was panicking! Got through OK in the end.
Still battling with the insanely complicated recyclying chedule.
(K and Guido tryign to understand teh recycling calendar - nothing is collected the same day twice!)
Anyhow, won't be much more activity on the blog for some time now until there is new news.
17.02.2009 - 22.02.2009
By the time you get this update, hopefully (edit -- yay! done!), our “Flight of the Gibbon” video will be below. The Internet is still far too slow, and power cuts too common to attempt the upload at the moment but we should be back in Thailand in a week where it is much faster.
(Note - I shoot the videos at 640x480 so if you get a small window you should be able to enlarge it, or download it and view in Quicktime - which I think it does by default anyhow)
We’ve spent a few more days in Luang Prebang, having a good mooch about.
(Yep, they have a lot of Wats in Laos too!)
(With some older bits too)
(Where the monks live, by the Wat/Royal Palace)
On one of the days we decided to hire a boat and check out the other side of the Mekong. We hired a thin long boat for £3 with the driver to wait for us.
The other side of the river was a shock. Totally untouristic. Mud lanes with farm houses and animals everywhere.
We wandered through the “village” and took a long flight of steps up to a very old temple.
Four young girls followed up the steps, selling flowers to leave at the Buddha as an offering for “lucky lucky”, as the girls told us. They were too cute and we gave in and bought some.
(The temple may be old but they keep their Buddha shiney!)
(Luang Prebang on the other side of the Mekong)
The following morning we woke up to even hazier skies, then, after taking a deep breath, we realised what it was – smoke.
(You can see the smoke in the air, and behind the house and trees should be a near-by hill that we could see the day before!)
We’d read about this in the books. The farmers practice “slash and burn” – i.e. they harvest their rice then burn the stubble. They do it on such a large scale that the whole country lies in a veil of smoke during post-harvest. This was just starting. Even the locals’ eyes go red after a while of this apparently. That was to be the end of any views!
We took a stroll through the night market that evening… lots of silks etc..
The next day we hired two bicycles (scooters were $20 for 8 hours!) and had an explore on wheels.
We soon came upon yet another rickety bridge…
(We so had to cross this! You know I love these – all “Indiana Jones”)
… where we found a bar on a sand bank and had a rewarding beer.
Later that evening we, by chance, bumped into two friends we met in Thailand, Michel and Debbie – he actually walked up to me without my attention and bumped into me – I got such a fright lol
..so we drank some wine (a real treat for us) and sank some beers, then chowed down on some local “meat sticks” by the market.
The next morning was to be our departure to Vang Vieng. I’d booked us two tickets on “Express Bus, Air conditioning, no stops – 6 hours”. The only element of truth to that description was “bus”. Before getting on the monstrosity that was to be our transport for the day I spotted all the monks walking past our room at 7am to take their food offerings – collecting “alms” I believe.
Our single deck coach (with sheet glass windows – which horrified me as there is a very good reason vehicles normally have laminated glass) wound it’s way up through the mountains, at unbelievable altitudes. The driver only switched the air conditioning on when we were stationary – clearly as the vehicle didn’t have the power to run the AC going up hills, plus it is a waste of fuel for them. Then he roared along the tortuously windy sections downhill.
I chose to not look half the time. None of the corners are guarded, and one mistake would mean certain death – especially as we were sitting in a giant glass bottle – if the impact didn’t get you you’d be sliced to pieces.
Mind you, we passed some stunning scenery, and some very “back in time” towns
We stopped at one point, for refreshments, and for the driver to do some maintenance….
(water cooled brakes! – thank goodness they thought to do this though. Gives you an idea of the drive we went on – to overheat the brakes)
We arrived at Vang Vieng in pretty good time actually. The whole thing took 6 and a half hours. Pretty surprising really, considering we stopped to pick up and drop off half of Laos, and we spent a considerable amount of time in reverse)
We initially checked into a property I’d pre-booked – it was $40 a night and was supposed to have a bath tub, TV, fridge, air con. All it had from that list was air con, and air con that was preset to a feeble mode. Plus the room was not sealed.
We thought we’d lump it for one night then move, but when I found the shower heater was not working I’d had enough. $40 is a LOT in Vang Vieng. K went and had firm words with the staff, and when they started to mess around, pretending some little girl was the manager, she asked to get the hotel owner in Vientiane on the phone. They immediately gave us a full refund !
We checked into what must be the best hotel here, and we bagged an executive suite for $10 more that the other place, with giant bath, TV, fridge, pool, gym . The lot!
The hotel sits on the river here – can’t remember which river.
(A view from the hotel – smokey/misty though)
… and sat and enjoyed our millionth sunset…
(a better view on a clearer day)
Of course, we immediately discovered a rickety bridge. Yay!!
…. And went to check it out.
(On our side, the “final bar” on the “tubing run” – more on that later)
(cute huts on the other side of the bridge)
Vang Vieng is a strange place. A bit of a one-off. You see, the main attraction here, apart from the scenery and caves etc, is drinking, doing drugs, and tubing down the river.
The streets are lined with bars, where they ALL have TV sets playing reruns of “Friends” – and the bars are full of stoned teenagers watching said “entertainment”. There IS some variety however, some bars play the Simpsons. It is a total tune in and drop out culture.
You can readily buy shakes or pizzas with magic mushrooms, hashish, opium, or even methamphetamines (very bad indeed). Needless to say we are past all that kind of thing. Well, mostly!
Now, I mentioned the famous “tubing”. It is one of the reasons we are here right now. We’d heard a lot about it so on day two here, we got straight into it!
You wander for 5 mins into town, in your swimmers, and pay about £5 for a large tractor inner tube, and then get shuttled 5Km up the road with lots of other people, naturally, in their swimmers too!
You then get dropped of at a LOUD bar full of young ones knocking back beers and watching the spectacle that is the vast arrangement of rope swings, zip lines, and diving boards. People have died here. Five in the last few years I believe.
(The 1st bar - empty at 11.30 am but heaving in 30 mins...)
It really is totally surreal when you arrive. It is basically a huge party on a river. You get warmed up with a few cold beers (or whatever narcotics you may be into) and then jump in your tube and float away! :- )
(Gives you an idea of the height of the swings)
You almost immediately float past more loud bars who throw out ropes with a water bottle on the end to “fish you in”. This is the first time I’ve actually seen bars fishing for customers!
We stopped at our second bar, watching people flying on death defying rope swings and dropping over 30 feet into the water, and sank some more beers. Two people floated off in their tubes, and one of the bar staff said to us, “wow – they did two “opiums” each!” – I have to say, they did look chilled out. Very chilled out. Lol
(Who needs a bar when you have a rock?)
We then stopped at our third bar. This one was special. They had a HUGE rope swing, PLUS, they had a giant water slide that chucked you into the river.
(The swing launch is where you see the parasol at the top of the tower)
We drank some more, and then, after ascertaining that this part of the river was easily deep enough to be safe, I went for the rope swing.
I have to tell you, once I’d climbed the wooden tower to get to the top I wish I hadn’t started the venture! It was miles up! And you had to reach out for the swing handle (like a trapeze handle), leaning off the edge.
Well, I’d got that far, so I went for it. WOW! – I screamed on the down swing, then again as I carried on up, gaining height. I let go somewhere near the top and shot into the water like a bullet. Must have been 30 plus feet. My trunks disappeared inside me.
What a rush! So much fun. Kirstin immediately followed. Her top came off. (Update - K tried it again 2 days later, and landed at a bad angle - she is very sore - chest and throat :-( )
After that, we did our final bar, then settled into the much calmer water for the ride back to base.
(Not a bad way to spend the afternoon)
It became apparent after a short while that there was a good reason that most people get out after the line of bars and get the truck back. The river was really slow. We were moving at less than walking pace. Saying that, it was stunning. Relaxing in the calm water watching the sun go down. Truly lovely.
(Free whisky - we swigged, then noticed the bottle - bugs of some sort!)
(Michel and I on the second trip - I laughed when I noticed how phallic this photo is -2 men, REAL MEN!)
I think it took about 2 hours to get back!
A real spectacle is watching the teens stumbling through town in their swimmers after 7pm - they are so stoned / drunk it is a miracle they get home. I watched one young girl wandering, in ther dark, in her bikini, clearly out of her mind, through town, at 9pm. Daft as hell.
We are going tubing again tomorrow, and I’m taking the camera this time to make a movie…. Watch this space…ahh! here you go!
.. This one is a biggie - be patient!
(Click on the image above for the video)
10.02.2009 - 14.02.2009
Well well well, we have been busy!
After I last posted, we decided to try out a day “experience” called the “Flight of the Gibbons” – you go out into the jungle and fly down zip lines and rappel down trees. They sell is as the only way to be in tree canopies if you are not a scientist. In reality it’s a lot of zip lines, bridges, and ropes high up (very very high) in the jungle. It was very spendy for us, around £40 each but the reviews are all fantastic and it looked like a laugh.
(The wooden things are our "brakes")
A laugh it was. More like terrifying! You go so high up, and end up standing on small wooden platforms built in the trees. Trees which of course sway a bit as people slide down the wires. If you don’t like heights this is not the place for you. You really can’t tell how high it is in the pictures.
(If you look closely, our guide is out there on the wire - upside down)
(Same place, different person - Kirstin this time)
(and again, closer)
(Nice little bridge, miles up)
(Me going backwards on a baby one)
(Blurry, but you can see the fear :-) )
(Another lovely bridge)
(We came down that, on a rope)
(... like this)
We had such a laugh. The guides were fantastic and the scenery stunning. The most frightening part was the rappelling down the trees. The first one was a small one but it still felt horrible being dangled on a small rope. The second one was horrific. They said 50 meters, and it looked like it. You’ll have to judge from the video. The zip lines were fun, though the hard bit was actually stepping off a platform at dizzying heights. It just doesn’t feel right.
At the end of the day, we had a very welcome beer and calmed our nerves somewhat.
(... There was going to be a movie of the treetop experience here but the internet here is 128k at best and I've tried a gazillion times to upload it, so it will come in a later post when I find "real" ADSL! :-) )
The next day, we were set to hire a scooter and ride to Pai, 135Km away, but the company that hired one-way scooters had nothing available and we were fed up of waiting. On top of that, we heard “why go to Pai when you can go to Luang Prabang in Laos. So that’s what we did!
Initially we were going to take a package trip but found that we’d arrive on the border at 4am and get 3 hours sleep before embarking on a 2 day boat trip. We fancied going earlier, so went to the local bus station in Chiang Mai and grabbed seats on a bus departing in about an hour. Worked out well really!
The bus was “interesting”. We got assigned seats in a row of 3, and they were in no way wide enough for Western shoulders! – Kirstin ended up sitting in the middle with her seat fully reclined so she could “slot in” lol. Tough going for the first 3 and a half hours, but after that, lots of Thais got off, and the remaining 4 hours were easy, with lots of spare seats.
We arrived at the border town of Chiang Khong at 8pm and sank a few beers to get over the bus journey. Funny as hell, one guy drinking next to us suddenly disappeared! The floor collapsed and he went down, chair and all. We laughed. A lot. He was fine.
(There was a man sat there....)
The next morning, woken rudely at first by a cockerel, and then by monks bashing gongs, we sauntered down to the river Mekong, grabbed a coffee, and then exited Thailand, catching a quick ferry across the river to Loas.
After grabbing our Visas we had possibly the worst coffee in history – Loas coffee, and then bought tickets for the 2 day slow boat to Laung Prebang. You can take a speedboat that does the job in 6 hours – if you survive. People often don’t.
I’d done my research on the slow boats and knew we had to be there early to get good seats. Well, there are not any good seats, but some are less awful than others. We also bought cushions to ease the pain, plus some grub. A lot of the travellers’ reports regarding the journey are bad, as are the reports of the small village you stay overnight in…
Suitably prepared, we grabbed two seats that were on the side of the boat – so we were sitting one in front of the other. Our purchased cushions paid off big time. Some seats already had them so we had one for our bums and one for our backs, or leaning on, on the side of the boat.
(Nice seats for 2 days...... hmmm)
Sure enough the boat slowly filled up – to capacity, and then we set off – yay!
The journey was wonderful. Great scenery along the way, including elephants. We were comfortable enough too, you just have to move about occasionally to find a new position that relieves the cramp from the last position. There was even a bar on board, so we slowly got pissed and met lots of other travelers and generally had a good laugh.
Six hours later we arrived at PakBeng, a one street town that caters solely for the boat traffic. This would be our first real Loas experience. People have reported it to be a bit seedy. They must live very sheltered lives! It was fine. We secured a 200 Baht room (you can pay in Baht, Dollars, or Loas Kip over here) and slept well. Well enough until about 4 am when another bloody rooster woke us up. This is becoming a common theme.
(Nice way to arrive at Pakbeng)
Next morning we boarded our boat again, although this time it was a different boat, with slopey sides, so you could not lean on the railings. Still, we’d cope.
One American girl got on at 8.55 am (9am departure) and said, with some level of astonishment, “Like, Oh my God, there are like totally no cushions left!” – Like oh my God, get up earlier!
(Early morning mist in Pakbeng)
(Our boat awaits for day 2)
This was to be a much longer day, but again we had a good laugh. There was sod all leg room but we adapted, and after about noon, the beers started appearing and the party spirit kicked off. I even ended up playing someone’s’ guitar!
(Can you spot the elephants? hint - there are two on the rocks, being ridden)
(The speedboat option - not a great pic but they are all hunched up, wearing helmets, for 6 hours)
(Our boat, well, not really, but another one the same)
(The stone is to mark where rocks are, so you can imagine how high the water gets)
Some people were sleeping by the engine room – God only knows how. Deafening. One girl looked like she wanted to kill herself. Seriously – you’d get ear damage after half an hour. People are strange. Talking of which, there was a Canadian couple (hippy types) next to us this day, and they talked about Canada, bears, themselves, “horrible America” for the WHOLE journey. 8 hours. Kirstin helped Bree, a nice American girl we met, remove her hair extensions.
(Nice toilet on the boat. At least it had one)
We arrived in Luang Prebang at 5pm and quickly sorted a guest house for $20 US a night – got drunk, and crashed.
(Arriving at Luang Prebang)
(Having a rewarding beer upon arrival)
(With a nice sunset over the Mekong)
(Followed by some good local BBQ grub- pork on a stick!)
This morning we had a good explore, and have moved to a similar place, but with wifi and air con.
Laos is Very different to Thailand. They are very laid back here. Almost horizontal. We got woken AGAIN by a rooster – so hopefully, our new “sealed” room will be immune – we’ll know tomorrow – fingers crossed.
Oh – read this – standard Laos accommodation rules – particularly points No. 4, 5 and 6. We nearly fell over with laughter.
p.s. It’s pronounced “Lao” not “Laos” (which everyone gets wrong). The “S” comes from the French colonisation, where they would refer to the collection of islands and the mainland as “Les Laos” – the “s” being the French pleural, and consequently silent. No one under the age of 30, or American, understands or adheres to this fact.
(Local scenery in Luang Prebang)
04.02.2009 - 08.02.2009 3 °C
Last time I reported in we were all set to go to the famous waterfalls near Kanchanaburi - which we did!
We grabbed a local bus and enjoyed a 2 ish hour ride though the countryside. Great bus - the back door was held open with rope so I sat right by it on the back seat - almost like air conditioning, though I always had a hand firmly grasped to the back of my seat!
The waterfalls are 2km "high" and it is a good old climb to get up to the 7th (top) fall. With some cute bridges....
I managed, once again, to kick a tree stump and smash off my healing toe nail. I'm getting used to it now. The walk (and pain) was worth it though...
On the way up we noticed loads of huge fish in the pools...
... which I discovered bite you if you stand still in the water - a very odd feeling, and it totally freaked us out. But still, I braved it :-)
Next stop was Chiang Mai - a long way up into the North of Thailand.
We caught a Government bus back to Bangkok (2.5 hours and about £1) - at one point, two Thai guys got on, spoke to the driver, then punched him in the face! then promptly walked off - I guess the driver cut them up. When we got to the bus station the driver (the punched one) asked us where we were going next, suspicious that he was going to tuck us up I reluctantly told him, "The train station", and then, to our surprise, he kindly told us which bus to catch - most helpful! We got a local bus from the bus depot to the train station - 20 pence and another hour. We are feeling quite smug now. We are regularly using public transport as it is dirt cheap compared to tourist coaches and taxis and you get a good Thai experience.
Not having prebooked anything I tried to get 2 tickets to Chiang Mai in a 1st class private sleeper cabin, but alas, they were sold out so we grabbed 2 second class sleeper tickets - half the price though! :-)
After chilling for a few hours in a bar we boarded our train. It was pretty darn good. The lady who told us our beds were (together) lied. We were sat each side of the train - opposite each other. We both had top bunks. The bottom bunks are almost twice the width of the top ones so people book them in preference. They had double beds, we had submarine bunks.... still - who cares - you are only going to sleep right? Mind you, being that we were sleeping above strangers meant we had to go to bed when they wanted to, and when we got up, they had to, or we'd have nowhere to sit.
Fortunately the Thai woman on K's side let us sit together until bed time so we could watch a movie and eat together.
Kirstin slept like a log. She loved the rocking motion. I fared less well, but we got there alive.
I will admit, I stunk so bad after all that traveling I had to wash myself in my bed with the blanket and a bottle of drinking water - phew! I was minging!
We arrived at Chiang Mai at 7.30 am and , now well versed in the experience, ignored all the taxi and accommodation touts and sat down for a coffee or two. Half an hour later, the dust had settled and we got a cheap cab to our hotel. Which was opposite a huge sound system , set up for the Chiang Mai flower festival. We moved the next day and now we are in a lovely hideaway in the back streets, paying £8 a day for a good room with a fan. No need for air con. It's hot but not unbearably so. It is a touch cooler up north, and all the better for it.
We have had a lazy explore, and stumbled into the flower parade...
(I know I know, no flowers - but these peeps were colourful, and loud)
We have also had a good walk around the bars....
.. and even went to a "reggae bar" - although they played techno!?!?!
Walking the streets is a real eye opener. Chiang Mai is 100% nicer than Bangkok - I think it is like how "Bristol" is to "London", and the prices are way cheaper here. As little as 38 Baht (70p) for a beer compared to the usual 60-70 Baht in Bangkok.
I say it is an eye opener because we somehow manage to walk down all the "red light" streets. It seems the sex trade is booming here. The format is always the same - bar with pool table, several scantily "dressed" Thai girls sitting around, lots of middle aged (and a lot older) English and Dutch men choosing their lady (they hope), for the night. Not the type of people we'd share bar space with. Rather creepy and sad.
We rented a scooter last night and subsequently took a 17k ride up the mountain to see the Wat at Doi Suthep - the most famous one here. A very scenic ride too.
(It was very busy, being Sunday and a big Thai festival too where they all flock to the Wats)
(The 319 odd stairs up to the temples, flanked by Nagas with tails that run all the way up)
(I was the slutty one this time, I had to cover my legs in a rather fetching wrap around thingie)
(Hard to take a pic of something opaque)
(At least they painted the scaffolding gold!)
(The main Buddha inside a temple)
(An ornate building, not a Buddha)
(These are everywhere, I think you ring them for good luck)
(Another beautifully ornate building)
(Something is missing from this picture......)
(Oh yes! Me! - This one is for you, Michael ;-) )
A really beautiful place and a lovely ride through the country.
Back at base now and downloading loads of movies on the free internet. We have even been to "Tesco Lotus" and got ourself a £1 polystyrene ice box so we can make a "fridge" for our room - we are spending time in there catching up on the new "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" in the evenings. Sad but true. After over a year of traveling so far, we like our creature comforts.
(Riding down the lanes back to our place. A very carefully, and gingerly self portrait on the move)