Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
Trip End Apr 10, 2009

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sawasdee my dear readers,
My last entry was from China and the last few weeks we have been in Laos and Thailand, so it is definitely time for an update!
From Jinghong we headed for Xiding - a small village in the mountains - where we were going to team up with Peony's friend Mulan and her boyfriend Jonathan (we met them briefly in Jinghong before). Xiding was Mulan's idea and it turned out to be a great idea. Another good side-effect was that it gave us the chance to escape the Chinese New Year price inflation in Jinghong (room prices becoming six times more expensive!). The day we arrived in Xiding it was Chinese New Year's eve and Peony and Mulan were very eager to get us a decent evening meal. So we went 'hunting' for food we bought some fish (which were killed and gutted at the spot) and bought a live chicken - together with some vegetables. In the basic hotel we could use the kitchen and hotel owner killed and prepared the chicken for us - very fresh! Mulan and Peony prepared the meal. We also invited an English and a Canadian guy for dinner. After the enjoyable and tasty dinner we played mahjong at a high tech mahjong table until just before midnight. At midnight there was a lot of fireworks - which I had missed at the Western New Year. Because it was quite chilly, we went to bed straight after that.
The next few days we walked around Xiding to nearby Hani minority villages and also visited (by motorbike) the Bulang minority village of Zhanglang. This all made for beautiful pictures and friendly encounters with minority people: Peony would just 'barge' into a minority house and win the locals over with her smile and friendliness. It was all well worth it!
After Xiding we went via Menghai back to Jinghong, only to continue via Mengla to Mohan, the Chinese border town with Laos, where we spent the night.
Both Peony and Mulan had never been outside China, so it was quite special for them the next day, when we crossed into Laos - where we found out that it IS actually possible to buy a visa at the border for Chinese... From the Lao border town of Boten we took a minibus to Luang Nam Tha, where I took 1,4 million kip out of the only ATM: the fourth time in my live I have been a millionaire (after Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam). After that we continued on by bus to Udomxai, where we spent the night. Here we saw a great sunset from a small hill with a nice temple.
The next day we continued our journey in Laos to Nong Khiaw, a beautifully situated riverside village on the Nam Ou river and booked a nice hut for two nights. The next day we took a boat trip on the Nam Ou river to the village of Muang Ngoi Neua. The village itself was a bit of a disappointment because it was very touristy, but the boat trip itself was really beautiful. We went the same way back. The third day in Nong Khiaw we rented bicycles and cycled to nearby caves and a nice village. At around noon Peony and I said goodbye to Jonathan and Mulan and took a crowded bus to Sam Neua - a tiring nine hour trip, where we arrived quite late in the evening.
Sam Neua is just a small provincial town, but the reason for us to go here was the nearby Pathet Lao caves - caves where the communist resistance government hide out during the civil war. It was an interesting and quiet day, where we got to know a group of seven friendly young American Mennonites - who travelled around Laos at lightning speed. The nine of us toured the caves together and also chartered a songthaew back to Sam Neua.
The next day we met again, in the seriously overcrowded bus to Phonsavan. After about two hours I was actually assigned a proper seat! Before that I was basically just clinging on to Peony. After more than eight hours on this bus we were glad that we arrived in Phonsavan. The seven Mennonites continued straight on to Vientiane on a night bus!
Nearby Phonsavan we toured the several Plain of Jars sights, a unique sight. On these plains of jars we saw hundreds of big stone jars spread around the countryside. Scientists are still not sure what the purpose is (or was) of these big jars: either storage jars or burial jars. Whatever the purpose, they are quite photogenic!
From Phonsavan we moved on to Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Laos, where I had been 11 years ago. Luang Prabang is still (very) beautiful, but it has turned into a kind of boutique town - with prices to go along with that. We spent three relaxing days here before we moved on.
Eleven years ago I just totally loved Vang Vieng and from (horror) stories from other people since I have decided not to witness the enormous changes to this once rustic small town and bypass it and continue on to the capital Vientiane. In Vientiane it took some time to find accommodation which didn't have the sign "full" on its door or which wasn't too expensive, but eventually we succeeded. We liked Vientiane and stayed an extra day - relaxing at the Mekong riverbank looking at Thailand and sipping fruit shakes.
From Vientiane we took a local bus to the border called Friendship Bridge and went through customs, took a bus across the bridge and applied for a visa for Peony, which was rather straightforward, since I had already bought (and printed out) a return ticket to China for Peony). I also realised that Thailand had changed its policy concerning the amount of days I could stay in Thailand without a visa, which changed from 30 to 15 - the same amount of days Chinese get for a visa. We stayed in the border town of Nong Khai and visited a temple with an enormous collection of huge concrete statues, all related to Buddhism - quite impressive!
From Nong Khai we took a boring bus ride to Nakhon Ratchasima. An hour before Nakhon Ratchasima we realised that we were close to our destination Phimai and asked to be let off the bus. Soon enough we found another bus to take us the last few kilometers to Phimai - and thus saving us about two hours of additional travelling. In Phimai we enjoyed the centuries old temple of Prasat Hin Phimai, predating Angkor Wat in nearby Cambodia.
From Phimai we took a bus to Nakhon Ratchasima and changed buses to go to Rayong. In Rayong we changed into a songthaew to Ban Phe in about 30 seconds and this one left almost immediately as well. We arrived too late for a regular ferry to Ko Samet, but were lucky to get a ride on a supply boat for the same price. On Ko Samet we met Jonathan and Mulan again and relaxed for a few days before going to Bangkok, where I am now.
In Bangkok we enjoyed the traditional sights of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho and the last two nights we spent in the highest tower in Thailand - also Thailand's highest hotel. We stayed on the highest hotel floor, the 74th, and had quite a view as you might imagine! These two nights in this hotel were a gift from my parents... thanks again!!
A few hours ago I went to the airport with Peony and came back alone: Peony went back to Guangzhou in China - and yes, I miss her already... 
Tomorrow I will be heading south, to see my friend Inge again in Malaysia. My plan is to go from Malaysia to Singapore and fly from there to Sri Lanka (if I consider it safe enough) and after Sri Lanka on to the Middle East as a last extended stopover before arriving back home early April...
I will keep you updated about that too, as you might expect.
For now, take care and until the next time!
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