Lower altitude, leeches and lao lao

Trip Start May 02, 2009
Trip End Dec 03, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Thursday, July 2, 2009

From Kathmandu we went to Bhaktapur, a quiet, smog-free and very traditional town thirty minutes away from Kathmandu. Here the weather finally broke and we had a massive downpour of rain which helped to clear the air. Between downpours we wandered around the town looking at the temples, pottery workshops and small residential side streets, trailing a few begging children behind us who we could not get rid of no matter what we tried. They were so young we were surprised that they knew what money was let alone how to ask for it in fluent English, as well as for bubblegum, school books and any other item that was sold in a shop we happened to be passing. We later saw our most faithful beggar (followed us for a whole hour!) sitting with his mother on a market stall selling vegetables. Despite this we had a nice relaxed time in Bhaktpur, very laidback after the mayhem in Kathmandu.
After a couple of days there we met back up with John and Jess, from the Everest BC trek, who were on the same flight as us to Bangkok, which turned out to be the biggest culture shock yet. Put it this way, we soon found out that pingpong has a whole different meaning in Bangkok! Luckily we found from the brochure what the shows entailed and so managed to avoid future attempts to sell us tickets. We spent a day in the city getting lost on buses, wandering through markets with all kinds of live and dead amphibious meat for sale, and taking the water taxis up and down the river to visit different temples. Andrew really enjoyed the street food, amongst his favourite was fried bamboo worms, although he drew the line at the fried cockroaches. His other favourite was sweet white bread covered with a sickly bright green custard, and crisps with strawberry dipping sauce! I stuck to the Pad Thai and spring rolls.
We said goodbye to John and Jess and got the bus to Pak Chong, for Khao Yai National Park. From the bus station in Pak Chong we had to get a Saengthaew (like a milk float with benches) 30km to the park entrance. Here we had our first potential disaster as after waiting half an hour with no sign of imminent departure, I left Andrew and our bags on the truck to see if I could buy some fruit. As my Thai was still not very good (non existent actually), this took longer than planned and in the meantime Andrew had been waving madly to tell me that we were about to leave. To cut a long story short, he jumped off to get me, and we both ran down the road chasing all our worldly belongings which were getting further and further away from us. Andrew then said that the bus was going to turn around anyway because we were on a one way street. So we got back on when it came back around and boiling and tired we made the journey to the park entrance. Here we were deposited, another 18km from the campsite but luckily we managed to persuade a pick-up driver to take us to the campsite for 400 baht.
On the way we were lucky enough to see an elephant on the side of the road calmly eating trees!
We set up camp for 60p for the night with our never before used tent and bar the monkeys, deer, skunk and porcupines wandering around the campsite and another downpour, we slept quite well. Well, I did. Andrew got up to go to the loo in the middle of the night and tripped over a deer that was fast asleep - he says he didn't know who was more scared!

The next morning we set off with our hiking boots, waterproof trousers tucked into our socks for leech protection and hiked a couple of km to the nearest waterfall. Unfortunately I soon found out that our leech barriers hadn't worked at all well and they were feasting on my legs. Andrew found this hilarious and was no help at all really at getting it off me but karma was quick and he then realised that he also had three on his legs. Armed with insect repellant we managed to get them to drop off, spurting all their dinner out as they fell.Nice. So we cut short our jungle hiking and went back to the relative safety of the camp to read for a bit. In the afternoon we walked along the road to a fantastic waterfall which was featured in the film The Beach. Here it seems that we were as big an attraction ourselves, and a monk was delighted when Andrew let him have a photo together. On the way back we got picked up by a nice family in the back of their pick-up, so we didn't have to walk which was great seeing as I had badly sunburnt and leech bitten legs! When we arrived back at camp it was very busy with Thai families setting up who were all very friendly to us. Our next-tent-neighbours even gave us half of their dinner that they had cooked on a coal stove, lovely seeing as we had been living off packaged food for 2 days.
The next morning they even gave us a lift half way back to the park entrance from where we walked 2km before being given a lift the rest of the 16km by another pick-up driver. The Thais are so friendly and unlike other countries we have visited they would not accept any money from us for their troubles.
From Pak Chong we got an 8 hour bus to Ubon Ratchathani near the Laos border. This journey was painful as I was still having trouble sitting down with my burnt legs, and Andrew's IPod had died so he was forced to watch a thai comedy blaring out from the tv at the front of the bus which didn't look too funny!
In Ubon, we decided against a 'guesthouse' which was more like a warehouse, and went for the posher, only slightly more expensive one, next door where we had a really comfy night's sleep.
After a day sightseeing in Ubon, we got up early the next day for the cross-border bus. After a very hassle free border crossing into Laos we changed bus in Pakse, to cling for dear life onto the back of an already bursting at the seams saengthaew, which stopped every five minutes for ladies to sell us chicken on a stick or squashed grilled bananas.
After getting off the truck, a whole lot of sweat and dust the richer, we jumped on a little dugout motorised canoe and made our way down the muddy, swirling Mekong river to our island, Don Khon. Here we found a lovely little guesthouse on stilts over the river with a very friendly, massive family. Andrew thought it would be fun to jump off the deck outside our room into the very questionable water, and it was so hot that I soon forgot my hygiene worries and jumped in as well.
Next day we hired bikes and cycled (and walked after I got a puncture - again!) around the Island, past rice fields, water buffalo, ladies in funny conical hats, through jungle and to waterfalls.
In the afternoon we went with our guesthouse owner (papa), on a fishing trip / bbq, which actually turned in to a giant bender with his home made lao lao (rice whisky we think!) flowing freely, in his words 'lao lao no money'. Back on our island slightly worse for wear, we played tennis with Pascal and Donna, another couple staying there who had also been on the 'fishing trip', which was a bit of a disaster seeing as the tennis court was half the normal size, the rackets were covered in cobwebs, and Andrew's aim meant that we had to keep rescuing the ball from the Mekong river! The guesthouse owner's daughters (the five of them that were old enough to walk) acted as ball girls and didn't care how far we hit it! Bonus! Later on we had a party with the family, needless to say more lao lao was involved and we all danced with the girls who thought we were hilarious with our funny dancing. The party went so well that papa forgot to tell mama to cook Donna and Pascal's dinner and just went to bed to rest his head!
We left this morning quite sadly but we need to push on to get up north for 'the gibbon experience', which we have booked for a week's time. We're writing this while waiting for our ten hour overnight bus to Vientiane, the capital. We have booked a bus with beds!! Luxury!!!

Anyway not sure when we'll write next but in two week's time we'll be going to Vietnam, so will try and write up the rest of our Laos time before then.

lots of love and thanks all for your messages

Nia and Andrew xxxx

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richardknott on

Hi guys!!

Great to finally get around to reading your blog and seeing you both on Skype earlier!! I was expecting to see leech nibbled, mozzie punctured, snake strangled, sunburnt covered rakes!! - but you both looked so well actually! Fair play!!

I have really enjoyed reading the blog - really makes me feel of all the luxuries we have back here in the UK! Still fascinated by Thailand Ping Pong - though it was a myth from 'Pricilla Queen of the Desert!!' So funny!

Keep having fun guys - so jealous of all the adventures you are going on! (Although you will never catch me showering under a cold bucket!)

Loads of Love Rich xx

PS - No amount of Lao Lao will ever improve your dancing Andrew!!!!

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