Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Back to the joys of Ko Sahn road again, thankfully only for a couple of days of shopping and catching up with friends before heading to India.
Since the last entry it's been a busy time. It was great to explore the area surrounding Nha Trang by motorbike before a relaxed day on the beach, and unfortunately having to endure another (painful) Lions performance. Congratualations to the Kiwis.
It was on to Dalat very briefly up in the Cetral Highlands of Vietnam, where I met Luu who was eventually to become my motorcycle guide down to Saigon over 5 days. Luu is an 'Easy Rider', one of about 30 who started taken travellers all over Vietnam on anything from 1 day to 1 month trips, to get out into those far flung places. I didnt see another backpacker for 3 of those days, and how great that was. I was happy to get off the back of the bike after 5 days and nearly 800km though.
A day in Saigon was just not enough and for the first time in a while I actually liked a city and wished I had more time, but with the Visa running out the next day it was over the border to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Given the decades of conflict this country had to endure, PP was quite a surprise. A visit to the Killing Fields and S-21 (a school turned prison and torture centre) was quite a shock.
A bumpy road to Angkor Wat lay ahead and 3 days of exploring some of the most amazing temples in the world, if only it was possible to see them in their full glory (and without the 1000's of other tourists).
I'm hoping to get some photos up on the site, but I'm back to the old point and click with the digital camera finally giving up the ghost and repair probably being more expensive than replacement!
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam
Its been a while so I'll try not to ramble.
Having stayed in Houay Xai for another day, finally the overcrowded bus left for Luang Namtha. Another 9 hours being bounced around so much that I now fear I may never have children. There was more to come and a record was to be set for the longest bus journey. The local bus managed to complete the Luang Namtha to Vang Vieng journey in a record 18 hours, helped along its way by 3 breakdowns and 2 punctures. Seriously, you wouldnt have it any other way, arriving in Vang Vieng at 4am.
Vang Vieng is known for its caves, limestones karsts and the joys of tubing. Floating down the Nam Ou in an old tractor tyre inner tube whilst supping a Beerlao and stopping at the numerous bars along the river. Then its a case of on your return trying to avoid being dragged into one of the numerous bars playing Friends around the clock. You can be guaranteed to see some people not move all day, shame that.
A brief stop in Vientiane, the Laos capital. Bicycle is by far the best way to see the towns over here, and off I went to get sunburnt in the first half of the day, and then absolutely soaked in the daily downpour in the afternoon. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
I've since made my way over to Vietnam. Heading South to Savannakhet from Vientiane for day and then taking the local 'cattle bus' to Hue in Central Vietnam. They were unfortunate to just miss out reaching the old record, this was only 16 hours with 4 hours spent sleeping in a shop front at the border crossing.
First impressions of Vietnam are fantastic. Hue was beautiful, and along with a couple of travelling companions we saw the main sights by motorbike tour. The stay was only marred by having to watch a diabolical Lions performance in the first test against New Zealand.
I'm now in Hoi An, 2 suits to the good and thankful to the local doctor for sorting out one hell of a dodgy stomach. Heading further South tomorrow to Nha Trang.
Location: Chaing Khong, Thailand
I've just headed back over the Mekong to Chaing Khong in Thailand as my Laos visa was about to expire. Its a quick 'in-and-out' across the river to get another 15 days in Laos.
So did I head North or South?
It has all worked out pretty well. I headed north to the beautiful mountain surrounded villages of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi for a couple of days of exploring caves and trekking to nearby hill tribe villages. Having had one failed escape attempt, there werent enough people to merit the bus leaving (Bus driver: there werent any locals going and the two foreigners wouldn't pay the extortionate fare I was trying to get out of them until I decided to finally reduce the inflated fare but it was too late), I finally left for two days on the as-usual overcrowded buses to head towards Ban Donchai, made all the more fun by the fact that Laos locals dont really travel that well and constantly hock-up out of the window or just go for the full blown puke whenever they have the chance. I have to congratulate them on the use of plastic garden chairs in the aisle to up the numbers though.
Ban Donchai was the pick-up point for the Gibbon Experience, and challenge of the day was to identify which village along the route and get the bus driver to stop. A great big thankyou to the only local on the bus of 55 who knew which village it was. It was great to get off the bus having covered the 100 or so km in a mere 7 hours.
The Gibbon Experience - fantastic. I've spent three days living in a treehouse 40m up in the canopy with a rescued Gibbon called Chui, listening to the Gibbons sing in the early hours and fed like a king. The mode of transport is the best in the world...strapped in a harness zipping along a steel cables stretching as far a 400m across the jungle giving you the best possible view across the Bokeo Nature Reserve. If anyone is thinking of heading to Laos, this is a must. It's defintely one to come back to in a few years...the Gibbon Expressway is on the cards. A zip line all the way from Houay Xai on the Thai/Laos border all the way into the reserve, usually some 2-3hours drive away.
I was hoping to leave Houay Xia tomorrow on the world renowned Laos Air, but my flight is cancelled, surprise surprise, to a lack of customers. I'm hoping the bus will leave, although I'm not holding my breath as it didnt go this morning for, wait for it, lack of people.
Go with the flow. This is the Laos way.
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Here I am in Laos.
Since Bangkok I headed up to Chiang Mia on the overnight train, very nice indeed, I even fitted into the bed which meant I actually got some sleep.
Chiang Mai didnt agree with me. Many people I've met have loved the place so maybe I should give it a second chance? First impression count a lot. I was told it was nothing like Bangkok, for me, that not true at all. The moment you step off the train you're inundated by touts and the tuk tuk drivers are just as bad.
The choices in terms of trekking were just too many to comprehend and looking for some friendly fellow traveller advice I decided to head for Pai, 4 hours on the 'all you can cram on-board' 65Baht local bus (not bad for 87p) - although the local falling asleep on my shoulder with his arm around me (he needed somewhere to rest, he was sitting on the post in the aisle) was a little disturbing. I seemed to develop a nervous twitch not unlike the dance move in the dole queue in The Full Monty.
Pai was excellent. A week flew by and I was sad to leave. In low season this place is great, you'll have to drag me screaming and kicking if I'm to go in the high season. Looking for friendly advice, I bumped into Gemma and Shannon whilst organising my Vietnam visa, and so my decision was made. They needed numbers for a trek and were also looking to cook, and the next four days were taken care off. I did have a little chuckle when the night before the trek, I found myself in the Shisha bar having a few beers, only to meet the guides and a fellow trekker. I'm just glad I felt better than the guide the next day (a night on the Whiskey didnt sit too well on the first day of the trek and he fed many of the local chickens - sorry). The three days were great, with fantastic food, including fresh catfish and on our return a feast of Squirrel and Iguana.
So I left Pai and headed on a journey across to the Thai/Laos border crossing at Chiang Khong/Houay Xai. I'm glad I only had to stop one night in Houay Xia and then jumped straight on the 2-day slow boat to here. Not much going on in either.
Tomorrow will decide Rob's route North or South. He's currently trying to head North for some tubing at Nong Khiaw and then back West to the Bokeo Nature Reserve for The Gibbon Experience - 2 days experiencing tree top living and getting everywhere by death slide/flying fox/zip line (delete as appropriate). If this doesnt work its South to Vang Vieng for tubing then Vientienne for a flight to Hanoi...this is all dependant on him getting his backside into gear and changing his ticket. Otherwise he'll be running to Bangkok to catch a flight...
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BEER LAO IS THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD, no probably about it.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
I finished Australia with a couple of days in Byron Bay and then a couple more in Sydney, taking the opportunity to say a quick hello to The Howes' who are currently sailing around Australia.
I arrived in Bangkok last Friday evening and was immediately hit by the heat and humidity. Having perfected my smiley 'no thank you' face to ward off all of the Tuk Tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers, I'm heading north up to Chang Mai on the overnight train. Bangkok gets to you soon enough.
Since Friday I've been to all of the touristy places (Grand Palace, Wat Pho (largest reclining Buddha), Wat Arun and The Vimanmek mansion), met up with EsJay and been over to Ko Samet for a couple of days. A beautiful island rain or shine.
Over the next week or so I'm sure there'll be some trekking involved and possibly a jaunt over the border into Laos.
Location: Noosa, Australia
I hopped over to the East coast via Alice Springs to explore the outback and see the highlights Uluru, Katja Tjuta and Kings Canyon. There are many thank you's for the first part of my stay on the East Coast. I headed to Palm Beach to meet up with Jo and had the comforts of the home and beach house of Trish and Mike before heading of to Brisbane to catch up with Roy and Mona - for the drinks and the beds, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Since catching up with old friends and finding out lots that I expect Dad hadnt planned on me finding out (thanks Roy) about his youth, I've been sailing again, this time for 3 days around the Whitsunday Islands. Its well known that there are typically more women than men on the boats (hoping to spend 3 days sunning themselves on deck I'm pretty sure, but yes, it rained again), however I was a little surprised to find myself as only one of 3 guys on board a boat of 10 women, the other two being Scott the deckhand and Baz the skipper. After such a difficult trip it was on to Hervey Bay and Fraser Island and the opportunity for a group of us to be let loose with our own 4x4 to see what Fraser Island had to offer.
I'm nearing the end of my Aussie adventure and Thailand is beckoning. I've delayed my flight by a week and have just returned from my first surfing lesson. That is a lifestyle I could get used to.
Location: Alice Springs, Australia
3 weeks have absolutely flown by. I'm heading for the East coast to meet up with Jo, via The Red Centre.
Since arriving in Perth, I stayed with Vinnie and Lisa in Kardinya, which was fantastic as I hadnt seen Vinnie since the wedding and to finally meet Lisa, Ruby, Matilda and Chelsea. With another on the way it's a busy Kawiti household. For the first two weeks I met up with Amanda again to go exploring in the South West of WA.
First stop, The Stirling Ranges National Park and the hope of getting up to the top of Bluff Knoll. However the rain demons struck again, in a big way. The majority of the day was spent waiting at Bluff Knoll cafe for the locals to give the all clear that the roads were passable and we finally made it to Albany late in the day.
So along the South coast we went, a quick stop in the sticks of Warpole, through Augusta and to the brilliant town of Margaret River. Unfortunately not so lucky with the Jack Johnson tickets this time, but we were treated to some great Karaoke from the locals at the Settlers Tavern. Many thanks to Jane Tucker, family and friends for putting us up/putting up with us whilst in town. If anybody heads in the direction of Margaret River be sure to vist the Peacetree Estate winery - highly recommended! A quick two day trip to Rottnest Island, exploring the far reaches by bike (involving a little more rain) rounded off a great few weeks.
Location: Melbourne, Australia
After just under two weeks in Tasmania its back to Melbourne for Paddys day. Tasmania is beautiful and should be visited by anybody coming to this side of the planet. A 3-day East Coast tour introduced me to Dave and Natalie, my Glaswegian travelling companions for the next fortnight including a share of their hire car to go exploring in the central and western parts of the island. The fortnight started at Port Arthur, glorious Wineglass bay and a few drinks with the locals in the the surf town of Bicheno and a lap around Lake St Clair culminated in an eventful climb to the top of Cradle Mountain.
Paddys day was spent recovering from the lock-in at the hostel in Launceston and heading straight for Bridie O'Reilly's in Melbourne. Unfortunately having finally managed to get hold of Phil and Leslie it just wasnt to be that night, with queues of punters trying to get into the pub as far as the eye could see. We eventually found our way to a local watering hole the next evening and spent the early part waging an England vs Australia battle at the locals pool table.
The Melbourne finalle took up a huge slice of my travelling luck. Having arrived back from Tasmania I was able to get hold tickets for a group of us to see Jack Johnson at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Being two days before the event and getting virtually front row tickets we all really couldnt believe our luck until we were there. One of the best gigs I've been to, with great support from Xavier Rudd, Donavon Frankenreiter and G. Love & Special Sauce.
So now I'm sat in Kardinya, Perth. Trying to keep the budget under control I grabbed a lift with Chris and Daniel, 2 dutch guys with a plan to explore southern and western Aus in their recently purchased 4x4 to see the Great Ocean Road and random parts of South Australia territory and another opportunity to bump into Phil and Leslie for a few quiet drinks in Adelaide before flying over to WA.
Location: Hobart, Australia
A big thankyou to Doug for putting me up in Melbourne for the week of the Australian GP, otherwise I'm pretty sure I'd have been on a park bench.
However, I was glad to have made it there in the first place. I was grateful to have to opportunity to save myself some money by catching a lift with Bella and Fran but after 15mins in a car with them I wasnt so sure. 10 hours later I said a little prayer before settling down for the night.
It was in Melbourne and courtesy of Doug that I had to endure days of endless sunshine beside the pool in the build up to the Grand Prix weekend, and also to take in my first AFL game. 'footy' - to the uninitiated 30 blokes chasing each other around and bundling each other as much as possible for possession of a rugby shaped ball, with the aim to kick goals (3 points) or behinds (1 point). It is evident that the reason they are all so willing to take so many hits is only to see the referees wave their flags upon the scoring of a goal in the most ridiculous manner possible.
Having made it to Hobart here in Tasmania I'm off on an East coast tour and then a car share with Dave and Natalie, my new found Glaswegian friends, to explore the West coast.
Location: Canberra, Australia
I made it back to Sydney from the Blue Mountains having not had an entirely wasted trip as the views of the Three Sisters cleared on the last day. It was then great to meet up with Dave Laws in Darling harbour to have a look around the Global Challenge yacht which is to be his home for 10 months...to follow the totally insane people aboard these boats go to http://www.globalchallenge2004.com/en/ Dave is a team memebr on Team SAIC La Jolla
And on to Canberra. Hmmm. Errr. Dull. The highlight being our Korean drinking friend, Su, choosing to enjoy a pint of Guinness having never drunk before. Needless to say half a pint later she wasnt in the most coherent of states. Unfortunately having missed my bus I had to endure another day here before heading on to Melbourne.
Location: Katoomba, Australia
Having been blessed with a couple of days of glorious sunshine in Sydney, I was pleased to see the same on Saturday afternoon as I headed out to Katoomba, west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains National Park, home of the Three Sisters.
I decided it was about time I climbed down, rather than up for a change and booked on to an introduction to abseiling course. High hopes of glorius panoramas of the Three Sisters and the surrounding valleys as a backdrop.
Alas, the topic of the weather returns once more and it wasn't to be. I write this with loud claps of thunder and some pretty spectacular flashes of lightning accompanying the tapping of the keyboard, with a slight tingle in each of my shins as a result of the gouges taken out by the rock face (other than that a very enjoyable morning hanging from a rope or two).