Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Few Lanterns, Some Cloudy Water, & A Fish Called Nemo

Lanterns in Hoi An
Align Center

Crab Hands

Some Shoddy Camera Work

More to come soon...

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Month In Short

When I last wrote I was in Tha Kaek, Laos motorbiking around. After exploring that area for about four days Nolan and I headed down to Don Det, by means of a truck filled with cement bags that we picked up after visiting Wat Pu (ancient Khmer site), for a do nothing atmosphere in extreme heat.

Leaving there we head back north up to Pakse in order to rent another motorbike and head out on a week long excursion (our butts getting more comfortable with being numb).

We picked up a machete from a seller off the road toward the Bolaven Plataeu. We thought we might need one for sleeping in the forest at some point (maybe build a shelter, but that never happened).

Arriving at Tad Lo we got a room and then headed over to a waterfall to cool off. Upon arriving back at the room we discovered a lack of keys in our possession, including the room key and motorbike key. The owner at our guest house was extremely helpful and had a bucket full of keys that might work for the room. Finding one that fit the lock we examined the case for the motorbike. He called the place where we rented it and found out that they have a spare key. He knew that a tour group comes everyday from around the corner of the motorbike shop to where we were located. We managed to get the key by those means without paying anything (the other option was to put it on a bus and pay the fare of one person for them to bring it to us).

Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. I believe it is somewhere in the vicinity of 2 million tons of bombs that America dropped in Laos ("From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions - equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. The bombing was an effort to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail"- There are many injuries that happen when people come across unexploded bombs and certain organizations are working to educate the people on safe ways to deal with the bombs Unfortunately the metal taken from bombs can be sold for money and some people still take the risk of trying to get that metal without fully understanding the repurcusions. On the other hand some of them get turned into decorations, like this vase.

Fell in love with the way an elephant finds footing

When we had arrived in Pakse, in the morning, we had planned to get some money and leave on the motorbike by afternoon. Turns out there was a problem with the head bank and no money could be gotten from any ATM's. Nolan had some U.S. dollars and Baht with him so he exchanged that and headed out onto the plateau. After a few days we realized more money was needed and we got a bit worried about finding a place to get some (though interested in how we might acquire money by means of work if need be). We headed to Salavan, thinking it was a pretty big town and an ATM wasn't too far fetched an idea. Nope. So we had enough gas in our tank to head to Sekong by means of Nong Bua.

We traveled down a dirt road through villages with people that stopped what they were doing just to watch us drive by. Headed into a jungle like atmosphere with sounds of life and air of clarity. Somehow we made it to a main road we knew was in a certain direction from a mountain we were going around. The road we traveled on became far and away the rockiest, most pot-holed, least traveled road I had ever been on. Even though it was wider, the road itself left much much more to be desired. We arrived in Sekong well after dark and found a room. In the morning we headed to the bank and they managed to get money transfered by using one of those credit/debit machines you see at the counter of grocery stores.

Eventually we made our way to Paxong, directly on top of the plateau. The weather up there was much colder than the rest of Laos and I regretted leaving a sweater I had picked up and carried for a month (without need of) in a town in souther Laos. We got some baguettes in the morning and headed to an area that had an ancient stone and thousand year old flower (white) plants. Once at the top we ate the baguettes with some honey I had been carrying around since Bangkok. While eating we were invited to join two Thai guys going on a trek through the jungle with a guide.

Being of the adventerous sort and wanting to give opportunity to testing our machete we joined them. Saw three waterfalls and sweated more than all of them combine. Ate banana stalk soup with tomato and mackeral over rice (all thanks to those guys sharing because we had brought no food, having not planned for a trek). Drank rice whisky near a river, sat next to a fire and pretended to know how to play the harmonica, slept on banana leaves, woke up to rain at 4 in the morning, woke up with a cicada on the towel I put over my head not to have bugs on my face, hiked up a mountain taking breaks in bamboo forests, and received some Bolaven coffee from the family of our guide (I think Starbucks gets some from there). Upon leaving we decided the family had better use for the machete than we and gave it to them as a gift.
Can you spot the person?

It is at about this time that Nolan and I parted ways. He headed back into Thailand and I head on over to vietnam, by means of a very dizzying border experience. After getting in and to a town with accesss to the railway I bought a ticket to Hanoi to meet up with a couple of Danish girls I had met in Laos. I really enjoyed Hanoi and would recommend as a definite place to visit in Vietnam, if only for the food alone (though renting a bicycle is very exciting in a city with such traffic as well). From there Petrine, Solveig, and I headed over to Ha Long Bay for some cold misty weather with a bit of sea food thrown in. Though the view was not nearly as nice as it could have been we took a boat tour and once up close to the karst outcroppings saw how beautiful the area could potentiall be in a month or so.
From there we headed down to Hoi An where the girls enjoyed some tailor shops. After there we made way to Nha Trang, where I am now. Solveig and I entered a diving course and are now certified to dive up to 18 meters (60 feet). Went on a four dives for the course so far and the water and reefs have been stunning. It is exactly as you think it is with colourful fish and unusual but unique formations of coral. We get two more dives free tomorrow and the instructor is letting me use an underwater case for my camera. The case is a little big but I hope to be able to at least get a few shots of some colourful fish swimming in an ocean as clear as a summer day in Miami.
From here I plan to head down to Ho Chi Minh City and maybe dip a bit farther south before heading over to Cambodia around the 1 or 2 of April. Sorry this has taken so long and I hope all is well from wherever you read this.
Take Care!

Exiting Kong Lo cave in central Laos

Letting viewers at home get a feel for the trek

And of course a bit of Jazz in Hanoi


So when am I coming home and what are my plans? I must be honest in saying that I miss people but I do not miss going to school. I am still unsure of what to study and all things that entails. That being said I am registering for classes in a bit more than a week and my intented major is International Studies. What my area of concentration will be or what to do with that or if that is even for me, are still questions in the air. I have made plans in May to do a bit of farm work in Malaysia and I had made plans for doing some in Sri Lanka during June as well but all will depend on money, time, and my frame of mind.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Travel in Laos

I'm writing from Tha Kaek around central Laos. For the past two weeks or so I have been hanging out in Vientiane and Vang Viang. There isn't much to say about Vientiane other than some mice ate some of my pumpkin seeds and I watched a lot of live music. Vang Viang was absolutely great and I probably could have spent quite a bit longer there. My friend Nolan and I travelled to Vang Viang and found a nice bungalow that is close to the river and has a hammock out front, from which to view the karst mountains.

We did a lot of looking around in caves and trekking on some mountains both on and off paths. Then there was kayaking, tubing through a cave, and some rock climbing next to a river. The only downer is that there is a lot of haze due in part to the large amount of logging done in the area (slash and burn), and also a bit from locals burning their trash. The haze does allow a direct view of the sun as it sets, so that is a nice by product.

After realizing we had spent a week there and having only about two weeks left on our visa's we decided to leave and head to southern Laos, where we hear it is beautiful and the people aren't so apathetic toward tourists. I'll try to get some photo's online soon, but the city I'm in has only one internet cafe that I have found and it is not very fast; so it might be a week or so before I can upload some stuff.

Take Care

Inside 7km long cave

Stopping after realizing the cities in the guidebook
might not exist anymore because of a
dam built that flooded outlying areas (central Laos)

Sunset in Vang Viang (stayed on the other side of this bridge)

Did some tubing through this cave

Using One Speed Bicycles to travel in Vang Viang

Nolan sleeping while being flanked by buffalo

The sandbars on the Mekong at sunset

Some cave swimming

Inside a Cave

Top of a Mountain hut (took a nice nap here)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Into Laos

I have spent the last week or so in luxury. Staying at the River Ping Palace in Chiang Mai, eating really good food and dining with ex patriots, as well as getting more massages than I can remember (slowly getting over the ticklish feet). I also went to the highest point in Thailand on a one day get-in-get-out of bus tour. The national park it was in was really beautiful and the pagoda's at the top were really nice with gardens that my friend said are Disneyesque. There was a part that I felt uncomfortable with, we saw a small hill tribe that lives in the national park and it felt like there were just standing around for us to take photo's of them and such. They didn't ask for money or anything like that, but I just felt that it was a bit demeaning for both parties involved. I took no photo's of them. I also went with Giles to a temple that his friend from London painted murals in after traveling the world for 8 years and then spending 3 more living in Chiang Mai. I made my way from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai (about 14hr bus ride) and spent the night. The next day I rented a bicycle and headed to a sculpture park only to realize when I got there that I forgot my camera. The sculptures were really interesting as they are a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism, plus they are made of concrete and really tall. While there I met a family that showed me where the sculptor's mummified body was and then took me out to lunch. They also took me to the border and invited me to visit their restaurant if I come back around that way. Right now I'm in Vientiane, Laos so I can get a visa for Vietnam. Not sure how long I'll be in Laos, the visa is for 30 days but I might not stay that long.

Tea Time

River Ping Palace

Mural painted by Giles' friend

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A few days in Lamton and Chiang Mai

So what have I been up to the past week or so? Well I stayed with a nice family in Lamton and got to see Thailand's rice belt. It was a very relaxing couple of days and I even helped them with some computer issues to earn my keep. After that I headed back to Uttaradit to catch a train to Chiang Mai. I ended up meeting Mouse and her family at a bar and going later with them to a discotheque. She was really helpful and even took me to the train station the next day and introduced me to where she lives in Lablae (spelling?). Unfortunately, the train was second class only which means the ticket was more than I thought I was going to pay but it was the only train that passed through and was going to Chiang Mai. Arriving in my car I see a bunch of farangs (foreigners) and lots of backpack straps dangling from overhead shelves. I was later served a small pink cake and a drink. A lot different than the third class train I took from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi which had no air-con and when we stopped we got street food hawkers come on board to sell stuff. After arriving in Chiang Mai I went to meet up with Esther, a host on couch surfer. So far it has been a great experience in Chiang Mai. I had some dumplings at what I think was a six star restaurant. I went on what is called Flight of the Gibbons, basically zip-lines strung through the jungle in northern Thailand. If there was any doubt about me not eating enough before, let your thoughts be availed. In the past three days I have eaten more food than the rest of the trip combined. I tried some turtle in Lamton (chewy and spicy), some shark fin on a dumpling (I think the restaurant was The Oriental), all sorts of sushi at a sushi bar with a treadmill like belt for all the dishes to pass by. I also have been trying food specific from northern Thailand that is mostly pork such as sausages and things like that. Oh and I went to the theatre and watched Inkheart. The film was decent but we sat VIP in reclining chairs and were brought a blanket and pillow, pretty nice huh? They also do a little montage before the film with a song saluting the king where everyone stands up. So what is next? Not sure. I have about a week before my visa runs out and I was thinking of heading to Nong Khai because I've heard good things about the atmosphere there; plus it's right next to Vientiane, Laos where I plan to get my Vietnamese visa. But I'm going to see a hill tribe on Monday with Esther and Giles (a sculptor from London). That might flood over into a travel adventure into northern Laos or it might not. Anyway, I leave you with some photo's and hope everything is going well with everyone.

A rice field with a small room
(usually only used when needed)
A couple of rice farmers invited me for some rice whiskey while I was biking around

Esther hosting a bunch of us for massive amounts of dumplings

The skin of the duck is eaten around Chinese New Year (I think)

Some nature

Geared up for being slung through the forest

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two Weeks

It has only been about two weeks that I have been traveling and I have met so many people from around the world. I've discussed politics and the new president with people from Holland, Belgium, France, and England. I've discussed love and travel with a young French man and a Thai guy. I learned about people moving from Ho Chi Min, Vietnam to Nong Khai during the war, from a tuk tuk driver. I've realized that people who travel generally want to have a good time and so it is easy to talk and get to know each other. And even though I have read about the generosity before, nothing compares with experience and it is still suprising for me to meet such generous and helpful people from everywhere. I got a great map of Bangkok from a friend and then passed it on so that another traveler may use it. I got a Thailand guide book (Lonely Planet which everyone, everyone uses) from another friend and I will try to pass that on as well when I leave for Laos in two weeks.

Right now I'm in Lamton which is near Tron which is near Uttaradit which is not in the guidebook at all. Very exciting stuff. In a day or so I will be heading on to Chiang Mai which I think will be really nice and I will be able to go out and ride an elephant and do such things. After this the plan is to visit Pai and on to Nong Khai to cross the border. But plans are always changing so one never knows. I planned to stay in Kanchanaburi for 3-4 days but ended up staying 6.

I've uploaded some photos including
one of a sort of half breed Egg Mcmuffin dumpling style (no not from McDonalds but from a street vendor,by the way McDonalds delivers here). It was quite good.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sorry it has been so long since I last wrote. I just really haven't been doing much to write about. I checked out the River Kwai Bridge, which is basically a bridge with lots of tourists. The past week or so has mostly been about meeting people from all over and discussing just about everything life has to offer. Not really much sightseeing. Other than that I just got into Sukhothai last night and visited some ruins today. The other picture is of my friend Emil who got to do a little cooking at this place we went to every night. I'll try to take more photo's for everyone. Take Care!