I was actually planning to write about my holiday in Thailand and Laos last week, but several circumstances, a bad sinus infection amongst them, slowed me down a little bit and time just flew away.
Anyway, as I mentioned in my last blog, I met my Norwegian friend Edward in Bangkok on Friday October 02, and we spent one day just wandering around in Bangkok before we took the overnight train north to the border of Laos. The 12-hour train ride was quite interesting. We tried to buy first class tickets, but they were already sold out, so we had to put up with second class, which basically meant an open carriage where the seats could be turned into beds with some short curtains for privacy. The standard was a little lower than we anticipated, but we found it rather funny when we were ordered to bed by an angry looking conductor whose job was to turn all the seats into beds before he could go to sleep himself. He started to convert the carriage to a dormitory already at 9 pm, but since we didn’t feel like going to bed that early we asked him if he could come back later. He gave us a look that could kill, so we realized that the guy was not in the mood for an argument.
I think Edward slept pretty well, but I had a really long night trying to relax in the short bed. I am sure they fit a normal sized Asian person, but for a Norwegian they were simply too short, and I had problems relaxing since we were not able to lock up any of our luggage. I ended up trying to sleep while holding on to my wallet, laptop and camera (my most important items), and hoping that nobody would be rude enough to snatch it while I was asleep.
We arrived in Nong Khai around 8 am Sunday morning, and from there we had to catch a tuk-tuk to the Lao border. Getting a visa on arrival and crossing the border was surprisingly easy, and it was still morning while we entered our hotel in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Since it was too early to check in, we just dropped off our stuff and found a nice place for breakfast before we jumped into a tuk-tuk for a city tour. Vientiane is in fact a very nice city, not too unlike Siem Reap in Cambodia, and the people were lovely. There was a dragon boat race going on at the Mekong River that day, and the market was full of people partying or selling food and other articles. We got some nice sunset shots of the Mekong River, and we afterwards we went to bed early since it had been a long day.
The next morning we went out to the bus station and jumped on a so-called air-conditioned VIP bus to Luang Prabang, which is a cultural center of Laos, the country’s former capital, and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bus ride was supposed to take 8 hours, but it ended up taking 10, and what they called air-condition was just some air ventilators that were not able to cool down the crowded bus. The best part of the trip was definitely the view, because we traveled across some really impressive mountains. About half way we stopped on a lunch place located in the mountains, and the air was surprisingly cool and fresh. If the roof hatches in the bus wasn’t nailed down we could actually have been pretty comfortable in there, but for some strange reason they had decided to lock us up without fresh air. Well, we made it to Luang Prabang after 10 hours, and I we were extremely happy to get off the bus in the end. Originally we had planned to take the same trip back to Bangkok, but we both agreed that we make too much money to put up with that shit more than once, so once we had internet access we booked the flights back to Bangkok for the end of the week.
We both loved Luang Prabang. The hotel was great, the people were nice and the nature was stunning. The first day, Tuesday, we decided to have a look around the city and have a chat with some travel agencies to see what they could offer of guided tours. On Wednesday we ended up hiring a personal guide and going on an elephant jungle ride, and after the ride, we had a chance to go swimming with these huge animals. We also visited the famous Pak Ou caves, which is a magnificent group of caves only accessible by boat, and known for their impressive Lao style Buddha sculptures assembled over the centuries by local people and pilgrims.
The next day we went on a half day trip to the Kuang Si Waterfall, approximately 30 kilometers outside of Luang Prabang. This time we joined a bunch of other tourists, and we ended up spending time with a guy from Israel, an Australian and a couple from England. The lower part of the clear waterfall was flowing into beautiful turquoise colored pools, surrounded by lush green plants, and it looked like a little oasis. The upper part of the fall was steeper and not suitable for swimming. There was a track leading up to the top of the fall, and we climbed all the way up to try to get a good view, but we discovered that we couldn’t get to the edge of the fall because of the heavy vegetation, and neither could we get over to the other side without wading in mud, so we just went down the same way we came up. Not really worth the hassle of climbing up, but of course we didn’t know that when we started.
Edward and I spent quite some on one of the nice restaurants in the city. We found this comfortable little spot on the main street where we could overlook the “city life” and enjoy free internet access. The place had a sign saying that “Thieves will be thrown in the Mekong River”, which we found very amusing. The food was good, with lots of vegetarian options, and – more importantly – the smoothies were awesome! Yes, we ended up spending both time and money on that place.
We flew back to Bangkok on Friday, and we had to kill Friday night and all of Saturday in the Thai capital. I was starting to get sick with a very bad cold, sinusitis, tonsillitis and an annoying cough, so we didn’t run around too much, but spent some time in a couple of the huge malls. Bangkok is huge on shopping, but frankly I get more than enough of that in Singapore, so I think Edward was enjoying it more than I was.
We flew back to Singapore on Sunday, and on Monday morning I was supposed to fly to Kuala Lumpur to work there for a few days. Edward had planned to come with me since it was no point for him to stay in Singapore without me, but because I was getting really sick I was in no condition to fly so I had to cancel the trip. I also lost my voice completely, so I wouldn’t be able to do much work anyway. I guess wasn’t much of a company the next few days, but we managed to visit the zoo at some point. On Friday morning Edward flew back to Norway, and all of a sudden I was alone again. The weekend was quite lonely, and I was desperately trying to fill the void, but I guess all good things have to come to an end, and at least I had two nice weeks with good company. Maaan, I miss having friends around me!
This week I am on the road as usual. Five days in Manila. I have heard there is a new typhoon on its way, and I am wondering if I will make it home before the weekend.