Xe Champone

Before leaving Thakhek in the morning we got up early to go to the bakery for breakfast. I got a croissant that for once actually tasted like a croissant and Ben got real British chocolate digestives. I think my mouth died and went to heaven. I’m having a bit of a battle with dizziness and feeling really sick which I’m hoping is just down to my anti-malarials and today this was pretty bad.

We headed to Xe Champone in the countryside. On route we stopped at several places. First to buy bananas, this was important for later in the day. After this we stopped at the Buddhist library. This is a temple with the teachings of Buddha written on palm leaves from the 16th century. These are written in Bali sanscript and only one monk at the temple is able to read and write in this.

In this particular temple they were very strict. Normally as long as your knees and shoulders are covered and you take your shoes off woman are fine to enter. In this temple woman had to wear skirts even if wearing full length trousers as it is believed to be more respectable.

After viewing the teachings we had to walk round the hut 3 times for good luck. Sometimes I wonder if they make these things up so they can laugh at tourists but when you see locals doing it you know it’s not the case. The hut was high above the water on stilts, the floor physically bent when you walked on the floorboards and we had to go round 3 times!

After the Buddhist library we went to feed monkeys! I stayed well back on this one after the monkey in India growled at me and bared it’s teeth, I’m just a small bit terrified of them… In Lao monkeys are called Ling and in this particular area when you shout ling ling and you have bananas, monkeys will come running. Along with monkeys that want bananas there are cows that will chase you till you feed them a banana and goats.

After the monkeys we drove to our guesthouse and as it had the only restaurant for miles we ate lunch there before going to visit turtles – Asiatic Softshell turtles. Someone mentioned these are rare but this could be total bullsh*t. They were more like crocodiles than any turtle I had ever seen but we enjoyed feeding them sticky rice. The village surrounding the turtle lake have to feed the turtles otherwise the turtles come to the village to be fed and won’t leave until they do.

Our final stop on the days adventure was Old Wat Talaeo. This ruined temple had been bombed by the US and a new temple had been built at the other side of town. Ben and I took this as a good time to take album artwork style photos…

After this we headed back to the guesthouse, I skipped dinner and was in bed by 6 to try and make myself feel better. Only 2 days left in Laos now before going into Cambodia.

Tomorrow is Pakse, where I’m told the Indian food is great.

Advertisements

Vang Vieng and Vientiane

We dragged our feet to Joma Bakery for 7am to meet the bus. After a short tuk tuk to our bus we headed off with our new tour group with a few familiar faces and our new tour leader Pao. We were given two choices to get to Vang Vieng: the old road which takes 7 hours, extremely bumpy and very twisty or the new road: takes 4 hours, still pretty twisty and still bumpy. It was unanimously decided we would take the new road.

We stopped twice on the way, once for a viewpoint and the second time for the view of the nam song river and the limestone mountains both beautiful.

What wasn’t beautiful in my eyes was Vang Vieng. So far, this has been my least favourite place we visited. It reminded me of Malia in Crete or Kavos in Corfu. Vang Vieng is a party town for backpackers and koreans. While the atmosphere at night was great during the day it wasn’t a place I wanted to be especially for 2 nights.

I think what didn’t help was the fact that I had booked a sh*t guesthouse. The springs in the beds were poking through the bed, the bathroom door wasn’t whole and the air con was mouldy and spitting out water. Our time in vang vieng was spent either sleeping or eating. It’s kind of felt like a waste of the 2 days we spent there.

Yesterday morning we gleefully jumped aboard our bus to Vientiane – the capital of Laos. We stopped at the Tam Chang caves, the COPE centre – organisation which provides prosthesis for lao people which have been injured by the extensive amount of unexploded bombs left by the US many years ago and the Patuxay Monument which was modelled like the Arc D’Triumphe in Paris. By the time we arrived at the guesthouse it was around 6.30 so we were ready for dinner. I’m now at the stage that I’m ready for western food again so we headed for pizza at the pizza company.

Right now, we’re currently an hour into our 7 hour bus journey to Kong Lor in the Lao countryside our guesthouse tonight will be surrounded by limestone mountains, rice paddys and tobacco plants.

Luang Prabang

Our first night in Luang Prabang was a chilled dinner where we had the best lava cake ever and a walk round the night market which was luckily on the same street as our first guesthouse.

The following day we woke up early for our trip to the “rice experience” this was where we went to learn how rice is farmed from the ploughing of the fields right through to eating it. Our guide explained that there was 14 steps to making rice. The organisation who run the farm are called Living Land Lao. It’s a working farm, but through the tours it supports children from poor families to go to high school and university if they wish, for free. They also run English classes that the local children go to for free. Our guide Den, had just finished high school with them. He spoke with fluent English from the classes and was teaching them and working the tours when he could to pay them back for their generosity.

The tour started with showing us which of the rice from the plants is planted for food. There are no waste parts to the process, the seeds not planted are fed to chickens. After we were shown how the seeds were germinated and then using Rudolph the water buffalo we ploughed the fields. During the experience we planted the rice, harvested it, helped to sort the seeds out, prepared it using a large pestle and mortar and most importantly we ate it. The dry season is not the prime season for rice as you get very little grains from the plants and due to he fact no other farmers will be farming at this time the birds and mice will get most of the products as they flock to the one farm.

A

After the rice experience we took a bus to Kuang Si Waterfall. The way the path works is you walk through the bear sanctuary at the base and walk upwards through the pools of the falls until you reach the main falls. At the first pool we jumped in the water. In the western world I feel like the pools would have been overly busy but here everyone stood round the edges not going in. The water was pretty cold but the temperatures are mid to late 30’s so cold water was welcome. Haven’t got much more to say on the waterfall so here’s some pictures.

D

ue to the bus being full we had to spend a further 4 nights here, after changing Hotel we spent the next four days exploring the city and buying plenty in the night market.

After Luang Prabang we headed to the party town of Vang Vieng.

Bagan

Our journey to Bagan started with an 8 hour overnight bus journey from Yangon. I wasn’t expecting much from this because everytime I’ve taken the Megabus from Aberdeen to London I’ve absolutely hated it. Our first impressions weren’t good with the bus having gravestones painted on the side and the lord’ s prayer printed on the windscreen. We couldn’t have been more wrong the seats were wide and comfortable with footrests and loads of leg room. We also had a tv which was showing Tom and Jerry or Rambo 3. I opted for 8 hours of Tom and Jerry. We arrived in Bagan at 5am where our guide met us to take us to a pagoda for sunrise. Sunrise from the pagoda was beautiful. He then took us to 3 other temples, which none of us were interested in as we were so tired. Once we arrived at the guesthouse I had a 4 hour nap to feel human again. The plan for the evening was to hire mopeds and as a group go to see the sunrise from a hill. I gave the moped a go along the side of the main road but didn’t want to drive it on the roads as the driving is insane so I went on the back of our guide La’s moped. Whilst we were watching sunset there were Burmese kids mainly trying to sell their drawings and postcards but a couple were collecting foreign coins a little boy called Juju had 11 countries worth and I added 2 more to his collection – Malaysia and India.

Bagan has over 3000 pagodas in the area and they are everywhere to be seen, so on our second we spent the day riding on mopeds trying to see as many as possible. On our trip with the mopeds we went to old Bagan which was so quiet with houses that villagers had made out of bamboo. Once we were done for the afternoon La went his separate ways and I was left mopedless. Alice was determined to have me riding it without fear so off we went to a back road for me to practice it. I loved it on the back road and drove it back to the hotel but the main roads. Definitely glad I tried it but don’t think I’ll be giving up my car for it! We ate dinner at a place called Sharkys which was very cute and then called it a night before our 8 hour bus journey to Kalaw the next morning.

Kuala Lumpur > Yangon

After leaving Delhi we caught a red eye flight to Kuala Lumpur. The flight itself would have been fine if we didn’t have a group of Indian guys who had never flown before infront of us… Once we arrived at KL airport I immediately decided I liked it already. We got an uber from the airport into the city which I told Ben we couldn’t fall asleep in… I slept for most of it. Arriving at the hotel had us in awe. We had managed to get a good deal on a 5 star and it was amazing. We arrived too early to check in and went up to the pool to sleep around it. We then headed to Petronas Towers mall for some lunch. After wandering back to the hotel we finally got into our room which was more like a flat! We had a kitchen/living room, bedroom, walk in wardrobe and a bathroom. It was a long way off the Indian hotels we had just come from. That night we went for dinner and to see the greatest showman (tickets were less than £3!!) Our second day in KL started off with us taking a walk to the KL tower in our ticket price it included a walk round the mini zoo. Here we fed squirrel monkeys and I fed the birds. It took me 2 attempts to manage the birds, the first time I freaked out and threw the seeds everywhere when a parrot flew at me. The man sorted my out the next time and I was fine! The next day we got an uber to the airport again and flew to Yangon. My flight got upgraded so I had the luxury of first class. Kuala Lumpur airport has to be the most chilled airport I have ever been in. If only they were all like that. Arriving in Yangon was yet another culture shock for me. Our uber driver caused us a nightmare trying to find him and then when we did find him he didn’t speak to us till he wanted a tip. So far for me, Myanmar is similar to india but less crazy driving. Today we have been to shwedagon pagoda which was stunning. We also visited the reclining Buddha and the market. Tonight we board an overnight bus which I’m feeling pretty anxious about!

10 things I’ve learned about India after my first visit

1. Indian drivers have amazing spatial awareness (and they need it). Indian roads are mental, if there is a space that your vehicle will fit in then it will. Regardless of it being a lane or not.

2. India really is an assault on your senses and it’s amazing. There is always noise whether it be dogs barking, horns constantly sounding, people singing or prayer music. Bright colours are all over especially in arid areas like Rajasthan where the ground is very beige. Flowers called rangoli’s which are bright are brought to temples, the buildings are painted colours and the women wear the brightest clothes I have ever seen.

There is always a smell in the air whether it be incense, burning rubbish or cow dung. The food is spicy, they tone it down for foreigners but it still burns my tongue off! Even the cups of tea here include spices (chai masala tea).

3. Indians have incredibly bendy legs. Not sure whether this is because of the amazing muscles they need just to use the bathroom or it’s down to something else but they can really bend those legs! So many men squat on small fence posts comfortably as their seats.

4. Curries do get better than your favourite Indian restaurant at home. My curry tastes have definitely been changed. I’ve gone from just eating chicken curries to preferring vegetable curries with paneer or dal (paneer where have you been all my life). I’ve jumped off the naan bandwagon and on to the roti rodeo.

5. In the past when I’ve visited monuments that I’ve been excited about (the statue of liberty comes to mind) they’ve disappointed me. I’ve learned that, that doesn’t always have to be the case. The Taj Mahal took my breath away and I almost cried it was so stunning. It was so much more than the hype.

6. Indians stare. a lot. I’m not sure if this shocked me more because coming from Britain we are taught at an early age that staring is rude. Everywhere we have gone the locals will stop and stare at us. They don’t even stop staring when you stare back, this encourages them even more! It’s expected now but this is definitely one of the things I’ve felt most uncomfortable about.

7. Animals live harmoniously amongst people. In every place we have been there have been cows wandering aimlessly, on the highways and in the towns. This is because of their sacredness to the Hindus of India. In the cities their are thousands of stray dogs and wild monkeys roaming without anyone thinking anything of it.

8. I didn’t realise how much of a religious country India would be. I knew there was Hindus and Muslims but there are so much more. There’s thousands of temples to thousands of God’s and goddesses.

9. Each city we visited varied so much, Delhi is so crazy busy and dusty. Agra is so touristy and people clamber for your business and Jaipur, although busy has a laid back atmosphere which I liked the best.

10. Finally, how much I love India. It has been so much more than I could have imagined or hoped for and I will definitely be back.

Final Day in Delhi

Today we faced Delhi ourselves. When I woke up this morning I didn’t want to leave the safety of the hotel. Delhi is scary. But we planned our day with the help of Mandys itinerary and off we went. We walked around 10 miles today and saw lots of sights notably the India gate and the lotus temple (more importantly we also found out India has Nandos) to get around we caught the Delhi metro which is really easy similar to the tube. Women have their own carriage here, we can board any carriage but men cannot board the women only one. The women only carriage is amazing but it’s really sad that it is needed so that women have a safe place. For dinner we had an Indian pizza hut which was great.

We’ve come back to the hotel now and I’ve done a massive repack ready for the flight to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow evening! India you have been so much more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for!