Monday, October 25, 2010

We ended up in Laos somehow. Oct. 7th-Oct. 15th.

Oct. 7th: This morning Eden and I woke up extra early to grab tuna sandwiches from the Mexican restaurant we found in Chiang Khong. We then got picked up around 8:30 am to head to the river to take a river boat to Laos and get our visa for Laos. When we got to Laos I felt like we were cattle and the Laos people were gathering us in groups to pay for our visas.

One of the Laotian men told us to place our bags somewhere and he said "sit down and chillax you are in Laos now." We then had to pay $35 for our visas and we were directed to go up the street in a van to get to the slow boat.

When we got to the van we noticed there was a group 2 older women and a young man. They were following this woman on a bike who brought them to the van and she kept riding her bike away from the van. One of them women started freaking out because sh didn't know that was the van that would take her to the boat. The Laotian man tried to calm her down but she kept freaking out not knowing what was happening. Eden said "that woman is not chillaxing." If there is anything I have learned about traveling through Southeast Asia is to not freak out as the locals will take advantage of the situation. We all got in the van and headed on to the slowboat. We were taking a 2 day slowboat and make one stop in Laos before you get to Luang Probang.

On the boat we sat in really hard seats that were soo uncomfortable. Steve and I were sitting next to each other and created a system. One of us would sit on the chair while the other sat on the floor on the sleeping bag. The system worked perfectly and I was even able to nap on the floor. When it was my turn to sit on the chair I started eating my messy tuna sandwich and when Steve woke up from his nap on the ground we realized that some of my sandwich ended up in Steve's hair. He said he would save it for later for a snack haha. We also met a guy named Thierry from Belgium and we got into a couple of intense conversations about life and our futures.

We traveled for 6 hours down the muddy Mekong River. Fishermen, children, and buffalos watched us drift by. Often, we would pass a river-side village, and occasionally we would stop to pick up a passenger or two, or to unload goods in brightly colored canvas bags. At one such stop, a procession of tiny children boarded the boat, and came down the isles with baskets, selling chips, soda, and beer.

We pulled in to Pak Beng and a mass of villagers were there to greet us, each holding a sign advertising their particular guesthouse or service. Scott lead the way and found us a guesthouse and we haggled down the price. We sat our bags down and went to a restaurant to see what the Laos food was all about.

Now here is what you need to know about some Asian countries.... they love salt and msg. The food in Laos was sooo insanely salty I could not even eat some of the things I ordered. We then tried to find ice cream but there was not much here on this small village. We decided to stick with sweet sticky rice and banana and we went to bed.

Oct. 8th: The next morning Liz and Steve ended up waking up really early so they could grab the front seats in the slow boat. The front seats look like seats out of  van that they stuck on to the boat. The second day on the slow boat was more enjoyable since these seats were very comfortable. On the boat we all read our books, took naps, listened to music, Scott read a tabloid, and I spent some time talking to this old married couple from England about the secret to a long and healthy marriage. Here is the secret: Personal Space! haha got it!

We finally docked in Luang Probang and Scott lead the way to find us the cheapest guesthouse. We walked around the entire town and the cheapest we could find was 50,000 kip per room (kip is the currency in Laos). Steve was learning how to haggle down prices and he went to one hotel to check out the price. The hotel wanted $50 US dollars per night and Steve, with his British accent, says "$50 as in US dollars? Is this hotel made out of gold?" We gave in and went back to to the place for 50,000 kip per night, set our things down and went to a restaurant for dinner. I ended up eating noodles in a coconut sauce and had a watemelon shake.

After dinner we walked around and saw the night market. There was a rumor that the electricity goes out at 10pm because Laos works off a generator. We had no idea if this was true so when we got to the night market Steve asked a woman if she spoke English and she asked him "what you want?" Steve, again in his silly British accent, says " Do the lights (points to a light) go out (moves his hands as if to say finish) at 10pm? (and points to his watch)." The woman looked like a deer in the headlights and had no idea what Steve was trying to ask so clearly she did not speak English.

Thierry and I ended up walking ahead of the group and we ran into this girl Ramona, who I met at the first stop in Laos, who told us about this small side street at the end of the night market where you could get food for real cheap. We planned to eat there tomorrow night. We then headed to the bar called the hive and tried some BeerLaos. FYI the beer in Laos is awful. At the hive Thierry decided to share with us his experience of a Thai massage that included a "happy ending." Again trying to keep this blog rated pg13 so I will spare you he details.

Some places in the village have to close by 11:30 because of the electricity rules. If they do not close up shop the police come to fine them. The only place open late night is a night club so we decided to get in a tuk tuk and check it out. When we got to the club I couldn't be more sketched out. It was so dark and strobe lights were annoying me. I was nervous because it was so dark and I did not want my bag to get taken so I stood in a corner so I could see all of my surroundings and just stood there for the night while I watched everyone dance. I just could not enjoy myself because I already had my camera stolen and I was able to see a number of sketchy Laos characters that made me want to stay aware of everything that was going on. I was happy when the rest of the gang was ready to go home.

Oct. 9th: This morning we wanted to take it easy so we woke up late and worked out a deal with a tuk tuk driver to take us to one of the caves. It was Eden, Scott, Steve, Liz and me 130,000 kip for all 5 of us. Now here is what we found out about Laos: Whoever came to this country and taught the locals how to rip off tourists is 1. a genius and 2. I am not a fan of this person. When we got to the caves we did not realize that you had to take a river boat to get to the caves where these little boys guarding the boats. We asked them how much to get to the caves and they wanted 10,000 kip per person. We all thought this was crazy so we walked around the river to see if we could haggle down with other boat drivers. Liz and I tried to walk around the river but the sand/mud was like quick sand. When we tried to get the attention of another boat driver we both fell into the mud and our legs were stuck into the ground. I fell down to my knees and Liz tried to pull her feet out and lost her flip flops into the mud. Although it was gross, and I was covered in mud, it was freakin hilarious. We gave up and got into the boat and all paid 10,000 kip each to get to the cave. Now here is the great part: When you get to the cave you then have to pay 20,000 kip just to enter. We did and the cave was crap it was full of buddhas that looked like the trinket buddhas you buy on the street. There was another cave up top where we needed to climb up some stairs to get to it. This was a deeper cave that you needed flashflights or headlamps for. Scott and I were the only ones with headlamps so we used them to guide everyone through the cave. This cave was crap too it was not worth all the money we spent just to get there. We took the river boat back and when I got out the little boys said something to me in Laos and started laughing and I just said "I don't know what you just said to me but I am sure it wasn't very nice!" But they couldn't stop laughing and I couldn't help but laugh.

When we got back into town we walked back to the street where they have the night market and walked down to the street where Ramona said we could grab cheap food. There was a lady at the end of the street that had a buffet of food. You could take a plate and help yourself. I had noodles, rice, vegetables, a spring roll, pumpkin and some chips for a $1.50. So good!!!

We ended up walking around for a bit and at night we headed back to the hive bar. When 11:30pm hit, and it was time to close down the bar, Steve and Scott wanted to head to the night club. Eden and I said no thanks so we walked home and chose to sit on a small swing eating crepes with cheese.

Oct. 10th. This morning we woke up extra early to catch a minivan to a town called Vang Vieng. Scott and Steve came down and you could already tell it was going to be a rough van ride for them as they had a long night ;) A van came to pick us up to take us to another van station and when we got there lets just say that people in Laos do not have anything organized and they have no concept of time. They did not have enough vans for the people who booked the trip to Vang Vieng.

Steve and Eden ended up in one van and Liz, Scott and I had to wait 20 extra minutes for them to find another van and another driver. Now let me tell you about the roads in parts of Southeast Asia. The roads are dirt roads, bumpy and you are either going up hill or around sharp turns you either feel like you are going to die or get car sickness. Oh and its also not so fun when you really have to pee. We asked the van driver to stop the van so we could go to the bathroom. There is definitely another thing I noticed about traveling is that some countries love to charge you to go to the bathroom. They wanted 10,000 kip just so you could pee. Liz and I chose the woods nuff said.

When we arrived in Vang Vieng we had Scott lead the way to our next home. We made a deal with the owners of bungalows near the river. It was Scott, Eden and me in one and Liz and Steve in the other. In order to get to our bungalows we had to take a bridge that looked like it was going to colapse. Basically they rebuilt a bridge over one that was already broken. We couldnt understand how they could build 2 story houses/ hotels yet they couldnt figure out how to build a safe bridge. However, outside our new home we had the most amazing view of the river and mountains and I was able to watch the sun set.

We regrouped for dinner and chose to eat at the banana restaurant where you sit indian style on the ground on couchy mats and this was the restaruant where we ate 3 meals a day for 3 days and we did not try any other place. The banana restaurant had over 400 items on their menu so we never got bored. Plus they had the best view.

Oct. 11th: Today was the day that we were going tubing. In Vang Vieng people come here to tube down the river and along the river are a number of bars with swings and water slides. Its basically like spring break here but you are tubing down the river instead of partying in a bar or beach. Unfortunately Liz and I came down with a pretty bad cold so we decided not to go and stay in and watch the weird films that we got on the only English speaking television program.

Liz and I headed to the banana restaurant and Eden, Scott and Steve ended up meeting us there after they went tubing. They looked like they had soooo much fun. They were covered in paint and colorful arm and headbands and they told us it was just nuts and crazy. Liz and I kept drinking tea and orange juice so that we could bring ourselves back to health or at least get healthy enough to go tubing.

Oct. 12th: The rest of the gang had a long night partying at the bucket bar near our bungalows. We let Eden stay in and rest while the 4 of us had breakfast. Steve ordered a shake with pineapple and lime and when we got the bill he realized that his shake was really expensive. He called the waiter over and he told him that he thought he asked for rum. Steve, in his British accent goes, "Rum? at 10 o'clock in the morning? I said lime not rum! I am not going to pay for this." In Laos you drink it you buy it. And this where we came up with our inside joke of lum... ask for lime but its rum so lum. Liz and I woke up and we decided to go tubing around noon so we could beat the crowd. We just were not well enough to really do the hard core partying and spring break tubing experience. We took it easy and started tubing at the first bar. We went down one water slide and just continued to enjoy the scenery going down the river.

Now here is something important to know if you ever go to Laos to Vang Vieng and go tubing: LOCK AND HIDE ALL YOUR VALUABLES!!! When tourists go tubing the locals go into peoples hotel rooms and steal everything from your money to your passport. They stole a girls passport and made her buy it back from them. Also in the water when you get close to the end of tubing there are these little boys who will help you out of the water and they will either steal whatever you have on you or ask for money.

We were done tubing around 2 and we just went back to the room to relax a bit, had dinner and then we proceeded to the bucket bar!!! The bar is called the bucket bar because they literally give you a bucket full of alcohol. I stuck to water... come on now I was sick and trying to get better.

Oct. 13th. Today we were leaving for Vientiane, the capital of Laos. This morning I had to have a serious conversation with Eden because Steve and her had been discussing going to Cambodia and Vietnam and they have decided to travel together. These countries were not in our original plan and I have to admit I was full of different emotions. I was angry, sad, hurt, confused, but at the end of the day I understood. We have been traveling for 2 months together and haven't had any fights or issues. We just both got to a point where we wanted different things. I wanted to go back into Thailand and head to the beaches and she wanted to head up north to Cambodia and Vietnam. All I could do was cry but I understood. I love Eden with all my heart and I just want her to be happy. We packed up our things and said goodbye to our bungalow and the 5 of us got on a bus to Vientiane.

When we arrived in Vientiane we found a hotel that was able to accomadate all 5 of us in one room. We had air conditioner (which is rare) and a tv (which is also rare). We ventured out and had some dinner I ate ginger chicken and rice and I have to admit I was ready to head back to Thailand I cannot handle all the salt and msg on the food. While the others were outside I had a heart to heart with Scott and asked him if switching travel partners was a good thing. He believes it is and I trust him.

We then headed to a coffee shop where they sold apple computers in.... soo weird and random....and Liz and I snuck some tea bags from their tea box into our purse since we were both having cravings for tea. We then all sat down and started to plan out our individual trips and go to bed.

Oct. 14th: Today was our last day together as a group. Steve and Eden were planning their trip, getting visas and bus tickets. Scott was figuring out his bus tickets and Liz and I decided to book a flight from Laos to Bangkok. The reason why I decided to fly back into Bangkok is because if I come back in by land I can only stay for 15 days and if I fly I get a full month. After everything was booked we decided to go to a restaurant and have our last meal as a group together. Steve, Scott and I had tuna sandwiches, Liz had a ham and cheese sandwich and Eden ordered chicken in an oyster sauce with rice. We then ventured out to one of the tourist sites in Laos which was the Patuxay Arch. It is also known as the Victory monument or Victory Gate as it commemorates those who lost their lives in the war against the French and was built using American funds. The US government had given Laos money to build a new airport, however the Laotian government of the day used the money to build the monument instead. As a consequence it is sometimes referred to as the "vertical runway".

After seeing the arch it was time to say goodbye to Scott as he needed to head to his bus back to Bangkok. Then there were 4! We walked back to the hotel room and Liz and I got our bags and got into a tuk tuk to head to the airport. And then there were 2! Eden and Steve left at 5 for their bus. Liz and I got to the airport and flew back to Bangkok. Our flight was only an hour and when we landed and went through customs I thought I could exchange my leftover Laos kip into Thailand baht yup no think again. Laos money is crap and they would not exchange it. Luckily at the baggage claim we found this really cute guy who was going back to Laos so he gave me some baht for my kip. We then needed to book it to get to the train station to get on an over night train to head down to the islands.

Liz and I took the sky train and had to transfer to another metro station. We got to the train station with 2 min. to spare. We bought our train, bus and boat tickets, which I have a feeling we got ripped off because he forked soo much money for this, and we ran and hopped on to the train with 1 min. to spare.

We had to walk through the train to get to our car and unfortunately our sleeper beds were not together. I had number 23 and Liz had 29. Near bed 23 was an Australian and a German guy drinking some beers and eating dinner. We joined them and the Australian guy taught me some Thai. I can now say hello, thank you, and no thank you in Thai. We were having a good time until the Aussie got really drunk and pushy. He wanted us to drink more but we were sooo tired we did not want to. He ordered us beers that we did not drink and he made us pay for them. Not cool dude. We were looking at our tickets and realized that we are stopping at the wrong spot and we would have to take a crazy long boat ride to get to Ko Samui. We were on a train to a town that is closer to Ko Tao. We then realized that we need to be up by 3am to get off the train to take a bus to get on a boat.

When the Australian guy found out about the mix up he started to laugh and make fun of us. At this point we were done with him and we went to our sleeper beds to try to get some rest before we had to get off at 3am.

Oct. 15th: We woke up at 3am to get ready to get off at the town we needed to take the bus from. A girl who was sleeping in the sleeper bed next to Liz's also got out to get ready to go. We had to wake up the guard to see when we were getting off the train. Again people here have no concept of time and our train was an hour late getting to our stop. But on this train is where we met Beth and we would head to the islands and go to the full moon party in Ko Phangnan.

Stay tuned!

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