I’ve been dreaming of visiting New York city since I was a child. This year I told myself that this was the year to do it, regardless of who would come with me. But luckily the boy is easily convinced so off we jetted with Norwegian airways for five days of adventures. NOTE: It is totally worth paying more for your flight with Norwegian as it then includes a checked bag and two meals (well, two servings. The hot food is ok, the cold is not). Continue reading
Monday morning was sad. We loved KL and didn’t want to leave. But what awaited us was turtles, beach, pool and relaxing. Now I’m not a beach or sunshine person, so I had my reservations. Literally I was wrong about everything. After a quick 50 minute flight with AirAsia aka zero leg room airlines we landed at Kuala Terengganu airport. Like in KL, they have a taxi counter and they understood what we meant with our rambled variations of Tanjong Jara Resort, we paid our money and hopped in a taxi. About 30 minutes in and after making phone calls, the driver tells us there is a problem with his car, but not to worry because his friend would pick us up and take us the rest of the way. My reaction? “I’m going to die. This is like Taken, but worse”. Liam Neeson wouldn’t save us this time. Luckily he pulled in to a busy petrol station and his friend arrived in a licensed taxi, he apologised a lot and off we sped. Literally. Whilst they have nice big smooth roads, people still drive like maniacs. I’m not certain if there were speed limits or not. But we got there alive so it was fine.
On arrival at Tanjong Jara, they chime the gong to signify your arrival. Out we stepped into the heat and humidity, our suitcases whisked away and we were seated in the open air lobby and handed some rose lemonade and sweets (plus cold towels because DAMN it was hot). Our room was ready on arrival so we were taken for a tour of the resort (swanky) and led to our rooms. Basically the best place I’ve stayed. Whilst we had a twin room comprising of two single beds, we also had an extra day bed, a walk in wardrobe and a bathroom bigger than my flat’s lounge. Two sinks and a shower big enough for about ten people. Not too shabby. Worn out from our early start and travels, we headed straight to the beach to chill for the afternoon. Now, one thing you should know about the resort. Where it sits geographically means that whilst it’s nice and hot (and humid), it is also prone to rain. I spotted the signs and headed back to the room. Lisa was less lucky and got a bit wet.
That night we went to their restaurant for our first dinner with Chef Ann. She comes over and chats to you about the menu and asks what you like and don’t like to recommend dishes. My prawns in a spicy coconut sauce was lovely, with crispy spring rolls on the side and a portion of fluffy rice. Add some yummy cocktails into the mix and we were very happy. After dinner was the main event – our first turtle release (and struggling to get into hammocks)! So, the reason we visited this resort is because Emma (Lisa’s sister that joined us in KL) was volunteering for the Lang Tengah Turtle Watch programme which is based on the resort’s beach. Local men comb the beaches at night and rescue any eggs from poachers looking to eat or sell the eggs, and the volunteers monitor them and release them when they are ready to go. After a very professional talk from Emma about the programme and why we need to look after turtles, we headed down the beach in the dark to the special track they had built to help the turtle on their way. I don’t think there is anything better than a bucket of turtles making their way down to the sea. Due to magic (magnetite) in their brains, when turtles are released their internal GPS sets to their location so when they come back to breed in 20-50 years time, they will come back to that exact beach. It’s all very exciting. So high on turtle fun times, we headed back for a well earned sleep.
Tuesday was spent chilling by the pool, drinking beer. The pool was beautiful, our second infinity pool of the holiday but this time looking out over the beach. Warm water made swimming around completely bearable. Then the rain came. And BOY did it rain. We didn’t duck for cover quick enough so we were drenched fairly quickly. So we did what all responsible adults do in that situation. Shove our bags onto the sun loungers and covered them in towels, then dive bombed into the empty pool. The rain storm cooled the air down, so being in the warm water was really nice. After an hour of playing in the rain, it calmed down enough to run back to our room and take shelter on our patio. A second dinner with Chef Ann rounded off our chilled day – this time spicy black pepper beef, chicken satay and of course more spring rolls. Catching the end of happy hour, we grabbed some cocktails and headed back to our room for a game of ludo that we acquired from the front desk.
Wednesday was spent in a similar vein, except this time I ventured out alone after breakfast and was the first person on the beach. I think I finally understand what relaxing is. Hiding my sunburnt shoulders under my t-shirt, I ventured into the sea as we had plans to go snorkelling, and I’m a bit on the scaredy cat side when it comes to the ocean. And swimming. And open water. And sharks. I admit, there are no sharks where we were, but having watched The Shallows a few days before heading out left me a bit nervous. But it was perfectly pleasant, listening to the sounds of the waves, under my sun umbrella and reading my book. I could have stayed there forever. The afternoon drew us up to the pool where we booked our snorkelling trip (more on that below). We also ventured out to see Emma in her turtle hut and were rewarded by being allowed – after copious amounts of hand sanitiser – to hold teeny tiny newly hatched green turtles. Worth every minute we spent on a plane. They are so strong! Riding high on turtle love, we ventured outside of the resort and walked up the road to CB Wee – a local Chinese restaurant. For £9 between three of us we go: black pepper beef, chicken and cashews, mixed veg, fried rice, noodles, four iced teas and a beer. And, scandalously, the black pepper beef that cost £1 was so much better than the expensive stuff at the hotel. Well worth the short walk. Later that night as we snuggled up in bed, the heavens opened and we didn’t sleep until about 3am due to the torrential rain, thunder and the lightning that hit so close by the room shook.
We grumpily awoke on Thursday and after a quick breakfast and issues with contact lenses, we hopped in the mini bus and headed down to our boat that took us on the 45 minute ride to Tenggol island. It was beautiful. We pull into the bay and wade through the shallows to the beach. After dumping our things at the cafe, we donned our snorkels and waded out. Now, at this point, I was scared. I’ve tried snorkelling before and kept hyperventilating and freaking out, so that combined with my dislike of swimming, swimming in the sea, swimming in open water, swimming in deep water and fish – I was reluctant. But I also knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. So whilst we were knee deep and before we reached the coral aka the point of no putting your feet down, I plunged my face in the water and taught myself to breathe. Turns out it’s much easier when the snorkel is attached to the mask and there’s interesting things to look at. And I was off. Highlights: watching grown women be super excited by clown fish and being sad I’d only seen one reef shark, to then have two swim a foot away from my face. After an hour of swimming, we headed back to shore for our lunch and a chill out. Then it was back on the boat to go out into deeper water to go on the hunt for a Hawksbill Turtle that is known to live around there. Sadly, we didn’t see it (because Emma was there) but I swam in super deep water and only panicked about a shark attack once, so I think that’s a win. After a long boat ride home, a hot shower and a dry change of clothing, we headed out to conservative Dungun for the night market. Very different to the night markets of Laos, this basically centred around food. Plastic bags of chicken satay, spring rolls and coconut rice wrapped in leaves that was sticky and gooey and delicious. Sadly we could not stay long as we had another turtle release to get back for! After the turtle release, we decided it was only right to end our trip with happy hour cocktails on our porch.
Our final day saw us not having to leave until later afternoon, so we chilled by the pool and listened to Emma’s turtle speech before heading back to Terengganu. In KL we stayed at the airport hotel – slightly less luxurious than we were used to. A dinner from 7/11 of crisps and beer was our final meal in Malaysia. Early the next morning we awoke and headed home. On the plane I was a proper old lady and had to use not one, but two blankets. Because I’m so old now.
So concluded our trip. In conclusion, Malaysia is beautiful. Super easy to navigate, pretty much everyone speaks good English, and it’s dirt cheap. I definitely want to go back and explore Kuala Lumpur more, and everyone told us repeatedly to visit Penang for the street food so that’s high up on the list for the next adventure!
In August 2016, Lisa and I booked a trip to Malaysia. For September 2016. Nothing screams forward planning like panic booking. But we were very excited – until we realised we were getting six planes in 10 days (specifically three planes in 24 hours on the way home). Flying from Gatwick on 14 September we headed to our first destination – Kuala Lumpur. Can I just quickly shout out to Emirates, brilliant amounts of leg room and a good free bar – except they don’t have prosecco. Food, not too shabby. Although incredibly slow service. We were sat at the back of the plane and it took FOREVER to get any food. It was also easier to walk to them to get another drink than to wait for them to answer the call button. They also have all the films – including a whole folder of Disney classics. We were in HEAVEN watching Tangled. We made friends with the boy next to us (not optional as I kept making him move so I could have a wee) who was moving to KL for six months for university, and he stuck with us on our way through Dubai airport security, when he promptly ditched us. 90 minutes later we were on plane number two. Plane 2 was less fun as we were tired, and we decided to watch How to be Single. I watched it so you don’t have to. But I did get a very strong gin and tonic, so it wasn’t all bad. Until some bint of a hostess poked me really hard to wake me up. She got a death stare and quickly moved on.
But finally, at 9am KL time (2am London time aka 16 hours after leaving London) we landed. After adding some stamps to our passports and getting our fingerprints scanned by immigration, we jumped in a taxi to our hotel. We love Aloft KL Sentral. Our room was instantly ready which was great as essentially our first day was a write off. We went to NuSentral, the shopping mall joined to our hotel, for some ramen to pick us up, then we slept all afternoon. Luckily, the imminent arrival of Jo meant we dragged our asses up to our rooftop pool. It was hard that first day, sitting by the infinity pool on the 33rd floor looking over the insane view getting drinks delivered to us. So after a good swim and a chill out (and an upgrade to a room with a free mini bar as our air-con didn’t work) we popped round the corner to a restaurant outside the mall – PappaRich.
With a serving style similar to Argos (and used throughout Malaysia we later learnt), whilst perusing the menu you write your order numbers on a piece of paper and hand it to a waiter. Then you wait. As I learnt last year on my Asian Adventure, food comes when it comes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or not. Two curries (one mutton and one fish) and a steamed chicken and rice later we were happy as can be. So after a little trip to 7-11 for some water, we ended up wandering around Little India, an area by our hotel. Incredible smells coming from all directions, we ended up at the Gateway to India – an archway given to Malaysia by India as a sign of their friendship and a pretty awesome fountain decorated with elephants and coloured lights. After quick rooftop mojito we were out for the count in our comfy comfy beds.
The next day bought an early start as we got up and headed out to the Batu Caves (train tickets £1 return each from Kl Sentral). Note: check the train times before you set off. We waited over 30 minutes for our train, but at least the platforms had air conditioning. After a slow trundle through the city, we arrived at the caves and walked through the avenue of vendors selling various tourist crap (and my first squat toilet experience of the trip). On arrival you’re greeted by some very large statues, a lot of tourists and a helluva lot of monkeys. At the bottom of the steps stands the world’s largest statute of Lord Murugan, and a lot of workmen asking everyone to carry either some gravel or bricks to the top – I like the mentality of everyone pitching in and helping, but I didn’t enjoy adding a bucket of gravel to the walk up 272 steps in the heat. The Batu Caves are one of the holiest shrines for Hindus outside of India, so make sure you have your knees and shoulders covered (clothing is available at the bottom of the steps). Do NOT open your bag on the way up the steps, the monkeys will take any chance they get to steal your food, drink or indeed anything they can put their hands on. It gets HOT here, so go early in the morning and prepare to be a sweaty mess. Once at the top you get a pretty good view and the caves are really incredible to see. The caves are open at the top so the natural daylight (and leftover rain water) come pouring in and there are mini temples within the caves.
On our way down we took a detour into the government owned and maintained Dark Cave. This series of caves are used for education and research – with one cave reserved for the more adventurous (this requires pre-booking). Instead we opted for the 45 minute walk in the cave that is open to the public. Our guide taught us about the huge number of bats that live there and how to identify if bats are insect or fruit eaters and the trapdoor spider, one of the world’s rarest – although we didn’t see any of these. Or any snakes. But what we did get to do was wear a hard hat and carry a torch so we had a great time.
After descending the steps we paid a whole £1 to enter the Ramayana Cave. Totally worth it. This was insane. Not so much in the naturally beautiful way but because it it filled with dioramas of Hindu gods. Although in this cave climbing the steep winding staircase takes you to a naturally occurring shrine (if you’re not Hindu I’m going to go ahead and say it isn’t worth the effort, it’s a rock). So after Lisa got herself a new monkey friend, we decided to head back to the city (after waiting 30 minutes for the train and riding in a women only carriage). After our super long hot day, we gratefully plunged into our rooftop pool. We had every intention of going out for dinner. Then we had a few drinks and decided bbq food on the roof in our bikinis was a better idea (one lemongrass and ginger quail, one Texas BBQ beef and one spicy chicken). All utterly delicious and washed down with numerous drinks. We LOVE rooftop bars. And so ended our first proper day.
Coming next: failing to go to mosques, I <3 KL, China Town, Petronas Towers and being pooed on by a smug bird…
Today was fairly uneventful. My stomach was still being rubbish so tried some Immodium. Why didn’t I try one earlier? That would have sorted me out so much sooner! By 7:30am I was in a taxi on the way to the airport, a drive that takes “about an hour”. So I allowed extra time for traffic. Waste of time, I was there in 35 minutes, 3 hours before my flight.
Successfully negotiated check in (no oversized baggage this time!), security (electronic devices go in a bag) and passport control. Bought myself a snazzy neck cushion after my last long flight, to then find that BA have adjustable head rests making my cushion both redundant and super uncomfortable. You certainly don’t starve on a BA flight. Spicy prawns with rice, cheese and crackers and cake after take off, a snack box of nachos, sweets and cereal bars and pasta before landing. This is as well as the complimentary bar service and tuck box! I grabbed a Freddo when I went to get some gin. My first proper gin and tonic for two weeks – super strong which really helped me deal with the turbulence! Their film list is pretty good – in the 13 hours on board I watched Jurassic World, Minions The Movie (although I think I fell asleep for some of this), Ant Man and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Not too shabby.
Then we got to Heathrow. The problem with arriving super early means your bag is the very last through to baggage reclaim. Boarded a bus to take me to T4 and missed my National Express coach by mere seconds so I had a joyous wait of 2 hours for the next one. I was relieved to finally reach Brighton, until I stepped off the coach and screamed as I had stepped out into a storm – freezing cold, 40 mph winds. Nope. Not ready for that.
Would I recommend this? Yes, as the alternative was being alone in a strange country where I didn’t know anyone. G Adventures planning all your travel and accommodation makes everything so easy and Channy was the best person ever. We all love Channy.
What do I regret? The burger on the last day, not going for the whole month’s trip, not visiting Cambodia, not buying a neck cushion on the way out there, trying Dioralyte, not packing more pairs of clean socks.
Best thing I did? Wat Arun, the White Temple, Thai cooking class, buying a clean t shirt to wear on the flight home, seeing Jo in Hanoi, packing anti-histamine tablets and cream as I had awful bites and heat rash all over my hands, taking Immodium before my 13 hour flight.
What did I pack and not use? A money belt – I felt so safe everywhere I went and just used my normal backpack, talcum powder, most of my medicine that was recommended I bring.
What’s next? Currently looking at a train trip in America from Boston to Chicago via New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, September 2016 if anyone wants to join me.
Finally on my last proper day in Bangkok I got the lie in I’ve been waiting for since I left work. I slept until 9am! Not long enough, but most days have been 6am alarms so I was happy with that. Then I had to load up my bag, lug it downstairs, check out and check back in to my new room for the final night. Major faff but ended up on the 11th floor with a view over the city so it was ok. We decided to go get a proper Thai massage to celebrate. Wow – I was put in positions I didn’t know my body was capable of doing. Considering I paid for a back and neck massage, I got more than I bargained for!
Starting with a foot massage, she worked up my legs and gave my bum a good squeeze before sitting on me and attempting to press all of my bones and organs into the floor. My fingers and toes were pulled one by one to pop them – my old broken toe was especially painful. Then, whilst laying on my front, she pulled my arms out behind me and pulled me into a cobra position. After being told to move into a sitting position, I was twisted and turned in every possible way. Bits of me cracked that I didn’t thank could, or should- crack. When my time was finally up, I did actually feel pretty good. And the whole thing was made better by Sarah loudly complaining about it hurting and the Thai women laughing at her.
After our massage, my empty belly took over and we went to a place next to our hotel where I shoved a cheeseburger with egg and fries down my face in about 3 minutes flat. It felt so good. For about 30 minutes. Then my bowels fell out. Two weeks of travelling around and my stomach was fine, one burger and I’m sat dying on the toilet for an hour. Needless to say, I felt a bit delicate but I was determined not to waste my last day so I headed out to Wat Arun (alone, as everyone else was moving on to different hostels). This is because I wasn’t able to leave the toilet until 3pm, and the Grand Palace closes at 3:30pm. After haggling a tuk tuk down from 400 baht to 270 baht, off we shot across the city.
With the wind rushing past me I felt better – until we stopped and I was instantly covered in sweat. But I made it to the Wat without dying, and it was definitely worth the trip. Admittedly, a lot of it was under scaffolding and netting, but it was incredible. Covered all over in intricate mosaics and statues of monkeys and
demons, I lost myself for an hour walking around slack jawed. The surrounding buildings are just as beautiful, filled with murals and giant statues. Sadly after an hour I was drenched in sweat from head to toe and in need of some air con. Annoyingly, my tuk tuk driver had offered to wait for me and I politely declined. Don’t do this. I wandered around for 20 minutes trying to find a taxi or tuk tuk to take me home. I eventually accosted a man who, I’m pretty sure, had finished for the day. I was so desperate to get back I didn’t even bother to haggle him down from 300 baht.
Gross fact: I got back to my hotel, laid on my bed and when I got up there was a big wet patch on my duvet cover where I had been laying. Pretty grim. I spent the next few hours trying to get all my things in order for my flight home and got distracted by watching the sudden downpour of rain and lightning I could see from my new room. I eventually left my hotel to meet the lovely Sammy for my final meal. We were the least enthusiastic people party people out on Khao San Road that night [current Jenny: I then found out that Sammy had gone out partying again that night, oh to be 18 again…]. With my tummy still intent on emptying itself every so often, I had a final meal of friend noodles with chicken. Fairly bland but thought that was best given the situation!
Time for bed, gutted to be ending my adventure but I am so ready to get out of the heat! My flight home awaits…
The train was alright. Although every time the train jolted around (this happened a lot), I jerked awake. Then we got woken up at 6am ready for our scheduled arrival time of 6.50am. We actually pulled into the station a little after 8am. Grumbling and groaning about the extra hour’s sleep we have had, we all picked up our packs and headed out t Bangkok. Fuck me Bangkok is HOT and HUMID. 34 degrees on our first day. That’s unnecessary really. After a hurried breakfast we were allowed into our rooms. I was feeling pretty crap at this point, dehydration + heat + lack of sleep leaves Jenny feeling really rather rubbish. So I decided to break into my bag of medicine. Dioralyte tastes like salty grim water it turns out. I drank half of the advised 200ml and gave up and just drank the majority of a 1.5l bottle of water. That, plus paracetamol and a good shower, sorted me out. A few hours later and us cool kids went to see the giant Buddha statue (otherwise known as Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon at Wat Traimit). Well, they walked me there and waited in the shade whilst Josh and I went to see it – the others had seen it when they started in Bangkok a month earlier. It really was a giant Buddha statue. According to my Triposo app, people didn’t know it was gold for a while as they had painted over it with stucco to protect it when the Burmese army invaded.
After walking up what felt like a million steps (actually only about 40 but it was damn hot) we had sweated up a storm, so as we physically mopped up our faces we piled into taxis and went to MBK. Basically a huge shopping centre, but it had air con so I was happy. After a massive Mexican feast in their food hall (with a great card paying system), we had a mooch around the market up on the top floor. I was persuaded into buying a ridiculous pair of trousers – you know, the ‘traveller’ style, big and baggy and decorated with elephants. They’re damn comfy and cost £3 so I regret nothing.
This day marked our final day together so Channy took us to Khao San Road for as private dinner. Food was good as always, and after dinner we went around the table talking about the trip. It all got a bit emosh. As Channy spoke about the trip and how we’ll always been family, I (completely honestly) felt a bit left out. I was there for 12 of the 30 days that everyone else did. I never felt fully part of the family. There are five beautiful people who welcomed me completely and utterly. Most of the others were friendly but didn’t exactly go out of their way to talk to me, and a few were just rude. Turns out that travelling doesn’t make everyone interesting – some people just want to stay in their cliques. But fuck them. I had a great time and couldn’t have cared less to say goodbye to most of them.
To Sarah, Debs, Sammy, Emily and Josh – thank you.
You guys made my trip. You put up with me for two weeks. We’ll always have Beerlao (the beer of Laos). We all decided to deal with our emotions in a grown up way and went drinking and dancing in a bar until midnight when my body gave up on me. Turns out when beers are 630ml you get a bit drunk. Especially when they’re £2.
-10pm, somewhere between Chiang Mai and Bangkok-
The cooking class this morning was totally worth it. We were picked up by a little Thai lady and driven in a tuk tuk to a huge food market full of actual locals instead of tourists. We picked up a few ingredients that we would be using – one highlight “this vegetable is called morning glory – it doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does in England”. Oh how we laughed like children. Slightly strange moment when we walked into the meat section and on top of a tub of live fish, was a bag of frogs. Alive and just chilling in their mesh home. They didn’t look super happy.
Then we motored 15 minutes north of the city to her house. In the garden, under a cover luckily for my super pale skin, she has a number of gas burners and prep tables. Over the two hours we prepared and cooked: tofu pad thai; chicken with cashews; chicken massaman curry
and made our own vegetable spring rolls with sweet chili sauce. Then we gathered around a big table for lunch to sample everything we had made, with
leftovers being packed up for dinner – super handy when you’re about to get on an overnight train. Being on our feet for so long had tuckered us out so we spent a few hours relaxing at the hotel with beer (sadly no Beerlao, just Chang) and our books.
We were on the 6pm overnight train to Bangkok and I was a bit hesitant – will it be clean? Safe? Comfy? Turns out I had little to worry about. A few hours passed playing cards and reading before our seats converted into bunk beds. I presumed it would be laid out in cabins, but this train just had benches/beds along both walls in a long line. I quite liked this as it felt a bit like a big sleepover. Most people turned in early (like 9:30pm early) so I snuggled under my little blanket and had some quality
Dexter time – spoiler alert: the book series ends just as disappointingly as the TV series. They main carriage lights have been left on, very happy I’ve packed ear plugs and an eye mask! Let’s hope I get some sleep tonight.
-Chiang Mai, midnight-
So after the grasshopper incident in Laos, I was hoping for no more wildlife in my room. Alas, this morning I woke up and in the middle of my morning wee I noticed a toad sitting in the corner of my bathroom, who then hopped away and left through a crack in the wall. [current Jenny – it only struck me when I got back to England that I realised my room was on the first floor…] Decided against a shower at that point. Another early start (seriously, these tours aren’t designed for anyone wanting to relax and have a lie in!) and we jumped in yet another mini van and drove to Chiang Rai’s White Temple. Before I explain about the temple, let me take a moment to discuss the mini van. There were stickers saying what was allowed inside, a selection include karaoke, smoking and naked ladies. Got to love Thailand.
Anyway, temple. A must see. Wat Rong Khun was designed and built by artists Chaloemchai Khositphiphat – who so far has spent 40 million Thai Baht of his own money on it, about £800,000. The outside is all white (funnily enough) and decorated with hands rising up from the ground symbolising human’s unrestrained desire. Crossing the bridge and entering the temple is like entering a different world. The stark white outside contrasts the busy fiery inside. Murals adorn the walls – demons and fire mixed with pop icons such as Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, Superman, Batman and Hello Kitty to name but a few. Seeing the temple is free thanks to the artists so if you’re ever in Northern Thailand check it out.
The trip from there to Chiang Mai was another few hours (a lot of this trip was spent in a bus) of farmland and winding roads, with a toilet break at ‘Cabbages and Condoms‘. Yup. That’s the name. This afternoon was spent in a sweat as we had a little wander and looked at various temples. Wat Chedi Luang in particular was pretty spectacular. We were lucky enough to witness the monks praying and chanting in one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. Arriving back at the hotel mere minutes before dinner (we might have got distracted by an incredibly strong mojito…) we headed out to the night market for food and shopping. Others went on to a Ladyboys show, but exhausted and knowing we needed to be up early for a Thai cooking class, we headed back early to chill out.
Wat Chedi Luang
[Current Jenny – I’m combining days 9 and 10 because we were sailing down the Mekong River so there’s not too much to say]
-Saturday 28th November-
This morning we got up and headed down to the local mooring point to get on our river boat. This involved walking down a fairly steep slope, embarking one long-boat, walking across it then climbing onto the boat next to it. Not hard – unless you’re carrying your bulky 11kg backpack and day sack and the two boats are floating a good foot or two apart. Then, once you’ve clambered aboard, it’s shoes off instantly. We spent the next eight hours cruising down the river in the sunshine, looking out for dolphins (only to find out the next afternoon that the pink Mekong dolphins are down in Cambodia nearer the sea rather than near the north of Laos), tigers (none), elephants (none) and dinosaurs (didn’t expect to see them but the scenery was so reminiscent of Jurassic Park that it wouldn’t have been entirely a surprise to see one or two). The rest of the time was filled with napping, reading and playing a LOT of card games – including a very intense game of Cheat that lasted over an hour.
At 5pm we docked on a sandbank (I have no idea what the boat was moored to but it was still there in the morning so it was fine) and walked up the hill to a village where we stayed the night. To be honest, I had mixed emotions about the home stay. We did a tour of the village and learnt about the communities and their ‘simple’ lives – a community of farmers, children don’t start school until 8 years old so they can help their families on the farms. It all felt a bit ‘poverty tourism’ and I wasn’t super comfortable, We then sat down and were served a delicious meal cooked by the local people with fresh local produce – the garlic chicken was phenomenal, we were fighting over the last mouthful. Then we played with the local children, again something I wasn’t happy with.
This is mostly because children scare the crap out of me and I have no idea what to do. But then I made a friend with two girls who loved clapping and playing with my watch. Channy called us together and surprised us with a pile of workbooks to hand out to the children, this bit I liked. The kids were SO excited to get the workbooks it was incredible. Growing up in England it is very easy to take things like that for granted, but they were so grateful, it was so nice to see.
At this point it was around 8:30pm and we all went to our different houses. Sleeping under mosquito nets, on the floor, surrounded by the sounds of crickets, lizards cattle, chickens, pigs, goats and who knows what else! As it was
so dark we all fell asleep pretty early – which was a good thing as we were up at 5am on Sunday morning to get back on the boat.
-Sunday 29th November-
Our final day in Laos, again spent cruising up the Mekong river. Sunday passed in much the same way Saturday did, with the exception that when we disembarked the boat we were taken to the Laos border, left Laos, drove to the Thai border and entered Thailand – yay to more passport stamps! Note: this was all done whilst carrying our big bags again. [Current Jenny – whilst I did love my bag, the second I emptied it in my flat in Brighton I was glad to be rid of it!] A bit later we reached our guest house in Chiang Khong – to get to my bathroom I had to go out onto my balcony and through a second door. A late dinner and straight to bed for me – I hadn’t slept super well in the home stay or on the boat so I was a big fan of my comfy double bed.
-Luang Prabang, 11pm-
Today was awesome. We got up early and spent the morning at an elephant sanctuary. I have mixed feelings about the place – it was incredible and I love elephants more than anything and I got to be up close to the and feed them and stroke them and it was a great day. However. When we arrived, a HUGE group of tourists were already with the elephants so we went down to a little enclosure and fed a mother and baby. All nice and good except the mother was chained to a tree.
The keepers said this was to ensure we could see and pet the calf and to stop them walking off – which I understand but I’m still not ok with the
Then we got to go ride them. Again, the mahout said all the blankets protected their backs (and obviously elephants are strong) but I felt a bit funny a bit it. With Christian on the neck ‘guiding’ it and myself and Sarah on the bench on the back. The elephants were obviously well-trained and knew the route as most of them didn’t need guiding – although Ping Pong had other ideas and had a little wander off into the trees. The mahouts were pretty funny, stealing our cameras and taking loads of photos and pointing out spiders – I shit you not we saw two that were the size of our faces which caused great amusement when people started screaming and hiding in their hoodies.
After riding them we went down to the Mekong to give them a little bath and a scrub. One final load of bamboo and we headed back to the vans and went to Phu Si Falls. A natural waterfall ending in a pool to swim in. We all dipped in, some better than others. Personally, I inched my way in to the freezing cold water, to then be nibbled by fish. Safe to say I got out fairly promptly.
After a busy day, we went for street food and wandered around the night markets. The street food was basically massive stands full of stir-fried vegetables, rice, noodles and skewers of meat. One bowl for 15,000 kip aka £1.20. So good. [current Jenny: I think that meal was my favourite from the whole trip]. All really fresh and tasty. Plus Beerlao, obviously. The night market in Luang Prabang is better than in Hanoi. In Hanoi it was mostly tourist stuff and plastic rubbish, but here it was jewellery and clothing and bags and paintings. I wanted all of it! I bought a few presents for people and a Beerlao t-shirt and a patterned dress for myself. After wandering up and down twice, we called it quits and headed home.