Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The end of a trip.

This stop is the end of one of the legs of the trip. We left one passenger (Larry) behind in Vang Vieng (deliberately, he was catching a plane back to Bangkok, it is not like we forgot him or anything). In Luang Prabang we will lose five of the seven 19 year old (or so, a couple may be younger) boys and one other gentleman (Keith). And four people will join us tomorrow.

Although we travelled together for just over two weeks I know very little about the boys apart from they are hysterical. I didn't get any shots of them recreating Tomb Raider in Angkor Wat, and the battery died in my camera as they started saying goodbye to Gertie, but here is some evidence from my phone.

So, goodbye to Euan.

Jay, Andy, Ted and Ali.

I will especially miss the double act that is Ted and Ali. They went to school together and, I believe, are off to Uni together. If their friendship survives this, I imagine they will be friends for ever.

Driving North through Laos

We soon left behind the bubbling rivers running through the valleys between the improbable hills and started climbing, dear old Gertie keeping up a steady rumble.

With the big drops over the edge and the occasionally pot-holed nature of the road, it is tremendously reassuring to have such good drivers. One of them, in particular, spent many years driving road trains and those big trucks my uncle Rob likes; and you can tell.

The whole time we are driving I can hear my mother's voice. Put your book down and look out the window. Think how lucky you are to see all this amazing scenery. As I kid I would dutifully look up for the space of a couple of pages and then slip back into the book as soon as I could.

Where the majority of the landscape in Thailand was flat flat rice flat flat rice rice flat, here the ferns make fractal patterns up the sides of the cliffs. Little villages cluster along the roads, clinging in the edges and corners of the mountains. Children play mysterious children's games. Sometimes there is a monkey.

Up in the mountains it was really cool, quite chilly and I was glad I had the wrap I carry with me everywhere in case of sun or modesty.

Of course it was that weird chilly where you look at the thermometer in Gertie and it says 27 instead of 35.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Vang Vieng

 Gertie, parked outside the guest house in Vientiane.

The view from our guest house in Vang Vieng.

I am in an internet cafe in Vang Vieng. Some of our group have gone tubing, which sounds pretty horrifying to me (in no small part because my lovely travel doctor at home mentioned some of the things that swimming in the rivers can bring you. He is not an alarmist and has travelled a lot himself – if you are in Melbourne and need an excellent travel doctor, let me know).
I am trying to keep my feet off the floor to avoid the ants. There is not much I can do about the gentle rain of Daddy Long Legs from the ceiling. I can hear Friends playing nearby, Monica is upset about something and her voice is … penetrating.
If you walk out side and look up the road, there are more of those improbable mountains that look like they've been drawn by a kid. Bursting up from a flat horizon. I have tried taking a photo, but have neither the skill nor the camera to manage anything decent.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Odds and Ends

I think I learned how to write "Wash Me" in Thai, also, note the Autobot logo.

Someone asked for Sam(our fabulous guide in Cambodia)'s details. He is training for his international license this year, so soon he will be able to lead tours around Thailand and Laos as well. As it says on the card, he speaks German, too.

In Vientiane there were the most exquisite carvings that look like people and faces emerging from twisted branches and bits of wood. My two favourite were a dragon spiralling down out of the sky and a Laotian woman dancing in the wind. The were priced at $350US. I felt a bit funny about taking photos of them, but I passed this fellow below out on the street.

The traffic here is a bit more like I was expecting when I arrived in Beijing ten years ago. I'd read something at the time about bicycles and other forms of transport, but when I arrived it was nearly all cars and motor bikes.

 There are many shrines. And many cats. Many of the cats have no tail.

We went to an organic farm this morning. It was quite interesting to see their set up there and what they are trying to do to help farmers and school children have a better start. It was also interesting to see evidence that the locals feel as you'd expect about some of the behaviour associated with the river tubing.

An old Citron at the farm

Organic bananas (I suddenly felt like Nanny Ogg just then, and I knew how to start spelling 'banana' but I didn't know how to stop ... sorry, I'm on a pretty steady diet of Pratchett at the moment, the Discworld references may keep coming).

A town where I am embarressed to be Australian

We arrived in Vang Vieng this afternoon, though my computer doesn't believe it, my computer thinks we are still in Vientiane.

I would love to show you some photos, but the internet is a little slow, which makes it challenging. I am also having trouble seeing facebook and things that make life feel normal.

And life in Viang Veng is anything but normal. Here are a few things that people have said about this town:

The chilled-out town.

What a town would be like if it were run by 19 year olds.

Full of Australian girls in tiny bikinis.

Every cafe in Vang Vieng shows Family Guy or Friends.

It is all eerily true. And then the sun went down and all these scantily clad drunk people covered in paint appeared (many of them Australian). They had been tubing, the main tourist activity for the town. On the plus side, the wall to wall tourists mean there are plenty of those delicious banana pancakes around.

A hundred metres away is jungle and banana plantations and rural Laos. We are in a valley surrounded by those unlikely hills that shoot straight up out of the rice flats. Beautiful and crass all rolled together.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Six tones? and what's that about consonants?

Here in Vientiane we have a four-bed room for the girls. It looks like a school dormitory and strong was the compulsion to braid each other's hair and have pillow fights.

I am trying to learn Lao, but have not progressed past 'hello' and 'thank you' and those only because people say them so often. And even then I can't manage the tones.

Dinner was amazing - Harissa chicken. This is a lovely city, the food is great and the footpaths are wide and uncluttered.

Friday, 27 May 2011


I have a feeling I might be falling in love with Laos.

We crossed the border (the Mekong River) and when we drove over that muddy wide water there was a change (there were more goats, for one thing).

Vientiane seems to be a mix of France and China and itself. I am really looking forward to walking through the town tomorrow and eating as much as possible. Everywhere you look there is delicious looking bread and tasty treats.

Also, it is cooler here. Blissfully cooler. I am in such a good and friendly mood and everything as marvellous. Up until now I've felt like a troll in Ankh-Morpork.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Unexpectedly in Khon Kaen

Apparently the Dragoman philosophy boils down to five words. I can only remember flexibility because it is the one that comes up the most often.

Thailand is going in to its wet season and all the places Dragoman usually camp at were under water. Gertie would have got stuck.

It felt like a really long day. We started driving at 9am and arrived at a hotel at 7.30pm. I had the mad fidgets for most of the morning and it was terribly trying to sit still. And it must be about the middle of the trip because the people I have been finding slightly annoying, I would now cheerfully kill.

The hotel is super fancy

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Same Same

Today was another drive day with a border crossing. [Same one as last time, but back the other way, it is much quicker to get back into Thailand].

I was up before most people for breakfast and enjoyed tea and kindle.

A view out the front of the truck (her name is Gertie, she is a lovely truck).

 We left our fabulous Cambodian guide, Sam, at the border. If anyone needs a fabulous guide in Cambodia, I have his contact details and, because we are going into the wet season, he has very little guide work until October.

I have found a new Glee friend on the trip. She has been travelling through India and Nepal for the last several months, so we spent the afternoon catching her up on episodes. There was time for an hour's swim before the meeting about camping.

We are heading off into the wilds tomorrow to bush camp and then after that we are heading into Laos. So there will be no net access tomorrow and I am not sure about the internet in Laos. It is China after that and, the last I heard, blogger is blocked there. I have ways of posting text, but the photos may have to stop. I'll try and work out something devious.

Making Friends

Julia and Claire (below) got a fish massage the other day in Phnom Penh, but I could not bring myself to put my feet in the tank. The whole idea gave me the wiggins.

Tonight we went to the night market in Siem Reap and wandered around. Claire and I bought Same Same, but Different t-shirts because we are Tourists. And we all had a 'foot spa' and massage. I didn't take a picture, but imagine a warm night and couches and lotus scented water and fragrant tea and a slice of water melon.

I forgot to put in one of my favourite statues, yesterday. This is a happy lion outside Angkor Thom. We sat outside Thom for an hour and ten minutes wondering where in the hell everyone had got to. I did a couple of circuits of Thom, thinking of Latin words to take my mind off the heat, looking for everyone, but it was deserted and I started to feel a bit Picnic at Hanging Rock.

This is the only picture I have taken of Siem Reap. Largely because I was knackered today after yesterday's bout of extreme temples and stomach gymnastics.

We have become slightly obsessed about that thing that travellers become slightly obsessed about and were discussing it on the way home from the night market just now. Julia kept making us walk ahead of her. I got the hysterical giggles, especially when... but no, this is not the time or the place for fart jokes.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Magical spelling will protect the country

I have washed the film of DEET and sunscreen off my skin, brushed my teeth and laundered today's clothes in the sink.

Today involved some of that less pleasant side of travelling, and while the others were having lunch, I spent some quality time in the toilet with Terry Pratchett and Guards! Guards!

It was a big day of visiting temples. I was a little distracted by things and I am not really sure which ones, but Angkor Wat was involved. I should go and look it up.

There were figures of semi-nude women all over the walls. I loved their tummies. Each tummy was unique and some had been carved by the hands of someone who loved women's tummies. Some of the women looked like they were about to dance out of the walls.

I touched noses with Buddha

The whole thing was worth it, because at the end of the day when I left the top of the last holy place to the several thousand tourists watching the sun set,

I got to feed an elephant.

I have had a mango shake and some fried rice for dinner and hopefully that will work out well.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

How do you say wax in Khmer?

We went to the museum this morning. I find museums a bit blah blah blah, but I liked looking at the toes on the statues and this museum had a whole section on weaving and spinning. They had a collection of beautiful little stone spindle whorls.

This afternoon I went to find a place that does waxing. The market nearby has lots of little hair salon/stalls that I thought might do it. I had forgotten how not hairy Asian women are and so I searched in vain.

I saw someone doing cross stitch in one of the salons so I stopped to talk to her. She asked if I wanted my hair washed.

So I had a lovely time watching the women come and go and listening to them talk. I wished I had my cross stitch with me so I could have stitched with them for a bit. I have a cross stitch book mark in my pack, so I might get that out to start on the truck tomorrow.

I find lack of language frustrating. I am only learning a couple of words a day and, because we have a guide, there is not the same kind of incentive to make an effort to learn more. It's so easy to let him talk.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A walk through the market in Phnom Penh

 I learned to say 'thousand', 'hundred' and 'thank you very much'.

Visiting S-21 Prison and Choeung Ek

Again in two parts.

Part the first:
The day started badly with a poor night's sleep with no air-con. I had a complete sense of humour failure that was fixed by a giant mug of tea and some Vegemite on a baguette.

And if that hadn't worked, then I had a large helping of perspective.

There is plenty of information on the net for anyone who wants to know more.

Part the second:
In the afternoon I walked round to the market near the guesthouse we are in. I had just caught sight of two of the boys from the tour (they are really sweet, they eat oatmeal for breakfast every morning and one doesn't eat the crusts on his sandwiches) and was heading for them when someone spat on me. It could have been an accident, or a sneeze, I'm not sure. I've been spat at before, but not on.

Just now I went out again and found a small shop selling handmade-by-Cambodians things. They had a big sign up about a school that they have set up in the country and I went in to ask about it. I had a conversation with the guy about it and then he asked me if I was married. I showed him my ring. He asked me if I had kids and I said no. He asked me when I was going to have kids...

We talked for a few minutes more and then he said:

“You are very beautiful. You should have babies. Especially, the mix is very beautiful with a Cambodian man. The mother's nose and the father's hair... very beautiful.”

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


The day (has it only been a day?) falls into three parts:

Part one – Crossing the border

I was going to take a photo at the Thai/Cambodia border, but everyone looked hot and dirty and cranky.

The border crossing involved a lot of go here, go there, you don't need a passport photo, $20 fee, no, $23 fee, come back here, you do need a photo, get a stamp there, go and get on the truck, no you can't go through there.

Part two – Seeing some things

O Cambodia. Go. Go to Cambodia.

The people here are extraordinary. We went on the Bamboo Train and visited the village around the brickworks.

I was taught by some of the village children to count to five, say 'hello', 'goodbye', 'cow' and 'rooster' in Khmer.


Find a Cambodian guide (ours, Sam, is marvellous), or go with Dragoman. I can't tell you what I have learned, it is too much to think about again so soon, but there is a reason our itinerary sounds so bleak at this stage.

The stairs out of the killing cave - didn't photograph the cave

I can see why so many Westerners come here and convert to Buddhism. We stood at the bottom of the killing cave and Sam told us stories and Buddhism made sense. By the time we had returned to the truck, my spiritual destitution had reasserted itself. 

The thought of coming back here to teach has crossed my mind, but I have a feeling that it is just the big talk that sometimes happens.

Tomorrow we are going to the killing fields.

Bats at 6.30pm. Looked like the milky way.

Buddha emerging from the cliff.

Part Three – Cambodian Hot Pot and Disco.

Just to indicate how On Holidays I am, we followed a gut-stretching meal at a hot pot restaurant with a Cambodian disco. Where I would have danced all night, but for dehydration.