Monday, September 29, 2008

PHOTOS Thailand and Laos PICTURES!!!

We have two more folders up and ready. One contains Laos pictures, and the other has the pictures from our two times through N. Thailand before and after Vietnam/Laos. For once, we're all up to date on the blog!

Voici les photos du Laos et de la Thailande. Le Laos c'etait merveilleux, mais j'ai malheureusement perdu mon texte :( La Thailande, bien c'est comme la maison, il n'y a pas tellement a dire. On y a bien mange, suivi la deuxieme semaine de cours de massage, fait un peu d'escalade, alles au cinema et on s'est surtout prepare pour notre voyage au Nepal donc le recit et les photos s'en viennent bientot!

Thailand - Chiang Mai Part 2!

Upon our departure from Laos, we promptly headed toward Chiang Rai (not to be confused with Chiang Mai). It's located in the N. East closer to Laos. We planned on taking trips and going trekking while in the area, but unfortunately on the 2nd night of our trekking in Laos I severly pulled a muscle in my neck maybe while sleeping. I woke up in so much pain I couldn't lift my head without using my hands. Once I was standing it was alright, provided I didn't turn my neck, but the bus rides to the border and to Chiang Rai did their damage. I rested for a few days while we explored the town and visited an amazing muesum on the hill tribe people of Thailand. The markets were great places to find food, and we visited them often trying to get a fill of the wonderful food we'd been missing for so long!

On our last day, my neck was feeling a little better so we rented a motorbike and headed off to a local Akha (a hill tribe) village who uses elephants for work and allows tourists to come see the elephants. Most tourists are rather run of the mill and take a tour. That means the people know when they are coming and have organized elephant rides, etc. However, we just showed up and started wandering the dirt roads in search of an apparently elusive pachyderm. After a few turn arounds, we saw a big grey butt strolling up the road with someone on his back. My experience with elephants rather small (that means zero), I didn't know if you could ride a motor bike past one on a small dirt road. I parked, locked it and we set off on foot. We hiked and hiked, but unfortunately a creature with 4 legs 3 meters tall is much faster than two bipeds under 2 meters tall. After about 15 minutes, we passed some villagers who were taking a break from working in the fields. When they saw us giving up and turning around, they got excited knowing we were looking for an elephant and pointed us in the right direction. The rider of the elephant had taken it straight up a hill and off into the forest and so off we went in pirsuit. The trail was great, since the tracks were fresh and the 45 degree angle hill had huge circular steps where the elephants feet has sunk into the mud! Chase as we might, we were going woefully slow compared to the elephant and had to catch a bus on to Chiang Mai that night so we finally had to turn around and head home. Nath was disappointed. She was like a bloodhound on the trail for a while. It was a fun little mini-adventure/challenge.

The bus brought us back to Chiang Mai, and we had called ahead to Malak our guesthouse of three weeks during our previous trip. We were home. Once in Chiang Mai, we hit the Indian Embassy and dropped off our paperwork for our visas and that weekend hit Crazy Horse Buttress for another day of climbing before continuing our massage training. As the week rolled around we resumed our routine from our previous stay of waking at 7am to go to class, take notes, and practice practice practice. We stayed til 5pm every day (class ended at 3) to practice and pester the staff with question after question. At the end of the week we received our final certificate for having completed the entire massage material, Levels 1 and 2! Yeah!

Our last few days in Chiang Mai were spent preparing for our trip to India. Buying, selling, storing, mailing, blogging, uploading pictures, etc. Now I'm sitting in Bangkok with less than a day left before we ship off to India and attempt to train and bus straight to Kathmandu for two days. It'll be crazy! Typically we try to avoid Bangkok (and have figured out a good system for doing this) but this time I had to stop to get pages added to my passport! Since March 2006 I've filled every "visa" page of my passport already!

Life is good!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Malgre des gens pas gentils, quand meme beaucoup de photos!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We have the Cambodia photos up!

Beaucoup, beaucoup de photos des temples d'Angkor (Cambodge). Apres tout, c'est la 7e merveille du monde... et on avait une toute nouvelle camera!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Laos was such a relief after Vietnam. Did I mention the bus even stopped honking as soon as we crossed the border into Laos? What a symbolic gesture... Nath and I relaxed and decompressed in Ventiene, trying to remember what it was like not to have to stress every waking moment. We found some great restaurants, and did a little walking and sightseeing. We didn't do anything spectacular in Ventiene besides appreciate how laid back this capital city in SE Asia was! The people were wonderful. The tuk tuk drivers even smiled and waved to us as we walked by instead of harassing us. I've realized that you can learn a lot about how your experience in a country will be based on the tuk tuk and taxi drivers. In Laos you have to go find them sometimes!

After a few days of relaxing in Ventiene, we headed north up toward Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng has two things that I was looking forward to, climbing and tubing. What is tubing you ask? Well, it's something that would NEVER exist in the west for starters... too much liability! You rent a large inner tube and catch a ride up the river that splits town. From there, you hop on and almost immediately you're being accosted by the locals working at the first of about 10 bars along the way. They toss you ropes to pull you in, you drink, hang out, and once you've gotten up the courage you start to play on the enormous rope swings and ziplines that they've constructed that send you flying off into the river. Some are almost 10m tall! The longest zipline is probably almost 50m long and you really get going! The drunker the person, the tighter they try to hold on when it hit's it's finish and they go flipping off into the river below. Often with skin slapping hilarity! One of the bars had a mud volleyball court, that was so slopping wet with water that you couldn't take a single step without flopping on your face. To make matters worse, people had worn down half meter deep pits of muddy water in the center. The pictures would have been hilarious, but with our luck with cameras we kept it in it's water proof bag. There was too much mud being thrown and splashing going on to risk it.

By the end of our first day of "tubing" Nath had done one of the swings and the long zip line a few times (she liked the zip line because she finished closer to the water). I saw some local kids pulling back flips off the swings, so of course I had to try. By the end of the day I was flying off the big swings, flipping in style. I even figured out how to do it off the zip line for a nice finish. We had a blast, and I really appreciated being able to play around like that without the government step in an say, "you can't do that."

Day two found us climbing on a nice little limestone cliff in the mountains east of town. It was small, but fun. There are many other developed cliffs in the area, but they were all either wet from the rainy season or the bottom was submerged in water. We ended up going there twice, and Nath managed to redpoint the hardest route on the cliff, a beautiful 7a+ with nice pockets and technical face climbing! Yeah! Laos seems like it would be a fun place to spend a week climbing during the dry season when the rest of the crags were climbable. The locals were practically drooling at the thought of dry weather so they could get out on the good routes! The local guides were very nice, and we got the contact information of one of them if anyone ever wants to go climb there. The crag we went to was hard to reach, so we just caught a ride with Green Discovery, the company he worked for, for about $2 each.

Since our opportunities for volunteering in Yangshuo, China, had dried up at the consulate, we were looking for something else that we could do. It luckily turned out that there was a Spanish dentist with Dentist Without Boundaries climbing at the same crag while we were there. I asked him later if we could come with him and help and he said yes!

What a great experience. We jumped in the truck with them one morning and headed off down the bumpy road to a small village 30 minutes away. When we arrived, we set up in the local "hospital" a building so small that most of the work was done outside in a semi-enclosed hallway. Nath and I helped where we could, which included washing the typically very bloody tools, holding flashlights, helping to work the air compressor which drove the drill, irrigating the mouth while they drilled, and my personal favorite was holding that little blue light gun over the tooth while a filling hardened. The dentists said that once a tooth hurt, they pretty much had to pull it, and since most people were going there for tooth ache there was a designated tooth bottle! It was quite the day!

The next day, I went with the dentists for more of the same but Nath decided to stay at the guesthouse and help out the lady who ran it. The people who ran it were wonderful people and so it was fun for her to help. The woman had a newborn baby, her husband was in the hospital with malaria, and their other employee was in the hospital with Dengue Fever! Bad luck! Nath had fun watching the baby and doing whatever else she could do to help. Ite, who had Dengue seemed to be doing fine and was actually back to work by the time we left while still battling the sickness. It's not nearly as bad as the western doctors will have you believe...

One morning we woke up ready for the day and walked outside. Nath went to put on her Keen sandals and started freaking out. I asked her what was wrong and she said something was in her sandal. I looked down, and I could tell something was in there but I didn't know what. I turned the sandal toe up and smacked it on the ground and out falls this HUGE toad! I laughed for the rest of the day. Nath didn't.

After one more day of tubing where I perfected my backflip and Nath tried one of the tallest swings, we were off north to Luang Prabang. We hopped on the bus and for the next roughly 7 hours wound our way high into the mountains for views of some of the most picturesque landscape of the trip. I loved that bus ride, even if it was slow and and the road so bad I couldn't read.

Luang Prabang was a strange little town. It nestled right where the Mekong and another river joined, and was quite beautiful. Unfortunately, it was so "touristy" that we didn't like it, and unlike Ventiene the restaurants just weren't good. Instead we ended up eating at the night market trying everything from BBQ fish, to the spring rolls, to wonderful fresh desserts. Another night we did a Lao style BBQ with some friends we met in Laos and it was just amazing. The large bottles of beer at the restaurant went for 7500 kip, which is roughly $0.80! Life was good.

Luang Prabang also had good volunteer opportunities at Big Brother Mouse. I went there twice, and Nath once. The other day she was taking a cooking class. Big Brother Mouse is a wonderful little organization started by an American who lives in Laos. It is a non-profit devoted solely to literacy and teaching English. Any traveller who speaks English can show up between 9-11:30am every day and there will be local teenagers eager to learn and practice their English. You can help them with pronunciation, vocabulary, or if they speak enough English some people were teaching science! I worked with someone for a while translating "Johnny's Got His Gun" (at least I think that was the title). He would have me explain the passages, due to the amount of metaphor and symbolism, and he would check the translation into Lao. It was a great place to spend a few hours!

We spent one day visiting a local waterfall. It was quite pretty, although the trail to the top had leeches. Of course Nath got a leech and I didn't. That's always how it goes, it seems. When we got to the top, we found you could walk along the top of the waterfall, and there were a few trees which stuck out over the lip with "Do Not Enter" signs. Of course we ignored them and took pictures. I mean, really, what else were we supposed to do?

When it came time to head off, we jumped a series of buses, tuk-tuks, and a minibus to reach Muang Sing. We wanted to go trekking in the area and read it might be good up there in far northern Laos. We found a small company and shelled out around 1.5 million kip for a two person 3 day tour. Later that day, we found out that the 2nd guy we talked to at the company didn't actually work there and had collected our payment under false pretenses. I laughed for the rest of the day since I thought it might turn out OK. The owner of the business hunted the guy down and he was there the next morning to give us our money back. It was a learning experience (they all are). Anyways, in the end we headed off into the mountains that morning for a three day trip with the right guy.

The trekking was awesome. I think that it is really difficult to find that ideal trekking experience, but for about a day I think we found it. We hiked out to and stayed for a day in a small remote village up in the hills/mountains that lives off of rice and other crops and produces small crafts such as brooms from local plants, etc. It was amazing to watch them work, everything from a young teenage girl carrying about 35 liters of water up a hill, to her (presumably) father making the brooms which would eventually sell for less than $1. They had the most basic tools for their work sometimes, like a large wooden rice pounder on a fulcrum that they worked by foot (it's in the pictures). It would very slowly work the husk off of the rice, a little bit at a time, and they started working it before 5am to beat the heat. We stayed the night in one of the homes, and watched them live and cook for a day. Absolutely fascinating.

In the morning before we left, we visited the local school. We watched for a while, then Nath wanted to teach them the alphabet song, which we did! It was really funny. The absolutely loved to say the letter "w" and laughed every time. After we taught them, they all asked us to pronounce and say the words on their t-shirts, which were half in English. Everything from American Eagle, to US military themes. It was a good day.

The rest of the trekking was a little sub-optimal walking through more developed areas, sometimes on roads, which we didn't expect since the "correct" guy at the trekking guide company had mislead us a little, but that first day made up for it and overall we really enjoyed ourselves.

Our last day in Muang Sing luckily coincided with a festival. We got back to town early, and were promptly invited to eat with a bunch of the people who were related to our guesthouse in some way. We sat around talking to them for a few hours while the kitchen kept bringing us some of the most mouth watering meat dishes I've eaten in a long time. One of them is called Lab or Lap depending on how they spell it and it's just minced meat, spices, and herbs. It's amazing, eaten with sticky rice. After Laos, Nath and I are both huge fans of sticky rice, and I've realized that it can be eaten with more than mango! The locals take some, ball it up in their hands, grab some of the meat dish and pop it in their mouth. It's a fun way to eat together, and we had it down by the time we left Laos.

When it was time to go, we caught a bus to Thailand. This time we finally encountered one of the landslides recent enough to stop the road. It was a huge landslide and a massive bulldozer was working on clearing the way. It looked like it had been working for a while, and it still delayed us by about 30+ minutes, but it was fun to watch it work while we hid in the shade. We stayed one last night in Laos, and crossed into N. Thailand in the morning by boat across the Mekong.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

PHOTOS Singapore/Malaysia PICTURES!!!

We have the Singapore/Malaysia photos up!

Un peu c'est mieux que rien. Voici LA seule et unique photo de Singapour ainsi que 25 photos de Malaysie...