Thank you!!!

Yes, I am officially reet old now! Reet reet old!

My birthday was absolutely amazing and that’s a big thank you to loads of people for making it that way!

The day was great, I wasn’t born until seven twenty in the evening and as we’re 6 hours ahead here I could have a great birthday without actually having to be thirty until the following day! Bonus.

John will soon (hopefully) be writing a post about our journey from Laos to Thailand and what we’ve been doing since. (don’t hold your breath just yet, he’s a bit hung over at the moment). While on our 3 day border crossing we made friends with Mey and Dave. They live in Berlin but Dave is Irish. Both joined us for crazy golf and dinner on a boat floating down the river. We had fantastic fun and thanks to John for the surprise boat trip, it was wonderful.

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Later, the four of us gathered around my birthday cake from John. After i blew the candles out John divided it up between us for a bite to eat. YUK. It was like a beef jerky cake, all salty and meaty. Perhaps he bought it from a pet shop instead of a cake shop? (c Mum). Too revolting to eat but very funny. We decided to stick the rest of the candles in to give us a bit of extra light, it was a bit dark out on the guesthouse balcony. Boy did it burn! It was like a fuel cell in it’s own right, it just kept going and going and going and going! The more tequila we drank, with the lime scavenged from local bars, the funnier it got! It was one of those kind of evenings. A great birthday! Thank you John, Mey and Dave for making it that way.

We’re now down in Bangkok, I was sad to leave Chaing Mai and our 10 days of fun with our new friends. We were very excited about meeting Andy (Wright, to save confusion from all of the other Andys) at the airport. Eventually he arrived and we began an evening of drinking, of course. When we sat down for our first beer I was surprised and delighted by the amount of cards and presents Andy had brought from you all back home. Thank you so much! It was like having my birthday all over again. On the run up to the big day I was missing you all, much more than usual as it was I time when we’d all get together if I was back home. It was so nice to read all of your messages and receive lots of lovely pressies. I can’t list them all but there was a good mixture of really useful things and a nice bit of luxury that i’ve had to do without while we’ve been at large in the big wide world. Although – RUTH – thank you for the incontinences knickers but they’re too big so I think i’ll have to let John wear them.

Thanks again and a special thanks to those two sweeties John (for conspiring with alarming efficiency) and Andy W (for offering to carry undisclosed packages through customs).

J and A had a late one last night, sitting on a traffic roundabout. Obviously the place to be!

Take care, missing you all.

Viv xx

Laos – Straight to the roundup

Sorry guys, I did half write a post a couple of weeks ago but then managed to get a mystery illness and didn’t quite finish it. In truth the pair of us have had sensitive stomachs for our entire time in Laos. We put it down to the heavy handed use of spices. There’s nothing subtle about the cuisine, a typical menu item might be stir fried ginger with chicken, note it’s not the other way around. Some of the chili dishes will blow your head off.

The following opinion of Laos is mostly mine as John doesn’t feel quite as strongly as I do. I’m sure he’ll make his own comments on this post.

Laos is largely rural, very beautiful and the way of life is idyllic. There are cows, chickens, goats, pigs and water buffalo running around freely. It sounds absolutely amazing doesn’t it? Well it is. but……..

It drives me mad!!!

Everyone is asleep all the time, quite cute at first but when the restaurant waitress actually has a bed in the dining room and you have to wake her to pay the bill you realise Laos is in an alien universe compared to surrounding Asian countries. In the South hardly anything is ever open and if it is then it will be closed for about two and a half hours at lunch time. Our 7 hour bus to Vientiane set off an hour and a half later than advertised and then stopped after half an hour for an hour long break! The first boat we got to the Thai border took 12 hours instead of 9 and we ended up hiking up a sand dune in the pitch black with our heavy back packs on. None of the locals bat an eyelid at this.

The South of Laos is different from to North. We found the people in Southern Laos much more interested in talking to us and much more likely to say hello and smile in the street. So, although Savannakhet was that sleepy you had to check its pulse it was more charming than frustrating. Although the people seemed to have little ambition in life, other than doing as little work as possible, they seemed happy. We’re sure this is how Southern Laos has managed to keep it’s innocence from the money making obsessions of much of the rest of the world. So I suppose if the people were not so irritatingly slack and unambitious the country would be in the same kind of rat race trap as everywhere else.

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With the exception of our wonderful trek to a traditional village (more about that later) I found Laos like watching a film of a place rather than being there. The people are friendly enough but difficult to integrate with. We didn’t meet any real interesting characters who enjoyed talking to us and wanted to hear about our lives back home. It’s difficult to describe but we’ve been to Laos but only seen it and not really felt it. I found the experience a little bland to be honest.

The capital, Vientiane, had a nice balance of being relaxed but not in a coma. We only spent a short time there but it had a really nice vibe to it. It had some stunning old temples too. I wish we’d stayed longer. It was nice to drink a beer by the river at night where we both witness the most spectacular thunderstorm yet. show_random($num=4, $tags=’ blog_2006615a’); ?>

When we headed North, passing through beautiful mountain scenery, we found a very different Laos. A Laos overrun by western tourists and although still very pretty I found it soulless. There were just too many tourists and too few Lao. Not to say the place was packed with people but nine out of ten people you passed in the street were westerners. It was pleasant and very relaxing, I cannot complain about that. There was just nothing to get excited about really, again, there was virtually no integration between visitors and locals. I’m pretty sure that Northern Laos has gone from being a hidden gem to a tourist hangout in a matter of a couple of years. Time will tell whether the South goes the same way. That would be a shame.

Now that you’ve had a feel for the place it’s time for the usual good and bad list, I’ll not repeat any of the stuff from above.

GOOD

Our hands-down highlight was a two day trek to a remote village of Ban Phonsim in the South of Laos. It was a truly amazing experience. The village is seldomly visited by westerners so we had a very special welcome and a great time interacting with the locals. I ended up weaving cotton in a rather hopeless manner and John went out in the evening to play football with the locals. All was hilarious and the villagers were absolutely charming.

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In the evening all the village elders gathered for our welcoming ceremony. All came to us individually to pass on their best wishes which were sealed in knotted cotton bracelets and tied around our wrists. This all happened while we held up a roast chicken on a china plate, it got a bit heavy after a while! After a toast with the local fire water our host asked us to translate the contents of his unicef medical package. He didn’t know what half the stuff in there was! Perhaps a weakness in the aid plan!?

The following morning, kitted out in traditional Laos dress, we went to give alms to the village monks. An experience that John found amazing and I found terrifying. We’ll certainly not forget it in a hurry.

Bad

ANNOY(nearly bit not quite his real name) – The most rude and atrocious tour guide we’ve had yet. show_random($num=1, $tags=’blog_20060615b’); ?>

He was our young guide and translator from Savannakhet on our visit to Ban Phonsim. Fortunately we didn’t allow him to spoil such an incredible experience but he was lazy, disrespectful and self obsessed. He constantly talked down to me and never addressed me directly, only John. He couldn’t be bothered to tell us about anything we were seeing and rarely translated. We ended up using what little French we knew with the older villagers, which was actually fun and better in the end. Annoy was constantly complaining about how far he had to walk on the treks and stopping to sleep for an hour, leaving us stranded. We have a list as long as John’s arm (yes, much longer than mine) about this guy. It would get far too boring to write them all down. I’m sure John might want to mention another couple in his comment.

YOUNG CHILDREN(apart from the ones in Ban Phonism)

Yes, it was back to screaming and tantrums. There are some unbelievably spoilt children in Laos! What a difference a border makes, someone at a university should go and find out why. Come on Universities! Get on with it!