Tuesday, 04 January 2005
My travel updates have been very bad I must admit. I wrote so much in Vietnam that I must have blown a fuse - plus after the great story about how my parents met, I found little motivation to write anything better. There's still a lot of material which has not been published on the web such as - the great hitch-hiking adventure back to Hanoi, penniless! But there is so much to say about all the stories that writing simply became tedious and an insufficient way for me to share these experiences! So to try and counterbalance this lack of writing, I'll simply sum up a brief history of my travels in Laos and Thailand so far!
After Vietnam came Laos
Now Laos is a beautiful country - it truly is. And the people are wonderful and smiley (pretty much like the Cambodians). Everyone I met who had come from Laos - before I had set foot there - was selling the country to me with great enthusiasm: "beautiful scenery, beautiful atmosphere, beautiful people and beautifully cheap (by Asian standards)". Surprisingly this was not much to my taste! I'll agree with what everyone said, but somehow Laos fell short of my expectations.
The first stop in Laos was Vientiane - her capital. For a capital, Vientiane had surprisingly few attractions. It's a lovely city but nothing to do there. So after two days I packed my bags and headed north to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng is the tourist spot to be in - a great place to relax and do absolutely nothing! Cruise down rivers, a little drunk, on tubes; order delicious cheap food and watch pirated movies on all the big screens in the restaurants. Those who dared could get 'Happy' toppings on their pizzas or 'Happy Shakes'. But Vang Vieng to me was little more than debaucheries in tourist land. I certainly had a great time there, but as the days went past I achieved absolutely nothing. Imagine being stuck in front of your TV for five consecutive days and that's what Vang Vieng felt like.
I then moved on north to Luang Prabang - a beautiful city and a wonderful night market to eat in. The variety of food at the hawker stalls was simply beyond belief! But to be completely honest, I found that most of Laos I had already seen and experienced in Vietnam. Except for one particular distinction Laos has over the other countries - food poisoning.
Now I don't know why there are so many problems with Laos food, but sometimes I like to believe it equates directly to the amount of bombs the Americans dropped over the country during the Vietnamese War. The 'secret war of Laos' was a war theatre the Americans were anxious to control. The North Vietnamese forces were channelling arms and ammunition to Southern Vietnam through the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. Whoever controlled this trail controlled the war in South Vietnam. America's solution was to bomb every last recess in the country with over 2 million tons of bombs, effectively costing the US tax payers 2 million dollars a day for 9 years. And now the food growing on Laos soil is rich in chemicals, thus having tremendous repercussions on the stomachs of thousands of travellers each year (please note, this is an unfounded belief). However, I can count over ten people I met all having had diverse food poisoning disasters in Laos. It was only a matter of time before these complaints showed up in my stomach and rendered me cripple for three days.
Relaxing in Thailand
After crossing the border into Thailand, taking two night buses and a 4 hour boat ride, I found myself on Ko Tao - an incredibly peaceful island on Thailand's East coast. I met many French there as they all seemed to have the same taste for tranquillity and moderate drinking! All the British could be found on an island a little further south, called Ko Phangan - where alcohol, drugs and rave parties fuel the rhythm of the night. On Ko Tao, I learnt to dive and spent a very relaxing Christmas on the beach - my first Christmas in the heat!
Then came the Tsunami disaster, which luckily did not scratch the East Coast Islands off the face of the Earth. I can't say I felt particularly lucky being spared from the event as I had never planned to visit Thailand's West Coast. This was different for people I met - such as my diving instructor Chris who was meant to be on Ko Phiphi had he not been instructing us, or the family of 4 who were diving with me and had decided at the last minute to go to Ko Tao rather than Ko Phiphi.
After a nice relaxing week, I visited Ko Phangan for New Year. Yes, the island with all the party goers. And yes, that's what I ended doing on New Year's Eve, accumulating buckets under my arm of lethal Samsung Whiskey, Coke and M-150 (= Redbull x10).
But Ko Phangan was not all about drinking. I met some extremely interesting people there who seemed almost magical; and without having taken their contact details, could almost be classified as my 'imaginary' friends. These two people were Claire and Zac. But that story Iíll save for another time...