Out of Laos and into the Maelstrom





 Goodbye, dear Laos


We finally made it out of Laos, with copious paperwork and hurried scurrying on the border control. The friendly border guard took pity on us and upgraded our bike visa to 6 months. We can only stay two on our visas, but its nice to know the bike can have a little holiday of its own.

The ride down south to Bangkok was somewhat fleeting- we had less than 48 hours to be in Bangkok, to pick Sue and Steve up from the airport. I can remember a lot of blurred trees racing past, and swerving lumpy tarmac at 100kph.

We stopped overnight in Nong Khai, and ventured out to find food. We didn't find any. But we did find a gaggle of chinese dragons, enormous and curling round and round with people running round underneath. There was strange deafening cymbal music in the background, and fireworks, exploding far too close with the sparks falling on the audience and people hiding and covering their ears. In the middle there was an altar with people worshipping in the madness, silently.
 



Hungry, defeated, and cursing our stupid vegetarian inclinations, we sat back on the floor of our room, and cooked 'cheese sauce' pasta with Kraft slices. We ate as much as physically possible, then flushed the rest down the toilet.

Ten to nine the next morning saw us stop and turn pink, and Adam try, unsuccessfully, to hide behind a small kiosk.  We were in the local Carrefour supermarket, watching the staff dance.  It was performed by every person in the shop.  It was fabulous.  There was camp clapping.  The uniformed security guards with slim hips seemed to be especially enjoying it. The steps were straight out of Kylie’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ dance, as performed throughout numerous gay clubs across Britain a few years ago…

We only went in for sun cream. 

Since racing back into Bangkok and performing some of my best ever navigational acrobatics the other night I have seen:

A temple cat listening intently to piper bird music in rocks, trying to find the damn birds.
 



Sue releasing doves from a little red box. They flew straight back to the owner, to be caged again, in return for food.

Several arguments with tuk tuk drivers and much huffing and panting.

A temple lit up a night with lights like fireworks in the trees.

 










108 donation bowls being filled at the golden Buddha.
 



Edibles for sale in the market street yesterday, glutinous green goo in plastic bags, trays of jelly pink sweets.
 



A painted wooden parrot in a tree at the temple

A lady boy blowing a kiss at Adams crotch, unsubtly

People lying drunk on the street in Khao San at 7am, having passed out where they were stood.

A prostitute wandering past arm in arm with a tourist.

Adam overhearing the drunken purchasing of a prostitute. They went upstairs.

Steve driving into Bangkok for the first time in crash traffic. Sue in the back cowering.


We also saw this lot:




temple cleaning




help.




looks Russian, I think...
 




 



a brief (ha ha) summation of the prevailing attitude in Bangkok...






 a Rolex branch in Chinatown






 matching down to the soles of their shoes, I wondered about their pre-school texting sessions








 pick your idol...







A couple of days later we meandered down towards the South, oblivious to the enormity of Thailand.  A Hot Springs sign caught our attention, and we traveled far out of our way to visit the pond-like spring.  On the way back to our route we got very lost.  As soon as I stopped navigating though, things drastically improved. 

A two meter snake slithered its way across the road.  Sadly we were slithering our way along the road at a far more rapid rate, and we hit it straight on.   It slammed into my foot with the impact.  It was a strong critter.  To its credit though it didn’t do anything as defeated as actually stop, let alone die, and I turned to watch it change direction and sneak back into the undergrowth.  No doubt it was far less sure of the urgency of its original mission over the other side.




The road disintegrated for a while, and gave Sue and Steve a chance to see a real road.
 






We passed a large furry monkey performing a strange dance on its hind feet at the side of the road.

We reached a National Park and spent the night camping, next to Sue and Steve in their bungalow.  A worrisome slithering underneath the tent saw me, bleary and confused, searching the tent with much trepidation by the light of the laptop.  I found the culprit the next morning and scolded him thoroughly.  It was a large toad.







 


 on the way. it looked a lot like a scottish loch.  but was a LOT warmer.


The next day we looked at the map.  Possibly it may have been better to look at the map before leaving Bangkok.  So as to accurately judge the distances etc.  But it was a bit late.  So, over a nutritious breakfast of vegetables in oyster sauce and papaya chunks, we decided we’d have to hotfoot it for hours on the motorway in order to reach anywhere any time soon. 
 



The following night was spent similarly, camping next to the bungalow in a deserted overpriced beach resort, after a hectic day of motorway riding.  Luckily though there was a restaurant down the path and we spent the evening supping chilled Chang and feeding liver and onions to a very surprised hound. (A communication error: when in Thailand don’t ask for ‘Soy Sauce’, unless you really are requiring Liver and Onions, and were just too shy to order it.)

Koh samui:








Aah.  Paradise.  Palm trees, cobalt water, sunsets over beach, old fat men with young thai girls…
Oh. 
Koh Samui is a flagrant assault on the senses.  This morning I wandered around Tescos, buying packaged melon with the other expats.  Giant flabby men whizzed past in the street, their bulldog tattoos blurring with the speed of the miniscule scooters they perched on.  Tiny thai women sit, bored, in the massage parlours their longterm British clients have bought them.  No one wants a massage. 

The bungalows are nice though. The beach is beautiful.  The palm trees seem to have been planted in a perfect allignment of Beauty.  The sand is powdered Canderol. 

The hotel next door has rooms with private, screened patios facing the beach.  Last night I watched a large naked man scamper across one as he realized too late that it wasn’t a private beach.  The security men stand guard 24 hours a day in front of a private built jetty.  The CCTV cameras train on us mere mortals passing by. 

I sat on a sun lounger by the pool, drinking beer and contemplating nothing, strenuously.  All day. 

Tomorrow I may go for a snorkel.  Or at least think about it.

SHOCK HORROR:  News Update:  Our driveshaft is wrecked!!  This is very bad news.  There was a hole in the gator, loads of dust has entered, and the grease has dried up.  Now the metal appears to have torn itself apart from riding so far with no grease. 
Now we will probably have to ride back up to Bangkok and wait to get the part sent from somewhere, and then fitted.  It will probably cost a few hundred quid, meaning our meagre resources are now even more meagre.  There is no way we can afford to get to Cambodia and Vientnam now.  And we were considering leaving the bike down here and getting the bus back up and down again, to save the dull motorway riding for two days, but now we can’t.  Oh bugger.

News Update:  Three hours later:
There is a man who may be able to help here on Koh Samui.  Adam and Steve took the bike there earlier.  Apparently he may be able to order the part from a friend of his on the mainland by tomorrow, and fit it for us himself!  If this is the case it is a small miracle, and I may have to reconsider my faith…  We don’t find out until tomorrow.  The part costs sixteen quid.  We don’t know about labour.  That’s even if its remotely possible.  We shall see. 




Disaster Update: Lost Passports and Fractured Noses








In Vang Vieng, one is apt to scream ‘Frikkin Awe-some!’ while hurtling oneself  down a river, inebriated on rice whisky.  One is apt, apparently, to scrawl marker-pen slogans all over one’s semi-naked torso.  But only, luckily, if one happens to be a Spring-Break-aged US citizen with a healthy American zest for life.



For the rest of us, Vang Vieng was a bit of a shock.  To deal with said shock, we helped numerous bottles of whisky to empty themselves, thereby possibly saving various unseasoned US drinkers from an untimely doom, and ensuring their further economic support of the local beverage industry. 

The highway on the way there didn’t have signs screaming ‘This Way To East Tijuana’, or tequila-swigging donkeys swaggering to a latin beat.  It didn’t even have dodgy looking Gringos wearing inappropriate headgear … oh no, wait, it did have those.
 



So nothing had warned us.  In fact I thought it might be a nice place to unwind in the hills for a few days. The roads wound in a snakelike fashion, past thatched roadside huts and people with strange tractors.  





 

The bridges were suitably rickety in a pleasant, didn’t-quite-die way, and the government signs were suitably communist.  




 







Anyway, we found ourselves a little jungle hut, and drank with some decent chaps we found.  Then the bar shut, so we drank coke with something very peculiarly aromatic, from a bottle that someone had seen fit to squash an entire cobra into.  Then we ran out of mixer, so we mixed it with the Lao beer. 
 



Then we woke up in a state of severe dehydration a day later, whispering ‘Frikkin Awe-suum’ to ourselves very, very quietly.

The days passed. 

Adam got hurled off a zipwire from an enormous height, did an impressive back-flip, and obtained two black eyes and a possibly fractured nose for his efforts.  He resembled Snuffalupagus for days.
 



I met the largest spider I have ever had the misfortune of meeting in my poor sheltered life.  I met her close up, on the wall, in my hut.  She was about 3 feet away. She was very, very large.  She was also hairy, and very peculiar-looking.  (She may have been thinking the same.)  She thought she had found a home.   I know she was a she because she had an egg-sack the size of a golf ball underneath her.  Adam heroically removed the spider.  I didn’t sleep for two nights. 

We visited an enormous cave with incredibly crystal formations.  We rode there on the back of a rotivator.  The driver stopped at the petrol station, and we got fuel from a beer-tap, into a water bottle.
 








a rotivator taxi with our cowboy driver

 
beer-tap fuel


Five days later we remembered we were supposed to be touring and not just moving to a cosy jungle hut, and left for Luang Prabang.
 



The road to Luang Prabang was very, very curvy.  Like Mariah Carey during a heavy phase, that kind of curvy.  The kind of curves where you aren’t quite sure if it would be better to go fast and get it over and done with, or go slowly and try not to die.  It would have been a truly jaw-dropping ride if it weren’t for the abundance of loose gravel strewn across the tarmac.  And the joy was tempered slightly by the large number of unexploded bombs in the area left over from the 60s US carpet-bombing.  You don’t wander off into the bush for a pee, you hold on...
 



Everyone waved.  There were a lot of people living in the villages alongside Route 13.  And every person in every village waved.  Some of the two-year olds waved even before they saw the bike, they were that good.
 



The roads were being used to dry red chillies.  Old tribal women in traditional headgear strode about purposefully.  Kids played with makeshift bows and arrows. 
 







85% of Lao are rural subsistence farmers- and they seem to be fairly healthy with it.  Most houses appear to have electricity, though not many have running water- I saw whole households taking it in turns to wash at the pump.  There doesn’t appear to be the usual influx of hungry rural migrants looking to make a quick buck in the tourist cities though, which always seems a dead giveaway of general malaise.

Luang Prabang is a very well-preserved UNESCO heritage site.  It is full of French colonial architecture, and Wifi cafes.  Some say the French colonialists did very little for Laos during their rule.  In fact, some suggest the only thing they did was build big mansions and eat baguettes.  (OK, not the baguettes bit, that was me). 
 



The buildings are pretty.  They have all been turned into boutique hotels, which makes them slightly less than photogenic, unless you are particularly keen on rustic faux-antique signage.  And the tourists tend to be a little on the large size, possibly due to the abundance of $5 Steak a Poivres.   But the town is set on the Mekong River, and there are enough palm trees and temples to woo a weary wanderer.

We were woo’d, wearily.  We wandered about the temples in a daze.  






I tried not to sneak peeks at the beautiful things at the nightmarket, and tried even harder not to snigger when a very straight-laced English girl told us how ’er George had accidentally been forced to buy a duvet cover.

We left Luang Prabang when we realized we couldn’t afford breakfast. 
The plan was to head to the south, away from the tourist areas, via a visit to a waterfall that happened to be on the way.  It was all going well.  We’d left Luang Prabang and the expensive breakfasts behind, and were making good time. 

The waterfall was enormous, and incredibly beautiful, in a self-conscious sort of way.  It knew it was that good, and was strutting. 

 



 





 a really really big leaf, and me.

We found a bear sanctuary, quite by mistake, and watched person-size creatures playfully bite each others heads.. 
 



The bears had been rescued from poachers who keep them in ludicrously small boxes that the bears can’t even get all their limbs inside of, and ‘milk’ them via an open wound for ‘bear bile’.  The Chinese like to use bear bile in medicine.

We whizzed along, daydreaming about milking Chinese bear poachers and enjoying the ride.

 


Laos highway

Around two I heard a strange little repetitive tinny sound, like metal bumping along.   I dreamed on, oblivious. 

At half two the cogs in my brain began whirring and I turned to see a detached bungie cord bouncing along behind the bike.

Several minutes later I realized what that meant, and we screeched to a halt.

The bag containing both of our passports had fallen off the back of the bike. 

We feverishly hunted for the stuff along vast tracts of road. We retrieved the waterproof rucksack cover we kept the pan set in.  That was it. 

We had lost two passports, a wallet with $30, a USB pen drive, all my make-up, and our pan set and mugs. 

A good days work, and all thanks to my non-vicious bungie attachment method. 

I believe that morning I may also have been heard to mutter something along the lines of: ‘Don’t tie it down too tight or the mosquito cream will explode like last time.’ before taking it off Adam, who no doubt was doing a perfectly adequate job. Frankly in hindsight exploded mosquito cream would have been a far more amusing mess.

So our trip to South Laos won‘t happen, as we instead spend a week in Vientiane trying to sort out the ridiculous faff involved in trying to leave Laos, in order to then go to Bangkok to procure new passports.  The price of the passports also means after Thailand we will no longer be able to afford to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, and will have to head straight down to Malaysia.  It will cost us 350 pounds. 

Ho, and indeed, Hum.

And with that the latest saga of our ever-more-ridiculous trip is told, and I leave you to sit in a dark room, flogging myself.  Goodbye.