Saturday, October 24, 2009

Raju from Rajistan

Here's a scenario for you;
You've just arrived in Kathmandu and while walking around the chaotic streets, you stop to check you map. As you do so, a young guy (maybe around 30-ish) kindly offers you directions to where you want to go. He then makes small talk with you while walking with you to your nearby destination. He tells you he's from India, but is studying in Nepal and likes to spend his free-time chatting with foreigner to improve his English. He assures you several times that he doesn't want any money from you, but instead offers to show you around town so that he can practice his English. You notice that he already speaks English very well, but agree, somewhat reluctantly, to let him accompany you.

You spend the next few hours being shown some great corners of Kathmandu... some you'd never have seen otherwise, and he even shows you how to navigate the insanely crowded public bus system! Together, you head towards the Tibetan quarter of Bodnath, where, he tells you, there is a festival on that day. Once again, you're given an insight into local life that you couldn't have possibly discovered on your own. At the end of the afternoon, you consider buying him lunch in return for all he has shown you, but instead, he insists that you accompany him to his house to meet his family and drink some chai. Tired of always turning down invitations like this, you figure 'why not?'... plus you've spent the whole day with this guy and he seems cool enough. You follow him the 5 mins it takes to get to his neighbourhood, but soon realise that the apartment buildings you were expecting him to live in, were now behind you, and that the reasonably well dressed guy you'd spent the day with, was leading you to him home in a Kathmandu slum. Suddenly, you're surrounded by shelters made of plastic sheeting and other scraps and you're confronted by the sight of poverty that's more extreme than anything you've ever seen in your life.
Justify Full You meet his wife and their 3 young children, his sister and her 2 kids, and you realise that all 8 of them share this tiny, tiny shack. It grows increasingly difficult for you to hide your shock at what's before your eyes. Hearing his 2 year olds terrible cough, you're compelled to offer your help... but before you get a chance to do so, he tells you a story about corrupt police officers confiscating his livelihood - a shoe shining/repair box. At this point you feel like maybe something isn't quite right, but then think that (a) maybe you are too cynical, and (b) there's a family in front of you living in abject poverty and any contribution you offer could make a difference - even just a small one. So, you offer some money... but your host refuses the cash, suggesting instead that you could help him by replacing his shoe-shining box. You agree to make a contribution and minutes later, a man with a shoe-shining box for sale shows up. Convenient. Twenty minutes later, the box has been purchased and you are shown back to the bus stand... apparently no longer required.

So, that was our first day in Nepal... At times we feel like we were royally duped, but at the same time, this dude and his family live in a really horrible slum and if our money helped them in any way at all, then we're ok with that... even if the money wasn't really used to buy his shoe-shining box. You may think we were stupid, and maybe we were, but once we saw the way this guy lived, there was no way in hell we could have gone back to our comfortable, clean hotel room without giving him some money.

What would you have done?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tubing in the Vang Vieng

Tubing in Vang Vieng (affectionately known as Vangers) has become a rite of passage on the South East Asian backpacker trail, and while yes, it is full of drunken foreigners, we had so much fun we went there twice! (please don't judge us).

Our all-star tubing team - Team Orange

Making ze tubing with ze Germans... ja!

"What is tubing?", you may well ask... well, basically it is floating down a river in an inflatable tube... drunk. Nice eh?!
Need more explanation? Well, being the veteran tubers we are, we've compiled an easy to follow 15-step-guide-to-tubing;

1. Hire a tube from the tubing dudes - you can get 1 tube per person, or 1 between many (recommended for advanced tubers only)
2. Ride a tuk-tuk to the start of the tubing course (3.5kms)
3. Kick off the day with a Beer Lao and a free shot of Lao Lao whiskey at the first bar (optional extra: trapeze or flying fox over the river... watch out for rocks)
4. Float 25m down stream to bar #2
5. Begin on laolao buckets and have a dance with dancing man (see profile below)
6. Float to one of the two mud bars (we prefer the one on the left)
7. Play in mud pits and consume several buckets with newly made tubing buddies
8. Continue on to Slide Bar on the right hand side of the river (you can't miss it... it has a big slide)
9. More buckets and the option of a ride down a dangerous slide.

From here you have a few different options;
10a. Tube back to town before sunset and reclaim your full tube deposit (if this option is selected, you are weak and should skip to step #13)
10b. Tube on to the last bars and continue to drink heavily
11a. Get a tuk-tuk back into town
11b. Float back in the dark (not recommended)
12. Return your tube and reclaim deposit (minus a few bucks fine for late retun)
13. Q-Bar (look for 'Dancing Man' and 'Fan Man')
14. Sunset Bar (look for 'Dancing Man' and 'Tubing Trent')
15. Rock Bar (look for 'Dancing Man' and a cheeky 15 year old)

Repeat as desired.

We loved tubing so much we did it 4 times and each time our tubing posse grew and grew... meet our crew.

CLAMY (Claire and Amy)
Associated Tubing Days: 4
Mozzies, tubing back in the dark
Why we love them:
'cos we are them!

THE LOVELY LUNGERS (Katy, Emily and Carly)
Associated Tubing Days: 3
Lunges, hats, buckets
Tube stealers
Why we love them:
'cos they're "well fun"!

Associated Tubing Days: 2
Likes: Hair straightening, 'naughty caves'
Bowling socks, being photographed
Why we love them:
'cos they're "well rapid"

ZE GERMANS (Philip, Tino, Philipp and Basti)
Nationality: German
Associated Tubing Days: 1 (big one!)
Likes: Moustaches, sausages, swings
Dislikes: Puppies, vomiting, us when we mock their accents
Why we love them: Because zey like to make ze tubing und zey are wery funny!

Unfortunately (for you), our tubing posse have, like us, moved on from Vang Vieng and are therefore unavailable to tube with you. But fear not, as you are likely to meet a variety of characters on your trip to Vangers. Keep an eye out for these (or similar) tubing celebrities;

Canadian (possibly on the verge of Lao residency)
Associated Tubing Days:
Going on 300 (no joke)
Tubing (obviously), matching board-shorts, sunnies and headband outfits
Reality (evidently... the guy has been tubing for over 9 months)
Why we love him:
Because he's the ambassador for tubing, man!

Unknown (we're not even sure he's from this world)
Associated Tubing Days:
Possibly just one, but it must've been a HUUUGE day
Dancing with electric fans (preferably oscillating)
Air-Con and ceiling fans (he's unable to dance with either)
Why we love him:
Because he was, by far, the drunkest person in Vang Vieng.

Associated Tubing Days:
numerous... but he's too young to be tubing anyway (he's only 15!!)
drinkin' buckets, piggybacks, trying to chat up girls nearly twice his age
People mocking him for his age, anything pre-1994
Why we love him:
'cos he's a cool little dude who can hold his drink! (even though he shouldn't be drinking)

Associated Tubing Days:
Unknown (we never actually saw him out of a bar)
Dancing, dancing, dancing... free buckets
Standing still, changing clothes, beer in his bucket
Why we love him:
We don't really, but he's hilarious to watch.

With all these crazy characters around, we didn't have a single dull moment in Vang Vieng... in fact, the worst thing about it was leaving.

Mud volleyball at the mud bar!

We luv Vangers 4 eva x

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sabaideeeee Laos

Laos would have to be one of the most laid-back countries on earth. Exemplifying this, was our first stop, Don Det, a tiny Mekong island in the 4000 islands of Southern Laos. You know that when you have to physically wake restaurant owners up to make your lunch at 2pm, you've entered a whole new realm of relaxation. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, this was a regular occurrence in Don Det. You also know, that when you spend 4 days solid lying in a hammock, you've quickly adapted to this lifestyle and have entered a whole new realm of laziness. Aside from one afternoon bike ride, (which required more energy than is the norm on Don Det) the most physical activity we exerted was a lazy stroll to the bakery to buy cakes and getting up from our hammocks to watch mama (our crazy guest home owner) drown pigs on the island opposite us. With the only electricity available being run from a generator between 7pm - 11pm, this kind of relaxation is what Don Det was made for.

Mama's guest house - the hammocks that became our home for 4 days

Mekong sunset

In fear of having criss-cross hammock marks permanently indented in our backs, we voted ourselves off the island. On the main land, we got a bus to Champasak ...well, that's what we paid for anyway. But given we were the only ones on the packed bus getting off at Champasak, a decision was made (unbeknown to us) to drop us off in the middle of the turn off. Great. We tried to bribe a mini bus driver (with a nice shiny can of insect repellent) to take us into town. When this didn't work, we forked over a dollar and he gave us a lift. Twenty minutes later, after trying to pin point our location on the Champasak map, we were informed that we weren't actually in Champasak. Again, great. To get to Champasak, we had to cross the Mekong (information that may have been useful earlier). We hopped onto a local bus (by bus we mean pick-up truck!) and drove onto a rickety raft to cross the river. This detour, although initially a little annoying, proved to be awesome fun ....perhaps more fun than Champasak itself ...actually, definitely more fun.

The raft used to cross the river

It makes sense that Champasak isn't on the Laos tourist trail, because aside from a pretty temple, some wacky Japanese students, and a nice Qantas pilot, there's very little to do...oh, except kill giant spiders in our bathroom.

Spider in our bathroom... YUK!

Wat Phu - Champasak

While we're on the topic of places to skip in Laos, add Savannaket to the list (this is, however, where the list ends) ...In hindsight, we don't even know why we went there. ..all we did was spend hours on the internet and gaze longingly at the action-packed town across the Mekong ...which turned out to be a town in Thailand.

Perhaps Vientiane, the capital of Laos, would hold a little more action for us. ...ummm ...not so much, but we did get to visit the worst nightclub in Asia (and Asia has some pretty bad clubs). Neither of us are big clubbers, but when every bar in the city closes by 11pm, a beer in Vientiane's only nightclub (in Laos' tallest building ...a huge 14 stories) is hard to pass up. Surrounded by prostitutes and dodgy old men, we entertained ourselves with the latter - in the form of Korean business men who were amazed that 2 white girls could speak some Korean.

Our next stop, Vang Vieng, has earned itself it's own blog posting (we'll be putting that up soon), so we'll skip onto Luang Prabang.

We're starting to realise that we have some seriously bad bus karma. The road from central to Northern Laos is long and winding due to a billion mountains in the way. The scenery along the way was breathtaking, but, so was the smell of the bus. First of all, the on-board toilet was leaking, but half way up the first (of many) mountains, the smell of vomit began to overpower the smell of urine. You'd think your senses would eventually adapt to the smell, but they don't, and when the man sitting in front of us somehow managed to throw up on Claire's leg while he was asleep, all we could do was laugh - a lot ...and then move seats. Surely, that's enough bad luck for one day!? Nope. Collecting our bags from under the bus, Amy noticed hers was a little damp ...actually it was soaked in what turned out to be chicken juices from the baskets of live and not so alive chickens that had been sitting on her bag. The pair of us smelled rank and we pitied the poor soul at our guest house who washed our vomit pants and chicken bag and clothes.

From our rocky start in Luang Prabang, things started looking up as we wondered around the charming town, it's excellent night market and it's delicious and cheap food stalls. Pretty much everyone we'd met on our trip in Laos, was in Luang Prabang at the same time, giving us playmates for late night bowling, an "orange" party (with free orange t-shirts!) and beers at the night-food market.

Luang Prabang and it's surroundings are gorgeous and there's no shortage of things to fill your days with - beautiful waterfalls, traditional Lao massage, monasteries and temples galore - we did it all - including getting up before dawn to watch the hundreds of local monks collecting alms.

Kouang Si Waterfall - Luang Prabang

Views of Luang Prabang from Phu Si

Monks collecting alms

Orange party free t-shirts = love

We were a little shocked at our bowling skills

From uber relaxation to buckets of fun, Laos has it all - picturesque scenery, fascinating culture and friendly people (both locals and tourists alike), our month there passed so quickly and, once again, we fell in love with a country and were very sad to leave...we might even miss those Mekong sunsets.

Next destination, Nepal. Stay tuned for updates on our penultimate stop before home...but not before you read about our tubing adventure in Vang Vieng - if the Lao Lao buckets haven't erased the awesomeness of it all from our memories, that is.