Saturday, May 30, 2009

Laos pictures again

I have so many good pictures of Laos!

Erica teaching Pieter to ride in Vang Vien.

Looking for caves!

Gas station.

Fisherman in Vang Vien.

Crazy sculptures in Vientiane.

More sculpture.

Anne and I having fun at the temple.

Pieter in Savannakhet where I was sick forever.

Bubble tea!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Leaving Asia, On to Africa

I'm in Africa! I know its been forever, the end of Thailand was quite busy and now internet is less available here. When I last posted I was still traveling with my sister and Pieter. We stayed in Hua Hin for two days which was a lot of fun. It was cool to stay with people who actually live in the city who could show us around. We saw some good beaches, a monkey temple with really fat monkeys, ate some good Thai food. After Hua Hin we took the train to Chumphon and then a night ferry to the island of Koh Tao which is the closest one on the east side. The ferry was pretty cool, lots of beds all in a row on a little boat. We arrived early in the morning and then walked around for a while before deciding where to stay. We ended up on one of the smaller beaches, which was really nice. We got a very small bungalow with a beach view and everything, it was great. The bathroom didn't have a door, haha and it only had one double bed, but Pieter had his sleeping mat so it worked out and was a great price. We stayed on the island for three days, swimming, snorkeling, eating, reading on the beach, getting sunburned. Over all a very nice and relaxing time, except for the sunburns, haha.

After that I left Anjali and Pieter to head back to Bangkok. They continued south to do some crazy jungle trekking in Malaysia, but I haven't heard how that went yet. I took the night ferry back and then a long train ride back to Bangkok. I had a weird situation with a Thai man on the ferry which made me not feel comfortable falling asleep on the ferry again, but apart for the lack of sleep the trip went well. I arrived in Bangkok in the rain, with no map (I had left the guide book with my sister) at a station I had never been to, but managed to find my way back to Banglampu by taking a tuk-tuk, a river taxi and a local city bus, it was a bit of an adventure. Then in the morning I did my last minute shopping for Africa, brown clothes for wildlife parks, binoculars, that kind of thing, and then I was off to the airport.

The flights went well, Cathey Pacific is a very fancy airline, I watched too many movies and didn't sleep enough, but thats what always happens. I had a short layover in Hong Kong and arrived in Johannesburg on time. The hostel I booked had airport pickup which was nice and then Eric arrived with the car we rented later in the day. We stayed two days in Joberg doing just a bit of sight seeing, its not really the kind of place you want to spend too much time in, although the area we stayed in was alright to walk around in the day time. We did the Apartheid museum one day and went to a Lion park outside of the city one day. The line park was a bit touristy, but we could pet baby lions (so cute) and drive around with lots of big lions. One even came up to the car door on my side and graped the handle with his teeth and tried to open the car door! I pulled it closed, haha, and we drive out quickly. Having a car is really nice, tho eric has to to all the driving because I can only drive automatic cars. But it gives us a lot of flexibility which is great. Oh I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff so read Erics blog for more details:

After Joberg we had a booking at the biggest animal park in the country, Kruger Park, so we started driving up that way. We stayed a day in Makahdo which was a cute little town near some nice mountains and did some hiking. It worked out well because at the B&B we stayed in we met the son of the owner and he offered to let us stay with his family in Nesbruit when we passed through which is where we are staying now. It turns out Africa is a bit expensive, and the rand keeps getting better as we are here which is bad for us traveling. We stayed three nights at Kruger and did a hike which was great. It was similar to what I did with my parents three years ago and lots of fun. Its so much better then just driving through the park. We stayed in a bush camp each night with no electricity or anything (but fully catered) and did a hike each morning and afternoon. There were eight of us and we decided as a group do do some of the harder hikes which took us to some really beautiful landscape, like a huge canyon and a baobab forest. On foot we saw some animals like giraffes, zebras, elephants, impala, kudu, nyala, klipspringer, daci. We also saw tons of buffalo, zebra, impala, elephant, wort hogs, baboons, kudu while driving in the park. Then after the Kruger we stayed in a smaller park for two nights and saw rhinos and baby giraffes! We also went to an animal rehabilitation center where we say baby rhinos we could pet, which was very exciting. Yesterday we drove to Nelsbruit along the Blyde River Canyon which is the third largest canyon and had some really nice views. We plan to do some hiking here this afternoon, and watch a rugby game with our hosts tonight, haha. Then tomorrow we drive into Mozambique!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cambodia and back to Thailand

Last time I updated I was slowly making my way to the Cambodian border. Well I took a few more buses and mini buses and finally made it to the border that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There were no foreigners and very few people over all crossing there, which was both good and bad. Good because they didn't try to scam me out of any money like i have heard at some other borders they do, but bad because there were no buses or anything going anywhere. Eventually I found a taxi to drive me and three other Cambodians towards Siam Reap which was 5 hours away, half of which was very bumpy dirt roads. Also all along the side of the road there were signs that said 'caution land mines' which i knew was going to happen, but it was pretty crazy to actually see. Luckily I didn't need to get out of the car on the side of the road for anything. So I made it to Siam Reap and signed up for the 5am sunrise at Angkor Wat the next day. It turned out to be a really great day. I decided I only had time to do one day at the temples, so i hired a motorcycle to drive me around to save some time. We started at the actual Angkor Wat temple for sunrise, which was pretty awesome. Its huge! Then while it was still early we went to Bayon, which was by far my favorite one. Its not as big, but its full of carved faces all over it, which I just loved. There are a bunch of small temples all around so I spend the morning looking at them, had some lunch, and then in the afternoon saw Angkor Thom, which is cool because there are all kinds of trees and roots taking over the temple. I think it was definitely worth all the hassle of getting there, even just for one day at the temples, they are truly amazing.

After only two full days in Cambodia, I took a bus to the Thai border and then a train back to Bangkok so I could get some errands done before my sister arrived. I spend almost an entire day getting extra pages added to my passport because I realized I only had three full pages left, which isn't very much. They give you more pages for free at the US embassy so it all worked out. And then Anjali arrived! She is here until I leave Thailand, which is very exciting. She is actually here longer, but I'm leaving on the 18th to head to Africa. So the day she arrived we did the Grand Palace in Bangkok again, which was a big crowded but still very nice. Bangkok was soooo hot that we didn't want to stay in the city for too long, so we took a train to Ayutthaya which is 1 1/2 hours north and full of old templs and huge Buddha statues. We saw the largest bronze Buddha and also a 23 meter high one which was cool. After a few days there we took a train back to bangkok and then a bus to Hua Hin to meet Pieter who was staying with Lindy, who we meet in Laos. She is actually house sitting for a family whose daughter she tutors here so we are all staying in a really great house at the moment. It has a pool and AC and its nice to be staying in a real house for once. The plan is to hang out on the beach here today and then start to head more south tomorrow to one of the islands on the east side of the peninsula.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And some more Laos

New Friends from the slow boat!

Village children.

More new friends, in Luang Probang, the second time, on our way to the waterfalls.

Lao New Year! We build a chedi on the island, you can see it behind Pieter and I, we had some help from some of the locals.

The finished product!

Anne, Paul and I a bit later in the day, haha, covered in water and flour.

Fancy Lao Tofu barbecue with Laurenne in Luang Probang, right before they brought me my fake Birthday cake :)

Some of the jars at the Plain of Jars.

The largest Jar.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lovely Laos

Alright some more pictures!

On the slow boat, down the Mekong on the way to Luang Probang.

At the big temple in Luang Probang.

Bike riding around Lauang Na Tha.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thailand? Cambodia?

I know its been ages, again, since I posted last, but I'll will do my best to remember everything I've done for the last few weeks. When I left off last I was still in Luang Probang celebrating the new year, which was quite a lot of fun. There was a large group of us still hanging out at that point, which meant we spent more money going out in the evenings, but also had a lot of fun. One such evening I accidentally told the restaurant it was my birthday and they brought out a whole cake for free! Haha, the menu said cake for special occasions for large groups so I figured I might as well try, but I couldn't explain any other event in a way that they understood so in the end they just assumed that it was my birthday. The cake was totally worth all the confusion. We ended up staying in Luang Probang longer then planned because one of our new traveling friends, Paul, was sick, but as soon and he recovered we headed east to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars.
Phonsavan itself was somewhat of a dreary place, but I thought that the Jars were really awesome. There are huge fields full of large jar shaped stone carvings that no one really knows where they came from or why they were made. One theory is that they were ancient burial grounds. A more local theory is that they were used to make huge amounts of Lao-Lao (rice whiskey) haha. Theory one seems more likely. Part of the reason that they haven't been studied all that much is the face that the area is covered with UXO's that could explode anytime. A few of the sites have been cleared of UXO's, which is why we could see them, but there are thousands and thousands of jars all over. Its crazy.

After the Plain of Jars we went to Vang Vieng, which is the party city of Laos. Its a strange place, full of drunk tourists hanging about bars watching tv. It also has some of the most beautiful landscape i have ever seen, so it was worth going even with all the tourists and bars. We mostly avoided the city by renting motorbikes and spending two days just driving around back dirt roads. Its was tons of fun, tho i just rode on the back, haha. There is tubing in the river there too, but everyone told us the water was so shallow we didn't even need tubes, so in the end we just swam down the river. I think we decided tubes would have been better, but i had a good time anyways. All along the river there are bars who have set up crazy zip lines, water slides and rope swings as ways to get you to come up and buy drinks. Some of the swings and slides were pretty fun, tho i think Pieter and Paul enjoyed themselves more, I was happy to just swim. In Vang Vieng there were still 6 of us traveling together, but Erica and Lindy had to head back to Bangkok to begin teaching the new year. So then the four of us took the bus to Vientiane.

Vientiane was a capital city that I liked quite a lot, as capital cities go it was very mellow. It was also the first, and only place in all of Laos that I saw a road that was more then one lane each way. We only spent two days there but we spent a lot of time eating, drinking iced coffee, and going to this crazy sculpture garden. The garden was great, it was full of hundreds of crazy Buddhist and Hindu statues, every kind you could imagine all crowed together in one garden. We also went bowling, haha, I lost terribly, but had a great time. Our plan at this point was to make it down to the 4000 island area of Laos by way of Savannakhet and then I was going to go to Cambodia with Anne and Paul and Pieter was going to go to Vietnam on his own. We got all our visas settled in Vientiane and headed south.
We made it fine to Savannakhet, which is a nice place but not very exciting. It does have a dinosaur museum which is small but the guy who runs it is super nice and lets you touch everything, even the bones so that was cool. We were only going to stay two nights, but I ended up getting really sick which messed up all out plans. I'm fine now, but I ended up staying six nights and decided to go back to Thailand instead of trying to rush all over Cambodia with less then a week left before meeting Anjali in Bangkok. I took one of the Laos-Thai Friendship bridges to Mukdahan and then a bus to Ubon Ratchathani and the next day another bus to Kantharalak which is where I am now. My plan is to go across the Cambodia border closer to Siam Reap so I can just do Angkor Wat and then go back to Bangkok. It seemed like a good plan, but its a little more complicated crossing the border on this side of Thailand since its really not touristy at all, the town I'm in isn't even in the guide book. Hopefully I can make it tomorrow, stay for two or three nights and then head back to Bangkok to meet Anjali on the 8th! Alright I think thats all for now.