Posts Tagged ‘Laos’

Goodbye Laos

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Pakse had one redeeming feature: a Vietnamese embassy which turned out visas in about fifteen minutes. The official even let Hannah off the passport photo requirement for her visa. There was nothing else to recommend the town so we left after one night for a couple of days of downtime in 4000 islands.
We bought bus tickets from our hotel for Pakse to Don Dhet and Don Dhet to Siem Reap. For the Laos to Cambodia leg we were expecting to have to change bus at Kompong Cham but the hotel manager claimed we would change at the border and have one bus all the way through from there to Siem Reap.
We’d read and heard mixed reports about Don Dhet and Don Khong in 4000 islands. We found Don Dhet offered basic accommodation, simple day trips, unexciting food, mind-numbingly slow service (and always with a scowl). There wasn’t much to do except drink and laze around. We notched up quite a lot of hammock time. I hired a bicycle for 10,000 kip (about 80 pence)  for a day and took an hour to cycle all round the island. They wanted 20,000 kip to cross the bridge to Don Khong which is just more of the same plus a waterfall (pay extra to see it) and maybe some dolphins (pay extra to see them). Laos has more scams than anywhere else I’ve been and 4000 islands has the greatest concentration of all. Hiring a kayak and paddling round the island (50,000 kip per kayak per day) seemed too much like hard work, but it was nice to have a swim in the Mekong.
Peaceful it wasn’t. We stayed at Mr. B’s sunset guest house, right next door to a small collection of locals’ houses. They were having a funeral the day we arrived and their PA system started delivering rather loud monk-type chanting and bloody awful music soon after we arrived. It got louder as the day went on and continued until 05:00 the next morning. It resumed at 07:00 and continued until about 15:00. If we hadn’t paid for three nights upfront we would have moved as there were plenty of other places with empty rooms. We met up with Mark and Stacy again on the second day when they arrived from Vientiane and stayed at our guest house.
After 3 nights it was time to move on; another day of sitting around waiting for buses and sitting on buses. For added excitement we had the border crossing into Cambodia. Being a Sunday the visa cost US$29 instead of US$23 – more bribes and “overtime” payments than on a weekday. Transport for the day started with the 08:00 boat from the island (extra 15,000 kip please) and an oversized tuk-tuk to the main road and the waiting “VIP” bus. The “VIP” bus had a temperamental engine and mostly non-functional air conditioning. We went off-road in it several times where the road or bridges were being upgraded. We had the same one all the way to Kompong Cham where we did indeed have to change bus. Those going to Phnom Penh stayed onboard. It broke down or the driver just pulled over and tinkered with the engine four times. At Kompong Cham those of us bound for Siem Reap transferred to a minibus for the last four hours of  the journey. We arrived at the bus station at 22:15 where there was a tuk-tuk sent by the guesthouse waiting for us.
So that’s Laos done. The northen part of the country, the slow boat down the Mekong, and Luang Prabang were really nice. The rest of it didn’t leave such a good impression. The people were generally miserable, unfriendly and unhelpful and always ready to scam you any way they could. However the countryside was really beautiful and I think if you were touring on a motorbike you could have a fabulous time.

The people (actually the adults) were generally miserable, unfriendly and unhelpful and always ready to scam you any way they could.

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go :-)

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?