Saturday, 9 July 2005

after the chaos of Bangkok...a more sedate Laos

I hope you all can read this, else I'll be wasting my time. My testing blog seemed to publish successfully although I am unable to view my blog at the moment. I'm hoping it's just this computer and not a government initiative, but in Laos, who knows!

Anywho... having just about survived the roads, nightlife, smog and general hectic atmos of Bangkok, I have arrived in the rather more sedate Vientiane in Laos. As a capital city it is absolutely tiny- on a par with St Helier in Jersey...well almost!! I was met at the airport by Tim who I'll be working with and his wife (I think her name in Son - oops!)and they drove me to the guesthouse they'd booked for me to stay in. All I can say is WOW!!! I have a beautiful double room with TV (I get the BBC) overlooking the Mekong River, five mins walk from the Mekong River Commission where I'll be working and on a quiet dirt track- all for 8 quid a night. The dirt track is perfect for jogging, so that is going to be my early morning past time once I finally shake off the jet lag.

The track basically runs all the way along the river through the town and continues for some distance out of town. In the afternoon small stall holder set up stalls along it with small bbqs and hot pans where they grill fish and cook noodles for people who want to watch the sun go down over the river.

My first impression is that this is a seriously chilled out place. It resembles, to some extent, the small town I was based in, in Peru last year called Puerto Maldonado...except this is supposed to be a capital city. There are no buildings above 7 floors high as they are not allowed to be taller than the most sacred temple in the city. Planning permission must have gone amiss though, when it came to building a huge luxury hotel on the river bank. This city feels like it is undergoing change. I imagine it'll be a very different place in a few years time, which will be a shame as it will no doubt lose its rustic charm.

I went for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant with Tim and his wife- absolutely delicious food. It involves piling noodles salad and pieces of meat onto wafer thin sheets of rice....yep sheets of rice....don't know how they do it but it resembles plastic, has a similar consistency and is as chewable...although in a weird way it is quite tasty. You then top it all off with some spicy sauces and attempt to eat elegantly...I failed at the last hurdle!

Tomorrow, I am meeting Tim and Son(?) to go to the ominously named 'Rock Sunday' concert. Live Lao rock bands...It'll be an experience if nothing else. In the meantime I'm trying to get some dissertation work done...unfortunately the heat and the jetlag are conspiring against me and I keep dosing off!! I am planning a good night's kip tonight...hopefully a quiet night's sleep compared to Khao San with drunken lager louts staggering about at all hours.

Off to find Lao noodles by the river!

Friday, 8 July 2005

An almost sea-worthy longtail boat and a non-existent floating market.

First of all may I make my excuses for my ignorance yesterday. I was duly informed that the blasts in London coincided with the start of the G8 meeting rather than the announcement of the Olympic Games bid. I've lost track of days and I thought the G8 gathering had already commenced. Still think I'm going to plan a holiday around the Olympics though.....It's a disaster waiting to happen. I'm just grateful that the sick fanatics who targeted London yesterday didn't target Live8 last week where many more people would have died at their hands.

In amidst the chaos yesterday, I failed to mention my morning escapades. I made it to a Buddhist Centre yesterday where they sell thousands upon thousands of amulets. These are small iconic lucky charms that all Buddhists carry about their person to ward off evil spirits and bring them good fortune. Some have very specific meanings; to keep them safe whilst they drive frenetically on their tuk tuks for example. There were also thousands of statues of Buddha images to be bought. Unfortunately most of them covered with gold which although beautiful, is not really my taste.

I then went for a wander to the Golden Mount nearby. Its description in the Rough Guide as a 'grubby mount' doesn't really do it justice. It is a huge monastery with a temple built upon a mount (which certainly didn't appear grubby) overlooking the whole of Bangkok. It is certainly worth the few hundred steps up there for the view. It is pretty amazing when you can see ramshackle huts under the backdrop of a shimmering golden temple which is then on a backdrop of massive skyscrapers. You can get all the diversity of Bangkok into one photo.

The afternoon, which was supposed to be taken up with work, was a blur of tears, frantic text messages, phone calls, internet cafes, a hug from a stranger, a couple of coffees and finally a beer when I'd accounted for everyone. In that time I failed to organise a trip to the floating market.

I take full blame for the rip off I got embroiled in today. It wasn't that bad really. Basically, because I hadn't booked a trip to a flower market out of Bangkok, I was stuck with the rather less impressive market here. Unfortunately, I also got up late today.... I was seriously wacked after yesterdays traumatic events and didn't get to bed until basically I missed the market. The lady who sold me the ticket neglected to mention this however. Thankfully I bartered and got the trip from 600 Baht to 400 Baht. To be honest the trip was actually quite good. I was on my own in the longtail boat, so now other tourists to bother me and the trip along the canals was pretty stunning. Tiny ramshackle huts on rotting stilts tilt precariously close to the water. Alongside them, mansions with beautifully sculpted Thai roofs. Locals sit at the front of their houses preparing food, chopping wood or just sit around chatting. I saw a couple of men armpit high in the filthy canal water attempting to saw a plastic water pipe and looking like they were going to be there for sometime.

The actual 'floating market' was however, somewhat of a disappointment. A single lady in a canoe approached the boat and attempted to sell me some tacky souvenirs and drinks. On the way back I asked the boat driver where the floating market was. Apparently that was it. He then showed me a couple of people in their boats next to their houses selling a few bits of fruit. It was certainly nothing close to the pictures and postcards I've seen. I was quite relieved when I got back to the pier to find out that a German guy had paid the full 600 baht for the tour without even attempting to barter and didn't seem to be too bothered about having been ripped off. I wasn't the only one getting ripped off but at least I got ripped off for a good price! At the end of the day it was a fiver- not exactly enough to kick up a fuss about. Next time I visit Bangkok I'll know to book a trip the day before.

I'm off to Laos tomorrow morning. That's all from Thailand.

Thursday, 7 July 2005

terrorism is unnecessary

It is choatic down Khao San way. People are trying desperately to get into contact with loved ones back in London after the terrorist attacks and everyone is glued to the tvs in all the bars. Thankfully there were a couple of friendly Brits around for hugs when I first saw the news.

Trying to get in contact with people has been a nightmare because the phone lines are down and the not knowing and disorientation of being in another country when crap like this occurs is really unnerving. Thankfully, everyone I know seems to be ok from what I gather through the friends I've managed to get in contact with. I've yet to hear directly from my boyfriend, but I've heard he is ok.

Watching the news, all my haunts in London are affected. I live on Edgeware road, I use the Picadilly line on a daily basis, if I stay at my boyfriend's house, I use the Victoria line and I work in central London quite a few days of the week.

Well Al Quaeda have certainly got their message across. Olympics 2012 here they come. Think I might be planning a holiday around then.

More on terrorism when I can think straight. My thoughts go out to those affected today.

salty fried bugs, gogo girls and a micro-penis!

Patpong is the Disneyland-esque, sleazy underbelly of Bangkok. It is a surreal experience of neon lights, flesh and some seriously dodgy characters that typify the sex tourist stereotype. There are two main streets and a couple of subsidiaries that act as the hangout area for the hardcore gay and the Seriously Dodgy: capital S, capital D.

The two main streets have market stalls selling fake Gucci handbags and the like, lined on either side by a mixture of sex shows and respectable dining establishments. As you wander down the streets you are hounded by guys with menus offering various shows with such ominous titles as 'pussy needle', 'pussy ping-pong' and 'pussy banana'. Crude drawings scrawled down the sides of the menus demonstrate the acts in question – just in case you hadn't quite grasped the concept of the shows.

As Paul (Irish man from plane) and I wandered around, I discovered, rather disturbingly, that the bar owners approached me rather than him in their attempts to lure us into their 'great' live sex shows. Unfortunately, having just eaten, the thought of having an up-close encounter with a saggy vagina attempting to shoot ping-pong balls around just didn't appeal.

Instead we checked out the hardcore gay street, which we stumbled upon by accident. We only realised half way up the cul de sac that I was the only female in sight so we turned round and walked sheepishly back the way we'd come, trying not to gawp at the extremely camp young Thais and some disturbingly old and fat westerners.

We also found ourselves on Seriously Dodgy street with shops ladened with young Thai girls sat row upon row, waiting for their next clients. I found it quite disturbing, especially when I saw a couple of leering grey westerners fondling a couple of girls as they walked down the street together. It was so in-your-face it made me feel quite sick.

Having found our way back on to the main streets, I decided to cure my nausea by trying out some local bug delicacies. I managed to force the seriously-squeamish soon-to-be doctor, Paul, to eat one caterpillar; I managed five! They were fried and salted and tasted like crisps. I'd have eaten the whole bag had my father not mentioned that they kill the bugs with DDT. After five I felt I'd had a reasonable dose of DDT and left the rest.

We then found a bar filled with the standard array of prostitutes (although ours must have been some of the ugliest in Thailand), and sat with a pint watching the sights walk by. And there were quite a few. Men with ladyboys (I sincerely hope they knew because they were pretty obvious); a man I would put money on being a paedophile on the hunt for a couple of young-uns (I'm talking tight pink t-shirt tucked into very tight trousers pulled up to just beneath his nips, dodgy facial hair and a certain 'look' about him which didn't place him in the gay category or the standard sex tourist category); and the usual lager louts having a laugh.

After the beer we decided to find somewhere altogether livelier, although I still wasn't up for a ping pong show. Instead, we were drawn into a gogo club by a sign advertising 'FIFTY GORGEOUS GIRLS AND A FEW UGLY ONES'. Who in their right mind wouldn't check it out?

Delving into the darkness of the club, we were faced with twelve poles and twelve pole dancers jiggling around as enthusiastically as hungover office workers waiting at a bus stop on a rainy winter day. Not a single smile in sight. They were bored shitless and made no attempt to hide how they felt. We decided to get a pint of watered-down draught beer anyway.

Fortunately for our entertainment purposes, a drunken English guy appeared from nowhere and started dancing with some of the prostitutes, who were walking the floor between sessions on the pole. His dance – resembling that of an epileptic chicken –made for amusement all round, and we shared a giggle with one of the friendlier prostitutes. Said drunken Englishman then felt the need to show off his wares and dropped his trousers to reveal what can only be described as a micro-penis. The prostitutes laughed hysterically, to the extent that they were pushing him away and refusing his business. How unfortunate. To be turned away by a prostitute is impressive. To add insult to injury, the friendly prostitute came over to chat to us and was giggling away and pointing at him saying 'he no big penis, he no big penis'. Seriously unfortunate.

Not satisfied with just showing off his wares said drunken Englishman then decided to shake his booty with the rest of the pole dancers. With his trousers wrapped about his ankles, he treated us to the most unusual pole dance – a one-off I doubt I'll ever witness again. The saddest thing of all was that he was in the club alone. He wasn't playing up to friends or doing it for a dare. He was just a lonely soul who obviously felt his penis was worthy of showing off to very experienced Thai prostitutes. Poor chap!

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

temple overdose

Where yesterday I failed, today I succeeded. I have been dazzled by gold, sat barefooted in front of countless Buddhas and had enough incense up my nasal passages to cure me of colds for life!

Up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the crack of dawn, I made the most of the free breakfast I missed yesterday and set off on a suicidal mission to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. When I say suicidal, I mean it. Crossing roads in Bangkok is an art I have yet to master. Navigating 4 lanes of speedy traffic that doesn't slow down for anyone, bar perhaps monks, is a tricky business. The technique I developed was to find a local about to cross and stick close, only putting a foot out when they did.

Wat Pho was my first temple of the day. Resident at the temple is the reclining Buddha; an undescribably large gold masterpiece of Buddha laying on his side. To put it in perspective his feet were nearly twice my height (i'm 5ft 10), lengthwise he was probably the length of two buses and he's nearly as tall as a double decker. In other words he is pretty massive!

The temple itself is made up of numerous courtyards each lined with golden Buddhas. Incense wafts through the air and monks in their orange robes wander around or sit meditating. It is a beautiful sight with more gold and mother of pearl glittering in the sun than you care to imagine.

Wat Pho is also the residence for a school of Thai massage. Being in Thailand I thought i'd indulge. Its an interesting experience to say the least. Thankfully i took the half hour and not an hour. In that time I had every muscle in me pummelled, every joint pulled out of its socket and in a weird way it was quite good. For someone who hates their feet being touched or joints cracked, this probably wasn't the best choice for relaxation, but leaving I felt like an unco-ordinated jelly baby so it seemed to have worked!

Next up was Wat Arun, my second temple of the day. To get there I had to cross the river which meant walking past stalls of dry squid and fish to get to the pier. Even for a fish lover, the smell of dry fish in the midday sun was hard to stomach.

Wat Arun was my favorite temple primarily because I was on my own when i visited. Unlike the throng of tourists at Wat Pho, Wat Arun was deserted making it somewhat more spectacular. Giant statues of dragon like charactors acted as guardians to the temple warding off evil spirits. Because they were giant in size the offerings of food laid out before them were proportional to their size. They each had two whole chickens on rice with another pile of fruit and veg. Enough to feed a few thai families for a couple of days.

Sizewise Wat Arun is much smaller that Wat Pho, so after a quick visit i hopped back on to the boat to head towards the Grand Palace; my next destination.

Just down the road from the palace is a line of stalls selling some amazing local Thai cuisine. I was served by a ladyboy (my second spotted on the trip so far) with very badly plucked eyebrows who recommended a beef dish. Not sure what it was exactly, but it was absolutely delicious.

The Grand Palace and its temple Wat Phra Kaeo were great but by the time i got there it was rather hot and I had slightly overdosed on gold and Buddhas. There was also a lot of restoration work on the go, so there was scaffolding up everywhere which was a bit disappointing. It was however, spectacular.

I spent a couple of hours wondering around and sat dosing in the shade next to a pillar, listening to the windchimes which was pretty cool. I then had to make the suicidal journey back. This time, avoiding two dubious con artists trying to get me on tuk tuk rides to the standing Buddha which apparently could only be viewed today because it was 'Buddha Day'. Unfortunately for them, the Rough Guide authors are onto their tactics so I amused myself listening to their spiel.

This was the second time i wrote this. First time round the server died. Since then, i've just had a chance encounter with the guy I sat next to on the plane on the way here. He is supposed to be in Bali but 'forgot' to organise a visa before he left home. He managed to change his flight for tomorrow and was supposed to pick up his visa from immigration today but, like me on Monday, he had a bit of a rough night last night and missed the opening times so he now won't make his flight out tomorrow. And I thought I was bad!!

He has offered to take me to Patpong after we bumped into each other on Khao San. So much for me doing work tonight. Looks like I am being led astray by yet another Irish guy.....I shall not drink....I repeat...I shall not drink (too much!:) )

Tuesday, 5 July 2005

A plea to aggressive drunken Irish men

I don't know why it is, but I always seem to attract un-due attention from drunken, politically motivated Irish men. I must point out I also have my fair share of Irish friends who resist conversations on Irish politics within social situations. I am talking about complete strangers, normally drunk, who decide to blame me for the starvation of millions of Irish men and women after the British invaded and use me as the springboard to voice their distaste towards the British populace.

Last night was one of those situations. My newly found Irish friends had to protect me from the voracious political rants of a particularly feisty Irish man. There was also the situation on a bus in London when I was verbally insulted by a drunken Irish man on the misdemeanors of the English.

May I take this opportunity to point out a few things:

1. Firstly I am FRENCH not English. I have a French birth certificate and I am quite proudly French. That makes me a EUROPEAN CITIZEN and part of the same European community as the Irish.

2. I am a Jersey resident. As a tiny isle we too have had our fair share of invasions most notably by the French and the English, and most recently by the Germans in the Second World War. Just as the Irish suffered at the hands of the Brits, so too did the Jersey populace suffer at the hands of the Nazis with many being sent to concentration camps to be executed. Churchill too, wasn't exactly very supportive and did little to help Jersey out.

3. This is a point for my Irish insulter in London. It is a minor point, but if you hate the English so much, why have you chosen to reside in the capital city of England?

4. I too am distressed by the historic antics of the English but there is not much I personally can do about history. It is only possible to change the future and with so much anger bubbling inside certain members of the Irish community, I can only see it as detrimental to the progress of change and to the development of a successful relationship between the British and the Irish. You can yell and shout about the plight of the Irish in years gone by, but what do you hope to achieve other than upsetting me? I am not a bad person, I have done nothing to any member of the Irish community so this is a plea to all drunken Irish men with political axes to wield....please leave me alone!

Hangover, jet lag and stomach cramps

Number 2 on the list of things that must be seen and done in Bangkok in my Rough Guide is to sample the nightlife. I can safely say that I can cross it off my list. The result was that today was a complete wipeout. Instead of visiting the grand palace and other beautiful sites, I spent most of my day getting fully acquainted with my hotel room. After an unsuccessful attempt to find food at around 1pm where I mustered two bites of a cheese toastie before it decided to eject itself, I finally crawled out of my hovel after overdosing on rehydration sachets at around 6pm. I would love to attribute my rather sorry day to my drinking of contaminated water or some dodgy food off the street stalls, but in truth it was my own stupid fault for drinking copious cocktails with Irish lads who had drinking down to a perfected art.

On the plus side, I spent a night in an Irish pub that had an amazing live band playing. Called the Big Brother Band, they were all Thai but sounded better that the artists they were covering. One of the girls sang a Tina Turner number which was so good that if you had your back to the band, you'd have thought Tina was in the room. They were even more amazing than I originally thought when I discovered that none of them could actually speak a single word of English.

I also met four very sound but slightly young and naive Irish lads. It was their first big trip abroad and in true Irish style they had arrived at the airport in Ireland drunk, continued to drink solidly for their 20 hour flight via some obscure Muslim country, then having arrived in Khao San, found the nearest 24hr Irish Pub to their hotel and sat there drinking and talking about the 'culture shock'. Other than the name of the beer, they had really just changed the location of their drinking establishment but I felt it wasn't really my place to point this out. Whether they will see the sights of Bangkok or the rest of Thailand (they're here for six weeks) remains to be seen. When I left them at 4am they were pretty settled in their pub and were already talking of staying in Bangkok for the entire six weeks.

Needless to say, young fresh farang (white) blood appealed to the local Thais and within hours two of them were under the spell of Thai girlies and were loving every minute of it. That is, until someone jokingly mentioned that one of the girlies might be a ladyboy. Poor Steve's paranoia about ladyboys proved too much and he made a quick escape.

Well onwards and upwards. I'm sticking to water and I have an action packed 3 days planned. Tomorrow will hopefully be more successful as I'm planning a boat trip to Wat Pho for a massage then visits to the Grand Palace and the national museum. I will hopefully head to Wat Arun for sunset. There should be some amazing photos to take and I'm certainly looking forward to escaping the tourist hub of Khao San...two days is more than enough.

Monday, 4 July 2005

Little Ireland down Khao San way

Hey! A little bit tipsy after a night out on the town in Khao San. I got led astray by 4 ....yes guys n yep i've just spent he last 6 hrs drinking cocktails with them!! What's great is that they spent most of the night thinking i was 20-21 ....poor luvvies....they were most gutted when they found out i was a grey haired 24yr old!!

Just had great noodles off a street stall.

well...must find non toxic water. Broke all the rules and had a fruit shake made up of tap water n ice so waiting for the consequences....fingers crossed i'll be ok!!

Temples n buddhas tomo

Hammerhead sharks, ladyboys and a wiff of incense

Well this is rather pleasant! its 3pm in Bangkok and for the last three hours or so i sat outside a cafe situated near the backpacker haven of Khao San road and watched the world go by whilst dipping into a little blogging literature! Travelling here was superb- I must big-up Thai Airways for what has to be one of the most efficient flights ever (despite a slight stomach-lurching encounter with turbulance when we literally dropped out of the sky). Things I like about Thai Airways:
1. no check-in queue-I arrived and had parted with the burden that is my rucksack within minutes
2. flowers in the absolutely spotless on-board toilets (even after 12 hours)
3. free toothbrushes and toothpaste (and no I hadn't accidently stumbled into first class loos)
4. the CONSTANT supply of food, drinks, hot towels, peanuts....(I made the mistake of filling up with a sandwich before getting on board then was fed constantly the whole of the trip)
5. the fact that we arrived 1 HOUR EARLY

Arriving in Bangkok i was expecting the usual chaos with immigration...and guess what... no queue!!! I was through immigration in five minutes; my bags arriving on the conveyor belt minutes after! Because we arrived an hour early at 5.30am i also missed out on the crazy traffic jams that build up heading into the city. So after a pleasent ride to Khao san i have found myself a clean and tidy hotel, off the main street so it's nice and quiet. Doing the math i've worked out that for five nights in a double room with air con and en suite facilities AND breakfast.......i am paying the vast sum of 39 quid! Unbelievable! And that is in one of the more expensive areas of town. Perfect for a skint student.

In case you were wondering about the title of this blog entry...having spent the day wondering around Khao San (i'm going to start touristy stuff tomorrow coz i haven't slept in days and need some kip) i managed to spot my first not-so-subtle ladyboy offering me a thai massage, been knocked senseless by some seriously strong incense attacking my nasal passages and seen market stalls selling baby hammerhead shark skulls....souvenirs anyone ????

more from me in a bit...better publish before my computer crashes :)