A Travellerspoint blog

News from the North.

sunny 28 °C

Leaving Luang Nam Tha
It's 7.30 in the morning and we're heading further north to Phongsali. We've hired a minibus as in theory it will cut our journey time by four or five hours compared to public transport. The journey will still take around nine hours though. We are joined by a delightful Australian couple, Leanne and Paul who we met in Luang Nam Tha. Whatever they did in their past lives this journey will be the ultimate penance.

8.30 - winding around the mountain roads Paddy and Rosie have both had to puke in a plastic bag. Joe looks a bit sheepish too.

10.30 - Breakfast in Oudomxai. Nothing on the menu that the kids will eat. I search the town for some bread and eventually manage to find six bread rolls.

12.30 - Rosie needs a wee so we stop in a town where there's a market going on. Caroline gets surrounded by some Akha women who sell her some bracelets she doesn't want. We move from a semi-reasonable road surface to nothing more than a dirt track. The driver informs us that its 165 kilometres of this to Phongsali. This is going to be fun. I can't imagine how it might be to take the public bus. When I was younger I used to complain about the 4 hour trip to Donegal, this trip is putting that into some perspective. At least when I passed through Belturbet and Swanlinbar the kids had clothes.

5.30pm - After an arduous journey we finally arrive in Phongsali. We try a couple of guesthouses, the first has a man on a respirator in the kitchen which the kids don't take kindly to. The next place tries to charge us double the high season rate even though its low-season and is empty. The third refuses point-blank to take us. The fourth place, a Chinese run place is in bits but at this stage we've no choice so we book in.

6.30pm - My stomach is doing cartwheels. I go to bed whilst the rest go out to try and find food. Phongsali is becoming an increasingly unattractive place to be. Whilst I'm in bed there's some tears with the kids. They ain't digging Phongsali and I know how they feel. The kids new surrogate parents Paul and Leanne are playing a stormer and keeping spirits high.

Monday 18th June
4.00am - I'm woken by the sounds of about fifty roosters trying to outdo eachother. My stomach is still in flitters and there's no light in the bathroom. Things are not good on many fronts.

6.00am - Now I'm hearing some Laos music followed by public service announcements broadcast over the town tannoy system. I don't understand what they're saying but it seems to be something along the lines of 'get up'. This continues for a full hour.
We decide that its better to spend the day recuperating and looking around than to embark on the rest of our travels. Its taken us such a journey to get here that we feel obliged to do so. We take a look around the town and its obvious they are not used to travellers. We are the objects of interest and disinterest in equal measures and its really only the children who say hello. We dine in the hotel and Caroline remarks that it reminds her of Romania in the early 1990's. I think she's being a bit unfair to the Romanians.

Thoughts on Phongsali
This place feels like the very edge of Laos. In fact it feels like China. Most of the old town is made up of old Chinese shophouses and you're either rich enough to drive a Toyota Hi-Lux 4x4 or nothing at all. The former all appear to be of Chinese origin. The town has a couple of endearing qualities - a small bakery in an old ladies house, the majestic views from Phou Fa mountain and the road out of the place. It is not a place that is geared for tourists let alone those with four children. On the morning we left we were once again woken by the tannoy system at 5am and then the dawn chorus of throat clearing from fellow hotel guests. These guys and gals like nothing better than a good spit.

Tuesday 19th June
We left Phongsali with gladness in our hearts. We caught the bus to Hat Sa at 8am and shared it with the locals and a guy with a submachine gun who was apparently a police officer. It must have been dress down Tuesday as he was in flip-flops and a tracksuit top. The supposed one and a half hour journey only took 45 minutes which isn't very Laos at all. We then caught the boat to Muang Khoua and it took a leisurely five hours. It was quite a buzz if a little sore on the backside. Health and safety didn't appear to be of primary concern to the boatmen but in fairness the boatman was expert in his navigational skills. There were lots of drop-offs along the way and a few pick-ups including one lady who looked like she'd contracted malaria. Eventually we landed in Muang Khoua and its an altogether delightful place. Situated on the Nam Ou river not too far from the Vietnamese border its a pretty cosmopolitan place compared to where we left. Harry and Joe whiled away a couple of hours watching the local guys play Petang (a variation on the French game of Boules). We also had our first taste of Euro 2012 when we watched a replay of Ireland v Italy. We're only here for the night and we move on again tomorrow. The nadir of Phongsali now feels a world away. It feels good to be back in the real Laos again.

Posted by goldenmaverick 05:10 Archived in Laos Tagged phongsali muangkhoua Comments (2)

Laos. Wow.

rain 30 °C

After a particularly hairy dash from Chiang Rai to the Laos border, we crossed the mighty Mekong river to Huay Xai in Laos. On arrival it looked like just anothet town in Thailand. The local tourist information office in Huay Xai told me there'd be a bus leaving for Luang Nam Tha (our intended destination) at 2pm. We arrived at the bus station and guess what? No bus. The next bus was a VIP bus at 5pm. As it turns out, Laos timekeeping bears little resemblance to the traditional kind. After stalling until the bus was full of backpackers we finally pulled off around six. Once you leave Huay Xai you enter the real Laos. As the bus wound through the mountain roads there were traditional villages on either side of the road. In this part of Laos you can equate traditional with abject poverty. Womenfolk were cooking in pots at the side of the road, semi-naked children driving one or two cattle and men working in the fields. It was quite shocking but incredible. After a couple of days in Laos the steely determination of its people has been made evident. They are amazing folk.

We're staying in an oasis of calm in Luang Nam Tha called the Zuela Guesthouse. The owners and staff are extremely kind with our kids. The woman of the house has two young children of her own and Paddy has made friends with her 5 year old son. Language is no barrier in this instance.

We rented bikes yesterday and cycled around the surrounding countryside. Lots of poverty in evidence but smiles everywhere you turn. Shouts of "sabai di" (hello) from naked kids swimming in murky water. Every second home you pass appears to double as a shop or restaurant. Today we went on a longer cycle and witnessed the agricultural base of Laos society - the workers in the paddy fields. Fires were burning all around and smoke was filling the air. Twenty minutes later I understood why. The rain was coming and when I say rain, I mean rain. From thirty degree heat to a deluge in the blink of an eye. We were saturated within seconds. A bunch of sodden "farang" on bicycles. The kids seemed to enjoy the warm rain.

We head for Phongsali in a day or two. Its a nine-hour mini-bus drive away.

Posted by goldenmaverick 06:53 Archived in Laos Tagged luangnamtha Comments (1)

Only a consonant in the difference, but a world apart.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

sunny 33 °C

Yesterday was our last day in Chiang Mai. We promised the kids we'd take them to the zoo and so we did. It was surprisingly devoid of tourists which was a nice surprise. Not content with one Giant Panda, Chiang Mai zoo has three of them. They must be a dysfunctional family as the three of them (Mum, Dad and daughter) have separate enclosures. Along with the pandas we got to see a plethora of other animals, everything from a jaguar to a wild boar. If you're a kid it beats being dragged to a temple, which funnily enough is exactly what we did to them following the zoo.

Chiang Mai is famous for the Buddhist temple at the summit of Doi Suthep. It's quite a jaunt to the summit and when you reach the top there's still a few hundred steps to climb before you reach the temple itself. If you think of the biblical tale where Jesus drives the merchants from the temple, well by jiminy, he'd have his work cut out getting rid of all the traders around this one. They're all over the place flogging everything from roasted corn to hand-carved soaps. While myself, Joe and Rosie checked out the inner sanctum the rest of the family watched the Muay Thai boxing on the T.V. in the waiting area outside.

This morning we took the express bus to Chiang Rai. Whilst waiting on the bus I decided to go for a smoke outside. There were 'No Smoking' signs everywhere but a Buddhist monk beckoned me over and both of us sparked up. In these here parts you're safe enough with a monk on your side. The journey to Chiang Rai was pretty uneventful save for when we nearly alighted at Chiang Rai Bus Station Terminal 2. The driver seemed disinclined to tell us that we were still about 20km from our actual destination - Terminal 1. Nevertheless we've made it here. There's a small-town feel about the place. Think Ballina or Drogheda in 33degree heat. Our accomodation is more An Oige youth hostel than five star hotel, but its clean and functional and serves our purpose. In any case, we're heading for Laos the day after tomorrow.

Ciaran

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:10 Archived in Thailand Tagged zoo chiang doi suthep rai Comments (0)

Coffee and elephants

sunny 32 °C

We took a spin around Chiang Mai in a red taxi yesterday. We made the driver stop at a coffee shop called Ristr8tto 2 as a very helpful Thai chap had told us his pal ran it. The head barista there had been placed sixth in a recent barista world championship so we thought we,d better check it out. Also, the guy who recommended it had been really helpful when we arrived here in Chiang Mai. As you can see from the picture, the presentation of the coffee is excellent. On top of this the staff there are really nice and the owner/head barista was one really nice dude. The staff were also uber-patient with our kids and made them some babycinos instead of turfing us all out. If you're ever in Chiang Mai be sure to visit Ristr8tto. Its located on Nimmanhemin road between Soi 2 and Soi 3. (Picture in the photo gallery on the right)

Later in the day we popped next door to our guesthouse to a shop that sells elephants. Not real elephants but copies of those from the elephant parade, a charity that gets famous folk to design elephants which are then auctioned off. Joe's one was done by Ricky Gervais and is titled 'Hellephant'. You get the gist from the pictures.

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants coffee Comments (0)

Week one

We have all survived our first week. A few thoughts on our time so far.

Then and now. I left Thailand 18 years ago with no desire to return and yet am finding it delightful this time. Traveling with children undoubtedly smooths the way. The sour faced laundry lady became charm personified when I rocked in with the children the next day. When a few hundred people had to get off the train and onto one bus, we found ourselves fast tracked into the VIP section. The only way we could trump this would be to travel with a monk, or impersonating monks. So far from posing difficulties brandishing ones children ,esp. Paddy, the younger the better, makes life easier. Mind you they are very poor at bargaining and if they get 10baht off the price its a done deal.
I am also struck by the industry of the people, everyone is trying to make a living. Perhaps before what I saw as annoying, pestering tuk tuk drivers I now see as people doing their best to get by.

Lets get juxtaposed. Obviously this is a brand new experience for us but by being together it is also utterly familiar, the family dynamic is more powerful than surroundings. Every experience here is both black and white at the same time. We went to the most beautiful temple today and they were showing Thai boxers beating the heads off each other in the waiting area. I found our Bangkok hotel hilarious; women in full burkas along side Thai temporary girlfriends, burkinis and thongs by the pool. I thought we were staying in," fancy hotel area" but in Bangkok nothing exists in isolation. You get the whole lot thrown in together.

We are having a great time. The kids are taking all in their stride, things are so easy so far. I have not felt the slightest danger anywhere. It is hot, hot, hot are we are sweating for Ireland but hoping to acclimatise. So far so good!

Caroline

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:50 Comments (3)

Harry's thoughts on Chiang Mai

sunny 30 °C

At the moment we are in Chiang Mai staying in a guest house called Tanita house.Every morning this really kind lady called Aor makes us a gorgeous scrambled egg and lovely crispy bacon.Also near us there is a really nice restuarant called The Riverside that has a wide variety of amazing foods.So far the first two days we have gone to the HUGE night market but really everyone pretty much sells the same things.At the markets I have bought an epic new New York Yankees purple hat and a red and black hoodless Adidas Origanal jumper.My Mom and Dad kept trying to persuade me to buy a brown and white one because they said it looked oldschool and and was so cool.Today we went to the Chiang Mai zoo and it was so big you had to get the bus'and the monorails around it.There was super cool animals I have never seen in my entire life there.Some such as a panda,a kangeroo and koalas.Also I got to feed a massive elephant.Chiang Mai is supercoolyepic.

P.S Harry wrote this

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

It's not grim up North

In fact its bloody delightful

sunny 30 °C

Yesterday we took a long boat through the side canals of Bangkok. It was incredible. Its cheaper to build your house on stilts in the water than to do so on land so a hell of a lot of people live on the waters edge. Our guide brought us around for an hour or so and in that hour she told me who lived where, how old the king was etc. More interesting was the obvious desolation that last Octobers floods had caused. The water rose to a level two meters higher than usual and the damage was pretty obvious to see. Being practical and poor everyone just moved upstairs (if they had one) and got on with it. If you didn't have an upstairs then I guess you stayed wet for a couple of months.The guide pointed out a water monitor (a kind of asian crocodile) and said that seeing one is good luck. Then I saw three more. I must be the luckiest man alive. We were also brought to feed the fish outside the temples. Hundreds of catfish swarming around the boat. Wen you move a hundred metres away from the temple there's a load of poor people trying to catch the fat fish.

Last night we boarded the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Whatever romantic notions we had of it were quickly dispelled. I sat down and the bugs started to bite at my feet.The on-board buffet car guys began an immediate hard-sell of their culinary selection. The 'special express' then moved at a snails pace until six o'clock this morning when everyone had to change to waiting buses. Unfortunately for all concerned there had been a landslide on the track due to heavy rains. We were moved on board buses at a train station about 200 km from Chiang Mai. Due to the kindness and foresight of a Thai man, he ushered us to the front of the queue, whereupon we were put into the downstairs VIP section of what could only be described as a disco bus. Alongside us was a monk and a couple of other travellers. The coach took about four hours to get to Chaing Mai as it only seemed to have two gears, the going up a hill slowly gear, and the going down a hill fast gear.

We arrived in Chiang Mai around lunchtime and despite not knowing where we our lodgings were we still managed to be there about ten minutes after we landed. This time, another Thai guy, hopped out at the station and googled our lodgings address. Into a red taxi and in ten minutes we were there. Nice one. Popped out for a stroll in the dead heat and had some nice Burmese stew for lunch. Fallon & Byrne it ain't but it was top quality stuff

I'm off to pick up the washing from a little shop down the road. I went in to buy some mosquito coils and ended up going back to use their coin-operated machines. Chiang Mai rocks, thus far.

Ciaran

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Posted by goldenmaverick 03:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged canals water train chiang mai burmese long-boat stew monitors Comments (5)

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