Well, it is so easy to not keep up to date when travelling. Where did the last 16 days go?
The bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was a very long one. The roads are incredibly bad by Australian standards (except for outback roads) but the scenery is sensational. We managed to book the 'old' bus and it had two lots of problems on the trip - it lost a fan belt on one section and had to be rescued by the 'new' bus which came behind us, and something happened to the water cooling system on one of the wheels brakes. This was not a road that you wanted to have brake failure on I can tell you!
Our bus at the bus station in Luang Prabang.
Standing around discussing what to do.
For you mechanics and engineers, can you see where the missing fan belt should be?
The stop where the brake problem occurred.
The stop where the fan belt incident occurred. Fantastic country - takes your breath away.
Beautiful wild flowers - a cross between a daisy and a sunflower!
Some more of the sensational scenery from the bus - it's a wonder that any of these photos came out given the state of the road.
To top it all off, the seats were narrow, the local girl sitting beside me was sick the whole trip (but she did manage to get to the toilet to be sick) and the airconditioning just didn't stand up to the heat of the day. From about mid morning onwards, the bus became progressively hotter until it was stiffling by the end of the trip. However, we eventually reached Vientiane some time after 6pm (although I can't recall exactly), took a tuk tuk from the bus station with 9 other people (and our luggage) and were dropped off in the centre of town not far from our guesthouse.
Despite many emails to the guesthouse by Mary saying we would be late reaching the guesthouse, we discovered they had only kept one room for us. After a shower, we felt a bit better and slept very well. The next day we were allocated another room which was great as the rooms were very cramped.
The majestic Mixay Paradise Guesthouse
Over the next three days, we toured Vientiane by foot (many km's were covered) and checked out many tourist destinations and took a tuk tuk to the Golden Stupa and back to town. We checked out a couple of fantastic restaurants that Mary remembered from her last trip with Greg and took in the night markets in the park along the Mekong River. It was strange to think that on one side of the Mekong River is Loas and on the other is Thailand. Mary told me that the last time she and Greg visited, the river was much, much higher than what it was when we were there.
The Royal Palace at Vientiane.
Patouxay Arch - or the vertical runway as the arch was built with money donated to build an airport which didn't happen.
The Golden Stupa - on all Laos banknotes and the emblem for Laos.
The mighty Mekong River not looking so mighty.
When we started checking out travel agencies to book to get to Siem Reap, we discovered there are two ways - one via Bangkok and the other through the rest of Laos. As Mary hadn't been to Thailand and we believed the road system would be much better than Laos (which proved to be the case), we opted for Bangkok. In the tuk tuk on the way to the bus stop, Mary asked two other travellers (German in this case - Marcus and Eva) if they knew of a good guesthouse in Bangkok and they did. They were going there themselves so we tagged along with them for the rest of the bus trip. Marcus was excellent in negotiating a price for a taxi to take the four of us, and luggage, to the New Siam III guesthouse where a couple of rooms were available for us. Mind you, the taxi had to use an ockey strap to hold the boot closed on our luggage but as we arrived around 5am, there wasn't much traffic and we, and our luggage, were okay.
The New Siam III guesthouse
After stashing luggage and having a wash, we hit the road and checked out our environment. We discovered we were a block from the river so headed in that direction. One of the highlights of visiting Bangkok for me was the canal trip we took on a longboat. Apart from seeing the normal tourist sights, we were treated to a view of housing in Bangkok where shanties were build beside opulant mansions. Our boat 'driver' was a character and he loved pointing out water monitors on our journey.
Our boat driver and the massive engine the long boats use to get around.
A view of the stunning suspension bridge over the Mekong River, a very, very polluted river.
The least enjoyable section of our sightseeing in Bangkok for me was the visit to the Royal Palace and attached wat. Absolutely stunning architecture was hidden behind the thousands and thousands of people who flooded the place. It was quite overwhelming and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Shopping in Bangkok was pretty good as was the food. We also had a visit to Siam Nirimit (http://www.siamniramit.com/
), a live theatre show which included a buffet dinner as well as the show. A 30 minute taxi ride took us 2 house in Friday afternoon peak hour traffic. Unfortunately I left the booking paperwork at the guest house so we had some slight difficulty getting our tickets. However, we prevailed and saw an amazing show in an unbelievable theatre which had such a spectatular stage that accommodated two live elephants, as well as a cast of hundreds, and which included a river that a cast member dove into and a herd of live goats. The costumes and scenery were also amazing. Mary said that any show which included live elephants had to be good -- and it was. We returned to the guest house, had a good night's sleep and left the next day on our mini-bus adventure.
12 people and luggage were crammed into the mini bus first thing the next morning and we undertook a 7 hour bus trip to the Cambodian/Thailand border followed by a three hour taxi trip to Siem Reap. We elected to forego the bus trip we had paid for as it would have taken another couple of house. Mary had booked us into Sala Bai, a hospitality teaching school for disadvantaged Cambodian teenagers, which gave preference to girls (70%) as they are far more disadvantaged than the boys. Have a look at http://salabai.com/html/
for further information on this establishment. We stayed 3 nights at Sala Bai and then had to move because they were pre-booked after that. We moved up the road to Smilie's guesthouse and stayed there for the rest of our Siem Reap sojourn.
We did a 3 day temple tour, transported by our wonderful tuk tuk driver, Samnang. Needless to say, I took thousands of photos which will take me a while to sort out but here are a few for viewing.
The Thailand/Cambodia border crossing by road.
Morning assembly for the Sala Bai students who are 6 weeks into their one year course.
Samnang - our wonderful tuk tuk driver whose wife had just had their second child 10 days previously (a boy to compliment their girl).
A variety of land mines collected from Camdobia and housed at the Landmine Museum - NB. defused. A poignant reminder of Cambodia's past that they are still grappling with. The amount of disabled people in Cambodia, due to landmines, is astronomical.
Some of the temples visited during our 3 day tour.
Some of the wildlife we encoutered on a hill climb to the Phnom Bakheng temple.
A show we saw in Siam Reap, recommended by Samnang, was an Apsara Dancers dinner show highlighting clasical apsara dance but also including traditional folk music and dance. An enjoyable night was had. Unfortunately the tourist audience behaved like a mob of morons which a deflected a bit from total enjoyment of the night.
Mary ventured off to Battambang for a few days while I stayed another day in Siem Reap before heading off to Phonm Phen and the lovely Billabong Hotel. We both enjoyed a couple of days relaxation by ourselves before meeting up at the Phonm Phen International Airport for the return trip to Australia, via Kuala Lumpur, where we are currently hogging a table at Starbucks who provide free wifi. We have a wait until our flight leaves KL at 10:30pm tonight, arriving Melbourne at 9:20am, Tuesday 27th November. We are both looking forward to getting home.
The central dome of the Psar Thmei, otherwise known as The Central Market.
The Independence Monument located in a very busy road on Phonm Phen.