Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I am mother to two young adults in their mid to late 20's. I work in the medical field as an admin officer/personal assistant. I look forward to the day when I can spend heaps more time taking and making photographs. However, for now, the bills have to be paid. I married a jazz musician many, many years ago. My adopted home is Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I am originally from North Queensland... a tropical place!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Last Day - Monday 26th November 2012

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 (, 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 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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Travel Update - Saturday 10th November 2012

Thursday and Friday were pretty laid back days, wandering the streets, checking out another wat, buying street drawings/paintings, eating more lovely food in great restaurants/cafes, arranging for washing to be done and collecting it, going to the Dara Market and checking out Poisy Hill.  For anyone who has been to Luang Prabang, they will know that Poisy Hill has a small wat at the top of the hill and a monstorous white and gold building which can be seen from many places around Luang Prabang.  There are 180 something stairs up from street level to the ticket office (20,000 kip to go up further) and another 190 stairs to the top.  Nearly killed me!

The 180 odd steps going up.

The 180 odd steps going down.

The gold and white 'monument' at the top of Poisy Hill which can be seen for miles.

The view from Poisy Hill across the Mekong River

Once at the top, the view is spectatular.  You can see almost all of Luang Prabang from the top and I was surprised at how big the town was as we have only seen the main town section of it.  I was hungry and bought a packet of potato chips.  As soon as I started to open the packet (it makes a noise) a small cat come running for some food.  This cat not only ate my seaweed chips but also many of Mary's chilli and shrimp chips.  When the chips were gone, the cat found a shady spot, had a clean and settled down for a sleep allowing us to take lots of photos.

The Poisy Hill temple cat.

Going down the many stairs was worse than coming up and by the time I hit the street, both my knees and my right hip were aching.  I was also very hungry.  Mary and I both wanted to go to the Blue Lagoon Restaurant for lunch as we missed out the night before for dinner because they were full.  Highly recommend the place if you would like somewhere classy to go to in Luang Prabang.  The food was delicious and served in order (entre first, salad next, mains, then dessert), not brought out all at once like many other restaurants do.  The service was exemlary and the complimentary bread and herb butter (2 plates full) were to die for.  The food was quite expensive but well worth the cost.

This lunch necessitated a rest at the guest house so we hit the beds for a nap.  I had hired a push bike to go to the Dara Markets early that morning and to collect my clean laundry and, as I was nearly asleep, I remembered I had to get the bike back to where I hired it from.  I jumped up, left the room just in the clothes I was wearing, collected the bike from the courtyard and then remembered I had left my key in the room.  I told the manager and asked if he could let me in on my return and he looked at me wit a blank face and told me he didn't have a spare key for my room because the last people in the room took it with them and he hadn't got another one cut.  I couldn't believe it.  I took the bike back and came back and asked him how I was going to get into my room.  He said he would wreck the lock to open the door but I would have to pay 50,000 kip to buy a replacement lock.  I told him he should have a spare but finally agreed so he would do something to get me back into my room.

After much head scratching and trying of different methods to get the door open, I left him to it and went to Mary's room and lay down in the air conditioned cool and tried to calm down.  We could hear him banging and swearing and coming and going but, finally, he came and told me the door was open.  Thankfully the lock is still usable because he has not been able to get a replacement because his brother (who will do the work) went to a wedding!

This wedding commenced Friday afternoon opposite our guesthouse and had loud music going until midnight and then recommenced this morning.  It had finished by around 3pm and apparently there is to be an ongoing party for about 700 guests somewhere else - thank goodness.  Apparently there is a curfew for Laos people at midnight - I don't know what happens if they are found out of doors after the witching hour but I was really pleased when the music stopped.

Mary and I were collected by tuk tuk taxi this morning at 8am and taken 30 minutes south of town to Tad Sae falls.  We were really pleased we went early because we were the first tourists of the day and the place was lovely and quiet when we arrived. 

The dock when we arrived.
The dock when we left 3 hours later.
After the 30 minute road trip, we then paid 20,000 kip for a boat trip over the river and upstream (or downstream) a bit to the falls and then another 20,000 kip to get into the falls and 5,000 kip to buy sugar cane to feed three elephants.  The elephant enclosure was clean and luxurous in comparison to the elephants we saw in Vietnam.  The elephants were also very healthy and hungry.  Seeing 3 elephants running at you to get sugar cane is not something you would want to experience all the time.  LOL  Thank goodness there was a fence that stopped them before they reached us.

Mary feeding the elephants.

The Tad Sae falls are not as spectatular as the Kang Si falls but the environment of the falls was much more inviting and peaceful and, as we were the first there, we got to enjoy it by ourselves for a short time.  The swimming hole was beautiful and the water cold, until you got used to it.  The falls themselves provided a natural spa which was invigorating.  We had a totally refreshing and relaxing morning before getting back to town and having a rest time.

Tad Sae falls - the main swimming hole.
Mary wiping herself and camera after being squirted by an elephant.
A beautiful butterfly on marigolds.

Mary found a response to her three emails to a guesthouse in Vietiane advising us they would book a double room for us even though Mary asked for two rooms.  They also said in their email that, if we were not there by 6pm, they were at liberty to rent the room to someone else if required.  Mary emailed back to advise we wanted two rooms and, as the trip from Luang Prabang to Vietiane took between 10 to 14  hours, we would not be in Vietiane until about 8pm.  We then went next door and booked our bus seats (leaves at 8am) and organised a taxi to pick us up at 7am in the morning to take us to the bus depot.

Once this was organised, we went off to the river for a leisurely lunch before going to the book exchange to get more books for the next leg of our journey.  We now have to pack to be ready for first thing tomorrow.  I think it might be a tiring day!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Travel Update - Thursday 8th November 2012

Mmmm, well it's been a hard week but someone has to do it. Our priority has been to kick back and relax this week with lots of shopping therapy, late breakfasts on one river or the other, lots of book reading, more eating of great food, with a few specials thrown in.

Sunday afternoon saw us on a mini-bus to Kang Si falls, about 30 minutes out of LP.  What a sensational place!  The walk up the river only takes about 10 minutes but we took about 2 hours to do it.  The photos below will show you why.  Around every bend there was another sensational view of waterfall/swimming hole culminating in the biggest, loudest waterfall I have seen for a while.  At the beginning of the walk, there is a sun bear rescue enclosure and, as it was pretty hot, the bears were kicking back for the time we were there.

While we were collecting people for the mini-bus, saw this tuk tuk driver having a rest with his mate.  After I took this photo, his mate started swinging his hammock.  Hard life for some!

One of the sun bears in a hammock.

The bottom bear was on it's back, spread-eagled trying to cool down.  They really didn't move while we were there.

A dragon fly which looked part dragon fly, mosquito and butterfly.  Beautiful irridescent eyes and backs on these critters.

Mary having a natural spa and thoroughly enjoying herself.

And, finally, the 'big' falls.  Just beautiful. 
Monday morning saw us up early and down to the Tamarind Restaurant ready for our cooking course.  We were teamed up with 10 other women, mainly Australians, who were out for a good time.  Chai, our chef and guide, took us to a big (mainly) food market just outside LP where we were educated about what foods were used for Laos cooking and why they were used.  We also saw baskets used for cooking, as wel as dry herbs, spices and stuff like mushrooms and, of course, meat.  I won't post photos here -- look at my albums when I get back to Australia!
The cooking school was about 30 minutes tuk tuk ride from LP nestled into tropical forest but beautifully set out.  A small river ran down one side and provided water for 2 'lakes' framing the school buildings.  The cooking area was very clean, amply stocked and set out to be very efficient.  Benches were at a good height so no backaches.  Chai was a great teacher and a very funny guy. 
The first cooking lesson we had dealt with sticky rice as so much of it is used in Laos meals... white for main meals and purple for sweet dishes.  We were shown how to wash it, drain it and steam it using bamboo baskets.  We cooked four dishes - a dip to eat with sticky rice, steamed fish, stuffed lemon grass (stuffed with a chicken mince and herbs) and a minced buffalo salad.  When we finished, we sat down to eat what we had cooked and had a feast, helped along with an ice cold beer.
The 'lake' and gardens one side of the cooking area.

The 'lake' at the other side of the cooking area where the tables were laid for eating.

Looking at the cooking hut while having a welcoming glass of tea.

The bench work area where the chef could walk down the centre to help out as required.

Cooking sticky rice on charcoal burners in bambo baskets.

The chef's bench at the beginning of the day.

Washing and draining the sticky rice prior to steaming.

Ingredients for the dip.

The dip in finished form.  Didn't look much but tasted sensational, if somewhat chilli hot.

Chai explaining the process for the Mok Pa - steamed fish in banana leaves.

The ingredient list.

The final product ready to go into the steamer.

Stuffed lemon grass waiting for cooking.

The ingredients for buffalo salad.  Tasted wonderful. even with tripe and buffalo bile in it!

The feast before we started eating.
After the mains,we proceeded to cook sticky rice pudding.  I didn't think I could eat another thing, but I was wrong.

Fruit toppings for the sticky rice pudding.

Shredded coconut (which made the coconut milk the rice was cooked in) and the purple sticky rice.
Needless to say, we didn't need any dinner that night.  We were back in town around 3:30pm and kicked back with a book before crashing for the day.
Tuesday (Melbourne Cup Day) was my birthday and, as the cooking class was my present to myself, Mary and I didn't do much on the Tuesday.  A late breakfast was followed by a trip to the book exchange and then a leisurly stroll up the river, taking photos the whole way.  Stopped off at the Aussie Beer Bar and had a very cold beer served in chilled glasses which was very very refreshing.  I had baked beans on toast for lunch, something I have not eaten for a very long time but which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Mossied on to the fish spa and massage place where I spent a pleasurable 1 1/2 hours, followed by more strolling up to a cafe at TEAC for a fruit smoothie before heading back to the guesthouse for a rest before dinner.
Found a great restaurant by the river (The Indestructable Rock Restaurant) to eat dinner and we has a feast accompanied by a bottle of Australian bubbly - most enjoyable.  The owner threw in dessert for us both when I said it was my birthday.  Lovely man.  We rolled back to the guesthouse and crashed.
Wednesday found us late rising for breakfast which we enjoyed by the riverside before coming back to the guesthouse to be picked up to go to Tad Sae falls.  We were collected and, after about 15 minutes, I realised we were going back to Kang Si falls where we had been on Sunday.  There was nothing we could do about it except ask for a refund from the guy who booked the trip for us.
We walked up to the falls, took some more photos and read our books to the thunderous sound of the waterfall.  While we were there, a very old buddish monk sat down opposite us and looked at the falls.  I raised my camera to him to ask if I could take a photo and he graciously agreed (see below).  We had a big laugh when he pulled out a cigarette and lit up and thoroughly enjoyed himself smoking the cigarette.  Those robes have pockets which hide packets of cigarettes.
We will try to go to Tad Sae falls tomorrow but will probably go by tuk tuk.  We have planned to leave Luang Prabang on Saturday and take the day bus to Vientiane.  It's about a 10 hour trip so that will be the day on Saturday.  We aim to spend about 3 days in Vientiane before traveling on to Siem Reep.  Will catch up this blog as I can.  Cheers for now.