Monday, 3 November 2014

.......and now it's over

After a few hours spent at the Auckland Koru Lounge I get on my final flight home.  My awesome friend Sue was waiting for me when I arrived and took me home, left me with my car and everything I needed for my cheese on toast.  I felt better already.

And so my trip is over. Now I have many photos and many memories to sift through and many pages of blog to update, add some emotion and decent descriptions and then, as with my other trips, put them into a book. In due course.  For the time being all I can do is focus on the bits I will remember.
Although there were many stuff ups there were also some amazing good bits and hoping that they will be the ones that I remember the most


Best City: HoChiMinh City
I loved the smiling people.  I loved the food. I loved the contrasts. I loved the green. I loved the boulevards

                            


The Best Pho -  HCMC 



The best ancient ruins:  Ta Prohm and Bantay Srei.  
Both so different and both so gorgeous.
 
  


The best mountain scenic walk: Bangkok
The path up to Golden Mount




The best religious experiences
The memorial celebration for Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara
That Luang festivities at Si Mueng and That Luang temples






The haunting mist hanging over the Kaarsts in Vang Vieng - the most scenic experience
Weaving and batik work at Ock Tok Pop in Luang prabang - the best craft experience
The staff at Ock Tok Pop - the friendliest funniest staff
The Tamarind cooking class in Luang prabang - the best food experience
The morning food market in Luang Prabang - the best market
Le banneton - croissants and apple pies to die for - the best french pastry
The Kamu Lodge Experience - the best "people" experience and the best rural experience
BeerLao - the best drink
Naked Espresso, Vientiane - the best coffee
Hanoi Old Quarter - the maddest place, but far from the reality of the rest of the serene city
Kid on the street corner in Hanoi - the craziest kid
Koto Restaurant - the best restaurant meal
The corner food place in Hanois Old corner - the best Hanoi street food
Hoan Kiem Lake Christmas Eve walk round the lake - the best local celebration
Shoes for Sapa - the one and only charitable experience and the best thing about Sapa
HoiAn's beef stuffed betel leaf meal - the best casual street food
HoiAn's lanterns - the prettiest place
The "wedding" - the most beautiful occasion
Setting off floating lanterns at the "wedding" - the most surreal experience
The Alms procession in Luang Prabang.  Should not be in this section but such a joke it has to be mentioned - The biggest joke


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Headed home

The hotel cabby (mini van) collects me at 7:15am for the 5 minute drive to the bus station,  200 baht or $6.00, cheap enough,  but expensive when my bus ticket costs 140 baht.  The lady at the ticket counter tells me to wait and she will call me for the bus.  I wait.

Nature calls and I go to the loo, pay my 3baht to use the loo.  No paper, typical.  So I ask for paper.  None but he wil sell me a packet of tissues for 7baht.  Sorry buddy, not this kiddo.  I carry my own.

A bus eventually arrives at the Phuket layby.  I suspect it wasn't really the bus I was supposed to be going on as none of the other tourists were getting on board.  I was the only one.  As far as a bus goes it was pretty basic.  But I didn't care.  I was going home.  There were plenty of seats so I made myself as comfortable as I could.  Seats were hard and a spring clean would have helped dramatically.  The bus goes to move off slowly.  The driver struggles to close his door, surely he's not going to drive like that.  Or are we going to be stuck here.  I cant believe how negative I have become.  Of course we aren't going to be stuck here, because today I am going home and I have a connection to catch. woohoo!    He eventually closes the door and we are away.

It is quiet on he bus.  Most people dozing.  I am looking at the scenery.  The kaarsts tower over everything and are stunning.  Silence is broken by the loud and raucous sound of a cell phone.  Owner is the conductor, a rather straggly grumpy looking lady.  She lets it ring for ages and then screams a "hello" into it.  This goes every 5 minutes or so, each time she lets it ring and ring. Urg!

An overwhelming stench takes over the bus.  I nearly vomit.  Some wee kid had gone no 2s.  He couldn't help it but his mom could have at least wrapped it quickly.  Took ages and it wreaked.  Just another smell.

We stop regularly to pick up passengers until eventually the bus is full.  We also stop on a regular basis to collect freight and at one stage I sit and watch as they load bags of stuff.  Big bags, heavy bags, white bags with what would appear to be roundish hard things in them.

We drive on and soon come to a shellfish roadside stall.  Some of the bags are unloaded.  Fresh produce!!  No way that what has been in the bus is going to now be put on a road side stall, in the heat, and be sold!!!?  And yet that is exactly what is going to happen.  I witnessed another delivery further down the track and when I eventually went to get my bag out I noticed that the hold was wet and it stunk of fish.  Just my luck that my bag was sitting in it and another suitcase will get dumped.  The smell didn't follow me as I walked away so think I am safe.  Thanks, Tom and Eve the bag has been awesome, and will keep going for many trips yet as long as I keep away from cats and shellfish.

All along the way I see rubbish, randomly strewn everywhere.  What a shame as it really could be quite pretty.  I think back to all the things that just aren't quite right, little things, everywhere.  Like in the hotel where I just stayed.  Its quite new so no excuses.  The shower rose fell off the first time I used it.  I left it on the side of the bath.  It was still there after the room had been serviced.  Not moved an inch.  The handrail had fallen off the bath, there were no towel rails or hooks, the jug leaked, the pillow cases had little holes in them and my towel was darned!  It was a cheap place by our standards but not by Thai standards.  And that was one of the better places.

We soon arrive at the Phuket no 2 bus station.  Nothing remarkable or unremarkable.  It just is.  A taxi whisks me off in the direction the bus has just come from and soon has me at Phuket International Airport.  I cant check in as I am too early so I go to my new regular, Mr Burger King.  No Asian food to be seen once again.  Fed and eventually checked in I go through immigration and yay I am airside.

Indescribable is the only way I can describe the mayhem going on.  The duty free shop has been taken over by what can only be a massive tour group.  All pushing, shoving, snatching and screaming.  Even if anyone else had wanted to go into the store they wouldn't have been able to.  No room and real danger of being savaged or trampled by animals. Total mayhem. Unbelievable. 

I go to cash in my baht.  No money exchange.  Bugger.  So I buy books and a few bits and pieces for the kids and figure I will try the rest in Singapore.  No point in wasting it.

My flight to Singapore must have been OK.  I slept for most of it and woke up to not enjoy a horrible fish meal.  But never mind, I am going home.  

Singapore I have never been so happy to see you.  As much as I normally hate your sterility, today you are a clean, orderly and wonderful,place where I manage to get some Thai Fish Cakes.  Not the best but I have been hanging out for them for ages and haven't found any on any menu.  Changi you done me well.  I had managed to change the baht and that paid for dinner.  At least it wasn't wasted.

And so I am on my way, flying as I write.  I have calmed down considerably and think I will just go straight home and have my cheese on toast before checking everyone out tomorrow.  Bring it on....





Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Yet another mix up

I am met at my lovely guest house at 9:00am as planned by the volunteer coordinator Mui.  A lovely lady with a gorgeous smile and sparkling eyes.

We drive to the pier and catch a long boat to Koh Klang, a 10 minute ride along the river.  On one side mangroves, green as green, on some other island.  On the other side we have Koh (meaning island) Klang.  Signs of a village with stilt houses perched over the river and people milling around.  We arrive at our stop and haul ourselves over the front of the long boat onto the pier.  Walking a short way through the village, a few shops on the way and quite a few people, we arrive at a lovley looking school.  About 8 classrooms, a lovely playground with some stone animals that are rather worse for wear and a pile of spotlessly dressed kids.  It is break time 9:15am so they are playing and like all children full of the joys of spring, some of the girls in veils, some not, but all the white blouses were pristine white, ironed and gorgeous.  How do they do it when they live in the homes they do, under the circumstances they do?  Our kids are not so well dressed and so clean. But maybe our kids arent as hungry for an education.  The school is a primary school but has a kindergarten attached. I didn't see the wee ones.

Mui introduces me to the deputy principal.  We wai.  They have a great conversation and many wrinkled brows along the way.  When the woman leaves Mui explains........... On the 16th is teacher only day.  So no teaching.  No problem a day to explore.

And on the 27th they are being assessed by the Ministry so don't have time to have a volunteer there over the next two weeks.  Can I change my program and come back another time?  The answer a resounding no!  Mui explains that they arel upset that they cannot have me there teaching and feelas though   they have let me down, feeling bad about it.  Here we go again!  I explain that, no I cant just change everything like that especially now that I am already here and have paid for everything.  My hotels are all non refundable (the norm down here) so I am, like it or not, here for two weeks.  Had it been a nicer, less smelly place with things to do I might have flagged it and just hung out but cant do that.  The only thing to do is to take trips, with a squillion other tourists to the islands, one maybe yes, but everyday no way.

So we settle on me coming to the school each day (except the 16th) and doing whatever they want.  I will not teach, but I have said I will just hang out there and maybe visit on the island.  Nothing like I wanted, nothing like I have spent a large amount of money on but I have to make the most of a bad situation.  The island is very pretty so I might just hang out with the locals, keep out of the city, and rest up.  I am not at all happy with the outcome but have limited options and will word a nice wee email to the General Manager of the volunteer organisation when I get to my room.  I'm not sure where the stuff up has occurred but surely someone confirmed with the school and told them I was coming?  Hello! 

We return to Krabi on a longboat and I go for a wander, settle in to the institutional Marks and May and salivate over the thought of toasted sour dough bread ( they are the only place in SE Asia that makes it) for breakfast.  Oh no we dont have any sour dough!  I am told.  Bugger, so I settle on pad thai and an espresso.  The pad thai is more tofu than anything else, the noodles are stuck together and overcooked, it is cold and it has no taste whatsoever.  Serves me right for coming to a place that caters just to tourists.  Their menu includes dishes from all over the world, the recipes given to them by their tourist customers but also included a thai section.  I am the only one here eating local food... Says it all.

The lousy food didn't help my demeanour at all.  I walk through the smelly streets taking in the sights.  Weirdest traffic lights I have ever seen.  They are the major tourist attraction of the city.  Says it all.

                            

I get to the hotel and there I lose the plot.  Just one more thing that makes me want to get the hell away from here.  I think about staying on.  Yes I would like to hang out on the island, maybe for a day.  Then what!  I look for flights home.  Nothing works with connections to Krabi. Each stumble makes me more upset.

I ring my insurers tell them I need to get out before they have to rescue me from a nut house.  They give me some ideas, none of which are covered under the policy but it helped me sort out my brain.  I cancel all hotels.  Irrespective of whether I manage to leave I do not want to be in Krabi or AoNang.  I would rather be in Bangkok and that's saying something.  Bangkok is closed down with the protests so I could only go there to transit.  I look at flying to Cambodia, might as well see more there while I am in the region.  I do the sums and it works out better if I just cut my losses now and go home. And so I spend the afternoon checking out flights.  I can't get from Krabi to Bangkok in time to make any of the  connections   an din any case therevare no Thai air flights available prior to my exitsing booking on the 25th and go into a flap.  I call the insurance lady again.  She calms me down and suggests I try gettig a fly from Phuket.  Bingo.  A relatively good price with my favourite airline, SingaporeAir, and going through Singapore.  Yay.  Phuket is only a few hours ago so I checked the bus timing an dall organised.  I leave for home tomorrow.

I go into the township for dinner.  Sit at a wee western style restaurant and have another tasteless Penang with rice.  On the way back I pass the night market along the riverside.  Bugger, lots,of food stalls cooking lovley looking food as you order.  Exactly what I should have had.  It was too early when I walked past on my way to town.  Oh well.  Another dissappointment in a long line of them. 

On the way home I have to walk past the smelly bits.  With shawl over my nose I pass, gingerly, but not before I have taken pics of the elephants and the hand.  The hand, from what I understand will form part of the worlds biggest Avatokitesvara Bodhisattva Guan Yin 84 metre high statue.  Guan Yin is the 
Bodhisattva of mercy and loving kindness.  They advertise that anyone who pays homage will be protected from all kinds of danger and alongside the hand are people lined up to take your donation!

                                                

Not sure where the elephants come into it but they look pretty, as does the Shrine of the Secred Pillar just nearby.

 

                                                                  


Krabi, you smell, are ugly and the few meals I have had here have been pretty awful.  The few people that I have had dealings with have been lovely, and that is the only nice thing I can say about you.



Sunday, 12 January 2014

Contrasts

I sleep well, the sewer smell locked in the bathroom escaping and hitting me in the face as I open the door. Ugh

The night was calm, the silence broken only by the crowd that had, this afternoon, been at the pool. They are staying in a resort advertised as being alcohol free, run by moslems, and so they go out, get pissed and come home singing in a drunken stupor. Sickening. 

I get over the toilet smell and head to breakfast. Ordinary and barely edible but they do have a toaster with rye bread. Good for me. By the time I am finished it is nearly time for checkout so I pack, check out and settle by the pool. Yay its lunchtime so few people here.   All of us under umbrellas in the shade, even though the sun here is not as harsh as we are used to, it is too hot in the sun. A few are reading and others, the same ones as yesterday, playing on their phones. Funny how life has changed.

A gentle breeze blows across the pool and the kaarsts rise in the background. The smell is not noticeable here and the gentle sound of the water jets is the only thing that breaks the silence. Heavenly.

                                                    


My time is up and I go use the shower, check out the spa for my next visit and set off in a cab for Krabi.  A shuttle would have been cheaper if I wanted to mess around waiting and then get dropped in the city.  Not really.

The scenery on the drive in is lovely.  We pass through some pretty villages, all dominated by the sky reaching limestone. Dramatic and gorgeous.  

We arrive in Krabi.  It looks pretty, wide tree centered streets, the river travelling along the side.  My hotel is easy to find, just a wee way from the river and away from the central city, a newish place and lovely and clean.  My room is on level 4, without a lift, a wee hike but made up for by the view over the trees from my lovley room, deck and even from the bathroom.  The reception ladies are lovely.

I settle in and take off for a walk.  Get 10 minutes down the road and realise I have forgotten the camera.  As I walk I am overwhelmed by smells.  The same toilet smells of AoNang.  Makes me want to vomit.  I have to walk past the same patch on the way back so have to find an alternative road to town.    Back at the hotel I decide to wait for the shuttle and take advantage of the free ride to the city. Going past the smelly patch I cover my face with my scarf.  Ugh the smell still gets through.

The shuttle drops us near the weekend night market.  I go for a wander.  Not knowing what it was all about I didn't know what to expect, but eventually found something resembling what we call Thai Fish Cakes.  Just tiny ones and yummy.  Not quite chewy like the ones they make at home and don't think they have red curry paste in them but still good.  Other than food there was boring clothing, shoes and stuff.  A few street performers are getting ready to perform, but I can't be bothered waiting to watch. 

                                    

I walk for a bit as far as the river in case I find a restaurant.  A couple of pubs but thats it.  The scenery though was sublime.  Must be superb in good light.

                                  

I wander on and go check out the other market which was all food.  Bought some of the yummy peanut biscuits but most of the food was prepared and sitting in Bain maries.  I don't do pre-prepared food, even at home, so that rules most of it out.  I see a couple of restaurants on the street but the smell is so putrid I keep walking.  Out of all the places I have been AoNang and Krabi are the only places that have smelled to me, a putrid sweet rotten sewer smell.  Ugh.  Don't know if I can cope with it.

I return to the department store (more like a Mall) and see a KFC.  I am not a KFC fan but was hungry and need to sit and eat.  Zinger burger, fries and pepsi.  Fries were gross, zinger was barely edible and pepsi was, well Pepsi.  I was hungry and thristy and finished as much as I could but must check out places to eat that are not market stalls or chain restaurants.  A Swensens finished it off.  That was the best thing I had eaten in days.

I wait on the street, trying to avoid the smells, for the shuttle to return.  I watch the people.  Few Western tourists and most sound like Russians.  Many Asian tourists, of course I don't know their nationality but many appear to speak Thai comfortably. Some don't know any more than me.  Interesting that there are many Middle Eastern looking people wearing regular clothing, but equally many in Moslem scarves etc.  The hindu women are dressed beautifully (regular clothing or punjabis) and heavily made up.  The Thai women in jeans, t shirts and jandals looking quite hard, in contrast to the lovley Thai ladies in the hotel.

The shuttle is late but eventually arrives.  It has seating for 12.  Some of get in and sit,  our knees touch the knees of the people sitting opposite us.  Another 8 are pushed on trying to wedge their legs in between the knees of those sitting.  But, having passed the patch of stench, we arrive at the hotel.  The shuttle is shared with the  hotel  down the road, where I will be staying next week, and runs about 5 inwards trips between 5 and 8pm, but only does two outwards trips which is why there were so many wanting a ride.  Next time I will walk back.

I hang out in my room, watch TV, updates blogs and call it a night, wondering what my first day teaching will bring.  

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Back to Thailand

Im not sure why, whether its the planes, the atmosphere or god awful pilots but every landing, and all have been in perfect weather,  I have experienced here has been like the ones we have in Wellingotn when a hurricane is in action.  My journey from Luang Prabang to Bangkok was no different.

Transiting in Bangkok was different.  Three different lots of queues, but no big dramas.  Wifi needs a password but no one tells you that you have to go to an information desk to get it.  Note to self.  Remember for next time.  Consequently I bitch and moan to myself about the lack of connection. Oh well, nothing new.

My flight to Krabi was in a virtually empty plane which again bounced all over the runway on landing, just like the others.  This plane was also clunky and sounded as though bits were falling off all over the show.  We arrived and so did my bag, so all good.  No issues about not having had bag cleared in Bangkok.  They dont care.

With bag in tow I go straight to the arrivals hall where I see signs for taxis, shuttles and tuktuk.  The shuttle was 150baht, the taxi 600.  I ask when the shuttle leaves and am told 10 minutes.  That's me so I pay and go to wait. The 10 minutes passes and I am the only one in the queue.  Everyone else is being collected by their hotel. I didn't even think about it, so used as I am, to making my own way.  I ask nicely when the shuttle will be coming.  5 minutes I am told.  I wait. 

10 minutes are up and I ask "what time is the shuttle coming" pointing to my watch.  He tells me shuttle on stand by...  Yes but what time will it be coming.  The conversation continues along these lines for a while and he refuses to answer.  I ask if he understands the question and point at my watch.  Long and short of it is that I go back to the counter and without question they give me my money back.  And they tell us westerners that we should not get angry with the locals as they take offence.  Hello who was the rude and angry one....  Half an hour later and I pay the 600 baht and a very nice cabbie comes along and takes me to the door of my hotel at Aonang Beach... 

The AoNang PhiPi Maan resort is lovely.  Two lovley muslim ladies welcome me and get me settled.  A lovely big room, double doors onto my own private deck, super bathroom that smells of sewerage but I figure that it will pass and I am not changing rooms.  The smell doesn't go away but the room is so nice and quiet I am not going anywhere.  

After a quick walk through the town, I grab some supplies, buy an ice cream and return to my room.  Quite perplexed by this place.  I had not expected it to be as touristy as it was.  It is exactly the sort of place I hate and have sworn I would never come to and now I know why.  Lots of restaurants, mainly multi ethnic, few street food stalls, maccers, subway and 711's.  The streets edged with sleazy guys wanting to take me places in a sleazy looking tuk tuk, and sleazy dirty looking women who want to give me a massage in some sleazy looking room.  Not for me, and in comparison to other places, not particularly cheap either.  If it were not for the over abundance of power lines, broken pavements and the litter I could mistake it for a Westerrn sleazy resort.  Nothing Asian about it other than the tuk tuk and the masseurs.  Maybe it will look better by day...

The rest of the evening was spent lolling, catching up on blogs, emails and stuff.  I had a glorious sleep in my super king, comfortable bed that also came with fluffy duvet and skinny soft pillows and woke this morning feeling human, almost.

I mess around the room for a while then venture into town.  Its only a short walk and I enjoyed the exercise, but this further confirmed that I do not like the place.  By day it is just as sleazy except now you can see the litter everywhere, the crumbling pavements and the dirt in many of the shops.  

                                      


You can also see the tourists walking through town (a considerable distance from the beach) in swin wear and no cover ups.  Women in bikinis, ugly, overweight and hairy men walking through town with shorts and no top.  Sorry mate, even your wife shouldn't have to see that.  Ugly and gross.  At least the women in bikinis are generally young and with good figures.  An over abundance of over weight, loud Russians seem to dominate.

The sewer smell is everywhere and at times makes me gag.  The heat has made it more pronounced and I want to get away from it.  Totally gross.

I walk along the beach.  By our standards pretty grotty, but I suppose if you dont have beaches at home it could, with a pinch, be appealing.  Long boats line the best parts of the beach making for an ugly display.  At least they ahvent started to charge poeple to access the beaxh and that is a plus.  The area along the beach front is not as sleazy as the main street and almost bearable with a few nice looking restaurants, but still not somewhere I would want to hang out.  Something about it reminds me of the town of Port Douglas, which I didn't like much either.

The limestone kaarsts in the distance are magnificent and remind me of Vang Vieng.  I can see why people come this way to climb and can imagine it must be awesome.

                                      

                                      

Returning to the hotel I stop at Maccers.  A pork something or other is my choice.  The set for around $10.  Not only is the pork something or other tiny, it is greasy and tastes gross.  Fries are fries and watered down coke is just that.  Serves me right.

My afternoon was spent relaxing round the pool, quite small but plenty large enough... to start with.. with great jets along ghe side so you can get a water massage.  Yes.  My deck chair set up I alternatebetween  lounging in the chair, reading and a dip.  Just what I came from.  There were about 10 people round the pool, all quietly relaxing....

Until a couple of Russian adult males came along and started playing ball, in the water, along the entire side of the pool.  As they played they talked, loudly all the way down the pool.  Needless to say the pool and the surrpunding area emptied very fast.  I came back to my room, carried on reading until sleep took over.  It was a lovely few hours until the dicks wrecked it for everyone.

Tonight I wandered up to the walking street market.  Waste of a walk.  Plenty of junk and a few street food stalls which were interesting.  Thai, muslim, chinese and indian all side by side.  The quiet peacefullness of the Muslim people is a stark contrast to the loud nasaly Thai speaking people and then come along the smiling, heavily accented Indians.  Interesting.

From there I walked through town before settling in a touristy sort of place for dinner.  A tasteless Penang curry with rice. $6 including a drink so I shouldn't complain, but it was pretty bland and very little chicken, lots of juice that seemed to have the peanuts (the main ingredient of the penang curry) missing.  Oh well.

I pass the occasional glimpse of prettiness on my way back, few and far between.  The brochures tell me that the only things I can do involve water trips - not happening. So that just leaves the town which appears to be devoid of anything of interest.

  

                              

Back to my room, back to bed and goodnight from AoNang.  Can't wait to leave tomorrow.  I have booked another weekend here and cant cancel so have already decided that apart from going for a massage I will not be leaving the resort and will be asking for a different room.  Not sure what I will do if I hate Krabi as well.  I am stuck there during the week while teaching, so fingers crossed....


Farewell Laos

Well, long time no blog.  It is now hard to remember what has happened over that time and even more difficult to write about it with any passion.  

It has been a busy week starting with the performance to get one flight changed and another booked so I could get to Krabi.  I was originally booked to go to Vientiane on the 10th, then on to Bangkok on the 12th and then straight to Krabi.  I need to rest and since I don't need to dog sit DeeJai have decided to change my existing booking and fly direct Luang Prabang to Bangkok/Krabi on the 10th with 2 days doing what I swore I would never succumb to; sitting in a deck chair round a pool at a resort.  As I write (at the airport on the 10th) I can't wait and am even looking forward to next weekend so I can do the same after my first week of teaching.  Bring it on.

Changing the flights was easy, booking another just as easy but it meant I had to return the next day to collect the tickets (yes paper ticket -first in years).  Paying for it not so easy.  Nearly $500 but I had no other option.  Bugger.  Getting a refund for the ticket that the other airline cancelled on me proved to be harder and I think I can wave goodbye to that, but will not be giving up without a fight.  I am already chasing a refund from another airline and have now threatened to go to the police if they don't give me my money.

That first night Matt, Amy and I tried to get into Makphet, the restaurant I really liked when I was here last.  It was full so we settled on a little BBQ street food restaurant near the river.  Pretty bad food thatdidn't  warrant photos,  but we did get to go to Makphet for lunch the next day.  Bianca and Michael joined us and we all stuffed ourselves silly.  But for whatever reason I didn't enjoy it as much as I had previously.  Oh well.  Saved some money as I no longer want to buy their book as I had originally planned.

The following day was the planned hens/bucks day/night.  A planned bus/boat trip which was to be a few hours was now, we were told, virtually all day.  

                                   
I opt out and spend the day relaxing and eating.  Food for the soul.  That evening, with Amy, we go to meet Kylie and Jade who arrived late the night before, so we could all go to the hens dinner.  I haven't seen either of them for months so it was great to see them again and catch up on their news.  It was a lovely evening and I snuck off as some of the young ones left the restaurant to move to a bar.  Enough for me, cocktails, strippers and late nights are not my thing.

I was glad to be leaving Vientiane the next day.  When I very first arrived it was quaint, then I thought bland, then I thought confused not being asian and not being whatever else it thought it was, but by now I had decided that it was dusty, colourless, definitely not asian, full of rude ex pats who really didn't want to be there and didn't want to support local business or customs but turn it into a Western culture.  Dislike definitely comes to mind.

Some of my things were still at Bianca's and the kids wanted to see where she lived so we all headed out there by cab, grabbed the stuff, said hello, and came back into the city to get ourselves organised to leave.  Our departure and stay at the aiport were uneventful as was our arrival in Luang Prabang.  

  

Matt, Amy, Kylie and Jade were staying separately from the rest of us so I stayed with them to get them settled in.  A quick wander before dinner at Coconut Garden and then they left so I joined BandM and their friends.  It was a lovely night.  Coconut Garden gave me a great op to take photos of the wee water feature where Jade found her fairies.

                                

  


Next day; the day before Bianca and Michael's "wedding".  Well it wasnt really a wedding but a ceremony for them to publicly declare their lifelong commitment to each other.  I was the officiant and obviously  don't have the legal power to perform weddings in Lao.  I was initially under the impression that the legal formalities would be done before the public ceremony.  It turns out I had made an incorrect assumption and the real ceremony was not likely to happen before the wedding nor in the near future.

Anyway a bevy of helpers arrived and everyone set about making bunting, preparing napkins and place names, writing stickers, making wall hangings, buying last minute things and generally getting the place sorted.  Matt was quite unwell so was ordered back to his room but there were so many other helpers that despite the fact that no one knew what they were doing we had heaps of fun and laughs.


                                          

I had now received the vows that both Michael and Bianca had written and was able to piece my words around what they had written taking care to include the bits that they particularly wanted from a traditional wedding but being careful with the terminology as I did not want to be the one to decieve the audience by letting them think that this was a "wedding".

That night we wandered down to a restaurant that I had seen out of the corner of my eye on my last visit and as it looked so nice I suggested we all go there as the pre venue.  Amy, Jade and I went early as Kylie was in town with Bianca supposedly getting their nails done and Jade was hungry and needed an early night.  Indeed the restaurant was nice with the most amazing river weed.  Yum yum yum.  Pretty soon the place filled up and soon many more "wedding" guests arrived and the place was overflowing.  The setting absolutly gorgeous with the restaurant set on multiple levels stepping down the banks of the river.  Each level split into multiple "rooms" and lit with lanterns.  Where we sat we could see out to the river and the bamboo bridge which was strung with fairy lights glistening in the night and the light reflecting on the tranquil water below. Just beautiful.  

                                 


                                 


And so to the big day.  It dawns as the most glorious day.  We had all come armed with winter woolies ready for the possible cold temperatures.  We discarded the woolies on day one, but today was turning into a  scorcher and we were hoping it would cool down.

Everyone was right into it.  "Bridal" party doing as they should, relaxing and leaving it to everyone else. Chaos prevailed but eventually, cutting it very fine, everything that could be done, was done.  Some things left in Vientiane so couldn't be done or replicated but obviously they didn't matter.  My first chance to sit down  came late in the day and then I planned to finalise the service with the intention of emailing it from my crude version on my ipad to a pc where I could pdf it and send it back to myself to be used as a flip page version on the ipad.  Technology being as it is and murphys law intervening the document left my ipad headed for both Michael's and my email addresses and never arrived at either.  The line dropped out, the emails went but never arrived, neither outgoing, sent, drafts or in box...... Gone off the face of the earth.  As they say in NZ,......bugger.

Fortunately I still had the vows and song words so was able to get them up for the others to read but. I had lost my carefully written words.  Oh well. I knew the order of the ceremony and we had done a quick run through yesterday so we can just wing it. I say.

Pre drinks on the lawn with Pims and beerLao.  Perfect.  That over everyone moves along the garden to the area where the ceremony will be held.  We line ourselves up and wait. The guys looking stunning, navy suits with navy/white shirts, with the exception of the one who forgot to bring his jacket and tie.  There is always one!  Soon we hear the wedding song and Jade leads the way, looking gorgeous in taupe spotted tuille, her silver shoes glistening in the hot sunlight.  Kylie comes into view, beautiful navy with a lace top.  She looks stunning as do Allanah, in black and white spots, and Stacey in a sheath of  navy, teal and green floral.  The girls each carry a small clutch beautifully co-ordinated with their chosen dress.

We then get a glimpse of Bianca, WOW.  I'm sure I see a tear in Michaels eye.  Her ivory heavy  cotton lace 1970's dress is probably the most travelled dress ever, but looks stunning.  Sheath with a cap sleeve and low low back,  her hairpiece of flocked net held into place by a flower on each side complimented it beautifully.  I dont have pics yet but they will come.

She joins Michael up the front. I welcome everyone and then the words go out the window.  I have no notes and am conscious of not saying anything misleading so we go straight to the vows and from there to the rings.  I was going to close, as they asked with the standard traditional pronunciation of man and wife but they were so eager to have a snog it pretty much made it all so unecessary and so the ceremony was over and time, for congratulations and drinks on the lawn.

Dinner and speeches followed.  Dancing finished off the night at the resort and then the young uns went bowling.  Before they left we set off floating (in the air) lanterns.  A real spectacle when each of our balloons filled with hot air and floated into the sky.  Something that would never happen in NZ because of civil aviation rules but here no one seems to mind.  

   

                               

Up until the young ones left for bowls I spent much of the evening propped against a pillar watching everyone enjoying themselves and trying to figure out what was "dancing" about the moves they were making to the noise that they call music.  

                                

                                                  

Still it was fun watching and seeing the drunk get drunker and sillier.  The popcorn man kept rolling out the burned sugar popcorn and I kept nibbling until it was time for a quick clean up before bed.  The young ones reported it as the best celebration they had been to so that was great.

Next day was fun as we watched (and smelled) the drunks from the night before try to negotiate the noise and real life with headaches and whatever else came with it.  Fun for us but not for them.

Kylie, Amy, Matt and I spent some time ambling and eventually having a foot spa, which for the others was the first time,  so prompted squeals and laughter.  

                                               

That afternoon we find that there had been a mix up with accomodation at the resort we were all staying and that and it turned out that there were no rooms for the Dobsons for the following night. We quickly managed to get a wifi connection and booked the only place we could find with three rooms available and so knew that with a wee child we were OK for a bed the following night.  

By that stage I was so shattered I welcomed the opportunity to distance myself from the event and have some breathing space. After all these years of organising major and complicated events this was the most stressful of them all and the only thing that I have been involved in organising when everything was not completed and up and running well before hand meaning no one was stressed at the last minute.  Anyway, it turned out great and no one was aware of all the things that had beeen planned but never made it.  Obviously they were unecessary from the start. 

Kylie and Jade went for an early night while Amy Matt and I went into town for dinner a walk and a ride home.

Next day we pack our bags.  Matt goes to play golf, despite still being quite ill but the break did him good.  Kylie, Amy and Jade went for a bike ride.  I read my book until it was time for us to check out and move into a guest house in the city.  A lovely quiet, cheap haven in the middle of the old town, walking distance from everything and at least in my room, wifi that worked.  Ammata Guesthouse you were just what I needed.

We relaxed, wandered, ate and then finished our gift shopping in the night market before an early night.

Kylie and Jade were leaving first thing in he morning so we got up to say our goodbyes.  Since we were up Amy and I decided to check out the Alms Procession where the monks file past the people giivng out food and other items (the offerings) the only food the monks supposedly receive.  There is controversy   over the event as it has become such a tourist joke showing no respect for the purpose of the event. I was curious to see what was going on.  We wait in the main street till about 6 am seeing line after line of tourist taking their places along the pavement where mats had been set up. Some groups were so well organised that they even wore traditional sabai and had wee chairs ready for them.  Even before the monks started to appear the event took on an air of tourist insanity.  It was a joke.  The monks appear and  file past the people, taking the cover off their bamboo basket to allow the seated person to place their offering inside before they walk on to the next person for the next offering.  We watched for a bit.  I took a few photos and understood why the event gets no respect from the tourists.  It was a joke.

  

                                                                

We leave and go round the corner to the street the Ammata was on.  Here a different story.  Same process but the people (the alms givers) were few and far between and mainly local people.  So same, same, but different (the saying from all over Asia).  This part of the ceremony was lovely to watch.  There was a wee boy and then a wee girl sitting on the road as well.  Both with empy baskets in front of them.  Some of the monks, as they passed them, dropped balls of rice into their baskets and we wondered what the story was there.

 
                                                                   

Le Banneton coffee and croissant was called for here so we felt impelled to indulge.  Yes it was good.

After such an early morning a sleep was had and we returned to le Banneton to spend the rest of our kip before catching a ride to the airport and bidding our goodbyes to each other and to Laos.  We were all pleased to be moving on.  I wish I was on my way home, but now off for another adventure. 

I have mixed feelings about Laos.  As I said above my feelings about Vientiane changed and changed and changed. I didn't like Luang Prabang at the start of my first visit but would happily spend time here.  It is a beautiful city and away from the tourist throngs has some lovely spaces, people and things to do.  Vang Vieng was stunning.  The scenery sublime.  Again away from the tourist rabble was lovely.  Would I go back? No.

So here I am travelling to Thailand and can't wait.  Even though when I left the last time I vowed I didn't want to return to Bangkok, and that still stands but I reserve judgement on Krabi, the tourist trap of all time.  My holiday that was supposed to be off the beaten track has been anything but.  Experiencing Laos didn't really happen as I spent most of my time in Vientiene seeking out wedding stuff and other than the fact that it was difficult to find western things in a non western city, I didnt feel as though I experienced the city because the city didnt know what it was.  It seemed a melting pot of many cultures that were not in Asia.  The most "Laos" I experienced was the few hours at Kamu Lodge where I saw the rural side of Lao life and interacted with some village people.

In my time here I have felt as though I am constantly haggling for something, have been ripped off twice by money changers, happily I picked it up both times and am hopefully in the way to having both rectified, have had running battles with airlines who owe me money because they have cancelled flights without notice and caused me to rebook itineraries at great cost,  have had hotels that I stayed at report that I did not show so tried to charge me again, have constantly struggled to use technology because of terrible connections.  I am told that the technology issue is a Lao wide problem but that is not the case as I have  been places where it works a dream.  I think they just advertise it knowing that it is something that travellers now insist on and if it doesn't work who cares.  It's still free.  None of these things have anything to do with third world status.  It is just an excuse.

BUT I have also had some great experiences and being here gave me the opportunity to spend time with all of the kids which is the best thing.  I witnessed Bianca making a lifelong commitment to her chosen man and know that they will be happy together and well suited.  I got to experience That Luang, an amazing celebration, I saw the beauty of Vang Vieng and saw first hand the phenomenon of the tourists spending all day in restaurants watching "Friends", I set a floating lantern off into the sky, I ate some amazing food and learned to cook some of what I ate, I experienced a wee tiny bit of rural like at Kamu Lodge, I sailed on the Mekong,  I ate crickets, I wove a piece of fabric and batiked another, I experienced the Alms Procession. I had fun, I laughed, I cried, I learned to love beerLao and sticky rice and now I am ready for the next adventure.  Thailand, Krabi and Koh Klang here I come.

And then I head for home sweet home.







Friday, 3 January 2014

Goodbye HoiAn

Today was the day that made me want to come home right there and then.

Starting with a hotel breakfast we pack and then go book a car for the airport. Easy to book but the price is not what we were quoted last night. And so the discussion begins and we find that last nights price was for a car that may or may not fit our luggage. Todays price is for a mini bus that will fit our luggage.  Not much of a difference so we roll with it.

Next is check out. I ask for one print out for each room, not one with handwritten calculations, or a separate pagenfor each day.  Oh too hard.  I have a feeling  we were being ripped off again but past caring.

We get to the airport, spy a Burger King and frantically run to get out burgers.  Rubbish burgers but they tasted so good.  We were dissappointed that there were no onion rings, but thats ok we have enough dong left for another round in Hanoi where  we have a 2 hour wait between flights.

As we wait and wait Amy realises that our flight was running late.  I go to find out and am told it is only 10 minutes late.  That is 10 minutes later than the reschdule that they  have already done which means we now have 30 minutes between flights in Hanoi.  I go talk to the staff and they assure us they will get us on the plane.  

When we boarded the flight I carefully and slowly told the flight attendant that we had to catch a connection 30 minutes after this one landed so could we please get off first?  Her reply.  "Sorry but we only have water". How can you not laugh........  Then I repeated myself and she told me that they had it all under control. 

And indeed they did as they had promised and we ran between flights, missed out on burger king and got on board just before the bridge was drawn away.  I check my mail before take off and find that the stupid LaoCentral airline has cancelled one of my flights, which means I now have to change a series of flights to get to Krabi.  Also means change fees, loss of hotel bookings etc.  I am so over these pathetic wee airlines holding us all to ransom.  They have cancelled flights on all the wedding guests left right and centre and are not being held responsible by anyone.  I'm sick of arguing every time something gets stuffed up because people choose not to understand or are too busy trying to rip everyone off.

We arrive in Vientinane. I go, along with about 10 others, to get my visa.  We stand like idiots in a queue waiting for a policeman to arrive so the visas can be processed.  The policeman does not process the visas but has to be sitting in seat no 1 so the poeple in seats 2 and 3 can do the processing.  They know what time flights arrive and don't give a continental whether people have to wait or not.  Some of the people had connections to make and missed them because they had to wait for the visa

But we get to town, Matt and Amy get to their hotel and I get to mine.  I am given a room with a lovely view which I knew mean that it would look onto the road, and opposite the wat, but I am beyond caring whether there is noise or not. At least Vientiane does not go until late.

Quickly I shower, in an acceptable shower, and go meet Matt and Amy.  We were going to go to Makphet for dinner but they were full so we ended up at a wee street stall down by the markets.  BeerLao, sticky rice, papaya salad, garlic chicken and sausage.  Happy as.... We pop into Sticky Fingers and say hi to the Bainbridges before walking through the market and having a coffee at Khop Chai Deu.  None of it was remarkable.

I return to the hotel ready to start checking out flights to replace the one that has been cancelled.  O surprise surprise the wifi doesnt work.  After a protracted phone discussion with the guy at reception, who suggested I should get out of bed and go downstairs so he could tell me the correct password, I dont think so lovey, I eventually got on line.  May as well not have bothered.  It is so slow I think it will be quicker for me to go along in person tomorrow....

Please can I go home.  No blogs for a few days.  Rest and wedding preparations will be the plan.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Vietnam thoughts

Farewel Vietnam. I loved you and should I return to Asia I will seek you out but off the beaten track.  As much as I didnt want to do,touristbtraps anywhere, it seems that is all i did and have left feeling as though I cheated myself.

A land of contrasts:
From the sleazy insanity of the Old Quarter in Hanoi to the mature serenity of Hoi An
From the old ramshackle homes along the river in HCMC right next door to the stately villas.
From the beautiful and expert tailoring of HoiAn to the slapdash way that everything is executed.
From the Hanoi Pho we enjoyed while sitting in the tiny plastic chairs on the pavement to the LaoCau we had on wee wooden chairs in Hoi An
From the swarming masses of the village touts in Sapa to the workers asleep on the job
From a horrendous recent history has come a people of humility and smiles
From Vietnamese drip coffee to BaBaBa beer
From the pretty lanterns to the Mariachi Band in Hoi An.  Both totally unexpected.
From Christmas Eve around Hoan Kiem lake to New Year amongst the lanterns in Hoi an. Both magical
From the rude people in Sapa to the loveliness of the people of HCMC
From the amazing betel nut rolls we had on the street in Hoi An to the magnificent meal we enjoyed at Koto in Hanoi
From the huge parks and prettiness in central HCMC to the sleaziness of the wholesale market further out of the city
From spending time with the kids to meeting by chance my best friends friends in a coffee shop in Hanoi and again in the street in Hoi An
From the wee lad dancing in the street in Hanoi to the homeless children in Sapa
From those that couldnt speak to us to those that thought they could and came up with words like, nutterlar
From the overnight train to the madness of the road traffic.

Chiao Vietnam.  Gamun.