Moving South in Laos

Dudley and I had a leisurely breakfast and then got a lift to the airport. We had decided to fly to Pakse and from there Dudley had arranged for a pickup to the 4000 Islands.

  

Once in Pakse a driver awaited us and two hours later we arrived in Ban Nakasang, a small port that was as such not recognizable (but since we also stopped there on the return, it was the official gateway to the islands).

The boat ride on the Mekong was not much more than 30 minutes and eventually we arrived at our floating bungalows at the Auberge Sala Done Khone.

  
  
  

We spent our first afternoon by doing exactly nothing. Just swimming in the pool and talking to my nice neighbors from Australia. They had been in the area the last couple of days and had some good input on what to see.

Before dinner I took a couple of sunset Mekong pictures and it looked almost too beautiful to be true. But it was and we enjoyed our first dinner which included a 4000 Island cocktail and millions of mosquitoes. Yours, Pollybert

  

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Vientiane 

I arrived in Vientiane shortly after 6pm and after I got my visa I was met by a pickup from the hotel. All arranged by Dudley, the South African guy I had met in Hanoi and who had told me to go to Cham Island.

When we had discovered in Hanoi that we both were heading to Laos eventually we discussed meeting up somewhere. In the end we traveled the country together.

So that first evening we went for the dinner at a steak restaurant. So no Laos food testing for me since Dudley is quite big on meat.

The next day we started with the sight-seeing and got first a lift downtown from the hotel. We were booked into Rashmi’s Plaza Hotel which had a rooftop pool but was a bit outside the center.

We started with a glance at the presidential palace (you are not allowed to visit it)

and then went first into the Sisaket museum. It was less a museum than a temple with a collection of Buddhas in all sizes. Please note that it was also smoke-free.

     

  

Next up should have been the Haw Pha Kaeo right across from it but due to elaborate renovations the temple was wrapped up like a sausage in a hot dog bun and we couldn’t see anything. Therefore we decided on walking to the Victory Gate which seemed to be only about one kilometer away. In this heat it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been only 500m away. We had to make a pit stop at a shopping mall along the way to cool down. Both of us were sweating profusely. Not really such a great show.

At least at the mall I could buy myself a SIM card for Laos and an ice coffee. Something the hotel with the rooftop pool couldn’t manage. After this short break we started walking again and really the Victory Gate was not that far off. It looked really great from afar, close up it was a bit of a let down. But since we were there we climbed up and took some pictures of the view from the top.

Yeah, it didn’t get any better in Vientiane. So far, so good though. Upon exciting the Victory Gate we took a tuk-tuk (Dudley needed a bit of coaxing to get in one) Pha That Luang, a golden stupa a bit out of the center.We made it there with 15 minutes to spare before lunch break. But it was enough to go inside and take some pictures.

  
There was not really so much to take pictures of. A stupa of course is a closed structure so there was just not more to see. Once outside we saw women selling little birds in cages (and I have no clue what kind of birds) and it was the perfect day to buy some of them their freedom.


Next to the stupa was a temple and a monument for some guy (again no clue who he was or what he had done and Lonely Planet doesn’t say).

  

After the successful visit to almost all the sights in Vientiane we went back downtown with the tuk-tuk.

We had arranged with the hotel that we would take the shuttle at 2pm back to the hotel so we were left with a bit of time on our hands and decided on lunch. Always a good idea to eat something. I ordered a lime mint juice and this is what I got.


Looks quite green, doesn’t it? I later ordered a strawberry mint juice, you really don’t want to know the color of that one.

We also ordered some real food which tasted very good, spicy though. It seemed as if almost everything I ordered on this trip was going to be spicy. So good that I got used to it from the first.

The rest of the day was spent in and around the pool. It was just too hot to do much else in the city and we had decided to leave the next day down south. Which was actually where I wanted to meet in the first place but due to a two day bus ride up from Siem Reap I opted for a meeting in Vientiane. Yours, Pollybert

Angkor Wat (Day 1)

Starting the day at 4:40am was really not such a great thing. But I wanted to see the sunrise so I had to do it. On the recommendation of Tim, the owner of the Apple Rose Guesthouse I forewent Angkor Wat and the hordes of tourists and would start my day in Ta Prohm.

Of course without coffee it was difficult but I got a breakfast box for later and with no delay Mara and I were on our way.


As you can see it was still dark when we left. The ticket office and the park (Angkor Wat is just one temple of many and all of them are in a park called Angkor Wat) opened at 5am and I didn’t want to wait out the sunrise in a queue.

There was no one really waiting, just a couple of other early get uppers. I got my three-day pass with my picture on it (picture was done on the spot) in no time and off we went to the first temple. Ta Prohm was a great choice because during sunrise there was exactly one other tourist with me. And I was glad that I wasn’t alone since there were all kinds of noises (I later noticed small monkeys)IMG_5555 IMG_5557 IMG_5561 IMG_5563 IMG_5569 IMG_5574 IMG_5573 IMG_5572 IMG_5570  

When I left the temple the sun was out and I found Mara sleeping on the back seat. Understandable, he must have made the tour a hundred times. Our next stop was Sras Srang which looked less like a temple but one big pool. No swimming though in these holy waters (not that I know but I didn’t see anyone). Here I also made a short stop and had an ice coffee at one of the stalls plus I bought postcards. I noticed that my bargaining skills wouldn’t work here because everything was one dollar. Couldn’t cut one in half and local money I hadn’t seen so far.

  

Right across from Sras Srang was Banteay Kdei were Tomb Raider was filmed. A very beautiful temple with interesting details.

     

After the third temple I was hungry and fished around in my breakfast box. I found a croissant, some bananas and a yoghurt that got mostly spilled over my pants due to my not enough road checking while eating. Nonetheless it helped sustaining me for the next temples.

Number four was the Ta Keo temple which had the steepest steps I had seen so far. Reminded me a lot of Chichen Itza in Yucatan. Maybe they did sacrifices here too?

  
  
  

Temple number five was Thommanon.

     

Right across from it was the next temple, called Chau Say Tevoda.


  

  

By that time I felt exhausted from all the temples but the small round was far from over. We drove off to the Bayon, temple number eight. The Bayon is a part of the Angkor Tom complex and to get there we had to enter by the South Gate.

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From the Bayon I had to make my way along the North South route to the Tep Pranam, passing Baphoun Temple, Phimeanakas & the Royal Palace, the Elephants Terrace and the Leper King Terrace. What I didn’t take into account at 4:30 in the morning when I was getting dressed was that my attire was not right for the temples. So far I hadn’t had any problems but the guard at the Baphoun Temple wouldn’t relent and sent me away (as many others). And while I was annoyed at first, it was my own fault and now I just don’t care anymore.

  

So this is the place I couldn’t get into and believe me I tried. I walked around it and was prepared to sneak up the back way. Not a chance!

So I passed the temple without going up and moved on to everything else on this road.IMG_5823 IMG_5825 IMG_5827 IMG_5830IMG_5832 IMG_5834 IMG_5835 IMG_5836 IMG_5838 IMG_5840 IMG_5842 IMG_5843 IMG_5844IMG_5845IMG_5846IMG_5847

You can’t imagine how exhausted I was after the last temple for the day. I took a break right then and there and had another ice coffee and some fried rice. It was lunch time after all and my breakfast had been hours ago. Thus refreshed I was ready to go back to the hotel. We left the Angkor Tom complex through the North Gate which was in better condition than its counterpart.

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When I was back at my hotel I was so glad that I took the advice of one of my fellow travelers to book a hotel with a pool. I spent the afternoon napping and around 4pm or so I made my way to the pool. No point in being outside during the hottest hours of the day.IMG_5862Dinner then was a quiet and early affair. I walked the 10 minutes to the main street and the first thing I notice is a pub street. Definitely not the right thing for tonight. I was still tired from the day and the early get up.IMG_5864

Instead I walked up the main street, looked for a decent street food place and tried Cambodian cuisine. Yeah, what can I say….I was not really convinced.IMG_5865 IMG_5868 IMG_5870

On my way home I passed a small massage parlor and saw two people coming out. I asked them if they could recommend the place and since both said readily yes, I decided spontaneously to enter and get my feet in shape. I had another long day coming up. Yours, Pollybert

 

 

More of Paradise

Day 2 at the Farmstay turned out differently than planned. I had booked the Paradise Cave Trek, which would be a 7km trek in the cave that I had seen yesterday, but someone cancelled. I was now alone and there was a minimum of 2 persons per tour. So I signed up for the next day and thought about what to do with this lovely day. It was hot and humid again, Vietnam showed its best side.

I started by bringing my laptop to the common area and updated the blog all morning (to later hear that I should use the spell check more often), but after lunch I decided to call it a day and jumped into the pool. It was so refreshing although the water was far from cool, but way better than the outside.

I also saw Veronica again who told me that the tour was on but that we would start a day later which meant an extra day for me at the Farmstay. She also told me that we would be a group of four. Sounded like fun to me, still had no idea exactly where we would be going. Not that it really mattered.

Then I got on a bicycle and went in search of the Pub with cold beer. The girls at the reception gave me a map, explained the way in detail (only turn left after you have passed the school; you have to go over a bridge and then turn right …) and I was on my way. Of course I got lost twice. I passed the school, turned left and wondered after 15 minutes why the road was not going anywhere. So I turned around and noticed I should have only gone a bit further, there was even a sign for the pub to turn left. Maybe the girls leave this part out so that there is a bit of a challenge for the tourists?

This would not have been necessary for me since I lost my way again. I had turned right before I crossed the bridge. And of course it was a downhill part and I had to push the bicycle up after. Did I mention that the bicycle had only one gear and that the kickstand always fell down? And that a good part of the way to the pub was uphill and I had to push the bike (and not just the involuntary detour part)?

Once I arrived at the pub I was hot and sweaty and needed this beer to refresh. I met two New Zealanders there, parked in a hammock and waiting for their chicken. One of them had killed the chicken before and they were waiting since two hours for it to be cooked. I quite like the idea of killing your own food, gives the whole thing a new perspective. But no way I would wait for two hours and then eat one chicken alone. It was already around 5pm and sunset in this area was maybe a good hour later. Since I missed this chance of killing my own food, I think I have to come back in the area.

So I just finished my beer (and it was cold as promised), hopped on my bicycle and started my way back. Which was astonishingly quick without the detours. I made it back before sunset.

    

The girls from the reception later told me that they had their doubts if I made it back. Thanks for this great show of confidence! I so like it that I proved them differently.

The next morning then I finally started with the Paradise Cave trek.

Again we entered the cave with all other tourists but at the end we climbed over a ladder to go down from the deck to the cave floor.

We were a group of 10 from all over the world. And our guide was a local who has worked in the caves since three years. The first thing he showed us were helictites (the stalactites grow also sideways). I had never even heard before that this was possible.

There are not a lot of pictures from this trek since it was too dark and we only had headlamps. But the cave was not one big continuing space but rather different sized chambers. Some of them as big as a football field.

One time he told us to switch of the lamp and walk in the dark. I saw the empty space ahead of me and knew I could walk at least two minutes straight and not hit anything. But when I walked in the dark I was afraid and pushed my arms out to the side not to run into anything. When we switched on the light I was far behind the group.

But there were other cool things to see and experience as well.

I like the group photo best, the iPhone camera is really made for pictures in the dark, haha.

On one stalagnate (that’s when a stalagmite and a stalactite have grown together) our guide played a short concert. To listen to it please click here!

The track became slippery and narrow, then sandy and soft again and eventually there was a river that needed to be crossed which we did by boat. Since the boat obviously had a leak this was repaired with a bit of mud.

Feeling all confident now, we got in. The sloppy repair work held, so the guys really knew what they were doing (we had two extra guides with us who spoke no English but were helping hands on the track).

Eventually there was the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. I couldn’t believe my eyes it just looked so amazing.

After being for hours in the dark cave with only the head lamps as light source the sunshine was such an miraculous sight. We sat down on a huge slab of rock and had our lunch here. The two extra guides had been carrying it all the way. And the best surprise after lunch was the small pool behind the rocks where we all went for a swim.

The way back was almost the same (same, same but different) because now we passed a shallow pool were cave pearls grew.

  

Another thing I didn’t even know existed, they looked beautiful and fragile.

After that it was just the same trek back, taking the boat again and getting wet feet while crawling a narrow path that was also low. And while I might be small, my backpack was big (what for I brought that exactly is a mystery to me now), so I constantly touched the ceiling and got unsteady).

But I and everyone else made it back in one piece and the trek was a wonderful experience.

When I came back to the Farmstay I went into the pool first and then stretched on the sun bed and relaxed. Just in time for sunset I was ready again to take some pictures.

  

So what to do with an unexpected extra day? Exactly, nothing! Since the Internet was not working properly for me on that day I just read my book, met Beth, a woman from Australia who initiated the bike trip, and later met Willemeijn, a Dutch girls. With her I spent the afternoon talking at the pool and had a great time.

Another beautiful sunset and then this day of doing nothing was over. Time flies when you are having fun. Yours, Pollybert

  

Here comes the sun

Saturday morning started with another run. This time further up the hill to stay in training. On the way down, a short stop at Monica’s for coffee and a mini cornetto with chocolate. Delicious!!
After breakfast I noticed the sun coming out and decided I would try my luck with the pool. And really the weather held, I spent most of my day at the pool looking down into the Arno valley.

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Of course it was to cold to swim, but just staying in the sun and getting a bit of a tan was already luxurious especially after the weather we had.
In the afternoon we drove down to Vinci home of Leonardo da Vinci. There is a museum which has a large collection and replicas of his work. But we bypassed the cultural side of the village and went straight for coffee, ice cream and Campari spritz (in that order). In between we strolled through the main square and went window shopping.

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20130604-091209.jpg These are jasmine flowers. Can you imagine the scent just walking by?
Thanks to the jasmine the way back to Il Lampaggio was not so smelly because Fanny left a large present in her diaper for her parents.

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Dinner was again an excellent affair and I am sorry to say I never took the time for pictures. The food is just so delicious that you want to dig in and not wait for another second.
Sunday morning was grey and overcast again which made leaving this wonderful area easier. The trip back passed uneventful but we made a little stop for dinner at Gasthaus Schneider. The place is the total opposite of Italy, a typical Austrian country restaurant with lots of sweet water fish dishes and other local food. And what better way to finish a weekend getaway with a nice dinner?
Yours, Pollybert