Thursday, August 18, 2011

Having too much fun to post an update! :-P

Soon, I promise!

I realize it's been a while, and so much has happened! Motorbike rentals, kayaking, elephant rides, in the tubing Vang Vieng, interminable bumpy bus rides, mountain bike tour, new friends, trekking, listening to geckos, trading travel stories, waking up to beautiful views, (and moldy beds), village homestay, (scything weeds in the fields on Laos hillsides!) delicious food, sticky rice, waiting hours for the food, drinking lots of beer Lao, getting really really disgustingly dirty, (and hoping the laundry actually gets clean!), exchanging movies and music on portable technology, cultural confusion and so much more...

I think it will take a while to sink in and become a story, as opposed to mere relating of events. Until then, chew on that paragraph above I just spilled out, it's pretty much how it all seems right now!

I just arrived in Luang Namtha and SO relieved to be off the bus- it was 4 hours of extreme bumpy from Nong Khiaw to Oudomxai, where we almost resigned ourselves to staying overnight but somehow a bus showed up and after packing people into all available crevices we took off, this time on a surprisingly smooth road, but another four and a half hours after not having anything other than breakfast... And me with no more Laos kip left, luckily I was traveling with a friendly group of Spainards, who spotted me the 10,000 kip for the minibus ride into LP central, and we settled in a REALLY NICE guesthouse, where we ate a huge dinner and then took a HOT shower, and am now lying in a CLEAN bed, (it even smells good!) and enjoying the luxury of a good wifi connection as I lie here!

I feel like a king. It's amazing how important the little things are. :-)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cambodia: Angkor Wat, getting sick, and return to Phnom Penh

Cambodia, it sucked me in... I was originally going to stay just one week, and it turned into two, which has now stretched to two and a half. Time passes strangely when you're traveling. A few days feels like an eternity, because every day you're seeing new things, navigating new waters, figuring out your path minute by minute.

Lately my preference has been to make friends. (I guess that's always how I am though!) As a single traveler, I enjoy the freedom of choosing what I want to do, but I miss companionship, and support when I encounter difficult situations. So in part that's how I chose to structure the last few days of traveling.

The first day in Angkor Wat I shared the tuk tuk and guide with a friendly stranger from the guesthouse, and we did the "Mini tour".

Fooling around in the Tomb Raider temple

The next two days I went on my own, first to Banteay Sreay and the next day (and for sunrise) on the "Grand tour".

As Angkor Wat is pretty impressive in itself, there is nothing much else to report... aside from me forgetting my passport in Kampot and having to get it sent by bus to Siem Reap... I had to leave it when I rented the moto, and when I returned the moto I was leaving immediately for the waterfall, so completely forgot. Thank god they were able to send it, for just $5! Plus $5 for the tuk tuk to the bus station to pick it up, and two hours at night waiting for the bus in the rain in a strange restaurant with the tuk tuk driver... It was a little stressful, but really nothing bad.

In the city of Siem Reap I saw the Apsara dancers, which are featured in many carvings in the temples. It's abstract dancing, and they train their fingers and toes to bend backwards, looking very unnatural.

Real life Apsara dancers

Carved Apsara dancers.

I got a foot "massage" from Dr. Fish. The little fishes gnaw on the dead skin on your feet.

That was pretty much it. The people selling things there are pretty aggressive, offering tuk tuk, moto-bike, massage, "Lady you buy from meeee" It gets tiring and annoying but you should always be polite but firm. I guess at night the kids will pickpocket you, luckily I didn't experience any of that. Other people I met had kids grab a water bottle from out of their hand, or hitting them if they don't buy something.

Next: I got the bus back to Phnom Penh, to break up the journey to Laos. I think that's when I started feeling sick. The bus driver was going way too fast, making me nervous. Not to mention I was in the back of the bus, so went flying on every bump. On top of all the bumps from the tuk tuk rides in Angkor Wat, my head was really getting a beating.

Once in Phnom Penh I noticed a posting advertising a trip to a silk weaving farm, organized by a girl I befriended the last time I was there. I decided to stay one more day and visit the farm, where she worked.

Thank god I decided to stay because that night I didn't get any sleep. I was nauseous and uneasy when I when to bed, started puking at about midnight, and from then on it was a memory best left unremembered. Pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting. The room was too hot, the bed was too soft. I tried to keep drinking water. I moaned and groaned and wished I were home.

I decided to go through with the silk farm trip because I really didn't want to stay in the hostel all day, it's not the nicest place to spend your time. It was another long bumpy bus ride, but once we got there I was able to nap peacefully in a hammock in a beautiful garden. I didn't even want to see the silk making part, just lay there in the hammock. The others did a cooking class, and I had some rice and bananas. 

On the way to the farm we stopped for a break and little children swarmed our bus, asking us to buy mango, pineapple, banana, and spiders…. SPIDERS?

They were harmless and very soft, with little claws that let them climb. Just strange to be so comfortable with a huge spider! I'd seen these same spiders sold at other bus stations, deep fried as a snack. One of the guys on the bus with us ate a fried cockroach, he said it didn't taste bad. 

Once we got home I slept again for another hour, and dragged myself out of bed to try to arrange my onward trip. The guy who ate the cockroach (Lars) was also going to Laos, but he had to arrange his visa first. I didn't have a visa either. There was some mystery surrounding the Laos-Cambodia border crossing- can you get a visa on arrival or not? I think it would have been possible, but it would take some time (1 hour? 3 hours?) and the bus might not wait for you, so you'd have to arrange other transport from the border... I'm sure it would have been fine but I decided to get the visa here in Phnom Penh, wait another day to recover and go together with Lars, to brave the border with a friend! 

Today I've found a beautiful place to relax, it's called the Blue Pumpkin. It's a foreigner restaurant, very modern inside, everything painted white and serving expensive (by Cambodian standards) food, like bread, sandwiches, ice cream & coffee, they have AC, wifi, a full bar and ambient music... I'm so happy to sit here away from the dirt, heat and noise of the street. 

Next stop: Don Det & the 4,000 Islands, LAOS!