The flood.

So after missing the super typhoon in Hue, we ended up getting rained on a lot in Hoi An. You might remember because I wrote about it. What I didn’t mention in that blog post is how I wondered where all the rain would go. Because it rained all day and didn’t stop that night, at which point it had been raining A Long Time, and me and Nick did have a brief conversation about where the hell all the rain goes. Well, come the morning, we found out.

It doesn’t go anywhere.

Or, more accurately, it rains into the river, the river bursts its banks and floods parts of the town. More precisely, floods the part of the town that our hotel was in. This was the lobby of the hotel in the morning.

photo 1 (2)

 

And the street outside the hotel.

photo 2 (2)

 

photo 3 (3)

 

And it just wouldn’t stop raining for most of the day. The water got to the top of my legs in the end, just below my bum.

 

photo 5 (1) photo 4 (1)

 

To get in or out of of hotel meant wading through this brown, murky flood water. It was an interesting experience – seeing dead cockroaches, rats and rubbish floating past, and seeing live rats swimming for safety. Wading through (in the hotel’s bathroom flip flops – top tip) the water, feeling stuff brushing past your legs and feet and not knowing what it is. Luckily only a couple of streets away was higher than our road and we reached dry land, cheap beer and cafes and settled in for the day to eat, have a few jars and people watch.

We bumped into a few people we’d met travelling over the last month or so and ended up having quite a jolly day. We were careful to limit the cheap beers to a fairly sensible amount though; I didn’t fancy falling over in that flood water when we had to walk back to the hotel. I was successful. Huzzah!

In a way it was quite exciting, all part of the adventure and definitely something new to experience, although at the same time one of those things you kind of hope doesn’t happen in the first place – I wouldn’t wish it to happen just so I could experience it. It was like something you see on TV, and these were people’s lives, homes and businesses that were affected. But in true South East Asian style it was all taken in their stride. No panic, no hysteria, no moaning. Just a get-on-and-deal-with-it attitude. Still smiling, still happy.

We did wonder when the hell the water would go down though, especially with it being so high. How long would we have to wade in and out of our hotel? When would the buses be running again so we could make our way to Ho Chi Minh City? Surely it would be days, if not weeks?

Not so. Amazingly, this was the view from the hotel the next morning.

photo 4

 

All that water. Gone. Overnight.

Flood Day:

photo 2 (1)

 

The next day (same spot):

photo 5

 

Incredible huh?

We later heard that there had been flooding over much of central Vietnam, and also landslides in which people had died. It just makes you realise how much we are at the mercy of nature, and that actually, we’re pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

We were lucky; no damage to us or our stuff. Just memories of a new experience, a different adventure and a reminder to be thankful for life, safety and health.

Rain, rain and more rain.

It’s a rainy day today here in Hoi An. Still warm (around 25-26 degrees), but very wet, and doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon. When it rains here in Vietnam, it really rains. Even going out in a coat you get drenched. So, there’s not a lot else to do but hole up in the hotel room or a cafe and read, eat, sleep or faff around on the internet.

So that’s today’s plan. I’ve got a new book to start so I might read that. I might start a bit more research on what I want to do in Australia. I might upload some photos to my online storage and get them off my memory card. I might rearrange the stuff in my backpack. I might update my Spotify playlists ready for the next bus journey that is 24 hours long.

It’s a bit frustrating when it rains. Because although there’s stuff to do, it’s stuff I don’t really want to be forced to do, I’d rather do it when I want to, not have to. I want to be out and about today. We were going to hire bikes to do a bit of exploring further out. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it tomorrow, hopefully the rain won’t last that long.

I feel lazy too if it’s a rainy day, with nothing more to do than sit about and eat and not move. I run in the rain back home but this isn’t rain to run in. This is monsoon-type rain. No way can I run in it. I’ve kind of come to terms with the lack of exercise I’m doing, and the fact it’s much, much less than what I did back in the UK, even when I’m walking about all day. Yep, I’m just OK with the fact that travel is coming first for a bit, but days like this don’t help. Most days I try to do a fair bit of walking as a minimum.

I’m mainly clinging onto the fact that I can step up the fitness a bit when I am in Australia in New Zealand. The weather will be better (not so humid), running will be more acceptable (less likely to be stared at so much, which gets really wearing after so long) and I might even be able to join in with others through running clubs or meet ups. I’m also hoping that maybe I can perhaps go to a couple of fitness classes or do a bit of swimming or something. I know I can get back into it, I know it won’t take long, but I know I’ll pretty much be starting again. Having to build up from where I was. 6 months not doing a lot is a long time. Hopefully I won’t injure myself. Hopefully it will be easy. But I don’t know.

We’ll find out.

But I do know that when I can, I’ll be back on it, bigger and better. And I can’t bloody wait. There’s nothing like taking something away to make you appreciate it, and realise how important it is to you.

Good morning Vietnam!

It had to be that as a title didn’t it? Of course it did. Even if you’ve not seen the film (I haven’t) you’ve heard that phrase. And my first introduction to Vietnam getting off the bus in Dien Bien Phu and being hounded by taxi drivers. Now, this is normal for countries in Asia, so I’m used to it, but after two weeks in laid back Laos I’d forgotten how in your face it can be, and starts before you’ve even stepped off the steps or got your bag. Where you go? Taxi? I have taxi. You want taxi? Constantly. You get the idea. We knew we were going to be getting an overnight sleeper bus to Hanoi in a few hours so there was no need to panic or need to take any of these good men up on their offers. We just had to fight our way through the melee.

Sleeper bus tickets bartered down and paid for, we got on the bus to find it was an actual sleeper coach. All the night buses I’ve been on in lots of different countries have always either been just normal buses or buses with slightly more reclinable (is that a word? Not sure it is) seats with a blanket. This one had proper jazzy little beds, proper pillows and blankets. The ticket also got us food, a strange little stop at about 9pm in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere with platefuls of grub, our first intro to the world of Vietnamese cuisine. The bus also had disco lights and the way of being woken up at 5am, 10 minutes before getting to Hanoi, was to start the disco lights flashing and play burst-your-eardrums-loud techno music. Definitely the most interesting wake up call I’ve had for a while.

SONY DSC

Arriving in Hanoi at 5am in the morning led to pretty much the same barrage from taxi drivers, in fact it was probably about x100. But, we were in no rush to get anywhere. We had an idea of where we needed to head to but, it was 5am, still really early. In the end, we found we could get a local bus to nearby where we wanted to go, for about 1/10th of the price of a taxi, so we hopped on the number 34 and watched early morning Hanoi go by. HA! Take that, pushy taxi drivers! Tourists-1, taxi drivers-0.

Hanoi is lovely. We stayed here for nearly 5 days and very much enjoyed the vibe of the city. It was noisy and busy, but with an unmistakeable energy. Filled to the brim with scooters and noisy horns, windy maze-like roads that even after 4 days we were still getting lost in. There’s a French quarter that’s distinctly, well, French, and an old quarter that’s pretty, well, old. We spent a couple of days walking* around the city and just soaking up the atmosphere. Enjoying the sunshine and the fact it wasn’t too humid. Actually just lovely temperatures to just stroll around. We went to find the bits of the B-52 bomber that fell in a lake and hasn’t been moved. It’s in a very unassuming place; a small lake in the middle of a residential area. No signs, no memorial, just a bit of a plane. But, it’s actually quite moving. Quite impactive, mainly because of the simplicity.

SONY DSC

We went to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Nick couldn’t get in because he was wearing hot pants. Ok, so not actually hot pants, but shorts above his knees. So, I went in. I have to admit, I don’t really know much about Ho Chi Minh yet, but it was rather strange, trooping in with lots of Vietnamese locals, and seeing him there, lying, all lit up. I’ve not really seen a dead body before, so it was a bit of a first for me. Apparently, it had been closed for 2 months for new embalming, and had only opened that day. So I felt quite privileged.

SONY DSC

We also went to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. This is the sarcastic nickname that was given to Hoa Lo prison by American prisoners of war when they were held there in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. It’s a museum now, and a lot of it has been built over, but there’s a lot of information on the French use in the early 1900’s. The bit that interested us about the American prisoners was just within two rooms; but it was very heavily propagandised, and had to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt. I found it surprising, after all this time that it is still rife. But, it’s only nearly 40 years, it’s not really that long at all I guess. The war is something I want to learn more about, and throughout my travels in Vietnam so far I’m seeing and learning different things. But, I’m also concious of the propaganda. So, I’ve added it to my list of things to learn more about with my own research. There’s a few documentaries I’ve been recommended which have gone onto my list of things to watch, and some books I want to read. After all my travels I will have enough things to keep me busy for months, and that’s before I get a job, haha. That’s one thing I’m loving about travelling. All the learning, education and the opening of my eyes to things that happened in our world that I had no idea about. It’s so easy to live in a bubble and be so completely blind and ignorant to the rest of the world. So, so easy.

One of the best things about Hanoi though is Bia Hoi. A wonderful invention. Cheap draft beer in little roadside bars, all over Hanoi. Couple this with boiled monkey nuts (which are a bit like little miniature minty potatoes) and a bit of sunshine and you have one of my favourite memories of Vietnam so far. One Tuesday afternoon, after a very busy morning walking lots of miles, Nick and I decided to treat ourselves to some beers and nuts. We found a spot in the sunshine, looking out onto a junction and settled down for the afternoon. I swear we didn’t move for about 5 hours, and spent about £3.00 each. For many beers, nuts and a lifetime of memories.

IMG_7668 IMG_7670

And, a never-to-forget moment from Hanoi was the pig on a scooter incident. Now, I’ve seen some scooter sights on this trip. Anything you can think of on a scooter, you’ll see it, and more. But the best one so far, yet to be surpassed, was a whole dead pig, trotters nearly trailing on the ground. There was the guy sat on top of the many bags of rice/sand/whatever it was, or the fridge, or the wardrobe, or the chickens in baskets, or the wheelbarrows. But none of them can beat the pig.

It was a bit of a wrench to leave Hanoi, as we’d got quite comfortable there. Our hotel was lovely, a bit of a treat, even though we weren’t paying over the odds for it (less than £3 each a night), but it had a hot shower, air conditioning, awesome beds and breakfast. We felt very posh. We had a lovely shop just round the corner where we could get everything we needed, a Bia Hoi corner just up the road and a great noodle place down the road. What else did we need? But, the time came to move on. This time to Ninh Binh, a small town about 2.5 hours south of Hanoi. We decided to get super cheap (hard seats) on the train. Wooden seats. The most authentic, I like to think. It was only a couple of hours, and what a lovely couple of hours. The carriage was filled with the most interesting characters, and the scenery flashing past us gave us a flavour of what real Vietnam was like out there.

Ninh Binh itself doesn’t really have a lot going on; it’s not a major tourist destination, just a working town. Which maybe is why we liked it. Not many people spoke English, and all the kids loved shouting hello and waving when we walked past. Not many westerners, a bit off the beaten track. I like this kind of travelling. Wandering round, seeing what’s going on. Watching people just living their lives – seeing how they interact, how they raise their families. We can learn a lot from other people. We hired bikes one day though and cycled out to a place called Tam Coc which is a bit of a tourist destination. It’s like a smaller, land locked version of Halong Bay (which we never went to). We hired a boat and got rowed out (by people rowing with their feet- that was a bit interesting to watch – it actually seemed quite efficient) between limestone karsts and into caves. A lovely, peaceful, serene experience, without hoards of tourists. Perfect. Follow it up with more biking in amazing scenery=a Bloody Good Day.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

One thing I am noticing about Vietnam though, is how many people try to rip you off because you’re a tourist. For anything you buy in the shops, from water, to snacks, to food and so on. You really have to know what things costs (or should cost) and have your wits about you. Sometimes it feels like a right battle, just to go and buy some water. It gets a pain having to argue Every.Single.Time. A bit wearing.

However on the flip side, the people are one of the best things about Vietnam. Most of them are just wonderful. Happy, chatty, friendly, cheeky and smiley. One restaurant in Ninh Binh that we’d been into a few times gave us a free packet of biscuits as a ‘souvenir’ to take with us because they knew we were leaving that night. No real reason to, and totally unexpected (and rather nice biscuits too).

Vietnam, I am loving it here so far. You are lovely. And, if you could just have a 7/11 every now and then you’d be perfect.

*getting lost

Home.

I’ve been thinking about home a bit recently. Not in any particular way, but just thinking about it. Thinking about where actually is home. Especially at the moment. You’d probably say Lincolnshire but it’s not really any more. I haven’t got my house or job there any more, and who’s to say I’ll settle back there anyway when I do return to the UK? What’s to keep me there? My old life doesn’t exist any more, and if I tried to recreate it, that’s all I’d be doing, trying to recreate something that’s gone. I’ve moved on. My life can never be the same, and I don’t want it to be. Things change, that’s just a fact of life.

I’m into my 6th month of travelling, so getting on for half way, so I’m not really surprised I’m thinking about home. I’m missing some home comforts, people and a normal way of life. I’m getting a bit weary of travelling so much. So many new countries, new languages, new currencies, new traditions to figure out. Like I mentioned in my The little things post, it’s those things that start to make a difference. When I leave for Australia on 11th December I’ll have been in Asia for nearly 6 months, and I think that’s about right for me. In Australia I will stay with some friends for a while and then look after their house for them while they are away over Christmas and New Year, and I can’t TELL you how excited about this I am. It feels a bit like I’ll be going home for a bit of a rest and a recharge before starting the next part of the adventure, without actually going back to the UK. A chance to be in one place for longer than a few days. A chance to eat proper food* and get some good running** in. A chance to get some new clothes. A chance to get my hair cut. To catch up with some familiar faces. A chance, if you like, to live a normal life for a bit without actually going home, which feels like something I need to do.

It will be strange to be in a country where everyone speaks the same language as me. I’ve got so used to not really knowing what anyone is talking about, and not being able to understand any conversations overheard on buses or trains.

I’ve got a few exciting plans for Australia, all of which are being shaped by the travelling I’ve done so far, which I am probably FAR too excited about. I’m expecting this next part of my journey to be a completely different experience to what I’ve already done. Like a trip of two halves, which for me just adds to the need-to-sit-on-my-hands-excitement.

I also reckon that this next part of my trip will help me figure out what I want my future home and life to look like, and maybe where it might be, or at least will help give me some pointers on what kind of things I want to be in my life. I know I don’t want to be a permanent traveller, although I do wonder how I will feel when I am in one place for longer than a few weeks now.

Through my travels so far, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had, I’ve got some ideas and a much better idea of who I am and what I enjoy to do, and a hugely renewed excitement for my life when I finish this lot of travel. My life, wherever I end up calling home, or whatever I end up doing will be another new start, another new adventure, and I’m already getting pretty stoked about that. I just have to remember to not try to get ahead of myself. Enjoy the here and now first. Plenty of time for that next year. So much more to come before that.

*fishfinger sandwiches

**longer than 4 miles and more than once a week

20131110-223647.jpg

Lights, leeches and lolloping in Laos.

Laos. Pronounced Lao. Unless you’re French, then it’s got an S on the end. I’m not sure which one is right. In my head it’s Lao, so we’ll go with that.

This is a country that’s sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam to the West and East, And China and Cambodia to the North and South. A small, unassuming country, as much as I’d heard. One that was bombed relentlessly throughout the Vietnam-America war, unfortunately getting stuck in the middle of something that was nothing to do with them.

Before visiting, I heard nothing but good things about Lao. People I’ve spoken to that have visited have loved it. Loved it’s chilled out vibe and it’s welcoming and friendly people. I’ve heard many times it’s a place that people wished they had spent more time in. A place where time seems to stand still, and an aura so laid back you feel positively horizontal. A country so breathtakingly beautiful you’d wonder where you were and whether it was real.

So it kind of had a lot to live up to, although I’d purposely kept an open mind. I’d not known really what to expect, and deliberately not done much reading too far in advance. I really try not to have too many expectations of places, I don’t want to build something up, or have unrealistic expectations, or want to end up being disappointed. Things are all different to everyone. The same experience for two people even at the same time can be, and usually is, completely different. So, and I think I’ve said this before, you can’t predict travel, and you wouldn’t want to.

I wasn’t disappointed. All those people were right. Laos IS amazing. It’s scenery is some of the most beautifully stunning I’ve ever seen, it feels unique, the pace of life is so laid back I’ve never felt so relaxed, and each place we visited was filled with lovely, smiley happy people. We were here for just over 2 weeks, in 6 different places, and each place just kept getting better and better. Was it long enough? Yes and no. Yes, in that no place felt rushed and I’ve felt I’ve seen and experienced what I wanted to, without feeling like I’ve missed anything. No, in that I’m sure I could spend longer here, visiting more amazing places and continuing to be wowed after every turn in the road or bend in the river. Next time maybe.

I guess we started as we meant to go on. Crossing the river (and the border) from Northern Thailand we landed in a small border town called Houayxai to spend a night before getting on a slowboat for two days to meander down the Mekong River to Laos’ second city, Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage site. We’d decided in Thailand to skip booking on a convenient package deal that got us to and across the border, as well as on the slow boat, in favour for making it across ourselves. This wasn’t really as difficult as it might sound, and means that for that first night we stayed in Laos rather than in a small border town called Chiang Khong in Thailand. As towns go, Houayxai is pretty uninspiring; there’s not a lot there apart from some guesthouses, restaurants and a few small shops because it’s mainly used as a stopover. Nevertheless, we decided it’s all about what you make of it. After finding a place to stay, we dumped our bags and went in search of local facilities*. A sparky young couple had a shop near to the ferry landing where they kept holding a sign up exclaiming they “have everything you want”, so feeling the need to challenge this, I asked them if they had an elephant. They didn’t. Which was disappointing. However, somewhat more reasonably, we did tell them that they actually probably didn’t have what we really wanted, which was somewhere to sit and have a cheap cold beer. Within seconds, we had two little chairs out on the pavement in front of the shop (blue for Nick, pink for me), a beer crate on it’s side as a table and two cold BeerLao plonked in our hands. OK, we had to hand it to them, they were pretty good. Within the hour, we’d been given bar snacks (some kind of fruit/vegetable thing called Magdelen – no idea on spelling) and had attracted a little group of Westerners to join us. Our little pavement bar had increased ten fold, and we managed to triple their sandwich orders for the next day’s slowboat. We made some new friends, enjoyed some cheap beers and got to know King Kong, Tom and their little daughter Manny, our new shopkeeper buddies. For what could have been an unremarkable stopover in a border town it turned out to be an unforgettable evening, and the most unexpected yet perfect introduction to Laos.

photo 1

Ever been on a slowboat? I hadn’t. So I’m not sure what I expected, but perhaps what we got wasn’t quite it. A small, narrow boat filled with seats, some of which were wooden, some which looked like they had just-been-lifted-from-a-1970’s-bus. There were numbers, but they were on scraps of paper. Originally our seats were the wooden ones, but after sitting down for a few seconds we realised that two days of that would not be A Good Thing. So, in the true sense of “you snooze, you lose” we swapped around like some others and bagged a 1970’s bus seat. I’m not proud of myself, but, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. First rule of travelling: get there early.

So, what followed were two days of [relative] comfort, stunning (I’ll use that word a lot about Lao, so I’ll apologise now; sorry) scenery, a jovial, party atmosphere and new friends, interspersed with a night’s stay in a very small town called Pakbeng, which, if it were in England it would probably be described as a very small hamlet. Two days on a boat, gliding down the Mekong River, watching Lao life go by was just serene. Nowhere else to be and nothing else to do but to just sit and watch, to wonder and daydream. You might be thinking all those empty hours, a bit boring, not filled with anything. But they are, every second is really. It just depends on your perception. They’re filled to the brim with smells, sounds, conversations, food, and things to look at. Waterfalls, goats, cows, trees, houses, boats, mountains, people, fishing nets, rocks, speedboats, water buffalos, whirlpools. You name it, we saw it. Including a man who looked just like the dad in Modern Family. I might have stared at him quite a bit. Then it reminded me of being in Zambia, so I spent a bit of time remembering my time there. Peanut butter, modern family, stars, cocktails, pictionary and awesome, awesome people. Seems so long ago now. A wonderful, wonderful month.  Oh, and another thing I learnt on this trip. Do not eat Ice Cream flavour Oreo’s. They sound nice, but they really, really bloody well aren’t. Trust me on this one.

SONY DSC

Pakbeng was a bit non descript. It really is just a stopover place, filled with guesthouses and restaurants, but on the banks of the Mekong with lovely views. The most exciting thing that happened here was a huge spider (and I mean huge, the size of a hand) that was in the room opposite us. We were sat out on the balcony at night putting the world to rights when the two girls from the room shot out into the corridor. They pointed to inside the room, and there it was, Spidey stuck on one of the walls. The guys in another room came to join in and have a look, and then ran to get a biologist who was in another room. So, about 8 of us were standing there watching Biologist Man arm himself with a carrier bag to take down the offending creature. He succeeded, but not before Spidey made a mad, very fast, dash for freedom (and some squealing from the girls). Luckily, he was no match for Biologist Man’s almost superhuman reactions and soon Spidey was let loose, free to live another day.

The next morning in Pakbeng was an early start because we’d been told the elephants in a conservation park across the river are brought down to the Mekong at about 6:30am, so, alarms set, up we got and were rewarded with a small herd of elephants playing in the river for about 20 minutes. Priceless. So many people on the boat missed this, as they were gone by the time a lot of people started to arrive. It also meant we got good comfy seats again. Bonus. Although, this was kind of negated when, with about 4 hours left to go on the second day, I gave my seat up to a Lao lady who I’m sure was about 109 years who got on half way. I just couldn’t let her sit on the floor.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

Arriving in Luang Prabang at tea time, the usual ritual was carried out. Find guest house, negotiate cheap price, dump stuff, go out and find cheap beers, sit, toast new location and relax. Found somewhere ran by a lovely old chap, which was the cheapest place yet (around £1.66 each a night), and had an excellent Indian with cheap beers two doors down which was handy seeing as though about 15 minutes after we got there the heavens opened to some of the heaviest monsoon rain I’ve seen for a while.

Luang Prabang is one of the prettiest places I’ve been to. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site because of it’s well-preserved fusion of traditional Lao and European colonial architecture. It’s very laid back. Not sure why, couldn’t give you an exact reason. But, it’s the kind of place for wandering around at a slow pace, sitting in a cafe or restaurant for long breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners and generally not doing a lot else. Most people stay here longer than they intended. It’s quite a small place too, and was a bit strange bumping into lots of people we ‘knew’ and recognised from the slowboat.

We were really lucky that the annual full moon festival of lights (Lai Heua Fai) was happening the day after we arrived. This is where all the neighbourhoods build large floats, covered in lights, to be paraded down the main street to be then set sail down the Mekong. The whole town was covered in lanterns and lights, with music and drum beats sounding out. The atmosphere was just magical, the sky lit up with thousands of sky lanterns and the Mekong full of floating flower decorations with flickering candles. We walked with float number one all the way down the street and to the temple at the end, then found a spot down by the river to watch them all sail past. It was an amazing, unforgettable night, and I’m hugely chuffed that we were lucky enough to be a part of it.

SONY DSC

We hired bikes and did a fair bit of walking, but we also took a bit of time to have a good old rest too, staying here six days in the end before tearing ourselves away to take the bumpiest minibus journey In The World to a place called Nong Khiaw. You might have read about Nong Khiaw in my 13th Runs around the world post. Hugely, hugely scenic place. Scenery to blow you away. A very pleasant few days were spent here, with lots of walking, cave visits, sandwiches, interactions with local families, especially the cute little kids in the villages. We stayed in a noisy guest house and got a bit ill for a day but it didn’t really dampen any spirits, and we still managed to do at least something every day. The last day we got up really early to climb to the top of the viewpoint which is normally a 1.5 hour climb. We did it in 45 minutes, which I’m going to claim as a bloody good achievement, seeing as though I was still ill, it was early, hot and sweaty. Worth every step for the beautiful views from the top; of the morning clouds wrapped around the top of the mountains where it really did feel like I was on top of the world.

SONY DSC

Soon after clambering down the mountain, we left Nong Khiaw to go to a place called Muang Ngoi, a small town on the banks of the Nam Ou river, only accessible by boat. Jammed in a tiny narrowboat with over 20 other people and their backpacks, sacks of rice, boxes of crisps and other food stuffs, we set off over an hour after we were supposed to. This could be said we left on time. Over here you see, there’s no real rules. Sometimes you leave on time, sometimes you go early, sometimes you go late. It all depends on what you’re in, and whether there’s enough people. That’s just the way it is. A good way to learn more patience. Like the time we waited 5 hours on the side of the road since 5:15am for the bus to Vietnam. But that’s another story.

photo 2

Muang Ngoi I think is classed as a town. But it’s tiny. Teeny tiny. Like Pakbeng, you’d probably class it as a hamlet. One main road, filled with guest houses, restaurants and local houses. Lots of chickens. Lots of tractor contraptions moving things about. A few scooters but not many. Children running and playing. Usual ritual was followed. Cheapest place yet, I think about £1.20 each a night, a bungalow in a set of 5 ran by a guy called Saylon, the cheeriest, funniest and cheekiest chap in town. We had great banter with him for the few days we were there. While enjoying our new location beer, I got jumped on by a gecko. T’was a bit startling, but there’s a first time for everything. I just had to have another beer to get over the shock.

Muang Ngoi is surrounded by even better scenery that Nong Khiaw. Which I didn’t think was possible, but the whole area is so damn stunning I can’t say I’m that surprised. We spent a morning climbing up to another cave and viewpoint and then decided that was far too much exertion for one day, and so spent the afternoon in a lovely cafe lounging on their very comfy seats drinking beer, listening to jazz, watching the sun set over the mountains and eating lovely food. We talked about the real world. What is the real world? The real world to us that day, that Wednesday afternoon, was right there, right then. And what a perfect real world that is too.

photo 3

The next day we decided to get out and about and do a trek to one of the outlying villages. We took a route that involved lots of butterflies, fields, sunshine, more absolutely stunning scenery, crops, mosquitos and leeches. To carry on at one bit meant crossing a small river with no bridge. Shoes off, wade through. Then inspect feet and legs for leeches. Pull leeches off that have latched on. Or, in my case, don’t inspect feet, put socks and shoes back on and find leech later on once it’s had a bit of a fill of my blood.

The village we ended up in was amazing. A proper rural village, not a tourist place. Real Lao life. Wooden bamboo houses on stilts. No roads. Chickens and cockerels everywhere. People bathing and washing clothes in the river. I did feel very much like an intruder, though, in their obvious close community and I do wonder what the Lao people think of people like us coming to visit. It was very humbling, something I will remember forever, and an experience that I feel blessed to have had.

SONY DSC

Leaving Muang Ngoi was a mixed bag. It signalled the end of our time in Laos; our next place to stay was Muang Khua but this was only a stopover to get the bus to Vietnam the next day (after that 5 hour wait). But I was excited to move on, to know that a new country was just around the corner. But not before another blissful 4 hour narrowboat journey through more stunning scenery. This one had however had the added excitement of a stop off by our drivers to gut a dead deer and sling it in the back with our backpacks. Just a usual thing out here. And that’s a weird thing. Is that it didn’t seem weird. Because that kind of thing happens. We go past a chap in a boat who shouts something, our drivers shout something back, we stop, take innards out of a deer, chuck it back in the boat, off we go. Stuff like seeing chickens on the back of mopeds. Or boxes of frogs at markets. Or dead dogs hung up. Travel, it broadens the mind. Because all this stuff is real life. Just not quite the same as real life back in the UK.

SONY DSC

We spent just over two weeks in Laos, but it seemed more. It was a special two weeks, and Laos is the kind of country that I feel thankful to have been a visitor. Thankful that the Lao people allowed me to have a glimpse at their beautiful, laid back country.

*somewhere to get cheap beer

The little things.

Travelling makes you appreciate the little things. So many of my normal day to day things are at home back in the UK. Things I’d consider now as luxuries, although you might call them essentials. I can’t lug everything around in one backpack. It’s 60 litres, and I was determined not to take anything that I didn’t need, or to fill it to the brim. Pack light, that’s the idea. And it’s worked, it’s OK to carry around. Probably a bit too heavy, but there’s nothing I can get rid of now. I’m into my 6th month of travelling now, and have got packing and unpacking down to an art (although to be fair, I never really unpack as such). I know where everything is, and where it goes. All the pockets have their own purpose. It all balances out, to make carrying it easier. I can walk a few miles with it on, in the hot, hot sunshine (although, it’s really not pleasant) and can spot it a mile off on a boat, bus or in an airport. Everything I need is in my rucksack. Amazing the relationship that develops. My whole life in one little bag. All I need to get about. I keep it dry with it’s raincover. I tuck the straps away when it goes on the bus. I brush it down when it gets dusty.

But I kind of digress. This blog post is to mention the little things. The little things that matter. The little things that you really notice and appreciate when on the road. Which, I like. Because, back in what some people would call the ‘real world’ (although what is the ‘real world’? Another post for another time, that) you wouldn’t give these things a second thought. You’d take them for granted. Hell, of course I did. Which means they’re all the more special now. And make me realise what, in general, people take for granted. For perhaps what a lot of people don’t have to start with. Because, in a developed country, we’re so very lucky.

So, what are my little things? There’s probably more, but this is what I can remember now. I’ve spent the afternoon drinking Bia Hoi in Hanoi, so I’m bound to have forgotten some. But, you’ll get the idea.

1) Clean clothes. Oh, clean clothes. The smell of clean clothes. Now, I’ve not been walking around like a stinky student all the time, but, when travelling, you do wear clothes more times/longer than you would do at home. FACT. Then, when sending them off to get cleaned, the thought of getting a pile of clean clothes back is just HEAVEN. Especially if they come back smelling of lovely clean laundry. Which, again at home, if you use lovely smelling washing powder and fabric conditioner every time, is a given. Out here, not so much. Most of the time they’ll come back clean, but not smelling of well, anything. So that odd occasion when they smell of washing powder, well, it’s like I’ve just got a huge fat amazing birthday present.

2) A hot shower. Again, sounds like a given. But, some places advertise hot water as an extra. So, I’ve stayed in places that have had COLD showers. And I mean cold, cold, cold. Most have been just cool, and some luke warm. I’m in my 6th month and I’ve only stayed in ONE place that has had a HOT shower. A proper HOT shower. And yes, you might be thinking “but you’re in a hot place, you don’t need hot water”. Well, no matter how hot you are, you try having a freezing cold shower at 6am in the morning and tell me how you get on 😉 Oh, and this also combines the ‘decent shower that’s not a trickle of water’. When I get one of those, it’s like having a power shower. Bliss.

3) Going to a toilet that has toilet paper provided. Sounds odd perhaps, but a lot of Asian toilets don’t have toilet paper. Either just a bum jet (have mastered this but not the art of how you’re supposed to get dry without toilet paper – I might be missing something), nothing or a bucket of water and a scoop. Remembering to take toilet paper everywhere is a bit of a pain in the arse (ha!) and if I’m out on the beers, generally doesn’t last the whole day/night (I have the bladder of a gnat when drinking beer). You also can’t flush paper down the loo, so it all goes in the bin. It’s kind of second nature now, but when I started off I’d have to remember every time, and I really didn’t want to end up blocking an entire Asian sewer system. I needed the toilet today walking around Hanoi and stopped in a posh office block. It was a proper western posh type toilet. With toilet paper, proper sinks, soap and hand dryers. Ooh, it was just lovely. I probably spent longer in there than I should have.

4) Free soap and shampoo. This doesn’t happen that often, as, although the kind of places I’ve been staying at have been decent, it’s on the clean-but-basic scale and so they’re the kind of places that are lucky to come with toilet paper and a towel, let alone any complimentary toiletries. But, sometimes, even the cheapest places (£1.66 a night the cheapest so far) have some free soaps. This is good, because this is Free. Shower gel and shampoo is expensive, even in cheap as chips countries like India and SE Asia, so every little helps. That one free soap is probably a glass of beer in Hanoi. Probably. That’s my justification.

5) A decent night’s sleep. Staying in aforementioned basic-but-clean places generally means it’s a lottery on whether I get a good night’s sleep or not. For a variety of reasons: crap mattress (too many springs, too hard, no mattress, too soft), no soundproofing between rooms (Laos, I’m looking at you – lovely to look at but noisy as hell wooden houses), snoring dorm room mates (not stayed in that many dorms, so luckily only had to throw something at someone once), time differences (messages on my phone causing it to light up like a, well, a very lit up thing), having to get up very early for buses or trains (hasn’t happened often) and just general being-in-a-new place restlessness. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole night through, so to get a night where I only wake up once or twice is pretty sweet. A whole night would be lovely. Maybe. One day.

6) Proper food. By proper food I mean food that I used to cook myself, or proper, healthy food. Maybe you’d class it as western healthy food. Or maybe just vegetables. When travelling I’m at the mercy of what’s out and about to eat. And OK, there’s a lot of fresh stuff available here. Exotic fruit, fresh [raw] vegetables. But, a lot of them need a kitchen to cook. Or a knife or other kitchen implement to eat. I miss eating stuff like just scrambled eggs with chilli flakes and spinach. Or fishfinger sandwiches. Or porridge and banana. Or salmon with just salt and a bit of broccoli on the side. Or raisins, which seem to be like rocking horse shit in South East Asia. So when I come across somewhere that does something resembling something like this, I might get a little bit excited.

7) New toiletries. Like a new shower gel, toothpaste or shampoo. Using the same thing all the time gets boring. Like wearing the same outfits day after day (clean or not). Packing lightly means less choice so something new in the day-to-day, no matter how small, can make a huge difference. When I get to Australia I’m going to throw some stuff out and buy some new clothes. Nothing too fancy, or expensive, just basics that are needed. And, oh, I can’t WAIT for that day. Although I do wonder whether I’ll have a tough time deciding what to wear when I get home when I get back to all my old stuff. Too much choice?

8) Not having to wear my hair up. I’ve got long hair for the first time in years. Years and years. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been this long. Although, it could do with a trim, that’s for sure. Pretty much all the places I’ve been bar Zambia have been so hot and humid I couldn’t stand having my hair down and stuck to my neck; so, up it goes. So, as it’s getting a bit cooler, there’s been a few mornings where I’ve worn my hair down. What a treat! Oh, and the other thing is I can now wear my hair in a plait. I can’t remember ever being able to do this.

9) Getting messages. I love getting messages. People saying hello, or asking how I am. I always have, but even more so now I’m on the road. I know some people don’t think they have anything to say, or they think I wouldn’t be interested in ‘real life’ (there it is again, what is ‘real life’? I’ll blog about this soon) but that’s not true. I love hearing about what’s going on at home, or what people are up to. I always have been, so why wouldn’t I be now? As many new things I’m seeing or experiencing, it’s always nice to hear from a friendly familiar face. As most people know, I love to talk. To chat. And with sketchy wifi, I don’t always get online that much, so don’t assume I’ll always see stuff that’s on Facebook. Best to assume I’m not that up to date.

10) Using something up and not having to replace it. Like my malaria tablets. Every finished packet is one less packet that needs to go in my backpack. I’ve always loved having a bit of a clear out so I guess this is is just an extension of that. Every now and then I’ll go through my stuff in my bag and make sure I’m not carrying anything I don’t need to. Even though I know exactly what’s in my bag and where, I’ll still do it. Just in case. You never know, something might have crept in there while I was asleep. Maybe a gecko. Or some extra toiletries.

11) Having clean feet. I’ve pretty much had dirty feet since Zambia. Flip flops, dusty countries and lots of walking don’t always go together that well. Of course they get clean in the shower. But, 5 minutes later they’re filthy again. In fact, this could apply to not just my feet. Clothes get dirty. Covered in dust and dirt. Sitting on stuff, or having nothing else to wipe your hands on. Spilling stuff on yourself (this might just be me). Clothes getting covered in suntan lotion, mosquito repellent or tiger balm. Being rained on. My backpack is dusty as hell from the last two bus journeys. My coat smells like wet dog. There’s no time or option to be precious about stuff, although that’s not me anyway. Never take expensive or nice stuff travelling; it won’t stay that nice for long.

Just the little things. They can mean a lot. You can keep your expensive material stuff, I’m not interested. And I’ll not take some of these things for granted ever again. My top little thing? Clean laundry, for sure. You just can’t beat that smell. It’s up there with cut grass in the summer or fresh bed sheets. I was quite a simple creature before I went travelling, I suspect now I’m even more so. It won’t take a lot to win me over or make my day. And that’s just how I like it. Marvellous.

Runs around the world #13

Nong Khiaw, Laos

IMG_7452

Today’s run was in Laos, which is possibly the most laid back country I have been to. This maybe explains why I’ve been here about a week and a half now and this is my first run here. It’s a place that when you arrive, you instantly chill out. I’m not sure exactly why; I can’t quite choose one thing, or put my finger on it. It’s just one of those feelings.

I arrived in Laos by a two day slowboat trip down the Mekong River. Clearly no chance for running on those two days. I had no choice but to sit back, put my feet up and enjoy the ride. Arriving in Luang Prabang, we spent nearly a week there but I just couldn’t bring myself to be bothered to run. We walked and cycled lots, so it’s not like I wasn’t active. And I even saw other people jogging. But, I just didn’t fancy it most of the time. Only two times did I think about it; the first day I decided to go for food instead, and the other day it was heavy rain ALL day. Now I don’t mind running in the rain but this was monsoon-type downpours so there was no chance I was getting out in that. Luang Prabang was one of those places where you couldn’t walk fast; no one hurried, everything was at a leisurely pace. Everyone just loped around slowly with big fat smiles on their faces and nothing more pressing to do than wander around temples, climb Phousi Hill to see the town from up above or just saunter from restaurant to restaurant sampling all the different food. Pretty much every person that goes there that we either spoke to or read about ended up extending their stay but at least a day or so, if not longer.

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from LP (as it’s affectionately known) and hopped on a very bouncy local minibus to get to a place called Nong Khiaw, about 2 1/2 hours north of Luang Prabang. It’s a small, dusty town that’s a bit off the beaten track, and is (according to my Rough Guide) smack bang in the middle of some of the most dramatic scenery in the whole of Indochina. They weren’t wrong. Every corner, everywhere you look, each side of the bridge and far into the distance there’s another stunning view. Another mountain, a river, a quaint village or a cliff face. Let’s face it, Laos is truly stunning. Every morning when I get up and look out the window I’m reminded and blown away by just how beautiful it is. So, I was determined to run here. Plus, the roads were fairly flat and the temperature is a bit cooler than the other places I’ve come to, which would be a first for months, and something I’d very much welcome.

IMG_7450 IMG_7454 IMG_7455

My first plan to run was scuppered by managing to either get a bug or food poisoning. Whichever one it was meant I felt a bit crappy for a couple of days, and although I managed to get out and about for a few walks, I had very little energy as I’d eaten no food and so [probably sensibly] decided a run wouldn’t be the best idea. So, feeling a bit better, this morning was the morning. Before I had chance to wake up properly, I jumped (not literally but I like the idea) out of bed and into my running gear (sadly not with any help from an automatic Wallace-and-Gromit style machine – although that would be good).

First thought? Oooh, it’s cool. Temperature wise. This is a big change. For all the time I’ve been travelling I’ve been running in really hot and often extremely humid temperatures. Here, it’s a bit cooler in the mornings and at night, and so this would be a different run. I maybe don’t have to say how pleased I was at this, as you might have already guessed that although I don’t like being cold, I don’t like being too hot with high humidity more. So this was like a breath of fresh air literally. Because the first thing I noticed was that my lungs hurt. You know, that kind of first-run-in-England-when-the-weather-starts-to-turn kind of cold. Hurts your lungs until to get used to it, or after you’ve run in the cold a few times. I didn’t think it was that cold (it was probably in the low 20’s) but it just shows how my body has got used to the different temperatures.

Second thought? Shit, I have no energy. I’m not really surprised, seeing as though the only things I’ve eaten in two days is an white bread egg baguette and half a can of Pepsi, which pretty much came back up a short while later.

Third thought? Get a grip, get on with it and just do a couple of miles.

So I did. And it wasn’t too bad. It was hard work, yes, my legs were weary, my lungs hurt, but I got into a rhythm, enjoyed some tunes, gazed at the mist covered mountains, chuckled to myself at the odd looks I was getting from the Lao schoolkids going to school, avoided the chickens that constantly run across the roads here, waved at the little kids peeking out the doors of the houses lining the main road and smashed a [slightly pathetic] two miles out. Only two miles, but it’s better than nothing. It was a faster two miles than I’d done in months, which hopefully proves I’m slower in the heat/humidity and not just horrifically unfit. And I can’t forget I’m still a bit ill. I know I’m not 100% yet. So I felt better for going, and am looking forward to my next run. It won’t be here in Nong Khiaw, because we’re moving on tomorrow. We’re only in Laos for a few more days, so I’m probably not going to be able to run again in this beautiful country I feel humbled to be visiting, however once is once enough to have it forever in my memory.

IMG_7457