A Travellerspoint blog

Back in the USA- Game Over

........It's so cold here I can see my breath

semi-overcast 30 °F

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A good afternoon to you,

As you can probably guess from the title I am in fact back in the USA after almost 9 months of travelling and circling the earth. Stepping foot into JFK airport I realized right away I was back home. It was a great feeling to go into the shorter customs line for citizens of the US versus foreigners. For the past 9 months I was the foreigner, always having to go through the other lines, answering many questions as to my "purpose" for being in the country. Catching the shuttle to the greyhound station and heading down the Manhattan Expressway I felt many emotions. First and foremost I was freezing as it was a grey day and snow had just started to fall. No clue as to why but the bus driver didn't feel the need to crank on the heat. Secondly, I realized the journey was over and that I was finally back on US soil. I got back into Baltimore after many many hours of travel on Saturday night, just a few days before Christmas eve. But more importantly I made it home for the last regular season Ravens home game. Within 15 hours of being back from Saudi Arabia I was at M&T Bank with a cold Sierra Nevada in hand, too easy. It's now been almost a week and a half since I have been back and already reality is hitting me in the face. Car insurance, bank accounts, car registration, resumes, and phone bills are just a few of the words describing what the past few days have been filled with. Yeah reality alright, reality hitting me on the side of the face like a cold snow ball thrown at the back of Ray Charles's head (that's a Ray Charles joke, not a blind joke.) But all good things must come to an end, and while I definitely wish I had more time in India I am grateful to have had finished up my travels with a week in such an extreme place.
Having only a week to visit India is like having 1 week to visit the USA and trying to paint an accurate picture. Furthermore I only had the chance to travel through three Northern lying cities. Calcutta, Varanasi, and finally ending in Delhi were the three destinations I would visit. Landing in Calcutta without planning anything I was a little nervous. Normally there is some excitement over flying/driving into a new country without any plans or even a pocketful of currency to ease ones nervousness. Here I was with no plans, currency, or even idea of where to go upon landing at the airport. Christ, I didn't even know the exchange rate or the name of the currency. Fortunately as I was making my way through customs I struck up a conversation with a girl from the Netherlands. She was visiting a friend over here who was from India and told me he would be able to point me in the right direction. After exchanging Thai bhat for the Indian rupee and talking with this local friend I was all set. Having just narrowly avoided paying $30 for a cab I was on a city bus for less than $.75. Good thing I talked that guy as $30 is enough to buy accommodation for more than a week and the cab driver had no problems charging a foreigner such an exorbitant amount. After a long bus ride and not really sure where I was going I made my way to the New Market area, where many backpackers would be staying or so I thought. While this was the "backpacker" area there were not nearly as many backpackers present as every country had been. From what I had gethered in my week there India was a spot for a different breed of backpackers. A few hostels here and there in this section of the city, but they were rough to say the least. Really rough as the place I had escaped to off the street was going for about $4 per night and resembled something out of Papillion. It was the size of a cell, had bars on the windows, chipping paint that blanked you in the morning, and a rusty fan that I thought was sure to fall while sleeping. Two doors opened to the common area where the other prisoners were staying. Fortunately many of the other people there were volunteers at the shelter Mother Teressa had opened and ran years ago, which was fairly close by. If I stretched out my arms and legs I would have not fit in the room laying down and the walls themselves were pieces of artwork. Written in pen,pencil,markers, and paint were sayings and scribblings in all different languages. Some I understood, but many others I had no clue. The drawings/sayings were very diverse and overall of a creative nature. Some were funny and uplifting and some were just down right creepy to the point I thought Dr. Lecter was the previous convict, I mean occupant. Calcutta was a pretty extreme place. The smell, pollution on the streets, impoverished people, and crumbling infrastructure was extreme in the purest sense of the word. Sidewalks don't really exist so every person, vehicle, animal, and cart was crammed onto the street. The cars are constantly honking at all times and the exhaust was intense. I was struck several times by the side view mirrors of cars and I was fortunate they were all newer models as they were equipped with mirrors that fold down. Only spending three nights there I made the decision to leave Calcutta and head onto Varanasi which was a 13 hour overnight sleeper train trip.
The sleeper train by itself could be it's own post, but I had asked for a train adventure back in Thailand and a train adventure is what I got. After boarding the train and making my way down the cramped hallways with an 80 liter pack on I understood pretty fast that this was going to be complete and utter chaos. Complete chaos is what ensued for the next 30 minutes and I just kept my head down. The one side of the train has 6 fold down beds from the wall and the other side has two fold down beds. When nobody is sleeping, the middle bed is folded up and the bottom bed is used for sitting by the other occupants, kind of like a bench. Well it became very apparent that we had about 10 people crammed on the seats when it was meant for only 6. Fortunately this little crackhead looking dude from Brazil came in like a hurricane and established order with some of the local Indians. Turns out half of them didn't have tickets and this was a pretty commonplace occurrence on this train. The ticket people came by but didn't really seem to check everyone's ticket. When it was time to sleep some people just slept on the nasty floor and others doubled up or just stayed awake the entire journey sitting upright. Don't worry though as this dog found his bone as I had skillfully negotiated my sleeping space on the top fold out bed. Vendors would hop on the train at different stops selling all types of goods and food. There was no trash can on board and everything is just thrown out the barred windows from the train, much like every other place in India. Obviously there was trash all over tracks wherever I had gone by train. The squat toilets as well emptied onto the tracks and a look through the nasty hole in the train one could see the tracks underneath flying by. Extreme right ?
Getting into Varanasi early the next morning and with little sleep I made my way to a guesthouse. Not wanting to waste a moment I immediately started off exploring after diving into a cup of Masala Chai from the guesthouse owner. Varanasi is the holiest city in all of India and sits directly on the Ganga river. The river is very holy in the Hindu religion and many people come there to bath in it's water. Even more interesting is that this sacred city is a place where Hindu's come to be cremated an then scattered into the river. The cremations occur in several of the Ghats along the banks and the process is in full view of the general public. Those who can afford it have there bodies burned by wood and those who can not opt for the quicker and less expensive option of electric cremation. The fires are lit on the side of the river and then a short ritual takes place prior to the body being placed on the pile of timber. The ritual is not overly grim or forma andl it seems as life just carries on around this ceremony. No pictures were to be taken, but people were on cell phones, laughing, and wild dogs were fighting all around. Little street kids tried to get me to buy something from them as I was watching the ceremony in front of me. Pulling my arm and then pulling out my arm hair I pretended like I was deaf and paid no attention to them. It seems cruel, but there is no other way around it and they had obviously seen this tactic before and knew how to counter. Each of them started yelling in an effort for me to feel embarrassed and then quieting them down by purchasing one of their trinkets. Well played children, well played, although you didn't get a rupee out of me as I stayed strong and continued my stone like posture with an emotionless face. I was only about 10 feet from one of the bodies being burnt and was pretty dumbfounded as to what I was seeing. I really couldn't believe where I was, what I was seeing, and feeling the heat from the fire was all in all an extreme experience. It takes approximately 4 hours to burn a body by wood and different parts of the process were repeated several times while I was there. According to the Hindu religion those who are holy people (baba's), pregnant woman, lepers, the poor, people who committed suicide, transgender people, and those bitten by cobras were not to be burned. Instead they have ropes and cement attached to them where they are then sunken in the middle of the river. Sometimes the bodies/body parts would come loose and could be seen floating in the river. The same river people drank from, bathed in, and washed their clothes in. Needless to say its one of the most polluted rivers in the entire world and I opted not to drink any of the water even though it's supposed to cleanse all sins. I wasn't really thirsty anyway so that's good. A dip of my hand in the river and I was satisfied. Of course those who live in India or grew up on the river are kind of immune to the ill effects it would have on westerners. I stayed in Varanasi for a few days and just witnessed the sights around the city. There was not much to do at night so I made sure to make the most of my days and even caught a sunrise boat ride on the chilly Ganga river at 5:30 am. During the early afternoon kids would fly kites on the roof tops of their houses. They way they fly their kites is truly a work of work and seeing all the kites dotting the sky was a great feeling. I wish I was a better photographer as at one point I was sitting on the guesthouses rooftop deck sipping on tea and taking in the sights around me, when I had noticed a man across the street was doing some pretty intense yoga on his balcony. Meanwhile a family of monkeys was swinging their way around his balcony and as if this wasn't enough the sun was just starting to set and kites were scattered all over the sky line. I couldn't capture it on my stellar 3rd generation 2nd hand iPhone from Saigon, but it's an image I will see in my minds eye for the rest of my life.
Heading out of Varanasi I made my way via sleeper train into Delhi. Another train ride lasting over 20 hours and I enjoyed every second of it. I met a beautiful Spaniard girl by the name of Martha (apparently the "h" is silent) who just so happened to be sitting in the same berth as I. Adjacent to us on the bench seat was an Indian family of 4 who was travelling from a local village to meet up with their father in Delhi. They had brought good food and snacks with them and offered it to us throughout the duration of the journey. The one kid even fixed a busted zipper on my backpack which was nice of him. The language barrier was intense so I eventually just nodded out and put my headphones and sleeping mask on. Arriving early the next day the Spaniard lady and I made our way to a local guesthouse and slept for several hours. Feeling refreshed after a cold shower we took in the city sights for the remainder of the day and just enjoyed the nice weather. I had never really been a huge fan of Indian food prior to travelling, but can now honestly say it's right up there with Chinese food (at least the american version of Chinese food.) Delhi is also full of trash, crazy crowded streets, and vendors selling everything and anything. I hate to keep bringing it up, it's the just the amount of trash I had witnessed in India is like nothing I had experienced before. On a happier note the metro system was very efficient, logical, clean, and cheap which was a pleasant surprise. Although at times it was a little over the top the way people push you into the train and it felt like a mosh pit at the Chili Peppers concert back at RFK in 2001 minus the crazy base line by Flea. After a couple days in Delhi it was about that time. It was time to let this adventure come to an end and make my long voyage back to the US.
Just being a little short of nine months on the road I am happy to be back home and consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to take such a great trip around the world. I had encountered many trying situations and witnessed my fare share of things I never thought I would have laid eyes on. Some good things and some bad things, but it's through these experiences that I have a new found love for the US and appreciate many things I had previously taken for granted . We are very very far from being a perfect country and i think most would agree we have a long way to go. However, after travelling it's very evident that we do a lot of things right and we should be proud of where we are from. With that I will step off my soap box for the last time. Probably a good thing to as I am feeling more and more like Dougie Howser M.D. as I have brought these last few posts to a close. Hopefully this blog has entertained some and for others motivated. Motivated those to make moves and put things in place, things that will help turn a lifelong dream into a reality.

Life's a garden....dig it,

Matthew R. Holthaus

Posted by laxman0284 13:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Change of Plans + Bangkok = The End ?

sunny 90 °F

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Greetings & Salutations,

So maybe it’s been a little longer than 5 or 6 days since I have last posted. For good reason though as the past couple of weeks has been a mad dash to the finish line. Finish line you may say? The finish line yes, as I am sitting here writing this entry from the Riyadh airport here in Saudi Arabia. After an 11 hour layover here I am flying a quick 16 hours to JFK, where I then board a greyhound bus for a 3.5 hour trip back down to a cold cold Baltimore.
Before I get ahead of myself let me pick up where I had left off a couple weeks ago and paint a picture that is riddled with bureaucratic BS that has in turn forced me to return sooner rather than later. After picking up my passport from the India embassy in Chang Mia I was alarmed to see that instead of a 4 week visa I was granted only 2.5 weeks. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in this situation it was critical. The 4 weeks would have allowed me to stay in India until mid January. At that point I could then book a cheap flight (cheap as it would have been several weeks after the holidays) into Cairo, Egypt. Kick it in Egypt for a week or two and then jump on a flight into JFK for around $350 USD. That was the plan I had put into place, but I have learned in these past 8 months that plans can change and do change very quickly. Quickly and without you having much control over the situation. When I had dropped off my passport at the Indian embassy the prior week it takes them 1 week to process. Well for no apparent reason they count the 1 week processing time into the total 4 week visa you are granted. Basically after you pick up your visa/passport after 1 week the timer had already started so you are automatically down to three weeks. I wasn’t going to be flying into India for another 4 days so there goes 1 week +4 days out of a total of 30 days. Long story short I had to be out of the country of India by January 6th. At that time ticket prices were very high due to the holidays. However, I was still contemplating flying into Egypt and then from there to JFK. Falese, think again Matt. There has been political unrest in Cairo and even though I like to roll the dice here and there this was a situation I really didn’t want to walk into. Long story short I had to book a flight directly from India to JFK, with an 11 hour layover in Saudi Arabia, which is where I am now.
Don’t worry though as these past 2 weeks have been a sprint from city to city and country to country. Taking the night bus from Chang Mai to Bangkok was an experience as these night buses usually are. I still don’t get why I attract the absolute crappiest buses wherever I go or whatever country I am in. This bus was absolutely horrible and to make matters worse we were passed by at least a dozen really really nice buses. Buses with plush seats, complimentary blankets, flat screen TV’s, and even steaurtists on board. Yeah that’s right, stewardess. Stewardess’s like the kind you see on airplanes. Uniforms, friendly Asian smiles, bright lipstick, you get the idea. Our bus smelled of stale vinegar, an overflowing toilet, and a faint smell of burning plastic. Plus it drove very slow the entire journey. Either way we got there safe and sound around 7:30 am. It dropped everyone off at one of the major streets in Bangkok, Khaosan Road. Even at this hour there were still people drinking from the previous night and the vendors were already setting up shop after closing down for maybe a couple hours or so. The sidewalks are not existent as people selling everything you can think of setup in front of the other shops. Fake ids, diplomas, press credentials, tailored suits, kebabs, t-shirts, bongs, and booze are just a few of the potpourri of treasures that can be had. Negotiable…..you better believe it. Everything is negotiable and being the salesman that I am I can honestly say I came out on top every single purchase. I played them like a fiddle and they enjoyed every second of it as the culture promotes haggling and haggling was done on all sides. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. I only stayed in Bangkok two nights as I already had my flight booked for Calcutta and was locked into this schedule. I like to be a little more cruisy then this when travelling, but there was just no room for further flexibility. The first night of fun was had on many different levels. Sitting on the street and drinking beers at a street bar is full-on, as one is constantly being assaulted by people selling all kinds of crafts and gadgets. As the night progresses there is definitely a seedier side to the city as most already know and there are several “infamous” night shows one MUST checkout. I will not go into further detail and please fill in the blanks as you see fitting. However, I will say that I saw things I will never forget for as long as I live. Even if I wanted to forget such things it will take much time and maybe several visits to an accredited psychologist to repair such mental scaring. But then again when in Rome……….right? The next day I was feeling a little rough so I just took it easy. Wrote a few postcards, ate some good food, and just walked around a lot. I really wish I had much more time to explore Bangkok and truly wish I had the opportunity to visit southern Thailand. This world is just so big with so many cool things to see/do it can feel very overwhelming at times.
I made my way to the airport the next morning feeling fresh for a 3 hour flight to Calcutta and was very close to missing my flight. For the record I have never missed a flight, whether domestic or international I have never missed a flight and pride myself on that. However, this was a close call and I was sweating bullets going through customs (as if I don’t already look suss enough.) Within several hours I was in Calcutta, India. I will not go into my week long India experience just yet as I still need time to digest my adventure into such an extreme country.
After this posting there will be one more where I recount India in great detail and then wrap up the 9 month journey that has changed me in many ways. This airport is super boring and there isn’t even a bar to help ease the pain of a 4.5 hour flight here with an 11 hour layover and then a 16 hour flight to JFK, topped off with a 3.5 hour bus ride to Baltimore. Luckily I planned ahead and brought in reinforcements.
Signing off in a dry Saudi Arabian airport.

One Love,
Matt

Posted by laxman0284 10:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

A slice of Pai please ?

sunny 87 °F

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Welcome,

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon back down here in Chang Mai and after spending several days up north in the cold mountains I’m happy to be back in the warmth. Pai (the correct spelling) was a 3 hour bus ride to the north up through and into the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The curves were so treacherous that they didn’t even run large buses up there, but rather mini vans. The driver drove like a bat out of hell and racing up the mountain while passing other vehicles around blind curves just added to the overall adventure.
Hitting Pai midafternoon I quickly realized the hostel I was planning on staying at was full as were many other of the places in this small town. This is the “long weekend” for the locals meaning they have Monday off of work so many Thai’s flock to this favorite destination. Usually when getting off the bus/van there are a million drivers who approach you trying to get you to stay at one of their guesthouses. These places give them a nice little commission once you book in so there is usually never a problem finding accommodation quickly. However, this time was different and not a single person offered me a place. I strapped on my pack and just starting walking in a random direction and after 20 minutes I came to a cool looking place by the river. It didn’t seem open and the old signage on the front indicated it was once a bar/restaurant. There were 2 noisy dogs barking at the front and I made my way past them to see what the deal was. Before getting to this place I had passed several other places closer to town, but they were all full. A tall, skinny, middle aged man, covered in bamboo picked tattoos warmly welcomed me in very broken English. A wrist shaped size dread was twisted on the top of his head to form a bee-hive type shape. Naturally I knew I had stumbled upon someplace great and a little off the beaten path. For 150 baht a night (about $5 USD) I called this place home for the next 3 nights. I was in a large dorm room by myself and there were no beds, just sleeping pads that were rolled onto the floor and covered in fresh linens. There were no locks on the doors and the building was partially open so there was a serious camping feel to the whole thing. There was a shower outside and it overlooked the river. Taking a shower while jamming out to the Dead’s Terrapin station, while watching a family weaving bamboo thatch into some device was a pretty cool feeling.
Well it turned out that this dude was simply helping/watching the guesthouse while his friend was down in Bangkok taking care of some business. The place was sold to her not all that long ago and she was in the process of fixing it up from a restaurant/bar and into a dormitory style guesthouse. They weren’t going out of their way to bring in business, but since I stumbled down their path he was more than happy to have me. It was cold at night, real cold since Pai was in the mountains and my dwelling was partially exposed to the elements. No worries though as he gave me a thick cover, and I layered myself from head to toe in clothes, and to top it off I have a sleeping bag that’s of average thickness. In the morning there was ice in my bottled water and your breath was clearly visible. Every morning the fog was super thick until the sun came up and warmed everything up.
During the day that temps were very warm and perfect for renting a bike and exploring this town and its outer lying areas. I rented a bike for 4 days and rode many many km’s. I met some really friendly people in Pai while sipping on drinks at a couple of the local watering holes. Locals and travelers alike were friendly and this place had a serious Asheville vibe combined with a sprinkle of Nimbin, AU. One day an Austrian fellow and I ventured to a local, kind of hidden actually, swimming pool. It was a big pool and the grassy area surrounding the pool was not very large, so it wasn’t super crowded. We sat out there until the sun went down enjoying the sights and the sun. Leaving before the cold came through we rode our bikes back into town and that was the highlight of the day.
Nighttime in Pai was pretty laidback and the epicenter of the action was the night market which was located in the middle of the city. Several streets were closed off to cars and this is where the food vendors, craftsmen, and street performers took up any and all real estate that was available. I sampled many different types of food of all varieties. My favorite was the beautiful sushi that was being made. It was set out on two different levels of a street cart. You could choose different pieces depending on the level or price it rested on. I loaded up a Styrofoam container with 12-15 pieces for around $3 USD. There were no tables to sit down at so one must walk down the street while eating. It was even tough to find a curb to sit down on, so weaving in and out of people while munching down on this sushi with chopsticks in hand become a bit of a ritual during my 4 day stint. A couple of drinks and laughs here and there after the night market each night and that was that.
I arrived back in Chang Mai yesterday evening and was very fortunate that the guesthouse I had stayed at prior had a room available since the long weekend brought in so many tourists. The descent back down through the mountains was just as fun and was lucky to see the sun setting over these glorious mountains. The overnight train into Bangkok is booked full so I am forced to take a bus from Chang Mai to Bangkok. Tomorrow morning I pick up my passport from the Indian embassy, hangout around the city during the day, and then catch the overnight bus into Bangkok which leaves here around 7pm. I was pumped to take the overnight train as it would be my first time travelling in such manner, but I have a feeling there will be many overnight train experiences throughout India.

Next posting will be from a little place by the name of Calcutta in about 5 or 6 days. Until we meet again, stay cool out there.

One Love,

Matt

Posted by laxman0284 23:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Goodbye Chang Mai.....for now

sunny 87 °F

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Boyakasha,

It’s 5:00 pm on a lazy Tuesday in Chang Mai. Lazy you may ask? Yes absolutely lazy. Lazy as in the fact I am hung-over worse than a 13 year old school girl who snuck into her parent’s liquor cabinet when they were getting dinner at the Outback Steakhouse down the street. Worth it? Absolutely worth it hands down. There’s something very refreshing in the fact I can rage on a Monday night, in a different country, knowing full well I have absolutely no responsibilities the following day.
Last entry posted I had just arrived in the northern city of Luang Prabang in Laos. After spending several days there (I say several because time is very hard to keep track of and I’m not sure how many days I stayed there) I absolutely loved the city. I could be wrong, but I believe it used to be the capital of Laos and for good reason at that. Cleanliness, friendly people, awesome night market, and exquisite waterfalls makes this a place I would definitely recommend to others heading down the same path as I. Once again I rented a bike and just spent a day getting lost. I usually head out on a bike (24 hour rental less than $2 USD) having no idea of where I am going or what I am looking for but that’s all the fun. I rode probably 20 km all day, stopping here and there to take pictures wherever I saw something kick ass. I’m really digging the bike rental as it’s a great way to learn the city/village/town and it keeps me in good shape as LAX season is just around the corner. About 30 km from the town is the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen in my life. I forget the exact name, but I think it’s referred to as the “Big Waterfall.” We only spent 2.5 hours there as that was what was agreed upon with our van driver. If anyone reading this is planning on going there 2.5 hours is not nearly enough time. A whole day can be spent there playing in the pools, trekking up the fall, and just hanging out. There was also a bear rescue/sanctuary within the waterfall area which was pretty cool. I’m not a huge phan (MSG New Years, wish I could make it) of bears in general but those that are seemed to really enjoy it. Different strokes for different folks you know what I mean. The night life was pretty tame as the Laos curfew is enforced rather strictly; however there are always ways around it. The two options after curfew was bowling or a local night club. Of course I did both and had a lot of fun. I officially am the worst bowler on several continents at this point and am not representing the USA as I should in that regard. The local night club was fun as it was just that, a night club with locals. Very few tourists were there, but I managed to still dance like nobody was watching when I am pretty sure everyone was watching. A tall white man with crazy hair and an even crazier beard busting out the c walk is bound to attract some stares. Like I said, dance like nobody is watching. People were always laughing and pointing at me, but it’s better than the inverse of being mean or even violent, so that’s cool.
Like I said I spent several days there, still travelling with my two German friends Franky and Max, when we collectively decided we were indeed going to take the slow boat up the Mekong and cross over the border into Thailand. The bus is the faster, easier, less expensive, option versus the slow boat. We still all decided it would be well worth it and for Christ’s sake what a great decision we had made. The first day took around 8 hours, with no rest stops. Only stops to let people on/off the boat in some very remote villages. We saw wild elephants working in these villages instead of seeing the typical touristy type deal of being able to wash/ride elephants through rivers. I’m sure that’s an awesome experience as well, although I am starting to feel bad for such elephants after seeing their cousins thriving in their “true” form. The boat had seats much like a bus except they weren’t bolted to the floor. A great thing as we had plenty of opportunities to reconfigure the seating and stretch out or even play cards. I don’t play any card games back home but I have learned two that are really fun. Ones called Durak (no clue on the spelling as its Russian) and the other we call the Greek game or Melaka. One of the hostel owners in VangVieng taught it to us and he didn’t know the name, but it was taught to him by a Greek so that’s how the name came to fruition. We also knew the term Melaka was Greek for a vulgar word so we then appropriately termed it as such. After 8 hours on the boat we were let off in a very very small town. I forget the name as we only stayed there the night and then jumped on another boat 8:30 am the next morning. That night we all just played more cards, drank a few beer Laos’s, and went to sleep very early.
The next day we were back on the Mekong for another 8 hour boat ride. Much like the first day it was an amazing experience. Seeing the people depend on the river so heavily is absolutely mind blowing. I am far from a good enough writer to even begin to describe the sights that were seen. Although, we did witness a “funeral” on the banks outside of a small village. A square structure made of fallen timber was constructed and the body of the deceased was housed inside. It was then set ablaze and the person transitioned into the next world. I felt deep respect for the ceremony as we were passing by on the boat and opted not to take any pictures. Others did and that’s their decision, which is all well and good. I just felt differently and if the tables were turned I wouldn’t want someone taking pictures of my loved ones or even me. 8 hours later and we were at the border. Unfortunately the border crossing closed at 5:00 pm so we had no other choice than to shack up in yet another small town on the Laos side. Once again this ignorant American forgets the name, but I did plot it on the map feature of this blog which is my saving grace. Pretty easy going night once again and I’m sure you guessed it. Cards, beer Laos’s, and food was what we did to pass the time. When getting food we met an older Englishmen who felt compelled to share his life story, philosophies, and view on America with us. Needless to say he didn’t have many kind words to say about my country and in the end I believe I outwitted that ignorant bloke. Matt 1-Englishmen 0 and that’s all I have to say about that. Next morning we all woke up and hit the boats. The boat ride to the border is only 300 yards away so stepped into Thailand in a matter of minutes. Still haven’t figured out the conversion for yards to meters so all non-Americans reading this please bear with me.
Stepped onto Thailand soil, filled out a short immigration card, stamp in the passport and we were in. No searches or real security measures of any means. The icing on the cake was that the Visa was free, but the downside is that by entering the country of Thailand by land one is only allowed 2 weeks. Flying in gets you a 30 day Visa, but I’m only here for 2 weeks on the button so all is well in that department. Our destination was Chang Mai which meant we had to catch a local bus for a few hours until we reached Chang Ri. In Chang Ri we got on another bus which would take us then to Chang Mai. All said and done it took me and my friends two full days by boat and about 7 hours on two different buses until we reached our target, Chang Mai.
I have been in Chang Mai the past 4 nights and I once again am really digging this city as well. Even friendlier people and cheaper food than those in Laos. Beer is a little more expensive than previous countries but still a great deal. Just been taking it real easy here and doing a lot of walking around the city. My friend Max is constantly on the go and doing something every day. I don’t know how he does it as every day is filled with activities for him. He does everything from Thai cooking classes to zip linning through the jungle, good on ya Max is what I say. Yesterday I spent many frustrating hours at the Indian embassy here trying to get my India visa. After 4 or 5 hours and for little over $100 USD I think I may have successfully obtained my India visa. I use the word “think” because they actually take your physical passport and return it in one week with the visa stamped inside. Feels a little strange to not have my passport on me when Im so far from home, but I do have photocopies should anything arise.Fingers crossed the paperwork goes through okay as I have already booked the flight to Kalkutta months ago and if they refuse my entry than I am not really sure what to do next. This is very exciting to me and am very optimistic that there will be no issues obtaining entry into the beautiful country of India.
Tomorrow my German friends of two weeks and I are parting ways. I am headed north about 3 hours to little slice of heaven known as Pi. Spend several days up there and then head back down to Chang Mai on Monday morning to pick up my passport from the embassy. Jump on an overnight train Monday at 5:00 pm and hightailing it straight into Bangkok with an arrival on Tuesday morning. Hangout in the depths of Bangkok for two nights and then fly into India on Thursday before the fuzz catches on.
I am sad to see my friends go after a great 2 weeks together, but we are all very happy with the adventures that lay before us. Pi is supposed to be “my kind of place” and the hostel I am staying at looks crazy from the pics on the net. Once again I am flying solo and am back to a wolf pack of one. Don’t be mistaken though as I truly enjoy travelling alone just as much as I like travelling with other friends on this journey. It’s a balance, just like everything else in life.
Just finished two bottles of water and am feeling much better now. Maybe this wasn’t a waste of a day after all as this was probably one the longest entries to date and being able to keep track of the last week or so brings back great memories I will never forget.

I was taught a month ago
To bide my time and take it slow
But then I learned just yesterday
To rush and never waste the day

Catch you on the flip side,
Matt

Posted by laxman0284 03:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Vang Vieng & No Tubing

..........whatever shall we do ?

rain 90 °F

vang viemg and luang prabang 066

vang viemg and luang prabang 066

Well Hello There,

It’s been almost exactly one week from last entry and I am still in Laos. No longer am I in the capital city of Vientiene, but in Luang Prabang. Still situated on the Mekong River about 500km north of Vientiene this cozy little town has a completely different vibe to it. That being said, I have only been here 24 hours so we will see what the next few days bring.
Last Tuesday I decided to leave the capital and head about 3 hours north to Vang Vieng. A super easy laid back bus ride through the country with fellow backpackers filling the small bus and in no time we had arrived. Vang Vieng was known by many as the party spot to go to as the local economy is centered on backpackers tubing down km’s of rivers. Beautiful, long, preserved rivers, where bars were scattered on the banks around every turn. Of course drunken shenanigans ensued and fun was had by all. Upon arrival it was apparent this was not the case and within 5 minutes of walking down the main streets one could tell something was seriously seriously wrong. There were very few people in the restaurants and bars, the street vendors were empty of customers, and I even saw a three legged dog shed a tear laying in the gutter.
After getting the inside scoop from a few people the Laos government had came in towards the end of August and cleaned house. Stopped the tubing and stopped the drunken debauchery down the rivers. One could still tube a small portion of the river, but from what I have heard it’s nowhere near the same. Needless to say the amount of backpackers that once fueled this local economy has dwindled significantly. Significantly as in 80%-90% less people travelling there and spending their parents Kip on booze, fluorescent t-shirts, and food. This place was a ghost town, but there are two sides to every story and this story most certainly has a darker side. Last year approximately 30 people died tubing down the river. Backpackers getting to drunk and not using their heads combined with raw nature while floating down the river is a bad combination. Diving off of rocks into shallow water, drowning, etc you get the picture. Other countries governments intervened and strongly encouraged the Laos government to shut the whole thing down, resulting in not as many backpackers, and therefore creating a ghost town.
In all honesty it was very nice, very nice indeed. Don’t get me wrong I can put some beers down with the best of them, but it’s not really my scene anymore just getting hammered drunk all day floating down a river, full of over the top crazy 19-23 year olds. Instead, my friends and I rented bikes and drove 7km out of town to a place called the Blue Lagoon. The water was blue and icy cold, big fish swam in schools all over the place, and there was a tree you could jump or dive from where the water was very deep. Of course this place was typically a second thought in months past as tubing had dominated the scene. But with no tubing I was very happy with killing two days at this laidback watering hole. Strangely there was an entrance fee of about $1.25 USD and they had a little hut where you could buy delicious food and drinks. Laid out on the grass were straw mats to sit on and soak in the sun’s rays. Closer to the banks of this happy little watering hole were about half a dozen raised huts to offer some shade. The sun was really hot and there was no breeze like the beach. A quick dip in the water every 30 minutes or so and all was well in the world. My friend Max was on the rope swing and diving off the tree for hours and hours. Max is German and is seems more American than I am, which is hilarious. After travelling with him and another girl named Franky for little over a week now we have all been getting along very well. Max has been constant entertainment since we all left Vientiene together and we have a good vibe going with the three of us. Franky and the rest of us just kind of took it easy at the lagoon and soaked up some rays while watching Max’s crazy antics. Long story short, we visited the Blue Lagoon twice in the 4 days we were there, and tubing or no tubing, I was very happy. Night time was laidback as there was really only 1 bar that was pumping out music and a curfew is enforced by the Laos government so I think last call comes pretty early. Really never stayed out to late to hear last call as the only other thing to do at night was watch Friends. Yes, you read that correctly Friends the TV show. There were handfuls of almost empty restaurants in the small town with little raised wooden platforms where you sit on with cushions and small tables. On the wall were two flat screens TV’s playing infinite episodes of friends with a couple places displaying Family guy. You could just lounge here on these wooden platforms with cushions and have a few cocktails. After being in the blue lagoon all day this was right down my alley. I am not a huge fan of Friends, but enjoyed the relaxing time in a very different environment. Watching an American TV show with others from all over the world is usually a good time. Although the Olympics back at the hostel in Australia could get a little heated.
Stayed there for several days and left yesterday to head up north to where I am currently writing you from, Luang Prabang. It was a long 7 hour bus ride up and down crazy mountains the entire time. If you’re familiar with the TV show Ice Road Truckers when they are in South America, it was just like that. Cut-backs and zigzags the entire time made it somewhat of a challenge to read so I just looked out the window and listened to music. I would venture to say we never went faster than 30 mph as the terrain was intense. Intense yes, but some of the most picturesque scenery I have yet to see on this entire journey. On a side note: I saw a baby bear in a huge glass jar fermenting at a rest stop on the side of the road. Not sure what the story is with that yet, but I motioned to the village woman if I could try a drink of it from the tap. Translation barrier could not be broken and I left the rest stop thirsty, without having tried fermented bear juice. Oh well maybe next time I will have the opportunity to cross that off my bucket list?
Not sure how long I am staying here for, but am still aiming for Bangkok the first week in December. Just taking a bigger loop and crossing into Thailand at a different location than originally planned. However, there is the option to get to the border via slow boat, which seems like a nice alternative to the bus. Then take a train from the north down into the depths of Bangkok. That’s all I have for now and hope everyone who is reading this is having a good day. Smile.

Sitting on the Mekong,
Matt

Posted by laxman0284 01:04 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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