A Travellerspoint blog

Get there Laos or Later ?

..............a voyage well worth it

82 °F

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Picture 063

Good Evening From Laos,

It’s around 7:00 pm Sunday evening and I am sitting a block away from my hostel in an internet café smack dab in the middle of the somewhat laidback city of Vientiane. Situated on the Mekong River and very close to the Northern Thailand border I have been here since Friday a 5:30 am.
Leaving Hue, in Vietnam I booked a “sleeper bus” ticket for a journey that was sure to be trying. Trying in the sense of being on, for lack of a better term, “shit bus” for nearly 23 hours. I was scheduled to leave Hue Thursday morning at 9am with an arrival at Vientiane, Laos Friday morning at 6:00 am or so. As planned the bus was almost 1.5 hours late, which I had pretty much already anticipated from the beginning. Nothing is really on time here, but I am in no rush so not a big deal at all. The bus shows up and I am herded to the back to sleep in a small section with three others to the right of me and another to the left. All reclined to an almost laying position in a small sort of den type place. Now I have been on a handful of these sleeper buses before and I know they usually save this horrible back part for the backpackers. The rest of the bus is fully reclining seats stacked on top of each other with a total of three rows. Tough to imagine or explain I know, but I can assure you these sleeper seats were not designed for a 6’2 American guy. It was tight and intimate quarters to say the last. Down the middle of the two rows leading to the back of my cell, I mean seat, were bags of some sort of potent vegetable/fruit in bags. Foam pads were placed on top of these bags,so when going down the aisles you would step on the pads and then on top of the mystery fruit. Almost like Yoga mats if you will. The bus was packed to the gills and the only traveler on their besides me was a young girl from Germany. This was her first sleeper bus and sure to be an experience. There is no bathroom on the bus and there are only a handful of stops along the entire route. Food and bathroom breaks are all, and like I said maybe 4 stops in total not including the border. For nearly 24 hours driving, a handful of stops is not much, but we managed. Unfortunately, when we pulled up to the first stop a little after lunch time a situation occurred that really threw me for a loop. As everyone excited the bus at the “rest/food stops” plates upon plates of food were immediately brought to the tables. “Magnificent” I think to myself as I was starving and I assumed all the bus mates would grab a chair and dig in. Big portions were served family style for which we would all share and at the end everyone throws in a set amount of money. FALSE……..very False. Myself and the German girl tried to sit down at one of the tables to join the rest of the bus mates when we were shushed away, with heads being shaken sideways in the process. They didn’t want us to eat with them for whatever reason, and then furthermore I couldn’t even order regular food by just the single dish. Astounded, I could tell our type wasn’t welcome here and that was a real bummer and even as I write this four days later, I still haven’t figured it out. We got to the border and then got off the bus where we walked through Vietnam immigration, out of their country, and then a 1km down the road through Laos immigration. The main photo above is of leaving Vietnam. My passport wouldn’t scan and my picture looks nothing like me on the passport. Once again, par for the course, as this is expected and not a big deal. Just delays the process a little bit. I might have a different tune to sing should I ever be strip searched or brutally integrated. The rest of the bus ride was long and tough, certainly no friends were made (besides the German girl I was travellng with on the bus. I forgot her name but we definitely helped each other out when possible.) Arriving in the capital currency must be withdrawn from the ATM and a hostel sorted out. Probably should have planned this one a little better, but whatever.
It is what it is and by 9:30 am I was in a great hostel, 12 person dorm room at $5.000 US per night or 40,000 Kip. My head hit the pillow and I was out until mid afternoon. Waking up, grabbing a shower and feeling like a new man, I was yet in another country with no idea of really where I was. Food was a priority for which I quickly found a more than willing street vendor and feasted. The hostel has 3 big dorm rooms with 12 beds in each and a downstairs common area near the main entrance. It’s in the main entrance area that the damage was done. Part of the hostels deal is free Vodka every night. When a bottle of Lao, rot gut, less $1.00 a fifth is passed to you, there is no time to decide. It went down like firewater but nothing I couldn’t handle. You can fill in the blanks for the remainder of the evening and on Saturday I felt like absolute death.
For some reason when travelling in South East Asia my hangovers are minimal if existent at all. This Laos Vodka dispels that illusion more so than a 13 year older discovering there’s no Santa Claus (I was a late bloomer okay don’t throw stones as I graciously thank my parents for the couple extra years of magic they provided.) Saturday was spent recovering from the bus ride and aftermath of a fun night. Took several long naps throughout the day in the AC dorm and got about half way through a book called Papillion I have been reading.
Rented a bike this morning with another German dude from the hostel and we just set off into the city. Temples, monks, flowing robes, mopeds buzzing next to you, delicious street food, all things experienced on a dollar rented bike. Many pictures were taken and we probably put 20 km under our wheels all said and done. No accidents and the chain fell off only once, which was easily repaired in a matter of minutes as a Laos man watched me and laughed. A kind laugh which I simply smiled back and made my repairs.. Doing so I had flashbacks to when I was younger and this would happen often- minus the old Laos man laughing at me.
3 days in Laos so far and the sleeper bus debacle was well worth it. 24 hours of that experience and I think I might just hang around this city for a few more days at least. I am in no rush as I don’t fly out of Bangkok, Thailand until the 13th of December. I will see more of the city tomorrow via bike as there are many other places to enjoy. The Laos people are very friendly, combined with a good ebb and flow of people at the hostel, and plenty of sights make this a spot I am want to invest some time in. Not really sure where I will head next. Most of the country lays to the North away from Bangkok so a few mini trips might be scattered in as well. When heading to Bangkok I am thinking sleeper train is the way to go at a whopping $40 for a just over 20 hour trip down south. Maybe stop at a few small cities for a night here or there as I go South. I don’t know, I really don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s a great feeling to have many options and experiencing the extreme up’s and the extreme downs while trying to take in a snippet of this huge world. This was a long one and I feel like Doogie Howser M.D. as I bring it to a close. Good bye for now and until next time- stay classy out there.

Signing off for now,

Matt H.

Posted by laxman0284 05:06 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Keep On Keep It On

80 °F

nela 034

nela 034

Greetings,

Like the title suggests there’s been a few challenges here and there but nothing to keep this dude down. After taking the bus with my friends down to Saigon, or as some of different politicians call it, Ho Chih Minh City we arrived to keep and utter chaos. Chaos meaning we got there on Halloween night and by God it made Times Square on New Years look like a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert. Of course fun was had all around and the next day we made our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Tunnels constructed during the war by the Viet Kong to escape the enemies from attacking. I must say that everything was targeted against the Americans even though there were many other “players” in that conflict. It was the most biased thing I have yet encountered and doesn’t even come close to what was said in Cambodia regarding the genocide. At a break in the tour the guide pulled me behind a building and explained he was ordered to say or not to say certain things by the government. It was very eye opening and without getting to deep into it it’s the politicians of every country that ruin the solidarity we all should have throughout this world. That was kind of tough, but nothing a few beers couldn’t take care of. A day or so later (time is really just blurring together and as I am writing this I have no idea what day it is and its 5:32 pm) my two friends and I took the bus down to Mui Ne.
Mui Ne, a definitely more chilled out place with sand dunes that would make you think you were in Egypt overlooking fishing villages not to far off in the distance. People were friendly and the food was delicious. At night time there were stalls with fish tanks that kept the food alive. Crazy looking crabs, lobsters, eels, fish, tiger prawns, shrimp, frogs, squid, and I’m not sure what else was abundant at all of these street side places. You picked your favorite delicacy and then they threw it on the bbq right in front of you as your enjoying an icy cold beer. I picked a huge bull frog as a “starter” and then we split a variety of other seafood. The frog cost less than $1.00 and boy was it delicious. The next day we rented motorbikes for $7.00 a day, it was my first time ever riding a motorbike, motorcycle, or anything really like that. It wasn’t even a manual but an automatic. I’m sure you can guess what happened next………..in front of the people I had just rented it from I immediately lost control and crashed in the middle of the street. Luckily I have been eating a multi-vitamin every day and fortunately my beard as well as hair broke my fall. As the age old saying goes “you fall off that horse and jump right back on.” I brushed myself off and away we went. Spent the rest of the day cruising around the island with no problems once so ever. When I returned I was charged $5.00 for cosmetic flaw in the paint of this fabulous machine, which I still argued about as it was so minor and $5.00 is a lot of money over here. All’s well that ends well.
The next morning my American friends and I parted ways and once again as I was flying solo. With the wind at my back made my way due north to a city called Nha Trang. Pretty cool place with great night life. Was there dancing and have I been C- walking all over South East Asia ? You better believe it. So much so that on the way home three Vietnamese woman approached and started talking in their native language. Next thing I know one reaches down my pants at which point I immediately grab her hand and kept walking away. It wasn’t until I got back to my hostel and was getting ready for bed when Ii realized they had snagged my mobile from me. The one woman “distracts” you by going down below as the other reaches her small devilish hands into your pants pocket and removes whatever is in there. Fortunately it was just my phone and nothing else. Crazy thing is that in the next few days I have met at least 5 people who had the same thing happen to them. Parents please don’t worry as violent crime is non-existent, but their sticky fingers are just that…..very sticky. The next a motto driver was suppose to give 480,000 dong in change which is a little less that $25.00. As he reaches in his pocket to pull out his bill fold he takes off and there goes my change.
It was just a phone and it was just $25.00. The amazing food, people, and scenery I have encountered makes it more than worth it. Besides I bought a second hand I-Phone 16GB where I could pick all the music I wanted for it for around $200.00.
Tomorrow I head north again, a short trip up to Hue where I relax for a few days before crossing over the border to into Laos. My ticket is booked out of Bangkok to Kolkata on December 13th so I have some time to really explore and just take it super easy. I lost some good pics on the stolen phone, but have made up for it on my new one. Besides, there’s a lot of countries left to see and many more experiences to be had.

Oh by the way who won the Presidential election ?

Please don’t steal anymore from me in Asia,

Matt H.

Posted by laxman0284 02:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Sunny Sunny Sihanoukville

sunny 92 °F

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2012-10-24_15-38-24_215

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Hello from a sunny Sihanoukville,

Back to Sihanoukville as I had enough of the city life and since the volunteering didn't work out there was no reason why I shouldn't be spending some quality time on the water. The bus ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville took about 6 hours, but it was a quick 6 hours as the scenery is amazing and pictures are constantly being taken. No toilet on the bus and the air conditioning isn't all that good, but who really cares. In fact, I would prefer we had no toilet as we stopped at a few rest stops that were very interesting. I sat next to a tiny Khmer child the whole voyage so the entertainment on the bus was paramount. She couldn't have been older than 12, but was dressed in farming type clothes and was very tiny. I broke the ice and the constant stares she was giving me by offering to share an ear phone so she could listen to music. I gave her a sampling of songs ranging from Jamiriqui to Grateful Dead and then DMX with a teaser of Mos Def. Needless to say she liked my selection and was very entertained. I showed her the trick where you split your two middle fingers together and turn your hands to make one continuous long finger and then wiggle it back and forth. A huge smile came across her face and for the duration of the journey she would proudly show off her knew learned skill many many times over. It felt good to bring a smile to this child's face during the bus ride as I could tell life wasn't very easy for her.
Bus adventure aside, I got into Sihanoukville and checked into a familiar hostel right off of Serendipity beach. Stayed for a night or two at this guesthouse when I heard about another place I should check out called Mushroom point, which is about a 15 minute Tuk-tuk drive from Serendipity. Its a way quieter beach and only a hand full of laid back woman vendors trying to offer you everything from massages to lobster tails. The mushroom point only has 7 or 8 bungalows and a central beach bar, where everything is shaped like a mushroom, and they are all on stilts. It's kind of like a mushroom village directly on the beach. Actually, that's exactly what it is, a mushroom village on the beach I mean on the beach to the point where the water is heard all night long and you can almost spit out of your mushroom hut into the water. Stayed there a few nights at a whopping $20 per night and met up with another US couple who was planning on going to an island about 2.5 hours boat ride away called Koh Rong. Jumped on the 7:00 am boat next morning and by 11:00 am I was sitting on an island drinking a .75 Angkor beer with a Slovenian couple and a chick from Holland.
Koh Rong is hard to describe. It's the second largest island of Cambodia and like I had mentioned it was only a short boat ride from the mainland. It consists of maybe a 5 or 6 different little guesthouses, bungalows, and even tree houses to choose from. There is no power so everything is run off of generators and all supplies are brought in daily by boat. Electricity is cut off after 9:00 pm accept for the local watering hole right down the beach from the piers. Seems the main industry on the island outside of selling massive amounts of booze to the younger British crowd is a diving center. I stayed in a small hut literally built on the water at the end of a pier where you could see the blue/green water through the floor boards of my room. I dropped my passport on the floor of my room and was concerned it would fall through the wooden slats and down into the water. The place had 4 rooms, each room having a bed, mosquito net, and a wicker shelf. The main room is probably 12 ft x 12 ft wide and that's where you sit and eat, as its also a restaurant. In the back is a very small "kitchen" and off of that is the owners room, which is adjacent to a communal bathroom. It contained a squat toilet and to flush one must pour water from a bucket down the hole in the floor. Interestingly enough the splash could be heard on the water below, which makes one think. I will leave the rest to the imagination, but if I wanted the traditional/familiar amenities of the Western World then I wouldn't be traveling. Stayed on the island for just a night as I ran out of money and there is obviously no ATM there. Plus I felt one night was enough for me as I needed to get back to Sihanoukville and sort a few things out
After I wrap up this blog entry it's off by way of motobike to the Vietnam embassy to obtain my visa. Hang out here in S-ville for a day or two more and then off to Vietnam later in the week. Even the bus is exciting as it's not like I'm taking it 8 hours south from Baltimore to Charlotte by way of "scenic" I-95. Planning on making the trip down with the same US couple and am definitely enjoying traveling with other kind and like-minded people. It's nice to fly solo, but also nice to have friends on your side if things get thick or just overall confusing. That's all I got on this end and be good to yourselves.

And I live while I'm Young,

Matt

Posted by laxman0284 20:56 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

Phnom Penh- It's Real

103 °F

2012-10-21_14-20-37_747

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Hello from the bustling city of Phnom Penh,

This past month has been pretty hectic. Hectic in finishing up the job, getting together travel plans/arrangements, and most importantly just having a good time. Just kind of a quick recap here before jumping into the current state of mind and future traveling.

Sold the car to a fellow Norwegian backpacker to the fine tune of $950. Before anyone passes judgment on unloading a vehicle of this quality to a fellow comrade, please note he was expecting to invest $1,500 in fixing up an old car before heading coast to coast in AUS. We took it to a mechanic and the mechanic did an overall inspection or appraisal for $100. Sure enough it cost the backpacker $1,300 to have this car running like a champ again. A perfect situation where everyone walks away a winner. The last thing I want to do is negatively sway my karma at this juncture in my journey. Muesli ended like I thought it would, pretty uneventful. Very happy to be out of there and for the duration of this blog there will be no more mention of the "M" word. Hands are feeling better and are not going numb anymore at night. Saved a good chunk of money to continue on my travels, so the 4 months in AUS was very successful and I had a great time.

Flew into Phnom Penh a little over a week ago. For the first time in 6 months I travelled with a friend I had met in Margaret River. We did the touristy type things in Phnom Penh that one must do, more specifically visited the Killing Fields, S-21, and threw a live grenade into a pond for the best $50 I have ever spent. I posted a bunch of pictures into this blog of these two places and really do not want to re-hash the horrible things that took place at these two locations. However, I will go into greater detail about the grenade because at one point I thought that was the end of Matt. A menu was pulled out at this "upstanding" firearms facility and you had a plethora of options to choose from. I passed on the M-16 and AK 47 as my taste buds were craving a full-on hand grenade thrown into a muddy pond to lessen the explosion. I was under the impression I could do this for $30 USD, but the man on the other side of the table insisted on $50 as the "government" mandated these prices. Figured it was in my best interest not to haggle with a Khmer dude that had enough fire power to put all of the West Side of Baltimore to shame. With the deal sealed I made my way over to a pond where I was instructed to hold the grenade, pull out the pin, and then throw it into the pond under handed. Kind of the same motion as throwing a horse shoe except if you mess up there is extreme consequences. I asked the man if I could pull the pin out with my teeth Rambo style and he answered with a firm "No" I asked one more time thinking maybe this was just a translation thing and sure enough it was still a "No" Without further thought I pulled the pin and in my backstroke a popping sound emitted. The sound of a small firework, which I wasn’t prepared for nor warned about. It startled me for sure as thoughts of a faulty Russian grenade went through my mind. Thank God I didn’t drop it out of surprise and then chucked that bad boy right into the water. 3 seconds later the water shot up in the 10-15 feet and the whole earth shook like a pretty serious earthquake. All the men who worked there seemed a little surprised and away we left. I still have the pin I pulled out as a souvenir and have since promised myself that I will never throw another grenade again, although you could shoot a rocket launcher for $350 so there's something to look forward to.
We then spent the next few days in a small beach town 6 hours west of here called Sihnoukville. Little beach restaurant shacks and bars lined the beach where we were. The tables and chairs were right on the water and with $.50 Angkor draft beers you couldn’t go wrong. There are heaps and heaps of street children trying to sell you bracelets, sunglasses, and other trinkets. Then there are woman offering manicures and pedicures on the beach for $3.00. Then there are woman that sell all kinds of delicious seafood that you are probably not supposed to eat, but I couldn’t resist and did anyway. As John Steinbeck stated "A sad soul can kill you faster, far faster than any germ." Rest assured this soul is far from sad and I’m still alive so Johnny boy thanks for the words of wisdom. Naturally was eating this delicious seafood, while drinking my Angkor, getting a mani/pedi, and haggling with the children all at the same time. It was pretty cool and I'll be damned if those children couldn’t sell ice to an Eskimo. Their favorite two lines were ""Open your heart, open your wallet" and my favorite when I replied I was out of money "You can lie to me, but you can't lie to yourself." The problem is that most of these kids are benefiting from making sales, but a crafty Oliver Twist Fagan like character is behind the whole operation.
Came back to Phnom Penh after a couple of days where I had to part ways with my good friend of 4 months as she was headed back to her life in AUS. That being said I am now travelling solo again and feeling a little bit homesick. I spent 4 months in the hostel with friends I had grown close to so it kind of feels like I am starting a whole new solo mission.
The original plan was to sort out some volunteer work in an orphanage hear in the city but the last few days have been very frustrating in that aspect. It seems there is a pretty big market for people wanting to volunteer. This demand has created many ""orphanages"" to pop up for illegitimate reasons. I really dont want to get into all the dynamics of it, but it has been a struggle finding a good place to volunteer my time. I might abandon the whole idea and head back to Sihnoukville where I will spend a few more lazy days on the beach and acquire my Vietnam Visa. Cross over the border there and then make my up to northern Vietnam and head into Laos. As plans change and evolve it's looking like China and the trans-Siberian are not going to happen. The visa process is expensive, complicated, and really just not worth it as I can travel to many other countries much easier and affordably. After Laos head down to Bangkok, kick it there for a week or so, and then fly over to India. Spend time in India and maybe even make it up into Nepal. From India fly over to Egypt and cross by land into Israel. Return back to Egypt and fly home to JFK. As mentioned previously this could change in a second so I’m just staying real open and real cruisy.
Cambodia is wild and around every corner you never really know what you’re going to encounter. There’s many things I do not understand and just as many things I have learned. This country has been through a lot and the Khmer people are very strong. It's really tough to describe this raw and gritty place in words so just check out the pictures in my gallery. This is Matt checking out from the 11 Happy Hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Check it,

Matt

Posted by laxman0284 22:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

3 weeks left in AU--next stop Phnom Penh

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2012-09-02_17-32-14_683

Greetings to all,

With tickets booked as of several days ago I am finally all set to leave Margaret River and am heading back to Cambodia for at least 1 month. These past several weeks have been filled with making Muesli and picking up odd jobs here and there to supplement my income. That being said I am all set to fly out of Perth on October 14th with a 5 hour layover in Singapore and then to Phnon Penh. In Phnom Penh I am going to travel to a beach town called Sihnoukville and just take it real easy for a week or so. After that I am planning on voluntering at a childrens orphanage for the remainder of my 1 month visa. Might stay a little longer depending on how things are going and if I can get an extension on the visa due to the fact I am volunteering. From there I am heading down to Vietnam to the southern city of Saigon. From Saigon the plan is to travel north through the country until I reach Hanoi. Once in Hanoi sort out my visa and then keep heading north through China until I reach Bejing. Kick it in Bejing for a week or so and then if all goes well taking the Trans Siberian Railways through China, Mongolia, and then ending up in Moscow. This all could change though as it's not very easy for a US citizen to obtain a Russia visa, especially when applying from outside of your own country. Either way though something will be figured out and the adventure will continue. Currently I am looking to fly back to the US middle of January. Like I said, I am not really sure where I will be flying from into the US. It all depends on the Visa situation. Worst comes to worst I may head home early and catch the New Years Phish show wherever they are playing. Chances are it will be a show at MSG which ius really convenient as flights from Moscow to JFK are relatively inexpensive. Thats kind of the plan so far, but I have learned plans can change very quickly when travelling around the world so we shall see.
The pizza shop opportunity fell through as the owner never contacted me back regarding a start date. Seemed like our initial conversation went well and I was all set to make a smooth job transition. It could have been the open kitchen layout combined with my grizzled looking beard that made him have second thoughts. Of course being the salesman that I am a follow up text message was sent to "check in" and see where he was in the hiring process. Unfortunately he never responded, and that was that. Whatever though, his loss and I decided right there and then to put my head down and just keep on cranking out Muesli. Of course every bag I produce is still laced with a pinch of love and a heap of kindness.
Before I type this next sentence a quick knock on the wooden computer desk has taken place. The silver bullet is running by the grace of God and what it lacks in functioning cylinders it makes up with heart. It drinks more oil than a sailor drinks rum, so I make sure to keep a spare bottle in my car just in case it get's thirsty. I even maxed out at 140 km going down a big hill and didnt want to push here to hard. Figured when it comes to sell it next week or so this could be a selling point ? I am only looking to get $750 out of it but the registration is valid until mid february so its not a bad deal. Yeah theres no radio, a broken window, broken passenger seat bealt, 3 bald tires, and a wicked vibration that makes me want to throw up while driving after a fun night. For $750 it's still a great car for getting around town and Im sure a fellow backpacker will roll the dice, just as I have.
The weather has been improving nicely allowing everyone to hit the beaches and just enjoy this wonderful country. Finally got some pictures uploaded (no thanks to travellerspoint blog support) and there are some really good shots of the land that surronds where I am living. Every place I have visited was within a 30 minute drive. Sometimes down crazy dirt roads with huge pot holes, but the car or driver has had no problem navigating this terrain (another selling point.)
It's been a challenge here in Margs at times, but I feel I am leaving this area a better man. Flying in here on little money and being able to leave with a healthy bank account to pay for the rest of my travels feels really good. My hands still go numb from Muesli making and I am hoping with some rest and a week or two of relaxation this will subside. A few Angkor beers added to the mix and I will be as good as new.
With internet being free or very affordable I will contiunue to update this blog way more often for the second leg of this adventure and have promised myself to keep the pictures coming. There's alot to see and do in South east Asia and I dont want to miss a thing. From Margaret River this is Matt checking out.

Good on Ya,

Matt

Posted by laxman0284 03:18 Comments (1)

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