Sunday, 15 July 2012

Week five. new week, new country.

It's a very surreal feeling to go from one country to another merely by jumping on a train, going to sleep and when you wake up, going to a little window, sign your exit card, go to another window get a train ticket for the shortest train ride ever (a total of about 3.2 km) over a river and then sign your entry visa application, hand over a photo and $us30.... Bing bang boom welcome to Laos!

As easy as going from QLD to NSW! So on our shortest train ride we met a guy and his Thai wife who because of the visa he has has to leave Thailand, go to Laos every 90 days and reapply for his family visa! And I thought the train trip once was bad enough! Not such a nice train ride this time, there was a really creepy guy who kept staring at Lena. I slept with one eye open all night let me tell you!!! Lena thinks I am a little paranoid but she will thank me one day.

The train pulled into Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. I am initially shocked by this as the place looks like it has not been finished and was maybe a new country town that was being developed. My error was a result of comparing Thailand to Laos, big mistake seeing that Laos has really only been developing for a few years. The country has been either in political war or actual war, (have a read of Laos history if your bored, very interesting) thus it has not really had the time to develop. Our accommodation was well less than the bare minimum, the sheets looked like they had been slept on, hair on pillows, open water and so much mould I am sure to develop some new form of lung disease! No point complaining either they barely spoke English and the room was already paid for on agoda! Oh well suck it up!

So sleep deprived I insist on trying to find a map, stupid idea! We make our way to a little bakery cafe and have the best burger I think I have ever had (most likely due to a lack of western style food up to this point, but it was well done) and big creamy ice coffee thing like Starbucks! We then make our way to the tourist info centre only to find they have maps but in Japanese, Lena kind of had an idea but I was lost. We kept looking and wandered down the road only to have the heavens open up without a moments notice. Ha just like Thailand we think, over in a second..... Or not!

The rainfall here is a little different and the afternoon monsoon is what the name says! After a quick dash to the nearest "shopping centre" I find a guy with maps that look strangely like the free ones you might see at the tourist info centre, only he wants 15000 kip!!! I gave in much to Lena's disgust.
The shopping centre looks as if it has been there for a while but is more like it is still under construction. The food court and kids play area are right next to space with bare concrete and exposed metal and wires (parents we had little palpitations too).

Shopping centre, open and ready for business.

We decide to head back as I was severely over tired and heading for a melt down (this did occur on the way home over directions, Lena was right and I gave myself a time out on the bus seats. A 2hr nanna nap and off we go to find some dinner, night markets here we come! We found a food called laap, ground meat with mint, onion, chilli and garlic.... Very nice! Food here is great, like Thailand but different. Cold beer for me and out like a light!
Oh I forgot to mention that we had been trying to arrange a minibus to vang veing for the next day to add to our stress out, but managed to get it sorted.

Up nice and early to our breakfast included (soggy toast and two fried eggs, in theme with the whole hotel really) and we head next door to the minibus stop. There was about 10 of us, mostly guys on their way to go tubing down the river. A nice drive and some tips on eating and drinking obtained! We were dropped off on the outskirts of town and when we asked if anyone knew the guest house we had booked everyone said 'no' you stay here'!? We eventually found it and were pleasantly surprised. Clean, cheap and with all the things you would need (hot shower, fan, clean linen and Internet). After a shower and tidy up we go to the restaurant attached, order a great lunch/dinner and do our first proper blog ( we are able to put photos on now). The owners have a little 3yr old girl "Sonia" is how it was said, she was a terror! We played with her and her cousin while doing our blog well into the night only to be told by her parents that she stays up till about midnight, well not us!!!!! Off to bed for us leaving sonia to her parents care!!!

Guess the terror? She is three, her cousin is 5!

Bec's new hairdo.

Kids everywhere know angry birds!! What is this world coming to?

Today is our first official day in Vang Veing and Lena wants to ride a bike out to blue lagoon, about a 6km ride. The ride was beautiful but the bike was evil!!!

I am to short in the arms and can't reach the bars to well so despite the beautiful views am very much distracted by my physical state. I felt bad for Lena who was quite happy riding along as she had to often wait while I walked my bike up the dirt roads, much to the amusement of the locals. I get the feeling that lots of tourists come out this way, the kids keep running out to us. I initially thought wow how cool, only to realize very quickly they are coming out to beg. It is hard to say no to a kid knowing the life they have but begging is looked poorly upon and giving lollies or cash to the kids is discouraged. The signs all say that you are best giving to village elders or a non profit organization so that the contribution goes to the whole community not just one family. It's very sad to see a child barely able to walk rub his finger and thumb together in the sign of "money" as you go by.

Blue lagoon is so pretty and the locals know they are on a winner here. There is a 10,000 kip entry fee ( that's after the 6000kip bridge fee)......

The bridge.

The locals fishing under the bridge.

......And they have roped off the road so you got to pay to see it! There is also a cave there but head lamps are 10,000kip each and a guide will set you back another 50,000, of course you can't see a thing with out the lamp or guide! Laotians are very quickly learning how to capitalize on any possible way to make money and the tubing is one example of this.

After limping the bike back

we (well I actually) can not move so promptly sit down with my book and a cold beer! Our hosts invited us to share dinner with them and we have a Korean BBQ laos style, very nice! Tomorrow we are off to the organic farm, the main reason we came out to vang veing. Did I mention that the power goes off here during the day, line work or something but it means cold showers of a night!!!

Bags packed and our host refusing to let us pay for dinner last night we catch a tuk tuk out to the farm. It's a quiet place, almost deserted even. When we had left the other guest house the lady had said something about "oh noisy" and neither of us had really understood until one pm, tubing time!

Every day at one pm the tuk-tuks arrive from town with hoards of tourists with one thing in mind, get wasted and tube. I am a bit of a party girl and am up for most things but either I am getting older or this shit is really bad!!!! There are bars lining the river and the tubers cross a bamboo bridge to start drinking.

This bridge washed away two days after this photo...

The bars have offers of free food with buckets, free shots and "happy" drinks laced with mushies. The music is so loud that it's hard to hear yourself think and each bar is competing with the other to get the punters in so they throw ropes out into the river and pull them into their bars. Some bars have zip lines and diving platforms, the platforms are closed today as there was another body pulled from the river just last week. It is no surprise that people die here and lots of them!

There is no limit on how much you can drink and the bars encourage shots and massive amounts of booze!! Then just in case your feeling brave you can fly down the zip line only to be snapped off, flipping you backwards into murky water with jagged rocks literally feet away. OMG, if parents knew what their kids were doing!!!!!!!!!!!! The noise comment now makes a lot more sense, lucky it only goes until seven pm!!! The owner of the organic farm Mr 'T' was the one who inadvertently started this craze, with him bringing home tractor tubes for his workers to use cooling off after a hard days work, well that went very wrong somewhere!

The organic farm was started by Mr T in a hope to preserve traditional Laos farming techniques and traditions while giving the local people the opportunity to earn an income and get education. Mr T and his wife pay the workers but he also sponsor the kids schooling and even has multiple adopted family members from poor local tribes. One example is a girl who works in the restaurant, her older sister also works there and Mr T adopted her, put her through school and now has her younger sister living there too! On the info Lena and I had read there were meant to be silk worms out here and the silk that was harvested is split, some sold and the rest given to the community to make woven products that are sold through the farm. Sadly the noise and pollution means they won't grow here anymore so Mr T has abandoned this idea (for now). Just until he has finalized the purchases of his new farm!

The organic farm is a beautiful place, and would I'm sure have been much nicer prior to the tubing. But enough with the tubing. The farm is a fantastic place that is keeping local tradition alive, using all traditional methods to farm. Mulberry teas are their speciality, they make mulberry tea, tempura mulberry, mulberry pancakes, mulberry shakes, mulberry everything, whether they are using the leaves or the fruit. But everything is so tasty. The harvest curry is delicious and so wish that I knew the recipe. There was a lot of things that we wanted to do at the farm that we were not able to do... Not sure why but so many programs were not running.

We wondered around the farm for the first afternoon, not really finding much to do for the first little while so we headed down to the river to have a look at the way things work with the tubing, we actually found some nice places, completely destroyed by the noise. We wondered into a local rice farm.

Beautiful and traditional countryside, wish we could of stayed longer or walked a little further, but a polite lady that we asked if we could keep walkng, smiled and pointed us on the direction from which we had come, I think she thought we were lost and that we belonged to the tubing clan.

We wondered back to the farm, via a bar that was not operating (no generator), and took some pictures. I can't describe just how dangerous this place is the jagged rocks that are sticking up out of the water just meters from where people are being flung off zip lines. Argh, makes me cringe. We get back to the farm and find someone that wants help, but we can't figure out how to reach them so we head to the youth project up the road to have a look, we find the sewing club taking place and sit and watch for a little while, but feel a little intrusive so we buy some of their weaving, make a donation and head off. The faces on the girls is incredible to see when we make the donation, it is utter bewilderment, like they have never had anyone make even a small donation before. It was only about $13 that we gave them, for the sewing and the donation, but in Lao currency, it is 100,000kip. I guess a lot of money for them.

When we get back to the farm we see someone in a pit of mud, wonder over and ask if we can help. Before he can answer Becs shoes are off and she is mid calf high in mud. Mix the sand into the mud. We are apparently, with much charades, patching up the cracks in the mud house in front of us. Tong, as we discovered was this guys name, was laughing at us, I don't think he could believe we just jumped in the mud and started stomping. He gave us the non structural task of patching up the decorative wave around the back side of the cottage. More charades and we figure we have to slap the mud on, over the grassy bits. Bec understands the concept thanks to her mums obsession with all things green. And I get a quick lesson in mud brick construction.

I end up covered from toes to knees and fingers to elbows in mud.

We make a mess, me more so than Bec, but playing with the squishy mud is fun... How can you resist the temptation, the chance to be a kid and get as covered in mud as you like do not come up very often.

The funniest part is when Tong brings other people that work on the farm over and they start laughing at us. I think that we are the entertainment for the afternoon. Particularly given that we are doing 'men's work'. We finish our waves

and clean up the mess we have made, by this time if is 1830. We head for the shower to rinse off the best skin cleanse ever, only to discovered that there is no water....

The power has been out all day, and is not expected to return until later tonight, the pump that pumps the water up the hill has therefore not been running all day, and there is no water left in the tank, so we head to the source, down to the river we go. We scrub all the dirt off and head to the restaurant for dinner. Harvest curry... Yum! I could have some of that right now!! And chicken satay. We are in bed early. Ready for an early morning date with some goats.

We make our date, 0630 at the goat house.

We are greeted by a cheery Mr. T. a man of little words unless you ask the questions in which case he is more than happy to answer. He hands us brooms and tells us to head up to the pens and start cleaning. Up we go, we start furthest from the end, in the big pens, and start sweeping. Man, these goats make a mess. About 30 minutes later a guy called Tom walks in, he is a 22yo from Lithuania. An economics student, who thinks he knows the ways of the world, and believes that it is impossible to live without computers and the internet, he has been at the farm for 3 days and is having withdrawals from Facebook already.

The next person we meet is Pye. He is the Goat keeper. He travels 1km everyday to come and look after the goats, they are his little babies. He spends all day collecting grass from them. And completes all the chores involved with the goats on his own when there are no volunteers around to help out. He is a quiet little man, with a wicked laugh. He is very sweet. It's amazing how much can be said without words, through a touch, a hug, a smile or laugh.

The goats are fun, the cleaning does not seem like hard work because the goats are there to play with. The worst part was emptying out the old food and finding an ants nest. I got covered in ants. I hate ants. I was not a happy camper. There were little baby goats to, two small ones, two in between and one that's a little older. He is so the ring leader, such a cheeky trouble maker.

After the pens are cleaned, all of which is recycled and used, the excess feed is given to the chickens and pigs, the poop mostly falls through the cracks in the floor as you sweep and becomes fertilizer in the compost stacks beneath the pens. No waste farming. Than comes the fun part of the morning, milking the goats. Bec is straight in there.

Milking away. It doesn't take me long either, once I am going its easy. Tom thinks the only reason we are milking so well is because we are doing both 'goat nip nips' (Becs direct words) at the same time. I think it was just because he was rough and the goats didn't like his attitude. We got a total of 3.5L of milk this morning. Goat tending done we head down for some breakfast. And what a beautiful breakfast it was too. Mulberry pancake, goats cheese and baguette. YUM. The goats cheese is incredible, and all the better because I know the process that has gone into making it.

Breakfast is followed by a sleep on my behalf, I did not feel well and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it. Bec went to get more grass for the goats

with Pye and ended up with blisters galore, traditional grass harvesting is hard work apparently. The afternoon is full of a lot of tree moving. From one place to the other, they have been in the shade and require sun. And the others need to be moved down the hill to be planted tomorrow. We volunteer to help with planting tomorrow when one of the people ask if we will. And call it quits early for the afternoon. We visit the goats on the way back to our room, and have a long shower and feel clean for the first time in a few days. We head down to dinner

a little later than we had planned, and order some more delicious food, fresh spring rolls, noodle soup and some of that previously mentioned mulberry tempura. All of which is fantastic.

After dinner Bec manages to find a snake near the front ate and is disappointed that it slides off before she has a chance to investigate, I head to bed, dragging Bec by the ears... She is still snake hunting. And we settle for an early night.

We wake early again to help with the goats, knowing what we have to do this morning makes it a little easier. However it appears that I do not learn... I end up with the ants nest again, not a happy little camper. We clean and feed quickly so that we can get in and do some milking.

The milking is fun, we manage to get over 5 litres of milk out of the little goats. The funniest part was when Pye went to pour it in bottles, he didn't have enough, so stole our water bottle, emptied it and filled it with milk. We still didn't have enough so he put some in a container in the fridge and the milk that was left in the bottom of the bucket he gave to us to drink. Yum! Real fresh milk. Not UHT. W e went to clean the bucket, there was still milk left... I couldn't waste it so I tipped the bucket up and ended up with a handle bonking me in the head and milk all down my front... Oh well. Was worth it!

We headed to breakfast, proud little vegemites with our milk in toe

for the girls in the kitchen to do as they do with it. We were joined at breakfast by a tour group that had stopped in to have morning tea, we had seen them around the place, turns out Mr. T's farm is on the route of some of the up market tourist buses, great for him. So we ordered breakfast and sat down and talked with the tourist group, a bunch of older Americans, they were nice, and keen to learn about the workings of the farm. Breakfast was meant to just be mulberry pancake, goats cheese and mulberry leaf omelette, turns out they cooked to much mulberry leaf tempura for the tour bus, so we ended up with some of that too. We also got to try some mature goats cheese. 5 months old it was. Delicious. Not soft like the three day and it's ready cheese, but hard, really hard, but great.

With full tummies we head out of the restaurant towards the trees. Up to mud house four which is where we had dropped all the trees off yesterday. Turns out there had been some little busy bees working already this morning and all the plants that we had taken there yesterday were already planted, or at least down the hill, we went down the hill to help... Wait let me explain the hill, more like a drop off really, and with the rain it had become more of a mud slide, the deal was, attempt to find the steps, and when you got towards the bottom that was even steeper, take a run of faith and hope that you don't slide down on your bum. At the bottom, successful landing might I point out, we were meet by the busy little bees, two young boys that had been clearly planting all day, we could see all the baby mulberry trees in their new homes. We asked what we could do to help, but English for them was not great, and laotian for us is terrible, so we head back up the mud slide to get a wheelbarrow and head back to collect more trees.

It was mid morning by this time, and Bec and I both decided that we didn't feel so crash hot and that it would be a good idea to call it quits early this arvo. We loaded up our barrow and were meet by the older of the two boys, he had brought a third barrow over and started to load up. It put our barrow to shame. Is was so much fuller than ours, and we thought we had ours full... Guess not. With wheelbarrows packed to exploding, we head back up the path to mudbrick house four to unload. With a conveyer style system down the hill the trees are down in no time. And we all head down the hill to start planting. We assume find and empty hole, plant the tree. Turns out not so simple. The empty hole has to be prepared first... White and brown additions had to be made... Than plant the tree. And not to the graft site, fill the hole until the ground is leave with the rest. Off we went.

At 11 break time was called for the locals. We kept planting, on strict instructions to only go to the holes that had been prepared. When all the holes were full we headed for more trees. We moved and sorted to our little hearts content. Tom was helping... I think thats what it was. And was polite enough to allow us to cover him in dirt when we decided it was a good idea to throw the trees down the hill rather than walk them. (although I get covered later when Bec decides I am a better catcher than she is and puts me at the bottom of the hill to catch the next batch of trees, she copes it when the boys see us and she is placed in the middle of a line to help them do the same thing...

Mrs T saw them and i don't think she was happy, but they continued carefully of course). Was right, it was much easier. We worked through break time and by 1330 the locals were back with us and Tom had left, he had to go into town to use Internet... Poor guy!

Back down the hill for more planting. Turns out that with four people planting and only two people digging the holes are not able to be dug fast enough, and before we know we are taking another break. There are so many people down in this field helping with the process, all with individual roles, grass cutters, hole diggers, hole preparer and planter. Bec grabs a shovel to help with the digging

and soon ends up with more blisters, the shovel is past to me... If any one knows me in the garden they will know that I can't use a shovel, and that I have the brownest thumb in the world, I can kill a cactus. And they are trusting me with a shovel. It is a family that we are helping today, mother, daughter and two sons, the mother is marking out the holes to be dug, to make sure they are all in a pretty line (achieved by setting a line to a point and digging along it). I am given instruction twice on hole digging and away I go. Re-instructed later on when one of my holes do not past the mark, deeper. 'same same' the girl says to me. 'same same but different' I respond. I think she has dug a few hundred more holes than me, given the amount of trees already in the field. By four in the arvo I am fading, but keep digging, feeling bad to stop when everyone else is still going. By five I am zapped, and the rain has started. There are to many trees left, and more holes than trees so I help with the planting. At 1730 the family final calls for home time. Thank god I think, I don't think that I could of done anymore, so much for an easy day. If you ever hear kids complaining about school, send them over here to spend a day doing what these kids do.

We head to the showers, covered from head to toe in dirt, mud, sweat and who knows what else,

after a long shower my new tan has been washed down the drain, and as tired as I am my stomach wins and we head to the restaurant for dinner. Harvest curry is a good hearty option. Warming. Filling. And eggplant dip on the side to top it off. Yum! Full of food and good conversation we head to bed. Absolutely exhausted.

Before bed there is a story that happens... I am in the toilet and all I hear from Bec is 'don't move'm you expect something bad, so I stop dead in my tracks, only to discover that the reason I have been told to not move is that there is a gecko that she is trying to catch... A big green and red one... She succeeds (with only one bite, this is why she got the rabies vaccination)...

I did think that she was going to explode with excitement....

With plans to move on this morning and head to Luang Prabang. We get up early because we don't want to miss the goats for the last time. We know we don't have long with them so we clean with hast and begin to milk. It is not until Pye walks in with a bottle and starts feeding some of the baby goats that we realize at two kids were born overnight. Both boys.

They are so cute and fluffy. Were very happy that I got to see them. We only milk for a really short amount of time than head back for a shower and some breakfast before getting to the bus station. Didn't feel like stinking out the bus with goat smell.

Bags packed we make the hike to the restaurant. And have the privilege of joining Mr. T and his family for breakfast, traditional Lao style. Sticky rice... Oh man, sticky rice, you have never had sticky rice until you have had it in Lao, it is the best form of rice ever. Eggs, beans, spicy fish, goats milk, spicy dip. Was fantastic to have a chance to sit and talk to mr.t about the plans he has for the farm and his new farm. About what he does for the community and the people he has working for him. The work he does truly is amazing, you can see that he loves his country and the traditional ways of life.

Mr. T kindly takes us to the bus station so that we are able to catch a local bus. Luang Prabang is 300km maximum from Vang Veing. The bus left at 0930. What time would you expect to arrive. Knowing that the roads in Lao are bad give some leeway.... Answer to follow. The bus was full, bot locals and tourists. It was meant to be air-conditioned, however this was not the case, so sitting in the back we were sweltering. The driver thought it a good idea to drive with the window down. By the end of the trip we had decided that this was probably a way of keeping himself awake as he looked on the verge of falling asleep the entire trip. On winding roads, cliff edges right next to the road, tired driver who I swear was having micro sleeps, not a good combination and made for the most anxious, hair raising, stressful, fear provoking journey of the trip so far. And it just kept going on and on. Finally we arrived in Luang Prabang at 1730, white knuckled, stressed, tired and so happy to be out of the mini bus. Eight hours for just 300km, the roads are past bad, pot holes everywhere when there is sealed sections, dirt both grated and not grated. More pot holes. Towns/villages that live on the edge of the road, and therefore use the road as a walkway and to go about daily business using the middle of the road. Cars driving down the wrong side of the road. I don't think that I can describe just how bad they are.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage listed town. It is full of French colonial buildings, temples, little winding alleyways and history. We didn't see the new section of the town as we stayed in the old city. It is a beautiful place. The old city itself is nestled between two rivers, the Mekong river one side and the nam song river on the other. Lao is a land locked country and the Mekong is the easiest way to transport goods through. It is the lifeline of Lao PDR.

The pace of life is so much slower here in Luang Prabang than everywhere else we have come across. It is described as an early to bed, early to rise town. It really is, by 2200 every night everything is closing up shop, people are bunked down in their homes, it is quiet. Nice. Friendly. A great place to come, sit, relax and just stop for a week or two. But enough for now... more on Luang Prabang and the remainder of our time in Lao PDR next week.

Wander Which Way Girls

Location:Malindi Rd,Zanzibar Town,Tanzania

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bangkok, bangkok, Bangkok........

Week Four. Bangkok all the way!

Being woken in the morning by some lady walking through the carriage trying to sell something is not a nice way to be woken and results in me, getting out of the wrong side of bed, so to speak. The sun is up, the birds are singing, it is a good time to wake people up!!!

My disposition improves with some Milo (it is just not the same in Thailand, it is UHT milk, no good when you are used to drinking 1/2 a liter of fresh milk a day). We sit and watch as the world goes by around us, as the rice fields and country towns turn into the metropolis that is Bangkok. We are amused by just how close to the tracks the little shacks and houses are built. They appear to live in squalor but seem so happy with life. They are so close to the tracks that if you put your hand out the window you would be able to touch the buildings. With Bangkok coming alive, the traffic is jammed packed into the streets, parking lot style, and I am glad to be on the train, cruising with no real plan for the day.

Arriving at Bangkok, Hua Lamphong station, we pile off the train, locals and tourists alike, as Bec and I make a bee line for the side of the platform as to not be in anyones way. We have accommodation booked, but it's currently 0730 and check in is not until 1400. We find a map, and look at places to go, watch the goings on of the station, find the hotel on the map, eat some breakfast and sit some more. At 0930 we decide to make a break for the big city, armed with a map and a rough distance of 500m's we set off towards the hotel. I manage to get us lost as we turn a street to soon and we end up finding the hotel thanks to Bec in a round about way, sweat pouring off us, we walk in the door at 1000 and to our surprise they check us in this early. Yay! We plonk onto the bed, cool shower, unpack to find all our dirty washing, first time for a washing machine wash (Bec insists on it!!!), look at the map and decide it is a good idea to find a supermarket for some supplies. Find a supermarket we did, after we found the camera district, the game district, the guns and weapon district, half of china town and a whole lot of other things. Only on returning to the hotel, walk one street to far and find a supermarket down that street, not 100m's from the front door, after we had just walked over a kilometer, this situation leads to lots of laughing and disbelief, trust us!

Afternoon wanders reward us with a street side wash centre, entire load, wash and dry, 100baht ($3.30), and a big load it was! Surprised we had any clean clothes left! The street stalls in china town are incredible, people everywhere, street stalls everywhere you look... Walking down the middle of the road is easier than on the foot path as you are able to actually get past. Street food for dinner, worst meal yet, worse than chilly night in Krabi, and that is saying something! The only saving grace was that we got some veggies from the vegetarian stall near the door to the hotel, and this provided enough for dinner!

Challenge one for this morning is to again find the laundry place that we managed to stumble upon last night. Mission accomplished, return at five for the washing! We set off to go and see the temple that is closest to us, Wat Tramit, it is a Buddhist temple, with the biggest solid gold statue of buddha in the world. Weighing over 5 tonne! Not able to see the whole temple as "the Princess" is visiting tomorrow and they have to make the temple pretty for her. The buddha is an amazing sight and a welcome dry change given the rain storm we just walked through to get here.

As we are leaving we see a bunch of monks rocking up, obviously some special thing for tomorrow. 108 monks in total from all over Thailand, we have decided that monks either drive Mercedes or Toyota Camary's (I think it might be to do with the amount of donations they receive at their respective temples).

After the temple we have no plan and the only thing in the area is a snake farm. I am reluctant, sounds wrong but Bec is keen so off we head. After a very polite cleaner and a train officer both giving us bum steers we are finally headed in the right direction thanks to a nice security guard! People along the way keep asking where we are headed and try and help with directions, more of a hindrance really and we are never really sure if they are actually trying to help or if they are a taxi/tuk-tuk driver just trying to sell us a ride somewhere. Finally we arrive at the snake farm only to find out that it is actually part of the Thailand red cross and was set up by the queen as a way of studying snakes, their venom, the toxic properties of it, as well as educating the public about them. Snake Farm just does not seem the right way to describe it on a tourist map. With you all knowing Bec and her love of all things that slide along the ground.... Here she is!!!

OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was in heaven, initially a little dubious as I thought "farm" and didn't want to contribute to the mistreatment of an already under dog of the animal world but....... As Lena said farm was wrong it was an institution that should be mandatory for every one! There was a snake display (we missed the start, much to my disappointment) however the handlers brought the snakes so close and you got loads of information from the English speaking lecturer. Toward the end they asked for a volunteer and you guessed it my hand was up and I am sure stretched well beyond normal length trying to get picked (I bet I looked like the nerdy kid in kindy with the very straight back and almost bouncing out of my seat making little noises trying to get teacher to pick you... That summed it up quiet well really because yes she did look like this). I beat the brave little kid in the front row and am sure the handler picked me because he was afraid I would explode if he didn't!

So the lecturer asks where I am from and is a little surprised, she points out how many venomous snakes Australia has and then asks if I know the most venomous......... Well 'DERH' I give her the three names I knew it by, she then asks what is the biggest animal eaten by a snake.... Right again and as one of the handlers walks toward me I turn to face him with this little rat snake another handler dumps this massive Burmese python on my shoulders! I think they thought they got me but my grin just got bigger!!! I got some photos and then every one who wanted got a hold, Lena included (not that I wanted to hold it, but again with the thought of Bec exploding if I did not, she seemed to excited at the prospect of having a photo of me holding the snake)! I was so proud of her!!!!!! After that we wandered around the open air pits with a good selection of snakes and then off to the museum bit. It was really well set up, good information and well presented. Loads more photos on my behalf and a little begging "please can I have one of those ones" to no avail. We left with me grinning and promising not to ask to drag Lena to any more dorky places. Very very cool let me tell you!!!!

It wasn't so dorky, more nerdy really. :)
What made Bec even a little more nerdy today was the photo that she got taken right after the snake show. Again looking like a kid in a candy shop as we spot a nurse from the red cross hat and all, Bec asks to have her photo taken with her. I think that the poor girl was shocked and just stood there stunned as we took the photo.... I must admit that I am glad I am not a nurse in Thailand, I thought smurf blue was bad it's nothing on white dress and hat.

We walked back to china town after this thinking that it didn't seem to far on the map and would only be one stop further than catching the subway thing. The walk wasn't so bad and we did get to see a different part of Bangkok, not so much the tourist precinct more of a business orientated area. Found what appeared to be pork jerky, We got the smallest bag possible and dug in! Pork jerky?!?! not really. Was more of... not sure what it was. Supposedly pork but Thai's kill everything with sugar, was deathly sweet with a funky after taste. This resulting in a nausea feeling for both of us. May very well have been the worst food tasted yet (and that's saying something given last nights dinner)! We make it back to china town in time to pick up our washing. As we walk down the street to collect it we walk past a self serve coin laundry... Exactly what we wanted, no idea how we missed it! Daaaarrrrrr.

Washing collected and delivered back to the hotel. We head out to find the post office that the map assures us is just around the corner, have not seen it in all the walking we have done but we go for a look and vola... There it is! Right where the map said, must be the only street in china town we didn't walk down! Easy to get to not even 2 minutes walk, convenient for post tomorrow. Dinner tonight consists of veggies, two minute noodles and tuna sandwiches. Packed and ready for a move to our not so luxury digs tomorrow!

All the tourist sights appeared to be on the one sided of Bangkok more centered in the older part and we had heard much about Khoa San Rd. So the plan is to stay around here and see some more sights. Post sent... And packs much lighter for it, we head off to make it across town! Apparently tuk-tuks across town are expensive, they don't like leaving their areas we later find out. After refusing a few due to cost we finally have one that is willing to take us for 100baht, done deal. He takes us for an entire tour of Bangkok, I swear! We sort of had an idea where we were headed and he went all kinds of funky ways out of the way. Oh well... Price agreed, I don't care which way he takes us so long as he takes us and we don't stop at any shops! Arrive we did, no stops but about thirty minutes later!

KS guesthouse on prasemen rd, that is to be our little home for the next four nights. We settle in and head off for a walking tour, armed with our map, our brains in our heads and our feet in our shoes, we can steer ourselves anyway we choose.... Much to the disappointment of the taxi driver on the corner near our hotel that tries to tell us what direction Khoa San rd is in and which temple is good to see... I tire rapidly and pull Bec down the street in the opposite direction to the guy! We cross a bridge over a rubbish filled canal and turn right over the road and down a canal side walkway... We like the look of this street. We keep on walking, just keep walking, walking, walking (sorry Dory no swimming allowed, canal is to dirty. But there is a surprising array of fish in there that we can see, we make a mental note not to have any fish bases dishes around Bangkok).

Walk we do until we see a cute little book shop, passport books. It is a gorgeous little shop and a slice of peace and quiet in an otherwise bustling, noisy, polluted over run city. The shop is quiet with a good selection of English, Japanese and Thai books all there for the reading. Post cards, music, coffee and food "coffee tastes better with books" the slogan reads.

We are won over by our new found little hideaway. We manage to lose ourselves for about an hour and this is only because I promise to return in the morning for breakfast, I think it was the only way I was going to get Bec out of the shop and nothing at all to do with the fact that I wanted waffles for breakfast. We ask what time the shop opens and the owner laughs... 'whenever I get here, depends when I wake up, generally about 1030'.

With the promise to return we step out onto the street, I seriously nearly did a 180 and headed straight back inside, the noise, humidity and smog outside is amazing as it slaps you in the face when you are caught unawares, so relaxed in the shop I didn't even think where we were until we stepped onto the footpath. After a second to compose we move on. Past the queens gallery... Oooooo that looks good, will return there tomorrow. A Wat (temple) who's name I can not think of right now, but it housed the loha prosat, (keep in mind that it is now 1700 and everything is closing), past the democracy monument where we had a fantastic noodle salad. Bec thought about the color but I did not, bright orange you would think spicy, my stomach won and I did not think. The salad was not spicy and was a good pre-dinner dinner. There is a place marked on the tourist map as a place of interest, Mon's milk shop. With no idea what it was we headed down the street to find it... We passed a place called Mont's milk shop full of people and remain to this point no wiser as to what the place was. Maybe a shop/restaurant selling milk based products, no idea!

Giant swing... Sounds fun?! sorry to bust your bubbles, no fun! Big orange monument thing... Whatever, don't call it a swing if you can't sit on it and swing some!

Found our next Wat for the day we stumble in and follow what limited English signs there are, the temples tourist offices are all closed so we just wander. Not sure which way to go but being as respectful as we can be. The walls are all lined with Buddha statues and the main temple is huge. Red and green tiled roof, makes for a stunning photo with a bright blue sun setting sky in the background.

We have a brief look inside the main temple, careful not to disturb as people are there praying (not sure if that is the right word for Buddhism, oh well). And then we head on our way when our stomach begin to crumble.

To Khao San Rd captain!! On we walk, back past the milk shop, the democracy monument, picture obtained and into McDonald's we go... Just to use the toilet, love McDonald's, clean toilets, free, western style and paper provided. Off we trot and there is Khoa San Rd, staring us in the face.... Holly cow, it's Bangla rd Bangkok style. This is not what we wanted. Neon lights, vulgar tourists and people selling crap. Oh man. Bec does however convince me that it is a good idea to buy some fisherman pants (I do love that she made me, as i sit here three weeks later in them). I have worm mine more than she has her's. They are great for travel pants, train, bus, boat... Great!

We find what appears to be the least looking restaurant style food we can with plastic tables and kitchen on the footpath, should be alright... We didn't mind really, it was way past dinner time and we were starving! We head off in what we thought was possibly the direction home. We may possibly have been completely wrong, as we end up back on a main road in the complete opposite direction to where we wanted to be. We head back in and manage to find our way without to much foot stomping on my behalf... I don't like markets I have seen enough, particularly this style. On the way to the hotel we find the local street stalls and decided that this is where dinner should be tomorrow night.

Day four in Bangkok with our first stop set we head off, you guessed it right back to the bookshop for breakfast and timeout. I'm having waffles:) and ice coffee, real coffee and toastie for Bec. Chill out and relaxation time attended, on to the gallery. Some of the work was just freaky, some good, some not so thai at all, some very Thai. We decide seen we are in the area we should go back to Wat Ratchanadda, which houses the only remaining loha prasat in the world, there was initially three, one in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, however the other two feel into disrepair, whilst the one in Thailand was saved and only just completed recently. So happy that we went back to see it, we had not planned on viewing this temple at all but i think that it may have been the best one that we saw the whole time in Bangkok. It was spectacular with seven levels, each second level with metal spires. There are 37 metal spires representing the 37 virtues to enlightenment. The building reaches a height of 36m.

The spiral staircase in the middle was a fun too. Felt like we practically had the building to ourselves, with all the other tourists just climbing to the top for the view and not exploring the rest of the building, shame really with all the work that has been put towards making the place tourist friendly.

Found a quote at the bookstore 'a tourists sees what he comes to see, the traveller sees what he sees'. I think that this was such the case in this situation. No plan to see it, just stumble across it and it turns out to be the best.

After this temple we decided that we were close to the golden mount, a big concrete mountain with a golden stupa on top... Why not, let's climb that too... No where near as good as the last temple and we are in and out in about 30 minutes... I must admit though that I did have fun ringing the bells on the way up and down, not sure if we were meant to or if it was disrespectful but none of the monks said anything to us about it. Next stop canal cruise with a plan to cruise to the main river flowing through Bangkok. Mission failed. It's ok, we didn't self destruct. We did however end up in the middle of a red shirt rally, a truth rally to do with politics, that we later found out on the news that just three years earlier it had been broken up by the army, randomly firing bullets into the crowd, killing 90 people! With our position finally found on the map, we are no where near where we wanted to be, so we hop back on the boat, pay out 15 baht and cruise back up the canal. To given some idea of just how dirty the water is in the canal, there are plastic tarps on the the sites of the boat to pull up if the water splashes, if any water does get in, it is quickly wipe from the skin. Mouth closed the whole way, and very thankful for sunglasses. After our miss adventure and feeling really dirty we head for a shower, with the plan for a trip to the pub recommended by the people in the bookshop.

Pub found, odd looks when we go to walk in, obviously not a tourist pub, appears closed still, some creepy guy out the front says you can stay for a drink, so we quickly say we haven't had dinner and head back up the street, dinner and drinks had at a local street stall next to the canal... No seafood ordered! For $3. Again we decide that walking up the streets a good idea, until we decide we don't want to go down there... The street became quiet, eerie quiet and a little freaky, so we turned on our heels and headed back. Pork sausage (I think Bec may of found a new favorite food) and a mini crepe with melted marshmallow filling provided for a nice post dinner treat. We did not make it to the pub... Next time.

Weekend market... Take bus number three and get off at the market, you can't miss it. Indeed they were right, you couldn't miss, not unless our eyes were painted on. The thing goes for over three city blocks. People everywhere. The market is broken up into sections containing different good... Supposedly anyway, things just seemed to be all mixed together if you ask me. There were 27 sections ranging from animals, food, antiques to clothing both new and used, household goods, flowers, plants, everything really. There is even a massage aisle.

The strategy was to follow the aisles... Sure, yeah right, the aisles that seemed to go straight clearly did not as we got diverted and did not end up in the next aisle along but instead an entire different section. There was some fantastically cheap clothes, and you can understand why people come to Thailand to shop, but I couldn't do it for long, I don't even think we saw 1/8th of the thing before we called it quits, heat, humidity and sweaty bodies all in a crammed space, with tin roof is not a good combination.

We headed home, up a street like salmon, we felt that given it was two in the arvo people would be headed away from the market.... But no, people continue to come in droves as even more stalls set up in the street.

I decided that i wanted to try all forms of transport in bangkok (motorbike taxi not included) so we headed home via the skyrail (also insanely clean like the subway) and the main boat system (not so clean... Not sure it could be given the river that it is cruising along), with the plan to make it to the sky bar, we didn't make it, whether not enough water intake or caffeine lacking am not sure, but I crumpled in a heap on the bed at 1530 and did not move until morning!!!!!

Tourist alert!!! The plan today is to be tourist, true tourist, visit the sights most frequented by the tourist population of Thailand, via the train station to secure tickets for tomorrow and with a little treat of KFC we continued on our way to Wat Pho. Wat Pho is a temple containing on massive arse, big reclining Buddha. It is one of the most frequented temples in Bangkok, costing 100baht just to see the Buddha image. I will admit the wall art is amazing, as is the size of the Buddha, it is ridiculously big,

as is the number of tourists that set foot through the walkway everyday. Talk about overcrowded, comment of the day goes to Bec... "I thought we were in Bangkok, not Mumbai, India?". Not so sure about going to India after the pushing we incurred this morning. We step out of the little hall with the reclining Buddha and make our way around the grounds, they are spectacular, the mosaic on the stupa's in the yard are incredible. As are the fierce looking things guarding the entrances. The actual temple hall is very similar to the one we saw the other night,

and we decide that all the temples are starting to blur into one. We move on with the plan to make it to the grand palace and than the emerald Buddha - the most prized possession of Thailand.

We have decided that the best way, if not always the easiest way, to get directions is to ask someone that has nothing to gain by pointing us in the right way, so we head to the security guard on the entrance to Wat pho, after he realizes we are not trying to get in for free he politely points us to the right, than turn left at big road, follow the big white fence. Off we go, being told be every tuk-tuk, taxi and bus driver that we are headed in the wrong direction... Tuk tuk after tuk tuk insist we are headed the wrong way, but we push on in spite of the heat, it appears we are not so good at the tourist thing, of we were ding it true style we would either be in a tour bus, or catching a tuk tuk, never mind. We find the entrance to the palace with drivers continuing to tell us, even after we could see the entrance, that its long way, I take you. We get to the gates only to be told we are not dressed appropriately and we would have to rent clothes, free of charge with a deposit, long pants and long shirt is all that is acceptable on palace grounds. We line up for about 15 minutes in air-conditioned comfort only to read the sign saying entrance 400 baht... I didn't want to see the palace that bad, so with the price confirmed we turned around and headed out. Asking for directions to the emerald Buddha from another security guard only to be informed that it is inside the palace grounds. This is where is decide that we really really suck at the tourist thing, as we turn and head straight in the opposite direction, away from the palace, the emerald buddha and the hoards of tourists that have come out to see these places, we are in an Asian country and it is spot the Asian, odd concept really!

We walk home past the national museum, that actually looks really interesting and we would love to visit, but it's closed today, so back along Khoa San Rd, oh after seeing some nuff nuff bogan tourists that walk out on a zebra crossing, from behind a bus that you can't see past and just step onto the road, collecting the mirror of a passing minivan, only to have a go at the driver because he didn't stop at the crossing, if anyone has been to Thailand, you would know that a zebra crossing doesn't mean you are just free to walk, you still have to time it right and make a run for it when there is a small break in the traffic, no different to normal road crossing really, just that there is a ramp off the gutter rather than a step down. Some people are idiots. Khoa San rd is much nicer of a day time, not so much neon, not so many short skirts or people trying to sell you things, just a few stalls and pubs and shops lining the street. After a stroll through, picking up a t-shirt for Bec and a sarong for me (that turns out was not dye locked, so my turquoise blue sarong is now patchy and splotchy and continues to turn me blue every time it gets wet).

Nanna nap this arvo, followed by what I think may have been my favorite part of Bangkok, we shower and dress in the smartest casual wear we have, head to the ferry and catch the boat down the river, walk up the street and arrive at Leuba state tower. The home of the sky bar. A very cool open air bar on the 63rd floor of the tower, overlooking Bangkok as the sun sets and the city lights up.

This was my splurge for the trip, two shots of baileys over ice cost the same as an entire bottle would in Australia, but you certainly wouldn't get the view with it.

On the way out we ask the best way to get back to the train station, if there is a bus that goes and if so what number, we get the most bizarre looks, people the stay at the Leuba state, even people a visit have no other form of transport than private car or taxi. Taxi is the only way we are told by multiple people, it can't be! We head into a glasses shop and ask if there is a bus, the mother of the clerk tells us that bus 75 will get us very close to where we want to be, spotting the bus we bolt across the road, full Bangkok style and away we go. Indeed it did get us close to where we wanted to go, after walking the remaining distance to catch bus 53 home, we are on our way... Doh... After being on bus 53 for about 15 minutes we come to the exact stop that we just walked from... Ah well, we need to get more fit to carry those packs of ours. Dinner tonight is at a restaurant as apparently today is the day that all the street vendors take off. Late night with a late start tomorrow.

The train tickets we brought yesterday morning, they are for use today, to get us to the Lao PDR boarder crossing, the only issue is that the only train available is a sleeper train, so we are stuck in Bangkok until 2000 tonight with no plan on what to do. Catch up on some blog we thought... Hence week one and two finally being completed. That was only after much walking... Walking, walking, always walking. Coffee at the bookshop and chill for the afternoon, plan thwarted by a nice looking restaurant just prior to the book shop. Number 467 Praseman Rd, just down from brown sugar (I give so many details because if you are ever in Bangkok you have to try this place, be warned I think that it closes at 12 midday given they were packing up around us), there were lots of locals and what appeared to be a buffet style self serve. We take a seat and are handed a menu, with much effort we finally figure out that the buffet is 50baht per plate, and you can fill as many times as you like, and it is spicy. We take a gamble, but order some veggies and rice just in case it is to spicy. In I head, plate in hand I face the buffet with no idea where to start... That one doesn't look so spicy, than pow... Not spicy but the manager standing next to me, pointing to the rice, I take some, Tom yum he says, I will come back but before I know I have a bowl taken to the table for me, than pow he returns... Not spicy, not spicy, spicy, very spicy, very spicy, not like that, with noodle. I take a seat promising to return to try more when I know the heat of everything I have on the plate. There was not returning to the buffet...........

No, Not spicy at all. Delicious food actually, but it just kept appearing, we complement the Tom yum and out comes a bowl for Bec, Bec really enjoys it and out comes another bowl. Followed by a Vietnamese style noodle thing that he was trying to explain in the buffet line, he made an entire plate for us, followed by a bowl of a sweet yet bitter curry pickled thing, was great with rice. And yet still not done, out comes two pink bowls, dessert, with buffet he says. Was a coconut noodle thing that I was not so keen on but Bec enjoyed. All complemented by a never ending glass of water as we did not open the bottle that was placed at our table, he keep filling our glasses with "same water", from a jug. 95 baht and we have had the biggest meal yet on our trip... We roll away from the restaurant, so wanting to still go to the bookshop but feeling bad that we would not be able to fit anything in, we walked past and continued to a museum on Thai culture. The museum seemed great, but we did not think we would have time so instead of stopping and sitting we decided to walk and see if the national gallery was open, it was not! Argh! Hot and bothered we find a park and sit, cool ourselves and write some blog. When the breeze ceases completely we move on, back then bookshop for one final visit for Bec, think she is having withdrawals. We sit and don't do much for an hour or so, than head back to is guesthouse, collect our bags we left for storage and get bus 53 (the anti-clockwise bus that runs around the city) to the train station. With grossly expanded stomachs from lunch we are hungry again and head to a street stall for some dinner to fill us up for a big trip to Lao. Duck into trusty 7/11 for supplies than back to the station and onto our train and hotel for the night. Beds are made in quick succession by the grumpy carriage assistant, whom of you said no to having your bed made, he gave evil stare walked off then would return five minutes later and hover until you said yes! I take the bottom bunk for a change and we tuck down for the night.

Good Night Bangkok, and see you later week four.

Wander Which Way Girls

Location:Jinja-Budondo Rd,,Uganda