June 30, 2010

Laos snapshots*


*More snaps to follow

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Rub a tub tub, two blondes in a tube!



We survived the night and celebrated this with a day of tubing along the river! Vang Vieng is known for the river tubing- it’s basically like a bar crawl on the water! There are about 20 bars stretched along the river banks, each one trying to outdo the other with gimmicks and drinking games/sports. There’s rope swinging, muddy volleyball, water slides and ziplining! 

Of course I didn't try any of these things as I knew it would be just my luck to dislocate something mid-fun and end up in a funny smelling clinic somewhere. The trick to it is that someone who works at the bar flings out a rope with either a small tube or a bottle attached to catch you before you float past their bar. Great fun! And great skill required by some of these guys as they haul in one drunken tourist after another. We signed up for the tubing at a dodgy looking garage in the town and where then shuttled to the starting point up river in a tuk tuk. 

We were the only girls and we immediately egged on to have some shots when we got there. It sounded like a great idea, until we saw the bottles from which the shots were being served. They had everything from lizards, to wasps and bugs fermented in the yellow liquid! Laos produces a local whiskey, which tastes like rubbing alcohol so I imagine those creatures were in there to give it a bit of a kick… Everyone was also spray painting all sorts of naughty things on their bodies so Chris and I drew ‘Barbados’ down our arms and a trident on our backs :) gotta represent! After a few bug shots we took the plunge and slowly got into the water. 

Let me set the scene for you though; the night before there had been the equivalent of a flash tropical storm (high winds, thunder and lightning) and as a result the river had burst its banks. The water was high and rapid and a few bars had been swept away. We didn't realise this until we got to the bars and someone told us. What did we know? We hadn't seen the river the day before so we couldn't tell the difference. It just looked cold, clay coloured and very very fast! Off we went, holding hands and shrieking like little girls! We were convinced that every little piece of debris was a crocodile coming after us and that we were going to get swept down to Cambodia. We paddled to our first bar and had more free shots! (This was turning out to be very cheap and cheerful! :)) 

We were tubing with a bunch of ‘lads’, which turned out to be the norm in this town, the ratio of guys to girls was always around 8/2!!! Aurgh. 

We made it down the river in one piece, soaking up the unbelievable scenery around us. 

On one side of the river was a small set of mountains which dropped straight down. It was misty at the peaks and it looked so picturesque! When we got to the town we had to make a mad dash to return our tubes in time otherwise we’d lose two beers worth of deposit!! (Everything seemed to be measured in beers or buckets…more on those later!). 

The locals must be bored of seeing a whole flock of tourists stumbling down the street half at 6 pm every night naked and muddy, tubes around their heads/waists/feet! After scrubbing ourselves raw in the shower (we were worried about leaches…) 

We went to the ‘Bucket bar’ for a free bucket of Laos wiskey! Tastes horrible but makes conversation with annoying guys much more tolerable. Everyone here seems to think they’re the most traveled and that they’ve been to the most amazing places in the world! Which I’m sure they have but with there being so many guys they were constantly trying to ‘out travel’ each other…

Chris and I suddenly became very interested in the football matches going on.
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June 29, 2010

Lost in Laos


We made it to Vientiene, Laos in one piece! 16 hours in a HUGE air conditioned bus, Chris and I were so lucky as we grabbed the back seats and slept most of the way!
Thinking we had everything figured out, we got dropped off at the local bus station and boarded a local (meaning not airconditioned or organised by a travel company!) Lao bus for Vang Vieng. The looks we got were priceless as our bags were shoved into the back seat, with little kids peeking at us with dumbfounded expressions and slight scepticism. We waited about an hour while the bus was loaded up with cargo on the roof and a never ending stream of passengers. Stools were brought out to accommodate any late additions, boxes of live chickens were shoved under seats and babies were passed from one lap to another to make more room! I bought a baguette from a local vendor and it wolfed it down (only stopping to question what kind of meat I had just eaten after it was gone!) And finally, an hour and a half later (and roughly $US2) we set off for our 4 hours journey to Vang Vieng!
After driving through endless fields of rice paddies and winding through mountain terrain, we came to small Lao villages. The bus driver dropped people off one by one in front of their houses/huts, just like a school bus :) At first this was quite cool because it felt like we were part of something more genuine but after 4 hours my shoulders were sunburnt, I was starving (as usual), the chickens clucking had gotten really annoying and Chris and I were wondering where the hell we were going…No one spoke a word of English (or Spanish, French or Dutch, we tried!) And they just kept on smiling broadly at our pathetic attempts at hand gesturing “where are we going?”
Finally we came to a broad valley with beautiful mountains on one side. The bus driver stopped next to a strip of houses and what can only be described as an unfinished, flooded car park. He smiled and gestured for us to get off (we were the last few on the bus). Chris and I blinked in disbelief, hurriedly flicking through our guide book to see if he was right. Before we could argue our bags were taken off of the bys and we were stranded in the aforementioned car park, not sure whether to laugh or cry. On cue, it started to rain and we struggled (well, I struggled as I over packed and have 20 kg of luggage) towards what looked like it could be some form of a town.
Soaked, tired, smelly and utterly fed up, we trudged along and booked ourselves into one of the first guest houses we could find ($2 a night!) Desperate for a shower and some food, we didn’t really inspect our room properly…
Later, after dinner and some drinks with an international motley crew, we came back to our dodgy room and ended up propping our suitcases against the unstable looking door as we were convinced one of the odd (or drunk) characters we had bumped into in Laos would come after us!
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Bye Bye for now Bangkok!

Before we left Bangkok we visited th Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. The Palace is really beautiful with different architectural styles used in different compounds within the palace. I wore a cotton blouse and black leggings to cover myself up but as we entered I was told that leggings were ‘too sexy’ and I needed to cover up! Luckily they leant out sarongs for women to borrow and track pants for men. I looked like a very confused individual (my outfit didn’t match!!) And it was boiling hot! We dashed in between the buildings and the temples were a cool oasis! There’s the Emerald Buddha here which is very famous in Thailand and the temple was crowded with people paying their respects, placing lotus flowers in golden basins at the foot of the altar. The buddha is actually solid jade and is about 3 feet tall but it’s placed on an enormous altar which also has other buddha images around it. It was very peaceful, cool and relaxing within that temple. The detail on every wall is just incredible, with each square foot of mural representing a different chapter in Buddha’s life. 


*More photos to follow!


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June 27, 2010

Bangkok&Kanchanaburi Continued


Sorry my phone died! Have had no service in Laos either, just my luck…!
The cemetery was really sad, each grave stone was marked and it was upsettng to see that all of those men were so young when they died. Dutch, English and French men all laid to rest in a cemetery so far from home.
The Bridge over the River Kwae was really interesting! There were two bridges originally but the wooden one was bombed in WWII. The steel one was also damaged in the middle but both ends are original and still intact.
We then clambered into an old train and road along the “Death Railway” (‘The most dangerous curving bridge which is built of wooden logs along the mountain side, constructed by the POWS), the scenery was very pretty and I can’t imagine how wild and unmanageable it was during WWII.
Lunch was vegetarian for me as the meat options are often too spicy! (I couldn’t even handle the chicken at KFC here…Pathetic)
We went bamboo rafting (A bit disappointing as we couldn’t control the rafts ourselves!) and elephant trekking! I had prepared myself  for the worst regarding the treatment of the elephants as people here don’t hold animals in the same regard as Westerners. Luckily the elephants seemed relaxed and comfortable though a couple had chains  around their ankles and necks. Ours was the biggest and his name was Mo :) He didn’t seem too fussed about anything! The youngest elephant seemed really excited to be there, eating things along the way, tooting and even playing the harmonica! He even waved goodbye as we left. It was so cute and I loved being able to touch them.


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June 15, 2010

Waddi Waddi Shab Shab


Tuesday morning we woke up bright and early, with coolers packed and music blaring, for our road trip to Wadi Shab. A Wadi, according to a certain Omani expert, is “a dried up river basin, existing in a desert type country among mountains that suffers from flash flooding during rainy season.” 
We drove South for about 2 hours, through mountains and desert plains and some picturesque Omani coastal villages.

First stop was a natural sink hole which the boys had discovered years ago. Since then its been (kind of) developed into a mini tourist attraction. (Basically they put a wall around it and built some steps- there was nothing else around for miles! So we climbed the 1,000,001 steps and had a quick dip in the bath tub warm water.


We cruised along the coastline until we came to a small village but I couldn’t really understand what we were doing here. That is, until we rounded a corner and drove into the former estuary! It looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park! A quick lunch later and we were in our swimsuits ready to go! Little did Ema and I know what we were in for…


“It’s a long walk!” the boys warned us…

Few words can describe what we saw for the next 3 hours as we climbed, swam, scrambled and crawled our way to the waterfall at the other end of the Wadi. Each corner revealed a totally different landscape, with the river water changing from shades of turquoise to emerald green. The Wadi had shifted and the original trekking path had been severely damaged by the recent cyclone so the trek was more difficult than usual. We were warned by a boy from the village that it was now dangerous to go trekking as the rocks were so unstable and the water was teeming with snakes and frogs! But, ofcourse, we continued on anyway!

Finally, we made it to the waterfall; exhausted, sunburnt and not without a few cuts and soon-to-be bruises. But it was so worth it! The waterfall was wild and rapid, the river swollen from the recent rains, and we had to cling to the rock walls to keep from being hurtled back. I’m pretty sure I felt snakes touching me every few minutes under the water but I chose to ignore it. Tom later told us that he saw one just before we went swimming to the waterfall but (thankfully) didn’t say anything! It didn’t help that the waterfall was in a dark, spooky cave with a veryyy narrow entrance!

The way back seemed much easier. By that time we were pros! But I kept forgetting I had two left feet until it was too late and this resulted in some bruises in very odd places! There was a great feeling of accomplishment and we all went back to Muscat feeling exhausted but really happy. We slept like Bajans after a heavy Sunday lunch that night!
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June 13, 2010

Monday is Mosque Day



Ems picked me up early o’clock today and we headed to the Sultan Quabos Grand Mosque. We were covered from head to toe as women are not allowed to show their hair, ankles and wrists. 

The heat was unbearable! At 10 am it was 42 degrees! The enormous mosque is visible from Emas house and has beautiful, lush gardens surrounding it. On arriving our outfits were inspected (we both had on Calum’s shirts!) and after a nod of approval from the guard we were allowed to continue inside. 

First we entered the female prayer hall (men and women pray separately out of respect for the women so that they don’t have to bend over in front of men when they pray!) 


The courtyards are all white marble, surrounded by white pillars, each symbolizing a pillar of Islam.

The main prayer hall took my breath away. The high ceiling forms a dome in the centre from which hangs the largest chandelier I’ve ever seen! The hall can accomodate over 6,000 peopl and houses the largest carpet in the world! After your eyes adjust to the sheer size of it all you can begin to focus on the beautiful, intricate details adorning every surface, nook and cranny of the room.

The size, architecture and decoration of the mosque is just amazing and the overall mood is peaceful yet regal. Thankfully, every room was air conditioned but once we stepped outside into the blistering heat Ema and I made a mad dash for the car! We were melting!
That night we watched Holland play Denmark and they beat them 2-0!! GOOOO HOLLLLAND!! :) .
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Footie Fever


Football fever has hit Oman as well and we've been trying to watch as many games as possible. GOOOOO HOLLAND!! YEAAAAA!! I’ll be trying my best to follow them when I’m in Thailand next week!

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June 12, 2010

Inshallah

Everyone’s answer to ANY problem/woe/mishap/accident is “Inshallah” (God’s Will). The Omanis believe that everything is in God’s hands and it seems to define the Omani mentality. It’s nice because the Omanis don’t generally get angry or frustrated but they also use it as an excuse for EVERYTHING! Can’t get a  job done in the time it was contracted to? Inshallah! Just got into a fender bender? Don’t get mad, Inshallah! Don’t wear a seat belt because it’s in God’s hands…We met a boy who’s family’s home had been damaged by the recent cyclone and guess what his response was? “Inshallah,” with a shrug of the shoulders.


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June 11, 2010

Sunny Days are Happy Days


Back in Oman on Tuesday night and ready to celebrate Ema’s 21st birthday on Wednesday!!
I had the unfortunate experience of driving around in Oman on Wednesday! Luckily, I had Callum (Ema’s younger brother) as my navigator/person keeping me sane! OMANI DRIVERS ARE THE WORST DRIVERS IN THE WORLD! It didn’t help that I’m used to driving on the left hand side of the road whilst Omanis drive wherever they please. They don’t indicate, they drive superrr fast, cut each other off AND REVERSE ON A  4 LANE HIGHWAY! (One driver had missed his exit so he simply reversed all the way back to the right exit!) I’m usually not a nervous driver but I was pretty on edge the whole time I drove!
Fast forward to Wednesday evening and the girls are ready to party! Ema looked gorgeous in a brown feathered dress which we managed to find in Dubai :) 

We went for dinner at a beautiful hotel called Chedi with Ema’s family and boyfriend Tom and then had a cocktail party at Ema’s house later on with close friends of her family. 


Pink bubbly and canapes! Callum and I had secretly put together a slide show of photos of Ema which showed up on the TV screen in the living room. We showed no mercy and Ema had to run away and hide from a few of the ‘gems’ which popped up.As you can imagine, we felt a little worse for wear the following day. We had a swim and some lunch at the Shangri La Resort and then met up with Steven Miller (a Bajan guy who we randomly bumped into in a bar last week!) who came down to visit for the weekend. We went out for dinner at an Italian/Japanese restaurant called Japengos and then spent the rest of the night playing Guitar Hero - Rock Star edition!


On Friday we went out on the McIntyre family boat! It was a gorgeous, hot day as we sped up and down the coastline. The scenery was amazing! We dropped anchor in a huge bay with jagged, clay coloured cliffs dropping straight into the sea. We had lunch and spent the day frocklicking in the bathtub-warm water and playing with the wakeboard and other water sports toys! Steven and I were in awe at the landscape around us. It was just soo different from anything we had ever seen!

We all got rather sunburnt but I felt like a battery that had been fully recharged after a great day out at sea!

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