Our blog for our trip to the far east. Taking in Singapore, Thailand, Laos and home before and after we leave

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

28th March, a different generic internet cafe, Vientiane, Laos

We've just enjoyed dinner at some place by the river called something like "Sunset View Hut". Food was probably the best we've had in the city. Beer was the same. And it was the most grubby place you could probably imagine. Kids running around, dogs running around, no tourists with the runs though. At least not immediately. Most of the places we've been to eat so far have been restaurant-type places, but the food was unremarkable. This had real flavour for once. I love the smell of salmonella in the morning....

Otherwise, today we took in the main town stupa, or monument from the 16th Century. This was pretty impressive in scale, and gilded so would look amazing in the setting sun, but we saw it early afternoon so it had less of an impact. It was still pretty good, though the temples we saw yesterday were more interesting. We followed this by lunch at a place called the Full Moon Cafe. It used to be bad, but it's alright now-ooooo (sorry, it's emblem is a howling wolf)! It was a quite nice place, and air conditioned, so a good place to get away from the hot season sun. The interesting thing about it was that its main clientelle was apparently expats, rather than tourists. Mainly ladies-who-lunch by appearances, maybe off to knock back gin and abuse their domestic staff after a meal in town. Following this we went to the National Museum (formerly the Museum of the Revolution). This had some interesting stuff about Lao culture and the various peoples who make up the general populace, and a lot about the struggle of the locals against the French, then the Americans, the latter largely operating covertly. Not that I was brainwashed, but damn those imperialistic dogs for oppressing our Lao comrades. Still, they accept US$ as easy as their own currency, so hey hey, off back to Thailand tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2006

27th March, Generic internet cafe, Vientiane, Laos

We didn't do much in Nong Khai: lazed around at the guesthouse, went on a river cruise, visited some temples and Iain went jogging and went to get the train tickets by bike.

We are now in Vientiane, arriving yesterday. It is smaller than I expected and easy to get around. We went on a nice walk along the river and had a few beer Lao. Today we went to the market and visted some more temples.

Laos, the country more bombed per head of population than any other in history, thanks mainly to the lacksadaisical approach of B52 pilots in the Vietnam War dumping their payload in the wrong place. It's a lovely country. The people are more unassuming than the Thais, shy even, but quite friendly. The language is quite similar, or so it sounds from the few words we've picked up so far. The food hasn't been much to write home about so far, so I won't. Temples are pretty good. Our guesthouse, the Mali Nam Phu is quite charming. The room looks out onto a courtyard in the colonial French style (albeit of concrete, rather than real stone), but it's also where we eat breakfast, and makes a nice place to start the day.

Nong Khai was incredibly sleepy. I have never been anywhere where the traffic goes so slowly. Most of the river on the Thai side is undergoing some construction work so isn't that aesthetically pleasing. Getting over to Laos was quite easy. pricey at US$31 (it's $30 normally, but at weekends they put on another $1, presumably because people are payed an extra 3% for working at such an unsocial time. Big deal!). Over the border, it becomes quite clear that Laos is a little less devloped than Thailand, the roads are less well metalled, and don't have curbs until you reach the city centre. The French influence is fairly apparent as well, though not to the extent of personal hygiene customs, which is obviously a good thing.

Tomorrow we are off to see the main temple of the city, and the Arc de Triomphe type thing they have here as well (which we've seen down a long boulevard, not too disimilar to Paris).
One other thing.

The whole of the area we are in at the moment is SO HOT. Walking around during the day is quite taxing, and we need to stop for regular drinks. In Nong Khai, our guesthouse room never dipped below 30deg all night. Here we have the luxury of air conditioning so it's not so bad. Still, any excuse for more Beer-Lao.

Friday, March 24, 2006

24th March, Nong Khai, NE Thailand

This is our first chance to get online for a couple of days, after two nights in Khorat. Khorat was a bustling town where we stayed at a reasonable quality hotel for about 10 pounds including breakfast. Also they were having a festival to comemorate a town heroine which started yesterday, and was one of our main reasons for visiting the town.

Our trip was by bus from Bangkok, and took about three hours in air conditioned comfort, complete with a drink of Coke and a banana cake en route. Arriving at Khorat we checked into our hotel, The Srivajiya, then explored the town. We eventually ate at a food court in a shopping mall where I had to use my negligible knowledge of Thai and RG phrase book to discover what they were selling. I say eventually because we spent a good deal of time looking for a restaurant in the guidebook which either didn't exist any longer or was in an entirely different location to that on the map. Damn you Lonely Planet!

After returning to our room in order to freshen up we headed out, stopping for a drink at a bar called Khorat Texas, where we had to avoid the attention of passing beggars. However, one thing that couldn't have avoided our attention was an elephant blowing a harmonica which a man wanted 20B (about 30p) to feed some pieces of non-descript vegetable matter. What can I say, I'm a sucker for musical pachyderms. We then sought out another restaurant that wasn't there anymore, before settling on a modern style Thai place which looked quite trendy. It was still very cheap.

Next day we visited a nearby town with some Khmer ruins which have been suggested to be the model for Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The central pillar was pretty spectacular. Back in Khorat we made for the beginning of the festival which seemed to involve a lot of Thai women in elaborate traditional costume and some Thai dancing, and lots of people standing round whilst an announcer spoke for ages in Thai. The locals were enjoying it, though it largely passed us by. They did have some good fireworks, mind

For dinner we found another Thai restaurant which, being bored with the usual stuff, I decided to opt for something random off the menu called Namprik something or other. I got a plate of raw vegetables, a bowl of sticky rice (consistency: chewing gum), a small bowl of pungent sauce and a whole, small, deep-fried fish. It was edible, though I was a bit worried at first that the sauce might have raw fish in it. It didn't since we found out later that it was just chilli and shrimp paste. I've had more satisfying meals it has to be said. A few more beers and we made our way back to the hotel

This morning we were up earlyish to catch a bus to Nong Khai which took hours. Our guest house is overlooking the Maekong river, and it's nice to be somewhere a bit quieter. Now we need to find somewhere to have a nice cold Singha

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

21/3/06 Changi Airport, Singapore

We've been here now for over three pigging hours since our flight on to BKK is delayed by two hours. We've just got through customs, after having to hang around for two bleeding hours for check-in to open. On the plus side they do have free internet access

We were both feeling a little frail this morning following a night out in Holland Village. There were some great drink offers: 2 for 1 in the Wala Wala and 2 for 1 on dry martinis in the restaurant we ate at. The name of the restaurant escapes me, but it is on the roof terrace of the shopping centre and does Italian. This means I have so far had noodles/pasta every meal I've been here, three times a day including breakfast. It's all just mee, mee, mee (yes, a noodle based pun). Beer in Wala Wala was good: Forbidden Fruit, my favourite tipple from when we lived here, at our favourite bar in the world, probably.

Hopefully we should be in Bangkok shortly, though only for the night as we are off to Khorat tomorrow. Only three minutes left on the free internet access, so got to make it short

Monday, March 20, 2006

20th March, an un-named cybercafe, Bencoolen St, Singapore

We made it. Inside where I'm typing this it's comfortably airconditioned, but outside it's as tropically steamy as you might expect.

Our flight was OK, despite being surrounded by the French. It was Air France, so what can you do? We arrived at about 7-30 and made for our hotel, City Bayview. Rooms are set out like in a Travel Lodge, but with better decor, and missing that all-pervading odour of Ford Mondeos, Ginsters, and looming middle-aged crises.
We wandered around looking for somewhere to eat, eventually settling on Bugis, formerly a nest of vice, now nicely sanitised as is the local custom. It's still very much Asian in general, Singaporean in particular with a typically hawker centre, and a vaguely touristy market. The fruit stall has the real scent of Singapore though: a slight waft of durian.

Later we found our way to Chijmes, a converted convent, with the cloisters converted to shops, and the courtyards now containing some lovely bars. It's definitely worth a visit. We ended up at a place called Hog's Breath where they were showing the Newcastle v Liverpool game. I wish I hadn't bothered because we lost 3-1.

Today we did te Bird Park which is also worth a visit. It's obviously a tourist attraction, but it's done so well. The enclosed aviary with it's 30m artificial waterfall is impressive, as are the birds of prey and flightless birds. I would have done some photo, but I've forgotten the camera. Avoid the cafe because it's speciality seems to be daylight robbery since you'd pay three or four times the prices you would in hawker centre. The lory loft was pretty good where you can buy a tub of stuff to feed the loris (small, noisy, colourful parrots). I was immmediately inundated by the birds, asnd didn't sustain a single drop of guano. As a method of acquiring H5N1, it certainly beats working in a chicken factory

We made it back, grabbed a bite to eat and went for a swim, neatly avoiding a tropical downour. Tomorrow we're off to Bangkok

Saturday, March 18, 2006

18/3/06: 0 days

Location: Swinton, UK

Today's the day. Taxi's booked, most of our stuff is packed, just one or two small things to do like get out some cash. Yesterday we bought the last of the things we need: our luggage, and we thought we'd use the day to take in one of those traditional British things that we might miss while we're away: pubs . Well, not that we won't have more than the odd drink while we're away, but you don't get proper "pubs" where we're going. Or decent bitter for that matter, or affordable red wine, or sausage and mash, or steak pie. Or cold weather

I noticed the Queen has been in Singapore the last couple of days on her way back from the Commonwealth Games in Australia. Unfortunately she's leaving sometime today, so we won't get the chance to trade stories about our travels with the Windsors. You know, where they have the best Happy Hour, the best chicken rice or the best bar to watch the football. It's a little known fact that Elizabeth II is a huge football fan, and was a regular at The Dell in the seventies, but rumours of hooliganism meant that she had to give up her season ticket when she became a grandmother.

Next time I update the blog we should be in another country

Monday, March 06, 2006

6/3/06: -11days

Location: Swinton, Greater Manchester, UK

Less than two weeks to go now. We've done most of the shopping we needed to do, pretty much all of our accomodation is now booked and I've even got Jane going to the gym more than once a week! Well, if we are going kayaking in Phi Phi, I don't want to be doing all the paddling
The issue with Tiger Airways is now resolved as they agreed to pay up for the flights we paid for that we shouldn't have.

We have just found out that there is a curfew in force in Laos, and foreigners are usually asked to show their passport if they are seen by the police. If they don't have their passport they can then be instantly clobbered with a heavy fine, or perhaps the term should be "kippered" with a heavy fine (yes, a currency based pun). This is according to the Home Office site, but they are pretty trigger happy when it comes to potential risks in countries populated by Johnny Foreigner. Well, not literally trigger happy, since this is the UK Home Office, not the CIA, but they do border on the neurotic. It also apparently means that restaurants aren't open very late, so it looks like Vientiane is hardly going to be a 24 hour party city. Then again, if travellers were supposed to go to bed sober at 10pm, God wouldn't have provided duty free shops in airports.