Monthly Archives: January 2014
Our next country of destination was Cambodia however Sue had discovered that it cost more than three times as much to fly directly from Laos as it did to return 2.5 hours to the Kuala Lumpur hub of AirAsia (the Easyjet of these parts) turn around and then fly almost on a backbearing to Cambodia. As this had the extra benefit of putting us in KL on Chinese New Year if we stayed an extra day a new schedule was hatched. We walked to Vientiane airport, took the plane, got a bus, cracked the metro system, and arrived late afternoon at our small £20 per night hotel room complete with a view of the KL tower and the Petronas twin towers. Result!
The scene at night.
We enjoyed several performances of Dragon dancing over the weekend cumulating in one outside the iconic Petronis towers performed by a world champion troupe.
These acrobats not only had our hearts in our mouths as they balanced on the top of a series of steel columns to dance but also brought the character of their dragon to life as it raced back and forth with faux falls every so often to make the crowd gasp.
The mall under the towers was equally impressive with every designer shop you could think of including several shoe shops.
The central atrium had a colourful display of a horse surrounded by spring blossom to celebrate the year of the horse.
We watched a clever face changing performance where the girls removed mask after mask to reveal different expressions, it wasn’t until the end that we worked out how they were doing it.
We will return later in the year to climb the Petronis towers as, by the time we got there the day’s tours were full but instead decided to go to the top of the nearby KL Tower which has a stunning view of the stainless steel twins and the rest of the city too.
This picture taken from the tower shows our hotel just behind the church.
The time raced by and soon we departed from the ML Inn, a clean and friendly no frills hotel, to the by now rather familiar airport for the next chapter of our shore adventure.
As our coach rolled out of Vientiane across the huge flat floodplain of the Mekong we soon realised that this would be a very different country in the wet season. Right now the ever present paddy fields were dry, brown and looking abandoned but everywhere there was evidence of irrigation systems to regulate the flow of water and all the houses and out buildings were constructed on small raised plinths of land to keep them dry. The three hour coach journey was easy and included stops for food, water and toilets so we arrived in good shape.
The resort shuttle was called for us and we soon found ourselves admiring the fantastic sheer limestone mountains across the river from the balcony of the hotel restaurant while we checked in.
After settling in we took a stroll around this very backpacker friendly town,ending up across a rickety bridge at Smile Beach.
Cold beer in one hand, a comfy seat and breathtakingsuch view. I did smile.
After a good, though chilly, sleep we joined a tour which took us some miles upstream to a cave where one of the rivers tributaries emerged from under the mountain.
We stripped off to swimmers and were sat in large inner tubes so we could haul ourselves upstream and into the cave on a nylon rope. I have never been in an underground river before and found it quite difficult to forget that there was about 1km of rock above us. I have also not been so cold in quite a while though when we had gone in around 300 metres it did seem to warm slightly.
Lunch out in the warm sun put things to rights.
We walked across a field to view the elephant cave, obviously there were more Buddhas to view but also a stalagmite in the shape of an elephant to see before we tramped back across the field.
We were soon back in our opensided truck again to find the launching point for the kayaks to start our 15 km paddle back to the resort.
Once we had launched the double seater our Vanuatu experience soon came back to us which was just as well because it looked like it was the first time for quite a few of them as we swerved and weaved our way past vessels NUC (not under control). We felt quite cocky as we trolled off, paddles in sync and riding the occasional shallow rapids.
For the most part the ride was serene and the view just fabulous with jungle and occasional villages to our left but mountain towering over us on the right, a really lovely experience. We were confident enough now to go ahead of the guides after a stop at a riverside bar.
Pride comes before a fall and though we were handling the gentle rapids with ease we slewed against a submerged rock and found ourselves suddenly capsized. Sue handled herself fantastically well and was more concerned about her hat being swept off downstream than bumping her head on the rock as she went down. Anyway there was no real damage to the rock and we were soon remounted, pleased to discover that the drybags had kept the camera and other kit from harm.
I, on the other hand, had failed to put my wallet back in the drybag after the last stop but luckily it did stay in my pocket during my dip and the last of the day’s sunshine was employed to dry the notes out so we could buy dinner that evening.
We watched a ballon drift by that evening a little too close we felt.
The Thavonsouk resort had been a good choice and we would recommend it.
The view from the restaurant at breakfast was stunning if not a little chilly, we’ll be more prepared next time.
After 2 nights in Vang Vieng our next stop was Luang Prabang but first we had to make the grueling 7 hour coach journey to the north through mountainous terrain.
The superb views of the town turned out to be just a foretaste of the scenery to come as our coach wheezed and squealed it’s way up the steep gradients and into the midst of the bluff sided mountains. (Passing their one cone!)
Reaching for clear blue sky the limestone monsters looked like groups of green shrouded monks deep in lofty conversation, their feet far below in the quilt of paddy fields at the valley floor. This spectacle evocative of the drama of New Zealand and the mystery of the Marquesers.
I was captivated by the little dusty villages straddling ridges, huddled up to the comfort of the tarmac and overhead power lines their backs precariously clutching the near vertical slopes below.
The houses are an improbable and eclectic mix of whickerwork and thatch through to reinforced concrete. Ancient and modern cheek by jowel. The old, tilled and harvested from the slopes of the land below, and the new, dug from the gut of the limestone hillside in the quarries and processed in the massive cement plants which stand guard at the entrance to Vang Vieng’s road to the pass.
Our ride though, with its seatbelts and emergency exits disabled, was driven by a man on a mission, overtaking anything and everything on the road regardless of blind corners and hairpins. And so it was with some relief that we arrived in Luang Prabang convinced that, despite the fine views, we would fly back south!
We got back to Camomile on 2nd January heavily jet lagged and both with heavy colds so plans changed (as they do) and we decided to postpone our trip. We spent 5 days in the hotel going back and forth to the boat scrubbing the hull, cleaning the prop, servicing the seacocks and antifouling the keel. I took the sewing machine back to our room and re sewed, again, the mainsail stack pack and repaired the sun canopy, it was great working in the air conditioning. Camomile was launced on the 7th January in time for James to arrive on the 8th. Between the three of us we spent another 2 weeks mending all the things that had broken in our last few weeks before our trip to the UK, fitting all the parts Bill had brought back with him, scrubbing the decks, re attaching sails and generally getting her ready for sailing again. It wasn’t all work, the marina is next to the ferry port for Pangkor Island so we jumped on the ferry and had a day on the island.
Finally we were ready for our holiday (don’t say it!) and on Monday 20th January we flew to Vientiane the capital city of Laos. James flew to Vietnam at the same time. I had managed to get a good deal on Air Asia with 2 one way flights costing only £45 each. I had booked us in to the Day inn hotel for 3 days.
We had an early flight so by lunchtime we were out exploring. We found a lovely cafe just around the corner from the hotel called Joma which sold lovely french baguettes, quite unexpected. The Lao National Museum was located just a short walk from where we were so we headed there first. It was founded to highlight the revolution of the 1970s and is located in a French colonial building built in 1925 as the French Governor’s residence. In 2007, the United States donated a grant to help develop the museum. The museum presents the history of Laos, highlighting the Laotian people’s struggle to free the country from foreign occupiers and imperialist forces but has a slight overtone of propaganda.
We contined on to find our first Wat. Wat Si Saket was built in 1818 on the orders of King Anouvong. Si is derived from the Sanskrit title of veneration Sri, prefixed to the name of Wat Saket in Bangkok, which was renamed by Anouvong’s contemporary, King Rama I. Wat Si Saket was built in the Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, with a surrounding terrace and an ornate five-tiered roof, rather than in the Lao style. This may have kept it safe as the armies of Siam that sacked Vientiane in 1827 used the compound as their Headquarters and lodging place. It may now be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane. The French restored Wat Si Saket in 1924 and again in 1930.
The cloister walls surrounding it houses more than 2000 ceramic and silver Buddha images. The temple in the middle houses a museum and features some very old murals on the walls. We spent about an hour marvelling at our surroundings.
Across the road is Haw Phra Kaew, a former temple. The interior now houses a museum and a small shop. Haw Phra Kaew was built between 1565 and 1556, on the orders of King Setthathirath. When Vientiane was seized by Siam (now Thailand) in 1778, the temple was destroyed. When it was rebuilt by King Annouvong of Vientiane in 19th century it was again destroyed by Siamese forces when he rebelled against Siam to attempt to regain full independence of the kingdom.The temple was rebuilt for a third time by the French in the 1920’s during colonization of French Indochina which is the building that exists today. We couldn’t help thinking with all these rebuilds whether we were looking at ‘the original broom’ theory.
The carving around the walls and doors was exquisite and again the walls were lined with buddas. As we walked around some young monks appeared and allowed me to take their photo.
We walked back to the hotel passing the palatial presidential palace built for the president of Laos, who is also the general secretary of the Laos People’s Revolutionary party, although it’s only for receiving foreign dignatories because he chooses not to live there.
After our early start we were tired so we enjoyed a meal in the hotel then an early night.
Bill takes up the story.
After the hot and humid climate of Malaysia it was pleasant to wake up feeling chilly for once. We breakfasted in the hotel and decided to make it another walking tour day of some more prominent city sights so we headed off north east past Dum Stupa (don’t ask) to Lane Xang Avenue the main drag of government buildings passing Patuxai, a triumphal arch to commemorate kicking the French out and built with materials donated by the USA for the purpose of laying a new airstrip thus earning it the nickname of the vertical runway.
As it was still hazy at 9.30 when we got there we decided to climb it later and carry on with a fork right along Avenue 23 Singha to reach Pha That Luang the iconic golden Buddhist stupa. Since its initial establishment, suggested to be in the 3rd century, the stupa has undergone several reconstructions as recently as the 1930s due to foreign invasions of the area. It is generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol.
The squat yet delicately minareted groundscraper has a charming and powerful if slightly weathered presence which held us captive for a circuit of its cloistered quadrangle and,while Sue laid an orange flowered posy for her mum at the shrine, I watched the coach tours frogmarched around this treasure and realised how lucky we are to have that little extra time to savour these precious places.
To the compounds south east lies a temple not mentioned in the guide books but which for it’s delicate decoration and elegance stole the show with beautiful freshly painted ceiling frescoes sheltering small groups of chanting orange robed monks called to prayer by an ancient bell. Nearby a massive golden reclining Buddha is incongruously crowded by everyday life just beyond the gates. Market stalls, kids playing with their pet kittens and beating each other up while their mothers try to sell souvenirs.
Back to the Patuxai via a nice cafe and a climb through several levels of tourist shopping was finally rewarded by a lovely view of the city in all directions.
8 kilometers since we set off that morning got us to the Scandinavian Bakery in time for a very late lunch followed by a short pause back at the hotel before the next installment.
Those of you who know me will also know that markets are not really my thing. Make it a night market by a river and I start thinking mosquitos pickpockets and muggings. The Vientiane one is located in the city’s southerly park which lies along the banks of the mighty Mekong river. The road along the top of the levee is closed to traffic in the early evening and the whole area becomes a social event with families and individuals promenading the length of this city centre green space whose figurehead monument of Chao Anouvong gazes across the river to Thailand with a hand of friendship extended while, unsurprisingly bearing in mind the history of this place, keeping his sword in his left. The whole area buzzes and nowhere more than among the dozens of stalls nestled down behind the embankment. There was the normal tat on many of the benches but also real gems including some fine displays of local artwork, stunning fabrics and a selection of various cheap gadgets that even got my hand in my pocket. Other than that, if you are a dress size 6 or under you could get fitted out for about £3. Great value particularly if you barter and shop around.
After a short walk to the fountain in the European quarter for a tasty curry we made our way back to the hotel and I finished off the day with a nice soak in a hot bath. What would have felt like madness just 48 hours before soothed away the aches of the day’s walk before snuggling down to bed under the extra blanket Sue thoughtfully ordered from reception that morning.
Having covered the main sights we decided to take the tourist office’s recommendation and visit the Buddha Park some 27 kilometers to the east of the city and about 7 beyond where the road becomes a dirt track by the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong to Thailand.
We had been warned that a public bus would only take us as far as the bridge because the road beyond is so bad and we would then need to hire a tuktuk to take us the rest of the way.
Undeterred we walked the couple of kilometers to the bus station to be met by a cross between a junk yard and a human cattle market. We went in search of the number 14 bus but never made it because, no sooner had we entered the seething mass of shoulder height humanity, than we were latched onto by enthusiastic taxi drivers explaining to us in broken English why we should not take the bus.”the road iss velly bad” it was like running for the touchline and being dragged to a standstill. In the end we succumbed and agreed to pay for a taxi which made quick work of the 20k stretch but then took the same time to complete the tooth rattling, bone jarring, spine compressing 7ks. We had paid an exorbitant £15 for the return trip but I have a feeling that the drivers suspension mechanic would be the ultimate winner here.
Never mind, the park entry was a mere 40p each and we entered the site of about an acre to view a bizarre collection of Buddhaesque statues focusing on a sort of giant pumpkin shaped object with a tree shaped spire protruding from its top. Sue gamely entered through its mouth to ascend for a photo. When she had been missing for some length of time I realised that the climb might not be all that straightforward so followed her in. The interior was labyrinthine and full of strange statues and figures regarding you with their blind grey eyes. A bit spooky even in daylight but worth the scramble for the view of the park and the Mekong beyond. Not a bad trip out but not really a must see I think.
That evening we ate a lovely Japanese meal at Sabaidee Sushi just around the corner from the hotel who’s own menu was limited and a bit pricy for the offer. We had also decided to take breakfast the following morning at the Scandinavian Bakery nearby the Namphu fountain in the European quarter for the same reason plus we could buy some fresh bagguets to eat on the bus trip to Vang Vieng that day. We had booked this leg with a local agent S&M Airbooking, also near the fountain, for the same price as the public bus but including pickup from the hotel and presumably excluding being wrestled to the ground by taxi drivers as we got on.
At the appointed hour though all that turned up was a four wheeled tuktuk and I seriously thought I might be spending the next three hours clinging on for dear life to avoid being gratuitously flicked out of the back. Happily it soon took us to a full size coach with recliners whose only drawback so far, other than the average age of the other backpackers on board being about thirteen, is its icy airco. Our coach rolled out of Vientiane across the huge flat floodplain of the Mekong towards Vang Viang for more adventures.
We are back in Malaysia after a wonderful 2 months in the UK. I can’t believe how quickly the time went.
We arrived in the UK on the afternoon of 26th October. It was cold but at least it wasn’t raining.
We had a lovely day with James for his 30th birthday on 1st November, starting off with breakfast at a posh London café, moving on or rather up The Shard – what a fantastic view.
Lots of famous monuments on view.
We continued onto Sandown racecourse to watch the boys become little boys again playing on the big boys go-carts. Hair nets compulsory.
After a birthday lunch at Thomas’s flat the four of us joined a Thames river cruise for a delicious dinner to end the special day.
I spent the next 2 weeks sorting and clearing my Mum’s bungalow with my sisters. A difficult job but good that we could do it together.
The weekend of 15th/16th November was the Blue Water Rally reunion where we met up with so many of our wonderful cruising friends and talked about our adventures together. The old gang of ‘Enchantress’, ‘Lucy Alice’, and half of ‘Fai Tira’ were there. It was great to see everyone. Sadly I forgot to take my camera.
We continued to Pitton, Wiltshire to spend a few days with Bill’s Uncle John and Auntie Lary, it was great to see them looking so well. Thanks for taking us on the lovely guided walk around the beautiful Wiltshire countryside in the last of the Autumn, and that lovely pub lunch.
Thursday 21st November would have been Mum’s birthday so my sister’s and I decided it would be a fitting date to lay her ashes to rest. Sleep tight Mum, God Bless.
One of our difficulties was meeting up with our younger son Thomas and his new partner Sonal as they live in a lovely one bedroom flat but it’s in London, way out of our budget for a hotel let alone the train fares to get there! So my sister-in-law and Thomas’s godmother Claire stepped in and invited us all to spend a weekend with her and her husband Gordon at their home in Sussex. We had a great time with them including a fantastic walk along the beach at Church Norton, Pagham to Selsey revisiting and showing Thomas and Sonal some of Bill’s favourite childhood haunts.
Also during November we were kindly given a bed for the night by some past (I won’t say old!) cruising friends. Liz and Julian of ‘Golden Dawn’ WOA members and John and Pam of ‘Cosi’, great to see you guys.
At the end of November we drove to Wales to spend almost a week (and several bottles of wine!) with our cruising buddies Norman and Sara of ‘Norsa’. The weather was kind to us and we went for some great walks including 886M up Pen Y Fan, around the Gower coastline and the Cardiff barrage. Thank you to them for having us and hopefully we’ll meet again on the high seas soon.
We left Wales and drove south to Dartmouth to meet half of ‘Fai Tira’ otherwise known as Petey Poppet who proceeded to take us on a pub-crawl of Dartmouth. Even in the winter Dartmouth looked very pretty and Pete and Judy live in one of the quirky but beautiful houses that has stunning harbour views. Judy cooked a beautiful meal and Pete thought up some new jokes of the usual standard, so we had an excellent evening.
Pete even managed to stay awake most of the evening but, as those of you that know what Pete’s like, he eventually dozed off.
The next day we headed east again stopping for a terrific evening with Ian and Glenda of ‘Lucy Alice’ at their new home in Christchurch before heading to Kent the next morning. We spent a wonderful long weekend with our friends Gill and Nigel who live opposite our old house in Teston giving us a chance to meet some of our old neighbours. It also gave us another opportunity to meet Thomas and Sonal and her family. We had a delicious meal with Meena, Sonal’s Mum and Amit and Jen, her brother and sister-in-law.
During our time in the UK we heard that Bill’s Auntie Jean had died. Fortunately all four of us had visited her together when we first arrived in the UK before she became ill. So before we headed to Scotland we attended her funeral. Although a sad occasion it gave us the opportunity to meet family members that we wouldn’t have had the chance to see. Thank you Maggie and Wendie for inviting us and we’re sorry for your loss.
We flew to Scotland on 16th December after a pre Christmas dinner with my youngest sister Amanda on the 15th. Scotland was another few degrees colder but James had the heating on ready for our arrival. I started to feel really Christmassy but then James decided he and his Dad had time to replace his bath and decorate the bathroom!
The weekend before Christmas James drove us to Aberdeen for a weekend with David and Susan of ‘Enchantress’. As it was David’s birthday it was a double celebration. Again the weather was kind to us and Susan took us on some cold but beautiful walks along the Buchan coastline.
This is the ruin of Slain castle, it looked wonderful set up on the cliff top. It was great spending time together again and having a wee dram or three!!
Monday 23rd Thomas arrived in Scotland for Christmas. We spent the first day shopping together but on Christmas eve we decided to go and find some snow. We drove to Aviemore and did indeed find some snow and very cold it was too.
Thomas proceeded to make a snowman so we could all have our picture taken with it. After hot cocktails in a lovely old pub we drove back to James’s house to prepare for Christmas.
The Christmas tree was surrounded by presents by the morning and we spent several hours opening them all while drinking Bucks Fizz through comedy straws.
Thomas cooked a delicious dinner, aptly helped by James and Sonal, while I sat and relaxed. Bill did all the washing up.
Boxing day we all went for a lovely walk up into the surrounding forest behind James’s house before James drove Thomas and Sonal back to the airport. We stayed another few days and then we too flew back south.
Sunday 29th Angela cooked us another lovely Christmas dinner before we had a mammoth packing session to pack all the items Bill has bought for the boat in the UK. We had 65kgs in 4 bags although our allowance was 60kgs but fortunately we got away without paying any excess baggage.
We flew out of the UK on the 31st after sad goodbyes to Thomas and Sonal and my sister Angela. I walked through customs control in tears.
I want to say a really big thank you to my sister Angela who let us base ourselves at her place, took in numerous parcels and drove us around. We’ll see you in April. XX
We checked into the Best Western for 5 days while we sort Camomile out to relaunch her. We can keep an eye on her from our room.
So I just want to wish everyone around the world a Happy New Year.
Love from Bill and Sue xx