Laos: Landmines, Luang Prabang & Waterfalls

Interesting facts about Loas- The Americans (God bless ’em) dropped 2 million tonnes of bombs on this beautiful land in the 60’s and 70’s.  30% failed to detonate so walking off tracks is generally unadvisable. Unfortunately, some of the locals risk their limbs and lives now trying to scrap the bombs in for money! It’s a very poor country.

Anyway, onto happier notes! Luang Prabang is pretty and chilled out. Did a day trip to Kouang Xi Waterfalls which was gorgeous.

Kuang Xi Waterfall   Kuang Xi Waterfall

Also saw a legit bear sanctuary which was pretty amazing.

The bear sanctuary at Kuang Xi Waterfall 

 Spent the rest of the time wandering the night markets and riding round the city.

Luang Prabang Night Market

Trekking, tribes and charging baby elephants

Decided to do a two day trek in the hills, visiting a couple of tribes. Loved the activities but didn’t think much of the first guide (who managed to lose 3 of the people in the jungle…fortunately they managed to find their own way to our camp!!). Also didn’t like having my arse eaten by a load of evil insects while we sat down waiting for our guide to return… OUCH!

Showering in a river was a new experience for both of us, but still very pleasant after sweating buckets on the walk. The next day we swam in some waterfalls, did some white water rafting (which was far safer than our truck ride to the water!) and did some more elephant riding. Before we arrived here, we’d already been told about a very ‘naughty’ baby elephant. We spotted it quite quickly when half way through our elephant ride, a baby elephant came charging through the jungle, hotly pursued by its mahout (elephant trainer). All the fully grown elephants were quick to step out of his way (fortunately we were holding on!) and eventually the mahout managed to jump on his back and slow him down. The other baby elephant was really cute too and kept touching us all with his trunk. I think Elephants are my favourite animals…unfortunately Alex doesn’t think our garden is big enough to have one as a pet 🙂

Looking back at the banana farm Lizzy makes a new friend

Swimming in the waterfalls Overloaded? Not for Thailand!

Elephant bath! Karen long neck tribal lady

Ko Samet: Sun, Sea, Sand and a bit of sick!

Got a speedboat to Ko Samet, a gorgeous island near to Bang Chang where we spent the weekend with James and Lucy, lounging on the beach, swimming in the beautiful water and eating and drinking lots whilst enjoying some fire-dancing 🙂 Unfortunately, Alex and I forgot to take our anti-malaria during the day and so took it several hours after eating…the results weren’t pleasant, but thankfully very short-lived!

Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet Lizzy jumps for joy at Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet

A reclining meal on Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet Fire show at Ploy's, Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet

Pattaya: Prison, Prostitution, The Slums & a Children’s Centre

As planned, we joined Lucy on a few projects she’s involved with. We’ve handed out food and drink in a couple of prisons. Prisoners generally only get 1 bowl of rice per day as the money allocated to feeding them doesn’t seem to make it to them, they also have no changes of clothing and no washing facilities and there’re generally 8-10 men for a cell which in the UK would house 1 person. We heard that the week before we’d visited an American had been locked up having been mistaken for being drunk when he was actually diabetic.

We saw a jewellery project ‘Freedom Stones’ that Lucy is managing which helps women and men to leave prostitution by giving them an alternative source of income whilst also training them in business management and budgeting. The necklaces & earrings are beautiful so once the website’s up and running, it’ll be well worth a look.

Handing out food, drink, clothes  and providing some basic first aid in the slums here was very different to the soup run I was part of in Nottingham – mainly because there were loads of young children. Also, there was no moaning and trying to get extras. The Project also did a kids ‘class’ which so we tried to follow the instructions in Thai (much to the kids amusement) and played with them for a while. We were really pleased that there were some native Thais on the project too so it wasn’t another project where it’s just the rich ‘farangs’ (the slightly-derogatory Thai term for foreigners) dishing out charity. I guess projects with just westerners, even though they’re beneficial, can also seem patronizing and help to maintain a power imbalance (hence we didn’t take any photos of this ).

We also spent an afternoon at Mercy Children’s Centre which houses and cares for kids who are at risk. Later we did an impromptu computer class with some of them and joined them in their ‘play time’ picking up a few Thai words along the way!

Khao Sok: The jungle & cave of death!

Our tree house in Khao Sok
Lizzy swinging in the vines in Khao Sok jungle
Staying in a jungle tree house with all the bugs and bats in tow :-S – very thankful to have a mosquito net in the room!

Did a very cool trek to the jungle, having to cross a lake and wade &  swim through swampy waters before heading into a uber dark cave and towards an underground waterfall.

It was only after we’d come out of the cave that the guide told us that 6 people died two years ago doing the same thing when a flash flood hit and they drowned!!!! Would NOT have done the trip if we’d known that! Our guide apparently saved his tourists by turning back – he spotted leaves coming in with the water. A British woman was the only survivor in the other group, staying in pitch darkness for 20 hours before she was rescued! Our guide told us that the government park rangers put up warning signs the day after the incident and said that they’d always been there…
The entrance to Khao Sok cave

Phuket

Patong at night Phuket is pronounced “Poo-ket” not “Fook-it” – although the tourists seem to be doing alot of the latter with a good number of the locals judging from the number of ‘massage parlors’, ‘Go Go’ and ‘Ping Pong Shows’ that we’ve been invited too (we haven’t been to any, and please don’t ask us what they are!)

Sunset on Karon Beach, Phuket Anyway, the beaches are great (although I got assaulted by an evil fat jellyfish) & hostels – variable. First one we stayed in had a tap that sprayed water onto the floor every time you used it (Phil, no need to come out, we’ve left now 😉 ) and the glass didn’t fit the windows so they’d stuffed the cracks with (hopefuly clean) loo roll. We’ve since moved and are now in a cheaper (350 baht or £7/night for the room), cleaner and nicer room for the next 4 nights.

Sunset on Karon Beach, PhuketWe hired a moped (cheapest way to get around the island) yesterday and drove to some neighbouring beaches  which were very pretty (don’t worry parentals, we got helmets and drove very carefully…couldn’t drive fast coz we weighed it down too much, especially up the hills- ha ha!)

Started PADI Open Water SCUBA Diving course today which for me a refresher but for Alex is to get certified (as an open water diver, not as mentally ill… I confirmed the latter a long time ago). First ocean dives tomorrow at Ratcha Yai & Ratcha Noi islands where we will HOPEFULLY see Manta Rays and then on Wed we’ll hopefully see either Leopard or Whale Sharks!!! I’m SOOOOOO excited!! I’ll be gutted if we don’t see anything big!