Day 44: Lighting The Way

Again, we were woken up in gangnam style at nine thirty a.m., only this time instead of checking out we were going for breakfast. We crawled out of bed, put on our clothes, and very slovenly made our way to the ground floor. When we reached the bottom, we were told the breakfast bar was on the eleventh floor, so back in the lift we went and rode as high as the elevator would take us. It was a buffet style restaurant and we ate on the roof top garden area. It was nice to eat and enjoy a view, I don’t think I had ever done that before. We could see all of the old city which made for an unusual sight because all the buildings were the same height, as when it was first constructed the buildings were designed to be no higher than three stories tall.

After eating we returned to our room where Sarah slept, and I watched some tv. The strongest man competition was being aired on one of the channels, which is always entertaining to watch as it’s not everyday you see men lifting cars with their bare hands. I bet they wouldn’t struggle with the ten kilo dumbbells our hotel had to offer. During Sarah’s nap, she was disturbed by repetitive load bangs outside, coming from several balloons which were letting off fireworks as part of the Loy Krathong festival. Through facebook I learned that Brandon was coming to meet us at two pm in our lobby. Given that it was only half past twelve it was lucky that Ironman was on another channel, this helped waste the remaining time. We both quickly showered before meeting Brandon and Corey and then the four of us went for food around the corner. We found a nice restaurant that sold traditional Thai food, here, I had a large meal like I would back home. I ordered half a chicken and a large bowl of egg fried rice, which also came with chicken. After we sorted the bill we left to visit a mall we had passed on the way.

It was only three of us that visited the mall as Brandon left to go for a walk. It didn’t have much to offer, other than a dairy queen (this was an ice cream/ smoothie bar, which Corey knew of from back home in America) and an Apple reseller store. At one point we got lost within the walls of the retailer labyrinth, but after asking an employee we were back on track (it’s strange, it’s only in Asia that we are so easily able to get lost in shopping centres). On our way out we had a brief look in the Apple store because I was (and still am) contemplating buying an iPhone 5, however, at a price of five hundred – six hundred pounds, it takes some consideration. When we were done Corey went back to his motorbike, and we agreed to meet up with them at their hostel that evening. This time we’d find it for sure as Corey gave us a business card before we returned to our hotel.

We were only in our room for an hour before we walked to DeeJai guesthouse. It was a lovely looking resort and had a very mellow vibe to it. Seeing as the pair of us had no accommodation the following night we enquired about availability. Luckily, they had a room for two and we were given a ten percent discount, making our stay four hundred baht per night. We paid in advance then joined both Corey and Brandon for some drinking games, during which time our friend Tim (who we met at Darling) joined us. After the alcohol was gone, we were set to leave for the lantern festival. In the lobby we met three more American people, Kaylee, Gary and Amy, who invited us to join them in their taxi to the main bridge. During our ride, we passed several “karaoke” bars. These are seedy looking buildings, with goups of girls wearing provocative clothing stalking around outside. Initially, we were told it was innocent, and was a place you could go to sing with a girl of your choice. However, when we asked our taxi driver about it, he told us in broken English, “you go there for song and sex,” and that answered that, no wonder it looked so debauched.

Eventually we made it to the bridge to find thousands of people with their own lanterns, some of which had writing on for loved ones, or of bad memories/deeds to be sent away. All of us took it in turns to light ours while others would take photos. Each group had three each, Sarah and I wrote a merry Christmas for friends and family back home, as well as a little message to say we love and miss each and everyone of y’all. The night sky looked like the scene from the Disney movie tangled, with thousands of lanterns dancing together as they waltzed their way to space. The evening was clear and was much more impressive than the previous night because so many more people came out to celebrate. When all of our lanterns were gone, Sarah decided she didn’t have a good enough photo of us holding one, this meant we had to search for somebody selling them so we could do it again. We wrote on this one also, this time including some R.I.P for lost loved ones, when it was set away and Sarah was happy with the pics we walked to the market for food.

I chose a pad Thai which turned out to be quite spicy and some corn on the cob. We took our food to go and headed in the general direction of some bars. We made our way through the seedy red light district again until we reached the main strip of bars. We visited the roof top bar (a place we had been once before), however, this time it didn’t have the relaxed atmosphere it once had, as it was rammed with people, there was hardly any room to breath. After having only one drink there we decided to leave, in search of this illusive night out Brandon and I were so desperate to have. We drunkenly caught a red truck to the main bar area, it turned out, Sarah and I had both been there before, after we had our cooking lesson. I find it very difficult to let myself go when it comes to drinking here, it’s easier back home as you know the policies and laws so you can be a drunken idiot, whereas in Asia I am always aware on some level that if I get too drunk I could end up offending someone or get myself arrested. We stayed out until quite late. When we inevitably called it a night, everyone sorted themselves out with lifts via tuktuk. I think it was around two a.m. at this point, so, before returning to the hotel, Sarah and I walked to the nearest seven eleven. Here, I pigged out and purchased, a mini pizza, two toasted sandwiches, some chicken bites, a drink, and some chocolate. We then caught a ride with a very friendly, and reasonably priced tuktuk driver who dropped us at the entrance to our hotel. I ended up extremely messy after the ride, as the whole time I munched on my microwaveable feast, while trying to drunkenly hold on for dear life (and they say men can’t multitask). With a t shirt covered in alcohol and food stains we both returned to our room, having had the illusive great night out escape our grasp once again.

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Day 43: No Need To Rain On Our Parade

Wop wop wop wop wop wop, heeeeeeey sexy lady!!! This was the sound to which Sarah and I were woken by at nine thirty a.m., it’s a good choice to have as an alarm as it makes you wake up happy. We needed that because on this particular morning we weren’t given the luxury of a lye in, as we had to be checked out by eleven and the both of us wanted breakfast. If you ordered food in the canteen of the hotel you were allowed the pass code to use their internet, instead of having to pay for a whole weeks usage. We went online to discover where our next hotel would be, it turned out it was an hour and a quarters walk away from our current location, this made the decision to get a lift that much easier.

During breakfast I ran upstairs to grab the bags from the room and checked us out, we then paid up for the food and left the rather nice accommodation. We walked to the main road where we waved at a couple of red trucks, it wasn’t until our third attempt that the driver actually stopped. It was a friendly couple that were behind the wheel, they agreed to take us to our next hotel for a cheap cost of thirty baht each (roughly sixty pence). We paid the lady she asked if we wanted to go anywhere else, we said we were thinking of visiting the Tiger Kingdom, to which she said ok. After some bartering, we got a return journey for a cost of seventy baht each (one pound forty). We told her we’d like to get settled in our new place before going, to which she obliged and agreed to return at one o’clock that afternoon.

The hotel was very nice, it was the first place we’d stayed in our forty three days of travelling where we’d paid a bit extra and got a lot back for our money. We were still paying very little, it was thirteen pounds a night for the both of us and for that money there was a gym, a swimming pool, en suite bathrooms, lovely chilled out areas, and a glorious dining area. We checked in at reception where to our surprise we had a concierge take our bags on a trolley to our rooms. We all rode the elevators to the fifth floor, and proceeded to our room. Not knowing what was kosher in this situation, I tipped the man twenty baht (forty pence… when translated that seems cheap, ah well, he appeared happy enough). Here, we did what everyone normally does and tried out everything, light switches work? Check, tv work? Check, showers? Check, you get the point. After our investigation of the rooms functionality, to burn some time, Sarah read her kindle and I blogged. Before we knew it, one p.m. had arrived and as promised, so had our lift.

We walked out of the hotel only for Sarah to be complimented, once again, on her looks… “so pretty, you beautiful,” would be the usual sentence. Wanting some attention myself I jumped in front and pretended the lady was talking to me, to which she said “and you, so handsome,” it might have been forced but I got what I wanted. We told the driver it was just Tiger Kingdom we wanted to visit and with that we set off. The ride was a good twenty minutes to half an hour, when we arrived the car park was full of vehicles. Inside, we had the options of which sized tigers we’d like to sit and have photos taken with. At first I was going to do the biggest and the smallest, in the end, I did the same as Sarah and chose to do the smallest. We paid the highest price for this option because you got a more hands on approach with the little ones, as they were less likely to tear your head off if they had enough of you. We queued up with everyone else and were all given separate group numbers which would be called out in turn when it was your go (much like a better version of Argos). We appeared to be waiting for ages at the small tiger enclosure, as other people who bought multiple tiger size tickets seemed to have priority. Eventually, we grew tired of waiting and handed our ticket to the lady to which she said we’d be next. We read all the rules before going through the gate, but by the time we got in the cage with the stripy characters they were all riled up from too many tourists going ahead of us. This made for tricky pictures because they wouldn’t stay still, seeing as they were young they just wanted to play with each other, however, whenever this happened one of the trainers would pick one up and move them apart. We both felt like it was a massive waste of money as other people were getting better pictures than we were, and the ten minutes we got in the cage was determined by wether we were with a tiger or not. For the best part, the pair of us were chasing after one at any given time, meaning our time ran out before we got that perfect picture. We should have paid a bit more money to have a photographer take pictures for us.

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We walked around the reserve to see what other sized tigers they had, and to our surprise, they had around thirty to forty, they even had a lion. As nice as it was to see the large majestic creatures, I did feel bad as certain ones were pacing back and forth in their small cages. I think it was down to the sheer volume of people who were visiting which was causing them to be that way, either that, or it was the trainers poking and prodding them just so the tourists could get a good photo. It seemed like a poor decision to pay to see the younger tigers, as even the ones slightly older than ours had just as much playful energy. Before we returned to our driver, Sarah got some great shots of the larger tigers play fighting in a mini swimming pool, and as you can see in this picture they appeared to be enjoying themselves…

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We recieved a business card from the lady, incase we wanted any more lifts during our stay in Chiang Mai, then proceeded back to the hotel. When we arrived we went back to our room, where Sarah attempted to Skype her sister before she went to work, unfortunately, like normal the signal wasn’t that great. With that we went to the hotel’s restaurant to order dinner, I had a lovely dish of fried rice with chicken and to wash it down with I had a blueberry fruit shake. When I was done, I left Sarah there to mess about with pictures on the tablet, while I went to visit the hotel gym as by this point it had been well over fifty days since my last visit to one. I nipped back to the room to get changed and went to the third floor to pump some iron, unfortunately, when I stepped through the door, there were two things that annoyed/ disturbed me.

1.) The dumbbells didn’t go any heavier than ten kg.

2.) There was a sweaty Thai man training in nothing but a towel, which he had wrapped around
his waste, as if he’d just stepped out of the shower.

I was quite surprised at myself as I was able to do the whole stack of weights on the machine (which was probably only fifty kilos), and I was still strong enough to do some bench/ shoulder work with the dumbbells (thank god, otherwise not being able to lift ten kilos would have ended me). It’s no secret that having a poor diet and the occasional night out drinking will take it’s toll on the body, and during my time travelling I have struggled to keep on any weight I worked so hard to gain back home. I knew I was going to get skinny again, but didn’t know it would happen so quickly, to demonstrate my point here is a before and after picture of when I was at my heaviest, and of how i look now…

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When I left the gym, I returned to the lobby where I found Sarah. After I had a quick shower, the pair of us headed out to meet Brandon and the guys at their hostel. I thought I’d take his t shirt with me so when we reached his hostel I could return it. We spent the best part of an hour trying to find the building, in the end we gave up as it had started raining, and in Thailand when it rains it pours. We hopped in a truck and asked to be dropped off at the night bazaar, from there we could make our way up to the parade which was supposed to be happening for the next two nights. Due to the rain we thought it was going to be cancelled, with that we wandered around town before stopping in a McDonald’s for some fries and a drink. When the rain died off a little we made our way to where we heard the parade would start. We followed the road until we reached a bridge, here we saw lots of people lighting Krathongs and sending them off down the river. The whole while I was still carrying Brandon’s white t shirt, it was beginning to look as though I missed the guy so much that I had to have a piece of him everywhere I went. When we were done at the bridge we walked back towards the night bazaar, on the way we were distracted by the swarms of people walking towards us, in the distance we saw a flashing red light coming from a parked police car. Like a couple of moths we made our way towards the lights, until to our surprise, it was the start of the parade. With a clap in the sky from a firework the parade began, it resembled that of a carnival back home with people walking in front of man made floats (only instead of floats, it was some form of construction carried on the shoulders of ten people). We were here for ages while Sarah snapped away with her camera, when we eventually gained some distance we reached the entrance to a temple.

Here, on the grounds of the temple you could buy a lantern to set alight and send into the night’s sky with a monk. Sarah was eager to take a picture of every second of each person that did this, meaning we were there for…. oh I don’t know….. AN HOUR OR SO!!!!!! I was beginning to grow very tired of waiting around because in my opinion, none of the pictures differed from each other. If you’ve got a picture of one person lighting a lantern you don’t need any more. When Sarah felt as though she had enough photos we left, only for her to decide she wanted to go back in and light one with a monk herself, leaving me to take the pictures. When I fought off the urge to smash the camera on the floor, this was the result of the activity…

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For once Sarah was happy with my photography skills and with that we soon left, not before Sarah snapped away at some more lanterns taking off. We walked down the road avoiding the people in the parade until we got to the corner of the street, here we saw lots of famous landmarks from across the globe in material form. Each one was made of a wire skeleton, wrapped around them was a thin cloth like material, and inside they had lights to make them really stand out. After admiring the leaning tower of Pisa, the Eiffel tower, the Taj Mahal etc etc, we walked through the food market which was set up specifically for the event. Sarah bought herself a drink before we continued down the road to head back to our hotel. During our return journey there were more bloody lanterns, it got to the point I wanted to tear each one apart if it meant we’d actually walk somewhereminstead of stopping every five minutes. Sarah then asked if I’d like to light one with her, begrudgingly, I said yes. We paid fifty baht for the largest one they had and set fire to the ring in the centre, we held on to it for quite some time before letting go, during this time Sarah would constantly let go to take more photos leaving me to struggle with the darn thing. At one point I did consider tying the camera to the lantern and wishing it all the best as it floated out of the Earth’s atmosphere but saner heads prevailed. After ours took off successfully into dark blue night’s sky looking like an orange star twinkling away growing smaller and smaller, Sarah continued to snap away at other people’s lanterns, claiming she still hadn’t claimed that perfect picture she so desperately wanted. Eventually, we got moving again and headed home, but not before witnessing a group’s lantern sink into the river, I felt as though that was sweet justice after having to witness so many take flight. It did look impressive in the sky as there were around fifty to sixty floating away, I imagined it would be better the next night because that would be the last night of the festival and hopefully the sky would be clearer, with the weather being better also.

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I asked Sarah during the walk back if we were going the right way, she said yes….. WRONG, we ended up walking the long way back all around the outside of the old city. For those of you who don’t know, it’s probably around five miles in diameter to which we walked about three. It wasn’t that bad as by then the evening was clear and we got to witness lots of cool sights along the way. Dotted in the river every so often would be floats of Buddha, or other religious designs, one of which was a miniature White Temple. We were reaching the last corner of the walk back when Sarah wanted to stop and have her picture taken with some lit up elephant creations, we took it in turns to do that, then, continued on our trek. Eventually, we were on the home straight where something else caught our eyes, it was the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Sarah took my picture beside my animal… the dragon (or as they call it, the great snake). When we were set to leave, annoyingly, a group of Asian boys lit up a lantern only this time it was different, theirs had a firework type object hanging from it. It took off and fired off several bangers, when it the fuse had burned enough it sprayed out a bright white light, Sarah took some more photos of this then we walked home. Back at the hotel I showed her the gym to which she struggled with the ten kilo dumbbells (making me feel extremely strong), the pair of us then returned to our room where we enjoyed some watermelon (purchased on the return journey) and movies in bed.

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Day 42: Twi-hard

For the first time in a while Sarah and I had time to ourselves, and, like usual we stayed in bed until late morning as this time there was nobody to disturb us. I woke up around ten thirty much to Sarah’s annoyance, we led there in bed together watching the music channel on tv. When we grew tired of that we watched Homeland on our tablet. Needless to say, it was around two thirty before we left the room, seeing as our hotel charged to use the internet we were in search of a cafe with free WiFi. The most obvious choice for us was Starbucks, as if you remember, my mum bought us a pre loaded loyalty card, however, when we arrived and ordered our drinks we were told we’d have to pay extra to use their internet. Not wanting to pay when there were other establishments in town that gave it to you for free, we drank our Christmas specials and left (they were really nice too, I had the toffee one, Sarah had the cranberry, so, again, thanks mum).

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The pair of us made our way up the road on our search for the intangible internet, browsing stalls along the way until we spotted one that sold nice rings, they claimed to be 92.5% real silver but from the way they looked I’m not so sure. They had one ring that caught our eye, it was a solid band for men, on it there were elephants following each other, however, when she told us the price (nearly thirty pounds back home) we thanked the lady and left, with Sarah telling me we could find it cheaper on another stall. We continued up the road until we were stopped by a local man (like usual my tattoo caught his eye to which he pointed then began conversing with us). Unlike most others this man didn’t have an ulterior motive, he simply wanted to chat. He told us of things to do in Chiang Mai, and how the temple we happened to be stood outside of would be having a fireworks display later that evening. We thanked him for his information and said our goodbyes, then, proceeded in the same direction we were heading. We followed the road around the corner until we spotted a sign that read in big bold lettering ” FREE WIFI,” this was lucky for us as by this point we were beginning to give up hope of ever finding it. We darted into the cafe and ordered two cans of coke in order to receive the pass code, when online we made some Skype calls to the family as well as writing to friends on facebook. Our main aim was to find out cinema times because we remembered the new twilight film was out (Sarah is team Jacob, and I am team Edward, we are such polar opposites, but we make it work). Seeing as Chiang Mai had a complex containing a cinema, we figured that’s where we’d spend the remainder of our day.

Before we left, Sarah didn’t get the chance to speak with her dad properly because the internet stopped working, her only hope was that we’d find some again in the central airport plaza. We hailed down a red truck and we were taken on a fifteen minute drive there. Inside, we located a black canyon coffee store where I had a vanilla shake and Sarah got the chance to speak WITH her dad and TO Isla (she’s a baby you see, so her vocabulary is lacking somewhat). When we were done we bought our tickets, but there was a fifty minute wait before the film started, we used this time to order some food from the nearby food court. After our meals it was time to watch the movie, we ordered some popcorn and a drink then went through the whole rigorous routine of watching Asian commercials and standing for the king. The film itself was fantastic, with everyone dying at the end… just kidding…. or am I!!?!?! Going to the cinema is always great back home, but it’s so much more enjoyable when it’s not as easily available to you, it makes it more of a treat, and it was nice on that day for it to be just Sarah and I doing it together.

When we exited the plaza, Sarah noticed some Christmas elephants outside (this was basically normal elephant statues, they just had Christmas hats on instead) and was determined she was going to get a picture with them, here’s the evidence in question….

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We hailed another truck and returned to our hostel, when we arrived we asked the driver to wait outside while we dashed upstairs to drop off our bag and get changed. It was a shame we didn’t have any internet because we couldn’t see where Brandon and the guys were, as the previous night I had promised I’d go out drinking with him. When we were ready we returned to the truck and he drove us to the night bazaar, as we were set to see some fireworks. It transpired, there were no fireworks that night, we learned of this by visiting a local tourist information, thankfully, they gave us information on the Loy Krathong Festival we had returned to Chiang Mai specifically to see. Happy in the knowledge we wouldn’t miss the festival the following two nights, we wandered around the markets. It turned out to be a really good evening, as for once, Sarah and I put our hands in our pockets and bought some items. During our time there, I purchased a nice vest (or tank top for my American readers) a purple bracelet, and some iron on badges for my bag in the form of flags from countries I have visited. Sarah, bought similar items, she too bought some badges, a pink vest, and a nice bracelet with little bells on them, at one point she was tempted to buy a replica Tiffany’s & Co bracelet. She decided against it claiming she’d have no reason to wear it (the knock off items are so good here that to the untrained eye you’d almost believe they were the real thing). When we were done shopping we grabbed a delicious Subway sandwhich before catching a truck back to the hotel, where in our room we enjoyed some television in bed, a luxury of which we hadn’t had since home.

Day 38: Happy Thanksgiving

After our night of boozing we decided to have a lye in until eleven thirty a.m., when we were woken up by Dominica knocking on the door. Much to Jenna’s horror she had overslept and missed the bus she paid for the day before. We all said it was for a reason as today was thanksgiving, and, seeing as our new roommates were American, we decided to go out to Joma’s (a restaurant on the corner a stones throw from our hostel), this was a place that sold a special thanksgiving breakfast sandwich. As British citizens, Sarah and I, had never celebrated this festive occasion before, but let me tell you, we should, as the food was lovely. During breakfast it was Dominica, Sarah, Brandon, Jenna and myself, to stick to tradition we took it in turns to say what we were thankful for. It goes without saying, we were thankful for the opportunity to be travelling, and also that we had met such a great bunch of people. During breakfast, there was a strange elderly American man, who took it upon himself to sit with a little boy, while his mum had gone to deal with her daughter. We were slightly cautious of his motives at first, but fortunately, his mother soon returned and made conversation with the peculiar gentleman.

After breakfast, Sarah, Dominica and myself, went looking for cheap tickets for the slow boat (a boat which takes several days to get to the border, via the Hanoi River). Brandon went back to the room to nap, and Jenna explored the local town. The three of us, made our way down the street, stopping in every travel store. The first one was asking for too much, so, with that we continued on our quest of getting the price down. The second store was more helpful, giving us information as well as another option of transport in the form of a coach. Their prices were still quite high, but reasonable, however, we left thinking we could do better. We went to one last shop closer to the river thinking it would be cheaper, we soon learned (thanks to an American girl stopping in and informing us) it would always be more money in the shops due to commission charges. Better informed, we headed to the docks where we discovered the slow boat would be the worst way to go. The reason for it being such a bad idea fell to several points, one, the boat seated forty five people, but, was always oversold. Two, each leg of the journey would be eight hours. Three, you had to bring your own food and drink. Four, there would be no shelter from the sun/ heat. With this new found knowledge we returned to the hostel to tell Brandon the good news. Here, we all mutually decided the best way to get to the border would be a twelve hour journey via coach. The deciding factor, it would be air conditioned and we’d stand a better chance of sleeping.

It was too hot outside to wander around aimlessly, so, the four of us took refuge in our fan assisted and air conditioned room. While we were there Brandon worked on his digital farm on his iPhone, Sarah multi tasked by reading her kindle, and occasionally annoyed me while I worked on my blog. Dominica didn’t stay for long before heading out to visit the local museum, it was about an hour after that when Jenna walked back in. Jenna had been the most productive of the group by visiting a few temples, one of which had puppies in. We stayed at our chill box until twenty past four as Sarah had agreed to meet Dominica at the foot of Phousi Mountain. This was a temple atop a very steep set of steps, and at the top had the best view Luang Parang had to offer. Not wanting to miss this and Sarah not wanting to go alone, Brandon and I joined her. The steps took their toll on me as having something of a bad diet, and recovering from a heavy night out I was sweating like a pig, and my heart was pounding. Regardless of all this, the view was totally worth the cardiovascular exercise we had to endure. We arrived within good time, as it wasn’t long after our arrival that fifty more people showed up behind us. Sarah and I were perched on a rock lie to photographer vultures awaiting the sunset behind the mountains. We had about an hour to wait before the crispy character went to bed, as everyday, the sun would set at half past five. Sarah took plenty of pictures, however, she was angry at a telegraph pole which ruined every single shot, Brandon wasn’t much happier, as the railing he placed his camera on was constantly shaking due to tourists leaning on it.

When the sun had set, Sarah and I, made our way back down and returned to our hostel. Here, we found Jenna, where, once again she made us feel lazy as she had been out for a run. It wasn’t long before Brandon and Dominica returned to join us. We decided to go for food, where I cheated on my wife once again (I guess the saying, “once a cheat, always a cheat,” is true), by seeing another woman for my chicken, ham, and bacon sandwich. This woman had so much more to offer, well, in terms of meat, after ordering we returned to the hostel to eat. Our friend Snaggle had joined in on our walk too and from the market. Outside the hostel, Brandon educated Sarah on shutter speeds of cameras, after her lesson she took photo after photo using a light to write words in the nights sky. After an hour, we stopped with the camera shenanigans, said goodnight to Snaggle and Dominica, then headed upstairs to our room. Here, Brandon and I invented our new sport known as toilet roll. The only rule of toilet roll, there are no rules. The aim of the game was to ensure it didn’t touch the floor, so long as it remained airborne that’s all that mattered. It’s a very serious game and if you’re not careful you could end up seriously injured. Forget rugby, toilet roll is a real man’s game. When we were done, we attempted to wind up Jenna on her choice of reading books, but, she had too good a sense of humour and just laughed it off. With that, Brandon got up, turned out the light, and we went to bed, swearing we’d all get up at five thirty a.m. to see the monks during alms.

Day 36: My, What Big Teeth You Have

Our second day in Luang Prabang, and, because we no longer had our sitcom hangout spot, the Otherside, we agreed to meet for breakfast at the nearest breakfast bar. The prices of this place were extortionate (well, I say extortionate, but it would be the same price as back home). It was Charlotte, Cleo, Brandon Sarah, Jenna, and I, that all met around ten a.m. for our first meal of the day, where we decided what activity we should get up to.

After breakfast, Jenna moved into our room with us, to help split the bill. Jenna was a friend of ours who we met in Pai. Jenna was from Los Angeles, sported a head of blonde hair, and, was the only person we knew, that went jogging for fun whilst travelling. We all agreed to meet at midday, to go see one of the various waterfalls of Luang Prabang. During this time, Sarah and I, visited a tourist information centre, where we purchased a map, as we wanted to locate the Vietnamese consulate. After a ten minute walk, we located the building, where Sarah and I, filled out a form, gave them our passports, and, handed over twenty dollars each. We were told we could return in three days, to find our passports, and visas waiting for us.

When we were done there we returned to the hostel, where we found everyone else, and the six of us hopped in a tuktuk, for a half an hour journey to see some breathtaking waterfalls. When we arrived, we discovered, it wasn’t just waterfalls, but also a bear reserve. Brandon and I waited, while the girls took photos of the bears. It didn’t take long, before we set off for the first waterfall. It was ashame, as there were lots of tourists at the swimming area, which had rope swings, and a waterfall you could jump from. So, we continued up hill, until we found the biggest one of them all.
This waterfall consisted of three levels, the very top waterfall fell down upon the second, and the second to the first, looking like a giant garden fountain. It was here, with the first waterfall, that Brandon and I, wanted to defeat mother nature, by defying the sheer intensity of the waters crushing power, and climb behind it. Brandon was wearing one of the go pro cameras, meaning he could record anything, anywhere. With that in tow, Brandon and I, ventured closer, and closer to the waterfall, being hit with each lashing droplet that sprayed from the rocks. Pretty easily, we made it behind, before we headed back to regroup.

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Our next challenge came, when we braved the cold temperatures of the swimming area. It wasn’t enough for Brandon and I, to just slide in gently, instead we had to jump in from atop a waterfall. It doesn’t sound that scary, but when you are looking down, and you don’t know how deep the water is, let me tell you, it’s pretty nerve racking. Regardless, Brandon gave me a count down, and with him recording, I jumped in. Luckily it was deep enough, however, the water shot up my nose, and to my ears, leading me to believe I would receive an ear infection. The next challenge came in the form of the rope swing, Brandon and I, took it in turns, and we both landed gracefully in the water (well, as gracefully as two six foot plus men could). When all was said and done, we left the waterfall, and, returned to town in our tuktuk, waving at all the locals on the way.

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Back in town, Brandon and I, visited our wife to be. She was a lady that created the best sandwiches in town, it was just what we needed after our hard water aerobics session. We ate them beside our wife’s stall, then returned to our hostel. Cleo, Jenna, Brandon, Sarah and myself, then went exploring around the town, the girls wanted to buy an all you could eat buffet meal. We soon found the alley where this food was served, then came the hard job of finding a table to sit at. While the ladies ate, Brandon and I, had a beer instead of food, during this time, we got chatting to an American couple, who were sat at the same table. They were only travelling for three weeks, but had already seen so much, we gave them a few pointers on what to see in their next area, then said our goodbyes.

When the girls had finished eating, we grabbed some more beers, and, returned to the hostel to continue drinking. We played with a toy that Brandon bought at the market, firing it into the air, and watching it dance to earth, while it’s l.e.d light sparkled in the nights sky. While sitting there drinking, a little four legged companion joined us, we first noticed this dog during breakfast, where we gave her the name Snaggle Tooth, due to her bottom teeth rising above her upper lip. She stayed with us for the whole evening, even joining us, when we walked to the market stalls for another sandwich. Unfortunately, our wife had ran out of baguettes, so, we had to commit adultery, and have another woman prepare them for us, it wasn’t the same, even Snaggle Tooth wanted nothing to do with it.

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We all walked back to the hostel, with Snaggles skipping along beside us, where we sat outside and chatted, before saying goodnight to our new canine friend. The four of us headed to our room, where, we bullied Brandon for a bit, on various topics, but, mostly his terrible use of the English language. He soon had revenge, as, when it came to getting into bed, and turning out the lights, he snored the roof off, and at one point yelled, “run Forest,” when we attempted to wake him up!

Day 35: They Can Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our Duncan!

It was a sad day for us, as today we had to say goodbye to our friend Duncan. The alarm woke us up around eight a.m., after showering, and packing the bags, we went to the Otherside for our final breakfast together. It was here, that we watched a couple episodes of friends, while I enjoyed another chicken baguette. Brandon soon joined us, after he booked a ticket for the same bus as us, to Luang Prabang.

The clock was tiptoeing it’s way towards eleven o’clock, which meant we had to catch our bus. Outside of the hotel we gave Duncan, a huge group hug, and said our goodbyes. We promised to stay in touch, and will visit him one day, when this adventure is over. As well as saying goodbye to Duncan, we also said farewell to the two annoyingly loud birds, which were caged up outside the main entrance. I’m not sure what type of birds they were, but, they were capable of duplicating any sound they heard over a period of time. However, they only had a limited vocabulary, due to most people only greeting them, so, when it came to us saying goodbye, the little feathered nuisances, could only say “hello,” in response.

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Brandon, Sarah and I, were taken via tuktuk, to the coach we’d be riding to Luang Prabang. Initially we thought we had seat numbers, however, upon boarding we saw the back seats were free. This was good news for me, as with me having long legs, it meant I could stretch them out down the aisle. The journey ahead, we thought, would be nice and smooth, how wrong we were to be so naive. It was worse riding in the back, as, much like the minibus, every corner was exaggerated. With every hill we climbed, and every corner we took, we were lifted from our seats, due to the suspension of the coach compressing with every bump we hit, to the point where we resembled a dog mainting its balance during a car journey. If it were England, the taxpayers would be kicking up stink about the quality of these roads. At some points of the journey, we felt as though, we were going to die, because, the only thing preventing us from falling to our impending doom, was that of a three foot high metal railing.

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The coach journey lasted about six hours. We arrived at Luang Prabang at five thirty, where upon exiting the vehicle, we were ambushed by tuktuk drivers, like mad paparazzi to celebrities. We climbed into one of them, and asked him to take us to the town centre. The tuktuks here were different again, they had a similar front to the ones of Bangkok, with the driver sitting on an adapted motorbike, but the passenger area, had two benches facing each other, and, would seat around eight people comfortably.

The driver dropped us off, and, we began to wander, however, I was lugging mine and Sarah’s big backpacks around, while following her and Brandon through the local market stalls. We asked a few travellers where the hostels were, to which they pointed us in the right direction. Instead of going straight there, we stopped in a restaurant/ bar for a refreshing drink. When we were done, we headed to the strip with all the accommodations. At first, we spoke to one guy who claimed to have a good deal for us, so, we followed him a little way out, before he changed the price of his original offer. With that, we left, and, luckily, found a better place for less money.

We paid for one night at the Laos guesthouse, before heading out to meet up with Cleo, Charlotte, and Jenna, at a bar named Utopia. During the walk there, Brandon and I, bought a chicken, bacon and cheese baguette, now, I don’t know what sort of magic the woman put in there, but, it was the best dam sandwich I had had in a while. We soon found the bar, where we played cards, and had a beer, before the girls joined us. We caught up with them, while playing more card games, then all walked back together, after the bar closed at eleven (don’t forget, there’s a curfew in Laos).

Before we left, I had the issue of trying to find my flip flops in the dark, but, because they were a black pair I couldn’t see them, so, I ended up grabbing some which I thought were mine. Turned out, they were someone else’s, and, were two sizes two small, ah well, they only cost three pounds anyways. Cleo and Charlotte, were staying in a hostel, literally five metres away from us, so, we arranged to see them in the morning for breakfast before saying goodnight, whereas Jenna, was staying in a different hostel altogether. We had a spare bed in our room, and seeing as we were paying for the room, not per person, she agreed to join us at our hostel and split the bill. Before heading in, I saw three stalls were still open for business, one of which was selling Oreo milkshakes, with that, I immediately pulled out my money, and, enjoyed a taste of home, before the three of us headed back to rest our weary heads.

Day 34: The One With The Caves

By now, our group was beginning to resemble a gang of friends from a sitcom series, as everyday we’d meet at the Otherside for breakfast. On this day, Corey told us about a couple caves we could visit, we all agreed to go, with that he went to sort out our tickets. We were to be picked up at half past one that afternoon, so, after popping back to the room to get changed, we all met outside, and awaited our tuktuk.

The previous evening, our friend Suzy had arrived at Vang Vieng. She wasn’t feeling too hot, due to coming down with some sort of bug, but soldiered on, and made it with us. The tuktuk journey was very much like the one to the lagoon, bumpy. After a half hour drive, which included non-stop swerving of potholes every five feet, we had arrived. We had two guides, who walked us through a small village, until we reached the first cave, named The Elephant Cave. It gained this title, as inside were two rocks, which resembled elephants. As well as these two rocks, there was a Buddha statue, and, a giant footprint, supposedly, it was that of the deity himself. During a certain time of the year, the monks fill the footprint with water, and place flowers on the surface, before praying.

We weren’t in the cave for long, before we set off through the village, passing cows, chickens, dogs, ducks and children. We soon came out the other side, to be presented with a water cave. Here, we placed all of our valuables into waterproof bags, and sat on some rubber rings (much like the tubing ones). The water was very cold, on account of it being sheltered from the sun, by the gargantuan mountain we were about to float under. We had to grab hold of a rope, to pull ourselves along, as to navigate deeper into the cave. Inside, we turned on the headlights we were given, to allow us vision, as it was too dark too see without them. There’s not too much I can write to be descriptive of the cave, other than, it was very cold, dark, and wet inside. Every so often, the water was too shallow to float on, which meant we had to walk. We took a few pictures of the group, and, to say it was pitch black inside, the pictures came out very well indeed. I think we explored for about half a mile, before turning around to come back out. We used the rope again, passing stalagtites, which if we were unlucky, dripped cold droplets of water down our backs. We pulled, and pulled, until eventually we saw the sunlight, being spoon fed through the mouth of the cave. After exiting, and returning through the village, we got in the tuktuk, for another bumpy ride back to town.

After a quick shower in our rooms, we went to the cool hangout spot, which was the Otherside. Here, we sat in our new spot, where we could watch the tv show, friends, and I ordered my two favourite baguettes. After eating those, I left Sarah, Duncan and Brandon, where they were, and returned to the room to watch tv, while working on my blog. Half an hour later, Sarah and Duncan returned, to disturb the peace. To keep the running costs of the hotel down, each room would only have power, when the room key was inserted into a socket on the wall. Our room was lovely and cold by this point, as, Brandon tricked the main power switch using the teeth from his comb, which meant we always had power, and our air con, was constantly blowing.

We watched tv together for a bit, before going to book a bus journey, to our next destination in Laos. We didn’t have to go far, as only a few buildings up the road, we found a place, where for ninety five thousand kip (roughly eight pounds) we booked a coach to Louang Prabang. With that settled, we returned to the hostel to hang out with Brandon in his room. We informed him of the coach Sarah and I just booked, to which he said he’d join us on. While Sarah looked up flights for February (by which time we presumed we’d be done in southern Asia), Brandon, messed about with the room fan, to stop it rotating. I’m pretty sure, he broke it, but, did his best to put it back to how it was and cover his tracks. After, the three of us left Brandon’s room, to return to ours and share our last night with the wee Scotsman.