A Travellerspoint blog

Still in Pai

sunny 34 °C

Written on May 27...

Well, what to say other than my body hurts in so many places, all thanks to 2 days of Thai kickboxing and an elephant ride this morning (Sunday is day off from kickboxing).

Let's begin with kickboxing! I must admit that I really enjoy it, not so much for the fighting aspect, but rather for the intense workout that I needed soooooooo much! I have bicep muscles again, can fell my abs again and..well that's about it for now, but feel good, well..the good that you feel when you hurt because of intense physical activity.
This style of boxing involves a lot of kicking with the shins (mine are badly bruised and very sensitive right now) and almost every kick or movement is done standing on the toes, thus working the calf muscle VERY MUCH! Furthermore, warm-up consists of 15 minutes of skipping rope, which also works the calves VERY MUCH! As a result, they hurt and are pretty tense.
The classes are so small (I'm hasn't been more than 4 people so far for 2 instructors), that I really get to work out for the entire 2 hours, broken by small breaks where I get ice cold water to drink and poured on me, along with a very VERY vigorous arms and back massage provided by the instructor. One instructor is ok, but the other one (the actual ex-champion)- and the one I always get to train with so far- is so freaking rough that I learned the word in Thai for "softer", don't know how it's spelled, but it sounds like "bow", so I go "bow bow bow" whenever he starts pouding and pulling the muscles off my arms!hehehe On the bright side, the massages must really work, as my arms (which work very hard punching for 4 hours/day) don't hurt at all! I really wish they extended the "massage" to my calf muscles!!!
Overall, very good experience, and I recommend it to everyone I speak to. I got to talk with the part-owner/ex-champion (Bee) and he told me how much he had to borrow (from the father of his Dutch girlfriend -who's 3 mths pregnant and living with him here in Pai - but she doesn't like it...long story!!) and I really feel for him (about 900,000B, approx 30K CAD).
Classes as I've seen them cannot possibly be financially viable, but one has to take into consideration that it's low season (he opened 3 mths ago, right at the beginning of low tourist season, which ends in approx 3 months). So I really hope for him that it works out, specially since the site is so freaking perfect (all outdoors, covered by a metal roof, I'll take a pic) and the surroundings are green space, mountains in the distance, a constant soft breeze SOOO nice!!!... anyway, it's proof that life isn't all fun and games even here! People have obligations and constraints and pressure and stress too, but then again, he seemed concerned but not in the same way we are, in a more...detached way...not the right word...just plain Thai "happy way"... kind of impossible to explain.

On a related note, Aliya arrived yesterday and is looking forward to starting her intense training tomorrow. hehehe! On my first morning, I actually had a little "attack" where I could hardly breath and only saw bright light and stars for a good 2 minutes...enlightment maybe! hehehe or just plain overdoing it! hehehe, the other guy who was there told me that he had that too on his first day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened to her too...everyone's gotta learn their limit I guess! hehehe, ahhh the joy of physical activity! Man I like it!
So anyway, good times, but I might only do 4 instead of 6 days (or 7 or 10), as I still really want to see the town of Mae Han Son... Not sure yet, the plans is very fluid, it'll all depend on how I feel at "day 4" (I really needed the day off today, after 2 days of training).

So, with this day off, and a partner in crime, Aliya and I booked a 2 hour elephant ride, right on the elephant's back.
2 comments:
1: it's VERY FREAKING UNCOMFORTABLE,
2: it's quite high!

So now, on top of my calves, abs and back, my butt hurts too(like sitting on a very uncomfortable bike seat, that moves and shifts, for 2 LONG hours!) hehehe, ouch! The ride actually only lasted 1h30 (because, champions that we are, we actually got lost getting there! - we really are pros at not getting where we want to go! (if you remember a tiny site called Angkor Wat) - and got there 30 mins late (it's a 10-15minutes ride-took us almost 1 hour! hehehe), but I was soo glad to get off that I wasn't going to ask for more time! So anyway, the ride consisted of a 1 hour walk "through the jungle", which actually ended-up being mostly farm land with a tiny patch of trees and 30 minutes in a river "frolicking around with the elephant" -which was actually a lot of fun, but my overthingking head couldn't stop thinking about the quality (surely very poor) of that water, so well, anyway! On the topic of my overthinking head, as we were walking around, I also thought of how I would try to hang on in the events of: the elephant deciding to go for a jog/run/whatever else he wants (the trainer was walking right behing us, but still!), the elephant turning suddeny and throwing us to one side, or the other, or decided to raise of it's back legs, or scratch on a tree (our legs were on it's side - barely 1/4way down it's side, but still), or walk somewhere where we would end up in branches, and many more thoughts of the kind. I had to remind myself to enjoy the moment from time to time. Freaking overthingking head! hehehe
So anyway, overall, happy to have done it, got some good pics that I will post at another time, but also happy if I never do it again!
The best part was climbing onto the elephant. It is done by it raising it's front leg a little (to make kind of a step with it's knee), and 1 person at a time grabbing onto it's ears, stepping on the leg and sort of magically raising oneself high enough to throw a leg around it's back, only to quickly discover the high level of incomfort associated with sitting on there! hehehe
Well, that's about it for now,
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 07:10 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Pai

Guess what....it's pretty!

sunny 34 °C

Written on May 24...
I just arrived in Pai a couple of hours ago (stayed in Chang Mai a day longer to get Aliya checked for her stomach problems, which by the way -note for her parents- she's ok). In any case, she knows that I'll come back to town right away if the situation change.

So, Pai is the exact equivalent of Chang Mai, but in much smaller scale. It's a lot more relaxed (Chang Mai is not exactly a stressed out city, but still!) and prettier (in a valley, surrounded by mountains). I'm interested in 2 tours, 1 elephant riding/washing/hanging out with, and the other is a 2 day rafting trip to the next town on my list of places to visit (so conveniently moving me along). I just need to check out prices, cringe a lot, think it over and decide to do it (or not, but I probably will).

Being slightly over half of my trip so far, and after just leaving my travel buddy for the past 4-5 weeks, I feel it's time for a bit of retrospection:

I wanted to start with "Things I'm happy to have done", but really the list would include almost everything I've done so far, so why bother, just read back the previous entries if you want to know, and I'll do the same!

Things I regret the most:
1. Not staying an additional day in Vang Vieng to tube down the river a second time (sooo muucchh fun!!!)
2. Not doing the home-stay that was pushed upon me
3. Not hooking up with guys/meeting a man! (hehehe, life IS tough, I KNOW!!)

Ok, the list is on the ligth side, but that home-stay one is quite a burning disappointment, and it doesn't want to go away for some reason - annoying!!!

Written on May 25...
Alright, drastic change of plans. I've tried and loved Thai kick boxing and will sign up for at least 7 days (maybe 10) - which is essentially the rest of my time here, after which point, I will need to rush back to Bangkok and hop on my plane to India.
The Thai kickboxing all started after I had just found out that the rafting was 1800B (it's 55B to get to the next town by bus!) and would not happen until a big enough group gathered and/or might not at all if the weather kept on being so nice and the river levels kept on dropping... hmmm Furthermore, the elephant trekking is 600B/1person, but normally with 2 people on an elephant, so they would have charged me 900 for the 2 hour ride "alone".... As I was walking, and deep in my "heavy cringing" phase, this hot guy stopped by and gave me a flyer for the Thai kickboxing school that opened a few months ago here in town. We talked a little and I said I would tell my cousin (Aliya), as she was interested in this, and I was leaving shortly (according to my original plan). Anyway, the course is 2000B for 7 days, 4 hours per day (2 in the am and 2 in the pm).
I went to see the school last night, and the clases are very samll (3 then, we were 2 students this morning) and there are 2 teachers (brothers), one of them being an ex "something something" champion. Their names: A and Bee. Thinking they simply made that to be easier for falangs, I asked "what is your real name, the name your mama calls you?" he said since they were kids, they were A and Bee (I'm not sure of the spelling of A, but Bee's name is on the T-shirts and all material) hehehe, talk about parents keeping it simple!!! hehehe

Side note:
In the North of Thailand, they call foreigners "Falangs" as well (just like Laos), while the south calls us "Farangs" and Cambodia calls us "Barangs"... same same but different! hehehe

Other side note:
It's funny to notice that everyone here is chubby. In Thai south, some are skinny some are chubby, in Cambodia everyone, and all animals are skinny (except for pigs and rats - I remember noticing when I saw my first rat "wow, it's fat!!") and in Laos, the poor are skinny and the richer are chubbier (the Laos official we met in Ban Na Hin was by far the chubbiest I saw!)

Well, aside from that I just got an e-mail from Aliya and she's coming over here, and might do the kick boxing after all! Furthermore, with her here, we might actually go on the elephant! (I strangely can live with 600B, but the extra 300 turns me off)
On my side, I just loved the experience this morning. The price is right (albeit a bit steep for my budget, but this town here is pretty cheap to live in, so I should be fine) and more importantly, my body REALLY needed it. I had a little debate with myself yesterday, where my head was "but we want to see the next town!! and elephant trekking/bathing sounds sooo fun" and my body was "I NEED THIS, look at me, notice how we feel! not good! fat! out of shape! getting worst!" (glimpse of Mistrale's weird mind/body conversations hehehe). So anyway,, oh gotta go, the electricity has been cutting on and off doe a while now and the computer's UPS is starting to die as well!
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 02:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Last bit through Laos, and arrival in Thailand

We're now in Chang Mai, Thailand, but let's start with the journey to get here!

overcast 30 °C

Written on May 22...

Oh my... don't even know where to begin! We just finished a 3 day journey from Luang Prabang to Chang Mai.
Our last day in Luang Prabang was pretty much a lost cause, as we didn't feel like doing much and therefore didn't visit either the museum or any of the many many Wats (including the 500yrs old one, saw both from the outside - just didn't want to pay the $5 total to get in+ have to change clothes to cover our shoudlers = too much effort).

We then headed on the 2 day-trip on a boat, on the Mekong river, to the town of Huay Xai, which is a border crossing with Thailand.
The first day started so so, as there are 2 types of seats on these boats (as we found out on arrival), the "comfy" ones (aka car seats) and the wooden ones (aka wooden seats).
This is a pic fo the boat and of its inside....
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All the comfy ones were already taken, so we ended up on the wooden ones, which is essentially a small bench with a very straight back, no lumbar support and a tiny, hard coussin. hmmmm... We were mentally prepared (from Lonely Planet), so it wasn't soo bad until, about halfway on the first day (so 4-5 hours in), the motor of the boat broke down so we were transferred to another, slightly more luxurious boat, with more comfy seats. We ended up on one, and my butt went "hmmmm", but more importantly, my back (which I didn't really know was unhappy), went "'ahhhhhaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!"
So we spent the rest of that day on comfy seats (which also get old after a short while, but remain better than the wooden ones anytime!).
To be fair, those motors were working very very hard, as we were going up river, and the current is quite strong. Being low season, we repeatedly had to get through rapids (sometimes - but rarely- touching rocks on the bottom) and there was a great number of whirlpools, which makes me think that this river is not exactly one you want to swim in (that is, if you can get past the thick yuky pollution brown foam and some dead animals that float by!)

The view is quite nice throughout the trip, with high mountains, many many small villages (many of which can only be reached via boat), lots of jungle and the water, which ranges from somewhat gross to downright nasty, yet locals wash their clothes & themselves in it, use it for farming, fishing and I don't want to know what else, but it's clearly one of their main source of water... I really wish I had seen this aspect of the Mekong before I decided to have a "fish from the Mekong" dish the nigth before (it was ok, simply white fish with lots of bones...) Anyway, here is some of the scenery along the way...

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These are people farming on the banks of the river, it was quite a common sight.

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The fishing with these square nets supported by a bamboo structure was also quite a common sight and seems to be one of the main way to fish around here. People simply dip the net in the water and lift it from time to time (when they see a fish in it maybe?) some do it from the river side, some do it on boats.

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The concrete structure with the red end is a water marker and shows how hight the river swells during wet season!

We stopped in a small town called Pak Beng, which is midway between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, for the night. This town has been existing for a very very long time, with the main purpose to be a pit stop on the road. It therefore doesn't have much else than guesthouses and restaurants, and very few people stay longer than 1 night there. All electricity is provided by generators and doesn't run very long in the evening. Anyway, the population in Thailand (a little less here but still), Cambodia and Laos lives very much with the sun. People start very early, take a break from 11-2:30, then work again until sundown. They have dinner shortly after (around 7) and many town are almost completely shut down 9pm. Aliya actually noticed in Luang Prabang: a restaurant was full of people at 9:30pm, and she was like...that's weird! The reply: it's foreigners! Different schedule! yes, right! I must admit that I'm enjoying the "going with the sun" schedule a lot, it feels soo right (except for the getting early part, I leave that to locals! hehehe)

We headed on the second day on the comfy seats and slowly but surely made our way to Huay Xai. The town is quite nice, but also mainly a passage between Thailand and Laos/the rest of Asia - it has been used for centuries, as the Mekong is no wider than 1km at that height. The difference between Thailand and Laos is quite stricking in those last few kms, as one side is quite well developped with proper housing and infrastructure, while the other side is still shacks and agriculture and barely anything!

We spent the night in Huay Xai, and Aliya crashed really early (not feeling too well) but I went to have a few beers with some of the guys we'd met on the boat. There were 2 British, 1 French, and a Canadian! It's always soo entertaining to see the difference in lifestyle and personalities (between the people specifically, but also as nationalities).
A local man came to chat with us and invited us to karaoke (he goes regularly of course!) so the Canadian and I went. We were expecting a packed house, but nooo, it was pretty dead, with only two tables (one of them being our man and his friend) and a bunch of younger kids. They all take it very seriously, and they even put some American music for us (Eric Clapton and Frank Sinatra! hehehe) to sing along! It was very funny and I'll probably never agree to go to a karaoke again! hehehe Anyway, good times!

The next day I dragged my ass out of bed to get across the border. The custom agent in Thailand had a great time trying to say our names (they are normally in a very serious mood, but this one was a jolly one! hehehe) and we headed on yet another 9 hour journey, on bus this time, to the town of Chang Mai. I love Thailand! It's a lot better than Cambodia or Laos. Thailand apparently means "Land of the Free' as they were never conquered, and it actually felt like that. It felt free and happy, that is, until the bus stopped at a road block and a police office came on board to check everyone's ID...hehehe. I felt giddy for the first time in weeks and was excited to go through a market and gorge on deep friend food (it IS the land of the deep fried as well - chicken, bananad, potatoes, etc). Today I just feel fat from, all this deep fried, so no more for a while! hehehe

We finally made it to Chang Mai, and it's an ok town, but not really what I was expecting - a lot bigger! It has approx 1.5M people, and the central area is surrounded by a wall that was erected over 700yrs ago to protect the (then smaller) city from Burmese invasion.
I don't have much good to say about here, other than it's in Thailand, and most of the prettiness is found in the small alleys, not the big streets... Most of the attractions here include trekking trips for 2-3 days to hilltribe villages, etc. I was going to get on one of those trips until I read a note at a restaurant that said "I hate leeches". It strongly reminded me of my Khao Sok experience of being repeatdly attacked, and made me promptly forget the idea... Instead I bought a ticket for a smaller town called Pai and I leave tomorrow.
This is where my journey with Aliya ends, as she will stay here. She might end up doing Muay Thai boxing for 1 month, but I only have 2 weeks left in the country before leaving for India, so I want to see a few more places before going... It was a good time and all good things come to an end! Farewelll Aliya!

To conclude this, here are a few funny spelling mistakes found in Laos (there's a bit less here in Thailand, but I will keep my eyes open - should be fairly easy!)
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"Spingrool" and "Water-crass soup" hehehe

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"Scream bledeggs" hahahah! I had to read it fast and out loud to get what they meant!

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Now, my problem with this one is that I have quickly learned to not have expectations of anything good when I travel, this way I'm always ok, or better yet, impresed! hehehe!
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 07:03 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

It's in Northern Laos...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Written on April 17...

Well, we made it to Lunag Prabang after the longest drive on the most sinuous road in the world(according to me at least). For 12 hours, 300km trip, the bus must not have gone in a straight line for more than 100 meters - overall! It was sharp left after sharp right, going up, then down hills, on the side of a mountain, then another, more left and right, left, right, left, right = the longest 12 hours in history!
The first half of the trip was through a massive downpour (I love rain, will miss it SOOOO much when I live in Mtl...SOOOOO MUCH!!!!), but it cleared and we got to see the absolutely stunning scenery of the mountains & valleys, tropical forest, tiny villages right on the road, and sadder views of quarters of mountains completely cleared/deforested...it's a problem everywhere I guess!

Sleeping on the bus was difficult and unfomfortable (as opposed to the usual completely passing out that I normally do for a couple of hours) because we kept on getting jerked from one side to the other (from the bus turnign sharply), constantly! We even paid for a VIP bus instead of our preferred local bus to increase the confort level (and because there were a few instance until 2004 of local busses being attacked and everyone on it killed...major deterrent!). The bus broke down at some point (about halfway) and I'm pretty sure we lost the muffler or something, as it became very very loud! hehehe between that and the driver who hard a hard time with the clutch...good times! hehehe

So anyway, we made it to the extremely touristy town of Luang Prabang, anciently the capital of Laos...not sure when it was moved, but a long itme ago. The French influence is still, like everywhere else in this country, largely present, with stuff in french everywhere, a shitload of French tourists, and some architecture.
It's ok, but very small and the only things to see/visit/do around here are Wats (Buddhist temples), elephant treeking (already done in southern Thailand), waterfall and cave visiting (also already done), trekking in the jungle (I still remember the sting of the leeches in Khao Sok - so no thanks!) and shopping (we all know my most dreaded activity, especially on THIS budget!)....SOOOOO... we will visit a bit tomorrow (there's a museum and a 500yrs old Wat) then take off on a 2 days journey on the Mekong river to the Thai border, back to beautiful Thailand! yay!
Other than that everything is good, I've been in a bit of a rut since Pakse where I'm tire dof travelling. I fully realize I can't complain, but I also fully realize I'm definitely not one of those people who will want to travel extensively all their lives.. good to know! hehehe

Cheers
P.S. There was apparently an earthquake in the town here...it may have been on the news in your part of the world, but it's really nothing here. We didn't feel anything at all and everything is same same here, so no worries!

Posted by Mistrale 06:39 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane!

Deserves it's title of "most relaxed capital"...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Written on May 16...

Vientiane is a pretty quiet town for a Capital city. It sits on the Mekong river, across from Thailand. Everything closes around 10pm, and no later than 11:30 by law (except for a few very rare clubs).
We scored a great great guest house, with hot shower and air con, and most important: quietness!!! (Almost all the hotels we've stayed at for the past 3 weeks have been doing renos, and start around 7-8am no matter what, so quietness is not something we had experienced recently. As a result, we both slept in late on each day, it's good to rest once in a while (from this exhausting lifestyle!!! hehehe) Anyway, we are leaving tomorrow from Luang Prabang which is supposed to be the prettiest town in Laos... we'll see!

We didn't do much yesterday day, but went on our first adequate bender last night, after finding a place that sold 50,000kip pitchers and get a ref from a couple of local boys on where to go dance after. Ahhh, good times! The boys were so nice and cute, but it's actually illegal here to hook-up with a local; a falang needs a permit!!! Finding out about this crushed my life-long dream of hooking-up with a Laos guy, so I drank my sorrows away! hehehe... or not!

Today we visited a couple of "must see sites", the first one is called Paxtai, which apparently translates to Arch of Trimupm.
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It's actually quite high (7 storeys high) and acts as a view point of the city.

The best part is the explanation board:
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hehehe! big block of concrete! hehehe gotta love Laos honesty!

We then made it to the most important national monument in Laos (it's on the official seals and on the money): Pha That Luang

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It's a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty and it's full Lao name translated to World-previous Sacred Stupa. A stupa is the Buddhist way to let the spirits rise (and I believe re-incarnate). When one dies his/her ashed are put in one. They range from a pile of dirt to elaborate structures (always pointy) with morrowr, gold and decorations. They are everywhere in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and are always sacred.

Pha That Luan was quite nice to visit and very pretty. It was destroyed and re-built, and expanded a few times, so there isn't much left of the original...but I believe this was.
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Well, let's conclude with a couple of pretty, random pics...
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Cheers!
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Posted by Mistrale 04:29 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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