A Travellerspoint blog

The sleepiest capital in the world?

Vientiane, Laos

sunny

We arrived into Vientiane (pronounced Ven-chang we have learnt, not Vee-en-tee-en as we originally thought) late after an epic journey down country from Luang Prabang. Tired, we allowed ourselves to be slightly ripped off by a shared pick-up which dumped us off at a central location. We soon found our hotel and were pleased to discover the pleasant boutique bang for our buck. We had managed to secure a modern room in a converted, old, colonial mansion for a little over our usual penny pinching budget. Hungry, we headed out late into the wide boulevards of Vientiane.

At just before midnight, hardly a mouse stirred and we joked that maybe the city had been evacuated. Still, it was good to be walking down the tree lined streets and past colonial era buildings. The French architecture still held a dominant force on the streetscape. We looked at our map again and again and could not believe that we were actually in central Vientiane with hardly any shops or life and we kept reassuring each other that soon we would find somewhere to grab some grub. No other Asian capital city is anywhere near this quiet; usually you can’t turn a single corner without finding someone preparing fresh food.

Walking past a low lamp lit street, which endured for over a kilometre, we saw something that resembled the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and for a second we thought we were on the Champs Elysees. Eventually we passed a 7Eleven store and knew that we had a bag of crisps and some water to fall back on. We carried on a few hundred metres further and discovered the most posh hotel in Laos, which was still serving food. Dishevelled in our bohemian outfits, we sat down in the deserted restaurant which was outfitted in a far more glamorous fashion than us. We shared a petite portion of fried rice at 5 times the street rate (it’s funny that the more expensive something is, the less you get?! Low value, high ‘perceived value’ as Piers would say) and headed back through the serene streets to our hotel.

We spent 4 nights in Vientiane, that’s quite a lot as there isn’t so much to do and it feels like such a quiet city with a European feel, but without the culture. Still, whilst we had a nice hotel room at a cheap price, we decided to stick around and relax anyway. On our second day in the city an email came through from Laura and she asked if we had experienced the ‘crash’ yet? Yes, we replied. After 2 months and 2 weeks, we were already becoming a bit tired of being on the road and sightseeing every day. In fact, on one of the days we were in Vientiane Sophia woke up one morning and decided she would stay in bed all day and not leave the room! Laura had warned this would happen. For the first time in months we had a television and Sophia spent the whole day watching movies on HBO and Sully turned up at the right times with take away meals that were delicious. It was a good rest, perhaps just what we needed!

We did do some exploring whilst in the city of course. As expected, there were a myriad of Buddhist temples and also a Buddhist relics museum so we visited some of those. Despite having seen so many temples, each one is so different and there is always something new to see. We particularly liked the big belly of the laughing Buddha at one of the temples.

Big Buddha Belly

Big Buddha Belly


Statue at temple, Vientiane

Statue at temple, Vientiane


Temple ceiling depcting Buddha's life, Vientiane

Temple ceiling depcting Buddha's life, Vientiane


Buddhist temple, Vientiane

Buddhist temple, Vientiane


Buddhist temple, Vientiane

Buddhist temple, Vientiane


Golden stupa of Pha That Luang - a national monument

Golden stupa of Pha That Luang - a national monument


Us at Pha That Luang, Vientiane

Us at Pha That Luang, Vientiane


Buddhist temple, Vientiane

Buddhist temple, Vientiane

We also visited the National Monument which is an arch based on the Arc de Triomphe. It definitely gave the city a European feel although when we got close we were amused to find a plaque declaring the structure a ‘concrete monstrosity’. Perhaps something got lost in translation when the sign was ordered. Or perhaps they are very honest people here.

Patuxal, Vientiane

Patuxal, Vientiane


Nothing lost in translation here!

Nothing lost in translation here!

Whilst out walking, we discovered a small mosque through one of the alleys and met some local Muslims with Lao, Indian and Pakistani heritage. Before we reached the mosque we saw a family rummaging through the rubble of a building site for scrap metal near their bamboo shanti style hut. This moved us and was reflective of the relative poverty of Laos compared to its mighty Thai and Vietnamese neighbours.

For the rest of the time, we explored the city, walking the long streets. We visited a downbeat shopping mall and a large, sprawling indoor market. We walked along the river one evening to see the sunset and saw a crowd of middle aged women working out together to techno music.

Communal workout session at riverside park, Vientiane

Communal workout session at riverside park, Vientiane


Family at prayer at the riverside, Vientiane

Family at prayer at the riverside, Vientiane

Sunset at the riverfront, Vientiane

Sunset at the riverfront, Vientiane


Customer service lady asleep in shopping mall, Vientiane

Customer service lady asleep in shopping mall, Vientiane


Lady and her purchases leaving the market, Vientiane

Lady and her purchases leaving the market, Vientiane


Market stall, Vientiane

Market stall, Vientiane


Traditional garments for sale on market stall, Vientiane

Traditional garments for sale on market stall, Vientiane


Banana cart, Vientiane

Banana cart, Vientiane

We did enjoy our two weeks in Laos and were glad we saw the country, particularly the landscapes, but it wasn’t as amazing as we had been hoping. Perhaps we didn’t get far enough off the beaten track and away from the tourist trail to really get under the skin of the country. Perhaps we were just tired of travelling at that point and didn’t make enough effort. Perhaps we hadn’t met enough local people as we would have liked. Or perhaps it’s just not that great a destination compared to other countries in South East Asia. We never quite concluded on why we didn’t fall in love with the place.

Every day here we were reading and planning for our next stop – Vietnam. We made plans to spend a whole month in Vietnam and travel from North to South and were very excited to see the country. Whilst in Vientiane we obtained our tourist VISAs from the Vietnamese embassy and booked a flight direct to Hanoi. We felt like we were giving our travels a fresh kick-start as our plane took off out of Vientiane airport and we didn’t look back….

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 10.03.2012 08:22 Archived in Laos

Our day of luxury as VIPs

Laos

On New Year’s day 2012, we took a VIP Luxury bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. What is so special about a VIP Luxury bus you are wondering? Well, so are we! The bus we were on was awful, the worst we have seen on our travels in Asia and will no doubt always have a special place in our hearts!

When we arrived at the bus station we should have spotted the tell-tale signs. First of all, the driver was underneath the bus, face up with his feet sticking out. He was under there doing some last minute repairs with a screwdriver. Secondly, the bus looked nothing like the glistening white beast they had shown us in the pictures when they sold us the tickets – it was ancient. Still, in the front window, which had a large crack right across the front, they had had enough confidence to reconfirm with a sign that this was to be a ‘VIP Luxury’ journey. So, with no other option, we boarded the bus and crammed ourselves into our seats, which were filthy and had no leg room, not even for us short people.

The seat in front of Sophia’s seat had something that looked like thick marmite smeared across the back so she would have to look at that and avoid touching it for the next nine hours! We had been promised air conditioning but, of course, there was none, so we were to travel in the 30+ degrees heat for nine hours like this. Still, we didn’t complain and reassured each other that it would be fine.

Eventually, the bus left an hour late and then 5 minutes later we stopped to refuel. Why didn’t they think to fill up before all the VIPs arrived?! Still, it will be fun and adventurous we thought. After the journey from hell in Thailand, we are prepared for everything, we thought, and popped some travel sickness pills. We were already late, too cramped and overheating when the fumes of petrol from the engine starting spilling into the bus through the broken air conditioning fans. We followed the lead of the locals and tied scarves around our faces to cover our mouth and nose but still started to feel sick and got headaches quite quickly. And so the journey continued with ‘surprise’ after ‘surprise’. Sully felt worse and worse and decided to try sleeping through the nightmare.

The driver was a maniac and was driving through the mountains as fast as his rickety bus could carry us. A couple of times we swerved badly across the lanes and there was a loud gasp across the bus as we felt it wobble from side to side and wondered if we were about to roll. That would explain the cracks in the windows we thought. Still, we were up in the mountains and the drop on the side of the road was so steep that no one would find us if we fell into the forest below. It was truly very scary! As a slight consolation, the views were amazing and Soph managed to get some photos through the filthy windows. We even passed a village where a wedding was taking place and everyone was wearing traditional tribal costumes.

View of Laotian countryside from bus window

View of Laotian countryside from bus window


View of Laotian countryside from bus window

View of Laotian countryside from bus window


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Ladies washing at the roadside, Laos

Ladies washing at the roadside, Laos


View of Laotian countryside from bus window

View of Laotian countryside from bus window


View of Laotian countryside from bus window

View of Laotian countryside from bus window

About 7 hours into the journey, we broke down. At that point nobody seemed particularly surprised; the bus had been making all sorts of noises. Besides, it was an excuse to get out and get a gasp of fresh air and cool down. The driver opened the door to the engine and the steam clouded out as all of the passengers crowded at the side of the road. He spent some time fiddling with a screwdriver and tied some parts together with a rope. After 30 minutes we seemed to be up and running again. In the meantime, a French family who were obviously quite distressed by the whole experience had flagged down a passing car and offered the driver $100 if he would take them the rest of the journey; they were too scared to get back into the bus. So were we to be honest, but we did anyway.

Our VIP bus, broken down, already 4 hours late

Our VIP bus, broken down, already 4 hours late


Our VIP bus, broken down, already 4 hours late

Our VIP bus, broken down, already 4 hours late

An hour later, we passed a town called Vang Vieng, at this point we were due to be arriving in Vientiane but from a look in our guide book we noted that we still had another four hours to go. That was quite a depressing moment and then to make matters worse, the sun went down. After 30 minutes, it was absolutely black outside. Some lights flickered on the ceiling of the bus and tried to come on, but failed. We were sitting in darkness. The crazy driver was driving in darkness too; there were no street lights in sight. We weren’t sure if we were hallucinating on petrol fumes! Sully noted that Piers would definitely not find this situation acceptable.

Vang Vieng, view from bus window

Vang Vieng, view from bus window


Vang Vieng, view from bus window

Vang Vieng, view from bus window

At some point after that, a lady further ahead let out a small yelp. Her seat had become detached from the floor of the bus and suddenly she was laying back in the dark on the lap of the man behind her, with her seat hanging in the aisle and everyone in the bus wondering what was going on in the darkness. Again, our head torches came in very useful.

Anyway, eventually we did arrive in Vientiane and we were still alive. The journey had taken 14 hours instead of 9 and we found we had been dropped at an out-of-town bus station nowhere near the city centre and we were very hungry! The adventure continued…

Moral of this story? Don’t be tight, take a flight.

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 09.03.2012 23:21 Archived in Laos

Please don't rush

Luang Prabang, Laos

After two days cramped on a slow boat heading South on the mighty Mekong river, we were even more pleased to see Luang Prabang than its tourist touts were to see us. We arrived just as the sun was setting and the sky and water were glowing as orange as Laotian monks’ robes. Perfect timing. We walked from the jetty into the town where the evening was about to kick off, restaurants were setting tables, the temples were lit up and local ladies were laying out their wares in preparation for the night market. We couldn’t wait to get stuck in!

Luang Prabang is a former capital of Laos and is a UNESCO listed heritage site. It has an abundance of French colonial style buildings as well as temples which made for a pleasant atmosphere. Our accommodation was near the river which held a constant low rumble and saw a myriad of local life carrying out their daily activities. One afternoon we crossed the river via a bamboo bridge and met a monk on the other side who was climbing trees for coconuts.

Sully crossing the bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang

Sully crossing the bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang


Young lads playing in the river, Luang Prabang

Young lads playing in the river, Luang Prabang


Young monk collecting coconuts from the tree, Luang Prabang

Young monk collecting coconuts from the tree, Luang Prabang

Whilst in Luang Prabang we hired cycles and visited many of the picturesque temples around the town and met plenty of monks and young novices.

Temple, Luang Prabang

Temple, Luang Prabang


Monks' robes drying in sunshine, Luang Prabang

Monks' robes drying in sunshine, Luang Prabang


Young monk studying in courtyard of temple complex, Luang Prabang

Young monk studying in courtyard of temple complex, Luang Prabang


Temple, Luang Prabang

Temple, Luang Prabang


Monks' residence

Monks' residence

We also cycled to a village in the countryside where we saw a very simple way of life, but still the big smiles we receive everywhere in this country. The town seems to be very quiet and slow paced, there’s plenty to see but not so much to do.

Village ladies buying rice

Village ladies buying rice


Chicken in the village

Chicken in the village


View of Mekong from a small village we cycled to

View of Mekong from a small village we cycled to

One morning we went to visit the morning food market. We thought at first that it might be a good place to grab some breakfast but quickly changed our minds when we saw the live poultry, splayed frogs and various other foodstuffs we couldn't identify but looked like roadkill. The market was very popular with locals who buy as they eat due to lack of refrigerators and storage space.

Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market - live ducks

Luang Prabang morning food market - live ducks


Transporting of just-purchased ducks, Luang Prabang morning food market

Transporting of just-purchased ducks, Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market


Luang Prabang morning food market

Luang Prabang morning food market

One evening we saw a catwalk show where we saw all of the different Laotian tribal costumes being modelled. It was quite interesting. We wondered how these remote and often isolated tribes manage to have such elaborate and colourful garments and how these fit in with their simple way of life that we have read about.

Cultural show of tribal outfits

Cultural show of tribal outfits


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Cultural show of tribal outfits

Cultural show of tribal outfits

It was nice to walk around in the evenings too, once the heat had become more bearable.

Luang Prabang in the evening

Luang Prabang in the evening


View from Pho Si hill, Luang Prabang

View from Pho Si hill, Luang Prabang


Luang Prabang in the evening

Luang Prabang in the evening


Luang Prabang in the evening

Luang Prabang in the evening


Prayer time in Luang Prabang

Prayer time in Luang Prabang

We had one annoying afternoon when we needed to change hotels. We made a reservation at a new place online as it was busy for the New Year period. When we went to the address of the booking, the hostel didn’t exist! There was a hostel there but with a different name and not much English spoken. We spent ages trying to find the right place and asking local people. Eventually after hours of lugging our luggage around in the heat we found out that the dodgy owner had sold up and done a runner but is still accepting online bookings! Apparently we weren’t the first ones this has happened to. Luckily we found another place to stay in the end.

After all the recent travelling and cycling, we first treated ourselves to a massage in a lovely colonial building. Soph went all out and spent half her birthday money from the Hoqs on a floral milk bath, a jasmine oil massage and a hot stones treatment, followed by a pedicure and a foot massage, what a treat! We felt like we were floating on clouds as we left the massage salon.

We were in Luang Prabang for New Year’s Eve and decided to celebrate with the locals. We had seen a stage being set up so we knew there would be some festivities! First we went for a nice meal where we discovered a delicious Laotian dish called Pad Kee Mao, it was vegetables and tofu cooked in a satay-type sauce and served with rice. In the evening we went to the main square where there was live music and entertainment and lots of food stalls set up. All the local people were out in their finest clothes and making lots of toasts with their Beer Lao there was a really good, lively atmosphere and everyone seemed very happy, there was even dancing in the streets -quite a surprise for such a sedate place! At midnight, the crowds went crazy with clapping and cheering, hundreds of Chinese lanterns were released into the sky at the same time and we saw a fantastic firework display. They even sang Auld Lang Sein in Lao! It was a great way to see in the New Year! We wonder what 2012 will bring….

Us on New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang

Us on New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang


New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang

New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang


New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang - Chinese Lanterns

New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang - Chinese Lanterns

New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang

New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang


New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang - Locals celebrating

New Year's Eve - Luang Prabang - Locals celebrating

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 09.03.2012 18:31 Archived in Laos

Slow boat on the Mekong

Laos

After our Christmas fun, we took a bus from Pai to the Thailand-Laos border. The memory of travel sickness had not yet left us; we were still in the hills and needed to get back down. This time it would be at night, on dark roads. We arrived early and selfishly nabbed the front seats to better our chances. We popped a travel sickness pill each for good measure. Sophia wondered why she hadn’t found the strength to resist the chocolate covered pancake before boarding the bus. You only live once!

7 hours later, at 3 in the morning, we arrived at the border town where we were given a bed in a small hotel so that we could sleep until the next morning when the border reopened. We woke at 7 after only 4 hours’ sleep on a mattress as hard as concrete. We had that feeling of dread at not knowing how the day would pan out. We were in a rush to cross the border so that we could catch a boat on the other side, they leave early in the morning and we didn’t want to waste a day in the dreary Laos border town waiting for another one. We had also overstayed our Thai Visa limit and were keen to get out quickly.

After various points in the right direction, we found the border crossing and were first to arrive at the immigration desk. As soon as it opened at 8am we were ushered through to an office to pay our fine for staying too long. The VISA had only given us 15 days in Thailand and we had stayed 16. The fine was $15 each, just enough to keep the border control workers in donuts for the next week.

About to cross the border into Laos at 8am

About to cross the border into Laos at 8am

Once we had passed the borderline, we walked down to the Mekong river where we got a small wooden rowing boat across to the Laos side. With our feet firmly on Laos soil we queued for our VISA and passed through into a street full of travel agents and touts. It was 9am so we were late for the boat we wanted, but we found out that it wasn’t running anyway. Our plan B was to take a slow boat, it would take two full days to get us from the border town to our destination; Luang Prabang.

The boat we had originally wanted was relatively comfortable. The slow boat, we had heard, was the opposite. They were notorious for being overcrowded (over 100 people) with uncomfortable wooden seats and a hole in the back as a toilet. We had read too that the engine at the back was deafening and that ear plugs were required to make it bearable. We unenthusiastically purchased our tickets. We couldn’t really afford the other boat anyway, who were we kidding!

On the upside, we were now early for our boat and the first ones through the border so we had plenty of time to board the boat and pick the best seats away from the engine. Rushing for the best seats has now become a new part of our travelling experience. We were pleased to find that, although there were many wooden benches, there were also softer seats which would make the 7 hours a day more comfortable. These seats were in fact old bus seats that had been placed onto the boat in rows, with an aisle down the middle. The seats weren’t attached to the boat so moved around when you sat on them. Still, they were soft and they were not at the front.

Given that we were 2 hours early for the boat’s departure and with seats secured, Sophia ventured back up into the town to purchase breakfast, snacks and the illusive toilet roll. Breakfast was hot pancakes to take away; just what we needed after the morning rush and given the lack of sleep. Arriving early for the boat meant that we would be sitting on there for 9 hours instead of 7. Sully was already bored and decided he would sleep the whole day.

The boat filled with more and more people. They were mostly tourists of all nationalities but there were plenty of locals too. For some reason, the locals kept being moved to give the seats to tourists instead. We felt quite bad for them. Not bad enough to give up our own soft seats, mind. Eventually the boat left, an hour late. Patience comes in quite handy here.

Despite the horror stories we had heard, the journey was relatively comfortable. A lady at the back of the boat was selling tea and coffee and there were real toilets available too. The discomforts were made bearable by the amazing scenery that we passed by on both sides and we sailed downstream on the Mekong. We passed rock karsts jutting out of the water, sand banks, small wooden villages, huge green hills, fishing boats. We stopped many times along the way to drop off items or local people or to collect new passengers who would see us approaching and wave their arms for us to stop. At each stop, young children would run into the water and climb onto the boat to sell us snacks. They were living in a remote riverside village and yet they speak very good English.

On the first night, as the sun was setting, we arrived at Pakbeng, a small town high up on the hill above the river. The locals had seen us coming and by the time we docked and scrambled off the boat and up the rocky hillside, they were all there shouting the name of their hotels and restaurants. This town receives over 200 people a day from boats travelling in each direction on the river. They had a captive audience! Sully had already seen some wooden buildings hanging over the edge of the hillside and had decided he wanted to stay in those so we climbed up the hill and negotiated a room for the night. We were told that the boat would leave at 8 the next morning but we agreed that we would go down at 7 to nab some good seats again. Survival of the fittest!

The next morning we had breakfast at our hotel, overlooking the river at the boats below. By 6.30 there were already other people boarding the boat with the same idea as us. We arrived down there at 7 and secured a decent seat and sat and watched the other people arriving for the boat. There is no safe, easy or graceful way to get back down to the river side with big bags. The hillside is steep, uneven and rocky and it is hard work trying not to fall, whilst at the same time trying to dodge the locals with their food and snacks for sale, with their prices steeper than the hill itself.
When we got to the boat that morning, we noted that it was smaller version of the previous day’s boat. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the same amount of people from yesterday’s cramped boat were not going to fit back onto today’s smaller boat. As more and more people arrived, the last ones with wet hair and holding coffee whilst scrambling down the hill, it became evident that all the seats were gone. There wasn’t even enough space to stand, not that anyone would want to stand for the next 8 hours! Eventually, a number of tourists began to complain, requesting a larger or additional boat and the staff just refused, asking them to sit on tyres that they had placed near the front! The complaints turned into a protest with chanting and many of the passengers got off the boat so that it couldn’t leave. After a two hour stand-off (where we, again, didn’t budge from our soft seats!), the rebels got their way and a second boat was chartered in and we set off. At this point we had already been sitting on the boat for 3 hours and hadn’t yet moved!

Breakfast overlooking the Mekong at Pak Beng, Laos

Breakfast overlooking the Mekong at Pak Beng, Laos

The second day’s journey was much the same as the first, there were beautiful views and we alternated between reading, taking photos, playing cards, sleeping and eating snacks. Eventually we arrived in Luang Prabang. A much anticipated destination of which we had heard many good things.

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos - sunset

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos - sunset

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos - sunset

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos - sunset


Slow boats on the Mekong, Laos

Slow boats on the Mekong, Laos


View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos


View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos


View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos


View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos


View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

View from our slow boat on the Mekong in Laos

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 04.03.2012 06:33 Archived in Laos

Christmas without the roasties

Pai, Thailand

The road between Chiang Mai and Pai was bendier than the curls in Soph’s hair.

At first it started as a scenic drive up into the hills and soon became the journey of hell! The driver felt no need to break at any point and sped into each hairpin bend, one after another and another, at full speed. After a few swerves to avoid oncoming minibuses employing the same driving methods, we started to regret the seat near the back of the bus and wondered if we would really make it to Christmas, given the steep drop to one side. About an hour into the journey and still spiralling up and through the hills, we both felt really sick, shaking and unbearably hot. So, this is what travel sickness feels like. The other passengers around us were having a similarly bad time, with white faces and white knuckles, we continued on. About two hours into the journey the driver pulled over for a throwing up break – it seemed some were suffering even more than us. Luckily we were spared as Sully procured some ginger tea and Sophia negotiated a seat exchange to the front of the bus. The last two hours of the journey were better but we arrived in Pai feeling like we’d been on a runaway rollercoaster.

Pai is a small town by a river in the hills of North West Thailand, surrounded by beautiful countryside and has a very relaxed, chilled-out atmosphere. Our accommodation was a nice little wooden hut (complete with hammock) by the riverside, which we reached by crossing a rickety bamboo bridge. It was just what we needed to recover from the journey.

Our 'camp' in Pai

Our 'camp' in Pai


Our gardens in Pai

Our gardens in Pai

Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve, Sully experienced a ‘Thailand Kiss’. (No, not what you think it is….) Basically, he was burnt on the ankle by the exposed red-hot exhaust pipe on our bike. It was very painful. It is such a common occurrence here; most backpackers are walking around with the same shaped mark on their ankle! We had to take a brief trip to the hospital where Sully was patched up. We were impressed with the service we received, given that we were in a relatively remote town and don’t speak Thai. As we walked (or limped, in Sully’s case) back out of the hospital we noted that we would have waited 5 hours in A&E in the UK before we were seen. We were glad it did not take that long or Sully would not have been the only one that was ‘exhausted’. (Apologies, Sully’s bad joke, he insisted)

Santa has arrived

Santa has arrived

After this incident we jumped back on the bike and went exploring the countryside around Pai. It was a very pretty place and we stopped for photos of small villages, the river, the hills and the green fields that stretched for as far as we could see. As we drove through small villages we shouted hello to the people we passed, it was so peaceful and we could really feel how fresh the air was up there. We also called by a place with a small private lake where they do piranha fishing!

Pai countryside

Pai countryside

We arrived back in Pai as the sun was setting and chilled our in the little wooden house listening to Christmas songs. The bathroom was at the back and had a thin wooden roof, even though it was completely enclosed, it still felt like we were showering outdoors, strange!

That evening we walked around the vast night bazaar that was almost as good as the stalls in Chiang Mai. Instead of going for dinner, we just kept sampling food from different stalls through the market until we were completely full on a variety of tasty treats. We really liked the pumpkin spring rolls and the Chinese steamed buns. We also stopped at a stall where a man was selling various hot liquids out of mini cauldrons. We had a hot lemon and honey drink served in a bamboo tube cup. It was delicious and we kept going back for a top up!

Hot lemon and honey drink served in a bamboo cup

Hot lemon and honey drink served in a bamboo cup

For the first time in Thailand we started to feel a little cold whilst in Pai. We didn’t mind too much since the cold made it feel slightly more like Christmas and we had our Santa hats (bought in Kuala Lumpur) that we wore around the town that evening. The Thai people also celebrate Christmas and we saw plenty of locals also wearing Santa hats, so we didn’t get too many strange looks.

Us on xmas day in Pai

Us on xmas day in Pai

As we walked back to our hut, across the bamboo bridge over the river, we saw fireworks and Chinese lanterns being released into the dark starry sky. It felt really quite festive even if not in the usual way and we stood for ages on the bridge enjoying the view. We finished our Christmas Eve by watching an old Christmas special of Only Fools n Horses; the one where they make Peckham spring water. How did backpackers cope before the days of You Tube and free Wifi!?!

We woke up feeling frosty and festive on Christmas morning. And Santa had been. Sully went to collect us a steaming hot tea each, we watched a bit more of Del boy and Rodney and then got dressed in our finest backpacker garments! Ha! Since we were 7 hours ahead, everyone in the UK was still fast asleep. We spent some time chilling in the pretty gardens where we were staying, laying in the hammock and listening to some hippy guy playing Indian drums. After we went for a HUGE breakfast, it was a real treat and Sully even had smoked salmon!

chilling for xmas

chilling for xmas


Xmas house

Xmas house


Sully with his xmas present - wrapped in a large map of Chiang Mai!

Sully with his xmas present - wrapped in a large map of Chiang Mai!

During the day we went for another ride out into the countryside around Pai. The roads don’t seem so bad at sensible speeds and without the bumpy bus. Our first stop was Pai canyon where the walking route was certainly not for the faint hearted, with sheer drops on both sides. Sophia’s feet became glued to the spot on ‘safe ground’ and even then she felt slightly dizzy. Sully hobbled around the whole site on his one good leg, daredevil. The views were amazing from up there.

Sully at Pai canyon

Sully at Pai canyon

Next we passed across the World War II memorial bridge, built by the Japanese occupiers in their quest to reach and capture Burma. We learned that many Thai people had died in this area during the war.

Our next stop was Tha Pai hot springs where we saw flowing water that was so hot there was steam rising off it, it was too hot to touch in some parts. Tourists and locals go there to relax in the water and ease their aches and pains, like an outdoor sauna. We saw the bubbles where the hot water was bursting out of the ground with a sulphurous smell and some people were cooking eggs in the water too!

Sully at the natural hot springs

Sully at the natural hot springs

As we headed back towards Pai, on a small road through the forest we saw some elephants! We stopped for a look and to take some photos and a lady appeared and convinced us to take an hour’s jungle trek on one of the elephants. It was soooo much fun and definitely not what we were expecting to be doing on Christmas day! We had to climb a big ladder to get up onto the elephant and then climbed on, with our bare feet on his wrinkly grey skin. We gave him plenty of bananas but during the trek he stopped a few times to snap a fallen tree trunk in half and have a good munch on it. We really enjoyed riding high up above the trees with amazing views all around us.

The elephant that took us on a xmas day jungle trek

The elephant that took us on a xmas day jungle trek


Sully having an elephant hug!

Sully having an elephant hug!


Xmas encounter with the elephant

Xmas encounter with the elephant

On Christmas evening we went to a nice restaurant by the river that was decorated for Christmas and was complete with Christmas music too. The only thing missing was the Christmas dinner and yes, we did miss it. Imagine, Christmas without the roasties! To console ourselves we feasted on fish n chips, as English as we could find. We had a delicious meal and there was a great atmosphere by the riverside. After, we went to another café where we had carrot cake and hot apple crumble with ice-cream.

Xmas dinner of fish n chips, Pai

Xmas dinner of fish n chips, Pai


Xmas decorations at restaurant in Pai

Xmas decorations at restaurant in Pai


Sully with xmas carrot cake in Pai

Sully with xmas carrot cake in Pai

After dinner, we spent some time on Skype talking to family in England, watched them open some presents and spoke to Josie on her new ipad. It was great to see the house decorated and everyone smiling back at us on the screen!

Soph talking to her mum and skyping with her sister for xmas

Soph talking to her mum and skyping with her sister for xmas

We finished the evening with another walk around the festive night bazaar, we watched more fireworks going off in the distance and then we released a huge giant lantern up towards the stars.

Chinese Lantern in Pai

Chinese Lantern in Pai

It wasn’t the Christmas we were used to, but it is one we will never forget!

  • **Merry Christmas to you all, have a fantastic festive break and eat some roasties for us!***

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 03.03.2012 02:47 Archived in Thailand

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