2008 Thailand & Laos

Sat 12th April

Andrew & I are off on another Gecko Travel holiday to Thailand & Laos, this time Nick is coming with us. Peter picked us all up & drove us to Heathrow.

The flight was great, although 11½ hours long, Thai Airways always get it right, even to more than edible food.

Sun 13th April

We arrived at 7am Bangkok time, Mr T picked us up & drove us to the Viengtai hotel, singing Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love as he drove!

The Vientai is where we bumped into Matt & Anna on our last visit here.

Bangkok is pure chaos as we have arrived at Thai New Year again, so dropped off our luggage & as our rooms weren’t ready yet we went out. Were immediately drowned so went to buy water guns to retaliate – what else can you do?

Andrew & I returned to the hotel later for a shower & siesta, Nick continued water fighting and we rejoined the fun at about 4pm.

By 7pm we’d all had enough so returned to Vientai for a shower & change of clothes then ate in the restaurant as we’d had enough soakings for one day. Retired fairly early to catch up on sleep.

Mon 14th April

Met Nick for breakfast then we went out for a ride in a Tuk Tuk, Harry the driver took us down to the Chao Phraya river where we went on an hours boat trip around the river but the Kings Barges were closed for the New Year celebrations, a shame as Andrew & I had seen them last time & they are stunning. Harry picked us back up & we went to a Wat then on to the Royal Thai Handicraft shop, which annoyed us as we didn’t want to shop. We went in reluctantly and wandered around, bought a lovely mobile for Baby, {Simon will be a Dad any day now} a pair of earrings for Margaret and a pair for me. We then came to the furniture section and both fell in love with a fabulous hand carved Elephant screen, it’s in 5 sections & totally stunning. We decided on the spot that we had to buy it.

Nick bought a Buddha face carved in 3 sections, it’s lovely too & will be shipped home with our screen. Harry drove us back to Vientai then & w dropped off our shopping & went out for lunch.

It was siesta time then & afterwards went to Audy’s {attached to the hotel}where Andrew had 1½ hour massage & I had a massage & facial – loved the facial there on our last visit so had to return.

Nick went out water fighting as he’s bought a larger pistol to play with! We met up with him later on & went for dinner at a restaurant opposite Vientai then a stroll around the Khao San Road night market before retiring to bed.

Tue 15th April

Mr. T picked us up and took us to the airport, singing to us all the way again, I videoed him this time. We had a one hour flight to Chiang Mai to meet James our tour guide and the other backpackers on the rest of this trip. We were met at the airport and taken to our hotel.

We are staying at the Chiangmai Thai House in Chiang Mai for the next 2 nights.

Went out with water pistols again, Nick has upgraded his pistol again. We went to a clothes shop & ordered some shirts each, and a couple of dresses for me, we’d have ordered from Pierre’s at Vientai again but they were closed for new year, we have a fitting tomorrow. Ate out then went to an excellent Night Bazaar, bought lovely hand carved water lily soap flowers for Carole & I & an owl for Margaret.

Wed 16th April

We met the rest of the tour people this morning at breakfast, then Andrew & I went out to explore the old town area, we found the lovely Tamarind Village Hotel & decided that we’d love to stay there if we come back.

Our next stop was at Wat Doi Suthep a fabulous temple with lots of gold leaf. According to legend, the temple site was chosen by an elephant carrying a holy relic. Originally the relic was to be enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in 1371, but it split in two. The second piece was placed on the back of an elephant which proceeded to climb Doi Suthep. After 3 days the elephant finally reached a level piece of ground, circled three times, knelt down & then died.

A hole was dug at this site for the relic, which was then covered with a Chedi over 7 metres tall.

Until the road was built in 1935, pilgrims had to walk up the mountain, then up more than 200 steps on the long Naga stairway to reach the temple.

The inner walled sanctuary is surrounded by a lower terrace, from here there is an excellent view over Chiang Mai & the valley. The faithful like to ring the bells and gongs round the base of the sanctuary. A statue of the Elephant commemorates the founding of the temple. We spent a long time there looking around, there are lots of stray dogs around the Wat and later as the monks rang the bells all the dogs joined in & howled! There are boxes in several places here for donations to help feed the dogs who live here. I lit a candle for my sister Susie there, I thought she might like that.

We then went on to see Wat Chedi Luang which was built from 1391 onwards during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma. He intended this to house the ashes of his father, Ku Na.

This site was designated as a ‘Ku Luang’ instead of a Chedi since it was not intended to house relics of the Buddha. There are elephant statues all around this temple, it is lovely and well worth a visit.

We met up with Nick & rest of group later & went down town for dinner, James our tour guide is brilliant, he speaks fluent Laos & a lot of Thai too & ordered wonderful dinner for us, arranging for me to have the same as everyone else but without any chilli – excellent!

James was taking the rest of the group to the night bazaar, we arranged to meet them later & got a Tuk Tuk for our final fittings, Laura came with us as she was interested in seeing the clothes we had ordered, then we went to the bazaar afterwards for another wander as this is a fabulous market. We bought a lovely outfit for the Baby & a purple bag for me & a new bag to carry all the clothes we’ve had made. Back to the hotel for a nightcap & found Nick chatting to Chrissy a lady who lives in London for 6 months & here for the other 6 – fabulous way to live. We got on really well & sat talking and drinking till 2.30.

Thu 17th April

Up for breakfast, Andrew & Nick both have overhangs. We went to collect our clothes, back to hotel for lunch & then it was time to leave Chiang Mai & head to Chiang Rai.

I noticed then 3 missed calls from Simon, & phoned him straight away to discover that Molly had been born 2 hours before, she weighs 7lb 13oz. Which is ¼ oz more than her Daddy did.

Si sent me a link to a photo of her – she is so beautiful. Now I can’t wait to get home and meet her!

En route to the Golden Triangle hotel where we will stay tonight we stopped at a fairytale temple Wat Rong Khun 13k from Chiang Rai centre.

“Only death can stop my dream, but cannot stop my project,” says Chalermchai Kositpipat, the creator of Wat Rong Khun whose intention is to create one of the most elegant temples in Chiang Rai, which he believes will give him immortal life

Wat Rong Khun or The White Temple is still a work in progress after more than 10 years in construction. When the Temple is finished it will consist of 9 separate buildings. Its main distinguishing feature is its white colour inlaid with mirrored glass. The white colour of the temple represents the Lord Buddha’s purity while the white glass stands for the Lord Buddha’s wisdom that shines brightly all over the earth. Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat says himself he will probably still be working on the project until the day he dies. The project started out as the construction of a beautiful new bot (convention hall) for the temple. After a couple of years of construction the bot began to attract both Thai and foreign visitors who came to admire the intricate detailing. It was then that the project began to grow. And since then all the old building s of the temple have been pulled down are being replaced with new. The size of the temple land has tripled to accommodate the new constructions of Wat Rong Khun.

Well I hope he realises his dream as this is the most stunning & fabulous temple I have ever seen, it glistens in the sun & even though it is full of tourists it still has such a tranquil atmosphere. The entrance to the Wat is imposing with hands reaching up from hell & the paintings inside are incredible. This is a Wat not to be missed if you are visiting this area ofThailand.

We drove on then to the hotel & after dinner Andrew & I retired early to recover from last night!

Fri 18th April

Breakfasted early & were on the road by 8am, we stopped at the crossing Thai/Laos/Burma borders. We wandered around a market & bought a pink dress for Molly & a brilliant mozzie zapper shaped like a tennis racquet. Had a coffee then it was time to go to see the Scorpion Statue at Wat Doi Wao near the Mae Sai River another fabulous monument with a wonderful view of the Myanmar mountains.

We walked down by the Mae Kong River & then to the Wat Phra Chedi Luang with the huge Naga staircase & down to the stupa.

King Saen Muang Ma began building this to enshrine the relics of his father in 1391. The Chedi used to be 90 metres high before it was partly destroyed in an earthquake in 1545; it was to remain the tallest structure in Chiang Mai for over 500 years. The present restored Chedi is about 60 metres high.The large Viharn{assembly hall} was built in 1928. Round columns with bell shaped bases & lotus finials support the high red ceiling inside. The standing Buddha image inside is known as the Phra Chao Attarot.

This is a lovely temple and we spent quite a while wandering around it, the huge stupa, the big Buddha & gardens are well worth visiting.

We went to the Opium Museum which we wandered around for a while, it is small but very interesting & informative, the word Opium means Fruit Juice!

We walked across the road then to the Golden Triangle to see the huge Golden Buddha, the fabulous Elephant Statues & the Dragon Ship, all amazing, so glad we saw them. It’s been a very full on day & I was happy that the next stop was the Namkhong Riverside Hotel at Chiang Khong. We have a lovely room here with a balcony overlooking the river & en suite wet room, brilliant.

We used the lovely wet room then relaxed until dinner time.

Dinner was the best yet for me, a marvellous massaman curry with fried morning glory flowers, exotic & exquisite!

Sat 19th April

After breakfast it was time to go and queue for visas to enable us to cross the Mekong River by ferry into Laos. We were then taken by car up to the Lanten village where we met Mr. Samsei who is the Head Man of the village, the Shaman and also the Headmaster of the school. The school is quite large and has 10 teachers and about 280 pupils from the surrounding areas.

We visited the school and also gave the children footballs that we’d bought en route at James’ suggestion and left Mr. Samsei a donation for the school.

Mr. Samsei then invited us the his house for refreshment, which was Laolao a local spirit – a bit like sake and very potent! We had 4 rounds of it as it is considered very bad manners not to stay and finish the bottle with him when it’s opened for guests.

We watched some ladies of the village spinning cotton wool type stuff, then weaving it to make cloth for clothing the people. They use indigo leaves to dye the cloth and the females of the village have a red neckline around the tops. The name of the village Lanten means blue cloth.

We then were driven to another village where around 50 families moved their tribe from Cambodia to Laos about 100 years ago.

Later we were taken to the Boat Landing Eco Lodge on the Tha River where we had a lovely hut with a balcony, but no electricity as they are supplied from China and something has gone wrong. They have been without electricity for 2 weeks now, they have a generator but can only run it between 7.30 – 10pm.

The outside of the hut was inundated with caterpillars but we’d used up the batteries on the camcorder and couldn’t recharge so no film unfortunately. We showered then sat on the balcony relaxing with the lovely scenery until it was time for dinner. We ate Laos soup, morning glory, sticky rice and pork with fresh mint and coriander – all fabulous and accompanied with Laos dark beer. We were given torches to light the way back, but didn’t really need them as there were so many wonderful fireflies here lighting up the sky like tiny led lights – fabulous!

Sun 20th April

Andrew and I had a lazy day here today, we walked into the town about 3 miles away but there was not a lot to do there so we had a cold drink each then walked back to the lodge. Relaxed then went for dinner with the rest of the group. No electricity at all tonight as the generator has packed up – poor people, how do they cope? We had a wonderful candlelit dinner and more Laos beer and really enjoyed the evening anyway.

Mon 21st April

We left the Eco Lodge at 7.30am and most of the day was spent travelling, though we stopped at 2 Hmong villages en route where we watched a lady drying rice on a large mat and bought Alison and I a hand made silk scarf each. Took photos of the local children and their dogs and visited a small school there too.We had fabulous beef noodle soup at a little cafe at lunchtime. Reached out destination at about 5pm. A fabulous chalet on stilts with a mozzie net over our bed and stunning views of the Ou River with all the little fishing boats and the Oudom Xai Provence Mountains which we later watched the sun set behind. We ate at 7pm and I was bitten to bits, there were strange beasties climbing into my hair and 2” long flying beetles which were in our bedroom too. I got under the mozzie net a.s.a.p. while Andrew zapped anything that moved for me!

Tue 22nd April

We were up at 6am packed, breakfasted and off for a boat trip down the Ou River, wonderful scenery all the way. We stopped at an island for a picnic lunch then paddled on to the Tham Ting Caves the gateway where the Ou and Mekong Rivers meet. Our destination is Luang Prabang where we will stay for 4 nights. We arrived at about 5.30pm and showered before we did anything else. A cold hose down was required after being on the river all day. We then went out to explore, changed out bahts for kips and found a chemist shop for paracetamol for Andrew whose had earache for 4 days now – poor love.Went to Pack Luck wine bar a really cool place for a glass of wine each. Later we went out with the group for dinner to a restaurant on the banks of the Mekong river where we ate Mekong river fish and green curry with the yummy Laos sticky rice that I am becoming addicted to. Afterwards we had a wander around the night market which is cool and well worth going to. Retired for the night then as it’s been a long day, but this is a very noisy hotel & no air con. so very hot and not much sleep.

Wed 23rd April

Today we visited the former King’s Royal Palace which was stunning. On the right of the entrance is the King’s reception room, where busts of the Lao monarchs are displayed along with two large gilded and lacquered screens, crafted by a local artisan. The room’s walls are covered with murals that depict scenes from traditional Lao lifestyles, painted in 1930. Each of the walls is intended to be viewed at a different time of day, depending on the light that enters the windows on one side of the room, which matches the time the day depicted.

In the right front corner room of the Palace, which opens to the outside, is a collection of the palace’s most prized art cast of a gold, silver and bronze alloy. This buddha stands apparently 83cm tall and weighs around 50kg. There are rumours that the one on display is a copy as it is said the real one had gold leaf over the eyes and a hole drilled through one of its ankle. Also in the room are another Buddha, engraved with large elephant tusks, and three beautiful embroidered silk screens said to be crafted by the Queen.

Later we had smoked duck salad for lunch then went for a walk, we wandered back via the river and found a lovely hotel called Apsara facing the river. We booked a suite there for the rest of our stay then went to pack and move. This place is lovely and quiet and has air con too. Andrew had a siesta as earache still bad and I went to a local shop for a manicure, then met up with Nick & James to tell them we’d moved. Andrew and I had an excellent meal and wine at Apsara’s restaurant then retired with rest of wine to our patio where Nick joined us to check out our new rooms. We sat chatting and watching an incredible storm which arrived shortly after Nick. We ordered him some profiteroles and chatted till 11pm when Nick decided he’d walk back in the rain.

Thu 24th April

A fairly lazy day today as we have a free day, Nick came over and booked a room here too & moved in. Then Andrew, Nick, Peter, Katya and I booked a tuk tuk to the morning market where we bought a dress for Molly and wandered around for a while. Tuk tuk back then lunched at Cafe Ban Vat Sene in Luang Prabang again, more smoked duck salad – delicious. A siesta followed then another wander around the night market where we bought some shoes for Molly, 3 Laos lamps for us and 2 lovely lampshades for Andrews mum.

We dined with Nick at Apsara, I tried the Goat Tague which was delicious. Then it was time for bed as we are up early tomorrow.

Fri 25th April

I was up at 5.45am to go and watch the buddhist monks begging for alms for breakfast. They walk bare foot around the town and the local people put rice etc. in the alms baskets they all carry, it’s something to behold as all the local folks have prepared something for the monks breakfast on a daily basis.

Our group all met up then at the original hotel to go to more hill tribes and visit Kuang Si waterfall. The drive was lovely and we stopped to watch elephants on the way. We spent a while watching an photoing bears as the Bear Sanctuary at Kuang Si was close to the magnificent waterfalls. A really fabulous outing! Later on Andrew and I went to a massage place where I had an amazing steam bag massage and a facial. Andrew had a reflexology foot massage, then both relaxed we had a siesta.

We dined at a great restaurant James had booked for the group, a barbecue soup pot which you cook at the table. We had cocktails, wine, steak and buffalo, and noodle veg soup. It was a brilliant evening, we said our goodbyes to Katya and Peter who are leaving early in the morning and walked back to Apsara.

Sat 26th April

After a breakfast of crepes we packed up and checked out of Apsara hotel, so sad to be leaving Luang Prabang, I really love this place and would happily live here. We were picked up at 11.30am to go to the airport as we fly to Vientiane today. After landing we went to visit some temples, Wat Si Saket then on to Pha That Luang which is all in gold and very pretty. We stayed there for a while and chatted to some monks that Nick got into conversation with.

Patuxai Gate of Triumph was our next stop then we wandered around the gardens nearby and stopped at the Fountain in Vientiane Square. Later we we driven to the Lani Hotel with it’s very pretty garden where we are spending our last night in Laos. After dinner we had a walk around the night market and bought some randam fruit, then took some photos of Vientiane at night before going back to the hotel.

Sun 27th April

It’s time for our flight from Wattay International Airport at Vientiane Laos to Bangkok one hour away and spend a last night at the Viengtai hotel before going home. We had baguettes for lunch at the airport and finished our randams before boarding. After dropping the luggage we went out for a wander down the Khao San road but there were so many crowds that we struggled to move at all so soon went back to the hotel.

Mon 28th April

Flight from Bangkok home was long but fine, good to be home with the cats and as usual when we come home from our hols dinner at Cafe Balti.