Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Andrew's new office

While many have been on holiday for new year, Andrew was working.  He is once again working as a strategy consultant.

The poor dear is using the apartment as an office.  (But he only reads outside, computer work is done inside).  We now need to acquire a stapler and a printer to keep him operational in his home based office.

Not too far to go to get a gin & tonic when the working day is over and the commute is pretty pleasing also!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wet Wet Wet – Pi Mai

The 14-16th of April is Lao New Year – Pi Mai.    Thailand, Laos & Cambodia celebrate at this time.

On Tuesday at work there was a marquee set up. Everyone ate, watched some traditional dancing, and poured water on each other's shoulder. Ice water at times! After the official speech after lunch there was Lao dancing. 

Dancing is very gentle, more like a shuffle and some hand waving. As more people join in the circle gets larger, but the dancing doesn't speed up much.  Note in this short video the "dance" and a couple of ladies with obvious wet backs. Then in the middle of the marquee was a …sprinkler. A sign of things to come.

On Wednesday we were sitting in the sun in front of our apartment and our Landlady wandered over to give us an orchid plant for Pi Mai and poured water on both our backs. Another sign of things to come.

On Thursday afternoon we went out on our bikes wearing old clothes – we had been pre-warned about the coloured dyes and paints. The town was rocking! People were singing and dancing on the roadside, music was blaring and there was water going everywhere. Very quickly we were soaked to the skin. Andrew had his trusty water pistol and surprised most people by squirting them – no one really expected such an innocent falang to do such a thing. He also stopped and got offered a beer by some partying locals.

On Friday we gathered some provisions in the morning – BEFORE the water throwing started again. But in the afternoon we went for another cruise and got as wet as we had yesterday. It was FUN. Andrew got squirted by some kids in a Land Cruiser, but they got a the biggest shock of their lives when he pointed his water gun in the open window and gave them their just desserts. He got a big wave and a thumbs up from their father.

Saturday, the music got louder than it has been. Near our place there were competing loud speakers about 4 or 5 houses apart. From the corner of our street we could see the water throwing still going, but decided to relax by the pool instead.

Some more Luang Prabang

We had a lot of fun in Luang Prabang – eating drinking and having fun

It was good seeing the children having fun with more water. But also good to see them stop when the monks went by.

We found a nice little cocktail bar just off the main drag. It made the BEST mojitos. Andrew also added the Long island Iced tea to his repertoire.

We were having lunch at a café when Andrew spotted the sign on the truck taxi. Possibly offering a truck limousine service might be stretching the meaning of the word a little too far, but good advertising

We took a tuk-tuk back to the airport and only got hit by water a couple of times. Then as we turned into the airport road we saw an elephant!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Andrew - Big Kid on holiday (reposted with video)

I was working in Luang Prabang (world heritage city) on Friday so we decided to both come up and spend the weekend here. Next week is Pi Mai – Lao New Year and lots of people celebrate, drink etc.

One tradition is the throwing of water to wish good luck and wash away bad spirits. Well children here have started celebrating this already. It's all good natured and in the heat of the day a bit of water is a welcome relief from the mid-to late 30 temperatures.

Perhaps seeing Andrew drinking his Mojito from a straw may have been a clue what was going to happen today.

Perhaps the longing looks at the water guns on the main street should have told me what was going to happen next

Surely the unarmed encounter with the small child on the main street should have told me…

Next stop was the local market and the purchase of a water pistol. Accompanied by the words "I don't like to feel unarmed" enter Jackson. Andrew Jackson, agent 007 (on the maturity scale)

Check out the look of childish joy at the end of this video…

I don't know what will happen next week when the water throwing is REALLY supposed to happen!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bicycle Ride – Co Van Kessel

We had booked to go on a 5 hour bicycle tour of Bangkok which started at 7:00am so it was an early start.

Andrew finally got to ride in one of the tuk-tuks in Bangkok. The driver drove like a bat out of hell – quite a contrast to the two-stroke tuk-tuks here in Vientiane! We arrived at the meeting point looking slightly windswept, but ahead of schedule.

 The trip was superb http://www.covankessel.com/en/tourEN1.php . Our guide, Jimmy, took a group of 5 people A & P, an American and an ex-pat couple based in Kuala Lumpar through the streets, markets and temples of Chinatown. There were lots of little alleyways and sometimes we felt we were riding through people's front rooms, we were that close.

From there we took our bikes on a longtail boat to the other side of the Chao Paraya river and rode through the areas where poorer Bangkok people lived – it was cheaper than the more expensive Bangkok side, but only a short ferry ride away. Then we got on another longtail and had a 40 minute ride through the canals. Houses and lives were lived on the river.

We eventually got off the boat and rode through green fields where pandan, kaffir limes etc were growing and visited a floating market. All without another tourist in sight.

Lunch was provided at a local restaurant alongside a canal and was simple and delicious!

Before we got back on the longtail boat to return to the city we fed some bread to the fish in the river. They liked this and were very vigourous. THEN we fed them some puffed rice snacks and they went WILD. Some of those fish were enormous.

The ride was an easy pace and given that there are no hills in Bangkok it was not strenuous, but we saw things we would not have seen as a tourist on the usual routes in the city.

We returned to the Mall in the afternoon and had an early dinner before heading to the station for the return overnight train to Laos.

A bicycle work-out and some shopping walking made sure we were tired enough to sleep well on the way back.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Overnight train to Bangkok

We organised an overnight train ticket with a Vientiane travel agent to go down to Bangkok. As part of the price we were picked up by a truck at 3:00pm and were taken with a couple of other travellers to the only train station in Laos. 

Lovely new station, lots of empty parking spaces

ThaNalaeng station was opened in 2009 and the 3km of track is the only railway line currently in Laos. However the Chinese are financing a line from China through the middle of Laos to be part of a pan-Asia railway connection.
The lovely bright purple train - for the 10 minute journey to Thailand

The road to the station is probably busier at rush-hour. Oh wait a minute, it WAS rush hour - there was a train due to leave in 30 minutes

So we got to sit in the middle of nowhere until the train left at 5:00pm to go across the Mehkong. Then we got to change to the overnight train which started it's journey to Bangkok at 6:30pm. So we had no time pressures to make any connections.

We both slept quite well on the way down and arrived at Bangkok railway station at 6:30am. We got on the metro for the first time and headed to our hotel for a shower and breakfast.

We had booked a room so we had somewhere to go to directly. And we decided to spend a little more on our hotel than we have previously and it was so worth it. For USD 60 a night we had a 4 star apartment with kitchen and living room. Our breakfast was delivered to our room and it was only 2 blocks from the metro and skytrain. The Saladaeng Colonnade is highly recommended by us! http://www.saladaengcolonnade-bangkok.com/

Showered and refreshed the goal for the morning was the Royal Palace. We spent 2.5-3 hours mingling with the large crowds walking around the complex. It was impressive in terms of a collection of temples and buildings. And Andrew was overjoyed that the best way for us to get there was on the Chao Paraya river ferry again.

Andrew was a little taller than you average ancient royal Thai

The art work around the walls was intricate and told many ancient tales.  There were craftsman maintaining these frescoes, freshening the paint and the gold detail.

In the afternoon we spent a little time checking out the malls to counter our lack of recent retail experiences – but actually didn't spend much at all

Next to our hotel was one of Bangkok's recommended Italian restaurants http://www.zanotti-ristorante.com/ A superb meal. Andrew had a perfect duck breast. Paula had the best fish in months. Having spent a lot of time in Laos eating fish with small bones it was unbelievable to be served a whole baby sea bass – but the bones had been taken out….ahhhhhhhhhhhh. The only downside was we chatted to the man at the table next to us and he wouldn't stop talking. It anyone is looking for a sanitation engineer (plumber) from Zurich we have his business card!

Friday, April 1, 2011

New bar on the Mekhong

Near us a new bar has (re)opened.  It was apparently displaced as part of the river bank works further along the Mekhong and has been re-established close to us and built in local river style up on stilts with lots of shade.  The Highland bar is obviously an ex-pat hang out i.e. no locals, western music and cars parked out front as opposed to just motorbikes.  Western music might not sound particularly exciting, but if you have sat in a local karaoke establishment where they belt out Thai pop, then you would understand it's appeal.

It was fun and we watched the sun set looking at Thailand over the Mekhong river.  You can see the green vegetables being grown in the area behind Paula's shoulder.  The road is raised as part of the major stop bank works being done.

All around is local arable land and lots of locals parading (promenading) along the road, and below the road on the stop bank.

Maybe we have a new local watering spot.