Archive for March, 2008


tuk tuks, buses and pick ups

March 14, 2008   

Our shack on the island was very cool looking however, it back up to the neighbours chicken coup something we had failed to notice the night before! So at 6am we woke when the rooster crowed literally next to our heads. Annabelle had been having odd dreams all night because of the malaria tablets and the music on the island bar was blaring past the 11:30pm curfew as it was on an island off the town. We wondered down before going to sleep and it was a massive party scene with beach bonfires and many many drunk sun burnt backpackers fresh off tubing down the river.

As I was up so early I went for a walk along the river and took pictures of the water buffalo and people crossing the many bamboo bridges to work and school. We walked to the air strip bus station and paid 25000k to get on a pick up to Vientienne. One leaves every 20 minutes. People got on an off the bus as it slowly moved through the villages. We had city girls with mobile phones smarter than our own, a lady breast feeding her baby and a farmer with his machete (he did wrap a rag around it!). We balanced on the 12 inch wide planks that were bolted down each side of the bed of the pick up while eating our 10000k breakfast baguettes. When you back started to hurt from the seats you stood out on a platform attached to the back fender. Our bags were on the roof.

The roads are not bad here there are tolls to use the route 13 that runs the length of the country. We passed many long arm tractors with wooden carts behind and the pick up trucks dashboard filled with money as people came and went. There were women walking fully clothed under umbrellas including gloves so they wouldn’t get tanned – I am glad I live in a culture that likes tanning 🙂 Signs saying ‘cars for rant’ and good mannered people don’t litter their country (lots of litter all around the sign!). The road was dusty as usual and we had women when we stopped pushing different food stuff on skewers at us including some very untempting eggs that were black… A man opposite drinks some sweet cough syrup smelling drink that has M150 on it and proceeds to carefully put the cap back on and then throw it out the side of the truck. We passed mostly dry paddocks but now and again there would be a green irrigated rice paddy.

Annabelle is wishing she had a larger bottom for more padding. 3 1/2 hours later we get to Vientienne and transfer to a shared tuk tuk (finally we managed to get on one – instead of being tourists on our own) and paid 5000k to get to the morning market where there were meant to be buses south to Ban Na the village we had organised to stay in. At the morning market in our best loas after walking around in a circle looking for the bus station that had been under our nose we figured out we needed to take a local bus to the south bus station. So 2000k later we piled onto the bus which then proceeded to stop when the guy sitting next to us yelled. He did his transaction through the open window – out went money in came glass panes for his house or something! Can you imagine asking a london bus to stop while you did your business!!

A pick up driver tried to charge us 100,000k to go to the village we got on the pakse bus for 30000k an asked to be let out at the 80 km marker. The whole back of the bus and the top was full of boxes and the aisle full of metal rebar and wiring! We treated ourselves to ice creams and I bought a Loa phrase book the guy wanted $4 I gave him $2 Annabelle made fun of me buying it. We had done OK without one up till now. The book has been great especially in the village where the women and kids really liked it.

The bus was a video bus showing a karate movie which was just getting exciting when we got off. This bus would stop at a village and the women loaded with food would get on and try to sell their wares and be let off 10km later to catch the bus going north for 10km. A interesting way of making a living. We unloaded and the bus left us in the dust. We started walking the 2km to the village and were left covered in the orange dust by a school bus going back to the village. There was probably 20 kids hanging onto the roof all yelling at us sabi dee (hello). It was a hot walk we get on asking for Mr Boothanam the man we had organised the homestay and trek with and got pointed the way. There was a dying chicken that had been run over on the road so I gave it some water and put it in the shade on the grass – someone would pick it up for dinner.

Vang Vieng

March 12, 2008   


Lots to write about the last few days but don’t have my notes. We took the night bus from LP to Vang Vieng last night and spent the day kayaking, caving and tubing. The river here is in stark contrast to the trip we did a few days ago. This place is full of tourists and the river is like mexico spring break with river bars and hundreds of drunk tourists floating down in tubes and jumping from the bamboo structures over the river. We have found a bungalow on the river which is basic but only 40,000k so and it is away from the main town on an island you access it by bamboo bridge which swings a little on the way across. On to Ban Na tomorrow a village in a National Park where we have hired a guide and are staying at a homestay. We will do some trekking and hopefully see the wild elephants.

Village life and kayaking

March 11, 2008   

10th March – It is early morning 6am in the village and everyone is starting their day. The livestock are on their way out to graze and the dogs are busy trying to get handouts from the kitchens. People are collecting water in old oil containers from the village well and women and men are tidying their yards.
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The food is cooked in a seperate building if you are wealthy enough otherwise it is part of your house divided off from the sleeping area. We don’t understand why they cook inside – the kitchens are full of acrid smoke and it is not healthy – many of the villagers have hacking coughs. We notice some rebar trivets set up in some peoples yards but they don’t seem to be in everyday use.

School starts at 8am – in this village the building was provided by an American NGO the government subsidizes schooling and it costs 50,000k/year to go. Annabelle and I donate 20,000K to the school which the school teacher solemnly accepted and handed us a book to record our donation.

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A new house is being built in the village. Actually it is a renovation the houses only last 3 years as the bamboo sides and roof desintigrate. We are all surprised they don’t burn down – the wall against which they cook in all the houses is black. The whole village helps in the construction taking only a day to build. The owner of the house must prepare all the materials and provide food for the workers. The progress is rapid by the time we leave at 10:15am the frame is complete including the roof, the floor is installed and roofing shingles are going on – at 6am there was nothing on the site at all. The village is also getting ready for a wedding that will occur a few days later.

We trek 1 1/2 hours to the river and get in kayaks. The river trip is surreal – it is like watching a National Geographic movie on the people of the Mekong. We go floating past watching people involved in activities that have not changed in centuries. Water buffalo are swimming in the river and many different types of fishing are going on. I take many pictures.

The rapids are not that large due to it being dry season in fact we decide to add some spice into one by going down it backwards. The physios from the UK managed to fall out of theirs on the last rapid and were laughing so hard they could barely get back in!

We joined our group at the all you can eat vegetable buffet on the street for 5000K (60 cents) it was very good. Everyone there is backpacking some for extended periods. Then we went to the bowling alley – yes a 10 pin bowling alley! As it is outside of town limits it doesn’t have to comply with the 11pm curfew so everyone goes out there to bowl and drink. Annabelle managed to get 3 strikes in a row and still didn’t win the game – not sure how that is possible.

Trekking to a hill tribe village – Luang Prabang

March 10, 2008   

9th – We pass a sleeping platform made of bamboo in a terraced field that has a carpet of purple flowers. The road is dusty and full of pot holes it is a gray morning and it is spitting rain. A good day for a trek. An old man and women are walking along the road he has a large machete on his belt (a scabre made from a bit of plumbing pipe) and one ripped trouser leg. They look weary and very dusty as they trudge uphill past stands of bamboo and barb wire fences surrounding the randomly shaped dry fields and reservoirs. Electricity wires are strung along the road leading to a marked elephant park on concrete poles and there is a small stream alongside the road.

We splashed out and spent $50 each for two days of trekking and kayaking which could end up being a great deal or not. We shall see! There are 5 westerners all from the UK – four girls and an Irish carpenter with a Loas guide who speaks a little English.  

We round the corner and there is a women pulling a vine out of the undergrowth stripping leaves from it and using it to bundle up branches that are going in the back of a truck probably for firewood in the town. We pass through areas of smoke (something we will do a lot of as they favour the slash and burn method of agriculture) as we bounce along in the back of the tuk tuk along the unpaved road.

The houses are a mixture of breeze blocks with teak walls and bamboo shacks. We stop at a small village and unload next to the turkeys and the children playing boules. A family is making a long boat in their garden – the whole family is involved. There is a large noticeboard with vegetable pricing and a picture of the vegetable – showing what they will get when they take their crops to Luang Prabang to sell.

We take a short walk through some forest where two guys have a chainsaw and are randomly cutting down trees. Apparently the ones they are felling take 15 years to grow to the size that they are now. Our guide says the government will stop deforestation in 2020 – we aren’t sure there will be much left at that point.

 At the banks of the river there is a lady washing clothes and we load into an unstable beautifully crafted canoe. There are few nails and metal staples used in the contruction and some rudimentary joints but when you think of the tools they are using to make the canoes there is a skill involved. With out load it starts taking on water and we need to bail as we get taken across the small river.

 The guide says there are only 2 groups per month that do the trek we are doing most tourists do the 1 day trek. The first village we come to has 300+ people and a school that the 5-10 year old kids attend. It is only 2 rooms each around 10 x 10 feet. The village survives on quarrying and subsistence farming- we step aside as a lorry passes. A full load is worth $50. As we walk further down the valley it opens up and we see 20 guys toiling away in the hot sun with just flip flops on and sledge hammers on springy bamboo handles! A back breaking job for sure we are sweating buckets just walking. As we climb out of the valley into a tropical forest that is slippy and damp underfoot there is a large bang as dynamite is set off.

The guide points out steps that have been nailed to a tree trunk allowing harvesting of the bee hives that are hanging off the branches about 125 feet up. There are dense spider webs in the undergrowth that seem to be a funnel shape with the rain drops we had glistening in them. The soil is a red heavy clay and we pass fields that have been recently burnt. There are not hinged gates here instead you slide the bamboo horizontal bars to one side.

The next village we stop at we have lunch. It is a very poor village of the Humoung people. Five years ago it was properous however opium growing was made illegal so most of the inhabitants moved to Luang Prabang to find work leaving their land behind. The 10 families left are are growing hops for Beer Loa and rice though we can’t see a water source. As we have lunch three guys walk by from another village – hunter gathers with home made rifles. They are not the same tribe as they are carrying cloth bags over their shoulders whereas the Humoung people use bamboo baskets as backpacks. They two tribes also speak a different dialect and build their houses differently on stilts and not on stilts all within 2 hours walk of each other.

On the way out of the village we pass a very green putrid looking pond which is the villages supply of water. Created in the wet season by scattering salt on the ground attracting the cows which then create an indentation in the soil with their hooves creating a pool of water. Before they created the pond they would hike into the surrounding hills and cut down bannana trees scooping water out of the trunks.

It is a long hot climb from the village. A man with a 40 foot long bamboo pole is coming down the track he has lashed some smaller sections of bamboo to it. He stops and stares at us – we must be a sight! All red like lobsters in the heat and panting. As we climb the track becomes more overgrown the soil turns gray and we are in what looks like old opium fields that have been left to go to seed. There are many decrepid shacks in the fields some are even burnt down.

On the outskirts of the village (30 minutes walk) we are going to stay in we pass some women beating brush against the ground. The product is worth 2000/kg or about $1/day and is used to make brooms. The children playing by the stream see us in the distance and chorus ‘Saba di’ (hello) and in English ‘I love you’! There is a lot of slashing of the forest and in a month our guide says they will burn and plant crops. The goats and cows are looking for food in the undergrowth their bells clanging around their necks so if they can’t be found at least they will be heard.

A tree laden with fruit overhanging the path is according to our guide a fig tree we are not sure we understand him. The fruit is popular with wild cats and humans also eat it but they are not ready to be harvested.
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We shower using a bucket in the clean toliet block and I go for a walk around the village. There are people making tables, baskets, stripping bark for paper making, making mattresses and string. Everyone over the age of 15 is put to work in the village. There is a well built school which is a result of a US NGO. Annabelle and I donate $2 towards school books etc.

We are staying in a bamboo shack in the chief of the villages enclosure. He is one of 3 chiefs that serve 4 year terms. The villagers have power if they can afford a generator and oil for it from 6:30-9:30pm. The wealthier ones have standpipes bringing water from the stream otherwise they have to share the village well. Our host doesn’t have oil so after dinner we play cards by candle light while the neighbours TV blares into the night. Our guide cooks a delicous dinner of sticky rice and vegetables with pork. We talk for a while he has just got married and is from the Humoung tribe. His cousins live in the US a result of the CIA secret war – they fled from Loas after the communists took over in 1975 – google Air America.

The village drunk wonders in and out of the enclosure keeping an eye on us. We turn in at 8:45 for an early night to attempt to get some sleep on the mattresses made out of bottle brush.

Luang Prabang

March 8, 2008   

We found a room at a cute little guesthouse off a side street near the morning fresh produce market. 80,000k with a shared bathroom the owner mamma and pappa are very kind and speak good english.

After breakfast at JoMa Bakery 50% off yesterdays croissants and changing money to kip we went to the Royal Palace and Phi Si. The Royal Palace had been redone in parts by the last king who didn’t even rule with mosaics of chinese glass. The entrance fees are high here. At Phi Si we talked to some monks one who was reading the life of pi in english. They asked where our boyfriends were and when we were getting married. We asked why birds were being sold in bamboo baskets and what was done with them. Loa people set them free at the temples to become free..

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After visiting yet another wat we went to lunch at a place along the mekong river and had noodle soup. lunch was an extravagant 59,000k!

We went to the cultural show at royal palace with traditional loa dancing and minority dancing. one of the tribes did an amazing dance involving lifting large urns of water in their mouths and dancing around.

We again did dinner along the mekong in a beautiful setting with laterns in the trees it wasnt as good as lunch but was 59,000k again. the sticky rice was delicious a local speciality. There was a car ferry plying the mekong it was a catamaran made from two canoes with a large platform and a motor an interesting looking craft. families in their large boats that  they were using as homes and to ply up and down the river with goods were tied up for the night and fishing boat lights were dotted across the water like a star filled sky. it was peaceful scene with the sound of engines carrying across the water.

We walked through the night market the road was full of stalls all selling the same thing making you wonder about why someone didn’t break the mold ! i bought a little outfit for my nephew henry which he will look cute in and a latern for my garden from the night market

Night bus to Luang Prabang


So the bus was full in fact 8 more people then seats. Those people without numbers got plastic stolls without backs to sit on in the aisles for 12 hours! We vowed to be 1 hour early for all the buses in future.

There were 7 westerns on the bus out of 55 or so and our bags ended up in the belly not on the roof. A friendly loas man who teachs english was in the aisle next to us.

As we exited town we could smell the smoke from the burning of the stubble in the fields. The ride was like being on HW1 from Mill Valley to Muir Woods for 12 hours in the dark. One women shreaked involuntarily as we took a curve to fast. In the headlights we could see houses were now on stilts, there were lots of pool tables and the flourescent lights were very bright in the overhangs of the huts. We stopped at 9pm then again at 10:45pm the mountain air was cool and the overhead bin became full of dried fish bought from the Loas equivalent of a truck stop. The fish had been dried in the sunlight and was being bought for relatives and friends. There was no toliet on the bus hence the stops so the women could go into the darkness and squat good thing we had toliet paper stashed in our bags. A blow up neck pillow would have been the way to go.

At the second stop one women was fixing her make up in the rear view mirror. There were 2 children sitting behind me on their parents laps all night and I didn’t hear a peep from them around the age of 3 and 4. As we careened around corners there were UFO coming out of the overhead shelves – I think dried fish was hitting the plastic stoll dwellers on the head! The bus was meant to be air conditioned but definantely was not. The owner of the bus is making a killing. Both annabelle and I have done so much travelling our feet and hands are swollen.

The truck stops must provide the livliehood for the villagers along the road. The next stop was at 1am for hot noodles. The toliet is a hole in a tiled floor with a hose to wash it away. Annabelle keeps head butting the window when she falls asleep and has  wrapped a tshirt around her head for padding. Very funny.  

At 4:15 in the morning we again stop by the roadside it is very smokey as we are in an area being burnt. At this point the bus is getting warm and there is a smell of bodies but not as bad as one would imagine. There is bottle brush around us and also bannana trees.

The Loa people are very quiet, polite and friendly. The lights in the bus flicker on and off like a night club and we can see wooden fences of branches lashed together with string along the road. We are going slowly and are past by other coaches some of the houses are breeze blocks most are thatched roofs and palm matting. We wind up hill for hours and can see the lights of the trucks we pass down the valley. Our friend in the aisle has turned his plastic stool into a pillow.

 It must be hard to farm up here but the roads are in good condition and the signs are in US and Loas. The road is cut into the side of the moutain with rock face on our side and cliff on the other side of the bus. Their drive on the right here.

Sunrise comes slowly and the light shines through the hazy sky we are now alongside a river in a steep sided valley in the upper reaches of the river. There isn’t room for fields it is very lush and green. There are little cages protecting tree seedlings on the side of the road.

At 6am I see a few kids struggling on their bikes up hill with satchels I assume they are going to school if they are lucky otherwise it is to work.

The houses have staircases on the outside if they are two stories tall. There are big satellite dishes outside some of them and homemade lakes at the edge of the villages.

We arrive 11 hours later in Luang Prabang in the southern bus station on the outside of town in the flat flood plain where the Mekong and another river meet.

10,000k to get into town on the tuk tuk and we find a guest house to stay at for 80,000k with a shared bathroom. Cute little place. We have a shower and start the day!



7th March – The day went on for ever! Started 6:15am wake up then breakfast of yesterdays breakfast coissants as they were 50% off at Jo Ma Bakery which is a very western cafe. All the diplomats wives were hanging out being dropped off and picked up by their drivers. We saw Wat Si Saket across from the Presidential Palace with very old murals painted on the walls. We walked about 10 km in the city visiting Patuxai the arch de triumphe of Vientaine and had a good view of the city from the top. Walked towards Pha That Laung and got a tuk tuk bargained from 17000K to 8000K. There was a kid cleaning up garbage in the grounds and I gave him a sweet he bowed his head in thanks – very sweet kid.

There were the normal photo guys but what was cool was their method of printing the photos. They had HP printers attached to their moped batteries for power. We took off our shoes at the pha that but we were the only westeners to do this I think the locals visiting appreciated it.

We went by another temple where the monks were saying prayers before lunchand walked into China town by way of the embassies. The US was behind high walls and you couldn’t see in – there is no UK embassy here.

We went into a restuarant called Vieng Savan and had the local speciality of bbq pork ball, lots of lettuce, coriander, rice paper, dipping sauces, garlic, star fruit, cucumber etc. Huge meal for $4 for both of us.

We walked back to the tourist office that was meant to be open till 4:30 but it was closed an hour early so went to the Museum which had Jars from the Plain of Jars. Saved us 20 hours on a bus to see them in northern loas. The museum had 3 rooms about the American imperialists and their puppet soldiers.

As we walked back towards the guesthouse we saw the police pull over a driver. The Loas method – there are police booths at intersections and if they don’t like something you did they blow a whistle and point at the car and the car pulls over!!

After picking up our bags we walked over to the night market and didn’t risk eating there but instead looked at the delacacies of chickens feet, bull hooves etc. Dinner at a noodle shop full of locals for $3.50 for the both of us and then off to the bus station.

We walked towards the bus station and a tuk tuk stopped but wanted 30,000k to get us the last 1.5km we wore him down he took off and then stopped up ahead and decided he would take our 10,000k. We got there an hour before our bus left at 6:30 and bought our ticket for Luang Prabang 100,000k even that far in advance we were number 35 and 36. We didn’t realise it was our seat number and when we got on the bus after watching them load two motobikes on the roof and all the locals boxes and bags there were no seats left…..

Planes, airports and visas

March 7, 2008   

6th March – We flewHong Kong to Phom Penh Cambodia and then onto Loas. As we didn’t have the ticket onto Loas as you have to buy an hour and half before we spent a lot of money on visa for cambodia for 5 hours layover in the airport! $25 visa, $20 departure fee and $170 for the one way ticket then another $35 visa for Loas. Oh well no one ever said travel was cheap 🙂 We got to Loas very tired and went to mixay guesthouse after beating the taxi driver down $2 but they were full as were 2 others we tried so ended up at a $16/night place apparently with air con. We had plans to go out but of course after a shower ended up sleeping for 12 hours or attempting to! There was this weird mix of snake charm music and communist type ranting going on in the megaphone outside the window but we were so tired it didn’t matter much. On the way in from town we past temples, a pretty low mekong and lots of locals sitting out on the river bank drinking beers.

Curry in Hong Kong

March 5, 2008   

Arrived in Hong Kong 5 hours ago it is 11pm here and 7am in San Francisco. Last time I was here was 21 years ago – think it has changed a bit since then. I got the train in to Hong Kong from the airport and my friend Annabelle came and found me. Today is her 29th birthday and coincidentally her friend that we are staying with here has his birthday today as well. We walked from the train station to the flat – I was impressed by Annabelle’s knowledge of all the little streets! Everything is so modern and then there is bamboo scaffolding – so I had to take a picture. The 14 hour flight obviously got to me! Andy (who we are staying with) says it is ironic as they make you where hard hats to walk on the rickety scaffold. Another thing that struck me is the number of westerners and also how smartly every one dresses – sharp business suits all over the place. Me in my backpacking cloths not fitting in that well 🙂

 Quick shower at the flat then off to dinner at an Indian restuarant with a group of ex pats from Australia and UK all here working for banks or other financial institutions. Last stop a bar for a glass of bubbly to celebrate birthdays and now falling into bed for some sleep.

 Next stop Phom Pehn.

Spring Keel

March 2, 2008   

We had a fun regatta with one good result and the rest below average. However, what counts is everyone enjoyed themselves and we got to sail with the new rig in the boat. This rig is different to the old one in terms of stiffness so we have a little learning to do.

 Yesterday Rene and I put the boat in the water early and seeing as their was no wind put the motor on the back to motor to StFYC. My very kind brother had put all the race sails on the boat including putting the main on the boom all ready for me. We started the motor pushed off the dock and lots of noise but no forward motion. So doing something that is not advisable I put my hand down to check the prop is turning it is so my assumption is the shear pin is fine. So thinking it might not be kicking into gear I take the cover off to see if anything is caught. At this point my bro shows up with the dog and my newphew and we tie up to the dock. He is organised and has another shear pin in the boat. The dog who hasn’t seen me in a week is excited and is running around the boat and my nephew is in the cockpit clutching a gas tank like it is a new toy. I pull off the propellor and the shear pin was broken however, the new one was too long so with use of a leatherman it was made to fit. The dog, newphew and brother were kicked off the boat and Rene and I took off. We put the sails up to help as the gas tank holds enough gas to get you from SFYC dock to StFYC breakwater and not further. I had made an adjustment to the engine bracket to hold a bracket to help me get the mast up however, this made it pretty useless as an engine bracket. It was too narrow to tighten the engine fully onto it so when a gust came and heeled the boat over the engine decided to go for a swim toppling off the bracket. Luckily I looked back and saw it about to fully disconnect so I dove off the helm after the engine. We have a line that you clip onto the backstay but the engine would have been water skiing if it had been dragging by that. That was enough excitement for me in the morning.

This morning there were white caps as we crossed the bridge and the forcast was for 25 knots so I had the guys take the number one off the boat. On saturday the forecast was pretty dead on but not today! Bad idea – we actually joked as we took it off that we would probably need it. There were some issues with the mark set boats and that combined with not a lot of wind led to a very long postponement. We spotted Lyon’s Imaging photo boat and went to sail after him to ask a favour however, there was a large ebb and I didn’t want to get so far away from the start area. The crew said they doubted I would get him to do us a favor like that as they were working. Nothing ventured nothing gained I always say. There wasn’t much action going on with so little wind but how to call him hmm…. So I call my brother who is ashore and looks up Lyon Imaging on google and gives me the number – I am hoping it will be a cell phone. Bingo – Peter answers!

 ‘Hello I am Ashley Perrin and I am on Moore 116 the blue one in the start area. Can I ask a favor….. we left our number one in the car…. I will pay you to take one of my crew to get it….’

 ”No problem you don’t need to pay me.’ I will be right there.’

‘I can’t believe you pulled that off” one of my crew…

”There are some advantages to being a women in distress’ says me…

Peter zooms over and Micheal our main man jumps on the boat and takes off towards the club coming back with a number one and Peter took off with two beers. Thanks to him we were able to sail as the wind was around 5-10knots all afternoon. So go to his website at and if you see a photo of your boat buy it! He is a great guy.

 I am off on Tuesday on holiday. Have a good March.