Thailand & Laos 08-09 travel blog

Goodbye Hackney!

Floating flower decorations - Loi Krathong festival

Loi Krathon festival, Bangkok

Carrying the Princesses ashes

Bearskin parade

Waiting for a glimpse of the King

Bangkok railway station

Dormitory-style train carriage

Loi Krathon festival, Bangkok

Loi Krathon festival, Bangkok

Loi Krathon festival, Bangkok

Royal Palace, Bangkok

Buddy Lodge Hotel roof terrace pool

Well, it’s been a week since we arrived in South East Asia, landing in Bangkok on the day of a water festival called Loi Krathong and the Bangkokians were out in force launching pretty floating candle decorations on the Chao Phraya River. Apparently, couples who launch these candle-lit frivolities will stay together forever, so I persuaded Alan to part with some Thai Baht and buy me one.

We spent a few days in Bangkok acclimatising to the sweltering heat and observing the hustle and bustle of the Khao San Road, the famous backpackers’ area where all the pretty young things, and more than a few elderly tattooed wrinklies step out. We were also in the midst of three days of ceremonials for the cremation of the King’s sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana (who actually died in January). This involved hundreds of thousands of Thais, dressed somberly in black and white lining the streets, buying tacky medallion souvenirs and waiting in line for a fleeting glimpse of the King and his massive entourage. There was also a huge procession of fancy costumed bearskin guards and swathes of other fancy costume-wearers representing the army, navy, police and dignitaries. Some of these were very fancy indeed and it’s little surprise they had to prepare for this event for over 11 months.

On Saturday 15th, we caught a night train to Nong Khai on the Eastern border of Thailand and Laos. This was a marathon 14 hour journey but reasonably comfortable in a 2nd class dormitory’ carriage with bunk beds, and even eggs and bacon served as we clanked along at 6.30 am although the communal nature of the experience meant my PJs stayed firmly in the rucksack. Having crossed the border and some $36 light for our ‘overtime’ visa, we caught a bus over the Friendship Bridge and headed for Vientiane, capital of Laos where we have spent the last couple of days.

Alan has been emailing a Californian guy called Jim, who lives in Laos and hires out decent trial bikes. We met with Jim for a lengthy and useful discussion on our potential itinerary and set off yesterday, complete with bandanas, mozzie repellent and heaps of suncream. Today we are in Vang Vieng, another backpacker circuit stop for the youth who enjoy eating 'happy pizza' and lying comatose at night watching re-runs of Friends or Cheers in the many bars that populate this town. I have declined Alan's offer to take me 'tubing' down the river, as I fear my bottom might get stuck on one of the many hazards in the river.

Navigating our way around the dirt tracks and roads of Laos has been challenging although we have now learned how to say 'which direction?' in Lao (not that we necessarily understand the instructions, but we have successfully mastered numbers 1-10 which is considerable progress!)

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