When arriving in Bangkok I headed to the Koa San Road (madness), taking in the atmosphere and making a plan of where to go for Xmas. I meet up with friends from back home and some I meet traveling who had made there way around to Thailand the same time, the general idea was to hit the backpacker island Ko Pha Ngan, which should be a good base over the festive period with it's beaches and parties. It was quality spending Christmas in a tropical climate, still had a full roast dinner of course. Obviously the Tsunami hit the west coastline of Thailand at this time, KPN being the other side it had no effect, and in some ways it seemed to pass KPN by with little coverage it seemed a world away. It wasn't until going back to the mainland after New Year that I first understood the full extent of the disaster. Over the next few weeks I went far north, doing some trekking around Chang Mai, then going Kanchanaburi and back to KPN.
This was my 2nd time in South East Asia, I had been to Cambodia & Vietnam before, so I wanted to see Laos this time, which promised 'old Asia', unspoiled or influenced by western ways (it cut itself off from the rest of the world for 20 years up until recently). What you first notice is how quiet and slow it is compared to Thailand, which can be both good and bad, the streets are deserted with just a few Monks walking around, the people are very calm & tranquil , but then again you can wait around a long time for your food that's if they even remember you ordered of course!
Its very rural with most people living outside the towns and probably the highlight of Laos was doing a 3 day trek through ethnic hill tribe villages in the far northern mountains near Luang Nam Tha. Visiting villages which had never seen western tourist we were made to feel very welcome and got a real insight into how they live (a very good way of life at that). The project is run by a Government ecotourism group who work with the hill tribes to make sure it doesn't damage or ruin their communities etc.
Traveling around Laos was not easy with poor buses and bad roads all twisting and turning up and down the mountains, they were always overbooked so first come first serve for seats (we had plastic stools for one 7 hour journey), and the locals who mustn't travel much all seemed prone to motion sickness, vomiting into plastic bags if we were lucky, if not on the floor! There were always the slow boats down the river Mekong, but even they were far from comfortable after a few hours. But Laos was great, hard to describe why, it's just about experiencing it, the way of life how different it is.
Also just been down near Krabi (Railay Bay) on the west coast of Thailand for a few days whilst waiting for my India Visa to process, and pleased to say most of Thailand is back to normal after the tsunami (only Ko Phi Phi & Lak off limits), the damage here always exaggerated by the media, and tourist numbers getting back up so that was good to see, and it is a beautiful coastline.