Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Island hopping

This first day of Spring (Australianly-speaking- it's still just bloody hot here) finds me in an internet cafe (the term 'cafe' is used liberally here- there is never any caffeine involved, only crappy fans and disinterested store-owners) on Koh Tao, Thailand.

Since last update, I have:

- Had a wicked week-point-five with Shak in the North of Laos- the crazy, tourist-infested Vang Vieng; the lovely, colonial, upmarket Luang Prabang. Waterfalls, bikes, temples, kayaks. A beautiful bus ride filled with amazing mountain views. A horrible night bus ride filled with Laos karaoke blaring at ridiculous volumes and no leg room.
- Said goodbye to Laos and its noodle soupy goodness and Beer Lao; and hello to Thailand and its Pad Thais (some amazing, some not) and Chang.
- Become a little browner (although this is McEvoy skin we're talking about, so really a sort of patchy pinky-grey is probably a more apt description). I know it's not veru lady-like but DAMN it feels good to peel skin off a burning tummy.
- Taken a couple of night trains: quaint, cosy, quick; MUCH better than bus trips!
- Learnt a couple of new travelling games and some Dutch phrases in the company of my current companions, the Holland Homies: Yasmen, Taco and Kevin.
- Attended the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Once was good, but once was enough.
- SHNORKELLED! And seen some very pretty fish and very pretty coral.
- Been slack at writing in my diary.
- Missed home. Talked with some people to remedy this to some degree.
- Started to think about the whole Actually Going To London Rather Than Spending The Rest Of My Days Traipsing Around Asia thing. Still a little apprehensive on this front, but looking forward to seeing old and new friends, being cold (for the first 5 minutes at least), singing and dancing again in come capacity other than on a dance floor in Asia scaring the locals, and saying "lit-rally" a lot.
- Felt a little bit lost at times.
- Appreciated life.

A nice end-of-the-day ritual has been playing "Grapes and Gripes", introduced to me at Physio staff meetings in Whyalla on my final year placement. Your grape is the best thing that happened to you during the day, your gripe is the worst. It doesn't have to be the big obvious things. It's a nice way to reflect. Give it a go!

Love Claire xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox (now all hugged and kissed out)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laos by numbers

One is the number of...

* Dollars paid for a big 750mL bottle of Beer Lao. This beer is quite excellent, to be honest with you, readers: a thirst-quenching beverage to wash down a sunset over the Mekong, the perfect accompaniment to a spicy Laos lap, a surefire way to make the most of a pack of cards late at night.

* Bottles of aforementioned Beer Lao I am consuming each day minimum. In the heat it goes down all too easy. Tonight I am definitely not having one (my liver thanks me, my heart does not.)

* Minutes in between giant smiles from the Laos locals maximum. Especially in the countryside, the pearly whites of these gorgeous humans (actually not so pearly really, thanks to the thickness of Laos coffee and poor dental hygeine) are flashed frequently, and always up my Happy Factor.

Two is the number of...

* Hashes I have now done. My first was in Phnom Penh. Last night I took part in the weekly Monday Night Hash in Vientiane. Hashing is a worldwide phenomenon that I cannot believe was unknown to me for so long. It's sort of like orienteering, only slightly less organised and much more beer-ified. See this link for a bit more info on what exactly Hashing is:
Basically there's a lot of running/walking/skipping/meandering, a lot of yelling "ON ON!", a lot of naughty names and odd rituals, and a lot of beer drinking. I am definitely planning on finding more as I traverse Asia/The World, and would encourage anyone to give it a bash. It's a great way to get to know a place as well, as a traveller- I've seen parts of the cities I wouldn't have come across otherwise, and met some great ex-pats and locals, all of whom are wonderfully termed "drinkers with a running problem". I like it.

* Minor falls I have had from a motorbike (scooter really, but I sound a bit more hardcore if I say motorbike, don't I?). The Bolaven Plateau tour was one of the best experiences I have had since being away. This said, the rainy season meant that a couple of spots were a bit muddier than usual, and the motorbike decided twice to get on top of me slightly.

* Legs injured in the falls noted above. The first was quite an impressive engine burn on my right leg- it's funny how it takes a few seconds before the old brain goes "aaaaand now there must be a hole in my pants, because there's quite a lot of pain on my leg...". The second was not so bad, but probably looked just as stupid to my travelling companions and the onlooking locals, as I slowly slipped off to the left side of the bike, travelling through yet another muddy patch at approximately 0.5km/hr. Just a bit of a bleed on the left leg this time. I'm nothing if not symmetrical, ladies and gents.

Three is the number of...

* Days spent riding on the Bolaven Plateau. Some beautiful waterfalls, the occasional lashing of rain, fresh country-air and smoky fire smells, blue skies against greeset rice-paddy fields, and spectacular evenings as the sun was setting.

* Dudes I was lucky enough to call my travelling companions for the trip. Justin from Canada, Taco from The Netherlands, and Pete from Germany. Top-notch fellows. By our powers combined, we were named B3: Beer Lao, Bikes and Bullshit (card game that was played at every chance possible).

* Meals in Laos each day involving noodles and/or sticky rice. The rice is like some sort of amazing hybrid of rice and Play Dough, wonderful for those of us who like getting hands on with food, served up in woven baskets. Noodle soup is a firm-favourite for breakfast or lunch, and is served with lush green herbs, fresh long green beans, lime and chilli.

Four is the number of...

* Thousand islands down south in the Mekong. Well, this is the name given to Si Phan Don, anyway, and I spent around 4 luxurious days on the darling little island of Don Det. Here I rode bikes, met the absolutely gorgeous Lis from The Netherlands (ever-smiling, excitable, a strong woman destined for good things) and Jess from WA (a red-headed beauty who warmed my heart with her optimism, enthusiasm and wonderful outlook on life and travels, and made me pine for The Awesome Claire Stanley- these two could be related).

Five is the number of...

* Points my BGL goes up with my first sip of Laos coffee each day. It is very black, very strong, very sweet thanks to a lot of sugar PLUS condensed milk. By the way, Mum, Condensed Milk and I are officially engaged. I know you said not to meet anyone overseas who might delay my return home by too long, but what can I do? It's true love. We're destined to be together: me, a lone traveller; Condensed Milk: sweetness in a can, willing to follow me around the world (and conveniently-sized for my luggage). I'll ask how Condensed Milk feels about Australia... I can't go another day without it, that's for sure, though...

* Weeks I am thinking of extending my South East Asia stint by. This could change in a heartbeat, but although The Clash may tell me that London is calling, I would say to them "hang on, Clash; London can wait just a bit longer, I think, really." Perhaps I will see Malaysia? Indonesia? Time/funds/friends/my disorganised brain will tell...

Lots of love, Claire the Counter.