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Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade

a travel blog by Groovespook


The continuing Journey of Nuttter in S.E. Asia.

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The Mighty Mekong.

Chiang Khong, Thailand


Nuttter arrives in the luxury of an AIR-CONDITIONED VAN to Chiang Khong today. A border town between Thailand (good-bye) and Laos (Hello!).

Chiang Khong is a popular back-packing village/town/collection-of-small-buildings clinging to the mighty Mekong River, abound with spectacular views of the river and surrounding mountainous forestation. Replete with secluded waterfalls that provide welcome relief from the sweltering humidity for locals and travellers alike. The cool fresh water, piped directly from Evian I am told, thunders over volcanic rock into pleasant estuaries and pools. probably.

MOZZIE BITE TALLY: 1. "Cutter Advanced" has proved it's worth in Field testing so far.

AT HOME:
The office is well on the way to being in much the same state as Spare Um. Skirting board and window frames gone, the ceiling is cringing at that dormant hammer lying on the floor beneath it. It knows what's next.

Groovespook

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 16, 2009 from Chiang Khong, Thailand
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Loaung Namtha - Laos (from Dispatches)

Louang Namtha, Laos


Just heard that Nuttter has rented a bicycle ( I know, Nuttter on wheels - scary) and is cycling around Louang Namtha like a kid. Internet access and connection speed makes the hampster-powered Thailand look like FIOS so messages are short.

The bus from Chiang Khong to Louang Namtha took about 3 hours through incredibly windy roads and scenery that defies description - Photos should be coming in a few days.

Groovespook



permalink written by  Groovespook on July 16, 2009 from Louang Namtha, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Muang Xay/Muang Xay/Udomaxi/Oudomxay

Muang Xai, Laos


One of the greatest challenges I am facing now is the naming of Lao or Loatian villages/towns/cities. The language itself has some untranslatable noises and so maps and references on the internet to places where Nuttter has been and is headed are spelled differently depending on the source. Hence the entry title.

Good news is, the place where she is staying has WIFI!!! population of about 12 I think, but Wifi, LOVE the priorities.

Still no uploads of images yet but for the curious, if you click on any of the orange words (generally places - sometimes what Blogabond THINKS is places) it will take you to other blogs from backpackers that have visited these places - most of them have pictures) Alternatively, download Google Earth. it is fantastic and is linked to this site http://www.panoramio.com where the entire world post images and places them on the map of the world.

Nutter spent a fairly uneventful (reads: She did not get travel sick) windy, bumpy 4 hr bus ride from Louang Mantha to Muang Xai after a fantastic hike through the forested countryside.

She was joined on the hike by a couple of backpackers and a family of 4 (2 girls aged 12 and 13 with them) Lots of slipping and sliding in mud from recent rains made the trip more fun and word has it (though there are no eye witnesses) Nuttter was the only one that DID NOT fall in the mud.

Victoria, the 13yr old, found a leech on her and caused a bit of a panic through the group, turns out Nuttter had 4 on her. "Leeches, filthy little beggers" (Bogart - The African Queen)

They were still very small though so had not sucked much blood out. Bet you are all glad about that. Bet you all did not probably want to know that really. He he!

MOSSIE BITE COUNT: Still 1
LEECH COUNT: 4

AT HOME:
Yeah, about that. I am staring out from a tranquil home, the upstairs apartment of Nuttter's sister, husband and angelic little boy. A choppy lake in Mantaloking reflects the early morning sky. It glistens on the water like muted, crinkling kitchen foil. The world slows down a bit when we visit here. Still, I am thinking about the office ceiling that I will be SMASHING TO PIECES this afternoon.


permalink written by  Groovespook on July 18, 2009 from Muang Xai, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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The Slow Down.

Luang Prabang, Laos


Nuttter spent three entire days wandering towards Luang Prabang, still no pictures, the internet cafe's have cottoned on to the enormous downloading that back-packers are want to do and have pretty much made it as difficult as possible to do. Oh sure, they will put them on a disc for you for a nominal fee, but frown upon uploads and stuff so it has been a pain to get any visuals of this spritely young woman, dancing around giant ant hills (dancing to keep the ants off I am told) in giant rain-forests.

Nuttter should be slowing down the pace a bit and getting some much needed R and R now that a familiarity with Laos has started to take affect.

MOZZIE COUNT: 4

LEECH COUNT: 4

ANT COUNT: 4,000,000,000

AT HOME:
The Legend that is Rich came over this evening and, in a whirly-gig of high energy and coke swilling madness, helped to get another stage complete while I busied myself running cables all over the ceiling and walls for the ALL NEW ELECTRIC UPSTAIRS. Still prepping for Sheetrock, the walls are TERRIBLE and a myriad of hurdles must be crossed. Things are moving slowly and have me a bit panicky. Nothing a weekend away camping won't fix right? (gulp). Must not sweat it too much, rushing is the real danger here, not having it all done when Nuttter returns is not.

Unless I get the "expected" email from "Her Laosness, Queen of all the Ants" tomorrow, I doubt there will be another post until Monday of next week. Nuttter does read the blog though and is bitterly disappointed there are not more comments. She misses everyone greatly.

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 22, 2009 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Luang Prabang, Laos - DIRECT FROM THE SOURCE!!

Luang Prabang, Laos


After my all-day hike, leech adventure. I headed south to Udomaxi. It's a sleepy pitstop of a place but beautiful nonetheless....surrounded by towering mountains surrounded by mist.

From there, it was another bus ride to Nong Kiahaw and who should be on the bus but the family that was part of my hike! In addition to the four of them, two French sisters (in their 50s) were on the bus. Plus me. It was a very winding and swervy road with stunning scenary. I think the worst part is seeing such lush beauty and not being able to document it!!

We arrived and all of us booked into the Sunrise Guesthouse, a lovely place with bungalows overlooking the river. Very sweet. The town has a bridge that pedastrains can cross that offers wonderful views of the river and surrounding mountains (and more mist!). I immediately hired a bike and went off in search of a cave in the area. Found it and did some exploring before cycling around a bit more and then heading back. Had a lovely dinner at an Indian restaurant (yes, Indian). The garlic naan bread was heavenly!

The next day I headed further south to Muang Ngoi Neau (that's okay, I still can't pronounce it properly). It rained the whole day, which was fine. It meant just chilling on the outdoor veranda/hutch that overlooked the river. Stunning views. The French sisters (I swear they were hardcore travelers... They are going for some 6 months and are now heading far north on a 5-hour boat ride) and I stayed at the same place. Another bungalow with views of the river and surrounding karts.

The "main road" in town was a dirt road about a mile/two miles long. The children would spend time drawing pictures in the dirt. There is no electricity except between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., which added charm to the place (seeing the food stalls light up with candles and Christmas lights). The following morning I was unsure if I was going to stay another day or not. The town is known for its cave so I decided to see if I could get to it before the 9:30 a.m. boat left. The roosters have a knack for waking me up. There was one right under my bungalow (I swear!) that started going at about 4:30 a.m.). Fellow roosters then tried to outdo him.

At any rate, I walked in my sandals through muddy paths and passed locals on their way to the rice field (I'm fairly certain they have never seen a tourist up that early). I went for about an hour before I had to turn back. At the bungalow, I decided I would stay on for another day. I ate and then returned to the trail determined to reach the cave this time. Again, I wore sandals. It's de rigour (the locals either walk barefoot or wear flip flops). I was having fun, snapping pics of clusters of butterflies and lovely flowers and stomping through the mud like a child when I stopped and looked down. And there they were.....leeches! I SWEAR I have had enough!! No guide around this time to de-leech me so I grabbed any old leaf and did my best. One was wriggling on my sandal in search of skin and another had latched on (quite well I might add) to my big toe. It truly ruined the hike for me because I was paranoid for the rest of the journey (although I'm happy to report there were no more leech attacks).

I reached the cave and headed back. It was neat to see the trail at different hours of the day (mist and no mist). In the evening, I partied with the locals! Well, not really partied. The son of the guesthouse owner invited me to join him for some drinks (and no, it wasn't like that). So, I took him up on it. Had my first taste of lao lao (rice whiskey). Tastes like tequilla. Had three wee glasses and held my own.

The next day it was off to Laung Prabang. When I got back to Nong Kiahaw, myself and five other backpackers learned that the minivan with comfy seats and AC was leaving at 1 p.m. and would take three hours. The sangwalthea (not sure about the spelling....bascially a pickup type of vehichle with "seats" in the back, covered. You sit and face one another)...that was leaving within minutes and would take four hours. We opted for door number two. It was quite an experience....sitting still for four hours, I felt like a caged animal. It was quite numbing both physically and mentally. But an adventure nonetheless. We even had three monks jump on for a short part of the trip. LOVE the orange robes.

We arrived early (which is shocking given how very slow everyone here moves....example: it took a restaurant 40 minutes to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich...I kid you not). Got settled and went exploring. Laung Prabang is complete culture shock. I went from no electricity, a bungalow with cows and roosters, a squat toilet (I'll spare you the details but there is no toilet paper involved) to this: a town that is teeming with tourists, streets are LINED with cafes offering cappuccinos, pizzas and pastries. The rooms are tiled and hotel like (no bed-net needed). It's nuts! I think this must be how Westerners feel when they first arrive in NYC.

At any rate, it's a lovely, decadent town. My first day and I sat myself down to a piece of chocolate cake and a fruit shake (thanks Ro and Nalini!). At night, the place comes to life with a whole section of street blocked off from traffic and it's full of vendors under red tents selling handicrafts and all sorts of items. Karen and Monica, you would never leave -- tons of jewelry, scarves, etc.

Now just trying to figure out how I'm going to head out. Wanted to take a flight, but they are booked for the next couple of days. Might have to be a bus... Eight hours. Eek.

Oh, and I found a gym today! I know, I know what you are saying, but I don't care! It was fabulous to go in and have a proper workout. Still able to lift the same weights.

Okay, signing off now. Miss you all dearly. As for the mozzie bite count, just got bit while tapping, so there!

Nuttter.


permalink written by  Groovespook on July 23, 2009 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Laos - Direct from the Source.

Luang Prabang, Laos


YAY! PICTURES!

Laos is hot. How hot? Three showers a day hot. Constant sweat hot. Blazing, punishing sun hot. Want to feel like you are here? Preheat the oven to 400. When it reaches that temp, open the door and lean forward. That blast of thick heat is what it's like here. Every day. All day. Frankly I'm surprised I haven't melted yet!

Tourists here do their best to beat the heat. Walking around under umbrellas, drinking lots of water or having fruit shakes. Wearing shorts, t-shirts. Meanwhile, Lao people walk around in skinny, tight denim or cordoury pants and long-sleeved tops. Show-offs.

Nuttter.

AT HOME:
Just got back from a great weekend camping in Wharton State Forest, checked email and YES! One from Nuttter and so have posted another blog entry and uploaded some great photos she took BEFORE cleaning up the camping mess and having a bath that may be the most wonderful bath ever.

Groovespook

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 26, 2009 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Vientianne - Not for long.

Vientiane, Laos


Dispatches from Laos have our hero making a bee-line out of Vientianne to Savannakhet. Vientianne is a little too touristy and - to date - the most expensive place so far. THe bus ride from Vientianne to Savannakhet was billed as 6 hours. reality: 9. OUCH!

AT HOME.
(snoring sounds) "wha... wha? oh, (picks up hammer and bangs on wall) working hard!" (falls back asleep). Nearly have 1 room totally prepped for sheetrock and lights and outlets.

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 28, 2009 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Sand and Cheese Sandwich anyone?

Savannakhet, Laos


So after a 9 hour bus trip through winding dirt roads in towering mountainous rainforests virtually anyone would be a little ill. Nuttter is resting up and loving Savannakhet. Quiet, cosy litle town. Highlights are the English signs through out the town.

Sand and Cheese Sandwich.

High Peeds Internet.

Enjoy your test! (footer on a menu)

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 28, 2009 from Savannakhet, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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Savannakhet, Laos - Direct from the Source.

Savannakhet, Laos


So, following a couple of days in Laung Prabang, it was time to hit the road. I had originally intended to fly to Vietianne but the flights were booked so I hopped on the bus. What a bus ride it was! I was told it would take 6 hours to get there...but, of course, we are talking about laos time. For whatever reason, I continue to believe them when they tell me how long these rides will take! Must be all the smiling they do. At any rate, it was an arduous journey. The first six hours was NONSTOP twisting roads. And I mean nonstop! I was not expecting it at all (where were you with that tidbit of info Lonely Planet?!). Thankfully, I've been taking a motion sickness tablet that works like magic! It doesn't make me sleepy and does the trick. I can even eat! It truly has made all the difference. But, despite the tablet, the bus journey was still grueling.

I did meet some nice people on the bus. A nice guy from Oz (Gold Coast, of course) and a retired couple from Brisbane and a newlywed couple (she was Australian and he was Japanese). The guy got off the bus a stop before me and the other two couples landed in Vietianne with me. It took not six hours, but nine. Granted, we did have to have a tire changed, but that only accounted for 30 minutes.

why so long then you ask? well, that brings me to the cultural lesson of the day. Laos transportation.
Here's how it works. As I mentioned before, the drivers operate on Laos time. This means you never leave on time. And you never arrive on time. There are some VIP buses out there for some routes (this means it's a direct bus to the location you want) but sometimes you have no choice but to go with the public bus.

To give you an example of how the public bus operates, I will use today. I left Savannakhet this morning at 10:30ish (see above regarding the ish comment). I'm fairly certain that the journey to Paske is probably only 3 hours. How long did it take? Five hours.

It started out well. The driver actually left only a couple of minutes late. Typically there is the driver and a co-pilot of sorts who sits at the front of the bus. He helps load baggage and handles the money/tickets. So off we go! Kind of... We then spent the next 45 minutes driving about 5 mph going through town as the bus driver beeped the horn to let the whole world know the Paske bus was coming through! We picked up more people as he went. Finally, after 45 minutes or so, we picked up speed and were going about 40 mph!

Then it's a typical public bus because everybody's gotta eat!!! The bus driver beeps his horn as we get close to a food stall stand and then he pulls over. Some people get off the bus to pee and others stay on. There's never anything said to the passengers so you have no idea if this is a long stop, a short stop or what. I caught on it was a long stop when I saw the driver and his two co-pilots sitting around a table eating! After all, it was noon and we'd already been on the road a whole whopping hour and a half!!!!

For those of us on the bus, we were treated to a group of women coming on board to sell their foods..... kebabs of various grilled meats. Each woman had a bunch of kebabs in each hand. finally, we get back on the road. We pick up more people on the way including a man with some 35 bags of grain (the size of a regular cement bag)!!! So, of course, that took quite a while as the co-pilots considered whether or not they could fit it all on, etc. We get going and then, before you know it, we pull over. A woman had requested this stop. I thought she was getting off the bus (that would be silly!) She wanted to buy some grilled meats at the food stall!!!!

Then, an hour later, it's another stop. And so on and so on. It's actually quite painful (can you tell). To add to the whole experience, there is ALWAYS cheesy Laos/Thai love pop songs playing. Loudly. Everyone seems to love it and it's all about the same thing (girl likes boy, he doesn't know she exists or he is cheating on her or whatever). But this trip was extra special as we had a TV on board so not only did we listen to the music but we got to see the videos (and the lyrics in both Thai and Lao which appeared karoke style, I kid you not). The music videos were too funny! They would depict the lovelorn male/female...adults but they acted like high school kids! Public displays of affection are not accepted here so the videos would never show couples kissing, instead, they would just look at each other, bat their eyelashes and look away. Or, a common theme, they would gaze at a photo of them as a couple on their cell phones and then slowly, dramatically, bring the phone to their lips and kiss it! Or, they would draw hearts in the air while lying on their hello kitty bedsheets (I'm not kidding) or they would call their girlfriend on their cell phone while in a trench in some war (hopefully you are laughing as hard as I did). Honestly, I felt like the main character from a Clockwork Orange by the time we arrived.

A special shout-out to Bloc Party, Home Video, Placebo and New Order....I could not have survived without you!
Needless to say, the trip was exhausting and I couldn't wait to get off the bus! I am now in Paske, southern Laos. From Vietianne, I travelled to Savannkhet where i spent the day and night. I was planning to stay another day but woke up to rain and decided it was time to go (another deciding factor was my guesthouse....very clean, cosy....the condom packet in the room should have been a giveaway...didn't realize people would actually be using them that night..but sure enough at 12:30, 1:30 and through the night I might as well have been sleeping in a brothel--I'll leave the rest to your imagination). It was time to go!

So that is that. Will plan to email again tomorrow. Miss you all and drop me an email and let me know what's cookin'!

Nuttter


permalink written by  Groovespook on July 29, 2009 from Savannakhet, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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PHOTOS - Direct from the Source.

Savannakhet, Laos


Just a quick note, got 5 more photos uploaded today. Including this one that proves Nuttter is really there and gives us lonesome friends something to remember her by for the next few weeks.

permalink written by  Groovespook on July 30, 2009 from Savannakhet, Laos
from the travel blog: Nuttter's S.E. Asian Escapade
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