A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Giving Thanks in Siam Reap

new friends and old ones, new wonders and old...

sunny 30 °C
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Hello wonderful friends, family, and readership.

I don't have very much time to make this very detailed, but I'd like to get just a few more photos up before I leave for Phenom Phen.

I returned to Angkor Wat two days ago. Rode my bicycle which was a really wonderful way to see the temples. I went alone, which I highly recommend to anyone because you get to go around at your own pace. I sat for a long time enjoying some spaces that appealed to me asthetically and spiritually.

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This was one of my favorite little rooms. The little pedastal (which surely held a Buddha sometimes in the past) was covered in soft green moss, the roof over head was open and shafts of sun light filtered through lush vines that spilled through the cracks in the rocks. The place was so cool and smelled like damp earth. I stayed here and mediated for a long time.

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That evening I met my friend Katie, who I met in Chiang Mai, and again at Vang Viang. We went to the night market and had our feet massaged by little fish!!! It felt so crazy at first and we were giggling and laughing so hard our tummies hurt

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NExt day, THANKSGIVING, we rode our bikes to a different floating village. It was more like a village on stilts, but it was so amazingly beautiful. See for yourself!

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And most dwellings had little pig stalls suspended over the water like this!!!

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And these little kids were SOOO cute. They were paddling around in little wash tubs, splashing us as we passed!

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Then Katie and I got in a little dugout canoe (kinda approprite for Thanksgiving, right?) and this nice girl paddled us through a submerged forest, which was really amazing. We floated serenely through the trees and the only sounds were those of her paddle softly splashing and birds and the drones of insects. Dragon flys flitted this way and that way and beautifully colored spiders hung suspended in delicat webs between tree branches. We passed many little fisheries, that our 5$ went towards sustaining:

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That evening we got together with some Germans, Portuguese, English, Austrailians and OF COURSE AMERICANS to celebrate THanksgiving> We went to Deadfish, which was a really fun restaurent. I dont' have time to tell you all about it here, because I"ve got to run and catch a bus if I can to Phenom Phen, but here's some photos of us at dinner and of the cambodian performances one can watch while eating.

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'm sooo thankful for so much, now more than ever! See you soon from Phenom Phen!

Posted by LadyCroft 19:54 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Travellin' turns your boogers black...Cambodia

...will they ever turn back to a healthy yellowish green ever again???

semi-overcast 27 °C
View South Pacific Paradise!!! on LadyCroft's travel map.

Well team, the adventure continues: New Country-new experiences and sentiments.

There is just so much to catch up on.

I flew from Vientiane to Phenom Phen a few days ago. The city was dusty and busy and hot. Arriving at noon I found myself eager to get to Siam Reap in the north, and talked to a local, the director of an orphanage, who gave me a ride on his motor bike to the bus station. I hopped the bus then and there and endured a 5 hour long bus ride with only a bottle of water and some peanut m&ms to keep me going til dinner.

Stepping off the bus I found myself besieged by tuk tuk drivers. Shouting all at once for my attention, I was forced to cry "Simma down now!" using a forceful authoritative tone to my voice that caused them to back up a few steps and give me some room to pull out my notebook in order to figure out where I was going.

Earlier that day, around 7 am, while dressing in a dorm on the fourth floor of a guesthouse in downtown Vientiene a lump of french man under a sheet on the bottom bunk asked me where I was going. When I told him, he recommended Garden Village. So 10 hours later, with 48 different tuk tuk drivers soliciting my attention, I said Garden Village, and the first one nodded and I put my hand on his shoulder and we emerged from the thronging crowd and in no time I was whizzing along the streets of siam reap.

Garden Village was buzzing at 6 oclock. The lobby was full of Cambodians and Westerners. THe rooftop restaurant and bar was beset with people sitting around chatting, playing pool, and drinking .75 drafts of Angkor Beer having just watched the sunset from the rooftop balcony.

I asked the receptionist for a room. He said they were full. I felt crestfallen after a long day of travel, and I was hungry and thirsty and didn't feel like walking around. "Don't you have ANYthing?"I asked. The boy led me down a hall way to a covered outdoor room, behind an old armor full of dishes and tools and behind a pile of TVs in need of repair, he showed me a mattress with a mosquito net and quoted me the price of a dollar a night. I took it.

I removed what I'd need from my bag for the night, and turned my backpack into the office for safekeeping, as I was good as sleeping outside. I went upstairs for some direly needed noodle soup and immediately ran into some folks from the Slow Boat in Laos. Though i was tired, i was really eager to catch up, so I joined them for a drink at Angkor What? A bar just a few minutes walk from the hotel .

Walking to and from the bar was my first experience with destitute street beggars. Mothers holding infants and empty bottles of milk implore you to give them a dollar or two. Little girls come bounding up in dull rags, their faces smudged with dirt putting their hands to their mouths begging for some food. At first there's this feeling of dread like, " oh geese, here they come!"and then you have to ignore their pleas and ask them questions and you'll start getting ready responses. They speak good english and can tell you their age and how many brothers and sisters they have. They go to school ëveryday"they say. but who knows. They learned pretty decent english from somewhere.

The next day I awoke next to a Barcalonian named Marc in the "dorm"bed next to mine. Another late arrival who took the outside dorm and relished it's "character". Him and I teamed up with two adorable Norwegian girls, Synnove and Therese and tuk tuked out to the floating village. We got tickets for a boatman for 8 dollars each, which was pretty steep, but despite there being tons of boats, they're all owned by the government which keeps a monopoly on prices. As we walked along the edge of the lake, shacks were selling bottled water and coconut ice cream. A cute little girl in a green shirt with a huge camera took photos of all of us, which was a little perplexing, but later we'd figure out what that was for.

Our boatman was a young Cambodian with the typical wide smile and shining eyes and had an willingness to practice English. He, like many Cambodians, had a dynamic sense of humor and an easy laugh. Despite the blaring heat, my friends and I sat on the bow of the boat and took in the sights. We navigated through a dense maze of mangrove like floating flora. In the dry season, this expansive lake shrinks to just a portion of its wet season size. Beneath us was 4 meters of water, but in a few months, we would be on a road driving in a car. We began to pass floating houses, bolstered up on huge hollow barrels. Most were rudimentary and seemed to be held together by a whim and a prayer. Women could be seen with large bamboo hats fishing with nets and washing laundry in the water. Children jumped off the boats and barges into the brown water. Boats passed us by driven by Cambodians with checkered red scarves covering their mouths and wide brim hats shading their eyes, cargos of tiny snails, fish, or fruits and vegetables bound for the market.

It was like perusing the strangest of watery surburbs, each famiy living on a boat or floating house, some running stores and fisheries right out on the water. The streets were carved from the floating foliage which winded around until we came to the wide open expanse of lake that stretched all the way to the horizon. The boatman stopped the boat and we rested in the shade under the awning, sipping our now-hot water and taking in the view. A man in a boat pulled up with a young boy and girl. We bought a few bananas from them and suddenly the girl picked up an crocodile which had gone un-noticed up until this time and held up so that we could gape and take photos. the thing was nearly bigger than she was, and though its jaws were bound, it gave a powerful jerk every few seconds which sent our hearts fluttering in fear for this fearless girls life.

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They departed with jovial hand waving and we returned down another floating road passing every manner of floating dwelling. Our boatman stopped at the schoolhouse where children from Vietnam were being taught English and basic elementary school subjects. They ranged from age 6 to 12. Some kids were shy but obviously curious, others rambunctious and eager for interaction. We brought some pens and donated them to the school children and sat at the desks and talked to them for a little while. Some of them had clay putty and we shaped them into cars and smiley faces and suns in an effort to communicate a little with the kids.

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i also snapped this photo of a monkey for my dear sister marina.

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We had to keep moving along and so we hopped back on our little boat and and came to a floating store and bought some icy cold sprites and had a look around at a little crocodile farm and while we were there a boat came along blasting loud dance music just choc full of a Cambodian Family with a bride and groom smiling amongst them-their relatives holding colorful umbrellas over their heads. They were consumed in mirth and dancing and stopped at a little floating pavilion that had been decorated in colored paper was obviously where the "reception"was to be held. The bride looked amazing in a shiny yellow dress with pink roses around the bodice. Her shining black hair was pinned up high and her makeup had her looking like an exotic princess. It was a pretty nice site to see.

We returned to the mainland and wouldn't you know it, when we arrived we were assailed with child beggars and people touting cold water and sodas. But we were most disconcertingly affronted with a girl who had our pictures imprinted upon commemorative plates...t'was the same girl snapping our photo a few hours before. We all looked at each other because here was a personalized souvenir that none of us really wanted but all felt obligated to buy. I was the first to speak, telling my friends that this was sneaky, manipulative marketing and we (nicely) told them so and declined to buy said plates....I wonder what they're success rate is though...tis a pretty smart scheme.

We walked back along the road, declining a tuk tuk right away in order to walk through a Cambodian Village. Now and again some children would come up and beg, but mostly they waved and smiled while adults smiled from the shade of their stilted dwellings on the edge of the lake. Chickens and puppies were everywhere. It was a pleasure to see these people going about daily life, collecting water, binding firewood, gutting fish, washing babies, and attending other household and communal tasks, as well as napping peacefully in hammocks. We all tuk tuked back home and took well needed cold showers.

We went for a late lunch at Soup Dragon, which was perhaps the best food I've had in S.E.A. Every dish we ordered was outstanding. The Mohitos were delicious. I ordered chocolate mousse for dessert and started a trend. Soon everyone had ordered chocolate mousse despite being full as ticks. It was so light and fluffy that we soon had 4 bowls that looked as clean as they were before they had mousse put in them.

I'm happy about my Mohito

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Synnove and I toast Mohitos
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Next we all climbed into a tuk tuk and headed to Angkor Wat to see the sunset. The place was, predicably, a zoo, with a zillion tourists crawling all over the temple overlooking the western horizon. In the distance the jungle streatched on forever, broken only by the lake reflecting stunningly in the late afternoon light and the plumes of smoke rising up from Siam Reap,about 10 Kms distant. We could also see planes landing at the airport. The sunset was beautiful, and was worth withstanding the zoo atmosphere to see.

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It doesn't matter where you go here, you are assailed by begging children. But at Angkor Wat they are often selling little bracelets, woven hats, guide books, and postcards. They are incredibly cheeky as we came to find out, and children as young as 7 surprised us with their audacity and cunning. One boy said we had to buy one of his books if he could guess the population of the US. We bet he couldn't do it. He said "three hundred million minus 1 because you are here"...my friend bought his book. Another little girl knew the population of Norway. And the capitol of Madagascar. They're little oceans of triva, those children. If you say "I don't need one"they say "buy two !" Several went to give us high fives even after we refused to buy their trinkets, only to move their hand at the last minute in a movement of slicking back their hair while saying "too slow". Cheeky kids.

On the way down fromt he sunset there are little bands of land mine victims playing instruments and selling CDs, plus mothers with horribly disfigured children huddled by the side of the path begging change. All are terribly hard to resist.

That night we cleaned up and went back out to Angkor What? Bar. We wanted to go dancing but there wasn't much of a dancing scene out that night. We all planned on returning to Angkor Wat for sunrise, so we called it a night and went to sleep around midnight. I had moved to an actual "dorm"that day also. It was nearly as squirrely as my first night sleeping outside. It was in the attic under an A-framed roof with a floor full of holes with 5 beds lined up on either side of the sloping room, each with its own mossie net and tiny reading light that glowed orangy red. Still 1$/ night.

My friends held me responsible for waking them up and bet I couldn't do it. Yet I was awoken (sans alarm clock) by the haunting chanting of a mans voice somewhere off in the distance around 4:50 am. I dressed hurriedly in the dark and tread carefully around badly patched bamboo floor and low hanging cables to the cool air outside. I knocked softly on the girls door, waking them singing ÿou are my sunshine"and then padded up to Marc's room and woke him singing "mr sandman". We were standing in the reception area 10 minutes later nogotiating with a tuk tuk driver. For 15 total we arranged for him to take us to the temples for most of the day.

It was amazing how busy the streets were at 5 am. Individuals carried large buckets of rice and vegitables carried on their backs balanced on long poles. motos zipped by taking locals to and fro. Lots of tuk tuks were streaming north to the temples, adn we joined the flow.

The East was just beginning to glow when we arrived. As we approached the temple we all agreed that it was worth getting up so early. The air was gloriously cool and the sky was perfect for a sunrise. ( I hear many people get up early just to encounter a bleakly cloudy sky or worse, a downpour.) We got very lucky and snapped a million photos while the sun rose from behind the temple. It was such a rewarding sight to see.

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We then explored Angkor Wat which was a lot bigger than i expected. It's just a maze of sanctuaries and is full of nooks and crannies. Extensive art work lines the walls telling stories of the great past princes of Angkor and of Buddhist tales. I took about a million pictures and wish I could post many more than the following. But for an idea, here is some photos of the famous Angkor Wat:

Synnove looking gorgeous next to some of the detail work on a columned entrance way.

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Marc outisde:
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It took a few hours to walk through Angkor wat marveling at the sculpted details on the walls and ceilings and floors. It must have been a massive undertaking-where did they get all the stone? the manpower? It truly deserves its place as one of the wonders of the world. The civilization that built it should get more credit: I've heard of the Egypitions, the Mayans, the Incas, but I never heard of the people who built a city geographically the size of Manhattan, and every bit as advanced for its time.

But may wonders never cease. We hadn't even begun to penetrate the mysteries. We had breakfast outside the temple, I had a plate of banana and pineapples and the girls had omelets on baguettes and Marc had Nutella on a baguette. We reunited with our tuk tuk driver and he took us on a road headed into the temples within the jungle. There was a mass of people with us; crowds of tuk tuks, cars, tour buses, people on the backs of elephants, and push bikes and motos. We crossed a bridge decked out with dozens of statues that would out shadow the biggest man, and under beautiful archways of moss covered stone which half concealed the enigmatic faces of Buddha. We came to another temple, and our tuk tuk let us off again.

Here we lost ourselves amongst labyrinthine corridors whose ceilings were lost in shadows. Stone lions and serpents were carved along doorways and ancient steep staircases. Turning a corner one might find a terribly old Buddha, swathed in new shiny orange fabric at whose base lies ornate sand filled bowls full of burning fragranced incense. The high towers of this huge compound depicted giant images of the four faces of Buddha. It was quite queer staring at them because they seemed to exist and yet not exist at all. See them in the following photo?:

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We moved along to the next temple in the jungle, were the jungle is literally consuming the temples. I literally couldn't keep my mouth shut, it just kept dropping around every corner. Photos, millions of photos, but here are a few of my favorites.

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The temple complex went on and on, but we were all really tired from our late night/early rising. We decided to head back. But we also knew that the Land Mine Museum was nearby, so we asked our tuk tuk driver to take us there for a little more added onto the fare. Soon we were zipping along a lovely Cambodian road. The land is super flat and so green its almost fuzzy. Houses are typically built on stilts. Some are of the cagiest bamboo and others are modern, built of concrete and stucco with tile roofs. Much has changed here in the last decade, it is apparent. This is me in the tuk tuk on the drive out there:

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The Land Mine Museum was $1 to enter, and well worth it. The showed us a movie depicting the life of the museum creator who began his life as a child soldier laying mines from the age of 4. He laid thousands himself, and fought in the wars that ravaged this country and knew death only as a way of life. Later on though, he saw the horrific nature of the mines and has spent all of his days since in removing them. He has personally removed over 50,000 landmines, mostly finding them with a stick walking in bare feet. He has started the museum made from his collection of old mines and bomb fragments, and he also houses an orphanage there for children who are victims of mine detonations, or who were orphaned when their familes fell apart due to one breadwinner or another being maimed or killed by mines. The stories of the children are on the wall. They wrote them, themselves.

It's unutterably sad, soul clenchingly horrible, the lives of these children. They have witnessed the death of parents, or the down fall of their family through alcoholism and abuse when one member or another was incapacitated. One little girl watched her grandmother die from a mine while collecting firewood in the forest yet had to return there, terrified, everyday or else have no wood to cook with. One boy was left blind from an untreated mine explosion that shattered his face. Several had lost limbs. Another boy was given to the orphanage when his mother, who lost her husband to a Bouncing Betty could no longer support all her children, and so began selling them off to other families to which end many of them found abuse and neglect or worse in the traffic trade. The stories were all so awful but I was riveted, reading each one in simple English. Through blurry eyes I resisted the urge to breakdown while I read that these children found refuge in a place where they could care for them until they were 18, and train them in vocations so they could provide for themselves in the future. I walked through rooms full of deactivated mines and bombshells, with horrific photos documenting the wars and atrocities that cambodia has been through in the last few decades.

I can't get one image from my mind. It was a painting that a child had made. It had a little lake in the foreground full of lillypads and froggies and crabs and ducks and fishies. In the distance was a little village. Out front a crowd of adults stood covering their eyes and hugging themselves while before them lie pieces of the bodies of children. The little person who made this painting used primary colors, blue for the water, green for the grass and the mountains, and red. Lots of red. I can't imagine what the scene that small child must have witnessed and the subject matter presented in such an innocent and childlike way made it all the more disturbing and sorrowful.

We all came from the museum and it was a quiet tuk tuk ride home. I reflected on the 7 million or more landmines still in the soil of the thai/cambodian border that will continue to orphan children and break families apart forever. I relected that the USA is one of the countries that has NOT signed the Land MIne Treaty (which nearly 150 other countries HAVE signed). A most unexpected set of emotions ruled my thoughts: an enormous sense of love and thankfulness for my little brother and sister, P & M. I thought about them for a long time. Thankfulness washed over me that they are growing up in a safe world without the threat of sudden death at any step: that they have wonderful schools to attend. I felt inexplicably closer to them for what I had witnessed this day. I thought about their bright futures and just relished their presence in my life and thanked the gods or god or Buddha or Anything that they have warm beds and wonderful healthy parents.

After the somber tuk tuk ride home, we were nearly falling over with fatigue and hunger. I moved rooms yet again to share a big bungalow with Marc, which had two beds, each with its own mossie net. We all showered and rested for a while and met up again and returned to our favorite restaurent The Soup Dragon. We ate and reveled and reflected on our amazing day. Then we all got a bowl of chocolate mousse and toasted the occasion:

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When we returned home, none of us could stay awake long. I tried to watch the new James Bond DVD with some others, which a friend had bought bootlegged and cheap earlier that day, but we kept nodding off. So I went back to the bungalow and fell into a very nice deep sleep.

Today I've spent MUCH of the day updating this blog. Nearly 5 hours in fact! The sun has now set. I did take a break in the middle of the day and visited an orphanage. The children were wonderful, bowing deeply and saying hello and praticing their english. I found out all about what the orphanage is doing to improve the lives of the 60 or so children it keeps and its struggles with the local authorities to expand and modernize. I just wanted more food for thought, in case I want to get involved in the future.

The girls, Synnove and Theres have left for Phenom Phen this morning, as have Yu and Yerg, my german friends who I met in Laos. Marc returned to the temples today, and hopefully I'll meet up with him tonight for dinner and drinks. My friend Katie, who I met in Chiang mai, and again in Vang Vieng, should be heading to Siam reap and I might see her tommrrow.

I'm desperatly in love with you all. Home has become a shining place on a hill that I never imagined I'd see in this way. This place is changing my perspective and opening my eyes. I'll close here with some reflections on Cambodia that I pasted to my family site, and facebook.
Cambodia: nowhere on my travels has been so soul shattering, heart rending, and yet sublimely beautiful and rich. Each breath I take now seems a gift from god and the unrecognized blessings in my life have made themselves clear as crystal. The adults carry with them the burden of horrible emotional pain of a past unspeakably awful. Nearly 10% of the population are maimed from landmines: faces, arms, and legs atrociously mutilated. Rag clad street children look inside out from hunger, and most of them have never used and wouldn't know how to use shampoo or toothpaste. YET-- and this is the biggest YET in history--YET the pain scarred faces of the adults break into the warmest smiles imaginable when you smile and attempt to say Suse-dai (hello) and wave. The smile of the attractive Cambodian people is a thing of fine beauty: the deep lines of angst and nightmarish experiences turn into bright upturned countenances where the pathways of the face become expressions of profoundly tenacious humanity. The wrinkles around the eyes betray not only the heavy burdens of passed atrocities but an unbelievable ability to express love and hope. The bedraggled children of the street are deceptively intelligent and witty, and while they melt your heart they uplift your soul. Their laughter is the sunshine of gaiety in defiance of a life of gray poverty and degradation. The stupendously expansive and gloriously detailed temples of Angkor Wat tell unaccountably vast volumes about the complexity and richness of these people's pasts. No one can look upon all this and fail to recognize a story so astonishingly redemptive and inspirational without gaining a new understanding on the width and breath of the human soul--without actually reaching a fuller appreciation of that it is to BE human.

In the quiet moments between action, riding silently in tuk tuks, breathing deeply in the darkness of my bungalow in the moments before sleep, writing post cards to my loved ones, I have found myself on the cusp of a tearful breakdowns and an appreciative sigh of respect and adoration for my Cambodian brothers and sisters. I wish all of my loved ones back home to be here to experience the extremes of life and death, richness and destitution, beauty and awful wretchedness of existence here. My eyes are open wide to the harsh light of reality. My heart is torn open. My soul yawns wide with compassion and a need to reach out and just love love love these people. I can't go back to the America and be the same person. I shan't forget what I have seen. Life is a gift more worth living now than it ever has been.

I miss you all more than you can imagine. I wish you could be here to see, hear, feel, smell, and experience the extremes of this amazing and special country. I love you more than ever.

your daughter, sister, and friend
Amy (aka, lady croft)

If anyone reads this and would like to contact me with questions or comments, I'd welcome them.
Seaspotrun@yahoo.com

Posted by LadyCroft 21:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bye Bye Vang Vieng. Hello Vientiene

local transport to the capitol...

sunny 28 °C

Leaving Vang Viang was like dragging oneself across the surface of Jupiter. The place has a natural gravity with a tremendous force that pulls one always back into its comforting arms. I spent my last day among friends trying to sqeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of the place before leaving. I rode my bike to the river with Santiago, who took the following picture of me, dressed in a green toga, crossing the bamboo bridge.

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I would also like to include a photo of a very comfortable tuk tuk driver man. I wish I could have a vehicle like this back in the states...

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And here is the pet spider that lived with part of his web attched to my bungalow...He was there all week and moved only to masticate some poor bug that found himself tangled helpless and slowly consumed. Was cool to watch though! I wish I knew this spider's life story! Notice he's missing a leg!

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I left in the morning and didn't get a chance to say good bye to many wonderful people. I miss you all so much. I keep leaving little pieces of my heart here and there, and perhaps again, here in this place of contridictions, I have left a shard of heart matter beneith a bamboo bungalow. (Miss u MUCH, Australia.)

I traveled by Tuk tuk to Vientiene. It was a mega-tuk tuk which took on travellers for around 30,000 K to the capitol. It was a cool way to travel, if a little dusty, but it was nice talking to the locals. At one point there were so many people in the tuk tuk, including school girls hanging onto the back, and young men on the roof and floor that I was surprised we were able to move at all. But most of the time we wern't that full. THe school girls carried basic english phrase books and Marion, a german I befriended, had a nice time communicated some basic english with the girls. A few boys talked to us too, and there was a lot of awkward but well-meaning smiles when the language barrier prevented us from understanding one another.

Marion and I walked together and found a guest house to stay at (RD Guesthouse) It's right in the town center just a stones throw from the Mekong and the night food market. We bought a bottle of wine from the local market and brought it to a french restaurent and shared it as well as bowls of amazing tomato basil soup and the stinkiest creamiest awsomest french cheese that I'd been craving for a LONG time.

THen we went to the riverside food market and sat on cushions on the ground and listened to soft-rock 80's karioke (The Way you Look tonight and Lean on ME) etc. They had lots of weird things to eat there like fish and FROGS!

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I enjoyed a nice pot of hot tea...

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...and Marion ate some FRESH, and I mean FRESH as in alive when you order em, dead when you eat em, CRAWFISH thinggies!

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I tried one, and it was pretty good, but not really my thing.

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THe market had stalls that sold the most beautiful wraps and scarves I've seen yet...i tried so very hard to resist...but couldn't. I think I'll be back tonight to buy s'more. at 5 bucks a wrap they make great gift, but I'm not sure if I have the ability to give any of them away!

We slept like logs. I don't even remember dreaming. This morning we rose together and wet to JoMa's, which is a bakery I went to twice in Luang Prabang for a Bagel Egger breakfast...and I did it again. And it was again just amazingly delicious. THen Marion and I Walked about and took photographs of some temples. Here is Crofteepoo in a cemetary in the grounds of a temple in town:

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Please don't ask me what I"m wearing on my head. It's SOOO hot, plus my skin is so amazingly sensitive from the Malaria meds and just scratching it causes a burning sensation. So i'm keeping covered up with hat and long scarf...even if the locals AND tourists have to laugh at me.

ANYHOW, this is for me mum. A photo of the United Nations Building in Vientiene:

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I also found the Laosian Arch de Triumph! It's located centrally with a huge round about around it just like in Paris. Yet its wonderfully and abundantly Laosian too!!

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Marion and I parted ways, as she's heading over the Friendship Bridge to THailand for an overnight Train to Bangkok. I meandered through town and enjoyed some mint chocolate chip ice cream. THen I hit up this here internet spot, which has 100K/ minute internet, but its slower than Paris Hilton's abilty to rub two brain cells together. (oh god, that wasn't fair-i don't know the girl-but it DID effectively illustraite how slow this internet is...right?!?)

I'm making my way slowly, as well, through Atlas Shrugged. Page 242 and still feels like I"m at the beginning of the book.

Tommrrow I leave in the early morning for the airport when I"m headed to Phenom Phen Cambodia. There is always this huge sence of excitment when leaving for an altogether new country. Naturally one has to take stock of funds, hit up the exchange places to have some dollars on hand for the journey, and make sure that the bag is organized. Then one reads the guidebooks available in the guesthouses ( i don't actually carry my OWN guidebook-which I think is better because I often find things and places that the Lonely PLanet overlooks, which means their often cheaper and less crowded)--but its good to get a general feel for where you're going. Yet still, it's a new place, new country, new people, new language (how DO i say hello??), new money, new transport, you get it.

So the thrill is in the newness. I'm yet so sad to leave Laos. THis trip just doesn't encompass enough time to get off the beaten track and see the back country. Next time, I promice myelf, next time, at least a month or two per country.

Love to all my new friends, my old ones, my co-workers and regulars who keep up with this, and my family.
xoxo
Crafty Crofty

Posted by LadyCroft 00:38 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

I found Waldo in Laos

By Popular Demand: Vang Vieng Tubing Photos

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Okay folks, now that we all remember who Waldo is, can YOU find him this THIS picture?!

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TUUUUBING PHOTOS!

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I went again. Third time. As my friends crammed into a sagging tuk tuk I thought I'd try something a little different, and for 15,000K I rented a bicycle. The bike comes with a lock too, but don't even think of asking for a helmet, because they'll look at you like you've absolutely lost your mind.

It was around 11:00 and the heat of the day was bearing down and reflecting in waves off the hot asfault surfaces of the road. Hundreds of school age children were riding in both directions up and down the street on bikes, sometimes, two or three abreast and often several children on one bicycle. Most of the young ladies held an umbrellas aloft to block the wayward sun.

AN interesting aside: On local television here and in Thailand, I noticed loads of TV Advertisements for skin whiteners. And they're all by Revlon and Mayballene, the same companies that sell skin bronzer to Westerners.......

At one point I looked to two very young boys riding together on a bicycle. After cursory glances we began a race to the top of the hill. They were shouting in Laosian and I was hollering and whooping to encourage them. I passed them at first, but the hill was long and soon the two of them passed me laughing with delight. It was a really cute way to interact with locals.

I peddled about 4 KM and turned down a very worn dirt road to the Organic Mulberry Farm. Then I headed up a smaller dirt path that paralled the river and met my friends who had already floated down to the first of the bars. There I set up a little shady spot to watch people careen zillions of feet in the air in feats of unparalleled crazyness.

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The swings are insane. I've already described them. Get a load of these pictures. If you see a girl in green shorts and a mostly black bikini top: that'd be me.

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Yup, thats mE!

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Around 1 the party was trickling down the river towards my favorite bars: the one with the great big slide. But getting there for me, would be my favorite adventure of the day.

I mounted my bike and pushed uphill back to the main road that paralled the river. Looked South and West I could follow the river with my eye because it ran along side the mountains. I knew where my destination was because it has a large bonfire, and I could see a whisp of smoke trailing in the air. I rode for a few minutes then turned towards the river on a small dirt path I hoped would reach the bridge.

I ended up in the "burbs" of Vang Vieng. Along narrow dirt path I passed dwelling places of the local population side by side, seperated by yards full of chickens and hanging laundry. In the oppessive mid-day heat I saw few people: I supposed most of them retired to the shades of their houses or were working in the town. It was humbling seeing this part of the countryside. The recent augmentation of income was reflected in the obvious growth of this small community. bamboo bungalows had new concrete attachments built on. Every now and again one came across a house the dwarfed its neighbors (still small to US standards) but that indicated a prosporus family. As I peddled past bamboo fenses, and cows tied to posts chewing lazily on grass I imagined that these families are the same whos teenage children manned the bars and restaurents in town, whose mothers said "pancake pancake" on street corners and sold Fantas and Sprite inside restaurants that sold curries and laap; whose fathers hammered away at old concrete posts to make way for newer buildings or who worked on the myrad of construction projects around town, making way for more guesthouses and restaurents. These were familes who were witnessing so much change in a community that might still be feeling reprocussions from being pounded to dust from unremitting bombing of only a few generations ago. These are the people whose pockets I am freely giving my tourist money: people whose culture is changing irrocovably; for both good and ill.

I found myself in a lovely open area full of creeping vines piled up in man-sized mountains dotted with white flowers, butterflys dancing on the breeze all around. I took a picture here:

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But the path because impossble to bike further on, and I had to back track. It was a maze of paths and houses and I knew only to continue following the mountains. You see, I'd underestimated the distance of the bridge, which was well passed the Slide Bar. I eventually saw a man bathing a baby in his backyard. I got off my bike and wei'd profusly to show as much respect as possible and then waved and said smiling "Saabaadee!!" he smiled back and waved and I used signs and said "bridge" and he nodded and pointed back to where I had come from. I wei'd again and then got back on the bike. I didn't see many people but those I'd see off the main road were just incredibly kind and friendly. At one point I passed a lady on a motorbike and I said "saabaadee!" and she said "saabaadee something something" but in a tone of voice that seemed to say "well hello little western girl! What are you doing so far off the road!" and there was surprise and admiration in her voice as well as warmth and love. I remember it so well, even though it was only a few Laos words uttered in one breath as two strangers from different worlds passed eachother. I smiled as I peddled back to the main road.

I was drinking water like a fiend, and had run out. So I peddled back to a store and bought another bottle and then resumed my search for the turn off for the bridge. I found it and parked and locked my bike at the bridge and walked across its rickkity bamboo surface to the other side. I then walked for several minutes to the SLIDE Bar. I'm not sure the actual name, but this is what I call it.

First the Mud Pits:
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Me "trying" to play volley ball, but getting mud in the eyes instead

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Funny Sign:
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Next, the Slide

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I danced my little feet off to a DJ who was happy to take my requests for songs like "Danger Zone" from Top Gun..heh heh. Then, exhausted, I peddled back home. I hadn't to strength to go out, so I had a glass of mulberry wine and then watched a movie with a few other pooped out backpackers.

As you can see, there's really nothing like this anywhere! Still though, I'm moving on tomorrow to Vientiane. It's time for new horizons again, and a traveler must keep moving.

Hoped y'all dug it!

Posted by LadyCroft 20:28 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vang Vieng=LAZY!

It's SOO easy doing nothing all day...

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Vang Vieng. How to describe this place. It's not exactly a one street town, but its only got a few main streets. The colonial archatecture, columns, and french varandas are unmistakable, yet many home grown buildings line the street too. Pancake vendors are a bright light on each corner and every other building is a bar, restaurent, or guesthouse.

Mainstreet
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Vang Vieng from the Bridge
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As you walk down the street it's impossible not to hear the "Friends" theme eminating from not one or two but many many restaurents. The idea is GENIOUS, actually. They have all these cushions you can sit upon, and you order your food and beer sitting in a little cot facing TV's with all your favorite characters doing what they do best. I swear, today I sat for nearly 4 hours watching non-stop FRIENDS action. No commercials, rotating fans, and the best smoothies and baguettes make for a relaxing afternoon getting ones fix for home.
A typical "Friends" Restaurant
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A few other places show Family Guy, and the Simpsons, but I think I've actually seen every episode ever made of both of them. Friends I gave up on when all the "friends" become more than "friends"...so I'm getting all caught up on the whole Rachael/Joey, Monica/ Chandler, Rachael+Ross=Baby, Phoebe/Mike (who I LOVE by the way) etc etc. Sinful, I know.

Soon after I arrived I met Katie, who I'd had the pleasure of sharing a dorm with back in NATS guesthouse in Chiang Mai. We teamed up and did the next most amazing thing to do in Vang Vieng...TUBING!

Aw shucks, i NEED to go again tommrrow and get some photographs to post. I was afraid to bring my camera for fear of getting it wet, but wow, you guys gotta get an idea of how this works.

You're given a giant intertube and tuk-tuked up the river. The drop-off point is right next to an organic mulberry farm which sells...mulberry mohitos. Now I promiced myself that there would be no getting drunk on the river but I couldn't pass up an organic mulberry mohito (even made with the dreaded Lao Lao-Lao wiskey which is INTENSE) so despite being 11:30 in the morning, I had me a nice refreshing mohito.

The babbling river carried our tubes about 10 feet, when we hit the first bar. Literally, I wasn't in the tube for 30 seconds when Katie and the others getting hauled in by a frantically waving, Lao Lao enthousiast with a 20 foot bamboo pole. While Peter and Katie sat warming themselves in the sun, drinking Lao Beer and a bright red wine cooler, I sipped water and eyeballed the first of what would prove to be my "hang up" on this river.

High above my head, on a handmade platform built into a tree like some sort of incomplete tree house, a line of not-yet-but-getting-there-drunk folks were lined up to swing out on a trapeze over the river. It was about 30 feet up, and the trapeeze swung far out over deep (i hoped) water. It looked amazing.

So while my friends sat and consumed, I climbed the rickkity ladder onto the rickkity platform and adjusted my rickkity bangkok-bought bathing suit that clung to me by good graces of only a few strings. (I did my BEST to find a one piece, but I swear, bangkok doesn't have a single one piece in the whole city). The water looked an awful long way down, and the platform below me was packed with white pastey foreigners drinking beer bottles that looked bigger than themselves. Loud techno music pulsated from large mounted speakers. I couldn't wait to swing.

I held onto the swing, stepped forward, hesitated, and then swung...but not as fast as I would have liked, and went down and down and over and over and arched up and up and BOY was i HIGH above the water, but it was time to let go!! SPLASH! and my teeny-weeny bikini sort of stayed on too! yey!

It was so much fun I did it again, but this time, no hesitation. I jumped off the platform with all my might swinging in a huge pendular arch from 9 to 3 o'clock, and this time I dropped from even higher and might have inhaled a little bit of water. No matter. THis was going to be a fun day, for I'd heard there were much higher better things to come.

We floated for another 10 seconds, and I hoped we'd pass the next bar by. I could see in the distance MANY MANY bars, all blasting dance music, with their own enthousastic flag wavers with bamboo poles. We did thankfully, and the next bar we stopped at the other had a drink, and it being about 1ish, I had some veggie fried rice, and a beer to wash it down. Last drink of the day, in fact.

Not so for my fellows. There were literally hundreds of tubers, drinking probably literally hundreds of gallons of booze. It started to get a little silly. Still I enjoyed watching everyone. A couple bars down came the BEST place to people watch.

This bar had SO many good things going for it. It had a live DJ, who took requests. It had a bonfire, which came in really handy because the sun would be going down within the hour and it turned pretty cold pretty quick when that happens. It had not ONE but THREE types of insane, perhaps suisidal ways to enter the water at high speed and strange angles. First was another trapeze, which was much higher than the first. I did it. It was good. Next was a zip line...I heard people calling it a fox line. This thing was pretty crazy. It ended over the river, but if you didn't let go the thing would stop, your legs would keep moving foward and up, you're head would go back and down, and you were likely to land right on your back in a resounding SLAP that got everyone watching to cry "oooohhh!" at the same time. Finally, and most impressively, a giant waterslide had been built. It was constructed from large concrete supports and lined with bathroom tiles and then water was hosed up to the top. THe bottom of the slide slanted back upwards, launching you up into the air.

Oh god, such wonderful torture.

Sliding down the slide for the first time I thought "gee, this is fun...weeee" then as i neared the launch ramp at the bottom I thought "gee, there is no real way to control how you leave this thing...i could land...anywhere." As I launched into the air I pinwheels my arms to keep me more or less up right, as my inertia was doing everything it could to spin me backwards and land me in Ouchie Land.

I ended up hitting my side. Still Ouchie Land. I surfaced spluttering and laughing so hard I couldn't stop. And ya know what? I'm such a sucker for pain and humiliation, I decided to do it again, and try to do it right this time. I waited at the top of the slide to let a guy go ahead of me. I wanted to watch his technique and maybe apply it, to keep from landing..you know...in Ouchie Land.

He sat up backwards, and waved as he got farther and farther away from us. I looked at the Laosian that manned the slide. Good technique? I asked. Yes, he replied. Then I saw the boy, now about the size of a pea in the distance get launched off the bottom and roll backwards...NOOOO...SLAP!!! OUCH-EE-LAAAAND! I shook my head, I would NOT be trying that technique.

Instead I faced forward again, and tried to slide in the middle of the slide down down down LAUNCH and SPLASH! It still hurt though, and I think I called it a day at that.

I clambored back up to the platform where it was hard to navigate amongst all the beer guzzlers. Oh, and did I forget to mention...buckets of liquor are 10,000 Kp here. Thats like...just over a buck. They consist of ice, Lao lao, soda (usually coke) and redbull. And the redbull over here is SCARY. It's thick like cough syrup, and there's seriously a warning on the label that you shouldn't drink more than 1 a week...

It was a riot watching everyone go off the slides and swings and foxline. It was NonStop Entertainment. There were sooo many backflips and backflops. People went off the swings two by two, and one group of insane guys went off the slide four at a time....unbeleivable.

There were a few near misses too...A twosome coming down the slide got seperated> The guy was launched first, and the girl launched afterwards, landed just on top of him. Both survived without injuries. Another gal actully was set to do the fox line ahead of me. She was a big british girl who seemed quite nervous about it but gung-ho none the less. We told her to let go before she hit the knot at the end. She zipped. She ziiiiiiiiipped! LET GO LET GO! we shouted. She didn't. Her feet flew forward, and she let go just in time to land on her upper back and head. We all groaned on the platform. Ouchie Land, again.
But when she resurfaced she lacked an ability to swim properly. She bearly kepted her mouth clear of the water. A fellow travellers jumped 30 feet off the platform into the water to save her, along with a few others who saw what was going on. It appears she had too much to drink and the fall into the water had knocked her already senseless self into la-la-land. Turns out I would see her later, still partying and stumbling all over the place. I wonder how she ever made it back to Vang Vieng.

Lots of people were getting seriously inebriated and it was kinda sad to see girls sitting in corners, their heads lollygagging about. I'm glad Katie wasn't a big drinker, cuz I would have been a lost sober soul amonst all those party animals. Don't get me wrong, it was a killer time but...Its just a bit childish, i guess.

There were a few more bars past that one, but the sun had dipped behind the mountains and the air was noticable cooler. Some GENIOUS made it soo all the bars are at the beginning of the river, and then there is a long 45 minute section before you get home. I guess it IS a good idea, as it might help sobor up all the idiots, who knows. Goosebumps and chattery teeth accompanied us down the last stretch of river. Then we hauled out our tubes and headed for a hot shower.

Just down from the mainstreet is the street that paralles the river. Crossing narrow bamboo suspension bridges (I WILL get photos of those, they're pretty neat) is an island where the river divides and goes around either side. Built on the island are three bars. (maybe more, i dunno) Bucket Bar, Smile Bar, and Bamboo Bar. Being a bit set aside from the town, they're able to blast their music loudly, along with lazers, smoke machines, dance platforms, and bonfires.

Katie made our way after dinner (amazing french bread pizzas) to Island for a few drinks. It was a wild scene, people partying and dancing, or sitting in social clusters around several toasty campfires. I should mention also, that there is a fairly prevalent and open drug scene in Vang Vieng. (FYI, people). Many of the restaurents offer Magic Shakes, Special SHakes, Magic Pizza, Magic pasta, Special/Magic anything. According to the guide book in my bungalow, they are hit-or-miss, but its pretty remarkable that they're offered thusly!! I could smell lots of folks smoken herbs as well...pretty much everywhere, but you gotta be careful people, in a place where 6/10 people who sell to you probably work for the cops. There are as many people telling "busted"stories as those telling "we-got-so-messed-up" stories. The authorities are in it for a fine here and maybe a bottle of wiskey. Crazy town. OH yeah, and Opium, thats reportedly around here too. My hotel guidebook gives LOTS of examples of tourists binging on the stuff and dying...So kids, not only don't-try-that-at-home, don't try it ANYWHERE!

So, all that said, after a few drinks I walked Katie back to her hotel (which became MY hotel the next day, because I liked it), and then I met Peter, who I tubed with earlier, for some late night mango pancakes. OH MY GOD! When you're tipsy and starving at 2AM, there is NOTHING, I mean NOTHING better than a Vang Vieng just-off-the-griddle Mango Pancake.

Okay, so, the next day I checked into Katies room. We both felt tired from our long day before (and yes, I was feeling those few drinks I had--GOD i'm SUCH an OLD LADY!) So we sat and watched like 87 episodes of friends over breakfast. Then we rented motorbikes, which was a new experience for me because I'd never ridden a manual before. But it wasn't too hard getting a handle of shifting the gears, and Katie was doing great considering she'd never even ridden a motorbike before.

Of course they gave us the bikes on "E" so we had to find a gas station. Behind the mainstreet is an airstrip, and running parallel on the other side is another road with a gas station. I pulled up to the airstrip unsure of whether it was okay to drive right across it. But other people were. Lots of people in fact were riding bicycles, walking, and scooting across, so after double checking for incoming aircraft, Katie and I scooted down the tarmac and made it to the gas station.

We left town and headed over the river . Here is where we took pictures of us on the bridge.

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We followed a ridge of mountains in a north westerly direction. To our left were large stretches of cultivated land. We passed many humble dwelling homes of the local Laotions. The road was dirt, and full of potholes. There were livestalk everywhere. We went around herds of cattle, passed water buffalo (see picture below) hanging out in...water. We swerved around chickens that apparently liked throwing themselves on front of our oncoming wheels. There were puppies, kittens, and ducks too!

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We drove a lovely 7 Kms. The weather was really warm...okay hot, but dry. We walked the last 5 minutes on a road that ended at the base of a mountain that rose straight up from the flat valley floor. We walked down the lawn of a locals house following signs that read "swimming lagoon". We had expected a little bit more than the tiny pool but I was hot and the swing looked fun (and much tamer than the swings from the day before) and so I lept into the stunningly refreshing water.

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Feeling invigorated, we decided to climb towards a cave at the base of the mountain. A gaggle of kids made to follow us holding torches. We'd just finished talking with some fellow backpackers who'd just been to the cave. THey said it was cool, except for the kids, who excected a fee for accompanying them. As we made to acend, i turned around and told one of the kids that we could go alone. He held up his torch pointing to it. I held up mine, pointing to it. He stompped his feet, but submitted. Katie and I climbed the steep pathway alone, without the rambuctious little fellows tagging along.

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The cave was but a tiny slat in the rock. A few feet in, we decended a ladder. The darkness in the cave was complete, and even my LCD torch did very little to cut through the blackness. We climbed down to the first chamber and contented outselves to enjoying and photographing the cave from there. There was a much more cave to be seen, but I was not about to get stuck in that cave with a torch I had no back up batteries for. It was a pretty neat experience none-the-less.

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We returned back to the sunlight. It was brighter than I remembered, and the colors of the earth more beautiful too. Here are some photos of the countryside I took in that area.

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Great place for a TOILET, eh!??
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So Katie and I had a quiet night that evening (watched..>FRIENDS!) She left this morning for southern Laos *sob*, but I know she's going to have a great time, and I might even see her in Cambodia...who knows!!

So I inherited her room. I love the Bungalow I'm staying in. (much like the one I stayed in, in Pai) I was feeling pretty menstral today, so I had a really lazy day. Yes, I sat for hours watching Friends. Sat in the same place for breakfast and lunch. It was super nice to zonk out and drink mint tea and watch TV. But gosh, its time for adventure tommrrow.

A few more friends have arrived (from the slowboat, remember?) so I might go tubing again tommrrow, if only for the swings and fox lines (and maaaaybe the slide). Plus I gotta get some pictures of this for you guys! UN-FREKKIN-BELEIVABLE!

Love everyone tons and tons! Hogs and Quishes!
Croftee

And, is this a nice place for a toilet or what!??

Posted by LadyCroft 03:23 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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