Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

Wet and Wild 04-19/02/11

Posted: February 20, 2011 in Laos, Thailand

What up peeps! (I’m going ‘gangster’ in order to appeal to the younger readers, I want to top 50,000 hits you see, it’s all about the numbers these days.) Right off the bat I’d like to make a thousand apologies for the delay in the blog, I know a lot of you have come to rely on our blogs as a shining light in these bleak winter days, but after you find out about the week we have just had I hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive our tardiness.

We last left you in the Luang Prabang in Laos, and from there we drove further south to Vang Vieng. Oh my goodness was that a sleazy nightmare of a place! The town is located on a river in a stunning limestone cliff landscape, which has unfortunately been ruined by an activity known as tubing. This essentially involves hundreds of drunk tourists, (many from the UK it has to be said), hiring rubber inner tubes and floating down the river, stopping at many of the loud bars that litter the river bank and pollute the environment by pumping out very loud music 13 hours a day! Add in a lot of drug taking as well and ‘horrendous’ is the only word you can use to describe it! How the locals put up with it I don’t know! To make matters worse, we had booked three nights there, doh!

There was a saving grace though… everyday we headed out of the cesspit, (can you tell that I really didn’t like it?) and headed for the hills. There were many small and interesting tracks that led out of the town and into the surrounding countryside. We spent all day just exploring the outlying villages, attending injured Americans after they had fallen off their motorbikes, paddling in rivers and driving through water crossings (more than once in order to get that perfect shot!) So what could have been three days of hell actually turned out to be a blessing and a really enjoyable couple of days!

The road from Vang Vieng to the Laos capital, Vientianne was in a lot better condition than the roads further to the north and it took us no time getting there and finding our hotel. Vientianne is my kind of capital; small, relaxed and laid back. It’s full of coffee shops, NGO personel driving large white 4x4s, and tour companies promising you that theirs is the cheapest bus to Thailand. After the first day wandering the city, drinking coffee and yep, you’ve guessed it, people watching we got an email from our mate Austrian Tom (www.look4tom.com), who we last saw in Bandar Abbas just before we got the ferry to Dubai. He had taken his car to India but left it there and continued his journey on his KTM motorbike though Asia. It turned out that he was in Vientianne as well and we met up with him and his friend Klaus for more coffee, a few beers and a good old story swap.

Our decision not to take the car to India seems to have been the right one listening to the nightmare/ horror stories Austrian Tom told us of getting his car there, through customs and driving on the roads. It also turns out that Tom (we can drop the Austrian bit now, you know who he is) will be in Perth when we are, yeah! We have a friend in Australia! He also promised to teach us windsurfing while we wait for the car to turn up. Personally I doubt I’ll need many lessons, as I have a feeling I’m a natural but Megan will take a lot of work. Look out for photos of me in a wetsuit in the near future… I strongly suggest you finish any large meals first- there will be a parental warning (probably  PG15) as well on that particular blog so not to worry, you’ll have plenty of notice.

After bidding farewell to Laos we then started the drive back into Thailand and continued doing battle with the shippers. We had started making enquires into shipping the car to Perth about a month ago but had got nowhere. Emails went unanswered, the quotes we did receive were either crazy high or ridiculously cheap and therefore not inclusive of all the costs. It got to the stage where we seriously considered taking the Land Rover apart and carrying it on the plane as excess baggage. Then all of a sudden Megan had a breakthrough! Following another stupid email from a shipping agent asking the same question I had answered ten days before and suggesting a date for shipping which would have required us to drive at an average speed of 107.5mph in 24 hours in order to get there I finally had a little cry and gave up. Megan however took over, and within thirteen minutes found an English guy on the web who could not only help us but also had somewhere we could clean the car and get it serviced before he shipped it. It made me sick, five weeks, five weeks it had taken me, 38 emails to three different shippers, and she nailed it thirteen bloody minutes!?! I had another little cry and lost all the man points I had gained over the last few weeks.

So we left for the border with a plan, me in a sulk and Megan looking a little bit too chuffed with herself. The car would be shipped in ten days, which would give us enough time to get to Bangkok and get Harriet looking her best for the customs inspection in Fremantle. The border crossing went smoothly. Well, there was the mandatory run around- I think we visited five different offices in order to get the Carnet stamped, but as we are so relaxed about it all now we both commented on the fact that only two hours for a signature and a bit of paper was ‘quite good actually’.

We finally arrived in Bangkok and after a night in the most expensive hostel in the world we went off to meet the English guy who could arrange our shipping. The English guy had a name, Tim, and Tim is our hero. He owns a company called Siam Motor World (www.siammotorworld.com) and without him we would not have been able to get the car packed and off to Australia. He sorted out all the shipping and let use his garage for a week for free. What a guy.

Now we get to the reason why this blog was so long in coming. In order to get any car into Australia you have to make sure it is spotlessly clean, inside and out and it must not contain any mud, seeds or anything that could endanger the eco-systems of our Australia cousins. Initially I didn’t think it would take too long to clean the Land Rover however, after the first couple of hours it became obvious just how long this was going to take us. Laos had coved everything, and I mean everything in the back of the car in a fine film of dust, and the underside of the car was still covered in tar from Turkey, with mud mixed into it for good measure.

Basically we took the car apart, cleaned it, and put it back together. It took a total of 96 man-hours, nine separate arguments between us, four ruined T-shirts, one pair of crocs,  and lost three fingernails. At one stage I actually threw the scraper I was using to chip tar off the bottom of the car across the garage in a proper bloke fit! More last man points. I took care of the underside of the car and the engine, taking the wheels off and scraping off the tar in the wheel wells, taking the radiator out and power washing the engine. Megan emptied all our boxes, cleaned all our equipment, repacked it all, and cleaned the inside of the car. They were long days, 7am till 7pm, in temperatures no sane Englishman should work in.

However, come Thursday afternoon we had done the best we could. Will it be good enough? We will all have to wait and see…. We really can’t thank Tim enough, he went above a beyond to help us and if anyone is shipping out of or into Thailand or needs anything car related in Thailand he is the only man to see.

So that’s it, the car is again in a container, making its way to Oz and we are off to Singapore to visit some friends. We miss her and the freedom she gives us…sniff sniff…..damn it Simon, no tears!

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Update 3.0

Posted: February 8, 2011 in Laos

So we have updated a couple of things;

  • There is now information on the ‘useful information’ page!
  • Megan has done the Malaysia expenses and the total over view.
  • We have also updated the itinerary on the ‘where are we now’ page
  • The Spot is not really working very well but I update our location on Google maps every day, just click on the Sat Nav.
  • There are a few more pictures on ‘readers’ drive’ page

As you can tell we have a good internet connection at the moment and I’ve drunk far to much coffee, hence our productivity.

Finally we are shipping the car from Bangkok to Oz but it’s going to takes about 3 weeks to get it back the other end. Perth without a car or tent is going to be uber expensive sooooo….. anyone know of a cheap cheap place to stay in the Perth area?!?

Laos: I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know this country existed before I started planning the trip. Embarrassing yes, but isn’t finding out about new places what this trip is all about? Admittedly finding out about an entire new country might be verging on ignorant, but at least I know now. Did you know there was a country called Bhutan as well?? Bet you didn’t.

Anyway, our first few hours in Laos were spent queuing for a visa and finding somewhere to pump the offside front (that’s the passenger side…I think) tyre up. There seemed to be no puncture so either someone let the air out of the wheel because they didn’t want to leave Thailand (let’s all turn and look at Megan at the same time) or the Michelin fairies took it… I’m sure you will agree that there can’t be any other explanation as to why a tyre would go flat for no reason.

With the air pressures all now correct we pushed on to our first stop in our first communist country. The guide book says that driving in Laos has been greatly improved now that all the roads have been surfaced. Liars. Dirty, cheating, misinforming liars! Within 30 minutes the road finished and we found ourselves driving on a rutted track with car swallowing pot holes and enough dust to block out the sun. At first it was quite exciting; a bit of off roading, getting the car a bit dirty, earning some man stripes, plus for the first time on this trip bringing a Land Rover was kind of justified! but after an hour of dirt tracks, an average speed of 20mph  and with another 100 miles to go the mood inside the car turned bleak.

The driving was also very tiring: constantly looking for the best route through, trying to keep the car from shaking itself apart, and not hitting hysterical chickens running across the road. I failed on the last challenge and did unfortunately hit one chicken. In my defense I avoided it the first time it ran in front of us, but then it clearly felt cocky and tried its luck again!?! This time no amount of braking, swerving or swearing helped and there followed an explosion of feathers at the front of the car. Looking at each other guiltily we stopped to see if we could give the owner of the unlucky/stupid foul some money for his loss, but he simply smiled and waved us on. I get the feeling exploding chickens is the norm on these roads.

We finally made it our first stop, Luang Namtha, after 4 hours of very slow driving. Laos is clearly a poorer nation than Thailand and the town we stopped at was nothing more than a street with a few shops on it and a couple of guesthouses. It was less than 100kms to the Chinese border and the place definitely had a Chinese feel to it, probably because of all the Chinese people there on holiday for Chinese New Year. It was kind of cool being so close to the border but also rather frustrating that we were unable to cross into China without having to pay silly amounts of money.

We spent two nights at Luang Namtha, slowly breaking ourselves into Laos. We also took some time to catch up on a bit of maintenance and changed the break pads on the front of the car, as we had been warned that the roads were going to get steeper. Given the fact that these haven’t been changed once while I’ve owned the car, as well as the strange burning smells wafting around on the last drive we thought it best to do this sooner rather than later! Now, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here but changing the pads was all rather easy and the task was carried out in under an hour. With the Land Rover’s previous history we both thought it would be one of those jobs where you start off thinking it’ll take 5 minutes but after 4 hours and the entire front end of the car in pieces, tools scattered everywhere and frantic phone calls back to the mechanics at Douglass Motors, it would actually take all day. Not this time though, nailed it in 47 minutes, with the addition of a few more man points for Simon.

From Luang Namtha we headed for Luang Prabang, a drive of 250 kms, and 6 hours of more of the same road conditions as we had experienced on our last drive. The drives are interesting though as there is only one road running between these towns and it takes in amazing views and small insights into village life. The villages themselves are often simply a collection of bamboo huts on stilts with a single water tap to supply the whole village with their water, and most don’t even seem to have electricity. Although these people are clearly poor there is always a smile and a wave from the children and grown ups and not once have we been approached for money. I have to say that these are some of the most enjoyable days we have spent on the road. There is just so much to see, a visual feast.

Driving into Luang Prabang we met Wilm and Sylvi, a German couple in a 4×4 Mercedes van doing the same sort of route as us around Laos. It’s always good to meet fellow overlanders and complain to each other about the state of the roads and petrol prices. The average backpacker just doesn’t seem to be interested in discussing the octane content of South Eastern Asian diesel, losers.

We both found Luang Prabang very interesting, even if it was a bit touristy. Our hotel was a converted French colonial home and was simply beautiful. The town is a world heritage site (is there anywhere in Asia that isn’t??) and a lot of the buildings date from the time the French occupied Indochina. The majority of them have been restored and are now hotels or restaurants, and they look simply amazing. Luang Prabang’s not a cheap place though and a lot of the tourists are middle aged Europeans- no dreadlocks here, just a lot of chino wearing and pastel jumpers tied around necks, a far better type of traveler. We yet again whiled away the days wandering around the streets, monk spotting, and people watching in cafés, something of a habit with us now. We spoke to people who did not like Luang Prabang; too many people and not much to see, but in our view it was like a whole town run by the National Trust. The houses were truly stunning and we both found more than one we wanted to buy and live in! Mums would love it, or maybe we’re just getting old….

On a final note can I just say that Laotian (is that right?) coffee is amazing: I intend to start an export company shipping it into Europe and will be taking orders very soon if anyone wants to get in on the ground floor…