June 2003 – Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, UK
Hello. Observant readers will have noticed that there wasn’t a May issue so we intend to have two June issues this month to make up for it. We’ve been back in the UK a couple of days, recovering from the shock of receiving nearly two months email in one shot, and are trying to find a home and get back to reality.
Immediately after we sent the April issue to you, we headed to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand before travelling down the Mekong to Luang Prabang in Laos. A traveller’s revolt over an insurance scam and two floating dead bodies added (subtracted?) to the river and bankside scenery.
The next four days were spent getting wet as Laos celebrated its new year with buckets of water and water guns – neither the police or the monks were spared a soaking. The western contingent armed themselves to combat each other, the locals – both kids and adult – and the drive-by water shootings.
The highlight took place on a sandbar in the Mekong: an orgy of water, flour, dye, alcohol, bamboo fireworks, sandcastles and throwing the local children in the river.
Laos and the Laos people must be amongst the best in the world but we had to say goodbye to them and all our boat friends and travel north to China. China without a guidebook and any Chinese is a rewarding challenge. Our reason for heading there, the old city of Li Jiang, was, though undeniably beautiful, a bit too chocolate box and characterless so we spent most of our time in the walled city of Dali.
The Chinese in Yunnan are pleasant and will bend over backwards to be helpful but they can’t get their heads around the fact that you cannot speak or read their very difficult language. A simple task like buying a bag of crisps is both amusing and frustrating as someone trying to help points to the Chinese writing as if to say, “Look it says there what flavour they are.”
Vietnam came next. Both beautiful and stressful the country leaves mixed feelings to most that travel there. Sapa has both gorgeous mountain and jungle scenery and hill tribe women following you around trying to peddle drugs and bangles. Hanoi is vibrant and stylish but you’ll want to smack at least one or two postcard sellers in the mouth as “no” repeated a dozen times won’t cut it. If you don’t spend every last dong in this so called communist country on a hawker’s goods you risk offense. The south is better though.
The Mekong once again carried us towards a lovely country, this time to Cambodia. Phnom Penh is a city of contrasts – expensive houses and sheep grazing in ruined buildings live side by side and elephants stroll around downtown. Mighty fine happy pizza too. We saved the best of our trip to last: Angkor. One word: fantastic.
Now we are back there is a lot of catching up to do, both with email and to get the site back up to scratch. Shame we can’t go around the world again.
Now we are back in the UK it is time to end the introduction we included in every issue detailing our travels: I’m confident you don’t want to hear how we’re loafing around my mother’s house, looking for a new home and trying to persuade friends to help us move.