Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Progress of a Nomad

This is a couple maps showing where I've been and my progress so far on this trip. The journey is far from over. Next up: Siem Riep and the temples of Angkor Wat

I started off in South Africa, and worked my way over land to Tanzania. From Dar Es Salem I flew to  Bangkok 

The black line is what I've already done, the green, what's next

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Nomad Chronicals

I lead a restless kind of life
wandering around, my only vise.
I get bord so easy, no one can understand,
the only thing to do, is wander the land.
I rode up Table Mountain, loving the heights,
but a week later I had Zambia in my sights.
I checked out Vic Falls, what a wonderful view,
but couldn't help thinking, what can I see a-new?
I went diving in Tofo, thinking I would never leave.
A week later I found myself in Malawi.
Monkey Bay was fun, for the time I was there,
though I was distracted, with Tanzania in the cross hair.
Zanzibar is a place, people stay for eternity,
unless you are me, not done with the journey.
Africa is great, not to be missed,
and with Asia next door, what more can one wish?
I flew into Bangkok, flip flops and all,
not one second, would I stall.
My friends all said "Thailand, what a good idea"
but a couple weeks later, I woke up in Cambodia.
I went to the beach, I went to the temples,
right about then, life seemed real simple.
That night I dreamed of great beauty, in a far away land,
It seemed like a new passport stamp was soon at hand.
Vietnam, now that was a treat,
but all of the sudden, Laos sounded real neat.
If I continue this story, I think you'll see,
wandering the world, is the only thing for me.
the things I see are never enough,
when greener pastures can be seen over the bluff.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Backpacker's Haven

Vang Vieng. What can I say about the place? A friend back home was doing some reading about the place I was in and read "If the world was ruled by teenagers, it would look something like Vang Vieng." Well, can't argue with that. A town where a bottle of Tiger whiskey is cheaper than either a bottle of water or Coke, and drugs like opium, marijuana and mushrooms are easily obtained at any bar, is just what party goers wish for. Not only does the town never sleep, it seems the whole place is set up just for the crazy westerners, wanting to go on the binge, all the way from bars on every corner with no drinking age, year round river tubing, with bars lining the river that you float up to, cheap mix drinks that can be bought by the bucket, and even the sandwich makers on every sidewalk, every street, ready to feed the drunks. Whiskey is so cheap that at any bar on either the streets or the river will have a platter of free shots waiting for you as you step in, usually with a cute girl there assuring you that you need yet another shot. At what some of us came to call the "pshycadelic" bars, signs advertising happy shakes, weed pizzas, and hash brownies are intermittent with the drinking bars. You walk in, order your poison, and they roll a joint for you and your friends on the spot. These are usually the quiet bars, where the pot heads can regularly be seen sitting on the big pillow lounge platforms, maybe chatting, maybe just staring at the crazy graffiti walls, lights low, Jimmi Hendrix music soft. It seems the town has something for everyone. I haven't even mentioned the hookers, pool tournaments, shopping or any of those kinds of things.

Vang Vieng is great, everyday like an intensified spring break in Cancun, but five days there is definitely enough. Take it from someone that was there 13 days, and not only seen a lot of bad things, but felt like I needed a detox session after day 4. Every morning I would wake up shaky and swearing I would never drink again, but night comes around, and your worries are forgotten. It wasn't only the great amounts of vodka or whiskey buckets, free shots and Beer Lao I managed to consumed, it was also the M-150 they mix into the bucket drinks. M-150 is what I would call Red bull's evil little brother. It is illegal in the States, as it is more potent and unhealthy than red bull. One guy even told me it had some of the same ingredients as speed. When ever you ordered a vodka/red bull bucket, they would give you a half bottle of cheap vodka, and two or three bottles of M-150. It tastes really good actually, but after about three or four buckets, it takes it's toll. Do that everyday for a week, and that's just asking for a heart attack. I added up the drinks and came up with something like 80 bottles of M-150 in 13 days. That's bad, but I was a relatively moderate drinker compared to a lot of the people I met. At the time I figured, Eh, it's a vacation from my vacation, a break from constant travel, time to let loose. Well I'm glad it's over.
After a while I started seeing a dark side to Vang; the crooked cops. The first incident was when a friend of mine was handed a joint by a "undercover" cop, while walking from bar to bar. When he took a puff, cops walked up and arrested him. They took him to jail and beat the hell out of him, billy clubs and all. Then they took him to his guesthouse and forced him to get his credit card, then took him to the ATM and with threats of imprisonment and more beatings, made him withdrawal five million kip, about $600. I figured this was an isolated incident, but then people started showing up with very similar stories.

Then one night, a guy from our guest house overdosed on heroin and died. A friend of mine and another guy tried reviving him for 45 minutes to no avail, after hearing screams from the guys girlfriend. The owner had called an ambulance, and even though the town is tiny, it took an hour to get there. Then when they did get there, they would do nothing. The two guys carried the body them selves, army style, down the stairs and to the ambulance. Still no one would help, and they had to open the doors them selves and get him in. By this time, the police showed up and search the guys pockets, where they found some pills and a needle. Then they went to the guys room and found huge quantities of drug. They went back down, arrested the two guys that tried saving him, figuring it was their drugs too, even though they weren't even staying with him or anything. The dead guy's girlfriend had long ago taken her stuff and ditched, never to return to pay the room bill. There was a general outcry going on right about then, needless to say. Later, I saw the guys, a little bruised, and very run down and depressed looking, and they said they had to come up with around $2500 each, or were spending life in prison. That's a big leap, but all the cops care about is money. A collection was made, and eventually money was sent from home, and they were "pardoned", but by then we were all sick of the place, and about six of us took the bus to Vientiane the next day.
To the non-partyer, Vang Vieng is actually a huge recreational area. The surrounding cliffs have enough rock climbing areas to keep a climber busy for months. There is lots of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, and there's even some fishing going on. Down the road some, there is the blue lagoon, with a small waterfall, that people can rope swing into, and swim in. Mountain bikes can be rented, and trips made to the mountains or river. Tour operators even offer hot-air balloon rides, offering some of the best photography I'm sure, as the area is immensely beautiful. So all in all, I had a great time here, albeit a crazy one. It is definitely the place to see in Laos, and I even heard it described as the party town of Asia, something I can definitely attest to.


Monday, March 21, 2011

My Travel bucket list

I was once on a travel blog sharing site, and I ran into a group of people sharing their "travel bucket lists" and the things that they had crossed off so far. One of their objectives was to hopefully meet other people with similar lists, that they could plan trips with. Well I can't say that this all gave me the idea to write my own list, considering I've had one for a long time, but maybe by sharing it, I can get some more motivation or possibly, some company for the next adventure. I have more things than just travel related stuff on my list, things like 'become divemaster' or 'raft a category 5', but considering this is a travel blog, I'll only list the travel related stuff. The ones that are underlined are ones I've marked off.

 My Travel Bucket List

~Set foot on all 7 continents                     ~Spend three months or more abroad 
~Learn a second language                        ~Spearfish in Costa Rica
~Set foot in all 50 states                           ~Ride a camel in Mongolia
~Ride an elephant in Asia                         ~Study abroad
~Dive with whales                                    ~Backpack from Mexico to Panama
~Cage dive with sharks in S. Africa          ~Drink vodka in Russia
~Eat sushi in Japan                                   ~Spend New Years in exotic location

~Swim with sharks                                   ~Road trip across a country
~Fish in the Amazon                                 ~See the seven natural wonders -- II
~Motor bike through a country                 ~Marti Gras in New Orleans
~Ride Trans-Siberian rail                          ~Get a tattoo in a foreign country

~Eat shark abroad                                    ~Eat croc/gator abroad
~October Fest in Germany                        ~Dive the great barrier
~See the big five in Africa                          ~Set foot in 50 or more countries
~Volunteer in Africa                                  ~Be in Rio for Carnival
~Stay abroad for two or more years          ~Dive for Lobster

~Dive Borneo                                           ~See running with bulls in Spain
~Backpack from Thailand to Indonesia      ~Hitch hike in a foreign country

~See the Great Wall of China                    ~Backpack through Australia
~Work in a foreign country                        ~Circum navigate the globe
~Swim with sting rays

I realize that some people's list may be more detailed or ambitious like "Save a starving and malnutritioned homeless child in rural Burkina Faso", but by keeping my list broad yet simple, I believe I am perfectly capable of checking off each thing by the time I turn 30 years old. If and when I do, I'll definitely be making a new list with earth shattering standards. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vang Vieng


For the first two days of our being in Vang Vieng, the rain never let up. To me, the rain and cloudiness only intensified the beauty of the surrounding mountain peaks. To make a long story short, I'll just say that the scenery here is a photographers dream, and I'll let the pictures do the talking.

After a few days of lazing around in lounge bars, alternating between watching old episodes of either "Friends" or "Family Guy", and drinking cheap beer, I woke up one morning to a sunny and nice day. The fog had lifted, rain clouds disappeared, and every one's moods changed. When I said we watched a lot of "Friends" and "Family Guy", I am referring to the fact that for some reason, every lounge bar plays the two shows over and over all day, everyday. We would go hang out in the big cushioned sitting areas, order a few drinks, and escape from the rain. If any of you reading this have been to Vang Vieng, you know exactly what I mean.

As soon as the weather permitted, we headed for the river to do what we've been hearing about all over South East Asia: Tubing the river. First stop was the Q bar, which can only be accessed by crossing a rickety bamboo bridge over the Mekong. Once there, people by the dozens are hanging out, playing drinking games, dancing and socializing, all on a big deck protruding out over the river. Also on the deck is a big tower that people climb and then zip line down to the water. Across the river and down stream some, other very similar bars can be seen, and in time, everyone at the Q bar migrates to the next joint down river, some by walking, most by floating in truck tire tubes. This process is repeated until there are no more bars to float to, then everyone gets tuk tuks home. The whole ordeal is background by an amazing view of the towering cliffs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Savannakhet to Vientiane

Leaving Savannakhet
So far, on my epic journey, I have come across a lot of good luck. I had mentioned in previous posts that I was very lucky when it came to having my own rows in buses or planes, lucky for never getting sick, robbed, or jumped, as many fellow travelers around me did, hell, just plain lucky to be doing this trip in the first place. Well this week my luck hasn't changed a bit. When Joelee and I decided to go buy our bus tickets to Vientiane, it was a whole lot of hassle. The first counter girl we asked for prices rudely said "no bus today" then turned around to watch the t.v. We weren't even asking about buses for that day. So we walked to the next window to try our luck with ticket girl #2. This girl was at least as rude, and I had to let Joe do the talking so I didn't have to apply the ol strangle hold. As she was doing the talking, other rude locals would just walk straight up, nudge their way in front of her, and start talking over her. Making it even more frustrating was the fact that the ticket girl would stop paying attention to us, and help the louder customer, rolling her eyes at the annoying westerners. But, after me telling a guy to beat it, and fending off others, even to the point of getting a little pushy, and Joe doing the negotiating, we got our tickets.

Unfortunately the sleeper bus that we wanted was booked, so we had to take the dreaded sitting up bus for the 10 hour journey. To make matters worse, other travelers were constantly complaining about the cruddy roads in Laos, making our up coming, sitting up journey a dreadful thought. Before any of you start saying "so where does this supposedly good luck kick in", well I'm getting there.

The only ticket we could get had us leaving at 9:30 pm, which meant we either had to check out of our hotel at the regular time of noon and then hang around town all day with our luggage, or we could just leave around 8, and hope they wouldn't charge us for another night. Well, you guessed it, we took a gamble (my idea, not Joe's) and it paid off. when I went in to tell them we were leaving, and would like to pay for the night before, they didn't say a word about the very late check out. Next piece of luck kicks in as we disembark from the tuk tuk at the bus station and a guy checks our tickets. When we ask him what bus it was, he kinda just smirked as if to say "the one all rich foreigners take, stupid" and pointed to the right bus and said simply "VIP". VIP was right. We gazed in delight at the biggest bus that I've ever seen or ridden in. It was a two story, reclining seat, AC equipped, t.v wielding mega bus, easily twice the size of the sleepers we've ridden in. When we got on, we were also delighted to see that the chairs reclined so far back that it was almost flat. The only way this can work however, was for everyone to lay back, otherwise the person in front of them would be in their lap, which had this big boy a little nervous.

Luck struck again believe it or not, twice more. First thing was the seat situation. When everyone was getting situated and settled in their seats, I watched in cruel delight as the guy in front of me was struggling to get his to recline. After a while he finally gave up trying. Let me translate: The seat in front of me was the only one on the entire bus that would not recline, ironically giving the biggest dude on the bus the most room. Still not that lucky you say? Well add that to the fact that I was already sitting next to the beautiful, tiny, Joelee, that takes up no room, and well, you know what I'm saying. The second thing was when after only eight hours of travel, we were waken up and told that we were in Vientiane. We didn't feel one pot hole or hear even one blow of the horn, and the 10 hour journey was over inn 8. Now, sitting under the fan in my room at the Mixay guesthouse, I thank my lucky stars, and wonder what's next for a nomad in Laos. Maybe some river floating in Vang Vieng.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Laos Time

For the last five days, Hue has been cloudy and rainy. Not sure if it is a constant here, but I have no cold weather clothes with me, and am a little tired of being cold. My travel buddy, Jae, has long since left me in the dust, due to her tight schedule and my lack of being in a hurry for anything. On the up side, I met another really cool girl named Joelee. She is also tired of the cold, and both of our visas for Vietnam are up, so together we caught a bus to Laos. We took a three hour mini bus ride to the Lao Bao border crossing, and after getting our stamps and what-not, got on a bigger bus for the 4 hours or so to Savannakhet. The views on the Vietnam side of the border were exquisite, some of the best in the world, and this is coming from someone that grew up in the beautiful Colorado. However, as soon as we were through the border, the landscape changed drastically. All of the sudden it was very hot again, and instead of mountains and streams, rice patties and jungles, it turned into barren deserts and burnt up rice fields. It kind of reminded me of parts of Malawi infact. Now before some of you comment saying that on the contrary, Laos is very beautiful, keep in mind that I just got here, and am only talking about the highway area between Lao Bao and Savannakhet. Very soon I will be traveling north, and am sure the landscape will once again impress. In fact, today Joe and I bought our bus tickets to Vientiane, and will head even farther north from there, planning on floating the Mekong river.

For today though, we are in the not so touristy town of Savannakhet. We have maybe encountered 3 other westerners, and have had quite the hard time communicating to anyone, as English is not so prevalent. The town is such a huge change from Vietnam, or any of Laos' neighbors for that matter. The street are virtually abandoned, traffic non existent, compared to the busy rat race with thousands of scooters trying to run you over that I am use to. Kind of nice for a change. No one asking us if we want a tuk tuk every 2 minutes, no one following us around trying to sell us sunglasses. The backpacker we are staying at is $3 a night, which turns into $1.50 if you are sharing with someone. Can't complain about that....Oh and Facebook works again, it was banned in Vietnam.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Purple Forbiden City of Hue

Dodge the ricshaw, step out of the way of the family teetering past on a scooter, apologise for bumping into a passer by, ogle the padthai in the street-side food stall, ignore the restaurant tout, deny money to 2 beggers, 1 hooker and a sun-glasses sales man and... you are in Hue. Walk a little farther and you are in the Imperial Forbiden city.

In the early 19th century, Emperor Gia Long comanded that an Imperial city, inspirired by the Forbidden City in Beijing, be constructed in Hue. Tens of thousands of workers were conscripted to build a ten kilometer mote and dirt wall, wich was later replaced be a stone wall three meters thick. The citadel was situated facing east towards the Perfume river.  When done, the Purple Forbiden City was huge. However in 1968 during the war, the United States orderd the city of Hue to be retaken, to establish the DMZ. Bombs destroyed most of the city, which was a supprise to me, considering how much of it was left standing. When the city was declared a World Heritage Site, a lot of it was rebuilt, but most of it was converted into huge rice fields. The day I was there, the weather was cloudy and foggy, creating an awesome mystique to the place.

Since Hue is the former DMZ from the war, there were some American military pieces on display around the city, including a guided tour that took you to the main areas of fighting, where you were warned not to stray from the paths, for fear of land mines.

Monday, March 7, 2011

World Heritage Sights

Here is a list of all the World Heritage sights I've been to on this trip, with many more to come.      

Table Mountain. Cape Town South Africa. A candidate for one of the new wonders of the world

Victoria Falls. 7th natural wonder of the world. Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Lake Malawi conservation area. Malawi

Stone Town, Zanzibar Island. Tanzania

Temples of My Son (may-sone). Hoi An, Vietnam.