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I done fucked up.

May 29, 2014
By Asmodeane in Posts

There has got to be a first time for everything, right? So last monday was the first time I was ever late for boarding a plane.

What I saw of Berlin

What I saw of Berlin

I landed in Berlin and had about 45 minutes of layover time, and went to my gate to ask when I should be there in order to be on time yet not too early.  The flight attendant at the gate told me to be there in half an hour, that would be enough. So I went to a bar, naturally, one with free wifi. Opened my laptop, ordered one beer. IRCed, facebooked, did whatever until I suddenly notice that my half an hour is up, and I am three minutes late. There were no announcements about gates closing, no last calls, nothing. Apparently they don’t do announcements at Berlin Tegel, at least not in the pre-security check section of the “donut”. So I’m not too worried. I do a fast walk to the gate only to be told that sorry, you’re nine minutes too late. Please report to AirBerlin counter. I duly did, only to be shocked into a modicum of sobriety by the pricetag of 400€ on the cheapest flight to Cologne on the same night. I whipped out my long suffering VISA, sighed, and paid up…

This guy at least worked for his cents.

This guy at least worked for his cents.

I went back to that same bar with free wifi, bowed by the terrible fiscal consequences of my misdeed. 400€! That’s more than I paid for my laptop a few days ago! I was ready to howl with rage… Until it dawned on me to check the prices for train & bus tickets to Cologne. I found that it would only cost 40€ to leave Berlin that same night and arrive in Cologne the following morning, so I went back to the AirBerlin counter and requested my money back. The cashier told that it was impossible, but saw my expression and relented. He looked around and asked, lowering his voice: “Did you already check in?” I said no. Well, fine, he said, and started clicking away at his terminal. After a bit of sighing and brow-wiping he cancelled my ticket and (hopefully) payment, I hopped in a cab and went off to Berlin’s bus station.

There I attempted to buy a ticket from the only booth that remained open, but was told that I am out of luck, and would have to try getting a ticket from the driver, provided he had any free places. I bought a couple of beers and settled in to wait for the 23:45 bus, that I think went via Hanover and Dortmund. The wait was fun, I read my kindle and chatted with a guy from Riga who was on his way home from London, where he worked for a year as a bartender. Time flew, the bus came, there were places (I had two seats to myself so could even sort of sleep at night), and hey, I was only 50€ down and a cool experience richer, even if I slept throughout (with the exception off rolling off the seat when the driver pressed the brakes with too much enthusiasm) the night journey… Still, I hope I won’t be late for the plane on my way back, will be harder to catch a bus from Berlin to Helsinki.

As for Germany… Well fuck. It was rainy and gray. Annoying relatives alternatively filled me with annoyance and anxiety, the same boring old town, only moderately nice thing being cheap beer. The only thing that changed since last November was that there were more beggars on the streets. Both Roma and young local(ish?) punk losers. And people actually gave them money, which baffled me. I don’t think anyone does that in Finland any more. I can’t wait to go home tomorrow. Luckily I’ll be off at the break of dawn…

By Asmodeane in Posts

Yep, I’m at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport once again, waiting for an Air Berlin 737-800 to take me to Cologne, Germany. Well actually I’m flying in to Düsseldorf, via Berlin, then taking a local train to Cologne, it’s only about 20 - 25 minutes away. Will prolly just go as a fare dodger, since they never seem to check tickets…

A quaint look for the flagship of dictatorship

A quaint look for the flagship of dictatorship

What’s been up lately, you might ask. Well, nothing much. After I came back from my epic Indochina trip, I’ve been busy studying at the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, ranked 26th in Finland and 5591st worldwide. Finishing my BBA. And it’s been one long holiday, to tell the truth. Too relaxing. I’ve managed to complete all the courses just by coasting along, but that is far from productive. I procrastinate, I neglect home assignments, voluntary work, group work… I barely read for the exams, and that is bringing my grade down. The grade doesn’t matter much, but it might matter if I aim to get into an exchange uni of my choice. I think I’ll try for London, we have some surprisingly decent partner universities there. I thought of maybe going to the New World, but all the partners we have Stateside are in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. I’d rather be stuck in London than in Hancock, Minnesota.

Women's 10k. Note the Mascot.

Women's 10k. Note the Mascot.

This picture of the day (and I do apologize for the quality, I used paint to resize and no editing was done at all, don’t have any tools on this new lappy yet) is of the Helsinki Women’s 10k. Girlfriend ran it with her work mates. I was teh support team, looking after her shit and oggling jiggly boobs for a couple of hours. Anyway, I guess I’d better board soon, have a leak and maybe buy some candy from the overpriced tax-free shops. They are promising thunder in Düsseldorf, so might have an interesting landing. Will make sure I film it, so that some redditor working in rescue services can pry the melted camera from my charred, disembodied hand they’ll find in the wreckage of my 737. Then they’ll upload it to YouTube. And I’ll be famous. And finally happy.

Vat vat, in the…

February 7, 2014
By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

After having a semi-decent breakfast at a semi-western place (I picked up Alistair Mclean’s “South by Java Head” there, as well), we went to pick up our bikes. Two dollars exchanged hands and we were the proud temporary owners of two six-speed bikes with properly inflated tires and tightened chains. Even the gears worked most of the time! It was a sheer delight to cycle along half-way decent asphalt, cool morning (by that point I found anything below 30c pleasantly cool).

We set off towards the Siem Reap river, a river that runs through the whole Siem Reap province and bisects the city. It was a bit harrowing, at first, to drive among the traffic, swallowing dust and exhaust smoke. But eventually you figure out the rules and it becomes easy enough, if you take care and watch out for the occasional (rather frequent, really) scooter barreling down towards you against the direction of the traffic. Once we reached the river we followed it north, later taking the Charles De Gaulle road towards the admission offices of the Angkor complex. Many mistakenly think that there is more than one “official” point of entry, that you can buy tickets at any point, but nope. You’ll have to go to the one and only building where they sell the tickets. We only bought a 20$ day ticket as we (correctly, as it turned out) thought that one day would be enough to see the Vats.

The vats were pretty gorgeous. And huge! And there were tons! I mean, we’ve all seen many pictures of the things, it’s even a miracle in the Civ games, and we have our own preconceptions. I thought that they’d be more inaccessible and overrun by jungle. And I guess they were, about a hundred years ago. But nowadays there are thousands of tourists, it’s all paved roads, mowed lawns and well marked footpaths. Oh, they even market one of the Vats as “The Tomb Raider Vat” because the Angelina Jolie movie featured some scenes filmed there. It turned out to be the most crowded one of them all, which seriously detracted from the experience. Truly sad, since it was one of the more spectacular vats of the area, with dark, brooding jungle, temple ruins, tree roots everywhere… And hordes of Asian tourists. Which often means spit and litter everywhere. We loved the vats, honestly, we did! It’s just that I wish there was a way to see them without the constant Zerg rush of tourists. And the way back was even more fun than the way there, since we were going home just before sundown, in the evening traffic jam. Grown-ups were smiling, children were waving and shouting hello from cars and motorcycle, mostly to the pale ginger wonder, but I got some token waves as well… We reached the hotel covered in diesel soot and dead tired, so handed over our bikes and had a shower. The unholy racket upstairs had stopped, but we decided to buy a 15$ bus ticket to Koh Chang, Thailand, anyway, since we were a bit tired of the third world vibe by now, and just wanted to enjoy the sun and the sea before returning to freezing Finland.

The bus arrived early in the morning, but not as early as advertised, causing me to spend an hour nervously pacing up and down the road. But, hey, local concepts of time and all that. We were afraid that we’d have to board a dinky pickup or something, but no, a shiny new double decker pulled up an hour later. We were then quickly whiscked to the border,where we had to crowd into a tiny tin-roofed shack filled to the brim with tourists, queued up in an orderly fashion (thank god) before four passport control windows. That was a tad depressing, what with the +35c heat and the press of unwashed bodies, but we made it, and it took only about 45 minutes, after which it was a matter of a short treck across no-man’s land (with a huge casino-hotel complex on it) to the Thai side. Where things got a little worse. We had to queue up with other Farangs for almost two hours to get out entry stamps. At least they had air conditioning, and the civil servants were friendly and apologetic, with one lady, seemingly in charge, rushing about taking pictures of the obscenely long queue, telling everyone that the photos would go to “the big bossman” in order for him to understand the need for more passport control officials. But in the end it was all but a waiting game, and after shuffling our way through the customs we were breathing the sweet, sweet Thai air once again. And this is where the cheapness of our ticket showed, we were divvied into groups and made to board small minivans which would then take us to our destinations, Koh Chang in our case. That took another two hours… By that time I didn’t particularly care. As long as we weren’t abandoned to fend for ourselfs I was happy as a clam.

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Come to Cambodia!

January 14, 2014
By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

We arrived at Siem Reap at 2am, shrouded by a cloud of all-penetrating fine dust. It didn’t register, at first, the arrival. There was nothing outside except dust and some lights, way too few for a city of Siem Reap’s size. This could have been any one of the numerous stops along the way, except for the tired and extremely sweaty driver that stood in the middle of the isle screaming “Siiieeeam Reeeeappp!!”.

We piled out into the dust, wary and disoriented, full of scary stories about the predatory Cambodian Tuk Tuk drivers, adolescent cutpurses and hotel scammers. And yes, we were immediately swarmed by a crowd of Tuk Tuk drivers, but they were surprisingly polite and attentive, all “pardon me” and “excuse me”, in very passable King’s English. We stood bewildered while the french backpackers, by far the largest group on the bus, negotiated their transfer to whatever rape rooms they had booked. We were starting to feel a little left out of this party, to be honest, but then a slight young man with a gentle voice inquired whether we “are in need of transportation”. We dumbly nodded, and he proposed a fare of 2$ each, more than fair. We clambered onto his tiny Tuk Tuk and rattled off into the cool Cambodian night.

I don’t know what that was, really, that gaggle of improbably polite Tuk-Tuk drivers. Maybe they were too timid to work the day shift with the rough and tough, cut-throat daytime entrepreneurs and were pushed out into the less lucrative hours of the night? Whatever the cause, it was quite bizarre, let me assure you. And he wasn’t sugarcoating the sale, either. All the way to our hotel he inquired as to Sir’s well-being, where Sir was from, and whether Sir liked Laos and Vietnam now that Sir has visited them. He didn’t attempt a mutually embarrassing scam hotel trip, didn’t wheedle for more money, only delivered a monologue stating that he is available for Angkor Wat trips as well, and can be had at any time of day. I really wished I could give him more than the four dollar fare he earned from us, but I, of course, didn’t…

Our hotel was good for the price, fairly close to the night market and various other happening places in Siem Reap. I think it was called Thanak Thun. The owners were sleeping by the entrance, and were quite surprised when we did arrive, at 3am, to claim our booking. The room was ok, if a little worn and scruffy, but what can one expect at 8.5$ a day. It also had a 26″ CRT TV that lost all its marbles, as the functions of all its buttons were randomized. We took a wonderful shower, and went to sleep on moderately clean linen.

In the morning it sounded as if all hell broke loose somewhere upstairs. Running, screaming, furniture shifting, somebody dropping elephants… I opened up a bloodshot eye to find out that it was 6:30 in the morning, and that we slept something like three hours. Fuming, I went out to find out what the fuck was going out, only to find out that there was no upstairs! No stairs led further up, our second floor was as high as the hotel went! Perplexed, I rushed down to the reception to demand an explanation. The owner, with a cringe and a smile, explained to us that the building also housed a school, and that he could do nothing about the noise. Brilliant. We sighed, got up and started thinking about breakfast and our plans for the day. It was decided to rent bikes and explore the Angkor Wat independently, no rickshaws or tuk-tuk drivers!

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Tranquil pastures

January 12, 2014
By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

So where was I. We just got down to Si Phan Don last time around, didn’t we? All rumpled and bleary eyed from the overnight bus trip? Yes, we did, we did indeed. Early morning found us stumbling down the only street of Ban Nakasang on trembling rubber feet, getting on that narrow wooden ferry boat to Don Khone. We stated our destination as Pan’s Guesthouse. We didn’t have a reservation with them, of course, but it’s always good to have a specific destination to tell the driver. The boat started off full of backpackers, but all the daft buggers got off at Don Det, and we had the boat all to ourselves during the beautifully scenic 20 minute drive to Don Khone. Lonely Planet somewhat misguidedly paints Don Khone as an upscale, pricey alternative to Don Det, the happy hippy island, although it does grudgingly admit that Don Khone is “greener”, more natural, and certainly more “authentic”. As things are today, though, it is easy to see that Don Khone is the clear winner when it comes to choosing between the two. Reasons for that will follow.

We got ourselves a 100k bungalow with hot water and river view, and finally had a well earned shower and a little nap. Hah, what, a little nap? No, girly poked me out of the bungalow on an enforced march to survey the perimeter.  There turned out to be precious little to do on the island, at first glance. The island has an old, defunct, narrow gauge rail track with a couple of locomotives that are getting hard to recognize as such due to all the world wars, rust and trophy hunters. The train track was built by the french, as was everything else there, including a delightful bridge and some embankments. The Japs then used them during WW2, and the Khmers then looted most of the tracks to smelt into useless shit.

The bridge connects Don Khone to Don Det, but you can’t cross it just like that, oh no, you have to pay 25,000 KIP for a day pass. That day pass also allows you to see the larger waterfall on the west coast, Pha Pheng Falls. You can just skip the annoying paying by circling the island clockwise. It’s a long trek but it’s fun, and much easier if you rent a bike for 10k a day. The south end of the island has an old french harbor, where you can charter a boat complete with a guide for 60k and go dolphin watching. We thought that the Irrawaddy dolphin would be hard to catch a glimpse of, requiring getting up at 5am and all that naturalist crap, but apparently they hunt about at all hours of the day, with the peak hours falling conveniently at about 1 - 2 pm. We caught a few of the sausage shaped behemoths on camera, which was nice.

After that we kind of did shit all, as far as I remember. No, I mean, it’s not like we stayed inside and watched geckos fuck on the walls of our bungalow (they make the funniest sounds). We went out and looked at all the waterfalls, saw a huge greenish snake (I wanted to go after it with a bamboo stick in hope of catching some pictures but girly didn’t let me), rode the bikes, watched glorious sunsets and ate decent food, and even played a strange game with the local children, called “Slap the Ginger on the Butt”. I was too scary, dark and hairy, for the butt game. We checked out Don Det, too, and were very glad we didn’t get off the boat there with all the other backpackers. The place was claustrophobic and dark, the “Sunrise Avenue” very narrow, the restaurants overpriced and food shitty. Accommodations were priced pretty much on par with “expensive” Don Khone, except all cramped together. We also saw a drunk/stoned British cunt, who tried bumming a “backie ride” on my bike cos he was “so wasted, mate”. So yeah, skip Don Det.

We stayed in the Si Phan Don region for four nights, all of them on blissful Don Khone. When it was finally time to leave we got a 280k ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see the Angkor Wat. It was a bit of a farce, getting out of Laos. We took the boat back to Ban Nakasang, where we wasted about two hours waiting for our bus at the bus stop, exchanging the dubious looking “tickets” we got from our hotel keeper for even more dubious paper stubs. And we had to hand over our passports to a shifty looking bent-legged fellow. He had to practically pry it from girly’s clammy grip. The bus eventually came along, and we were whisked off to the border, only half an hour’s drive away, where the shifty crew took care of ALL the formalities for 30$ (instead of the official 35$), we just had to cross the no-man’s land and wait for our passports at a pleasantly shaded roadside food stall. But then of course the bus “broke”. That meant basically that the Laotians did their part and now handed us over to the Cambodians, who would either cram us into cheap minibuses or, if luck held, transfer us to an older, shittier local bus. Our luck held, and after another two hours of waiting we got on an old clunker that eventually took us all the way to Siem Reap, only 5 hours behind schedule.

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Calamities cotd.

January 9, 2014
By Asmodeane in Posts

Quite a cliffhanger I’ve left you with last time, eh, children? Don’t fret, it’ll all be resolved in the shortest order.

And yes, thus begins the tale of my woes. We took a Tuk-Tuk to the Vientiane International Clinic, where I hobbled through the empty lobby and prepared to settle down for a long, long wait. We had about six or seven hours to spare, so weren’t too worried. And we were right not to have been, since the emergency ward was well staffed and completely patient free! I got some medical attention first from a male doctor who wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and sent my girlfriend to buy them from another ward, along with some bandages and stuff. An older, motherly lady doc looked my leg over, clucked a little, looked at my shoes, shook her head and told me that as a doctor she recommends I get new footwear. The docs then stepped back and let a young giggling nurse work over my gross, smelly foot. She did a through job, thorough enough to make me wish for some local anesthetic, or at least a bit of wood to bite down on. The whole thing took about 40 minutes, and cost a bit under 20€, which I hope my insurance will eventually cover. I got instructions to clean my infected crater every day, and let it dry out at every opportunity. Lady doc then heard that we have to travel overnight, and that the wound would have to remain covered for at least 24 hours, and sighed. Stupid tourists never learn. Oh, and while I was there a pretty blonde girly came to the ward, and had to talk about the color of her diarrhea and be subjected to somewhat humiliating (no nudity, unfortunately) examinations while I smugly sat there with my gross foot on a shiny stainless steel tray. So it goes.

So our funds were now short 200,000 Kip. See, we raised about a million each for Si Phan Don, because they didn’t have ATMs there. So I had to raise some more cash, and that’s when I (probably, and hopefully) left my credit card in the ATM. My SECOND damn credit card. Yes, second! Because I left one in a Vientiane ATM about a week earlier. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am just that stupid! My imbecility knows no bounds, I gleefully leap over all and any roadblocks set by common sense. I think I reached some sort of a turning point, after which you become a bumbling middle aged ass. It happens to everyone, sooner or later… I’ve had a good run so far, and I guess entering middle age at 33 isn’t that bad.

I only found out that my card was lost at Don Khone. It was a bit of a shock, because I was now out of credit cards and had to rely on girlfriend’s funds. My beer budget is probably going to take a bit of a hit… And god knows what happened to the second card, my credit might be maxed out and this’ll turn into a very expensive trip indeed.

Finally, after an exhausting wait, it was time to try and get back to the bus station. We had bought a 170,000 Kip ticket down south on a proper sleeper bus earlier, and it was a blessing. The beds were proper, real beds, there was a toilet, the lower floor held first class berths that were almost like cabins, and the upper floor held us, the backpacker cattle. The first class people got the short end of the stick, however. Passengers were shuffling back and forth to the toilet all night long, falling over as the bus sped over bumps in the night. The ones who slept near the toilet also had the smell and the noise to contend with, and the lucky ones whose berths were set farther back, behind the toilet, had to endure the heat and the throb of the engine.

We got down to the Si Phan Don ok, in the end. Our driver sped like a mad man down the well-paved countryside roads all night, and at times it felt like we were about to veer out of control, but after a few honks and some wild gyrations things always went back to normal. We arrived at Ban Nakasang at something like 6:30 or 7am, almost well rested. Walked down the only proper street in town, bought me some 3 dollar, Chinese manufactured, squeaky flip-flops along the way, and bought a 20,000 LAK ticket to Don Khone, the (reportedly) nicest and greenest of the southern Si Phan Don islands. That was that then, we were done with our mega-trip and it was time to lay low and smell the flowers for a while.

By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

We spent a few days in Luang Prabang, wandering about the town, eating stuffed baguettes and even trying one of those crepes from a crepe stand swarmed by tourists. My previous post might have been a little bitter, and a bit unfair, but I stand by it: there is nothing to do or see in Luang Prabang. Sure, there is the Phouse Hill, the Wat on top of that and a view, then there are a few other Wats, and the Great Mekong, but honestly, that’s it, if you’re on a backpacker budget.

Our hotel, at 150k, was great. No screaming brits, hot water, a wonderful duvet… However, since this was, after all, Laos, we were woken up by discordant screams of Laotians trying to sing karaoke (tragic attempts indeed, for Laotians seem to be the least musical people on earth) or by roosters. Funny thing about roosters is, they aren’t synced. To anything. Ok, fine, so they start their howling around dawn, but with what a spread! They straddle the dawn with a goodly margin, two hours on the either side, with an occasional straggler choking out a strangled scream around noon. I, with my disdain for sleep and nerves of a dead cow, am pretty fine with being gradually introduced to reality at five AM, but girly takes it rather poorly. The worst thing is, I am the only thing at hand to snarl and claw at. So I deeply dislike the roosters and singing Laotians. Is that racist..?

Anyway, we had enough of Luang Prabang after what could be only called a two night honeymoon in an awesome bed with a great blanket. Sound insulation was finally good enough enough to, well, ahem. After those lovely, lovely nights, we were quite prepared to leave Luang Prabang behind. I think it cost us about 150k to get a ticket to Vientiane… And we were going on to Pakse and Ban Nakasang, from which we were going to catch a boat to Don Khone, one of the 4000 islands. And boy what a trip it was…

The way back over the mountains down to Vientiane was simple, the bus big and and the speeds fairly low, at least compared to the minibus that brought us to Luang Pabang. But alas, the bus was one of the low budget variety, with about as much space between the seats as on a RyanAir flight. God, the leg cramps… Then we were finally at Vientiane. We came to a different bus station, the Northern one, but even though it was supposed to be closer to town than the Southern one, we were still pretty fucking far from town. I don’t know what is wrong with Lonely Planet’s charts, but the bus stations seem to be at least five or six kilometers further away than on the 2012 charts. And not just according to the Tuk-Tuk drivers, either. Speaking of the Tuk-Tuk drivers, we boldly strolled out of the bus terminal, asking directions to town and followed by incredulous Tuk-Tuk drivers, screaming that it’s over 7km to town. My big toe was giving me hell, causing my whole right foot to swell, and that made my walk a hobble. But we walked out of there, and then, because my hobble was so slow, we decided to splurge on a Tuk Tuk. We paid 10k each to a guy on an almost dead Tuk Tuk outside the terminal, he must have been one of those losers who couldn’t afford a bribe to operate inside the terminal perimiter. And we were glad we did, cos the drive through the industrial area to town was at least thrice as long as the distance mentioned in Lonely Planet. And no, we weren’t “taken for a ride”.

While in Vientiane we had a breakfast at Croissant D’or, a great place, checked our mail with their speedy WiFi, and had a bunch of 8k croissants, best in all of Laos, according to many. Then we went off to have a sit and a look at the Mekong river embankment. That’s where I decided to take off my big toe blister patch. I’ve incured that blister on our epic 15km walk to the Blue Lagoon at Vang Vieng. I covered it with a blister patch, and left it alone, trusting my girly dearest. I left it alone for at least two days, but it kept getting more and more painful, the pain surging along with my hearbeat, whole foot throbbing. Somehow, almost without me notcing, my right food swelled to grotesque proportions. It made sleep difficult, but I thought that it was part of the deal. I tore off the patch, and off came part of the blister as well. The blister lost no time, it grew to about four times the size it was when I covered it. Pus and ichor flowed from the tear, with a bit of blood thrown into the mix. I doused the gaping wound with disinfectant, enjoying the clensing pain, and covered it with a new patch. It was time to go to the hospital.

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By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

Oh Lung Prabang, Luang Prabang… Where to start. Lets start with the overbearing hype I’ve listened to for the three weeks before I arrived in Luang Prabang. I’ve asked a lot of people along the way as to where they’ve been, what they recommend, what they’d warn against, all like a proper backpacker. And the three people I’ve “interviewed” that have been to Luang Prabang have all used adjectives like “amazing”, “brilliant”, “awesome”… The city of fucking waterfalls and temples. So yeah, we were pretty stoked to get there. The truth, however, proved to be quite different, as it has a nasty habit of being.

Luang Prabang, far from being a tranquil nexus of tranquil tranquility, is pretty much an overpriced Mecca of middle aged western wankers with zimmer frames (gross exaggeration) and disappointed backpackers who haven’t yet heard the news of Luang Prabang’s demise over the backpacker grapevine. The place is bunk, people. There is nothing to see here, move along. It is terribly overpriced, more expensive than both Vientiane and Vang Vieng, and it is geared towards the kind of tourist that despises adversity. Everywhere you go, you are confronted with a Las Palmas-like view of bakeries, spas, tons of gray-haired white people, banana pancake stands, and a few bewildered backpackers. The shittiest of shitty guesthouses charge 100k for a night, a princely sum that ought to get you a decent room with a decent toilet (the kind that doesn’t smell of sewage and that has proper hot water) close to town center. Here, it gets you a rape room with dirty walls, full of palm prints, as if the previous occupants were forcibly taken from behind, palms futilely grasping onto said white washed walls. They say that if you press your palm against a drity, bloody imprint on the wall, you can feel their pain wash over you…

I’m scratching my head here, trying to think of something to counerbalance the flood of negativity in the above paragraph. And I am coming up empty. There is nothing there to counterbalance with, people. You might find solace in organized tours to look at poor disenfranchised tribal people in the forests nearby, or maybe you like seeing elephants beaten into submission, forced to carry heavy loads and maybe even step over prone tourists, but there is nothing there in Luang Prabang itself.

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By Asmodeane in Posts

New year passed in boredom. We ate an expensive (45,000 Kip) but small pizza at Pizzeria Milan (infamous for its “happy” pizzas and a drug den upstairs) in honor of the changing year, had a few beers, looked into the Irish pub to see if there was action and fun to be found. There wasn’t. The atmosphere was pretty gloomy, the crowd was decidedly English-looking, and still too sober. We basically just gave up and went back to our hotel. We barely managed to stay up until midnight and that was that as far as our New Year’s Eve was concerned.

The next day we took a minibus to Luang Prabang. The bus was nice enough, the fare cheaper than a VIP bus’ and the driving swifter. And now I finally got to experience the hairpin bends and sheer cliffs. So did girly, who spent most of the way with eyes closed, in prayer to whatever deity it is that atheists in the foxholes  pray to. We drove through many a thatched village clinging to the steep mountain slope, basically just a collection of huts clustered along the mountain road, eking out a meager living from selling Chinese merch and local food to trucks and buses driving by and goat herding. Eventually our minivan ascended into a dense cloud layer and didn’t leave it for a few hours, until the descent into Luang Prabang. That meant that it was rather chilly all of a sudden and that the dangers preying on our intrepid little minivan could no longer be clearly observed. Apart, of course, from numerous orange mining trucks that seemed to leap out from behind every curve. Luckily they usually sounded their horns before rounding a bend, but a few didn’t, which meant some pulse-raising evasive action on our part. All that nauseating swerving and braking meant that it was impossible to get any sleep, or play iPad games, or even read, and the trip seemed very, very long indeed.

Eventually we reached Luang Prabang, where a long haggle-war ensued between passengers and local tuk-tuk drivers. They wanted 20,000 Kip for a drive to town and we only offered 10,000 Kip. The tuk-tuk cartel won, of course. We were in no position to negotiate, and they had no competition we could turn to. Petty cash, in European terms, of course, but you can’t help but think according to local values, and I think it is the only right way to think in terms of prices. The tuk-tuk drivers didn’t really know where to go, either, so we just hopped off in town and looked for a place to stay on own. We looked at about 5 places, and were unpleasantly surprised with the price rates. Prices were at least 1.5 times the Vientiane or Vang Vieng average… A portent of the things to come.

But enough, the lappy battery is down to 10%. I should probably praise it now, the poor thing survived an untimely HD transplant half a year ago, after only two and a half years of service. Now it is creaking and clacking, many of the keys rubbed bald, all rubber padding on the lid disintegrated and the fancy speaker grille long gone. The battery still manages four to five hours of wifi surfing, and as much as six to seven of text editing, and it’s great for playing older titles and indie games. Photoshop CS2 runs fine and photo editing is, of course, head and shoulders above the possibilities my 3rd gen iPad offers. So all praise to my old HP Dm1z, may you putter away for many more years to come.

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Vang Vieng

December 31, 2013
By Asmodeane in Posts, Travel

It is with a deep seated satisfaction that I write these lines. We took a fairly long hike today, went out west to see THE blue lagoon (there are about half a dozen impostors) and a cave, walked 16 - 18km all in all, and are now sitting at the Veggie Tables restaurant drinking a well deserved beer (from a neighboring restaurant, they don’t sell beer here) and waiting for girlies tofu burger and my deep fried spring rolls. Both are awesomely delicious here.

But yeah, enough with the drivel. We made it to Vang Vieng just fine, on a nice VIP bus with dead CRT screens for entertainment. The seats didn’t really recline either, but the ride was short, only about four hours. I hoped for some truly spectacular mountain pass crossings, with hairpin turns and bottomless drops right behind the window, but no. We went timidly along the Mekong river, with barely any rises along the way.

Oh, and I guess this is as good a place as any to dispel any rumors about bad roads in Laos. We have heard so much bullshit from backpackers of all nationalities about the sleeper bus ride from Hanoi to Vientiane and about the roads in general and we believed them all. But in our experience the roads were great! Sure, they weren’t autobahn level highways, but compared to the “highways” of India and East Africa they were superb. The buses were in great technical condition as well, and the drivers careful. And this goes for “normal” sleepers as well, ones that are used by locals as well as by the (poorer) backpackers. I will forever remember the backbone breaking rides on disgustingly dirty and decrepit buses with shot suspension and an overactive AC on system on permanent Siberia setting that never went off. Maybe the people that are bitching about the buses have never had the pleasure of experiencing true extreme bus rides. Loser bitches.

But I digress. Vang Vieng, despite all the rumors and writings on the intertubes, is no longer the amphetamine-fueled party capital that it once had the dubious distinction of being. Kind of disappointing really, I was looking forward to seeing nubile western girls in the throes of drug induced lust squirming topless on the ground, Woodstock-style. But no. The tourist mix was overwhelmingly Asian, with a few backpackers and older westerners thrown in. That seems to be the case in many of the South East Asian destinations, the growing middle classes are demanding holidays and entertainment and are flooding the neighboring countries. Crass, uncultured bastards most of them, apart from the overtly civilized Japanese and South Koreans. The raucous braying and spitting masses of Chinese tourists remind me of the Russians in the early and mid 90s.

We were originally thinking of finding accommodation on the quiet side of the river, preferably in Maylyn Guesthouse (about 80,000 Kip a night for cheapest rooms, 110,000 for bungalows), but found good digs on the city-side of the river. The town was so quiet though that we didn’t fancy going to the other side of the toll (4,000 Kip there and back!!!) bridge, lugging our backpacks for kilometers, so got a cheap, clean room with a surprisingly good mountain view not far from the bridge for 60,000 Kip a night. Hot water shower, fan, a good bed, nice clean blanket, working WiFi during the daytime hours… The works.

After that we just chilled. Girly got most of the performance out of her system during the three weeks we have been on the road, so it was no longer the case of running around “doing” sights and activities. We didn’t really fancy tubing, even though that is what most people do in Vang Vieng. I guess we’re rebels that way. Or it could be that the water was kinda cold and we didn’t feel like soaking our arses in the water for two to three hours while yawning our way downstream. They demolished the riverside bars, too, so no fun pitstops along the way, either. Plus it seemed kinda overpriced at 60,000 kip (plus deposit of 55k) a head. And no way in hell was I gonna wear, or even buy, one of those tasteless hoodies one saw all over Indochina.

Prior to going to the Blue Lagoon & the Cave we went to our cheap-ass local breakfast place, and ordered two gigantic stuffed baguettes to go. I took one with omelette and girly chose one with vegetable & cheese filling. Thus properly equipped we started out on our trek. I won’t bore you with any more details, but let me say that the tourist breed is lazy beyond belief. We were passed by numerous vehicles, bikes, scooters, cars, jeeps, dune buggies, but only saw one other walker. So basically we swallowed a lot of dust, but our smug self satisfaction grew with every clogged alveolus. The lagoon itself was pretty neat, the water indeed aquamarine blue and deep, swarming with fishes that bumped into my back and took nibbles at my stinky feet. The cave was a cave, nuff’ said. There was a reclining buddha in it though, on an altar of gold, with a gaggle of middle aged women primly sitting around it, eyes closed but occasionally peeking to see if anyone was watching them be culturally aware and profoundly spiritual.

We had a beer, dried off after our swim, and headed back the way we came. It was New Year’s Eve and we had no plans what so ever.

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