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Chapter seventy four - Luang Prabang

Culture vultures

Day 267: Luang Prabang, Laos 22/06/2012

Up nice and early for another warm bacon sarnie and we are soon on our way to Luang Prabang. In the minibus with a whole host of people we recognise/have met before - the backpacking trail is a pretty small world it seems. The bus ride is ok but slightly too long to be deemed completely comfortable and we eventually roll into Luang Prabang about two in the afternoon. We take a moment or two to check the map and get our bearings and are soon checking into a nice little place run by an old man, on whom I practice my francais.

We take a shower and then potter around the town - a truly stunning, serenely peaceful riverside town, with an abundance of culture and colonial charm. There are lots of smiling faces around LP and during a quick stroll around, to a nearby temple, we some very excitable young kids playing around and a very grumpy monk taking one of these by the scruff of the neck back to his mum. Trouble for the little boy I daresay. I entertain his friends with my breakdancing skills a bit further down the road and we have an incredible tea. DIY barbecue is the order of the day, pork and glass noodle soup done over the coals on the table in front of us.

Day 268: Luang Prabang, Laos 23/06/2012

After a decent breakfast we find ourselves successfully negotiating the rental of two of the local shop's finest bicycles. We manage to take on the roundabout at the bottom of the road safely, which is no mean feat given my level of cycling proficiency and the traffic coming from the wrong side of the road.

Some sumptuous temples and some serious culture for us vultures and we enjoy an easy morning riding lazily through the streets of Luang Prabang. There is one slight problem in that our bikes don't lock and so we end up carrying our bikes up the flights of steps to the sights we want to see. Hard work but enough to keep us fit...

We check out prices/arrangements for the bus to Hanoi and it seems that it will be a twenty four hour plus journey minimum. Oh well, needs must. We see a temple/pagoda at the top of a hill and decide to take a cross country route to get there. Some serious hill work on the rickety old bike (mine feels like it might break beneath me) allows us some breathtaking views over the city and the surrounding mountains and countryside. There is a rarity on this trip as Demolition Man helps two Lao kids fix the chain on their bike not once but twice. Another superb DIY BBQ is fantastic.

Day 269: Luang Prabang, Laos 24/06/2012

A quiet day today to prepare for tomorrow's epic journey to Hanoi. After a spot of lunch and a gym session, we have a mooch about town (we have become such townies) we have a very quiet afternoon. After teaching three young local lads the game of Uno, I have a couple of hours helping one of the boys with his English, a very rewarding way to pass an otherwise quiet afternoon. The lads tell me that private English lessons cost a fortune - 150 000 kip a month (about £11) for an hour a day of private tuition. A bit humbling when you consider how keen and how enthusiastic he is about it.

We go out for the evening, stumbling across and amazing night market, where as well as some beautiful trinkets and locally produced goods, they do an amazing barbecued chicken and milkshakes. Disappointed once again by England crashing out on pennos.

Posted by tevs 07:06 Archived in Laos Tagged temples culture laos luang_prabang bbq Comments (0)

Chapter fifty two - Penang

overcast 28 °C

Day 195: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 11/04/2012

Another early morning start (you must all be feeling so sorry for us!) as we wait for our 6am minibus pick up to take us on to Malaysia, the fifth country of our trip so far. So, the bus stops after about ten minutes to pick up some more passengers we think. Wrong. The driver it appears has forgotten to feed his dog and we all watch as he dishes out some Pedigree Chum for his furry friend. Eventually get going and before long we are at Hat Yai, the last big town the Thai side of the border. Here we buy a ticket onto Penang, which works out cheaper than it would if we had booked direct in Krabi, so happy days.

The drive to the border is completely stress free and it must be said that this border is approximately one million times nicer and easy than the positively evil Poipet Thailand-Cambodia border mentioned earlier in the blog. There's even a KFC here, which speaks volumes for the place...Through customs and immigration problem free, the complimentary 90 day visa is a more than welcome addition to the pages of the passport. In a fashion similar to crossing the border into the West Midlands on the M42, the heavens open as soon as we step onto Malaysian soil. Back in the minibus and the eyelids start to feel a bit heavy...

Wake up somewhere over the bridge into Penang, where impressive views of the waterfront and the cluster of high rise buildings that adorn it. Eventually arrive and look for a decent room, which is easier said than done as the standard of accommodation here is pretty poor. However, we eventually find a good room and upon checking in and getting online discover that there is a tsunami alert in place for the region, including Penang. Krabi has even been evacuated, so if we had stayed just a few hours longer we might have had to flee. Cue reassuring emails home that we are safe, to the mostly oblivious relatives back home!

Head for food after this bit of excitement and end up getting Tandoori chicken (well received by moi and moi only). There is a real interesting ethnic mix about the place, with big Malay, Indian and Chinese influences obvious. There are also a hearty mix of prostitutes and ladyboys patrolling our street.

Day 196: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 12/04/2012

A good night's sleep (especially after the tsunami alert was lifted, phew) sees us up and about and ready for action. Shower (shared bathroom is fine) and head for breakfast. Ok, this is lunchtime really and we find a Chinese place that does very good Hokkien chicken rice at unbelievably cheap prices. Hench Chinese man serves us. See him eating raw eggs at the table opposite. New man crush.

Take a stroll and come across a very sleek, modern, air conditioned shopping mall. Not cheap. We catch the bus from the bus terminal stationed at the mall and take a visit to the Kek Lok Si Temple, an absolutely incredible Chinese Buddhist temple at the top of a pretty steep hill. There are ornate carvings and gold Buddhas galore and a 30.2 metre high (at a guess) bronze statue of a Chinese Buddhist figure. Some great city views from the top of the temple, reached by a crazy cable car. There is also a sacred pond with thousands of turtles captive in it. Reminders of the crocodile farm in Siem Reap.

We take the bus back (not to where we meant to go however) and stumble across Little India, an incredible bakery and lots of quirky, interesting places besides. I must take this opportunity to thank the Penang tourist board for pointing out and advertising the presence of an incredible aquarium/pet shop, where there is every manner of animal and fish available for sale, including snakes, frogs, puppies, spiders and of course raccoons. Almost like a trip to the zoo.

We grab dinner on the street and sit with a woman who has found herself now making up part of the crew of a yacht destined for Darwin. What a way to get about and sustain the travels! Then buy some chocolate covered peanuts, wondering why both Gemma and the guy in 7/11 are howling with laughter as I buy them. Only after leaving the shop do I see they are called 'Nips'.

Day 197: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 13/04/2012

Another lie in this morning and we are ready for another lunchy/breakfasty type meal. Find the ideal place in a nice looking cafe, where Gem's BBQ beef noodles and my soup, omelette, prawns and spinach with rice comes to about three quid. Thinking of going to Ipoh tomorrow so we go and price up the bus tickets. Mooch around the bus offices, into the mall and spy the cinema. Find myself in perhaps the most embarassing spot of con artistry/hustling as I go to the shop to get change for the bus, where a sweet little old lady, with shaved head and mullet provides me with five screwed up one Ringgit in exchange for my crisp ten. No, granny no. 'Will you take seven?' No. She hands back my money and proceeds to give me some verbal before plodding off to find someone else to rip off. Unbelievable.

ASBO nan causes a forty minute wait for the bus (we missed the first one as a result of her cheek) and we find the reclining Buddha we had read about. After a bus journey with an annoying posh British family, we arrive at the temple to find it is Songkran (South East Asian New Year) traditionally celebrated with water fights. Cue a soaking outside the entrance to the temple. More amazing however, was the hundreds of pissed up revellers raving in the temple grounds with the monks. We are absolutely soaked and refused entry to the Big Buddha and have to make do with photos from the entrance.

We walk back and dry off via the waterfront and millionaire's row. Not bad. Another street meal for tea and we head off to the cinema to see Battleship, which is surprisingly good. Another action packed day.

Day 198: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 14/04/2012

Lazy morning for a change then lunch then a packet of Nips (still funny). We decide to visit the botanical gardens and wait a considerable while for the right bus. Doesn't turn up before we leave. Instead, we head back to the room to decide where to go next, with Indonesia prevailing as the winner. An internet cafe session reveals a poor skype connection and the revelation that the ferry to Indonesia no longer runs from Penang. Find flights (which are actually cheaper than the ferry would have been).

We have a walk around and discover that Little India provides some reminiscence of our time in India, though scaled down in terms of noise, people and chaos by some one billion percent. Stumble across a big park, where families are enjoying their Saturday evenings and enjoy dinner at the same stall as last night. A huge fish noodle soup (intended for a family of four I would say) finds its way in front of me...

Get back on skype and after four computers and three venues the technical issues are ironed out and we even find ourselves watching a skype broadcast of the Grand National, direct from the Cribbin living room.

Day 199: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia 15/04/2012

Jet lag (one hour's difference to Thailand) sees us up late again and we have an early lunch and a walk around. Try again for the bus to the botanical gardens and again discover we are too impatient to wait. We find ourselves in the park we discovered yesterday and sit with an ice cream watching some kids play football. Then a quick stroll around the waterfront, Fort Cornwallis and Penang State Museum (we sound so cultured!).

A brief stop back at the room before dinner at a hawker stall food court, where our drinks are served by a portly five year old boy. Being presented one plate of noodles instead of two by the old man cooking prompts a comedy conversation. 'You want one more?'. 'Yes, please but no prawns.' 'Pork and prawn?'. 'No, just pork please.' 'No pork?' 'No, no prawns.' 'No prawns?' (looks at me like I am crazy). 'No prawns.' 'Ok'.

Posted by tevs 01:10 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food culture buddha penang georgetown Comments (0)

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