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Saturday, December 27, 2003

Christmas in Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

It has been an eventful week; at the same time, it has been a rather surreal Christmas for us so far. After three days of travel by train, tuk-tuk, river boat, cycle rickshaw, mini-bus, and bicycle, we find ourselves now chilling out in laid-back Luang Prabang, where everything operates at a very subdued, relaxed pace. We've been enjoying the company of new travel mates and have been continuing to stuff our faces with wonderful food. Hmm... I suppose all this isn't TOO different from a typical Christmas in that way!

Thank you all for your wonderful holiday wishes; not being able to get online for a while, it was awesome to be able to open our Inboxes today to a flurry of cards and greetings. It definitely reminds us of how fortunate we are, and gives us a flavour of the holidays being so far from home!

Let's see, the highlights for me for the last week have been the boat cruise through the klangs of Bangkok, the train ride to Chiang Mai, the two-day river ride along the Mekong after crossing into Laos, and watching orange-clad monks collect food and alms along the street before sunrise here in Luang Prabang. Our current guesthouse is also a highlight, where we have a room with a balcony that overlooks an ancient footbridge, green fields where bamboo-hatted farmers tend their crops, and a gurgling stream where children play in the shallow waters while women wash clothing and sing Lao songs. It's just the picture postcard image of rural SE Asia that we weren't sure we'd ever see.

We're staying in Luang Prabang for two more nights, then will hop down to Vientiane for a while, then will enjoy a short homestay before heading east towards the Laos/Vietnam border. Have a safe New Year everyone, and see you the next time we're online!

Monday, December 22, 2003

Another Intrepid Trip: Bangkok to Hanoi
Bangkok, Thailand

We're just about to leave our hotel for the train station. We're travelling on the overnight train to Chiang Mai, 2nd class AC Sleeper. Should be interesting. Just in case you're wondering where we're headed, check out our itinerary here. Today is day 2 of this tour.

We met up with our tourmates last night. Our tour leader is Lisa, from Melbourne, Australia. Our mates for the next two weeks are: Dave and Glenis from Brisbane, Australia, Tessa from Darwin, Australia, Jacqueline from Sydney Australia, Barbara and Jenny from New Zealand, Holly from England, and three JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching ) teachers: Lindsay and Natalie from Ontario, Canada and Angie from Auckland, New Zealand.

Nine of us had dinner together after sorting through our Laos visa application with Lisa. The younger ones went off to the bars while Winston and I retired early. In fact, I was asleep by 9:30am. Not sure how just being online, browsing through the street markets and eating constantly could've made me tired. Oh well, I still had a very lovely sleep, and am ready for tonight's train ride.

This morning, we had a group meeting where Lisa talked us through our itineraries, and the do's and don'ts of this trip. Then we headed off to the river where we boarded a very colourful, and large motor boat. Our boat cruised along the klangs, quite fast most of the time, and we enjoyed seeing the houses on stilts, people selling wares on their boats, and the many wats along the way. After about 45 minutes, we got off at a pier and walked towards Wat Po.

We were guided by Mr. Pantip (not sure how he spells it, but it sounds sort of like this) through Wat Po, home of the famous reclining buddha. We've seen various forms of buddha in the many temples in Bhutan, Nepal and China. While not the largest we've seen, this reclining buddha is also very impressive. It is 46m long and 15m high. I couldn't take a decent picture of it in the frame of my camera.

Winston, myself and the three JETs went to visit the Grand Palace, which was just next door while the rest of the group headed back to the hotel. We grabbed a quick lunch of steam chicken and rice, and tons of fruits, then headed for the Palace. One has to dress conservatively while visiting temples, but the Grand Palace has the strictest rules. Lindsay ended up putting on her Thai pants in order to cover her ankles, and Ange changed into socks and shoes.

We were very impressed with the MANY mosaics of all colours throughout the temples of the Grand Palace. The gold roofs glittered in the sun, and the colours were also bright and beautiful. Very ornate indeed. In this compound, is the Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of jade), and a replica of Angkor Wat.

Just 15 minutes till we have to leave for the train station, so gotta say goodbye for now. We'll be in Chiang Mai tomorrow morning, and if we get time for the Internet cafe, we'll be back!


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