Tag Archives: south east Asia

Thai islands, part 1

Hello dear reader,

Welcome to what is probably the penultimate travel blog entry, because we fly home in nine days!! I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you to all of you have stuck with me from the very beginning. I’ve loved having the blog as a diary, and also a way to tell the stories of our trips to my friends and family.

Through the blog I’ve discovered a new love for writing, and as I’m almost a hundred posts in, it seems a shame to throw in the towel now. I’m going to keep the blog going even when I’m at home. Sure, I probably won’t have anything that interesting to write about (except wedding planning… Cough) but I’ve really enjoyed having a new hobby that I can do anywhere (hello international airports) and anytime (hello insomnia!)

So, the past week has been spent having a look around the south of Thailand.
It was really nice to return to Thailand. It’s been the first time we’ve “returned” anywhere on the trip, but it’s a relief to arrive somewhere and understand how it all works, and how to say “hello” and “thank you.”

Unfortunately on the way out of Cambodia I developed tonsillitis. I’d like to take a moment to share with you, and anyone who may or may not have had tonsillitis in the past, one of my favourite ever pieces of journalism: Charlie Brooker on the horrors of tonsillitis.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jul/28/healthandwellbeing.health

It’s worse, far worse, than international terrorism and child abuse combined.”

Although the above quote is a slight over statement, I love to return to this piece every time I get tonsillitis and share it with anyone who doesn’t understand how FUCKING TERRIBLE IT IS.

So our flight to from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Phuket, Thailand wasn’t a fun one for me.

I went hot cold hot cold hot cold and I couldn’t wear my hoodie because it’s currently in quarantine after I slept in it in a bed full of bedbugs in Siem Reap. (But that’s a song I shall sing another day.)

We changed flights in Bangkok where we were delayed, but I was semi conscious so I didn’t really know or care that much about it.

FINALLY we got to Phuket and had some food (an ice cream for me) and fell asleep.

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(Above is the only photo I took in Phuket! See, told you I was ill! Haha. Our room was really cool, it felt like we were staying in a church and I had a nice new dress on.)

The next day was a slow plod to an English-speaking pharmacy where I demanded antibiotics and then went back to bed with a nice little spittoon next to me. Special shout out to Thomas Copley (aka Nurse Copley) who is basically a SAINT. I seriously don’t understand how people can travel alone. There have been far to many occasions where I’ve been bedridden on this trip (hello Vietnam!) and I’ve relied on Tom to get food for me otherwise I would have died.

Anyway, nothing was achieved for 48 hours other than walking around the corner to visit that cat cafe. I love cats!!!

Then we moved to another side of Phuket, closer to Kata beach. We found our hostel, and as I got there I saw a little dog sat on the bar stool by reception. As I walked towards it to say hello (“sawadee ka!”) it stuck its paw out and gave me a high five! This was one of the best moments ever as it felt like an achievement to even make it there in my sweaty and delirious state!
The hostel was okay but the bathroom was grim and full of cockroaches so we had to knock loudly on the door and turn the lights on and off a few times before we could enter. (To scare them off into their holes) It was a bit hysterical really but I’ve got to the point where I’ll put up with anything!

We chilled by the beach for two days which was nice, and I began to feel better. What would we do without antibiotics?

After Phuket we went to Koh Phi Phi, which was really nice, more filled with backpackers so we felt a bit more at home and I was beginning to feel more human.

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We basically lazed and wandered around for two days. Our hostel was really grim and the toilet was in the shower, but it was okay. We had a crazy thunderstorm one night. The thunder was so loud that it was like someone banging a drum in your chest.

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(our lovely toilet in the shower, for your viewing pleasure.)

The next day we went for a very slow plod up to a viewpoint above Ko Phi Phi. To get there, we followed the tsunami evacuation route. It’s good to see that these have all been put into place after the 2004 tragedy.

We had a nice walk. It was very sweaty, but we met some nice kittens and the view was cool. On the way back down the hill, my foot slipped from underneath me and I completely stacked it. My knee was bleeding so badly that it was running all the way down to my ankles but I just laughed because it ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME. Tom said “you’ve taken to travelling like a duck with bricks in its pockets,” and then a German man shouted at me for wearing the wrong shoes. No rest for the wicked eh?

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That evening we watched a fire show on the beach which was nice.

Next stop: Koh Lanta. We’d heard Koh Lanta was a nice chilled island to visit. We got a tuk tuk to our hotel which was literally just on a road in the middle of nowhere. Because it’s low season, “quiet” means “totally dead.” Also, we had overlooked that we were visiting a Muslim island during Ramadan. Most travellers rent motorbikes or scooters but because we’re both too clumsy (see above) and we’ve seen too many people covered in bandages we’ve decided against using them. This meant that we were in the middle of nowhere for 48 hours. Because it’s rainy season the weather has been pretty pants so we just basically did nothing! I didn’t take a single photo because it was literally just a dirt road in the rain.

Onwards! Krabi! This was one that I was really excited about because we’d booked somewhere faaaaaancy as a treat for Tom’s birthday. By fancy, I mean £50 a night, but it really goes a long way in Thailand! We checked into the Krabi resort, and Tom said “it’s my birthday tomorrow, is it possible to get an upgrade?” And it worked! Amazing. I need to be more assertive. “Britain needs serts!”

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We were taken to our suite in a little golf buggy and the novelties didn’t wear off for the next 48 hours. Our room was stunning, and huge, and octagonal. We had a lovely bathroom bigger than many rooms we’ve stayed in with a sunken bath. The resort had two massive pools, all you can eat buffet breakfast…. Oh it was just paradise! I’ve never appreciated luxury so much! Tom’s birthday was great, we just spent the day eating and drinking and lying by the pool ordering drinks and charging them to our room which just felt amazing until we checked out and paid the ransom the next day haha!

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(The birthday boy)

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I leave you with the above photo to distract from my despair that the next time I write here we will be GOING HOME!!!😭😭😭

Okay time for happy thoughts, here are some things that have made me laugh so far in the Thai islands:

  • During our time at the Krabi Resort (posh hotel) there was a monkey on the loose who kept emptying the bin at the bottom of the stairs, looting all over the place, and generally causing chaos. The staff laid out a big trap filled with bananas but he wasn’t interested.
  • Also at the Krabi Resort there was a gigantic lizard who was about four foot long and was doing laps around a little posh moat area, making everyone who spotted him scream. Clearly the animals at the resort didn’t get the memo about it being a swanky place!
  • When boarding one of the boats between the islands there was a very official man in an official uniform making an official announcement…. By shouting through a traffic cone.

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Week one in Cambodia

Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.

This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.

In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.

Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.

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Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.

Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.

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For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.

Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.

We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.

Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.

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After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.

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I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.

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Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.

We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)

 

 

 

Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.

 

Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.

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Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.

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Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.

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Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.

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Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.

 

Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.

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Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.

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Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.

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Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again. 

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….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.

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Hanoi again and Halong Bay

After saying goodbye to beautiful Sapa, we were back on the jolly old sleeper bus to Hanoi.

Vietnam’s capital was a bit more bearable on our return, but at the same time, I’ve realised I’m definitely a fresh air, minimal noise and walkable pavement kind of person!
We visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, which was definitely one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to write too much about it here, but if you’re interested, be sure to ask me haha!

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That evening we found the infamous beer Hoi corner. The general rule is, the closer your bum gets to the floor (I.e the smaller the stool) the cheaper the beer is. We were on 15p a glass.

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The following day was Tom’s turn to be ill. I swear that place is cursed. I wasn’t feeling great either. Luckily we had a nice hotel room and a tv complete with the Shaun the Sheep movie to keep me company (very Vietnamese) whilst Tom was being sick. Christ! We sound like a right pair don’t we! We truly deserve eachother haha. Having written off Hanoi we booked a tour to visit Halong Bay the following day.
We were up early and went to the travel agent, then got on the mini bus to the small boat, which was the wrong boat then onto the right boat and then onto the big boat where we were to spend our day. We’d booked the “cocktail cruise” because it was cheap, and covered a lot of Halong Bay. The boat was really grotty but we were with some nice people. We lazed around as we cruised the bay. The day was overcast but it was really beautiful!

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Halong Bay has always been what I see in my head when I think “Vietnam” so I was really chuffed to see it. After a few hours we stopped and went canoeing. This involved canoeing through a few caves which were absolutely beautiful and then ending in a lagoon full of jellyfish, which was a little bit scary.

Later on in the day we had a swimming spot and we both jumped off the top of the boat which was lovely. We finally arrived at Cat Ong island, where we were due to stay the night. In head I’d pictured a big island with a town, where we’d be staying in a hotel. In fact, it was a tiny desert island.

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(Our beach bungalow)

It was amazing! We were lead to our rooms, and somehow, everyone except four of us were put into a ten man dorm. Tom and I were taken to our bungalow with two other Brits. They then decided they’d rather be in the dorm so we had the place to ourselves! I was so happy! I hate dorm rooms so it was a massive treat.
The evening was spent eating, drinking, and being frivolous. Fabulous.

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The next day, Tom and I had decided to go trekking in the Cat Ba National Park. We were the only members of our group who had our big bags with us (as we didn’t want to go back to Hanoi) which made jumping onto a tiny boat in the choppy sea pretty terrifying, but we made it without getting wet. We got the boat to Cat Ba island where we then drove up to the mountains for a very sweaty walk through the forests and up a hill to the view point. I have never sweated so much in my life. We both looked like we’d been fully dressed in the shower. But it was so worth it! The view was stunning.

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I’m still getting used to Vietnam’s mix of madness in the cities and stunning natural beauty in the countryside.

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Good morning Vietnam!!

Good morning Vietnam!

I’m so sorry for the radio silence here on the blog. I seem to be getting more and more behind with the blog due to lack of wifi… Plus we’ve been doing a lot this past week!

So we took a horribly bouncy flight through a thunderstorm from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Luckily it was only an hour in duration.
Tom had pre-booked us an airport transfer to our hotel, and we were delighted to be met by a man holding a sign with our names on. We were then led to an enormous mini van with air conditioning and we had the whole thing to ourselves. Bloody luxury compared to what we’re used to!

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(The above photo is a celebration of being millionaires once again. Tom’s holding about sixty quid haha)

The hotel was fine, apart from the worlds smallest bathroom. We had to stand over the toilet to have a shower and then exit the bathroom to dry ourselves because there simply wasn’t enough room haha! We ventured out into the craziness of Hanoi. I have never seen so many people in the tiny streets. Entire families were sat on miniature stools on the pavements. There were scooters EVERYWHERE and they don’t necessarily stay on the correct side of the road. Or on the road. Quite often they’ll drive onto the pavement and cut you up, giving you a dirty look!
We found a sandwich shop, ate a bit and went to bed.

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DISCLAIMER
Apologies in advance for being a bit moany about Hanoi. I didn’t like it. I was very ill and feeling pretty shit, so sorry I’m not more upbeat about it.

The next day we got up and ventured out for some food. I was feeling like death thanks to the anti-malaria tablets. I had excruciating stomach cramps and no appetite whatsoever and had barely eaten over the previous few days. Plus I’ve been having totally bonkers dreams and night terrors where I can’t breath and panic, so I’m knackered too. Stepping outside was a massive assault on the senses. Smells of people cooking God knows what, traffic everywhere, no giveway system just
TOOOOOOOT and go! Crossing the road was near damn impossible as the traffic is constant. You just have to find a small gap and run.

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We couldn’t find anywhere to eat for ages, and I was feeling exhausted and frustrated. We eventually found a sandwich shop and ordered two of the “specials.” As we sat to wait for the food on miniature stools inches from the pavement, we saw a woman across the road wearing shorts and wellies, crouched over a huge fish she had laid on some plastic on the pavement and she then proceeded to hack into pieces, blood spurting everywhere and running all over the floor. The sandwich arrived. Turns out the “special” was lumps of unidentifiable fatty meat on top of some grim tasting pate. I ate one mouthful, looked at the fish woman and nearly threw up. I’m steadily going off meat!

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(Here’s Tom modelling a mini stool for your viewing pleasure)

We then plodded to the prison. This took ages with the whole pedestrian nightmare thing. At on point, we checked both ways several times when crossing and suddenly a scooter appeared out of nowhere and Tom walked right into it. The driver nearly toppled over and Tom received a nasty bruise to the shin. I started getting more and more jumpy….

The prison was a really interesting place to visit. It was built by the French colonialists and used to imprison anyone who opposed their regime. The conditions were absolutely horrific. During the American war, the Vietnamese used it to hold the American POWs and they were treated really well. The Americans even referred to it as the “Hanoi Hilton.” I’m glad we went, but in all honesty, I spent most of the time on the toilet haha.

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(This is how the Vietnamese prisoners were held. Shocking isn’t it?!)

We then walked to the lake. I was really tired and we flopped down on a bench where we were hounded by some local students who wanted to practise their English. I was more than happy to chat to them, but more and more groups kept turning up and in the end we were stuck there for TWO HOURS before we could politely excuse ourselves and stagger back to the hotel.

On the way back I was terrified after Tom got hit, and I personally nearly got hit by a scooter on about five separate occasions until I cried and had a complete meltdown. I’m not good when I’m ill and stressed! We went back to the hotel and spent a few hours bonding with the toilet whilst Tom went to buy me a sandwich. God I love him. Plus it was a cheese sandwich this time.

The next day we got up very early for our trip to Sapa. I was eager to leave Hanoi behind, plus the photos of Sapa I’ve seen looked stunningly beautiful. We waited in the hotel lobby for an hour before someone came to “pick us up.” What this meant was a bloke on a scooter drove ahead of us, shouting directions, whilst we traipsed behind with our backpacks. Not exactly the pick up I was imagining! Eventually we got to the bus, and discovered it was in fact one of the infamous Vietnamese “sleeper buses.”

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I have no idea why it was a sleeper bus because it was the daytime but oh well. We got a bunk each. I hate bunkbeds. However, being horizontal on a bus is oddly soporific so I spent most of the six hour journey unconscious.
We arrived in Sapa and had a bit of a walk to our hotel. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The entire town was being dug up, with huge abandoned holes in the pavement everywhere, and enormous trucks filled with gravel creating a dust storm in their wake. It felt like we were in a war zone! We felt really disappointed, but it turns out we were just in the grotty end of town, and Sapa itself is really lovely.

The hotel was great, we booked a trip to the Bac Ha market the following day, and had a walk down to the rice paddies. Beautiful.

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The next day was another early start and we took a two hour mini bus ride to the small town of Bac Ha. The market is only there on Sundays. It was full of locals and we got a tour round which was really interesting. Again, the food section was alarming, with unidentifiable offal and stews. The meat section was a “hold your breath” job. I’m so glad Tom told me to put my walking boots on because at one point we had to jump over a big stream of blood.

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There was a really harrowing bit where dehydrated puppies were being sold and they were just so sad and some of them were shoved in tiny cages whilst they whined. I wanted to buy every single one. Live pigs were being rammed into plastic bags whilst they squealed until they found a small hole where there snouts could stick out and they just breathed silently, resigned to their fate. Sometimes it’s really difficult not to be upset. But I was upset. I am upset!! I felt really helpless.

There was nothing I could do. I have to remind myself that I’m here to observe and to learn about how people live. I’m a meat eater, so I have no place to get on my high horse about animal rights because God knows what the animals I’ve eaten have been through. I saw a photo on the outside of restaurant with a dead turtle on top of a salad with his shell all cracked open, and it made me SO sad. And a photo of a goat curled up, eyes closed with some grapes shoved in its mouth. But then I just think, why am I sad about this turtle, and this goat, but not about that chicken that I ate for lunch. Well, it turns out I am sad about that chicken too. I don’t want to eat meat anymore. There. Writing that made me cry.

Wow. Sorry. I’ve just had an epiphany.

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I think of this blog as my diary. I’m sorry if that was a bit personal, and perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but it’s just how I feel at the moment and I want to be honest.

Moving on…. For the rest of the trip we explored the market, saw the border to China, and enjoyed the view of the rice paddies.

The next day was another early start. We were off trekking through the rice paddies. A load of the local women, members of the Black Hmong tribe came along for the walk. It was really interesting to ask them questions and learn about their way of life. I loved imagining myself as one of them. I’d have been married aged 16-18, I’d live with my husbands family, all generations under one roof, and I’d have a few sprogs by now! The children in this part of the world grow up so quickly. You’ll see five year olds carrying their baby siblings on their backs, and babies feeding themselves rice.

I’ll let the photos do the talking. Sapa is a truly breath-takingly beautiful place!

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Until next time,

 

The Gibbon Experience

Hello stranger!

I’m writing this in our hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. I didn’t actually manage to get any blog posts about Laos up, so here I find myself playing catch up! Here’s a post about the Gibbon Experience.

Following our stop in Chaing Kong, we were ready to head across the bridge over the Mekong river that takes you from Thailand to Laos. Admittedly, we both didn’t know a lot about Laos (organised as ever.) After a bit of research on the internet, I was left with a sense of foreboding. The government website explains that Laos is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, there are lots of muggings, and one of the bus routes we were planning on taking was to be avoided at all costs. GREAT.

It’s difficult sometimes when travelling, trying to figure out what to do and remembering to trust your gut about potentially dangerous situations. For example, when we went to Bali, the government website told us not to visit unless absolutely essential due to the threat of terrorist attacks following the bombing in Jakarta. But in the end, we went, we were fine, and Bali has been one of my favourite places so far! Anyway, I digress. We decided to just go for it, and keep our wits about us, and cancel the dodgy bus route where tourists have been bombed and held at gun point. La la la!! (Singing and smiling) !!!

The bridge from Thailand was my first border crossing by land. We queued up and handed over our passports and paid for our visas (in US dollars for some unknown reason) it was easy peasy! We got a tuk tuk to our accommodation, which was deserted. When we eventually found someone, we were sent into a posh hotel across the road, which we weren’t expecting and definitely hadn’t paid for, but it worked out fine, so I’m not complaining! Houi Xay (that’s a fun one to pronounce) is a small town on the edge of the Mekong river and home to the Gibbon Experience. It’s so cool being in Laos and looking across the river to Thailand. We spent the night, and then got up early and headed to the gibbon experience centre for our briefing.

The Gibbon Experience is the top tourist attraction in Laos. It involves trekking in the Nam Kan National Park, zip lining across the canopy and staying over night in the highest tree houses in the world. Plus the added extra that you might get lucky and see gibbons in their natural habitat. We were very excited! We opted to do the “classic” tour – three days and two nights with the minimum amount of walking and maximum chance of seeing the elusive gibbons.

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(A photo of the highest treehouse in the world, to whet the appetite!)

We started off with a two and half hour ride in the back of one of my favourite trucks. The last hour was dirt road and incredibly bouncy, and involved a drive through a river, avoiding the ducks. It wasn’t too sicky, and nice to get to know the people in our group. We arrived at the village, had a warm free beer (fabulous) and then began the walk to the first zip line. The walk was a taste of things to come…. Very very hilly and very very hot and very very sweaty!! We reached a resting point where we were given our zip harnesses and split into two groups. One group of seven people, and one of six. We could choose between two tree houses, number one and number seven. Some members of the group were really pushy and said that “there’s more chance of seeing gibbons at hut seven” so we were left with treehouse one. Kind of annoying when we didn’t get a choice in the matter, plus we’d paid a lot for the trip (£200 each) so I was a bit pissed off, but in the end, dear reader, karma is a bitch…..

We fastened ourselves into our harnesses and carefully clipped ourselves onto the wire. The first zip line was really fun, a real adrenaline rush. I was panicking about being able to stop in time, so I pulled my brake early and stopped quite far away from the platform. I was left dangling mid air and thinking “hmm.” In the tutorial video, we watched a smiling lady pulling herself along the wire hand over hand. I though “okay cool, time to pull myself in.” But she made it look SO easy!! Hahaha!!! I have no core or upper body strength, so pulling myself in was really really exhausting for me. Luckily one of the guides came out and hoisted me back in. This happened many, many times over the next three days. God bless those guides!

We enjoyed more hiking in the beautiful jungle, with our guides pointing out the snakes (little ones) and jumping spiders (surprisingly a lot cuter than they sound!) we made a lunch stop, and then after a few more ziplines, we got the one that took us to our tree house. As I was zipping across, I was thinking “woah this looks so tiny!” But when we got there it was actually pretty huge, and the biggest one in the Gibbon Experience.

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(The little square at the top of the photo is the bed where Tom and I slept)
Behind a curtain on the bottom floor was our bathroom – a squat toilet (yaaaay) a sink and a shower. Then we walked up some stairs to our kitchen and social area. Up the stairs again was where Tom and I slept, and on the floor above, more sleeping space. I was dreading a dorm layout because I’m so sick of dorm rooms and I don’t sleep well surrounded by people other than Thomas, so I was really pleased with it! We had a double mattress on the floor with seriously heavy duty mosquito net covering it that gives you some privacy.
We had a cup of coffee with the guides and then they said “okay, someone will deliver your evening meal at 5pm, we will see you tomorrow at 8am!” I was laughing and like “haha yeah good one!” Then they zip lined out of the tree house. And I was like “holy shit, were 30 metres above the ground for the night, unattended!” For some reason, I’d assumed that the guides would stay with us…. The health and safety procedures are so different on this side of the world. They basically just said “don’t zip line when it’s dark and don’t light candles.” And that’s it. We later were thinking “what if someone has a heart attack or something, what do we do?!” And it was very discomforting when one of the guides told me that our tree house had actually burnt down a few years ago, when some travellers fell asleep with a candle burning and had to zip line out of the burning house in the dark. Terrifying! Anyway, I’m rambling again..

I had a shower. It was completely open air with awesome view of the jungle. I felt slightly exposed, but there is no one there to see you, just the odd gibbon, snake (!) bear (!!) or leopard (!!!)
In the shower you are stood on floorboards with gaps between them. I’m fine with big heights, but I must admit watching the water droplets from my shower snake down the thirty metre drop before hitting the ground below took my breath away and I found myself clinging onto the railing and doing some deep breaths.
There were seven of us in our treehouse; an American couple – Dani and Kevin, Anita from Switzerland, and David from Scotland with his Polish girlfriend Daria. So it was a good mix of people! We watched the sun go down over the jungle, listening to bugs that were deafening, and sounded like someone using an angle grinder, geckos singing and squeaking, an ominous humming that sounded like flies over a body, and all sorts of birds and unidentifiable animals singing. It was SO loud and fascinating!

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When it got dark we played cards by the single solar powered hanging LED light, and a few bugs came to join us. It started off with every five minutes of so, someone flinching and brushing off a mosquito or fly, then we saw small grasshoppers then bigger praying mantis, then moths, then huge moths, and then huge spiders and cockroaches. It was hilarious! We got to a point when we weren’t even scared, just waiting for the bigger and more funny bug to greet us. The grand finale was when an fucking ENORMOUS (about the size of my hand) bug descended from the ceiling in a twirl like a dramatic ballerina towards our table. It had a cape on. It had muscles. It had huge wiggling antenna and about ten wings. We were so giddy and scared and jumpy I’m certain we woke up and scared away every single sleeping gibbon in the jungle. We decided that we should probably go to bed before Godzilla or something arrived for the party.

We lifted our mosquito net to discover the mattress was absolutely crawling with ants. We brushed as many off as possible and got in. After a few minutes something huge began to flap around the net. It was absolutely pitch black but we didn’t dare put the torch on to decide if it was in the net or outside. I think it’s best not to know sometimes. I put my earplugs in and fell asleep.

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I woke up early to the sounds of the jungle and had another crazy shower. Our guides ziplined in with some coffee and rice for breakfast. It turns out the carbs would really come in handy!
The second day was just awesome. The uphill walks were incredibly hard for me. It’s a lot of very steep uphill climbs in 35 degree heat, so it felt like walking in a sauna. My chest was tightening and I very nearly cried at one point! I’m not the lithe fit hill walker I was post fruit picking (Ho Ho Ho!) we ziplined into treehouse seven (where the other group had stayed.) it was empty but we could hear the gibbons singing. It was an extremely loud, and almost mournful wailing sound that accelerated into sounding like a car alarm. There were about four or five we could hear, which helped to pinpoint the direction. We crept up to the very top of the treehouse and waited….. Then we saw them. Black and beige gibbons swinging around the trees with their long arms. They were also shaking the branches to defend their territory. It was magical.

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(This extra big gibbon keeps following me around)

Our next stop on the zipline was the tallest tree house in the world. It was mental stepping into the air and hurtling above the trees watching the beautiful view across the canopy. The national park just seems to go on forever. The treehouse came into view and I just felt like I was in Avatar or a Harry Potter film. It doesn’t look real. The treehouse gave me some vertigo, as it was so high up! It was amazing!!

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For the rest of the day we were hiking, jelly legged and zipping. It was ace. The guides were really kind. They made me giggle when I asked if the walking was easy for them. They were like “YES!”

That evening at our treehouse we experienced a massive thunder storm. It was awesome. At the same time I had to stop myself from thinking “a treehouse thirty metres above the ground with a metal roof is possibly the last place I want to be right now.”
There was a ridiculous moment when Dani said, “it’s fine! You can tell when a storm is serious when all the wildlife goes quiet!” And at that very moment silence descended across the jungle. It was like something off a film!
The next day we discovered that the other group had been evacuated from their treehouse due to safety. I’m glad it wasn’t us who had to zipline in pitch blackness!

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(A photo of the toilet in the tallest tree house in the world!)

Anyway, we made it through the second night and in the morning I woke up and I could hear the gibbons singing. I shook Tom awake and we looked out from underneath our mosquito net. Mist had covered the whole jungle whilst we were sleeping and it was so spooky and atmospheric. We had very little visibility, so it wasn’t possible to see the gibbons again, which was sad. But I can’t think of a better wake up call. After a couple of hours our guides showed up with breakfast, and then pointed out the langur monkeys in the trees. They were small, grey in colour monkeys that looked a bit like lemurs but without the stripes tail. They started off quite far away but then got closer and closer, until we could watch them swinging from tree to tree and having their breakfast. Occasionally one would freeze and stare at us, then almost shrug and continue eating. There was about forty of them in total. Just magic.

The gibbon experience is a truly wonderful government run scheme. Poachers were damaging the wildlife and vegetation in the national park, so the government created the gibbon experience and trained the poachers to become guides. They’re incredibly knowledgable about the jungle, they showed us all sorts of herbal medicines, and they just fucking love the zip lines. Half the time they zip across upside down with a huge smile across their faces. Our guides had grown up in the village at the start of the trail, and it was fascinating for me to imagine growing up in somewhere so cool. The money from the gibbon experience pays the guides much more than their earnings as poachers, and ploughs money back into the local community and schools. Although it’s not cheap, I’d highly recommend the Gibbon Experience to anyone visiting Laos.

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