Laos by motorbike

The past two days have been amazing. We went tubing down the river yesterday, which was a lot of fun and then today we rented motorcycles (oh, and when I say motorcycle, I mean motobike. 110cc, no clutch, 4 gears) and drove them up to a lagoon near the base of the cliffs. After the lagoon, I left the guys for a while and went far out into the country, steering around cows and stray dogs. I made my way to a bridge that I did not feel comfortable driving the bike over before I turned around. This country is beautiful, and of all the places I have been so far, I like the atmosphere, climate, and people here the most. They are smiling, honest and hardworking. I have made friends with one woman who is a cook at the restaurant we have been eating at, and I get her to choose my meal for me every night. She chooses well.

My ankle is feeling much better now, and I can move around alright. The guys and I are planning on meeting up with Greg, a Canadian we met in Ton Sai in Laung Probong, and I think we are going to rent motorcycles to make the journey there. Should be a good way to see the country on a more intimate level. We are sick of busses, so this method of transportation appeals to us. Thad and I went and cruised at dusk tonight for about 45 minutes and wandered way back on some old roads next to a river. I love the feeling of freedom that having a motorcycle gives me in this place because I can just zip off anywhere whenever.

Driving here is a trip. They drive on the right side of the road, same as in the US, but there are no lanes (on dirt roads how could there be?) but generally you pass on the left, and slower people stay to the right, but sometimes someone will be heading right for you, and you have to go all the way to the other side… when there are busy sections, it is chaos, but somehow it works.

I have been trying to get my laptop online so I can upload a ton of pictures, but no luck.

More Later,
Ben

rice paddy hut
Rice fields and the Mountains

bridge
The bridge I would not cross on the bike

cows in road
Cows

lagoon
The Lagoon 

The Ankle

Today I have rented a motorcycle, cruised down dirt roads in the center of a city, crossed a river in a boat no wider than myself, rock climbed, hung out on the river, visited a hospital, and used a bamboo stick as a cane. As I was climbing my second route of the day, I was reaching out to clip into the rope, missed the clip-in, and lost my grip. I fell about 15 feet and sprained my ankle worse than I ever have. I also tore some skin off of my ring finger on the left hand. I did not hit the ground, but bounced off the wall with my foot, which sprained as it absorbed the impact.

I went and hung out at the river bar for a while with ice tied to my foot in a compress while the other guys kept climbing, then Thad took me on the back of one of the motorbikes to the hospital, which was five minuets down the dirt road. They did an x-ray and said it wasn’t broken. I got wrapped up in an ace bandage and given some cream to rub on it. Total cost for x-ray, consultation, and cream: $20.70. On the way back I ran into Todd and Kim, whom I had gotten to know in Ton Sai, and he lent me his walking stick as a cane.

All things considered, I am pretty lucky. It could have been worse. I do look pretty awkward hopping down the road on one foot with a bamboo pole, but since I can’t put any weight on it at all, I don’t care.

Tomorrow we are meeting up with Todd, his girlfriend Kim, and some girls we met while climbing today to tube down the Nam Sam river. No need to use my foot!

More Later,
-Ben

Thailand to Laos

We finally left Ton Sai on Friday the 23rd and got a bus up to Bangkok. Again we took the easy way and took a tourist bus. I have a love hate relationship with the tourist busses. I do not like the way they prohibit you from having a true Thai experience, but I do enjoy the comfort that they offer. The company rounded up everyone who was going in a certain direction then gave us all stickers that were color coded to our final destination. They put us on a bus then shipped us off to a stopping point that was owned by them, so we had to eat the food they sold or wander a ways away to find our own, which we did. We had to wait again for the next bus, then get on it and repeat the process. The bus is all tourists and no Thais, except for the driver and his relief. This bus ride took 12 hours and we got back to Koh San Road at around 6:00am, on Saturday.

We were sick of being treated like cattle, so when we got to Bangkok, we checked my mail at the guesthouse I had been staying at, and went to the local bus station. It took us a little while, but we found a ticket to the boarder town of Nong Kai. We bought a ticket that would put us at the boarder at around 5:00am, and it opened at 6:00am. We still had a few hours to burn, and weren’t sure what we were going to do, but one of the women who worked behind the counter was about to take her lunch break at a giant outdoor market and wanted us to join her. (We were the only foreigners in the entire station) She paid for our bus ride to the market and we accompanied her there where she led us around for an hour before taking us to a small place inside the open air market. I told her to choose food for all of us, as long as it was not too spicy. She got us a pork and egg dish with rice that was excellent. We found out that she has a 21-year-old son and a 24-year-old son. We paid for her meal and thanked her, letting her know we would see her back at the bus station but that we were going to wander for a while.

We made it back to the station with plenty of time, and got on the bus half an hour early. These busses are a step down from the tourist busses, and a big step. Before we left, the bus was packed completely full, and people were sitting in the aisle on plastic stools. I had my eye mask, pillow and earplugs so I was ok, but still did not sleep that well. The bus stopped every 30 minutes or so and people got on, off and it was crazy. Sometimes we would stop and half the bus would rush off to go to the bathroom, so we would stumble out of our sleep stupor, run to the bathroom, and come back. We were always the slowest ones. Once Jared and I had to run back to the door because the bus was threatening to leave us! We had only been gone about three minutes!

This ride quickly got old, and then we had to switch busses at 2:00am to another one that drove the rest of the way to the boarder town. We got in at 3:00am. The boarder did not open until 6:00am. There was no going back to sleep at this point, so we had a breakfast of tea, coffee and fried donuts (like at the Chinese buffet places…) for one baht per donut. A market was setting up, so around 5:30 we wandered through it and got some meat on a stick, that ended up being a horrible liver, then settled on soy milk and fruit.

We got a tuk-tuk to the actual boarder and went sat to wait to check in when it opened. A quick ride across the Mekong river and we were in Laos. We took a 30 minute ride to Vientiane, the capitol of Laos where we ate a proper meal for the first time since lunch the day before. We were all so sleep deprived from the past two nights on busses that we were a little out of it. We were headed for the town of Vang Vieng which has climbing, caving and tubing, so we jumped on another crowded, this time non air-con bus and went for another five hours. We were in the back row, so we jumped out the windows when the bus stopped to go to the bathroom because there were so many people sitting in the aisle.

We finally arrived and it was beautiful. Big rock all around, and in the middle of the mountains on a river. We checked into the same place that Dustin and Jared had used before which had hot water, a fan, two actual beds, a dresser, mirror, side table and a separate bathroom.

Total cost to me a night: 15000 kip = $1.50.
Cost of food: About $1-2 for a full meal
Beer Lao: 80 cents for 22 ounce
Motorbike for 24 hours: $3
Laos is Cheap!!

After dinner we went to the river to watch the sun go down but got there just as it dipped below the tree line. Tomorrow we are waking up, renting bikes, and going climbing all day. This place is so much less touristy than Thailand, and much more laid back. Everything closes at 11pm and starts early, which is great for us.

More later,
-Ben

3am
3am breakfast with (from L to R) Dustin, Jared, and Thad

crossing
Walking into Laos at 5am, yes that is the moon.

river
It was all worth it!

Bangkok to Laos

Just got into Bangkok again this morning at 6:00 am, and checked my regular mail at the guest house. Got my diploma, so all is good. We are heading to Laos tonight on a train. It was a good ride here, I slept through most of it, which was helpful.

Here are some pictures and video of deep water soloing and whatnot…

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The Jump

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Halfway

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The Landing

This is sideways, so turn your head, it is a minute long, the jump is at the very end. It is a girl we got to know, not me.

The bus ride to Krabi from Ao Nang

Hello again

I know that I have gotten rather lazy with my blogging, but I do have a reasonably good explanation. My schedule of late has been: I wake up at 8:00am, meet Emily, Thad, Dustin, and Jarred (the guys I am going to Laos with) for breakfast to decide where to climb, and we try to be on the rocks by 9:30am. We climb till 4:00 or 5:00pm and eat lunch at the wall, then come back and get a few beers while we watch the sunset on the beach before we go get dinner and talk about climbing that day. We usually meet up with some other people at sunset or dinner, and after showering, we end up hanging out with them at night. The nights are generally pretty fun and we enjoy them, then wake up and do it all over again. Very little time for plugging in and uploading pictures and whatnot. I have still been taking them and will update the pictures soon.

I just switched places to room with Thad, thus cutting my cost per night down to 75 baht, or about $2.50. Cool.

We are going deep water soloing tomorrow, which means we charter a fishing or long tail boat and a kayak, and go out to rocks that overhang the ocean. We take the kayak in from the boat to under the wall, and free climb the rocks. I think you can get ridiculously high before you jump off the rock into the ocean. Something like 50 meters if you are retarded. I think 15-20 meters (45-60 feet) sounds like it is my upper limit. I will try to get video, but no promises.

We keep postponing our trip to Laos because we are finally starting to get into the climbing groove. We can climb a bunch of routes all day and we are stronger and in better shape than we were before, and the skills are honing in and becoming usable. We are now thinking we will be here for a few more days before going right to Laos, and skipping the northern part of Thailand. This is fine with me as they will be leaving around December 4th, and I don’t fly out of Bangkok until 18th to teach English in South Korea, so I can see more around Laos, and then see the rest of Thailand when I fly back in early January.

Back to climbing…

spder
Spider in front of my place

scorpian
Friend in the bathroom

before-the-shave
Right before my shave

Traveling group

It turns out that Dustin, Thad and Jarred are all heading the same way I am, and I am going to join them for a trip up the west coast of Thailand, and into Laos. We are going to keep our climbing gear and climb again in Laos. It will be good to have travel partners who have already been through the area.

On another note, it has now been 15 days since I had a toilet that flushed itself (I have to pour a bucket of water down it), or a hot shower. Today I found a big scorpion on the floor of my bathroom. I hate those things. It will be good to get to Bangkok for one night to get the amenities of a big city.

Small update today, sorry, we just climbed the whole time. I did pick up a copy of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” today in return for my “The Beach”

Kyle Fleischmann is Missing.

kyleHey guys, I know there are not a lot of you, but I am helping to put the word out anyway I can. My buddy and fraternity brother, Kyle Fleischmann, is missing. He was last seen Friday night, and more details and photos can be found here: HelpFindKyle.com

Lagoon and the start of the end.

I have seen this movie before. It had Leonardo Decaprio as the lead role. It is about a traveler who shows up in Thailand, and on Khao San road is so inspired by the ledged of paradise that he embarks on a journey to find it. Oh Khao San road I was told about Ton Sai from an Irishman named Joe. And here I am. We went to the lagoon again today, and this time we swam all the way to the other side. Sarah and I found a cave, and an underwater tunnel to it. We swan in and found ourselves in a cavern that was really deep, and glowed with the light that made its way through the tunnel. It is paradise, but much like in “The Beach” it has its problems. They just take a while to make themselves apparent. Nothing quite so drastic as furious dope smugglers, but there are issues.

The difference between the lives of the Thai people here is staggering. Those who have been able to find jobs in the bars and restaurants on these islands live a life of luxury compared to those who do the laundry for 40 baht a kilo and the long boat drivers who sit around playing cards on the beach waiting and haggling for passengers. A careless 100 baht ($3) tip is close to the total days wages of some people.

This area was hit hard by the Tsunami, and the effects are still evident everywhere. A good fourth of the beach is still in shambles, and a Swedish company has purchased it (in conjunction with the Thai mafia) and plans on building a large resort right next to the backpacker bungalows. This will change the feel of the beach completely and drive prices up for those who are simply looking for a simple place.

Already, the season is getting better and we had our first full day of sun, and with it an influx of hundreds. The beach at Ton Sai is all tired climbers, taking a day off to lounge around and re-charge. The beach at Rai-Lay is full of people from all nationalities, but most speak English. Families, couples, the rich, the middle class, those getting away for a few days. On Pranang beach, the most beautiful and remote of the beaches, you will find those who are beautiful, fat, opulent, sullen, sunburned, in Speedos, and topless. (Silly French.) There are vendors on the beach, and rarely do you get an uninterrupted five minuets before a young child cheerfully swings into view, pulling a bucket full of ice cold drinks behind him that must weigh half as much as he does. “60 baht, you want Chang? Or you want Singha? 60 baht – 60 baht!” Undeterred by our assurances that we are fine, and enjoying our water, he sits down next to us and rests in the shade. He starts to put the cold cans on our necks to entice us further, but finally gives up and shakes his head as he walks off. The backpacker group isn’t really his target audience.

On this beach is a resort that is patrolled by police guard, and the rates are published between $1200 – $6000 USD. That is 198,000 baht. My hut costs 200 baht a night. Crazy.

Anyway, I have started to plan out my escape from paradise, and escape it is. The magnetic force of this place is strange. I will travel to Bangkok then up the western coast, stopping to see some sights along the way and make my way to Chang-mai, then to Laos for a few weeks before I head to South Korea.

The pictures are from last night when Ivana fire danced on the beach on her last night on Ton Sai for the season.

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Ivana Fire Dancing

Ivana Circles
Same Same

Thaiwand Wall

Best day of climbing yet! I am finally not sore anymore, and am getting better at the technical stuff. I went with Dustin and Thad to Thaiwand Wall, which is accessed through a cave, and you need head lamps to get through the cave. The way there is through back fields and a bunch of little Thai huts, and we saw some Thai’s burning the hair off of some goats so they could cook them. Dustin and I stopped to see if we could take some pictures and they were happy to show off their feast. If we had stayed longer, they probably would have invited us to enjoy some fresh cooked goat. So we strapped on our headlamps, donned our packs, and made our way up a series of bamboo and rope ladders that led into and through the cave. At the far end and a good 30 meters higher, we were presented with a breathtaking view of the area. Through a hole in the wall (which we rappelled down out of) we could see all three beaches at the same time.

We rappelled down, and I led a climb up a fairly easy wall, and Thad and Dustin followed it up. We were looking around for a while, trying to decide what to do next, when we came across two partners who were not able to finish a route, and ended up having to leave a quick draw on the wall. The girl’s name was Kirby, and she let me tie into her rope, and I ended up being able to recover their piece, and finish the route to the top and tie it off so everyone could top rope it. This climb was really fun because it was pretty easy until that one move, and after that it was easy again.

On a different note, it seems that my debit card has ceased working. I tried it twice in the ATM on the other beach, and it wouldn’t work, then it set off the alarm on the machine. I need to call Wachovia tomorrow and see what’s up with it. It should be working. I ended up buying $20 worth of baht from Thad to get me to the mainland tomorrow so I can buy a phone card and call Wachovia.

More later,
-Ben

goat-head
The Goat Head (and Dustin)

cook-goat
And the rest of the Goat

cliff-face
Coming down off of Thaiwand Wall 

Stretch
Getting that last hold!