Holding Hands With a North Korean

As some of you know, it was my birthday yesterday (this is Talia, by the way). I've had birthdays away from home before, in Hawaii, Argentina, and China, but never one so amazing as this one.


The birthday festivities continued with massages (Cambodian and Japanese), a pedicure, swimming at a nice hotel, real lasagna for lunch, a riverside walk, Legos, a personalized towel, and the best companion a girl could ask for.

As you can see, there was quite a lot going on for the birthday celebration. In a city like Phnom Penh, you can pretty much find anything you would want to do on your special day. However, my favorite part of the birthday weekend was the dinner we had the day before my actual birthday. See, we had dinner at a North Korean restaurant, staffed completely by North Koreans. Now, as some of you may know, North Korea isn't really known for its liberality in letting people leave the country, so it was quite a treat to be served traditional dishes (yes, that includes dog) by actual North Koreans.

The girls were lovely, taking moments from serving us to perform on stage. Our waitress was a drummer. Others played guitars, keyboard, sang, or danced.  We enjoyed the performances immensely, and soon we were nearing the end of our meal.

However, as I was chopsticking a few noodles from the serving bowl to my plate, the music changed, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by Korean women, a bouquet was in my arms, and more flowers rested on my head.  They were singing Happy Birthday to me, and then pulling my arm to join one girl on stage as she sang in Korean. We held hands and marched back and forth to the beat of the lively song. When the song ended, I returned to my seat, giddy from the experience.


On stage, holding hands with a lovely N. Korean girl.

Walking back to my seat.

Now, I'm pretty sure that most people have been at a restaurant when their family or friends tell the waiter it's your birthday, and you sit there in humiliation as the waiters gather round to sing you their non-copyrighted version of Happy Birthday. But this was different. It was so much more than just another birthday song.

Not many people can say they've seen a North Korean. Even less can say they've held hands with one and been sung to by several. And I think that's pretty cool.


Top 10 Travel Apps (Even When You're Not Traveling)



When we left northern China on our great journey it took quite a bit of time to decide what technology I wanted to bring with me. I had just bought a new, very lightweight laptop just for the trip but once it came to the crunch I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring it and risk it getting damaged or stolen.

So I made a decision to bring an iPod touch instead.

Let me just say that I am not just recommending an Apple product or the standard apps therein (such as the mail and Safari apps which will also be useful for travel). I am recommending the third party apps created by companies who make their profits through other means such as in-app advertising.

Now, this might sound a bit strange as an iPod surely can’t be worth more than a computer while travelling, can it? Well, funnily enough, it can actually be better! Let me explain why….

-all apps listed here are completely free from the App Store at time of writing and some of them work offline without 3G, 4G or wifi networks-


10.
 Booking.com speaks for itself. It is quite simply an app connected to the booking.com website. Booking.com is handy for getting a very cheap last minute reservation in almost any city in the world. –Requires internet connection-






9.

 THIS. IS. PHOTOSHOP! This app is outrageously fun and cool on the go. Edit pictures, make collages and more all while waiting for your noodles at a noodle stand. It’s fast, it’s very easy, it’s intuitive and best of all, it’s free!




8.

 Couchsurfing is a relatively recent phenomenon where a person offers up their couch for new friends to stay with them for free, with the expectation that the surfer will also host other surfers when they finish travelling. Well the clever buffs over at Couchsurfers finally released an official user friendly app earlier this year. A must for any cheapskate traveler! –Requires internet connection-



7.

 The first of the guides! Tripadvisor gives a user information about things to do, see and, of course, eat in pretty much any city in the world with user reviews available for thousands of restaurants and places to stay. It’s perfect for people who don’t want to search for hours to find that Yak burger in the Himalayas or that North Korean restaurant in Shanghai! -Requires an internet connection-



6.

 The standard photos app is where all of your photos are stored on your iPod. It seems like a pretty standard app which doesn’t require a mention until you start to uncover its other uses. The photos app can double as a place to store maps you download from the internet. Once again, this might seem simple enough but becomes essential once you realize that city maps are not always widely available and in a lot of cases the city maps offered at the train stations or hotels omit very important  features such as subway maps, etc.


5.

 Using this app on your travels may seem obvious, but sometimes it just isn’t. We have met several travelers who depended solely on their SLR cameras or digital compacts, only to realize the memory was full, the battery died, it fell into the blue lagoon, got splashed on by the kids etc. Well, with your IOS device you have a very capable backup camera with 7mp images and 720p video…. Very very handy.



4.

 iBooks gets a high ranking because it is a double whammy app. I recently read Dracula, Through the Looking Glass, Burmese Days and many more books on my little iPod FOR FREE! I don’t have to carry heavy books around and the screen is more than capable of displaying readable (albeit small) backlit pages of books, saving weight big time.

The second whammy is that I can also email pdf files to my iPod and read those on the device. Why is this so great you ask? Well I recently uploaded the Lonely Planet books I need, including maps, ratings, suggestions, etc. from all over the world onto my little iPod and it all works offline! A real prize winner.

3.

 More than once I have been in a country where more than one currency is accepted for a purchase and I think to myself “I wonder in which currency my purchase will work out cheaper….” Well this little beauty is ideal. Every time I go to the bank I have the most recent exchange rates downloaded from the internet and I can see how much I lose on exchanges.

It is so up to date that recently while exchanging $100 into Cambodian riel I had more up to date rates than the bank teller and in the exchange I actually gained $3 thanks to this app!

2.

 Skype. Absolutely essential. With Skype I can video call my friends and family, voice conference with several people at once, instant message friends from work and send large files like recent pictures of my trip.
ALL.        FOR.      FREE.

Add a little Skype credit (similar to phone credit but all done online) and you can call cell phones for less than the cell phone rates actually cost. That means I can call my mom for less on Skype from the other side of the world than if I called her from a cell phone while sitting next to her! –Requires internet connection-


1.

 In keeping with the travel app genre here, this has to be a clear winner. The biggest difference between this app and the other Tripadvisor app is this app works completely offline. Tripadvisor city guides is in a complete league of it’s own. Let me lay it down for you: this app can…
1.Display recent maps at varying degrees of detail
2.Suggest sights
3.Recommend restaurants, hotels, bars and nightclubs (all at different price ranges)
4.Show recent reviews of everything it has listed
5.Display other users’ walking tours, as well as TA recommended tours
6.Allows you to make your own walking tours
And way more.
ALL…OFF….LINE…
ALL….FOR….FREE!!!!

When in China Talia and I took a walking tour of the forbidden city in Beijing and at the entrance we were approached by some tour guides, looking for 30euros or so to give a tour. Well with this app we got a self guided tour, with history and pictures of the sights, a map and descriptions of everything around us all offline, in clear English and for free. It really saved us a lot of money and time and it really doesn’t get any better than that!

Well there you have it! We use all of these apps in some shape or form during our travels and I would recommend all of them especially the last few, which I would consider essential. Hope this post was helpful and informative!

How to Ruin Your Border Crossing in 7 Easy Steps


Crossing the border from Laos into Cambodia was not the easiest, or the most pleasant, of experiences. In fact, it was a downright nightmare. For your convenience, we have decided to share our secrets of misery. Behold the list of surefire ways to ruin your own border crossing. Pay close attention.

1.       Believe everything you read on the internet regarding transport of vehicles, especially motorbikes, across borders. It is very important to get as much information as you can pertaining to this particular situation. Check out Lonely Planet and various southeast Asia biking websites. They will promise that you can take your bikes across the border, and you will believe them. Soon enough, you will find out you cannot, no matter how much bribing you do, because when you actually need border officials to be corrupt, they won’t be.

2.       Return to town to sell your bikes. This will ruin your plans for nearly the rest of your trip, or at least the next few months, but really, what choice do you have? As a bonus, hordes of townspeople will gather to paw at the bikes, twisting knobs, scratching at paint, smelling the exhaust pipe, with no intention of purchasing them. You then have to deal with false hope for a few hours. If for some reason your conscience is doing ok at the moment, try promising the bike to someone, and while he is away to get the money, sell the bike—for less money—to someone else.  After all, you need to catch that tuk-tuk back to the border now.

3.       Make sure to do all of the above in the blistering heat of midday, without any lunch.

4.       When you arrive at the border for the second time, do ensure that the man at the counter is the one you had a shouting match with earlier in the day when he promised to buy both bikes, made you wait for him to eat lunch, and then told you never mind. He will be ever so glad to see you, especially after that comment about his mother.

5.       When said man stamps your passport and demands an illegal $2 stamp fee, go ahead and pay it. You don’t want any trouble, and didn’t need a bottle of water anyway.

6.       When you reach the Cambodian side of the border, don’t forget to pay yet another illegal fee of $5 straight to the pocket of the finally-corrupt official. He’ll give you a nice grimace for it. Oh, and on your way out and you have to pee and don’t know where the bathroom is, ensure that the only person you can find to ask is the official who told you to go away after standing and begging at his table, waiting and waiting for him to change his mind and tell you that yes, you can bring your bikes to the border. But he won’t. Instead, he will see your face and roll his eyes as he attempts to ignore you. But you will persist and demand his attention. Because you really have to go.

7.       Finally, once stamped and into Cambodia, you will be lucky enough to find that your only option to get into town is a $40 minibus. After told this price you will be ever so grateful that you refused the driver earlier who said that he would take you for $10, because that was obviously a rip-off.

There you have it folks, the 7 steps to ruining your perfectly planned border crossing. If all goes according to these steps, you won’t have any surprises, and will be able to handle whatever comes up. As for us, we’ll probably skip the steps next time.

Change of Plans of the Highest Order


Hello to all our readers once more and a massive huge ginormous tremendous apology for our absence and lack of interesting and informative blogs recently. We really are sorry.

So here’s the update:

We are in Cambodia. We crossed the border a few days ago into a small town called Stung Treng and now we are in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. We have finally settled into a nice guesthouse with decent internet and we can kickstart our blogging after too many blogless days!

Right now we are very tired and we had a lot of early mornings and late nights just to get ourselves to this point. I will be writing a blog very soon telling you guys exactly how miserable and eventful the border crossing was for us (it really was one of the craziest days) during which we had two casualties. Yes friends I’m afraid we have lost our gallant steeds, Lady Stark and Betsy Black.

Which makes me a sad panda. (Cue montage music)

So in the face of adversity and two fallen comrades, a huge development has emerged.  “What could that be?” you might ask. Well here it is: Our Spanish friends who we met on top of a holy mountain in Laos are going to India in a few weeks and asked us to join them.

Now initially we weren’t really planning on doing India until everything else (Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.) was done, and we still had money left. But since we lost our wheels, which pretty much cuts our entire plan in half and burns it to ashes, we are left in Cambodia without any plan. At all.

So we have pretty much decided to go to India for a while! Now, I don’t know the first thing about India except something about a Taj Mahal, curry and what Indiana Jones told me in the Temple of Doom--
KA LI MAAAAAAAAAAAA!

So we will be heading there planless and ready for anything. I already have my trusty spoon in hand ready for some monkey brains.

Stay tuned so we can tell you all about our border crossing experience, Phnom Penh, Cambodia so far and much, much more as we prepare for Talia’s (and our new friend Andrea’s) birthdays, the killing fields, Angkor Wat and loads of crazy things. It has certainly been a ride!

Chat soon and please send us loads of comments and e-mails because we love hearing from you guys!

p.s. big thanks to Febe our reader from Indonesia for her recommendation on visiting “Pindul Cave” near Jakarta. We will definitely keep it in mind when we head that way.

Pay?! Wat the hell Pho?!




In south East Asia there are a lot of ruins from an era known as the Angkor era. This was a time around 800 a.d. when a King in what is now Cambodia started expanding his empire into what is now Laos, southern Vietnam and eastern Thailand.

This period in time left a lot of amazing ruins and structures around these countries which attract a lot of tourism with the most famous one being Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the head of the Khmer empire.



A couple of days ago Talia and I visited one of the ruins of this period in southern Laos, ruins called Wat Pho. We hopped on Talia’s bike as we normally do for our short spins and got under way. We drove an hour or so and crossed the Mekong river on a little catamaran type raft with the motorbike and drove the rest of the distance.



Now as many of our readers know, Talia and I have kinda had enough of paying extortionate entry fees along with a load of other little payments here and there for parking, tolls etc. which annoy me to no end. For more detail on our hatred of busting out the wallet, see here.

Well this day was no different.

As we pulled into the parking area for the site we woke a guy sleeping in a little shack near the entrance. As he awoke, and we parked the bike, he sleepily scribbled a note and wandered over to us. He handed us a ticket charging us 3000 kip to park our motorbike inside this car park. Well needless to say that didn’t happen, and I pushed the bike back out the gate and onto the grass, right in front of this guy’s hut. I figured a sleeping Laoman would be just as good as no protection!



We saw a museum-like building which had an entrance fee written on it so we decided to take a different entrance, thinking it might be cheaper. After talking to a passing Dutch couple we discovered that we had just gone in the exit and gotten in for free!



We were happy to have saved ourselves almost $10 as we looked at the ruins and philandered about. We entered one “restricted area” to have a look around and couldn’t really see what made it so restricted, but the massive thrill of it all and the view of these ruins from the inside made our visit a little special (albeit illegal).



A long climb up some bumpy steep stairs (a bit like the stairs in China in the movie Kill Bill, except a lot steeper and older!) and we reached a small temple at the top of the holy mountain behind the ruins. As I reached the top of the stairs there was a couple sitting there looking at me dripping in sweat and trying to catch my breath in the scorching heat.





As it turned out they were a Spanish couple and were very pleasant. We chatted for a while and saw the rest of the sights together before going off our separate ways.

P.S. If any of our readers would like to check it out, the Spanish couple also had a blog at mamaestamosbien.blogspot.com, some of the posts are in English and some are in Spanish. Also the name is epic! It means “MA! We're ok!”…….. .com…… one of the best blog names I’ve seen!



To Pay or Not to Pay: The Ethics of Sightseeing



If there’s one thing that drives us up the wall, it’s entrance fees. In China, the fees were massive, often for sites that aren’t worth the price. The Terracotta Warriors exhibit, for example, was a huge waste of money. We paid 150 rmb each (about $22) just to see the same stuff we saw on the internet. As an added bonus, we got to be pushed around by hordes of Chinese tourists with giant cameras  and body odor.

So you see, after a time, we became weary of paying these fees. By the time we reached Guilin, we started refusing to pay entrance fees, no matter how small. What’s that? You want 30 cents so I can look at that elephant-shaped stone formation over there, because you have planted bamboo so passersby can’t see it for free? No thanks.  A few bucks to see one of the “must-see” sights of the city? We’ll pass. And parking? Well, everywhere requires a parking fee, even if you only want to stop the bike for a minute to run into a shop. Too many times we’ve had to pay for parking, only to find that the shop or market didn’t have what we were looking for, so 25 cents is still too much.

But, as you can imagine, there are still things we want to see, that have be paid for. We don’t want to fork over our hard-earned cash just so some guy in a hammock can pretend to safeguard our bikes while we go into a market for an hour. We don’t want to pay outrageously to see a natural waterfall or mountain just because someone decided to put up a fence around it.

So how do we get around it?

Well, quite honestly, we sometimes just simply, get around it. We walk around the fence or enclosure or whatever until we can find a way in.  We go in the exit, we play dumb, we pull the “I don’t understand” card and keep walking. Sometimes it works, but most often it doesn’t. More often than not we are told by a gruff old lady “no no no!” and we turn around. We’d often rather pay the fee than get into trouble.

Just the other day, in Pakse, we visited the ruins of Wat Phu, an old temple of the Angkor era. We drove our bike into the parking area, and as soon as an attendant walked over, Ricky took off and parked just outside the fence, outside of the parking area. Bam. Free parking. Then, we ignored the signs that pointed to the ticket area and walked straight ahead. Apparently, it was the exit, so no one was there collecting tickets. We saw the whole beautiful sight for free. (more on that in a future post)

But that brings me to a question. Is it ethical to do this? Should we pay every man whose only self-given job is to take money to keep an eye on our bikes?  Should we pay exorbitant fees to enter a non-man-made sight, like a waterfall? Does one of the biggest tourist attractions in China need to charge so much, just because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?  Do we have the right to refuse to pay to see these sights?

Now, there are a few sights that we have seen and were happy to pay for. Our visit to the Kong Lor Cave was pricey, but justified. Outside of the ticket window there was a paper explaining, by pie-chart, where the money went. 60% to the two guides, a few percent to the villages involved, and some to tourist centers in the villages. We were happy to pay for our guides, and glad to see that some of the money went to the village we visited and were welcomed to so kindly.

It is true that most entrance fees, especially in Laos, mean much more to the locals than to us. What’s $5 to us, when we have so much compared to most locals?  I’m sure that’s what they think as well, which contributes to the exasperating idea that foreigners are rich and willing to spend all their cash to see what the third-world countries have to offer, in all their rustic beauty. Despite our comparative wealth, we travelers are so often taken advantage of that it becomes nigh to unbearable to hand over the cash so earnestly sought after by gate-keepers of temples and caves.  All of those small fees add up, not only monetarily, but they also add up to an exasperating game we have to keep playing—haggling, bartering, giving in, giving up.

I understand that some of these entrance fees, like the one for Kong Lor Cave, go to good causes. They are for the maintenance of the site, or the small salaries of the locals who work there. This causes me to lament the increase in tourism in places like these. When towns like Vang Vieng, well known for its tubing activities down the river, accompanied by riverside bars, become solely tourist towns, the locals are caught in the middle. They have to satisfy the tourists and make money and the only way to do so is to claim they have something worth seeing for a small price.

But the question remains. Do we have the right to refuse to pay an entrance fee that we deem too expensive, or the sight not worthy enough? Not every ticket office has a pie-chart explaining where the money goes. Is it unjust to assume it goes straight to the pockets of higher-ups or those running the mock parking lot? Where do we draw the line between taking advantage and being taken advantage of?


Waterfalls and Villages: Unexpected Beauty


If you recall from this post, my bike had a bit of unexpected trouble on our way to Pakse. Well, the bike was fixed by the time we got there to pick it up the next day, and everything went swimmingly until a couple hours later when I got a flat tire from driving over a nail. But other than that, things went great.

Today was also a most unexpected day, in a good way. We thought we’d go to a waterfall, because there’s nothing better than swimming in delightfully chilly water on a hot day in Southeast Asia.  We didn’t end up swimming, but what we did get was so much better.

We hopped onto Lady Stark (who, if you didn’t know, is my lovely green motorbike. She’s feisty and quick.) and headed out, semi-blind. There were no road signs to point our way, and we weren’t sure what road we were on, or if it would lead us anywhere. We stopped and asked for directions a couple of times, using our limited Lao, and the miming techniques we have all but perfected.

We arrived, much to our surprise, and as we entered I read the sign and realized that this wasn’t the waterfall we had planned on going to. Well, at least we got somewhere.

The entrance fee was surprisingly cheap, and the place had a nice atmosphere about it.  There were signs pointing the way to ethnic villages and caves, but we headed straight to the falls, ready to jump into some cold water. We were a tad disappointed when we saw that the path led to the top of the falls with no way to get to the pool below, so swimming wasn’t really an option.

We doubled back found a group tourists wandering aimlessly, trying to make sense of the many signs and arrows and paths.  We followed them down a path paved in tree stumps, and found ourselves in the middle of a village of wooden huts with thatched roofs. In the center of everything was a blue tarp covered in drying coffee cherries.  Take a look here for a 360 degree photo of the village.

We walked past a small hut with a local family sitting on the porch taking pictures with a couple of the tourists. I think they thought it would be a great idea to get a picture with natives AND white people, so they beckoned us in, and I sat with them as Ricky took some pictures. I was a little hesitant to join because I prepared for the day thinking we would go swimming, so I was wearing short swim shorts and a tank over my swimsuit. I was afraid I would offend them being so scantily clad, but they were friendly and didn’t kick me out of the village.



We soon found ourselves at a tree-top “bachelor cabin” and then under a small hut with a tiny old man who was definitely the highlight of our visit.




 He was standing at a sort of woven bamboo table covered in various musical instruments. Ricky asked if he could pick up the boxy guitar-shaped one, and he and the small old man jammed for a while, and I had a go at some pipes and an oboe sounding instrument made from a single bit of bamboo.






We were in no rush to leave the man or his instruments, because he was such a jolly fella, and I think he saw that clearly enough. He brought out a few toys for us to play with. They were more like puzzles, made of bits of bamboo and string. We sat for AGES trying to figure them out. He showed us multiple times how to do them, but we just didn’t get it for a while. When he showed us how to do it, he would tap a finger to his temple and give us a little grin, meaning that he knew the trick, the clever old man. Eventually, though, we figured them out. And of course we bought them, because we like toys.

We finally left the man and found ourselves at the place where we came in. Beyond some trees was another waterfall, which confused us a little, because the water was flowing the opposite way of the other waterfall. We made our way along some rocks in the stream right to where the fall was, only 
slipping a few times and enjoying the cool water on our feet. Here is the 360 picture.

The waterfall we found.

Woven bamboo bridge is probably the safest way to go across a raging river.

The view from the waterfall after crossing the river.


We couldn't believe that we had found this place, and it was so inexpensive and so beautiful and authentic. It was definitely one of our favorite attractions so far, and made for a beautiful day. 

Arachnophobe vs. Huntsman: The Showdown


So one of our readers asked us recently about the spiders here in Laos, and I figured today would be the perfect day to tell all about it. Let me explain why.

Just over a week ago we were in the Kong Lor caves in central Laos and if you guys would like to click the link…


…you’ll see that’s where the world’s biggest spider is from that cave.

Now, let me say, that we didn’t SEE that spider, nor come into contact with it while we were there. Also,  I am a serious arachnophobe and run for the hills when any spider bigger than an ant is nearby or in the room, and I’m sure many people could corroborate my story! So it’s a good thing we didn’t actually see that spider.

What DID we come in contact with? Well, I try my best to avoid looking for them or even seeing them by accident, but today (the same day Talia almost crashed the motorbike, making this even more of a rather shitty day) I saw one.

A big one.

One of the biggest ones in fact, a huntsman, the little brother of the biggest spider in the world. I walked into our guesthouse room earlier, turned on the light, turned back around and there was a huntsman spider sitting on the bed looking at me, waiting for me to make my move.

Well…… I made my move. I ran leaving the door open and screamed at the top of my voice “TALIA! THERE’S GI-F*CKING-GANTIC SPIDER IN THE F*CK*NG ROOM, PLEASE DO SOMETHING, PLEASE!!!”
Talia here. When I went into the room, the spider wasn’t there, so I entered cautiously. All of a sudden a blur ran across the floor and up the wall. The next second the blur was on the floor again, running to Ricky’s shoes. The thing moved so fast that I thought there were two of them.  Instead of attempting to get at it myself, I opted for getting help from the guesthouse owner, who promptly smashed the spider with his shoe and flicked it outside. He checked the room and bathroom for more spiders. The room was empty and the man left without a word.

The spider pictured is from the internet and is not ours. The spider I saw was slightly bigger than this one.

Now I have to go and never sleep ever again. 

Near Death on Route 13



Having done all of what Savannakhet had to offer (a scantily filled dinosaur museum and the monkey forest) Ricky and I decided that we would leave today.  We filled up the bikes and the spare gas can (which took nearly all the money in my wallet, which wasn’t much) and paid our bill for the room (which took nearly all the money in Ricky’s wallet, which was quite a bit more). We still had money, because we never leave a town empty-handed. We had enough for a couple of food stops and more gas should we need it.  This was to be a long ride, and we thought we were pretty prepared for it. We had water, money, toilet paper, all the essentials.

Well, we weren’t really prepared.

See, since our trip to Monkey Forest, my bike had been feeling a bit wobbly, like the steering was a bit loose or something.  We got out onto the road and things were fine. After about an hour or so, my bike started feeling a bit looser still, so I slowed down from 80 km per hour to about 70, thinking I was just going a little too fast. Ricky was still going fast, so distance grew between our bikes.

I had just crested a hill when disaster struck. All of a sudden I lost absolute control of the bike. The front and back wheels seemed to be fighting for control and I swerved out into the middle of the road. It felt as if some unseen hands were pulling the handlebars back and forth while someone else pulled the back tire in the opposite direction.

I was going about 70 km per hour still and didn’t know what to do. If you recall, I’m fairly new to the motorbike scene, having learned to ride them just over a month ago. I didn’t really know how to handle this. My hand was off the accelerator, but I didn’t know if I should brake, and if I should use the front or back brake, so I think I may have eased both of them on. To be honest I don’t really remember. I remember saying “oh no oh no oh no oh no” over and over as I swerved out of control. All of a sudden I was at the side of the road, unharmed but in shock. I pushed myself off the bike and immediately burst into sobs.

I turned to face the road as I saw Ricky’s bike climb a hill and disappear over the top. I knew he would turn around as soon as he saw I wasn’t behind him, but all I could do was shake and cry as I waited.  Eventually I saw the glint of the silver front of Betsy Black, and then Ricky was parked behind me.

Before he had properly dismounted the bike I was on him, still shaking, holding onto his neck while he attempted to disentangle himself from his headphones. He looked over me for scratches and asked if I had fallen. All I could say was a simple no, and keep holding on.

When I had composed myself a bit, I told him what had happened, and that my steering might be loose. After a short inspection, however, the truth became clear. About 6 or 7 spokes on my back wheel had snapped off, which had caused all the wobbling. The wheel was frighteningly loose when we tested it; it was amazing that I hadn’t gone careening off the road and fallen off.

We tried to figure out what to do. The bike was all but undrive-able, and we didn’t know where we could go to fix it.  We also don’t speak Lao, so we also had that against us.

Ricky flagged down a man on a bike and mimed that we had a problem. The man pointed the way we had come, so Ricky hopped on the bike and was led to a repair shop. Or repair shack.  He came back and I took his bike to the shack while he drove mine. He ended up having to push it (uphill) because the back tire soon got flat with all the wobbling. He arrived drenched in sweat, panting from the exertion and the heat, ever my hero.

The repair shack that luckily wasn't too far away.


After some work and a little more miming, I ended up with a new wheel and tube. The price came to 175,000 kip, about double what we actually had with us.  I was cursing myself that I didn’t go to an ATM before we left. The nearest ATM was in Savannakhet, the town we had just left. We had already had a late start on the long drive, and adding a couple extra hours would leave us arriving well after dark in Paxse. And after the fright and the trouble, neither of us wanted to do much more driving. Instead, we told the repairman, and half the village that had come to gawk, that we would go to Savannakhet, sleep there, and return in the morning with the money.

My old wheel with the broken spokes, next to the tire.

Pictured: Instant Death


They agreed, and we left them working on the bike and put our huge backpacks in another building as collateral, and also because we couldn’t take them with us back to town with only one bike.

My new wheel leaning against the bike.


So here we are, back in Savannakhet. The lady at the guesthouse was surprised to see us, but gave us our old room, without even making us re-check in and told us to relax.

We took her advice and will depart for take two of the drive to Paxse in the morning. Wish us luck!

Attacks for Apples: The Great Monkey Adventure


So when we travel we don’t necessarily travel with a destination in mind. We have a rough idea of a route, but not a destination. By which I mean, we leave on city with the intention of going to the next largest city along the route, not knowing what or if there is anything to see or do there.

When we arrived in our current city, Savannakhet, two days ago we knew a little bit about it. There is a dinosaur museum and a national museum. While we were taking our stroll through the town later that day however we found out there is a lot more to offer. We found the tourist information office (Which in Laos is simply a rip-off tour operator who may or may not give out information for free) and outside we saw a map with some places of interest.

One of these places of interest was “monkey forest”.

So, us being us, we got on the bikes and went straight there the following day. The ride was long and arduous, with potholes big enough to hide medium sized farm animals and deep enough to snap the front suspension on the bikes, making the ride a little unpleasant,  apart from some off-road sections we found, like when we rode through a pool of water next to a dam with a lake behind it.

After an hour and a half of trying to find it we finally got there. At first we spotted just a couple of little monkeys up in the trees hiding, making me think that this place was going to feel more like a zoo than a true “monkey forest.” Talia took some of our packed lunch apples out of our day pack and gave small chunks to the nearest monkey, but within a couple of minutes, or maybe it was seconds (it all happened so fast!) we were almost overrun. Monkeys came from EVERYWHERE and gathered all around us.



When a monkey was displeased with us, it bared it’s teeth in a sort of menacing smile, and then I remembered that I had heard somewhere before that bearing your teeth is a sign of aggression to most primates. Not smiling is difficult when you’re surrounded by such amusing creatures but we did our best so as not to freak them out.

"Give me the precious...apple!"


Instead, they freaked us out. There were points of our walk through the forest when we were genuinely frightened. Check out this video of tons of monkey running out of the forest at us.



After that, big papa came over and scared off all the other monkeys and continued to hassle Talia for apples. At one point, she was pretty scared and I had to talk her through getting out of the situation.



We walked along the path and ran into this. 

Because, you know, why not?


A bit later we decided to eat our packed lunch sandwiches at a table outside a Buddhist temple. Of course, the monkeys wanted in.



When we had finished lunch near the Buddhist temple, Ricky was feeding a piece of apple to a large female, but she apparently wasn’t very impressed, because she grabbed his arm, scratching him and drawing blood.

Before "the incident."



 Then, we noticed a baby monkey had picked up a plastic bag that had fallen off the table. I took it away so it wouldn’t get hurt and because I didn’t want to leave trash there, and the baby’s mother freaked out and jumped at me, baring her teeth. We decided it was time to go.  






We left the temple and headed back down the road to the start of the forest, and the monkeys from the temple followed us out and down the road.



It was odd, and we soon discovered that monkeys and buffalo are BFFs.

BFFalo's


We fed the monkeys a bit more at the clearing where we entered the forest. One of the monkeys was brave enough to touch a human. Talia called him Mr. Softy-hands.  He was so sweet looking up at her for an apple.

The sweetest little beggar.


But as soon as her back was turned, he jumped up and grabbed the apple core out of her hand! To add to the insult of being robbed, two monkeys decided to make sweet love on Talia’s motorbike, while another tried to get into my water bottle and my backpack.



And then goats wanted in on the action.



All in all the day was exciting and terrifying. And just to clarify, these were indeed wild animals. They were in no way tame. They were sort of like pigeons. They’ll take what humans give them, but they’re not going to hang around to be picked up or played with. Unlike pigeons, however, they have teeth and fingernails.

But aren’t they adorable?






Born to be Wild: The Super Deluxe Mega- Montage!

You've been waiting for it, and here it is. We have painstakingly put together this unbelievably astounding montage, to the tune of Born to be Wild, by Steppenwolf, the winner of our latest competition.

So enjoy the latest creation. It's WILD!!!

video

Special Announcement! Motorbike Song Winner!

We have selected a winner for the best motorbike trip song to listen to!

Born To Be Wild!

However, we've changed the prize. Since Ricky's guitar has a big crack in it, we decided that an acoustic version of the song might not be so much of a prize as it would be a punishment. Instead, you get...wait for it... a super deluxe mega-MONTAGE! With the song playing! It's going to be amazing! And since tomorrow we're going to to a monkey-forest, we may get some good footage for the "wild" bit of the song!

Now, I know you're all anxious to see this epic piece of filmography, but you'll just have to wait. While you do, you can watch this:


360 Degrees: The Best Kind of View

Well, there's not a whole lot to report right now. We're a little tired today, after the outrageously exciting time we had last night watching the Expendables 2. Ricky liked the explosions; I liked the Chuck Norris joke told by Chuck Norris.

Now it's my turn: I'm off to pick up some ice-cream before we lay down to watch Gone with the Wind. Ricky's never seen it, and I haven't seen it in ages. He may hate it, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

I'll leave you now with some sweet sweet pictures Ricky took. The first one is  at the stupa on a hill in the center of Luang Prabang.

Click here to see it. It's a 360 view, so feel free to roam!

Here's the other one. We stopped on the road to get a pic of the surroundings. Once again, it's 360!

Enjoy!

Into the Light: Kong Lor Cave, Part II




If you’re just joining us and haven’t read part one of the fantastic caves of Kong Lor, go and do that now.
I’ll wait.

Ok, welcome back.
After the eagle soared above our heads, we continued a little further upriver until we got out at a small ‘jetty’. It was basically a mound of dirt we had to climb to get out of the boat and onto the shore.
A view from our canoe after leaving the cave.

As we walked up onto the shore there was a small shack where some of the locals and some other guides were waiting. We dropped off our life jackets and started towards the Natane village. We walked along a dirt road and saw that we were clearly in a massive bowl shaped valley, filled with rice paddies all around and with tall karst rocks surrounding them. If any of you have ever seen the movie “The land before time” you’ll have a rough idea of where we were!

The road into the village

The mountains surrounding us.


As we walked further we started to see some signs of life in the form of a few houses on stilts, dozens of chickens and ducks and children, all running around with limitless abandon. It was quite a sight! As we entered the town we realized that this was one of the most remote places we’d ever been.  We asked one of the locals if we could get some food somewhere and as it turned out he was a pleasant guy called Kane.

Unfortunately there was nothing to eat in this tiny tribal village (in hindsight I kinda feel like an idiot for asking) but Kane did lead us up a small ladder into an old woman’s house. The old lady was very pleasant and offered us a few beverages.

Next thing we knew we were sitting in this woman’s home with a sleeping baby swinging next to me in a basket, sipping a Beer Lao with this old lady, a Lao guy called Kane and little naked two year old running around us.

Talia and our hosts in Natane Village. Kane is the second from the right, and his hand is in front of the little boy.


We sat there for a while and had broken conversations in whatever English Kane could speak, while I tried to teach this two year old how to touch his nose with his tongue.

A typical house in the village.
Soon it was time to leave and catch our boat back through the cave. So we bid farewell to Kane, the old lady and the two year old, with his tongue firmly pushing towards his nose to the point where he was leaning his head back. We waded our way through the ducks and chickens, back down the dirt road and back onto the boat, satisfied with our visit to a Laotian tribe in a hidden valley behind a 7km underground abyss!




We got back onto the boat and headed back through this amazing cave, through more rapids (but downstream this time) getting splashed and dripped on until we came out the other side. 



As we passed through the cave bats flew past us and in the blckness we could roughly see some clusters of sleeping bats, hanging in the dark corners of the cave. As we left the mouth of the cave, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the light, we thought how very much like a dream the whole experience was as we tried to recall the exact shade of darkness it was in the cave, but it was already escaping us.

What a day, we thought, and we hopped back on the bikes and started back for home. Just as some thunder clapped in the distance.

Yep, you guessed it.

Somehow we had managed to leave ourselves stranded 50 odd kilometers away from shelter in a thunder storm. But this wasn’t just a bit of drizzle. The rain came down hard and heavy, and as we drove through it the raindrops hit us with less of a splash and more of a bruising feeling. It was like heaven declared war on earth and opened fire with billions of bb guns. At some points I got a drop of water in my eye, and DAMN did it sting. 

At one point we had enough and we pulled over under an unfinished stilted house on the side of the road, where we thought we could wait it out. Then the water started rising. We found some planks and put our kickstands and back wheels onto them so they wouldn’t get stuck. Meanwhile the water was rising up past our ankles!

We waited and waited for around an hour when the rain finally seemed like it had moved on and we continued down the road back to our hotel, but after a few minutes we had caught up with the rain again and despite trying to persevere for five minutes or so we couldn’t take it anymore and we pulled in to a small restaurant. Clothes soaked and dripping, with my face and neck sore from the raindrops, we stopped off and had ourselves another hot noodle soup along with some weird red meat on skewers (we didn’t ask what it was, and they didn’t answer).

Dried off and ready we headed back towards the village where our hotel was, passing herds of buffalo, chickens crossing the street (we didn’t ask why, and they didn’t answer) until we got home.



Our experience of the Kong Lor caves was amazing and we loved it. 


A New Adventure Begins....Can we do it?

Hey all! Wow, sorry for the scattered posting in the last year! We've had ups and downs as we've been planning and preparing for our...