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--

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, 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. 

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