CHINA BLOG MOVED TO TUMBLR.

Ladies and gentlemen. I have spent over 6 months on the road in Asia and now it is time for me to find some work. Maybe settle down for a few months. China is the plan. So as I plan to spend some time in China, I’ve given it a separate blog address. Special stuff eh.

Please follow this link to see what I’ve been up to so far. http://englishmaninthepeoplesrepublic.tumblr.com/

Peace Peas. 

Perhentian Islands: Beach, sea and bloody big lizards.

Holy bloody yes. ”This beach ain’t got nothing on Blackpool.”  

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My newly adopted ‘dysfunctional’ family had departed KL and dispersed around the globe. I had applied for a Chinese visa and had to wait for it to be issued. Instead of waiting in KL, which was slowly killing me through a variety of good food, alcohol and late nights, I decided to join the final member of the dysfunctional family, The Jelly, on a trip up to the Perhentian Islands. Paradise beckoned.

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The trip there was a simple one. A long but comfortable bus ride up north to Jerteh, a taxi to the harbour and a boat trip out to the islands. We stayed on Cecil Island. This place had two beaches, one quieter than the other. However, compared to Koh Phangan, this place was almost dead. We decided to stay on Coral Bay and chose a chalet on top of the hill overlooking the beach. Paradise engaged, a few days of detoxing was on the cards.  

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The next few days involved a lot of lying about on sun loungers, drinking cold drinks, eating amazing food and drinking the night away. The pace of life here was slow. The heat was perfect. The beach was ideal. The water was crystal clear. The service was impeccable and the backpacker contingent were of a high and stable standard. We bumped into Joe and Joey from Future Music Festival at Monkeys, the only live music venue on the beach. We got to know a man called Aris. An Indian dude with a chronic head wiggle and extremely disturbing views on life and humanity. We also befriended some ex-pats who were cashing in on jobs in Singapore.

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Life was way too easy. The hours just drifted past. My walking pace never went faster than stroll speed. The sunsets were pretty damn good here, helped down by some seriously tasty BBQ and cold beer. Snorkeling and scuba diving was on offer but I didn’t have the energy, it was difficult enough lifting up my book to read.  

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After two days of complete relaxing a jungle trek was in order. We’d seen a couple of large monitor lizards walking around the place. They are harmless and don’t bother humans unless you invade their space. However, on a walk through the jungle, over the hill and down to a small beach, we passed an 8ft long monitor lizard. Never have I crapped myself so hard. It was pissed off too. It was next to the path, groaning and slapping its massive tail against the plants, about 1-2 meters away from us. We had to get past. We had no other option than to squeeze past. As we got closer, his breathing got louder and the tail whipped the trees harder. At this point I legged it past, hoping for the best. This monitor would have broke me in two. His tail was thicker than my body, a true beast.

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After our brief encounter with our little friend, we managed to get some stunning views from the view point and somehow ended up on a small beach before getting a boat ride back.

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I could have lazed about on this beach for longer but China was calling. After six months plus on the road and my savings account looking shamefully low, I needed to get some more cash-cash-money before I travel any further. Laura, my American ‘friend’, is located and working in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. She helped me gain the correct paperwork for my visa. She assured me that jobs are plentiful, the money is good and living expenses are minimal. China intrigues me. So does Laura. First stop is Beijing. Next stop Chengdu, the home of the panda.     

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Malaysian Getaway: Teh tarik, jacuzzi’s and sucky fish.

In between the Future Music Festival and Formula One party bus that was KL, Danielle had planned a little getaway to the Cameron Highlands and Ipoh. Firstly, I’d like to thank Danielle for taking me to possibly the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Secondly, I’d like to state by the time we’d recovered from the festival it was time to head back to KL for the Formula 1. Extremes. I love them.

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Malaysia has some pretty comfortable buses and flat roads. Transport was easy and almost a pleasure. Cameron Highlands was stunning. We did a well worth the money day trip. We drank some teh tarik in the tea plantation, saw loads of tea plants, topped the mountains for a scenic view, crawled through the mossy forest, held a weird looking animal, spotted a large lizard type thing and ate a shed load of strawberries.

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Ipoh was a shit hole with nothing to do there, however, just outside, was a luxury spa retreat. The pictures should tell you everything. We ate some seriously nice chocolate cake and feasted on some beautiful Indian food. I mediated in a cave, went to the gym, had fish eat the dead skin off my feet and sat in the hot springs, sweating the contents of Future Music Festival out of my system..

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Back to KL for the Formula 1. Life is so hard right now.

Kuala Lumpur: Reggae mansions, fast cars and moshpits

After almost six months of travelling, I still manage to find myself in new countries and in new situations that I never even imagined when I got on board that plane to Mumbai back on October 1st 2012. Malaysia was not on my list. A little more expensive than the other SE Asian countries I’d been to and most people at home told me to avoid it. Now I’ve been and conquered, I have no idea why anyone would say that. During my travels around SE Asia, many a backpacker would rave about the rich jungles, the beautiful beaches and the tremendous food. However, the real reason why I came started back in India. Naked Rob, Accident Prone Tim and Guyability all discovered that the Ozzie fest, Future Music Festival, was going to have a party in KL, Malaysia. The word spread. The team got tickets. I got a ticket. Friends of friends got tickets. Their friends got tickets. More joined. Before we knew it, a facebook conversation had grown to over twenty strong. The team had been assembled. The scene was set. Destination KL. To top it off, F1 was at the Sepang circuit the weekend after. Bonus.

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I didn’t know as I landed on the tarmac of KL that this was going to one of the most exciting and damn right fun parts of my journey so far, but on a totally different scale. No poverty, no bamboo huts, no ‘no speak English’ and no random encounters with the crazed locals. Danielle, a legend of a friend from back in the UK, had liked the idea of raving to Prodigy in KL and had booked a flight over. In fact, as she is a travel agent, she booked plush hotels all the way and asked if yours truly was up for staying in a string of four star accommodations for a week. It would be rude to say no. We both touched down on March 13th 2013.

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As my plane touched down and taxied to the terminal, ‘Let it snow’ played softly in the background, hardly suited to the 33C humid heat that hit me as I stepped off the plane. Ouch. Malaysia is near the equator. Tropical weather is on the cards. Hot humid weather plus a short daily downpour is the norm. The airport was immaculate. Western brand names screaming out at me. KFC, Starbucks, Maccy Bloody D’s… I’d been in North Laos for almost 4 weeks so I munched on a KFC. The chicken was greasy and I’m not ashamed to say it tasted lovely. I felt like shit afterwards but for that brief moment, when the fatty chicken dribbled down my chin, I enjoyed the trappings of money grabbing western fast food companies.

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My debit card didn’t work in the cash machine. Great. Luckily for me I still have a few dollars to change up. Banks, for security reasons, like to block your card when you are abroad, which is fair play when some thieving little #@$^ is clearing out your savings but bloody annoying when it’s me. I get a bus from LCCT to the KLIA and wait for Danielle to arrive whilst sipping on a lovely mug of hot chocolate in the air con luxury of KLIA’s Starbucks, using their free wi-fi.

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When Danielle said she had booked a hotel I had no idea where, or what it would be like. Furama Bukit Bintang is a four star luxury hotel that towers over most of KL. It was plush. Really bloody plush. Standing in the foyer, I felt a little out of place in my stained brown t-shirt, baggy denim shorts and rotten flip flops. Some dude took my bag. I went to grab it. Always keep on guard, backpacker stories are full of people who lost all their goods. However, this time, it was the butler fella, that’s right, a bloody butler, taking my bag up to the room. I hate slavery. I can carry it. Watching someone else carry a bag that I am fully capable of carrying seems ridiculous.  Either way, it was something I had to get used to over the next few days. No dorms, no dirty toilets and no dirty backpackers. Thanks Danielle. You’re a legend. Never did I think I would be ticking the ‘stay in luxury accommodation’ box on my travels.

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The room was outrageously lavish. I’ve been in nice hotels before, not many times but it’s been achieved occasionally in my short and youthful life. This however, especially after 6 months of hard core backpacking in the cheapest hostels across SE Asia, was another level. The bed was heaven, the toilet and shower was heaven, we had a TV in every room, a desk, a window with a view of KL and a sofa. A bloody sofa. Asia doesn’t really do sofas so it was pleasure to sit on one. And just in case we ran out of loo roll, the toilet had a telephone next to it. With this hotel room you are really spoiling us…

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Thrust back into backpacker mode, we meet the gang on top of the legendary backpacker party hostel, The Reggae Mansion, for a night of expensive drinks, laughter, shishas and hugs. The team had reunited. New faces introduced. The team had grown. The vibe was strong.

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A little hung over, I woke up to the finest breakfast buffet I had ever had the pleasure of attempting to completely destroy. I had three plates, full of food that I wouldn’t really consider to call breaky. Curry, dahl, rice, pancakes, fruit, pastries, chicken sausages, eggs of all varieties, salads, fresh juices, roti, paratha, wedges, chips and peanuts. The hotel was truly international and catered from everyone. Even me. A poor back packer, eating with the wealthy. It was a strange experience. I hadn’t been in western society for so long. My shirt and skinny tie, smart trousers and winkle pickers seemed like a distant memory.

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Meeting the team at KL Sentral Bus Station, we were to board the bus to Sepang for the first day of Future Music Festival. It was to be headlined by Armin Van Burren’s, ‘State of Trance’. Before we could get on the bus, us backpackers needed a little magic for the one hour bus ride. Although Malaysia is a Muslim country, this doesn’t mean that alcohol is not accessible. The ticket man, called Boy, heard our pleas and offered to take me to the booze shop before the bus left. I jumped on the back of his scooter and he took me to his pals shop close by. I loaded up as many beers and bottles of rum, vodka and whisky as I could. I returned to a round of applause as I got onto the bus seconds before it departed. The scene was set. The Malaysian faithful were quiet and genuinely shocked by our banter. The party started at that very moment. The drink flowed and the vibe was good. It took me back to my raving days.

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The air-conditioned bus spat us out into the humid heat at the legendary Sepang Circuit and the party was starting outside. The doors to the festival hadn’t opened yet so the drinking started outside the venue. There was a mix of Malaysians and foreigners. Everyone was in a good mood. The foreigners displayed their usual drunken anarchy, while the Malaysians looked on in disgust.

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I can’t tell you what happened over the next few days. I had a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun. I was with some Grade A lunatics. My new adopted Dysfunctional Family. Team Fritzel. Kuala Lumpur almost killed me. I made three visits overall with a couple of trips out to see the beaches and the jungle of mainland Malaysia. Each day started to blur into the other.

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kl8klHere are some flashbacks, in no particular order… Future Music Festival, no haggling, 7Eleven, Starbuck’s hot chocolate, Prodigy, Indian food, Subways, trance music, lots of buses, Sepang F1 Circuit, ear plugs, eating shepherd’s, learning how to insert ear plugs correctly, Formula 1, plush hotels, a free Backstreet Boys concert, St. Paddy’s Day, comfy buses, Chinese food, expensive beer, FRITZEL, a Reggae Mansion, shishas, Petronas Towers, De La Soul, Ferrari chicks, dunk the dude in the pool game, Mohammed the taxi driver, VIP blaggers, Gangnam Style, Guyability, piano stairs, roller coasters in malls, ice cream men on bikes, Nando’s, bright lights, Ben dribbling, purchasing a laptop off a dude with two inch long nails, that naked man Rob and finally, with a little help from my ‘friend’ I bagged my Chinese tourist visa.

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KL: City Snaps

KL is like Bangkok without the twatty tourists, without the hassle, without the ping pong. It’s like Bangkok but with a bit more class.

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Formula 1: Sepang Circuit, KL 

The weather was hot, the beer was cold and the food was crap. The cars were fast, their noise was LOUD and we had no idea that Hamilton had gone into the wrong pit.

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Time to exit KL. Beijing, I’m coming to get you.

Vientiane: Reflection time, a part time airport and a cold hot chocolate.

DSC05379I had the taste of resentment in my mouth. My love affair with the North of Laos was almost over. Vientiane would be the most South I’d been in Laos, and that is in the North West. I wanted to do it all. I wanted to buy a motorbike and do the whole bloody country, top to bottom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to Malaysia to meet a bunch of crazy backpacker pals and see the Prodigy live, followed up by the Malaysia Formula 1, so I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’m excited but sad to leave. I’ve got to come back and experience Laos in all its glory. Later this year, I promise, I’ll be back.

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Anyway, after a relatively short and uneventful journey, I arrived from fresh from Vang Vieng, I and a handful of tourists, boarded a massive golf buggy style bus thing that drove surprisingly fast for its clumsy looks and took us away from the bus station into the capital of Laos. Dropped off in central Vientiene, I knew I had one short night here before I was to fly to Kuala Lumpur, lovingly known by everyone in Kuala Lumpur as KL. Before I knew it I was sharing a room with yet another stranger, Ivet from Spain. We went to the night market and ate some very decent Indian food. I noticed that Vientiene, the capital of this extremely relaxed country was the largest place I’d been to and the busiest. Traffic existed, people were on the streets and life carried on past 8pm. Don’t get me wrong, this city was still quiet and had a slow pace to it, but in comparison to the rest of Laos, it had a little more energy. I liked it, a little bit and I was glad I’d opted to make this trip to Vientiane a short one.

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The most fascinating part of my trip to Vientiene was the airport bit. Firstly, it was shut when I got there. It was clean but not particularly impressive. A little like Laos itself. Nice but not elaborate. I had to wait for the front doors to be opened. Then another brief wait for the doors to open to the check in counters. Only one plane was flying out at this time in the morning so there was no rush. Workers sat outside the few restaurants that existed and waited for their bosses to show up to let them in. Everyone seemed not bothered. I checked in and went upstairs to passport control. I had to wait for these fellas to get going too. There was 30 minutes before departure time and passport control hadn’t even opened its doors yet. I love Laos.

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Unprofessional. But I’d come to expect it. As usual in airports, the food was at astronomical prices. I paid huge dollars for a cold hot chocolate and a pot noodle type thing. The food on offer was poor, really poor. Starbucks hasn’t managed to grace its corporate presence in Laos yet. Its poor imitation was seriously lacking.

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I boarded my flight. Alone, I reflected on my time in Laos. What a great adventure. Sleeping in random ethnic villages where nobody spoke English, being cooked meals by old ladies, dead rats, Akha ladies with their tits out, trekking through the jungle, leeches, hunting birds, caves, loads of caves, more caves, cockroaches, mountain bikes, the Secret War, standing in massive bomb craters, that field with a lot of Jars in it, tubing, trekking, loads of trekking, more trekking, karsts, boats, rivers, winding roads, crazy drivers, big mountains, eating insects, no electricity, drunk Laos men, LaoLao, remote village expeditions and letting my future Laos wives get away. God damn I love this place. It’s fair to say I had a rocky start but as soon as I got away from them pesky tourists I found a lot of happy places.

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Laos, I salute. Your people and your land are full of beauty.

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Next destination: Malaysia. This is where things get messy, really messy.

Vang Vieng: Tubing, pancakes and Beerlao.

The bus pulls up at 3am. Nice and late. I managed to locate a guest house that had someone awake in it. Babylon Guest House gave me a comfy bed, Wi-Fi access and a hot shower for the morning. I slept in between bouts of dodgy gut. I woke a few hours later and went onto find a cheaper and more sociable accommodation in the form of Easy Go Backpackers Hostel. Vang Vieng really is designed purely for the young backpacker. Guest houses, restaurants playing Family Guy and Friends, bars, pancake, baguette and shake stalls and adventure activity shops are all that inhabit this small town on the river. It’s like Thailand but with a traditionally Laos, relaxed and happy service. This place is chilled out, almost empty. I like it more than I thought I would.

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I sit in a restaurant and meet a couple of crazy young Israeli’s. At this point, the staffs from Monkeys, a late night bar, come and jump into their Monkeys sponsored jeep. Donning fake tan, shit vests and ridiculously massive gold bling, they whack on a shit house song full blast and zoom off in their shit jeep plastered with shit stickers. Vang Vieng is cool but Majorca dickheads like that…

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DSC05343Vang Vieng was the piss head backpacker capital of Laos. Not so much now. 27 people died last year in the name of fun. Word on the street was an Ozzie MP, whose son died while tubing the previous year, put pressure on the Laos Government to shut down proceedings.

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Tubing explained: you hire and sit on an inflated truck inner tube and float down the river stopping at what used to have over 30 bars selling alcohol, mushrooms and anything else you could possibly want to digest to make you happy. For life challenging activities, there were slides, zip wires and platforms to jump off. No safety precautions took place. Wankered lads would jump and fall off the water features, breaking arms, legs, necks, backs and skulls. At night in the rainy season, buzzing teenagers would be taken by the current and drown. In the dry season, they would jump into extremely low water breaking themselves. So, now tubing has been made safe, and all but three of the bars have been taken down, I decided to see what the crack was.

Thanks to Emma and Neil for letting me hijack some pictures from FB, I’ll give you some royalties when this goes viral.

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We paid for a tube and our group of honourable piss heads all jumped on board a tuk tuk to take us down to the starting point. Everybody was pretty friendly and friends were easily made. The river runs through karsts and spectacular scenery which is an added bonus that drunken people probably don’t fully appreciate. I’ll proceed. The water level was extremely low. Sometimes the tube would get stuck on the rocks and my butt cheeks would get the occasional bash too. The craziness of previous years had completely gone. Instead a pleasant and relaxed vibe was appreciated, especially me, part of the OAP section of the convoy. Only two bars are legally open, plus a dodgy dude in a bamboo hut selling beer cans on the sly. All the platforms and slides have been taken down. We drunk Beerlao and floated down the river. Giggles were had. We formed a huge international island of backpackers, each tube being connected. Drunken adults floating down a beautiful river. What a genius idea. I can see how it got out of hand. I had a great time. I can only presume this is what it must have been like 20 years ago.

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Unfortunately, tubing drew in the crowds. A lot of guest houses now appear quiet and every hostel has beds available. The crowds don’t come as word spread about the tubing chaos and imminent closures. Prices have now come down as competition is getting tough. Vang Vieng still has its charms and I enjoyed it for couple of days. I slept, recovering from my exploits across the North of Laos. Most of the time I sat and sunbathed by the river. My daily routines included drinking, reading the occasional page of a book, drinking shakes and eating baguettes. I met a fair few nice people here. I had good solid English conversations with people from all over the world in the bars at night. It was nice to have some familiar accents to talk to. Having been travelling in the remote parts of the North I actually missed a conversation with British people. Vang Vieng had this in abundance.

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On the last day, just before my bus was to take me to Vientiane ready for my plane to Malaysia, I decided to get my hair styled. I say styled as I had been outgrowing the remains of my skinhead. It needed a little trimming around the ears. I like to make an effort. So I opted to get the local boy who looked no older than 15 years old to have a go. His chair is on the street was in full view of the Vang Vieng faithful. He spoke no English so I had to tell him what I wanted with hand signals. He didn’t understand but he started to shave the sides. I squinted as he went nervously about the job. Two girls who I’d met throughout Laos popped up and said ‘hi’. The look on their face in the mirror when they saw the kid’s job of my hair told me everything. They questioned what ‘look’ I was going for and giggled. Very funny. I didn’t exactly have lots of hair in the first place, surely he couldn’t bodge it. At this very point, the backpacking gods took favour on me. Midst our giggles and laughter, an old man pulled up on a scooter, shouted at the kid and took the razor off him. Without asking me what I wanted he then zoomed the razor around my head with lightning fast speed and efficiency until I had a reasonable looking mound of hair. Admittedly I looked fresh out of the army. Mission completed. 20,000 kyat well spent.

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Phonsavan: Opium, bomb craters and huge jars.

I jumped off the bus from Vieng Xai and onto the back of a packed tuk tuk to go to the bus station on the other side of Sam Neau. I was hanging off the back, standing on the platform, holding on for dear life. We pulled into the station and I boarded the clapped out no air-con, dust covered bus two minutes before it left for Vang Vien. I was on my merry way, a day earlier than planned. Impeccable time management Mr Craig. Thank you backpacking gods. I salute you.

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The bus journey was hot and painful. I’m used to it. The old lady wearing traditional Hmong gear, sitting in front of me was obviously not. She was continually sick for the entire journey. In Laos, the locals use buses instead of goods vehicles to transport their goods. This means that when the luggage compartments under the bus are full, they chuck their bags of veg and rice into the middle isle. Getting on and off the bus now involves climbing over 35 bags of food stuffs. I love a challenge.

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I was spat out of the bus at 10.30pm on a deserted road in Phonsavan. I remember the place was decorated creatively with bomb casings. Only a couple of hotels were open and the restaurants were closed. The open hotels were fully booked out. Just my luck. I search the local area high and low but only managed to find a night club and a Ferris wheel in a car park. The first one I’d seen in Laos. I eventually found Mr Kong’s Guest House down a back road near the club. A wacky and wonderful place, with a few drunk tourists sitting around a fire which was burning in an old bomb case, playing the guitar and singing out of tune. They were celebrating women’s day. I’d found my home for the next two nights.

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The next day was spent relaxing, eating a solid breakfast and making a decision on which tour to go on to see the Plain of Jars and the bomb craters. I suddenly felt very alone. The town was very quiet and no other tourists were around. Booking a tour may prove expensive without a bigger group. As usual, it all fell into place. I love this interior.

DSC05246I rented out a cheap bike and went exploring the town. In all honesty, Phonsavan is not the most beautiful place in the world but it has its charms. It relies on a grid system and the houses and buildings are nothing short of dull but there were a couple of war memorials to climb with half decent views and a lake on the outskirts of town. I took my children’s, one gear bike everywhere, up hills, down dirt tracks and on the near-empty roads. I won’t lie, it was a physical challenge in the 32C heat but I’m hardcore, so I loved it. At one point I even found myself riding my bike through a mine and over a small stream. UXO and bomb casings were scattered everywhere and used for decoration in the most unlikely of places. A grim reminder.

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The main attraction for me was the lovely people I passed, the children that waved as I drove my bike through their street games and the lovely lady I met at the SOS Children’s Village. During my exploring of the town, I came across a newly built school and orphanage. The lady, Mary, who greeted a hot and bothered me, showed me around the grounds and explained to me how the orphanage was run. The village was built to house the orphans created by the death of family members from UXO. Two million tons of ordnance was dropped on Laos by the Americans in The Secret War from 1964 to 1973, a third of which did not detonate. Unfortunately, Laos still pays the price today. One person is injured everyday due to UXO. I was sad to see so many orphans but happy to see that something positive had been done for them. I saw a wonderfully run orphanage with happy children playing. The grounds are well looked after and the family houses surround a huge sports field/garden. There is a lot of space and freedom for the children to be children. Each of the 15 families, consist of 12 children of various ages and an adopted Mother and Aunt. There has been considerable funding from a now deceased Austrian man who paid for both the orphanage and the school next door, drumming up international and corporate support to help fund children who needed help. I was touched by his generosity and by the now smooth running machine that is the SOS Children’s Village. Mary, who showed me around was a pleasure to talk to. I was truly touched by the story of their struggles and successes.

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As I rode my shoddy bike around the town, I noticed a lot of construction and renovation taking place. Most of the buildings here were flattened. Even 40 years after the last bomb was dropped, the town is still recovering.

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Before I returned to my hostel I noticed the MAG information point was open. MAG help safely detonate UXO and make land safe to live on in Laos and around the world. The Mines Advisory Group is a neutral and impartial humanitarian organisation. Their vision is a safe and secure future for communities affected by armed violence and conflict. The information was useful and clearly labelled. A few facts were harder to digest than others. Here’s some…

  • Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.
  • There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Lao PDR from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War.
  • That’s equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
  • More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used, of which an estimated 80 million malfunctioned, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war
  • Approximately 25 per cent of the country’s 10,000+ villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).
  • From the end of the war in 1974 to 2008, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents.
  • There have been approximately 300 new casualties annually over the last decade.
  • Over the last decade 40 per cent of total casualties were children.
  • Rural families search for bomb casings to sell as scrap metal
  • Some farmers detonate bombs by accident while farming

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Check out this website for more information:

http://www.maginternational.org/where-we-work/where-mag-works/lao-pdr-/#.Ub23G_k3BNM

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Many of the shops and local restaurants used UXO casing as decoration and many bars showed videos to help educate us foreigners about the Secret War. I was sickened but intrigued by the documentaries on show. How could I have not heard about this before? Then again, America did bomb Laos for five years before the international media got hold of it. That night, I found an Indian restaurant and fed myself on vegetable masala, burnt roti and a three lovely cups of chai before booking up a place on a tour for the next day. I decided to go with Mr Kong’s young guitar playing mentalist, Bam Sai.

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The followed morning, I was woken by the sound of loud buzzing. It sounded like bees had set up camp in my room and were repeatedly flying into the ceiling. However, I couldn’t see any. Maybe they were stuck. Then after twenty minutes, they stopped. Later on that morning, I was to find out what the beasts were that woke me up.

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Ban Sai, our tour guide for the day, is mental. He swears like a Brit and is unpredictable, rude and erratic. I liked him immediately. He was a little hard to stomach at 7am and if I’m honest, he didn’t get much better through the day, but I’m left with fond memories. He brought the group a bowl of huge flies with hard shells. He’d caught, seasoned and fried the beasts for us to eat. At this point I realised what had woke me up this morning, and why they had gone quiet so suddenly. I put one of the fella’s in my mouth and chewed him down. I won’t lie, it wasn’t a pleasant taste. I prefer scorpion.

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Ban Sai took us to the local market. The group were a mixed but good bunch, together we tolerated Ban Sai. The market was a standard Laos affair, the pick of the animal wrongs were the live pigs imprisoned in small wicker baskets. The usual arrangement of fish, skinned birds, rats, fermented meats and fishy sauces were on offer. The stench of raw meat attracting flies from all over Laos. I picked up some fruit, doughnuts and some bread for lunch.

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Ban Sai then starts our day’s activities. We drive to a field where there are huge bomb craters.  On the way, Ban drives like a lunatic, chatting casually to his friends on his phone and imitating everyone’s accents, offending the Argentinian dude at the back. These bombs were dropped in field that used to be farm land, nowhere near military targets or enemy lines, just pointless violence. The craters were massive. My confusion to the Americans aim of this mindless bombing was growing.

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Next up on Ban Sai’s Magical Phonsavan Tour was the waterfall. Now, I’ve seen a fair few beauties in my time in SE Asia so I wasn’t expecting to be amazed. However, this waterfall was different. We parked up and trekked for half an hour to the bottom of the waterfall, a multi-tiered beast. We then took off our shoes and proceeded to climb the waterfall. Steps had been cut out of the rocks, pathways made and some pools were perfect for having a dip. We spent the next two hours navigating our way through and up seemingly impossible routes in this beaut of a waterfall.

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We dried off, jumped in Ban Sai’s Magical Life Defying Bus and went to a Hmong village, where they have made creative use of the bomb casings. We played a game with some kids. It’s amazing how much fun these kids could have with a stick.

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Ban also showed us a creative way to make money in these parts, opium. A small, out of the way garden housed a few plants, something I’d heard about but never actually seen before.

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Situated around Phonsavan, are the mysterious Plains of Jars sites. There are hundreds of huge jars carved from stone, some with lids. Some are perfectly intact while some are badly damaged. How they got there and what they were used for has got the historians baffled. They date back to the Iron Age and were thought to be used in some kind of burial practice, this however, is merely a guess made by archaeologists. The site is truly bizarre. MAG has announced most of these sites are now safe after clearing the UXO. There are MAG markers on the floor to show the safe path around the fields.

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My word of advice, go to see one site. The rest look exactly the same. I’d predict a boring day if you wanted to go see all of them.

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I had a long but extremely interesting day. I was shattered but had a bus to catch. I’d met some truly nice people and made some good contacts. The forever mental Ban Sai dropped me at the bus station. Next stop Vang Vien for some relaxing and maybe a couple of drinks. Fancy a massage?

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After 30 minutes on the tightly packed bus we crashed into a van. No major damage done so after a brief argument with a confused driver, we carried on our journey. The bus then overheated and needed to stop to cool down. The roads were long and winding, the bus was hot and smelly. Needless to say I arrived in Vang Vien late. Laos adventures have been hardcore. My body is caving in. I need to rest.