Sunday, January 6, 2008

And we're OFF!


First of all I would like to say how honored I am to have the opportunity to participate in this blog! I had two significant impressions on this trip. The first was of SE Asia (obviously) and the second was of Mia and Joe's ability to navigate the culture. I will speak on both. Arriving in Thailand, I was afraid I was not going to be able to find Mia and Joe because my plane was several hours late and I didn't know where we were staying that night...but low and behold, when I walked out of the baggage terminal, the first thing I heard was Mia's voice; "Rebecca!"...relief.

Our first meal was from a street vendor selling pad thai and chicken balls. I figure, hey, it's late this is the way to go- but then the next morning Joe and Mia were excited to get the fruit/yogurt/musili combo a lady on the street was selling...and so it continues. I realized that one of the skills these guys have picked up is that of identifying where the good, cheap food is. Also, eating was something you did on the way to something, and whenever you felt a little hungry...before I realized it we ended up going several days before we actually all sat down at a restaurant and had a meal together. Another thing these guys are excellent at is negotiating the price of a tuk tuk ride.

There are so many moments to recap, so I will just list some at random by city:
Bangkok (Thailand): It's Christmas eve and the four of us are walking down Ko San Road- one of the notorious party streets of Bangkok. Four young Thai women approach us wearing santa hats and holding candles and sheet music. They start to encourage us to sing Christmas carols with them, as Mia, Charlie and myself are giggling at this request, Joe starts of in his best "silent night....hooooly night....alll is calm..." then the Thai join in. Others start to gather around us. Next thing I know there are about 15 people singing Christmas carols lead by Joe Pagac himself- including a guy playing along with his guitar and another guy full out dancing as if it were the latest pop song. There were cheers and clapping after the song was over, but then they wanted more, so Joe gave them a little "Joy to the World". What the?!

Shopping at a food market outside of the main tourist area was another entertaining experience. There were all kinds of weird fish and sauces and mixes. We ate dragon fruit, durian (a fruit that is forbidden to be brought inside because it stinks so much), duck tongue, pig ear, mango, fried coconut, and more. I would also like to note that Joe is my hero because he ate some really gnarly things including the biggest bug I have ever seen.

Railay (Thailand): We spent four days in Railay, a little peninsula on the Andaman coast. Mia and Joe had already been here, and had spent a significant amount of time here (relatively speaking), so it was like being with some locals. Joe know some short cuts to take through town (there are no roads, so it's all foot paths), they knew a shady local guy, the best place to stay, and the best things to do. My highlight of this town was our hike to the lagoon (which has already been described in this blog).

Vientiane (Lao): My lonely planet says that this city is "the most laid back country capitol in the world", which seems like it could be true. We had a wonderful time in the city which is in part due to the fact that we were there on New Years Eve. New Years Eve we ran in our very first "Hash". Here we met a lot of english speaking locals and were lead on a "run" through streets, fields, and allyways of the city. As we ran by a pack of waterbuffalo, the guy that laid out the run (or the "hare" as they call him), told me "don't worry, I told them we were comming". What the?! If you are not familiar with this odd ritual, I recommend you look up this "Hash" thing at another time to learn more. After the run, we went to some pubs, but soon realized that this was not necessary as drinks and dancing were a plenty in the streets. The night ended with an invitation to join a family in their home (which is also a store front) to watch the count down, and eat some delicious Lao food (I liked the clams- but there was also a bowl of cooked bugs being passed around). Before leaving the city, we brought the family a cake from one of the delicious local bakeries Charlie found (We have come to learn that Charlie is a bakery connoisseur).

Luang Prabang: The last stop on our itinerary, and the city I am writing this bog in. Luang Prabang is a charming little city, and has a ton of markets and restaurants that cater to the many tourists (falang in Lao). Today we had a difficult time trying to figure out what to do. We were bouncing between renting bikes, renting mopeds, or chartering a boat. Renting bikes or mopeds was a challenge because apparently a law just passed (lobbied by the tuk tuk drivers) that forbids the renting of bikes or scooters to falang. So, as we walked by a bacci ball game (yes, that right bacci is huge here!), an old guy asked us if we wold like a boat ride- great timing. We bought some food, beer, and lao lao (for the boat captain of course) and within 30min we were off down the (as Mia would put it) mighty mighty Mekong river! We pulled over about 45min down stream at what looked like may be a village by the canoe looking boats parked on the bank. I wish I knew the name of the city, as it was a great experience of a tiny lao village. There was an ornate wat (temple), some grocery stores, and beautiful people. As we walked around we began to accumulate a small following of children. This was a nice contrast to the touristy hustle of Luang Prabang.

As I write this blog I am so sad to be leaving Asia, and especially the company of Mia and Joe. I highly recommend that anyone visit these guys if you can. This has been an experience of a lifetime- and I am so grateful for the friendship and hospitality of these two...Thank you Mia and Joe!

Love, Rebecca

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