Saturday, 22 January 2011

Today is not my day

Friday 21st January 2011

MP3 track of the day: They don't care about us – Micheal Jackson

Weather: Cold in Phonsavan / warm in Vang Viang but still cool in the evening ... however, due to being out of the mountains, its no way near as cold as Phonsavan.

I was having a good nights sleep, until I had to use the bathroom at 6:00am; after that the 'withdrawing money' worries popped back into my head. By 6:15am I was wide awake with no possibility of getting back to the land of nod. Then something totally weird happened; my brain told me to get up, go into town, and withdraw some money to stop my worrying. The impulse was so great that at 6:15am I got dressed – trying not to wake Patrick, the Swed in our group, (I was unsuccessful) as we were sharing a two bed dorm – and out I went into the cold morning air. I walked calmly to the nearest ATM booth. There was a bag on the floor of the booth which I kicked gently only to find that someone was sleeping in it. I made my apologises and went about my business. I first tried my bank card which, even though the machine didn't say it accepted 'Plus', I thought that I would give it a whirl ... it didn't work. I calmly got out my MasterCard credit card, sighed as I thought about the charges for withdrawing abroad, and put it into the machine. I entered my pin, selected the option to indicate that it was a credit account and asked to withdraw 1,000,000 kip ... nothing. I panicked a little; the machine said that it accepted MasterCard and here I am, declined. I then got out my Visa card, went through the same process, and still nothing. I left the ATM, my legs a little wobbly. I got my 'Phonsavan city map' out of my back pocket and scanned it for any other banks nearby that I hadn't tried. There was one a little further out of town that I ran to. I found the bank closed but no ATM.

I walked back to my accommodation at 6:30am. As I walked I looked within my wallet to see that I had just enough money to pay for my accommodation, get a bus ticket to Vang Vieng and get food for the day. I wanted to stay another day in Phonsavan however, if I still couldn't withdraw money later in the day, I wouldn't have enough to pay for an additional night. Vang Vieng was a major tourist hub and so I was confident that it would have more ATM's than Phonsavan ... I had no choice.

I was back within the dorm at 7am and told Patrick the news that I couldn't withdraw money and so I was off. Bless him he was great and understood completely; I then woke up the owner of the guesthouse, purchased a bus ticket and paid my accommodation bill. I then proceeded to pack very quickly and met the rest for breakfast.

The two Belgium girls, on hearing that I had tried to withdraw money using a Visa card and failed, where quite worried as they had less money than I and couldn't even afford to pay for their room. They went to the ATM and came back with a fist full of money. I was completely confused and so one of the girls offered to come with me to see if I was doing anything different to them. I put my Visa credit card in the machine, put my pin number in, went to press 'credit' for the type of account I had when the Belgium girl stopped me and said to press 'savings'. I did as she instructed and out popped 1,000,000 kip. I hugged her, and the ATM; I was so relieved and I went back to breakfast pretty happy.

I had already purchased my ticket to Vang Viang and so I decided to continue with that plan. I would have liked another day here, but bus tickets are always 'non-refundable' and so it wasn't really worth wasting the money. It would have been nice to have looked around the city, it would have been nice to have visited another 'Plain of Jars site' but I wasn't that bothered. Learning from what had happened here today I have decided to keep a small amount of cash, away from the rest of my money, as a 'reserve account' to hopefully prevent the above situation happening again. The only issue with this is that the 'Kip' cannot be exchanged for any other currency when out of the country so, towards the end of my Laos visit, I will have to make sure that I spend said 'reserve account'. Only in Laos have I had this problem.

We all went to the mini-van station and Patrick came to wave us off; I was a bit gutted that Patrick was leaving as; out of all of the group, I liked him the most. We all sat down within the mini-van ... and then we all left the van sharpish when we saw a huge spider on the roof. Indicating to the driver that something was wrong he went to inspect the situation; I then herd him laughing as he held said spider within his hands. We all went back into the van a little sheepish ... I felt like I was three. It wasn't long before we set off ... and it wasn't long before we saw our first road traffic accident which was extremely bloody. I put my seat belt on.

We left Phonsavan on the same road that we entered on; yet again we were thrown left and then right, and then left and then right. The only difference to this trip was that the clouds had descended and we had thick fog. Being one of the faster vehicles on the road the driver got annoyed when stuck behind slower vehicles and some of the overtaking – considering the viability – was interesting to say the least. We eventually made it to a T-junction that I remembered; to the right was Louang Phebang and to the left Vang Viang. We turned left onto a road that I hadn't traveled along before.

It wasn't long before we stopped for lunch; I wasn't hungry at all, though I was pretty thirsty, and so I purchased a can of Pepsi. Once back in the mini-van we had a journey that has to rank as one of my most beautiful drives of all time (It was on a par with the 'Icefield Parkway' in Canada, it was that good ... though this was a jungle version). I will try to explain the view in words but I probably won't do it justice. As we traveled around the winding roads there were sheer cliffs to the side of us that went into a jungle valley below. As my eyes wandered upwards they were presented with jagged limestone mountains, reaching high into the sky, some of them with bare white limestone faces with jungle terrain flowing over the sides. The power of the sun bleached out the far background however you could just see the outline of another mountain range, which added to the overall effect. It was like traveling through the lost world, a piece of land that time forgot, and I loved every minute of it. Along the side of the road we saw small communities made of wooden buildings that, on one side, touched the road and on the other perched out over the cliff face. They maybe poor, they may have terrible housing but what a view they have, I thought to myself.

We had continually descended for quite a while and the roads of the mountains soon changed into the straight roads of the valleys. I was eternally grateful that being thrown left and then right, and then left and then right again was over however, the actual road condition got worse and every two minutes or so the road changed into a bumpy, rocky dirt road before becoming paved again. Yet again we arrived at a mini-van bus stop; this time however we were miles out of town. We all got into a tuk-tuk with three Aussies. They had a place that they wanted to check out and so we went with them. 125,000 kip each per night (£10) was a little over our budget; we left that guesthouse and proceeded to another one, that had just been built (hot water a little dodgy), for 50,000 (£4) per night for a room with two beds. Tonight I would be sharing with one of our group however he was going to move on tomorrow and so I would be left with the entire bill. This was okay as it was pretty cheap, clean and comfortable ... plus I'm only going to spent a maximum of another two days here.

The place had free Wifi, which worked for the others however not for me ... just my luck today, I thought. I therefore went to an internet cafe to use their PC's for a very reasonable rate. I had wanted to book into 'SpicyLao' here as it is supposed to be very good however, due to me leaving Phonsavan quicker than I had expected, I hadn't had time to book myself in online. As my room mate was leaving tomorrow I decided to have a look on hostel world and book myself into 'the spice' for the rest of my stay here ... until I discovered that it was fully booked for the whole of this, and next, week; still more bad luck.

I spent an hour on the internet, which cost we a £1, before meeting up with the others for tea. The two Belgium girls had met some Canadian friends from Louang Phebang and so they were off with them; this left Fabien (a French guy), British couple (Joe and Rachael) and I to have dinner together. As we walked through town all we saw were white tourists, half-naked and completely drunk. The area resembled one of those foreign British drinking locations where white tourists behaved stupidly and rudly in someone else backyard ... I didn't like what I was seeing.

We found a small restaurant, which served cheap food, just on the outskirts of the main part of town. The food was great and we sat in there for the entire evening chatting away, if was lovely. We were going to head to a pub afterward, for a quick drink or two, however Rachael and I were both shattered, Fabien had to get an early bus and so we all had a quite night.

Once back in my room I went straight to bed. Fabien was updating his blog but I didn't hear anything. I searched my brain to see if there was anything I could worry about tonight ... nope, nothing that I could think of and so I went into a calm, gentle and deep sleep. Hopefully tomorrow things will be better.

Toodle Pip!

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