Tuesday, 8 February 2011

'Worry 'o'Meter' on full

Thursday 3rd February 2011

MP3 track of the day: Don't worry, be happy - Bobby McFerrin

Weather: Hot throughout the day until the night when it became cold

Last night was interesting to say the least. Not only was the bed uncomfortable but it felt as though I was staying on 'Old MacDonald's evil twin farm'. I had seen chickens, mosquito's, moths, dogs, geckos, frogs and I think I herd a rat within my bathroom last night. I couldn't be sure as, before I went into said bathroom, I turned the light on from the outside. I waited thirty seconds before opening the door slowly … no sign. Whilst in the bathroom I did hear things running inbetween the prefabricated walls. I was ready to leave. It now made perfect sense; at first I thought the owner – nice though he is – was a little mad (and I would have been a little mad if I had lived my whole life within this small, isolated village) as he was laughing at me every time I told him my room number. It was kind of like 'oh yes, you are staying here … chuckle, chuckle, chuckle' and nothing changed when I went to pay my bill this morning.

I met Joe and Rachael next to the mini-van that was going to take us, and three others, to the river 'port'. The guesthouse owners 'other' son then took over and used his boat to get us safely back across the 'Mekong River' before guiding us to where the V.I.P coach was going to pick us up from. Currently life was good; I was away from the 'farm from hell' and on my way to, apparently, paradise island. This state of 'worry free' only lasted until the V.I.P coach arrived. Joe and Rachael put their bags within the holdall first and got the last two remaining seats. South East Asia's motto is that 'There is always room for one more' and so the driver started to put plastic chairs down the isle and I was allotted one. Now you may be thinking that my 'worry 'o'meter' went sky high based on the obvious health and safety situation (i.e. If we crash I sitting on a seat that wasn't attached to the vehicle and so I would probably die. Or if there was a fire the seats would be blocking the main exit route and so I would probably die.) but you would be wrong. It went sky high because I was told that 'Don Det's' accommodation – the island in which I would be based for the next couple of days – fills up pretty quickly and here I was sat on a coach crammed within backpackers all heading for the same spot.

There was nothing that I could do. I just sat back in my plastic chair and chatted to the Aussie girl to my left. The girl was nice; she had just spent the last two weeks in Vang-Vieng getting drunk and now she was coming here. This didn't help with my impression of the place. Luckily the journey wasn't long and we managed to chat all the way.

As I was one of the last ones on the coach my bag was one of the first ones off. Joe, Rachael and I raced to 'port' to catch the first boat to the island of 'Don Det'. The captain of the vessel had placed mine, and Rachael's, bags right on the bow of the ship. As we were docked it didn't really matter as, if it was to roll off, it would end up on the sand … as long as he moved my bag into the boat before we set sail all would be well. More people boarded with their bags being put inside the boat … Rachael's had been moved into the boat as well where as mine was still, disconcertingly, left right on the front. I was quite proud of myself that my 'worry 'o' meter' didn't move from 'heart failure' to 'off the scale' until the captain started pushing the boat out into sea, still without moving my my bag. I closed my eyes and lowered my head into my other bag, only for my head to rise again and see the captain eventually move my bag to a safe location. The boat was still crammed and so my 'worry 'o'meter' only fell back to 'default level for South East Asia'.

Dry land! We had made it to dry land. I could have kissed the very small beach (which is called 'sunrise beach' as, funnily enough, the sunrises from the direction the beach faces) that I found myself upon. Looking around I could see white people on the beach in front of me and, slightly up hill, pubs to the left and right. This wasn't really what I wanted to see. However this wasn't the time, we had to get accommodation quickly. The first place we tried was nice but expensive, second full, third full. It wasn't until we found our fifth place that we got a good cheap deal. The accommodation was 'basic' with outdoor cold showers and toilets. The rooms had twenty-four hour electricity (which was a real bonus), an electrical fan located right above the bed and a mosquito net. It wasn't that clean, the bathrooms weren't the nicest however at 30,000 kip per night (£2.30) we didn't think that it was going to get any better. We took it.

I went into my room and checked the electricity, the cleanliness of the bedding and for holes within my mosquito net. I had a few small holes – which was understandable – and one giant one located at the bottom right-hand corner of the net. I went into my bag to find my 'mosquito net repair kit' – which consisted of a roll of duck-tape – but it seemed as though I had lost it. I searched high and low but nope, it was gone. I went through my bag to see if I had anything else; I emptied my own 'mosquito net kit' in which I found three safety pins and a bit of string … ummm. I put the net back together by attaching safety pins to the middle, and sides, of the hole. This obviously wasn't enough to close the whole however, after threading the string through the safety pins, I pulled the string tight and the hole closed up. I had fixed something. I was rather proud of myself.

As you can imagine, this had taken quite a bit of time. I had been given a couple of 'knocks on the door' from Joe and Rachael seeing if I wanted to go for lunch, however my reply was always 'just five minutes more and I'll be ready'. We hadn't eaten any breakfast and so I think they were getting hungry; I 'pac-safed' all my stuff up and we headed along the track, away from 'sunrise beach' to find a restaurant. We found loads and we eventually stopped at a place with a very cute kitten and puppy. Both Joe and Rachael are massive animal lovers, which is fine, however it can get very annoying when I'm trying to eat. They stroked the animals for a little while (with me standing well back) before we went up the stairs and into the restaurant; I ordered a 'vegetable noodle soup' which I felt was a good step-up the food chain from yesterdays bread. It arrived boiling hot, which was great, and for a little luxury I had my first 'Pepsi' in four days.

Whilst eating, as predicted, a swarm of young animals came near our table. Joe and Rachael were fine with it whereas I didn't like it at all. I think they could see that I wasn't massively impressed and so, bless them, they tried their best to keep the animals to their side of the table. The view from our table was pretty impressive; we overlooked one of the many branches of the 'Mekong River' where we saw some pretty burnt people tubing. There was a beautiful island in front of us, with lush green vegetation and huge bright green-leaved trees standing tall against a light blue sky. Looking at the trees in more detail their branches were formed like an 'umbrella', unlike in the UK where branches are erected quite a way down the main trunk. The food was great and afterwards we headed out for a stole around the island with me particularly searching for good 'photo spots' for tomorrow. Joe and Rachael were chatting about the activities they fancied doing; almost all of them involved water in which I wasn't that bothered about. I wondered if I had come to the wrong place, maybe I should enter Cambodia sooner than planned because there isn't anywhere else I can go (I'm now right at the border).

There is also another aspect that I have to factor into any activity, or length of stay here and that is, of course, money. My financial state isn't anywhere near as bad as Phonsavan; I'm along way off from delving into 'Buzz's life savings' however here is my predicament. There are no ATM's on any of these '4,000 islands' plus the 'Kip' is worthless out of Laos. I therefore have to have enough money to pay for living here, and my coach ticket to Siam Reap, and cover my visa costs to get into Cambodia without withdrawing anymore money as I have no idea if there is a currency exchange place at the Laos border. This is my biggest annoyance with Laos, you cannot expect anything and there is no information to help you. Communication would go along way here.

It was hot walking around; we had seen quite abit of this small island and I had many 'photo' locations for tomorrow. We headed back to the restaurant we had lunch in, ordered a few drinks and played cards whilst chatting and overlooking the river. The animals were back, which still annoyed me, however I wasn't eating this time. We chatted for quite a while and at one point the owners son, who must have been two / three years old came waddling over, without said owner in sight, to play with the puppy at Joe's feet. The animals we perceive as 'pets' within the UK aren't treated with the same respect here and, to prove such a fact, the toddler kicked the puppy … twice. Rachael took the child by the hand and told him 'no'; which granted was the moral thing to do (you don't kick animals) however he wasn't her child and it seemed as though, in her eyes, the puppy was more important than the infant.

The sun was fading and the heat was getting lower. We paid up and left the restaurant stopping at an internet cafe (very expensive and very slow … however if they can have internet here, why not an ATM?), before heading off for another walk. We headed to the other side of the island to see 'sunset beach', which was very nice. We came back into town and we ate at our guesthouse's restaurant. I went one level up again and had chicken soup … which was okay however it was huuuge. It was so big that two could have eaten the meal and I felt bad leaving so much. We were served by the owners youngest daughter who, I think, understands English the best. She was very hard working and always had a smile on her face; I apologized for leaving so much and she just smiled; she was very sweet.

Within the restaurant we met 'Terra' (pronounced 'terror'), the Canadian chick, and Rute (pronounced root) who was from Israel. I had met these two in Pakxe and we met the others (Tom and dorianna, a couple from Blackburn, and a German girl plus a French Canadian guy who's names escape me) at the Reggie Bar. When we were playing cards within Pakxe we all said that we would met up at the Reggie Bar, today, at 8pm and so it came to pass. We chatted and played cards until the Laos curfew kicked in at 11pm (which normally wouldn't be a problem however there isn't much to do here and so a few extra hours would have been nice). We all said goodnight and Joe and Rachael arranged to meet the rest of the group, for fishing, at 10am. I wasn't bothered about fishing so I made my own plan of reading, photography and blog to fill my day. Thinking about my plan for tomorrow really made me think about my plan for my time here; like I said earlier there isn't really a lot to do and I do wonder if I would be better chilling within Siem Reap one or two days more. Also, looking to the left and right of me I could see drunk westerns trying to leave the bar, working out which flip-flops were there's. There was also a heavy cloud of smoke within the bar which, I'm certain, wasn't tobacco smoke.

Apart from a couple of lights at bars and guesthouse that we passed there was nothing illuminating the path back to our accommodation. This would have been fine if it wasn't for a sudden drop, on my left, into the 'Mekong'. However I wasn't really thinking about this, I was more thinking about whether I wanted to stay here a short or long time, my money situation and the amount of mosquito's that were hovering around each and every light that I saw on my way to my room. Once in my room I closed the window, and door, before turning the light on for a split second for me to erect my mosquito net. With the light back off I got into bed, got changed and tried to go to sleep. I wasn't tired, not really. I wasn't really worried about anything either, my 'worry 'o' meter' was set back at 'standard South East Asia' ... it's just that I wasn't tired. Well actually I did worry about giant spiders being in my room.

Toodle Pip!

P.S. - Question of the day: If one of the worlds main producer of rice is South East Asia, then why haven't they herd of rice pudding?

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