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Omg, what a feeling to be home after 3 months! It’s weird, and I’m tired and messed up, but loving every minute of it. Coming home has just been full of wonderful surprises, starting from the lovely reception committee at the airport. And what would be a better time to come back than Christmas? Landing straight in the middle of family and mom’s delicious cookings.

Also, I was pleased to find out that even though I had a backbag full of memories and souvenirs, I had left something in Asia. Some people where asking if I had lost weight, which I thought wasn’t possible with the diet consisting of greasy restaurant food almost everyday during the trip, but the scale thought otherwise. I had lost about 8 kilos (that’s like 16 pounds?). Fortunately, I made up for the loss over Christmas dinner and probably gained at least half of the lost kilos back.

On top of everything, on Christmas eve my family pulled the most succesful trick on me ever, as they pretended they had forgotten to buy me much presents. I wouldn’t had wondered it otherwise, but the weird part was that my brother was well taken into account and we usually get equal-prised presents. That’s why I was getting a bit jealous. To comfort myself, I reached out to the ginger bread jar I had got, and I was stunned to find my very first smart phone inside. I was just shocked going from no presents to probably the best and most expensive present I have ever got. Nokia N9, of course magenta-coloured! I’m in love. I couldn’t wish for a better present, or parents. 🙂

Being home in Finland makes me also delighted about the fact, that I can actually talk Finnish again, and I’m able to chat and meet with my friends. Well, naturally we talked Finnish all the time with J, but it has just been interesting to discover that I use a different tone with him, and now I had to learn to talk like normal people do again. And ever tried to get men understand girl-world? It’s just good to have the circle of friends around me again.

Back in the crazy traffic of Hanoi!

Well, leaving and coming back wasn’t all fireworks though, since I already had started feeling at home in Asia too. Especially in Hanoi, it felt a bit like home because it was the destination where we started, so we already had come back. Even though I hate the in-your-face attitude of cyclo-drivers and hawkers in Hanoi, the city also felt cozy because we sort of had friends there, our small Scandinavian-safe-haven. We met J’s former classmate and I bumbed accidentally to an old friend in a cafe (again: what a small world!). We also saw two Swedish girls, that we got to know in the night bus to Hanoi from Luang Prabang, few times. Having people around to whom I can say “hi” to, always makes me feel slightly more at home.

But now I’m home for real. We’ll see how long my excitement about coming back lasts, it might be hard when Christmas-break ends and everyday life kicks in…

Btw, we did get to the Kuang Si Waterfall on the last day in Lao. And I'm glad we did, it certainly is one of the top 10 most beautiful places I've ever been to!

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Almost There

We’ve had an amazing week in Laos, but I just can’t help thinking about how all of this is going to end in less than a week! I’m excited about going home for Christmas and seeing everyone there, but still, I’ve just gotten used to the Asian way of live and wouldn’t want to give it up yet. As always, leaving is the worst part of the trip.

The golden Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the most important monument in Laos.

Well, at least we’re trying to make to most of our last days. In Vientiane we searched the city and sights by bicycle. The traffic in Laos isn’t even close to the chaotic nature of the the traffic for example in Vietnam, so biking through the streets of Vientiane felt safe and pleasant. We took the three days in the capital quite easy, and tried even bowling for fun in the bowling center. Unlike in Finland, they charged per game, not per hour for bowling, which was good because it took time to play: the machine broke down approximately after every other toss. After we changed the lane, the problems ended.

A view on the way to Luang Prabang

After Vientiane we continued to Vang Vieng, and I figure that’s the route almost every traveler in Laos takes: Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang (that’s were we are now), or the other way around. We spent one day in Vang Vieng tubing, which means floating down the river with a tire and stopping to the bars on the way. It was quite a party-zone, like landing in a middle of american college students spring break, but even if drinking isn’t the main interest, the view at the river is worth a tubing or a canoeing trip. It’s good to go early though, ’cause the mountain form a shadow over the river in the afternoon, and it might get quite chilly in the water. That’s why we didn’t finish the 4 kilometers route with J either, but took a tuk tuk back to town after two kilometers. We heard hardly no-one finishes because of the cold or because they stop to the bars for too long… Everybody has to be back by six to get the deposit from the tube.

What’s nice in Laos is the climate though, at least this time of the year, that it really gets pretty cold during the night. The days are warm, but at night long-sleeves are a must here in the north, in Luang Prabang. It makes it a soft-landing for us to rainy Hanoi and to cold cold Finland. 🙂

In Luang Prabang they close every night a street for night market. I've lost it, it's impossible to walk through it without buying anything...

I’ve waited to visit Luang Prabang, since I’ve heard it’s one of the nicest places in Southeast Asia, and I’m so happy to be here. Also the road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang trough the mountains is in itself worth a drive-through. The scenery is so pretty. And Luang Prabang really is beautiful and I love all the swirling stairways to the temples on the hills. We also took a half-day tour to ride the elephants and see the Pak Ou caves, and the elephants were so cute! It’s amazing how so big animals can be so sympathetic (and I’m really starting to run out of synonyms or expressions for amazing because a good writer uses a variety of words, but everything just is so miraculous).

Colorful monks are a typical sight in Laos.

Today we were supposed to go to the Kuang Si waterfalls, but we delayed it for tomorrow since I had a little bit fever this morning. Fortunately I’m already feeling better… Because I really want to see the waterfall tomorrow, before the circle closes and our night bus leaves back to Hanoi where we first started nearly three months ago.

To all of you sweeties waiting for us in Finland, see you in a little while! ❤

Same Same But Different

As much as I’m annoyed by that phrase above, one that you can’t help to bump into in Southeast Asia, it has a point (still no need to print t-shirts out of it!). Time after time, country after country, it’s true. All the countries here are somehow so similar, but still different. We’ve had a quite a week, and a possibility to view three countries. Week ago we left Thailand for Cambodia and after five nights in Siem Reap, we’ve already made our way to Laos, to Vientiane. It feels like we’re in the same place all the time, but there’s all these little diversities: like there are tuk tuks in all these three countries, but the style is different in each country. I also should have learned by now, that when it comes to food, everything does really mean everything (and anything) here in all the countries. Like yesterday, I was recovering from a nasty tummy-bug and hadn’t eaten for two days, so I thought maybe I could have a little bit of soup already. So we went to eat beef noodle soup with everything, thinking the “everything” means the spices etc. It’s not so easy to try to feel better when there are cow tongues and I-don’t-even-wanna-know-what-that-is -parts of animals sticking out of the plate…

The two border-crossings this past week went pretty smoothly, even though there are always some little things that we forget to think about or doubt, when we should. In the end, we let the bus company arrange our visa on Thai-Cambodia border, so we paid a bit extra, but the border in Poipet was so crowded that it still took a while to get across. And the Cambodia-Lao border was even more smooth. We got the visa on the border, and we had again heard stories like that it might take two hours to get it. But the border was really quiet and we we’re done in 15 minutes. But oh boy, on our way to Laos, did we get tricked by the travel agency from where we bought the bus tickets! We bought a direct sleeping bus from Siem Reap with toilet to Vientiane, only to find out there aren’t any direct buses, ever. And since I had been feeling sick, the only reason I left Siem Reap in my condition, was the expectation of getting a good bus.

Angkor Wat

Well, when a cranky bus was waiting at the station in Siem Reap we should have turned back, but it was five in the morning and they said we would get to the VIP bus after five hours (they’ve got nerve!). The trip was supposed to take 22 hours all together, we got here in 50 hours and with 7 different buses… Well, at least the last one from Pakse to Vientiane was a sleeping bus with toilet. 🙂

I’m excited to explore Laos since I’ve heard it’s one of the nicest places in here, but  this far Cambodia has been, to me, one of the most charming countries. I can’t really explain why; maybe it’s the mixture of Asian and French culture. Walking down Siem Reap’s Pub street feels like you’re surrounded by Parisian cafe’s. Or maybe it’s the people, the happy smiles, though there’s a dark history, not so long time ago, and I bet every Khmer remembers the civil war too well. I read the Killing Fields in the beginning of our trip to get a hint of the events in Cambodia in the 70’s, but I just can’t understand the cruelty. In many ways, being in Cambodia was heart-breaking. There are a lot of mine victims and poor people, and it’s just impossible to help everyone. Like what can you say to a boy, less than ten years old, when he’s begging for food, not money? When I said sorry, because I didn’t have any food with me, he replied: “but sorry is not food”. The problem is, that giving money or food, or buying a souvenir from the children would serve them only once. They need to be helped in long-term, and I just hope the money from different children’s funds and foundations get there.

A poster on the Thai-Cambodia border warns that children are not a tourist attraction. However the Cambodian children know how to conquer a tourists heart with a smile.

Besides poverty and mines, Cambodia is however rich in many ways, for example it’s saturated with temples! There are soooo many temples in Angkor, near Siem Reap including the most famous Angkor Wat, which is the largest temple in the world. We took a two-days tuk tuk tour around the temples of Angkor, and visited an interesting land-mine museum too. I think we’ve seen enough temples for a lifetime, but still didn’t see even nearly all of them! For the future travelers: It’s not an idle warning to remember to dress up properly for the temples. I thought covering knees and shoulders would be enough, but shoulders had the be covered with a t-shirt. I learned that the first day, when I had only a scarf for my shoulders and that’s why I missed the most sacred and highest spot in Angkor Wat. I didn’t mind it though, ’cause I had a nice chat with an elderly thai-gentleman who spoke only little English instead, while J climbed up there.

There's an amazing amount of details in the temples of Angkor.

Banteay Srei is a bit far from the other temples but worth a visit.

It's a long walk to some of the temples. I think it's nice how the temples are still somehow mystical, even with all the tourists.

Little Finland and other stories from Pattaya

In many cities there’s “Little India” or “Chinatown”, so if somewhere, “Little Finland” should definitely be in Pattaya. No time to be homesick, since Finland and Finns are all over.

Besides everything Finnish, we've got our share of local things too. I had one of the most interesting dining experiences in Pattaya. I ordered a grill plate with beef, chicken and seafood etc. and ended up grilling everything myself in that gray grill. I got to cook the noodles and vegetables too. 🙂

One of the main reasons why we came to Pattaya, was to see J’s uncle. He and his wife have been spending time with us here on several days and showed us (mostly Finnish) places. There are probably about 50 Finnish bars in Pattaya, or Pattijoki as some Finns tend to call it. Most of them are situated in Soi Yume, in a part of the town which is also known as “Jakomaeki” among Finns. Usually I tend to avoid Finnish stuff abroad, but having been away two months, I must admit it’s kind of fun for a change. Today is probably our last night here in Pattijoki before heading to Cambodia and we are planning to spent it in Maikan Majatalo. There’s a quiz and a buffet full of Finnish food: Karelian stew, macaroni casserole and other Finnish delicacies. So I think we get a great deal of coziness before getting the Asian-culture-overdoze in Cambodia and Laos.

Colorful fruit-stall from downtown Pattaya.

Pattaya is much more besides its Finnish inhabitants though. It’s also known for ladyboys and women, and that’s why many western men have found their way here… Otherwise this town is tolerable, some love it, some hate it. I think it’s somewhere in the middle, ok. The beach is crowded and there’s way too much pollution that one would want to go into the water. One day we went to visit Koh Larn, island near Pattaya, hoping to get some snorkeling done. For some reason that day there wasn’t any boats to Thonglang beach (we’ve heard that’s the best one for snorkeling), so we found ourselves from Tien beach surrounded by hundreds of Russian tourists (and I’m not exaggerating).

Koh Larn

That’s the most cramped beach I have seen! We took the first boat back to Pattaya since our hotel pool is so much better and peaceful. Too bad, that even the boat ride was far from pleasant…

To get to Tien beach we had to take a smaller boat to shore, and there wasn't too much room for passengers... On top of everything we had to wade a little to reach the dry land. The water was to my waist, so I almost got my camera soaked in the waves.

 

 

 

 

I don’t want to sound too negative though, ’cause there are a lot of good things in Pattaya too. For example, on Tuesdays and Fridays there’s a nice big market near Tuk Com -building. Oh, those shopping possibilities, like the towns all stalls had come together: I’m trying to figure out if my backpack can be enlarged. 😀 Luckily Asian clothes are so small that most of them don’t fit me, and that kept me from buying many items.

There’s also this certain comfy feeling that Pattaya has. Our hotel is bit off from the center of the city, so we usually take the hotels tuk tuk or a motorbike taxi to get to downtown. And in a city that’s always alive, but most certainly wakes up after sunset, it’s just a special feeling to cruise down the streets filled with colorful lights, people and different kind of stalls.

A view from Pattaya's art street (Soi 12) to the beach.

J’s uncle is sure we want to come back to Pattijoki someday. I’m not so convinced about that yet, but I certainly feel a bit sad for having  to leave tomorrow. I just don’t feel like packing… We also hear there’s many scams and lot of touts on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, so I’m a bit concerned about the boarder-crossing. Well, the worst thing that can happen is that we pay loads of extra money or the trip takes many hours (if they want us to be tired, so we go to the hotel the imposters want us to go). I hope we stay in our budget and get across without any bigger problems…