Archive | March, 2011

Motorcycle mayhem

31 Mar

It’s been interesting being on ‘stop’ for a few days. I’ve done a lot of reading, a little bit of walking, I’ve written lots in my journal, and I have even done a bit of technology work too (great getting my book out!!)

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the guesthouse just watching the world go by. I’ve seen a lot of motorbikes, scooters and mopeds go pat, with various numbers of people on them. Over here, it’s transport for the entire family. On one bike. Or for six sacks of rice.. or a pig or two.. there are transport photos that I wish I had captured, but I was too busy watching in fascination as the precarious constructions carefully balance down the street. I certainly didn’t feel all that safe on the back of a scooter with 20 kilos of rucksack attached… but I made it OK.  Occasionally it’s a remork instead, that crazy combination of motorcycle and trailer….

DSCF2680Polly Bike (1)

Bikes are just a mobile social platform anyway.. bikes will zip by three abreast with an animated conversation going on.. or someone will be on the phone while driving. That said, it’s all a pretty sedate pace.

Pyjamas seem to be a pretty standard form of dress for the girls – preferably with cute cuddly toy pictures on them..

Rubbish is everywhere – every now and again it gets collected into a pile and set fire to – food, paper, plastic, anything…. sometimes those fires get a little out of control too…

Every now and then a palm branch falls on the restaurant, provoking much excitement – although now they’ve harvested the coconuts we should be OK…


They’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, you know…





There are lots of dogs – the restaurant has three, including one called Tony. He’s nearly as cute as me. And a terrific rooster…


They come and sit at my feet and occasionally get trodden on when I forget they are there (the dogs, not the rooster). Cows amble down the street in unattended herds, while the local kids dig for freshwater snails. The snails end up being consumed at little lakeside restaurants, where the pavements are covered with mats and makeshift lighting provides a little illumination. As I walked past the locals invited me to try – but the last time I had snails (admittedly in a posh restaurant in London where a lot of wine was consumed) I was ill for days… so I politely declined, with a smile…


There’s even a funfair….DSCF2706

DSCF2696 and I found this beautiful artwork making up the wall of a new building – must be something special….done in cement and then painted. Or at least I think that’s how they did it.




There must be fish in the lake too..


All the children wave madly ‘Hello’.. occasionally ‘Suosdai’ but mostly just ‘Hellooooo…….’

Last night the whole town lost power – everywhere went black, apart from one or two places that must have had generators – a strange peace came over Ban Luang, and the stars are clear in the inky darkness of the sky.

I learn how to write my name… and, by accident, my sister in law’s name – one of the staff members is called Dyna…


(my attempt on the right, Dyna’s version on the left – it’s a bit like the Lao version but not quite – and I find out how to count (interesting, Kmer has base 5 counting, so we have one to five, then ‘five plus one’, ‘five plus two’..  it adds a new melody to counting that’s missing with base 10 counting…. and there are four fewer numbers to learn!

1    Muoy    
2     Pee    
3     Bey    
4     Buon    
5     Pram    
6     Pram-muoy    
7     Pram-pee    
8     Pram-bey    
9     Pram Buon    
10     Dorp 

Bet you can work out what happens after /Dorp’!!

And I think I’ve tested the whole menu here now. The spring rolls are delicious, so’s the Amok. Love the mango shakes with an egg in them. Not so keen on the Khmer salad with fatty pork that the host’s mother gave me as a gift – but I did try my best… and the pancakes with honey are very yummy indeed….although I feel the need to test all the varieties..

Despondent at not getting my credit card (apparently it was too late for the bus) I decide to go for a bike ride… there’s quite a nice lake nearby, and it’s fun watching everyone on a day out (monks included) and splashing in the water. Mind you, it was a long old ride, some of it on half a road (due to roadworks) – after dodging traffic for half a mile, I decided to ride on the bit of road that no-one else was on, and risk the wrath of the road building gang…


And then, finally, a big DHL envelope arrived, containing a little blue card. House arrest is over, and I can get to Phnom Penh, next stop, the British Embassy and the next phase of ‘get this trip back on track’ . . .

(PS those who know me will realise I actually don’t do ‘despondent’ particularly well.


Hooray! It’s time to ‘Free your mind….and Release Your Dreams

30 Mar

Free your mind coverOne of the things I have been able to do during this enforced stop in Ban Lung is to work on my book. And today, it finally appeared in the Amazon Kindle store. It was a bit of a marathon experience that led me down all sorts of blind alleys and caused me to look for advice from others when actually, I had all the information I needed (hmm. Need to think about where else that shows up in my life)

Anyway, here it is. ‘Free Your Mind…Release Your Dreams’ is now available at Amazon for the Kindle platform. You can buy it here:




If you don’t have a Kindle, then you can get a Kindle reader for your PC or Mac, or for your iphone/Blackberry/Android/iPad HERE. I love the Kindle reader, but there you go – your choice! You wouldn’t want to buy a Kindle just so you could read my book, would you? Maybe you would!

Although this didn’t make it to a formal publisher, many of the publishers loved it when I sent it – many of them actually read it – most books just end up with a quick skim and then into the bin, so I am quite pleased about that. My host here in Cambodia read the introduction and demanded a copy. And it’s not just a book – I recorded audio for it too, which you can download for free when you get the book.

DSCF2684Here’s me reading the first edition in the lodge in Cambodia. It’s great being an international author!




DSCF2682By the way, f you don’t want to install Kindle, then you can still buy a PDF version HERE – but I have to say, Kindle is kinda fun, even if you only get the PC or iPad free version!

I’ve been looking through this, and there’s so much great stuff in here that I love.

Anyway, enough of all that. Here’s the ‘From The Author’ chapter to get you excited.


"And all creation stands on tiptoe just to see the sons of God come into their own"

– St Paul, Romans 8v19

Life is an adventure. Life is designed to be exciting, thrilling, joyful, full of exploration and discovery. Life is designed to be enjoyed. What I have set out to do is to give you some tools that will help you enjoy that life even more. I’ve wanted to share with you some of my experience that I have learnt on my own journey – some of the beliefs and understandings that help me in creating the life I want to have, and the adventure that I am currently enjoying.

My goal throughout all that I do is to let you know that you can. Whatever it is. You can live the life you want. You can have the success that you want. You can have the relationships that you want. You can have the experiences that you want. That’s why you are on this planet – so you can have, at a deep, spiritual level, what you want and what you are prepared to experience. It’s as simple as that.

When I coach people I am not focussed on their goals, what they want to achieve, what their plans are, what obstacles they face. I’m not looking to help them meet their deadlines and nag them when they don’t. I’m not even looking to help them understand their balance between personal and business life. I want them to know that they CAN. They can do what they want. They can live the dreams they want. They can have the lifestyle they want.

I wish I could communicate in some way how much that passion beats in me – how much I long to be able to explain in some way that whatever the question is, YOU are the answer to it. It is my lifelong dream to see the sons of God come into their own, and to see each and every member of the human race grow and evolve. I hope this programme will help.

You are unique, you are incredible, and you have an amazing gift to bring to the world – one that only you can give. If I can in any way help you to bring that gift out into the open, for you to live your adventure, your journey, and live the life you have dreamed of, then I will have done my job.

So, buckle up, and get ready for the adventure of your life….


That link again….


Watching the Detectives…

29 Mar

So, as promised, someone is going to take me to the police station this morning. We’ve actually got a policeman that speaks English (and sits at a desk surrounded by dictionaries – which must mean he’s the tourist police, an impression rapidly confirmed by a big badge that says ‘Tourist Police’ on it)


‘So, what do you need from me’?’ he asks. I rapidl flip through the available responses, I decide that ‘my passport and wallet’ would be too flip, so settle for ‘a signed report so I can go to the embassy and claim on my insurance’. Having filled one report in, I fill in another, being very careful not to make any mistakes (crossing out is not allowed).

All seems well, until he notices that the place of incident is recorded as Ban Luang. ‘But you do not know this’, he protests. ‘You must fill in another form’. It seems this will affect the statistics for the province. I patiently demonstrate that I can change the form by writing ‘on the road from Stung Treng to Ban Luang’ instead. This seems to satisfy him, until he decides that the last official witnesses to the presence of my passport were the border patrol. And that it’s possible that maybe I snuck across the border illegally.

At this point, I am marshalling all my resources to keep my peace. It seems he would like me to return to Stung Treng (which isn’t the border, by the way – it’s just not his province) and talk to the police there. Having taken five days to find a policeman who speaks English, I am reluctant to start the whole process again, so I smile and stay put.  I don’t mind going to Stung Treng – it’s on the way to Phnom Penh – but I don’t want to take a day (or more) visiting the police there. I’m also concerned that the police in Stung Treng will decide that I need to go back to Ban Luang, turning this whole thing into an inter-province table tennis match. Considering that all I need is a piece of paper to show my insurers, I think this is pretty pointless.

Eventually, he does agree to contact the border, and sends me off to lunch (lunch is a very serious kip time over here). Still waiting for the credit card, but I am hopeful for tomorrow….

Over lunch, I get a phone call. The policeman is now confused. Having told him my nationality (English) and after he write down ‘UK’ – he now believes me to be Ukrainian. The border police are even more confused. A few words of explanation, and showing my passport on my Kindle (darned clever, this technology stuff) and they decide they can cope with GBR.

And, finally, I have a piece of paper that says that I genuinely did lose my passport and wallet (place unknown) written lovingly in Khmer… and now, once my credit card has arrived… I am off!

It’s actually been a good break. I have done some planning, recorded a new product that I will tell you all about soon.. and converted my book for Kindle format. Perhaps I did just need to stop.. and think.. and do some stuff..

Welcome to the jungle

28 Mar

So, parted from my passport, and cut off my my credit card, I had little choice but to stay in Ban Luang. Now, the reason I am here is to go trekking anyway – plus the fact that I didn’t want to end up in Siem Reap at midnight – so since my host, Sophat, has said it’s OK to put stuff on my tab for a while… it’s off into the jungle.

Having been caught up by Rut from Dusseldorf and James from Ireland, and now sharing a room with Seb from Quebec, we also find Polly and Katie from good old Huddersfield and plan for three days of trekking in Ratanakiri province.  I won’t be able to do a thing about my passport or credit cards.. just enjoy the experience.

And so, onto a remork – a motorbike with a trailer. This one’s been modified for extra cooling (big bottle of water attached to the cooling system) and needs refilling in the local lake before we set off, accompanied by our guide, Vutha.

After a bouncy but entertaining journey waving at the local children and trying to stay in the cart, we end up at our starting point. Before leaving, we test the local rice whisky, made on site in the still… and buy some for later. The good stuff is around 49% proof. Seb, on the other hand, buys shampoo…

Making Rice Whisky (2)

We meet up with our ranger, Graam (so easy to call him Graeme – my spelling of his name might not be right, but then his name is actually a tribal name, no even Khmer, so I just get the chance to write it as it sounds) and porter Dag. Dag’s carrying all our food and supplies – we’re just carrying the water and our hammocks & blankets.

And we’re off. These paths are mostly used by the locals (although that might mean a motorbike or two) so Graam has to clear a way from time to time – or we might even need to take a new route entirely, when the forest has been felled in our path.

Much of the forest has been burned – not so much for ‘slash and burn’ farming, but often simply to get an animal from a tree. This is a real problem in the area, which is focussing on sustainable eco touring… certainly some trekkers have been disappointed at the amount of burnt forest they experience.. and yet this is really what life is like here.

Trekking (77)Trekking (89)

We stop for lunch at a dried up river bed, and Graam sets to making cups for our rice whisky (and morning coffee) out of bamboo. Pretty impressive handiwork with a machete! We’re also fascinated that he’s made them so they fit inside each other like Russian dolls

Making Bamboo Cups (2)

More trekking through the jungle – sometimes it opens out and we can see for miles – and other times the jungle closes in around us.  It’s hot and sweaty – the trail is moderate, but the heat makes it harder work, and we are glad of the occasional stop for a rest and to rehydrate. We will miss the fresh, crystal clear water very soon.

Trekking (70)Trekking (83)

We make camp for the night at the river – we’d hoped to be able to wash and maybe even swim, but we’re a bit hesitant to even put our feet in the stagnant water. We do manage to clear a bit of a flowing path in the stream, though, and clean the worst of the dirt off our feet.

And yet, if you raise your eyes up and look beyond the water – to just look beyond the obvious, and allow the sensuous beauty of the jungle in… it’s a beautiful spot, with the sunlight peeking between the trees, and the gentle pattering of the water in the background.

First Camp (6)

The locals fish here by throwing a poisonous bark into the water to kill the fish, which they then just scoop off the surface – the guides are going to have fish for breakfast. Me.. I think I am happy to miss out. Graam sets about cutting bamboo to cook dinner in – the food gets packed into the bamboo and put on the fire. When it comes, it’s tasty and filling, if a little bit lacking in texture – almost to the point of being slimy. I guess the vegetables have cooked down to a mush, a bit like school dinners then.

We make camp by hanging our hammocks on the wood frame that’s there… I suspect we have a large party by the standards of the local trekking industry, which means that the whole thing looks like a Newton’s Cradle. Later on we discover that if Seb moves at one end, the resulting reaction will cause me to nudge Rut who nudges katie and so on… nothing, however, stops Graam snoring.

Trekking First Camp (1)Trekking First Camp (3)Graam

As the sun sinks behind the trees, the sounds of the jungle can be heard… rustling and screeching from the treetops interrupts the gentle splashing of the river. Fireflies dance in the darkness – little pinpricks of light that are almost unseen and elusive.

There’s lots of rice whisky to drink, and cards to be played… lots of laughter and giggles. Graam surprises us by eating a live river crab. And by wearing some very dodgy shorts with a large rip in the rear. At some point, he decides that his divorced daughter needs a new husband, and suddenly Seb is in line for four children and potentially inheriting a tribal hut. Somewhere in that transaction, Polly is engaged too. I keep very quiet, lucky to have escaped.

Somewhere in the evening, one of the girls realises that there is actually an Irish language. Seeking clarity, she asks James whether he is speaking English or Irish at that moment. I nearly fall out of my hammock.

It’s not a great night’s sleep – eventually I dispense with the mosquito net, opting for a respite from the heat and risking the amorous attentions of the insect population. Mercifully, they are not interested.

Sunrise wakes us, the dawn seen through the tree canopy. But someone is using a chainsaw. No, Graam is still snoring gently. Actually, it’s not gentle at. Breakfast is instant noodles and coffee – and very welcome.

Water has to be boiled and cooled before it can be poured into the plastic bottles to replace yesterday’s consumption of 4 litres. No-one is certain whether the addition of tea leaves makes it more or less unpleasant – it’s safe enough, but it tastes vaguely of fish and dirt. But it’s water, and we’re going to need every drop for the days hike.

First Camp (5)

The jungle is lusher today. We discover how cashew nuts grow (hanging from a fruit, which is juicy, sweet and tastes of cashew nuts). Roast them on the fire, get rid of the casing and lo and behold, the best cashew nuts you ever tasted. They are a local cash crop and sold in their husks. No-one seems to eat the fruit though.

Cashew Nut

Across rivers, through forests, up and down hills… and finally into the tribal village. We’re promised a wash here – so we walk down to the local village well, where a couple of pipes pour water out for us to wash in. Which we do, careful not to offend the locals, but very conscious that we are the source of much entertainment as a crowd gathers to watch – although they disperse after the girls have finished.

In the village (31)In the village (37)

Tonight we’re sleeping in the village hut of the Svai village, living amongst the Krung people. Although there are prominent posters proclaiming the virtues of good toilet habits, there are no facilities in the village at all. Apparently the villagers first need educating about the need for a toilet before they will consider building one.

The children are having lessons tonight, and before the official ones, we teach them some arithmetic, tic-tac-toe, some writing – and hot potato.

In the village (45)In the village (47)

Tonight, the conversation is even crazier. We’ve cleared the village shop out of Coca Cola (medicinal, to fight the bugs) but Seb has procured a jar of rice wine. It’s consumed through straws as a cross between a social ritual and a drinking competition. We surrender to the locals (although Seb still continues to go for it) but are touched by the singing contest between the two old solders who fought together against the Khmer Rouge. It’s passionate, powerful and sad all at the same time.

In the village (50)In the village (52)In the village (53)In the village (61)

Tonight, I’m sleeping on the floor of the hut. My back is still recovering from eight hours in a hammock, and still feels a bit like a banana. There are pigs wandering around, and even more strange sounds. And there’s a bug in my mosquito net.

We awake to lots of excitement – one of the local boys has fallen off his motorbike. His family are wailing, but when the girls go to lend their first aid skills, it’s a few bruises, scrapes and maybe concussion. We do get treated to the sight of a motorbike being carried on a motorbike, though.

Trekking (111)Katie & Polly

And then after noodles and coffee, another day of hard trekking. More jungle, more beauty.

Trekking (114)

At the end of it, we meet Graam’s family and their new puppies (four days old!) before getting back on the remork for the trip back to the hotel. Sadly, it runs out of power on the way, and we have to get off and push for a bit.

Trekking (116)Trekking (118)Trekking (122)

Celebrations with a coconut shake at the Coconut shake bar. Apparently they put an egg in it to make it smooth and creamy. And then the fellowship is dissolved.. Rut and James are off for dolphin watching in Kratje, while Seb, Katie and Polly have negotiated a trip on motorcycles to the temple at Preah Vaheah.. three days as a scooter passenger with rucksack, boots, sleeping bags attached. Looks risky – and I am relieved when they mail me to say they are safe.

Seb BikeKatie Bike

And me… well, i need to wait for my credit card to arrive – and then it’s off to Phnom Penh on a bus.

Who Am I?

27 Mar

imageLosing your passport is quite a significant event – in fact, as I trekked through the jungles of Ratanakiri province, I realized that actually, there was nothing on me to identify me. No credit cards. No passport. No wallet. Everything that I had done to protect me while I was away – the insurance policy, the contact details… all gone. If there had been a problem right then, no-one would have known who I was.

I quickly wrote my brother’s phone number (and my name) in my notebook.. just in case… but it did get me thinking.


Many of us choose to treat the events that happen to us as just luck, or ‘just what happened’. I don’t think anything is ‘just luck’ – but we do choose the meaning that we give those events.

So for me, an event might be a message from the Universe.. or it might simply be something that I can choose my response to. Am I going to choose to panic, to become fearful… or am I going to look at it as something else to experience, to grow from, to learn to overcome? I can choose to make it part of the adventure.

And yet I did look at it and see if there was a message there for me (apart from the obvious one of ‘take more care of your important possessions.’ OK, I get it, I get it). And it seemed there was….

I’ve known for some time that this trip was partly about ‘a new start’ – letting go of lots of ‘old’ stuff so I could move on. As I have gone through the last few months I have experienced a huge release from lots of the things that had got in my way. Some of those were old beliefs, old behaviours, old habits. There were things I was holding on to – things that I had become comfortable with. There were things that were stopping me stepping into a bold brave future. And I reminded myself that I was at liberty to step into a future of my own choosing at any moment.

It’s been significant for me that I will have experienced three New Year events this year – the Western New Year, Chinese New Year, and Cambodian New Year. I’ve known that there was something about ‘newness’ that was really significant.

And so, I simply felt I was being invited to redefine myself. To decide who I will be. To decide my values, my beliefs, my behaviours, my responses. To decide, in the face of everything that goes on in my life, Who I Am.

Dolphin Watching (7)

Hello, Houston… we have a problem

25 Mar

So, departure from Don Det started inauspiciously when the engine of the boat across to the mainland spluttered and died… we made it back to shore and the engine was replaced, leaving us travelling to the other side relatively painlessly.. we did follow the dance band from the previous night – here, even the roadies travel by boat.


It should be a simple trip – the travel agent said I should be in Ban Luang by 3pm. He said it with a straight face, too.

And after another walk, onto the bus for the border. Cambodia have a huge ornate temple like immigration facility – Laos is in the process of gaining the upper hand with an even more impressive edifice – but in the meantime, It’s three little wooden huts and a market stall.

The bumpy journeys across Laos had left the seats detached and in some places simply missing. In the process, though, I had found out that I had insufficient funds for the border process – although I suspected that the price would be higher on a Sunday, and specifically asked the travel agent how much t would be, he forgot to tell me about the additional processing fees. These ‘additional processing fees’ by the way are actually the border officials’ way of making a few bucks on the side…

So . . .

Walk from bus to Laos border.

Departure from Laos. $2. 

Walk across no-man’s land, imagining spies and secret agents being exchanged.

Health check half way across including temperature scan. $1.

Apply for Cambodian visa. $23. I managed to borrow some money from the lovely Melissa from Australia.

Receive visa back. Walk to Cambodian immigration to have visa stamped. $2.

We then had a huge wait for no readily apparent reason. Although we had arrived in two buses, only one bus was available to take us all down to Stung Treng, the next stop – we were hoping that another bus would turn up, but no.. we’re all on little plastic seats in the aisle…


Eventually we left for Stung Treng – at which point I got off, with Seb from Quebec (my life is dogged by Canadians and the French over recent days – Seb managed to roll it all into one tidy package by being French Canadian), Rut (Ruth) from Dusseldorf, and James, who I had already met in Champrasak….and Don Det….from the farmlands of Ireland.

Seb and I waited for the bus to Ban Luang, while Rut and James went in search of accommodation. Meanwhile, Seb and I checked out the local curry and made friends with the owner of a guest house in Ban Luang, who was in town for a wedding. And who has rooms available. Result!

When the bus eventually rolled into Stung Treng, it was over 2 hours late, and three hours behind the advertised time to get to Ban Luang (the normal rules of physics may not apply in Cambodia, but in most of the world, if a bus trip takes two hours and should arrive at 3pm, then the bus should depart at 1pm. Not exactly sure how it’s supposed to work if the bus is scheduled to depart at 4pm for a 3pm arrival. But I am new to the country. What do I know?

Anyway, off to Ban Luang, crammed next to a monk who definitely wants to occupy the whole two seats. Much to our suprise, we are joined by Rut and James, who have become rapidly disillusioned with Stung Treng and have set off in search of more exciting pursuits. It’s definitely ‘au revoir’ and never ‘goodbye’ on the backpacker circuit.

Eventually, after a bumpy and bouncy journey worthy of any theme park, we arrive into Ban Luang, to be greeted by a welcoming party from our guest house. Only 7 hours after the anticipated arrival time that I was expecting, and around 3 hours after the arrival time that the guest house were expecting – they’d all gone to bed. Apparently Cambodia buy old buses from Vietname, Thailand and China, which tend to break down.

And then a hair raising trip on a scooter, with backpack attached, to the guest house. I have to admire the balancing skills of the rider, though.


And so, safely into the Lake view Lodge, the governor generals old residence and very nice indeed. It needs a little TLC, but I am sure that Sopaht will manage to make it a very nice place indeed. The food is good, the beer is cold, the restaurant is relaxing, and Sophat is a genial and welcoming host with excellent English.

And my wallet is missing. And my passport. Hello, Houston, we really DO have a problem.

I’m not sure where they are, but essentially, I have lost:

– my passport, including all the trip record so far, my visa for China (and Cambodia)…

– the credit card that I had stored with the passport

– my wallet with the $300 that I had just taken from the ATM in Stung Treng.

– my debit card

– my driver’s licence (not a problem, really – I need to replace it when I get to the UK, and no-one asks for it over here!)

– my visa photographs

– a selection of bank notes that I had been saving up

All in all… a real disaster. However, maintaining my cool, we check the bus station and the place in Stung Treng, without a result. I also visit the police station, to be met with laughter (not malicious, just the response of the Cambodians when they don’t understand what’s being said. However, it takes a little effort to keep my peace. I’ll go back again when I have a translator with me.

Damage control – well, get a spare card sent from the UK courtesy of little brother (hoorah!) and once that arrives, I can get to Phnomh Penh and go to the embassy. Hopefully, this is just a minor glitch on the trip.

Meanwhile.. we meet up with another couple of English girls in the Lodge, and book ourselves on a three day trek into Ratanakiri province. Sounds like fun….

Laos. Been ‘dere, Don Det.

21 Mar

(sorry – saw that on a T-Shirt)

Have you noticed a pattern emerging – these blogs always seem to start with ‘onto a another bus’. One day, I will write ‘onto yet another Chieftain Tank’ and see if anyone notices.


Anyway, it’s onto another bus, across the river, onto another bus, drive for two hours and then stop. They’ve dug up the road. The driver makes a valiant (if stupid) effort to keep going down a bit of road that even I can see isn’t wide enough.. I’m not panicking, but I am busy working out what to hold on to if the bus does topple over the edge.…. eventually discretion has the better part of insanity and we walk the last half mile…and here we are.

Final walk to Ban Nakasang (1)Final walk to Ban Nakasang (2)

Si Phan Don. The Four Thousand Islands. I doubt anyone has counted them, but it’s a reasonable number… a score of larger islands like Don Det and Don Khone, thousands of little islands, some of which are no more than a piece of rock poking into the air – and some that haven’t got that far, and in a fit of pique at not being sufficiently above water level to be called islands sit around all day lurking just under the surface, ready to trap the unsuspecting fishernan. I think some of them are just trees, pretending to be islands (and, I have to say, looking pretty convincing)

Across to Don Det (9)Don Det (17)

And then a final boat ride into Don Det, my home for the rest of my stay in Laos. This is a backpacker paradise, full of fa rang who have washed up here in search of a little peace and quiet. And since there is an 11pm curfew and island wide ‘lights out’ they probably won’t be partying too long!

Thondon LodgeThondon Guest House

The island is full of little guesthouses, mostly with little cabins built over the river. Mine isn’t – mine seems to be built over two cockerels. This should make for an early rise in the morning. But I wander the island, finding little communities hidden away behind the resort, a vegetarian restaurant in the middle of nowhere that even I  can’t be bothered to walk to, a massage parlour in a tin hut, and herds of water buffalo and cattle roaming the dried up rice fields. I doubt I could stay a week here, but three nights is going to be just fine….and Mama’s spring rolls are amazing…as I eat, I watch a couple tubing up the Mekong (normally, you tube down river, but here the Mekong is so slggish that it’s possible to swim against the flow. Looks like bloody hard work though, and unlike Vang Vieng, there’s no one to throw you a rope and offer you a cold one.

Don Det from Thondon Lodge (3)Don Det (18)Don Det (26)Don Det (32)Don Det (44)Don Det (6)

The sunset is muted tonight – it’s been a dull day, and rain has made one or two attempts, largely unconvincing. But when curfew falls… it all goes silent. Even the cockerel and the cicadas go quiet, and an unearthly peace settles across the island (unless you happen to be at the Monkey Bar, where everyone is celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Everything is still, everything is silent. Until, that is, the English girls next door turn up at 2am (apparently the curfew has been lifted for St Patrick’s Day) and break their key in the padlock. In a demonstration that the age of chivalry is not dead, two of the other guys apparently spent the night in hammocks so the girls could have their room.

So, it’s just me up early then – when the cockerel planted underneath my room wakes up. At 4am. I doze until 6 though. I’m convinced that there’s an ocean running under the hut – I can hear water crashing on the beach. Eventually the sound is traced to a washing machine outside my door.


Time to hire a bike and tour Don Khon – the island is attached by an old railway bridge, so I cycle down Don Det to the bridge and across, paying my 20.000 kip toll (Lonely Planet says 9,000) and cycle off to the waterfall. Which, it turns out, is an understatement. It’s actually hundreds of waterfalls, created by the Mekong carving its way through the hard, hard rock and creating dozens of routes through, each one forming its own series of falls and pools, some foaming and others pouring in a smooth cascade over the edge. Walking down the path reveals a different view and a different set of falls at every view point.

Tat Somphamit (53)Tat Somphamit (37)Tat Somphamit (28)Tat Somphamit (27)Tat Somphamit (21)Tat Somphamit (14)Tat Somphamit (11)

I’m also convinced that there’s a pterodactyl on top of the rocks – what do you think?

Tat Somphamit (17)

And at the bottom there’s a sea serpent, I’m sure – isn’t there?

Tat Somphamit (52)

Further down, the river gathers itself together again, ceases its midlife frolicking, and resumes its slow, purposeful journey south. I, on the other hand, stop for fresh spring rolls and banana & coconut shake and nearly pass out with sensory overload. These spring rolls, full of crunchy fresh vegetables wrapped in a lettuce leaf and held together with such a thin pancake that it looks like cellophane. And the peanut and chilli sauce.. and the shake… In fact, I do fall off my chair while offering one to the French Canadian couple next to me. Incredible (the food, not the falling off the chair).

And so off to the southernmost point of the island, along the old railway line, past scrub burning and palm trees, trying to avoid being run over by a motorcycle driven by a 10 year old (or so it seems to me – maybe I’m exaggerating and he’s only 8 or 9. From here you can see Cambodia – and the rare Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins. I’m thinking of taking a boat to see if I can spot any, but decide I will do it tomorrow – until I am approached by the lovely Fumiko (hope I spelled that right – I did check twice) from Osaka, who is looking to split the cost of a boat. Sounds good, so we find a boatman and set off in pursuit of dolphins.

Dolphin Watching (8)Dolphin Watching (11)

They’re out there, alright – sometimes just a splash as they surface and slide back below the water again. Other times we are treated to them leaping part out of the water, and in one glorious moment three of them leap in synchronised grace

Dolphin Watching (7).Dolphin Watching (13)

The trip is worth the 60,000 kip just for the views, and the dolphins make it special – although I am convinced that most of them are behind us, making faces and snickering.

Fumiko and I cycle back – or at least we do until a huge explosion from my rear tyre heralds a catastrophic puncture. Graciously, she walks with me, and we chat about her family (all safe after the earthquake), her travels, and where she learnt her excellent English (Europe, apparently).

Fortunately, at the top of Don Khon we find a little old man engaged in cycle repairs, who agrees to the extortionate sum of 10,000 kip to fix the puncture. Or around 80p. We play with the cutest kitten I have ever seen while we wait – not only has the inner tube burst, but the tyre has shredded too, and the valve is leaking. I pay him 20,000 kip… I simply can’t face paying less! It feels like that a lot over here – I find fa rang arguing over the equivalent of 50 cents, and am tempted to follow the approach of one friend, who tended to bargain upwards….”How much? 50,000? That’s outrageous. 80,000 and I won’t pay a penny less” – his perspective was that he was (by comparison) wealthy and so he wanted the chance to give a little bit extra back to the communities he was visiting.

Cycle repair (1)Fumiko & kitten (3)Fumiko & kitten (2)

Anyway, all is fixed, and we ride off into the sunset. Then turn around because we’ve gone the wrong way and can’t climb up the side of the bridge…

It’s been a fabulous laid back day…


And so to my final day in Laos – time to plan where I am going in Cambodia – and how I am getting there..but before the afternoon is out another surprise – Kerry, who I last saw getting on a bus going North, is now in Don Det – having come back South. And she’s brought Scrabble.

And for a final adventure, and in lieue of a shower, I swam half way across the river to one of the islands (only 3,997 to go, now. Tomorrow – Cambodia.

Don Det (17) Swimming to this island!

Wat Phu–The Fast and the Furious

20 Mar

Well, perhaps not furious. It’s difficult to get cross in Lao – 7 million people in an area about the size of the UK – and 6 million of them live in rural villages in homes on stilts. Which makes a lot of sense – all your ‘stuff’ out of the way underneath, and living accommodation on top. Place for some chickens, a pig or two, one or two dogs, cats, and other assorted wildlife. And they smile all the time. And yell ‘Sabaidee’ at you for no reason. Lovely, gorgeous, unspoilt people.

Anyway, off to Champrasak. I am surprised to find Jean Luc and Kathy waiting at the crossroads, but we catch a very full bus together – turns out we are all off to Champrasak.

The bus turns into Pakse station, and we fend off the offers of tuk tuks to Pakse – instead, it’s smaller transport for us for the hour trip to Champrasak. Unfortunately, the song thaew ain’t going to leave early, so we have an hour watching the market unfold around us – the sales of baguettes (a huge legacy from the French) and some careful tying of a basket of live fish onto the back of the song thaew. And check the water bottles on the top of this one…


An uneventful trip, apart from the fact that the road is closed, which means we need to divert down a dusty track. My Buff comes in handy, but converts me into a gangster lookalike. Waiting for a photo of that one….

As usual, the driver drops us at a guest house he has some sort of deal with – but at 30000 kip it’s a bargain even without airconditioning and with a cold shower (more like lukewarm, jokes the owner – he’s right)

I’ve planned to spend two nights here, but Jean Luc, Kathy and Keri (Kerry?) from Canada, who we’ve met in the restaurant, suggest we could go to the temple today – which sounds like a good plan to me. Into a tuk tuk for another theme park ride through the Lao countryside – over rickety bridges and down bumpy lanes until we get to Wat Phu (there’s a joke there, I just haven’t worked it out yet).

Wat Phu is probably the most significant historical sight in Laos – originally a Hindu temple built by the Khmer as part of the capital in the 5th century, and then transferred to Buddhism later. It’s a beautiful location, nestled in the mountains (Phu Kao – still searching for that joke). There are beautiful frangipani trees just bursting into blossom. There’s a huge but gorgeous climb to the temple, and views over the plains below.



The hill is regarded as phallic out here.. and hence the phallic symbology all the way up the path too. We couldn’t stop Kathy indulging in a little fantasy.



It’s probably the prettiest setting I have found out here – there’s a lot of work going on from international groups to restore the temple to something of its former glory – but just to sit in this kind of scenery is a real treat!


We’ve got Hindu depictions aplenty (although the shrine is treated as Buddhist – so we find Shiva dressed in the Buddha’s robes.


Scattered around the ruins are carvings of an elephant and a crocodile – and the Buddha’s foot print.


And so back to Champrasak – a really brief visit, and the view from the restaurant across the Mekong is gorgeous – I can see the fishermen checking their nets – and a gorgeous sunrise (I was scared awake at 4am by those infernal roosters)


but there’s not much to keep me here now – and so it’s time for a trip to the islands… but not before I temporarily mislay my wallet (NOW you find the ‘furious’ bit) although I later discover it hidden away somewhere safe. Too safe, perhaps. Doh!

Losing my stuff

19 Mar

It’s been great over the last couple of weeks – magically, my pack has got much lighter. Well, it’s not magic really, but my friend Lisa took some of the things that I didn’t need back to the UK with her (thanks, Lisa!). I think I may even have sent some stuff back with me that I actually need. But, you know, I will get by just fine without that as well.  But it did make me wonder . . .

You see, we all carry lots of stuff with us that we don’t really need. I know that when I left home before embarking on this amazing adventure, I cleared my home out and got rid of so much stuff that I didn’t need. And, you know, I think I probably kept a lot of stuff in storage that I don’t really need… because it helps me feel safe and prepared. Things I have accumulated over years, that I have kept around just in case I need them, or things that used to be important but aren’t any more. Things that I have stuffed in a drawer ‘just in case’. Papers that I have filed ‘because I might need them’. There are memories, and there are things that I think I should keep but can’t really think of why I do. There’s stuff that’s there because knowing that it’s there helps me know I can go back to my old life easily.

And sometimes I wonder why I am keeping all that junk around.


In the same way I have an awful lot of stuff with me in my backpack. I read the guides on what I should take, and then added some thoughts of my own. I have antibiotics and rehydration tablets. I have duct tape and super glue. I have a multifunction tool. I have a battery charger. I have stuff to ease aches and pains and more Doxycycline than most chemists stock (I need to take antimalarials for around four months). I’ve carried a bag of pasta half way round the world for some reason.

I’ve got a whole load of technology, more long pants than I need, and shirts I rarely wear. And sometimes I just think to myself ‘do you really need all this stuff with you? Do you really need to keep lugging all this stuff around with you, or could you just let it go? Could you just live from day to day without taking all that stuff around with you?’

And sometimes I think about all the stuff that we accumulate about our lives – all the stuff that gets in the way of living simply and easily – all the things that clutter our lives up. I know that there’s a lot of stuff that I cling on to, stuff from my old life, stuff that I left behind ages ago, but that for some reason I am still lugging around, still holding on to. ‘When would now be a good time to let it go?’, I find myself asking. ‘What would happen if you just chose to let it go – you haven’t needed it for so long, perhaps it would be a good plan to just move on….? To just leave all the stuff you don’t need behind you…..?’

Just.. thinking….

A boy named Sue

17 Mar

what’s that got to do with anything… and what does THIS say in Lao?

Tim Guesthouse (1)

All will be revealed…later

I saw a poster while I was staying at the guest house in Pakse – a day trip into the Bolaven plateau. Very tempting – but I realised that I would end up charging from one place to another – and I didn’t really need to see a tea plantation – or a coffee plantation either. The waterfall sounded nice though!

But, I thought to myself, could I just go and do what I wanted to myself. A little bit of research revealed that if I got a local bus to Ban Khoua Set and then a local transport to Tat Lo, then I could go and see the waterfalls, live in a Lao village and have some fun too. And I might even be able to stay in Tim Guesthouse. Sorry, but that’s just too good to resist!

I knew I needed some more cash, so down to the ATM to get another million out… I thought about getting more out so I could be a multimillionaire…..

And in the morning I hopped into a tuk tuk (this time, one that’s essentially a motorcycle side car, only without all the safety features), negotiated the driver down from 30,000 kip to 25,000 and set off. Half way there, my hat blew off… but fortunately all the traffic missed it (try doing THAT in Bangkok – would bring a whole new meaning to the words ‘flat cap’.

I arrived at the bus station, gave the driver 30,000 kip anyway (with a grin – it’s all a game) yelled ‘Tat Lo’ to anyone who might be listening and was told that the bus was just leaving. With my new lighter pack (see the next blog for more details on THAT one) and having lost a few pounds myself, I sprinted to the bus – backpack on the roof, me inside.. best not to get those confused. There are bags of rice in the aisle, and a little girl moved onto her father’s lap for me to sit down. I spent the next little while as he explored my copy of the Lonely Planet – reading slowly with a little bit of help, and marvelling at the pictures of Laos (and Cambodia, come to think of it).

The bus dumped us at Ban Khoua Set with a confused French and Canadian couple saying ‘well, this is where you wanted to come’ – I pretty quickly diagnosed the fact that really they didn’t want to be in Ban Khoua Set and thought they were already in Tat Lo. (Ban – town, Tat – waterfall). Having worked out that we all wanted to go to the same place, I commandeered a local truck, negotiated a price to Tat Lo and hopped on.

Fortunately, they had a place at Tim’s. The owner, Soulideth. named it after his wife…it turns out in Laos, ‘Tim’ is a girl’s name. So I have a Lao girl’s name… which explains the title of the post, maybe.

Tim Guesthouse (2)Tim Guesthouse (4)Tat Lo truck 2

It’s in the middle of rural Laos, although the waterfalls have made it a bit of a haven for the fa rang – and even the dam that destroyed the third waterfall (damn!) hasn’t demolished its appeal.

We have a British couple  who are motorcycling round the world, quite a few Europeans.. and some lovely Lao here. I’m in a wonderful traditional bamboo hut on stilts.. I am intrigued by the continual noise of a little boy making motor car noises at all hours of the day – until I realise it’s actually a pig next door.

DSCF2249There are a couple of other noises I haven’t identified, but nothing that causes me to worry unduly. There’s good food, and smooth jazz playing incongruously in the restaurant Although my sleep is somewhat disturbed by an insomniac cockerel and the labourers who start concreting the wall next to my hut at 6am

My place at Tim's (1)My place at Tim's (3)Round the world bike


The waterfalls are lovely, though – first of all a walk up to Tat Huang, just above the village. The kids are out (what, no school?) and the locals are looking for fish – or eels, or something – in the river. River at Tat Lo (7)River at Tat Lo (1)

There’s a fisherman at the foot of the falls, looking for fish in the foaming waters below, and I wonder what the falls would be like in the rainy season.

Tat Huang (11)Tat Huang (1)

Rather than take the road, I decide to walk up stream, discovering a couple of elephants on the way. It’s not that easy to walk on the bank, and eventually I have to drop into the river to make progress, but eventually I arrive at the second falls, tat Lo itself. Again, it’s beautiful – I take a dip and find that the current is quite strong, turning it into another treadmill. Some other tourists and a couple of locals take a jump off the top of the falls – I’m tempted, but a little wary of spinal injury.

Up River (21) - CopyTat Lo Falls (3)Tat Lo Falls (20)Tat Lo Falls (24)

But I do discover a version of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ in the rock – what do you think?

Tat Lo Falls (12)

It’s so peaceful here, there’s lots of time to think and plan- time to write some cool blog posts, and time, also to really encapsulate what I am about – some really lovely insights, and some more pieces falling into place. Merlin and Arthur are in there somewhere, and some Neuro-Linguistic Programming, some Huna, and some of my story. Man, I am going to be busy when I get back!! But something really crystallised today about what I do.. I need to work on how I communicate it – it needs the right set of words, but it’s really what people have been telling me I do for some time now – just the crucial piece of the jigsaw that allows me to step back and say ‘I know what it is now!’. And that was worth coming here for!

I decide to take a walk in the country the next day – just wandering through villages and farms, looking up at where the old waterfall would have been (and it would have been gorgeous).

Tat Lo village (3)Tat Huang evening (3)

I wandered round to Tat Huang in the evening – just me and the waterfall – and watched a thousand mayflies whirling and soaring above me, while in the water a hundred water boatmen fight the surge of the current.

It’s been a great stay – but I have itchy feet again, and I’m starting to remember what it’s like to keep moving, keep exploring, keep looking for new things…so, back on the bus to Champasak, via Pakse (again)….and one or two closing shots of Tat Lo village – note the incongruous satellite dishes..



%d bloggers like this: