Cheryl and Tracy
You should be able to enlarge any picture on this page by clicking it.
Cheryl went to India in
2005 to undergo study and training aimed at preparing students
to manage aid projects. During the course of those studies,
Cheryl visited several schemes, including one designed
to help Indian victims of the Tsunami and one for orphaned
children. Impressed by India and by Indian people,
Cheryl resolved to return and Tracy, a flatmate
since university, decided to go too.
Cheryl and Tracy both took on extra
work, over and above their full time jobs, to save enough
to make a trip not only to India, but also to Thailand, Vietnam
and possibly other Asian countries. Caring for Older people,
distributing leaflets, selling sports programmes, manning
call centres and other tasks took much of their spare time
until the coffers were sufficiently full.
The plans are for the two to be away for seven months, starting
in February in Mumbai, India and ending in September in Bangkok,
Arriving and Mumbai
Friends and family were at Heathrow on 15th February to see
the pair off. The BA flight was 40 minutes late taking off.
After a sleepless but otherwise uneventful night they landed
at Mumbai at 6.14am London time, 11.44 Mumbai time, on Friday
Although accommodation for the rest
of the trip may be more basic, they had pre-booked themselves
into a hotel with the luxury of a ceiling fan for the first
four nights to give themselves time to acclimatise. The room
was basic but clean and the ceiling fan didn't prevent
the room being like a sauna, say the girls. The shared loos
were clean but a bit primitive, comprising badly made
holes in the floor of a room with missing walls.
The first days in India
were spent discovering Mumbai. The first stop was, appropriately,
the 'Gateway to India'. They also went to Elephanta Island,
a 9 km journey by boat, and to Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, a train
journey with a fare of a whole 2 rupees each - that's
about 3p sterling. Other visits in Mumbai included Haj Ali's
Mosque, the Hanging Gardens, Banganga tank, Chowpatty sea
front, Eros cinema and Crawford Market.
It took a while for the girls to
get used to people sleeping on the
streets, child beggars and people grabbing at things they
are carrying. After lots of walking, and lots of getting
lost, the girls bade farewell to Mumbai on Monday 20th February
to take the train to Pune (pronounced like Puma with an 'n'
in place of the 'm').
Pune to Goa
The train to Pune was 'a little
crowded'. Frequently children, blind people and women beggars
would tap the girls' legs and grab ankles to attract attention.
Pune itself is a little more relaxed than Mumbai. Tracy and
Cheryl had a small chalet bungalow with their own, albeit
filthy, toilet. The loo was 'western' but
the plumbing is described as 'Indian'. The room
was much cooler than the one in Mumbai and they also had
a table and chairs on a patio. There's luxury.
those wondering about costs, the girls say they are paying
up to 350 rupees per night for a double room. That's
for 2. They usually have their own loo, although
occasionally loos and showers are shared.
The first day in Pune was spent
discovering the town including a visit to the supermarket
and buying essentials, such as a made-to-order
sleeping bag liner - half shocking pink and half white with
pink polka dots. That deserves a picture. Cheryl has also
bought prescription glasses and sunglasses. Much cheaper
to buy them there than to get them in England and take them
although Cheryl has since found that they are not as effective
as the ones she took from England.
Planned visits in Pune included
Ganesh Idol, Pataleshwar caves, Parvati Temple and Saras
Baug Ganesh temple, although they didn't quite make all of
them before heading south. On Thursday
evening, 23rd February, Tracy and Cheryl took the night train,
arriving in Goa at 7.15 on Friday morning.
from the girls in Goa say that it is 'beautiful ' and that
Panji feels Chilean, probably because of past Portuguese
influences. They have not ventured to the typical 'party
beaches' further north in Goa, where the atmosphere
may be different, but they have been into old Goa to see
the sights. They got to Panji for the carnival, which was
'fun' and stayed in the 'Comfort Hotel'. Senior relatives
will be pleased to know that the girls have had their laundry
done in Panji - an investment of 180 rupees for 18 items
(yes, they took 18 items of clothing), that's about £2.25.
We think they should be getting into the spirit of Goa and
washing everything in the sea, hanging out to dry on the
bushes and laying on the clothes to press them, but clearly
they have not yet fully absorbed the local spirit. Wait till
they get to Calcutta.
Monday 27th the girls were in Palolem, still in the Goa area,
staying in a stilted hut on a picture postcard beach. On
Tuesday 28th Tracy and Cheryl went going on a dolphin cruise
as a birthday treat for Tracy. They left Palolem on Wednesday
evening, 1st March, taking the 9.30 pm or 10.30 pm (Indian
flexible time they say) sleeper bus to Hampi.
Hampi to the southern tip
the sleeper bus was not as bad as some have said, which is
just as well as they will be depending on the sleeper for
several more of their journeys. They had accommodation in
Hampi and found it beautiful there too but only stayed one
night. On Friday, 3rd March, they took the sleeper train
to Bangalore, arriving at 7 on Saturday morning and from
them got straight on a local bus to Mysore. They arrived
in Mysore at lunchtime and stayed for the weekend.
and Cheryl went to the Palace in Mysore, which was lit up
- obviously someone knew it was Tracy's birthday. They also
went to Chamundi Hill for a special birthday dinner.
On Monday they went to Ooty on a
public 22 seater mini bus, which, being an Indian 22 seater
minibus, took 38 passengers all the way to the hill station.
Ooty is several thousand feet above sea level. In the
crowded mini bus the roads were a joy. They left Ooty on
Tuesday evening, arriving in Kochi (otherwise known as Cochin)
very early on Wednesday morning. It was then a ferry ride
to the fort area, where they stayed until Friday
morning, 10th March. Michael Palin would be proud of the
start with we saw a few little boys holding really
colourful umbrellas, then teenagers with fake arrows
in their mouths. Then came the dancers and a group
of men, apparently in a trance, followed by women,
who didn't look as if they were enjoying themselves,
carrying fire. The men were inhaling the smoke from
Backing up all this was a crane from which a fellow
was hanging horizontally. He had an actual arrow pierced
through his cheeks. He was suspended
by two hooks through the skin on his upper back, two
through his lower back and then two final hooks through
the back of his thighs.
He seemed perfectly at peace.
Whist in fort area on Thursday,
they went on a backwater cruise, which they thought was great
- a 'be at one with nature and yourself' experience. They
also went for a stroll along the beach and stumbled across
the filming of a music video but didn't manage to get a part.
On Friday morning they were up at sunrise to watch the Chinese
fishermen's nets being emptied and visited the Palace.
Later in the day they left Kochi on a local bus to the station
where they caught the train to Kollam.
Kollam was hot! Even under the fan it was as hot as a sauna,
such that the breeze from the fan hurt the skin, the only
relief being to shower in front of a audience of lizards.
In Kollam, whilst searching for a temple (that turned out
to be next to the hotel) the girls came across a hindu ritual
After a budget reality check the girls left Kollam in third
class to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India. "Although
we travelled in the baggage racks it was a comfortable (read
relatively short) journey and Kanyakumari was worth it. We
can't go any further south - it is all up from here".
guests at a cheap hotel in Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari we checked into the cheapest room we've
booked so far (Rs150 - about £2). Note we said
'booked' not 'stayed'. After a lovely day we went back
to the room and decided to shower. Tracy came out of
the shower with an 'oooooh hello'. Then silence. Thinking
we had more lizards I looked at her and realised they
weren't lizards!. Knowing at some point we were probably
going to have to befriend the little chaps, otherwise
known as cockroaches, we went to the corner stall,
bought some Raid and headed back to the room.
Tracy, knowing exactly how much I do not want to see
cockroaches in my room, ordered me out. I obliged.
Well, let's say lessons were
learnt. (1)if you have cockroaches, don't spray them
with Raid. The whole community, with their dogs, come
to investigate. (2) they will venture out of the bathroom
(3) the difference between a Rs150 room and a Rs200
room is about a million cockroaches.
I banned Tracy from going back
in and refused to go in myself. I called the man on
reception, who came up, looked in and said (impersonating
a cockroach) 'very nice, not a problem'. While that
seems quite funny now, it was not exactly the response
I was looking for. I asked him to get our bags out
for us at which point he went downstairs and got the
key for next door. 'New room, very nice, not a problem'.
He wasn't quite getting it. He went in, scooped them
up, and poured them back down the loo. Well this time
he got it. In he went, out came our bags.
Our things were shaken off and taken downstairs. More
Let's be glad though. Thanks
to the roaches we ended up in a very nice hotel down
the road with a balcony, sea and sunset view, TV,
western loo (with lid), drain grids and bathroom door
that bolted and had no holes. Plus, we were on the
third floor (where we hoped the roaches wouldn't bother).
As most girls would we reacted with face masks,
eye brow tweezers, nail files and foot cream (and a
few late night switching moments - lizards). That
hotel, which at that point was the cleanest and biggest
room we'd stayed in, was only Rs250. (about £3).
On Tuesday, 14th March, eighteen hours on
a bus after leaving Kanyakumari, the girls arrived in Pondicherry
. From there they went to Chennai
(better known by its old name of Madras) on Thursday 16th.
India is quite well known for its 'Bollywood' films. These
are the major Indian films and tend to be made in Mumbai,
the 'Bollywood' capital. The second biggest part of the
film industry is Tamil films and these are usually based
in Chennai (Madras). Whilst in Chennai the girls went to
a studio and saw a film being made.
They find the main
cities too sprawling, very hot and expensive to get round.
They have decided not to stay in big cities so much but
rather to concentrate on smaller places with plenty to
see within a smaller area. They left Chennai on the 2pm
train Thursday 17th March for Vijayawada, arriving at about
10.30pm that day.
They got to a hotel at about 11pm and checked out the room
before booking, as has become their custom. This time,
hardened by earlier experiences, they ignored the cockroach
playing in the shower, the gap under the door "big enough
for Rick Waller to roll under", and that the loo walls
didn't quite reach the ceiling. They decided to book the
room anyway, at the advertised price of Rs100, to be told
by reception that the cost was actually Rs300 or Rs275 for
a mattress on the floor. Being told by reception that there
were no cheaper rooms, when they could see that there were,
the girls decided that they could tolerate the bugs, the
drunken chap in the reception area and the quirks of the
room, but not the less-than-honest receptionist. In consequence,
at close to midnight, they used their 'get out of jail free'
card and booked instead into the 'Hotel Grand Regency', the
only hotel in the guide book that was not 'men only'. Two
nights in an air conditioned room, with their first hot water
since leaving England, convinced them that once a month
they will go for luxury.
Heading inland and
The original plan was to leave Vijayawada and head towards Indore by train, but this plan had to be set aside because there were no trains for a week. Instead, 'Plan B' was devised.
This involved leaving by bus for Hyderabad. Hyderabad is
a mainly muslim city, whereas the other places they have
been have been predominantly hindu.
time the train was available, so they left Hyderabad by sleeper
train to Aurangabad, and from there travelled by local bus
to Ajanta. At Ellora and Ajanta they visited cave temples.
At Ellora there is an impressive cave temple that took 150
years to finish and involved moving 200,000 tons of rock.
By this time the girls had almost gone full circle, coming
close to Mumbai, which they had left about 6 weeks earlier.
Another local bus took the girls to Jalgaon from where
they took a sleeper bus to Indore and another local
bus to Mandu. They hired bikes for the morning so that they
could get around local ruins without relying on rickshaws.They
had intended to stay in Mandu for two nights but after a
single sleepless night sharing a room with spiders and rats,
and with no alternative budget hotels to choose from, they
Mandu was one of the smallest places they have been to and,
apart from the rats, was a very nice place.
By Tuesday 28th March the girls' local bus had taken them to
Ujjain, where they saw their first snake charmer outside
a temple. On the night of 29th March they took a 10 hour
sleeper bus ride from there to Udaipur, reputedly 'the most
romantic city in Rajasthan'. Certainly one of the most beautiful
according to the girls. In Udaipur they found one of their
best lodgings so far, in a guest house with panoramic views
over the town. Rather than move on after a night or two,
as they have previously, they have decided to stay for 5
nights, until Tuesday 4th April, when they took an early
morning bus to Jodhpur.
Jodhpur is know as the 'Blue City'. Apparently it
was not very blue, but the fort was pretty. They found Jodhpur
a bit dirty and full of angry looking dogs. After three nights
in and around Jodhpur they left by sleeper bus for Jaisalmer,
through a landscape of little but sand. In Jaisalmer the
girls stayed in the fort, in their cheapest room yet at just
100 rupees (£1.30). One wall of the room was the external
wall of the fort itself, giving an amazing view of the city.
In Jaisalmer they had yet another brush with Bollywood. One
day they will manage to get into an Indian movie.
not to travel - types of bus
are the main types of bus. There is a 'public
a 3 seat bench on the driver's side and a 2 seat bench
on the other side, although there are usually more people
than seats. The 'private bus' is a dated version of the
traditional British coach. They have an aisle with two
seats either side, but the driver tends to think he is
in a public bus and fills the bus to the rafters and
beyond. Semi-sleepers are like private buses but with
reclining seats and are cheaper than full sleepers.
buses have reclining chairs on the bottom, for which
you pay about 50 rupees (70p) less than a a sleeper
ticket. A sleeper ticket buys you a bunk. The
bunks are where you would expect the luggage racks
to be in a British coach but the roof is a little higher.
Rather than stay
in town, in the middle of their stay in Jaisalmer the girls
headed off by jeep into the desert where they ended up, via
a few villages, amongst the sand dunes. After meandering
through the dunes by camel for a while, they had dinner cooked
for them, sharing the table with dune beetles. Afterwards
they found a place at the top of the dunes to spend the night.
A ring of light around the moon, a sky full of stars and
a chill in the air were all welcome after the heat of the
bus - helpful hint
are some hints from Cheryl. "If you should ever
travel on a sleeper, take with you some rope or similar,
which you can use to attach the curtain to the bottom
of the bunk. Several times Tracy and I have woken to
find people stood at our curtain having a peek into our
"On the way to Amritsar a chap hopped onto the bunk
opposite ours and positioned himself nicely on his
side facing us as if he were the audience and we were
on stage. We used my hair tie and Tracy's hair cloths
to tie the curtain down. He got up and moved to the
reclining chairs below the bunk so that he could look
up and under the bar we had tied the curtains to. We
blocked this view with bags and he moved to his proper
seat down the aisle and out of view".
After three nights shared between Jaisalmer and the desert,
they went to Bikaner for a one-night stay and a visit to
the rat temple. Apparently it is good luck if the rats scuttle
over you while you are there, and if you eat a biscuit on
which a rat has salivated then you are really blessed! The
girls didn't need blessing that badly, so they made do with
a picture of a white rat and resisted the biscuits altogether.
Another sleeper bus took the girls from
Bikaner to Amritsar (where Bride and prejudice was
filmed). At Amritsar they visited the Golden Temple and watched
the Pakistani and Indian military border ceremony. From Amritsar
the original plan was to go to Shimla, a hill fort. However,
Cheryl suffered a dose of food poising and after several
days without improvement, needed a short spell in hospital
to recover: "our most expensive night in India so far".
This put the programme back a little. So instead of moving
on via Shimla they stayed in Amritsar until Friday 21st April.
From there, they took a sleeper bus direct to Delhi, which
they reached in the early morning of Saturday
At about the time Cheryl and Tracy were leaving Amritsar,
Cheryl's parents, David and Tricia, and her brother Mark,
with his wife, Lisa, left Heathrow, also headed for Delhi.
The flight from London and transfer to Delhi turned out to
be quicker than the sleeper bus from Amritsar, so the visitors
were ensconced in a Delhi hotel an hour ahead of our intrepid
travellers from India. Cheryl's family had come to combine
a holiday in the 'Golden Triangle' with a re-supply mission,
to satisfy those cravings which only a parcel from England
can. Amongst the suitcase full of absolute necessities were
such essentials as coleslaw, radish and Marmite. The pair
thus became a group of six for a fortnight or so.
The 'Golden Triangle'
The group's first three nights were spent in Delhi, mixing
city site tours with acclimatisation for the newcomers. According
to the girls, Delhi is quiet and sophisticated compared with
their other stop-offs. The hotel was fairly central and very
close to a local street market, which was vibrant, especially
in the evening. The city was hot and hectic for the most-part,
but in other parts rather reminiscent of some English cities.
Perhaps Leeds more than London. There are extravagant government
buildings, wide tree-lined roads and remarkably well-behaved
(for India) traffic, especially around the eight-lane roundabout
that surrounds the India Gate.
1. Most are sadly neglected. The colourful frescoes
and delicate decorations so often turn out to be
blackened or just missing.
2. Local people pay
a fraction of the price to view them. For example,
to enter the grounds of the Taj Mahal will cost an
Indian national 20 rupees and a foreign national 750
3. Few, if any, of the staff appear to have attended
customer service classes.
Delhi's sites are rather disappointing. Delhi is a capital
city with capital city buildings rather than an historic
or site seeing city. There is a huge Mosque (the biggest
in India) and several tombs; a fort which has served as a
royal residence rather than a military base, and one or two
other buildings that make it to the guide books, but you
would have to go a long way down our schedule of things to
see in India before you would find one of Delhi's listed.
On 25th April the group left Delhi for Agra. The girls denied
themselves the pleasures of public transport and kindly
agreed to travel the 260 km by air conditioned taxi. A five
hour journey with a stop on the border of Rajasthan had brought
them to Agra in time for Tuesday's evening meal. The focus
of Agra is, of course, the Taj Mahal. There are other sites
but the town is very scattered, and pockets of interest
are well dispersed.
The first visit to the Taj was on Thursday, 27th April.
Everyone was up at 5am to see the sun rise on the monument.
We did not go inside the grounds on this occasion, but to
the bank of the Yamuna river behind. In fact most of the
river has dried up but there is still enough of a stream
to give a ferryman a job. The rest is sandy river bed in
which local people grow marrows. The theory (according to
our local advisor) was that, as the sun rose, the reflection
of the sun on the Taj would change its colour. It sounded
good, but there was cloud and and a bit of a haze, so we
saw the sun rise and the colour change from, well, white
to white really. We then returned to the hotel for breakfast
and kept out of the heat for much of the day, returning
to the Taj itself, this time to go within the grounds, in
time to spend a few hours there and to see the sun set. Similar
weather conditions prevented us witnessing the publicised
colour change from white, through pinks to darkness. Despite
the lack of colourful sun reflections, everyone was in awe
of the monument, which is surely the most attractive building
in the world.
|Despite tales of
the strength of India's economy, there are severe
power problems. Even in Delhi the national paper reports
power cuts averaging 7 hours a day and air conditioning
systems are banned in some buildings for three hours
in the evening.
Whilst in Agra there were also visits to Itimad-ud-Daulah's
tomb and the fort. There seems to be a fort in most of the
major towns. The difference with this one is that the Taj
Mahal is visible from several vantage points, because at
one time it was the residence of Shah Jahan, the king who
built the Taj in honour of, and as a mausoleum for, his second
and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
We saw the Taj several more times, from the river bank behind,
from 2 rooftop restaurants where we ate on
some evenings and from within the grounds to which we returned
at sunrise on Sunday. The next day we left by taxi for Jaipur,
with a stop to visit Fatehpur Sikri, built as the Mughal
capital and finished in 1585 but abandoned because of a lack
of water 14 years later in favour of Agra.
The hotel in Agra had been typical of tourist hotels, not
out of place on many continents. In Jaipur the group stayed
at a 'Heritage Home', a much smaller hotel converted from
a large colonial house and retaining much of the character
and furniture. Jaipur is the state capital. It is huge and
sprawling. Fortunately the hotel was within easy reach of
the centre but in a quiet road (by local standards). The
group was in Jaipur for 4 nights - effectively three days
with a transit day either side. The first and third days
were spent sightseeing with a local guide and 8 seater transport.
On the day in the middle the group made their own
way around the rambling streets of the old city, known
as the 'Pink City' because the walls of buildings are painted
in a colour close to pink. Here the spacious opulent city
palace, still owned by royalty, jostles for space with shacks,
roofless shops and wasteland populated by homeless people
Unlike Agra, where sites had been separated by a 15 minute
taxi ride, in Jaipur only short walking distances stood between
monuments and buildings of interest. Probably the most famous
building in Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of Winds', an ornate 5 story whim built in 1799. It is only one room
deep and has perforated screens facing onto the busy streets
and bazaars below, to enable the veiled ladies of the harem
to enjoy the street scene without being observed themselves.
Within yards of the Hawa Mahal and City palace is Ishwar
Lat, a tower built in 1749, which the group climbed despite
the sun and 44 degree heat, and Jantar Mantar, an observatory,
with 16 instruments, some of which are still said to be used
to predict how hot the summer will be and characteristics
of the pending monsoon.
Jaipur also has three forts, the best preserved of which
is the Amber Fort, and Jal Mahal, a water palace, which would
have been surrounded by water if there had not been a
On 5th May another taxi took the group back to Delhi where
shopping was the main attraction for most, although a splinter
group managed a few more sites including a modern building
for a change, a Bahai temple built in the shape of a lotus
flower, and Raj Ghat, a memorial to Gandhi, built in the
place of his cremation. The group spent
a total of a fifteen days in the Delhi, Agra, Jaipur
triangle ending on 7th May, when the relatives returned
home. After experiencing air conditioning, private transport
and hotels with swimming pools, the girls re-engaged with
reality for their 5 hour train journey to Jhansi
and onward bus ride to Orchha.
Orchha was their hottest place yet, but very pretty. They
stayed in a pleasant hotel for three nights before moving
on to Khajaraho. Here they found local people very friendly
and chatty and, for the first time, met a European who was
nice to them. Previously, fellow travellers have been aloof
and not at all friendly. There was lots to see at Khajaraho,
but even so they only stayed one night so that they could
move on to Varanassi. The one night they did stay was quite
interesting. The first hotel they booked into had an air
cooler that doubled up as a machine gun, firing insect
like grasshoppers into the room. Not being fans of projected
insects they moved on.
The next day the only way to Varanassi was public
bus, so 15 hours (overnight) on a local bus it was!
Varanassi was another great place with an atmosphere to
match. Local people were very chatty and some local children
showed the girls around. A man took them
down the Ganges in is old and rather worn boat. He was full
of information and interesting to listen to.
The next stop was Siligiri, but transport options were limited
so the girls just had to go by first class, air
conditioned sleeper. From Siligiri a jeep took them towards
Darjeeling but they didn't quite make it on the first attempt.
Darjeeling is in the hills and the weather had closed in.
Jeep driving is a bit scary at the best of times and this
was not the best of times. Thick cloud cover over a winding
mountain road with no barriers and visibility barely beyond
the front bumper made even the seasoned local travellers
sick. The locals stayed on and risked it, but Cheryl
and Tracy took the wiser option and left the jeep at Kurseong
for an unscheduled overnight stay.
It was a worthwhile stop. Pretty and small enough to walk
round but big enough to keep them busy for their short sojourn,
with some welcome rain after the heat of the low lands. By
the following morning the weather had cleared and so the
girls continued their journey by shared taxi jeep to Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is very hilly! Finding accommodation was a challenge
and they left it again very early in the morning to go 16km
down the road for the 4am sunrise over the mountains. The
cloud had gone so they soaked in the amazing clear
views for a while before walking back to Darjeeling via the
next town, Ghoom.
The girls wanted to go to Sikkim, otherwise known as Gangtok.
This is very near the Chinese border so there are special
arrangements for visiting which involve getting a permit
to travel. They got the permit and visited the tea plantations
around Darjeeling before setting off the next morning for
a one night stay in Gangtok.
By Thursday night, 18th May, they were back in Darjeeling,
from where they took the jeep taxi back to Siligiri at lunchtime
Friday and a semi sleeper from there to Kolkata (Calcutta)
on Friday night, arriving Saturday morning. There was only
time for one day in Kolkata.
As Kolkata is so huge they toured
by taxi. One of the sights was a temple that offers daily
sacrifices of goats. Twenty goats are sacrificed on weekdays
and 60 on Saturdays. After blessing, cleansing, beheading
and chopping up the goats, they feed the meat with bread
and rice to about 600 poor people each day.
There are an awful lot of goats being bred somewhere.
By the end of the day, after a thunderstorm that flooded
the street their lodgings were in, they had checked in for
their flight, leaving in the early hours of Sunday morning,
21st May, for Bangkok.
The girls arrived
safely in Bangkok on Sunday, visiting Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
There are plenty of other sights, but they are saving some,
including the Golden Palace, for when they return in September.
They left Bangkok on Tuesday, 23rd May by train for Phitsanulok
and from there took a bus to Sukhothai where they stayed
in a log cabin. They hired bikes to see the local ruins.
Cheryl took a mountain bike, for which parts of her body
suffered. Tracy took the comfort option and hired a granny
bike, complete with bell. The wiser option with fewer
bruises in sensitive parts.
From Sukhothai they went north to Chiang Mai, which was not as
green or hilly as they expected, but pleasant nevertheless,
with good food and a night market at the rich end of town.
The spending spree was curtailed by budget and the fact that
they have to carry everything through three more countries.
They travelled to Pai to get their visas for Laos and whilst
there went trekking in the hills, had lunch by a waterfall
and went on an elephant. On the elephant they were taken
down to a river, which they ended up in. Twice. They had
to stay in Pai for a few days until their visas were ready,
so had a chance to try out a few more things, including touring
on a motor bike (Cheryl driving). They returned on 2nd June
from Pai to Chiang Mai for a bus connection to Chiang Khong,
the border town on the Thailand side. They arrived late evening
and stayed there one night, crossing by boat to Huay Xai,
the border town on the Laos side, on the 3rd.
here for a map of Laos, showing the
first part of the route.
Huay Xai, the border town on the Mekong was nice, small
with good food. They left on
Sunday 4th by public bus to Luang Namtha, where they
stayed 2 nights before heading, again by public bus, to Muang
Sing, further north, toward the Chinese border. Luang Namtha
and Muang Sing were very similar to Huay Xai and lot like
northern Thailand: lovely looking hills and interesting hill
tribes, markets etc. Their main attractions are treks, but
the girls are saving these for later, which is why they did
not stay long in either place. After one night in Muang
Sing they went back to Luang Namtha for a bus connection
to Udomxai, where they stayed one night. Udomxai is the travel
hub of northern Laos. It has one street with barely one restaurant.
The following morning they left for Nong Khiaw. From there
they took a boat up the river Nam Ou to Muang
Ngoi (there is no road access) where they spent two nights.
Muang Ngoi was absolutely
gorgeous! Just like a still from a film, very picturesque
and very peaceful. They spent their time on the hammocks
out the front of their bamboo hut on stilts by the
river front and managed to do some reading, test
the local beer and catch up on some sleep. They loved it,
but with no electricity, the world cup coming up and another
town 1 hour back down the river, they headed back to Nong
Khiaw on Saturday 10th June, for one night. At Nong Khiaw
they visited some caves, ate
some fabulous food and sat in front of the TV for
the football, 3 hours early - just in case. The sports channel
they were watching in their bamboo hut restaurant was
a Thai channel and just at the turn of 8pm (kick off) they
put on a half hour tribute to the King, celebrating 60 years
on the throne or something. Maybe the football gave way to
the King, but they had good company - a
couple of Brits (one from Brighton), a Spaniard, two French
Brazilian - good beer and a beautiful spot by
Sunday 11th they arrived in Luang Prabang, where they stayed
for a few days as there is lots to see and fun things to
do. Luang Prabang was nice, by far the biggest place they
have been to so far in Laos - two main streets with a couple
of little one. They describe it as a little like Pondicherry
- so now we know. By 16th June they were in Vientiane, the
capital, where they got their visas for Vietnam. They left
by sleeper VIP bus down to Pakse, where they arrived early
in the morning of Tuesday 20th June. From there they caught
the local bus to Si Phan Don, ('Four Thousand Islands') and
by boat to Don Det, the one amongst the 4,000 where they
chose to stay. They were there until Thursday 22nd, when
they left on a boat to the main island, then by local bus
to Champasak. At Champasak they visited Wat Phu, allegedly
the most impressive architectural site in Laos, then, on
23rd, continued to, via Pakse. They stayed at Tadlo until
25th when they went. via Pakse, by overnight sleeper back
to the capital, Vientiane, arriving on Monday 26th.
The original plan was to go north to Sam Neua and Vang Xai,
but it would have taken 'forever' on a public bus, and as
neither of them was too bothered about that part of the journey
they decided instead to go direct from Vientiane to Hanoi,
expecting a 23 hour journey in a VIP sleeper bus.
The 23 hour journey in the VIP sleeper bus turned out to
be a 25 hour journey in a local bus - 48 people in a 25 seater
coach which one chap and two girls abandoned, the girls after
just seeing the bus. You don't get Routemasters in Laos.
Anyway, they got there safely on Wednesday, 28th June. Hanoi
was a bit more commercialised than their haunts of the
previous few weeks, so the girls did what girls do. They
hit the shops for a little retail therapy to get over the
Vietnam they went to Cambodia before they returned to
England from Bangkok on 9th September.