50 Shades Of Green
The cold in Laos is something I’d not experienced since India. I took an early morning bus from Chiang Rai to the Laos/Thailand border and spent one night in a town called Huay Xai before moving on to a town further north called Luang Namtha. When I checked Google Maps, I saw that I wasn’t too far from the Chinese border. Before leaving Laos, I’d find out that the roads are some of the worst in Southeast Asia!
I chanced the drive north to the town of Boten, driving a semi-automatic (no clutch) motorbike for only the second time and made it back safe and sound five hours later. They may have terrible roads but the mountains and views were spectacular! Colours oozed from the mountains and I couldn’t help staring at them in awe. This was my first motorbike trip in Laos, but my last one wouldn’t be as joyful.
I needed to find a place to spend Christmas, so after a few days in Luang Prabang I got on a mini-van to the infamous party town of Vang Vieng. Home to the infamous activity of tubing, and up until arriving in Vang Vieng, I had no intention of taking part. Along with the huge cut I received on my shin when I slipped in a cave, tubing didn’t appeal. But as with most things related to travel, you meet groups of people and plans change.
You may have heard of ‘tubing’, over the past few years. You hire a large inflatable inner tube float down a river and stop off at a few bars along the way. Unfortunately, many adolescents have died doing over the years this and many have been seriously injured. This problem has grown to the point that there is a huge crackdown by the government, which meant there weren’t as many bars along the river and that the rope swings and ‘death slides’ were removed. After speaking to a tourist who had being coming to Laos for a number of years, he explained that things are a lot calmer now than they were a few years ago and what I was seeing was an appropriate level of crazy. To me it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen on Khao San Road, Koh Phi Phi or Kuta, Bali.
Tubing is clearly an activity set up for tourists and the ultimate tourist trap, but I didn’t care. Everytime I’d get back into the tube and float down the river I said to myself ’this is fucking amazing’. I couldn’t have imagined spending Christmas cruising down the Nam Song River in a tube with a Beer Lao in my hand staring at the lush green mountains. Thankfully everyone in my group returned safely.
I spent Christmas with a great bunch of people. I would continue to travel into Cambodia with two of the English lads, Dan and Chris who were both musicians I’d met. Their friend, Ben, met us in Siem Reap. Out of all the places I’ve been to in Asia, Siem Reap surprised me the most. We arrived two days before New Year’s Eve and, driving into the city, I was in awe of all the Christmas lights and decorations. For New Year’s Eve, we joined a massive street party with thousands of foreigners and locals dancing and drinking in the streets. After the partying in Siem Reap, we’d move into Phnom Penh where I would find out more about the recent tragic history of this country.
Everyone who has been to Cambodia will no doubt visit The Killing Fields and S21 prison. Both are impeccably preserved and provide a huge amount of information about the traumatic history of the country. The Killing Fields provide a voice recorded tour as you walk round. We hired a guide for the S21 prison who survived torture by Pol Pot’s regime and still has the scars to show. That same evening I said to Dan ‘I never had a specific plan but my tour is complete. I’ve been to every country I wanted to and seen everything I’ve wanted to see.’ Then there was a slight pause.
Sihanoukville reminded me too much of Koh Phi Phi: just another crappy beach with crap bars and mediocre music. I’d read a lot about Otres Beach and it’s very rare that I find a place that matches my mood. I was there eight days watching beautiful sunsets, eating luscious food and listening to my friends play live music. After Day 6 I said goodbye to Ben, Chris, Dan and Dagmar as they explored the rest of Cambodia and made their way to Vietnam.
Cambodia would be the last new country I would visit on this trip. I’d take the bus to Bangkok from Sihanoukville and spend the majority of my time in the digital nomad capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai, Pai and Bangkok.
With a couple weeks left on my Thai Visa, which I already extended by a month, a depleting bank balance and no ability to renew my travel insurance, my voyage was over. The final legs of my journey would take three days. A flight from Bangkok to Sri Lanka, the next morning flying to Heathrow then an overnight bus home.
I would returned with two passports, a scar on my shin, friendships solidified in language of travel and a website to chronicle my stories.