Dimanche 11 avril 2010 7 11 /04 /Avr /2010 10:15

Hi friends from all around the world,  

Wow! It's already been almost one month since we're back!!! Come on, let's dive again together in this amazing trip... 500 days to discover our planet, to find the meaning of life, to meet lovely people, to make my dream come true, to live a great adventure, to learn how to love, to feel alive... Africa, South America, Central America, Oceania & Southeast Asia... Welcome to the last article of this blog: 500 days around the world, THE END!

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Well, even though you do have some clues with the pictures above, you may wonder: "Finally, where the hell have they been during 16 months and a half?" OK, here is our journey in 7 Lonely Planet maps... A loooooooooong trip!

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120 days in Southern Africa (SOUTH AFRICA - LESOTHO - SWAZILAND - MOZAMBIQUE - MALAWI - ZAMBIA - BOTSWANA - NAMIBIA) 

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120 days in South America (BRAZIL - PARAGUAY - URUGUAY - ARGENTINA - CHILE - BOLIVIA - PERU - ECUADOR) 

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45 days in Central America (NICARAGUA - EL SALVADOR - GUATEMALA - MEXICO) 

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21 days in FRENCH POLYNESIA (Tahiti - Moorea - Huahine) 

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22 days in NEW ZEALAND (South Island) 

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22 days in AUSTRALIA (From Adelaide to Darwin) 

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150 days in Southeast Asia (INDONESIA - MALAISIA - THAILAND - CAMBODIA - LAOS)

And now let's carry on with some interesting figures! It will help you to understand "how it's like" to travel around the world with a backpack... Just one thing: for sure it's really easier than you think...

0 medical consultation (only one for Vladi)

1 scooter accident, northern mountains, Thailand

1,25 €: average price for an "almuerzo" (lunch) in Bolivia or Ecuador (soup + main course + drink + fruit)

1,5 €: cheapest hotel in Copacabana, Bolivia

2 humpback whales came as close as 5 meters to me! (snorkeling in Moorea, French Polynesia)

3 whales sharks became my friends for one hour (snorkeling in Tofo, Mozambique)

4 massage trainings for Vladi: balinese, thai, hot stones and reflexology

5 continents

9 species of animals sharing our bungalow in Koh Lanta, Thaïland (fly, mosquito, beetle, cockroach, crab, spider, gecko, bird, mouse)

13 means of transport (by foot, motorbike, tuk-tuk, sangthaew, car, bus, truck, bike, boat, plane, train, horse, elephant)

16 months and a half: a big trip, isn't it?

19 items lost on the way by Vladi: hats, short, soap, gold necklace, silver necklace, knife, towel, t-shirts...

20 kg of luggage (big backpack + little one)

21 planes

22 islands

24 days of travel without Vladi (willingly I mean, we didn't lose each other!)

28 countries

35 rainy days (you're good enough to work out the number of sunny days)

37 waterfalls (best of the best: Iguazu Falls, Brazil)

39 books

43 "Pad Thai" eaten in 2 months in Thailand... yummy!

51 coconuts to feed the thirsty Vladi

66 paradisiac beaches, much more than suitable for a swim, believe me...

72 stamps on my passport

85 nights camping (17%)

100 $ stolen in a bus towards Quito, Ecuador

103 buses (and dozens of nights inside)

119 nights couchsurfing (24%)

146 dolphins (not really sure about the number) surrounding our little boat in the Machalilla national park, Ecuador

150 €: fine at the chilean border for one banana and two apples forgotten in our little backpack!

208 postcards

500 days around the world

600 €: Ebookers "offered" us a flight for 2 by not withdrawing this amount after a web booking!!!

4750 m: highest point reached by foot during a magical 4 days trek through "la Cordillera Blanca", Peru

7000 km hitch-hiking (mostly in Africa & Central America)

15000 pictures (after a mean selection, only 3500 survived, and it's more than enough!)

28000 €: total cost of the trip (for the flights only = 8500€)

42000 km by land (by plane it's simply crazy...)

XXXXX number of smiles, good souvenirs, lovely people...

If you're still hesitating, if you think you would like to leave everything behind you for a "big trip", maybe the following sceneries will make you hesitate less! But anyway, if you really want to travel around the world, you'll be on the road sooner or later...

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Fitz Roy, Patagonia (ARGENTINA)

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King's Canyon (AUSTRALIA)

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Likoma Island (MALAWI)

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Sayan Terraces & Ayung River, Bali (INDONESIA)

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Swakopmund dunes (NAMIBIA)

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Iguazu Falls (BRAZIL)

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Stone Tree, South Lipez Desert (BOLIVIA)

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Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Island (THAILAND)

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Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Patagonia (ARGENTINA)

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Mounts Olga (AUSTRALIA)

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Semuc Champey (GUATEMALA)

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"Kingdom in the Sky" (LESOTHO)

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Ometepe Island (NICARAGUA)

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Salar of Uyuni (BOLIVIA)

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Moon Valley, Atacama Desert (CHILE)

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Isla Del Sol, Titicaca Lake (BOLIVIA)

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Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands (MALAISIA)

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Lake Malawi in a bad mood (MALAWI)

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Namib Desert (NAMIBIA)

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Cook's Bay, Moorea (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Milford Sound (NEW ZEALAND)

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Peten Itza Lake (GUATEMALA)

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Tahiti Mountains (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Okavango River (BOTSWANA)

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Titicaca Lake & Copacabana shores (BOLIVIA)

So in my head there are plenty of landscapes, but what come first are the faces of the lovely people we have met on the way. It will be impossible to remember all of them, but at least I want to thank the couchsurfers who helped us a lot, hosting Vladi and me for a few days or more:

AFRICA: Jocelyn, Kayla, Wouters, Nichol, Neo, Jenifer, Zachery, Lynne, Jason, Eva, Barbara, Derek, Nate

EUROPE: Bruno & Angie, Pablo, Nector, Loïc

SOUTH AMERICA: Andrea, Daniel, Murilo, Christian, Jazmine, Analia & Babou, José & Fernando, Maximiliano, Ronald, David, Margarita

CENTRAL AMERICA: Miguel

OCEANIA: Nathalie (+Augustin & Louise), Magali, Yushien, Cécile, Samantha, Daniel, Matt

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Jay, Niloofar, Elahe, Sahar, Lucy

Many people helped us during the trip in different ways. For instance, giving us a ride when we were hitch-hiking. I remember well Andras, a nice austrian who took us for 250km then hosted us in a private bungalow in Mozambique. Or those truck drivers who gave us rides sometimes up to 1200km! In French Polynesia, Alain invited us in his family for almost one week, and we went kayaking/snorkeling with rays and sharks together!

Every name is now synonymous with smiles, happy times, bursts of laughter. Every name is a friend. Every name will stay in our mind forever. Every name is much more than a name.

OK it's already time to say GOODBYE! If you want to keep in touch with Vladi and me, if you have any questions about our round-the-world journey, if you want to donate some money to send us back on the roads (just kidding!), contact me here: blogdavidf@gmail.com or on my couchsurfing profile. By the way, we are now living in Brive-la-Gaillarde, so come and visit us, we'll be happy to host you for a few days...

As usual, let's finish this beautiful adventure with some nice pictures... and above all don't forget that "la vraie richesse s'obtient en voyageant"...

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Macchu Picchu (PERU)

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Salar of Uyuni (BOLIVIA)

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Stellenbosch mountains (SOUTH AFRICA)

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Bangkok temples (THAILAND)

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Uluru (AUSTRALIA)

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On the lake... (MALAWI)

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Fiordland fairy-tale forest (NEW ZEALAND)

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Angkor temples (CAMBODIA)

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Volcan Pacaya (GUATEMALA)

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Motu near Moorea (FRENCH POLYNESIA)

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Lost in Ushuaïa! (ARGENTINA)

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Palenque jungle (MEXICO)

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Moon valley (CHILE)

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Just swimming with a whale shark! (MOZAMBIQUE)

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Deadvlei (NAMIBIA)

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So now, follow our last advice: at least once in your lifetime,  take your backpack, forget anything else and go discovering the world!!! Good luck for your own upcoming adventure, my friends, and see you later...

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David & Vladi

Par BLOGDAVIDF - Publié dans : The end... - Communauté : Tour du Monde
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Mercredi 10 mars 2010 3 10 /03 /Mars /2010 06:43

Hello from Bangkok!

Finally in a few days we'll be back in Europe! Thailand was the last country visited on our 500 days round the world journey, and our stay here was like a kind of transition. Indeed during 2 months we rather lived than travelled in this country: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, the northern mountains and the southern islands were on the program, and I enjoyed as much as possible the end of my dream... which basically isn't a dream anymore cause I made it come true! Ready for a dive into shiny temples, exotic food, motorbike aventures and sunny beaches? Take a deep breath and come wih us...

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BANGKOK

If you have a good memory, you may remember that we left Kuala Lumpur (Malaisia) by plane early december and arrived in Bangkok. Before our trip through Cambodia and Laos, we made our first steps in Thailand in the busy capital city, where Vladi learnt the foot massage - or plantar reflexology - in the famous Wat Pho massage school. We arrived on a saturday, in the middle of the celebrations for the King's birthday. Fireworks, processions, shows... etc...We stayed one week, and while Vladi was attending her classes, I went exploring the city... But first together on sunday we strolled around (and inside!) the beautiful Wat Pho temple, also known as "the temple of the reclining Buddha". Wat Pho is the largest and oldest wat in Bangkok and is home to more than 1000 Buddha images, more than any other temple in the country. It also shelters, obviously, the golden Reclining Buddha, 46 meters long and 15 meters high!

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As an accomodation, we found after a first night in a "chicken cage" (we arrived at midnight) a nice wooden house converted into a beautiful guesthouse, amazingly peaceful for Bangkok! It was located in the old city, more precisely in Banglamphu, in a less urban section of town, relatively speaking, with low-slung residential homes and shops built along the khlong (canals). It was cheap, with a friendly staff, and we even found some french books. In a city like Bangkok (population +6 millions), busy, noisy, where crossing roads as a pedestrian is a difficult mission, believe me it was great to sleep in this quiet retreat.

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On monday I walked to the Royal Palace (saving a tuk-tuk ride), payed the expensive entrance fee (7€!) and got quickly amazed by the beauty of the glittering temples, buildings, statues,  stupas... The Grand Palace is nowadays used only for occasional ceremonial purposes and is no longer the royal residence. Still it's a real symbol of power and richness, and it's dawn beautiful!

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The King of Thailand is everywhere in Bangkok, and I was about to discover that he's in fact everywhere in the country too!!! In every house, street, shop, tuk-tuk, restaurant, building, you'll find a portrait or a painting of him. He became king of the kingdom of Thailand in 1946, and is now almost considered as a God by the thai people! His face is everywhere in the streets, on every banknote, on TV... Whenyou go to the cinema, before the movie you have to stand up to pay homage to the king, watching a short movie about his life and good deeds. He's now the longest reigning monarch in the world, and each day he seems to become more deeply loved and respected by his subjects. I've never seen such an enthusiasm about a king or a president, in all the countries I've visited so far. Well... Long live the King!!!

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Bangkok is a city always on the move. Ancient temples in the shadow of space-age shopping malls, soaring skyscrapers towering over tumbledown hovels, ubercool cafeés and restaurants surrounded by simple street stalls: this city is an interchange of the past, present and future. It can be surprising sometimes: delve beneath the elevated highways and skyways and you'll find a small village napping in the narrow soi (lanes) with an unmistakable khwaam pen thai (thai-ness). The shopping malls here are even bigger than in kuala Lumpur, and once again I was happy to watch some movies in the gigantic cinemas...

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With over 15,000 stalls and more than 200,000 visitors every Saturday and Sunday, Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is the mother of all markets - and possibly one of the biggest and most famous markets in the world. I went there on a Friday afternoon, it was less busy but lots of stalls were open. It's impossible not to get lost here, and more unlikely that you won't find something to get excited about. Sometimes you can even forget that it's daylight through the never-ending maze of crowded, narrow alleys... Claustrophobics or agoraphobics: stay away! I found some cheap books, and also tasted different "things": no, I still don't have a clue today of what it was!!! After 2 hours, it was enough for me. Fortunately, Vladi was not there, cause we would have spent all day long here! So I took a ride on the skytrain, then by bus, to come back home...

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Lastly, in the modern city center, I was puzzled by this building below and soon discovered it was a brand new art & cultural center. Very curious, I entered and visited for free an interesting, crazy, lively exposition about the sickness of Japanese people (where I found myself, among other things, transported in a "Matrix" atmosphere), and another one about the travel pictures of the King of Thailand's daughter. Thank you Bangkok!

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After 5 days of training (30 hours), Vladi passed the test and got her certificate of foot massage! Then, as usual, I once again sacrificed myself, and she trained on my feet to improve her new skills... Here are some pics of her training books and her diploma. Congratulations, honey!

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CHIANG MAI

Mid-january, after Cambodia & Laos, we came back to Thailand entering the country in the north. We went straight to Chiang Mai from the border with a direct bus (6h). We stayed (lived) one month here, even if I was away for one week on a motorbike trip as you'll read later. Vladi offered herself 2 new massages curses:
- hot stones massage (3 days, 15 hours) in the Mantra spa, affiliated to ITM (International Massage School)
- thai massage (2 weeks, 60 hours) in another school called Sunshine.

We lived in a cheap and comfy guesthouse called Pakinai. For 5€, we had a new room with private bathroom, hot shower, cable TV and wifi, ideally located in the old city of Chiang Mai. The old city is a neat square bounded by moats and remnants of a medieval wall built 700 years ago to defend against Burmese invaders. A furious stream of traffic flows around the old city, but inside narrow soi branch off the clogged arteries into a quiet world of charming guesthouses, leafy gardens and friendly smiles. Chiang Mai has more than 300 temples!!! Almost as many as Bangkok, which is a far larger city. So while Vladi was learning massages, I spent my time strolling around the little streets to discover some beautiful wats...

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The temple architecture here is markedly different from other parts of Thailand. The intricate woodcarvings and colourful murals are hallmarks of the Lanna period (13th & 14th centuries). Three-tiered umbrellas adorning the tops of the temples, Singha lions guarding the entrances and high-base chedi are all Burmese influences imported into the city by the wealthy teak merchants when they migrated to this important trade center. Some of the wats are more interesting inside, and others more beautiful from outside, but all are worth a visit!

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I also visited an ancient temple, Wat oo-Mong, in the forest just outside Chiang Mai. A former king built this temple for a highly respected monk who liked to wander in the countryside, hence the isolated location where the monk could stay quietly and meditate. It is unusual cause it has tunnel like chambers in the ground, some of the walls of which still have the original paintings of birds and animals visible. On the trees "proverbs" full of wiseness. Nowadays it's not "isolated" anymore, but the place remains very peaceful, and the monks slowly repair the numerous sculptures eroded by the time...

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Chiang Mai seems to be "the" city to learn massages. Vladi choosed carefully beetween the different massage schools, ang get a new certificate from the Mantra spa and the ITM school after a 3 days training. Below she's with her dipoma, in the company of the teacher and another friend/student. As far as I'm concerned, I like receiving a thai massage, which involves stretching and deep massage. It's performed on the floor, no oils are used, you wear comfortable clothes that allow for movement, and soon you forget the world around, as expert hands and feet  relax your body. It is known in Thailand as "nuat phaen boran" (นวดแผนโบราณ), literally the ancient-manner massage. Look at my face after a great thai massage! Can you read the "peace & love" message in my eyes?

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In Chiang Mai we met plenty of couchsurfers! We were first hosted for 4 nights by Lucy, a 70 years old lady from the USA, then we met David, a 60 years old english guy, for a tea time at his place. He's now one of the biggest traveler I know, he's been in more than 115 countries so far! I organized in a local pub a CS meeting to watch France playing Scotland in the 6 nations rugby tournament, David came and we also met during this evening a nice young couple, Claudia (Austria) and Jens (Germany). At last, we were invited by a german guy, Pico, for a ride in his side-car and an afternoon at his place 8km outside Chiang Mai.  He introduced us to his wife Sao (Thailand), and we enjoyed a lot this relaxing coffee time along the Ping river, in the garden of his lovely house. We came back 2 days later, Vladi gave Sao & Pico some massages, then we were invited in a fancy restaurant in Chiang Mai. Travelling is really easier and more interesting with Couchsurfing, don't you think?

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There are several outdoor markets in Chiang Mai (Warorot is a good one), and each night you can visit the "night bazar" to go shopping too. On sunday nights there's also a night market at the famous "Thapae gate", the center of the city for tourists. But we were lucky to be in Chiang Mai during the flower festival early february. Plenty of floats well decorated with flowers, and a good market to buy exotic flowers of course (including carnivorous plants!) but also to taste... well... let's say "interesting" food: fried beetles, worms, cockroaches... Yummy! And as I told you before: the king of Thailand is everywhere! You can even find his portrait in flowers...

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A MOTORBIKE TRIP IN NORTHERN THAILAND

The figures? 5 days. 800 km. 4000 bends. 1 accident.

The road? Chiang Mai - Pai - Mae Hong Son - Doi Inthanon - back in Chiang Mai.

Why? Waterfalls. Caves. Forests. Mountains. Geysers. Hot springs. Hill tribes. Rivers.

Overall impression? GREAT TRIP!!!

The Mae Hong Son province is the most mountainous and forested province in Thailand. It's also the least densely populated province, called the 'Land of 3 mists' due to the year round mist, and was once known as the 'Siberia of Thailand' due to its isolated location...

First I was thinking of taking a minibus to Pai and spend some days there. But Pico, the german couchsurfer, gave me the excellent idea of trying instead the Mae Hong Son Loop. More freedom, more places to see, just better! I really wanted to get out of the tourist bubble of Chiang Mai and explore the wilderness and mountains of the North, so that was a perfect match! Leaving Chiang Mai the first day, I rode north and after 50km on a fast road, I took left towards Pai and a great adventure began...

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After a first stop and a little hike at a nice waterfall, I took a long break at the Pong Deud hot springs. In this deserted national park, a walk on wooden platforms leads you to a geyser in the middle of the thick forest. The waters run out at a temperature of 100°C, then cascade down forming a little stream to some natural and human-made pools. Completely alone in a gorgeous nature, I enjoyed some mineral baths like a king in a royal private spa! Definitely one highlight of the trip...

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The road to Pai was breathtakingly beautiful through jungle lined valleys, past small streams with spectacular views at every turn. The descent to Pai itself was very long and very steep. The locals drive at breakneck speed round the bends, but for those who are not actually suicidal it’s a road best taken very slowly... Arriving just before dusk, I found myself a quiet and cosy bungalow, and stayed 2 nights. Pai is a little town along a river and surrounded by hills, where the real fun lies. Too touristic for my taste, but with wonderful dirty roads to explore, sometimes leading you to remote villages, sometimes to peaceful valleys, sometimes to hidden farms. Even in the dry season, it was beautiful, especially for the stunning sunsets.

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On the third day I arrived in Mae Hong Son, a city near the Myanmar border. Nearby I visited the lost long neck village of Baan Hui Poo Kaeng, nestled along the river bank of Pai surrounded by lush forest and mountain ranges. The village can be easily accessed water transportation, but as renting a long-tailed boat is expensive (1OOO Thai Bahts = 22€, for that price you can rent a motorbike for one week!), I tried to reach it by road. Bad road & no signs of course. First I got lost but managed to find a little path leading to the river in front of the village. I let the motorbike, called for a guy to pick me up by boat, and I finally entered the village (free for the locals but a foreigner like me - a farang - has to pay 250 THB to help the community).

When I arrived at the village of the Kayan in the late afternoon, the long necked Karen women wearing colourful head gear were either selling souvenirs or demonstrating the art of traditional Kayan weaving to 2 or 3 tourists. They are pretty friendly and willing to pose a photo upon request. The children peeked shyly at the visitors from the balcony of their wooden stilted home. As a tradition, Kayan people place beehives in front of their wooden houses to ensure good luck.

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Kayan tribe girls starts wearing brass rings around their necks, as well as rings on the forearms and legs, at the age of five or six years. Normally, a Kayan woman carries 5 kg of brass coils around the neck. In the past, it made the women looked more attractive or simply preventing them from getting bitten by tigers... After a while, they can not remove the rings or they die. The woman with the longest neck is considered the most beautiful woman in the village. Surprising customs for us, aren't they?

The Long Neck Karen (Kayan) are a Burmese tribe who reside in Thailand on refugee status. They cannot travel out of their designated area, and must stay in the provincial managed locations unless they had permission from their district office. So paying the entrance fee, you help the villagers, and get to know better a remarkable hill tribe. They still live without electricity, growing vegetables, breeding chickens, building their houses with wood, bamboos and dried leaves. It was an eye opening experience to witness the Kayan culture, lifestyle and traditions. Really a nice encounter, far for the human zoos sometimes sadly organized for tourists, where I (kind of) found out what I lost when life became as easy as the click of a switch...

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But my trip was not over! The fourth day, I rode the motorbike all day long, stopping here and there to breathe in serenity facing great landscapes, or to walk numerous nature trails. Rice fields, green or dry valleys, rural life, tiny villages... and always those amazing waterfalls. I was driving carefully, sometimes slaloming beetween water buffaloes, but unfortunately in the middle of the afternoon, I didn't see in time 2 crazy dogs appearing suddenly on the road. I had a stupid accident. On the steep hairpin bend, I had to swerve to avoid them and literally ran off the road, falling on my right side under the motorbike, which carried on to some nearby thorny bushes. I struggled to bring the motorbike back on the road. I wasn't driving fast. I was wearing a helmet. The consequences were not too bad. My right leg, hip, elbow and shoulder were hurt. I got a mean burn on my left calf too. Regarding the motorbike: rear brake pedal out of shape, front basket destroyed, plus some little scratches. I'm certainly not having much luck with the motorbikes (who said I don't have a gift for them? OK, you may be right!).

I managed to start again, and stopped 10km later. Thanks to the help of a kind - and unhoped for - country mechanic, I healed my wounds - very sketchily - and got the rear brake pedal repaired - blowtorch! - very quickly. I finally did 50km more before darkness, and spent the night in a  pleasant bungalow at the entrance of the Mae Cham village. I needed to recover, so after the problematic shower (with my new painful wounds) and a good dinner, I fell asleep like a baby...

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In the morning I felt better, and was ready for a fifth day on the marvelous but dangerous mountain roads. Definitely the route that defines why motorcycling in northern Thailand is such a draw is the Mae Hong Son loop. Hundreds of kilometres of amazing views, challenging (!) roads, great places to stay, remote hill tribe settlements and, just for good measure, the highest mountain in Thailand (Doi Inthanon, 2560m) approached through an avenue of fragrant rhododendrons... The last day of the trip was one of the best, the roads became more and more beautiful, it was a pleasure riding the motorbike under the sun, smelling respectively burning wood, flowers, pine trees, aromatic plants...

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Once again, I hiked completely alone to the nearby idyllic Mae Pan waterfalls. What a great feeling to be in harmony with nature, without any human-made noises or pollutions. Only me in a green decor, with the sounds or running waters, squirrels and birds... My only regret is that I wasn't able to swim in the chill pools, because of my wounds... Snif!

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After filling up my gas tank a last time, and a final break near an impressive waterfall, I concluded this great trip and came back to Chiang Mai & Vladi. I bought a new basket, changed it on the motorbike, cleaned it and tried to make the little scratches disappear. A success cause the motorbike rental didn't notice anything, and gave me back my deposit! Ouf!

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BACK IN CHIANG MAI

I came back in Chiang Mai just in time to:

- watch the great victory of France upon Ireland in the 6 nations rugby tournament

- prepare a "surprise" breakfast for Vladi, on Valentine's day

- rest my old bone in our comfy room after the exhausting motorbike trip!

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As you were plenty asking for Vladi's come back, here she is, telling you in french the story of her thai massage curses for 2 weeks in the Sunshine Massage School of Chiang Mai...

Et pourquoi ne pas apprendre à masser?

Très chers et fidèles lecteurs,

Mon intérêt pour le massage ne date pas d’hier. D’ailleurs dès les premières semaines de ma vie, il a joué un rôle très important. Peu d’entre vous le savent mais je suis née avec une déformation importante du pied gauche d’origine inconnue. Faut dire que pour ce genre de «détails» à la fin des années 70, dans un pays comme la Bulgarie en pleine guerre froide, les médecins ne se posaient pas trop de questions. Le verdict médical est tombé comme une évidence dès le premier examen: « Bah vous allez avoir du mal à la marier celle-là,  une  boiteuse….faut espérer qu’elle sera très commode pour avoir une chance! ». On peut dire que toubib n°1 n’y est pas allé avec le dos de la cuillère, n’est-ce pas?

Heureusement que mes parents ont eu la TRES bonne idée de consulter un autre spécialiste qui leur a suggéré une longue rééducation et l’usage de semelles orthopédiques pendant quelques années. Des kinés il n’y en avait que dans les hôpitaux, des hôpitaux que dans les plus grandes villes, et comme on habitait dans une petite mon père a suivi les instructions du toubib N°2 à la lettre: massages du pied et mouvements appropriés tous les jours. Est-ce pour cela que j’adore me faire masser et masser les autres, j’en sais rien. Ce long voyage en Asie - le berceau de toutes les techniques de relaxation manuelle - a été pour moi une opportunité inespérée d’apprendre quelques types de massage à un prix dérisoire.

Je me suis lancée dès notre arrivée sur le continent, en Indonésie avec le massage Balinais. Cette formation a été suivie par une autre de Réfléxologie dans la fameuse école Wat Po à Bangkok, puis une troisième de massage aux pierres chaudes à Chiang Mai (nord de la Thaïlande). Pour finir j’ai choisi la plus difficile: formation de 60 heures sur deux semaines au Massage Thaïlandais. Suivre ces cours en dernier lieu était une sage décision car cette étonnante technique, mélange de yoga, de stretching & de massage s’est avérée assez complexe…

Mais commençons par le commencement! D’abord le choix de l’école. Faire le tour des nombreuses écoles à Chiang Mai m’a paru indispensable. Avec tout le temps libre que j’avais, c’était d’ailleurs un réél plaisir. A pied, une carte de la ville à la main (qui me servait plus souvent d’éventail tellement je suis nulle avec les cartes!) ou en tuk-tuk (moto-taxi local), je me perdais sans arrêt dans les rues de cette grande ville. Et puis quelle meilleure excuse pour s’offrir une troisième noix de coco de la journée ou s’acheter un bracelet ultra flash que de se dire qu’on est obligé de passer par tous ces petits marchés avant d‘arriver à destination??? « Sunshine massage school » m’a tout de suite plue: spacieuse, calme, ancienne, réputée. Les profs parlent un anglais correct et circulent dans les couloirs sans traîner les pieds (se comporter ainsi au travail m’est aussi incompréhensible que mettre le réveil lorsqu’on est en vacances). L’accueil y est fait par un personnage différent que l’hôtesse d’accueil à Wat Po (Bangkok), qui avait l’air à la fois amoureuse de son téléphone et de sa lime à ongles, et dotée d’un QI tout juste supérieur à celui de mon chien…

Notre groupe est multinational, 9 personnes de 7 pays (Bulgarie, Laos, UK, USA, France, Allemagne, Belgique). Les deux semaines passées ensemble sont extrêmement gaies & sympas. Tout le monde est motivé, on masse et on se fait masser 6 heures par jour! Travail en duo avec changement du partenaire chaque jour. C’est très important pour se familiariser avec les différents types de corps. Je ne vous étonnerais pas si je vous disais qu’une fille de 1m70 - 55 kg est plus facile à masser qu’un mec de 1m90 - 95 kg, ni que les postures yoga utilisées lors du massage thaïlandais ne sont pas les mêmes pour les personnes de 30 et de 60 ans. Les journées passent à une vitesse folle entre le travail, les rires, les cris (et oui, c’est le métier qui rentre!), les pauses déjeuner, les récits des mésaventures amoureuses de notre prof thaïlandaise - une fille fort belle ayant un léger problème de sélection…..de mecs. J’ai beaucoup apprécié la sagesse de Michèle, une française d’origine laotienne âgée de 42 ans. Elle fait partie de ces gens avec qui je commence une conversation sûre de moi et de mes idées du haut de mes 30 ans, et grâce à qui je finis en me disant que je ne sais rien, que je commence seulement à deviner la vie, que la connaissance est encore loin, très loin devant moi. Cotoyer l’anglaise Faye était aussi intéressant. Elle me rappelle ma sœur cadette Monica, et moi même aussi…il y a 10 ans! Fraîche, jeune, naïve, audacieuse et radieuse. La vie sera-t-elle le changement permanent, un changement qui entraîne et qui marque tout le monde?

Le jour de l’examen final arrivé, tout le monde potasse jusqu’à la dernière minute. Un tirage au sort décide de mon passage avec le belge Philippe. Dire que j’ai depuis toujours de la chance aux examens ne sera pas exagéré. Je sait que Faye aurait échangé sans la moindre hésitation son modèle britannique de 95 kg (Richard) contre le mien: 70 kg made in Belgium! Mais il n’est pas questions de tricher lors d’un examen (surtout si ça m’arrange pas JJ). Je me présente lors de l’examen en effectuant un massage Thaï complet de 2h15. A la fin la figure endormie d’un Philip ultra relaxé me confirme que j’ai réussi l’épreuve. Yes!!!

La remise des certificats se fait dans une ambiance chaleureuse et zen à la fois, musique de relaxation oblige! D’un commun accord, le rendez-vous pour faire la fête le soir même est fixé dans une espèce de resto-marché-barbecue de 400 m2 en plein air. La fiesta se poursuit dans le très pris Reggae Bar où je danse beaucoup, m’amuse bien, bois peu… 30 ans l’âge de raison?

Voilà les amis, maintenant que vous êtes au courant de mes nouveaux talents, n’hésitez pas à me demander un petit massage lors de notre prochaine rencontre. Je me ferai un plaisir de vous détendre car il paraît que la France est morose, que l’économie se porte mal, que la côte du président est tombée à 36 % et que le port du casque sur les pistes de ski sera rendu obligatoire d’ici 3 ans!!!

Je vous embrasse tous de loin en y mettant du cœur.

VLADISLAVA

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KOH LANTA

From Bangkok, it took us 46 hours to reach the island of Koh Lanta! A true nightmare! The first bus was very late, then we had to change buses several times (each time losing hours). Once we broke down on the motorway and spent the night in the middle of nowhere waiting for another bus, then a second night in a poor guesthouse in Krabi, cause it was too late to take the boat! Finally the next day, after 2 last short crossing by ferries, and a tuk-tuk ride, we found a cheap and quiet bungalow, in front of a lovely beach. Ouf!

We loved Koh Lanta. Perfect weather, nice beaches, green mountains, awesome sunsets, and fortunately no tsunami! The island has some roads, so you can easily discover it by renting a scooter, and find yourself a "private" deserted beach for the day. Especially in the southern part of the island. My advice: GO SOUTH!!! We shared a bamboo bungalow near Klong Nin beach with spiders, ants, mosquitoes, geckos, mice, cockroaches, beetles, flies, crabs, and we enjoyed it! We stayed 12 days, sometimes just chilling out reading, snoozing and having the occasional pineapple shakes, sometimes exploring the different beaches, sometimes going on day-trips to nearby other paradisiac islands...

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Not too far from our bungalow, and looking down on the gorgeous Nui beach, let me introduce you to our favourite bar. When we were there, sipping cold beers, watching the beauty of the Andaman sea, we really began to think that our lucky days were about to end... But not yet!

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One day we went snorkeling by speed boat to Koh Rok, which is 45km south of Koh Lanta. Two perfect little neighbouring islands in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by reef and beautiful clear water. It was a good day and we spotted plenty of fish, including some new stuff we hadn't seen yet. Vladi has improved a lot, and now she really enjoys snorkeling! We had lunch on a beautiful beach, surrounded by huge varans, and numerous tiny "bernard l'hermites'...

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Each beach on Koh Lanta has its own charm. But I think we found a hidden heaven within the island: the little Nui bay. A piece of paradise. With charming soft golden sand and calm emerald green water, this picture-perfect hideaway beach offers both views: in front of you the azure-water Andaman sea, at the back tropical green hills and coconut trees... Only a few people come around this area, cause it's more difficult to reach. Indeed the paved road changes to a dirty-dusty road, and you need a good motorbike or a four wheel drive vehicle. But if natural beauty is what you're looking for, it's definitely worth stopping by... Here no bungalows, no restaurants, almost no tourists, just a guy playing guitar, selling pineapples and coconuts in a little hut called the "Robinson bar". This wonderful beach was so delightful and tranquil, that we came several times to get some great relaxation...

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Obviously it was impossible to come to Koh Lanta without visiting the nearby Koh Phi Phi island. Since I'd watched Danny Boyle's movie "the Beach" with Leonardo Di Caprio, Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet, 10 years ago, I was dreaming of this place. Of course it's now very touristic, with tons of people, not the kind of place we love to stay, but the island of Kho Phi Phi Leh is still magic. Worth a daytrip. Enjoy the pictures!

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OK! That's it! We are now back in Bangkok, and in a few days we'll be back in France. Below is the map of our itinerary in Southeast Asia: five months through Indonesia (Bali + Lombok), Malaisia, Thailand Laos & Cambodia. It was great, but it's finally time to end this amazing 500 days trip around the world. I hope you liked the pictures, and that I was able to make you, in a way, travel with us. Don't worry, I'll right one or two more articles to conclude that blog, to take stock of our journey, to thank all the people that have helped us during this "once in a lifetime" adventure. So take care and see you soon, my friends!!!

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IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Aujourd'hui ton parrain est faineant! Donc juste une chose: J"ARRIVE!!!!!!

Par D.F - Publié dans : THAILAND - Communauté : Tour du Monde
Ecrire un commentaire - Voir les 8 commentaires
Jeudi 4 février 2010 4 04 /02 /Fév /2010 07:18

Hi from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

From the comfortable room of my comfortable guesthouse, I just wanted to share with you today some pictures of a memorable safari trip in Swaziland. Already a long time ago, at the beginning of our round-the-world trip! Remember, in Africa, we were constantly on the move, mostly hitch-hiking, and finding good internet cafes was "mission:impossible". Updating the blog was difficult, each picture taking ages to upload... Now in Thailand, with broadband internet and free wifi, it's way better! So here are just a few more pics of the great Hlane national park... Better late than never!!!

HLANE NATIONAL PARK

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Vladi & I were very lucky to meet plenty of antilops, rhinos, elephants, birds and amazing insects. But what we didn't expect was to spend 45 minutes close to a family of lions! We kind of "shared" their daily life, observing their relationships, discovering their habits from a reasonable (but little!) distance. On the following pics, you can clearly discern laziness, love, proudness... the scars on the lion's face... the lion cub trying to roar like his father... Our sunset safari was really amazing! Taking a nap, playing with his child, keeping an eye on his family or alluring his female, this lion is really the king of the savanna, isnt he?

A LION'S FAMILY LIFE

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Lately during this month, I'll also try to share with you some forgotten subaquatic pics of French Polynesia, if the quality is sufficient, OK? There I had the chance of swimming with humpback whales, reef sharks and leopard rays! Encounters with wildlife were definitely magic during this world trip! Anyway see you soon for the latest news of Thailand! Bye bye!

IN FRENCH FOR THEO:

Salut Théo, voici quelques photos souvenirs d'un safari "coucher de soleil" que Vladi et moi avons eu la chance de faire dans un parc national au nord du Swaziland. C'était il y a déjà plus d'un an, en Afrique, au début de notre tour du monde! Comme je dispose d'un bon accès internet ici à Chiang Mai (wifi gratuit dans ma chambre), j'en profite pour augmenter le nombre de photos disponibles sur le blog et surtout pour partager avec vous des instants magiques de notre périple. Au niveau des news récentes, Vladi va commencer une formation de 2 semaines pour apprendre le massage thai (mon préféré!), et moi je pars lundi pour un trip d'une semaine en moto dans les montagnes et villages du nord de la Thailande. C'est pas cool? On va aussi essayer de suivre les matchs du tournoi de rugby des 6 nations, qui commence ce weekend... Allez les bleus! A plus dans le bus! Parrain.

Par BLOGDAVIDF - Publié dans : SWAZILAND - Communauté : Tour du Monde
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Mercredi 27 janvier 2010 3 27 /01 /Jan /2010 08:11

Hi there! Bonjour à tous!! Sabaidee!!!

End of january 2010. -STOP-
7 weeks more before our come back to Europe. -STOP-
Now in northern Thailand. -STOP-
Here are the latest news of our world trip. -STOP-
3 weeks in Laos, mostly along the Mekong river. -STOP-
See you later... -STOP-

SI PHAN DON (4000 ISLANDS)

Leaving the north of Cambodia, we crossed the border by bus (where we had to pay for a weekend tax - grrrr -) and a few kilometers later, a longtail boat ride took us in less than half an hour to one of the 4000 islands of Si Phan Don: Don Khon. Si Phan Don, an archipelago of sandbars and rocky islets, amid the teal-green expanse of the Mekong river, is a nice destination if you like peacefulness. In the morning women wash their clothes and children in the river, and a steady flow of longtails from the mainland glide to and fro past bathing water buffaloes. Sunsets are gorgeous, and at night, you can listen to the song of the cicadas and watch the moon reflected in the river dotted with the lights of fishing boats...

Despite a major tourism boom - meaning an oversaturation of guesthouses - this island and its neighbour Don Det have managed to retain their beauty and charm, as sarong-clad villagers ply their trade on the iridescent waterways. The 2 islands are connected by a railway bridge, built by the French at the time of Indochina. West of the island, the waters of the Mekong melt with rocks to form the Tat Somphamit falls and the impressive Li Phi rapids. I swam against the current there, it was fun but dangerous! Fortunately I was clever enough to stay close to the banks...

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Life is peaceful on Don Khon. Here you can observe the rare Irrawady dolphins in the Mekong but as we already did it in Kratie (Cambodia), we rather explored the island coasts and interior by foot or by bike, and chilled out in our hammocks sipping pineapple shakes (& Lao beers to be honest!) while reading some good books. No cars, no roads, but plenty of butterflies! Whoooa, I feel good... (I'm sure you know the song!).

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BOLAVEN PLATEAU

We stayed 4 days on the quiet Mekong islands, then took a bus to Pakse, an uninteresting little town but a great base for daytrips to wonderful waterfalls high up in the coffee-growing region of the Bolaven Plateau. Rising at 1500m above the Mekong valley, the Bolaven Plateau is a beautiful claw-shaped highland fortress of forests, rivers, waterfalls and plantations, and home to several ethnic groups such as the Alak and the Katu. Once again it was "scooter time" for Vladi and me! We drove the 37km to reach the view point of the huge Tad Fan falls, and hiked down a steep trail which quickly became dangerous. Rather climbing than hiking actually! But we got rewarding views and pics...

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We bought some fresh coffee in a nearby tiny market, then went discovering another waterfall 3 km further, Tad Nguing. Absolutely gorgeous! I swam at the base of the Falls, then we stopped for lunch, tasting strange food (beef tendons?) with our noodle soups and fried rice... We randomly found a path on a mountain crest, and decided to walk it as long as possible to satisfy our curiosity. Well done! Guess where we arrived? At the top of the 120m high Tad Fan falls! How awesome and scary it was to stand at the edge of the cliffs!

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Driving the motorbike, we passed numerous houses hidden in the coffee plantations. They were all drying coffee beans everywhere: on the streets, in their courtyard, on their roofs... Every folk here is living for (or from) the coffee! Now when I'll buy an expansive coffee from Laos, I'll know where it comes from and will remember how cheap it was here... Sacré Jacques Vabre!

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We didn't stay long in Pakse after our trip in the Bolaven Plateau and booked a 10 hours overnight bus to reach Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. We got the last places left, and they were really, really small: we were feeling like sardines in a can! We were so tired that we slept all night long though...

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VIENTIANE

The lazy city of Vientiane, capital of Laos, was for us a kind of break for a few days. While there we constantly expected to see tumble weeds blowing down the streets and had to keep reminding ourselves that we were not in a provincial town. The place is amazingly laid back and life crawls by at slow tuk-tuk speed. We quickly came to like it.

While waiting for our thai visas (free for once!), we visited the golden Pha That Luang, a nice religious building and the symbol of the country, represented on the national flag. But mostly we took advantage of the numerous restaurants to taste different "cusines": lebanese, indian, lao, thai, italian, korean, french... Yummy! Not to forget the great lao massage we received in a sumptuous five stars decor. Lao massage is very strong and includes rhytmic pressing and stretching of the entire body, it's sometimes a little bit painful but afterwards you feel so relaxed... Southeast Asia is definitely the best place to enjoy the best massages at the best rates! 6$ per hour... Paradise, you said?

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VANG VIENG

To reach Vang Vieng, we booked a bus in a guesthouse, but we got a problem! We were supposed to leave at 09.30am. The Tuk-Tuk came late, and the bus was full when we arrived! The bus driver ignored us and left us on the roadside, without any informations!!! We managed to call the company, and they told us that a bus will come and pick us... 3 hours later!!! Very angry, we went to the guesthouse,  argued with the employees, got our money back, and finally shared a tuk-tuk with another french traveler (Bernard)  to the bus station. There we found a sawngthaew (converted pick-up with 2 wooden benches down either side) leaving to Vang Vieng... Grrrr... Sometimes I hate the lack of organisation in Laos... Can you believe it was easier to travel in Africa?!

Arriving 3 hours later, we found a nice and cheap bungalow on the other side of the Nam Song river, away from the very touristic center. Vang Vieng should have been by the past a quiet village, but now it's just a bad example of tourism: offering a plethora of western comforts and comatose-inducing video bars (why watch "Friends" in the middle of Laos?), and loud parties at night, it's like the Khao San road in Bangkok. That means a place deserted by the local people! Awful! The party tourists form a majority, they just came here to drink beers, get wasted partying and do some tubing on the river, doing the village more harm than good. Fortunately, if you rent a bike or a motorbike, you can quickly leave the crowds and find yourself back with the friendly and easy-going lao people in villages amid stunning sceneries...

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Vang Vieng is famous for its caves and karst mountain formations, and the sceneries are really awesome. I biked one day the 13km to the Tham Loup, Tham Hoi and Tham Nam caves. The latter was the most interesting: the cave is about 500m long and a tributary of the Nam Song flows out of its low entrance. Part of the cave was submerged, and with a tube and a headlight, I had to dragg myself through the tunnel on a fixed rope. Then I walked on all fours, crawled, waded through mud, swam... all in the dark. Funny detail, some flat and hollow stalagtits rings harmoniously like xylophones! I was with a young guide (no choice!), and on our way back the light got broken, so we struggled 10 minutes in the dark to breath again some fresh air... Scary! The landscapes north of Vang Vieng and around the caves were breath-taking, hiking or biking there a real pleasure. I also met there Faustine, a french young woman who invited me for a beer just outside the Tham Nam cave. She was about to share our journey for one week, and to become Vladi's good friend for shopping or chatting beetween girls...

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One day we rented a motorbike to explore further caves (including Tham Phu Kham), a little "blue lagoon" and the lovely villages of Ban Phon Sai & Ban Nampe. The tracks were dusty and bumpy, and we had to cross several streams. Vladi drove half of the time and had a lot of fun! The sceneries became more and more (and more!) majestic. We took a break in Ban Nampe to have a light lunch, then tried to come back to Vang Vieng following our basic Lonely Planet map (all the roads signs were written in Lao language, impossible to understand!). Of course we eventually got lost but managed to find our way asking people along the roads...

So Vang Vieng, as you may have understood, is a place not to be missed in Laos. You will hate the town but the caves, mountains, ricefields, rivers and villages are worth the trip. Try to find yourself a quiet bungalow and to imagine how it was 20 years ago, when the gecko and cicada sounds weren't muffled by nightclubs beats... But most of all, go away from the noisy city to enjoy a real slice of Lao countryside!

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LUANG PRABANG

From Vang Vieng, 7 hours of bus were needed to reach Luang Prabang. The bus struggled on winding roads, passing numerous remote villages located on foggy mountains crests. With Faustine, we then settled down in a cheap guesthouse. We stayed almost one week in the enchanting Luang Prabang, nestled on the sacred confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. Each day, we had to find an answer to a difficult question: "what are we going to do today?"
- wander through the old city peppered with a myriad of stunning wats, glittering in emerald and gold?
- hike along the mighty Mekong watching children having fun or fishermen throwing their nets?
- receive a vigorous but relaxing Lao massage by expert hands and feet, as suspended in Indochinese luxury?
- chill out sipping a fruitshake and reading a book in a secluded bar along the picturesque Nam Khan river?
- talk with monks and novices to learn more about buddhism, the city history and their way of life?
- decide beetween having dinner in the local food night-market as usual or in a trendy restaurant?
Not easy, I told you...

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Luang Prabang is maybe the most photogenic city in the whole of Southeast Asia. We had a good feeling since we arrived in the old city, and Vladi (well, Faustine too!) fell in love with the clothes and art & crafts night-market. From the early morning till the evening, there’s an unending procession of monks padding through the streets in their beautiful orange robes with school bags over their shoulders and umbrellas under their arms.

Ranging in age from the adolescent to the ancient, the monks spend their days chanting, studying and working in and around the grounds of the many wats (temples) in the city streets. During my walks, I saw groups of monks engaged in various activities, including cleaning out a pond, building a boat and keeping the tropical gardens tidy. Even though they are generally shy, they do appreciate the chance to converse with foreigners to practice their English. The monks are incredibly softly spoken and courteous at all times. But there is evidence that western culture is starting to have an influence on their behaviour. I saw one teenage monk sending text messages on a mobile phone. Beetween tradition and modernity...

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The magnificent wats where these monks reside are another aspect of Luang Prabang’s beauty. Largely built in the 16th to 18th centuries, these decorative traditional structures with their multi-tiered tiled roofs are surrounded by other lesser stupas and functional buildings used to house and educate the monks. Murals depicting the life of Buddha cover certain walls of these impressive buildings.

The atmosphere within their grounds is calming and humbling. Used frequently for religious occasions and festivals, the wats provide another more utilitarian function, as places of accommodation and learning for thousands of young boys throughout Laos. As a poor remote country which lacks the education infrastructure of its neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand, particularly in rural areas, the wats double as schools where boys are not only schooled in Buddhist teachings but also in subjects ranging from computer studies to foreign languages.

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At last, after saying goodbye to Faustine (farewell in Vietnam!), we left Luang Prabang on a saturady night for an epic 22 hours journey to Thailand with a lot of different means of transport:
- Tuk-tuk to bus station
- night bus to Huay Xai (10h)
- Tuk-tuk to the border Laos-Thailand
- Little boat to cross the Mekong
- Tuk-tuk to bus station
- bus to Chiang Mai (7h)
- Tuk-tuk to guesthouse!!!
We were brave cause the night bus was everything but comfortable and the roads crumbling. When we arrived, we were of course completely exhausted... Ciao Laos,  & good morning Thailand!

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Back in Thailand. -STOP-
No plans is the plan. -STOP-
Vladi's currently learning hot stones massage in Chiang Mai. -STOP-
We both enjoy the sun, thinking of the cold winter in Europe. -STOP-
Ha ha ha. -STOP-
Next blog news in a few weeks. -STOP-
Big hugs. -STOP-

IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut Théo! Quoi de neuf? Toujours en direct d'Asie, où le soleil brille et chauffe mes orteils tandis que je t'écris ces quelques mots... La vie est belle a Chiang Mai, dans le nord de la Thailande: massages, dégustation de milk-shakes, et un peu de repos bien mérité après 3 semaines mouvementées au Laos. Avec Vladi, nous avons traversé ce paisible pays du sud au nord: merveilleuses cascades, îles tranquilles sur  le Mekong, plantations de câfé, montagnes brumeuses, petits villages, temples dorés... L'Asie du sud-est dans toute sa splendeur! Nous rentrons en France dans un peu moins de 7 semaines, et en fait je peux te dire que nous sommes désormais impatients... Déja plus de 450 jours de voyage, tu te rends compte! Rétrospectivement, le tour du monde était top, avec bien sûr des hauts et des bas: des rencontres géniales, des paysages extraordinaires, des aventures farfelues mais aussi de la fatigue, des transferts difficiles, et parfois une pointe de découragement. Bilan très positif, largement à la hauteur de mes attentes et beaucoup plus facile que prévu. Même si le retour à la vie normale ne sera pas facile, ce changement de mode de vie nous fera néanmoins du bien, on commence à sentir qu'on en a besoin, comme on avait besoin de faire ce tour du monde. Enfin bref, bonne nouvelle: j'ai réalisé mon rêve, et on se revoit bientôt! C'est pas cool, ça? D'ici la fin du voyage tout reste possible, j'ai bien envie de me faire plaisir jusqu'au bout! Pour l'instant, rien n'est décidé, donc suspense... Rester en Thailande pour se relaxer? Un trek au Nepal? Les plages paradisiaques des Philippines? C'est bon d'avoir cette liberté... Je te donne rendez-vous dans quelques semaines dans le ch'nord, OK? Porte toi bien. Parrain.

Par BLOGDAVIDF - Publié dans : LAOS - Communauté : Tour du Monde
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Samedi 9 janvier 2010 6 09 /01 /Jan /2010 08:18

Hi there!
Happy new year!!! We wish to each one of you all the best you can dream of!
After a few weeks of silence, here are the latest news of our round-the-world trip...

After visiting Malaisia, we made our first steps in Thailand, staying one week in Bangkok where Vladi learnt the art of reflexology - or how to massage your feet - in the Wat Pho massage school. Then we took a bus straight to Cambodia and spent there 3 weeks. We are now in the south of Laos. And we''ll be back in Thailand in less than a month! Still following us? OK! If you wonder about what we did in Cambodia, let me tell you that everything began with a tuk-tuk drive from the border of Thailand...


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The tuk-tuk let us at the border, where we had to pay 30$ for our visa, then we caught a bus to Siem Reap, the touristic city located near the world famous Angkor temples. Crossing the rural lowlands, you can immediately guess that Cambodia is a poorer and less developped country. It's another world, as if back in France a long time ago. Of course you can see motorbikes, cellphones, and even sometimes cable TV. But the wooden stilt houses with the beasts around, the children playing naked along the roads, the women washing the family clothes in the river, the steers pulling the plow in the fields... all testify that people are still living here a life now forgotten in Europe. Cambodia reminded us of our 4 months in Africa, already one year ago, at the beginning of the trip...

When we arrived at Siem Reap, the night had fallen and we had to struggle to escape from the "nice" and "welcoming" tuk-tuk drivers who wanted to bring us "for free" to some nearby guesthouses (over-priced and belonging to their cousins of course!). Instead of following the crowds, we walked for 15 minutes and asked some fellow travellers in the streets for a good adress. And so we found a quiet guesthouse, with bathroom and - surprise! - cable TV, soap and towels, free bikes, free internet, and a good restaurant on the spot! For 6$ per night, a great deal!


ANGKOR TEMPLES

The temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 14th centuries when the Khmer civilisation was at the height of its power. Angkor was the capital of the mighty Khmer empire which ruled a large portion of South East Asia around 1000 years ago. After the collapse of the Khmer civilisation Angkor was abandoned and the temples were covered by the jungle. They were rediscovered in the 1860s by the French. Today there are around 100 temples in a large area around the city of Siem Reap. The temples of Angkor have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

I bought a 3 days pass to visit them, taking advantage of the free bikes available at our guesthouse. Vladi came with me the second day, and we both enjoyed discovering those amazing temples. Below are some pics of Angkor Wat, the largest, most breathtaking and best preserved monument of Angkor. Surrounded by large moats, its carved stone bar windows, its bas-reliefs showing Apsara nude dancers or warriors, its high towers and huge dimensions all inspire respect. And it was built more than 800 years ago...


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The Ta Prohm temple was built in the late 12th century during the reign of king Jayavarman VII. It is one of the most popular temples of Angkor, because it has been left in an unrestored state, swallowed by the jungle with trees overgrowing the ruins. It is a temple of towers, closed courtyards and narrow corridors. Because of its natural state, it is possible to experience at this temple the wonder of the early explorers when they came upon these monuments in the middle of the nineteenth century...

The dense jungle within the temple of Ta Prohm is eerie and romantic all at once. Fig, banyan and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over stones, poking through walls and terraces, as their branches and leaves intertwine to form a canopy over the structures. Trunks of trees twist between stone pillars. The strangeness of the place takes you over,as the roots have wound themselves about the walls.

I never thought I would be so taken with a place like this. The unique features of the trees intertwined into the temple are quite symbolic. The powerful forces of the present and future impact the past, or is the other way around? As a fan of Indiana Jones, needless to say that I was happy there...


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Having a break drinking coconuts in the shade, we talked to a local woman selling water and clothes at the entrance of the Ta Prohm temple. We tasted some weird dragonfruits and had a nice conversation about life in rural Cambodia, while her last baby was taking a nap in a hammock. Then we moved on and stopped at the "elephants" terrace on our way to the great Bayon temple.


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Angkor Thom was a fortified city of some 10 sq km in extent, which was built by Angkor's greatest king, Jayavarman VII who ruled between 1181 and 1201. The major attraction of Angkor Thom is the temple of Bayon, which lies at the centre of Angkor Thom and whose exact function and symbolism is still unknown. For me, it was the most beautiful place in all Angkor temples. Its most striking feature are its 54 gothic style towers with smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva (= Buddhist saint) who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. In the fading sun, the faces became more and more enigmatic and the temple englobed in a mysterious atmosphere...


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The third day, I tried to explore less famous or more remote temples, including one which reminded me of the Tikal pyramids in Guatemala. From the top a great view of the jungle around rewards the travellers who brave the steep and dangerous stairs! While lazy monkeys were waiting for my fall to get the giggles, I took my time and managed to reach the ground without minor setbacks...Well done, Indy!


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Continuing with my little bike, I reached the temple of Preah Khan, which lies to the northeast of Angkor Thom city, at the centre of an enclosure measuring 700m x 800m. It was also built during the reign of Jayavarman VII in 1181. The temple is largely unrestored, with trees overgrowing the ruins in some parts, and you can easily get lost in its dark corridors... Here, without any other tourists, I let my imagination run and had a true feeling of an old civilization coming back to life!


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Finally, before to say goodbye to the Angkor temples, I climbed to the top of the Ta Keo temple to admire its five shrine towers. It was apparently never completed and has a pyramidal shape representing the mythical Mt Meru. Tired but satisfied by my adventures, I came back to SIem Reap after a long day: 50km by bike, 10km by foot. You can do less of course, still I do advise you to explore the Angkor temples by bike rather than with a tuk-tuk. Take your time, enjoy  not only the temples but the forests and their majestic hundred-year-old trees...

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PHNOM PENH

Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh... The minute you arrive here you'll be assailed by unceasing "need motorbike, sir?", or "tuk-tuk, siiiiir?" The people are nice but I think they don't understand that we enjoy walking sometimes... We came to the capital city of Cambodia for one single reason: to make our Lao visa at the lao embassy.  Of course they tryied to rip us off, asking more money than the usual price, but the fierce Vladi woke up and we finally paid the good price!!! To spend the time waiting for it, we visited some bookstores and the local markets. Indeed there's nothing really exciting here, and we didn't want to visit Tuol Slong, the museum of atrocities, where plenty of innocent people were tortured and executed. Remember: in a recent history, Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge were still ruling here. Beetween 1975 and 1979, the combined effects of slave labor, malnutrition, poor medical care, and executions resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people, approximately 21% of the Cambodian population! No, not for us! We know our history, but we didn't feel the need to see those killing fields. It would be like going on holidays at an Auschwitz camp...

Instead we found a great place near the post office, Seeing Hands, where we received a powerful but relaxing shiatsu massage by blind people. You get a massage, and help the blind people at the same time. Cool! 6$ for one hour. Life is beautiful, isn't it?

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MONDULKIRI

From Phnom Penh, we took a terrific "truck" to the Mondulkiri province located in the east of Cambodia, not far from Vietnam. Starting in the early morning, we arrived at night, after a flat tire and numerous stops to load or unload goods. Half of the road was in bad shape, nothing more than a dusty track in roadworks. Exhausting! By the way, when we entered Cambodia our bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh also had a wheel problem due to the bad roads. We had to wait half an hour in the sun. When we started again, 5mn later we had another flat tire!!! So we waited 45mn more for another bus... It's "Khmer style", or in french "a la cambodgienne!"

Here I will give you important informations about public transport if you ever come to Cambodia: when you ask a driver about the duration of a journey by bus, here are his replies and their true meaning:
When does the bus start? When do we go?
- soon   means   -->   in half an hour
- now    -->   in 45 minutes
- in one hour    -->   in 2 hours
How long is it to the destination?
- one hour   -->   almost 2 hours

- less than 3 hours   -->   more than 4 hours
- 5 to 6 hours   -->   7 to 8 hours
Now you're ready to travel in Cambodia!!!

A world away from lowland Cambodia, Mondulkiri is the wild east of the country, home to the hardy Pnong people and their noble elephants. Climatically and culturally, it's also another world, which comes as a real relief after the heat of the plains. The landscape of the province is a seductive mix of pine clumps, grassy hills and windswept valleys that fade beguilingly into jade green forests and hidden waterfalls. In the dry season, roads are very dusty! In this peaceful part of Cambodia, we settled down in a little town called Sen Menorom...


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In Sen Menorom, we found a good restaurant that quickly became our canteen and reconciled us with the khmer cuisine. Indeed so far in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we were really disappointed. But here, we tasted delicious soups or curries with coconut milk, chicken in ginger sauce, spring rolls... As spices, turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves are essentially used in Khmer cooking, Khmer stews, and nearly all curries. But we didn't try the fried spiders (actually we didn't find them in the places we visited, it's a pity!) and the fermented fish paste used in many dishes, a distinctive flavouring known as prahok. And to be honest, food in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia is way better than in Cambodia. End of the gastronomic digression.

In Mondulkiri (meaning "Meeting of the Hills"), we alternated lazy and very active days. According to the locals, the roads through the province look like a papaya shake during the wet season, but in the dry, you must prepare to battle with the red dust, which will leave you with a fake tan and orange hair!!! The real joy of the Mondulkiri province is indeed exploring by motorbike at your own pace, following small paths to hidden tribe villages or waterfalls spilling out of the jungle. On Christmas day, we drove about 100km on a day trip to the Bou Sra falls, a 35m-high double drop into a jungle gorge. Gripping the handlebars and brakes trying not to be distracted by the amazing views of the hills around, I managed to avoid incidents (better than in Bali!). Sometimes when passing jeeps or trucks, we were lost in clouds of dust! Sometimes the road was in such a bad shape that Vladi had to walk at my side, not to "kill" the motorbike...


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Thanks to a basic map, but to be honest most of the time randomly, we also found some little villages, where our passage was welcome with smiles and innumerable 'hello, what's your name". We shared our biscuits with some kids in front of their typical low-roofed wooden house, tasted a good fruit smoothie in a village lost in a forest, and came back home - a great bungalow with TV (khmer people are fond of TV) and, that beats everything, hot water! - all covered with dust. Our clothes, bags, hair, eyes, noses, ears... nothing was spared!


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We also discovered the Mondulkiri province in a very interesting way during an elephant day trek.  I was scared to try this activity, maybe too touristic for my taste. But it was great, cause we were alone, starting in a Pnong village and quickly "hiking" through deserted hills. Our elephant was well trained, responding to the orders of our 12 and 14 years-old guides (!), but at the same time had a strong character! Still he was good-natured I think, and of course always willing to eat. We climbed on him with a ladder, but once he also kneeled down to let me go. Amazing! I was very impressed by the complicity of the little boys and the big beast.


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We had a long break and ate our picnic at a natural pool, while the elephant was released in the jungle for his lunch. Our young guides hung a bell at his neck, and we found him 2 hours later thanks to the jingle sounds. It was time for the best moment of his day: a bath in the river. He obviously really enjoyed it! Especially when he was completely laying under water, breathing with his trump, almost snorkeling...


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Because it's not very comfortable - and I didn't want to be waddling like a duck for days! - I prefered to walk a good part of the way back. It allowed me to take good pictures of Vladi, my bottom came back to life, and it was lighter for Mr the elephant. Everybody was happy! Another very nice day in Mondulkiri... I will add that the elephants are really part of the Pnong families, and seem to live a pleasant life. Like horses or camels in other countries, they are domesticated in Cambodia but well-treated and respected. A good example of collaboration beetween men and animals...


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KRATIE & KOH TRONG ISLAND

We finally left the Mondulkiri province, and took 2 different buses to reach our next stopping place along the famous Mekong river: the little town of Kratie (pronounce Kra-Tche). We stayed a few days, including New Year's eve (we "celebrated" with beers and pizzas, dreaming of good wines, foie-gras, smoked salmon... Bouh!), in a cheap guesthhouse: 4$ the room with TV5 Monde! Far way from the cold european winter, dramatic sunsets over the Mekong are on the other hand guaranteed every day here...


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Opposite town in the middle of the Mekong is an idyllic slice of rural Cambodia on the island of Koh Trong. A small boat took me there for 1000 Riels (0.25$) and I hiked all around the island meeting friendly smiling locals, lovely kids as well as shiny happy grandmothers! Once again it strenghtened me in the belief that the nicest people are found in the poorest places. And the island of Koh Trong, without cars, almost unspoiled, smelling good the hay stacks, immediately became one of my favourite places in Cambodia...


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Anxious to share this beautiful & peaceful place with Vladi, we both came back the next day, rented some bikes and pedaled through the little "countryside" island, overtaking carts pulled by ox. We got lost, stopped several times to watch some kids climbing big trees to the top or to taste weird but yummy local "ice creams". The people were very curious about us, amazed by our language, our hats and I do think by the size of Vladi's breasts! We came close to a floating village, took a nap under a wooden shelter, and read our books resting our "old bones" in peaceful vibes... Conclusion? Don't miss the island of Koh Trong if you travel through that part of Cambodia, my friends...


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Just 15km north of Kratie, in a village called Kampi, the endangered Irrawady dolphins often breach the Mekong's silent surface for a breath of fresh air. After an enjoyable 60-minutes bicycle ride, we reached the place and, barefoot in the water on a long-tail boat, we spotted those very rare and odd dolphins. It was too challenging to take a good picture, so I put away my camera and enjoyed this unique encounter with a wild nature. If you want to see what an Irrawady dolphin looks like, you'll have to come here (or more simply you can google it! ah ah ah!)...

Cambodia was a great country to discover: Angkor temples, Mekong river, elephant trekking, waterfalls, motorbike adventures, beautiful slices of countryside, dolphins, jungle, forested hills... Still I must confess that Vladi and I hesitated to come back to France on the occasion of Christmas. We are on the road since the 3rd of november 2008, so it was a second Christmas away from the family... We miss our friends and our dog Follium too...  We miss France, Bulgaria and Europe... But we decided to carry on, this adventure is not over and has surely some more surprises in store for us! We will finish the journey with some weeks in Laos (from south to north), and a long stay in Thailand: probably Chiang Mai & around in the north (where Vladi will continue her massage training), and the islands of Ko Phi Phi & Ko Lanta in the south (will I finally learn to dive?). Bye bye Vietnam and Myanmar, we are bored of long-distance buses and expansive visas... Maybe next time?

Well everybody... Once again Vladi and I wish you a fantastic and happy new year! Next article about Laos in a few weeks! Take care of you, and hopefully see you soon in 2010...


IN FRENCH FOR THEO

Salut mon unique filleul adore que je prefere dans le monde entier! Bonne annee 2010 a toi, en esperant qu'elle t'apporte plein de victoires au foot, et pourquoi pas, soyons fous, la France une nouvelle fois championne du monde! Petit fait sympathique, je note d'ailleurs que les pays dans le groupe A de la coupe du monde de football (Uruguay, Mexique, Afrique du Sud et bien sur France), je les ai  tous visites lors de mon tour du monde! Mais revenons a ce nouvel article de blog: comme tu as pu le voir, ton parrain et Vladi se sont encore bien promenes au Cambodge... Les temples d'Angkor, temoins d'une civilisation tres ancienne, etaient impressionnants mais je crois que tu te serais plus eclate lors de la ballade a dos d'elephant, non? Ou a moto sur les routes poussiereuses de la province du Mondulkiri. Ou encore a velo sur l'ile de Koh Trong. Ou en bateau pour decouvrir les derniers dauphins Irrawady dans le celebre fleuve Mekong. Enfin nous, on ne s'est pas ennuyes pour le fin d'annee 2009 en tout cas, meme si on aurait bien aimes passer Noel avec vous en France. La famille, les amis, et Follium nous manque beaucoup apres plus de 14 mois sur les routes. Mais on continue, on ira jusqu'au bout de cet etonnant voyage. Un tour du monde, ce n'est pas une excursion ou des vacances, c'est un processus, une decouverte. On pourrait meme dire (surtout) un processus de decouverte de soi, pas seulement des pays visites. Il y a un "avant" et un "apres" tour du monde, c'est sur. Et 500 jours de voyage, ca vous change! Bon j'arrete la, je divague un peu trop. J'espere que le reveillon de nouvel an s'est bien passe, ainsi que la rentree a l'ecole debut janvier. Quand je reviendrai en mars, il faudra que tu me racontes beaucoup de choses, je suis tres curieux et j'ai envie de rattraper le retard du a ma si longue absence. OK? En attendant, prends bien soin de toi et de la famille, et distribue une nouvelle fois des bisous a Elea, Hugo, Marie, Papy, Mamy, Matthieu, et si t'es motive, a Bacchus et a votre "nouveau" chat! A bientot Theo! Parrain.

Par D.F - Publié dans : CAMBODIA - Communauté : Tour du Monde
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