Thursday, 16 April 2009

Thai rats and other troublesome tales

History repeated itself yesterday, when I walked in on my Thai boyfriend whilst he was on the phone to his other girlfriend. Fortunately, unlike the first time this happened with an ex, he didn't have his erect penis in his hand, nor was he frantically rubbing it whilst describing a sordid fantasy. I didn't expect my fisher boy to be faithful. I am under no illusion that most guys get jobs here so they can get laid to a different white western girl every week. I was however a tad pissed off that on the day I returned home to Koh Lanta, he got his auntie to whisk me away for the night, so he could have an early night. He of course neglected to mention that the early night was to be spent was with his latest girlfriend. At least he apologised and didn't blame me, unlike the last incident, when I was told it was all my fault. These cheating men eh? They are the same the world over.

Anyway, enough of that, apologies for the lack of contact. I've been pretty busy travelling around Malaysia with my lovely friend French Claire. There I did some more diving and went fishing in Lipe with Will, pictured with his girlfriend Natasha, whose mum Sue works in the Barbakan. What a small world it is. It was lovely to reminisce about Chorlton. Too much has happened in the last month. I had trouble getting out of Thailand without a visa in my new passport. It took me two days, 240 pounds and a lot of patience. Good job I had the cash, no thanks to my mum who sent out my PADI diving card instead of my bank card (at a cost of fifty pounds). Imagine my disbelief when I opened the envelope. As if anything else could go wrong (it did). The immigration officials took pity on me and gave me a free lunch. Okay, not so free, but it was very kind of them. I've had more marriage proposals, suffered a bad case of sea lice, tripped and got my foot impaled on nails, had two both exhilarating but terrifying journeys on a boat at night to get to the local nightspot (the captain was drunk in charge of the vessel and his co-captain was lighting the way with his mobile phone). Despite all these shenanigans I've had a wonderful time.

Now I'm back to where I consider to be my home in Thailand, after a detour to attend Phuket Bike Week. No, I haven't traded in my moped for a Harley, I went to see Thailand's biggest reggae act Job 2 Do. I've been dying to see him, so much so I found myself alone in Phuket surrounded by hairy Thai bikers in leathers and chaps. They all turned out to be perfectly hospitable. I spent a wonderful two days dancing and drinking lots of beer with them. Job 2 Do was amazing. I love him.

We have just celebrated Songkran, the Thai new Year. It is marked by pouring water over people to signify cleansing and purity. It was great fun, but I'd rather have had an Easter egg and a roast. I love the fact that I can make my new year's resolutions all over again, especially as I haven't kept a single one. I don't know why I bother. My resolution should be to accept that I'm always going to be a greedy, beer-swilling party animal rather than a svelte, disciplined gym freak. Of course plenty of beer was drunk on Songkran, as we toasted new beginnings. I'll be home in less than two weeks to start a new and exciting chapter in my life. I'll be sad to leave Thailand though. I'll miss the wonderful friends I've made, the stunning sunsets over the sea, the delicious food, the beautiful beaches, the incredible diving, the list is endless. I won't, however, miss my rat of a room mate (of the animal variety not fisher boy) and it's droppings, the mossies, the bugs, the heat, having to put my soiled loo paper in the bin and constantly being ripped off.
Happy Songkran.

Vic xx

Monday, 16 March 2009

February 25 2009 - a new diver is born

Hoorah, I'm now an aquanaut, having completed my PADI open water certificate. As usual for me, it didn't go without incident. On day three my life jacket didn't inflate when I jumped into the water, which really made me panic. I knew I wasn't going to drown, but I was pretty scared. I kept being dragged under water by my weight belt. I didn't let it drop as there would've been a hefty fine. Surely a near-drowning and a bit of water on the lungs was better than parting with the cash I needed to celebrate my new-found skill that evening. Fortunately Kristien was there to save me. All was fine, but it really shook me up. However as tears pricked my eyes, I fought them back. I knew that if I gave into to them they wouldn't stop. I was determined to get my certificate. I'm so proud of myself because I was petrified of diving, having tried it five years ago in Egypt. My good friend Hayley had to hold my hand the whole time. Now I can dive without clutching someone's hand as if my life depended on it.

The fear was worth it; diving in Koh Lanta is among some of the best in the world. We saw blacktip reef sharks (not as menacing as you'd think) and scary stonefish, probably the deadliest of all fish, for they are highly poisonous and are almost invisible. They cunningly look like harmless rocks, further camouflaged by sand. The highlight was being rewarded by a sighting of a majestic hawksbill turtle on the final dive. It was happily tootling around on the ocean floor, minding it's own business. An amazing sight for a diving novice.

A big thanks goes to Oh and Kristien who, without their patience and competent training, I would never have succeeded. They are in the photo above (if only I was as good at posing for photos as I am at diving). My next dive will be in Malaysia, where I am headed next week. I need to change the name of my blog, as I am no longer going to Vietnam. Best laid plans and all that........

Friday, 20 February 2009

Calamity Victoria Jane

After surviving a series of bag thefts, moped accidents and a shooting in Bangkok shopping mall, we are all safe and well and enjoying the laidback vibe in Ko Lanta. I will soon be travelling alone again as Daisy and Kate leave for Ko Tao on the other side of Thailand. I am staying here to do my PADI dive course and hang out with the locals. I've been here 6 days and it's starting to feel like home. Last night I went to a guy called Weap's birthday party and met a load of local tuk tuk drivers to drink Thai moonshine with. On Friday I am off on a pilgrimage with a Swedish couple to see Job to Do in Phuket. He's Asia's biggest reggae act. Some things don't change - my life is still as calamitous as ever and I am still being a sad groupie trying to engratiate myself with unsuitable long-haired musos. I wouldn't change it for the world though, plus it's far more exciting out here in the sun.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Valentine's day on Phi Phi island

l'm with Daisy (my friend from innocent) and her friend Kate. We are staying at Phi Phi Hill, high in the hills of Long Beach. The turquoise water is so clear I can see the ocean floor, despite being almost 30 metres up in the hills. What an amazing view to wake up to each morning. Our home is a quaint wooden bungalow surrounded by lush gardens that are laced with delicately perfumed tropical pink and purple flowers. It's paradise.

Tomorrow we are going island-hopping where we will snorkel in what has been described as an aquarium. I'm so excited. First though, we are off to pamper ourselves before we enjoy a candle-lit seafood supper on the white sandy beach. How romantic - what a perfect way to celebrate Valentine's day.

Happy Valentine's.

Love Vic x

Thursday, 5 February 2009

A slice of Pai heaven

(I wrote this a while ago but didn't get round to posting it. Am now on my way to Phi Phi after spending a few days with my wonderful friends from home in Krabi, south Thailand. I will post some pix soon.)

I think I must have died in the jungle and gone to Thai heaven, or should that be Pai heaven? My guardian angels are Toshiro, a talented musician/film maker/photographer, and his girlfriend Lek, who runs a wonderful postcard gallery cum-coffee-shop. Lek makes the beautiful postcards herself from the most stunning photographs she has taken during her travels in SE Asia.

The Lonely Planet describes Pai as a place where the "hippy trail is alive and a cool, moist corner of a mountain-fortressed valley". It's cool not just in the temperature sense - the town oozes creativity at the twist and turn of every mountain road. Pai is a place where bright, young cartoonists mix with older fine-artists, where you find accomplished street performers at one end of a street and funky jazz bands at the other. Long haired, flared trouser wearing Thais and travellers mix with the gifted bohemians that reside here, without fail being caught up in the laissez-faire attitude that infuses this enchanting town like the delicate patchouli perfume one can smell everywhere. I hope that some of the creativity rubs off on me.

It's like a slice of Chorlton in south east Asia, but better. Even I, a Chorlton devotee, have to admit Pai has the edge, not on the art/music front, but one can't deny that temperate hot springs, cool rivers and lush mountain valleys are better than the water park. Only just mind.

My home is a tent in the grounds of Lek's shop (, but I'm far from roughing it. Inside you'll find a comfy mattress, a bedside table and lamp, and the facilities are of a boutique hotel standard. Rhan Lek Lek is at the foot of the sacred Mae Yen temple, which has spectacular views over Pai. In the morning you can see a "sea cloud", a candyfloss blanket of white, fluffy cloud, over the town. It's either that or I really am in heaven. I awake to the sound of chimes at the temple and clucking hens and their chicks that roam freely around the yard. Lek and Toshiro have been the most gracious hosts, making me feel so at home and treating me to the most delicious welcome meal of whole fried fish, Tom Yam Goong (hot & sour prawn soup), fried vegetables and rice. Thanks to Lek I'm eating things I have never tried before, such as delicious stir-fried forest fern. Yum.

When we go out we bump into so many locals it feels like home. Lek, from Bangkok, moved here two years ago. Like her, many people have migrated to Pai for it's impressive art and music scene. It's a perfect place for me to while away a few days, being inspired with ideas for Victoria's Vintage. That's when I'm not busy hopping on my moped to go to the market in the town, where you can eat the most deliciously piquant red curry for 40p.

My next stop is Chaing Rai, then I am racing down south to see Fi and Green, two of my fave peeps in the world. I cannot tell you how excited I am. I'm so excited that it took the edge off my nerves when I performed at my first open mic night the other night. Pictures to follow.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Terror Trekking

Unfortunately there was no one to join me on a trek in Chaing Rai, so after being given a map I decided to go solo. How hard could it be? Very hard for a novice walker, which will probably come as no surprise to anyone after my kayaking tales. I got lost very quickly, finding myself stuck in thick bamboo forest. Maybe it was time for my thrilling fairground ride to come to an abrupt, neck-breaking halt. For a short while it was like something out of a terrifying horror movie like The Blair Witch. Every path I took led nowhere, everywhere looked the same. The sun was playing tricks on me, streaking down through the trees lighting what looked like paths through the forest, yet cruely every time it was a mirage. I clambered through steep tree-clad hills, hitting huge cobwebs complete with huge, hairy jungle spiders at what seemed like every turn. Thankfully I didn't come across any snakes.

I didn't know which direction I'd come from, nor did I know in which direction to continue. It was pretty scary. I lost count of the times I almost fell as the gradient of the hill was so great. I fell down once, but was able to stop my fall, which was lucky as a lot of the trees were rotten so it was difficult to get a foot hold. For once I wished for a pair of Decathlon zipper trousers; my beautiful floral sarong from Laos and my retro Gola trainers were not the best attire for a trek through a jungle. I came across broken bamboo animal traps, a welcome sign of life, yet did I really want to be coming face to face with whatever animals the locals were trying to catch? Only if I needed to slay one for food - I wasn't sure how long I could subsist on 4 satsumas and a small bottle of water (although I've been feasting like a king for the last two months so I don't think that was my major concern). I wondered if the outdoor survival course I did before I left innocent would come in handy. Would I be able to reconstuct a bamboo shelter and light a fire? I kid you not that all these thoughts whizzed haphazardly through my head, just like the wind was menacingly rushing through the trees.

Eventually I found my way back to a path on the edge of the forest, although I still had no clue where I was. Then I finally I arrived at the hilltribe village, two hours after my intended arrival. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt, yet I wasn't out of the woods yet. No pun intended - I now know firsthand what this saying really means. As I got back on track I could see the imprint of my trainer in the dirt. Strange as I had not yet been on this path. It was like something out of the film Deliverance, made worse still as I walked through the village to stares from the villagers, all that was missing was the chilling music.

Fortunately the locals turned out to be very welcoming, one familty even beckoned me into their home. I felt rude refusing but I wanted to get back on track. After a few more wrong turns I reached the national park, a welcome return to civilisation. Ravenous by this stage, I feasted on boiled eggs dipped in soy sauce, which had been cooked in a nearby hot spring. An even more wecome sight was the sign for the hot springs, where I was able to get a lift. Not before enjoying a soak in the steaming waters to ease the pain of my cuts and grazes. I even manged to fit in a massage to soothe my aching limbs before the truck came and whisked me home through the hills to my mud hut, nestled in the valley of an Akha village. Tomorrow I shall enjoy the beautiful forest views across the valley from my balcony rather than attempt another walk.
Goodnight from an extremely fatigued traveller.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Glamour-kayaking on the Nam Ha river, Northern Laos

Wow kayaking was magical. Yet again I felt transported to a real-life fairground where dreams are realised.

I arrived at the trekking agency all glammed up in my 1950's swimsuit with matching sarong, over-sized sunglasses and a smattering of warm clothing. Needless to say I got some strange looks, but if I'm to run a vintage stall in Affleck's Palace I need to keep up appearances. In stark contrast my kayaking companions, looking like they'd just stepped out of a dire Decathlon advertisement, who boasted about huge river rapids in Tibet, capsizing on the mighty Mekong, blah blah blah. I must admit it was then I started to regret having told my guide that I'm a keen kayaker; I wasn't so sure a gentle paddle on the sea measures up to grade 3 river rapids. I had a helmet and life jacket (much to my dismay as it ruined the Fifties moviestar look I was attempting) so what could go wrong?

Absoutely nothing. Fortunately for me as it's dry season the rapids weren't too scary, in fact in parts we had to wade as the water was so low. I must admit I didn't do too much wading, I left that to my wonderful guide Pon. The reason for this was not that I didn't want to get wet and ruin my outfit, but for the fact that I didn't have appropriate shoes to get out into the water (the day before I'd sustained a rather nasty graze on my perfectly-pedicured little toe). My seemingly unsuitable outfit was actually far more appropriate than any outdoor getup as it dried off in the sun far quicker than those silly slacks where you can zip off the bottoms to reveal a pair of even more hideous shorts. They are surely the most unfashionable clothing invention ever, apart from the awful fishmen's pants which you see every other traveller wearing. Yes I know the trouser-come-shorts are designed for practicality not catwalk glamor, but rather smugly I can report that my companions were kayaking in cold, wet clothing the next day, whereas I was dry as a bone.

Anyway I digress, back to the kayaking. The scenery was incredible - traditional village life was taking place in a spectacular mountainous backdrop as we meandered along the clear waters of the river. We saw young boys fearlessly spear fishing, rugged fishermen huddled around makeshift fires on the shore, wrinkled old women smoking pipes, pretty fresh-faced women sewing in the villages, dusty children playing and chattering farmyard animals galore. I cannot express enough what an enchanting two days it was, made even better with a few thrills of the rapids along the way. AND I never fell out, which two of my "experienced" kayakers did.

The hills and valleys of Northern Laos are sparsely populated with a hotchpotch of ethnic groups from all over South east Asia, each having their own language, culture and traditions. The area we visited is home to the Khamu and Lantern hilltribes who were most welcoming. I found the Lantern tribe the most endearing; they seemed the most unaffected by Western ways. Their clothing was distinctive and interestingly the women keep their eyebrows shaved to show that they are married. Give me a wedding band any day. They found us equally as fascinating, for although they see many trekkers, we are still a source of curiosity and sometimes great amusement. You have to get used to being stared at, just as we at times were staring at them in amazement. I met a lovely old women who moved places just so she could sit opposite me and stare for what seemed liked hours. The many creases in her crumpled face must be able to tell so many tales - if only we could've communicated. I reckon she must have been impressed with my outfit though. I bet the women of the village are copying the look as I write. Keep a look out for the next Lonely Planet Laos, where the author describes traditional tribes trussed up in 1950's starlet dress.

Our home for the night was a basic bamboo hut at the edge of the river, next to a ramshackle Khamu village. Our guides cooked the most delish traditional Laos food over an open fire. We ate tender, smoked BBQ buffalo, spicy Lao salad, sticky rice, piquant roasted aubergine stew and a mediterranean-tasting tomato sauce. Yum. One guide, Su, persisted with his fishing until we had fresh river fish - the freshest fish I have ever eaten - it went straight from the river to the BBQ. The guides are jack of all trades. They are accomplished chefs, builders, fishermen, musicians, kayakers....... The list is endless, so different to many young people at home who cannot boil an egg, never mind skin a chicken (or a civet cat - we didn't eat one but we saw the discarded fur next to the tell-tale cinders of a fire and our guide explained what had been cooked there). Waking up to the dawn chorus of scores of frogs and forest birds was beautiful. It was slightly chilly, but the guides were on hand with a cup of coffee and a wonderful breakfast to give us energy for the second day of kayaking. Paradise.

I've been told that my next stop, Chaing Rai in north Thailand, is rather touristy, so I have decided to stay another day in Laos. I'm reluctant to end this enchanting fairytale life I am living, so I'm going further north to see if I can get a homestay, before an early start at the market in Muang Sing. My guide recommended it as the best way to see the many ethnic groups come together in one place. He also recommended a great place to eat dog. There's no accounting for taste, but I simply cannot bring myself to chow down on a cute canine. Eating a Babe look-a-like is bad enough, but I draw the line at a hairy hound. Besides, Scamp would never forgive me.