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Zippedy do da, zippedy day

my oh my where are the Gibbons today?

rain 30 °C

The Official Gibbon Experience account
Written by Jen
Edited by Ted

The Gibbon Experience is a really cool program that happens in the forests between Huay Xai and Luang Namtha in Laos. The National Protection Area is an enmorous area that is inhabited by many villages and species of animals. The project was created in conjuction with local tribes to protect the forest, help pay for rangers to watch and protect the area (with AK-47 machine guns), increase awareness and decrease slash and burn farming. oh and also protect the rare Gibbon Monkey! This was definitely appealing to Ted and I...plus you can take zip lines through the canopy of the forest and stay overnight in a tree house!! This was definitely something we wanted to check out!

The experience is not for the faint of heart! There are limited amenities and lots of hiking but it is well worth it! The experience starts with a truck ride up the highway and then a 4X4 adventure into a small village to begin our hike. We were in a group of 8 people and we had two guides. This is low season and so it was easy to get a spot but apparently it's a lot harder during high season. We chose the Waterfall Experience...a bit more hiking but it included a waterfall - we are always suckers for a watering hole!

The trek was beautiful but hard. Lots of climbing and it is very hot and humid. In the truck we overheard that there are leeches on the trail this time of year. That freaked Ted and I out a bit but we are tough and decided just to wear our long pants. It was approximatey a 1/2 hour in before our guide pulled the first leech off his foot. I wasn't worried because he only had flip flops on (everyone in Asia wears flip flops to hike). I didn't think I would get a leech. Moments after that another girl on our trip screamed and started shaking her leg. She had a leech on her ankle. Her boyfriend struggled to pull it off while she was dancing all over the place. I'd like to say that the leeches were 8 feet long and had mouthes the size of humans, but they actuallly looked like earthworms! They were however, very ambitious and hungry. As you walked over them they would stand up to jump on you! I'm not kidding!!!! - they were out for blood! It wasn't long before Ted and I had leeches on us too!

It took an hour or so to hit our first zip line - a nice relief from leeches!! We zipped all the way to the treehouse! The lines were long and the views were spectacular! Absolutely amazing. The treehouse was really neat - two levels with a little cooking area and everything! And no leeches! Ted and I were especially excited because we reserved the "private tree house" for the night and were anxious to get over there. After a swim in the "waterfall" - more like some rapids into a pool (remember it is apparently dry season), we were escorted by our guides to our treehouse. The guides are funny - they are true Laotian - so easy going that they forgot to tell us most things! Ted and I zipped into our treehouse without really knowing when we would see everyone again!
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The view was awesome and we savoured this alone time! We ate a great sticky rice dinner and spent most of our evening shoeing away cockroaches and other bugs! We fell asleep to the sound of rain!
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It rained the next morning so Ted and I enjoyed a leisurely coffee and leftovers! We finally met up with everyone when we were called down for breakfast at 9:30 when the rain stopped. This began our 3 hour mud hike through the leech forest. The leeches were everywhere and so you were always foused on your feet and not stopping (as they were really fast when you weren't moving). We were pretty exhuasted by the time we got to the second Tree house. It was beautiful though and we had a great afternoon visiting, playing cards and zipping with everyone.
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It rained again that night and so in the morning we plodded our way back to the village through a lot of mud. We were rewarded with a few awesome zips which lifted our wet spirits! We were done! Smelly, sticky and tired!

We must say this was an experience. ....no gibbons but lots of stories and some good leech welts!! (I found two on my upper thigh after several hours of them feasting!).

The long and short of it is....the forest and experience are super cool and if it was actually the "dry season" it would be really fun! but we enjoyed it and kept smiling and now I will always ask when I begin a trek "Are there leeches on the trail?"

Posted by jented 21:52 Archived in Laos Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

a bus, a trek, a bus, a boat and we arrive in Luang Prabang!

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It's been awhile since our last update. We arrived at the Thai-Laos border on April 25th and crossed the Mekong to Huay Xai, where we met the Gibbon Experience (see an entry dedicated to this adventure to come shortly to a computer near you!), after this heroing adventure we headed up to a lovely northern town called Luang Namtha. This country is flipping gorgeous - green and mountainous!! It makes trekking and biking more tricky though - especially since Ted and I are out of shape! We hung out there for a day and enjoyed cheap beer and great biking. We spent the next day on a long and arduous bus ride (we were really only ever travellling 20-30 km/h due to car sized potholes). The ride took 9 hours (partly because of a flat tire). However, at the end of the ride we were still an hour from our destination, Non Khiaw. So we hopped on a Sawngthaw (a pick up with seats in the back) for the last leg of the journey. We ended up in the little town late and tired. Ted and I were sick of travelling and really just wanted to get to Luang Prabang!! Although this little town is beautiful we decided to head south instead of stay - all of the Guest Houses have a lot of big bugs too!

We jumped on a long boat for the 6 hour beautiful journey down the Nam Ou river! It was a photographer's delight. Little villages, fisherman and gold prospectors lined parts of the trip! We enjoyed the sprays of water and the great views. This country is very sparsely populated and so it really feels quiet and peaceful, just what we've been looking for!

We arrived last night in Luang Prabang. It is beautiful old town that is filled with temples and it lines the Mekong and another little river. We did a big search to find the "right" guest house - this town is a little over-run with travellers! We plan to hang out as most people do when they get here!!! We may stay for awhile and do some short trips - we'll keep you updated! Today we started some shopping but the most exciting thing we have found is some new flip flops for me - I made a big hole in the bottom of mine!

Posted by jented 00:04 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Master Chefs get ready to open restaurant...

sunny 40 °C
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We took a one day beginner Thai cooking class and we are definitely ready to go PRO! Even though we had helpers measuring, preparing and cleaning up all of our stuff we feel confident that we have the tools (we did buy one of their knives) to become famous too! Our chef was none other than Sampon...the Famous Thai Chef! We had a blast that day cooking Panang Curry, Northern curries, Fish with chilis and basil and of course sweet sticky rice! We got to eat everything we made and two days later Ted and I are still alive!!

One of the best parts of the Cooking class was that it was taught in Air conditioning. Now, I have never been a fan of air conditioning in Saskatoon but I have quickly grown to love, seek and crave it in South East Asia. It is tooooo hot here! There is no reprieve! We even started to plan the last leg of our trip based around weather forecasts! If you don't have air con or a beach it really limits what you feel like doing all day! Thankfully in Chiang Mai we found an awesome pool (i wish i had goggles) not too far away. We are enjoying hanging out in this lovely little city. Biking all over the place to have mango soothies and picnics. We even found a shop with real cheese - making our sandwiches awesome!

We are heading north in a few days to see Gibbon monkeys! Ted and I will get to live in a tree house and move around by zip cord! After that we are counting down the trip as we will make it home by the end of May.

Posted by jented 22:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Getting Shot At in Myanmar!

sunny 38 °C
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Well hello everyone!

The last week in Myanmar was spent in Inle Lake and Yangon. The last few days that we were there, Thingyan, or Burmese New Year was starting. Thingyan is a large water festival where everyone splashes everyone to wash out the old year and start anew. The festival lasts for 5 days leading up to the Lunar New Year of April 17. We were lucky enough to get downtown with our cousins to the main opening ceremony in front of City Hall. There, we walked around the large main stage and around the VIP area directly in front of the stage. It was obvious that it was a special area as it was outlined by stands of barbed wire about 4 wide and 4 feet high. There were also many armed police men and security forces on the inside of the area to keep the peace as it were. It was obviously a serious gathering. The festivities began with some traditional dancing, singing, and ribbon cutting ceremony and of course the spraying down of many people with water hoses.

During the first major dance, it was easy to see the many uniformed security and police officers monitoring the crowd from inside the VIP area and all around the back of the sqaure. This large public gathering was not going to get out of control. As the festivities warmed up, I moved closer to the barricades and pulled out our small digital camera. I was able to hold it up above the crowd to get a few pictures of the crowd. Because I couldn't see exactly what I was shooting at, I tried several times. The sight of the ONLY camera in and above the crowd drew several glances from security and the public. It was obvious that no one else was taking photos in our area so I started to put the camera away and resume watching the show.
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As the first few dance performances were over, the crowd started to depart en masse, away from the center of town and headed towards the buses to escape the large rush of people that would soon ensue. As we headed out, I caught out of the corner of my eye, a small group of security forces eyeing me up. Their eyes stared at me for sometime as we approached. I tried to look away but not before I noticed that they some were carrying rifles and all had batons and handguns. It was soon after we passed that I heard them yell something and they opened fire! The crowd around me, parted leaving me completely exposed and felt my skin turn icy cold with fear as I felt the first barrage pass very close by. The second officer registered a direct hit in my shoulder from slightly behind me but luckily all of this was just with their water pistols they were carrying. I turned, smiled and wished them a Happy New Year and they replied with another huge smile and a third barrage into crowd with water.

Pretty exciting festival huh?
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The next few days it was impossibler to walk for more than about 5 minutes before you were ABSOLUTELY SOAKED to the skin from locals on the streetside throwing water or from one of the many trucks, or jeeps with at least about 15 or more people throwing water as they passed by. Yes jeeps with a driver sitting, about 9 people standing in the jeep and usually about 5 more hanging on while 3-4 people sat on the hood and all dancing as they cruised the streets of Yangon. Everyone wants to dance, sing and hug everyone and be sure that everyone is involved in the party. Offers of food, come join, and have a drink were everywhere. The main party area along Inya road was huge. It was almost a mile of temporary elevated stages along the side of the road playing loud, dance music, serving drinks and has 30-50 hoses for the patrons to spray down each other and the people walking or stuck in the inevitable traffic jam that follows. Everyone is in such good spirits it is quite the sight. Not only that, the temperature is about 38C so having cold water thrown on you feels really good.
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We were sad to leave but our visa expired and so we are headed back in Thailand and going to Laos for a few weeks. We have some more places to see and places to go but Myanmar (Burma) is a huge highlight of the trip and would encourage anyone looking for a great adventure to consider it.

Other than the above brush with a public shooting, we are safe and sound.

Posted by jented 00:05 Archived in Myanmar Tagged events Comments (1)

Our Top Ten from Pyin Oo Lwin

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We took an internet hiatus from emailing. It was not our choice but email and internet is very hard to come by, the further you are from a large city in Burma. We tried one day but only managed to get one email and it took one hour. (Even as we type this, email and most of other websites, yahoo, gmail, and msn, etc are "unavailable")

We just finished a week in the beautiful town of Pyin Oo Lwin in the hills outside of Mandalay. This was a very special stop for us as Ted's father, Don was born and raised here!

We wanted to share some of our most memorable stories from the little town...so here is our Top Ten most memorable stories and anecdotes (in no particular order!):

1. The Weather, Flowers and Strawberries - This is the reason that most locals come to spend their holidays in Pyin Oo Lwin (POL). It is at least 6 degrees cooler than the lowlands and the trees, flowers and forests are amazing! It also means that there are more hills and that was good for the cycling legs! The wild and wonderful strawberries are everywhere and are really good. I had a lot of trouble with transporting them as they were so delicate that every time I got them home they were juice! We had a great time visiting the Shan Market everyday to pick up all our favourite fruits (watermelon, papaya, oranges and apples are in season) and veggies (for our picnic!)

2. The People - It's a small town - what can I say? The people were always very curious about us but as soon as we smiled they did too! We especially enjoyed our "haunts" - the places in our "neighbourhood" that we frequented (ie., tea shop, beer stand and all of the shops and houses we walked by each day). We met many colourful characters including the gentleman who now owns the old Fisher house, the boys that always served us wonderful samosas and tea in the morning and a golfer named Joseph. He met us on our walk home one day and visited with us while he was heading to the golf course. We saw him several times after and he invited us to his house. One day we met him again and he took us to his house to visit his family! It was a delightful visit and his children and grandchildren loved our digital camera. We also met a friendly guy who saw that we were lost when we were heading to a hillside pagoda. He told us it was on his way and he rode with us - visiting the whole time! He was 66 years old and still rides a bike everyday!

3. Tea Shops, samosas and sweets - We found a little tea shop in the middle of town and that became one of our favourite haunts. They would always bring out a plate of samosas and that hooked us in! The young boys thought we were funny and were very good humoured. Many times we thought we were asking for regular Myanmar tea and instead we got tea with condensed milk. We tried so hard to learn how to say it properly but to no avail we always got tea with milk (not that we were complaining - it was awesome!). Burfi and indian sweet meats are tops here too!

4. Restaurants and bills - This was by far one of the most bewildering things that we have encountered in Burma. Most restaurants (food centres, tea shops etc) do not have prices on their english menus. Most of the time locals don't use a menu so I guess the menus are for foreigners. The funny part is that we decided awhile ago to not ask the price of an item because many times were were pleasantly surprised at how little it cost. However, the interesting part is that the price of the bill seems to vary significantly! We ate at a great little Indian restaurant and when we asked for the bill, we watched the whole family (staff) confer for many minutes trying to figure out how much to charge us! Sometimes were were pleasantly surprised and sometimes we were stunned! One time the bill came back reading: "lunch = 3600" - that is it - no breakdown or anything. Can't really barter with that can you? We finally agreed that if the restaurant had a door and a menu that had many pages, we should ask the prices!

5. 43 Beers - We took a share taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin on Ted's Birthday (March 29th) and we shared it with a couple from Ireland. When we got to town we met up with them in the market and we decided to go for an afternoon beer. We found a Beer Station that had draft Myanmar Beer (only 0.50$) and we started to visit and drink. We hadn't drunk with the Irish yet and found them to be good and eager drinkers! The boys at the Beer station were a bit stunned by the request for "four more" all of the time. Finally we realized that we should eat something as we had been sitting, drinking beer and eating lehpet (a snack) for 6 hours! When the tab came it said that we had 43 beers! We couldn't argue with them (none of us could count at that point) so we thanked them! We stumbled through town looking for food and singing happy birthday to Ted.

6. The Gaaris - How could any list of memorable things about Pyin Oo Lwin without mentioning the horse drawn carriages that are all over town. This was an awesome way to get off your feet for awhile and watch the world go by!

7. The Kandawgi Gardens - Another must see in this town. The gardens are famous and are just out of town. We had heard that the entrance fee was $2 (as quoted in the Lonely Planet) but we have learned that inflation and other things have drastically changed prices since that book was published. Instead it was $5 per foreigner plus $1 for your camera! That pretty much blew our budget - so it was a good thing we brought our own picnic lunch into the park! Don't get me wrong, we loved the park and especially loved the swans, takins and all of the incredible flora! We took a small break at a bench along a path in the swamp garden and a family walked by. The man stopped and asked us if he "could snap our picture"! We laughed, wondering what he and his family thought of us sitting in a swamp! Welcome Canadian swamp people!
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8. Our Hotel - We splurged and stayed at the wonderful Royal Parkview Hotel. We had great service and we were glad to get our daily delivery of fruit and complimentary water! It took us several days to realize that all we have to do is ask and they will help! For instance, one morning we were having our "American Breakfast" - white toast and eggs and wishing that we could have something more regional. All of a sudden the table next to us received Mohinga! We were stunned. We asked the front desk if there was the possibility to have that and she said yes, and produced a long menu of local Burmese and Indian favourites. She told us that we just have to order the night before! The same thing happened shortly after when we were getting ready to watch the movie "Poseiden" (It gets very dark - and sometimes no power and most places close early in Burma so we watch movies before bed) and the channel goes blank (this frequently happens - channels change a lot!) so we call reception and they say "of course, we'll get it back for you!" - Burma is truly fascinating and mind-boggling!

9. Tofu! - Yes, tofu made the list! You might wonder why - it's a funny story! Ted's dad, Don has heard about the wonderful Shan Tofu of Pyin Oo Lwin. He wanted us to find it and learn how to make it. He gave us instructions to visit a local restaurant to learn the secrets of the Tofu business so that we could return to Canada and turn it into a million dollar empire! It's a good idea but that restaurant doesn't serve or make tofu! We did manage to find a Tofu Maker (through our hotel). He spent an hour with us showing us how to make dried strips of Shan Tofu (made of yellow beans or lentils). It was fascinating and a lot of fun....we didn't try as we were scared to wreck some of this delicate tofu!

10. Cycling - No Top ten is complete without our favourite mode of transportation! Pyin Oo Lwin is very spread out so the best way to see it is on bike. We rented "staff" bikes at our hotel almost every day. The bikes were always of varying degrees of "working". We biked down to the Pwe Kauk Falls one day and Ted had to use his "Flintstone" breaks to make it down safely. At the end of the very steep doiwnhill, he used a Runaway Lane into someone's yard a few feet before running into the Ticket Desk barricade at the entrance of the falls! One another occasion, Ted rode a bike where he continually bumped his knees on the handle bars!

So there we go! The Top Ten! We loved our trip to Pyin Oo Lwin and continually are learning more about the country, bartering and ourselves! Sorry to all of you who we would love to email but we are having a lot of problems with our Yahoo! Tomorrow we are off to Inle Lake! - should be a blast!
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Posted by jented 21:10 Archived in Myanmar Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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