Pint Sized Choir Conductor!

You’ve probably seen this video on social media before. I’ve seen it a few times but I can seem to stop myself from laughing out loud every time I see this pint-sized conductor!

The baby’s name is Lara and her father also sings in this choir. This was filmed at Central Baptist Church in Kyrgyzstan. Since then this video has been seen by 6.6 million people on Youtube! She was also featured in Today’s Talk. This young lady definitely captured the hearts of many!

Can’t get enough of her? Here’s another video of Baby Lara from a different angle.

The Lao Guy’s Portion

The guesthouse was depressing. As soon as I checked myself in, I decided to take a walk to the town. Since Pak Beng is a small town… the walk to town was a very short walk.

When I exit my guesthouse’s driveway I saw Lao Guy up ahead. He saw me too. Suddenly he was walking very slowly, probably waiting for me to catch up to him.

I met Lao Guy on the Slow Boat. He’s from Luang Namtha and it was his first time on the boat too. I didn’t talk to him on board. Everything I knew about him I got from the German girls and Anne. One time, I woke up from a nap and saw Lao Guy looking at me. He smiled. But I was too shy to smile back. So I checked if I was drooling instead…

The first thing Lao Guy asked me was “HAJHHSUAEIHS?” … No it wasn’t that but that was what it seemed like to me because he was speaking Lao. My answer was “Oh, sorry, I don’t speak Lao”. Caught him off guard for a moment and then he said “Oh I thought you’re Lao” … yeah, I get that a lot when I travel in SEA. Lucky me.

So Lao Guy and I walked to town. It was around 6pm and the sleepy town was beginning to come alive. We talked and I figured out that he’s a tourist guide working in Luang Namtha. He was checking out the slow boat to see if he could arrange new tours for his company. In Pak Beng, he was looking for the Red Market… I have no idea what that is. I haven’t researched it either. He probably said Night Market and I heard Red Market. Who knows.

We parted ways when Lao Guy said he wanted to look for the market up the hill. By then I was already too hungry to even walk. So I told him I was going to check out what’s at the end of the road and we parted ways.

I end up hanging around a local drinking house, taking photos and videos of a drunk lady singing. But that’s another story to tell…

On my way back, I found the only Muslim Restaurant in Pak Beng. Hassan Indian Restaurant. Because I was tired, I ordered my food to go. Hearing this the owner of the restaurant, Hassan, asked me “Oh you are going to eat with your guy?”… I got confused, because I heard Guide instead of Guy… I said No, no, I don’t have a guide… and then he explained to me that he saw me with Lao Guy earlier. Then, things started to make sense to me. Ohhhhhh, that guy. He’s not MY GUY. I met him on the boat today. We were just walking to town together.

Hearing my reply, restaurant owner nodded his head. Seemingly satisfied with my answer.

But apparently, he didn’t believe a word I said! I opened my packed food that night and found two spoons, two garlic naan and enough rice to feed two very hungry person!
Hassan, you are kind man. But honestly, Lao Guy’s not my GUY. Even though he had the nicest smile and the sexiest dimples. But not my guy!

And Lao Guy, I did not eat your portion of the rice. But the garlic naans were delicious. Thank you.

The Downside of Travelling Alone

Travelling solo is like falling in love for me. It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time. I have so many good things to say about it but they’ve been said before again and again by many seasoned solo travellers. I am sure there’s nothing more I can add about the joy of travelling alone. So today I am going to do an antithesis to the subject. Let me once and for all share with you something that I have discovered while travelling alone. It’s not all pretty like we all painted it to be. It has its ugliness and downsides. Here are a few of them:

Safety
Safety is one of the biggest downside of travelling alone. There are safety in numbers. When you are a woman being alone and looking very foreign is enough to make you a target of unwanted attention. In some countries, you have to be very extra careful about your safety. Since you don’t have anyone to rely on you just have to be responsible for your own safety while on the road. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You just have to be extra aware of your surrounding. Some people just give you negative vibes right from the beginning. Learn to trust your instinct. Always know what to do when you are in a bad situation. For example: I was followed by a scary old dude when I was in Chiang Mai. After unsuccessful attempts to lose him, I took a detour into a book store. Spend an hour there and by the time I was done, he was gone. Voilà!

Chiang Mai #ZoorahTheExplorer

Gecko Used Bookstore saved me from creepy ol’ dude.

Budget
Yes. If you are not into dormitories like me, you have to be prepared to pay extra for accommodation.

The Heavy Lifting!
I carry a 55 + 10 L. It’s heavy! Carrying it around took sooooo much energy. In certain countries, you have to put your bags on top of the vehicle ( ie: Song Theaw in Laos). That’s when you realized how heavy your backpack is! This is not a big problem if you are a girl because usually help will come in the form of strong-armed fellow male backpackers… but if you are a male backpacker, this is something you really need to think about.

The Constant Selfie
Yes. This harsh reality of travelling alone. If you don’t make friends along the way, all your photos will be the lone selfies of yourself and even if you do make friends, you won’t stay with your friends throughout your trip (because at one point or another, you will have to part and go separate ways) so, most of your photos will still be a bunch of selfies of yourself captioned “missing my friends, already”.

Get used to the sight of this lonely selfie.

Get used to the sight of this lonely selfie in your album. People will also hate you for it!

 

The Random Feeling of Loneliness
After travelling for a while you will get one of those random feelings that emphasize your loneliness. Being far away from familiar comforts and having no one to talk to could take a toll on you. I remember waking up in the middle of the night in Viantiane feeling hopelessly lonely. For some reason, I remembered where I was and what I was doing and I felt something that I could only describe as fear of being alone. I cried. But when I woke up the next morning, I thought it was hilarious!

The Random Craziness
There are things that you will do when you are travelling alone that you will never do when you are at home. People will judge you for it. But it takes a little ‘crazy’ to be able to do this travelling alone thing. As long as you don’t end up dead in a ditch somewhere, why not?

This.
Haters. No matter what you do there will always be people trying to bring you down. The worst case scenario is someone would say that the only reason you travel alone is because you are so ugly that one would want to rape you. Classy. But it only hurts if you let it hurt you! So don’t let it hurt you and you will be fine!

When you look back, they’re not that bad. They’re nothing compared to all the great memories you will make when you travel alone. Trust me, after a while even the bad times don’t seem that bad at all! You make good memories and bad ones. It’s part of life. Even sitting where you are, you are bound to have your ups and downs. So why not strive in your own ups and downs while seeing the world? Right?

The Strangest Thing that Happened to me in Chiang Rai

If you’ve never been to Chiang Mai, you should know that the local tour operators offer a day tour to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai. One of the highlights of this tour is The Golden Triangle. If you’ve never heard of it, Google it! But if you are too lazy to do it, let me copy-paste the Wikipedia here;

The Golden Triangle is one of Asia’s two main opium-producing areas. It is an area of around 367,000 square miles (950,000 km2) that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

Along with Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent, it has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia and of the world since the 1950s. Most of the world’s heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world’s largest producer.

The Golden Triangle designates the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River, since the term has been appropriated by the Thai tourist industry to describe the nearby border tripoint of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

So basically, when you go to the Golden Triangle they say you are actually stepping foot in three countries all at once! Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. But the thing is, it’s a bit of a scam really because we all know that it doesn’t really count if there’re no stamps in the passport!

After the boat tour they took us to this bogus place they called Done Sao Island. They told us that it’s part of Laos and they made us stay there for about an hour, just so we would buy all the souvenirs they sell on this island and here’s the funny thing, we actually paid an entrance ticket to get to enter the island. It was like paying a ticket to get access to a cheap-ass shopping mall. T_T

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNice Shopping Mall!

So after the boat tour this is what happened, I did not know everyone in our tour. So instead of giving names.. i will be describing them.

The British guy with a limp, Sharon de pengyou, and I wanted to get our passport stamped at the Golden Triangle. Do forgive our stupidity but our guide, Louis (pronounced like Jerry lee Lewis), assured us that it was possible. So we went to the immigration counter and asked for the stamp. One thing lead to another… before we even realized what happened, the British guy with the limp was getting in a hot spot because the policeman didn’t seem to understand what we wanted. The friendly chatter suddenly turned into a bit of an interrogation and I was already feeling a little bit worried for our British friend. To make it even worst suddenly a TV Crew-Like guy appeared out of nowhere and began to film the whole thing! I was like… what the eff have we got ourselves into?? Why on earth are they filming this? I was ready to grab the Brit and tell him it’s time to go! Luckily, he sensed that he was about to get in trouble.. and quickly ended the conversation. Phew! AND Jerry Lee Lewis was there just in time to save us! We just couldn’t get our asses outta there fast enough!

To this day, I still have no idea what the Camera-Crew was all about. We didn’t even see them at first, they appeared out of no where! Perhaps they have this Cops-like reality show and they’re just there to film immigration officers doing their jobs and eat donuts (just kidding!).

I don’t want to turn this into a cautionary tale. But if you ever find yourself in similar situation, camera-crews plus authorities are a sure sign that you should high-tail it out of there! Plus, don’t expect your passport to be stamped when you’re in the Golden Triangle because it doesn’t really count as crossing the borders!

Madadayo!

Ma da Kai?
Madadayo! まあだだよ!

Somehow this keeps echoing in my head today. I was awaken by a message from my aunt at 3am in the morning telling me to pad-lock my front grill because there has been a string of armed robberies near my place lately. So I woke up.. checked my front door, double-bolt it and then proceed to check every nook and crannies of my small apartment.
Went back to bed after that and couldn’t get myself to go back to sleep. So there I was lying in my bed and my foggy brain just pulled up the first thing that came to mind. It was the word まあだだよ (Madadayo), it means No, Not Yet! It was the title of Kurosawa’s last film.

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I don’t know what the heck I was thinking but at 3 AM in the morning it seemed to make perfect sense to over-analyse a film and think about its hidden meaning! I don’t know about you but at 3 AM my mind was pretty quick. Foggy. But sharp.

This never occurred to me before but today, it occurred to me how similar the theme was with Dylan Thomas’ Do not go Gentle into That Good Night and how both were about not giving up. About putting up a fight and not letting go easily…. took me 10 years to make this connection.. (see, I actually saw that film in 2001 and read the poem in 2007). Making this silly little connection between the two was like a Eureka moment for me….. at least, a few hours ago… before breakfast and all, I thought… this was brilliant. Now, not so much. I feel sorry for my 3 AM self.

In other note….

All these weird thoughts also made me think about my mother. How when she died all I wanted to say was MADADAYO….

But…

Seriously, who on earth think about Akira Kurosawa at 3 AM in the morning?

I swear this is not Monday Blues.

The Slow Boat to Luang Prabang : A Tale of Drugs, Scams and Blood.

LAOS. It’s the third country I went to as a solo traveller. The most difficult country to like and travelling to Luang Prabang on a Slow Boat was the longest I ever had  to travel to get to a destination. It took two days! Two-gruelling days on a boat and believe me, they weren’t joking about it being SLOW. It was very very slow.

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“Anne look, their boat is much better than ours! They have tables” Anne eyed the boat and immediately agrees with me. “Yeah, this must be one of those VIP boats. The SLOW VIP” She said. Something about the word SLOW and VIP being in the same sentence made me laugh.

The thing is, your overall journey really depends on the crowd that you’re stuck with on the slow boat. If you get a small crowd with a bunch of locals and a few farangs then your trip could probably be very pleasant and quiet. But, during the high season this is very unlikely. Especially since this route is pretty popular with the young tourists because of one particular reason : Drugs.  Apparently, our stop over for the night is a very popular place to get drugs (particularly Marijuana) in Laos.

My slow boat crowd range between the drunken party people and the quiet locals. In between, there were solo travellers, travellers with friends, old people, couples, exhibitionist lovers and a whole bunch of Germans. We made a pretty good crowd. The party people were drunk most of the time but they were polite and they didn’t make any scenes on the boat. They walked around the boat like it was a freaking cruise ship (sometimes, half-naked) but they didn’t bother anyone. They were just a bunch of Canadians having a hell of a time! One of the guys, reminded me of Jack Black… so I called him Jack Black! Although he was not much to look at, Jack Black loved to be shirtless. Perhaps it’s a Canadian Frat Boy thing or something. Didn’t bother me but Anne did ask one of the German girls to tell him to pull his pants up! You should’ve seen these German girls… they were so outspoken and straight-forward. When Anne told her that, for a moment I thought she was really going to do it! I wish she did. That would’ve been funny.

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We had a long conversation about this little huts on the hill-side. You see these views all the way to Luang Prabang. Why are those huts there? They might be something growing up there. What could it be? Justine (a French girl) asked me, Could it be mountain RICE? Had to tell her that it was definitely not mountain rice. …. Perhaps, it’s weeds.

Pak Beng was the stop-over for the slow boat on day one. It’s a small town in the outskirt of OudomXay, Laos. It seemed like a quiet sleepy town until the sun went down and you realized that the town came alive at night! People were drinking, singing, and smoking weed all night long. If you stay in the town area, you might not get any sleep at all.

We arrived in Pak Beng so much earlier than we expected. We were told that we would arrive at around 8pm. But we arrived at around 5pm. It was a pleasant surprise! My friends and I have paid for our rooms back in Huay Xai. We paid 500 baht each for our rooms. The price was for a fan room and tuk-tuk transfer from the pier to the guesthouse. What we didn’t know was, there was never any tuk tuk. Apparently the guesthouse idea of a transport was a cattle truck! Yup, we were picked up by a rude guy in a cattle truck (at least I hope it was a cattle truck 🙁 ). My friend Anne, was a little pissed about that but the cattle truck guy said…. If you are not happy, you can walk!! Even right now, when I try to remember about Lao Hospitality, THIS is what I remember very clearly – I lost count of the time when I was told that if I wasn’t happy with anything, I can bloody walk! That, my friend, is Lao Hospitality at its best.

Shitty, but I do remember laughing the whole way to the guesthouse because I can’t cry in front of all those people. So I laughed, seemed like a good way to handle the situation. When we passed the others (they were walking up a steep road) Anne managed to tell them “It’s a cattle truck!!!” and I could hear the horror in her voice, it made me laughed even harder. But that was certainly not the worst part of our night in Pak Beng.

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We got to our run-down guesthouse to find out that everyone else paid 200 baht for their rooms. We were ripped off by agents at Huay Xai. Anne wasn’t going to let it go. She asked to speak to the guy in charge (rude cattle truck guy) and after a few heated exchanges with Anne, he was practically yelling at her in a loud voice! I wasn’t very comfortable with the whole situation and by that time my self-preservation instinct kicked in, I told Anne to let it go because there was no reasoning with this guy ; We’ll just write about all this on TripAdvisor and Agoda.

Our rooms were horrible! As soon as everyone checked themselves in, I could hear people complaining loudly about the state of their rooms. The next morning Anne told me about how she heard that the others had terrible rooms with broken showers and everything. She said at least our rooms were slightly better. We did all right I guess. I have to admit, Anne and I were somewhat happy that we got the better rooms. Does that make us bad people? Give us a break! We did pay extra for our rooms.

There was loud banging throughout the night. I had no idea what it was. At one point I swear I heard Jack Black, who was staying in the room above mine, broke his bed in the middle of the night! It was the sound of furniture breaking and it was so freaking loud. I slept, holding my bags close to me. I was afraid because the door wasn’t very sturdy and people could break into my room easily. At this point, I already knew what Pak Beng was. I swear, when I read about Pak Beng and based on what my friends told me, I had absolutely no idea it was a Happy Little Drug Town; You could just walk around in town in the evening and some old man would walk up to you and ask you if you want to buy Marijuana? It was probably an awesome place for all the party people. But to me, it was terrifying!

The next morning, instead of getting on the cattle truck I opted to walk to town. I left a note in front of Anne and Mike’s door saying :“HELLO ANNE AND MIKE, I HAVE DECIDED TO WALK SLOWLY TO THE PIER AND GET BREAKFAST IN TOWN. READ: I AM NOT GETTING ON THE CATTLE TRUCK EVER AGAIN!” And boy, I was glad I made that decision because I saw how many people were on the truck that morning… Cattle truck guy literally crammed everyone in the truck and drove them to the pier at top speed!

That morning, we got to our slow boat and noted that the slow boat was smaller than the boat we had the previous day. There were less leg space and it was made more uncomfortable when others began turning their seats here and there to find some sort of comfort. There were people trapped sitting in seats that were placed too close together for comfort. Others had their seats so far apart they could give birth to a  bloody pygmy elephant in their leg spaces. Pretty inconsiderate, but no one really cared about each other’s comforts any more at that point, everyone was just trying to get through the day.

Jack Black negotiating with Lao Police. The Lao Police refused to have his photo taken so I had to take this from above.

When we arrived, we were dropped off some 10km away from town. This, people, is a well executed scam. Almost everyone on the boat knew about this from the various travel blogs they read online. So, what happened was, we refused to be scammed! When the boat stopped at the so called ‘new pier’, we refused to get off the boat unless they send us to the old pier at Luang Prabang. This was when things got very ugly very fast. We were arguing with the people from the boat and some people from the tuk tuk company. Jack Black (not his real name) was negotiating with them and NZ guy was provoking them. Threats were thrown… we even begged them but they were not budging. I was content to watch the whole commotion from the back until the boat crew did something that really pissed me off. They were removing our bags from the stomach of the boat in their attempt to get us off the boat and I saw my backpack got thrown out of the boat onto the dirty pier! I saw red. That, my friend, was when I began swearing like a bloody Ozzie. I quickly came to the front of the boat, took my backpack, got it back into the boat, and joined the the French Revolution! (I mean, join the argument).

They threatened to call the police, we were not intimidated. Told them to bloody get the police there and we would talk…. the thing was, we were so sure that there were no police there because we knew that it was an elaborate scam. But, the police did come a few hours later. It was a scam but the police was in on it too. So we realized that there was no way we could win the argument. Some were still adamant to stay but most of us were just too tired to argue. We decided to get our bags and go.

Lo and Behold, The Newly Upgraded Boat Pier.

Of course we all made another scene at the tuk tuk station above refusing to pay extra for the tuk tuk ride to town. In a show of protest, we decided to try to walk  to town. This was a very bad idea. Not only, were we clueless about where we were going. It was also a long long walk to town. We were tired, I had blisters on my feet and our backpacks were very very heavy! Anne was mumbling on her own. She said they must think we were bloody stupid. They must have said something like “Man, those Farangs are stupid. I have seen many Farangs but they’re the stupidest Farangs I have ever seen”. It was so funny. But no one laughed. We were too tired. The younger people were walking like 1km ahead of us. We were so slow I was afraid we might get separated from the group. Mike was telling me to walk ahead, no need to wait for them. But what he didn’t know was, I wasn’t walking that slow on purpose. I was really that SLOW. In the end, four of us were somewhat left behind; Mike, Anne, Mary (A chinese lady) and I. We walked about 2km until the tuk tuk drivers came and made cheaper deals with us. We end up paying 50,000 kip for an entire tuk tuk ride to town. Between the four of us, we only had to fork out about 50 baht each. We were the first group to sell out and get a tuk tuk. The rest, saw what we did and followed suit. They didn’t read our hand signals well, so they end up paying more. Too bad for them.

On our way to town. We all agreed that it was a horrible experience. What a way to get into another country; Scams, Drugs, Alcohol and Blood (from the blisters on my feet I got from the cliff at the scamming Slow Boat pier)

We are the Slow Boat Survivors!!

But of course… It was not all bad. In the end, it become one hell of a story to tell. Isn’t this one hell of a story?