snippets of blackwings life

Preparing for Canada 2009

After some busy time in Germany with a lot of work and so on the next tour is almost there. This upcoming Saturday I will take a plane to Montreal in order to attend the World Congress on Chemical Engineering – together with some colleagues of mine. Fortunately we all have the chance to give a talk at this international congress. I will have a time-slot at tuesday, 11:50 local time.

After the congress ends on Thursday, I luckily have the chance to do some vacation in Canada. I am really happy that my beloved girlfriend will join me for that time! We have the plan to do some camping and hiking around the Gaspe-region. Our first idea for a route is:

Kanada 2009 auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

So stay tuned for regular updates here!

Big city life: Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok

The last part of my trip was all in all: big booming cities – After all those relaxing days in small to medium sized towns and cities, I visited some of the Asian mega cities: Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok. First I reached Kuala Lumpur by AirAsia from Vientiane – and stayed in the very same Guesthouse as in 2007. Kameleon Travellers lodge right next to Pudu Raya Bus terminal. As two years before, the place was OK, cheap and centrally located.

I took the 1.5 days in Kuala Lumpur to keep up with the latest changes in the city: Here a new skyscraper, there a new shopping mall… And was delighted again by the great Indian Food! I really advise people to get a real banana leaf curry! In KL I found that Sri Ganesha Curry restaurant at Jalan Pudu (right next to the Hindu temple, close to Pudu Raya terminal) is a pretty advisable place to get that. Besides that, I took quite much time for shopping some Sarong, Tea (BOH Teh rocks my world!) and so on. The most interesting visit was probably the National Gallery at Merdeka Square – Go there for an relaxing insight into Arts and Literature of Malaysia.

So finally I took a bus (Konsortium Bas) to Johor Bahru (cheaper to go there, than to Singapore directly) and hopped onto the SBS transit bus crossing the border. My dear friend Nick provided me a ride to “The Hive” backapckers, where I was intended to stay for the next few days. Later that day I took a ride to the Airport in order to welcome Julian, a friend of mine from Erlangen, who was gonna join me.

The next days, I spent on visiting former co-workers at Sulzer, eating a lot of delicious Singaporian/South-East Asian food and showing Julian around.
Finally we took a flight to Bangkok to stay there for the last few days. And so my vacation was over…

Vientiane – The sleepy Lao capital

PagodaAfter another bumpy ride from Viang Vien to Ventiane in a “Super VIP” Bus (they should take courses in Malaysia, to find out, what VIP means…) – Basically: It was hot, I felt squeezed in and the ride virtually took forever. And it was expensive. Transportation in Lao all in all… Sucks.

Mekong viewBut here we are: The Lao capital… Vientiane. Seems really sleepy for a capital – It perfectly resembles the way of life that I have seen in Laos. On the first afternoon I used the time to walk around a little bit – And within a few hours I knew most of the city center stretching alongside the Mekong.

GateIn Vientiane I chose PP guesthouse, right next to Mekong river (which had really low water, cause of dry season) for just 50000 kip per night. In Vientiane everybody got prepared for Sonkran, the Buddhist New Year, which last from April 13th til April 15th. As I wrote before, Sonkran is celebrated using vast amounts of water – in order to pour it to others (for refreshment…).

World peace gongI arrived at the 12th – and I got completely soaked even on the way from the Bus station to the guest house. But I knew what to expect, so all my valuables were tightly sealed in zip-lock bags. Other tourists were not so lucky – and freaked out. Because of this, I have very few photos of this procedure – Because I did not want to get the camera wet. During the night, there was a huge thunderstorm – But after that it really cooled down a lot. During daytime it was around 35c…

That LuangOn the 13th, I decided to get a bicycle again, to visit the That Luang, the national symbol of Laos, which is located about 4km east of the city centre. I cycled around for hours – and got some minor sunburn again. Actually there was quite much to see – and That Luang is definitively worth visiting.

Beer LaoI spent the afternoon with cycling around the city and chilling in some cafes. Later in the afternoon/evening the water pouring increased drastically – Almost everybody had kind of SuperSoaker water guns or used something else to get the others wet. I did participate in this funny game right next to my guesthouse, where the owners gratefully invited me to join them – And I greatly enjoyed it. Later in the night, around midnight, another thunderstorm passed by, so the party died down a little bit – But loud music was played almost all night long at the Mekong esplanade…

I left Vientiane at the 14th by plane – And be REALLY sure to bargain down the price the TukTuk drivers try to charge you! They start at something like 8 US$ for the 10 minute ride to the airport. I finally got it for 4 US$ – which is STILL really overpriced… But sometimes you have no chance!

filed in laos, on tour

Viang Vien

After some days without blogging… I’m back to it :) Internet connectivity in Laos, especially in Vian Vieng was a nightmare… Slow, unreliably and really expensive – So I decided not to waste time by blogging, but for chilling out instead…

Mountain ViewSo, let’s get to the details:I left Luang Prabang by minibus – simply because all regular busses were sold out… Grr. So I had to take the more expensive, less comfortable and crappy option… Result: Squeezed into a mini bus for almost 7 hours in a bumpy ride through the Laotian mountains…

SunsetSo I reached Viang Vien in the late afternoon and the first hassle was to get a TukTuk to the centre… because the minibus station is somewhere 3km outside the town. So after hard bargaining we had them at 5000 kip per person… I took the Doukhoun guesthouse in the centre – which was a good option for 40000 kip per night. Clean room, own shower and pretty quiet.

Tubin' PeopleOn the next day, I went kayaking – instead of Tubing. Tubing, this is the thing, Viang Vien is world-famous for. It basically means: Floating down a river, stopping in any bar on the way, getting dead drunk in the early afternoon and doing artistic swings and slides into the water… Yes, perfectly right for highschool graduates – But I felt a little too old for that, so I decided to go kayaking. This finally turned out to be a better option – Simply because the river had low water, because of dry season, resulting in an almost non existing current.

MountainsBut: Kayaking was fun – mostly because of watching the unmotivated drunk people in their tubes trying to fasten the process of tubing down :) Besides that, I did some tubing in a cave, which was quite amazing. The surrounding nature is great – High mountains and everything really green.

Bucket barOn the last bar I met some climbers, especially Geordie from Canada… Lucky me, because he had all gear with him and invited me to join him for the next day. So I rent some shoes at Green Discovery and we got back to the “Sleeping Wall” the next day. The funny part was: That spot was installed by Volker Schoeffl from Bamberg…

Climbing itself was wonderful – The routes ranging from 4+ to something in the 9th grade were perfectly bolted and nicely located… I lead some of the 6+/7- tracks successfully and all in all, we had a great day. Finally in the late afternoon we decided to take the next day off and go back for climbing the day after.

Mountainbiking.Actually, I did not take the day off – I chose mountain biking instead (to kill some different muscle). Flo from Bremen, who I met while climbing joined me for that tour. We started really early in the morning (8am) to catch the “cold” air in the morning. The day resulted in a full day tour of around 50km over bumpy roads including visits of several caves.

Cavin'I spent the last day with climbing again – But way more relaxed than the first time. All in all: Viang Vien has a lot of activities to offer: If you prefer to get drunk: There is tubing, the bucket bars and loud techno music all night long (and even magic or happy shakes…). If you prefer sports: Climbing, caving, kayaking and mountain biking is a good choice. But: This place is quite expensive when it comes to food and internet access.

filed in laos, on tour

Luang Prabang

Khuan Si WaterfallAfter meeting Ulrike, Katharina and Dorothea we decided to get on a TukTuk to the KhuangSi waterfall – And after bargaining and getting of the cab at least 5 times we got a good price and finally got there. The waterfall is located about 30km southeast of Luang Prabang and situated in a rainforest conservation. After a nice lunch we proceeded to the waterfall – Really nice located in the middle of the woods withmilky blueish water! Very refreshing and relaxing with the buzzing heat!

SonkranizedWe spent there several hours walking around and climbing up to the main waterfall… But the most interesting stuff happened on the way back to Luang Prabang: Because of the Laotian New Year (on April 14th) and the dizzling heat, it is a tradition for kids to spread water to bypassing people… and yes. We got wet. But it is worth it, cause the Lao kids really love it and it is really refreshing!

SunsetLuang Prabang itself is definitively worth visiting – I really like this charming place right on river Mekong! Its relaxing atmosphere, the impressive temples, the wonderful Lao people are worth staying there for some days. Even that the place is quite touristic, it is not too packed – Probably because it is low season for now. The sunsets at the riverside are really impressive as you can see.

Painting monkI spent another day visiting the huge number of temples – Because there are that many, I decided not to upload a photo on that. Just go there yourself and get impressed by the unique architecture and style! Because of the New Year all temples are being renovated and repainted.

I plan to go mountain biking again the next day, but that really depends on the weather, because there are huge thunderstorms supposed to cross by…

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River Mae Khong

Yeah, I got some Internet access again – finally. Now, I am in Laos – to be precise, in Luang Prabang. LP is the world famous unesco listed world heritage site right at river Mae Khong (= Mekong).

LightningGetting there was a multi-day adventure. First I took a local bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong over incredibly crappy roads… After this almost four hour ride (with having about every km a stop for someone leaving or entering the bus), I chose a guesthouse in Chiang Khong. This place seemed quite “left” – very few travellers around, and people almost begging for someone to stay at their place… So I got a decent room right at river Mekong for just 150 Baht. A room like this would have cost probably 350 in Chiang Mai. Anyway, after a heavy thunderstorm around 8pm I finally got to bed, because on the next morning I wanted to cross the Thai/Laotian border.

So at next morning at around 7.30 I got up and walked down to the pier and got my departure stamp of Thailand. For 40 Baht a tiny ferry takes you over the river, where you can get the Laotian Visa. This one takes some forms to fill out, a recent passport picture and…. 30 US$ in cash.

Mekong river boatAfter getting another few stamps in my passport I reached down the road in order to get a SlowBoat ticket for the two-day river cruise down to Luang Prabang. The scammers around the immigration point tried to sell me a ticket for 1200 Baht – but at the official office it is just 900. The boat finally left at around 11:30 – and I was lucky to be early. Cause the boat was completely packed and I got a very good and quiet seat in the front of the boat… Next to me were some nice US guys and some people from Regensburg and a couple from Sweden.

Mekong cruiseAfter the boat finally arrived around sunset (=1800), we knew each other quite good, had a few Beer Lao and enjoyed the scenic view of the Mekong Riverside… The second day was the same – nice, untouched nature and a long time to bridge. We had again good seats – just because two of the US guys decided to et up at 5am to save the seats! (The boat left at 8.30).

So finally – here I am in Luang Prabang!

But when I reached this decent place in the middle of nowhere, something really crazy happened: I met Ulrike, Katharina and her sister Dorothea which are currently on a round-the-world trip! I did not know that they where around… Very funny meeting a co-worker and former co-student of mine in south-east-asia! So we had some food together and decided to get on a trip to a waterfall tomorrow :)

filed in laos, on tour, thailand

Mountainbiking around Chiang Rai

Rice fieldsToday I rent a mountainbike in order to get around a little more. The guy from the guesthouse showed me and another fellow from GB where to see some nice stuff and get around. So we had a quick stop at the tourist info to get a free map and got onto a ride alongside Mae Kok river. At first, it was just a regular road, but when we took the junction to the waterfall… Lets say it this way: Dirtroad would be the best description… But anyway, that was what we wanted: Steep tracks, through the middle of the jungle – And the best part: a fantastic view onto the jungle, rice patties and so on :)

As soon as I can get my camera working to upload those f**king pictures to flickr, I will post some pictures… Anyway, we had a cheap Pad Thai at some hilltribe villages – which was delicous and pretty much needed after cycling for almost 3 hours :) The best on the food was: In perfect timing to when it was served, the thunderstorm started… So we spent some time drinking some more fresh fruit juice, and continued, when the rain was gone.

At this point the weather of >30C/40% humidity was replaced by ~30C/100% humidity, which was… not really better :)

All in all it was a full day trip, doing about 70km on jungle treks, roads and dirtroads throughout wonderful nature.

Tomorrow I will take a bus to Chiang Kong in order to get to the Laotian border. Stay tuned :)

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From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

I spent the last day in Chiang Mai with the long-planned cooking course – which was an absolut highlight! After driving to a market outside Chiang Mai with an detailed introcution to fruits and vegetables we started the course at a nicely located farm around Chiang Mai.

ChiliFirst a, stir fry was prepared followed by a soup and an appetizer. Because we were 8 participants, many different dishes were prepared – and of course, we tried everything for taste and so on… I prepared Pad Thai, a Coconut Chicken Soup and the famous Papaya Salad. After this first round, we got out to the garden to get fresh vegetables, lemongrass and chili for the main dish – the curry. So first there was a curry paste to prepare. I chose the Red Chiang Mai Curry, so some others and me prepared a red curry paste, which was actually a lot of work…

The curry itself, topped with fried noodles was absolutely mindbreaking and delicious :) As dessert, we prepared fried banana. Late in the afternoon we got back to the city – where the Sunday market was just starting up. I was so completely filled up, that I could easily resist any further delicacies…

On Monday morning (8am) I took a bus to Chiang Rai – a almost 3.5h bus ride through the middle of nowhere. After reaching CR, I checked into Chian House, which has a quiet location, nice rooms and a small clean pool. So after taking a short nap, I took a walk to the city – and it was instantly clear: way more relaxed tham CM – Less tourists and way less Lonely-planet-people :)

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Jungle Trip

Sometimes, plans change… And so on 27th/28th I did my Jungle Trekking Trip – Just because this trip, that I was wanted was not available at the 28th :)

Food in a mountain villageWhat we basically did was hiking for some time through the jungle, getting some dip into a waterfall to refresh and finally reached a quite remote mountain village. There we got some pretty good food and stayed for the night. Actually, it was getting prett cold – That means around 10 degress C… It’s really amazing how fast you can adjust to a new climate, and readjust your feeling of…. cold.

So at the next morning, at around 5.30 we were woken up by a rooster that was practically standing next to the hut, we were sleeping in… Yes, I could have killed this amazingly loud animal in that moment…………..
Anyway, after a delicous breakfast we took another short walk and finally reached another town. Now we switched over to riding elefants through the jungel – and I was the lucky one, to replace a mahoud and sit right on the neck :) It is quite amazing how steep elefants can climb up.

Finally a ride on a bamboo float was on the list… The river was not thyat whitewatered, but it was fun anyway… Besides standing in the sun just in the afternoon in a tropical region is quite…. hot.

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Chiang Mai

Yesterday night I reached Chiang Mai in northern Thailand via an AirAsia Flight from Bangkok. Because of major Thunderstorms the flight from Dubai had to take a time-intensive reroute by taking a southern route, almost over krabi, which resulted in a late arrival around 19h (ETA was 1840, but before the T-storm was there, we were supposed to reach early).

Temple viewSo I had to be quite in a hurry to reach my connecting flight…Especially immigration control was time intense, so it resulted in jogging with my luggage right across the terminal – from Gate F3 to the Immigration and then to Check in at Terminal A…Temple at sunset But it all worked out – only because the AirAsia flight was also delayed due to the Thunderstorm.Finally I reached ChiangMai around 2240… Getting a random TukTuk I choosed one of the few 24hour guesthouses around the older city part – Just for the first night. The place was quite crappy and for the quality completely overpriced (250B for a single room w/o shower)…

Crispy stuff!So this morning I checked out and got a room in a better guest house, which was quite easy. I am now at the way better Eagle House No2, which is nicely located, way more quiet and gives a better value for better rooms and so on (200B/night incl shower). And they even have a in-house cooking school :) I just got a bicycle and now it is time for a city tour… Right now it is quite hot outside, but right now, traffic is quite low, so I’ll be no problem :)

For the week it is planned: Cooking course tomorrow and then: 3 to 4 day jungle trip organized by the guest house.

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