Home-stay in Ban Lad Khammune (Laos)

26 10 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

Ban: Village

Home cooked meals in Laos are the best meals EVER (well, I mean behind my beloved mothers cooking of course).

After a night in Pak Beng it was off to Ban Lad Khammune.  It was here that we had our remote village home-stay. I was literally amazed by the children here, so different from the ones at home,  or should I more accurately say from how I was when growing up.  First off, it took very little to put smiles on their faces.  A little attention, a rock, whatever.. it made them happy.  They didn’t need Teddy Ruxpin, My Little Pony’s,  Nintendo, Barbie and the Rockers, or She-Ra and all of her palaces (I am probably seriously dating myself here… but whatever). They just needed companionship.

The highlight of the day, which  was surprising considering Stray goes through this particular village at least once a week, was the “spice girls” taking digital pictures and then showing them.  I also loved the fact that if one kid fell flat on his/her face, he/she didn’t immediately start crying and run off for their mother (ahem.. I definitely wasn’t like that as a child.. cough, cough). He/she/it just picked themselves up, laughed and went right back to the game of tag, or jump off the rock or whatever it was the other kids in the village were playing.  SOOO different, and so cool to see!

The evening began by the men gathering around to drink their “Lao Lao” (a rice whiskey that they make… not for the faint of heart).

Lao Lao - Rice Whiskey being distilled lol

Lao Lao – Rice Whiskey being distilled lol

We all had a tour of the temple, and the school. We would have gone to the area where they generate their electricity, but it had recently flooded.  The school was funded by a Kiwi Charitable trust.



The primary school

The primary school

It’s crazy to think that not all villages have schools, but sadly this is the case.  This particular primary school was for all of the kids in the area, not just this particular village.  I asked about secondary school (anything above 6th grade for everyone back home), and was told that the closest was in Luang Prabang, which is about a 3 hour commute.  That the students would have to board there. So basically, unless you come from a family with money, your education ends at approximately 11 years of age. Crazy! The even more insane part is that this particular village was nicknamed “Lots of money village.” I think the name is a result of the people living there doing alright by Laos standards, and that this Kiwi Charitable Trust built the school.  Imagination what life would be if you happened to live in a village that wasn’t quite so prosperous?? It really helps to put things in perspective and be grateful of all the opportunities that we have back at home!

Another thing to note was the areas of the village where those not so well off live.  This was where I witnessed the children I spoke of earlier, they lived in huts, literally huts. I don’t think I saw a single toy. I complain when my heating doesn’t turn on fast enough in my apartment.. imagine living in a wood hut! It was so incredibly humbling to see these kids who had very little, running around, playing and laughing.

OMG.. I still think about this meal

OMG.. I still think about this meal

The evening concluded with literally the best meal I had in all of my 6 weeks in SE Asia.  I couldn’t tell you what it was other than spicy papaya salad to start, then some sort of curry, then veggies and of course rice and hot sauce. YUM. My mouth waters just thinking about it. I learned how to say “delicious” in Laos (of course 3 months later, I no longer remember it), and repeated it OVER and OVER again to the chef.

Set up for the Baci Ceremony

Set up for the Baci Ceremony

For the next few weeks, any local immediately asked if I was married/or getting married.  Insert marriage rant here. It took marriage question number 12 before I realized that it had to do with the numerous bracelets that I had on my wrists.  They were a result of the Baci Ceremony that night in Ban Lad Khammune. The Baci ceremony is a spiritual ceremony that has been around before Buddhism. According to my wonderful reference manual of Wikipedia: “The practice is linked to the ancient belief that Baci is invoked religiously to synchronise the effects of 32 organs of human body considered as kwan (KWA-ang) or spirits or the “components of the soul.” Its observance to establish as social and family bond to maintain “balance and harmony to the individual and community, is done in its original format in Laos, as a substantiation of human existence.”

Baci Ceremony

Baci Ceremony

Basically the elderly woman of the village prepared this elaborately beautiful tray.  A former monk opened up the ceremony, and what felt like the entire village came over and blessed/chanted over us, while tying these bracelets around our wrists. I don’t think words can accurately describe this.  It was a pretty incredible experience, especially knowing how rooted in Laos culture it is. It was an honor to have the people in this particular village doing this to welcome us/wish us well.

Granted, I know it happens with every tour that comes through, but STILL.. for me, it was definitely one of my highlights of my entire trip.

The Spice Girls... no autographs please

The Spice Girls… no autographs please

The spice girls performed afterwords (lol.. it was pretty bad, but we did make them laugh with our version of “call me, maybe”) and then it was off to bed, spending the night in their homes. Overall a pretty cool experience.

Going to “The Beach” – Phi Phi Island

8 10 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

-There is the whole system of organised theives on the overnight bus journeys in SE ASIA.  If you have anything of value.. keep it on you (or as they so over there “on your person”! ) I met quite a few people who had money, souvenirs, electronics, you name it stolen out of their bags that they were storing underneath the bus

-Fox caused a lot of drama when filming “the beach” as they tried to make it look more “paradise like.”  Having been there, I would say that’s pretty unnecessary as the place was AMAZING. damn film studios.. lol.

Lounging in Koh Phi Phi

Lounging in Koh Phi Phi

After a few days in Bangkok, it was off on an overnight bus adventure to Phi Phi Island (an Island on the West Coast of Thailand).  I hauled my backpack and gear to the travel office and waited. I should have known from the venture to my “bus,” that it was going to be an interesting journey. First off, I was supposed to leave from outside the travel agency at 6pm.. someone finally showed up to “escort me” around 6:45pm.  Next, my walking escort decided the walk was too far, got on a motorbike, sped down the alleys… and ever so politely occasionally slowed down so I could catch up (let me remind you I was carrying massive amounts of crap).  We ended up in one place, the motorbike escort determined it was wrong, so we walked to another.  On arrival at our second “pick up” location, Motorbike tour person realised that the first stop was the right place, and asked if I wanted to hop on the back of the motorbike. Um, Hello? Maria and coordination, and motorbikes in foreign countries are never going to be a good match, let alone when I have a 20k backpack on! So I trekked back to the original destination to board the bus. SUCH FUN. Not that I ever complain.. ever. But come on now? I’m not exactly the worlds buffest person.. so having a fun little adventure stroll with my massive back pack wasn’t exactly my idea of the best time ever.  Once I was finally on board….I pretty much had anything I cared about in a bag on my lap.. the only thing that actually went under the bus was my clothes.  The person next to me LOVED this. but whatever. I wanted to keep my personal belongings thank you very much!

The bus left at about 7:30pm.. we had a few stops.. took a late night break and then arrived some where else at 5:00am.  When I booked my ticket, I was told that it would be a bus and boat ride, and that I would arrive on Phi Phi Island by 11:00am the next day.  Well this wonderful little morning stop lasted 90 mins while we waited for bus number two.  We then drove for a few hours until we got to a travel agency where (surprise, surprise) we had to wait for bus number three.  This apparently happens all time. Tour companies will arrange the bus journeys, but you will make all sorts of “pit stops” where there is nothing but a travel agency or food.  The idea is that hopefully you book more, or buy something.  Finally after another hour, our third bus comes and we are off to the dock.  The boat departs at 1:00pm.  We get there around 4:00pm.   Not exactly 11!  I was fine, as I wasn’t on any sort of deadline, but I felt really bad for a couple I met on bus number three.  They only had a few days, this was supposed to be a nice romantic get away for them.. and they had lost a full day on our wonderful little bus excursion… oh the joy.

Reyana, a friend that I made while touring around New Zealand recommended a hostel called the rock.  She warned me that the beds are like rocks, but that I would walk in and make an instant group of friends.  Considering the fact that I was hot and cranky, I seriously doubted that I would form any serious friendships.. but she was right.  I walked in all tired and sweaty and was immediately followed by Lucy and Katie.  We bonded over our shared hatred for the stairs that led up to the dorm room, then immediately decided to head down to the beach.

Phi Phi island is a small island with out any cars. Everything is carried around in these huge trolleys.  It’s amusing because when you are in the way, the Thai drivers will literally just yell out “beep beep.”  The beach is beautiful, although it is slightly unnerving that a huge garbage pile boat lies smack dab in the middle of it… contaminated much? But on a hot day, when I had just lugged my 20k backpack around and climbed a butt load of stairs, I didn’t care. The water was warm and felt heavenly.. even if I was surrounded by yesterdays garbage (lol, aren’t I doing a great job of selling the place?)

It was then back to the hostel to meet the other roommates and head out on the town. The great thing about the rock is that it really does become an instant community as everyone is similar (well in the sense that we are from all over the world, on a budget, and travelling).    Phi Phi comes alive at night, with numerous parties on the beach and fire dances (where locals have batons made of fire and put on shows.. usually to trance music).

Entrance to our overnight camping trip (on the beach)

Entrance to our overnight camping trip (on the beach)

Reyana had also recommended doing an overnight camping trip at a place called Maya Bay.  Maya Bay is where they filmed the movie “The Beach.”  Aurelia, one of the girl’s staying at The Rock wanted to do the trip as well, so we booked it together.  Maya Bay has become an insanely popular tourist destination, with 5,000,0002  companies doing day tours out there. (I’m really not exaggerating…. all that much) The nice thing about doing the over night camping trip.. is that we had the beach to ourselves, it was literally just the tour group.  Although I do wish it had been a bit longer as the group was big and we were a bit segregated, but it was still amazing.

The overnight trip consisted of arriving just as all the day trips were leaving, having a pot luck dinner, doing a “jungle trek…” LOL now that one was amusing. I proceeded to change from my dress into pants and shoes… what I didn’t realise was that this trek was on a regular pathway with lights all along the side.. it was more like a leisurely stroll through the woods.. but hey, was still a good time.. although the gear change was completely un-neccessary.

We then all relaxed, took in the sites, and  of course went for a late night swim.  I almost forgot about the plankton!!  They are these little microscopic fish, but when you make movement they sparkle.. so literally it feels like you are swimming with fairy dust… straight out of a disney movie.  Probably one of the coolest experiences I had on the whole trip.

Maya Bay and I

Maya Bay and I

That and of course spending the night under the stars on the beach… that part was absolutely phenomenal..  you know just the small things in life 🙂  If you ever get a chance to make it to Thailand.. I highly recommend the overnight trip to Maya Bay.. it still has become a bit more touristy than years past. but at the same time, I am really really glad I had a chance to do it.

It’s all about the haka… and maybe a little reunion

23 07 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

pulled = kissed/hooked up with

nibbles = appetizers (kind of sad that this now incorporated into my vocab, and I only thought to include it here when a friend from home didn’t know what the hell I was talking about)

I had my own little kiwi bus reunion a few weeks ago.  For those of you who didn’t know I toured around on one of those big green buses that all Kiwi’s love (… and by love I mean hate) for two months when I first got to New Zealand (for shame.. ) Anyway. I had a blast on said embarrassing, touristy bus known for young crazy shenanigans and had a mini reunion with Bekah (who I originally met in Auckland at the  very start of this trip) and Nic.

Bekah and Nic are both living in Australia and flew over for the test All Blacks Match vs. Ireland.  The most recent theme in my life is the fact that I seem to be attending or watching rugby every single weekend.. not because of my undying love for it… but because of my friends.  That weekend was no exception.

Nic, the ghost of Bekah and I at the match

Nic, the ghost of Bekah and I at the match

I flew out of Wellington and into Christchurch on the smallest plane that I have ever been on.  I was row 15. I remember thinking how awesome that was because I would be one of the first people off the plan… hah.  It was the LAST row.    Flight was 50 minutes… it was literally over as soon as we fully ascended

Bekah, Nic and I all arrived in Christchurch right around the same time.  We then proceeded to hire a car, and drive 6 hours to Queenstown arriving just after 11:00pm.  Brilliant idea right??  We only had four days in the South Island, so if 12 hours  were spent driving and listening to rugby anthems (not kidding,  found a cd for .97 cents at discount store.. I didn’t even know rugby anthems existed??) so that we could spend time in the place that we loved… so be it.

I had WAY more appreciation for Queenstown the second time around. Don’t get me wrong I still had an amazing time when I first went there back in November, I just seemed to some how take more in this time.  Plus it’s winter now, so it had that whole cold/snow/Christmas in July feel to it.

breakfast in queenstown.. ferg burger

breakfast in queenstown.. ferg burger



The only issue? I some how managed to catch a bug while there which made me a sh*t ton of fun let me just say. Sick, cranky Maria = not so much fun too hang out with.   So we spent one night and day in Quesnstown.  Having a car we were able to drive around a bit, explore Arrow-town and head back up to Christchurch early Saturday morning for the game.

It took a bit of time to figure out where the hostel in Christchurch was as the city centre is still pretty much closed off.  We arrived just in time to change,  layer up and go (if I hadn’t mentioned it before, it was FREEZING).  I was seriously debating staying in as I was old cold and fluey but I couldn’t miss my first (and possibly only) All Blacks game.  I was more excited to see the haka than the game, but hey.. I was still excited!  Not quite as excited as Nic who I literally thought was going to have a heart attack but still…

game time

game time

The cool part about this particular game was that it was the first All Blacks game in Christchurch since the earthquake. They opened a new stadium and we got to be there for the opening night. The atmosphere was amazing, although a bit cold.

It was also quite festive with the Irish supporters just as vocal as the All Black ones. And Ireland played well, so the game with actually quite fun to watch.. ending in an all blacks victory but not a slaughter.

bekah stealing some married dudes flag.. no joke :)

bekah stealing some married dudes flag.. no joke 🙂

Afterwords, I attempted to make it out, but the cold and fever caught up with me.. so Bekah and I headed back to the hostel.

The next day we ventured back down to Cashel mall and then to Nic’s cousin’s house for a roast.  A warm living room and a roast dinner sounded absolutely fantastic.

After that we all parted ways, with me flying back to Welly, and the girls headed to Sydney for a few days. Even though the weekend was slightly dampered by the flu, it was still really nice to see Bekah and Nic again, and knock off another thing off the bucket list.. a rugby world cup champions match 🙂

A “work” related trip to Somes/Matiu Island

2 05 2012

Being the INCREDIBLY hard worker I am…  it was really hard for me to make the decision of whether or not I wanted to spend the day in the office or head over to Somes/Matiu Island (not).

Somes/Matiu Island

Somes/Matiu Island

Let me back up a little bit. I am currently working at LINZ (Land Information New Zealand). Our Chief Executive has since left the company to move to the Department of Internal Affairs. Prior to his leaving, it was asked that each business group film a going away video for him.  So two teams that I work around: the Topo and Geo Teams (not with, but they were generous enough to allow me to tag along on this highly important business trip) planned a day trip out to Somes Island to track down a trig for Colin’s (our former CE) video.

What’s a Trig? Good question.  I had no idea.. lol.


Apparently they are survey marks.. more importantly hunting one down is justification to take a ferry and go treking around during a work day.  I now love them.

Now the past usage of Somes Island is somewhat depressing.  It was originally used as an internment camp, as well as quarantine area for both humans and animals.  The buildings still stand, it’s a bit irie to think about their past and to walk past the cemetary/memorials of those who’s lives were lost on the island.

Currently it is a predator free  (no rats, rodents etc) scientific reserve. So when we got off the ferry we were asked to look under our shoes/check our bags/hair etc to make sure we weren’t introducing any new uh… wildlife (rodents, ants, etc…)

Not kidding. They even had a “biodisposable bucket” aka a paint bucket for us to dump any mice that we have unknowingly brought over in our purses (hand bags) 🙂

We spent the day walking around and looking at these little lizards called skinks.  We even managed to see a Tuatara (these adorable lizards that have been around since the dinasours… they don’t move much.. literally) The Tuatara we saw was in the exact same place that two members of the group had seen him/her/it a YEAR ago. I told you I wasn’t kidding when I said they don’t get around.

The island also has Weta’s… nasty NASTY looking creatures.  Yes, I did see one of those as well.. and by “see” I mean I got incredibly silent, hunched over/put my arms around myself to protect me from the beast, and walked about 10 feet around so I wouldn’t have a panic attack and freak out.  I’m not a wus/super ridiculous  at ALL.

We had a picnic at the top, filmed and recorded the trig and our farewell message, then we slowly made our way back down and over to Wellington.

Probably the best day of work I have had so far.


A Case of the Blahs

26 04 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

Hospital pass: A project/something that is doomed to fail..

It’s a little strange that I’m still a bit neglectful of this blog.  Before I was way behind on catching everyone up with traveling that I did in my first two months in New Zealand, then I was working 5 million hours a week and too tired/exhausted/lazy to bother to update this.. and now, well  now I really don’t have any excuses other than lack of concentration/energy/focus…  Ok, so maybe I do have a few excuses.

I have noticed that my time in Wellington hasn’t been quite so carefree as my time in Melbourne. I’m not really sure why that is? Maybe it has do with the fact that I had been waiting to live in Melbourne since I was 21 years old (for those of you who didn’t know I was accepted into a study abroad program my senior year at the University of Washington to the University of Melbourne.. and I ended up cancelling at the last minute… and then making up for that cancellation 8 years later).

I mean don’t get me wrong, I do like it here. I definitely do not regret my decision to spend a year in New Zealand. I’m just finding it a bit harder to find my way is all.  I’m missing my friends and family back home, and those that I have met so far and become close to  in the year and a half that I have been travelling.   I like my job, I am really happy I am no longer working from 8:00am to 10:30pm and living with crazy people.. I love my new place… but I still feel a bit like I  haven’t really had Wellington come to feel like home.

Maybe that will change? Although I only have about 3 more months left here. Knowing my luck however.. I will probably fall in love with it all.. right when it comes time to leave. Meh, we will just have to see how it goes 🙂

Anzac day was earlier this week.  The relatively few of you out there who read this on a consistent basis will know that this my second year experiencing ANZAC day. Last year I spent it playing two-up in pubs in Sydney. There is a SIGNIFICANT difference in how it is celebrated over here.  Mainly… there isn’t a plan weeks out in advance of which pubs to go  to/how early we are going to get to said pubs to make sure we get in.  The most popular way to celebrate ANZAC day is not by going to the pubs… it’s by going to the dawn service.

Yes, you read that correctly.. a service that starts at 6:00am.  Did I make it to that service?? Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I am not a morning person!  I woke up to one of my flatmates leaving at 5:30am.. decided that it was entirely too early and rolled back over and went to sleep.

National Service - Tomb of the Unknown Warrier

National Service - Tomb of the Unknown Warrier

I happen to live right next door to the war memorial, and the tomb of the unknown warrier… and it just so happened there was a 10:30am National Commemorative Ceremony.. much more to my own timing.  So Tess and I showered and literally went and sat in our backyard.  It was a bit slow moving, but actually kind of cool. The Prime Minister was there and gave a reading, the various diplomats/ambassadors laid wreathes, the band played, the soldiers marched. It’s kinda of cool how seriously people take ANZAC day over here, makes me wish I did more for memorial day or veterans day back home.

That's a picture of the military band.. can't you tell? ;p

That's a picture of the military band.. can't you tell? ;p

And there you go.. I managed to complete an update.


Until next time. 🙂

Life and Times in Wellywood

12 04 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

A few yawns:  Few laughs/good conversation

chippies – potato chips (although apparently not all kiwi’s say it.. ahem Tess)

-When asked to give some examples of kiwi culture, one of my flatmates was quick to inform me that kiwi’s don’t date.. they just get drunk and hook up. Looks like I won’t be meeting my prince charming over here.. not that I like dating anyway… but dang

So I am into month 4 of living in Wellington now. The first few were wrapped up in Rowena’s Lodge but now that I have moved on I have time to live and breathe a bit.

I have moved into what one of my flatmates Tess calls “Tory Hall.”  It actually used be “Aro Valley Town Hall” one of the older buildings in Wellington, converted into flats.  Tess assures me however that if there’s an earthquake its not likely to collapse down the middle, it will collapse to the side.. COMFORTING.  She also informed me that her plan if said earthquake happens is to do a mad dash down our hall, onto the deck and jump into a neighbouring tree… good times.

The other roommates are Dan who is Dutch,  and Louis who is French.  Both cool in their own way.  We all pretty much do our own thing most of the time, but have a flat dinner somewhat regularly on Sundays.. and by flat dinner I mean that Tess usually cooks, and I usually sit around and make some major contributions by watching tv.

I have been working for a government office called Land Information New Zealand. I originally started off as a temp, but they have now hired me on a fixed term contract, which means I will have had only one job the entire time I am in New Zealand.  The job itself is fine.   I support two different teams  – the National Hydrographic Authority (the hydro team) and Landonline and Geospatial Services (Customer Systems/Applications team).  It’s all kinds of ironic considering I have no interest in pursuing either area  but the people I work with are cool, and it’s income, so I don’t really have any complaints.  I must say however, that I left Seattle not really bothered with trying to figure out what I want to do next, and by the time I leave NZ I think I might be ready to try and sort a little more of that out.

Welly has been good.  Highlight’s since I have been here have been the rugby 7’s… where everyone and their mom dresses up… and only the die hard fan’s actually really pay attention to the rugby  I am sooo not a dress up person, but the costume I wore that day will probably be the best costume I wear EVER.  Not kidding.  It’s only because I have had nothing to do whatsoever in the creation of it.    My friend Katie and her good friend Olivia were responsible.  They came down from Taupo for the weekend and we were all characters from Super Mario Kart.

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Home grown also happened, its a one day music festival on the water. Being the procrastinator that I am, I neglected to get tickets in time, and of course it sold out. They did have a free stage however where we could watch break dancers.  Only in NZ do we have have male break dancers in skinny jeans… at least I HOPE that uh “style” hasn’t made it to Seattle yet (in case you can’t tell, i f*ing hate skinny jeans regardless of gender, but it’s even worse on dudes)

at the free stage at home grown

at the free stage at home grown

Also saw six60.. my first NZ concert.  It was at a smaller venue and was AMAZING. Course it doesn’t help that the lead singer is gorgeous.. but yeah, their music is great too! haha.  I remember at one point I tried to squeeze my way up front and almost got punched in the fast by a group of girls that refused to move.  Fair play though, I gave up and made my way to back… with out ending up with war wounds.

Blurry Six60

Blurry Six60

Weather here is interesting. You still get the whole every season in one day here… the only thing that’s consistent is the wind.

You can tell that I’m running out of things to write about when I digress to the weather. OH, I booked a trip to SE Asia. The plan is to fly in and out of Bangkok. I will leave Auckland on August 5th and return Sept 14th.. and will fly back to Seattle shortly afterwords. I plan on doing Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, although the exact travel plan is far from being finalised, and my mother is already freaking out about the idea of me going… (mummy, I will be fine.. promise!)

I’m sure there is much more to update you all on, but I can’t think of anything else at the moment.  I know its been a minute since I have bothered to update this thing.. so I didn’t want to keep all 2 of you that consistently read this thing waiting much longer. You’re welcome. 🙂

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