Posts Tagged With: Visa Applications

P.D.R.

I do not want to leave Luang Prabang and am seriously considering letting my inner child take over and let her stomp her feet, throw herself on the floor, little fists in a ball, face streaked with tears and yelling: “I don’t want to gooooo!”  But the adult in me knows that it won’t go well with the rest of the group and primarily, that it will do me no good.  So my bag is packed and out the door.  I delight myself in some local flora and pretend I’m here to stay.  

Laos P.D.R. is the full name of the country.   P.D.R. stands for People’s Democratic Republic though it is also an acronym for the country’s way of life:  “Please Don’t Rush”  I don’t want to rush in its discovery.

But then comes a tuk tuk ride to the bus.  A daylong bus ride to Vang Vieng is ahead of us.  We are warned that most of it will be on a windy, bumpy road.  We are going to stop for bathroom breaks and to visit hill tribes along the way.  Noon will find us at a “pretty for pictures” mountain-high restaurant.  I mistakenly wrote I was on the “death road” yesterday.  Well my mind got things mixed up and it was today.   It is going to take us –on a good day- between 6 to 8 hours to get to our destination.

At the beginning, the road offers the usual scenery.  Fields along the way, houses, sky, mountains in the distance.  Then I doze off and awake to this…     

Suddenly the words “bumpy”, “windy”, “hill”, and “mountain-high”, connect!  I add “death-road”, “vertigo”, “ouch”, “Can I get off now?”  Later I would read that the road was “not recommended for nervous persons”.  There are few to no barriers separating the bus from a vast ravine.  Someone asks if I had fallen asleep because I was too quiet.  No, I say.  I’m just too queasy to talk!

No wonder my head hurts.  It’s been bouncing against the window.  Sort of like the head of those dogs they use for good fortune (the ones that their head bobs on any movement.) Fortunately, my palpitations will be reduced by a walk in the hill tribe village we stop at. 

We are the local entertainment.   

A protective older sister wraps her arm around her sibling and as I press my shutter gives me a look of  “don’t you mess with my sister”. 

We are invited by a local to visit his home.  In all the villages and homes we have visited there is a television and satellite alongside abject poverty.  But these people do not live in misery for they are content with who and where they are.

Kitchen at entrance.    

Our host lives in this home with his wife and 11 children.  He answers all our questions and I see in his eyes wonderment and disbelief in some of the things we are curious about.

There is a strange flickering noise in back of me that is a bit unsettling (Is something alive there?) but I don’t want to be rude, turn and potentially run out screaming if I find a strange animal resides in that corner.   

Other kids join us or come in.   

And we leave.  We are still the entertainment.     

Can you tell who will be the gang leader from this photo?  

After a few hours –many more than I like- we arrive at the restaurant for lunch.  Mr. Peng laughs as he sees my expression of horror as he parks the bus head first, facing the precipice.  Lucky me is in the front row.  Okay, you are close enough, please stop the bus, stop please, STOP, NOW!!!  

We go to “happy place” (local speak for bathroom) first.    

Then a little walk uphill towards the restaurant.  To my left a view of the road. 

To my right, a scene that could be labeled many ways.  My whole being quiets and settles.  

A view of where we came from.  We are at approximately 5,000 ft.  

Reaching the restaurant, a little figure, advertising god-knows-what, seems so out of place that we all gawk at it and name it “little happy laughing girl Buddha”.     

We eat.  Wash our hands.  Explore the surroundings a little more.  and back to the bus for another couple of hours till we stop at a mountain food market.  You aren’t tired already, are you?

We are instructed not to point our cameras at any of the dead animals that are offered (head and all).  Seems that these vendors are fully aware of Facebook and that a photo may go up that will force authorities to come in and fine or confiscate.  They sell some animals that are not supposed to be sold.  Fortunately I see none with a face to it.

There are a lot of “normal” selections of fruit and vegetables. 

Bamboo shoots.  

Banana blossom. 

Taro.  I would later have taro soup and then taro ice cream. 

And something that is nowhere near common or normal in my book.  Our guide points out what looks like a stalk of something and says that it is a delicacy in his country.  I am leery.  Delicacy = very odd, strange, gross, inedible, retching-induced!

Our vendor starts the process.

She peels.  

Almost done.  

And out comes the yuckiest of worms.  It has been cooked in the stalk but that doesn’t make it any more appetizing.   Our guide repeats it’s a delicacy and proceeds to eat it.  Amazingly, so did one of our group who told everyone it tasted like chicken.

Ohhh, the Americans ate the worm!  

Back on a bus that, at this point, nobody wants to be in.   Another hour and another stop at another happy place where, believe it or not, they sell Kit Kats and Snickers. I buy them and eat them both in a nano second!  I don’t even like chocolate but somehow it was appropriate and satisfying to do so. It didn’t stop me from trying the local taro ice cream, either.

A million years more of a bus ride (or so it seemed) and my sore bottom and me arrive in Vang Vieng.  The bus is too big for the city streets so we shall walk to the hotel.  Vang Vieng has the reputation of being a backpacker’s paradise and it lives up to the fame with advertising for tubing, zip-lining, trekking, parties, etc.  I get a kick out of one that is none of those.

Are you over seacall?  Busticker anyone?  

Sign with all the familiar breakfast (at least for the Brits) 

We had seen an ad for a balloon ride in the plane and wanted to do it but once we saw the balloon and how incredibly close he got to that building we change our minds.   

The ever-present temple along the way.  

As I look towards a street vendor, I capture her expression right before she gives me the thumbs up signal.  

Graffiti in Laos? 

Then a road that becomes indicative of the type of resort we are staying at. 

Though it hardly matters where we sleep for this is the view before us.       

We eat well.

Pumpkin soup.  

Remnant of my tilapia.   

After which I dive, literally dive onto my not so soft bed.  Lots of excitement to be had tomorrow!

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Reflections on Consumerism and Feeling Naked…

Reflections: “a calm, lengthy, intent consideration”. Can’t quite define my consideration as calm, but lengthy it is, and I am most definitely putting consideration to Consumerism with a capital C.

I am not a shopper. When I travel I rarely buy things. Only a select few may get an “I remembered you” gift that will undoubtedly be small. I don’t even shop for myself. And when I am at home, my attention span for shopping is practically nonexistent, unless I am at an estate sale or thrift shop where I can pretty much be all day and buy a heck of a lot more than I expected. There is nothing like the thrill of a bargain and of discovery. Perhaps that is why I love traveling. I mean for the latter, the discovery. The bargain part just doesn’t qualify my trip any longer.

BLT+* started as a much needed escape from daily life, a way to mend a broken heart, to understand myself better, to overcome fears, and to discover and assimilate more cultures, people and landscapes. Then, well into the process of healing, it started to mushroom unexpectedly. With the infamous “When am I going to be back to this part of the world?” I started to consider staying a tad longer in the area. So I called the tour company and meekly asked: “How much more would it be to change my air portion to remain a bit longer in Thailand and well, maybe Hong Kong too?” I was hoping they would come back with a huge sum so I would discard the option completely but no, the response came back at: “$100 Ms. P.” How could I pass that up? And since I have no middle ground, I added 8 days in Thailand. Surely I could find something to do. And 5 days in Hong Kong -until I saw how much the hotel would cost- then whittled it down to 3, also due in part to people telling me that would be enough. My travel company had a post-trip to Chiang Mai in Thailand but was fully booked so I could not take it. Why not go on my own? I decided to fly to Chiang Mai where I plan to be one with the elephants and tigers. What to do with the next 4 days? My dream had been to go to Phuket -only a flight away. But friends and forum contributors convinced me that Koh Samui (Thailand) was less developed and just as wonderful. So Koh Samui it is. After all, I would need some mental and physical R&R after traipsing all over Southeast Asia. Then I chose the area of Kowloon to stay in Hong Kong. Then, I made no other move. Period. No move at all.

This is where consumerism comes in. 31 days to blast off (I wrote this blog a few days ago) and I have made no reservations. Purchased nothing. Planned nada. OMG! Just do it! Nike: any possibility of a commission? I’m repeating your slogan an awful lot.

I start off making reservations for a hotel in Chiang Mai, then a hotel in Koh Samui, then reservation in Hong Kong (almost), and since I’ll be alone in Hong Kong why not hire a local guide for a day? I call her; I book her after a PayPal invoice arrives. I want to go to Dialogue in the Dark but the website says they have no room. I call and ask for an English guide. I get one, along with a reservation. Skype, I am publicly declaring my love for you! I need to have a safe backpack that safeguards me from pickpockets so I go on the PacSafe site and select one. My Kindle Touch has already arrived ‘cause I can’t carry as many real books as I would like. Bought my first book for it, The Holly Brown Chronicles, some days back so now I buy some more. Haven’t booked the internal flights in Thailand yet and I’m already broke! Checked with PVS International on the status of my visas and only Laos in missing. Am asked if I want to know the running total so far and I say no, just tell me after Laos is done. Ah, the power of denial. Need to book or find out about airport transport in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Hong Kong. Some temples require people to remove their shoes and socks. Need to find one that is easy to slip on and off and very comfortable. Found. Bought. Clark’s, I may start loving you too if you turn out to have a product that does not give me blisters. Did a lot of research on a camera with a power zoom. I speak with a friend that refers me to a camera shop in NY he’s dealt with a lot and that can give me a good discount. I call. They don’t have the one I wanted in stock but suggest another they say is better. I buy. They ship. This non-shopper (even less so through the internet) has just redeemed herself in a grand way!!!! I am drained physically (my fingers are moving hyperactively), financially, and mentally. My head is spinning. Is it absolutely unconscionable that I sport a huge smile on my face, regardless? Ay, ay, ay!! (Don’t forget to infuse a bit of “Latinoess” into that expression.)     Do you think Myanmar -where I am going to first- a land predominantly Buddhist, of quiet semblance and controlled emotions is ready for me, a bundle of strong emotions and powerful voice? Will have to channel my mom, who was so subdued and quiet, to be able to blend in!

Was going to delve into the feeling naked part of my blog but this one has already run too long so I will be leaving it for the next blog which will come in rapid succession to this one…

* Please refer to previous blogs for a full explanation on BLT+

Categories: Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Thailand, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Procrastination

I have traveled since I was 2 and that makes me a veteran globetrotter (and no, I will not say how long I’ve been traveling but it has been maaaaaany years!) I have my father to thaImagenk for instilling in me the passion to discover other worlds.  He was the excursionist in the family, my mom was the follower, I had no say, so I became a little of both.  He was a bit of a nomad by nature and by profession.  He worked in the United Nations so I grew up in 10 different countries.  

 I have traveled with my parents, my partners, alone, to exotic locations and others not so much so. I’ve gone for pleasure, as well as in sorrow, and work.  I’ve gone by boat, by foot, by train, by car, and even by burro and any possible combination of. So you would think that the preparation of a trip of 35 days and 6 countries would not faze me one bit.  After all I’ve been a TV producer, where putting out fires and juggling is part of life.  Well, wrong

I sit at the Coffee Bean in Montrose, CA, with my iTunes full volume and trying really hard not to be overwhelmed by all the visa applications that I have to fill out.   I decide to “prepare” my space and in doing so manage to waste a good hour.  With my space organized I have no other excuse for not tackling this.  Do I need another cappuccino? No.  And my little heart starts beating fast.  Okaaay… they need all my main info and then exact dates of arrival and departures.  Uhh, I don’t really know that.  Concentrate.  Yep, here are the dates.  But not so sure how much longer I will extend this trip and where.  Just put a date!  Profession?  I’m self-employed: actress.  Will they question this?  Oh, they need my business permit if I’m self-employed.  Bank statement.  What?  Okay.  Where am I staying in Hong Kong? Oh no!  I know most of my hotels but yet haven’t decided on the Thailand or China part.   And the China visa has to be in a PDF file and every time I make a correction I have to start all over again.  Don’t think I’ll make it through this process so I may not have much to write about in future posts.  Ay, yay, ay!  (Please infuse a Spanish accent to the previous expressions.)

Cut to later in the night.  Most of it is ready to go, but the undercurrent of anxiety has not gone away.  Tomorrow I need to make copies and FedEx the applications to a visa handling company who will probably ask me: “Did a 2-year-old fill these out?”  Will keep you posted. 🙂

 Oh no… then it’s off to see what shots I need to have!  Malaria pills? I may just stay home!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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