Day 20 1060 days to go. Rest Day Vientiane – It’s 2.18pm Tuesday 20/12/2011 Vientiane and I’m sitting at Pha That Luang the most important national monument in Laos a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Laos sovereignty. Legend has it the original that on this site housed a piece of Buddhas breastbone. It’s an impressive building golden against the blue sky and not too many tourists yay. I have eclipse soundtrack playing coffee in my thermos and Rube and I are hanging out in the shade looking directly at the monument-nice!!!!! Couldn’t resist taking the chance to have a chat. I’m loving Vientiane it’s a spread out city right on the Mekong so it’s good to have Rube to get around plus she likes playing in the crazy traffic without pulling a load cheeky girl. After cleaning up yesterday and getting 2kg of filthy washing done it was just before sunset and we headed out to the boardwalk area which runs along the riverfront. What an alive part of the city with locals hanging out, picnicking, playing on the sand flats, skating/cycling, jogging, doing huge aerobic sessions, and generally enjoying the space on whatever way is fun. Laos people like having fun above all and it’s so apparent they show little reserve when doing their thing just towards outsiders initially but it’s not hard to break through to those beautiful smiles. My camera remains my secret weapon of sorts. My two favorite photos today were taken this morning at the talat Sao or morning market that goes all day lol. The markets are the most boggling wack on the sensors smells of slaughter in action fish chicken unknown meats, frogs, sea snakes, eels. Then there ware steaks and sausages of whatever unimmaginable grilling and the smell just an explosion in the dark and narrow maize of stalls. I got so lost and loved every moment. It seemed the deeper you got into the markets the more hard core it got – The place just draws you in fascinated fixated in the bazar. The amount of gasps I has at animals in mid slaughter it was just raw and quite incredible to see their local markets in action ready or not. Two ladies have just sat next to me selling small bamboo cages of sparrows that I think are for offerings to appease the gods animist buddhism 101. Anyway back to my two favourite photos one was of this old lady squatted behind the small round grill cooking skewered assorted meets a speck amongst the other action but she had the most incredible face. She shied from having her photo taken but then loved we were going to both be on the photo and laughed and laughed at herself and/or me in the monitor it was really awesome this random aged Laos lady touched my heart. The next was this lady selling just cucumbers and cabbages from a wheelbarrow. Again with so much happenings and assorted produce how could she make any money. I had to buy something from her and anyway I needed a kilo of cucumbers to soothe a sore throat. I have the sorest of throats I think from inhaling so much dust over the last days. When I picked up my laundry thiis morning the lady had her mask on which most locals wear here to shield them from the dust and smog in the air during the dry season particularly. I gestured where to buy one and she said market. I stumbled across this lady selling masks of sorts and bought myself one so again please excuse the bandit look in some photos but it’s really giving some relief while I get about today. So anyway the cucumber lady pulled the biggest of smiles behind her mask and at she has 3000 lip in her pocket that’s like 45cents it’s just crazy Loas money is worth so little. The first section of the markets had the freshly baked baguettes which I bought two for 8000 kip one I devoured straight away whilst walking around the other for a picnic this evening. I loved watching locals picnic by the riverfront last night so that’s me tonight nice. I heard back from Hanna and the kids that they’ll be arriving 5pm this afternoon. I found the place where they’re staying and left a note that I’ll be picnicking or blogging at the internet cafe later on if they want to catch up so well see. Last night was heaps of fun for dinner with Linn from Sweden, Josh from New Zealand, and Lucy May I think from Dorset UK. I’m so sorry I’m hopeless with names anyway heaps of fun and chats until late they were fun and easy company and I wish them all safe and amazing adventures for the rest of their travels. That’s been pretty much it nice nice nice. I have a skype date withy partner in the morning the best way to start the day. We’re trying to figure where and how we can meet up prior to Sept12 which is far too far away and not quiche at all.
It’s 5.20pm and just when I was contemplating heading back towards the river front the young Loas man came and introduced himself and I spent over an hour chatting with him it was so interesting and good to here a local perspective on some things. Also this young lad who’s aunty was one of the ladies selling caged sparrows joined the conversation in between being a Laos B-boy and rapping his little self doing a dam fine job of it too I might add. A Contiki type tour group stopped for a photo and next minute he’s doing a rap-off with a couple of the guys from the group he loved loved loved it and reckons he won handstand down. The young man’s name is Vilagon and he is currently an tutor for a local English school. He studied business and obtained a diploma which isn’t a high enough qualification to apply for a job but his plan is to go to Vietnam and approach a company to work freelance on commission and export goods from Vietnam back to Loas. He said that Thailand is the major importer into Laos. His idea is to create more options for Laos people for cheaper goods and hopes to import nutritional milk products for infants and pregnant woman in particular. Such an interesting man. 25 years old. He explained Laos people who majoritively have very little maintain a positive spirit without worry. He explained its a psyche throughout the country. The birds in the cages are sold for people who start to feel worry and they buy the birds to release them reminding themselves of what counts. How beautiful. He said if he is successful he will have a family and be able to provide for them. His family come from Paksan and are rice farmers. The young lad Thongdee is 14 years old he read my travel guide, road Ruby, but mostly rapped and raved about being a B-Boy with the moves like Michael Jackson. He is in his last year of middle school and starts high school next year for another 3 years then onto university for 5 years if he wants a degree. I’m now sitting on the riverfront about to have dinner and have really enjoyed my stay in Vientiane and I’m not even joking!!!!! Talk soon x ps a bit of south east Asia trivia there are apparently 7million people in Loas and 70 million in Vietnam x pps didn’t end up meeting with Hanna and the kids but again I wish them an awesome trip and believe they arrive home with heaps of amazing stories Christmas Eve. Happy Christmas for their families I’m sure. Heading tomorrow towards Paksan which will take about 2 days then onto Tham Kong Lo cave, Tha Khaek for Xmas Eve and Si Phan Don for new year – good plan but always one safe and healthy adventurous day at a time. Talk soon x
Day 19 1061 days to go. Distance: today 70km total Today 70 total 753km. It’s 4.00pm Monday the 19/12/2011 Vientiane. Found this great guest house single room shared bathroom for 70000 kip which is such a great price for Vientiane which is virtually double the rest of Laos in cost of living. Had a really good ride here the road wasn’t too bad the traffic pretty full on particularly the last 20km coming into the capital but all good. I managed to find a petrol station close to town and hosed off Ruby’s and cleaned and lubed her important bits. The bags have been cleaned and last but not least me so I’m looking and feeling squeaky clean with some beautiful perfume on for a treat (thx Mum). I’ll head out soon to have a recky of the city – it’s huge and grand as a first impression so I’ll bike it to get a feel of the place. I couldn’t believe it I was outside the guesthouse servicing Rube and I hear ‘Maree’ and it was Linn the girl from Sweden I met in Chaing Rai small small small world. Her and a couple of friends she’s hooked up with are staying in the same street and just happen to be walking past how cool is that. They have invited me out for dinner at 7.30pm and it’ll be great to have some company and conversation yay. I got an email from Hanna the UK girl who’s still leading the group of school kids from Perth and they may be here at a similar time so I may be able to hook up with them again over the next days we’ll see. Anyway with all on offer in Vientiane there’ll be heaps to occupy over the next couple of days R&R. I’ll upload the last two posts using wifi from the guesthouse now and add the photos when I have internet access. Hey I was reading further about Laos last night and this country has had a difficult history that’s for sure. It struggles economically compared to it’s neighboring countries as the people are not commercially driven or competitive. In the history of wartime Loas is the most bombed country per head of people from the Vietnam war not that long ago from a historical perspective. They are still one of the poorest countries in the world and the people survive mostly through agriculture and other farming means which I have seen examples of over the last week. It’s no wonder the people are less tourist conscious and seem more busy about their working day – clearly different priorities and needs far removed then what we know that’s for sure. A few people I have met along the way speak about how less open Laos people are compared to other south east asian countries and no wonder hey – lesson in perspective to be sure. anyway vientiane is very different as a capital city and coming from the northern regions. A good place to explore. Talk soon x
Day 18 1062 days to go. Distance: today 82km total 683km. It’s 6.00pm Sunday the 18/12/2011 and I’m sitting with a young lad at the place I’m staying in Phong Hong. His name is Suopar or that’s how it sounds. I asked him to write it down and he wrote it in Laos which by the way is a beautiful script. He is soooo blown away by my IT gear: The sat phone which I just got a message from my partner (x), the spot checker, he loved the guide books and flicked through the pages laughing at the pictures, and now the IPod and keyboard is like something from another planet I’m sure. I actually feel a bit embarrassed by the amount of kit I have but don’t get me wrong I love all of it. The spot tracker seems to be working now regularly and my sister said you can zoom right in on google maps to see my location each day which is great. It’s kinda special to be sharing each day with you and by doing so I’m not getting lonely. I really look forward to this time each evening and then uploading it into the blog when I have access. Yesterday in Vang Vieng I went straight to the internet cafe next door before showering or anything to get an internet fix as it had been a few days without and I was hanging out to email my family and update the blog. What a junky. It makes me think about traveling in the era before all this was around, how when I traveled in 1993/94 I was doing much the same but writing letters instead of blogs. It’s a very monumental change in not a very long time. It also makes me appreciate female solo travelers like Bettina Selby who was doing this sort of thing back in the 70’s when times and access to information and people looked very different. Reinforces more so what an amazing woman she and others like her are. I was doing some people watching this morning in Vang Vieng checking out the western tourists. I think it’s such a shame some are just here to be untidy and party apparently without much respect for anyone including themselves like being OS means its a free all. It makes westerners and themselves look cheep and crap and far from the truth. They are of course only a percentage and there’s heaps of other some who Ive met who are really into appreciating different places and people. And that’s very cool indeedy. Anyway back to today. The area changed twice during the 82 kms I covered. The road travelled alongside the Nam Lik river for a while and it was fishing villages I started seeing with stalls of cooking and drying fish and other shellfish. The smells were delicious even to this vego. It’s incredible how they can lay their fish out in the sun to dry and it doesn’t become toxic. They salt it and hang it up in the shops for sale. The families were outside their huts cleaning and filleting/cutting fish caught. There were long boats everywhere fishing or transporting catches,people, produce. It was such a difference life now evolved around the water. Soupar has now discovered my digital camera and is engrossed taking pictures and viewing them. I showed him once and now he’s all over it new toy hope I get it back 🙂 After the road left the river rice fields started and cows and cows and more cows walking the streets, grazing in paddocks. People were passing in trucks with cow car-cases or live stock on their way to market somewhere. It’s the in between towns that are the best, the village life is really interesting and the people more open despite being and working so apparently hard at it. I passed a dog today that looked exactly like my jungle mut ‘Honi’ back at home. She was rescued by my partner in the solomon Islands and she is tanned dingo looking with the most disgraceful curled up tail like a piglet. I saw one just like her and let out this squeal ‘Look at your tail’ lol. Soupar just took a self portrait and one of me typing away. He’s very cute. The green bottle of drink is a Lollie water called Mirinda they sell here which I’m loving. I went for a walk before and found a stall selling it yum. The girl in the shop was very curious and wanted to talk but with neither of us knowing each other’s language we just tried and giggled allot. I asked if I could take her picture and like most people here was very shy for a few moments then got right into it even counting with me in the new words she learnt for the day: one, two, three (photo) more giggles. It’s those little moments there heaps of them during the day. Kids again are my fav theyll come running out with a big hello and wanting a hand slap and I try to high five as many as I can. Or else they just run or cycle along a bit cheering whatever in Laos. I often here this little voice from somewhere sai bai diing me from a distance and it’s like a game of ‘where’s Wolly’ while I try track down where the voice came from. It’ll be in a paddock or hut window somewhere and when I spot them I give them a huge hi and wave back. Very cool fun. It’s those moments thatreally lift me during the more crappier like dealing with the road today. I have no idea why but for the last 100kms the road is like 200 metres sealed then 50 metres unsealed, rocky, red dirt and dust or rough gravel. The red dust in these spots cover everything huts, trees, me. Ruby and her trailer are looking very off road and she loves it dirty girl 🙂 I’m sure her component don’t love it as much and she definitely gets the No ! award for holding it together so far over these sections. All her suspension has been removed so it’s such an impact on the poor love but she’s going awesome so far. I’ve been passing these Budha shrines off the road, they are about 6 foot and there’s usually about a dozen or so. I saw today a family walking along the roadside and doing a prayer gesture to the shrines as they passed with their hands held in prayer above their heads in homage. An old ute passed me today with about 6 young monks sitting in the back tray in their orange robes it looked great all waving to say hi. It’s moments like these as many others I had that I’d love to have a camera on my helmet where I could capture the moment. I probably don’t need any more kit but it would be great. It’s still pretty early 7.00pm so I may go for a walk and grab a small bight to eat. I’m not that hungry after feasting on the remainder of the bread, bananas and cheese this afternoon about 3.00 when I finally stopped for lunch. It was a long haul 62km with only a few drink stops along the way but it meant that the last leg this afternoon was only 20km very manageable with my earphones and ‘Twilight’ soundtrack. Vientiane tomorrow about another 80km but I’m going to have a 7.00am start to get in early and start enjoying the capital which is supposed to be amazing. I’m having a rest day there so i’m really looking forward to the couple of days off to enjoy the place. Talk soon x
Day 17 1063 days to go. It’ s 8.30pm Saturday the 17/12/2011 and I’ve had my sunset and stroll fix around town. It’s a party town that’s for sure. Tubing seems like the biggest fad with lots of backpackers being bused out to the drop off with their tubes and lots of alcohol on board – they then float down the Nam Song River which Vang Vieng is situated on. Local cafes sell buckets of alcohol literally and advertise special happy pizzas and shakes. Me I’m saddling up to a dinner of bananas, cheese triangles, marmalade, condense milk and ovalteen. I’ve been bargain shopping for some cravings and found a loaf of bread awesome!!!!! I found a great spot by the river on a wooden ramp leading down to one of the flash restaurants to perch myself and dangle my feet to watch the sunset. It really is a jaw dropping location with the sun setting between the karst mountain background – pretty spectacular stuff It seams like most shops are a food outlet of some sorts with at least half of them offering accommodation from 60000to 80000kip so Ive done well – the rooms big and clean and the shower hot perfect – plus the stairwell goes up onto the roof so I’ll be up there shortly for some people watching. Dinner was fabulous ok so the condense milk was a bit much but hey my dad always said that condense milk sandwiches were pretty good and he was right. I’ve had a craving for white bread for the last day and yup awesome delish num num. On the streets there’s stalls selling pretty much the same sort of stuff – Baguettes with an assortment of fillings from banana and Nutella to meats and salads (10000 to 25000kip) Then there’s banana pancakes being made on a side hotplate (15000kip) 1 Aust $ is about 800kip. With the amount of restaurant cafes and street venders there’s so many just sitting mostly empty. You wonder how the locals make any money. Even like the stalls selling a few items all have the same things: pepsi, crisps, biscuits, wafers, toilet paper, cigarettes, and beer of course 750ml bottles that people walk around with drinking like a tally mmmmmm class. Anything much more than this and it becomes a rare specialty. I told you I have a supermarket fettish. Well I found this great shop that sells heaps of other stuff from muesli to mars bars all out of budget range but fun to browse. Sad hey but far more interesting than bucket booze and drunken chicks in bikinis eeeeeeek. Very untidy. it was like christmas hence the dinner spread. I’ll see what I want to do in the morning if I feel like checking out the mountains around. It’s otherwise good for a brief look but town wise there’s little else that’s grabbing my attention. I did read there’s some caves nearby that sound pretty cool. We’ll see. For now it’s time for the roof and a quick check-out before bed. Night! x Ps my rooms far to close to a karaoke bar somewhere far too near mmmmmm earplugs awesome yay.
Day 18 1062 days to go Unfortunately the earplugs werent hard core enough to block out the hard core party goings and shaggers during the night. Let’s just say Im happy to be heading today. I’m a bit tired but the next two days to Phonghong (72km) and Vientiane (81km) aren’t too scary distances. It’s actually quite a cool way to move through your day literally and I love that I never know what’s around the corner. Ive had a sleep in this morning pampered Rubes, read up a bit of troubleshooting and servicing front and rear dehraylers (gear systems on bikes) and all good to head next post from Vientiane I suggest. I uploaded the photos and post from last night enjoy the photos they’re pretty awesome but don’t capture the actual expanse of it that you look out over – it’s a very cool plave location wise – There are bungalows on the other side of the river that look very honeymooney and pampering and there could be worst places to honeymoon then here for young Aussie newlyweds. Off to enjoy the days travel. PS thought of something else I could include in my posts – Ks travelled for the day then Ks in total – I won’t go back an update but Ill start next post and that’ll give me some time to do the math so far. I’m also adding up the things I have lost grrrrrrrr and not very happy about either – There’s a real heightened sense of protection for my gear that’s looking after me but still some things have gone astray: little headtorch (thank goodness I brought two), spork, No 5 Allen key (have a spare but not so manageable bugga – it’s one of the main key sizes), my sunnies have cracked in the top corner so they’re being held by the saviour of saviours gaffa tape. That’s about it! Talk soon x
Day 16 1064 days to go Its 7.00pm Friday 16/12/2011. I was just doing some spell check on last nights entry and somehow managed to delete the whole entry. Anyway the night certainly didn’t end where I had finished my post so it probably makes more sense to roll the last two days together. It has been such an extreme mix and that is such an understatement. Yesterday started beautiful thick mist in the mountains which I cycled through for about the first hour. Then being so elevated the list settled into the valley early and left the bluest of skies and the air still really fresh. Great cycling uphill weather which there was allot of yesterday 30km in total up. But the scenery was spectacular with ranges of limestone peaks to well keep me distracted from the hills. There were heaps if villages and children children knee high everywhere and most knee highs then carrying their little baby brother or sister. Mostly all able bodies in the family do their bit towards working cutting/carrying wood in sacks across their foreheads and down their bent over backs to carry the load. Otherwise it’s farming root vegetables, citrus, paw paw, bananas, peanuts, melons, greens, herbs etc. The bananas are my favourite really small and sweet I can eat half a bunch in a sitting. The other half today I gave out to children at one of my stops which they devoured happily. I’m loving the kids they’re fun and totally amused by the camera, geting their photos taken then seeing themselves on the screen. It’s a fun way to bond. They cheer and sa bai dii me left right centre and hold their hands out to be slapped or blow kisses. Teenage boys often give me a push out of town which is great. Thew adults stand back more and encourage the children to come foreword but some cant resist the temptation of the camera and I’ve managed to share some nice shots with those who dared. There seems to be allot of mission, wotld vision and projects boards up in every other village. Obvious signs the village laos people have basic needs. It shows in the people in their attitude or psyche, they are much less touristed and seem far more busy managing the basics with little education apparent in the villages I pass. I had stopped at one stall today and was enjoying photos with the ladies all chuckling and shy then I stepped back and looked to see what I had bumped my head on and it was a bunch of rats hanging for sale. I let out the biggest chick squeal which the women found most funny. I gestured if they were for eating and she said yes. I’ve seen other odd food like deep fried bugs and spiders but haven’t tried any as yet under the veil of my vegetarian-ism of course 🙂 Anyway the day ended earlier yesterday and I ended up stoping to find accommodation at a town called Ban Phakang 18k short of where I had intended but I was spent and still happy with what I had covered for the day. I was told in town that I could camp up in the school grounds. It was about 500m from town and a great spot looking out of the mountains with grass huts in the front yard and a wonderful place to pitch the tent. I spent so long last night blogging around the fire describing the night and the sounds and how much I was loving the cosy space by the fire. I had such a lovely evening after a real hard day and ended up tucked in bed and passed out about 8.00pm. The next thing I remember is being woken up by a policeman and a couple of villages one who could thankfully speak a little english. He explained that there had been some security problems in the neighboring villages and that I wasn’t to camp there alone. It was about 10.30pm I think and I had to pack up camp and move on. Can you believe it – I asked if there was a family in town I could stay with because of the time and he said there was a guesthouse at the next village 1 km away. So within a half hour I’m cycling nighttime ironically because I was unsafe. I just couldn’t believe where I was . At the next town I couldn’t see any guest house and tried knocking on some doors but couldn’t raise any ones attention. Then this young man doubling his grandfather stopped and asked in pretty good english if I was ok. He was a math teacher from Luang Prabang but staying at a house in a village about 10kms away. He said I could stay with his family to which I graciously accepted and followed him for the next kms. 10kms ended up being 18 to Muang Phu Khun where I intended on heading. It took about 2 hours but there was still enough regular traffic on the road to not feel too isolated. Don’t get me wrong it was crap but I can still remember clearly the night being really blue from the full moon and clear sky and thinking that it was actually quite beautiful if it wasn’t so crazy. He ended up leading me to a guest house where I could stay which was really appreciated understatement. I couldn’t believe it but as I was thanking him he asked if he could sleep with me most politely of course like it was an everyday question. Obviously he felt we had bonded in the last 2 hours and felt some deep compulsion to hit on a stinky, disheveled, exhausted, cranky, 44 year old from Australia at 1.00am in the morning. I mean of course I can see the attraction. Geeze Louise!!!! However I kindly thanked him but told him I was very happily married and that this would not be appropriate. He then smiled and waved and bid me good night. I mean you know!!!!!!! Did the last few hours just happen???? But I was sooo cosy and chilled out by the fire just hours before and in la la land tucked in my down doona. No really you just never know what’s around the corner and that my friends has given rise to a new dimension of appreciation to that truth. lol’ing. Anyway the guest house lady welcomed me like it was an every day event and I was now in a bed shaking the bazaar experience that all ended well. It was definitely an experience and a bit of a distant memory now ironically it was only 24hrs earlier I was tucking myself in bed. Anyway onto today. I woke at about 8.00am starving and headed into the markets where I found deep fried bananas and these other deep fried things that were sweat but mostly empty like a profiterol really yum. I stuff cheese triangles into the hollow and devoured the lot. The food at the local stalls were mostly deel friend very fatty and allot of root vegetables. Clear sign the weather is very cold there at times and it was pretty chilly this morning probably about 5 degrees. So everything was steaming in hot plates and smelt great it was really fun. Back to the guest house and the lady who met me last night greated me like an old friend and was so curious about my bike and cycling. She was really lovely and we exchanged conversation attempts with absolutely no understanding but both enjoyed the effort. The scenery today was elevated bliss allot of descent which was such a rush given the views and beautiful day. I found myself singing out loud everything from Dido to a tune I’ve made up from somewhere, you know ‘O bla dee,oh bla dah Life goes on boy las la slas life goes on . . . ” Ok so replace it with ‘Sa bai dii sai bai da life goes on lalalalalala” you get the idea – what I lunatic but really big big fun. I kept laughing out loud at how magnificent the day was and the night before which was very quickly becoming a distant memory and story now to share with you. I ended up in Kasi 44km of awesome spectacular fun so much so I stopped for the day about 2.00pm and have just chilled this afternoon here. Found a great guest house, ate a belly full of rice noodles, washed everything myself and clothes included and serviced Ruby who was squeaking full on for the last kms probably objecting to my singing. Anyway some love and attention later it was dirt in her brakes and she’s purring again. Onto Vang Vieng tomorrow about 60kms. It’s been a very good day but I must say I’m missing access to the internet to which there’s none. Too remote which is kind of nice but that mod con I am enjoying I must admit. We’ll see what’s about tomorrow it’s suppose to be a bigger town. For now I’m off to bed per chance to dream about Loas police saving Aussie damsels in distress Noooooooooooottttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!! lol night and talk soon x
Photos: check out the kids they were so shy for the photos then turned into these camera action jacksons pulling all sorts of crazy monster faces for the photoshoot – They were so funny. I forgot to mention about the photo with the othe two Loas people – They invited me to stop (I was doing an ascent doing about 6km/hr so it wasn’t hard to pull up). There were having a roadside snack of some sort of root vegitable peeled eating it rw and offered me one – It tasted something like a carrot or sweet potato it was yum and I exchanged it for one of amy peanut wafers – “Good Trade!!”. The last photo is of the guest house I stayed their cocking kitchen area it’s so typical of hw inside home look and this was a great chance to take a picky to share.
Day 13 1067 days to go. I have just been typing for about 2 hours and accidentally deleted everything. Bugga – the only benefit is that I get to recall the cool memories again from the last few days – what a great few days it’s been. It started in Houy Xia. While I waited from Mr Khum to piggy moped me to the long boat I wondered through town. I me this young girl Sun working a street stall and we got talking of sorts. I showed her Laos maps and my language guide and after the obligatory questions of “By yourself?” “Where’s husband?” “No Children?” we got onto a language lesson giggling at each other trying to pronounce the others words and phases. I must have spent about one and a half hours with her it was really fun and a lovely memory now. Mr Khum interrupted and hurried me down to the port where this very industrious Laos man was ushering on passengers and luggage. Ruby was tied on the roof along with her trailer and we headed about midday down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. This region of Laos is truly beautiful. The river winds through limestone hills and cliffs covered with dense jungle and intermittent with villages of stilt A-frame wooden huts. The river in beached with white sand that meets jungle. Apparently its one of the last frontiers of south east asia as it was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war and many unexploded bombs remain in the mountains. As such wild tigers, leopards, monkeys, elephants and many other otherwise endangered animals wonder these areas safe from man. How ironic that such a horror provides such an opportunity for these amazing creatures. Signs of a village is first spotted by river with boats, fishermen, nets, children playing soccer,domestic water buffalo, green crops in rows planted in the sand, goats and pigs. Nearby in the hills you’ll start to spot the tips of A frames or stilts and random plantations of banana, tobacco or coffee. But mostly its jungle and very very very gorgeous. The river winds around limestone rock and there are sections of world pools and small rapid where the river narrows. About 3 hours into it we ran aground some rocks and started taking on water. We moored on a sandbank and were all unloaded to wait for a new boat. It gave us a chance to mix and I have met some amazing people. Mat and Dora from Switzerland are on a 1 year trip and I loved listening to their stories from places so far travelled like Rajakstan India, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand. There were a world challenge group of 16 year olds from Perth lead by Hanna from the UK. They will currently be arriving at a local village to assist the people with project work. It’s such a great program where the kids learn how to manage independent travel and understand the difference and needs of other cultures. Most importantly that a little hand can make a difference. Hanna was great fun and very interesting full of information and stories doing this line of work for the last 6 years. She has studied philosophy and theology and I really enjoyed her company and conversation over the last days. I wish her and the group all the best for their remaining travel and project work. Anyway back to the story. The new boat arrived and we hauled back on and onwards. Unfortunately our scheduled arrival in midway village Pakbeng was delayed and we ended up having to sleep on the beach in the middle of now where. I’m so glad we stopped as it was very unnerving when the driver started to try navigate by torchlight. But most passengers took the event as a huge adventure and in no time there was a huge fire raging and lots of nervous and excited conversation. At one stage I stopped and realized I was camping on a white sand beach under the moon and stars along the Mekong in the jungles of Laos. What do you reckon 🙂 Awesome to say the very very very least. The next morning we were ushered up and back onto the boat at 6am and arrived in Pekang for Breakfast. I found a great cafe with a view down the river and devoured a baguette and coffee with condense milk yum. It was the bluest of days the the remaining trip was stunning with the mountains becoming more sheer and impressive. We stopped along the way picking and dropping off locals and I sat with a handful of other Loas and travellers at the rear of the boat and oooo and aaahed my way into Luang Prabang arriving about 6pm. I got to enjoy sunset white I waited for Ruby to be unloaded and headed off to find this guest house where I’m staying now for 2 nights to enjoy this world heritage jewel of Asia. We were fortunate to arrive on a festival night so I got to enjoy the food and markets. There were bottled rice wine and whisky with venomous scorpions, snakes and centerpiedes preserved inside for medicine how bazar. I ran into Hanna whilst eating my plateful of Tofu and greens and we headed up to this 100m high rocky landmark and temple in the middle of town. There are lighted shrines set in the stone crags along the way. A bit of Buddhism trivia Buda with long earlobes means wisdom and a rounded belly generosity. The 360 panorama at the top was incredible and I may have to go back there tonight for sunset. What an amazing into to Laos. I’m heading out now for the day to check out the town soo excited it’s a beautiful day outside and beaconing exploration. I’ll upload this Ipod Post and hopefully be able to attach the photos when I find an internet cafe. Talk soon x
It’s 6.45pm Tuesday 13/12/2011 and I have found an internet café to finally upload and update my blog with photos for you from the last days including today. Well at least as many as I can as he closes as 7.30 so we’ll see how quickly they upload. I have heaps of photos currently being uploaded so again it’s a great chance to update you with the day. It was a real treat to lie in this morning and do up my post in bed yay. I had to move rooms so it was a bit of a shuffle of things then headed out to enjoy the town. I found a post office and sent a Laos postcard to Robbie C. Then it was basically exploring the town by bike but spent most of the time stopped taking pickies and generally getting lost in the romance of the place. Truly it’s beautiful away from the tourist traps and even they’re ok. I got lost in the narrow streets and followed my lens butter flying constantly. It felt like a real treat no have-tos or hassles just indulging the scenery and exploring where the day took me. The town is a quandary of temples, narrow lanes, street markets and people everywhere. The National games start today with an opening ceremony so it’s packed with local and international visitors. There’s also a huge fair and celebrations seemingly everywhere you look so there’s plenty of color and activity. The people dry food like rice cakes, seaweed, bananas, orange rind, mushrooms, chilies, all fruits etc out in the street in baskets. The national sport is volleyball but using your feet it’s incredible. I watched a game last night and the girl went for a huge smash, missed and landed in the splits position no problem up shook herself and back into it. It’s the oddest sport but the players have the most amazing skills and athleticism. I didn’t end of going back to the temple for sunset most places charge admission prices here including the temple so we were really fortunate to sneak up there last night and enjoy it without any other tourists and no kip.
I head tomorrow towards Vientiane via Phu Khum, Kasi, Vang Vieng, Phon Hong. It is about 460kms and should take 4-5 days. Apparently it’s an amazing part of the country so I’m really excited look out.
Day 10 Days to go 1070 It’s 7.18pm Saturday 10/12/2011 and I’m in Huay Xai Laos. I’m doing this up in a word doc hopefully as my photos upload in the blog but we’ll see. It was about a 5minute boat crossing the Mekong here Ruby looked great in the front of the boat. The driver was really helpful getting my gear on and off and gave me a big wave off. Once I set up one of the local boys came up and asked in Laos if he could try and entertained the local port folk with his groans. It was of course a steep uphill short walk from the river bank to the immigration booth. I think that 1 Aus dollar is about 7500 local currency. Passport all stamped it was into town to check out options for the long boat to Luang Prabang. I ended up booking for me and Ruby leaving 11.00am tomorrow. The place it leaves is about 3km away. The young lad said to meet him outside the office and he will show me there by moped– sounds like a good plan. His name is Kham. It has cost 300 000 Kip or about $40 for a 2 day trip and stop over in Pak Beng. I’m really looking forward to taking in the river life which is so bustling with boats of all sorts motoring about. Look out Laos here we come. Meanwhile I have found a cheep guesthouse (50 000kip or $6) at Kham’s recommendation. It’s very shabby from the outside but once inside it’s this once grand communal room upstairs and huge room all clean and verandah overlooking the town street. I spread out my tent and washing so it’s worked out perfectly. It rained over night so everything was wet. It’s a real instinct and pleasure to look after my gear that’s looking so beautifully after me yay. I also serviced ruby as she was pretty glugged with her gears slipping today but she’s now tightened and cleaned and sleeping in the guesthouse shed all locked up safe. We’re out now checking out the town. I found the town temple up about 300 steps overlooking town. The monastery at the top is probably the most beautiful I’ve seen full of baby monks through to adults. A great spot to send the GPS spot tracker. The teenage monks were falling over themselves with intrigue and wanting to practice their English on me. They recommended Laos noodle soup and wanted to know why I was a vegetarian. That was an interesting one to try explaining but was really fun. A tip one doesn’t try and touch a monk’s arm when getting a photo taken apparently it’s forbidden oppsy so insult intended. The view from the monastery was beautiful overlooking the river with lights from the town and boats – what a find. Most Laos practice the same type of Buddhism as Thai and many males choose to be ordained as monks from 3 months to 3 years. One boy I spoke to tonight has been at the temple for 4 years. The Lonely Planet book writes that young men aren’t considered ‘ripened’ until they have done their spiritual service. I’ve just checked the photos and they uploading albeit a bit slow but still yay. Great opportunity while I wait to highlight some of the places I have made special comment about over the last week. Over the last week there are 3 places I want to feature in the blog to show my appreciation to the workers/owners. Mohn Mye horn Resort and Spa Chaing Rai was where the owner Munee let me stay overnight and took generous care of me providing use of the resort’s beautiful facilities, a place to pitch my tent, yogurts and breakfast. I was pampered by the staff lead my manager Anake. Check out Munee’s resort to pamper and treat yourself if travelling from Chaing Mai to Chaing Rai through Mae Suay. Munee, Anake and staff would love to see you (www.mohn-mye-hom.com). Starbright Hotel Chaing Rai was where I met Dang and other staff working there I owe much gratitude to the staff for their help, generosity, care and fun. “Dang the power gel was great help riding the hills today into Chaing Kong thank you” Tea Cher Oolong Tea Organic farm was where I stayed last night. The lady owner is a primary school teacher and great cook. She is setting up what she hopes will be a wellbeing type organic farm stay. What a great name for the farm. Oolong tea has many health benefits from preventing cancer to slowing down the aging and increasing weight loss. That aside the aroma is beautiful or at least Tea Cher Oolong Tea is. I want to say a special hi to Seng and family, Dave and Anu Pap who were visiting also at the farm. Anu Pap has a salt farm and runs a restaurant “Ratna Makachai” in nearby Phan Thailand. He is big fun and will take good care of you if you seek him out in your Thai travels. Email firstname.lastname@example.org 5 photos to go – The route through Laos for those interested will be Luang Prabang, Vietiane, Paske and Si Phan Don the border into Cambodia. I’m only 1 day over arriving as planned (9/12/2011) and should cross into Cambodia 2/1/2012. It’s going to be an amazing country to cycle the Mekong and spend Christmas and New Year along the way. I have a cycle book with me and may venture inland along the way visiting some villages but this will depend on how hilly the inland countryside is – we’ll see the cycle legs may be a but more travelled by then. It’s actually a really great feeling leaving Thailand with such great memories but also having seen one country. As Kham said this afternoon only 1070 days to go lol what a sweetie. Here’s a brief intro to the local language for the next 24 days or so: Sabai dji (hello), Sabai dii (goodbye), khawp jai (thank you)