Thursday, June 25, 2009

Central Laos

Sooo after the north of Laos I spent a day or two at the touristy town of Viang Vieng. Its a strange little spot! All the restaurants have beds instead of chairs and TV's playing friends 24 hours a day! I have to say i spent an hour or two just lounging about watching friends it was very nice as i haven't seen TV in god knows how long and i'm happy enough to be without it now after 'Friends' overdose!

The other thing to do here is Tubing where you hire out the inner tube of a tractor tyre and float down the river all day stopping off where you like and jumping off really high platforms into the river! A very fun day, soooo good to be able to cool down and i have to say and got away lightly with the injuries!

Worship me!! My god look at this fello!

Next stop, Vientiene, the capital of Laos. It was soooo good to be in a city at last after all the ruralness i was craving it a bit! Had many things to sort like some iron tablets NB!!! and get on the internet a bit, and of course have plenty of good cheap street food! I have to say i really liked this city but didn't meet many others who agreed!

Vientiene's victory monument aka vertical runway....made from cement donated by the USA to construct Vientienes airport, however the Laos decided to use it to build their monument another foot or two higher so that it was taller than the french's Arc de Triomph. This was to say 'HA' to the french as they came to Laos and left when it suited them without doing much good at all for the country.

This was a real lived in city, with just a little bit of everything that you need, no Starbucks or Mcdonalds, excellent street food and markets, nice temples, chill out by the river at sunset and carry on to some bars after just what the doctor ordered!

I spent my time in Vientiene walking constantly about 6 hours a day its such a great city to walk about my ole 20 rupie flip-flops from Calcutta still in one piece! Apart from endless walking i took a visit to Buddha park about half and hour from Vientiene.

Well what a strange place! It was made by a cave dwelling hindu-buddhist hermit. Its so strange, trudging along on the flimsey local bus through a tiny village and all of a sudden this crazy park pops up!

When you go in the mouth (see above!) you reach the inside of a strange room with very strange and slightly creepy things!


I had a little wander about loosing my flip-flops in the squishy mud. Really strange things here....would you worship this guy?

Anyway enough of the city, with my vitimans sorted i headed down south to the town of Thakek with a friendly Dutch guy i met at the Cambodian Embassy. I had heard that all around Thakek there are lovely caves and waterfalls and you rent a motorbike for a day or two to explore them.

We ended up making friends with a cool Japanese couple and a very humurous English guy, we discussed the travel plan that evening over many Beer Lao with some Laos policemen who where ridiculously drunk! So drunk their eyes where glazed over then they hopped on their motorbikes and clumbsily drove off only to come back half an hour later to drink more! When we asked are they ok to drive?? Their friends saying 'ahhh yes they the police!'
It really is quite vague here what the police do! I met a 13 year old boy driving a motorbike who said he started driving with when he was 12, he told me the legal age is 18 but its ok with the police!

The next morning the 5 of us head off on our motorbikes!

Within a few minutes we were back in very rural, rice land and mountains, beautiful scenery.
We couldnt find the 1st 3 caves marked on the map, a lot of the area was flooded from the heavy rain and the caves werent sign-posted. After a few random, unsuccessful treks to find a cave we EVENTUALLY found one!! you had to hop over a fence through a farmers ricefield to get there....and it was flooded, we couldnt go in.

BUT everything is possible!! We found some kids...or well some kids with a dodgy looking boat found us and offered to take us into the caves for a look. Very smart kids, my god children that age....about 8-12 years at home wouldnt be able for this at all!

As you can see the boat was more suitable for tiny Laos people!

The caves where really beautiful inside, it was a huge open area with lots of seashells!
I thought them how to make a whistle out of a blade of grass and they loved it!...i was very happy with myself! Dont usually know what to do to amuse kids
Do not touch this fluffy guy....poisoness!

After this we headed back on the road again to find more caves, unfortunately all were flooded even worse than this one so there was not much we could do but the adventure was fun! We were getting a bit hungry so we pulled in at a little roadside market.....somehow our hunger pangs faded a little!

Fancy dead bird for sale.....what in the name of god would you do with it?? Eat it? Stuff it?

Oh Yummy a snake!! Very popular in Laos aparently tastes a bit like chicken

All the women at the market were having a great chat about us. In Laos they use the word Falang for foreigner so as soon as you hear someone say 'ohhh Falang!' you know they are talking about you! We in turn had a good chat about them, one of the guys amazed them with being able to touch the cieling all the little women no taller than 5 foot!

We just happened to be driving like this when alex took the photo!

After spending about an hour sheltering from CRAZY thunder and lightning storm we headed off again cave searching and what a really cool one we found. We climbed about inside for over an hour, thank god everybody but me thought of bringing a flashlight!



There was no doubt that we were all completly knackered by the end of that day!! We decided to head for a little village called Mahaxi just about 6km away. The roads to this place were very muddy and the town itself had been turned into a mud pit from churning motorbike tyres and heavy rain. We found a place to stay at a 'homestay' and went on the search for food...well noodle soup is the only option! When we arrived back at the house to sleep the guy there explained that his mum had come home so we'd have to now share 2 single beds between 5! did it matter...NO! I was so tired before my head could hit the pillow (my bag) i was unconscious!

Mahaxi Petrol station

Noodle soup for breakfast and off we headed....not a coffee to be found in the town imagine that! I realised that maybe i am quite addicted to my morning coffee!

What we did that day i cannot remember (maybe due to no caffine!) however we stopped at the last village for the night before a notoriously 'bad patch'of road that we figured would be best after a good nights sleep in a bed and plenty of caffine in the morning.

Thalang really was in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing in the village just a few identical wooden houses on stilts and pigs and cows wandering around the place.

Lovely sunset....

We slept in a house on stilts and it was quite relaxing as it swayed in the wind a little like being in a rocking hammock!

After our breakfast of sticky rice and strips of chewy beef (and buckets of coffee) off we went!


Everything was going fine until...nooooo i crashed the bike! I had been using the handbrake all the time....didnt even know about the footbrake! So when i came to a sudden big hole in the road i tried to slow down but the surface was very gravely so off i slid.

No major injuries thank god just wasnt really in the mood to get back on the bike and the worst stretch of road ahead...if you can even call it a road!! Well my god almighty i dont like using bad language but it was a SHITTY SHITTY road!!! Really massive and deep muddy puddles that the bike was going all over the place driving through it and the water up to my knees, steep downhill rocky roads where i was so afriad to brake since thats how i fell and general sharp turns and steep ascents and decents and plenty of livestock.

This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the bad condition of this road!!

Many times i just stopped when we got to an obstable say...having to drive along a really narrow strip of mud about 3 inches wide i would stop the bike and wish i didnt have to do it!! But thanks to Jofra he really pushed me to drive through all this, sure couldnt the little 12 year old kids do it! I realised that i was well able to ride the bike before i fell off it, the day before i had enjoyed driving though little streams and up and down steep muddy was just fear that was making me forget how to ride it! It still was a nightmare...all 3 hours of it...but i learnt lots of things about myself and getting over fear! If ever i met a 'Yes Man' it was Johfra.

Alex delighting us with his rendition of AHA 'Taaaaake onnnn meeee!' at a no-name eating place, Nahin

I almost felt like kissing the ground when we passed under the red and white barrier to signal the end of this terrible road...very dramatic i know but it was awfully stressful at the time!

We arrived that night at my favourite village of the trip called Nahin. It was kind of a truckers stopping point kind of a village in the middle of nowhere but we found our home in a friendly restaurant with Karoke! It was very nice every evening after each long day driving we all had a few beers over our dinner and a great laugh! We all seemed to get on very very well and although i wasnt that keen on riding the motorbike at the time i didnt want this little adventure to end!

The most impressive caves of the ones we saw were these ones, the Kolonor caves. The are hollowed out by a river that goes on for 7km before reaching the opening at the other side. Some locals use this as a short cut between villages!

Supercool boat trip, it was so hard to get my head around how huge it was inside and the shadows where playing tricks with my eyes! A few times we entered an area where the roof was so high up and black i was convinced that it was night-time sky and we were on a river surrounded by some high mountains!

As we were travelling back through the caves on the way back the litte boat i was in with Alex and Jofra started to make spluttering noises....sure hadn't we run out of fuel! So the boat stopped in the middle of the huge pitch dark cave. It was very nice actually to have a break from the noise of the engine and if it wasnt for Johfra pretending to tip the boat over it would have been very relaxing! We certainly got our money's worth as the poor little 10 year old driving the boat had to paddle us the whole way back!

On our final stretch of road we went on the hunt for some 'cool spring' we had heard nice to cool down in this!

This may have been it but we didnt jump in with the Buffalo!

group photo!

Our final stretch of road was 140km of mostly straight, flat and livestock free still took us all day due to many really heavy thunder storms we had to shelter from.

When we saw the clouds like this we knew it was time to look for shelter ASAP!

About the 4th time we had to stop because of the close to being back at thakek yet so far! Card games and sweet supply exhausted

This was certainly a litte adventure that i wont forget. I drove the bike around the riverside in Thakek after we had returned to just have a last look around and enjoy the nice sunset.

Next day off to southern Laos. This is the 'egg-on-a-stick' mob!

Big thanks to Take and Aska for fixing up my many silly injuries all along our little adventure, to Alex for motorbike crashing empathy and of course to Johfra for without him i would never have completed one of the most challenging and stressful things so far in my life!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

North of Laos

Just a quick idea of north Laos very little internet here!!

Wow its crazy how different one country can be to another with just a 5 minute boat journey across a river! Immeditially poor looking and underdeveloped...i realise i had gotten very used to Thailand which was pretty luxurious after India! Sorting the visa was no problem, i had no plan at all what to do next though! It seemed like every other tourist there was taking a slow boat down to Luang Phabang which takes 2 days, 2 days on a boat on a wooden bench! I didnt want to do what every other tourist was doing so instead i hopped onto a bus to Luang Namptha about 6 hours north east and decided to spend a week or two up north in the mountains.

The boat from Chiang Kong in Thailand to Laos

All there was out the window the whole way to Luang Namptha were little bamboo hut villages and green jungle nothing else! Really rural stuff i hadn't really prepared myself for it! The houses were all bamboo huts with roofs made of leaves, people washing in the rivers or knee deep in water working in rice fields and pot-bellied pigs and chickens running about all over the place.

I rented a bike that day, the road was just a dirt track, so bumpy that i could hardly see where i was going when i went downhill! I felt quite uncomfortable actually, like a big rich american tourist, there was just too huge a gap between myself and the locals here. Instead of all the little kids running out to say Hallo!! they ran back into their house or just stared thinking what is this big white person!
Its crazy to think that most likely the folks here have no idea how the developed world is that this is their life! Its one thing when you see extreme poverty but i found this much harder to get my head around that these guys live like this! I could just imagine trying to explain stuff like internet cafe's, metros, plastic surgery...sure its a million miles away from them!

The next day i headed a bit more north to a little village called Muang sing. I was starting to relax a bit with feeling like the big tourist and just saying 'Sabadi!' to people regardless if they said hi back or ran/stared! This town was like the hole in a doenut surrounded by mountains and all the way up to the mountains there were rice fields shining with the reflection of the clouds.

Seems that in India i became really aware of sunrise and sunsets, here as the rainy season is really kicking in its clouds, and they hung very low in the sky covering half the mountains...never saw clouds like that before...beautiful stuff. It was just unbelieveable relaxing and peaceful here. As a crazy french guy i met in Chiang Mai said ..'violently relaxing'! Meaning it really forces you to relax! I hadn't realised it but i had been rushing around like crazy the last few weeks and i was actually quite hyper despite thinking i was relaxed, this was just the place for that!

Love it!!!

There really is 'nothing' to do here tourist-wise, no temples or sights to see just a calm, friendly village and amazing scenery. I really loved this so much, i walked for hours down little muddy lanes which ended in rice fields, met nobody, took pictures of cows and ducks, went to a smelly market selling all types of animal body parts and insects...mmm maybe later!

Oh dear two fattened up pot-bellied pigs just having a snooze.....beside the market....sweet dreams guys!!

Next i went East to Nong Kiaw which i was told has the best scenery in northern laos! It was a long old journey so i stopped off for the night at a town called Oudxami which is apparently a big chinese sex-tourism town! Well i loved the place, ok my hotel room was incredibly seedy with more than enough packets of condoms on the table!!! Had a nice wander, enjoyed the sunset, spied on the monks and slept well.

This is a penthouse size bamboo hut...or else many, many people live in there.

Look at this big fellow i found in my room!

The mountains are very different in every country i've been to and here is no exception, i've never seen mountains like them! Tall and narrow, pointy ones covered in thick, green jungle.

Sunrise on the river, view from my bamboo hut.

Little cloud wrapping itself around the mountain

I went for long walks here but i never came across anything. The roads just go on and on for miles through the forest. When i came across some old ladies walking the same direction i was going (and i had been walking about 2 hours already and found no trace of civilisation!) i had to wonder just how far do they walk everyday, i was ready to turn back! They where so sweet, grabbing my hand and very happy to say hallo, times like this i wish i had learn't a few more words of laos.

I've never seen a wild scorpion before unfortunately this guy was the flattened type!

Indian-style spelling on the it!

Took me ages to figure out what the hell this one was about! Toilet surfing? noooo!

And this is the little fellow i adopted while i was there, so cute when i threw a stone for her she'd go really hyper running around in circles through noodle stalls and under cars. Dogs here are just dogs not pets (maybe dinner i don't know yet!) so the locals found it very funny when i was playing with my little friend!

Sure butter wouldnt melt!

The icing on the cake for north laos for me was a little place called Muong Ngoi 1 hour on a boat from Nong Kiaw. Its not PUBLIC transport in Laos its more like SHARED transport, meaning that the driver wont leave until there's enough people to make a profit...and there was me turning up almost an hour early for the boat!

On the boat.... its strange to me that in India the women wear traditional sari's doing the most modern things like walking the dog in a posh area of Delhi, whereas here the guys wear Adidas while working in the rice fields...strange for me!

Just look at this place! It felt like your own private bay, surrounded by gorgeous mountains at either side. Got myself another lovely room for pennies. Electricty here just 6-10pm, no phone signal, no internet...i loved being totally cut off from the world this is the life!

More long walks here, boy it was so humid, just like holding your body over the steam from a pot of boiling water, it was really tropical! It amazes me how different climates can be around the world! I like tropical but the humidity can be a killer! this place had areas FULL of butterflies, black, red and yellow ones, maybe attacking me, but certainly fluttering all over amazing!

This little fellow started puffing himself up when i was taking the photo.

That evening i joined in the villagers cooking a pig! It was more fat than meat but quite tasty! I met some friendly people from England, USA and Switzerland and we had great chats over Lao Beer and the rather potent home-brewn Lao Lao - rice whiskey- aka paint stripper! One of the guys there had been to India and bought a sitar so he played away at that...i LOVE the sound of the sitar. Had big plans to go fishing the next day but i realised i had just enough money to get me to the nearest Luang Phabang....1 hour on a boat, 5 hours on the back of a truck and 30 mins in a tuc-tuc away!


Heavy clouds in the morning

I spent a few days in Luang Phabang, probably the country's 2nd biggest city, its a very pretty place, you feel like you are in a pretty little village in the south of France. It was SO good to eat well for very cheap at the night market....and i layed off the noodle soup for a few days!

Next stop a touristy place called Viang Vieng....maybe i wont ask this tuc-tuc driver to bring me there!