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!

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