A Travellerspoint blog

Ban Na Hin and Konglor Cave pics

Ban Na Hin and Ban Nyeng villages

semi-overcast 30 °C

Written on May 15,

This entry is strictly to illustrate my adventures of a few days ago, getting to and from the town of Ban Na Hin and it's 1 attraction: Konglor Cave.
As mentioned, we took a local bus, which stopped every minute for any reason, including food vendors, such as these ladies here:

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This chicken BBQ'ed on a stick tastes soooo good!!!

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These bugs were alive and crawling in the bucket!!! I normally refrain from having blatant reactions of horror at their food, but I don't think I succeeded very well there. I was very relieved that one one bought them on our bus! hehehe

This is the intersection where we were let off, at sunset...happening town as you can see! 3-Intersec..3_and_8.jpg

We were relieved to quickly find the taxi, which was switched at the last minute for this oddly comfy rice truck:
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We eventually made it to the very pretty, and small, town of Ban Na Hin. It is surrounded by lush greenery
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We eventually made it to the also very senic Konglor Cave, which spans several km long. On the river up to, and definitely inside, we regularly had to get out of the boat and help the guides pull it along (it didn't help that the water is at it's lowest, being the end of dry season, and that we were 3 falangs = the weight of at least 6 locals!)

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Most of these pics were taken at both entrance to the cave, as inside was pretty dark (I know! who knew it's dark in a cave!!!)

Although I would not recommend it, considering that the whole journey cost us approx $20extra (than if we had come directly to Vientiane) and was severely less comfortable and more tiring, I quite enjoyed it.
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 01:23 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng

it was touristy but fun!!

semi-overcast 29 °C

Written on May 15...

Back in Vientiane from Vang Vieng. The borders to this province of Laos have only been opened to falangs 3-4 yrs ago. There is apparently only a small small portion of Laos that is available to falangs for tourism, the rest remains completely off limits. I don't even know if Laos people can travel freely throughout the country (it is true that the vast majority is composed of dense vegetation - over %70 of the country- and therefore very remote and difficult to access.)

Since there was not much in the small town of Vang Vieng (except for the absolutely absolutely gorgerous scenery), the locals came up with the idea of offering tubing down a river while stopping at bars built every 300m where people can have a drink, jump down tarzan roaps, and just plain socialize and burn in the sun. Soft drugs are, like everywhere else here, unofficially widely available, but you're on your own if you get caught by the policemen's highly sensitive noses (hefty $500US fine, payable on the spot...)

Although clearly not authentic, this was actually quite a lot of fun. It didn't feel as bad as Si Phan Don (4000 islands) as the sole purpose of this attraction is to bring people to the town (as opposed to 4000 islands that were "discovered" by falangs, the word spread and more and more kept on showing up so the town had to adapt).

The town is known for it's tubing (of course) but also for the many caves that surround it. We decided to book a tour that brought us to 2 caves in the morning, provided lunch and then the infamous tubing in the afternoon. Overall, it was well worth our 120,000kips. We began at the Tham Nam cave. The only way to visit is it to sit on a tube and paddle our way through. We reach the end is approx 20 mins and then have to paddle back. It was very very nice inside, with the ceiling not reaching more than 2 meters high.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pics as everything was wet and I'm a chicken with my camera (it's always kept it it's protective case, inside a ziploc bag, inside my purse = often too far for many impromptu pics I'd like to take...and in this case, on top of it, my purse was inside a water-proof bag = very very far!!!). Anyway, here's the entrance to the cave.
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We then came out to find our lunch made of delicious fried rice served in a fancy banana leaf, and "made on the spot" skewers (we had veggie, but there was meat) cooked on an open fire. It was sooooo good!!!
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We then visited a cave called "Elephant cave", where natural rock formations look like elephant heads, before heading off to the much anticipated by Aliya (and I) tubing/drinking! yay!

This is Aliya in front of the 2nd bar. To the very left you can see the platform that people jump on a tarzan rope from. We both did it at the first bar (5m high), but this 12m high one, along with the crowd looking and commenting was a deterrent. Better to just drink and take it easy!

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Cute kids. The kids are soooo cute in Laos. Everywhere we go (specially places that are not too touristy) kids wave frantically at us and shout Sabaidee!!! Sabaidee!! (hello hello). These kids were waving from the side of the river to us falangs drifting down, but stopped just as I took the pic!!! still: too cute!

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Now, THIS is where our $12 tour came especially handy (vs$4 for the tubing only), as after we passed the bars (we only stopped at 3, but there are 5-6), there is still at least an hour of floating down the river (fact that was unknown to most people) to reach the town. Our guides took us in tow and we didn't have to paddle (soundly lazy I know, and it actually is, but by that point, we'd each had 3-4 big BeerLao and were happy to be lazy) + it started to rain and everyone else seemed miserable. We got off the water early and were wisked back to town. Most "unguided" people ended-up paddling alone, scared and cold in the complete dark! weee!
Good day overall!

To change the topic, here are the two main methods of transportation around Laos.
This is called a jumbo (by Lonely planet) and is litterally everywhere. It's either a lawnmower or tractor motor pulling a wooden platform. People had that instead, or as a completement to their motorbike.
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This is a tuk tuk. They are used as taxis and/or bus. These ones are pulled by a motorbike, but there a bigger/more powerful version available on a pick-up. We spend several hours on these getting from place to place (i.e. from Ban Na Hin to the Konglor cave - the road was do dusty I blew brown (from my nose) for a couple of days!3-Vang_Vieng_-_taxis.jpg

Changing topic for the last time today:
I must have mentionned the poor spelling throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. It is caused by the fact that they spell phonetically in their own languages, and therefore bring that to english as well. Many words don't make sense until you read them outloud, in context, with a local accent! hehehe
Here are a couple of examples:
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This is found on a mass produced water bottle distributed throughout the country!
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Restaurant menus are the best! countless examples, but I particularly liked the "Babicu" and Aliya liked the "stream" rice.
I also saw a tour adversising a visit to the "wasserfall",
and the board plaque for a "kindergarden and "premary" school" (it starts very wrong very early!!!). hehehe
hehehehehehehe!

Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 00:34 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laos!

it's "same same but different"...

sunny 30 °C

Written on May 8... actually, started on May 8 and finished on May 11...
(entry didn't save properly (to my great annoyance!!!) and I'm about to re-write/finish it)

We crossed into Laos on Many 4th, coming from the super high tech/high security Cambodia border into the "no less high tech and high security" Laos border.
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We headed straight to the island of Don Det, which is part of a place called Si Phan Don (or 4000 islands) on the Mekong river. It's very pretty, and we had to get used to a new currency all over again (I now have, HK$, Thai Bahts, $US, Cambodian Riels and Laos Kips in my money belt!) (other side note: in order to not use the words "money belt", I wanted to call it MB and ALiya wanted to call it Franklin (because of the US$)...so we agreed on "ch-brak", which is the acronym for Canadian,HK(minus the K),Bahts,riels,american,kips - nerdy we know!! hehehe, but hey, I'm a proud nerd!!

Back to Laos:
The island itself was more of a sore sight than anything else. Don't get me wrong, it's actually very very pretty, sitting on the Mekong river, with the people still practicing fishing (as you can see below) and traditional farming. However, and unfortunately, tourism has forced it out of it's tranquil pace into a wirlwind of cheap food, accomodation, booze and drugs... On that note, I was shoked to hear a guy order a mushroon shake, and Aliya and I debated a bit on the kind of mushroom... Wow, how weird ot have that, or weed added to any of yoru meals (i.e. I'll have a fried rice with weed please...!!!! hehehe)
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The island is divided into 2 main dirt paths, called Sunrise and Sunset blvd, lined with guest houses "huts". It reminded me of Haad Rin (on KoPaghan in Thailand) as there is not much there other than tourists who do nothing during the day and get hammered at night, and the locals who serve them. Furthermore, there's only electricity from 6 to 10pm (or so), which means "no fan" nights. In this heat, this means "sleeplessness and heaving sweating" (unfortunately not caused by any pleasurable experience), so we only stayed 1 night and promptly took off the following morning. I saw my first live cockroach that night, in our bathroom, approx 1 foot away from me. weeeewww! Seen them on the street and stuff and don't like them there, like them even less so close to me. Apparently, if you squish them, they lay their eggs, thus increasing the problem...ingenious move from mother nature, but still weeeewww!!

We then headed to the town of Pakse, where we encountered the fastest internet so far on this trip, allowing me to update my blog to...well, this entry would have been completed as well had the web site no F-up'ed. arrgghh!

In Paske, we realized we hadn't stayed anywhere for more than 1 night in the past 3 nights, so we decided to hang out a little (the fast internet was a strong strong incentive as well). On the second day, I got a massive bug (or food poisoning) and essentially vigorously emptied my body at both ends, thus keeping us in town for an extra day. Pakse is overall pretty unremarquable, except for the fact that it is approx 1 hour away from the Bolaven Plateau, known for it's nice waterfalls and many coffee and tea plantations. We decided to venture out (I didn't realize it was so far away at the time) and rented a motorbike. As we were driving away, Aliya, reading the Lonely Planet, advised of the distance, which made me cringe a little (it IS a long time on a motorbike, and she doesn't drive, so it's all me). We eventually made it to the main fall, which was quite nice, as you can see.

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Rain season has started here, and it started raining as we decided to head on further onto the plateau. Once hail started, I vetoed a "turn around", so we headed back down to the town of Paske. Hail on a motorbike is not exactly a fun experience, and it hurts!!! (hehehe)
On the way back, from time to time, Aliya's helmet would hit mine, and each time I wondered why. Well, it turns out that, as I was weaving through cows, pigs, chickens and ducks, and later through fairly heavy motorbike and big trucks traffic, miss princess back there was taking a nap and her head would dip forward from time to time!!! I got back to the hostel sooo tired and was ready to take a nap when she admitted to the deed! hehehe!!

Anyway, we were now faced with a fork in the road of our journey through Laos:
Option 1: VIP bus (aka nice and comfy) directly to the capital of Vientiane
Option 2: Local bus to a town called Ban Na Hin (sort of midway up on the way to Vientiane), then somehow make our way to a 7km-long cave (approx 2 hours out of Ban Na Hin) called Kon Lot.

Since we were looking for a bit of adventure, we chose option 2.
We headed on our local bus (sat on the very first 2 seats, for fun and for the view) at 7am. No other falangs around, no one speaking english or french (except for a Vietnamese guy, very little english).

Side note: In Thailand, we are called Farangs, Cambodia: Barangs, Laos: Falangs - close, here we'd say "same same but different". I know it's not a very nice thing when the Thais say it, I haven't really heard it from the Cambodians, but the Laos people call us that openly and everywhere, so I think it's not as derogatory (after all, in all three languages, it's simply the word for "foreigner")

Back to the bus; It must not have gone faster than 10km/hour for the first hour or so, and stopped throughout the trip almost every 500 meters to either pick up/drop off someone, stop for food (vendor ladies walking around with their meat on a stick - I have pics to load up, but the internet here is painfully slow, so another time), pee stop (on the side of the road, rarely at proper toilets), many cigarette stops and so on. hehehe, it was fun but long (we got to the fork of the road where we were to be let off at 6:30pm)

We promptly found a pick-up taxi they use everywhere here, and found out that it was leaving at 7pm for Ban Na Hin. Very well. At 6:55, a massive "open top" truck, partially filled with rice bags pulled up. We were informed that this was the transportation method to Ban Na Hin, not the regular pick-up. It took a few seconds, until locals actually started climbing up at the back, to confirm/realize that it was really true, not a joke (didn't help that the guy telling us was laughing!).
We were offered a spot in the cabin, but opted for the outside, sitting on rice bags (might as well take it like locals!) for the 1 hour ride. Overall, it was actually quite enjoyable (surprisingly)!!! and rice bags are hard but comfy (I'm sure I've slept on harder beds many times!).
It became a bit scary when one of the bridges was broken, so our truck had to venture on a dirt road, in the forest, to drive through the river (still very low since rainy season just started) but we eventually arrived at the only guesthouse in town (where no english or french is spoken at all!!) and got a quite decent room.

Following day:
We got up and followed Lonely Planet's advise to catch a taxi thingy (pick-up) to a next town (and an diff one to a next town, and so on, for a total of 3 towns), on our journey to the Konglor (local spelling, LP called it Kong Lot) cave. We met with an American guy on the same pick up and ended-up spending the day with him. The ride was made much easier as the pick-up drove all the way to the last town, where we were told there would be no pick-up going back later in the day and we had to do a home-stay. I had really wanted to do a home-stay, but, stupid me, whenever someone tells me something is a way and cannot be different, I have a tendency to want to do different. We could have gone back for a hefty price, so we decided ot accept, kinda, the home-stay offer (also for a fairly hefty price of $5ea).

We eventually head off to the cave on a boat. The trip was very very pretty, the cave lasting for very long (I doubt the 7km estimate, but maybe, several Kms for sure), with stalagmites and stalagtites. It was quite eery to be in such a dark and remote space (our 2 non-english speaking guides had powerful flashlites and we had our small shitty ones). A shalow river was flowing through the cave, and we often had to get off the boat and walk in the water as there was rapids or the water was simply too shallow. We ended-up at the other end of the cave, to another tiny town. Apparently, the locals found out there was "another end" when one farmer lost his duck, and it was found at the other town. They then tested with a log and so on until they were comfortable with it. It's now one of the main links between these two towns (separated on land by a mountain!) and is well marked. Our guides knew it like the back to their hands, turning the motor of the boat off a few seconds before the bottom of the boat touched the rocks, and knowing where to turn and what angle to take the boat at. It was reassuring to see that! The ceiling of the cave was generally approx 2-3 storeys high, but sometimes up to 6-7. We took pics, but only a few ones are good. I love my camera and am so thankful to have it, but it has it's limitations, and a cave definitely is too much for it! hehehe

We took a break, then head off again through the cave back to our original town. Upon arrival (4 hours later), we found a pick-up with a different driver in it. Upon much gesturing and trying to figure out, we confirmed that he was going back to Ban Na Hin within a few minutes. We then hopped on it and left.

It is now one of my main "missed opportunities" of this trip so far.... I regretted leaving the instant we did, and blame my stubbornness ("you say I can't, let me show you I can" attitude)...To be honest, we really didn't have the money for this (we arrived in Vientiane with less than 50,000kip each) and would have been in a bit of a pickle (the american guy said he would have lent us a bit of money until we got here, but still...) and Aliya wasn't too keen on the idea in the first place, but it sure would have been an experience.

I think my main problem with not staying, other than being potentially mis-interpreted/rude by the locals, is that I always thought that I wanted to do this trip as "real' as possible. However, when the opportunity was forced upon me, I reluctantly agreed and took my chance to get out of it... I have to re-evaluate my assessment of "how real I really want this trip", I guess.... I'll go for medium I guess... (how canadian of me! hehehe)

Anyway, what's done is done, and I was glad to sleep in one of the most comfy bed (rock hard, but the blanket was soooo nice!!) I've slept in so far. No shower though, as there was simply no water pressure. I'm on my 3rd day without and look forward to a shower this evening!!!

This morning at breakfast we met with a hig-up of the dam that is built (they're working on a second) near that town. He started talking with us, and spoke good french and english (and russian and thai and diff dialects of laos!) and gave us a bit of info aboutthe place and history, but more interestingly, about their gov.
(Bit of info from LP:Laos is a Democratic Republic.Eventhough the word communist doesn't exist in any of their logal/official/constitutional paperwork, it is said that no non-communist person will ever be a member of the ruling party...)
I asked about the reaction of the locals when they started to build and stuff, and said that in Canada it always raised a lot of protest and stuff. He smiled a little and said: "When the government wants to go something, it does it". He added that the locals were simple and looking for peace and not violence or conflict... hmmmm...ok! He of course pointed our benefits of the dam (i.e. electricity to the houses of the area, better roads, etc) Overall, he was quite interesting to speak with (fyi, most of the electricity is sold to Thailand!).

We hopped on the first bus that drove by this morning, only to find out that it was a Vietnamese bus on the way to Vientiane. No problem with that, and actually better, as we didn't stop every 500m like the local Loas bus does! As a result, the ride took 3 hours instead of probably 4-5. Same conditions though; no air-con, windows opened (aka wuper windy and dusty), loud "bad" local (in this case Vietnamese) music playing on the PA system and a TV....ahhh good times. Unfortunately, my stomach started bothering me again during the trip and I ended-up fighting massive cramps for the whole journey. Normally, Aliya and I end-up each in our "happy place' on these trips, where we just daydream and think about whatever. Unfortunately, today, my happy place invariably included a toilet and made my pain worst ! hehehe To make matters even worst, we never stopped at a proper place, but instead drive approx 1km past a "real toilet" to stop on the side of the road and people to go in the bush. I held it in with great pain, but was just not ready for this yet (back to my "how real do I want it"!! - but event he local Laos but did "proper stops" - and this was Vietnamese- same same but different!)

So anyway, we made it to Vientiane, and are leaving tomorrow for Vang Vieng, a town where we can apparently tube down a river while stopping at bars and drinking up... yippeee! tourist attraction anyone??
We'll be back in Vientiane on Monday as Aliya needs to get a visa for Thailand... so more on here at this time.

Posted by Mistrale 06:44 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Last days in Cambodia...

Kratie town (pronounced "Krautcheh") and Stung Treng

sunny 31 °C

We moved on from Phnom Penh to a small town called Kratie, located in between Phnom Penh and the Laos border.It's quite small, but I may just have to move there one day.
Indeed, women there (as in many parts of Cambodia, but it seemed more prevalent in Kratie) wear pyjamas OUT ON THE STREET!!! to run arrands, and stuff!!! Ideal world or what!!!
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This is only 1 pic, but they are EVERYWHERE!!! hehehe!

The main attarction is Kratie is to see the Irrawwady dolphins, a rare specie of fresh water dolphins who remain only in very few numbers in certain part of the region. They are under pressure due to the "same old" pollution and destruction of their habitat, but their population took a significant dive when the Khmer Rouge shot them as practice targets for many years (champion!!).
There are no pictures of the many we were lucky to see, as they don't exactly pose and wait for a pic, and they don't jump or anything either. In any case, it was a very pleasurable moment.

We stayed in Kratie for a couple fo days as it is a nice quiet, "real" town and everyone was extremely friendly (having at us and saying hello ALL THE TIME). In any case, we didn't learnt he word for hello in Khmer, as everyone greeted us with the english version (contrary to Thailand or even here in Laos where they actually only use their language (and currency!!)

Let's end this Kratie entry with a sunset from our hotel (yes yes, a hotel, for $3US/night, we got a actual hotel, where many members of the UNESCO, UN and OXFAM regularly stay!! It was nice after the super noisy dormitory in Phnom Penh!) and it was right on the magnificient and 1km wide - in dry season) Mekong river

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We left Kratie for the town of Stung Treng, the closest town to the Laos border.
Here is a pic of the bus terminal fo Stung Treng.
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(hehehe, yes it's an empty field!)
We arrived there after a few hour bus (local bus -we were the only white people) ride.
Funny interlude:We have so far noticed over and over again that "kids are kids are kids" (ie. seeing them play around and interact, and..just be), but we got a proof that "men are men are men" on that bus. It kinda broke down a little on the way. The driver and another man came off the bus to see and fix the problem, well, within about 2 minutes, almsot every man on the bus had also stepped outside and were standing around, looking as if to assess the problem, but not doing anything. The bus driver fixed it (under the watchful eye of about 10 othe rmen) and everyone cam back ont eh bus and we took off! hehehe! Unfortunately, only women don't seem to be equal or same same everywhere...

So anyway, we didn't stay long in Stung Treng as it is an official hole small town, with nothing but garbage everywhere (this can be extended to all of Cambodia, but at least there's normally other stuff to see as well). They at least have a nice sunset, as you can see...
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We got screwed pretty bad here by the travel agent guy (actually, it was totally our own fault). We got a price from him and walked around to get other prices - as one must ALWAYS do-. His was $12, and the only other person we were able to get a price from quoted us $9....it sounded like the itineary was the same (boat to bus to border, bus to boat to island). Being Westeners, we were worried about such a big difference (which is rarely more than $1-2, even if you visit 10 places). We saw our man againa nd asked him, He sais we must not have got the last boat (to the island - our destination)...we believed him and bought our $12tickets (asking him got him to throw-in breakfast, which technically reduced the cost to $11).
(Imp detail: he repeatdly said that he took us himself across the border, and he had a group of people who had just come from Laos with him staying at the hotel. We talked with them and they seemed happy with him...)

Well, we get on the boat, and we're the only white people again. As the boat begins to leave (it's a small small small ferry boat, 10 min crossing the Mekong) Aliya says: "At least our man is still on the boat", at which exact moment he starts walking and GETS OFF the boat!!!!
We're like....hmmm....
We get off ont eh other side, walk up the dirt road to the road, wondering how long we should wait before turning around to go beat him up.. when someone waves at us. We get to the minibus, only to find THE OTHER MAN!! who had quoted us the CHEAPER tickets!!!! He asked us how much we paid and looked actually pretty pained..so were we! He ended up dirivng us to the border, and we ended up all fine on our journey, but we paid way too much!

Finishing this entry with the "super high tech/high security" Cambodia border:
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Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 05:21 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Killing fields

Also very difficult entry, you might want to steer clear

sunny 31 °C

Following our visit to the S-21 Museum, we headed to the killing fields.

Other than the actual fields themselves, the site has a memorial building, which holds the skulls, sorted by age and gender, of everyone found on these fields.
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The fields themselves are not extremely impressive, but the information associated with it is "out of this world".
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Pieces of clothing and bones can be seen piercing through the ground as we walk around. Signs explain what was done in certain areas (i.e "this tree was used to hang a PA sistem that played music to cover the moans of the people as they were beaten to death", or "this tree was used to kill children, they were attached and beat against the trunk").

Indeed, bullets were scarced and expensive, so most people where beaten with a hammer to they death, or close enough, before being covered by other bodies and DDT (to cover the smell!).

Overall, this day was quite the thing. Upon walking out, our Tuk Tuk driver asked uf we wanted to go to the orphanage. We decided we had seen enough human suffering and decided to safely head back to the hostel......

Posted by Mistrale 06:51 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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