A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Last bit through Laos, and arrival in Thailand

We're now in Chang Mai, Thailand, but let's start with the journey to get here!

overcast 30 °C

Written on May 22...

Oh my... don't even know where to begin! We just finished a 3 day journey from Luang Prabang to Chang Mai.
Our last day in Luang Prabang was pretty much a lost cause, as we didn't feel like doing much and therefore didn't visit either the museum or any of the many many Wats (including the 500yrs old one, saw both from the outside - just didn't want to pay the $5 total to get in+ have to change clothes to cover our shoudlers = too much effort).

We then headed on the 2 day-trip on a boat, on the Mekong river, to the town of Huay Xai, which is a border crossing with Thailand.
The first day started so so, as there are 2 types of seats on these boats (as we found out on arrival), the "comfy" ones (aka car seats) and the wooden ones (aka wooden seats).
This is a pic fo the boat and of its inside....
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All the comfy ones were already taken, so we ended up on the wooden ones, which is essentially a small bench with a very straight back, no lumbar support and a tiny, hard coussin. hmmmm... We were mentally prepared (from Lonely Planet), so it wasn't soo bad until, about halfway on the first day (so 4-5 hours in), the motor of the boat broke down so we were transferred to another, slightly more luxurious boat, with more comfy seats. We ended up on one, and my butt went "hmmmm", but more importantly, my back (which I didn't really know was unhappy), went "'ahhhhhaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!"
So we spent the rest of that day on comfy seats (which also get old after a short while, but remain better than the wooden ones anytime!).
To be fair, those motors were working very very hard, as we were going up river, and the current is quite strong. Being low season, we repeatedly had to get through rapids (sometimes - but rarely- touching rocks on the bottom) and there was a great number of whirlpools, which makes me think that this river is not exactly one you want to swim in (that is, if you can get past the thick yuky pollution brown foam and some dead animals that float by!)

The view is quite nice throughout the trip, with high mountains, many many small villages (many of which can only be reached via boat), lots of jungle and the water, which ranges from somewhat gross to downright nasty, yet locals wash their clothes & themselves in it, use it for farming, fishing and I don't want to know what else, but it's clearly one of their main source of water... I really wish I had seen this aspect of the Mekong before I decided to have a "fish from the Mekong" dish the nigth before (it was ok, simply white fish with lots of bones...) Anyway, here is some of the scenery along the way...

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These are people farming on the banks of the river, it was quite a common sight.

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The fishing with these square nets supported by a bamboo structure was also quite a common sight and seems to be one of the main way to fish around here. People simply dip the net in the water and lift it from time to time (when they see a fish in it maybe?) some do it from the river side, some do it on boats.

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The concrete structure with the red end is a water marker and shows how hight the river swells during wet season!

We stopped in a small town called Pak Beng, which is midway between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, for the night. This town has been existing for a very very long time, with the main purpose to be a pit stop on the road. It therefore doesn't have much else than guesthouses and restaurants, and very few people stay longer than 1 night there. All electricity is provided by generators and doesn't run very long in the evening. Anyway, the population in Thailand (a little less here but still), Cambodia and Laos lives very much with the sun. People start very early, take a break from 11-2:30, then work again until sundown. They have dinner shortly after (around 7) and many town are almost completely shut down 9pm. Aliya actually noticed in Luang Prabang: a restaurant was full of people at 9:30pm, and she was like...that's weird! The reply: it's foreigners! Different schedule! yes, right! I must admit that I'm enjoying the "going with the sun" schedule a lot, it feels soo right (except for the getting early part, I leave that to locals! hehehe)

We headed on the second day on the comfy seats and slowly but surely made our way to Huay Xai. The town is quite nice, but also mainly a passage between Thailand and Laos/the rest of Asia - it has been used for centuries, as the Mekong is no wider than 1km at that height. The difference between Thailand and Laos is quite stricking in those last few kms, as one side is quite well developped with proper housing and infrastructure, while the other side is still shacks and agriculture and barely anything!

We spent the night in Huay Xai, and Aliya crashed really early (not feeling too well) but I went to have a few beers with some of the guys we'd met on the boat. There were 2 British, 1 French, and a Canadian! It's always soo entertaining to see the difference in lifestyle and personalities (between the people specifically, but also as nationalities).
A local man came to chat with us and invited us to karaoke (he goes regularly of course!) so the Canadian and I went. We were expecting a packed house, but nooo, it was pretty dead, with only two tables (one of them being our man and his friend) and a bunch of younger kids. They all take it very seriously, and they even put some American music for us (Eric Clapton and Frank Sinatra! hehehe) to sing along! It was very funny and I'll probably never agree to go to a karaoke again! hehehe Anyway, good times!

The next day I dragged my ass out of bed to get across the border. The custom agent in Thailand had a great time trying to say our names (they are normally in a very serious mood, but this one was a jolly one! hehehe) and we headed on yet another 9 hour journey, on bus this time, to the town of Chang Mai. I love Thailand! It's a lot better than Cambodia or Laos. Thailand apparently means "Land of the Free' as they were never conquered, and it actually felt like that. It felt free and happy, that is, until the bus stopped at a road block and a police office came on board to check everyone's ID...hehehe. I felt giddy for the first time in weeks and was excited to go through a market and gorge on deep friend food (it IS the land of the deep fried as well - chicken, bananad, potatoes, etc). Today I just feel fat from, all this deep fried, so no more for a while! hehehe

We finally made it to Chang Mai, and it's an ok town, but not really what I was expecting - a lot bigger! It has approx 1.5M people, and the central area is surrounded by a wall that was erected over 700yrs ago to protect the (then smaller) city from Burmese invasion.
I don't have much good to say about here, other than it's in Thailand, and most of the prettiness is found in the small alleys, not the big streets... Most of the attractions here include trekking trips for 2-3 days to hilltribe villages, etc. I was going to get on one of those trips until I read a note at a restaurant that said "I hate leeches". It strongly reminded me of my Khao Sok experience of being repeatdly attacked, and made me promptly forget the idea... Instead I bought a ticket for a smaller town called Pai and I leave tomorrow.
This is where my journey with Aliya ends, as she will stay here. She might end up doing Muay Thai boxing for 1 month, but I only have 2 weeks left in the country before leaving for India, so I want to see a few more places before going... It was a good time and all good things come to an end! Farewelll Aliya!

To conclude this, here are a few funny spelling mistakes found in Laos (there's a bit less here in Thailand, but I will keep my eyes open - should be fairly easy!)
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"Spingrool" and "Water-crass soup" hehehe

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"Scream bledeggs" hahahah! I had to read it fast and out loud to get what they meant!

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Now, my problem with this one is that I have quickly learned to not have expectations of anything good when I travel, this way I'm always ok, or better yet, impresed! hehehe!
Cheers!

Posted by Mistrale 07:03 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

It's in Northern Laos...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Written on April 17...

Well, we made it to Lunag Prabang after the longest drive on the most sinuous road in the world(according to me at least). For 12 hours, 300km trip, the bus must not have gone in a straight line for more than 100 meters - overall! It was sharp left after sharp right, going up, then down hills, on the side of a mountain, then another, more left and right, left, right, left, right = the longest 12 hours in history!
The first half of the trip was through a massive downpour (I love rain, will miss it SOOOO much when I live in Mtl...SOOOOO MUCH!!!!), but it cleared and we got to see the absolutely stunning scenery of the mountains & valleys, tropical forest, tiny villages right on the road, and sadder views of quarters of mountains completely cleared/deforested...it's a problem everywhere I guess!

Sleeping on the bus was difficult and unfomfortable (as opposed to the usual completely passing out that I normally do for a couple of hours) because we kept on getting jerked from one side to the other (from the bus turnign sharply), constantly! We even paid for a VIP bus instead of our preferred local bus to increase the confort level (and because there were a few instance until 2004 of local busses being attacked and everyone on it killed...major deterrent!). The bus broke down at some point (about halfway) and I'm pretty sure we lost the muffler or something, as it became very very loud! hehehe between that and the driver who hard a hard time with the clutch...good times! hehehe

So anyway, we made it to the extremely touristy town of Luang Prabang, anciently the capital of Laos...not sure when it was moved, but a long itme ago. The French influence is still, like everywhere else in this country, largely present, with stuff in french everywhere, a shitload of French tourists, and some architecture.
It's ok, but very small and the only things to see/visit/do around here are Wats (Buddhist temples), elephant treeking (already done in southern Thailand), waterfall and cave visiting (also already done), trekking in the jungle (I still remember the sting of the leeches in Khao Sok - so no thanks!) and shopping (we all know my most dreaded activity, especially on THIS budget!)....SOOOOO... we will visit a bit tomorrow (there's a museum and a 500yrs old Wat) then take off on a 2 days journey on the Mekong river to the Thai border, back to beautiful Thailand! yay!
Other than that everything is good, I've been in a bit of a rut since Pakse where I'm tire dof travelling. I fully realize I can't complain, but I also fully realize I'm definitely not one of those people who will want to travel extensively all their lives.. good to know! hehehe

Cheers
P.S. There was apparently an earthquake in the town here...it may have been on the news in your part of the world, but it's really nothing here. We didn't feel anything at all and everything is same same here, so no worries!

Posted by Mistrale 06:39 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane!

Deserves it's title of "most relaxed capital"...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Written on May 16...

Vientiane is a pretty quiet town for a Capital city. It sits on the Mekong river, across from Thailand. Everything closes around 10pm, and no later than 11:30 by law (except for a few very rare clubs).
We scored a great great guest house, with hot shower and air con, and most important: quietness!!! (Almost all the hotels we've stayed at for the past 3 weeks have been doing renos, and start around 7-8am no matter what, so quietness is not something we had experienced recently. As a result, we both slept in late on each day, it's good to rest once in a while (from this exhausting lifestyle!!! hehehe) Anyway, we are leaving tomorrow from Luang Prabang which is supposed to be the prettiest town in Laos... we'll see!

We didn't do much yesterday day, but went on our first adequate bender last night, after finding a place that sold 50,000kip pitchers and get a ref from a couple of local boys on where to go dance after. Ahhh, good times! The boys were so nice and cute, but it's actually illegal here to hook-up with a local; a falang needs a permit!!! Finding out about this crushed my life-long dream of hooking-up with a Laos guy, so I drank my sorrows away! hehehe... or not!

Today we visited a couple of "must see sites", the first one is called Paxtai, which apparently translates to Arch of Trimupm.
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It's actually quite high (7 storeys high) and acts as a view point of the city.

The best part is the explanation board:
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hehehe! big block of concrete! hehehe gotta love Laos honesty!

We then made it to the most important national monument in Laos (it's on the official seals and on the money): Pha That Luang

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It's a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty and it's full Lao name translated to World-previous Sacred Stupa. A stupa is the Buddhist way to let the spirits rise (and I believe re-incarnate). When one dies his/her ashed are put in one. They range from a pile of dirt to elaborate structures (always pointy) with morrowr, gold and decorations. They are everywhere in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and are always sacred.

Pha That Luan was quite nice to visit and very pretty. It was destroyed and re-built, and expanded a few times, so there isn't much left of the original...but I believe this was.
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Well, let's conclude with a couple of pretty, random pics...
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Cheers!
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Posted by Mistrale 04:29 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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)

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