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Faces in Places Traveling as the Uni of Life

Lao. Whao!

LAOS | Saturday, 19 January 2008 | Views [1348]

Muong Ngoi mainstreet; where falang (foreigners) and locals meet.

Muong Ngoi mainstreet; where falang (foreigners) and locals meet.

Hi friends and family. Hope you're all doing alright! I decided to start writing my blog in english, because I've got some requests from people that I met on the road and also because since I'm talking english all the time, it is actually just as easy (if not easier) for me to do so.. Hope you don't mind. 

Just after Christmas I left Don Det in the 4000 islands to head for Pakse in southern Laos, together with Hugh, Feye and Rachal. Here we rented motorbikes for a couple of days to make a loop thru the countryside and to see several, of many, waterfalls nearby. Driving motorbikes is just awesome and a great way to explore the country. We drove on a well paved road, passing small villages situated along the side. Here, time seems non-existent, exposing a unique traditional and natural life style. Currently it is winter in Laos, making the country dry and dusty. This, together with all the wood used in construction, (i.e. wooden wheels), give Laos a certain 'western' or 'cowboy' vibe which I haven't seen in other countries in S.E. Asia.

On the second day we decided to randomly turn right and found ourselves driving on a dirt road, wondering where it would take us. It took us to a small village, where people were clearly surprised to see us. They knew what foreigners want though, and so two men insisted to bring us to 'their' waterfall. Ofcourse we went with the flow.. and so we started a two hour hike thru coffee plantations, then rise fields, then thick jungle and eventually climbing down a steep hill to reach a beautiful isolated 70m high waterfall. This was quite a treat, since the other waterfalls in the region where A; not as beautiful and B; often crowded with pink-hat-wearing Japanese tourists. After a refreshing dive and shower we hiked back to the village, where we were welcomed by some shots of lao-lao, the localy made rise wine (read; 50 percent alcohol horror). Slowly driving along we found a place to sleep with a local family..

After three days we returned our bikes in Pakse and got on the nightbus to Vientiene, the capital of Laos. Here we wanted to spend our new years eve and arrived there in the morning of the 31st of December. The previous weeks had been rather rural, which means; cold bucket showers, sticky rise for diner and basically feeling dirty 24/7. Therefor Feye, Hugh, Rachal and I weren't completely upset about the fact that most hotels in Vientiene were booked out and we had to sleep at a 28$ a night room, which, to Laos and my standards is absurdly expensive. The shiny wooden room was amazing, so was the shower, the balcony and the clean bed. This 'luxery thing' started to become a running joke for the days we spend in Vientiene. We ended up buying red wine, Dutch cheeses, pesto and went to the Scandinavian bakery for breakfast, feasting on ham and cheese croissant and spinach quiche. All of this may sound quite normal for you back home, but after months of rise and noodles this is the biggest present you could give to yourself... And thinking of it, it probably made me feel like being a little bit closer to home during this family month... Yes, I did miss ya'll! It was realy good though, to share these moments with my 'Don Det family', Hugh, Feye and Rachal.

Anyway, so we went to pa-haaar-ty on new years eve! First we sat down near a fountain in the centre of Vientiene. Maria and Thomas (or; The Sweeds) joined us there and we started drinking vodka and teaching each other new drinking games. Soon, we were accompanied by some lady-boys sitting on a table a few metres away with some dirty old white men. After chatting and calling for 'cheers!' and 'buttoms up!' for a while, we left to crash a party nearby. Some dancing on the street later, we headed for an official-looking party at the Cultural Centre of Vientiene. This is where we wanted to be during the 2007 to 2008 countdown. Without asking we were almost immediately invited into the party by the minister of culture and his wife and sat down at their table drinking with them. We did some traditional dancing and after sincerly thanking our hosts, we left when the party died, only to find another one. At the riverside of the Mekong, we danced around two big fires on European trance until the first sunrise of the new year made me wanting to go to bed...

The rest of my days in Vientiene I cycled around and explored a bit, while drinking fruit shakes.

Then me and my International family moved on to Vang Veng, some K's above Vientiene. Vang Veng is famous for it's 'tubing', which basically means floating down a river in an inflated truck tire, while stopping at some bars to drink loads of beer, dance on psy trance, chill down at a fire with Bobby M. and jump into the river from high swings made into the trees. This however was stated by us as a 'tourist attraction' and so we were in denial of doing it during the first couple of days. We spend cycling and driving on motorbikes, exploring the surrounding villages and caves. On the third day we broke by peer pressure and good sounding stories and so we went tubing, only to find out that it is so much fun that we could hardly wait to do it again the next day. :-)

Three days of lazyness later I felt that I didn't had seen the 'real Laos' yet and realized that it was time to move on by myself and to go of the beaten path and search for Laos' spirit. Thus I said goodbye to Feye, Hugh and Rachal and went to Phonsavan, more to the east of Laos. This region is one of the heaviest bombed regions in the world and a good base to learn more about the 'secret war' that the US spelled on Laos in the 60's and 70's. A few facts;

- more bombs where dropped on Laos then all the bombs dropped on Germany during WWII, making up for an estimated grant total of one ton (100.000) of bombs for every person in the country. Do I even have to clearify that Laos people had no involment whatsoever in the American war in Vietnam?

- The bombs used were newly created cluster bombs; one bomb would open in the air and dropped hundreds of small round bombies at once... Only able to kill people by the way... no structures, no tanks.

- Nowadays, hundreds of people still get their hands or legs blown off or die due to unexploded bombies, which also makes it impossible for them to grow crops on their land, since it is scattered with bombies.

- American planes that would fly from their base in Thailand to bomb Northern Vietnam and would find too much resistance there, were simply ordered to drop their bombs onto Laos, because landing back in Thailand with a full load was considered too risky.

Anyway, again; information that blows your mind about the wars in S.E. Asia. Go see the independent American documentary 'Bombies' if you're interested!

... Two days later I left Phonsavan for a small place called Nam Noen, close to Vietnam. Being the only foreigner in this town got me some more interesting experiences, like drinking beer with a group of Lao gold hunters and in the morning observing how a lot of woman from the village would came to the fire where I sat down, to light their opium pipe before hitting the rise fields for work.. No wonder Laos people are so laid-back I realized. :-)

Many many hours waiting for transport later, an overcrowded minibus picked me up. My seat was on the roof together with the luggage. Hell, this gave me great views over the mountains and valleys, while the bus curled down the curly roads to Nong Khiaw, my next destination. I needed to transfer into yet another overcrowded bus, which, during the seven hour ride, got more and more crowded, until you could easily call it insanely crowded and pretty much unresponsible. To illustrate the bus ride; I was sitting on the leaning of a chair, with one or two persons sitting on the actual seat below me. In the pathway people were sitting on seats or cargo, while other people stood on their laps holding on the railing above them. Babies were passed around and the guy that would collect the fees would literally get out of the window in front of the bus, crawl over the bus from the outside to enter the window at the end of the bus,.. while the bus was driving along the unlit roads that is.

When I arrived at Nong Khiaw at around 11PM my legs were screaming for blood and my stomach for food and so I gave them some. Then I crashed in a small bungelow, having no clue where I ended up this time...

Next day my aim was to take the boat upriver to Muong Ngoi, which I got recommended by some people. Early in the morning low clouds covered the area, but when the sun slowly rose the clouds would be replaced by stunning jungle overgrown mountains. The trip took about an hour and the small wooden boat sometimes had difficulty fighting the strong rapids. Muong Ngoi turned out to be more then how people could describe it; small town life among a spectacular scenic natural setting. I stayed at the last guesthouse on the main road which was owned by a lovely family. Tourism here is just a few years old and the amount of them is small... even much smaller then on Don Det in the south. The lively mainstreet is an interesting mixture of small restaurants, guesthouses and peoples homes and like everywhere in Laos, people are easy accessible, making you feel at home almost instantly.

Same day, late afternoon, while watching the sun disappear behind one of the mountains and enjoying a not-so-cold Beerlao, all of a sudden Rachal showed up! After sharing our stories of the past week, we settled down around a fire with other travellers that found their way to paradise. In the days that followed, the nice group of people where I was with, had bbq's, made music, did treks in the forest, explored some local dishes and drugs, swam in the river or in caves... in short; we had an unforgetable time!

All of these impressions and adventures made me a bit sick again though, and since it can get pretty cold at night, I got a cold/fever for some days. But with good care of the people around me, bringing me fruit shakes and blankets, that, except for intense nose-sniffing, is behind me.

Now I am in Louang Probang since a couple of days, the old capital of Laos. This is my last stop in this great, great country and a perfect base for buying souveniers, which I can send home (hopefully) cheaply from Bangkok next week. Although touristic, Louang Probang has a relaxed atmosphere, with lots of pretty buildings, temples and markets.

At the moment I'm thinking of skipping Thailand a bit, since I can always go back there and see the 'same same' thing. Therefor I'm heading from here directly to Bangkok and from there I will fly next week to the Philippines.

Love to ya'll and as always it is delighted to hear from you!

Daan

Tags: Adventures

 

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