Good Morning Viet Nam

Monday, March 07, 2005

Lovin' Laidback Laos

Saba-dii (Hello) Everyone! Yes, I am still alive and full of stories of my Laos adventures as of yet. While this is only meant to be the highlights of the last 3 weeks I can't promise it will be brief. Better hang on....

Upon my arrival into Laos, which is pronounced "Lao" without the "s" - the french are responsible for that typo, go figure -, I met my travelmate for the past 2 weeks, Lara. Yes, that's right, as in Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and she's just as kickass in that she is 26, from Colorado, a rock climber, AND a Ashtanga yoga (my fave) teacher. The Laotian villagers didn't know what hit them when we struck a few poses after lunch. Priceless. Needless to say, Lara and I were the perfect pair and I couldn't have asked for a better travel companion. Sadly, we parted ways today, as she only has a 15 day visa and thank God I have a 30 day one. But, never fear, our paths will cross again in southern Thailand in a couple of months. Never let the good ones go.

Right, back to our arrival into Laos..... Took the slow boat, which was way too slow for 2 days of sitting on hard wooden benches, from the border to Luang Prabang. LP is a charming town with quite the collection of Buddhist and French colonial architecture clustered together on a small riverine peninsula and surrounded by mountains, as stated in the Lonely Planet. The night market was great and the theme of our Laotian purchases has been scarves. They are gorgeous and so colorful! But let it be known, that I did NOT buy any scarves in LP, and that it was Lara that went nuts first, not me. I just followed suit later on in our trip.

After LP, we grabbed a sawngthaew and headed north to Nong Khiaw. A sawngthaew is my new favorite mode of transport, right up there with a motorbike. It's a converted pick-up truck with two wooden benches down either side. Uncomfortable? Slightly for extended periods of time but well worth the sleep-at-your-own-risk-of-falling-out factor. Talk about rush! It's the main mode of long-distance transport here in Laos. But we were surprised, more like super-relieved, to actually ride in a conventional bus for the overnight journies.

Nong Khiaw was a nice small village in the midst of STUNNING, massive limestone cliffs. Love the mountains in Laos. After 2 days of chilling and trekking there, we boated upriver and stayed in Muang Ngoi for a night, home to what used to be an ethnic Laos village that has since been overtaken by 18 bungalow guesthouse businesses. A bit depressing and surreal to say the least, but Lara and I trekked to some remote villages and mingled with the natives. That was a little strange as well as I could only take so much before I felt as though we were walking through a human zoo. The communication barrier is sometimes overwhelming, even though we attempt to small talk with the villagers, the connection with the people is missing.

We continued eastward visiting several more remote, non-electricity oriented, bamboo bungalow villages. It's amazing how simply one can truly live. Made a pit stop in Phonsovan, home of the Plain of Jars, and decided to forgo the 8th wonder of the world, as no one has any earthly clue as to how the 600kg jars got there, why there are 200 + of them, or what they were used for, and press on instead to Vang Vieng. VV was yet another small town in the midst of some more beautiful empowering mountains. However, it is a town contrived solely for tourists and was a little eerie. Gave me a glimpse of my beloved Pai, but definetly lacked any character whatsoever. The town was full of pizzerias and other resturarants that offered "happy" pizzas and shakes and consequently the falang (Westerners) were perfectly "happy" watching umpteen episodes of "Friends" reruns all day long. Yeah, it was nuts. We blew that popsicle stand after a day and kayaked to Vientienne, the capital of Laos.

Being sick and tired of any mode of transport that consisted of 4 wheels, Lara and I proved our physical endurance in masterfully navigating our way down a river with level 3 rapids. We went with a group and when the guide told us that 90% of his clients overturned on a certain part of the rapids, we were determined that we would be the 10%. The guide didn't even make it in his demo, and we were certain, after seeing the challenge, that we would be toast. But we impressed everyone with our skill and grace in the fact that we not only remained upright, but somehow managed to remain upright while going backwards down the river. Yet another unknown talent that I possess. Love those.

Vientienne is a quaint city that seems anything but a capital. After spending one day of sightseeing, the highlight being dancing at a temple party with monks not only djing but smoking also, we unwound with a BeerLao by the dried up river. Laos prides itself in having SE Asia's best beer, but it actually reminds me of Bud Light, and thus is not the best. Nothing tops a Boulevard Wheat con limon!

After parting ways this morning, I hopped on a bus headed for southern Laos while Lara began the journey back to southern Thailand where she has been rock climbing for the past 4 months. Currently am in Svannakhet and am thoroughly impressed with the neighborhoods here. I almost fell over when I witnessed someone watering their front lawn. I didn't know those existed over here. It's the little things that make home seem a little less than a zillion miles away.

And that's it for me. Tomorrow continuing south eventually to discover the beauty in the 4,000 islands of the Mekong. Chok Di (Best wishes) and good night.


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