Moving on to stop moving

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End Feb 06, 2013

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Flag of Thailand  , Changwat Chiang Rai,
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Laos needs to wait!

We have been travelling a lot the last weeks. It has been an amazing time. However, we realize that we need to stop going on like this for a while. First of all it seems to us that we travel like we normally live: always thinking and planning ahead and not enough looking back, reflecting and taking time to appreciate our experiences. One of our desires for the journey is to again learn to enjoy the beauty of living in the "now". Besides that, we really need time to digest the experiences and observations of the weeks before and to relax, mentally and physically.

From the very first moment. Chiang Khong is the right spot for that. Chiang Khong, for most travellers just a one-night-stopover, becomes our home for the next 8 nights. And for an unforgettable Christmas!

After a surprisingly comfortable 13 hour busdrive we arrive at Chiang Khong around 9.30 pm, Tuesday 18 December. Just as we leave the bus a tuk-tuk comes along and even knows the hotel that we already booked online for the first night. Although being a bit drunk he finds the way easily. When we arrive at The River House we get a very warm welcome and even a car lift to a restaurant that is still open this late.

During the meal we get into a conversation with a local Thai. After he learns that we are living in Belgium he tells us about his Belgian friend that lives around 50km from here. And it gets even better: he calls him at this very late moment and hands us his cellphone, A bit weird to talk to a totally stranger on the phone, just because you are also from Belgium, but these are the wonderful moments while traveling.

The River House is a great place. Fantastic staff, great coffee and breakfast, our room is wonderful (especially the oversized bed and duvets) and it has a killer terrace just along the Mekong overseeing the river and with a perfect view to opposite Laos. Obviously Lao people love Karaoke: every evening it's party on the other side of the Mekong.

Next day is very easy, we virtually do nothing else than: nothing. The only exercise we do today is a short walk to nearby Rimkoon restaurant for lunch and dinner including riverview. Rimkoon turns out to be the best restaurant in town, so at the end of our stay in Chiang Khong the staff knows us very well and we them :-) even though the girls are very shy and hardly speak any English at all. It is here that we learn to appreciate a Thai drinking habit: whisky (ordered by the bottle, not by glass!) with ice and soda water. Very nice habit!!! Goes great with the taste of Thai food too.

The next day we can also be very quick about: we stay at the only swimming pool in town, eat bbq chicken and sticke rice from a street stall, drink gin & tonic (our big thanks to seven eleven supermarket) on "our" terrace on the Mekong. Just great!

Friday is scooter day. Esther has overcome her fear and starts to love cruising around. I guess we will need to buy one back home. Our destination is Chiang Saen, almost the heart of the famous Golden Triangle between Thailand, Laos and Burma. Due to efforts of the Thai and Lao government opium smuggle has been reduced a lot. However, opium has a very dangerous successor: meth. And especially the Burmese government seems not bothered about this. Being a tourist, you do not see anything of this dirty business, however.

On the way there we cruise 55km along the Mekong. It's just beautiful here. We lunch bbq fish and the local speciality: chicken in banana leaf, cooked in bamboo. Again overlooking the Mekong with Laos on the other side. After having a nice espresso we take the way back through the mountains. This is an equally beautiful landscape to the riverside but we find out that our scooter is not made for the weight of two Europeans. Meaning that going up steep hills we take turns walking while the other rides the scooter to the top. Next time we will take two scooters! We run out of gas very quickly now because the poor scooter has to work very hard so we ask a man and woman working alongside the road where we can find some fuel. With some sign language, pointing at the fuel meter we find out that this should not be a problem in the nearby Hmong village ..... at the top of the next steep hill. So Frank goes ahead an I walk to the small village where a car with sound system is filling all ears with religious Buddhist talk.

Saturday is again a "nothing day" with lots of food: we start having coffee at Rider's and then move for breakfast to a Thai Mexican restaurant (never heard about this combination before) where they bake their own fresh bread. The owner of this place can be described as and elderly Thai rock'n roller and directly provides us with a piece of his freshly baked bread. "Everyone says home made, but here it is really home made. Not same same here." After weeks of just white toast bread we enjoy the taste of it and need to order his sandwiches. There's also a German connection: the eldest daughter is married to a German guy and lives in Potsdam, together with their two kids. And since three weeks the youngest daughter has a German lover, a German tourist that had visited their restaurant. Her mother tells us that she is very happy that both daughters have chosen young men, not an old German or Dutch, as so many Thai girls do. In the afternoon we discover a nice little bakery close to the hotel, so we need to have "Kaffee Kuchen". After skyping with Corina and Guus we have a nice dinner with lots of whisky. Then we call it a great day :-)

Sunday morning Esther stays the morning in bed, while I walk to a closeby village that is famous for their giant Mekong catfish catch. Check this fish out on wikipedia and you will be amazed. The catch season is from mid april to june, so no big things to see at the moment. The afternoon we check out the preparations for the food festival that will be held the coming three next days. A nice preview for our Christmas celebration here. Eating at Pad Thai for a change that night.

And then it is "Heiligabend". The hotel hostess is wearing a Christmas hat. During the breakfast we get our first present of the day: two bags of noodle soup and a plate with mangosteen and mandarins. Lovely! Then we unwrap our Christmas present from Corina and Guus: Christmas babysocks. Great laughter. And then the food festival begins! Together with a German couple also staying at The River House we sit down at a table in front of a big stage. We get to know Henk, a Dutch guy, almost 60, from Groesbeek. Since years he has a relationship with a local restaurant owner, who serves great Thai sausages and spring rolls at the festival. Henk underlines that his girlfriend is about his own age! He wants to emigrate asap after his retirement. We have great food and Leo beer. I'm the only one who likes the water lilly soup.

The official part starts, all organizing countries (ASEAN countries) are introduced via traditional female dancers in their traditional dress. Very nice. The live showband starts to play. And 8 pretty showgirls start to dance on the stage, supporting the solo singers. We think that the girls are a local dance group, as the movements are not very synchrone and it all looks a little amateuristic. The crowd doesn't bother and invites us quickly to dancing, which of course we do. Two female singers get on the stage and we are flabbergasted: having not the thinnest legs they are wearing ultra short, tight dresses the likes of which we never saw before on a "decent" stage. And it gets worse - or better, depending on your perspective: the girls change dresses and come back just wearing sexy lingerie and making movements that you might expect at Pat Pong, but not here at a small town festival, in front of women and small children. When men and also women start putting money in the bras of the girls we feel it's time to go. One thing is for sure: we had a nice, not very Christmassy evening, with a weird ending.

Asking our hostess if this is a "normal" thing she just laughs and says: "My brother would love it."

On Christmas day we go on scooter tour again, now with a scooter for each of us. No specific route, just cruising around. And enjoying the countryside. We come across an eco-lodge high up in the mountmains (maybe next time? Address available on demand). And spend a lot of time drinking tea with view on the organic tea plantation where it came from. The woman in the shop/cafe does a lovely tea ceremony and without speaking English teaches us how to make a great cup of Oolong green tea at home. so of course we have to buy a package plus one of the tiney teapots that make the ceremony complete.

While having our last dinner at our favourite Rimkoon restaurant we watch the food festival from a distance. Different day, same program. And the people obviously love it.

Chiang Khong was for us the perfect spot at the perfect moment. We both feel that our week here has had the desired effect to make us healthy and well rested again, ready for the next phase of our adventure. We will miss Chiang Khong!
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