Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
70Trip End May 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
Rattana Gueat House
Bought some gifts and a bunch of fabric at the amazing night market and shipped it home by sea. I hope, as with the shipment from Hoi An Vietnam and the tribal wear from Hanoi that this one makes it. You just never know. You pays your monies and takes your chances!!!!
I am not sure what the next couple of months will bring but I do know the time goes by really quickly
Luang Prabang to Vien Vang - six hours of the most spectacular (there is that word again) roadway. I had been forewarned to sit at the front of any vehicle, take Gravol and a plastic puke bag, assess other travelers for pukability and try to stay away from the weak looking ones, and so on.
The night before, at my lovely family run guesthouse, the family had offered to take me to Vien Vang with them in the morning. One sister and her brother were going to Vientiane the next day - a journey of about 9 or 10 hours and VV was on the way, six hours down the road. I was very happy as they have a shiny new van and I could have a ton of room, my stuff wouldn't be squished, they probably were not puckers, I could visit with them and learn more about Laos and we could stop along the way. This sister is a doctor and she spoke perfect English and it was kind of neat because the elderly neighbors would come by the guest house in the morning to have their blood pressure checked and their ailments seen to before she headed off to the hospital. The offer of a private ride, I knew for sure it was Karma being returned for the money I had given to the stranded traveler. All good.
Got ready and then was told that there had been a change in plans - they were not going to be able to leave when they had planned, had to take other family members and had called for a minivan for me instead so that I would not be inconvienced
The minivan - I did get the front seat: age and determination have their rewards. I did not however get the good front seat - got the middle jump seat so no full back, no head rest and the seat was positioned a little back. The road is wild. It is only about 200 kms to VV but takes at least 6 hours, more if you hit things or people. Six hours of hairpin curves through gigantic mountains and through villages that have been built in the most unusual places. Nearly every town was built at the very top of the mountain, bamboo houses and stores directly on the lane and a half roadway, forcing everyone to walk fully on the highway. The front doors open directly onto the asphalt and the back of the houses on stilts, perched over a 500 or 600m drop. Wild to live, wild to drive through as we were continuously dodging tiny children playing in their front doorways, dogs, chickens, goats, cows, motorcycles, kids on bikes going to school, and pushcarts of goods for sale. Nowhere to swerve as there is oncoming traffic and nowhere for the animals or people to go to escape. Nonstop near misses and me, in the front seat, unable to steady myself, flying back and forth with my shoulders bashing between the two real front seats. My arms were very bruised within the first hour and I tried to figure out a way to hang on as the van flipped back and forth, up and down the hairpin curves.
We never went over 30 km through the mountains, yet it still was enough velocity to get battered up and a pretty sore neck from the whiplash
When I had gotten into the van I announced to the group that I was not a puker unless one of them started it first and I suggested the known pukers get their bags out before we started. About an hour in, the young girl beside me in the front started to get very pale and in distress. I asked her if she had taken Gravol, she had not and she hadn't brought water because she thought we would have regular breaks......and she had to pee.......I asked the driver, we were now quite close as I had spent the last hour in his lap sometimes, if we were going to be stopping. He said yes at a certain time. A scheduled time....sounded good, probably, as always at someone's relatives café and gift shop........Nope, not Laos.......eventually he pulls over, on the apex of a mountain, only a few feet of shoulder to the road, no cover, no bushes, and says 10 minutes. Like the boat we are all a little dumbfounded until we pile out of the van and see all the used tissues on the side of the road indicating that yes, this is a regular stopping point, and no, there is no place for vanity unless you want to be in pain or sitting in wet pants. Me? I don't care; I am old now and figure there are far nicer bodies to be peeking at than mine.
I handed out some Gravol and water to the ill prepared and we piled back in. We were all feeling especially very fortunate in our own sanctuary when we came up to a open truck carrying a group of Laos women, a few who were hanging over the sides barfing their guts out
Got to VV around 4:30 pm into some serious heat and I started walking into town. Wasn't sure where town was but decided I was too cheap to take a tuk tuk. Walked for about a km when a woman stopped on a motorcycle and asked me if I needed a room. I thought at least it was a free ride to town so we managed to get my bag and my pack and me onto the little bike and she took me down some dusty winding lanes to her place which was between two buildings under construction. Both sites, pounding away so I said no - too noisy while the rest of the staff insisted that they was no noise there.
I dragged my bag through the dust - first time really that the wheels haven't been useful, and through the weird town, across a treacherous bamboo bridge, in search for some solitude I had heard existed across the river. When I got across the bridge into the countryside, I ran into a woman I had met a few nights earlier in the night market in Luang Prabang. Sharon told me she had found a bamboo hut and would show me how to get there. It was bloody far - me dragging my bag along the river bank for about a half a km, through a pack of cows and goats until we came to a group of bamboo huts. I looked at the one hut left and asked the guy, Mr. Pieth, if I could leave my bag to investigate other nearby places
I am now typing this from my hammock, overlooking the quickly diminishing Mekong - seems China is keeping all of the water upstream, and just chilling out. The front is the Mekong and all of the busy activities that entails: some men are digging out the bottom for gravel (it is only knee deep), some kids are playing in the water and the busiest time is between 5 and 6 pm when everyone comes to bathe in the water before eating dinner. They bring small buckets and wash themselves, the kids and do the laundry clothes. Everyone visits and it is very jovial and social. The women wear sarongs and just move them around to clean their various parts, the men strip down to their underpants, then put on a mini sarong, take off the pants and clean the boys. Everyone goes to dinner fresh and clean.
This town is so weird. It is famous for the tube rides down the river from about 4 km up to the town. Tuk tuks take the kids from everywhere (mostly 20 something's) and they tube down, stopping at bars along the way to get dead drunk and many arrive back in town in tuks tuks passed out or in little trucks so crammed full it is crazy. Last night Sharon, Bill (guy from Santé Fe) and I sat out on the street eating dinner and I tried to capture some of the sights for you Chance because it is beyond belief, the danger and stupidity of many of these kids. We saw tuk tuks, which normally hold six crammed adults, with 20 kids, 10 inside, others hanging or dragging off the sides and often 3 or 4 standing on the roof, wheel into town. The girls are in bikinis and the boys in shorts - their bodies covered in writing like one big fraternity party
All of the restaurant lounges are the same - open lounge cushions with a little table platform in the middle where you lay watching reruns of Friends or Befus and Butthead or Family Guy on all of the TV's. Thinks sports bar/opium den filled with college kids from every country.
The sad thing is that drinking, drugs, bare skin and loud behavior are all taboo in Laos. Seeing this nonstop public drunkenness at the same time as monks, the same age, go by on their bicycles and the construction workers - also all the same ages, load up after a hard day, passing these drunken fools. I think at some point soon this town will have that discussion on whether it is worth it or not. Meanwhile there is such a construction boom with hotels and guesthouses going up in every vacant lot.
Here across the river it is so different. It is pure countryside, village life and very peaceful. My new friend, Sharon, from Ottawa, who helped me find this place has just moved over from her area to my bungalow/hut section. I am paying $7 night - it is basic, bed, mosquito net, even though I have given that up cause it is creepier than not having it, hot water, real toilet, balcony, and hammock
The sky is still very smoky so the views are not as great as they would be in December/January. I am going to stay a few days here, maybe do some kayaking, finish a couple of books, start a new one and plan how to meet up with Janice. She is arriving into Bangkok in a couple of days and then heading south to the beaches. I will meet up with her somewhere south when I am finished Laos. There is a lot to do in this town. That is the other thing that makes this a town of such contrasts. It is a real outdoor centre for caving, climbing, trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. So you have the diehard environmental enthusiasts with the drunken stoned idiots with the religious, devoted Laotians. Throw in cows wandering everywhere, $1 fabulous baguette sandwiches and $.50 fresh fruit shakes on every corner and you have one weird mix that makes you want to stay a bit and watch it all unfold.
As with the last boat story - the epilogue to the wild drive is that Sharon, from Ottawa, told me she did the trip the day before me and their minibus hit a boy on a bicycle. They had a paramedic in their van who worked on the child and the minibus company sent another minibus to take the kid to Hospital. They were delayed over an hour and when they started again they hit a chicken.........