The Plain of... whatever! We rode a motorbike!

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
Trip End Dec 24, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, October 7, 2011


At 9am our minivan starts out from Luang Prabang and is 7 hours of non-stop nearly-falling-off-side-of-mountain fun. We see the change of scenery on the way, from tropical jungle to lower lying pine forests and cleared land. The temperature also drops to that of an English summer. (cold.) 

When the minivan pulls into the station at Phonsavan, we brace ourselves to be harassed by the entourage of guest house and tour scouts waiting outside. But then, we forgot that we were in Laos. The group smiled politely and patiently, holding up their signs, as we got our bags, then were simply helpful when we asked where the main street was. Bravo!
We decided on our way there that we would stay at the 'KongKeo' guesthouse, because it said in the guide book that there is a bar there. So that is what we do. 
We arrive and check into a little bungalow. The owner, 'Crazy Mr Kong' speaks amazing English (we will later learn that his father is half Swiss) and is the only local so far that we have heard to use the word 'fucking'. And he uses it quite a lot. Brilliant. "You want to watch the football?" He asks when we check in, "we came to SE Asia to get away from football." says Claire. "Usually all English come here and say, we want to watch de fucking football!!" Says Mr Kong. He also says that he doesn't like being in the lonely planet guide book, that he prefers word of mouth marketing as he likes travelers and not tourists because tourists complain more. We like him. 

First on the agenda in Phonsavan is to visit 'MAG' (Mines Advisery Group) which is an organisation set up by a British guy, that raises money and trains locals to clear areas in the country of unexploded bombs. We donate $40 and read the information around the shop, then leave for dinner. 
After a dinner of Indian food (?!?) we make our way back to the guesthouse. The bar out front is tiny but sweet and a bonfire is burning inside an old US bomb casing. There is an honesty policy fridge, which basically means you help yourself and they trust you to be honest and pay for what you had at the end of your stay. Mr Kong puts a documentary on for us in the reception/front room of his home. It is called 'Bombies' and is actually made by MAG and goes into what work they do and the devastation still caused by UXO today in Laos. After the film we go outside and chat and drink with Mr Kong. He is quite disparaging about the film and about the work of many NGO's as he says they have to share their 'profits' with the government. He is a really interesting guy, we guess a bit radical for Laos, and we spend the evening listening to his conspiracy theories and views on how corrupt the government is. He says he was paid $6000 for one months investigation into NGO's activities by the New Zealand aid organisation.

Instantly we prefer Phonsavan to Luang Prabang. Although it is no way near as pretty (it actually doesn't look too dissimilar to Diem Ben Phu), we fell it has more character already.


A slow start while Claire's womb suffers another bout of monthly pain. But after lunch we make our way to 'happy motorcycle' to see if we have the balls to rent. We try a bike out in the yard next door, Jo looks serious and concentrated and feels fine. Claire goes around in a big circle laughing and shaking her head. Claire decides that she is happy as a humble passenger and so we decide to rent one bike. After paying we ask if we can practice with the two of us on one bike in the yard, and the guy says no. That's right. NO. because we need petrol. So we bite the bullet and pull straight out into the road. We go slowly but smoothly at first, stopping to fill up with petrol (full tank is 30,000K - about $3.5) and on to the first site of the plain of jars. 
The site is very beautiful and the mystery of the jars and why they were there was interesting. (Claire had previously thought that they would resemble jam jars. She was surprised.) But we had a m o t o r b i k e. So it wasn't long before we were back on it.
We drive another 25KM down the road, through villages and rice fields. The only obstacle for Jo are cows, chickens (why DID that chicken cross the road?) and Claire's renditions of 'cool rider' from grease two, in her ear. (In honour of Becky Bollock.)  

We return to the guest house in one piece and with the knowledge that motorbike is the best way to travel here. 
We drink beer Lao and are serenaded by Crazy Mr Kong on guitar. The highlight is his rendition of 'Hotel California'. (To be done with heavy accent) "Welcuuum to dee Kong Keo guesthooouse Phonsavaaaan, is looovely pllaaace..." etc. A few more Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Lao tunes and he joins us for a game (or 8) of cards. We decide to descover who would be crowned 'the ultimate shit head' (Jo) and whoever lost the most out of 9 rounds would hold that title. (It was Jo.) During the games Mr Kong was very animated, screaming "OH MY BUDDHA!" and singing to Jo when she (kept on) losing, "I cannn teww by your eyyes that you probley gonna be cwying forevvverr." He is 39 (looks 29) and has a great spirit and energy that keeps us laughing all evening. 
We go to bed packing for our trip to Vang Vieng in the morning, and before we go to sleep we find a little frog in the bathroom.  
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sophie on

a heartwarming entry. srsly.

I woke up this morning in the foulest of moods (associated also with my womb so claire i feel your pain) but this has warmed my spirit. Love you girls
xxxx ps i said to maya the other day ~how long have jo and claire been away? Nearly a year right? When Maya said only a few months i couldn't bloody believe it.

jlaire on

not long dear! We'll meet agaaaain... xxxx

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