Published: August 9th 2010August 6th 2010
notice the bomb they are standing on?
I have been trying to get to Laos now for my last couple of trips to SEA but never seemed to quite make it. Well not anymore, I am finally here.
To my dear mother, you might not want to read the first couple of paragraphs here.
To continue where we left off....
So it is now dark and we have to drive 65km more to the closest town. Of course before we can finish crossing through the Laos side of the border it starts to rain. We are now driving through the middle of nowhere, in pitch black, in the rain, with not much gas and no map. Hmmm... I hope this ends well.
I am driving in the dark for all of ten minutes when my head light makes a loud pop and turns off. Okay now it is really dark. So we are both now trying to see with just Chuck's head light. I am trying to ride alongside him so I can see the road, but the road is pretty thin so that doesn't feel much safer than riding in the dark as you never know when a truck or moto is going
Looking out the Window
Not a bad view from our breakfast table at the guesthouse
to come flying down the mountain at you. They have a tendacy to drive without their headlights on here. Can't quite figure that one out.
There are so many bug hitting my face that I cant drive two minutes without getting a bug in my eyes. Since my sunglasses are too dark, I wind up driving with Chuck's diving mask on, which cuts down on even more of my vision. Quite a funny site I am sure. Picture me with a motorcycle helmet on, a flashlight strapped to my helmet, and a diving mask on my face riding a motorcyle through the middle of nowhere.
After a while we are beginning to get worried that we may have passed the guesthouse we were told about. We don't know how obvious it will be so when we see a big building with lights on, we decide to stop and ask if perhaps we can stay the night there. There is a fence blocking the entrance but we are a bit desperate so we just hop the fence and keep my flashlight on so they can see we are coming. We aren't trying to startle anybody, but we are a
bit concerned about continuing driving blind and lost. We find some guy watching tv and try and gesture to him that we are lost and need a place to sleep. He is not so friendly, but calls to somebody else before basically walking away from us. There is a bit of commotion in another one of the rooms upstairs before a guy comes down who actually speaks english. Sometimes you just get lucky. It turns out this is a mining camp and he explains that there is no room for us to stay there but the guesthouse we are looking for is only 10km more down the road. We tell him we are low on gas and he offers to walk with us 1km down the road to show us where we can get gas. We were quite lucky to find him because the place that sells the gas is just a little hut and we would have definitely driven right past it. He also draws us a map to the guesthouse, which we also would have passed as it was 2km down a side road and we would have stayed on the main road for fear of getting lost.
The end door was our room
He winds up paying for our gas and even buying us a beer before he sends us on our way with a warning to drive very slowly. Somthing we were certainly already planning to do.
The town we wind up in is called Vang Xai and it was actually the headquarters of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (or PDR) during the revolution. During the Vietnam war, there was a revolution going on in Laos. The Royal Lao Republic (who the US backed) was being besiged by the PDR (who the North Vietnamese backed). In Vang Xai there are over 200 caves in which the PDR based there military. They had to live and work in the caves because of the number of bombs the US was secretly dropping all around the area. Laos holds the regretable title for the most heavily bombed country per person in the world. There were actually more bombs dropped in Laos in 9 years, than on the whole of Europe during WW2. There are still many UXO (unexploded ordinances) littered throughout the countryside and on average one person dies or is injured per day in Laos. It is strange to see how they have
taken many of the bomb casings and turned them into planters, shelves, or some other form of decoration or furniture.
We actually decide to stay an extra night here so that we can go into the caves and laern a bit more about the history of Laos. Chuck was extremely surprised to learn about the number of bombs the US dropped and what happend in Laos during that time. The PDR which was started in the late 50's and won the revolution is still the ruling party here. There main goal during the revolution was equality for everyone, including the ethnic minorities. You would think this is the side the US would have backed, but since they were communist we fought against them. They were still very focused on education even during the war time and they would send the kids to school very early before the sun came up, so that the kids would continue to be educated. They actually dug trenches and tunnels just so the kids could get to school. Everything outside had to be done at night as the fear of attracting US bombers was very high. They were either unabale to cook their food
This kid was having a ball in that tree
or it had to be done at night in a cave, as the smoke and light from the fires would give away their position. When walking through the old caves and looking at the artifacts you can get a good sense of how the PDR government was formed. It would be like walking around the room in which the US constituion was written and looking at the personal books and photos of the founding fathers. Quite an educational day.
The Lao people were quite resiliant and were determined to continue living their lives even during throughout the war and bombings. They built underground hospitals and meeting rooms, as well as a large room for special cermonies, such as weddings or to watch movies.
The following day we continued on to Xam Nuea, the provincial capital of that area. It was little more than one main street with a market and many shops. We used our day in Xam Nuea to get a few needed supplies, such as extra spark plugs and to get our phones working. Appearantly Chuck and I are just idiots and can't quite figure them out. We thought perhaps they would not work in Laos,
Look at the thickness of that steel door.
but we gave our phones to a Laotion guy at a phone store, and after pushing a few buttons he had our phones working in no time. It certainly made us feel stupid, as we were trying to make them work for the previous 2 days.
Our next destination is Phonsovan, about 200km away. A long day of driving but we will see if we can make it.
There are more photos below