Published: July 17th 2008July 17th 2008
So this part covers Laos. I've been here three weeks now, so it's a looong story.
So we slept one night at the border still in Thailand: Chiang Khong. We had our last nice meal, because I have to admit, if Thailand is good for something, it must be the food. It's delicious!
The next day, we took the boat over the mekong (5 minutes) to Houei Xai. Apparently they still love the French after the colonisation because french people pay 30 USD for their visa and poor Belgians pay 35 USD!
After that we took a hobbly-bobbly bus through the Northern mountains to reach Luang Nam tha in six hours. On the way, we suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. People got out of the bus. We didn't really know what happend... then guys started peeing around and women hitched up their skirts. We understood. Toilet-stop. Welcome to Laos! In Luang nam Tha we wanted to do a 3 -day trek, but everything was so expensive... so we rented some bicycles to check out the neighbourhood. After that we took a little bus, even further in the mountains to Muang Sing, from where we could almost
see the Chinese border. And we found an affordable three-day trek.
Day 1: we left with the three of us and a guide. We walked for about 8 hours. It was hard after being quiet physically lazy the last weeks, but we managed. Halfway through our guide told us to have lunch. We each had a sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. He took out some nice sidedishes out of nowhere with spicy eggplant and delicious meat..
He made us a table with bananaleaves, and washed the chopsticks in the river. It was perfect. I also had my first encounter with leeches (kind of bloodsucking worms). They try to sneak into your shoes and then SUCK ALL YOUR BLOOD...aaaaaaaaaaaa! Ok, after while you get used to it and you know they not really any harm as long as you don't bleed to death...
At night we arrived in the village of an etnic minority group (as they call it, and ask you a lot of money for it). We had a bamboo house for us, and the guide made our beds: a thin matress, a pillow and a mosquito net. Then it was time to wash us. Everywhere
you go in Laos you see posters with: do's and don'ts. They tell you not to bathe without being coverer from shoulders till your knees...ok... So, how do you wash?
Our guide showed us how to do it. In the middle of the village there is just one tap. He went in only his underpants and washed himself. Then it was my turn. I asked him several times if it was ok to go in my underware.. Yes, yes, yes absolutely, no problem. So here I went...
And as you could expect: The whole village went quiet and was watching me from their huts... all eyes on me. Ok, sooo... next time,
I will not believe the guide. At night, after a very good diner we even got a lao massage and it felt like heaven. I slept like a baby.
day 2: We would go for another 8 hours walk but it had rained too much, so we took another trail wich would only be 5 hours of slippery walking. We didn't mind. This was same-same but different. As we walked in. All the childeren sabaideed us again, there was a tap but we didn't use it, we
had a massage,...
Ann and annaig showed their skills to entertain little kids of all nationalities and stupidity levels. I was truly impressed. They even sang together in some African language unknown to both parties.
day 3: It was only three hours walking back to the endpoint. We walked through ricepaddies and were always surprised by people coming somewhre out of the bush in the middle of nowhere with their mashettees... cutting down leaves, searching of mushrooms,..
Our guide took some mushrooms on the way, and ferns to eat for lunch.
It was all perfectly safe. In the village, where we had lunch, I could have been married if I wanted too... but the my would-be-father-law understood my doubts and told me anyway: 'maybe next time'....
("ze peisde van nin, mo ze knikte wel van ja, tjintararaboum, tjintararaboum sa sa" (cfr we zin ne kje na bissegem gewist))
After that we headed for Luang Prabang. A 'world heritage listed town' said the guidebook promising. And it was a nice town. We slept long, hired some bikes, visited some temples, ate great french food,..
We even found Nutella-baguettes in the morning!
One evening we went to theatre! (off course,
me, craving for some 'culture' of any kind). I liked it. Live music and very nice costumes. Made me think of the theatre I'd seen in India.
From Luang Prabang we made our way to Phonsavan. It is famous for its 'plain of jars'. It is some fields scattered with very big cement, giant 'jars'. Nobody knows what their were used for, who made them and how old they are. (there are not any organic rests remained on them, so it's impossible to retrace the date). One big mistery! They we hired some scooters and found it more interesting to just go through the beautiful scenery instead of spending too much time wondering about the mistery of the jars. Good choice! It just felt so free to go and stand wherever you wanted without any buses.
Suddenly it rained very hard, and we found some shelter in a house of a very friendly family. I tried hard (with the help of my lonely planet) to start a conversation... After about half an hour of counting loads of nrs and a lot of human-zoo laughter I finally could get the mother to tell me that the childeren were 8 and
1.5 years old. By then, it had stopped raining... and of we went. At night, we watched a documentary on the US secret WAR that was held in Northern Laos. It opened our eyes and we realised why there were everywhere warnings about 'bombies' still lying around. Absolutely shocking, and again waking me up out of my 'happy-travel-everything's-beautiful'-world. I'm learning, I'm learning, and the more I see, the more I know how less I know...
We wanted to go down all the way to Paksan, without having to take the touristy trail Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng- Vientiane but their was no bus because of the rainy season. So we had to follow the herd.
We arrived in Vang Vieng and we immedeatly didn't like it.
The main 'activity' is 'tubing', wich means drifting down a river in a big tube (band).
With that, I didn't really have problems. It could even be fun...
BUT the problem is, that along the way, there are loads of bars and you can stop wherever to drink beer
and pick up some british boys or french girls. Even that wouldn't be too much of a problem if people didn't
exagerate that much. It was
just awful to see the beautiful scenery of little vang vieng (limestone mountains) going to waste by the load bouncing music, drunken people half naked wandering around and empty beer bottles drifting down the river. We tried as hard as possible to ignore this major thing, and went on a kayaktour the next day. It was beautiful. We even went into a cool cave swimming against the current in the dark. It was fun, and we didn't have to put up with the noise caused by tubers.
The surrounding nature of Vang Vieng is very nice! We made the right choice.
After Vang Vieng time was running out for Ann and Annaig and they were almost getting back to France
via Bangkok and Singapore. So it was almost time again to say goodbye.
We took the bus together to Vientiane (the capital), from where they headed off to Bangkok.
Again I said goodbye with pain in my heart.
It took me a day to recover again, and get my guts together to move on.
It didn't help that I was sleeping in the most awful room all over Vientiane (and the cheapest),
with one hard bed, bedbugs, a
room giving out on the corridor,....
I hired a bicycle for the day, but it was raining like hell aaaaaaalll long day and I had a flat tire!
Anyway, time to move on...
The main goal in Laos was to get to the cave 'Kong Lo'. It is a 7 km long cave and as I heard from
other travelers seemed to be very hidden but absolutely worth the trip.
As I was reading about it in lonely planet, they told that it was almost impossible to get there by land (in the dry season), and in the wet season you could only get there by boat, but it would be very expensive
and take 3.5 hours one way...Impossible+hidden+adventure was the perfect match of words to make me absolutely excited to go there. On top of that, it would take one full hour to go through the cave by boat!
I wanted to go with the french girls, but because of the missing bus in Paksan, they didn't make it and I had to complete 'THE MISSION' on my own.
So the next day I had to take the bus at 6.00 am in the morning to Ban
khoun kam from where maybe it
would be possible to find a boat to Kong Lo. When I arrived at the bus station, there was a Dutch couple.
Normally my first reaction is to act like I have no idea which language they are speaking (I know, it's bad),
but given the circumstances, I thought it would be wise to socialize. It was a good idea. They were very friendly and had the same mission. It wasn't all that easy to know where to get off the bus, but with the help from some orange monks, we got the attention of the driver and he dropped us of in the right place.
On the way I suddenly realized that I didn't take any extra money to do this trip, and that I hadn't taken in
account that there wouldn't be any ATM around for miles. I admitted my financial problems to (very contradictory..) the DUTCH couple and they absolutely astonished me and told me that they wanted to pay for the boat if I had any troubles, because they would have paid it anyway. They were so caring and sweet to me, that all my prejudices about dutchies melted
like snow for the sun.
We talked about the possibilities to get to the cave, with the guesthouse owner and it all didn't seem a big problem. We would get a boat tomorrow and it would be all fine. The guy in the tourist office even told me that it was possible by minibus or motorbike... I didn't know who to believe.
The next day, we even hooked up with an english couple, so we were with the five of us in the boat, and this made it even affordable for me again.
first we had to get into a minivan for about 20 km's, after that,
we could get into the wooden boat, with wooden benches and were ready for a 3 hour trip.
In the beginning I was all excited and was enjoying the beautiful views of the mountains.
But after a while it started raining, my butt was starting to ache, and I was really could...
I started thinking about how not cool this trip was and was longing for the end of the day already.
These hours passed really slowly and we couldn't really talk to each other because we were all on one
bench after the other. Some dry periods made it bearable...
Finally we arrived. The mother of the guesthouse had prepared us a plastic bag with rice lunch. We ate it
and were ready for the cave! We went into the smaller boats towards the entrance. But then we saw a big current coming out of the cave. We went next to it and stepped out of the boat. Our driver detached his engine and carried it over a little rocky hill into the cave. So we switched boats again and went finally in the almighty cave. It was terrifice! Incredible! Amazing! It was all quiet dark, but one man in front and one man in the back of the boat lit as good as possible. It was huge and overwhelming. Some parts are 100m high and 100m wide! It is crazy. I always like that feeling when nature just shows it is much strong than any of us. (same with big lightning and thunder! I love it!). I tried to take pictures, make movies, but it was just to dark! It took us one hour to cross, and then you just arrive in the next village on the other side. The people in Kong Lo use it as a passage. And then one hour to get back. Magnificent, one of the best natural wonders I've seen. I immediatly realised that the very long trip in the cold boat was worth it!
On the way back, the sun was shining, it was hot and it took us only two hours to get back to ban koun kam! I slept very good that night, and the next day I left to Thakek, not really knowing what I would do there. It was just the next city on the map....
I arrived in Thakek and there was nobody! I informed to do some treks but it was all very expensive again.
I met Joon, a Swedish-Korean guy in the hostel later that day. We were the only ones in the hostel...
Later that night Joon started telling me about 'the loop'. Appartently it was a cirquit that you could do by motorbike in four days. It also passed by Kong Lo. That smelled liked real adventure again so it didn't take me long to make a decision. We also met Julie later that night and decided to leave together the next morning. It was a very good experience, but I am just too tired of writing at this very moment. It was fun,
that's for sure. And the road to Kong lo who seemed so impossible following lonely planet was, very easy and was beautiful. This trip made Laos (together with New-zealand) the top-countries in my trip!
Now I am in the south of Laos and tomorrow I am leaving for Vietnam!
I hope I get sooner back to you because, covering one month in one day,
is just tooo tiring!