Published: November 18th 2008November 11th 2008
Laotian child prodigy bowling a 189
This 8 yr old barefoot girl threw the ball as hard as she could and got a strike nearly every time! Even when holding a baby in one arm... making Leslie's score of 53 extra pathetic!
When we arrived in Vientiane (the capital and largest city in Laos, still only 300,000 people) in the early evening we found that every hotel and guesthouse around was booked solid. As it got dark we got a little nervous because the only place we had found was a windowless cell of a room that stank of urine and was absolutely filthy. Finally, we stumbled upon a very nice guesthouse for about $24 a night that had a room free (and HBO. Bonus!). We became very comfortable and ended up staying for 4 nights. There were a bunch of European-style restaurants so we managed to find tasty pizza and gorged ourselves! We are down to our junior high weights... the backpacker chic look.
We got to Vientiane during the annual "That Luang Festival," which consisted of a 4am monk-feeding procession (which we didn't wake up for), a parade where people offer "flowers" made of Lao money to the gods, and lots of partying. The state-controlled English language paper mentioned in passing that 5 people were killed and over 200 injured at last years' festival. We didn't see any mayhem... We basically just wandered around and everything seemed relatively peaceful when
Shady minivan in Vang Vieng
This shiteous minivan with seats falling apart picked us up in Vang Vieng. Fortunately, we didn\'t have to take it for the 4 hr trip to Vientiane; after 2 blocks they transferred us to a bus (not sure why we took it at all?)
we were there.
From Vientiene we planned to head south to the small town of Ban Na, located in a national park that is home to a herd of wild elephants. We investigated the possibilty of going down with an organized tour, but we found that the prices were much too high ($135 per person!) so we decided to just head down ourselves.
One slow public bus and one two-hour songthaew (basically a pickup truck with two benches in back) ride later, we made it to the turnoff to the small village of Ban Na. We walked about a mile into town and were pointed in the direction of the guy who operates the elephant treks. He spoke very little English but we were able to organize an overnight trek into the national park with two local guides, which included meals and lodging for $50 each-- definitely a better deal than an organized tour. We opted to sleep in the "Elephant Tower" that had been built a few years earlier. It sounded very majestic, but it turned out to be a really basic cement hut on tall stilts that overlooks a salt-lick where elephants can sometimes be spotted.
Living the Good Life in Vientiane
We couldn't resist this luxurious room... which cost the same as a campsite in Australia!
It was pretty rustic (no running water, no beds-- we slept in well-used sleeping bags on the floor with mosquito nets). It was actually really fun, even though we didn't see a single elephant. We hung out with an Italian couple and our 4 guides (who spoke almost no English). It was fun just trying to figure out what the Ban Na guides were up to.... at dinner they were chugging home-made Lao Lao whisky (they shared some with us... it's SO strong!) and the main entertainment for the evening was watching them try to lure flying squirrels into the tower. They managed to make a really tasty 4 course dinner with no running water or hand soap... plus, there were no utensils so we ate with our filthy hands. We must be getting immunity, since we didn't get sick. (Even after a gecko fell onto Jake's plate and ran up his arm). There wasn't much to do in the tower, so we followed the guide's lead and started passing out around 9PM. Lao Lao must be a good sleeping aid because there was no snoring, and the floor was actually pretty comfortable (although our pyjamas now smell like NYC
Yes, we do eat! ;)
The locals always order this fun DIY dish at restaurants but we could never find it on the English menus... turns out it is listed as "soup"
The next afternoon, we waited at the side of the road, hoping to catch a sawngthaew or public bus heading towards Pakse. We ended up meeting a Lao-American woman that hooked us up with a free ride and food. But we'll have to pick up on that in the next blog.... we haven't been able to find a fast Internet connection in days so we can't upload our photos or finish recounting our Laos trip. We'll keep you posted :)
PS-- We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambdia today but Leslie's luggage didn't. It was the only missing bag on the flight. Arghhh! Hopefully the Cambodia airport detail will do a thorough investogation and locate it. Our fingers are crossed ;)
There are more photos below