Published: January 30th 2005January 30th 2005
Oldest swinger in town
Laos has shedloads of waterfalls.
In Luang Prabang they had started up a cookery course so I put my name down to learn how to cook some stuff that tastes eerily similar to Thai food. The restaurant owner ran the course and was very enthusiastic, always prefering the sound of his own jaw flapping to silence. So as well as making chilli-bark beef hotpot (don't ask), I can now write his resume from memory and tell you which famous chefs have patronised his gaff (including that mockney tosser, Jamie Oliver). In addition, he also lectured us on five centuries of Lao history, explaining why the food and language was similar. The grub was brilliant and did you know that most Thai restaurants in the west are actually owned by Lao people?
Since my previous visit to Laos, I had romanticized the trip through the peaks from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng as 'the most amazing bus journey ever'. Now I know that some people would report back an amazing experience if they were trapped in a bucket of shit for a week, but I swear that the scenery on this bus trip was an effing jaw dropper. My memory hadn't served me right though -
After a day in Laos, you will have said hello (sabadee) to at least a hundred enthusiastic kids.
it was better and blew my socks off. However, this beauty has a price. The ticket man passed around sick bags, I almost needed mine for a breakfast redux. Also, this section of lucky 'Route 13' is plagued by bandits so we had the pleasure of the company of a ten year old with an AK47.
Vang Vieng is a small village in a picturesque valley famous for caves and floating down the river on a tractor inner tube while drinking Beer Lao. It has transformed into a backpacker 'chill zone' with umpteen restaurants showing back to back films, serving 'happy' shakes and playing (oh no!) the off-the-shelf-cool that is Bob Marley. I would recommend getting there before Hilton hotels do.
Going slightly off the beaten track, I decided to take a bus to Sepon (40 miles from Vietnam) to see what there is left of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". It was a complex of paths used by the Viet Cong to send supplies between north and south Vietnam and it passed through Laos. So in a 'secret war', the US spent $2million a day for nine years bombing the crap out of Laos - about half
a ton of explosives for every Lao person. Around a third of the stuff didn't detonate and as a result, much of the land is unuseable and the locals are still blowing themselves to bits today. My information was to get a guide to show me around so that the same didn't happen to me. There wasn't a lot to see, except a few anti-aircraft guns, half a helicopter and people scratching a living collecting shrapnel.
However, I learned that a team of US (Govt/NGO ??) people were staying at the other guesthouse in Sepon. They had hired a Kiwi helicopter firm (I was talking to one of the pilots) and were flying around the area looking for MIA (Missing In Action) servicemen. Someone in the Pentagon must have seen Rambo and made a policy from it. I wanted to talk to these guys (if not to just to shake some sense into them, find out more) but the local police stuck to them like flies and wouldn't let me. I heard that five people went to hospital in Sepon last week due to injuries from UXO (unexploded ordinance). It will take between one and nine hundred years to
clear up the UXO and these MIA guys are spending squillions combing the jungle to find nothing. Go figure.
Don Det is a tiny island located in the Mekong near the Laos/Cambodia border at a place called Si Phan Don (meaning four thousand islands). The river suddenly splits up into myriad streams forming, well, a lot of islands. The result is great scenery, and the most laid back Lao people anywhere (which is saying something). Apart from loafing around, you can see waterfalls and get a boat to see some very rare 'irrawaddy' dolphins (so rare, we didn't see them except for perhaps a head or two bobbing around in the distance.) It also has the 'happy' vibes a-la Vang Vieng and we arrived for the full moon, which was nice.
There are more photos below