Published: April 19th 2010
April 16th 2010
Relatives in Hoi Noi
Mother's sisters and brother in Law and Niece
The drive from Parkbeng to Luang Prabang was quite hilly with majority of the road unpaved. The speed was drastically slow due to the narrow road along the way. I did not have to use the Gravol for nausea at this speed.
We traveled by some new Hmong and other hilltribe villages and stopped for visit to the villages along the way. These Hilltribes people were transplanted from remote mountain the last few years when the new roadway construction has been completed. I noted Australian government aids supporting the water systems in the villages along the mountain road. Most of these villagers do not see foreigner at all but due to the low water level on the Mekong River, a lot of the tours had to be transported via this new road and thus they start to encounter foreigners. They were quite curious to see blond and red hair especially the dyed one. People we met in Laos are generally quite friendly and shy.
Luang Prabang is a nice little city in central north Laos. It is an UNESCO world heritage site and thus you do not see the high-rises as in other city. The sky has been
cloudy through-out our trip in Loas, due in part from the burning practice used by hilltribe farmers. As we were driving along the mountain road, we can see burned out hills with burnt ashes remain. Our guide said the farmer like to use the burning process to create the ashes later for mushroom growing when the raining season arrived. It is too bad as most of the forest are being burned.
In Luang Prabang, we did a one day Mahout training course which turned out to be the best day of my trip. A Mahout is a person who train the elephant. We were picked up from our hotel and then we drove 15 minutes out to the forest to the "AllLao elephant camp". We were paired up to ride the elephant in the morning. We were encouraged to ride bareback behind the elephant's ears shortly into the ride. The mahout was behind with one of the other passenger. It was scary at first as you feel that you are so high up in the elephant that you can fall forward at any moment when it bend its head. My elephant was a younger one at age 15 while
most the others are over 15 years. The oldest one was 44 years old male.
My elephant's name is Boulathai and he could be naughty at time. He tends to stop mid way to munch on leaves and tree bark. But otherwise he was one of the elephant that can blow water, which was quite fun when you ride on its back in the water.
We had to cross a small river to the training camp. We were given uniform, short cotton shirt and pants.
Our instructor went over the commanding words in Laos and we have about 30 minutes practice before taking the boat back across the river to the elephant. I picked the same elephant from this morning to take it to the river to give it a bath. This time, the padding and seat are removed before I got on the elephant by commanding it to kneel down, MAL lONG. By stepping on his knee with my right foot and then attempted to get up to the back of its neck by lifting my left leg across. you have to move fast as I noted that the elephant got up before I settled down properly
on its neck. I could feel my right knee buckle a bit from the loose ACL. Holding on its big flabbing ears to secure myself and up we go.
I was gaining confident as we travel slowly down the forest. To direct it to the right, you apply pressure on you left knee or visa versa. We used Hoa to stop the elephant. But it will not listen to me unless the mahout shouted at it. My trainer did not stay up on the elephant in the afternoon. I kindna control the elephant on its way to the water for bathing. The Mahout helped me to get the elephant to the river and he then commanded the elephant to blow water at me. I got soaked quite quickly. I tried to duck a few time but still got wet as my elephant flow the water quite low over its back. I scooped the river water to wash its ears. The elephant's skin is quite rough with short spiky hair that can be quite painful if you brush against it directly.
The next day we drove to Vang Vieng, a small touristic town surrounding by limestone peaks and the
River Nam Song. We met loads of university students from all over the world who are drinking ++on the tube down the Nam Song River. You would not believer how many Bars and water swing along the river. I chose the Kayaking down the river which had several small rapids. Due to the low water lever, the rapid was not too difficult. I was partnered with the guide so not a problem there. According to my guide, he got paid about 60,000 to 100,000 kips per trip, which depending on numbers of trips, he might not gotten enough for a living. One USD=8400 Kips. Most of the people here trying to live on the tourist business. Young men try to learn to speak English or French or any other language so they can be tour guide which will give them a bit more earnings. The education system here is not that good despite the Communism. thus some of the poor people will send their kids to become Monks in the Monastery in order to receive free education. Two of our Laotian guides were educated that way.
Went to Vientiane for one day tour. I hired the tuk tuk to
take me around town and to my old Chinese School. The School pretty well unchanged which means it is in a bit of a poor state despite funding from oversea from Alumnus. Though there is some new construction going on for new basketball court.
The city is changing so much I could not remember any old street neighbourhood. Went to see the That Luang, the golden temple. The surrounding area has changed with new modern structure from the revolutionary government. The morning market is now a shopping mall which I guess kinda loss its flavor for me. Over all I think Vientiane was a disappointment for me.
We flew from Vientiane to Honoi, a very short flight, just 1hour. Had to put all the liquid stuff in the check in as our guide said they sometimes would not allow even if your liquid is under 100ml. Honoi city is quite congested and polluted now that everyone has a scooter. Remember 18th years ago when I was there, it was all bicycle. The traffic is quite chaotic but locals had no problem navigating the traffic. Us tourist had to be careful with just crossing the road. You need to decide
when to cross the road and walk onward and not going backward that way the scooter/car will know to go around you. We did not see too many traffic accident while we were there.
My Cousin Linh met me at my hotel and we went to Mom's Niece's home. Met most of my mother's family members including my aunts and their families. It was emotional seeing them again after 18th years. Everyone is getting older and the baby I saw years ago is now young mother or young lady. They all ask for me to bring my mother back to visit them!!.
The neighborhood where my family live has changed for the better with more mordern building and facilities. No more open sewage. You can sense that Vietnam's economy is booming and as such, in turn, the citizens' living also improve drastically.
Next we went to Harlong Bay, a busy touristy bay with lots of limestone peaks dotted along the China sea. We stayed on our Junk for 2 days. Our junk sailed out to the sea passing through many beautiful limestone peaks. 10 of us opted for kayaking to see the scenery. The water was so
calm that we did not encounter any wave at all. I noted couples of huge jelly fish on the water. There were also loads of plasty garbage on the water. In the morning, I noted cleaning crew on a garbage boat scooping up garbage on the water. Nobody try to swim on the beach when we get to one of the Cave due to the poor water condition. It is too bad that they allow too many tourist junks on the bay and now all the garbage generated by the tourist will destroy the site. Also notes some of the fishing villages along the bay. some of the ladies rolling their boat with seafood to sell to the tourist or the junks resturant. The food was plentiful on our Junk. It is a chain of Junks with same name but our has good crew and good food.
We travelled via Train to Hue, the old imperial palace. Our train was delayed for 4.5 hours during the night because there was a derailment sometimes during the night along the way. It was hot and stuffy in the small train sleeper compartment, we were 4 in one compartment. Along the way,
visiting my MoM's sisters and cousins in Honoi, vietnam
we see lust green rice fields. The communist system here allow people to work for the rice fields and pay commission to the government. We can see that all the available lands are used properly for growing rice or vegetables. It is quite different when we get to Combodia where the land is drier and there is no coordinated aguicultural development.
Hue is an old city with old imperial court imitating the Chinese Forbidden city. most of the structures were bombed during the Vietnam war but what remained is still beautiful. We did a cooking class with Gioan, a local Vietnamese Restuarant. Our Chef was quite entertaining when coaching us in how to prepare local dishes. We had 4 courses meals after the class which was delicious.
We went on via large 15 seater van to Hoi An, another old city with strong Chinese influence. The old town centre is maintaining the old building with Chinese and Japanese housing structures intact. Cheap custom made clothing and shoe making are available. I got some summer shoes made for me. They are quite cheap for leather good. We did pass through The China Beach from one of the James bond
movie. The tides were high so there were not much fishing activities. Notes some of the round bamboo basket fishing boats resting along the beach. I was hoping to get into one but not able to as there was not on for tourist to rent. The fisherman usually goes out by 5am in the morning to harvest. I rented a bike and bike around town in hot hot day looking for way to get to the beach. Had my lunch on the beach reclining on the beach chair listening to the wave coming in and out. What a wonderful day!!!
After spending 3 days in Hoi An, we went on to Saigon city, the southern most city. Even though it is now call Hou Chi Ming City, the southerners still prefer to call it Saigon. Our guide was a ex-southern army man, whom gave us lots of personal information on his time during the war. He is no longer bitter about his enemy and gotten along well with his old enemy. We visited the famous Cu Chi Tunnel in the outskirt of Saigon. I went into one smallest tunnel but needed help to get back up as you not
much footing to push yourself out of the hole. The maximum time you can survive in the old tunnel was 6 hours so the Viet con only stay there when there was enemy around. Most of the tunnels are collapsed and no longer can be used. I did climb into one 30 meter one and the air was pretty bad inside the tunnels. They had kitchen facility and air ducts in some of the tunnel. They used the termite mounts as their air vent for kitchens with some dried leaves covering. A smart way to disguise their where about to prevent enemy detection. The tunnel was so small only fitted for the small physique of the Vietnamese people. American soldier will get stuck in the tunnel even if they got through in the first part. They have created some smaller section inside the tunnel. I heard that one American ex-service man who came back to visit the Cu Chi tunnel after the war and was stuck in the tunnel and ended up died inside the tunnel because his guide could not pull him out in time to save him.
Back to Bangkok on the 11th after driving for 7-8
hours crossing the Combodia/Thai boarder. When we waited on line to get through the Cambodia boarder, one of the immigration officer asked if we want quite exit that we will need to pay 200 bahts. We did not pay and get through ok. Expected a 1hour delayed going through both Cambodia and then walk to the Thai immigration check point with our smaller luggages. Our big luggages were sent by pully by our guide. No problem getting to Bangkok. It seems quite despite the blood shed the day before. I moved back to the hostel the next morning. Experienced my Thai water festival for the new year. Silom road is full of activities with vendors selling water guns and white paste for people to paste on each other. I got soak just walking outside my hostel. Music and dancing all night till 1am. The party will restart again next day by 1pm. My roommate went out late at night and he showed me pictures of street full of party goers after midnight.
Left Bangkok on the 14th of April and travel by Taxi from the doorway so I will not get wet. No problem getting out of Bangkok as
the Red shirt did not hold up the Airport.
( have not been able to download my pictures yet but will try later on)
There are more photos below