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Published: September 22nd 2005
Just before crossing the border to Laos.
Wow...where do I start!..I have to say seeing Laos has really opened my eyes to what I would call a most beautiful, untouched country...
Through our experiences here we were quite often the only 'falang' in sight...in a town...on a bus...I have truely had a great cast of culturing...
Laos, known in antiquity as the land of a million elephants...is an amazing place, still, you might say recovering from the endless wars - 400 years to date. The major one seeing the removal of the Soviet - installed hammer and sickle from the national seal to what is now know as the Peoples Democratic Republic...
After staying the night in a 'border crossing' town - Chiang Khong, my new visa for Laos was organised in a matter of hours.
Crossing the Mekhong River in a long tail boat, getting caught up in the strong current, we made our way to a place called Huay Xai.
After clearing of our passports and exhanging money for Kip. (1,000,000.00!) we proceeded to be herded along with the rest of the sheep onto a large jumbo and then to one of many boats lined up...
All of the reclining chairs had gone, but
Crossing the Mekhong
Onboard with our new Swedish/Aussie friend..
we found lots of space down the back on little plastic chairs...Here we would stay for the next 7 hours, cruising the magnificent Mekhong.
The views of one of the worlds largest rivers, was one of the most majestic sites I have been fortunate to see..
Miles and miles of mountains and hills...all laced with pineapple and sugar fields...Thick terrain only the notoriously wild would live in...but up ahead, halfway up the steepest hill you could imagine you see some people working!, not anchored down with any support, and in the middle of their monsoon...these people make the most of such angled land...such simple lives...
Large willows flood the banks as does the occasional gumtree which has now become more of a self sown weed and a post war traite...the occasional pink or purple wild flower can also be seen from a distance.
We realise we are sitting well above sea level, the hills so close, sit with dense clouds circling their peaks...I have never seen anything like it.
I have lost all of my bearings here, North feels like South, you think you are going downstream but you are not!! it's crazy..
Our stop for the night was in
a place called Pakbeng I think...following up a steep boat ramp we were surrounded by children wishing to carry our bags for some change and older boys/girls fighting for people to stay in their guesthouses....we found one that looked ok.
This town had one long bitchamen road with houses and shanties dotting each side..
A small town in the middle of the jungle powered only by generator..
It was getting dark and already the town prepared for the evening ahead by lighting candles. The generator would be turned off by 9pm..but most places could not afford the power.
The town sold clothing, bric-a-brac and we were entertained by one of the hosts briefly who was sweating profusley and talking a hundred miles an hour...opium will do that to you!
Walking the streets I was asked at least 5 times by people if I wanted to buy opium/marijuana, I guess that is also part of their main trade!
The following day we were back on the boat for a torturous 10 hours. This boat was much different...the last one was a treat!..this one had 'tiny' wooden seats....
I would later lay on the floor using a rice bag as a pillow,
feet resting on chains..
This boat would be, what I would call primarily a cargo boat...numerous stops made packing and unpacking of cargo.
The river today ran alot more quickly due to the rains..large tree limbs float past, small and large whirlpools forming...again large logs spinning with no where to go...The river is a rich clay color, formed by constant landslides.
It is hard to imagine there being any towns out here and frankly they do not..but often you see little fishing boats sneaking thorugh the banks and under the willows fishing for anything they can catch...mainly shrimp.
We finally made it to a town called Luang Prebang, a town sitting 700 mtrs above sea level, encased with mountains.
A small town influenced by the French, with the remains of crumbling French provincial architecture.
Here we were shown the generosity of our host and the surrounds.
Our second day we visited his friends village and shared in some local custom - Laos Rice Whiskey!...again I would compare it to drinking metho/tequilla!
Out for tea for some traditional Laos food (usually all shared with combination of fish, veg., rice and tofu.
From here we left for our first experience on
a local bus, as apparantly the VIP was not running today!
Here we were confronted with one of the most offensive buses I have ever seen..all that was missing were the chickens and the goats!!...actually the chickens were stowed underneath!
With very little room to move, the bus smelling of urine, the railing held together by rope and airconditioning, was a pleasure not yet to be seen...welcome to Laos!!
As seen in the movies, I didn't think it was possible to be scared of a bus trip, but here I was staring down the side of what appeared to be an endless drop!
But, the views again were incredible...We were literally riding high, driving through the clouds...passing the tiniest of towns dotting the very sides of the roads, children's backyards being that of 800 mtr plus drops..
The roads were bumpy and second gear was a common cursor, a straight patch of road was a gift.
Constantly passing landslides and dodging trees that had fallen over roads, we came to a stop in the road that would stop another 100 cars, buses and trucks.
A major landslide took victim to one bogged truck, another truck had rolled, seriously injuring
the driver...A huge section of the road had dropped away revealing the non existing drainage to such areas...this road had been like this for a long time...this would be our first insight into what corruption lies within the government, politicians and predecessors...
After getting back on the road again...we stopped for lunch at another little town, thatched rooftops, tarps...whatever did the job!
Not a great deal to choose from for lunch so I opted for the buffalo...a bit chewy this time...it looked much more appertising than the chicken and rat tho!
We eventually made it to the next town 10 hours later....a place called Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
After staying a night in one of the most dodgiest of places I have ever seen, we found a much better place the following day.
Vientiane is quite spread out, French colonial style buildings amongst a lot of shanty towns.
Beautiful palaces, European style cafes...
Also alot of Indians running hotels/resturaunts...not that there is anything wrong with that!
There were celebratioins in town as the people celebrated 50 years of the Lao People's Democratic Republic...concerts taking place.
The next day we took a trip to the Friendship Bridge adjoining Thailand
and Laos...constucted after the war by the Australian government contributing 40 m...it was actually nice to see something put back into the area along with some gumtrees as part of the recovery program.
Our next quest was to get to the Khong Lo Caves which meant going South then Eastward.
With our languag being one of the biggest barriers, we found our way to Thae Khaek, and no one spoke English...this would be one of my hardest, most frustrating times to date...Constantly being told nothing goes to Nakia (our next port of call) through drawing sun and moon pictures!, and numeric symbols which is universal thank goodness, we were eventually led to a large 'jumbo' (cattle trucks I like to call them) where we left for another few hours before breaking down!
Lyndon to the rescue, helped to fasten the process we were again on the road..this time I hung out the back with some fresh air and as we raced against the sunset, it was one of the most magnificent views..a photo would never do it justice...
Tableland mountains either side, with perfect symmetrical paddy fields either side of the road...people tending to their crops and fishing with large
bamboo rods. Houses occassionally dotting the sides close to the roads with people preparing for their evening meals...kitchens and large platforms lined the underskirts of thatched roofed houses on stilts..
Mothers walked the edges of the roads with babies strapped to their backs, small children running ahead...other mothers bathing their children in the large puddles that formed on the road side from the last down pour.
Others washed in dams and large 44 gallon drums.
After assuming we were in the middle of nowhere, we would pass people still walking, and from nowhere someone would drop down from an invisible bush path..one would also assume the navigational skills of these as tribesmen!
After unloading the rice, chicken cargo on board, we eventually stopped..but to a place past where we had initally negotiated!..sigh...
We were now in a place called Lak Sao..but as it turned out..there was only one point of entry to where we were going so we were actually nearly there!
The next part of our quest was to be the hardest...using the local transport, people not wanting a bar of us, others curious and attempting to improve their English skills, again the maps and phrase book came out.
Finding ourselvess in a little town called Na Hin, we were the only falang there and obviously their only means of entertainment!
We were to head south but partly by truck, the rest would be by boat as there was no car access due to the winter floods. Finally making our way to the river via the help of a 9 year old boy who spoke excellent English and constantly translating for us! we were now trapped on a shallow longtail wooden boat with all bags loaded up, and cramped up in the reverse pretzel position for the next 3 hours!
My back had not known such pain as no position drew comfort..nor could you stretch your legs...sigh..But the river was amazing!..Again mountains littered the banks, as did Mangroves, gumtrees...
Children running and waving to us from the sides, other women shrimp fishing with their nets...In the middle of nowhere these people appeared!
Small villages out in the dense forrest...truely amazing. Not to mention our boat driver constantly yelling out to fellow fisherman..'something..something..falang..Australia!'..His efforts of getting us there in one peice was definately worth a few beers!
Our night spent at the riverside guesthouse with again no power, only generated..we
were the only falang down there in months, our rooms would confirm that!
The next day our Khong Lo Cave tour was arranged..after waiting for the heavy rains to ease we would stop at the next village, change boats and proceed to the foot of the cave where huge amounts of water exploded out!
The two tour guides would take the motor off and drag the boat up and over the rapids..the cave was amazing..alive with bats and other people barely visible inside the mouth of the cave.
Seven kilometres long and in places it would be 100 metres wide.
It was very hard to see much outline of walls as we were guided by the front and back men steering, front one with a paddle, and lights strapped to their heads..Lyndon also had a headlight.
Passing S bends, falling tree limbs and mini waterfalls, we were in complete darkness, chilled with only the sound of the motor running...I was lured by mother natures prehistoric existence...incredible!
Our travelling back to civilisation again, this time only taking 2 hours!
We would wait for another Jumbo going our way..waiting on some childrens chairs, near a poorly hung tarp in attemp at shading
the food..two chickens tied by their feet at the back ready for the next meal to be.
Other strips of chicken hung by a plank of wood drying in the hot sun!
I could not wait to go as I was sickened by what I saw.
Back into town, we saw our little translator again..as well as a local trying to force us to take his jumbo to the highway for $10 us!..But we knew one was coming in another hour so we kindly refused...our ticket cost us 15,000 k = $1.50...not bad are they!!
After flagging down a so called bus we would spend the next agonising 10.5 hours on it!..sigh..with no room for legs and barely enough for 2 poeple per seat, sleeping would be a luxury as there were constant stops to unload and load cargo...
We eventually made it to Papske (South end) where we would need a few days to recover from our little adventure!
*..Have posted some pics but have heaps more to follow to go with this story..sorry, but you will have to put up with getting the same old for a bit until I can post the rest!..*
you are all well..miss you all so much..keep me posted!
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