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Published: February 17th 2006
Sailing Slowly Down the Mekong
Neal and I, first day slow boat.
That hot shower that I raved about before…I had the equivalent in a meal last night. A huge, juicy filet of beef with a 3-pepper sauce with potatoes and hot bread. A nice bottle of imported red wine…I was in absolute ecstasy. It was the first time the people I am traveling with have seen me finish a meal…and I actually finished first. I swear I could’ve ordered a second steak and ate that one just as fast. The whole meal cost me $9USD. I swear I cannot spend more than $20 a day in Laos…it even makes Thailand seem expensive. The restaurant was called Le Cote D’Azur and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Vientiane. There are many French restaurants here and you can see the influence of the French in the streets, the architecture, etc…I believe they were here from around 1850-1960’s…but don’t quote me on that.
It’s not that I have been starving or anything, but the food in Laos has not been the food in Thailand…I guess that’s the nicest way of putting it. When I am in the towns on the main traveler’s circuit (Pak Bein - Luang Prabang - Van Vieng - Vientiane)
100 people per boat
I can find food that is alright, but as soon as you get off the beaten path, it gets pretty difficult. Order chicken and you might get chicken…but chicken tendons, chicken feet, chicken that has the substance of bubble gum and no matter how long you chew it; it just doesn’t want to go down. This is the chicken that caused me my first day of pain since I have been on the road. A 8-hour bus ride, through the winding roads of the mountains from Phonsavan to Vang Vieng, with a stomach that was very angry with me. It had been a couple days since I’d had anything real to eat, and things were pretty rough. But no matter how painful it was…I couldn’t puke. So I just had to deal with it. That night I got worried, I woke up every few hours…but luckily the next morning, I woke up feeling fine. So much for that!
I have been in Laos for a little over 2 weeks now, and I have to say I really enjoy it. It is a country that can’t be categorized or summarized very easily. I could say the people are great, but in
Late Night Munchies
Noodle stop in Pak Beng...after local party.
reality sometimes they aren’t. I could say the food sucks, but I had the best meal in ages last night. I could say the it’s very quiet, and even though that is true most of the time…there are roosters in the morning that start at 4:00am and don’t stop until noon…and when there is a reason to celebrate they can blast Lao pop music for 2 days straight. So, like any country…there are elements of everything here. But the differences can be extreme; history of monks and war, peaceful people with machine guns, quiet people dancing to some insanely loud irritating music.
Most people only stay in Laos for 2 weeks, because you can get a 2-week visa at the border. I knew I wanted longer, so I got a 30-day in Bangkok...and I’m glad I did. 2 weeks has been fine for the beaten path…and to get out to the Plain of Jars…but I want more time to head south.
I can feel already that this blog could get pretty long if I sit here and reminisce about my time so far in Lao…so I think I better just give a brief run down on what’s been going on.
Morning on Mekong
Starting the 2nd day
I met an Australian guy named Neal on the local bus to Chaing Khong in Thailand. We seem to be on the same journey and get along real well…we have been traveling together since then.
It was a 2-day journey by boat to Luang Prabang from the Thai-Laos border crossing. 7 hours a day on a small boat with 100 other people, chickens, kids…and nothing but wooden benches to sit on. The first day was ok, we had 2 boats and room…but after a night in Pak Beng, we walked back to the river to find only 1 boat waiting for us. It was a miserable day. I rode on the roof for a bit, but I was told if I didn’t get down there would be police meeting me at the next village.
The scenery along the Mekong River was incredible though and I do recommend the slow boat trip, even if it can get a little rough.
Luang Prabang was a little disappointing. I just think people built it up too much for me. But it was evident that I was in another country. No commercialization here. I did spend my birthday with some very fun people from
Looking for Trouble
On the roof...but not for long
all over the world at this great little place called Hive…that was a good night. The last birthday to start with a 2…but I think I’m really ready for my 30’s. Sometimes I feel like I’m too old to be doing this…but most people I have met have been in their late 20’s, early 30’s…so I don’t feel too bad. We all talk about what we’re running from…but then the conversation goes elsewhere, we’re having too much fun to dwell on crap like that ;-)
After a couple days we went to Phonsavan, which is really nothing of a town...but it’s the base from which to see the Plain of Jars. I didn’t know this, but there is still some Hmong resistance going on (rebels fighting the communist government…in other words, still fighting the Vietnam War)…so everywhere we traveled we have had men with machine guns on our buses. One of the villages we stopped in, teenage boys were all walking around with machine guns. Quite a shock at first…but then we got used to it. When we went out to this old city, Muang Khoun, that had been bombed to hell in the 70s, we were riding around in
Only about an hour left to Luang Prabang
the back of trucks with armed men. It actually made me feel safer (once again, sorry Mom).
It’s crazy to see all the bomb craters, etc from the war that ‘didn’t officially happen’. The US bombed the hell out of Laos and fought a secret war here for years…and I have stood in the bomb craters that prove it.
Vang Vieng…the backpacker’s paradise of Laos. I almost skipped it. I was just picturing the Kao San Road of Laos…but I am so glad I didn’t. You rent inner tubes and float down the river there…they have these little makeshift bars along the way, with zip lines and rope swings into the Nam Song. It took us 7 hours to go 3km down river…that’s how often we stopped for beers and how slow the river was going. Sitting in that tube, looking up at huge limestone formations and listening to the silence was my moment of clarity. It was exactly what I was looking for.
We met up with Claire, a British girl, in Vang Vieng…and the three of us are heading south tomorrow. Looking forward to it. Supposedly there are these islands in the Mekong River…4000 of them if you
count every patch of land. Most don’t have electricity, but there are a few you can sleep on…so that’s next!
So I stayed off the internet for 2 weeks…and I think I was quiet and I really enjoyed myself…but who am I kidding, I love to tell my stories!
Hope everyone is well…talk to you all soon.
And Happy Birthday Barry, and belated to Billy.
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