‘The entrance to the Giant Pumpkin is representing the level of hell, Earth and heaven’*
I think I’m going to have to reboot the updating format once I’m on the way to Myanmar, I’m way ahead of events and finding no easy way to summarise. I travel through the Northern part of Thailand to head to the border, having finally waded through pages of out of date travel information on the web. I didn’t get a visa in advance as I was hearing it was too expensive, but many I have met along the way say that depends on how you travel and what you do. I also hear the food is awful or very tasty. So basically, I’ll be heading into the unknown, but that’s all a week away. For now here’s a summary of travel events to date, to be expanded upon once I return:
6/1/16 Arrive at Vientiane
Get drunk with Australian girl, lose cash card. First day! Lucky I have backups.
Meet the country’s only horror film director.
Deal with unpleasant ex-pat restaurant owner.
Head to Thakhek for the loop.
As a possie of five, scooter around 500km of central Laos. Fall off bike as usual.
Survive the four days.
Head back to Vientiane, supposedly to watch second feature of horror film director. Doesn’t happen, not sure why.
Leave Vientaine for the Plain of Jars. Too long a journey in one shot so broke it down with one night in Vang Vieng, still a party town though I detected a change in the crowd, I understand the town is trying to move away from its hedonist image and attract a more ‘refined’ clientale. Still, had fun with the kids playing with my iPad. Little girl finally convinced me the hat is just not a good look, when she mimed for me to put it on, looked at me with eyes wide and very slowly shook her head. Sucked up all my local sim data allowance downloading games for them.
Set out for Phonsavan, home of the Plain of Jars, but more exciting for me a chance to see where the CIA hung out during the Vietnam war in the deepest jungle of Long Teing. Thundered past in the bus, but was happy to see the most secret place in the world has an army outpost opposite a skinny dirt road track with massive boulders across it to prevent further progress. Odd way to keep a secret. No one is completely certain why the Laos government is still so touchy about it forty years on. Sadly, it was upon me before I got the chance to take a photo.
Phonsavan, hire a scooter, get lost,
‘That’s quite an achievement since we only have the one road.’
Jars… spooky. Particularly enjoyed the third site which no one makes the effort to visit. Route marked out in tiny cement squares dotted up the hill, stick to the trail or risk stepping on a ‘bombie’, local name for unexploded cluster bomb. Picked up lump of tree which is now my travel companion. Also visited so called ‘Bomb Village’ not sure the locals appreciate tourists wandering around their home. Felt a bit intrusive.
Phonsavan, a pretty empty town, though I liked the atmosphere of my guest house, so planned move to Nong Khiaw. Again, in one shot twelve hours, so I split it in two with one night in the rather ugly town of Sam Neue.
Simply the best way to view the mountains of the country and village life which all takes place at the side of the road. Truly magical views of tree loaded mountains.
Nong Khiaw, still as impressive as I remember, however after the first day the temperature dropped to 4c and it rained for three days. As with the locals, I generally stayed in my room under blankets or joined groups of them around charcoal burners. A very nice way to spend the time.
Someone needs to explain to me why westerners, predominantly French, all want to hang out with each other in western style eating places, rather than jump into the local experience and eat with families as I did. Both cheaper and more authentic. Oddly, given the weather, I really enjoyed my time there.
The huge trek north to Phongsaly. Started yesterday, stayed overnight in Muang Xai, bus station 6km from the town, of course I didn’t know that! Muang Xai appears to be the mechanics hub of Laos, lines of workshops along the road. Nine hours today and have arrived at what I think might be my final destination in the country before I work out how the hell to get a visa for Myanmar from northern Thailand. I’m hoping I can or it means I have to head to Bangkok, or change my plans and head to Vietnam instead. Still working on that one (update above). Given the proximity of the border, I ended up in a Chinese run restaurant, which has something of a customer service problem but appears to be normal for Chinese run establishments, I’ve encountered the same cold, indifferent manner when approaching their guest houses; my ‘waitress’ all smiles once I paid the bill, her presence the instant I finished eating was less than might be expected as good table etiquette.
I mistook the large glass urn of vodka for tea. Bad move.
No menu, just point at barely recognisable stuff in boxes and hope for the best. I played safe and pointed at the guy eating something which looked aesthetically pleasing, though I didn’t get all he had, turned out to be beef laap, Laos national dish. A group of Chinese business types were steadily getting pissed behind me.
I know what buffalo tastes like and there are odd looking tiny spiders in my bathroom.
Just returned from a walk to the ‘Mountain in the Sky’, Phou Fa at an altitude of 1,625 metres. A walk made more interesting by the devastation the storm that we suffered three days of rain in Nong Khiaw, caused. Telephone poles down, wires slung low across the mud track to the summit, trees and saplings littered everywhere, making much of the climb via the stairs impossible. Fun, though I felt for the guy having to clear it, seemingly on his own with his machete.
I promise I will provide In depth detail of the journey but things are happening too fast to keep up with a daily update, I haven’t even had the time to set foot in an Internet cafe to download pics. Suffice to say there are plenty of interesting ones, but you might get the more obscure which are on the phone!
*More on that later.