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Report Thailand + Laos I

July Report – Laos 1.

Life’s unpredictable or so I’ve found
And when your chin is on the ground
You’ve got to pick yourself up
Dust yourself off
And start all over again

Easier bloody said than done!

This month I have had two falls, one physical and one mental and, as usual the mental one has been the hardest to recover from. Here is the sob story, if you will forgive me crying on your shoulders. (But there are good bits too, of course)

After getting a new rear tyre fitted in Udon Thani I rode on a few kilometres to the border town and there spent the night in a biker café run by German Heiko and his Thai wife. There are a lot of experts here of varying nationalities and we all watched the football on which occasion Germany won, so the German contingent were happy.

Early next morning I crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos and had no probs with the paperwork.

It is immediately obvious that Laos is the poor neighbour of Thailand as the houses and roads are not so neat and tidy. I stopped for a couple of hours in the Vientienne, the capitol , but apart from the usual Wats and and a French Arch de Triumph look alike there was not much else to see and I rode on to Vang Vieng. Attaining higher ground the weather deteriorated to low clouds and rain and I was glad to get there and collapse in a friendly guest house.

Vang Vien is located amongst really pretty scenery of Karst limestone hills, steep sided, covered with vegetation and hiding numerous caves within. The flat ground in between is latticed with paddy fields and the sight of conical hatted workers bending over to plant the new rice crop. It is also on the Song river and this is used to good effect in the very rapidly growing tourist trade.

Within the last 5 years or so the once small village has been completely rebuilt with a grid of roads lined with guest houses, bars , discos, internet cafes and souvenir shops. It is a young backpackers paradise.

Trekking tours are offered into the mountains, tuk tuk visits to the caves and, most popular, you can be taken by road up alongside the river a few kms by tuk tuk and then float downstream on a big inflated truck inner tube. En route you can call in at the river side bars and to help you land the bar staff are strategically located in the overhanging tree branches with long bamboo rods with ropes to throw out to you so be hauled in. There are flying foxs to swing yourself back into the water or other types of jumps to cool off or just sit and watch the others while you enjoy a Beerlao.

Of course I did it and was floating downstream surrounded by a flotilla of Irish who, of course called in at every bar and even took bottles with them in between. As it was a hot day it was good fun and the coolest place to be, though I did get a bit sunburnt and had aching arms from steering myself.

Getting out at the final stop was a problem as I was in midstream in fast moving water and, on throwing myself out found I could hardly stand up in the knee deep rushing water, let alone walk to shore. So I just stood there screaming “Help” till a Laotian finally waded in and dragged me and the tube ashore.

The next days’ adventure entailed hiring a push bike so I could navigate all the muddy tracks and river crossings that would be impossible on the motorbike. I investigated the caves and small villages, interested in how some of them utilised the small fast flowing streams and channels to insert small propeller turbines to generate just enough power to light their rush built houses.

The ride was longer than I expected and it was with great difficulty that I stayed up to watch Spain lose to France.

The next destination north is Luang Probang, a gracious French influenced town on the Mekong. The ride there was through more mountainous scenery, the main road running through small villages perched on the ridges . Rush houses on stilts lined the roads in these places and cows, pigs and poultry were a constant hazard.

Why did the chicken cross the road? So it would make Linda brake and swear. Small bare bottomed children smile and wave and shout “Sabaydee” (hello) as you pass.

It was another wet day and, as the road was windy and narrow the journey was arduous. I was glad to get settled in the guest house and explore the market for my usual noodle soup before the football.

Early next morning I took the fiddle down by the Mekong to practice and then ambled along the shore planning my day which I thought would be just exploring the town, and finding a decent internet café to download my Thai photos for the web site.

I had been told there was a boat trip upriver to see a Buddhist cave, which was a must to do so thought I’d enquire about the times for the next day. I had just taken some shots of orange robed young monks at their Wat then made my enquiries at a ticket office.

“There’s a boat just going now “ said the guy,” I’ll give you a special deal”.

So I fumbled for my money belt, gave him the money and rushed down to get on the long narrow boat, engine powered, which took me and several other tourists up stream. After a few minutes I reached for my camera only to find I didn’t have it. Shit, I must have put it down when I paid. There was no way to contact the shore until I returned 3 hours later. I rushed to find the ticket man but he said, no, he hadn’t got it.

I was devastated, felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Went weak at the knees and just kept moaning and groaning all the way to the police station . The police even called the ticket guy there to question him in Laotion but he just said that he sold me a ticket but never saw a camera.

So folks, all the lovely shots of the Golden triangle, Susan and her monkeys and the other adventures mentioned in my last report are gone forever. When I lost the last camera I had just downloaded but this time…. Sorry I can’t share those moments pictorially with you.

I went to the only camera shop I could find to buy a point and shoot cheapy to last me till Bangkok where I can replace the digital. Very poor quality Chinese made cameras and not very cheap but I got one and then headed north to find another place which entailed leaving the bike on shore and taking a boat for an hour up to a small fishing village, Muang Ngoi.

This place is totally magic. Set again amongst steep Karst mountains the village has no traffic and the locals rely on fishing and rice growing and now, tourists, who are content to swing in their hammocks hung on the porches of rush built bungalows on stilts gazing out over the river and watching villagers cast their home made nets and bamboo fish traps.

That night the view from my bungalow was of wisps of clouds rolling down over the hilltops on the opposite bank, silvered by the light of a hazy half moon while the stars peeped through a lacework of clouds above. It was a truly beautiful sight. Only the sound of the river running quietly below so,  not having the fiddle with me I played the whistle instead.

I spent the next day walking through the valley , among paddy fields to the next village. Excellent photo opportunies but the bloody useless Chinese crappy camera had only lasted 2 shots on the way before it jammed!!


This report to be continued soon, when I can stop swearing.

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