January 2003

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January, 16  •   January, 26

January, 16     TOP

meeting up with kath was a really nice surprise. i mean i had hoped to see her again but then you never know and if i had arrived but one day later she would have been gone. so we spent the evening together. in one of the wats was a celebration because it was full moon (that's what i got told anyway) so we went over to the wat and mixed in with the crowd. the whole thing consisted of a kind of fair, a chanting of the monks and a procession around the wat including donating flower arrangements, incense sticks etc. so the lot plus a fantastic firework at the end. it looked like volcanoes and they had a fair bit of them. of course these curious kids pushing closer when the monks were lighting up one of these fireworks and then with a lot of screaming pushing veryone back when they started to spit their fire. it was good fun and i forgot all about being tired. and it is always nice enjoying things like this in good company. we finished the night with a cup of tea and then said our last good bye. but then we might meet again someday in a different place who knows.

the following morning (20.11.) i spent exploring luang prabang. i actually got followed on one of the markets by a woman trying to sell opium to me and she wouldn't understand that i wasn't interested at all. that's the other side of laos, you can call it the junkie's paradise. you can get more or less whatever you want. i'm still not into it and i can't imagine changing my mind.

anyway after a few hours i was quite exhausted and felt like having a little nap again. but later i went out again for a photo tour - trying to be a good tourist. somehow i tired fairly quick and went in for an early night. just to wake up the next morning with a headache and a temperature. great, it might have been caused by the rain and the cold in pak baeng, i'm not sure but for the next three days i was more or less knocked out. i found a nice little cafe just around the corner to where i was staying and spent a few hours everyday there. otherwise you could find me in bed reading or sleeping. on the third day i felt well enough to climb up tp wat phou si to watch the sunset. fantastic view over the town and the mekong. but that was more or less everything i did in luang prabang.

feeling better was also the sign to move on again. it's weird, when you only have a short term visa you always feel like being in a rush to see as much as possible and it is sometimes hard to get back to the slow pace.

well, vang vieng didn't seem to me to be the place to start slowing down again. some people call it the ko samui of laos. heaps of farang restaurants, guesthouses and tour agencies plus fun sport on the river. with just having got rid of the cold tubing didn't seem to be such a brilliant idea. most things to do there are related to the river, plus there are some caves and you can hire bikes of course. my decision was to stay for two nights and the move on to vientiane.

anyway, i met some guys from america and canada at the guesthouse and had a chat with them. but i didn't feel like going out for dinner with them. instead i went for a walk just to meet alejandra and eduardo again. nice surprise, so i ended up going for a walk and then for dinner with them. they are really lovely people, sometimes you meet people you feel something in common with and it's good sharing time. at the end they invited me to come and see them in mexico one day.

the next day was one of the strangest i had. i got up early, as usual, went to the market for my breakfast and on the way back i was looking for a nice place to have a green tea. and the there was this young laotian woman calling out for me from a restaurant. "sit here" okay, why not... what happened next was that me told this story about this danish guy she had met the night before and that she was leaving that day for a few days to vientiane and she wanted to see him again, but he had a girlfriend (although it sounded to me that they had spent some time quite aklone) and she wanted to leave him a message and if i couldn't write it for her. no full stops in her explanation and i tried to find my way through what she was telling me. of course did i write a little note for her, trying to find out what she wanted to tell him. but it seemed i got it right on the spot and she was quite happy again at the end.

but with that the day just started, getting back to the guesthouse i met birk from germany. he was in a very bad mood. we got into talking and he told me his story about his girlfriend who just had split up with him while they were travelling together and was now travelling with a friend of hers instead. he seemed to be very upset. so i ended up talking to him and trying to point out the good things about travelling on your own and that there still might be some hope etc. probably i should start a new job as a counsellor for travellers. cheering up people seems to be one of my stronger sides.

and then i needed some time to myself again. so i went for a three hour walk, having a look at tham chang cave, finding a little path which i had all to my own, clearing the brain again.

but it's always three things happening. so back at the guesthouse the next problem was waiting for me and i got far more involved then i thought at the beginning. licia, one of the three americans/canadians from the night before had a little break down. trouble with the two guys she was travelling with at that moment. i actually had thought she had already left because i had seen her moving out her things in the morning. but no, still there feeling miserable without having a room. do i went back to my counselling and ended up going for dinner with her and having her staying in the spare bed in my room...... sometimes i just don't understand what people are doing to themselves when they're travelling.

tuesday (26.11.) i moved on again. i had my share of other people's problems and still felt not up to any watersports. so i took the bus to vientiane. squeezed in as usual i was quite glad when we reached it. it took me some time walking around to find a place to stay under 40.000 kip. i ended up in my first dorm for ages, but that was only 16.000 kip and looked okay. stepping out on the street i stumbled over birk again - in an even worse mood then the day before. seemed he had met up with his friend and things went from bad to worse. so another cheering up and at the end he took my e-mail adress just in case.

i felt quite tired walking around the streets and thought of giving myself a treat. passing a hairstylist ("trained by vidal sassoon") i started thinking about getting something done to my hair. passing another (not trained by vidal sassoon) i had a look at the prices. not too bad but perhaps back to this vidal sassoon place. asking for the prices there i got a shock - us$40 for a perm, they must be joking. the other place was only 50.000 kip (ca us$5) so it was easy to decide where to go. we worked our way through one of these books so that i could explain to her what i wanted to have done. during the procedure i wasn't sure she really had understood me, but then who cares, it would come out somehow and if it would be too bad there's still the option of a haircut. she was braiding these sticks into my hair, put some chemicals on top and then i just had to wait. for the fun of the passer bys i sat in the doorway, sticks sticking out from my head and smoking. easy way of spending an afternoon. at the end i was surprised, she got it right the way i wanted it. good one, so no need of a haircut (took me long enough to grow them).
later i went for another stroll, getting something for dinner but i had an early night.

i was still thinking about sending things over to germany, my backpack being very heavy and me getting into trouble to find more things to give away. but of course it was still far too expensive, just a few more weeks, so i abandoned that idea. the post office was straight across the main market so i went for a look at it. it's quite massive and i spent some hours looking at all these stalls but not buying anything(!).
i was too late to get into the national museum before the lunch break so i left that for the afternoon.

till a few years agao it was called the revolutuonary museum and going up to the first floor you can see why. on the ground floor they've got a good display about the cultural historic side of laos with good english explanations. upstairs it's mainly about the revolutionary fight till the independence in 1975.. not as many english translations anymore but surely and truly in a very socialistic language, quite understandable if you look at what happened to that country.

after two hours i was through the whole museum and felt quite exhausted (reading too much again). the rest of the day was quiet i met wolfgang who was staying in the dorm as well and with him and jerry, an american guy he had met before somewhere in china, i went out for dinner. nice change, most of my meals i've got on my own, so it's nice to have company once in a while.

waking up early the next morning there was this amazing sunrise and i went for a long walk a long walk along the mekong to take it in. walking back through some small streets i was getting quite hungry (no wonder after a two hours walk on an empty stomach). after breakfast i went to the international hospital, looking for some medicine i needed. they took my bloodpressure, felt my pulse but then found out that the medicine was not available in laos, bugger, so i had to wait for a few more weeks. in thailand they should have it.

it seemed vientiane was my place for treats. i had seen this sign at an indian restaurant about a lunch special, 20.000 kip for an all you can eat buffett. and i can eat a lot. after five plates and some fruit salad i thought i would never be able to move again. but it was great, my belly swollen to double its size and me feeling really lazy. so i spent the afternoon reading a lot, gave my dinner a miss, still too full to eat some more and went instead for a massage........

on friday morning (29.11.) my belly was back to it's usual size and i took the bus to get to the buddha park. after what people told me and pictures i had seen i was expecting a big park with some statues but instead it was a small park squeezed full with statues plus a walk in construction. inside they show hell, earth and heaven on three levels all filled up with clay statues. quite weird and drastic, some of them might be good for nightmares. but from the top a fantastic view. i spent far more time in the park then i expected when i arrived there. it's a place for highschool students and monks to go to to talk to farang to improve their english. so of course i ended up sitting up for over an hour with a monk and a student talking about laos and their lifes. very interesting and good fun.

back in vientiane i went shopping. i had found this little shop a couple of days ago and after some hard bargaining (i'm getting better and better) i left with two bags full of silken lampshades and handbags. and with that the problem started, where to put them? well, i didn't really need my sleeping bag anymore, did i?! and there was this poor lad who had nothing else to cover himself up with then a towl. off it went and i got one of the nicest smiles in return plus space in my backpack.

by then i had enough of vientiane for the moment. it's a lovely city although it doesn't feel like a capital city more like a provincial town, little traffic compared to other places and i think that's part of its charme. being there i had to think of ho chi minh city where crossing a road is kind of a survival training while in vientiane everything is still in a slow pace.

if i had known what was laying ahead of me i'm not sure if i had gone to lak sao the next day. sounded like a good place, a bit off the main tourist track, close to the vietnamese border for a change, hot springs and it was supposed to be a nice drive up there. there's a bus going all the way from vientiane to lak sao but that had already left at 5.30am, so being at the busstation at 7.30am was just two hours to late. after a short discussion about other options still to get there the same day i got on a bus to paksan. there was another bus supposed to leave from that town. arriving at the busstation in paksan i asked about that bus. well, perhaps from town but not from the busstation. of course it was another 1,5km walk into town and nobody spoke english till i got to a guesthouse. that guy there told me to go back to the busstation!? starting to walk all the way back a young woman called out to me and asked where i wanted to go to. then she talked to a few people sitting around there and found a share taxi for me to go to a place where the road to lak sao turns off from the mainroad. but still i had to wait for another 1,5 hours till he had enough costumers. then he drove first back to the busstation (what a joke) and then i was on my way again. he dropped some of us off at this crossing and there was already another share taxi waiting. but nothing goes quickly in laos. so it took another 45 min till we actually started. and then the trip changed into a dream. i had been told that the trip up was supposed to be nice but the scenery was just amazing. the road goes all the way through a limestone forest, through little villages etc, just beautiful. for that the whole trip was worth all the trouble. but i must admit i was glad when i arrived in lak sao after that nine hours trip.
and then the same game again as usual. after i checked nearly all guesthouses i found a place for less then 40.000 - 60.000 kip at last.

after i had a closer look at lak sao i was wondereing what i was going to do there, but not being in the mood to face another long trip the next day i decided to stay for two nights.

good thing, it turned out to be a quite funny experience.
it all started as usual, getting up early (very misty and cold), going to the market for a bite to eat (very big market being the main one in that area) and then i went on the search for a cup of tea again. till then i hadn't met any other farangs, but then i met tim in a restaurant and we got into talking. he hadn't heard anything about those hot springs and we decided to find out about them and then trying to get there. but first he moved into the same guesthouse i was staying in and i took the part of finding out about the hot springs. anybody knows the word "hot spring" in lao? not me, but at this restaurant they had a dictionary and so after some misunderstanding i got directions. they were supposed to be 12km out of town on the way to vietnam. well, the distance changed a bit, you can hardly rely on the first answer you get. not that i mean, that people give you false answers on purpose, it's just that most people don't like not being able to help you and even if they haven't got the slightest idea what you are talking about they give you directions, so you can get a lot of nonsens. but the directions were more or less the same just the distance changed from 12 to 18km. too far to walk anyway, so we had to find some kind of transport. the most curious thing happened, tuk-tuk drivers are usually the ones who want to take you anywhere and can be quite persistend in their effort to get customers, especially farangs who might pay a well overprized fare. this was the first time i got refused, they were just not in the mood of driving anywhere and went back to a nap, weird. so we walked around a bit trying to find a lift. after quite some time we found a share taxi going to the bordertown and he said he would drop us off on the way. so that was sorted, although i wasn't sure if the driver had really understood us, but then you are often just hoping for the best. standing on the platform at the back of the car i had a fantastic view and the scenery was just lovely. and of course i was looking out for a sign or something for these hot springs. after quite some time we stopped and got told that these were the hot springs. the only thing we were able to see were a couple of houses and the river. so we walked down there to have a closer look. a few laotians were hanging out there and when i asked for the hot springs one of them pointed to a concrete building. not what we were expecting but then you never know. inspecting that house i couldn't help myself to start laughing. that place had been made up "nicely" for one of the thai princesses when she was on a visit to that area. they had built little bathrooms with bathtubs and squattoilets. so you were able to have a hot bath for 7000 kip while the stink of the toilet was stinging your nose. right, but not my idea of having an enjoyable day. so instead we walked along the river till we found a nice spot and went for a swim there or better a cool down. the current was too strong to really swim in the river and it wasn't very deep as well. we had a good laugh about our hot spring experience and perhaps this way it was even more fun then sitting in a hot spring in that heat.

after out bath we walked further up the river till we got to a village where we then followed the road back. people smiling at us (i wonder what they think about these strange farangs walking in the heat just for fun), shouting out and pushing their children forward so that they could have a better look at the farangs.

in another village we met a guy working in the "hospital" there and got into talking. more people joined in and a language-chaos of laotian, thai and english began. i wasn't too keen on walking all the way back but there were not that many cars driving on that road. luckily while we were trying to have a conversation with these guys there was a share taxi coming our way we waved down.

back in lak sao we met a young german woman tim had been travelling together with for a while before. so we ended up sitting outside the guesthouse. well, i went for a nap after a while and when i got up again there was quite a party going on with the people from the guesthouse and some friends and neighbours. good thing is that they often don't last too long otherwise i might had got drunken. later that night i went for a short stroll, just to find tim playing soccer with some guys on the street and it didn't take long i took part in the game (everybody smiling when i had to lift up my long skirt to give the ball proper kick). good fun, but then i really was ready to go to bed.

all of us left the next morning and at the busstation i met wolfgang again who had spent the last days in lak sao as well, but it seemed that we had to leave the place to meet up. while the others tried to get to vietnam we both took the bus to thakhaek.
January, 26     TOP

thakhaek was just a big constructing site, heaps of roadwork (and a lot of dust), otherwise a bit weird town with no real centre to speak of. one nice little old french-colonial part and the rest just stretches along the roads. it took ages to find an affordable place to stay and i was glad when we decided to take a tuk-tuk. at the end we found a place (after we had seen more or less the whole town), away from the mekong (around there the prices are just outraging) with dorms. we ended up having each a dorm on our own.
later in the afternoon, after a long hot shower (what a luxury) we walked all the way back to the mekong, which was not so bad now without the backpacks, found a nice little restaurant and then watched the sunset over the mekong.

the next day i played guinea pig. okay, short explanation. at the place i was staying at they had also a garden furniture factory, so outside the guesthouse was a nice arrangement of different chairs, tables and benches. and with having one of my very, very lazy days (plus the option of getting new books) the only movements i made were from one chair to another or for a change to a bench following the shade and reading. after a while people started laughing at me, asking what i was doing. "trying all the different seats!" "so you are our guinea pig!" well, why not. i had a great day, besides reading i was also watching the people living and working there, quite interesting. but before i get really cynical (some very ignorant farangs) i better not mention what i saw. (that's nasty, isn't it, starting with something and then not finishing it just when it gets interesting...)

then again on the road, i started running out of time and i wanted to spent some days at the 4000 islands, so the next day the next bus. the bus left around lunchtime and i had been told i would reach pakse around 7pm. haha, what a joke, we had so many stops (sometimes for half an hour or so) on the way that we arrived in pakse at 10.30pm. and i really would like to know why most of the busstations in laos are so far out of town. perhaps they've got a deal with the tuk-tuk drivers. the north busstation is about 10km out of town, so squeezed in with several other people, bags and two chairs(!) it took another half an hour till i got dropped off in town. most of the guesthouses were already closed of course, but luckily there were some british guys sitting in a restaurant who gave me directions to a guesthouse. i payed 30000 kip for a horrible room, one of the most disgusting bathrooms (no shower for me that night) and i didn't even had time to get something to eat because they were about to close for the night as well. my mood was not the best and i decided to move on as early as possible.

trying to find some breakfast the next morning i met this vietnamese guy who tried to persuade me to stay for another day him being so lonely... thanks for the tea mate, but no thanks!

i knew that my bus or whatever would take me down to champasak wasn't leaving from the busstation where i had arrived the night before. so backpack back on my back and off i went trying to find out where to go to. as usual i asked several people where i would be able to find a bus to champasak and this time everybody gave me the same answer (astonishing), at the market about 1,5 km away from where i stayed. easily done, but then it got a little strange. there were heaps of buses, pick ups, taxis etc and i got send around for some time till somebody told me that i had to wait for another 2 hours. right, so i settled myself into a waiting position. some people asked me again (perhaps because i was the only farang there) where i wanted to go to and after about an hour waiting some one told me that there were regularly pick ups leaving about 10m away from me. thanks, there were already two waiting, and as i figured out several had already left while i was sitting there waiting for my bus to arrive. good information is hard to get in laos.

the trip didn't take long and i got dropped off at ban muang from where the ferry to the other side of the mekong leaves. nice little ferry trip over the mekong and then another 2km walk to get into champasak. i got a lift offered but with already 10 people hanging on to the back of the pick up i thought i was better off to walk. there were a few guesthouses all right in the middle of the "town". i found a lovely huge room and the first things i did were having a shower and doing my laundry. afterwards a little nap and then a long walk to have a look around. the whole place consists of one long road with houses build in a row on both sides. no side roads or anything just a 4km stretch. and very quiet - what a nice change.
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