having been in a hurry last time i forgot to describe or better to add a descriptin of something special for the north of thailand. during the festival there were fights between rhinoceros beetles to be seen called kuang chon in thai. i found a nice description so i'll type that down now (and hopefully the computer doesn't crash again):
in this unusual entertainment, a female beetle is restrained in a hollowed out length of sugar cane, or, in more elaborate games, cooped up in a cylindrical piece of wood known as klon. a small hole in the door of the prison - often heart-shaped - allows air to reach the female, and her maddening scent to reach the males. two of the latter are placed on top of the door and encouraged to fight by their owners, who roll tiny serrated sticks called mai phan on the sides of the log. the vibrations and noise from the mai phan are believed to urge the fighting beetles to greater efforts. using their long, multi-jointed legs armed with small barbs to cling on to the klon, the combatants lock horns in a trial of strength, until one eitehr falls off the log into a catching sheet below, or turns tail and admits defeat. both the victor and his defeated opponent will be rewarded with a refreshing snack of raw sugarcane - but not, usually, with the favours of the female. mating is generally considered to dissipate strength, so sex is bad for fighting.
from pai i took the bus up to soppong. because i got off the bus a little bit too early (there was this sign saying cave lodge) there was no taxi to get up to ban tham lod. so i was facing a 7,5 km hike in the middle of the day. of course i didn't walk the whole way, after 1 km i hitched a lift and got dropped off at the cave lodge. the place had been recommended to me by derrik and some other people. it's not bad, but i didn't feel like staying there for long. a good place if you're interested in organised tours, a bit different from the big companies but still. anyway, it started raining in the afternoon so i stayed in my little hut and when the rain was more or less over i went for a walk to see where i was. that being a small village not all streets were made of concrete, it was a very muddy experience (it took me some time to get the red mud out of my trousers again), but then i found a cheap place for food and another accomodation. so i decided to move into that place the next day.
so early next morning i packed up again and moved to lang river guesthouse. nice little place right on the river and my hut was okay. it looked like i could face being in tham lod for a bit longer.
and then the fun started. if thailand ever wants to invade other countries they don't need an army that's for sure. they just have to send over their women with there handbags and some other belongings and voila, you lost your country. but seriously, in the hut next to me moved in this nice thai couple. and straight away she was sitting on my balcony spreading out her things all over the place, chatting along (mixture of thai and english) and enjoying sitting on my balcony while her friend was lying down on theirs. but beau was a really nice woman, we went for a bath together in the river and later we had a little "party" together with piak (the guy who's the owner of the guesthouse). so i got again this delicious thaifood and as usual it was all shared. i really like this way of having a meal together. the next morning the two moved on and i had to move into another hut because they had forgotten that there was a big group coming and that my hut was already rented out. but it was only for the one night so that was okay.
i went for a walk to the wat in the forest (wat ming muang, a forest monk temple) and then a bit further on to the lang river. it's a great area, lush green and not as hot as other places because it's a bit further up in the mountains. when i got back to the guesthouse they started preparing the place for the group and because i didn't have anything else to do i helped a bit. we made oillamps out of old bottles and pieces of cloth and gathered firewood. actually when this group arrived (a whole lot of scandinavians with their thai tourguides being on a 4wd tour for 12 days) they weren't sure what i was doing there mixed up with the staff and gathering firewood and getting really dirty doing it. i didn't feel to mix up with them, they seemed like a very close group, so i ended up sitting together with all the thais. quite funny, good food as usual, heaps to drink (this is not good for my health) and i got heaps of advises and help offered, not that i really need that at the moment, but then you never know. at the end both groups were joining together and it was good fun. some of the guys from sweden spoke german and were quite happy to use it.
the next morning i tried to go for my little walk as usual and then find a bite to eat. no way, right away stopped by these thai tourguides. so they made coffe for me ordered breakfast for me and i had to sit down and wasn't allowed to leave. i ended up giving one of the guys a short introduction in how to pronounce english words ("no, there's no logic in this language!") it was quite hilarious because all the other guys were making comments all the time. anyway, before they left i got a t-shirt and one of these traditional blue jackets (three sizes too big - mai pen rai). then they were off and i could move back into my little hut on the river.
before i go on i might have to explain who's actually living there. so there's piak, the owner, then pueng, his best friend with his wife nenu (a lisu) and daughter hill (2 years). and then there are two other women who work there, who's name i never caught but one of them has got a nice daughter called uuh (9 years). okay, i just tried to transcribe the names, that's the best i could do. at first i thought the two girls were sisters, because uuh was always playing with hill, but after a while i got all relations more or less right. anyway, these girls occupied a fair bit of my time (they would be a good help to invade foreign countries). i didn't mind because they were nice and always up to something. so i spent most of the afternoon playing with them and then i went to see tham lod cave. the whole thing costs 200 baht, but i was really keen on going to see the cave. so i got a guide and she took me through the cave. to get from one part of the cave to the other we always had to go by bambooraft, because the river had risen quite a bit due to some rain the last days. and it was definitly a batcave, the smell is something you can't get wrong. but well, that's part of the fun, walking through bat and swift shit and hoping that they don't shit on you (of course they did shit on my trousers....) in the last part of the cave there are some coffins which have been found in that area in several caves. something about the early settlers in this area. because i went late in the afternoon i got to the exit when the swifts where coming back for the night, a fantastic site.
i had got a map of the region with all the hikes, caves, villages etc. on it. so i made my mind up to go for a longer walk up to ban muang praem, one of the karen villages. it was a steep climb up along a small road (even worse then any road i have seen in australia). i met a few thai people on the way, all of them going down and having this big grin on their faces seeing a farang (white-skinned foreigner) climbing up while they were sitting on pick ups etc on their way down. one guy on a motorbike actually stopped and we had a chat. he offered me to turn around and take me up to the village. but being in the mood for a walk i declined, perhaps he thought well, just one of these strange farangs who prefer to walk. i was farily exhausted after 1,5 hours walk and happy to get to that place. nothing special about the village besides that they try to sell their weavings and so i was quickly involved in some kind of haggling and struggling. i really didn't want to buy anything but they nearly got me to buy a nice sarong (piece of fabric wound around the body). good that it was a little more then i was prepared to pay. i mean i've got already about twenty kilos in my backpack and i have more and more problems to find things i can either give or throw away. my clothes are more or less reduced to the absolute basics and the other things i really can't throw out. i will probably sell my sleepingbag in a while...
anyway, i still had to face my way back and it had gotten quite hot by the time i reached the village. so i wouldn't have said no to a lift, but when you arew lookig for a lift there's non to get. so i walked all the way back. by that time i had already two small blisters (i'm not sure if thongs are made for hiking) but also got some band aid in a little shop. the way down didn't take as much time as usual but i was quite happy to be back. and of course when you're back you meet people telling you that it would have been much easier to walk on a different way to that village. they never tell you before you leave, always just when you're back. but then who cares. the whole trip took me about four hours, not too bad for a bit of exercise i think.
the afternoon i spent mainly with the girls again and they persuaded me to go for a swim with them, quite cold.
the next day i spent doing nothing - and i'm good in it. no, actually i taught nenu a few craft things and we had some more english - thai lessons. i was expecting to have sore legs, but they were fine. but still lazy days are just fantastic. in the afternoon it rained again anyway so we had our meal inside just for a change. my whole stay i didn't pay for any dinner, i always shared with them. a way to save some money and get really good food as well.
tuesday was my last day, i felt like i had to move on. as much as i enjoyed my stay with them, i just got a little itchy. and i could feel my legs that day... it's always one day late. pueng and i went to see a friend of his. he's a german who settled down in ban tham lod about 8 years ago and has got a fairly big family. he's working as a silversmith and makes fantastic jewellery, so i bought a fair bit of him and hope i can sell it again. in the night we had a fire going (it's getting a bit chilly up there) and the two men got a bit drunk on lisu whiskey (local corn whiskey). i was far more carefull with it and felt fine, but at the end i had to send pueng of. i don't know why, but when some men get drunk they might loose a bit of reality. i had to remind him that he has got a bed on his own and also a wife and daughter.... but no hard feelings.
piak took me the next day (30.10.) down to soppong to catch the bus to mae hong son. a big change after this quite place. but mae hong son is not too bad. far more tourists again of course, but a lot of them a bit older. and just to get it right in the first place, i didn't go to stare at some longneck or longear karen. i still don't like this idea of the human zoos. it feels too strange to me, i mean think about somebody is coming to a small village somewhere in germany or so. starting to walk into your house, staring at you and then taking pictures get back into the jeep and drive off, who the hell would like that happen to him.... but then people are different. anyway, i had a stroll around mae hong son, the usual thing i do when i get to a new place, just sorting out where you are and where to find the market, where to get something to eat ... but i still could feel my legs so i wasn't in too much of walking. i met my room neighbour an american guy called bill and we had a chat on the balcony. then the hard job to find a place to swap books. it is hard work and i couldn't find a place at all that day.
early the next morning i walked up the hill to the wat phrathat doi kong mu, it's a fantastic view from there down to mae hong son and some villages. being quite good back on my legs i decided to go and see the royal folk arts and crafts center as well. ever tried to follow a locally made map???? distances are something they forget to mention. so i was walking on and on wondering if i wasn't too far by now, but no the map told me i had to go pass that and that building or bridge and there were still more to come. at the end i walked pass the centre without realising that it was there.... so i had a noodle soup to get back some energy and walked my track back for a bit. then i saw a sign but had to figure out that nothing was going there due to some reconstruction work. sometimes you feel really fooled. the way back i found a shortcut along the river and that was quite nice, no traffic, just some kids having fun in the river and a fair bit of sun burning down on my head.
the stupid thing about my room was, that there was no chance of having a siesta because over lunchtime it felt even colder outside then in the room, bah! so instead i went to a small cafe and had a pot of tea and was reading the bangkok post. and then i saw this sign "book exchange". i had a look through their books, nothing really fascinating but something to read. so i tried to explain to the two women that i would like to exchange a book - "mai dai" - can not?! i really tried to persuade them, but it was always can not. so i gave up and went to the internet cafe (where the computer broke down of course) and thought i just give it up for the day. but of course there is always a change. bill, my neighbour took me out for dinner, i think he thought i didn't have enough money because he always saw me at the small food stalls and so he wanted to give me a decent dinner. well, i would never say no to something to eat. we actually had an interesting meal and he told me later everytime he's going out for dinner he's getting something that was far from what he ordered. this time he was lucky and i got something completely different, but it was still okay.
another day (1.11.) in mae hong son. i tried to get some things organised like getting a new zipper for my trousers, making some copies from bill's guidebook (they can be really handy i'm just not prepared to add that weight to the amount i'm already carrying around with me) and finally getting my books swapped.
i really like this little lake in mae hong son, it's a nice view with the wat joung klong (wat chong kham or wat chong klang?) in the background. in the evening you can watch people doing some exercises at tai chi. during the days in mae hong son i've spent some time just sitting there and watching the life flowing past me.
anyway, that day i went to have a closer look at the wat. the construction is quite different from other wats because of the shan architecture. and i like wats just a little escape, just sitting there let your mind flow...
this time this monk was sitting close to me and after i had been sitting there for a while he told me to come over and sit down in front of him. so i got my second blessing. but instead of sprinkling a little water over my head he was really into it and i was quite soaked, water dribbling down my hair and shoulders, a little bit like a refreshment.
in the evening i sat up with two young thai women from bangkok who spent a three days holiday up in the north. bill joined us later as well and we did have a nice chat. i think that night bill actually realised that most thai people don't have a lot of money even if they do have a good job. he was telling nid and chum where to travel to etc. and then i asked them how much they earn and how much there living cost was, just to show him that there was no point in telling them something about going overseas when they weren't even able to pay the airfare.
the next morning i headed off to mae sariang. pueng had given me an address of a guesthouse to stay at. so as a lot of people i ended up staying at the see view. i stayed one night there, but i didn't like it. this guy akkasaen who's running that place was a complete nuisance and my room had not one of the nicest smells. well, you cope for one night. but i went into town and had a good look at other places and of course to find out where to get food etc. they even had an internet place in that town, but after it crashed down twice when i tried to send of an e-mail i gave up.
in the night akkasaen tried desperatly to sell one of his tours (cruising on the river along the burmese border) to the four other guys at the guesthouse. but for 900 baht nobody was really keen on going.
anyway, sunday i moved into the north west guesthouse. you can't imagine what a feeling it is when you open the door to your room and the smell of fresh lemon is greeting you, what a change. it's a lovely little place and dhugda a really nice woman. she's running that place on her own, just having a young woman helping her with the cleaning and fixing breakfast and sometimes looking after her son. well, her son is a little bit overactive and she's got some trouble controlling him so that he and i clashed a few times, but of course i won.
in the afternoon i walked up to the golden buddha, a nice walk through ricefields and up a small hill. the whole land looked very changed because there was a weather coming up and you could watch the clouds gathereing, a few sunbeams finding there way still, it looked quite magic. and i made it back to my place in time. but then it wasn't that bad at all, perhaps mathias and markus would see it differntly. i met them that evening and they got a little soaked on their way back. they were very funny (like an old couple), one teaching the other to go properly backpacking, but i think they do have a lot of fun together. anyway, i sat up with them and they invited me for a couple of beers and later on for dinner as well, which was rather nice and i must say i had a good laugh with them and a little later about them with dhugda ("they drank all my beer!")
just for a change to all that walking i usually do i rented a bike the next day and after the fourth one i had one that didn't fall into pieces right away. it's a lovely area and fairly flat as well, just surrounded by mountains. i think i cycled about 20km (that's what the map said), loosing my way inbetween (i love these homemade maps they are so accurate) but finally getting back to my place. it was really a nice change although i'm not sure what they do to the saddles, they are not the most comfortable and i felt a little sore afterwards.
because my backpack was still far too heavy and i can't find anything to give or throw away anymore (the last bits and pieces i gave to dhugda) i thought of sending a few things over to germany. but after a visit to the post office i figured out that i will have to go on carrying the whole lot, mai pen rai!
the rest of the day was very quiet. i joined dhugda for dinner, mathias and markus were reading (and drinking beer) and i had a chat with a japanese guy who spoke thai more or less fluently (envy).
i don't know what kept me in that place, but there was something about that town i really liked besides that there weren't as many tourists as usual. dhugda and i got very well along and we were discussing some of her plans how to improve the place and she told me a lot about her life. so even without doing anything special, more or less just hanging around through the day, i enjoyed myself. i deciede to leave the next day (6.11.) to go for a couple of days back to chiang mai and then further north. but plans are plans and they don't come through with me very often. so what happened was that after dinner (i refused to join dhugda that night, she wanted to cook something special for me but i'm not keen on frogs especially after i had seen them squeezed on sticks) we sat up watching thai soap operas (don't ask). then this french couple came in asking for adul (a tourguide staying at the north west guesthouse) to go on a trek with him. well, he explained everything to them, i didn't really pay attention till he suddenly turned to dhugda asking her if i was a friend of hers and would like to join in. i wasn't keen on paying 900 baht for a daytour but then she told me that it was for free for me. well, that made a difference so i said why not. he told me we were going to two karen villages where he knew the people (he's karen himself) and then climbing some waterfalls. right, fine besides that i didn't have any proper shoes. but he told me that wouldn't matter. so there i was. instead of going to chiang mai i was going to climb some waterfalls.
the next morning i got a small backpack from dhugda, fitted my camera, my binoculars and a bottle of water in it, wearing my old red leather sandals (don't even think of me having decent trecking shoes) and off we went. it took and half hour drive out of mae sariang till we started walking. the first village was only a 20min walk across fields and we went to his uncle's place for having breakfast. i think that was my first western style breakfast since i arrived in thailand, toast, jam, boiled eggs, tea and coffee. and of course everybody was curious why i was alone suggesting adul as my future husband.
from there we walked through cabbage, chillie and ricefields up- and downhill for another 1,5 hours to get to the next village. and because the paths were often overgrown you couldn't see all the holes and gaps so that ever one was stumbling. but it was a lovely view, sometimes the path was shaded by trees, sometimes we were walking in the bright sun. it wasn't difficult, i got quite out off breath walking steep uphill, but that's the way it is.
in that village we were supposed to have our lunch. it took actually ages and because there was nothing else to do i started playing with the kids. they were very shy but curious at the same time. anyway, i know some tricks with my fingers (like how to make a frog thanks to toshi) and so i got them after a while to try it themselves. it was quite funny and we were laughing a lot.
after lunch we walked on for some time and i started thinking that's an easy one till we got to the river. i knew we were climbing some waterfalls, but i didn't realise he meant the waterfalls themselves, not a path leading next to them. so off went the shoes and for nearly 3/4 hour you could see me stumbling through the river, with quite a nice current as well, climbing up cascades and small waterfalls (the good thing was that the stones weren't slippery, but i still had to hang on with both hands sometimes, water splashing around and over me at the same time) and i must admit although it was good fun i was glad when it was over, we started picking the leeches off our legs and feet and i could put on my shoes again. the others were of course better prepared then i was. adul actually borrowed me his thongs but because they were too big they nearly floated away a few times and so i was better off walking barefoot.
at the end we came to this high waterfall and i was glad that nobody suggested to climb up that one as well. i was fairly exhausted. the rest was a walk through fields, a banana plantation and sunflowers. we hitched a ride back on a pickup because we had just missed the bus and i was very happy to stand under a hot shower for some time when we got back.
that evening adul tried to persuade me to stay longer, he would take me to a kuomintang village and to the sunflower festival. "you know i'm alone and you are alone, we can share a tent". so i felt, that now was the time to leave.
there's nothing to say about the next day, i spent 9 hours on the bus getting from mae sariang to ban tha ton. i decided on the way to chiang mai that i wasn't keen on staying there again, so i went all the way up. but arriving in tha ton i really needed a walk, although it was getting dark i went for an 1,5 hours stroll, just to give myself some exercise (and i felt very stiff and sore).
friday morning i realised that i was running out of money. so back on a bus for 9 km because ther's no bank in tha ton. the closest one is in mae ai. nothing else special about that place, just a little market town with heaps of thai people staring at that strange farang walking through their place. and i got even more stares when i started walking back along the road. there were even some people stopping me and trying to explain that there was a bus going. well, i did know that but i just wanted to walk for a while. they were just shaking their heads.
the rest of the day i spent e-mailing (an internet cafe that worked properly for a change), played with the little puppy at the guesthouse (he tried to chew up everything he could lay his teeth on) went for another walk and found some one to swap books with. that's actually getting harder and harder. i'm still reading a lot but there are no places to swap books anymore and lot's of people i meet are just travelling for a short time and they want to take their books back home with them. but till now i never ran out of reading material.
later i met a few other guys, one from italy called valerio who stayed for another day as well. most people just go to tha ton to catch the boat down the kok river to chiang rai which is supposed to be a nice trip. that was my first intention as well but i changed my plans (what else are plans for) and decided on going further up north from there.
early the next morning (9.11.) i walked up to wat tha ton. an amazing view from there down to the plain and along the kok river. it's only 4km from there to burma, so part of the mountains you see from there are already in burma. the wat itself has got different influences, partly chinese with a big pricess' mother statue.
getting into a bit of a weird mood i spent nearly the whole rest of the day writing letters and cards and reading my book. in the evening i met rike and kath, who had been travelling together since pai and were going down to chiang rai the next day.
i took the bus up to mae salong early the next morning. what a lovely place, i was stunned by the scenerey, it's the place to go for some hikes. after exploring the close by area for about two hours i got back to the guesthouse (the cheapest till now with 50 baht for a single room) just to see valerio arriving. we had a chat and then i went for my siesta and he for a walki. later in the afternoon i went for a walk around the hill with the pricess' mother pagoda on top till i got to an akha village (and i didn't take any pictures!). the funny thing was that the girls weren't as shy as the boys. while the girls followed me for some time the boys who had been playing on the path diappeared behind a fence in a second just daring to have a glimpse at me.
i met a thai guy who told me if i would foolow that way on i would get back to mae salong after 20km. but for that it was far too late and i wasn't sure if it would have been a good idea to do that on my own. so i turned around and walked the same way back.
trying to find something for dinner for a reasonable price was quite hard there. the cheap places close early and what is left are a few fancy restaurants for thai tourists. valerio and i met on the search for something to eat and at the end we figured out the only place with reasonable prices was our guesthouse. so there we were back again.
after my few lazy days in tha ton i felt like doing things again. i think i just need a break once in a while to get myself sorted again. if i look at it, i see so many people rushing around to take as much as possible in and at the end i'm not sure if they have seen anything. when people start asking me what i'm doing in some "uninteresting" places for more then a day my only answer is "i'm a slow traveller".
anyway, mae salong has got this chedi up that hill or better to say the mother princess' pagoda. it is a climb up there, after a while i lost track of how many steps i had been climbing (too may that's for sure), the stair looked like it would never end. i asked valerio later if had counted them but he had given up as well). after you get your breath back the view is fantastic (before that you just can't be bothered). and then it goes along a road back to mae salong. it takes quite some time and i'm glad i walked the steps up instead of the road. from the road you've got some more good views, either down the forest on the hills or down to the tea plantations.
mae salong and the surrounding is a kuomintang area, which means the chinese settled down there after they had to leave china. with them they brought opium in a large scale and you can still see that these people are not the poorest ones and nobody can tell me that's because they get high prices for their tea. anyway, when thailand tried to clean up the opium trade, here they started to grow tea and coffee. so every second shop is a tea shop and when you walk down the road you can smell the dried tea in the air. and if you have a closer look you still find the odd opium pipes in the back of small restaurants of course not without somebody smoking it.
it's a really nice place with its half chinese and half thai appearance. some places are so chinese and then you have also a lot of akha there. they come into town either for the morning market to sell their fruits and vegetables or for the day market to sell their handicraft. but it's not like in other places where you get asked all the time to buy something.
besides valerio and me there was a canadian couple staying at the guesthouse. they had bought bicycles in chiang mai and had been cycling around the north of thailand and were on their way to laos. it's nice to have some people to chat with who are not leaving right away. but all of us left the next morning, the three to go to mae sai and i to get to chiang saen.
uphill, downhill, serpentines and a lovely scenery as usual. i had to change buses inbetween, but it didn't take long to get to chiang saen.
what a difference being in a town again and on the shore of the mekong. i really like that river, it's just fascinating sitting there and watch it flowing by all the way down from tibet and still a long way to go till it will be in vietnam. there's a lot going on on the riverbank in chiang saen. boats to china getting loaded, marketstalls selling fruits imported from china and "my" little teastall, where i was sitting for hours sipping my tea and watching this huzzle and buzzle around me. and dreaming, dreaming of going with one of these boats to china and then suddenly somebody shouting up to me "you want to go to china?" "not today!" but it's another plan for the future.
later i met kath again, she was staying at the same guesthouse and we spent the rest of the day together, sitting on the riverbank, talking, having a bite to eat. to me she's a very impressive woman, started travelling five years ago for some months each year and she's been to places i would love to go like pakistan, kashmir, nepal. i know a lot of people are doing this but not that many at the age of 74. but the best is actually that she's really good company and i enjoy spending time with her (there are not that many people i can have around me for some time).
the next morning the two of us went to sob ruak. sob ruak is synonymous with the golden triangle which means you've got heaps of tourist groups going there. we counted at some stage 14 tourbuses but somehow we managed to escape them most of the time.
the nicest view over the triangle you've got from wat prathat phu kao. it's a lovely place and the view is amazing. we spent a very long time up there, reading about the history and legend of the wat:
in the year 1182 (buddhist year) king lava chakaraj moved from phu gsa city (chiang saen noi) to build a new one. he did this by excavating a canal along the maekhong river bank, 14m wide, 200m long. this new city was called hirannakhon neern-yong (chiang saen). king lava chakaraj had three sons named laokao, laokue and laokhao. for many years the farmers were suffering because ricefields and granaries were destroyed by a giant crab. king lava chakaraj ordered his sons to catch the giant crab at the stream that flowed into the maekhong river. they found the crab but it escaped into the hole on top of the hill (where is the wat now). one day in the evening they caught the crab and presented it to their father.
after some time king lava chakaraj ordered his sons:
1. laokao to live in a cave in a distant land
2. laokue to chalaopaphong city to rule it
3. laokhao to nakon ngern-yang city to rule it
king lava chakaraj ruled for 120 years till his death.
prince laokhao became king and was known as "prajow laokhaok heaw panmamuang". he was a very staunch buddhist. he built a chedi and a stupa which covered the crab hole. he installed a buddha relic within the stupa. every one was happy up to the time of king lao meng. now this ancient place is called "pradhat pukhao or phukhao (crab's cave)" at doi shiang mang.
afterwards we went down to have a look at the opium museum. purchasing our tickets this big group came in, so we waited for quarter of an hour (they don't get more time) and squeezed in between two tourgroups. it's quite interesting and worth having a look at. you can see that there is an teacher behind the museum, quite educational and of course another legend (kath and i had a ball reading it):
"the origin of opium and tobacco"
long time ago there was a very old lady who died without a known disease. before she died she asked her relatives to bury her corpse at a very busy crossroad. after her funeral there were two tobaccoplants growing from her grave at the position of the corpses breasts and an opium plant at the position of her genitalia. tried to taste both tobacco and opium, people preferred tobacco. this is why tobacco is more popular than opium. it is also believed that since tobacco plants grow from the breast human smoke tobacco after their mother stops breast feeding them.
after lunch we took the bus back to chiang saen, kath went to the national museum and i had another glass of tea before my afternoon nap. in the evening i tried to use the internet, but it crashed down again and again, so i figured out that it would be better to write down my diary first and then type it in.
kath left the next morning but we both felt sure we would meet again. i went to the national museum. it gives you a good overall view of the history of the area and about the tribal people. it's easy to spend two hours there, what i did of course.
from there i walked to wat pa sak just to figure out they wanted an entrance fee for that as well. but then if you stand right next to the cashier boot you've got the best view of it anyway. the only thing left is the chedi, the rest is like lots of the wats in chiang saen just ruins. there are still the remains of the town wall around the city, partly overgrown and it's fun to walk along them.
at wat phra that chedi luang (right next to the museum) they weren't asking for money, so i had a closer look and as usual i sat down for a while letting my mind flow. i've got no idea how many wats i've been visiting by now, heaps, but i still enjoy their peacefulness, places where you can give yourself a rest.
later i had another fight with the computer, but this time i was smarter and saved every ten minutes, but it took ages to get everything done.
i decided to get to laos a bit earlier than i had first thought (one reason might be that i would like to have a bit of a beach holiday on ko chang before i've to go back to germany), so i left the following morning to chiang khong. it's a lovely drive partly along the mekong, through small villages etc. it takes about 1,5 hours to get there, so i had a whole day in chiang khong (which was enough for me anyway). and right away i bumped into carolyne and rick again (i had meet them briefly in chiang saen as well). we stayed in the same guesthouse (again) but i got the better room, i had the only room with a balcony. the day was filled with getting things organised like going to the market, doing my laundry (it had piled up again although i really only have the basics), getting a stack of new books (the booksituation in laos is supposed to be fairly bad) and otherwise just relax, having chats with carolyne and rick and making my mind up if i should go up north or down south in laos (4 weeks is just a very short time for a country).
i hadn't been sure if i would leave the next day (depended on my washing, i hate packing up wet clothes) but by midmorning everything was dry and there wasn't anything i wanted to do in chiang khong so i walked down to the immigration office, got my stamp, took the ferry across, got another stamp and had to pay 15 baht because it was a saturday. but there i was the first time in laos.
compared to chiang khong hua xai is a very sleepy little town. there's not much to do besides walking around the town and having something to eat. and then i had some problems with my leg again so i had rather a quite day.
when i went for dinner i met this guy called kaen, he was from pakbaeng working for a tourcompany there. we had a beer together and went for a walk, had a chat with some other laotians, but i felt a little tired, so i went back to the guesthouse early.
when i woke up the next morning it was pouring down with rain. it took me some time to make up my mind if i should leave or better stay. but then it cleared a little and i went down to the pier for the slowboat to pakbaeng. i tried to follow richard's advise how to get on a boat with less farang. somehow it just didn't work, so i was squeezed in with heaps of other people. there's not really space to stretch yourself and your stuck on the boat for 6 hours to get to pakbaeng. half the time it was overcast or even raining but the scenery was still lovely.
there was this poor english girl on the boat, badly sick with fever and a headache and somehow neither her mother nor her sister did know what to do (she looked like shits to say it plainly).
so i gave her one of my headmassages, organised some aspirin and at the end of the trip she looked much better. her mother was very thankfull and wanted to know where i learned all this. well, it's just common sens i thought but then it seems that a lot of people don't know how to help themselves. that is something you learn when you travel alone most of the time.
pakbaeng is a fairly small village existing on overnight tourism. most travellers stay there just for one night on the trip to luang prabang. and just to break the routine i decided to stay two nights. wise move, i had so much fun during that day. well, actually it started already in the evening. after having some dinner i went back to the guesthouse i stayed at. sitting outside on the steps (my favourite place after a while) the whole village life enfolded itself in front of me. two boys were playing a game just in front of me: you put down a few 500 kip notes, walk away for a distance and then try to slam them apart with a shoe. the winner puts the money down again and the looser has to contribute another 500 kip. they asked me to join them but after i had seen how skillfull they were i decided that i didn't want to loose all my money to them.
the following morning by 9.30 am all foreigners had disappeared and i was left alone. not completely because i met a french couple in the afternoon but more or less that was it. and then you find yourself stared at and followed by kids. i went for two walks, which was lovely but the second one was just when school started again after the lunchbreak, so i was surrounded by kids.
coming back to the guesthouse i made the "mistake" of sitting on the steps again but this time making friendship bands as well. who ever has been to asia can imagine what happened next. first it was just a few curious women coming over whom i taught how to make these bands. but at the end i had heaps of kids standing and sitting around me and i was kept busy making more and more for all of them.
and then the next tourist invasion landed in pakbaeng for another night.
i gave it another try to get on a less crowded boat the next morning. at the beginning it looked quite good, till they decided that we were not enough people and moved us over on the farang boat. it was very crowded as usual and i was a bit pissed off, but then i moved to the back of the boat and had heaps of space, sharing it only with four laotians. the only bad thing of the place was that it was right next to the motor, so i had to cope with the noise and the fumes. but on the other hand i was invited for breakfast, had space to stretch my legs and the guys were really nice. on the trip i met eduardo the first time as well, he was curious about what i was doing there in the back, so we had a chat. and later i met him and alejandra (both from mexico) a few times in luang prabang.
the trip to luang prabang took about 7 hours and i was glad to get off the boat again. then it took me 45 minutes to find a cheap guesthouse and i can tell you it's no fun to run around a town with a 20 kg backpack on the search for a place to stay. but i wasn't prepared to pay a minmum of us$ 4 per night and at the end i found a place for 20000 kip (1000 kip = 0,13 US$ = 0,13 Euro) on a very muddy road. there had been far too much rain in the last days.
walking back into the main street to change some money i bumped right into kath again.