May 31, 2004

Escape from Bangkok

Harangued one too many times with shouts of "Where you go? You take Tuk Tuk!", "You go massage? Body to body!" and "You buy from me!", we scurried away from crowded, sultry and dirty Bangkok for the beach.

After a four hour bus ride (prolonged by the driver's insistence on stopping every 40 km or so to get us to buy stuff at roadside stops he was assuredly getting kickbacks from) and a 40 min ferry ride we arrived at Ko Chang, a large island surprisingly unpopulated given its proximity to BK's 10M + peeps.

We hope to do a bit of diving and bank of few beach hours (Janet's reserves had been running dangerously low :-))

May 29, 2004

I came for yoga, but I stayed for the blow dryer
After Sukothai, Jim and I came through Bangkok for a few days of TCB'in before heading to the beaches of Ko Chang.

To escape the chaos of Khao San road, I made a daily trek across town for yoga class. Trek is not an understatement. Bangkok does not have a very good public transportation system (reminds me a lot of SF's), so the commute to the studio took an hour each way.

However, the effort of the trek and the 90-minute butt-kicking (yoga hurts when you've been away for MONTHS) proved to be worth it when the changing room (which includes, in Jim's words, "the nicest bathroom in Asia") had blow dryers. It has literally been months since my hair has seen a brush - forget about a blow dryer! I took my own sweet time primping after each class. Sweet glory :)

May 25, 2004

A short stay in Sukothai

Based on a strong recommendation from our travel friend Kathleen (see Ko Lanta blog entry), Jim and I made a stop in the former capital city of Sukothai on our way back to Bangkok. We had one specific purpose there - to get a 'life altering' "Balance Massage" from Samart Hrimtephathip.

After hearing how Samart cured Kathleen of her ankle problems, I was hoping he could work a similar magic on Jim's back. Since I am issue-free (note sarcasm) and I consider Thai massages to be a masochist form of torture, I was more than a bit hesitant to undergo a treatment myself.

Within hours of our arrival, Samart visited us at our bungalow for the first of two sessions. Jim proved to be a challenging client and worked Samart for over 2 hours on the first day, and over 3 the next. But Jim will say that he has noticed a difference.

I like to describe my two sessions as "intense and intimate." If I had not been adequately warned or not been confident in Samart's credentials, I would have wussed out in the first 10 minutes.

But Sukothai proved to be more than just a place to get our bodies I mean...treated. Samart also treated us to a short meditation course (after my second course of 'treatment' he said I need to keep up with yoga or meditating since I was suspectible to stress - wh-wh-what!?!??!).

Additionally, we visited 3 elementary schools - one a monastary - where we practiced English with the students:

Hello, my name is Janet. What is your name?
It is nice to meet you. It is nice to meet you too.

Proof they let us be in charge!

Us with some of the students and the principal (she insisted on paying for our lunch that day).

But the highlight of the school tours, by far, was Jim breaking out his iPod with speakers and spearheading a dance contest to Outkast's "Hey Ya." The children of Sukothai may never be the same!

Did I mention that had us signing autographs??!

May 21, 2004

Tailor Made in Chiang Mai

Jim and I both took advantage of the bargain prices for handmade clothes in Thailand. Jim went all out - getting 2 suits (one 3-piece), 4 shirts and a trench coat made. All for ridiculously low prices. I was a bit concerned about the quality of the craftsmanship (being the daughter of a seamstress, you know), so I waited a bit to see how Jim's stuff turned out before I committed to anything. But my expectations were greatly exceeded. I had the tailor take a picture of me in my new red dress. Check me out:

May 19, 2004

"Now You Can Open Thai Restaurant!"

Skipping breakfast, the five of us headed to Chiang Mai Thai cooking school to try our hand at cooking, Northern Thailand style. It was a great experience...the staff not only tolerated our obnoxious behavior but cracked more than a few jokes of their own.

Proof that they actually let Wiggen hold a knife.

In addition to carving up decorative food items like the lotus-flower look alike (kind of?) picture above -- which I pretty much failed at! -- we made egg rolls, Pork and Tofu Soup w/ Veggies, a red curry duck dish, chicken with ginger root, chicken wrapped in palanga (sp?) leaf and, for dessert, Sticky Rice w/ Mango.

Janet's artistry in living color. Note the fine detail of the carrot carved leaf. Wondrous!

Midway through the event John disappeared for a good 20 minutes. Our Thai teacher waited as long as she could before pressing on. John would eventually return, looking much worse for wear: sweat beading on his forehead and shifting his weight uncomfortably. Later we would learn that John had forgotten to wash his hands after handling the spicy as hell Thai peppers and prior to hitting the bathroom (ouch!)

John (pre-incident) with Mast and Wiggen

May 18, 2004

Cisler's Royal Palace Invite

We set out with our three companions for Doi Suthep, Phu Ping Palace and the waterfall (more of a trickle really). En route the boys could not resist a stop over at a little spot offering 3 shots from a wooden crossbow. Although the lads may tell you differently, I was the only one to hit the mango hung at least 40 (ish :-)) meters away.

Wiggen tries his hand, Jim thinks better of playing the role of William Tell

After visiting the watertrickle we headed to Phu Ping Royal Palace.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Princess Therlatat of Thailand happened by in one of the royal chariots, taking special note of our tall, not-so-dark but ever-so-handsome John Cisler. Her Highness was so taken in fact, that she invited John to stay at the palace pictured above which, given the very modest aire of our guest house environs, he readily accepted. Stunned, we begged John to take us with but he scoffed something about not wishing to fraternize with such plebians, and headed off hand-in-hand with the fair princess.

Of yeah, then we went to Doi Suthep, the highest point near Chiang Mai, which afforded some cool views of both temple and town:

The long, LONG flight of stairs up to the Stupa

Later that evening the four boys shocked the locals and tourists alike by geeking out as only we (closet) geeks can: by playing the travel version of "Settler's Of Catan" (akin to the board game "Risk") in a local bar. Good times, good times.

May 17, 2004

Arrival of the Three Amigos

Today we welcomed one John Cisler, Michael J. Mast and one Kevin Andrew Wiggen, not-so-fresh from a night in Bangkok and more than a few in Koh Phi Phi.

Janet, Mike, Wiggen, John, Jim, Karen and Willow Sup at the Riverside

Post dinner we headed to "Reggae Alley" to enjoy a few more brews and say farewell to Christian, our frequent, Italian travel companion. Before the night was over I of course fell prey to the charms of the little rose peddler:

May 16, 2004

Night Marketing

Today's highlights included 1) REAL Mexican food for the first time since we left the Mission (and real margaritas of course) and 2) the Chiang Mai Sunday Market, an eclectic Bazaar where one can find everything from touristy items to art to foot massages, right on the sidewalk.

May 15, 2004

Inaugural Chiang Mai Piercing?

Today we flew into Chiang Mai, a historically rich town in Northern Thailand. The day before we met Willow, fellow Californian living in Santa Cruz, and convinced her to fly rather than take the two day slow boat (which was not that hard given a) the slow boat is a bit nightmarish and b) she still recovering from a moped spill...lesson, never get on a motorbike in SE Asia). Willow digs dave Matthews and is a Yoga instructor so Janet and she had nothing in common ;-).

After settling in, Janet -- who had always wanted to get her navel pierced -- suggested that we three celebrate our meeting and arrival with a bonding event of the piercing variety. Cosmic coincidence of fate would have it that there was a dingy tattoo parlor a few meters from our guesthouse.

While Willow and I had considerably less enthusiasm (and beer) prior to the bonding experience, Janet was fired up. However, her enthusiasm was nearly conquered by her fear of the pain she'd heard was involved. Yoga breathing and the staunch support of her two compatriots brought her through w/ shining colors:

A stunning shade of turquoise, no?

I was up next. Janet attempted to convince me to get my nipple pierced, but I had more than a few concerns about that one. So, I opted for an ear. The Thai fellow who performed the procedure spoke very little English, but he did know "accident", which he blurted out in a panic after trying to poke the needle through for what seemed like 20 minutes. All turned out well in the end, though my lobe is a little worse for wear:

Jim, getting a little concerned after his piercer shouts "accident!"

Next came Willow who, after my minor ordeal had second thoughts to say the least. Group pressure won her over in the end and she was satisfied by the result:

Later that night we continued the celebration at "Forrest Drunk" which, despite its cheeky name was a pretty chill place, reminiscent of the southern beaches more so than the city.

May 14, 2004

Goodbye Laos, Hello Chaing Mai (Thailand)

Today we flew from Luang Prabang back to Thailand, this time in the Northern section of the country. In keeping with blog tradition, our likes / dislikes list is as follows:

Things The Two "Falangs" Found Endearing About Laos:

1. The People. Laos easily had the friendliest, warmest and most genuine folks we've found in SE Asia.
2. The Landscape. Even thought it's landlocked, even beach-worshipper Janet agrees that the Laotian mountains, rivers and forested nether regions were breathtaking.
3. The kids. Some of the cutest gosh darn children we've met / seen.
4. Forgiving Nature of the Peeps. In spite of all the B.S. these peoples have put up with from the U.S., France, China, Vietnam, etc. they don't seem to have a resentful bone in their bodies.
6. "Cheap Cheap". Man, Laos is cheap, even by SE Asia standards. Our average room price was $4 US / night.
7. Lao Hai. The fermented rice beverage was pretty tasty, very unique and did not cause the kind of hangovers Lao Lao did.
8. Long, incredibly narrow boats. They were endearing inspite of yours truly having to double over to manuever on one.
9. Laos Diversity. Laos features a number of cultures, from a number of Hill Tribes to Chinese immigrants.
10. Beer Laos. Surprisingly light and crisp and is to blame for putting whatever pounds I lost in Thailand back on.

Stuff falling somewhere on the quirky > annoying > disturbing scale:

1. Drinking from plastic bags & straws. Janet found it endearing, I just found it weird.
2. Uniformity of staircases. (Or rather lack thereof). Even step to step you had to watch your footing. Makes things especially difficult when you are 5 feet tall :-)
3. Spitting. Hocking a lugee was not uncommon, be it man woman or child. My theory is that it's more prevelant in the North due to Chinese influence.
4. Wads & Wads of Bills. The exchange rate when we left was 10,500 Kip to the dollar. While it was nice to change $100 US and suddenly become a Laos millionaire, the amusement quickly wore off.
5. Child Labor. We've seen kids at work in other SE Asian counties, but Laos seemed particularly prone...
6. The Taste of Lao Lao. Laos' national rice whiskey is akin to nail polish remover.

What to title this one?

So many possibilities after today's journey back south to Luang Prabang. Titles for consideration include:

>> "Squeal Like A Pig"
>> "The PETA Rep Would Have Had A Heart Attack"
>> "Kill The Pig, Slit Her Throat, Bash Her In"
>> "This Not-so-Little Piggy Went to Market"
>> "Pigs Decidedly NOT in Zen"
>> "Swine Whine"
>> "Kermit Would Have Been In Anguish"
>> "Four Compelling Reasons To Become A Veg"
>> "The squealing Pig, The Dead Duck and the Chicken Who Traveled the Road"
>> "Are The Pigs Crying Janice?" (a la Hannibal Lecter)
>> "Why Did The Duck Cross The Road Under our 'Bus'?"
>> "The Pig, The Rooster, The Duck and the Unidentified Bag of Slithering Beasties"

The trip back down river started innocently enough. About 15 or so Falangs packed themselves into one of those typically narrow Laos ferry boats along with travel packs, 2 monks and a few locals.

Not surprisingly the "water bus" made a few stops along the way, picking up more Laotians, making the boat even more jam-packed. This mild discomfort was immediately heightened at our next little stop, where we picked up a little girl whose sobs continued in spite of the cajoling of her mother. We soon learned the source of the sorrow: a sow whose time had apparently come. I think Piggy realized this as she refused to go any closer to the boat, in spite of her handler's aggressive poking & prodding.

Losing patience, captain and pig farmer tackled her, hog tied and dragged her on to the boat. The noise she emitted honestly sounded more like screaming than squealing, making the placid little journey -- which was prolonged by no fewer than four more stops -- ever-so-pleasant.

Finally arriving back in Nong Khiaw we were grateful to leave Miss Piggy behind and purchased our tickets to the "bus", which we soon learned was really a pick-up truck with bench seating. The ride, which was again beyond packed, was made a bit more pleasant by our introduction to Willow (a native Californian) and Angela (fellow Midwesterner), as well as our befriended Laos family we'd met two nights prior.

Midway back to Luang Prabang we heard the screech of the brakes (not unlike the swine) followed by a sickening thud. Looking back we saw we had run over a duck crossing the road, who was still alive as evidenced by the flapping of its one good wing.

We proceeded to pick up at least 6 more locals, one of which had brought his rooster (wings tied, placed beak down on the truck bed), one what must have been the majority of his worldly possessions and one with a bag which occasionally made slithering movements.

While we definitely dug our shallow draught of the simple life, I have to admit we were pretty stoked to get back to civilization (i.e. showering in bathroom rather than the Mekong, electricity past 10:30 PM, pork that had already been "processed", etc.).

Taking advantage of the rainy day, we massaged and ate our way back to normalcy (I actually had ribs that night...shame on me I know!).

May 13, 2004

my first post

ok i am succumbing to the peer/husband pressure to contribute to this blog - and more specifically to include specific retelling of my Northern Laos experience - And I'm not talking the big cities there in Laos - I'm talking "up there" northern Laos. Now be warned that as a woman of MANY words, I afraid the 'blog' medium is not for me. But one of my dearest friends consoled me with the following wisdom:

"usually a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes a hundred or so words is worth a thousand words =)"

To begin, I'm the girl who can go a week without washing her hair (or at least a good 4 days!) and wears the same clothes again and again (I blame/credit this on my catholic schooling and uniforms). i'm not high maintenance, i'm not a princess...And as I see it, this should make me a good - or at least an easy - traveler.

My biggest 'flaw' as a true backpacker may be that I probably wash my clothes too often (I have a tendency to take them into the shower with me - what else am I going to do while my conditioner sets in??!?!) but otherwise I think I have few needs. But beautiful, wonderful northern Laos let me face all of them - in a sometimes quite painful way.

You see, I knew it was RUSTIC and I was looking forward to it. Figured it would make the luxuries in my life that much sweeter, right? and give me that 'authentic' experience while traveling.

To prove to myself that I wasn't quite a princess I made a list of things I can live without - INDEFINITELY:

1. no ice in my soft drinks
2. manual toilet flushing - i don't mind that whole 'bucket' thing
3. additionally, i'm getting into the hose-bidet thing (thank you dave samuel)
4. I can even deal with using toilet paper as napkins - granted i feel like i use too many sheets per meal!
5. If the climate is hot enough - and let's face it those are places i tend to want to travel to anyhow - i don't really need hot showers
6. i can handle shoo-ing flies away from my food
7. i can handle deeting exposed areas of skin to repel all the flippin mosquitos (i'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why mosquitos are necessary in our ecosystem - what purpose do they really serve?!??!). and to that point, people here in asia are 'immune' to mosquitos - the repellent is for us 'falangs' or 'farangs' depending where you are, but YET being from the midwest, where mosquitos are so
rampant - why aren't we IMMUNE!!
8. I don't need soft mattresses and fluffy pillows
9. blah, blah, blah...i know there are MANY more I will think of later.

And I even made another list....things I can deal with for a FINITE amount of time (without complaints or injury):
1. no hot water at all
2. no running water
3. serving dishes and glasses being not quite clean (a by-product of #1, me thinks)
4. dealing with some bugs in my bed - mosquito net withstanding (I found if jim rested our flashlight on his chest as we read books in bed at night the bugs would land on the pages and I could just squash them dead between the pages!)
5. using outdoor 'facilities'
6. when #5 is not available, using the river or bathing by bucket
7. i can even pick small bugs out of my soup (keyword = small) and finish my meal

but when *everything* on these lists cummulate on ONE day, I find that I may lose my low-maintenance. Here's how it went down:

It was my third or was it my fourth day sitting down to yet another dinner served with dirty dishes with hair unwashed for about a week (ok, that really doesn't bother me at all) in clothes unwashed for probably longer, swatting off mosquitos who bite through not one - but TWO shirts - my enthusiasm at hitting a city again and living a bit like a westerner was really starting to appeal. But I was feeling tough, like I was really proving what I was made of ;)

And when the soup I ordered for dinner arrived at my table I was really impressed. Rather than just broth and cabbage like I've been used to - this soup had tomatoes and sprouts and PEPPERS! I was so happy. I could even ignore the mosquitos for a second or two.

But there were a few small, very small bugs in there - fly-like, gnatty things, but as a low maintenance traveler I can deal with this nuisance with ease. So I start spooning out the extra "protein" so I can enjoy my dinner when I notice a particular looking 'vegetable' in my vegetarian rice noodle soup.

as I isolate it onto my spoon I realize it is NOT a vegetable or root indigenous to northern Laos, but rather a fair sized BEETLE! Now, I can handle A LOT I mean I really can spoon small gnats and flies out of
my soup and deal - but a beetle as big as my big toe exceeded my limits!

So I push the soup aside and ate Jim's eggs rolls with pleasure. And while Jim enjoys a real, bug free meal, I spend the time swatting at mosquitos. It was probably my most successful night of mosquito killing - although I didn't keep count of the casualities!

So we move on to another restaurant with dishes no more clean, but less mosquitos for a nightcap. Unfortunately, I've given up alcohol for a bit (beer is the only real option and my consumption of it seems to be proportionate to the size of my belly). Altho I could have certainly used it to dull the pain...

So Jim grabs a drink as I sip water and we play some cards. So most of you (ALL of you) know how competitive I am. Well, Jim has been kicking my butt (BIG TIME) at cards for - literally - three days. I just can't seem to get good ones - or play smart enough to win (although jim is sweet enough to say it's luck, not my lack of skill) there is a lot of insult to my injury happening here as Jim continues to pummel me at every game we play (from 31 to spades to gin rummy to GO FISH!!).

well, I finally start to believe that I shouldn't take the losses or the pathetic night as anything personal and that it will pass and that tomorrow is a new day - and one that has me arriving back into civilization.

So I fold my legs onto my chair indian style in my new Luang Prabang lightweight super cute travel pants with a pink swirly on the leg - just to have them SPLIT IN THE CROTCH!!! Oh yeah, in both directions!!!
And I still need to walk home. And with the on-coming storm the new ventilation is not necessarily needed.

Ugh - can it get worse?!?!??

Again, I'm not drinking so the only thing to ease my pain is my husband's wonderful-ness and a change in my own attitude. It also helped that electricity goes out at 10 pm, so if I left late enough no one could see the gaping hole in my pants - or at least that was my working theory.

Which proved to be true - and me with my new attitude walked home. I learned long ago that if I couldn't laugh at my own folly, I'd be a miserable wretch.

Lo and behold, no sooner did we get to our rustic bungalow before the storm blew in - thunder, lightning...terrential rain. All the things I usually love to see and hear at night - when my roof doesn't leak that is!

So in the same vein as - chinese water torture - we had drops of rain fall on our heads as we slept despite jim covering our mosquito net with our sarongs to absorb more of the moisture!!!

Anyhow, I tell this story more as comic relief than anything. I loved every pant-splitting, bug-squashing, game-losing minute of it :) And that's the truth!
Into Gollum's Domain

Today we hired the equivalent of a long tail and took our new friend Sang with us. We snaked upriver through mountain gorges and passes. The river was fairly placid on our way up, making for some cool reflections of the above:

The trip was not without a pretty hot sun, prompting Janet to 'get local' by wearing some of the native head gear:

Janet and Sang. Her Shade of blue, no?A

After about an hour trip we came to an infrequently visited cave. The captain and Sang grabbed the torches and the four of us entered, barefoot and in awe of the sheer size of this puppy.

The cave streched over 1.5 KM under the mountain, taking over an hour to navigate in our muddy bare feet. Halfway in we turned out the lights to get a taste of complete darkness, a trippy experience in which your retinas try so hard to make out images you actually see stuff. Gollum would have been proud.

Post-spelunking we took a dip in the river and cruised back to Muang Ngoi Neua, witnessing more than a few fisherman in action:

We headed to dinner later that evening but our adventure was not over...Janet, having born the brunt of it, will provide the update :-)

May 12, 2004

At least they're functional

Today we made our way about an hour north to Muang Ngoi Neua, an even more rustic town than its southern predecessor, enjoying the benefits of electricity from 6PM - 10:30PM (on most days!).

On the way up river I treated the ferryman's son to a little music, courtesy of my rather pricey (but proving worthwhile) i-pod. We've witnessed a fair amount of what I would consider child labor -- more so than other countries -- so it's nice to offer a bit of fun to the kids: something that grabs or possibly even inspires a bit-o-imagination. I played young Nang some Zero 7, Beatles, Parliament, Blackalicious, Built to Spill, Leftfield and Morcheeba. Though it's tough to know for sure, I think Parliament was his fave:

Jim corrupting the Laos youth :-). Steve Jobs owes me an endorsement fee!

The further north / east we journeyed, the more apparent the effects of the "Secret War". In town we saw bomb shells and casings used as flower pots, fence posts and even supports for homes:

A handy bomb identifier placed next to the specials at the restaurant we ate at

Muang Ngoi Neua's locals are just as friendly, if not more so than the towns downriver and the scenery even more dramatic. The pace is definitely s-l-o-w-e-r as well, with most meals taking the better part of an hour (or more!) to prepare. Not like we were in a hurry or anything ;-)

May 11, 2004

Butterflies, Bombshells and Travelers Karma

We made our way north to Nong Khiaw, a fairly remote village nestled against the mountains of northern laos. After a rather cramped (but comparitively painless, as we would later learn) bus ride we did a little trek to a cool cave a few KMs from town.

On the way to the caves

At Ze Caves

The beauty of this place was somewhat marred however by the scars of the Vietnam conflict and the "Secret War", as well as the most recent use of the cave...for locals to hide while US B-52's bombed the crap out of the surrounding area:

The sign reads "Crater of 260 'pouns' bomb of the U.S.A."

On our walk home, we were yet again reverberations from the War, still being felt today. We passed a crew of Laotians who were responsible for the discovery and dismantling of "UXOs" -- unexploded ordnance (essentially bombs). While the US was not alone in contributing to this ongoing problem (130 deaths/year on average), the fact that most of the 1.5 million tons of ordnance dropped on Laos was simply due to American bombers not finding targets in neighboring Vietnam (and being unable to land with bombs in tow) does not help matters.

Later that night J and i searched high & low for a resturant when we -- literally -- stumbled into Paul, a kiwi friend we'd met in Vientiane over a week ago. Paul welcomed us to his adopted Laos family, and a small group of "Falangs" joined 5 or so Loations who
owned a small guesthouse in town. Ironically the primary owner Buhnme worked as a UXO remover.

The evening turned into yet another authentic, wonderful Laos experiences as we passed the Lao Lao (rice whiskey that's reminiscent of aftershave ;-)) 'round the table until the wee hours. We gave Buhnme's two sons (8 and 10), two budding portrait artists, pen and paper which they were thrilled with, doodling and laughing for hours on end. Buhnme also treated us some surprisingly catchy Thai pop, which he put on repeat for us :-).

Buhmne and son Brupee, who we happened to run into two days later

May 10, 2004

Northward Bound

After climbing mount Kilimanjaro to see yet another Wat (mom and dad will think we really are becoming Buddhist) we were rewarded with a great view of Luang Prabang.

We said goodbye to our mates, who have grown in number since we hit LP to include Chris (19 year old dive master from South Africa), Johann (Sweden) and Annette (Scotland). We will especially miss Christian (mostly for his billpaying and bargaining antics) and Frederick (who we felt a near immediate kinship with)

Handsome blokes, aren't they

Tomorrow we head to Northern Laos, where we here it´s a bit more rustic, a bit less traveled and perhaps more scenic. Internet connectivity is bound to be more sketchy )in fact one of the towns does not have electricity yet!) so the blog may be silent for a few days...I know you´re saddened by the thought

May 09, 2004

Rollin' on the Mekong

Frederick, Christian, Teresa, J and I rented a long and remarkably narrow boat and cruised down the Mekong River, home to the largest fresh water fish in the world (the 4M, 300KG catfish!). Unfortunately we did not catch one...

We hit the Pak Ou caves first, pretty dramatic pair of caves north of Luang Prabang:

It being a rather warm Sunday, we saw many a Laos child swimming, jumping in and generally frolicking in the Mekong, almost all of which smiled and waved vigorously as we passed.

The scenery around this section of the river was pretty awesome, reminiscent of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. After hitting lunch at our driver Sah's friend's river side restaurant we hit a cool little village known for its silk production, weaving and paper goods.

There were a ton of cute kiddies 'round here as well :-)

All-in-all it was a surprisingly authentic little side trip!

May 08, 2004

More WAT-tage for your cottage

J and I rented a scooter and cruised the "streets" of Luang Prabang, visiting a couple of the 60+ Wats (temples) in the area.

Janet offends the monks by displaying her knees :-)

We also checked out the royal palace which housed the Laos king until 1975, when the post-revolutionary Communists exiled the royal fam

May 07, 2004

(Lions), Tigers, Bears and Waterfalls

J and I joined Warwick and Sharon on a little excursion to Kouangsi waterfall.

After hiking a bit we paid a visit to the Fall's local residents, 3 adolescent Asian bears, 2 cubs and a five year old Indochinese tiger named Phet (rescued from poachers).

Phet gets a pet (Jim blatantly ignores the posted sign "The Tiger bites! Kee Tingers Out!!":

Post waterfall we had a farewell dinner for Deborah -- easily the funniest Canuck I've ever met -- sweetest of sweet Heidi and Justin, a friendlier, wittier British bloke you shan't find.

May 06, 2004

Our new home // Odds anyone?

Even the rain-soaked windy roads on our six hour bus ride from Vang Vieng north to Luang Prabang were not enough to dampen our spirits or the scenery along the way: the clinging clouds over lushly forested peaks were truly gorgeous.

In fact, we were so taken that we plopped down a few million Kip for this lovely duplex:

For what it lacks in amenities it makes up on charm and view. Mom/Dad/Melanie, we'll be sending for our things shortly.

Luang Prabang is a quaint little city up in the mountains of northern Laos, located and the junction of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.

After checking in to our rather crappy (the kip doesn't go quite as far in LP!) hostel we met up with some of our compatriots from Vang Vieng.

As we searched for a dinner spot whoi did we run into but nonother than Sharon Amick, a friend from the Bay Area we had not seen in a couple of years sitting with her travel companion Warwick. What are the odds?? good enough I suppose :-)

May 05, 2004

An authentic Laos evening

J and i explored Vang Vieng, a small town nestled right up against the mountains which features a chill, backpacker vibe and many a cave dotting the river.

After an afternoon siesta we headed to Tham Jang, a very cool cave perched 100M above the river. Janet even braved her hydrophobia (or at least swimming phobia!) and swam with me in a cool little spot below the entrance to the caves. The water was a bit chilly but quite refreshing (sorry, no pics of either beauteous spot :-().

Whilst caving we met Nathalie, a cool chiquita from Switzerland, who introduced us to a Laos school teacher she'd met the day before on the way back from the caves. The teacher was thrilled to be practicing his English and begged us to join him back at his hut for some Laos Hai, a rather potent beverage.

The three falang looked at one another suspiciously, each succumbing to Western cynicism / defensiveness (is this for real? what does he really want? am I really going to give up my evening?).

Thankfully, we ignored the voices and agreed to come by, dragging Teresa (kiwi friend) and Mai Kiko (Japanese friend of Nathalie's) with us to Khum Soon's (sp?) house . It was a great experience, whose centerpiece was the Laos Hai, a drink fermented in a large clay pot in which one pours water to dilute and drinks via bamboo straws:

Jim and Khum Soon (yes that was his name :-)) gulping Laos Hai

Drinking was done in tandem with the host setting the number of gulps required. Khum Soon was so genuinely grateful that we came, asking us to sing American songs (i think we mustered "now i know my abc's) and swapping stories and views on our various cultures.

It was a completely unjaded, memorable experience...the kind of "anti-lonely planet" event you hope for.

We were later joined by KS's neighbor (who got a kick out of my size, especially the belly) and a few students, one of which joined teach for a few gulps.

We walked home high on more than the rice alcohol...

May 04, 2004

Didya hear the one about...

The four Americans the Englishman, Irishman, kiwi, Canadian, Spaniard and Italian who met on the bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng? It goes like this...

The Canadian -- without much difficulty mind you -- convinces the two Americans and kiwi to seize the day and "do the river" after a rather long and somewhat cramped minibus ride.

Vang Vieng, panoramic view

The four are joined by two Americans (one from Chicago no less) and along the way pick up the Irish, Spanish and Italian chaps.

Tubing on the river essentially entails a lazy float down the Nam Song through incredibly scenic canyons (pictures forthcoming) with riverside vendors ~ 200M hawking Beer Laos for a buck (among other things).

Naturally the group indulges in many a beer Laos and the journey, which was estimated to take 2 hours, takes over 4, with the river claiming the following articles:

>> $3 sunglasses (Jim)
>> watch (Chris)
>> beer laos (Deborah)
>> tank top (Janet)
>> 1,000 Baht note (Janet)
>> skirt housing said note (Janet)
>> emotional well being due to the above (Janet, temporarily)

After making their offering, the international cross-section stumble back to town, water-logged, weary but pleasantly buzzed.

May 03, 2004

Sauna in the Sauna

Today we took advantage of the beautiful, sunny and somewhat muggy May day by heading to a sauna (for real :-)). Wat Sak Pa Laung is known for its herbal sauna, which Janet hit no fewer than 4 times (jim could only handle it twice).

Our 'guide' Si taught us a few Lao words and we were amusing to the 3 young Laos also enjoying a schvitz. We convinced one to take our pic w/ Si, but it seems that the Laos are not used to tall peeps ;-)

Next we headed to Laos' most important Wat, Pha That Luang, contructed either in the 3rd century BC or 13th, depending on who you believe.

May 02, 2004

6 Figure Dinner

Our exploration of Vientiane (capital of Laos) was offput by a torrential downpour, the worst of which easily lasted for over 2 hours.

One amusing little anecdote (at least to the two "falangs"): we ate dinner at a great little Lao restaurant. The bill was K 104,000.00. Granted, the exchange rate is roughly 10,000 Kip to the USD, but it's still somewhat shocking to see 6 figures on your dinner bill :-). Interestingly, mixed drinks made w/ imported liquor are ~ 2.5x more expensive than most entrees.

May 01, 2004

Laid-back Laos

After a delayed flight we cruised in to Laos. I only had a vague recollection of a portion of the history of Laos (essentially that there was bombing here during the Vietnam war) was illuminating to get a refresher.

I won't pontificate too much, but suffice it to say that the "Secret War" that was conducted by the U.S. and Vietnamese in Laos from 1964 to 1973 (!) was not without its astounding attrocities. Totalling 583,000 sorties by '73, the US dropped an average of one planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, at a cost of $2M per day during that period, totaling 1.9 million metric tonnes (.5 million per person in Laos).

The country still bears some scars, with many towns completely wiped out of existance. All that said, it's remarkable to me that the Laos harbor little visible ill will towards Americans, including our taxi driver who flew for the Laos airforce at the US's behest, and bombed his own people.

The Laos we've met are friendly (moreso than Thais), modest and warm.

Spent the remainder of the day checking out a couple of Wats. Wat Si Saket had over 6,800 statues of Buddha (most of them Janet size or smaller ;-)):

Laos men are reqired to serve as monks for a period of time, which may explain the modernization of a few of them!

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