Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Lightening across Laos

Mick and I have just finished three weeks in Laos. Alas, it is the end of our adventures for a while so this is the last rambling you’ll have from me.

Its been great traveling with Mick, he is fun and handy. Not only was he wearing his undies on the outside one day in Cambodia when he stopped boys from stealing our day pack out of the tuk-tuk we were traveling in (the bag didn't survive though - ripped in half) he has also been my consummate chauffeur around the remote areas of the south of Laos.

The highlight has been when we got off the track and took to the jungles of the Bolaven Plateau doubling on a tiny motorbike (think Vespa) with Mick driving. We gave the local hill tribal people plenty to laugh at: two giant Falang (foreigners) on one struggling little bike, egg shell-shaped helmets and sometimes coming to undignified halts. We whizzed past squealing kids springing into water holes in the nuddy, traditional basic thatched huts with satellite dishes attached, women hand pummeling rice, dense jungle and stunning views up at the plateau. The area is famous for its Arabica coffee. It must be good because I, being a dedicated non-drinker, ended up guzzling plenty of it.

Mick and our poor little bike

We bought tribal textiles and stayed in a haunted hotel in a tiny town. It was a case Scooby-Do might investigate. We had howling dogs, slamming shutters and someone banging to get in the hotel and then trying our door in the dead of night. Apparently it is two Malaysian tourists who died in the river coming back for their luggage.

At this point we were hooked and continued further into the remote South East. People gaped open-mouthed even more at the sight of us, and only the quickest kids screamed out "sabady" (hello) before we disappeared. With only one change of clothes each I did lots of hand washing. Our visit here was perfect timing. We got the benefit of a sparkling new road (that has opened a new boarder to Vietnam) but shared it with no tourists, yet. There was more buffalo, chooks, dogs and goats than traffic. The massive hotel in bustling Attapeu we stayed in was empty, but brimming with potential as the manager gleefully set up his tour desk in anticipation of the tourists that will use the new route. It will lose its charm, but that’s progress. We ate grilled goats liver with Beer Lao and crashed when everyone else did at 9pm.

Mick skillfully got us 20 kms along a boggy dirt road to the Ho Chi Min trail where he climbed on top of the Soviet missile still sitting there in its launcher. He rapidly howled off it again as a wasp took a chunk out of him.

The split second before Mick bolted off the rocket with a howl of pain

There is UXO (unexploded ordinance) absolutely everywhere, killing plenty of farmers every year. We dropped in on LAO UXO (
the National Clearance Agengy of Laos) to look at their collection of retrieved stuff. The poor girl who spoke a bit of English just couldn’t understand we had just come to take photos.

Waterfalls were another highlight of the area. Mick climbed up behind them and came back with sore fingers from clutching to ledges as he nearly got washed away. Some places had gorgeous resort accommodation, at only $16 USD but they felt luxurious.

Mick behind a thundering waterfall

At all times during our stay in Laos spectacular storms have brewed. Clouds so dense and dark it felt we could disappear in them. The sky is always flashing. We got caught in downpours while on pushbikes one day, and watched kids go nuts and dance. Lightening claps have gone off like bombs over our heads in the middle of the night. Exhilarating.

We got back without a scratch but nearly killed the bike. I thought the engine was going to blow and take our ankles with it.

We finally headed North to the capital where we dined on French cuisine that we never could afford at home. Then we moved onto Luang Prabang, a tranquil town of 100 wats where the better-off-in-Ibiza backpacker scene was in full swing. The north looks stunning, we have to come back sometime. Now, we must drag our kilos of purchases home and start saving for the next trip!


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