Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Two Days to Thailand

April 10, 2009
by Stuart
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Along the Mekong, Laos – We had yet to do a long trip down the Mekong, and taking the two-day trip from Luang Prabang to Thailand would be our last chance. The trip starts early in the morning, and gets to Pak Beng – a village who’s sole purpose seems to be proving eats and accommodation for passengers on the boat – late after noon. Then the next evening you get to the border towns of Huay Xai on the Laos side and Chiang Khong. Because you get there at night, you have to wait until the next morning to cross over to Thailand.

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The ferry boat parking lot.

As one might imagine, there wasn’t much to do along the way – you just sit on a boat. For two days. And these weren’t fancy passengers boats – they were single level, open air jobs with either wooden benches or seats that looked like they were ripped out of a van. There was a “bar” in the back that sold snacks, coffee and noodle soup. That was pretty much it for the boats.

You could take a fast boat which takes six hours to the border, but you miss out on the whole reason for the trip. Taking it slow is the point. Plus taking it slow is so Laos. Along with making a terrible noise, these fast boats have a notorious record for crashing – there isn’t time to maneuver around rocks or floating debris – especially in the dry season when the water is low.

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Heading down the Mekong.

Taking the boat is similar to taking the train – you see things you just don’t see from the highway. Little villages, farms on the riverbanks, kids riding water buffaloes down for their nightly bath, fishermen casting nets from atop boulders surrounded by rapids, even elephants. And the farther we got from Luang Prabang, the haze started to clear, washing way the constant stain from everything in site.

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Laung Prabang and the Motorbike Mafia

April 10, 2009
by Stuart
3 Comments
10,501 views

Luang Prabang, Laos – You can tell you are getting tired of planning when you start relying on the walking tours in the guidebooks. The tour in our LP seemed pretty good so we set out for a morning full of lots of wats. This being Laos, the town was pretty quite and not much was happening. And since the rice season was coming up, there was massive burning in the hills around the town, giving the town a sepia tone and limiting visibility.

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Wat Choumkhong; Umbrellas for sale at the market.

While passing a wat not on the tour, we noticed a few monks trying to get green mangoes off a tree in the courtyard. They were really into it, laughing and playing around. We fell into a long conversation with a monk who spoke fairly good English. He was funny and told us about his life and let us ask anything we wanted. Most of the monks there were in their mid-teens, so I asked about relating to their friends, and more importantly, if they missed girls. He laughed nervously at this and said no. But I didn’t believe him.

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Sim and detail of Wihaan, Wat Xieng Thong.

Once they got enough mangoes down, they soaked them in a pot of water. Another monk came over with a bowl of homemade chili sauce. After about ten minutes they sliced the mangoes and started eating them, giving us a few and laughing when we found the chili sauce spicy. One monk kept bragging about how he didn’t think it was spicy.

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Crepe stall.

These monks went to town on these mangoes. I just saw all these arms and saffron robes flailing around as the mangoes disappeared from the pot. A few other tourists came around so the monks took the remaining mangoes and hid behind a wall to finish eating. The monk who was talking with us explained that they weren’t supposed to eat after noon. So they decided to hide from the tourists instead of explaining that it was ok for them to eat mangoes.

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A Lowercase Capital

April 2, 2009
by Stuart
9 Comments
7,591 views

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Tina and me enjoying some good eats.

Vientiane, Laos –  We arrived in Vientiane to find the first six guesthouses full, and were forced to join little groups of tourists wandering around looking for an available bed anywhere. We finally found a hotel that was pretty nice and above our budget – but had wifi and a few welcomed amenities like AC and a shower curtain.

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Can you find Tina?

Wanting to test a theory Ray and Megan told us – that if you pay a bit more in larger cities you end up with a much nicer place then doing so in a smaller town – we decided to book the room. So far, this has proven to be true.

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It was totally that guy.

There isn’t much to do in Vientiane except see a few wats and enjoy some pretty good restaurants. Like southern Laos, the pace of life was slow with a noticeable change being the hammocks were now in the back of tuk-tuks, usually giving the driver a perch for half-hearted squawk to passing tourists. But the tone of his call was one of ambivalence, like he was way more into his nap, but assuaged his quilt by at least offering his services. Occasionally we had to wake up the driver to see if he was working. This behavior wouldn’t be out of place in a sleepy little town, but this was the capital of Laos.

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The Loop

March 31, 2009
by Tina
1 Comment
3,605 views

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Rice fields around Tha Khaek.

Central Laos – The Lonely Planet described it as a great adventure with rough roads and breaking bikes and a fellow traveler  we met told us stories about learning how to say “boiled eggs without fetus” in Lao so that he could find something to eat.  It sounded wild, slightly dangerous and a whole lot of fun, it was “The Loop” and we were all for it.   We arrived at Tha Khaek in the afternoon and checked into the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge, the base for all travelers setting out on The Loop.  We rented our bike and reviewed the hotel’s guest books with helpful hints about doing The Loop and prepared to set out the next day.

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The road to Tham Pha Pa.

Our first stop was Tham Pha Pa (Buddha cave), a small cave 15 meters up a shear cliff filled with over two hundred 600 year old Buddhas, which could have been really cool if the locals had left it as it was when it was discovered in 2004 by a local fisherman chasing some bats for dinner, but they have poured a can a Velvita over it in the way of tacky flowers and what not.  Oh well.  I had to put on a Lao skirt in order to enter the cave, so that was kind of cool.

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Living La Vida in Southern Laos

March 31, 2009
by Stuart
3 Comments
3,206 views

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Sunrise Boulevard, Don Det.

Don Det, Champasak, Savannaket, Laos – We had not been in Laos long before finding ourselves lazying in hammocks, nursing fruit shakes, and realizing that even reading was too much work.

The tone was set by the speed bump of a border crossing into Laos from Cambodia marked by a wooden shack at both borders with a piece of rope draped across the road. The only rise of inflection in the border guards voice was when he mentioned the “fee” of a dollar to pass. I paid at the Cambodian shed, but when the Laos officer tried to collect the fee, I said I gave my last dollar to the other guy. Tina, not wanting a scene, punched me and said to just pay the man.

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Yummy bakery; island road, Don Det.

After being handed off more times then a ripped kip, we arrived at the boat dock for the 4,000 islands, a section of the Mekong river that fans out around lots of little islands. There aren’t literally 4,000 of them, but there are quite a few and the actual number depends on the Mekong’s mood. We stayed on Don Det, one of the more developed islands. And by “developed”, I mean that it had electricity sometimes.

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