July 23, 2008

Sabadiiiiiii..... Cop chai lalay!!! Revised version!

Which means "Hellooooo" and "Thank you very much" in Lao..... Something you hear absolutly continuously! Especially the kids love to call it out...

Here's my very old draft, I've been soaking it up in beach hut on Koh Tao, Thailand for the last 10 days.............. And paradise do NOT have Internet, well they do, but it's outrageously expensive!
                                                       
Ahr, now... Luang Prabang... The town made for tourists and ...... Monks....???
But it's a difficult place to get away from.... And a difficult place to describe as well.. Everyday, I 'd be saying, to everyone who'd listen : "Tomorrow I'm leaving!" .... But it still took me about 4 days t get my act together and buy a ticket for a minivan upriver to Nong Khiaw. The master plan being, that I would go the long way ( by the ' Plain of Jars"' Phonosavan) around back to Vientianne and take the night train to Bangkok... It was not to be....

                                                 


I have a really hard time of telling you, what I think of this place called Luang Prabang.... As some must have noticed.....!

It's a lot of temples; 39 or so and therefor a whole lot of monks and a "Royal Palace" magnificent and well preserved... ( It was most graciously "given" to the communist government, who are still very much in power! - by the Royal family, who then "decided" to move into one of the more remote and forgotten caves of the multiple caves, scattered all over Laos... There they most graciously starved to death!)

What else? A lot of french styled cafe shops in old well preserved colonial houses and villas, where a breakfast will cost you 5 USD - this in a country, where an average wage is 600 usd pr year! And that's for two coffees and a baguette with danish butter! So the only place to eat fresh and well is at the street food stalls! They are at the end of the "night market" This Market will bleed you bank account dry, if you're not careful! This market is famous - At least among travellers- you can buy silk scarfs, silk bed covers, duvet covers and so, so, so much more... Every evening people from the countryside drive in , in packed like sardines in flatbed trucks with all their beautiful handiwork.... And everything is for sale, what the Laotians think "might" be of interest for the "Falang" - "Antique " Buddha statues, old shrapnel from the US/Vietnam war,  "Original" army issue Zippo lighters..... etc.. Even french 27 gr silver coins engraved with "The Republique Francaise" year; 1500 (????) ( I spotted one, which said yr;1467...!! ) And it does NOT weigh 27gr either! I suppose maybe a blind American would fall for that scam? - These are the same coins, the hill tribe of Akha women have sewn into their headgear... But those are original!!

I stayed at this really nice Guesthouse in an old wooden Laos house, with the balcony running at the length of first floor and a very kind, nosy and cross eyed " Mamma" taking care of business! - Lovely to stay near the river, without being ripped of.... But the best about it was the BEDSIDE lamp!!!! Oh, man Thank the lord for small mercy's...



Luang Prabang struck me as too touristy, I couldn't find a decent Laos coffee anywhere, ( Hmm, Not true, at the market stalls, they had nothing but!) Everywhere else only Nescafe... And the famed "Morning Alms Ceremony of the monks" were in some parts turned into a "Tour" for tourist.... It's the monks coming out of the Wats at daybreak for their alms and to teach humility--- Hard to do so in a barrage of flashlights right in your face, making you something of a superstar... But if you find some of the smaller Wats, you do find the "real thing", Women with baskets of "sticky rice", flowers and fruits offered with the utmost respect towards the monks....  All males in Laos will at some point in their lives have been a novice, it used to be for at least three months, but as western habits invade, many just "pay their dues" for three weeks....

I finally got my stuff together, Gee, that did take some time- See that's the weird part about Luang Prabang, it seems to hold you and enchant you, so you end up staying much longer than first intended..... 

I found a "VIP Minivan" ( NOT!!! It was old and battered ... The smiling and nice driver stopping very often, trying to pick up more passengers....) to take me up the rive Nam Ou to this place Nag Khiaw, from where I would try to find a "Longtail ferry" further up to Mong Noigh, a small village in the middle of the most monumental mountains and no electricity.. I shared the ride with 3 french doctors, one of them an "Eye doc" , which came in very handy, when I, during one of the stops on the river, had branch whipped into my eyes...  He expertly administered antibiotics and the works - What are the odds for having a doc, when you need one ? On some remote river village and and with an infected eye?.....! Thank you to Antoine, who I must admit, was a bit over anxious about fungal infections and tales of woe in "NO HOSPITALS IN LAOS" - first flight to Bangkok, if it get worse.. sort of French Doc.


The "Riverferry" took us to Mong Noigh..... What a magical place, nested in between the majestic green mountains..... The village have one main "street", when it rains it's perfect for mud sliding! And here life is lived a the most peaceful, if not for the amount of roosters, which were going nonstop from predawn to long after sunrise.... They used their vocal cords to the got hoarse... And the sound of a hoarse rooster is quite pathetic, but also incredible irritating and unnerving...

When I say;
 ---- Nothin' at all...... It's not really true; It means, that apart from the Wat, the school, a outdoor soup kitchen, a few guesthouses,  some fishermen who also doubled as a local doc, teachers for the kids and trekking guides up the lush, green mountains...  The village boasted of two or three eateries and they were superb! Best Pumpkin Curry, I've had in a long time and the fresh spinach spring rolls  were to die for


I found a Guesthouse with a view of the river and where the hammock was situated as with the very best view of the hills...

 There's nothing to do here, but unwind and let your mind wander.... I'll say it again... There's nothing in Mong Noigh ( And that's the charm and beauty of the place!!!)

Nothing; apart from 3 old hippies, they where here on a 20 yrs reunion fest....Having travelled the world together, off and on since the late '60s...(!) They were loaded and very generous with ancient, and I mean ancient dope stories -( Howard Marks, eat your heart out !) They are a gang of brothers in smoke; The German "Old Joe"; married to a Nepalese woman, and living in Phuket - was the inventor/driver of the infamous "Magic Bus" trips to India overland from Germany. The Kiwi; A country boy who was a champion in shearing sheep, back in the day. He Looked like a very healthy version of Keith Richards, with chunks of turquoise hanging around his neck and a piece of jade in his ear, big enough to pay of my mortgage - twice-! And last, but not least; The American "dude"; Dean, who was proud of his "Folkebåd" ( Danish designed, all purpose yacht) in Sta. Crux, Ca. now a professor at the UCLA.... Old Joe and Dean had somehow managed to get a degree in architecture along the way!  In the case of Joe, it took him 15 yrs, but he did it! Their last "Get together" was in Brisbane '88; dreaming up/making/building the Nepalese Pagoda at the world fair in Brisbane in 1988........ What a wonderful piece of art, it's still there.....:



                                             

  After listening to endless, very funny stories for a couple of days.... I was sort of adopted and was invited along for the boat ride all the way back to Luang Prabang..... ... It' was sort of going backwards ... But.......And my original plan of going to "The Plain of Jars" ? And I would have liked to see Vientiane again....... 

 While in my hammock that evening, in between fighting mosquitos and watching the bats, the lizards and counting the " Uh oh"s of the Geckos ( 7 is the lucky number, they usually only go for 3 or 4 though!)  I suddenly felt spend and travel weary, I'm saturated with sights, sounds and smells... And I can truly say I've done the Mekong up and down... And I longed for sea.... A Holiday within the holiday ( Travelling can be tiresome and hard......)  So after long, very long time - It seems that long when you're under attack from; what looks and feels like B-52's of the insect world (about 10min) mulling the idea over in my head, I decided that I would like to see some ocean and beach for my last days before going home... In short; I felt like a vacation after all this hard and strenuous work of travelling - So I jumped at the chance to split the cost of the boat trip down river...Which was lucky, as it's as usually way too expensive for only one person, but being the the four of us + a overwhelming Australian couple, we "Shanghaied" into coming .. It would be feasible... We made the trip down and with the current helping us along... It took only 4-5 hours...... And back to my troubled love affair with the town of Luang Prabang...




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