As I mentioned in a prior post, we arrived in Lhasa. I was exhausted when we got here but since then, we've been cruising around town.
Lhasa itself has two sides, the Tibetan and the Chinese. We are staying in the Tibetan area, right near the spiritual center of Tibet, the Johkhang. The Johkhang is the holiest temple in the land and it attracts a multitude of pilgrims. Some pilgrims prostrate the entire way to Lhasa and wear protective leather aprons and wooden mittens and knee pads. All along the outside of the temple people are bowing, making offerings and doing the Barhkor walking circuit around the old town. It's a strange place and feels like a cross between the Dark Ages and a modern commercial area where you can buy prayer flags, yak skulls, prayer wheels, and yak butter.
On the inside of the Johkhang, things are different. You start on an outer circuit lined with prayer wheels. When you move inside it's dark and claustraphobic with pilgrims pushing and shoving to get into all the chapels. When I closed my eyes, I got the chills from listening to people chanting their mantras over and over. I noticed that many of the pilgrims were very friendly and would quickly return my smile or offer me one first as they scooped a wad of yak butter into the yak butter lamps. Most of the chapels are lit only minimally and the lamps give it an ancient atmosphere.
After several hours of observing the devout, we couldn't handle any more yak butter smells so we headed out into the open air again. Mark, our leader, wanted to stop by a local charity called Braille Without Borders. This is an school for the blind that was founded by a young blind German girl who had studied Asian Studies in college. The school now has over 25 students from all over Tibet, an area that has a high rate of blindness due to a lack of vitamin A and strong UV rays on unprotected eyes. We were given a tour of the facilities and met some of the students. This boy showed us how he uses his braille typewriter to write out English, Chinese, or Tibetan. Before the founder, Sabriye, went to Tibet she created the alphabet in Tibetan. Never before had any of the countries blind been able to read. The school also teaches the students life skills- how to get around with a cane, cook, do traditional blind chinese massage, among other skills.
The most amazing part was when one student threw a paper across the room and the girl giving us the tour (also blind) reaches down to the exact spot the paper landed because she could heard how it moved in the air!
Today we spent the day visiting two monasteries, Dreprung and Sera. Both were stunning, though not as stunning as some of the people wandering around them. This friendly monk was visiting from somewhere else and was on our bus to Dreprung Monastery. Dreprung was not as damaged during the Cultural Revolution as other monasteries were, but does not have nearly as many monks as it once did and used to be the largest in Tibet.
All throughout the chapels pilgrims would leave small denomination jiao notes, which often collected so high they could be sweeped up with a broom. Another common offering is yak butter which can be poured in from a thermos, chiselled off from a solid block, or can be left in candle form.
A major part of visiting the monasteries was seeing the monks themselves. Buddhist monks seem to fascinate every tourist and I am no different. I would point and click my camera at them at every non-offensive opportunity. Before leaving Dreprung, I saw this monk perusing the scholarly books for sale.
Besides clicking photos, we were lucky enough to catch a chanting session which only occurs a few times a month. The ancient looking lead monk makes the deepest chants from his throat though I can't imagine where he gets the energy to do it. It's a very eerie sound and the other monks then join in in between their yak butter tea (a salty concoction that belongs on popcorn) and their tsampa balls. All the while, young novices are bolting at top speed from the main hall to the kitchen to fill up the elder monks bowls.
After the chanting session, we moved on to Sera Monastery where we got get to see monks debating over the dialectics of Buddhism. One monk stands and argues a point while another sits and tells him whether he's right or wrong. It was a really comedic thing to watch because often the monks will playfully gang up on each other and whack each other about the head. Their reactions to each other were really funny. Here are a few examples:
This poor guy was fighting a losing battle. His partner was teasing him and generally giving him a hard time. He also got ganged up on and got forcibly folded into his massive robe more than a few times by his peers. All during their dialogue in Tibetan, a group of us were sitting on the side splitting our sides with laughter because you could tell that they were saying "you're so full of shit!" or "yeah, whatever". After one intense verbal volley, my fav monk couldn't take it anymore. Poor little guy.
As we left, I saw that some monks were far worse off and were melted like the Wicked Witch of the West from the heated debates.
Tomorrow we're off to the Potala, the Palace of the Dalai Lama before he went into exile. It's a massive stucture and I can't wait to see it close up!
As I was just rereading my own posts, I realized I had forgotten to mention my stop in Chendu. I had been in Chengdu a few years ago and it didn't really do anything for me. This time, I had a better time.
We arrived early in the day on an overnight sleeper from some unknown city. Sleepers are always fun because you meet local people. On this particular journey, our fearless leader Mark had brought along a mini mahjong set. This created a major stir among the nearby Chinese! A few came over and started coaching Anthony on what tiles to keep and discard. I quickly yelled pianren, which means "cheater." It wound up not making a difference though because everyone seemed capable of playing on their own.
After we settled into our swanky hotel and hit the Wushu Temple (great fake meat dishes at their veggie restaurant), Ant and I headed out to Renmin Park. We saw people playing cards in the middle of the lake on miniboats, kids running around with fake machine guns, and this little boy drawing. I thought he was doing really well since he was only about 9 years old.
Also in Chengdu, we visited the infamous Panda Research Center, which was also improved since my last visit. Now they seem more educational and are focusing on the pandas' breeding habits. As it turned out, we were in town for the extremely brief (3 days/yr) mating season and you could hear the male pandas bleating like sheep. The Center has been very successful in helping the male panda overcome its penile limitations with some panda porn (I'm not kidding) and they have several panda cubs. Cute aren't they?
Also in the Center are many red pandas which are much smaller in size.
After spending the day wandering around, we had dinner at an excellent restaurant and topped off the evening with a trip to the Sichuan Opera. Actually, there isn't much opera involved. They had only a segment with these characters. The rest of the night was master puppetry (think Being John Malkovich quality but with Chinese puppets), horse fiddling, and a changing faces act. Changing Faces is an act where the performer had on a ton of masks and you can never catch them changing it. One second they have a red demon face and next a yellow warrior. I watched carefully and I couldn't catch them. Another act was shadow puppetry, which sounds really dull, but wasn't. The man who does it has really creative ways of going from one to the next and leaves the whole audience gasping. All in all, a quality show.
After my second visit, I decided I do like Chengdu. :)
OH! I also found two photos from the market that I took in Lijiang so here they are:
A cute little old man I met
I am finally able to post my photos from Lijiang. The city was magic and I wish I had had more time there. Here are a few images (please excuse the bad quality/color, I only had Paint to reduce the photos and it messes them up a bit) from my brief time there:
The cute Naxi woman who wanted me to take her photo
A casual pose with the same lady's friend
The correctly named Five Hole Bridge
A view from a pagoda
On the way to the above pool, I saw a chinese style hobbit hole
The next few photos are from Kunming:
A detail from the roof
Another high up detail
Loads of red everywhere
Also while in Kunming, I ate this
Oh, and I got to Lhasa this morning. So far, no altitude sickness... hopefully it stays that way... I will have more photos in a few days....
The group has left Kunming for the small city (relatively) of Lijiang of 1 million people but before we left, Ant and I visited a few sights in Kunming itself.
We spent a few hours at the Yuantong Si temple in northern Kunming. There were the usual pagodas (in notably good condition), people offering incense, fish swimming in pools, and lucky turtles. I even saw one koi that reminded me of our koi on LI, Mary Jo, so named because it gulps water out the side of its mouth- just like Mary Jo Buttafucco talks. Gulp gulp.
On the way out I saw something I never thought I would- a woman with bound feet. Technically, this practice was outlawed in 1911 (ish) and although it wasn't seriously enforced until the 1920s and 30s, it surprised me that anyone with it done was still alive. It took me a minute to realize it too because the woman moved so damn fast- not bad for someone who is probably 75-80 years old!!! She had the little pointy handmade shoes on that you see in museums. Eerie...
We wandered by the major park in Kunming and then made a second unsuccessful attempt at locating English language books at the Xin Hua bookstore. Grrr.. Before I could say the word "kangaroo" I was loaned a copy of Bill Bryson's Down Under on Australia, which I read on the bus ride to Lijiang. What a funny book- especially because I was just in many of the places he visited and noticed similar things.
When we reached Lijiang and got into the Old City, I felt like I had walked into Disney's EPCOT Center Display of China. There were traditional homes, women in Naxi clothing, and red lanterns hanging from buildings. It is also clean, which is maybe why I felt like it had that fake Disney sanitized look. Luckily it's not fake and I have completely enjoyed my time here. The people rock and the little old women actually let you take their photo and giggle when they see it. In fact, I had one woman approach me (I did bait her by making it obvious you could instantly see the photo on my camera) and ask me to take her photo. I figured she wanted money but she just smiled and laughed. Then her friend came over and they did a "casual" (or as casual as you can get in two elderly post-Mao era women can get for a foreign devil) pose for me. When I was quickly surrounded, I knew it was time to go back to my oh so tasty breakfast buns.
I also bought a few bananas from a little old lady and let her moderately overcharge me (25 cents for 4) to butter her up for a photo. It worked and she was a total cutie. She liked her photo as well. I felt I was neglecting the wrinkled old men so just a few minutes ago I approached two ancient looking guys and they laughed at their contributions. Hopefully, I will be posting this photos in the next few days.
Now for some interesting facts:
Lijiang is known for it's Naxi influence. The Naxi are of Tibetan/Burmese ethnicity and are known for their typically matriarchal society. Women run the show- so much so that Naxi women in the past could go directly to a man's mother and tell her that she wanted his son. The son didn't have much choice and became the woman's "friend"- he would live with his mother but spend the nights with her. If she had any children with this friend she was the one responsible for their upbringing, with financial support from the man. If she wanted to end the relationship, she would put his shoes outside her door and also forfeit support from him.
Tomorrow we're off to Chengdu, a city I need to give a second chance to... maybe I'll be lucky and get to hear about panda penis atrophy again...
After two boring days in Jinhong, I was ready to move on to Kunming and meeting up with Anthony again. I had spent the better part of my time in Jinhong reading Clan of the Cave Bear in the Mei Mei Cafe near my rat trap guesthouse and was ready for moving on.
I had a flight for 8:30pm, but there were thunderstorms and we didn't get off the ground until almost 10. When I arrived in Kunming, I was exhausted and happily fell asleep in the comfy hotel. Ant was waiting up for me and it was nice to finally meet up with him again.
When I went down to the breakfast buffet I was overjoyed to see my favorite Chinese food- BREAKFAST BUNS!!! These are doughy little treats that are steamed and can have a consistancy similar to super fresh bagels. They have little bits of meat or veggies inside and I can eat ten of them at a sitting, dipping them in strong soy sauce. MMMMMmmmmmm. After gorging myself, I went and posted a package back to the US. It cost me about $25 for 2.4 kilos, not too bad. Mom, expect it in about a month.
Today and tomorrow are going to be relaxing days before the long journey through Lijiang, Chengdu, Tibet and finally into Nepal.
That means "Happy New Year" in Lao.
On my last day in Luang NamTha, I was invited by Yves and Martin of France to a party at their new Lao friend Soda's house. What a great invite it turned out to be!!! For New Year, the kids all run around trying to soak everyone else on the streets. Everyone is fair game, pedestrians, cyclists, people on motorbikes, etc. Water guns are very popular and as a gift, Yves and Martin bought a few for Soda's nieces and nephews. They were a huge hit.
When we first arrived, it seemed that the men and the women ate separately, and I was included at the men's table. This also meant I couldn't refuse the lao lao when it was offered to me. Luckily, I've found that it doesn't affect me too much, so I drank away. Martin, Yves, and I thought if we could get the Lao drunk first, we'd be ok. This isn't very hard to do because Lao people can't hold their booze very well. Martin and Yves had also brough a bottle of French red wine from town and when the Lao men tried it, they all made really funny grimaces, some trying to be polite, others not caring and spitting it out. It was hard to explain you sip the wine, not shoot it as you do with lao lao.
We ate gingered pork, spicy beef with mint, and some sort of sweet rice paste with coconut and egg inside of a banana leaf. After eating enough, the women joined us, and I headed off to the store to buy some beer. I hadn't contributed to the wine and food, so I splurged and bought 8 bottles of Beer Lao (650ml) for 56,000 kip. That's a bit less than $5.60, a fair gesture I thought. When Soda and I returned, the women made such a fuss you'd think that I'd bought the whole brewery. The women prefer to drink beer and drink they did. Martin and I played Caps and two of the men joined in.
Drinking games were not meant to last and soon the women wanted to dance and dance and dance. The Lao style of dancing is easy to imitate because it's much slower than the Thai version. Move your hands up and down in a fluid motion and tap you feet to the music. After some lao lao, no problem. When the Lao men wouldn't dance, I'd pretty much drag them up off their asses. Being that most of them are half my size, they didn't have much choice. This amused the women and we became fast friends even though we didn't know each others names or speak a common language.
The women were really great. They showed me who was married to whom, who the kids belonged to, etc. When I took photos, they were thrilled and laughed at their own pictures, as well as mine of friends and family. Before I knew it, I had flowers being shoved in my hair and my boobs poked again (this must be some sort of compliment!). After a bit more booze, I even ran down the street with a bucket of water to dump on some random girls who wandered by.
By 2pm, I was sufficiently drunk and was ready to call it a day. Martin, Yves and I eventually made our way back to our guesthouses and said goodbye. I'm glad I got to have a truly Lao experience with good people on my last day in this beautiful and super friendly country.
I'm in China these days, having crossed the border from Laos.
Yesterday was a long day to say the least. First, I got up early and caught a two hour truck to the border town. I then had to get stamped out by the Laos immigration who didn't know how to read their own stamps. The first official was convinced I had overstayed and waved me off when I showed him the extension. When he motioned to sit in some official's office I got annoyed and went to the boss and asked what the problem was. I showed him my extension stamp and he laughed at his friend and waved me through to the stamp dude.
Stamp guy informed me it was a 1k walk to the Chinese town of Mohan. 1k my ass! It felt like 3 in the blazing sun. I got there and realized that it was a national holiday (Water Splashing Festival)- hence no banks are open. I saw a couple who are biking from Yunnan to Shanghai (a suicidal route if you ask me) and they told me that some of the shops were changing cash. I got rid of my useless Lao kip and changed some US$ so I could get a lift.
I said goodbye to them and caught a ride with one of the bread buses. Bread buses are tiny minivans than when you look at them from the side or the front, look like loaves of white bread. Anyway, for 13 yuan ($1.50) I got all the way to Mengla (1.5 hrs). My luck was good because as we rolled into the bus terminal, a bus was leaving for Jinhong, the next major city. I knew if I wanted to get a flight to Kunming (and not brave the 14 hour sleeper/suicide bus) I'd have to get to Jinhong. My luck wasn't over because when I reached the bus terminal in Jinhong, I met three Americans who told me that there were a few guesthouses not far away. Whew...
I got a bed no problem, and proceeded to chat with two girls, Asina and Alessandra, who live and work in London. We grabbed some dinner at a local Chinese place (pointing to various dishes) and after I crawled into bed and slept like a LOG. I was so tired.
I got up early this morning and decided to see if I could get a flight to Kunming... and I did!! For the whopping price of 520 yuan ($65), I don't have to suffer on the bus. When I was last in China, getting tickets, be they bus, train, or flight, was such a painful procedure. Today, I walked in, filled out a form with my request and was told it was available. I quickly walked to the bank where a teller efficiently changed my money. I returned with cash in hand to the flight booking center and in less than ten minutes I had a ticket.
Am I in China? This is much too easy!!! Maybe my patience has increased...
Today I am going to relax, go to the gardens and try to find a Xinhua bookstore to buy some new books. Next stop, Kunming!
My adventures since the Plain of Jars have been good. I missed the 8AM Sam Neua bus at 7:40 because it was full and left. It turned out not to be a big deal though and I hopped the next bus to Luang Prabang.
From LP, I was able to get the early morning bus to Nong Khiaw, and then a boat to Meung Ngoi, a village that had a "must see" recommendation from everyone I met along the way. On the boat, there was a fiesty old lady who at first didn't seem to like me very much. She pointed out I didn't have a boyfriend with me, which was no good according to her. She also took a liking to Maya, a Vancouverite, and proceeded to grope her boobs as a compliment. She also gave mine a quick grope, but then undid her shirt to show us hers.
I somehow got her to let me take a photo of her, and well, she liked me after that. When I showed her her own photo she hooted and hollared with laughter. She was very patient and let me take a few photos and made funny faces when posing.
"Nam lai!!!" which means "very pretty!" she proclaimed.
Along the way, we witnessed practice boat races for the upcoming inter-village April 12 boat races. Meung Ngoi is the reigning champ (or so they told us) and the other villages were out practicing. Along with the participants, the women and children of the various villages came down to the water to bang on drums and cheer their boys on. It made the hour long boat ride much more enjoyable.
When we reached our village, I got myself a prime bungalow on the Nam Ou river for the whopping price of $1.50. It had a great view, a hammock, and a small porch. After settling in, I went and met up with Maya, Megan and Matt (New Zealand), and Hide and Shinobu (Japan). Maya, Megan, and Matt had all been to MN before and knew some of the local boys. They brought out the lao lao to start the night off. I've discovered I am not at all affected by the stuff and can drink it easily, ditto with Lao Tiger whiskey.
I learned some new card games (Big 2, Kings and Assholes, Shithead, and Sevens) and spent three days chilling out, doing nothing. I also got to witness some fierce storms that I thought were going to blow the roof off of my little hut. At night you can hear the storm coming up through the valley and it sounds like the approach of kettledrums, getting louder and LOUDER and LOUDER.
I reluctantly left after three days because I didn't know how long it would take to get to the Chinese border. I stopped one night in Udomxai (shithole) and today I'm in Luang Nam Tha, which seems alright. I have to find somewhere to spend my kip because you can't change them back, or into any other currency- no one wants them. I have about $50, and I can't think of what I'd spend it on in 3-4 days. There's nothing to buy and only so much I can eat, so I might offer some of the other people I've met some free beer.
Other than that, not much is going on. I've appreciated some good company and relaxed before hitting the storm of China.
I just uploaded a bunch of photos, but then power cut, so here goes again:
A boatman I saw on the river from my hut
When we stopped at one village, I saw this woman
This fisherman was mending his nets when I walked by
Here's Hide and his portrait of me
This photo is from the Plain of Jars
While waiting in Nong Khiaw, I found this trio
Try getting one of these through customs
A woman I saw while waiting for the boat
The view from my hut
The whole village came down to watch boat race practice
Yesterday I visited the Plain of Jars, which is north east Laos' Stonehenge.
I thought they looked more like toilet bowls for giants more than anything else. They are big massive jars sticking out of the ground, with big holes, hence being jars and not monoliths.
The ride to Phonsavanh was uneventful and took about 7 hours. It wasn't nearly as "chicken bus" as I was expecting. The driver wasn't a maniac and wasn't in any particular rush as there isn't much going on in Phonsavanh. When we got to the town, the usual tourist mafia guys came up to the bus and I slipped away unnoticed. Unfortunately all the places I tried were full so I had to go with one of the tourist mafia to this small little place a bit out of the way. It was alright but only cost $1.50. The downside was that I had to listen to the mafia guy's yapping about tour programs.
Fortunately, a few Germans appeared and they decided to look for a taxi, which are supposedly "not possible." As with anything in Asia, everything is possible. They chatted with several drivers and agreed to come back at 7am. When we came back the next day, for $4 a person, we had a taxi.
We visited all three sites of jars as well as a waterfall. I was totally beat by 1pm because I had been up the night getting sick on my food from dinner. NEVER mix lassis and 2 beers. It is explosive. Maybe it was a bum lassi, I don't know but all night I got up once an hour to get ill. As I sat nearly falling asleep in my lunch, the tourist mafia guy approached our table to find out why we blew him off. Andy, one of the crafty Germans told him he was too expensive and so we got a taxi.
"NO!! Not possible!!!" said the mafioso.
"Yes, possible," we replied.
He stomped off for a while until he tried to find out who took us so he could go shake him down.
The rest of my time in Phonsavanh was uneventful. I had a pleasant dinner with a Texan, Dave, who also would be on the road for a while. We relaxed and ate at Sanga, a local place with decent food and sassy service.
When I tried to get out to Nan Noen this morning I was told I missed the 8am bus, at 7:40. It was full so it left. After 30 seconds of wandering around looking for a truck going in my direction, I gave up and decided to catch the 8:30 to Luang Prabang. After 7 hours, I was back in town, with a ticket to my next town arranged.
I also got a kickass room which I am sharing with Sylvia, a Swiss/Spaniard who has been just about everywhere. It has towels, a uber clean hot shower bathroom, and a DESKLAMP. This may not sound very exciting, but really, it is. I can finish this terrible book I am reading (Shanghai Baby) and ditch it. I almost want to keep the book so I remember how bad it was.
Tomorrow I am off for Nong Khiaw, which is 4 hours north and a bit east of Luang Prabang. It supposed to be close to an idyllic village where there is no vehicular traffic because there is no road to the village- you have to take a boat to get there. I'll be sure to update this in a few days to tell about it....
This morning I visited the Pak Ou Caves, which are "the thing to see" around Luang Prabang. I thought it was definately not worth the effort.
I couldn't find anyone to share the tuktuk ride with so it cost me $8, which is pretty hefty when you're living on $20 a day. I decided to go anyway. After a 45 minute ride out to the village of Ban Pak Ou, I took a longtail boat over to the other side of the Mekong.
There are two caves, an upper and a lower. THe lower one had more buddhas in it and gave the appearance of a small buddha army because most of the images are about chess piece size. The upper cave was basically just a few buddhas and a load of bat shit. I was annoyed about the upper cave because you have to haul yourself up the side of the mountain to get there. Grrr....
I came back into town and had a bit of lunch. I had to zigzag all around the little alleyways because there are gangs of little kids out with buckets of water waiting to douse people for Bun Pi Mai, or Lao New Year. Everywhere I go, it seems to be that country's new year. Anyway, so I had to double back a few times and finally I intimidated a small girl into not throwing water by scowling at her. I don't need my nice new camera ruined by a young Lao kid thinking they're being funny!
I thought I was safe until I walked into the internet cafe. A little boy ran up to me and squirted me with a water gun. When his mother yelled at him and gave him a slap on the head, he went outside and attempted to pee in his gun. His father ran over and stopped him.
Tomorrow I am off to Phonsavan, in the middle of nowhere so I may not be able to check email for a while. I am going there to see the Plain of Jars. It will take 8 hours in a public chicken bus to get there. Pray for me!
This is the Lao word for "hello!" You hear it dozens of times a day and often by friendly locals who want to chat with you. If you add "lai lai" at the end it means "hello and how are you?"
After being in Vang Vieng, I was a bit down on travelling north in Laos- needlessly as it turned out. The minibus ride along the occasionally suspect Route 13 was without incident. Every once in a while, Hmong rebels who were trained by the CIA to overthrow the communists back in the 70s, stir up a bit of trouble but not much has been going on recently. That said, I did notice that the driver's friend had a gun under his shirt- "just in case" I'm sure.
We passed colorful people along the way, mostly Hmong villagers. One came up to our bus carrying a dead porcepine-type creature and tried to sell it to us for dinner. We turned her down only to be offered a dead marmot by a guy 100 feet down the road. After him, we saw a toddler dragging a dead chicken- it must have been butcher alley. After that the route got more mountainous and the ride got more chicken-bus like. I was very happy to be in a small more manueverable minivan than a huge bus.
On arriving in Luang Prabang, I headed off to find a guesthouse, of which there are loads. Many are located in little alleyways with new brick walkways. At night the alleyways are lit up by lights inside terracotta lanterns giving the area a romantic feel. People were out laughing and smiling. They seem to laugh and enjoy life a lot more here than in Vientiane and Vang Vieng. As I walked around soaking it all in, I passed by a group of old Lao men drinking around a table. As I passed they offered "whiskey lai lai! Drink!" Still being surprised how friendly the people were with "sabaidee!!!"'s around every corner, I politely declined.
When I rounded the last corner to my guesthouse, I saw another group of people drinking around a small table. This group were much closer to my age so when they offered the "lai lai" I sat down and met the crowd. The one who spoke the best English was also the most drunk. Neuw had been studying English for three years and I was impressed how fluent he was under the influence. We chatted about tattoos (he has a massive dragon on his back), his sister Meow (also studying English but not as fluent after lai lai), and various other topics over some seriously salty seaweed. As for the lai lai, I didn't find it to be that strong. The taste wasn't nearly as harsh as most of the SE Asian hooch I've sampled. A liter of the stuff was only 90 cents. How about that for a cheap night of partying? It even beats the infamous Thai Sangsom. After a few more shots I went back to my guesthouse.
The next morning I woke up without a headache which surprised me. I had met a young Israeli girl, Sirat, earlier the day before and we agreed to go to the Royal Palace Museum and the main wat together. We had breakfast and enjoyed the sights.
This morning I decided to go to the Tat Kheuw Si waterfalls. As I looked for a tuktuk (or jumbo as they are called here), I met a Polish guy named Cuba. Cuba also wanted to go to the falls and we decided to split the cost. The falls were beautiful- very tall and strong with teal blue pools at the bottom that looked artificial. Nearby, we saw a beautiful tiger that had been rescued from a local poacher in 1999. There were originally three cubs, but this one, Phet, was the only to survive in captivity. She has a large enclosed area and is treated decently, which is uncommon in Asia.
The real reason I enjoyed the morning was the company of another traveller who didn't have his head up his ass. Cuba and I spent the day talking about some of weird people you meet on the road. Often, people come to SE Asia to escape something at home, such as arrest. Other times you meet people who just can't survive life at home because their lives are so disturbed and wouldn't be looked upon kindly.
To emphasize the point Cuba told me about how he was stuck for a night at the Thai/ Cambodian border. It was 5pm and the Thai people shut the doors in his face. The only hotels in the area were $100/night and he knew he couldn't afford them. He walked into the nearest village and mimed he needed somewhere to sleep. As it turned out, he would stay in a village of whorehouses. This was where all the prostitutes who serviced the Thai businessmen in the $100/nt hotels lived. All night Cuba was hassled and teased by the girls, many who he said were very pretty.
"Only $2!" they would tell him. Cuba then said that although a few of the girls were tempting, he still knew who he was and that sleeping with a hooker wasn't something he was interested in doing, whether or not anyone would ever know.
Without a second in between, Cuba launched into a story of how he had a bad drug experience in Vang Vieng. He had heard about yaba, the Laos version of speed. So, when it was offered to him, he smoked it with a group of Lao. For the next three days he wandered around popping Valium pills so he could cope with his own brain which was completely hopped up. As he was telling me this, a group of girls walked by and said hello to him. These three girls met him as he was taking Valiums and were slightly weary about seeing him again.
"No Valiums today?" said one of them.
Cuba just smiled. "No, not anymore."
So, as a moral today, I learned not to try the yaba. I'll do my best to remember it. More dangerous to me though is avoiding the night market here with all the tapestries on sale. I'll have to face that temptation as I leave this internet cafe.... wish me luck.
I have some new photos, and I thought I'd share them.
In Vientiane, I spent about an hour at Haw Pha Kaew, which is where the national treasures are stored and displayed. I took a few photos of various buddha parts, like a hand, or a hand and foot combo.
I thought that this buddha had elvish type characteristics...
The next few photos are from my excursion to the Buddha Park outside of Vientiane.
This mouth led into a big apple filled with various scary concrete Hindu images. Very weird inside...
These three girls befriended me while their pesky male friends tried to offer me candy. They are three students from Vientiane.
This is a typical bulbous nosed buddha from the park. I read that the images were all made by untrained workmen.
These two little girls couldn't figure what to make of me.
These are actually two different statues, but it looked like buddha was praying for cupid to hit someone goodlooking.
Buddhas and skulls are not often seen together...
GRRRRRR!!!!!! This face just looked scary.
I particularly like this photo of a group of monks I ran across.
This isn't a great pic, but it shows a decent example of Lanna script.
The next few photos are from today, here in Luang Prabang. I will write more about this great little city tomorrow....
A group of monks frolicking in the trees...
And finally, a grouping of some images of Buddhist hell. These remind me of similar ones I saw in Angkor Wat. Nothing like boiling people in oil, or sawing them in half. I can only imagine what they did to the guy on the left for his balls to be that big... There's nothing like a good dose of karma. Just imagine what he did to deserve that!!!