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Archive for February, 2008

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Voyage up the Nam Ou River

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I went to the boat ticket office early in the morning to buy a boat ticket to Nong Khiaw. While standing in line to get a ticket, I noticed a helpful signboard that listed the prices for all the destinations. I also quickly noticed that I had to pay about 30% more (110,000 kip) than Lao people according to the sign. While this, as always, is annoying as I don’t get anything more for my money at least it’s not like India where I pay 20-40 times more for things just based on race. After buying the ticket, I waited around for about 2 hours before we set off 30 minutes late. They needed to use an extra boat as there were 16 tourists making the trip (so much for my “original” idea of going by boat). Audrey, the Malaysia lady, who you met in my earlier posting was also making the trip. The boat I was in was equipped with small hard butt numbing wooden chairs.The ceiling over the chairs was too low and I had to hang out to really see well. We first headed north up the Mekong River before turning onto the Nam Ou passing by the Pak Ou caves. Once on the Nam Ou we spent about eight hours making it to Nong Khiaw. The scenery in the beginning consisted of small mountains lost in a haze.  The mountains were greatly deforested. (This would be the most depressing part of the whole journey. For such a small population, Laos is tremendously deforested. There is almost no replanting going on and the hillsides are almost bare or covered in grass. In some areas a few clumps of teak trees have been replanted.) The river paralled route 13 for most of the trip. As we got closer to Nong Khiaw the scenery became more dramatic. The mountains turned to karst and great limestone cliffs riddled with caves leapt out of the water. Here the slopes were too steep for logging and old growth forest with full jungle canopy remained. The villages consisted of traditional thatch hut architecture. The river itself was full of rapids, clear, and quite shallow. The boat struggled to get up a few steep parts. We had to stop at one point to change propeller blades as the old one had gotten bent in an extra shallow portion. One of the other boats struck bottom and had to be pushed to deeper water. In a clever blend of old and new technology, the villages produced electricity from the river. Where needed, they constructed bamboo rafts and tied electric turbines to them. The river current turned the turbines. Where extra ooomph was needed, bamboo shoots were used to channel the water over the turbine propellers. Wires supported on bamboo poles ran from the turbines up into the villages. [read on]

Royal Laos and Evil Lao Lao

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I left the guesthouse around 6:00 am and took a tuk tuk to Vientiane’s Northern bus station. I got on the 6:30 am bus going to Phonsovan. The bus trip took 11 hours. The landscape was at first flat, but then quickly climbed into the mountains north of Van Vieng. I am sure the scenery would have been stunning, but it was so foggy that I couldn’t see anything. The weather turned very cold by the time the bus reached the high plateau (1200 meters,  4000 ft) on which Phonsovan sits. I exited the bus and sat shivering in a tuk tuk with other Lao people. I was charged 10000 kip for the 3km trip which is really expensive considering the number of people in the tuk tuk. The Lao people paid this as well so I couldn’t complain (the driver originally asked me to pay 20000 kip which I refused). Once in town, I quickly found a guesthouse and proceeded to throw everything out of my bag to reach my jacket, thermal top, and hat which had been languishing at the bottom of my bag since Nepal. As it was already late, I set about trying to find the best way to see the Plain of Jars. I finally settled on booking a 120,000 kip minivan tour that went to all the sights and included lunch. This accomplished, I found a Chinese restaurant to have supper. I sat with two Australian ladies, one of whom caused quite a bit of excitement by severely choking on a chicken bone. I thought I might have to try the Hiemlich manuever and was trying to remember how to do it when she managed to remove the bone. I then spent a little while at the MAG UXO office looking at all the pieces of bombs that they have found and dismantled. This area of Laos was the most heavily bombed during the 8 year American bombing campaign. On average a plane dropped bombs on Lao every 8 minutes for 8 years. I returned to my hotel room and finally went to sleep around midnight after the drunken singing from the wedding next door finally ended. [read on]

Riverside Towns of Laos

Monday, February 11th, 2008
Andreas and I headed to the bus station early to try to get on a bus to Savannakhet. At the ticket window, we bought tickets for the next bus at 8:00 am. While we waited, we observed that there weren't ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Motorcycle Diaries (On and Around the Bolaven Plateau)

Monday, February 4th, 2008
After having so much fun (despite the dust and knee injury) renting a motorbike in Ban Lung, Andreas and I decided to rent motorbikes again and do a tour of Southern Laos. We rented bikes from our hotel in Pakse ... [Continue reading this entry]