BootsnAll Travel Network

Leaving Laos and Thailand Return

After typing the last blog entry, I found a restaurant to eat at on the main strip. While eating, I got involved in a conversation with two other Americans. We ended up deciding to see what the Tuesday night nightlife of Luang Nam Tha was like. To sum it up: Not much. We tried two different bars and they both only had about five people in each. This was in contrast to the previous weekend when one of the guys had went to a disco in an old church. The place was packed full of Laotian breakdancing. We stayed at the second bar where they had at least a video of people breakdancing playing. A few of the local patrons also took a stab at singing along to the music. The bar finally gave up at midnight and closed. I returned to my guesthouse to sleep.

The next morning, I set out to explore the town a little during the daylight hours. The town is typical of the sleepy Lao provincial capitals that I have already been through. This will probably change when the airport opens allowing easier access from Vientiane. I saw lots of trekking companies offering tours into a nearby national park. I climbed to the top of a hill where a new wat was under construction. From here I could see out over the town and the river.  On my way back to the guesthouse, I stopped to check my email and ran into the Irish guy (Roland) that  spent the night at the Bokor Hill Station in Kampot, Cambodia along with myself and the British girl. You really do keep running into the same people over and over again. We agreed to meet up for supper. Continuing my walk back to my guesthouse, I ran into one of the Americans from the night before who was wandering around town, bored. We decided to to go the local market as  I hadn’t seen it yet. The market was full of people selling everything under the sun including the noodle shop sellers on the outskirts of the market. We stopped and had a bowl of noodle soup into which the American guy poured some coconut powder that he had bought. This was apparently not common and caused a few curious stares. I tried it as well and it made the soup quite a bit tastier. That night I met up with Roland. Before going to eat we swapped books. I gave him a horror book that I had finished and got “The Kite Runner” from him. After eating, we walked to the tourist office where he had booked a trek the next day to try to confirm it. The office was closed even though it was supposed to be open. We thought that the guy was  probably at the party put on by a new hotel in town. You could hear the music all over town.

 The next morning, I caught a ride in the back of a truck going to the bus station. These trucks go to the station each morning and do good business as the bus station like most in Laos is fifty billion miles outside of town (really about 8 kilometers). It’s quite annoying to pay 35000 kip for a 115 km bus trip and then have to pay another 10000 kip to go the last 8 km. At the bus station I got a seat on the 9:30 am bus going to the Laos border town of Huay Xai.  The trip was very smooth on a newly completed road. The trip took about 5 hours which is about 2 hours longer than it should have been due to all the stops. I think one stop was so the bus driver could buy a banana. The trip was very scenic though winding its way first through a forested national park and then over the mountains. The road was a bit unusual in that it appeared to go through the landscape instead of on top of it. Large portions of the road was built on ground that had been dug out between the hills giving the the impression of driving in a terraced canyon. It seemed like a lot more work than was necessary, but then I don’t know anything about road constuction.

Huay Xai sits on the Mekong River. One can look across the river to the Thai town of Chiang Khong. I believe there is lots of trekking from Huay Xai as well. Most people just come here from Thailand to catch a boat down to Luang Pragang and don’t stay here very long. I was going to break the pattern and decided to cross the border in the morning. While walking around town a very hard rainshower came roaring into town. I tried to make it back to my hotel, but the rain went from drizzle to rat drowning proportions in about 2 seconds. I had to duck into a shop and stay there for about 30 minutes as I had my camera and a book on me. I had chicken biryani that night at an Indian restaurant.

I spent my last 15000 kip in the morning on breakfast and then went to the Laos immigration office on the banks of the river. They stamped out my passport and then I got into a long boat for the ride across the river to Chiang Khong, Thailand (30 baht). Once in Thailand, I filled out the forms and got my entry stamp. There were taxis offering rides to the Chiang Khong bus station but I decided to walk as it was only about 1.5 km. As usual, it’s surprising what a difference a border crossing can make. There were billboards everywhere and the roads were packed with cars and motorcycles. All the prices looked unsually small as they no longer contained many zeros. (It’s now 31 baht to the US dollar. It was 33.5 two months ago when I was last here. The falling US dollar is really starting to hurt.) I found the bus station in the market and first inquired about direct buses to Chang Mai. There was a bus leaving in about 2.5 hours but I didn’t want to wait. I got on a bus leaving for Chang Rai about 15 minutes later. The trip took two hours and again the difference from Laos was remarkable. Unlike Laos, the roads are in places dual laned on both sides. There is a lot of traffic and the majority of the trip was through built up areas instead of bamboo villages and rice fields. In Chiang Rai, I got on another bus to Chiang Mai which was my final destination. On the bus to Chiang Mai was an American girl who had lived in Chiang Mai teaching English about three years ago. She was traveling with a Korean girl. Once at the bus station, the three of us hopped into the back of a red pick up truck (again public transportation is provided by trucks) for a ride to the Tha Phae gate which is where lots of guesthouses are. I ended up at the Kavil Guesthouse. It was 150 baht for a room with a hot shower. I ate that night at a nearby restaurant with another American man who was living in Chiang Mai and working as a lawyer.

Chiang Mai was an old royal capital in Thailand during the days of the Lanna Kingdom. The older part of the city is surrounded by a moat and a few remaining wall remanants. The modern city has long since spilled out of the moated area. The old city now has mostly modern buildings with a large amount of wats. There are many tourist and expats living here. There are many markets selling all sorts of handicrafts and stalls selling food. I have been looking foward to returning to Thailand as the food in Laos doesn’t exactly make my tongue stand up and sing the hallelujah chorus. It mostly consists of fried meats and rice.

I hung around my guesthouse until about 12:00 pm which was the time I was to meet Colin. If you remember, Colin was the Scottish guy that I hiked the Annapurna Circuit with and he is currently staying in Chiang Mai. We met up at the appointed time and went walking around some of the city.  Our wanderings took us past the women’s prison which is oddly enough right in the middle of town. Passing the prison, I had a thought that I am sure most people have when walking past a women’s prison. Wouldn’t it be great if they offered a massage service with the massages being performed by prison inmates? Well wouldn’t you know it, they did. (In reality, I had read about this in my guidebook. The massages are performed by ladies who are within six months of release and they get to keep the money for their use when they get out. Since this goes along with my goal of changing the world one massage at a time (like the Udomaxai Red Cross Massage), I decided to stop in.) The massages were done in a shop across the street from the prison. As usual they were done in a communal room. We were given cotton pajamas to put on and then laid down on mats. The girls doing the massage were quite good and strong. Thai massage involves just as much body manipulation as massage with the girls using body leverage to stretch you in different directions. At one point while trying to make one of my appenadages bend in an unnatural way, the girl fell over on top of me in a fit of giggling. After the massage, we paid the female prison guard who collected the money. I then decided that I needed a hair cut and we went to a place that Colin ususally uses. We then went back to his apartment to wait for his parents who are visiting him for two weeks.

We met up with his parents and together all went out to a night market. At the market, I spent most of my time  hopping from food stall to food stall trying things ranging from grilled meats to ice cream. After the night market, the four of us went to eat at what looked liked an all you can eat help yourself Thai place. This place was huge with literally hundreds of people there. You sit down at a table and get a metal plate with coals underneath. You then go to a series of long tables set up with vegetables, meats and fish (some cooked and some not), and other foods. You load up, bring it back to your table and throw it into the hot plate which also has water along the edge for boiling things. While eating there was a stage show which involved Thai music and comedy. After eating, I left Colin and his parents and returned to my guesthouse.

The next morning, I spent the morning looking at some wats in the area and then spent the afternoon at the Sunday Walking Street. Every Sunday from about 5:00 pm until midnight, the main street near my guesthouse is blocked off and it becomes a market. I spent the evening eating and buying some souvenirs which of coure I now have to ship home for five times what I paid for them.

Today, I walked to the train station and bought a train ticket for my return to Bangkok. I then spent most of the afternoon typing this entry and doing research for the upcoming European/Iceland portion of my trip. I am currently looking for places to stay in Paris and Denmark that don’t break the bank with the weak US dollar. Tomorrow I will head north to Pai for a few days.

Interesting factoid: Laotian for cat is pronounced meow.

Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “Leaving Laos and Thailand Return”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Hey Barry! Thai massages sound fabulous. Scott and I were wandering when you were going to get to Europe….Are you going to either Africa or South America, too? Hope you get some spicy Thai food soon!

  2. Posted from United States United States

Leave a Reply