Well, new country.. my third since going on holiday, Beautiful Laos, and so far it's been great - it's such a beauiful laid back place... and any rate I'll try to keep this brief as the internet here is absoloutely bollix - the less content I post the better for it ;o)
So, since my last post I have moved on from Chiang Mai.. basically it went like this:
19th - Jumped the bus to Chiang Khong (Thailand border town to Laos) from Chiang Mai.. that took six hours, and I was stuck in the back of a minivan with 4 grumpy smoking Israeli cyborgs - the bus did have air con, but it only work when you were going down hill... I'm guessing the van was too underpowered with it turned on to run at all unless coasting... mighty ;o)
At chiang khong I stayed the night, ready to cross into Laos (Huay Xai, the sister border town) - this proved a most interesting evening as I ended up meeting a guy from the DPNS (democratic party for a new system I believe?) - who was from Burma/Myanmar, and hasn't been home since he was 10 years old (because they will arrest him at the border) - he's now 24 I do believe.
The border crossing was easy, got the stamps and jumped the slow boat to Luang Prabang - a two day affair, with the first day leaving you in a little place called Pak Beng... there's not much there but guest houses, but it was alright - the second day we
jumped onto the slow boat again (well a different boat, but I digress) and headed for Luang Prabang.
These trips are a lot of fun, the boat ride lasts about 8 to 10 hours depending on how you count it - and is full of locals, you generally just end up drinking beer laos, laos laos (rice wine) or laos caos (said "l-ow cow") ? which I think is thai/laos whiskey (tastes like Sangsom), singing songs and talking rubbish with fellow travellers. However, I did make a minor miscalculation on the second day as I was talking to an old Laos lady who handed me some "tea leaves" which they stick salt in and roll up and chew/eat - well when in rome.. or Laos..
So I chewed away on these leaves... tasted like salty spinach, and then swallowed it.. and at that point twigged to the fact that they were coca leaves... arse!.. about half an hour later I felt like I'd had 3 beers in quick succession, very woolly headed, but the feeling ebbed away after half an hour thankfully - silly boy ;o) should of spat it out after chewing, like all the other falang did ;o)
At any rate, during the trip on the slow boat I actually met New Zealander's! First time so far in my travels... 3 girls, 1 from Auckland and 2 from Christchurch - it's nice to be able to talk and have people understand my bad NZ english! The slow boat was a great place to meet travelling friends, and our little group of 10'ish people that as semi-constructed over those 2 days is a lot of fun .. And I've still been hanging out with some of them since arriving in Luang Prabang.
The first night I arrived in Luang Prabang (21st) I went out to dinner and then drinks at a bar called "hi-ve" - not a bad little spot, and the following day we get our "temple on" and visited the Wat on the hill (I forget it's name) and Wat Xieng Thong, which has a great tree of life mural on it's side. However I did get attacked by wasps (nasty buggers) and then stubbed my toe while trying to escape.. thankfully the bites hurt but didn't swell up.
Today we got a group of 10 together to hire a minivan, which we took to Pak Ou caves (basically a cave on the waters edge, where thousands of unwanted buddah images are discarded... something I'd never thought about till today... I mean you can't just "dump" a buddah image, if your a buddhist at least) and after that we headed to the Tad Kouang Si, a beautiful waterfall... where we spent the rest of the day escaping the heat - it truely is a beautiful spot, and hopefully I can post a few of the pictures I took soon - as it's close to a monastery, and all the young monks head up there to play at lunch time... very cool, if a little surreal...
Probably the coolest thing though is that my guesthouse (Chaliny I think it's called) is about 10 foot away from the mighty Mekong river, so I can scratch that one of the list of things to see (along with the Yangtze of course from last month) - though I'll no doubt see more of the Mekong as I approach vietnam.
Tomorrow I'm going to try and get a local bus in the morning to Nong Khiaw, where I'll spend a night/day/night then head back to Luang Prabang, and off to Phonsavan the following day (to see the plain of jars) after that I do believe it's going to be Vang Vieng, Vientiane and eventually Si Phan Don (way down the bottom of Laos, where I can cross over to Cambodia).
I may not be updating as frequently over the next 2 weeks though as some of these places have no internet, and often the power is run off generators which they turn on and off at funny hours (they get up early and go to bed early) - when they say this is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the whole of Asia, they do mean it... in a funny way, bits of it remind me of the bush up north in NZ.