Sunday, 19 August 2007

Change of pace

I knew Laos would be a pretty easy going place, but after crossing the border from Vietnam it almost feels like another world. If they were any more laid back, they would be horizontal. I guess the old saying about Indochina might sum it up well - the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Khymers watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow. It's taken a while to get used to walking around without being offered all kinds of things by everyone, especially tuk tuks.

Though now that I'm in the bustling metropolis of Vientiane, they are a little more commercial minded .. want tuk tuk? want ganja? want girl? want boy? But even here, the pace is really relaxed and it certainly doesn't feel like a capital city. Its a nice town to just wander around, with a number of nice Wats and buildings, and a pleasant riverfront area along the Mekong with more views of Thailand.
Since I've arrived in Laos, each town I've stayed has had views across to Thai towns, tempting me with the delicious food just out of reach as I dont have a multiple entry visa. Still, the Laos food is pretty good, not too dissimilar to Thai really. The other night I had a Papaya salad which was quite possibly the spiciest thing I have ever eaten.

After a fairly easy border crossing last week (just a minor bribe required, made smaller with a little good natured haggling) I arrived in the town of Savannakhet.
It's a really nice little place, with some nice colonial buildings and has the nicest of the riverside settings with a string of cool little eateries one after another where beer Lao and ice goes well with the little cook yourself seafood soups. It even had a nightclub, though it stuck to the government enforced 11:30 closing time, and a cute little dinosaur museum. But mostly it was walking around, talking to the locals and watching the kids play that passed the time. A nice intro to Laos.

Travel in Laos requires a bit more effort than the other south east Asian countries, overloaded public buses with all kinds of freight are the norm, and some of the food offered by the vendors is less then tempting - roast cricket anyone?
It actually doesn't taste as bad as it looks. Still, its a good idea to stock up on some nice rambutans for the journeys. And those little plastic seats in the aisles aren't too good on your bum after 5 hours or so. But its all part of the fun.

Next stop was Tha Khaek, nowhere near as charming in itself, but with lovely limestone karst scenery and pretty villages in the surrounding countryside. I hired a Motorbike with Andrea, an Italian guy who was on the bus down, and it was a challenge trying to find the various points of interest with a sketchy map and no English signs.

We eventually found 2 out of the 3 caves we were searching for, and they were both pretty cool, but the best fun was when we ran out of petrol and had to enlist the service of the village kids to rescue us.
Next day Andrea and I headed off to Vientiane, both nursing severe hangovers, and Andrea was non too plussed when he saw we would be on the tiny kids plastic chairs that are employed as extra seats on the local buses. Having taken our seats, we were then subjected to people clambering over us constantly which I found very amusing, but I could here Andrea cursing constantly in Italian. Lucky it was only a 6 hour trip.

Before leaving Vietnam I spent a day in the DMZ close to Dong Ha town visiting the Vinh Moc tunnels and a couple of the US fire sites from the war. It was pretty amazing to see the tunnels where people had lived for years (17 kids were born in them) often for days without seing daylight. Even the big B-52 shells didnt have much of an impact on the network of tunnels.

So still in Vientiane, will need to stay here a bit more in order to get my stuff together for the Oz visa as they are asking for medicals and police checks and all sorts of nonsense. Today all government stuff is closed, so checked out Vientiane's answer to the Arc De Triumph .
The weather has heated up a notch, but its still pretty pleasant so I cant complain too much. And theres always Beer Lao to cool off.

1 comment:

Mary said...

hey, looks really laid don't look too stressed out yourself!Rain stopped here for a day....not much sun though.ManU lost to City today..Hurricane Dean tearing up Jamaica...Joey lost Kong. M and M