Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Bread, sandwiches, croissants, French language, am I in France, or heaven? Well heaven it might be, but it's also called Laos.

After traveling through Thailand for a month, I have left the land of smiles and arrived via two day slow boat down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang, Laos. I stated that I think I am in heaven because I can find sandwiches to eat, and bakeries have their sweet smells lofting out of their doors tempting any backpacker to venture inside. It's quite different to Thailand for that reason, plus many others. I've never realised how much I appreciate bread until I haven't eaten it for a month. 

In Thailand the only place where I could find any resemblances to bread was at one of the thousands of 7/11's that line Thailands soil, and I wouldn't even classify it as 'bread'. It makes me wonder how a loaf of raisin bread, or pre-buttered toast could stay fresh so long while on display. It's also different because of the language - not French, but Laotian. The major thing that I noticed as soon as I stepped off the rickety long boat and headed up land is the Communist flags planted right beside the Laos flag waving freely seeing as how Laos is one of the remaining Communist countries in the world. Here in Laos I feel like I am now in Asia, or some-what of 'real' Asia compared to touristy Thailand.

I'll get to my Laos experience in a wee bit, but first I have to write about my Mae Hong Son loop adventure. And begin!

Day one: Ready, set, g... wait, forgot to take off the wheel lock. Alright, good to go. Why is that car barreling towards me? Oh right, they drive on the left hand side. 

Day one of the Mae Hong Son loop went surprisingly smooth. I left Chiang Mai's busy streets headed down the 108 highway bound for Mae Sariang, my first over night stop. The first few hours were relatively easy, pretty low lying grasslands with temples in the near distances. After three hours or so I started to climb up into the mountains and hit one of the 1,864 curves that the Mae Hong Son loop possesses. I stopped for one of my many rest breaks to eat some Pocky sticks and I heard a low jingling sounds getting closer to my right ear. As I swiveled my head around, a cow was staring at me with one foot kicking to the ground like he was about to charge. Fate would have it that at that moment my scooter wouldn't start. So here I sat, on the side of a Thai highway about to be runover by a cow. Luckily, a truck came by slowing down scaring the cow off as the driver stuck his head out of the window to catch an abnormally long look at me, the farang (foreigner) and what I was doing on the side of the road - he was more interested in me that the road itself. If being almost charged by the cow wasn't enough when I got to Mae Sariang I drove up to a temple on the hill and was chased out of the temple grounds by two stray dogs.
Mae Sariang 

Temple at Mae Sariang. 
Just stopping for some gas. 
The cow that almost rammed me. 
Thailand's highest mountain - I couldn't drive up as my scooter wouldn't make it up the steep roads. 
I have learnt two important things though, I cannot read construction signs in Thai language and just because I am driving 80km/h does not make my skin instantly sun proof - I even have the sun burns to verify that..

Day two: 

I recently read a quote which goes like:
         "Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey"
                                                                                                 -Babs Hoffman 

I couldn't help but repeating that phrase to myself through some of the sections of road from Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son. It's not that I 'worried' about the potholes, but I more or less had to be conscious of them or else my scooter would break into two as I went flying from the pavement up into the air and both of the wheels simultaneously would go in opposite directions. On day two, I passed by villages, some touristy, some not. I figured I was getting closer to the Burmese border when I started noticing woman had towels wrapped around their heads which apparently is typical for the type of tribal woman who came from Burma.

Half way through day number two as I was driving through the middle of the jungle I noticed the red indicator getting nail-bighteny close to 'E'. I road through a small village of no more than ten homes and noticed a police officer off to the side of the road. I pulled over, said 'sawatdee kap' to the officer as I put my hands together and bowed down but upon raising my head up again I noticed he was carrying a huge knife - maybe as a way to show he was the boss. Of course he didn't speak any English, but he understood quite well when I pointed to my gas tank. The nice man, knife and all made me follow him to this gas station.

I added I would say about 300 more curves to my trip because I took a side detour to a waterfall. Now my advice to anyone is if a sign says 'Waterfall' with an arrow pointing left but does not indicate how far that waterfall might be, chances are it's a good two hour journey away. Here I was winding my way to an unknown waterfall up the steepest roads I could have found with the throttle full speed as I was watching my speedometer go downwards instead of the opposite direction. Some how, whether it be fate or my leaning forward, Jimmy, as I dubbed my scooter, made it to the waterfall.
Easy to read... right?

The city of Mae Hong Son is the capital of the Mae Hong Son province (go figure) and what a remarkable town it is. Every night across the lake in the middle of the town they have a night market filled with delicious foods and handmade craft. The temple closest by sells the white candle lanterns and each night hundreds of them filled the sky imitating twinkling stars, and eventually I couldn't tell the difference between the lanterns and the stars.
Mae Hong Son

Day four:

I don't know if I can legally say this - but I was cold in Thailand. The morning i had two shirts on and my sweater, and if that wasn't bad enough I did the unthinkable - I wore socks... and sandals. Just imagine the tragedy if Paris Hilton seen me dressed like that. So at 7:00 in the morning I left with my teeth jittering, hoodie over my head and my sweater barely covering my hands I made for the journey to the hippie town of Pai. As the sun came out around mid-day, I suddenly missed the cold I had experienced only hours ago

Pai made me think that if Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were to grace Thailand's land back in their days, this is where the would go. I seen dreadlocks worn by hippie Thais and foreigner alike, Bob Marley posters and his respective flag waving while his music softly strum out of the health bars and hip cafes. Advertising to 'find oneself' and 'come and join our peace family' stuck out on the telephone poles like a white man wearing a monks robe in a Buddhist temple. I figured this would be a good place to ring in 2013.

Day seven: 762 curves left.

Practically all teeshirts in Pai reminded me that I still have 762 curves left to go until I would reach Chiang Mai. I don't think I was on a straight patch of road for more than five minutes on the drive. With all the 'Sharp curve', 'Slow down ahead' signs my head was spinning.

The highway leading me to Chiang Mai was a good indication as to why people always wear the face masks due to the pollution. The moment I hit that highway, I missed the clean mountain air I had been breathing in the whole week. Well with two smoke induced lungs, a helmet full of bugs (and even some in my pearly white teeth) I made it through the whole Mae Hong Son loop!

Ahhh feels much better to have that written and out of the way.

From Chiang Mai I boarded the bus to head to the border down of Chiang Khong, and with just a mere 8 hour drive, and one flat tyre later, the bus arrived. I was herded up like a flock of sheep onto the awaiting guest house owners pick up truck and shipped away, cage, and all, to their place.

The next morning I was stamped out of Thailand faster than a bullet could hit Forrest Gump's buttocks, paid my 40 baht (just over $1.00) to take the 5 minute boat ride across the Mekong river to the Laos side. I never expected the difference between two counties to hit me as fast as it did with Laos. I was in a new world it seemed. So, with my new visa application written out I handed the immigrations officer my US $42.00 and headed on my merry way to the awaiting tuk tuk. Just a cheap ride of 24,000 kip ($3.00) to the Slow Boat ferry port I paid my 220,000 kipp (just under $30.00) for my two day adventure.
First glimpse of Laos

With 70 car seats aboard the slow boat, 100 of my closest friends (literally) boarded the boat and set off. We were briefed roughly about the do's and don't's like : "Don't accept drugs from anyone, don't allow anyone to help you with your bag(s) when deporting, don't fall off..." now that I think about it, I didn't actually hear any Do's.

The boat arrived in a village assembled for tourists just 8 hours after we left. It was an odd contrast to see that much civilization after only catching glimpses of little huts, built up on their timbers, preparing for the imminent floods that would happen in the rainy season in the nearby distances for the trip.

Another 8 hours the next day and I arrived in Luang Prabang.

A lot of people marvel at Luang - I did not. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, but there was one enjoyable thing there - the cheap food. For breakfast I went to a locals favourite, a little corner shop that served up the best rice pork soup and tea. The first day I went there the price was 10,000.00 kipp ($1.25), by the fourth day the owner was waving to me from down the street before my arrival and sat me down with my rice soup, pastries, and tea moments later. The best part is that the price dropped 3,000.00 kipp!

From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng.

On the road to the blue Lagoon

Now, I won't say I was scared at this moment in my life, but I was more or less cautious of everything that was going on around me trying to avoid being shot.
- I'm okay, obviously, but before I give my family a heart attack I'll start from the beginning.

I met a Scottish woman and an English bloke in the guest house and we decided to rent bikes and ride our way to the 'blue-lagoon'. It was a bumpy 6km away down dirt paths that had rocks jutting up tempting my tires to ride over them and pop. Well, we took a wrong turn and instead went to a different lagoon. We paid our 10,000.00 kip for the entry and when we seen the water standing still with bugs everywhere we didn't hesitate to keep our clothes on. A simple man came over to us and grunted with one hand pointing to the top of a mountain where the cave was. He would be our tour guide. We followed him up and suddenly a little Lao boy came out of the bushes and trailed behind us. At the top the cave was so narrow I could feel my stomach turning into a little tube at the sight. The kid looked at us and demanded 20,000.00 kip, we told him we would give him the money at the bottom of the mountain (knowing they could push us into this cave and leave us there, plus we paid our entry fee already so I felt no need to give a little kid more money!).

When we climbed our way down again after sweat laced our shirts, the kid now held a gun. He asked for more money. We told him our money was with the bikes, smiling of course like nothing was wrong. When our arses hit the seat of the bike, rode out of there faster than the roadrunner zooms away from coyote. In the distance as I looked behind me the kid held the gun pointing it directly out direction. If that wasn't enough, on the way back a little five year old boy was walking down the street as I rode past him. He looked at me, held up a knife like he was going to throw it straight at me but I just kept on cycling with my legs pressing down further into the petals.

The actual blue lagoon, kid and gun free. Farang free? Absolutely not.

In Vientiane. In my opinion it's the worlds slowest, chilled out capital city on the globe.
Arc De Triomph - Vientiane

- an important note I read on my hostels wall was : please do not walk by the river after 11:00 pm due to plain clothes cops arresting foreigners and demanding a bride of 1,000,000.00 kip (around $120.00) just because they think we're escaping to Thailand.

Vientiane - savannakate - Pakśe.
The Bolevean Plateau in Pakse

As of right now, I'm just in the capital city of Cambodia.

Laos is a tough country to travel due to the fact that somedays it's hard to decided whether to lay your head pointing north in the hammock or south.

Some of my photos from Pakse. 

Playing a bamboo instrument

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