Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Well, it's taken an hour, but I've finally uploaded our photos since crossing the border into Laos. I'll just jump right in with photos and commentary and save some general stuff for the end.

Beerlao. What can you say? Most places it costs a dollar. It comes in a 640ml bottle (about 22oz), unless you get the Beerlao Dark (a lager) or the Beerlao Light (which I've never seen). Those are 330ml. Anyway, it's obviously delicious.

Whoops. Back up a step. This is the night market in Chiang Mai, which is in Thailand, not Laos. Sometimes our camera files the photos out of order. Bear with me.

This innocent looking plate of vegetables and basket of rice is probably the spiciest meal I've had in 15 years. The culprit is that little bowl of Jeow (sp?), kind of like the Lao equivalent of salsa or curry. You can eat this a lot of different ways, but I think the most common is to ball up the sticky rice with your hand, then make a flat disc to grab some of the jeow and veggies. Anyway, it was insanely hot. I can't claim to handle very hot spices anymore, but I *have* gotten better in the last month or so. But this was definitely a little out of my league.

Another meal with Jeow as the centerpiece. This one we ate in the middle of the Nam Tha river. Not pictured are a couple fried fish and a giant basket of sticky rice.

At the end of our day-long kayaking trip. More details to follow.

The river was really colorful at this point, but hard to capture.

OK, here's where I can tell the whole kayak story. We signed up for a one-day kayak trip with Green Discovery tours in Luang Nam Tha. We toyed with the idea of doing another multiple-day trek, as the area was supposed to be a great base for them, but in the end it would have been too expensive. Also I was tired of sleeping in villages. So we did a one-day kayak trip (which was still expensive, especially by Lao standards). Our guide was Phet, pictured below. I have been kayaking 3 times, and I am a better kayaker than Phet. This should tell you something. However, he was a very nice guy, so we let it slide with the tour agency when we were filling out feedback forms afterward. Anyway, the kayaking was fun, if a little frustrating. Liz and I were sharing a kayak, and at first I was getting annoyed that she couldn't steer from the front seat while paddling. Then we switched, and I found that I couldn't do it either. Sorry, Liz! We switched again, because with me in the back we had better overall control (even though it was super uncomfortable for me). It was also frustrating trying to communicate with Phet. He spoke decent English, but wasn't exactly forthcoming with the details. At the end of our trip, he kind of pulled over to the side and started speaking to a villager. We just kept going... right into some more rapids. So we shouted back, "Hey, Phet, is this where we're stopping?" Of course it was. Thanks for telling us, buddy. Earlier, when it was about lunchtime, he asked us if we wanted to stop and eat. "Whenever you're ready... it's up to you," was our reply. So about 2 minutes later he crashed his kayak into a giant rock in the middle of the river and told us that's where we'd eat lunch. I looked longingly at the dozens of flat sandy beaches that surrounded us before I hauled our kayak up onto the rock and sat down to one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life. Again, Phet was not a bad guy. Just an inexperienced guide. For $78, you'd expect a little better.

The bus ride from Luang Nam Tha to Luang Prabang was very scenic toward the end, but it was hard to get a picture out the window without having your arm ripped off by oncoming traffic. Nevertheless, we scored this one, although we missed all the gorgeous mountain ranges.

This is a little too happy for 7.5 hours into a 9 hour bus ride, don't you think?

Sunset over the Mekong. We snapped this one at one of the many riverside restaurants within 5 minutes of our guest house.

God bless America, this was our Christmas Eve dinner. A giant plate of raw meat.

Not to worry; we cooked it over this contraption. While the meat was self-explanatory (meat + fire = good eatin'), we also made a soup that inexplicably turned out delicious. Basically you pour water around the outside trough of the metal bowl, add some noodles, veggies, chilis and eggs, and it comes out amazing!

Brian and Brooke, our new friends from Philly, enjoying their XL Western Christmas Table Barbecue Dinner Deluxe.

Our side of the table.

Later we went to a bar called that was running a 5 drinks for $5 special. I can't believe a place like this exists in Laos... it was just like any club you might find in Seattle or Portland, except you would never be able to get 5 drinks for $5 at a hip place like this in the States.

Your standard Christmas morning in Laos, exchanging presents.

There's a great store in town with DVDs for 20,000 kip each, and if you buy 5, you get a 6th free. That works out to about $1.70 per DVD. Holla.

Ok, this is some awesome Engrish notebook we picked up a lot earlier on the trip. I just photographed it in case we end up losing it at some point.

Yes, it reads, "playing whit myself" on the spine for no reason whatsoever.

More detail.

Christmas Day. We had the DVDs; Brian and Brooke had the laptop (I left mine in Bangkok so I didn't have to lug it around these "rural" areas, which, of course, have wifi on every freaking corner). So we watched "Rescue Dawn" together. 16 stars out of 20 on the Seth scale.

The exchange rate in Lao right now is about 9,500 kip to the dollar. The largest note that they make is 50,000 kip. You do the math.

If you want to be a huge baller, move to SE Asia.

The Christmas tree at our guest house was a little sad (although the guest house itself is lovely).

Artistic shots of one of the Wats in town. Credit: Liz.

Ok, the internet went out as I was writing this last night. Luckily I had all the copy saved, but it's now Thursday the 27th as I'm writing this. FINALLY the pictures load. God, the internet is really slow here. It's generally faster in Thailand, I guess.

So yesterday we took a minibus up to the local waterfall. Liz had been up there before and said it was worth the trip. Bonus: They had this awesome Tiger, Phet (yes, the same as our kayaking guide). You can get really close to the tiger, unlike at zoos in the States. They also had some bears that were pretty cool, but we didnt' get any good photos.

Part of the waterfall; rope swing just out of the picture to the right.

Another part.

It was cold, but how often do you get to swim in a waterfall? If you're in southeast Asia, the answer is as often as you like.

Ok, I'm not going to press my luck by writing more. I'm just gonna post this and save the other stuff for later when the internet is more reliable.


Carolyn said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Liz & Dan! I've really enjoyed your travel adventures. Your pictures are fabulous. I'm envious. When David and I were your age I always said people should "retire" young and work when they're "old." I'm think it's great you decided to take this trip. I'd hire you as travel guides anytime!
Carolyn Lindsey

John R said...

Dan, I am glad to see you are having a good time.

Your guide, Phet, he's an Arsenal phan, so thats pretty neat....

I've been enjoying the blog, keep it up man!

triggerua said...

Give the tiger some room...check out what happened at the San Francisco Zoo Christmas day! It seems as though you two are having the time of your life..I anxiosly await the next entry. I hope you have a wonderful and happy new year!
Your friend Joe B. from Grants Pass