Thursday, January 3, 2008

Super-sized update from Laos

I'm going to write as fast as I can right now, because at 3pm Lao time Liz and I need to catch a tuk-tuk to the airport for our flight to Hanoi.

This is a slight change of plans; originally we were going to take the bus to Phonsavanh, maybe check out the Plain of Jars, then take another bus across the border to Vinh, and another to Hanoi. The only problem? That's like 30+ hours of buses and a week of travel or so. We just spent $120 on our Vietnam visas, and if we only get to spend 2 weeks there it would feel like a bit of a waste. So we're flying.

I have 60-ish photos to post right now; we'll see if I can finish this update in an hour, or if it will have to wait until Hanoi to be published.

From the end of our stay in Luang Prabang: We grabbed one of the boats up the Mekong to the "buddha cave." Pretty self-explanatory: It's a cave a ways down the river where the monks stored all these various buddha statues for some reason. I would pass on this in the future. The cave was neat but extremely crowded, and the boat ride was neat, but the ratio of boat riding to cave spelunking was not that neat.

On the boat.

These are pretty small statues.

Another flash setting.

On the bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, Liz practiced her National Geographic-style photography.


A few more beautiful parting shots from Luang Prabang.

We splurged on our last dinner in Luang Prabang... I had something called a "Spicy, Crazy Steak." It wasn't that spicy, but boy was it CRAZY! Ok, not really, it was pretty much an ordinary steak.

Another beautiful, bumpy ride. Liz was still on the tail end of a cold, and I had just started with a nasty sore throat.

One of many villagers along the side of the road.

Vang Vieng! One of the most beautiful settings I've ever seen. This town is weird. One the one hand, it's nestled among incredible limestone cliffs and bisected by the gentle, gorgeous Nam Song river. On the other hand, it's most famous for it's Friends reruns and marijuana milkshakes. More later.

Running into a herd of 50 or so cattle randomly is a pretty common experience in Laos.

Hey there fella!

In Vang Vieng, we spent 4 nights in a hotel that cost $3 per night. And you know what, it wasn't great, but it was better than our $100/night hotel in Manhattan. Amazing view, too.

The $3 hotel with the $1,000,000 sunset.

Our first night at a "Friends bar" in Vang Vieng. Basically, there are a dozen or so bars with cozy seating and lots of TVs along the main road in Vang Vieng. And for whatever reason, most of them show endless reruns of Friends (although it is possible to find bars showing The Simpsons, Family Guy or any number of movies as well).

Given that we were both sick, and hadn't zoned out in front of a TV for a while, we decided to indulge a bit. OK, we watched Friends every night. But that was after hours of vigorous outdoor activities! And culturally important... uh... travel experiences!

The scene from the other side. The other crazy thing about these places is that most of them have secret menus where you can order pizza or milkshakes laced with pot, opium or amphetamines. We passed.

Ok, here's one of the vigorous outdoor activities. Spelunking at Pak Ou Cave. This was really, really cool, unlike the Buddha cave. It's a super-steep ascent into a huge, dark cave with shimmering stalactites, crazy rock formations and, supposedly, 400 meters to explore.

We didn't explore the full depth of the cave as it really is enormous (as well as completely dark and scary once you get like halfway in), but I did climb down a mildly treacherous path for this photo op.

Afterward, you get to swim here:

Rope swing!

The cave was part of a 30km loop that we completed on this motorbike. We only had to stop once to avoid a stampede.

You see more umbrellas here than you do in Portland or Seattle.


Some more beauty shots of Vang Vieng.

At one point on this loop we ran into a family from Kansas. Mom and dad were sharing a scooter, and their three boys each had one of their own. One of them got going a little fast when a chicken ran out in front of him and he laid the bike down. The kid and the chicken were both OK, but the bike needed some work. Luckily the entire village instantly swarmed the scene.

It looks OK here, but this road actually sucked for motorbiking. A dirtbike would have been a lot better than the 110cc scooter we rode (which I'm pretty sure was assembled in China out of recycled lead pinball machines).

Gaaaaah! I've broken and re-broken the "largest spider ever seen" record on this trip. This was right before we went tubing down the Nam Song.

So, tubing is the other big thing in Vang Vieng (besides Friends, obv). You rent an inner tube for $4, then spend the afternoon floating down the river. Along the way there are dozens of bars that will reel you in with sticks so you can enjoy plenty of beer and shots of lao-lao along the way. Most of the bars also have zip lines and giant rope swings to launch you into the river where it's deep enough.

Good times.

This room cost $6, but was 1,000 times worse than our $3 room. Our first night in Vientiene.

Note the flush handle. Also: No sink.

Unlike Thailand, Laos is known for good bread (because they were colonized by the French). You can get good bread anywhere, including this $1.50 pork sandwich I got on the street.

Ah, engrish.

Another Mekong sunset. This is still Vientiene. The Mekong isn't so mighty right here at the moment because we're in the middle of dry season. Instead, there's a massive beach that disappears by the time April rolls around.

We tried to go out to a nice French dinner while we were here. Mission: Sort of accomplished. We both had slightly chewy steaks that were smothered in reasonably tasty sauce (hers was roquefort-based; mine mustard-based). The pictures of the steaks came out disgusting, so I'm posting these instead.

Buddha park! This is a really weird attraction here in Vientiene that's straight out of a Tim Burton movie. It's filled with bizarre sculptures based on a blend of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. This pumpkin-shaped building is supposed to represent heaven, hell and Earth, or something. You can climb inside (through a demon's mouth) and all through the various levels up onto the roof.

View from atop the pumpkin.

Some more weird sauce.

It was built in the '50s, so there are a few modern touches.

This is the centerpiece of the park. A giant reclining Buddha. It's a lot bigger than it looks here.

No comment.

It's a pig, standing on a man, pulling his ponytail back, about to kick him in the... oh, I give up.

That's all for now. Wow, I wrapped that up in under 50 minutes. We're going to go enjoy one last chocolate croissant here in Vientiene before we fly over to Vietnam (Hanoi).

As always, I have a lot more to say, but I'm thinking maybe I should save the general stuff for the very end of the Asian portion of our trip. I guess I can give you a preview:

- Asia is awesome


- Asia is bizarre and insane

Happy new year, and drop either Liz or I an email if you get a chance. Hope all's well back home.

1 comment:

Austin said...

Cool pics and all, but there's one thing I'm sure we all want to know: what did you think of Sliming Herb? Is it different than the Thai Sliming Herb?