Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Find Your Own Fun




New bridge over the Nam Kan River
At the mouth of the Nam Kan River, where large rocks speed it’s flow into the mighty Mekong, the local’s who live across the river build a bamboo bridge at the beginning of dry season. There are 2 other bridges on this side of the river (where the airport is): one is only for foot traffic and motorcycles and the other for full sized vehicles. Wanting to see where the locals really live, we decide to take a hike across the new bridge and walk until we find the motorcycle bridge.

Here comes the beer!
The well-maintained steps to the river end at a strip of reeds that flank the high-water mark. Where the plant’s stop, the thick, packed mud slopes down to a set of roughly hacked stairs in the hard-packed mud. At the bottom, there is a mud flat-still wet and oozing.  A series of large bamboo pieces have been laid down, so as not to get your feet muddy. One must summon their inner cat to be nimble enough to cross and not fall. In the upcoming days the inner cat will be tested over and over.



Sometimes it about the journey
For tourists, the cost is 10000kat (about 1.50). There is a hut at the beginning of the bridge, which is a hive of activity when we arrive. There is a camera crew filming. As we begin our journey across, from the other bank come a series of men, lugging large boxes of beer, large speakers and on gentleman had a large cooked pigs head on a plate. I am glad the bridge is new and is the best it’s ever going to be, because there is much traffic.

Party at the river
Scampering up the other side, there is a rough looking bench under a tree perfect to witness the activities on the other side. We’re not sure if it was just a party for the bridge builders, a party for the official opening or just some locals having fun.  At any rate, by the time we had our long walk and returned home, they were still at it.
Lovely traditional homes
The other side was interesting as you could see the prosperity. Families were building nice CBS homes in the courtyards of the bamboo structures they have been living in for generations. There were lots of garages with cars and new Tuk-Trucks (bigger than a Tuk-tuck). Also, the locals were not as glad to see us cruising the streets. Other places, folks – especially kids, are very happy to say HI! (Mingalaba, Sah Wad Di, Sues Day and Sa Ba Di) as you pass by. Not here, not so much.
Looking good
The motorcycle bridge was scarier than the bamboo bridge. Very rickety with old, old lumber comprising the walkway. We met some kids on bikes in the middle. They had been real boys, spitting over the side into the river below. Monkey Man stopped to say hi and they were unimpressed until he too, spit over the side. We spent a few minutes bonding and spitting. Nice. 
To the left of the bridge is the pedestrian side.
Eventually we rented a Truck-Tuk to take us to Kuangsi WaterFalls, about 25kilometers from LP. We made sure to get up early, so as to beat the crowds and beat the heat. It has been unseasonably hot here. It should be a lovely upper 70’s to lower 80’s but for us, it’s been around 95 during the height of the day. Bummer. The cool weather was one of the reasons we picked LP.

A chicken guards the gate
At the Falls, there is a Sun-Bear rescue. The bears are hunted for their bile-which is said to have restorative powers. The bears had very nice enclosures in the forest with lots of areas where they could get away from the tourists. Part of the river had been diverted to run thru their habitat. None of those bears could have given a rat’s ass about the tourists walking thru. They played, scratched their ass, farted and slept. They had escaped the Bile Train.
This bear has no worries.
Further up the trail, we saw the beginning of the turquoise blue pools, made by the progression of the series of falls down the mountain. The color was unreal and reminded me of the pools of Palmukkale in Turkey. There is absolutely no way to capture the color of that water. There were 3 distinct pools, stepping down from each other. At the top of the trail, was the true prize- a giant falls. 
OMG- gorgeous!
A 30 minute walk along the river
What else could we do? We took pictures of other tourists with their camera’s and vice versa. Then we stopped at the very lovely café and had a Cappuccino in honor of Prima.
Look where we are!

Cap at the falls

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Laos



The Royal Palace

Laung Prabang is for some of our down time from adventures and travels. In celebration, we have had our laundry “professionally” cleaned. 2 kilos worth. YEA! Sinks can keep you from not stinking, but there is nothing like the clean of the machine. 

Sunset on the water
Luang Prabang is a long peninsula along the confluence of the Mekong River and The Nam Kan river. The name Luang Prabang means “Royal Buddha Image” and is a Unesco World Heritage Site – which basically means, it’s real purdy here. 

All these stairs just to get to the water
We putz around our first day, getting our bearings in town. Towards the end of the day, we decide to splurge on a boat trip up the Mekong at sunset. All the boats are long boats – some longer and fancier than others. There are hundreds of guys that hang around the steep shore line waiting to take you where you will, for a price. Monkey Man strikes a deal with Mr. Shing and off we trot down the royal staircase to the edge of the flood line, across mud carved stairs, jumping onto bamboo tracts and finally a floating dock, where our ride awaits.
Having fun

From the level of the river, there are newly planted gardens as far as the eye can see. The locals await each year for the dry season to plant crops in the high nutrient soil along the banks. Folks are squatting, pulling weeds, while half naked children play in the water and grandpa fishes with a solitary line. Fishermen are still out in their boats-reed baskets full of fish. In the shallows, we spot bobbing water bottles that are traps for the little fish, to eat or for bait. 

Mekong foot picture
The Mekong has a mighty current. There are rock formations in the center. On our left is another temple, with a dozen or so orange robes drying on lines on the beach. This scene plays out on both sides of the river, as far as Mr. Shing takes us. If you are on a river, you are still near some sort of civilization. 
Lovely homes around here

Our tour is for 2 hours. In the distance lies the construction of the new bridge, which one day will link China to Laos. It will change this part of the world forever. We ask Mr. Shing is the bridge a good thing? 
“I don’t know, “he replies.

Long Boats everywhere
As this is such a cute town, so “done up” and an Unesco Site, things are a tad bit more expensive. Too many of the restaurants are “western” style, the ones offering Laotian Fare are upscale. All the real/poor people live across the river. We find ourself at the night market, ‘cause there has to be meat on a stick there. The night market is tchotcke’s we’ve mostly seen everywhere we’ve been. There is not much new here. This is where everyone buys their elephant pants and women buy thin cotton clothes that help with the heat. We spy a tiny alley way, in the midst of t-shirts and purses – it’s the food alley! Yes, there is meat on a stick, fish on a stick, soup-soup-soup, dumplings, baked goods and some rough looking “buffets.” I get vegetable dumplings, Monkey Man orders a half chicken on a stick, with is then placed on a grill to warm it up. To round out our meal, there is a Laos Salad, which I think is made of papaya and peanuts and of course, sticky rice.

Hello Kitty Seats
We sit at the meat stick’s table next to two young men. One is from Germany, the other South Korea. The German has been traveling for a month. The Korean just came in this afternoon on the bus from Vientiane. Both have some English and want to talk-especially the Korean. We have great conversation and travel stories. At the end of our meal, Mr. South Korea walks with us toward our hotel and his. We do a selfie together. A nice ending to our first day.
Sunset on the Nam Kan River

Monday, November 20, 2017

Luang Prabang via Bangkoochie


Mekong Charm Hotel

All of our flights have connections thru Don Maung International Airport in Bangkok. It’s beginning to feel like a home away from home. Don Maung is the home of the famous “pop-top coconuts.”
Groovy Nightspots abound
We must spend the night in Bangkoochie to connect to Luang Prabang, Laos. We could have had a 5- hour layover, but neither one of us was up for it. Monkey Man found us an inexpensive room for the night at Guesthouse 23 (20 Sukhumvit 23 Road Klongtoey Nue Wattana Bangkok 10110, Thailand) located in the notorious Sukhumvit area of Bangkok. I call it notorious; the web will list it as the center of shopping, nightclubs, fancy hotels and apartments. Traffic is horrendous in Sukhumvit. it’s crowded and loud and I don’t recommend it, but Guesthouse 23 was an oasis; with a bathroom located across the hall from our room and Soi Cowboy just down the street.
 
Obama drinks coconuts-you drink coconuts
Soi Cowboy is a short street full of clubs that feature “go-go girls” and “ladyboys”. As a result, on Soi 23 (where the guesthouse is located) one must be careful when choosing a massage establishment. We quickly decided not to trust the massage places where the workers wore 6-inch spiked heels and miniskirts. Maybe trust is not the right word: we decided we didn’t want that kind of massage. At least I didn’t and Harvey decided to be a good boy.

Not a Soi Cowboy
Leaving the next day, we ran into a Chinese traveler who had ridden his bike from Paris to Bangkok and was on his way to Malaysia. We didn’t have much time to talk to him and are still wondering what route he took.

Spicy on the streets
Traveling thru Don Maung Airport again, we made it to Laos as dusk. While waiting in the Visa line, we struck up a friendship with Mike and Cassandra, travelers from Brevard, NC, who had just come from Bali. The taxi was a shared taxi and we met a father/daughter combo, who were traveling for a month together before she started her job, back home in Germany. We were the last to be dropped off. Our poor, poor driver was new, and could not find our hotel.  As we had used Agoda for booking and we had no sim card for internet, there was no number to call and contact the hotel for directions. We got a free tour of the town (mostly the waterfront.) In the end, found the lovely Mekong Charm Hotel. Both Monkey Man, myself and without a doubt the driver, were happy to find the place.
Bitey the hotel puppy. He's in Vietnam now.

On the Mekong River