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LAOS                          28/10-18/11 2000   DIARY 1    





Photos                 Diary 1 2 3

 After the failure of '98, where we (Morten, Jesper and the undersigned) only came in transit in Thailand for three weeks, we try again. We have been managed to lure a fourth with; Rikke. Laos should be virtually unspoilt, with endless primeval forests. Sure enough, the Americans threw 100 tons of bombs per inhabitant during the Vietnam War, making Laos the most bombed country in the world (and then they weren't even at war!), But it should have grown back by now.

28/10 2000. We fly with Aeroflot, the old, honoured (or is it criticized) Soviet carrier, that still has a hammer and sail as a logo. Flight and food is all right, but apparently the movie is very Russian, I slept it off. A few hours at the Moscow airport, and then towards Bangkok.

29. We arrive at noon and take the bus to the centre of Bangkok, Thailand. Rikke says it looks exciting and then sleeps the whole trip, which takes an hour. We jump off at the Grand Palace and head down to the amulet market, while looking for sunglasses, sandals, movies and other essentials.
On the way, we go through fruit-, clothing- and everyday goods markets and then end up in a huge amulet market. The amulets are small - mainly Buddha figures - in clay, stone, glass or metal. Some are very old and therefore very strong - and expensive. In particular, they are carried by taxi drivers and postmen!

We get back to the Grand Palace, which you can come in and see, if you are wearing long pants on. Rikke and I change. -And then the girls must also have their heals covered  on their sandals!
Then, by the way, they could have it to them selves!

Dining at a sidewalk restaurant. It was mainly very strong food, added a lot of strong spices and then peppered up a bit with fresh chilli! "Smooooking". The food is very special, and it is with some courage that we throw ourselves into it. Then we just wait for the stomach problems to kick in.

For the second time, we are recommended to visit a special wat, which should not only be the most beautiful in Thailand, but which is only open one day a year - and it is today! We take a taxi and get to Wat Suthat.
It is an uncommonly beautiful temple. Along the large wall enclosing the large courtyard there is a half-roof. Below this are 2-300 gold (-bronzed) Buddha's, about 1½ meters tall. Some are almost black with age, others look like polished gold. We walk up the stairs to the temple, and into the huge and beautifully decorated doors. Inside are praying monks and locals. The walls are covered in very beautiful tapestries, a giant golden Buddha dominates the "altar", other smaller figures are distributed around it. The floor is covered with a thick red carpet and the air is thick with incense.

Lightning lights the yard and we head out again. As we walk around the richly decorated building, the fair begins, which is reproduced by discreet speakers outside. It's been dark, the rain is starting to fall, and lightning and thunder are filling the atmosphere. We sit for a while and enjoy it, but get so cold.

Outside, it is impossible to get a taxi, so we head back towards the centre. We find the Royal Hotel where we were put off. It looks nice - very nice, but we still check the price: 1500 at a double room. Morten negotiate it down to 800 bat. Expensive, but we didn't bother heading into the dark city, and we have to get up early and leave with the bus in front of the hotel. I'm calculating a bit, when we've come up to the room: DKK 290 for a very large room with office niche, huge beds and large bathroom with tub. The issue of money is complicated by the fact that we spend the next three weeks in US $, bat, kip and kroner.

After a refreshing bath, we meet in the lobby for a quiet dinner. It just rolls around with screaming kids, so we prefer to go to a great Chinese restaurant just around the corner. I get a variation on the hot dog and burger theme. A new hot bath (we do not know, when we will get the next) and then to bed.

30. At 5am! the taxi to the airport costs the same as four bus tickets. You learn something all the time!
At the airport, we are looking for Aeroflot's office so we can re-confirm our tickets back home. It has closed, but we find Druk Air! It is the right name of a carrier! Breakfast in the best American style. I did not find flilm for the camera yesterday, and now I have to settle for some 25 pieces at Danish prices. Incidentally, it turns out that APS films are a totally unknown phenomenon in Laos. Rikke tries to find postcards, but they haven't any!

In the 50 minutes flight, Thai-Air manages to serve food. Large and not least slow queue at the visa counter. We need a passport photo, and Rikke gets sweat a few litres before it turns out that the man approves of our extremely poor photocopies. Maybe because they are accompanied by pictures of Franklin (US $).

Once arrived in Vientiane, Laos, we pay overpriced to get the 8-9 kilometres into the centre. It is probably a big village, but unlike all other cities we visit, at least there are no loose cows in the main street. It then gives a certain international touch.

We find a bank where we can raise the Thai bat, which we can then switch to Laos kip. We mean they are really called "ib", the "k" is just because you literally raise a few kilos at a time. We measure our use of money in centimetres. With only a few centimetres left, it is high time to find some more.

We walk out to the Arc de Triomphe, which is also called the vertical runway. They ran out of cement, so the construction stood still for a long time. Then they got some cement from the Americans for a runway, and what's more natural than completing the Arc de Triomphe?

It will gets really nice when they once have time / advice to paint it. There are crumbs all over the best temple style. It costs one penny to go up the stairs. On the following floors, there are heavily improvised souvenir stalls, some of the only ones we see in the country.

From the top, there is a magnificent view of the flat city of Vientiane. The vast majority are two-story houses; business in the ground room, residential at first. Morten is being photographed by some farmers, taken to the capital. They are fascinated by his size!

I don't get as many photos; it all seems familiar, almost like a Thai provincial town. On the other hand, there are also many ethnic Thais, and only 200 meters above Mekong to Thailand.
We take a tuc-tuc (25 km / 8 kr) to That Luang; the golden wat. This gold-embroidered giant chunk of concrete was reportedly built on top of some of Buddha's bones. A local market offers sandals for 8 kroner. Here's everything the daily household needs, from soap to 50-kilo bags of tobacco.

They are preparing for the local festival with a big market. A guy is on his way up a concrete lamppost. He uses two bolts which he sticks in the holes of the pole. It must be sour to lose one when you are near the top!
We try as usual to follow the country's customs, but especially Rikke has a hard time not to touch each other and not to kiss at all. For me, the most difficult thing is that it is good table manner is to leave something. We also read that one must not shout, but especially the Chinese have difficulty following this. One must not point to persons and especially not at Buddhas. It also means that one must not stand with his legs stretched in front of him.

Wildlife is not exciting. Here are only gray spruce, domestic pigeons and geckos. As in Thailand, there are many potted plants in front of the shops and on the balconies. Many have Jatrophas, mother-in-law's sharp tongue and many others known.

The sun sets at 17.45 and 18.00 is night! We find a humble hotel for 90 DKK for a double room, and go out for dinner. At the city's fountain, we find a nice pizzeria and sit down. Wauh - that feels nice! We order drinks and four similar pizzas. The waiter who comes with beer and water removes cutlery and napkins. Well, we'll probably get some big plates.

Sitting and planning for the next days while we wait - and wait! Grab the waiter - what about our food? Uh ... should you have something to eat ?! We encounter this language barrier many times over the next three weeks. Very few understand just a bit of English. In fact, their language is most reminiscent of Mars Attacks - gag-gag-gag!

31. At 6.50, we need to get something out of the bright hours. It lights up at six o'clock, but there's not a soul up and it's cold. North, the sun first emerges from the haze at 9-10 am.
We find some delicious French inspired bread, and reach the bus 7.03. Their buses are significantly more accurate than DSB, but do not necessarily run more than 50 meters before the first stop.

We drive past rice fields, red-watered ponds, giant bamboo, flowering lotuses, bananas, coconut palms, tiny little jersey-like cows, giant water buffaloes, goats, hanging bugs pigs, silk herons and primeval forest / swamp. Almost all houses are made of bamboo, and stand on two meters high poles.

After two hours, we reach the mountains and the vegetation changes character. Pineapple fields, but here are not as cultivated. Peeing; the men in front, the women behind the bus. The aisle is full up with rice sacks, cardboard boxes and live chickens in bundles.
I see the first swallows, and feel that now I am out in the wild. The feeling is spoiled a bit by a Chinese cement factory.

We arrive at Vang Vieng just passed noon. Nice village by the river. Found shelter for 15 kroner, then wade along the river to find some limestone caves. Skinks piling away as we come, starlings strolling around in the bush, gulls coming over. Rikke has animal attraction, so I only peel leaches of her.

We find the area with caves. There are two monks sitting on a creek of the river, in an exceptionally beautiful setting. A giant spider has spun its web over another small pond.
150 steps lead up to some large caves. A bunch of Laotian tourists are cackling with us. There are long corridors that in between extend into large caves. It starts to rain as we head home, and giant snails emerge from among the large ginger bushes.

We get totally soaked back to town, buy umbrellas and get dry clothes on. Opposite the hotel is a back-packer coffee shop, where we get coffee for 1.50 with Milo! (fat cream with sugar). Rikke describes the day with: Wet + ouch-ouch.

1. We are entertained by the cocks crowing and singing birds from four o'clock, but we first drag our luxury bodies out of bed a little passed seven. Breakfast at the residence, flute, pancake and fresh fruit.
Looked out to find the office where we need our "city stamp". According to the books, you can easily risk being sent back, if you haven't received a stamp in the last city.

We walk from one state-looking building to another. Here we are assigned another house, which designates a third. People on the street don't know what we're asking for. Finally we find it; a shabby little shed by the runway. A cleric effortlessly fills in the columns of a large book. Rikke is looking forward to seeing my "hair and beard" photo in the passport. He does not raise an eyebrow, but when Rikke tells him that she is a chef, he breaks down completely: Chef, like that in a kitchen - cook. He's totally done! We write our names and titles on a piece of paper, he is not too sharp at spelling.

It takes an eternity before he finishes spelling and laughing, so we have to run to today's bus. We have to drive 217 kilometres to Luang Prabang, the ancient royal city.
We spend seven hours in the company of smiling people, bags of agricultural goods, chickens, smiths and what do I know. Many times we slow down for turkeys, ducks, chickens, water buffaloes, cows, hanging bugs pigs and children. The mountains and canyons become larger, some corn and tobacco fields and very unspoilt nature. The sun is shining, but it is cool in the higher mountain passes.

We get down the other side and the valley reveals itself. There are a couple of hours until darkness comes, so we trudge through the city. Fried chicken feet, ducks in rods (living in wicker baskets), markets and a café overlooking the river and its fishermen. At the northern end of the country, you get tea along with your coffee. The coffee is very strong, so comes with a thin glass of tea, sometimes green tea.

We move on, trying to get the stamp, among other things. It turns out later that they don't bother worrying about stamps anymore. Dinner consists of water buffalo with curry.
We find a hotel right next to the old royal palace. It's neat, but the beds get the concept of "going on the boards" to be really literal. I'm not used to the beds where the "mattress" is just three to five millimetres of cotton rug. On the other hand, to our great pampering pleasure, we find both hot water and toilet paper in the shared bathroom. All the glory for 30 kroner.

2. Being awakened at four o'clock by a large bell or bronze drum. The residence is the king's magnificent temple. We blunder for a few more hours, and then head out into the cold city. Large groups of orange monks come trotting out, begging for breakfast. They come on a long line, with the oldest at the front. Each has a dish in which they are fed by the believers.

Here in the city we see a new type of taxis. Motorcycles with sidecars carry goods and people. It's damn cold in the morning and we head into the big market to find some sweaters. It turns out to be difficult. Either it's sportswear with big company logos, or just too small. Finally, it succeeds; fleece jackets size "too big" to "giant". They are quite expensive, but there are far between big, dark blue, warm, light and neutral jackets. It turns out to be a purchase of all time, not least on the mornings when Morten is blue-shielded by the cold. We finally find the office where they make stamps, but as I said, they don't anymore.

We return to the royal palace, which should be difficult to see. It only opens a few hours each morning and it requires an invitation. There are tourist groups and when we just pay, we can easily get in.
It's a bit of a disappointment, the country has been plundered every 20 years, so it is not really teeming with values. Here's a stone from the moon that they got from the Americans along with a plastic copy of the space capsule. A flag from a Norwegian football club, and other quirks. There are also some beautiful ivory carvings, some old bronze drums and some other old art.

The throne room itself is beautiful; mosaics on the walls, beautiful "carvings" in concrete but the furniture is nothing to write about. In the bedroom stands a large mahogany bed without the slightest decoration, as well as a few large matching cabinets.
Outside we spot a green palm snake, they gently crawl down from a palm tree. We take a Jumbo (which is unfortunately not an elephant, but a tricycle), and drive out to Thad Xai; the large area of ​​waterfalls. Five stairs, about 70 meters wide and 5-10 meters high. Between the stairs there are large ponds where the local baths during the hot season. A small path leads up the river.
Here it is teeming with small animals: giant centipedes, frogs, birds and large snails. In the tops of the tree, large ant nests are safe from flooding and predators. We get to some caves, and with the help of some local boy's lighters, we see little of them, not impressive. It has been warm, so we have returned to the falls and the sunbathing Rikke.

We spot a large wasp that comes with a caterpillar that has paralyzed. It drop the caterpillar and starts digging a 5-10 centimetres deep tunnel into the gravel. It carries the caterpillar down, lays one egg, and covers the hole. On the way back to the city we see 30 meters high rubber and parable trees.

We check out at 14.30 and try to get on in the country. Well tired of sitting and bumping on the lorries of trucks, we are looking for a speedboat. After much questioning, a young man comes to us. He can sail us out to where the speedboats are sailing from. Sounds sneaky, but what. On the trip we see all the gardens, which are where the river was during the rainy season. Salads, beans, papaya and other vegetables.

Down in a long-tail canoe and 20 minutes down the river. Here we find one of the cyclamen green boats. They are no more than 4-5 meters long, but equipped with a huge and brand new 8V car engine. We sail further down the river in the canoe, to a place where we get the required helmet with visor as well as a life jacket delivered.

We get on board the speedboat, Morten and Jesper right in front of the engine, Rikke and I in front of them. We just get the butt down on the foam pads, then a massive roar from the engine sounds, and we whip up the current at 80-115 kilometres per hour! It is very expensive; DKK 250 per seat, but we save 2-3 days by truck and it can be fun.

I enjoy the first ten minutes of rush, but then begin to freeze violently. Rikke says they showed movies on the entire trip; She saw her entire life pass by several times during the three hours of the trip. I've never been so cold in my entire life, and Rikke has never been so scared. I can't help, but think about what would happen, if we hit one of the many 10 centimetre bamboo rods that stand on the bottom with one end and the other pointing at us at an optimal angle to pierce the boat and man. The bow swings a small meter from side to side, but the boat probably does not touch more than one metre.

One time, the skipper releases the gas; he has to pee. Even as our backrests fall off, he continues at constant speed. Of course we are in a hurry, we can't sail when it's dark. Then you can't see the width, the whorls (up to 3 meters wide and ½ meters deep). We pass the entrance of Pak Ou, but unfortunately do not have time to stop. Well, we're probably seeing other great caves of Buddha figures.

Five minutes before it gets too dark to sail, we arrive at Pak Beng. The "harbor" is a large fleet, built on two canoes. As we fight our way up from the boat, and with stiff limbs we fight our way to the ground, we are almost assaulted: Wer jo go to morrow? You ran speedbot ?. Rikke could kill them all, and I throw them in the water. Jesper and Morten take it amazingly calmly. It turns out, they can't hear one these, other than a massive howl. There was no muffler on the engine.
We find a reasonable hotel, get dinner, and then I go cold (again).
       When I wake up, the adventure continues
Diary 2


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