Tuesday – October 23 – Day 3 – Vang Vieng – We leave the capital and head north through the sometimes dense and lush country side to Nang Vieng. There are rice paddies out in the distance reflecting the sky in their shallow waters. We stopped on the way at Ban Keun, famous for it’s salt extraction plant. The plant is a co-op of families who boil the water from deep wells and extract the natural salt.
The buildings are two long, narrow, low, wooden framed and open sided buildings with wooden shingles on the roof. There are a few shingles missing, I must admit, but this place has been here a very long time. The two long buildings forming an L. A short distance away is a building where the salt is drained and then it is taken to the packaging building. Men stand in what looks like deep snow and load the salt by shovels into the plastic bags. It is a hot and hard way to make a living. Then the bags are sealed with a device that melts the opening closed and then stacked on pallets.
We then drove out to the busy and colorful market at Thalat. Just a reminder this! These people boast that they eat everything that crawls, walks or flies. Let me remind you that all cultures are not the same. I eat beef, the Hindus do not. I eat pork, the Jews and the Muslims, do not. Those are religious rules, but other cultures are quite comfortable eating some things that we are not used to eating. Having said that, the markets are always interesting and informative. We saw live pupas, live frogs, live snakes, fruits of all types, mushrooms, cabbage, live pigs, live fish and live chicken and cooked crickets. Remember, most of these people do not have refrigerators and need to shop everyday.
The Mekong is a wide river at this point in the capital of Vein Tain. We took a drive to a few sites where the Buddha sites or lies in repose. There were many statues and stupas.
Stupas are the pointed burial crypts that surround most temples. The wealthy supporters and the monks are buried in them, or their ashes are, that is. We retraced some of our former days walking before we joined the group and learned more about what we had seen. The weather is perfect, except for an occasional drizzle.
We were inside the COPE Center watching a movie about the bombing of Laos while it rained quite hard.
COPE builds wheel chairs and artificial limbs for those still being maimed by the bombs left over from the bombing of the HoChi Min Trail.
We walked along the Mekong in the afternoon and looked at the night markets stalls being set up. We had come here on our first day in town. There are many strange and familiar things here.
There is a fun zone and a Moi Thai kick boxing ring set up for the nights entertainment.
The river is wide here, but there is no shipping traffic. The river seems quite shallow this time of year. The rainy season is over.
Laos and Thailand trade with each other and were once one kingdom in the past.
The sky was cloudy in the distance and the sunset was beautiful, if not clear.
We walked past all of the vendors and were eventually able to cross the busy street and entered an upstairs bar, open to the noise of the vendors and the traffic and music. It had a great view.
Our guide and our Singaporean-Australian traveling companion each had a tall beer as we downed Virgin Pina Coladas.
The people seem happy and content. Pedestrians hold little value and one must be on alert when TRYING to cross the street.
We had a small diner as we were still full from lunch. I had a salad made of red chili flakes, lime juice, guava, and fish sauce. We saw it being made earlier in the day on our walk through the city. The salad was good but very hot.
I have enjoyed everything here so far. The country seems delightful, but I have no idea of the political situation. It is communist, but our guide says she can travel outside the country if she can save enough money to do so. She has traveled a bit and has studied Chinese. She is very well organized, as a guide must be. She says that these groups are usually very small, just like our guide and traveling companion, in stature I mean.
You can rent a very nice, large, new house here for $1400.00 US. To be able to rent one of these houses you would need several room mates. The average income is $150.00 per month here.
Tomorrow we start on our overland adventure on roads of interesting qualities and characteristics. Bumps and holes i presume will be the order of the day. So far I have no regrets and all is well.
I am speaking softly to my wife as our traveling companion says she hears everything we say in our room. Interesting and a little problematic.
It’s 3;30 AM Laos time. Laos is the country and Lao is the people, or vice versa. Oddly, Halloween is quite popular her. I see signs in the shop windows everywhere.
We arrived at our hotel resort after the drive from the market. The hotel is unbelievable. It is a sprawling complex with three or four separate wings. The lobby is grand with dark wood paneling and tile floors. There is an infinity pool out back past the pond with the rowboats being manned by Lao scarecrows. They look like real people at first glance. I thought they were fishing in the pond.
Our room looks out over the pool and the farms and jungle beyond. It has a veranda or patio as we are on the first floor. I have not seen or been bitten by any mosquitos so far. Let me kill the mystery here. I was never bothered by any bugs or mosquitos and did not use insect repellent on any part of this trip. I am repellent enough on my own, or so I have been told more than once.
There is a van or a tuk tuk to take visitors into town. It is a short, very bumpy ride. A tuk tuk is a motorized ricksha of sorts, but larger and usually just a covered wagon hooked precariously to a small motorcycle. It is amazing what one will do when in another country. At home if you asked me to get into such a thing I would have you examined by the local shrink, but here, no problem, just call me a tuk tuk and I will be on my way, thank you very much.
We went into town with our traveling companion. We are a party of three in Laos. The woman with us is Chinese from Singapore. She is a live wire and is very fit and full of energy and spunk. She is an avid dancer and travels extensively. We watched her closely just in case a slight breeze might come up and blow her away. She was always ready for a good time and perhaps tried to be a bit of a bad influence on our young female guide. They enjoyed their beer and we all had a grand time together.
The food here is fantastic. You will have no problem finding something to eat no matter how picky you might be. Every fruit and vegetable is available and some that I have never seen before. I have eaten most anything, so I am not fussy. I do draw the line at insects at the moment, but that may change in the future if I get caught in the right mood.
Day 4- The roosters are stirring so we are as well. What are they in such a hurry to get up for? Oh, never mind.
We have driven half a day back up onto the mountains. They are steep and rugged like those seen in Chinese paintings. Covered in green and looking impossible to cross. The road is not perfect but I have seen and been driven on worse. We will cover 80 miles in four or five hours. We flew from here to Vientiane in thirty minutes.
We stopped in a market for some treats and a quick tour. Every kind of fruit and vegetable was available including a few from a Star Wars movie.
There were fresh fish, I mean alive and swimming in wide round tubs, poultry tied up and lying on mats to keep them as clean and comfortable as possible, meats of all kinds from larger animals, and frogs.
We left with a trove of goodies and resumed our trek. Yes, we are in a galaxy far, far away.
The country side is lush and colored in every color of green and brown imaginable. The young children are curious and plentiful. Entire families riding a single small motorcycle off to work and school is the order of the day. We saw a motorcycle accident today. I am very surprised to see only one.
No one here wears a helmet and if there is one worn it is not fastened on and is a fake of dubious quality.
We had lunch on the go today on this long journey. We ate casaba, sticky rice flour paste cooked in banana leaves as well as dried beef lung. All of this was very good. The beef lung is live liver to some degree. No long muscle fibers to make eating it difficult. We ran out of beef lung before my hankering for it had been satisfied, sadly.
We arrived at our hotel on the Mekong River and watched the canoe crews preparing for their races in the long, narrow, colorful canoes. Each vessel holds about fifteen men and women.
It is the end of ent and the town is in a festive mood with flags and banners of many different colors waving in the breeze.
We took a van into town and walked through it before diner and then found a small place, all of the places are small and wide open from side to side, to eat. I had beef larp. That is not a misspelling, though my computer thinks that it is. Beef larp is finely chopped beef with mint and many other spices. The Laos cuisine is very nice and not unlike Thai food.
I have seen the same face the last few days. It is round, sometimes fleshy and pleasant to the eye.
I have seen a few old white guys with their young Lao women close by.
We also saw a Caucasian monk. He is a drop out from another country and is well know in the local area. To say that he has some issues would be putting it mildly. The monks and the townspeople put up with him, none the less.
You can see my pictures at my friends facebook page at Ray-Andrea Matthews. It is public.
Remember to look at my novels on Amazon. Atlanta, by R. C. Hand is an adult detective thriller with some interesting overtones, or is that undertones.