2007-02-12

Border-crossing to Laos

Now I have finally managed to cross the border to Laos. The day before yesterday I left Mai Chau in Vietnam by moto-bike. He was supposed to take me to Sam Neau on the Laos side - which is like five hours on moto. Since he couldn't take dollars I had to pay the hotel which would give him dong instead. This was OK for me (but if I had given it more thought I might have understood that this could 'cause problems). Anyway, we ride through the Viatnamese mountains for three hours (with small kids, 2-20 years or so, in every village shouting "hello" and waiving at you). The driver tells me about some of the local villages, especially the Tao villages which is "his people". This is a great drive - going by moto is a good way to see the views and get a real feel for the country I think.

Just realized that I haven't described the evening of the second day in Mai Chau either - I apologize for the insequential and not chronological order of everything now. Anyway, the evening was great. After using Internet for a couple of hours - writing that extremely long blog entry and answering a couple of e-mails from friends and family I went to see some caves that a local had told me about. I could find them by looking for some special road sign and then look for some stairs. He told me the climb was a bit exhausting but I figured it wouldn't be a problem and seeing a cave is always nice. So I find the stairs and I look at them. They really are long - but it's not _that_ long anyway - I can make it! So I start. And then I realize that what I saw was just the stairs to the first turn. So I climb a bit more. And a bit more. And some more. And wow - this is a really nice view, but I am a bit tired now. And more climbing. And more. Even nicer view. And now you can't hear the city anymore. But still just stairs. Uff. Can't turn back now - so I continue. I think the total climb took me like half an hour (perhaps not - but a really long time and I haven't really been working out the last month if we put it that way). When I reach the cave it's almost sunset, which gives me lots of nice views of the valley and the cave an eerie feeling of emptiness, with looong shadows cast from the strange rock shapes. It was a shame that I couldn't stay that long - I wanted to get down the stairs before it gets dark. On my way down I counted the steps, which gave me the total of 1198 steps (a local told me 1251 when I got down, so I was kind of close anyway). That is a lot I can tell you!

After the caves I get back to the guesthouse where two other guys are staying this night. It is a Swiss guy and his Vietnamese guide. We all have a dinner with the family of the guesthouse which turns out to be very nice. They have lots of food and it's soooo good. Everybody shares the same plates, you just take your chopsticks and bring a piece of food to your rice bowl and eat it. Also they drink rice wine. A lot of rice wine. It feels likes Swedish midsummer, except that the speed is higher. When we finished the eating and drinking we go to the karaoke place in the village. It's me, the Swiss guy and three Vietnamese guys sitting in a small room and singing karaoke together with the girl that works in the place. It turns out that it is much easier getting the Vietnamese pronounciation and tones correct when you are (or at least trying to) singing. It was a great evening, the Vietnamese guide was really funny and was a great singer as well.

Anyways, the border-crossing. When we get to the border there is a small immigration office and a bus standing outside. There are some Westerns (for me it seems like a lot of them, like eight or nine perhaps - on the same place!) and they are trying to get into Vietnam from Laos. I later on learn that this border crossing has like 50 Westerners every week, but that only 1% or so cross the border from Vietnam - Laos. This I notice when I get into the office as well, show my passport and say "To Laos" - they border guard is very confused and has to find another book in a small cabin in another room before he can let me show my VISA and exit Vietnam. When you pass into Vietnam they seem to be very careful - checking VISA, asking questions, looking through the bag and stuff, but when you cross to Laos you just show your passport and walk right past all the security checks. When I get out of the office I notice that my driver has dumped my bag on the ground and I see him disappearing in the distance. Fuck. I should have figured that paying in advance wasn't a very good idea - but they really seemed nice and reliable (he was a friend of the family I stayed with). So. I'm at the border of Vietnam and Laos. I have just exited Vietnam which means I can't go back into Vietnam to find a new driver or to fix something. There is only one way right now - to Laos and the village on the other side of the border - perhaps I'll find something there. (The fact that he left me disturbes me a bit, but it really only means that I payed the standard price for getting to the border instead of getting a really good price for getting to Sam Neau). So I walk a couple of hundred meters before reaching the Laos immigration office. They seem very surprised to see a Westerner, and even more surprised by the fact that I come by foot and by myself. After showing my VISA and getting some stamps the border guards tells me that the only bus leaving from Na Maew (which is the village on the Laos side) leaves at 10 am, and now it's 12.30. Which means, they tell me, that I either try to find a truck and get a ride with one of them (there are usually some per day they say) or find a local family in the village where I can sleep. Both sound fine to me, so I decide to explore the village while waiting for some trucks. Exploring the village turns out to be easier done than said actually (no, it's not a misprint) - it's just to turn around 360 degrees and you've seen it all. There are a small restaurant, a small shop and five houses with the families of the shops. And the immigration office of course. And a small office checking arriving people for bird flu. That's it.

So I sit down in the shadow, play with my juggling balls for a while, order a noudle soup which turns out to be inedible, talk to the border guards for a while (no, they don't have anything to do - this is not a very commonly used border crossing) and try to get some sleep on my backpack. I ask the guard when he thinks there will be a truck here, and he says that there is usually a couple of trucks around 3 or 4 pm. Just to relax in a couple of hours then - which I do. At 3.30 the border guard comes over to me and seems to be really happy - he tells me there is a Vietnamese bus coming to the border in an twenty minutes or so and that I can take that bus to Sam Neau. When the bus arrives it turns out that Anita is at the bus and that she had planned to hitchhike from the border to Sam Neau. We have been traveling together for a week or so, but she left Mai Chau one day earlier than me to get to the border by hitch-hiking - but now we end up together anyway. We end up taking the bus from the border to Sam Neau and arrive there late in the evening - both very tired. We get a room, watch some TV with a Danish couple and then go to sleep. After reading the guidebook I decide that I need to get to a place where I can stay for a couple of days, which means I'm taking the bus to Luang Prabang in the morning. Anita decides to take the same bus but only to Nong Khiaw, she wants to go trekking first and I'll rather do that later.

The busride was supposed to be long - I knew that. When I get on the bus it seems to be a long, but nice, bus trip. The seats are very soft and alomst no-one seems to be throwing up. There is a nice couple from Holland in front of us and we talk a bit to them. The bus gets more and more crowded and some people have to sit on stuff in the aisle, like plastic chairs or other stuff. I'm glad I have my seat, my trip is supposed to be something like 15 hours long. After the lunch break it turns out that more people are getting on, and that those people have already entered the bus and taking seats. My left sweater is now not on the seat, but on the seat in front of my old place. I want to tell them that no, that was my seat and you'll have to take the aisle or someone else's seat - but then I see it's two parents and their 4 year old daughter sitting in their laps. Yeah yeah, I'll take the aisle - it can't be that bad, can it? It turns out it can. I spend 7 hours on that bumpy bus, sitting on a sack of rice. A sack of rice is hard. Really hard. Not like wood-seat hard, more like really really stone hard. And after a while it has the same shape as you rear parts, which means that it's not just hard for a small part of you and that you can shift around - it's hard for all of your ass and it's hard all of the time and you can't shift your position 'cause the sack is shaped after only one position! Blah! Oh well, I borrow a book from the guy next to me ("Zen and the art of taking care of your motorcycle" or something like that - a very interesting book, I have to get it so I can finish it - Dad: You should read it - it's about zen and life in general, but also have some nice thoughts about traveling that made me think much about our many travels together) which says that "Physical discomfort is only a problem when you're in a bad mood. If you're in a good mood, physical discomfort is not a problem, but if you're in a bad mood you can use the physical discomfort as an reason for the bad mood - although it rarely is." (loosely quoted from my memory). At the time that seemed very true, I was in a good mood (the first five hours at least), and the discomfort didn't bother me that much really. Along the way we have two flat tires, which gives us time to stop for a toilet visit, something I'm not sure they would have bothered with otherwise. The last three hours of my trip the bus is a bit more empty, a few people and all the Westerners (except me) got of at Nong Khiaw, which means I get my soft seat back (Fredrik: aaah, sweet music for my ass). I also get a new "neighbour" - a guy sitting down with a large automatic gun next to me. He always has it pointed towards the roof and I guess/hope it isn't loaded and well secured, but I still have a bit of a trouble relaxing the rest of the trip.

When I get to Luang Prabang it's one o'clock in the night and the first guesthouses I try to get into are full. But I find three guys and one girl on their way home from some partying and ask them about their guesthouse. They think it's full as well, but I can crash in their room. So I end up spending the night at the floor of their room (three beds, one madrass and one Anders on the floor). They turn out to be very nice, they all met up one or two days ago. There is one guy from Canada, Adam from New Zeeland, a guy from Italy and the Swiss girl Sabine. Since the Italian guy didn't use his blanket or pillow I had a blanket I could roll into (which made it more soft to sleep on that floor than the sleeping mats I had for two nights in Mai Chau).

In the morning they told me that they were going to the waterfalls. I was at first a bit skeptical - I wanted a day of relaxing, using the Internet and stuff. But I thought that going to the waterfalls for some hours wouldn't be that bad, so I followed them. I'm glad I did - although this made me miss a day of relaxing (I'm doiung that today anyway, so it's okey). The waterfalls was very nice and pretty, really good for taking photos. You could also go on a small trek/climb to the top of the waterfall which I did (the others did as well, but we lost each other for a while which means I did it by myself). Afterwards we were bathing for a while in the pools under the waterfalls, playing with the swing and having a great time. We had a good lunch and played some cards at a restaurant waiting for our tuk-tuk driver to pick us up. When he does, he tells us that he wants to take us to his village and we say, sure, why not.

When we get there it turns out to be a big party/disco in the small village. Later we find out that it is the birthday of the village chief and that they celebrate it by having live disco music, eating lots of food, drinking even more Beer Lao the whole day and dancing. When we got there the locals were very nice but already very drunk. They took us to dance with them - at first just disco dancing, but later more of traditional dances. They taught (see Sophie - I know how to do!) us how to dance, how we should move our hands, how we should walk in a ring and when we should go around in circles. Very confusing at first, but after a while (and more than a couple of Beer Lao - they were inviting us to drink with them all the time) we could really enjoy ourselves. We ended up spending almost four hours there before taking the tuktuk back to Luang Prabang. That was a really nice and interesting experience. To see the locals partying just for themselves, to meet the whole family (his five brothers and four sisters and of course the parents), to dance with the locals and to learn how to drink and share food in Laos. Not so nice but equally interesting was the fact that several locals (very drunk I admit) tried to grab my balls when we were dancing (old guys and my-age-guys). I'm not sure why, but I saw them do it to each other some times as well. Either they were just curious or it's some kind of "game". Strange.

Today I'm taking a slow day. I found a Scandinavian bakery where I sat down for breakfast between 12 and 2. Since then I've been using the computer, uploading pictures and writing this blog entry. See the pictures and please write more comments!

1 kommentar:

Susen sa...

Pust! Det är tur att du skriver så fort, annars skulle du nog inte hinna med att se så mycket :D

Men det är roligt att läsa allt du är med om!

Ha det fortsatt bra!