Laos - Land of the Million ElephantsA travelogue written by Bernhard Heiser
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part 6: Muang Sing / back through
Sunday, Dec 6, Muang Sing
I enjoy the fresh baguettes for breakfast and prepare everything for
leaving. I dont't have to pay for the accomodation, the night in the garage
was free! It takes about ten minutes to walk to the small bus terminal.
It takes two hours to get to Muang Sing. The small road is full of bends
and seems to exist only of large potholes. During our ride, many of the
locals spew out of the windows. Seems to be a quite common habit here,
nobody pays much interest to that. There are about ten guesthouses now
in Muang Sing. Together with Tom from Norway I take a room for 6.000 Kip
in the guesthouse next to the morning market. We have lunch in one of the
restaurants at the main village road. My beef laap with sticky rice turns
out to be quite hot, I feel a slow but insistent burn in my mouth. Laap
is a typical Lao salad of minced meet tossed with lime juice, garlic, green
onions, mint leaves and chillies. Down the road there is a small bicycle
shop and we rent two old, black chinese bikes for 2.000 Kip each. Although
it's only 10 km to the chinese border, we decide to go in the opposite
direction to have a good view from the mountains. Out of the village, we
turn left in a small path leading to the fields. We try to walk down to
the river to cross it, but it's difficult to get there. Later, we find
a good view down to the rice-paddies after we went up to a small village
and took a jungle path to climb a hill.
On the bicycle tour
On the road to Muang Sing
On our way back we stop at a meadow to collect magic mushrooms. I try
to take a picture of a group of small children in a village, but each time
I take my camera they run away screaming. In the warm light of the late
afternoon sun we enjoy the easy ride back to Muang Sing. The surroundings
of this remote place are really beautiful and perfect for short bike or
hiking tours. In the evening, I meet Aaron and Nirit in the restaurant.
They took the speedboat from LP to Huayxai and arrived here Saturday afternoon.
Rice paddies near Muang Sing
Monday, Dec 7, Muang Sing
When I wake up at 6 am, the morning market is already in full swing.
I have sweet rice and fried coconut-balls(?) for breakfast there. The talaat
nyai market once was the biggest opium market in the golden triangle.
Today it's a venue for fresh produce, meats and clothing, sold by various
hilltribe people from the region. The market is crowded with people, there
are all kinds of sounds and smells. Vegetables, piles of freshly chopped
meat, hawker-stalls everywhere. After one hour I've seen it all and go
back to the room. It starts to rain, so I sleep for another hour. Its noon,
the rain hadn't stopped yet. Everything is packed, I exchange my email-adress
with Tom and go. A pickup has already filled up with some passengers, 30
minutes later the car is full and we go. After some more stops in the village
it is more than full. We all get more or less wet on our way to Luang Nam
Tha. In the Darasawath Guesthouse everything is booked out, so I take the
bed in the garage again. I'm already familiar with the place, the owners
with their small daughter Mimi are really nice people.
Beautiful village, surrounded by mountains
The rain doesn't
stop, it's definitely no day for taking pictures. I spend the afternoon
under the roof of the garden restaurant, reading and having some excellent
food. Children on bicycles on their way back from school pass by, most
of them holding umbrellas against the rain. Ben shows up for dinner, he
came down here from Udomxai yesterday and stays in another guesthouse.
We spend the whole evening in the restaurant, having more food and drinking
a couple of beers. Music and (political?) speeches are transmitted via
loudspeakers all over the village. Sounds like a shortwave transmission,
sometimes the quality is very bad. 9.30 pm, time to have a last fruit-shake,
because at this time electricity usually is turned off in the village.
It's still raining.
| Morning market
| How about
soup for breakfast?
Tuesday, Dec 8, Rough road to Vieng Phuka
By morning it was clear and sunny again. I walk over to the bus terminal
where Aaron and Nirit are waiting already. Another traveller from Israel
joins us and we get on the old Russian army-truck. The price to Huayxai
is 30.000 Kip. At first I think that would be far to much, but the locals
pay the same price.
We leave Nam Tha at 9.30, packed with passengers, big bags filled with
vegetables, heayy sacks full of rice, small cages with chicken and a pig.
After yesterday's rain the narrow road is terribly difficult. We have to
pass knee-deep mudholes and are glad to have a four-wheel drive. Without
it, it would be impossible today. At a steeper passage we have to get off
and push. About a dozen times we stop to fill up water and oil. This engine
almost needs more oil than fuel ! At one of our minor break-downs we have
to fix a spark plug, wrapping it up with a thin metal sheet and hammering
it into the motor again. Perfectly done! Our driver is quite experienced,
he stays cool even when we almost overturn with the whole truck. At 5 pm
we reach the small village of Vieng Phuka, where we have to stay for the
night. Our truck driver is the owner of a basic guesthouse here and he
stops right in front of it, what a coincidence ! It took us eight hours
to do about 100 km, that's 12,5 km per hour, not bad...
Russian army truck: only minor breakdowns
In Bangkok I bought a sheet with about 30 different little Snoopy stickers
and I decide it's now the perfect place to give them to the cute children
playing on the street. The effect is impressive. They are a bit shy at
first, but then I see myself surrounded by maybe 40 little hands grabbing
for my dogs. I distribute them one by one after demonstrating how a sticker
"works". What a fun! Together with the family of our driver we watch the
Asian Games on Thai TV (they have a large satellite dish in the garden).
| Yesterday's bus
didn't make it...
Wednesday, Dec 9, Huayxai - Chiang Khong - Mae Sai
Still 100 km lie ahead, but today the road is much better. There are less
people on the truck and we have, compared to yesterday, a very pleasant
ride. We are still in an amazing jungle, the weather is good today.
We stop for lunch in a small village and taste another version of foe.
We arrive in Huayxai at 5 pm, much later than we expected. The others stay
here for the night, I want to cross the border and head on to Bangkok the
next morning. I give my last 1.000 Kip to a moto driver to bring me from
the market to the passenger ferry. The ferry landing is just below the
Manilat hotel. A small immigration office is next to the ferry and it takes
just one minute to check out from Laos. I wonder if there would be any
problems on the Thai side without this stamp? The ferry actually is a small
longboat, for 20 Baht we cross the Mekong. Goodbye Laos, I hope to be back
soon! Back on Thai soil, I quickly realize that I'm back in civilisation
again. At the immigration desk I have to wait in a long queue of Belgian
package tourists who just arrived with a minibus. There is no more bus
service today to Bangkok or Chiang Rai, so I walk down the main road and
try to find a guesthouse. I want to check out the area at the bus
terminal, still a long way. There are no guesthouses at the terminal and
I go back to the center. From a passing-by pickup a young woman asks
me where I want to go. They give me a lift to the next guesthouse, not
far away. She introduces her friends to me, two woman and a man. They are
from Chiang Mai, students, a doctor and a nurse who are on a trip.
Main street in Vieng Phuka
I tell them about my route and they offer me to go to Mae Sai together.
Why not? From Mae Sai it's not far to Chiang Rai and maybe it's going to
be a funny trip. It is. Their English is quite good and we have much fun
on our way to Mae Sai. I sit in the front with Nuek, Nong, Sa and Kung
are in the back. Kung, the nurse, is 28 and seeking a foreigner to marry
her. I politely decline...What a difference a good road makes ! In only
one hour we reach Mae Sai and have dinner together. A foodstall at the
main road offers fantastic pad thai and sate. I want to invite them, but
they already paid for me, they are really nice. We take two rooms at the
Mae Sai Plaza Guesthouse, a number of simple bungalows gathered on a hill.
Vieng Phuka backstreet
Thursday, Dec 10, Bus to Bangkok
From the guesthouse we have a nice view, overlooking the Burmese village
on the other riverbank. My bus to Ching Rai leaves at 8 am. Nuek
takes me to the bus terminal, which is quite far out of town. I say goodbye
to him and get on the bus. At 10 am, there is another bus from Chiang Rai
to Bangkok. No aircon, that's good. The price is 162 Bt. for the 13-hour
ride. I take a seat near the backdoor where I can put my legs on the backpack,
quite comfortable! A boring ride as regards scenery, nothing much to see
except a beautiful sunset. We stop several times at crowded and loud bus
terminals, always a good opportunity to pick up some snacks.
From the BKK northern bus terminal I take another bus and arrive at
Sanam Luang at midnight. Because of my dislike of Kao San road, I try to
find a room in the small road behind the wat. Not easy at midnight, the
places I check out are already closed or booked out. Finally, I end up
in the Sawasdee hotel (not Sawatdee GH). The girl at the reception smiles:
"No rooms, sorry", but she can arrange something for me. A tuk-tuk brings
me to a nearby massage parlor, where I can get one of the massage-rooms
with aircon and TV for 250 Bt. They even have a hot shower here. Seems
to be a way for them to make some extra money. After the long busride I
fall asleep quickly.
Lunch stop in a small restaurant
Friday/Saturday, Dec 11+12, Bangkok
In the morning I move to one of my favorite guesthouses at the National
Library. I check in at the Sawatdee, where I'm welcomed very friendly
again, it's a little bit like coming home. I spend a busy day with sending
e-mails, wandering through various shopping malls and markets and enjoying
the variety of good Bangkok food. I take the bus down Sukhumvit road to
my tailor and pick up my new suit. Looks like he did a good job. Saturday,
I visit the newly opened restaurant at the Bayoke II tower. From the 78th
floor I have an excellent view while enjoying the mixed european/asian
buffet lunch. I take the express ferry back to my guesthouse and check
out. Bus 59 is really fast today, only 1,5 hours to the airport. I spend
the remaining time until departure in the BA Executive Club lounge. The
big headline in the Bangkok Post reads: "Thai airbus crashed in Surat Thani".
The crash happened last night, after two previous failed attepts for landing
in bad weather. Some of the passengers survived, exact figures were
still not known. I have more luck with my flight back. After sleeping most
of the time, I reach the European winter again.
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