Thursday, 10 December 2015

Shiny Luang prabang

After Pakse we were more or less healing our wounds in Vientiane (apart from buda park and some wats not really anything special) and enjoying some teenage time in Vang vieng, what it used to be one of the biggest and most dangerous party places in Asia (27 tourist deaths reported in 2012 due to accidents when mixing alcohol, drougs and tubing down the river). It was nice to feel like teenager again, but the place lost a lot of party glow after they restricted bars working houres a lot and after Chinese and Korean tourists started to travel in town, shortly followed by construction of more fancy hotels and riverside resorts. But what was comming up next sounded more interesting for a travelers wanting to explore a culture of faraway land - unesco world heritage city of Luang Prabang.

We were stopping on the dusty parkplace near the town after a fast and bumpy ride from Vang Vineg in suprisingly new  and normaly full minivan (only all seats were taken and we did not have any extra passangers or luggage). 
Driver said:"Okay, we are here!"
"But they said we will come to the center?"
"You take tuk tuk here minivan can't go to the center, it is forbiden"
"Tuk tuk is included in price?"
"No, you pay 10000 kip per person"

Again another scam for which you do not have any control when you buy the ticket as they know you will not travel 150 km or 4h to get that 10000 kip back. Actualy tuk tuk driver demanded 20000 on the half way to the center but we colectively told him we only give 10000. But I guess that kind of things you just have to except if you travel in countries with such a low degree of public transport.

That was not the best start of Luang Prabang, but we were soon happy taht we came. With chick french cafes, guesthouses and shops it looked like from another planet - especially after beeing in Cambodia! It was probabl the first city that was clean enough that we could live in:)

Luang Prabang is former capital set by Mekong and Nom Kham river and is actualy a conglomerate of small villages, each having its own wat (temple). Each morning monks from different temple come to the streets and recieve alms from local people (and increasing number of tourists that take selfies with the monks:)) in form of food - rice and chocolates. On the main street it all looked a bit like a show for foriners with groups having guides explaining them loudly what is going on (can't they see it and get the explenation later) and locals trying to get some money from them selling them overpriced alms and coffe (can't they wait for their morning coffe untill the monks go away?). The amount of tourists also makes problem as monsk have to throw away some of the food they get - really stupid!

Monks and food in waste bin

 After the main street the overall  scene was much more calm and magical. You could see old people that probably come there every day for many years thanking the minks with prayer and giving them small amount of sticky rice from a special wooden basket and thanking them again! It was great to see such a ritual still having meaning in everydays life today.

Monks recieving alms

They have a lot of monks, most of them seemed quite young.

Another gem to disocver in Luang prabang were the markets. Night market offering nice grilled fish, chicken and cheap buffet and morning one with a everything that your stomack wants and a lot of what it doesn't - with other words: from tasty pancakes, fruits and grilled meat to noodle soup (who wants them at 5 in the morning? Or at any time for that matter?) to insects like grasshoppers, pigs gut and grilled rats.

Spring roll lover's dreams!

See and pick - a huge variety of different meat at night market!

Fish was very tasty!

Fancy some squirell or bird for breakfast?

Maybe some rat?

They do not know what is medium grilled meat! Well done is all they know.

And some insects for dessert (grasshoppers actually tasted okay)!

If you get bored by wats (which you usually do quite quickly) you can hop on the tuk tuk or minivan to the nearby waterfalls! And you would be very stupid not to go there and stay in the city exploring one of the many very similar tempels! They truly are magnificent with its turquise color and nice pools! And a moon bear sanctuary included in the ticket is equaly entertaining. How funny and cute are those bears that are beeing threatened just because some people believe they can give them more sexual power! Another story of human stupidity!

By the waterfalls

I had a special model

The must have for the kids!

And clumsy mr. Bear!

Pakse and injured knee

Thanks to Gonzalo, our friend we met on the way we stopped in Pakse to go around the Bolaven plateau with motorbike. It turned out a great idea, so thanks Gonzalo!

Pakse is a sleepy bori g town a bit north from 4000 islands with nothing more than few restaurants and guesthouses for tourists that want to rent a motorbike to go around a chilly bolaven plateau where the best coffe in Asia is produced. Two days riding a bike around an elevated plantations scattered with small villages again full of kids, pigs and chicken!

Almost like Zvone Šeruga :)

Monkeys are still kept as pets in many villages. I wonder who enjoys watching a depressed monkey in a much too small cage where it can only jump with one small swing from one corner to another?

Coffee is drying in the sun.

Little pigs have a feast in one of the villages.

Happy kids are playing in the rivere. Unfortunately amount of tourists is already high enough that they learned to beg for money. When traveling never give money to children as you will do more bad than good and teach them wrong values!

Asgood as whole tour was it did not end that well. Just before comming back to Pakse our motorbike was behaving strange. I tried to stop by the road and as I was shifting to the lower gear we were suddenly on the ground woth our knees touching the gravel on the side of the road. As we were trying to stand up we must have looked quite clumsy as Špela's bag somehow knotted around me and my camera bag flew in fron to the bike almost on the street. We looked at ourselves and it did not look that well. We bouth had injured knees, luckily not too deep, and left foot. 
It looks like the first weel got blocked as I barely touched it and it was still blocked later so we taught we will need the guy to help us bring the bike back home. We went to the nearest shop asking for phone.
Our conversation went like this:"hi, we are near pakse, we had a crash with motorbike."
"Ok, where are you I will send a guy to pick you up"
"Ok, but the motorbike is also not going so send a big tuk-tuk."
"Oh, I dont have a tuk tuk. Can you come alone with Tuk-tuk?"
"No, please send someone, we can't see any tuk-tuk here."
"Yes, but I am not in the office, I just eat and I am alone, it will take some time."
"How much?"
"I dont't know"
After some try and help of a tuk tuk driver we anyway got the motorbike to semi-ok state and we went to the office alone. Thanks to the hotel owner where we left our luggage to let us shower, clean the wounds and even gave us iodine to sterilise the skin. Some big plasters and we were alkost ready to go to the night bus in the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

Still uncleaned wound on the knee. It almost dissapeared until now!

In the middle of nowhere

Špela was shaking me trying to get me from the deep sleep:"Martin, the mouse is trying to eat your cookie".
I was trying not to bother as it was around 2 in the morning, but anyways i woke up, crawled under the mosquite net around the simple mattrace on the floor in simple room that was barely bigger than the bed and had walls made from simple few cm thick wood. 
"Here you go, eat it now," I said to myself placing the cookie outside the rook on the fence.
Of course it did not come to eat my present. Why if it can make noice inside the rook and keeps you awake for another hour. And then chicken, ducks and dogs start their daily show at 3.30 keeping you in weird half sleep untill morning.
We were staying in Huay bo, a village one and half hours walking distance away from Muong nuoi that can only be reached by boat from Nong Khiew. For most westerns already Nong khiew is in the middle of nowhere.
Mr.Kee owns a small guesthouse with restaurant and in one of the village chiefs in Huay bo. Apart from that he is a smart farmer who learned to speak english from tourists. They have electricity in the village, powered from individual turbines in the small river above the village. It is enough to power few light bulbs and a tv, but freezers and all other electronic stuff we found logical are missing. That means that meat in restaurant is only available if there is enough people to order the same dish (4 for chicken, more for duck).
The whole setting is very basic with only wooden houses and dirt "road" in between them. All villagers(200 of them) are farmers working on rice fields and owning some chicken, ducks and cows ofpr buffalos. Apart from that they also hunt with homemade guns for squirels and mouse and catch fish with traditional net methods. When the harvest is good they sell the surplus of the rice to the town to get some much needed money for basic stuff.
Way to Huay bo.

Simple electricity plant.

Rice from the fields is carried on their backs and heads.

One might say the village is boring and nothing is going on but just to observe the simplicity in which they live is an interesting experience itself. Mr. Kee is very keen to show guests their way of living so we went fishing with him and made barbecue on the side of the river. You can also help him with everyday tasks like going to the woods, harvesting rice. Depends what is on agenda. Or actually on his wifes agenda, as women seems to be the main working force in the village. "It is good to be man in 
Laos", said mr. Kee laughing while sitting in his hammock while his wife was away in the forest cutting some woods to make fire for dinner.

Daily catch

The feast - and a lot of Lao lao.

With Mr.Kee and his fighting rooster

We could not get the chicken, but the chicken got a bit of our meal

Homemade gun

Heavy trafic on the road to the village

In the evening it was enough people to grill a duck. That meant catching it, killing it on the spot and clean all the feathers. It can not get more fresh than that. Besides we got to taste duck's blood and all the internal organs - yummy:)

From the field directly to the pot.

It was the end of yet another very normal day in Huay bo. We went to our room, this time keeping all the food safely hanged and in plastic bags. Maybe mouse will not smell it.
Shortly after we turned off the light we heard it again. But this time there was no free lunch for it.

Next day we headed back to Nong Khiew, to the "civilisation" again. One might get used to live in small village like huay bo for some time, but the reassurance of modern world only a bit away still felt good!

Main street in Nong Khiew

Monday, 7 December 2015

In a fairytale

"Wow," I said to myself when I accidently found the white temple instead of toilets. The name sure is right! White all over, with a lot of shiny ornaments. It really looks like aliens put it in the middle of somewhere. It almost does not fit in here. But once you are in the complex, 13 km out of Chiang rai, everything fits as it should. Even the toilets are shiny and beautyful (but golden otherwise). Chinese are vigorously taking slefies with smartphones and selfiesticks. And we are sitting quietly under the shadow od trees made out of metal good luck signs that tourists can buy for 30 baht. The temple started to emerge in 1998 when an artist decided he wants to build the best budhist temple with current art. Amazing! The site is largely still a construction site and one can now start to wonder how the whole place will look like when finished. If ever, as the details here are really amazing! As one of the visitors wrote in the guest book: It would be truly amazing if it would be snowing here:).

Main temple

Very interesting is also a inside of main temple where you can see a big painting on the back wall with artist's contemporary lok. On curent politics. It includes George Bush, Osama bin Laden, WTC towers in New york beeing bombed and variety of film and cartoon caracters from the most known movies.

We are in Thailand now, after a loooong and vey bumpy road on the local bus from Nong khiew to the border which included slow, 10km/h ascents, and bumpy descents where we were flying for half a meter from the seats.
Crossing the border was smooth, nothing compared with cambodia-laos border. Tin Thailand we changed sides of the roads, they drive on the wrong side all the time. I am not sure why:) but it takes some time to get used to it, especially when crossing the roads, some close encounters with motorbikes were therefore inevitable.
Compared to Laos and Cambodia, it is very clean. I would say it is clean even for our standards. You can really see that their economic standard is much higher. Besides I think it is also cheaper - probably because tourists are not separated from other people and we use same restaurants, food stalls and transportation as native residents. And I find people here very friendly, always smiling to you and inviting you to come to their shop politely. For sure different as in arabic countries. SE asia really is easy and pleasant to travel!

In the morning before going to the temple we went to a cat coffee. A special coffee place where cats are true owners of the place. You can play with them (if they want of course), see cat sex (under your table) and if you are not carefull enough maybe you can take one home in your bag.

Chaing rai might not be the most touristy place in Thailand but it is very pleasant to stay here. Night market with ugly yellow metal tables and plastic chairs offers dishes for less than an euro (including some insects -we tried crickets and they are quite nice:)) and fried rice for breakfast was also almost too cheap. I think we could gain some kilos here!

As I am writing this we are driving to Chiang mai already the last stop of our journey before going to hte Koh tao to dive! We will meet Astrid from Sweden again after Siem Reap to get some info avout diving schools! And to chat what happened between Cambodia and Chiang mai. I have a feeling it might be a long night!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Focusing on the wrong things

So, traveling around for month and a half gives you a lot of time to do nothing. You sit on the bus and do nothing, you wait the bus and do nothing and you sit in cafe and do nothing because you are too lazy to see yet another temple that looks almost exactly like the previous one (here they would say-Same same, but different temple). And sometimes in between all that waiting time you are even more lazy so you don't even talk to your travel buddy (or she sleeps, like right now), so you have a plenty of time to think. So I was thinking (what does not always seems to be the best thing as I can get to prety stupid ideas somitemes)...
Why people in poor countries like Cambodia and Laos look so happy? I mean a lot of them have nothing (in our materialistic way of thinking), but yet they smile to you, they stop and chat to each other (sometimes it sounds more like a fight) and you always have feeling that their life is not really bad. Even if you got to a "fucked up" village near Siem Reap where you can see things that resemble houses and you figure out they live there, they still look happy.

Another thing I noticed was that tourism gives a lot of local people chance to get some very much needed dollars, but it also brings with them a lot of problems - explotation of cheap labour force, very harsh competition and individualism, drugs and prostitution. And begging children to whom parents from the cradle up tell that tourists have money and if you marry them we will become rich, not knowing that in many cases they are paving their path to drug abuse and prostitution.
It goes something like this: a little girl gets a dollar from a old white tourist and a bit later when this little girl becomes bigger she gets more dollars, but she becomes his friend while he is traveling in Asia to "to release stress he gets in his everyday job". I can see the temptation of the money for your girls here as salaries average around 120$ in Cambodia and one night with a white man gives you 100$. And I can not see the excuse of the white guy on why he is doing that (well I have to admit that Chinese tourists are not any better probably). It is very strange, if not disgusting to see young girls to walk hand in hand on the street with old, big beerbelly, guys from wealthy countries. If not anything else they give very bad impression on all of us, so basicaly all white tourist became "walking bag of money" from which they wants a share!

What is the solution?
For the first part I would say that a clishee of "money can't buy you everything" really is true. I think our society became too obsessed with beeing productive that we forgot the reason for what we are productive! We are working more so we can buy more things that we only need because we are going to work! And because we really need that new phone, a better car than neighbour and that perfectly lawned garden even if it is 40 degrees with harsh drought in the summer. Maybe we need to stop and take a breath as a society, because I can assure you: another medicine for curing hypertension will not make us more happy. It is more probable that more time devoted to things you really like and persons you really love will.

As for the negative parts of tourism goes, I think we should be less carefree on where our money goes. Not buying things from kids will do them much more good than a dollar which their "pimps" will probably take away 5 minutes after you leave will. Giving the fair price to the things you buy is another thing - do you really want to pay just few cents less, what means nothing to you, just because some poor guy desperately needs money to put his kids in school?
Buying products from animals or endangered species is another no - and no, not knowing that it was endangered does not count. Same goes to taking pictures with wild animals that are beeing sedated (do you really think you look brave next to that tiger who looks stoned form 100m?).
And for sure don't be a dick and keep your dick in your pants if you are not able to have sex without paying someone for it!

Yeah, I know, a lot of things that seem normal to a lot of people, but sadly a lot of them still do not get it!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bye bye Cambodia and Aloha Laos

After a quick afternoon in Ban Lung where we visited the magnificent vulcano craterlake with perfectly round shape and green jungle around it we were heading further. The tempo is quite high and I think we have to stop a little bit in Laos. 4000 islands with relaxed athmosphere seems like a great idea! 

Blue crater lake in Ban Lung

But first we have to come in the county and tyr not to be ripped off by officials trying to get another dollar from tourists by making up ridicilous fees for stamp or fewer check. Exit out of Cambodia went almost smoothly. After refusing to pay 2 dollars for the stamp they made us wait for 15 minutes in which all other passengers on the bus paying without a question were processed. A truck comming from Laos casually dropped 2 boxes of beer to the policemens which gave him fast (but not completely free) entry to Cambodia. We were quite shocked how open they are playing their game. 

On the Laos side it did not get that easy. On first part they wanted us to pay additional 1$ for service fee and when we said we do not have a change everything was fine. But later we got stuck - the ink must be very expensive since the stamp would cost us 2$ each. I told the guy I do not have any more money looking at him as he was staring in the book behind the window. We went to sit and wait so all other people got their passport. Together with 2 chinese guys who did not speak english and werequite confused about what is happening. It went something like this: chinese guy pointing on profession box on visa application and saying:
"what this?"
 I was trying to explain him:"you work?" 
And after that several arm and whole body movement. He did not seem to understand. If i put work or profession in his translator on mobile phone he just started to laugh, so I assumed it was meaningless. I gave up and just wrote retired as he looked quite old. :)

Time was flying by and every 5 minutes a minivan driver whodid not speak englis came to us pointing at minivan where all other passanger ps were waiting and telling us: "Stamp, 2 dollars!" When he saw we are not gwiving up he called his english speaking friend on phone and gave it to me saying thry will leave without us if we donot pay and he do not care what happens with us if we stay there. I politely replied to him:"Is this official that we have to pay?"
"No, not official but everyone pay that is how it is in this country. Even Cambodians they pay!"
"Ok sorry but if it is not official we do not pay as we do not know where the money goes to," I told him back.
Another 10 minutes and we were trough, this time the bus driver came very angry to us again shouting:"Stamp, 2 dollars", at the same time giving some money to the police guy who than finaly threw the passports to us. We ran to the bus with a driver looking at us very angry, but I was sure he must get a part of the money from this everyday scam.

Few kilometers north at Don Det, the most turisty of the 4000 islands time flew by wery slowly. Our morning was quite long. We rented a bike, which was too small even for Špela, but all the island had the same type so we couldn't really do something. A breakfast was our standard baguette with some kind of eggs and fresh fruit shake! But this time it included a lot of waiting as the waitress/cook/owner just had what seemed a very interesting debatewith one of the local guests. We were done in an hour, but as we were sitting on the terrace by Mekong looking at a fraction of the 4000 islands in the area that were bathing in the sun we did not really care.

By the Mekong on 4000 islands, where time stops.

Later we went around the island where we discovered small wat, planty of sand dunes and rice fields thet were just beeing harvested! What a lovely place this is. Appart from tourism that gives some mony to the locals majority of the islanders still live more or less self sufficiend all growing their rice, vegetables, chicken and cows or buffalos. The buffalos are slowly beeing replaced with small tractors as a working force but the place still has its charm!

Too litle bike even for Špela.

Village life

Evening on Mekong.

Where we stayed: there is plenty of cheap and also a bit more pricey appartments in all inhabited islands there so there is not really any need to book anything in advance. The same is with restaurants: they all serve similar dishes for similar price.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Elephants, jungle and Buong people

As iI tried to write this already third time and because so much happened in between I will try to shorten this part of our journey into fewer posts.

Another minibus packed with people and cargo of all kind brought us from Kratie to Sen monorom. Our mission was to see the elephants, go for a short trek and sleep at one of the sorounding villages. 
We decided to stay in bungalows a bit off from main square, which was not the best idea considering we wanted to do start trek already next day. After a good meal at restaurant of an australian guy who moved to the jungle town because he fell in love with a manager of a guesthouse where he stayd during his travel we also decided to ask him to organise 2 days trek for us. All gueshouses seem to have almost the same prices, which are quite high (30$ per day per person) considering how much money goes to the locals actualy doing the job. If we knew earlier renting a motorbike and going direct to them would be a better option.
The treking started with a good breakfast and bad coffee. Altough this area is also a coffee producer western coffee culture did not really came to them. So beware when having a coffee - only good one i had in Sen monorom was at coffe Phka, where they have a help from swedish friends that teached them how to make good cofffe and great cakes!
A good ride with motorbikes for 20 minutes and we were ready to go in the jungle. Actualy we found out jungle as we expected it is long gone in this area, it is more a highly exploited forest with ocasional field of mountain rice in between. We saw monkeys, spiders, scorpions... And we had a nice swim under the waterfall combined with fishing. After that we had lunch and we went slowly to the Buong village. A place where they only got electricity 3 years ago was quite another world. Kids, actually a lot of them, pigs, dogs, cats... It seems that they all like to reproduce a lot in these places:) and they all live in perfect symbiosis, with chicken and pigs wandering around in kitchen and with cats and dogs eating the rest of our nice dinner cooked by our guides wife. 

Scorpion on the way

Guide's daughter

Sleeping in hammocks

Next day it all started very early - around 4 the roosters started to sing following the kids after an hour. We were going to have a meeting with an elephants today! Soon after breakfast another group arrived and we went to meet them in the forest. Our was a young one, 37 years old Baku. He was great, very patient with 2 tourists on his back. As he was a bit dirty after an hour of walking we also cleaned him in the small river next to the hut where we had our lunch in the middle of the rice fields.

It was fun, but maybe just a disclamer for future travelers: if you take one afternoon and rent a bike to sorround villages you might get everything much cheaper without guest house commision. Just go to the village and there are signs for homestay and elephant tours.

Where we stayed:
Happy elephant
Australian guy