My eyes hurt. I killed five butterflies today by smashing in to them while riding my moto. One hit my sunglasses. I lucked out with the moto though. The buddy that I’ve been touring with had three breakdowns in three days. I only had to deal with four scarily loose bolts and one non-existant bolt.
My travels in Laos are coming to an end and they’ve been superb. Especially the last few days. Backtracking… Last night I stayed in a village at the mouth of a famous cave (Kong Lo). It just so happened that it was a party night to celebrate the full moon. So I got to dance my socks off, and gamble, and drink, and laugh, and play carnival games and eat with almost 2000 villagers and two other tourists. The region reminds me of the southwest (Zion in particular), except the rocks are black instead of red, and it’s a jungle. So beautiful.
That was the end of The Loop. Other bits included passing by almost a dozen large trucks ladden with hundreds of dogs in cages headed for consumption in Vietnam. And even more of the same trucks going the other way empty.
We rode by a huge dam site and reservoir. The first quarter or so was basically a tour of a development project like that. Quite interesting how they’ve built a very nice road to a remote area. Relocated the villages. And all of the nice pickup trucks driving about.
Stayed in a small village where the option for food was rice and vegetables. Anything else? No. Fun rats in the walls. Beautiful, hard rain. The reservoir goes right up to the village and the tree are still standing in the water.
My buddy Taylor’s moto broke down three times.
Swam. Saw another cave. Tried new foods. Today’s pick was Double Cheese Pork Burger flavored potatoe chips. mmmmm…. Food in general was pretty meager on the trip. Just not many options beyond noodle soup. The largest town that we stayed in had a restaurant named “The Only One” (but now there is another one).
Oh, and I thought I had worms, but now I don’t think so.
Rented a moto again. This time to leave the dusty Luang Nam Tha for even dustier Muang Sing. The road was a peaceful country journey through ethnic villages and some uncut forest. Luckily in Muang Sing an guy I know told me about a lodge outside of town. What a damn good choice. The place was peaceful, cheap and well located right in the middle of various different ethnic villages. I rode out to the Chinese border (2km away), walked in the hills and villages and relaxed for three days. I even tried my hand for a short while farming with Akha women. I’ve seen my favorite traditional dress now too. Yao women wear turbans and extremely thick, red, carpeted collars. I also ate the best food so far in Laos, and it was chinese.
Time is passing quickly in Laos. And what a great country it is. I came in from Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam which landed me on the Nam Ou river. It’s a scenic and less traveled part of the country. I spent more than a week, traveling up and down the river. I visited the Phongsaly, a northern provincial captial. It’s up in the mountains, a solid days travel from pretty much everything. Definitely felt like a frontier town. Lots of Laos feels small (though there are plenty of tourists). I’ve only taken one bus journey, and it was 10 hours on a ‘major’ road that had hardly no traffic. Imagine one and a half lanes, with a moto going by every five minutes. So far I’ve been to seven towns, none of them feel like they’re over 15,000 people.
I rented a mountain bike today and rode all day around Luang Nam Tha. Just bumpy roads, villages, etc. Good exercise and a great way to get a feel for a place. Tomorrow I’m planning on rented a moto for three or four days and riding around the region. Muang Sing, a village on the way, a jungle,…
Keeping on the small theme. I got to my first ATM, finally.
Oh and I hung out with an enjoyable crew of travelers in Muang Ngoi Neua. It’s a river access only touristy village. Just one of those super chill places. Of course, lots of Lao Lao was consumed.
I’ve also been within a few dozen or less miles of China for much of my time. So there is lots of Chinese influence. The bus stop restaurant yesterday sold liquor with various different animal parts in it. Including a jar with what looked like a red panda paw. Gross!
I’m wanting to go on a “trek”, but I keep getting the impression from people that they are lame-o. I don’t know what I’ll do.
I’m also sorting my onward travel. I’ll probably not spend time in Thailand, besides to use the Bangkok airport to get to Myanmar in three weeks. Then three or so weeks there before flying to Nepal in mid April.
I’m a good sort of tired. I rode my third night train last night up to Sapa. It is the main tourist town in the north. Yet, it’s small and excellent. I’ve lucked out to blue skies in a place that I’ve been hearing for weeks is cold and wet. The main part of town is about three blocks long and it is swarming with women in traditional hill tribe dress trying to sell you crafts. But it’s not like the husstle of other places. I made friends with two different ladies. They are just super happy and positive people. It’s really nice. Of course their dress is awesome looking too. And the majority of them speak decent English which is a huge difference from the typical Vietnamese person that is trying to sell you something.
Everyone goes “trekking” here. Often times with home stays. Today, I pulled together my own most excellent hike by leaving the tourist path and going on my on through rice patties, along a beautiful river and past small communities. It was most excellent. And I saw no other tourists.
Tomorrow I really want to rent a moto and ride out to this other part of the country side. So that leaves the possibility of a home stay the night after if I still feel like being in Sapa. I did get invited to home stay with multiple of the nice women that I talked to today. And I was welcomed in to a very typical house on my hike. Dirt floors, no furniture, a big barrel of homebrew “beer” (it looked like something else). That would be a traditional home stay, and I’m not sure I really need to do that to grasp what poverty is. The home stays that tourists stay in are different, typically buildings built specifically for the purpose.
Hanoi has black market Chacos. Even some locals wear them.
I’m sitting between two deaf girls flirting through video chat with sign language to deaf guys on the other end. I’ve got to say that all the waiving is highly distracting (and funny). I keep thinking that the one on the left is going to log off because she waves so much.
Hoi An is interesting. It is known for two things. Old buildings and tailored clothes. While the old buildings are just buildings it is really nice to be in a place to is pleasing astheticly. The tailor shops are pretty amazing, though I’m not indulging. I’ve just never been in to clothes that much. You can get anything you want made in a day, including leather shoes. With some pretty cool styles and all very cheap.
I took my first ever packaged tour (besides going on ocean going boat trips) today. I visited My Som, which was the most important Cham ruins. It was pleasant, though most of the ruins were bombed to smitherenes by American planes. Being a part of a 50 person tour group was novel and fun, but reaffirmed exactly why it’s a bad way to travel. Then, in a town full of tourists I was the only one hanging with the locals watching boat racing on the river.
I took an overnight train to get here. It’s a great way to travel, although double the price of the bus. Vietnam’s trains are gross though. The employees all sit around drinking and smoking (under the no smoking signs) while it looks like the train has NEVER been cleaned. I did meet some great people to hang out with during the trip and had a lot of fun. And the infant in my compartment didn’t even cry all that much.
Keeping with the theme of traveling, I’m going to move again tomorrow. I like moving to new places and Hoi An doesn’t have much to keep someone anyways. So, off to Hue tomorrow. I’m not sure if I’m going to go by rail or bus. I’m also feeling like spending a maximum of two more months South East Asia so I will likely fly somewhere else in early April.
I’m wrapping up my second day in Saigon. I again walked a lot. Went out to Chinatown and visited three different pagodas. Relaxed with some bubble tea and ate some delicious chinese food. Then I visited the museum about Ho Chi Minh’s life and the Reunification Palace. The former was better. Really cool 1960s architecture. Finally I’ve been killing time in Vietnam’s version of Starbucks which is even more expensive than the actual starbucks. I’ve been traveling for a month as of today and I feel that I can start ’softening’ my travels and not always due the local’s children’s stools on the street thing. I got my fourth book of the trip today. Under The Banner Of Heaven, it’s weird to read about home in southern utah while in Asia.