Posting from Thailand has been difficult, so I must apologize for being silent for nearly an entire month. Besides my motorcycle accident, we did in fact have fun in Thailand. Hui-Chen joined me after 2 weeks and our friends invited us up to Laos for New Year’s Eve. Ordinarily I do not join in such celebrations but I did want to go back to Laos, and this was the only opportunity. As it turned out, the celebration was rather kid-oriented (which I found weird). Instead of getting drunk and acting like idiots, Laotians prefer to make the holiday a family-oriented event.
Here you can see Hui-Chen in her cute party hat. She looks a lot better than I do in mine. But then again, she looks better than I do anyway. I just wanted to prove to my friends who say that I am too uptight, strict, or serious that yes, even I too sometimes act silly. I did however, have quite a few whisky & cokes. Later in the evening Ben and I rode around in the back of a pickup truck yelling greetings to people. Everytime someone stared as us we just said “What? What?” These 2 shots were taken with the Sony-Ericsson S700i mobile phone.
The next day we visited some of the interior parts of Laos, and it wasn’t long enough! The scenic beauty and friendliness of the people must be personally experienced.
One of my host’s friends works for the Ministry of Transportation. He took our passports and got them entry-stamped personally instead of us having to wait in line. The queues were very long as hundreds of tourists had arrived from Thailand through Nong Khai and were standing in line waiting to be processed by the Immigration agents. That was the first time I had ever been admitted to a foreign country without any kind of Immigration official personally checking my identity. People in this part of the world love their officialdom and anytime that someone has the opportunity to throw their weight around, the systems seem to support it, even encourage it. Hui-Chen and I had to pay the usual amount of 31 US dollars each for a single entry visa. They have quite a racket going and make a lot of money selling visas. I will comment later on other pricing I encountered in Laos.
We had a really nice dinner on the Mekong River (of Vietnam War fame). The sun set behind some low hills just beyond the river. It was really great. Here you can see some of the cuisine that we enjoyed. Seated from the left are Hui-Chen, our Thai friends Ben and Su, and then the wife, and gentleman who works for the Transportation Ministry.
Everyone knows the Bushman loves ancient places, so we took time to visit this very old temple in Vientiane. The statuary was quite unusual.
This statue was defaced by an occupying military force. I was standing about 1 meter away from this statue while photographing it, and it gave off a very weird vibe. I am not superstitious in any way, nor do I fear the supernatural. I did experience a strange influence from this particular statue, however.
While traveling on Route 13, going north to the interior of the country, we stopped in a village for a short break. As soon as this man and his family spotted us, he and his brother came out of their home with a bottle of BeerLao and a glass. These gentlemen then poured a glass of beer for each of our party in turn. We were promptly invited into the home for a meal but we politely declined due to our limited schedule. I wish we could have stayed for awhile with such friendly people. By the way, BeerLao is absolutely wonderful beer, and its very inexpensive.
Since I lost my hand held GPS in a Thai taxi last year, the only GPS system that I have is my notebook computer and I did not take that with me. Finding a map is nearly impossible in many Asian countries (except at the airport). For some reason, unlike Westerners people here do not make a point of making sure that visitors are informed of anything (including names of people we were traveling with). Several times discussions would take place and all of a sudden we were stopping and getting out. Of course, everyone but us knew that and we would have to be told to get out of the vehicle because we don’t understand a word of Thai or Lao. Throughout our entire trip to Laos I had no idea where we were, only the direction of travel (because I know how to read the sky). After finding a map of Laos upon our return, I could only guess at where we had been. I’m sure that someone will recognize these places and inform us of where they were taken.
We stopped at a resort near the mountain range. There was a nice suspension bridge crossing the small river between the mountains and the entrance to the resort. The mountains are quite beautiful and there is a cavern that you can walk through, although the entrance is up a steep stairway.
Now about pricing. Laos is an impoverished country with a modern capital city. Mobile phones have only been available for about 3 years, and Laos (as well as Thais) love to spend time futzing around with their mobile phones, just as Americans did 10 or more years ago. Mobile phone means “rich” and Lao people want you to know they have one, so they take it out all the time and play with it. The Lao visa cost us US$31 each for a single entry. At the Morning Market in Vientiane, Hui-Chen and I were looking at silk scarves. The shopkeeper told us (in perfect English) that the price of a scarf was “twenty five US dollars.” Hui-Chen said “are you kidding me?” and the woman answered that this was the same price charged to both foreigners and local Lao people. Just the day before we were in villages where the homes did not have hot water or even a toilet, but they can afford 25 bucks for a silk scarf? The truth is, these shops purchase silk products from the local people for very very low prices and then sell them to rich Laos and foreigners. Yeah, its the same price but only rich people can afford them. At another shop, Hui-Chen was actually told “come on – you can afford it!” by a sales lady when she questioned the price. We declined to make purchases in this marketplace. The Laos have smelled the money and they are out for it, even if they are cheating their own countrymen. My suggestion is for you to visit the local villages and make direct purchases from them. This ensures that the money you spend goes into the village economy while sending a clear message to these cheating shopkeepers that you aren’t as stupid as you look.
Entrance to the park and the caverns cost money. They charge foreigners more money than local people. Usually when I see that I tell them I’m not paying more and I leave. On this occasion I was persuaded to pay it and see the caverns. As I threw the money at the person behind the window I said “you won’t get charged more for being Laotian if you visit my country.” 10,000 Kip is only 1 US dollar, but its the principle that I am concerned with. They think all foreigners are rich and they are out to part your money from you. I have heard that Cambodia and Vietnam are worse, but I have yet to find out. Later this year….