20 February 2016

Living in Luang Prabang & Weighing the Laundry

A few years back, we took a wooden boat to Luang Prabang.

I didn't know what to expect from Laos, but probably not this:


The beautiful and mighty Mekong. 


From the Thai border town of Chiang Khong, there was no road. 

It took two full days on the Mekong River to get to Luang Prabang. 

Our boat was owned by the family who lived aboard it. 
There were 6 passengers, plus the family.


The kids on the boat and I used my colored pencils to draw. Mostly monsters. 



The boat was spacious enough to wander around. Seats were car seats.

The family cooked for us on the boat.
We enjoyed the scenery and the intimidating power of the river.

At night, we stayed in the dusty riverside town of Pak Beng.

Halfway point.




I have great memories of a late night in "Only Bar" in Pak Beng. 

(That was the name. And it was.) 

The bar owner started us with a complimentary shot of local banana liquor...




There was no electricity. 
The generator was turned off when we left. 

How we ever found our guesthouse after that evening - in the dark - is beyond me.




Back to Luang Prabang: 

Perhaps arriving by boat began the magic. 
We climbed up the steps from the river to find a graceful town. 

Stan and I agreed that we could easily spend longer here.

It's cooler. Peaceful.



Luang Prabang, nestled in a crook between the Mekong River and the Nam Khan.

It hasn't changed too much in the past few years.

They say that the original explorers of a hundred years ago would recognize it.


Toasted coconut meringue on bamboo leaves. Night market treat.


Rivers, palm trees, surrounding mountains.

Orchids grow from walls.
Epiphytes hang from trees.

The streets are clean, and folks are friendly.


The buildings are mostly wooden, and have an appealing amount of wabi-sabi crookedness to them.


Aside from one really annoying cat, it's pretty much heaven.


Tortilla sort of things drying in the sun.

A few dozen colorful temples and monasteries. 
Each one is different.

I've drawn a few, but can't remember the names - 

Wat Souvannapourmaram. 
Wat Choumkhong Surin Tharam. 
Wat Xiangmouane Vajiramangalaram. 

Who knows which Wat is what. 

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)




Monks in photogenic orange robes glide through the town's narrow passageways. 
Cross bridges handmade of bamboo. 

(The bamboo bridges have to be rebuilt each year after the rains.)




The French influence left good bakeries - croissants! - baguettes! - and small restaurants.

We've even found a few bottles of good wine.


Waiting for (good!) cappuccini at the French bakery.


There is a large fresh market.
Plenty of excellent food stalls.

A large Night Market. 
Fabrics from the hill tribes. 

Art. Handicrafts. 
Desserts.


Eating at the Night Market
Quite a few of the ingredients are exotic. 

At least - for us.




Everything is fresh. Some things are still wiggling.



Mekong River catfish. Eels. Chickens. Tadpole tamales.


Street stalls provide delicious fresh squeezed smoothies. 
Avocado, lime, and mint? 
Mango, apple and dragonfruit? 

They'll make sandwiches for you to take on a bicycle picnic. 
Everything can be made to go. 

(Bicycles are for rent - $2 a day. 
They didn't even take our names down. 
Or asked where we were staying. 

Just gave us the bikes and waved.)




The food is excellent - even the local delicacy known as river seaweed.
Kind of like crunchy and spicy nori chips. 

The pace is slow.




We've been here for about three weeks. 

We've taken a few forays up to smaller towns up and down various Laotian rivers in wooden boats.





Our home in Nong Khiaw, one of our forays. Right on the river.

Here in Luang Prabang, we found another small teak guesthouse with a lovely balcony to call home. 

The phrase "happy as clams" comes to mind. 

(No, I don't know much about clams. But they probably have some for sale at the market.)



I've been pretty useless in keeping up this blog. 

I don't know how much I like working on a computer while I could be out soaking up mysteries and just enjoying the environment.

So much happens! 
So many stories! 

Such weird tales and great experiences!


This Khmu woman demonstrated by dancing how tipsy we could get if we drank the palm wine from her tiny mugs. 

And: I get so very far behind! 
How will I ever catch up?

We've been traveling in Southeast Asia since mid November. 
It's now mid February.

A lot has happened! 
However, I realize most people (including family) have NO idea where we are.

So - here's a brief summary - and a map.


(Drew this map on the last trip, Singapore to Hanoi.)


This time, we started with a month in Myanmar (Burma).


Incredibly long U Bein teak bridge, all handmade. This is one small section.


Traveled around Myanmar (Burma) as much as our 28-day visas allowed.
Bus, train, boat, plane, tuk-tuk, horsecart, motorcycle, bicycle. 

It's a big country. And very cool.


Main train station. Hsipaw, Myanmar.


We also spent a month in Thailand.
Two weeks renting a lovely traditional teak house in the south.




Erik visited from Bangkok. 
We explored caves, markets and temples.




...and two weeks in a spiffy high rise apartment.

28th floor in Bangkok. 

Near Erik's place. 

Wonderful.


View from our Bangkok apt.


2 BR, 2 bath, balcony and awesome view. 

In between, another two weeks sailing around the Myeik Archipelago. (Mergui)

Those are the little islands north of Phuket on the map, between Myanmar and Thailand. 

Mamma mia! How beautiful.
One of the coolest places - ever. 

With sea gypsies...


The Zoe III, our home in Myeik.


Then: two weeks traveling around Cambodia, including rivers, cities and Angkor Wat.


Ancient ruins and trees taking over - Cambodia.


Sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Now, we're in Luang Prabang, in Laos. 
We'll be here most of February.




Each of the places we've visited has so many good tales!
Ones that are not in the blog. And may never be.


Village street in Laos - north of Luang Prabang.

But yes, I am keeping a detailed journal.
I have 3 so far.

And I'm drawing. 

Not as much as I'd like, but - still. 
Little sketches in the journals.


Weighing the laundry: 1 kilo costs about $1.00.


One of MANY journal pages. 

We're taking lots of photos. 

(Thousands. I intend to draw at least most of them, someday!) *sigh*
And: We're having a helluva good time. 

I can hardly believe our good fortune.

So maybe I'll work on the blog more after I return home.
Priorities.

View of the Nam Khan River.

-Maybe.

Relive the experiences. 
Organize the stories.

So this is a bit of an apology.


Sunset Bungalow, Beer Lao. Trying to blog.

The bottom line is: 
I'm just having too much fun to mess with tech matters and computers.
Mea culpa.

-It might be time for another Beer Lao.


16 February 2016

Bamboo Trains, Tuk tuks and Taxis

We heard about this “Bamboo Train” outside Battambang in Cambodia. 

“Ride the traditional train!” 

So - we went. 

I didn’t know what to expect, but - it wasn’t THIS. 

This was the train. 
The whole train. 


The bamboo platform lifts right off.  In case of oncoming traffic.

A simple platform on two sets of wheels. 

Tearing down the track with a local driver and an engine roaring behind us. 

There are a number of these platforms, with other passengers.


Driver lifts leg for proper traction in starting engine. 

When we encounter traffic on the tracks, we have to stop (not easy!).
Get off, LIFT the bamboo platform off the tracks.

Move the metal wheels (heavy!) off to the side.

Let the traffic go by. 
Quickly.

Then we reassemble the “train” and continue. 

Nothing holds the platform down but our weight. 

Must of one of the most ridiculous (and dangerous!) things I’ve ever done. 

Bamboo train, indeed. 


And - there was that train in Myanmar that actually BOUNCED. 
Really bounced. 

How does that happen?

At the station of the bouncing train.


Stan's got the picture.

In Bangkok, the most common taxis are motorcycle taxis. 
They congregate on street corners, waiting for clients. 
You hop on the back, and off you go. 

It’s easy to tell which ones are taxis - the drivers wear vests. 
Of course, it helps to speak a little Thai. 

Or - you can go in the relative comfort of a tuk-tuk.  


Tuk tuk comfort travel.


Out in the country, transport reflects the state of the roads. 

Or the lack of the roads.


The monastery-mobile. Handmade. Monks in a truck. 


The "road" to the monastery from the river had ruts in it over a foot deep.


Cool oxcart - colorful passengers!







Taxi outside Mandalay. Not if you're in a hurry.















On the bus from Battambang to Siem Reap, we had two (2!) burst tires.
And a critically leaky radiator. 

We stopped frequently, waiting for the radiator to cool down. 

The 2 burst tires wouldn’t have been such a problem except - no one carried the right size replacement tire. So we stopped at every possible small tire shop along the way to look for the right tire. 



Didn't know a repair like this was even possible. 

Eventually, a tire was found and mounted. 
Everyone pitched in. 

The sadly shredded tire was squeezed into the hold with the luggage. 

The journey continued. 

It took 11 hours. 




Motorcycles are attached to everything. 
Trucks, sidecars, bicycles. 
Families of 5 or 6, sometimes with an extra propane tank or a pig. 

Sometimes both. 

Everything goes on a motorcycle.





Took this from the back of a tuk-tuk, which they found very funny.



Probably no CD player.

Delivery van. 
Long range transport. 
The motorcycle is key. 


Pottery dealer, loading his wares as we visited the workshop.


Taking a bus from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiew in Laos.
We were loaded into the back of a bus similar to the one below.

Luggage on the top.
Then a few more people. More luggage.

 Everything strapped down by the barefoot guy on the roof. 

The driver looks in and looks puzzled.
"Nong Khiew?" he asks. We nod.

"No! NOT Nong Khiew!" He points to another bus.

Everything is unloaded and repacked. 
The barefoot guy has to strap everything down again. 

(I didn't mind that much. My seat was more comfortable in bus number 2.)




Stan inspects the stranger vehicles - and the repair shops - closely. 
A lot of the parts and a lot of the tools themselves are handmade.


Another of the "Chinese buffalo" engines.


Usually, our transport consists of a tuk-tuk. 
The 2-stroke engine sounds like that - tuk-tuk-tuk… 


In fact, the most commonly heard phrase in perhaps ALL of Southeast Asia is the question, 
“You need tuk-tuk?” 

Taxis are (almost!) always available.


Stan and the ever-present motorcycle tuk tuk.


Horse taxis are less common. 

And for good reason - those heavy wooden wheels without suspension are seriously uncomfortable. 

Those early travelers of long ago were tough.


The cart had huge ox-cart wheels, but the horse is faster.


The photo below is poor, but it’s one of most bizarre things I’ve seen. 

A man was unloading fish from his car at a market. 

The trunk was FILLED with fish. 
Big fish. No containers, just - fish.

I watched, wondering how he’d ever get the smell out of the car after that load. 

(Hope he doesn't have a hot date tonight.)


Then, as I walked past the car, I realized that it wasn’t just the truck of the car that was full of fish. The ENTIRE CAR was absolutely crammed to the gills, so to speak, with fish. 

There was a small space left for the driver. 


Here, our taxi waits for us after a night of music on the town 
(Stan playing guitar with some of the locals - great stuff-). 

This old “Chinese Buffalo” made a LOT of noise. 

I think walking might have been faster. 


The engine on this one is the "Chinese Buffalo". Very popular.


I won’t begin to cover BOATS in this post.
Except for this one. 

The kid and his mom in the boat. 

And - the python. 




And - taxi to the next adventure? 
In a tuk-tuk. 

Of course.