Wednesday, September 13, 2006

6th - 9th September (from internet cafe in Sapa, Vietnam)

There is only one ATM in Laos, that is in Vientiene. On the morning i leave i take out the maximum amount of kip, approximately 70 dollars. Even if i got more i doubt i would be able to change any leftover kip as it's a currency that nobody really wants. I have about 50 US dollars, some thai baht and some uk pounds that i hope will be of use in Vietnam until i next get to an ATM.

The public bus to Phonsavan is fairly empty and no tourists, the next few places i stop at are not on as popular a tourist route as the previous ones. The journey is hilly and windy with beautiful green scenery, the villages are more frequent htan before but there are not so many satellite dishes but i did see some kids riding pretty decent mountain bikes. My 3 dollar room in Phonsavan smels of damp, there is no ventilation. The town is seriously quiet in the evening - there is nothing going on.

Phonsovan is not so quiet in the morning, my guesthouse is on the main road and the traffic gets going about 0500. I go on a tour with a Japanese couple to the plain of jars. There are several sites around this province with a total of over 5000 large stone jars scattered about the hills.
We go to the largest single site with about 340 jars, the reasons for them are uncertain but it is possible that the dead were placed in the jar so that the soul could rise up to heaven, the body would later be removed and cremated. I prefer the story that they are whiskey vessels for the gods!
Much more entertaining was our afternoon visit to Hmong villages where some of the kids looked like they had never seen a camera before, i took some great pictures of the kids and also my favourite one of an old woman.
We saw temples and stupas bombed by the U.S. Saw how rice is produced, how swallows are caught and fermented to be sold as a delicacy and some silk worms for silk production.

With no brekky, a real bone shaker of a public bus with uncomfortable bench seats to Sam Neua. The engine sounded awful, it drowned out my music and the driver kept stopping to repair something. The whole bus rattled and creaked. We were held up for 30 minutes by a broken down lorry in the middle of the road. The highlight of the journey was trying to communicate with Monica, a cute 20 year old Laos villager, her English was only a little better than my Laos. Again i was the only tourist on the bus. All the cows and buffalos live on the roads and grass verges and they look pretty healthy - i kept expecting a 'me, myself and Irene' moment!

I found a nice 5 dollar room from the lonely planet and spoke to four friendly Americans in a restaurant, they were going the opposite way to me so we exchanged information. 2 canadian lads showed up going the same way as me. We all drank beer and some shots of the rice wine that makes you blind!

While in Sam Neua, i got a bus to Vang Xai caves where i had a personal (as nobody else was there) guided tour of 3 caves converted into living accomodation / strategic headquarters where some of the top brass hid from the Americans during the Indochina war (Vietnam war as the Americans call it). The guide spoke little English and i would have been interested to hear more about the caves but it did only cost 3 dollars. Met the canadians back at the restaurant where we all had a great steak and chips for 25,000kip, bargain. Over several beers, i taught them shithead and they taught me a good game called Yanif.

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