On the Road to Vang Vieng, Laos
January 18, 2013 Friday
Day 9 of G
I woke up this morning feeling much better. I'm still a tad under the weather but much better than yesterday. No new bug bites that I can see or feel. I'm even up to eating some bread this morning.
I was out the door by 6 to see if I could get a better monk experience. I just walked around the corner from the hotel. The locals, about 6 of them, were all set up and waiting on their mat in the middle of the street. I was the only foreigner present. It was still too dark to get decent photos of the first group of monks. While waiting for the second group to come through one of the locals offered me his spot on the mat and some food to give the monks but I politely declined. After the second group came through the locals each put 3 little mounds of sticky rice in front of where they had been kneeling, cleaned up the rest of their things and left.
We went to breakfast and I had tea and bread. Jeff had barely cooked eggs. Jeff and I forgot the key again but luckily the door was unlocked this time. The keys are connected to huge wooden slabs plus a smaller piece that must be inserted into a slot by the inside of the door in order to turn the electricity in the room on.
Everyone was ready to leave on time. We took a 25 person bus and were on the road by 8:10. The hotel staff notified Andrew that we had left some laundry in the room but we had left the clothing on purpose. Basically we left the socks, slippers and clothes AA had given us on the first class ride. It was pack that or our gifts. It is nice that the hotel checks the rooms for us before we leave. We loaded the bags into the bus by one of the rear windows.
We passed a school and the teacher was walking around with a cane. Not one for walking with. The local bus went by with lots of the villagers goods on the top including a motorbike. A songthew went by with more people, locals of course, than I could count including a few standing outside of it hanging on the back. They are really only supposed to carry 6 to 8 people.
We have a 7 hour ride ahead of us on winding scenic roads. We were told that if anyone starts feeling sick we can stop for a break. We will be staying in a very small village 5 km from Vang Vieng. We were again warned to follow some simple rules. Dress appropriately, do not point your feet at anyone or at the food, only put a spoon in your mouth, not a fork, use your right hand to eat, take off your shoes off before entering a house, do not touch anyone with your left hand as that is the hand you use for your ablutions.
The villages we are passing are very ramshackle with tin or thatch roof houses and many of the homes are made of wood planks or bamboo. There are always lots of satellite dishes even outside some really broken down homes.
We made a scenic stop 1 hour into the journey. The view was breathtaking if a little hazy. There were 3 puppies and a chained up monkey there to amuse us. The woman in charge of the little food stop at the lookout kept throwing the puppies to the monkey to wrestle with.
My stomach is getting increasingly queasy with the winding roads and writing so I'd best stop now.
We just passed a girl standing at the side of the road who held up a bunch of live rats tied together by their hind feet. Lunch anyone?
Our second stop we bought some Ritz crackers and Jeff got a Snickers bar. They had Oreo cookies, all sorts of potato chips, pop, beer, water, nuts, dried bananas....
There seems to be only 1 main road. It is made of asphalt and well maintained. It is difficult to pass anyone and there are a fair number of trucks. In the wet season there are landslides and that must really bollix things up.
There are many people carrying water. Lots of bathing and washing clothes off the side of the road. Lots of grasses harvested and tied and left on the side of the road to dry.
Our lunch stop is in an incredible setting with quite the vista. The mountains are becoming more karst like and dramatic. The women's bathroom has open air windows overlooking the view and squat toilets. So I multitasked and and took a photo while I was in there doing my business.
Lunch was just ok. I had chicken soup since I'm still not quite right. It was not like what my Mama used to make. Poor Jeff is not happy with the food so he ate the second half of his ham and cheese sandwich from last night. There are lots of Koreans eating lunch here too. Several buses were here at the same time we were. It is a huge place. You go to the counter to place your order and they bring you your food later. After you finish you go back to the counter, tell them what you had and pay. They have quite the honor system but it doesn't seem very efficient to me. Once again everyone eats at different times.
I have not seen any horses and very few birds since I have been in this country.
Have I mentioned how cute Andrew is in his pink, and I mean pink, sunglasses?
We were driving tiredly along in our bus when we heard a very loud unexpected noise and the bus lurched. Then we noticed that people passing us were staring at the left rear of the bus. The driver got out and checked and we had a blown tire. Ray announced that we would be ok because John had a spare he could loan us. Yuck. Yuck. RAy is pretty fast with his quips. Luckily there were 2 tires on each side of the rear axle so we made it to our destination where the driver changed the tire.
On to Vang Vieng where we dropped off Clive and Jane in town.They were not interested in doing the homestay so they got dropped at the hotel where we will be staying tomorrow night. We all trooped in to use the bathroom but I decided to wait because of course we had to leave our shoes at the front door of the hotel and the bathroom floorr was soaking wet. I'm still a wuss I guess.
On to the home stay. Ah-h-h-h, the Home Stay.
Home Stay Village is located about 5 km from Vang Vieng. It is a rather poor agricultural village with about 700 villagers. There are lots of kids, poultry and dogs about. The homes are poor but there are again many of the ever present satellite dishes. We had a spot of tea in the head villagers home and then got divided into 5 groups. We will be staying in 5 different homes but all eating a communal dinner here. We were told that the men and women had to sleep in different homes but apparently that has changed. Jeff and I get our own room in this home and Claudia, Sonya and Chris are staying here in another room. Each room has 3 twin beds. There is a rotating fan on the ceiling and 1 electrical outlet. I would have to make a choice whether to charge my camera battery or my ipad except we brought a splitter!
The bathroom is one small room with the sink, toilet and shower all together. There are the always present (except in the last hotel) pair of flip flops in front of the bathroom door for general use by anyone wishing to use the bathroom. The toilet is western style which means it has a seat, but there is no tank. To flush it you pour water into the bowl with the dipper that is in the bucket filled with water in front of the toilet. The used toilet paper (provided!) is to be placed in the garbage bucket not in the toilet. The small sink in the bathroom has a pipe leading down underneath it from the drain but since that pipe stops short of the floor drain the first time I used it my feet got pretty wet. Now I know to stand way back.
We all went for a guided tour of the village. It was a nice little walk. Many women were cooking, tending children, or bunching grasses together to sell. There were men working on construction or sitting in groups socializing. Some young boys were playing a popular Laotian game similar to volleyball but you cannot use your hands, just your head or feet. They were pretty good. Yoon spoke with a group of Korean men sitting in front of a store (a home with a small front room that sells things including beer and Lao whiskey). The Koreans are in the area for a construction project. I think that this area is "booming" because of the opportunities for outdoor activities such as caving, exploring tunnels and caverns, rafting, ATVs, kayaking etc. Andrew says that the river tubing is quite safe but that 4 or 5 people died doing it in the past year because of all of the bars (14 or 15) on the tubing route and too many people were mixing alcohol, red bull and tubing. Now they have closed all but 2 of the bars on the route.
G adventures just started using the home stays for the past 2 months or so but they have 6 groups a week coming through. The villagers alternate which homes are used.
We watched the women prepare and cook our dinner. Everything was done on a long table outside of the home. The utensils are few and basic but the women sure know what they are doing. Good knife skills. There are several pots but only 1 wok and one small fire on the ground for cooking. They made us 2 kinds of rice, plain white and sticky, a curry, a noodle dish and an awful looking sickly green colored dish made with bamboo shoots that really didn't get eaten. I am still slightly queasy so I didn't eat much and certainly couldn't bear to partake of the green dish. Normally I would have jumped at the chance to try something new but I decided that this time I should listen to what my body was telling me.
None of the Laotians ate with us including Cy. They ate in the back of the house.
Before dinner the hostess passed around a shot of Laotian whiskey to each guest. We all shared the same glass and she went around to each person and poured them a little. I think it was maybe a half an ounce. I don't know if we could have swallowed a full ounce. It is pretty raw. She went around the table twice. I got some good photos of post whiskey faces.
After dinner we sat around and socialized for a while.We have a very nice group. Sometimes I feel like I am in a United Nations project with different English accents. It is not always easy for me to understand what everyone is saying even if we are all speaking English. Of course Chris says that I have an accent too. I sound like Bonnie Hunt to her. I like everyone and we will miss the Swiss girls and Clive and Jane when they leave us in Hanoi. Jeff tried to play guitar on my iPad but he had never used the app before so he needs to practice to make it work. He tried to find a cheap guitar to buy in Luang Prabang but the only one he could find was really cheaply made but they wanted 500,000 kip for it. I started getting more attention from the insects in spite of my 40% deet so Jeff and I hit the sack early. We were told not to stay up past 10 since the villagers get up around 4. The roosters sure announce the dawn way before it arrives.
So. The beds. Wooden frame twin size beds with the firmest 2" mattresses you have ever felt. No wonder so many people become monks in this country. The covers are brightly colored cartoon decorated poyester things that are very small and as slippery as could be. I had to lay on one edge of the blanket and pin the bottom down with my feet or it kept sliding away. Mine is pink with baby dinosaurs on it.
I havent seen the beds or bathrooms actually used by the villagers to see how they compare to what they provide for us.
The ceiling fan is a metal rotating fan. We had it set to low. It would rotate and hit you with a blast of cold forceful air every 5 seconds or so and then move on. Very disturbing when you are trying to sleep but I didn't want to turn it off because I thought it might help with the bugs. Finally around 3:30 I couldn't take it anymore and I had to turn it off.
So now dear readers it is 6:30 a.m., the roosters are crowing, the villagers have been stirring for a while, and it is time to get up.