09.12.2009 32 °C
Sabaidee and welcome back, sorta took it a bit slow yesterday and being slightly preoccupied about an idea for New Years, but were back, its freezing clod and perfect time to keep the fingers typing!
So first things first, the title, perfect for any sideswipe column but not really the most trust invoking thing to have written into a lifejacket, in fact it was even worse than that as they only had small on board, and that was rated up to the mega weight that is 35 kilograms....needless to say we didnt tell the little old American couple sitting in front of us this, as the lao people sitting on the boats around us were getting a rather good chuckle that someone was actually wearing these bathing suits!
But more importantly, this is probably the best time to explain why we were sitting in a less than waterproof boat, making fun of people actually wearing life jackets...
Well, this was supposed to be our first real immersion into Lao culture with a trip up the mekong to the caves in which many dynasties have travelled to over the past 500 years to pay their respects and take their buddha lookalikes to sit with all their friends (someone would have really made a mint back in the day with this little gem of an enterprise - there would have been over a couple of thousand in the one cave alone)... and then we were to travel to a 'local' village to try some LaoLao or Lao Whisky...55% alcohol...and probably contributing to the reason you didnt get a blog yesterday, along with sheer laziness haha! So to start the trip off, we headed down to the travel agency that booked it for us at 8am and waited patiently for our tuk tuk to arrive...which it never did, so we piled onto the backs of a couple of motorcycles and raced down towards the ferry 'terminal' (like all things lao, we use these terms very loosly) - also if anyone from southern cross happens to be reading this, we were most definitely traveling in a minibus, and would never do something as silly as to potentially void our travel insurance. And with that small disclaimer we can move on.
Right, so we arrive down at this shack at the top of a muddy hill, with boats not entirely sure what they were doing down the bottom either, but we met a whole heap of other tourists (we were still the youngest by around 10 years, but still the only ones of the entire group of 30 who could say hello, thankyou and goodbye... which meant we were instant hits with the boat driver.
So after checking in, we sort of slide down the mudbank close to a pile of boats down at the water, we say pile because the method in which boats get so land, is sort of shunting and pushing each other, and in fact to get to your boat, your quite likely to have to climb over another 3 just to get to it. But we got in, 6 to a longboat, with the water level sitting precariously at chair level, but we set off using a rather ingenious means, sort of grabbing onto other boats, and pushing yourself into the middle of the mekong, hoping your engine just doesnt get ripped off to easily....
So off we went, chugging along in our little boat, heading upstream the Mekong, with not reall any idea of quite how long it would take, but from the looks on the map, and our travel agent saying that a tuk tuk would take around 10 mins, we were sort of savoring the unique trip and enjoying every minute of it.
90 minutes later however, we were still chugging along, having overtaken almost every other boat on the river (by this point we were the only boat we could see, which in itself is quite a feat for a tourist hotspot like Luang Prabang.) Soon (not quite soon enough but..) we arrived at the caves, and sort of tiptoed along the bamboo dock ( I really couldnt care less how strong peple say bamboo is to walk on, hearing the sound of cracking and splitting is never particularly good is what ive learnt so far. Got up to the caves tho (once again feel free to google Pak Ou Caves to see what it looks like...my visualisation techniques are a bit rusty this early in the morning. Then we headed off to a local village, this time heading back downstream, and an even more precarious dock that involved mud staircases and clinging onto bamboo poles (this, i was grateful for). Feeling all very intrepid we arrived at the top to find another tourist market like any other in LP and our hopes became slightly dashed of experiencing local culture. This was short lived though as we were summoned up to a set of giant cauldrons containing fermenting rice, a boiling point, and clear liquid dripping out one of the ends, this could only mean one thing, rice whiskey...and the Americans among us were a little bit unsure about how strong to call it as it went above their '100 proof' scale...needless to say they took our advice on just calling it acid strength and we all moved on. Almost all.
Us two, still determined to get our moneys worth and experience some Lao culture, asked to try some...something that was met with a very guilty smile on the Lao's behalf, one you would have sort of expected from kid thats just eaten a whole tub of ice cream. So he started us off on the weak stuff, 15% stregth rice wine, that we never really could pin down the taste of except that it tasted like raspberries, but knowing that they dont grow here, we decided it was safer to just say mm nice, and leave it at that. We slowly worked our way up and through the varieties of LaoLao to the mother of all whsikeys, the one at 55%...ish (ish, because his estimate was only really because we forced it from him..but other claim to get up to 80 percent, so once again, just agree, and send it down the hatch. I can thoroughly reccomend drinking, and then jumping back onto one of those longboats, you do feel safer after drinking LaoLao. Of course this wasnt quite the end of the day, Chris was determined once we got back, to send some stuff back to New Zealand like clothes he wouldnt wear over here, and a few bits and pieces he just didnt want to carry on the way back, So we went down to the post office, threw everything in the box, they sealed it up and sent it on its merry way, and THEN hit me with the price...a whopping 400,000 kip or close to around 60USD for 4 kilo's...and thats via seamail taking 2-3 months...we have now learnt tho, to obtain a price for shipments before allowing them to seal it all up, and signing customs declarations.
Will try to answer some of your guys questions tomorrow, we are heading off to the waterfall to have our first decent power shower...and will let you guys know how it goes tomorrow... Ciao! C