Monday, May 5, 2014

YOLO folks in Laos Feb 2014

We cut into Laos at the southern end from Vietnam, just to see the 4000 Islands area and chill out for a few days.  Actually, the country's name is actually Lao, no 's'.  It was a mistake made years ago when it was referred to as the land of the Lao's (the Lao people) and the 's' just stuck and was used in so many official documents and international things that most people still call it Laos.  It is considered respectful if you use the official name within the country.  But even many gov't signs still use the common name Laos.

There are no trains in Lao, so we were relegated to using buses.  This one was a real trip.  We were overcrowded from the beginning and barely made this bus in time as it was.  Jason had left our passports at the photocopier shop the night before and had to wake the shopkeeper at 5:30 in the morning to get them back in time to catch a taxi to the bus station the next morning to get this bus from Pakse in Vietnam.

Our luggage had to go on top as there was no room in the bus for it.  People were already sitting on the engine cover and alongside the driver when we stopped to pick up this group of people alongside the road. They'd obviously paid someone to pick them up and cart their stuff across the border.  They had glass- and stone-topped tables and chairs to transport, along with their luggage. They must be setting up a coffee shop or restaurant in their home town.  And adding six more bodies seemed impossible!

 A shop along the street selling beans and lentils and such.
 The exotic fruits of SE Asia--the purplish brown fruit in front are mangosteens, very yummy!
 Beer break in one of the hotels we stopped at.  You can't drink the water and the beer is fairly cheap.  Gotta stay hydrated and our backpacks couldn't handle the extra weight of water bottles.
 This lady was asleep in her chair in front of her shop in the market.  I'd be bored too, if I had to sell this junk all day.
 I really loved the different shapes, sizes, textures and materials of all the woven baskets we saw on our trips.  Here is a basket stall in a local market with lots of variety.
 Face masks hanging like bras for sale, along with more baskets and plastic junk.  Baskets of individual cloves of garlic and shallots were everywhere, too.
Once in Attapeu, we had nothing to do so we went looking for a market.  We found a basket seller who had every shape and size of woven basket we could imagine.  We didn't have a clue what all the different shapes were designed for, and here Myra tried one on as a hat.  We later found out this was a rice steaming basket, meant to put onto a ceramic grill ring to heat the rice.

My backpack started to tear apart with all the heavy stuff we kept putting into it, and I found a local lady who sewed it up for me on the spot for a dollar.
These monks in their saffron robes are young boys who live in the monastery nearby.  Every day they must beg for food to eat.  The local businesses keep them fed with rice or money given to them when they come by their business.  The monks offer their prayers for the well-being of the folks who give them rice or cash.  Its a daily ritual and we watched them go from storefront to storefront getting and giving prayers

Jason making sure our luggage got sorted on the tuk tuk from the bus station to the hotel.
Shrines are everywhere here.  Tried to take a shot as the bus drove by, but street scenery got in the way.
Shrines in the monastery and temple area.

Many Buddhas at this temple we walked to in the heat of the day in Attapeu
Our accommodation in Attapeu.  We had to cross planks over an open ditch as the road was under construction.  This place took over 30 minutes to find a key to my room when Jason took off wandering in a different direction and I wanted to get into the room.  Not exactly the most organized place.
The hotels price by the rooms, not the persons, and in some cases there were three beds in a room for the price.   We never paid more than $20 for a room in the whole trip.  Jason teased Paul relentlessly about being a 'shirt lifter' (gay) after he bought the conical hat in Viet Nam and took every chance to tease him and make a scene.  Paul was a great sport about it and we all got laughs out of the antics of these two.  Here they are holding hands in bed in Attapeu.  What will people think now? 

When we got to the bus station, this guy wanted all six of us and our luggage to get on this bus.  No way!  We let him go and caught the next one and got our choice of seating.
Karen with her face mask on in the bus.  I really look like a bad-ass here don't I?
 The open bus we took to the Mekong River town to board a boat to go out to the islands.
 Our open-sided bus at the station before we left.
 Karen, Myra and Maureen sporting our new face masks for the dusty trip to the river.  They are hot to wear and make it hard to wear sunglasses as they steamed up.  We couldn't understand how so many of the people wore them all day, every day.

 Local cow in the bus terminal.  Nobody paid any attention to it.
 The others on the bus didn't get 'window' seats.  Many had to sit on a plank bench in the middle of the bus.  They seem to think this is normal.  I guess they are used to discomfort and enduring hardships.
 Fast food on a stick/skewer at one of the stops.  A stop along the way and locals swarmed the bus with food for sale.  Bags of rice and grilled pieces of chicken skewered on bamboo made their way in through the windows.  The chicken actually looked quite good, but we weren't there long enough for us to overcome the newness and try some. Off we went and had to watch others nibble and pick the chicken and rice, eating with their hands.  No napkins or paper towels or such come with meals.  If you are lucky, they might have a roll of toilet paper in a container to peel off to wipe your hands in a restaurant.  But not in the bus.
 At the bus terminal near the river.  We were all parched and hungry, so we got a drink and I bought a sausage that was grilled across the way.  It wasn't really fully cooked and I have no idea what it was, so just nibbled the grilled outside and tossed the rest away.

When we finally got to our destination, this was the boat dock where we caught the boat out to the island of Don Det.
You can see the boat at the dock, one just like the one we are in-- long, wooden and skinny with a top to keep the sun out.  But sitting two to a seat in these, holding our backpacks in our laps took some sense of balance.  Poor Paraic, he's deathly afraid of falling into the water and Jason would tell him he had his back if he went over.

Our landing on the beach on Don Det.  We trudged up the sand to the flat road and went in search of bungalows to sleep in.  We hadn't booked any accommodation in advance for this island. This was noted as the quiet side of the island, where the music would be less of a bother.  These islands are still hippie hangouts, complete with marijuana smoking if done discretely.  The restaurants had padded cushions on the floor instead of seats and we'd see folks lounging around on them enjoying a toke.
This old lady looked like she was going to bathe in the river.  The bungalows are all built on stilts above the Mekong River bank.
A group of tourists tubing down the Mekong River.  It sounded like a great idea and a wonderful way to cool off in the heat, but the promised "turquoise water on a palm-lined beach" is no longer a reality.  The water is grey-green and more like a sewage river that none of us would get into.  They long ago cut down any palm trees to make room for tourist shops and bungalows.
Jason testing a hammock on a bungalow veranda.
A cat lounging on one of the restaurant seating pads.  We're getting too old and decrepit to get up and down to eat on the floor.  Most cats in this part of the world don't have complete long tails.  They are stubs, some with bulbs at the end like this one.  We saw so many of them like that that we think it's a genetic thing here.

The restaurant at our bungalows the first night had tables.  They offered cheaper beer if you ate there, but then they turned the music up so loud, we couldn't have a conversation so we left.  They asked us to check out the next morning; we think they wanted a younger crowd in their place.

A few of the local boats on the riverbank below the bungalows.
A river bank scene of trees across the Mekong River from our bungalow.  The orange leaves on the one tree was the brightest splash of color we'd seen in a long time so it got a photo.
Some of the 4000 islands in the Mekong delta area here in Laos.  We aren't really sure what it takes to be considered an 'island' here.???
An old French bridge support left over from the war.  They used to unload supplies here.

A riverfront restaurant where we had a breakfast and dinner.
Another view of the Mekong River delta at Don Det, where we 'chilled out' for a few days.
Kids playing on a local cart in the sandy road.  Mostly bicycles and a few motorcycles share the road with foot traffic.
Walking down the road looking for new accommodations on Don Det.
Jason and Myra relaxing on Don Det.
'Bean There, Don Det' was a cute sign at a coffee shop along the road on the island.
Off we go looking for accommodation again.  We changed bungalows twice and ended up in the fairly new hotel.  Bungalows on the river were $10/night.j The first one wanted us to leave and the second one was too uncomfortable and 'rustic' for us, so we opted for the best rooms on the island at $15/night.  It was worth the splurge!
More of the Mekong River scenery.
Bicycles for rent on Don Det.  It was small enough to walk around, so you didn't really need a bike.  Jason and Paul did the entire walk around the island just for exercise.
Our balcony hammocks from our first bungalow on Don Det.  Hanging right over the Mekong River.
The bungalow entry.  We had mosquito nets draped over the bed.
A local fisherman casts his net on the river below us.  People canoeing and tubing by didn't seem to deter him at all.
A local lady walked from the river with these fish on a stick.  Someone will eat well tonight.
Sunrise near our bungalow on Don Det in Laos.
Our rest stop over, we had to leave again, the same way we got here.  The local water buffalo seemed to like the sand to sleep in and our early departure had them still snoozing as we prepared to load the boats to head back to the mainland.
The big guy on the right above, in a close up shot.  They all finally got up and moved before the crowds loaded the boats.
All in all, I'd probably give Laos a miss next time.  We weren't into the war memorabilia or scenes and we didn't really see much else the place had to offer.  I'll admit we only stepped into a tiny fraction of the country, and that was only because Jason really wanted to see the 4000 Islands area of the Mekong Delta (it had been written up as one of the 'must see ' places to visit before you die.  Been there, done that, and didn't even buy a t-shirt!
Some of the shots above came from Calypso and Saol Eile.

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