Last notes from this trip

After crossing the Lao-Thai border we went around northern Thailand rather quickly. Mae Sai was as before but the market area around the border seemed ever more busy, Mae Salong hadn’t changed much since my last visit in 2002, neither had Chiang Rai. We took a cooking class Chiang Mai, which was fun. Pai had changed quite a bit since 2002, a lot more westeners and thai “hippies” or something. Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang both were quiet. Mae Sot has a nice little market area, way more Burmese than Thai. I didn’t take almost any photos.

After that, Bangkok. We stayed a day before heading to Ko Tao. It was a bit difficult to decide on an island wouldn’t be too crowded, as we figured the small resorts on Andaman Ko Chang would be pretty much closed for the rainy season already. We found a nice enough place at Tanote Bay and stayed a few days. Two big lizards liked to spend their days in our toilet.

Then Bangkok once more, we stayed almost a week at the Atlanta Hotel at the end of Sukhumvit soi 3. What a place – see the their website:) Again, we didn’t do much.

Air Asia to Macau where it was hot and humid, a lot more than in Bangkok. A strange place with a lot of churches and old portugese buidlings, Macanese cuisine i.e. Portugese Cantonese cross kitchen (with some Brazilian, Indian and African twists), very tacky casinos, less than clean Chinese eateries and so on.

Ferry to Hong Kong and 4 nights at Chungking Mansions again. We shopped for some electronics and saw some sights. The Hong Kong history museum is pretty good. The art museum is not (too much porcelain) . We flew back on the 4th of June, 19 years after the Tiananmen square massacre in Beijing. There were some performances at Times square and a bigger demonstration in Victoria Park later. We had to leave before it really got going but there were a fair amount of people. Surprisingly middle aged crowd though. See photos.

Left Hong Kong luckily a day before it rained a bit too much there. Waited for a connecting flight for 10 hours at Heathrow. And arrived in Helsinki at about nine in the evening, having left on July 30th last year, with a train to Moscow.

The future of this blog is open. Maybe i’ll have something to say.

photos from Wednesday, June 4th 2008
Candle demonstration on the 19th aniversary of Tiananmen massacre Candle demonstration on the 19th aniversary of Tiananmen massacre One of the few young people June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong hand out to the performers June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong June 4th performances at Times Square, Hong Kong A hole in the park Hong Kong Hi five ??? Statue square
photos from Tuesday, June 3rd 2008
Cappuccino foam
photos from Sunday, June 1st 2008
Busy street in Hong Kong Some fake lawn in a mall Mongkok Hong kong:D
photos from Friday, May 30th 2008
The base of Macao tower (down there) and my feet A somewhat less extravagant Macao cityscape Now that is just ridiculous
photos from Thursday, May 15th 2008
Mae Hong Son
photos from Thursday, May 8th 2008
Mountain roads Temple Naga head
photos from Tuesday, May 6th 2008
Tachilek, Myanmar The northern most of Thaialnd

Northern Lao PDR

We skipped Xaignabouli and went straight to Luang Prabang, Lao PDRs main tourist attraction. It has changed a bit since my last visit in 2002, and as a result it might lose its Unesco world heritage site status (see a Vientiane Times article). Saw some temples and I got my stitches off at the provincial hospital for 15000 kip.

Then on to Phonsavan and the plain of Jars. The last time I saw the Jars there it was late July, and it was raining and looking very stonehengy. I expected thing to be brown and dry now, but no, the rains have started early this year. It was all very stonehengy again: dark clouds hanging low, green green grass and grey rock.

Also went to the old capital of the province, Xieng Khuang where there is a Buddha with a quirky smile – I suppose a bomb went off right next to it and it got some shrapnel in the face. It’s one of the most bombed countries on earth, the often quoted statistics say that US bombers dropped 2000 million metric tonnes of bombs from 1964 to 1973, meaning that on average a planeload came down every 8 minutes for 9 years. The Plain of Jars area was especially hard hit. There are craters everywhere. It is estimated that up to 30% of all ordnance did not explode.
Lao governments UXO LAO and NGOs like MAG are cleaning up places and have more info.

The bombs dropped include approximately 270 million anti-personnel submunition bomblets or “bombies” released from cluster bombs. The Finnish military wants to replace its stock of anti personnel mines with this stuff. PM Vanhanen thinks theyre OK, and so does president Halonen, but these more modern things will all explode with 99,8% certainty said Chief of Defence Kaskeala, so things are fine.

Phonsavan and the surroundings were nice and quiet after Luang Prabang and Songkan in Vientiane.

From Phonsavan a long ride to Houa Phan province where neither of us had been before. I did try in July 2002 but was stopped by landslides on route 1 between Nong Khiaw and Sam Neua. The main reason for going was to see the caves in Vieng Xai where the leaders of Pathet Lao (the party in power since 1975) hid from american bombers. A small pretty valley with karst mountains and small lakes. It was rainy. The caves have been restored somewhat and are now named after Pathet Lao leaders, and have some nice french style mansions built in front of them (after the ceasefire fire in 1973 the guys could stay outside the caves and had these built for themselves). The Lao government wants to push the caves as a tourism destination, but at least now there were very few tourists around.

Sam Neua, the capiptal of Houa Phan is as small and sleepy as the usual Lao provincial capital. Surrounded by green mountains, cold and rainy. A lot of Chinese is spoken in the streets, and as usual most of the guys working at construction sites seem to be Vietnamese.

Heading west from Sam Neua we stopped at Nakorn village and trekked 6km to Hintang “archeological park”, where someone erected some 1-2 meter high stone slabs some 1500-2000 years ago for some reason. There are some also some holes under the slabs, and stone discs covering these. It was green, grey and rainy again. We walked back to the road and flagged down a Vientiane bound bus and rode until Ko Hing, the intersection of routes 1,6 and 7, called Phou Lao on the map (?!?) and stayed in a very basic guest house (no water, no electricity, sticky rice and tinned sardines in tomato sauce for food).

Next morning we stopped a Luang Prabang bound songthaeow and rode it until Nong Khiaw, landing firmly on the tourist track once more. The banana chocolate pancakes were ok. We didn’t go to Muang Ngoi Neua where everyone else was going but stayed for 2 days not doing much (i needed to spend a lot of time in the toilet after eating some slimy greens with my laap in Sam Neua).

Spent one night in Udomxai between Nong Khiaw and Luang Namtha. It is raining and green here too.

As we arrived we spotted a 3 day forest trek available at Green Discovery. 6 persons had already booked so it was fairly cheap for 3 days and we went for it. The trek was a bit different from most, as we didn’t stay in villages but a lodge built in the forest for the first night and a house in an abandoned Akha village for the second night. We had a Lao and Tai Dam guide, Two Khmu ladies cooking for us the first night and two young Akha boys for the second one (there was a wedding in their village so the parents sent their kids as they wanted to party), all friendly people. We went through forests, at times old with huge trees and at times younger swidden fields on their fallow period, and in the end some just burned forest. Also bamboo thickets, a bit boring to walk through. As it has been was raining, there was slippery mud and leeches. Got stung by 2 bees and 7 wasps and got 2 leeches suckomg blood and ripped many more off me before they got into it. The trek was “moderate” on the brochure, trekked 4-6 hours a day, up and down a lot, which was ok.

After the trek spent one more day in Mueang Sing. It was raining all day so we didn’t do much. In the morning eyeballed some colorful people at the market, and then rode a bus back to Luang Namtha. We’ll take a 13.30 bus to Huay Xai and cross back to Thailand today or tomorrow morning.

edit: photos added.

photos from Friday, May 2nd 2008
Abandoned village Worn out trekkers
photos from Thursday, May 1st 2008
photos from Sunday, April 27th 2008
Burning field
photos from Friday, April 25th 2008
Suan Hin 3 Suan Hin 2 Suan Hin
photos from Thursday, April 24th 2008
Sam Neua
photos from Wednesday, April 23rd 2008
The way to a cave Pathet Lao caves Pathet Lao caves 2 A lake in Vieng Xai Modern Lao architecture (tm) Down with USA Savang Vatthana
photos from Monday, April 21st 2008
Quirky smile Buddha Old Xieng Khouang
photos from Sunday, April 20th 2008
Jars 4 Tank Jars 3 Lao Lao Jars 2 Jars Crater
photos from Friday, April 18th 2008
Buddha Mr.Cat Door decorations Relief
photos from Wednesday, April 16th 2008

Ceiling fans are dangerous

I’m trying to keep dry in Vientiane. Songkan is here and i have a cut in my head.

A couple of days ago in Thakhek i spotted an interesting gekko outside my hostel room window and stood up on the bed to see it better. As i turned away from it, the ceiling fan hit me in the head. A pretty big one, the diameter being about 1,5 meters with blades of steel and spinning fast. So, bang, it hit me and cut me. Surprisingly not too badly (about 5cm long and not too deep). Got some stitches at the local clinic, and now it is healing, but i’m supposed to keep it dry, so no water throwing for me. (Sonkan involves a lot of throwing water on other people. A lot of fun in the heat but not for me this year. I just sit at the hostel balcony and try to hit the passers by from a safe distance. One day to go.)

Other activities since the last posting:

From Siem Reap we rode a bus to Kampong Cham next to Mekong river. We rent a motorbike and rode around the countryside for a day. It was very dusty. Lot of rubber plantations in the area. There’s a very long bamboo bridge to an island on the river, and a Cham neighbourhood. Otherwise not much there. Nice enough still.

Then to Kratie. We saw some (backs and watery burps of) Irrawaddy dolphins (in the distance). Otherwise peaceful and quiet again, sunsets by the Mekong, etc.

Then up to Banlung in Ratanakiri, where we swam in a very deep round lake, drove around with motorbikes & drivers to some remote waterfalls and villages with gem “mines” – very narrow (maybe a meter wide max) deep (1o meters maybe) holes in the ground. There are some nice forests in the area, and also lots of old forests just recently cut down with rubber trees and cashew nuts replacing them. Driving through cashew orchards i learned why the nuts are so damn expensive. The plant is smallish tree that has red “fruits” (accessory fruits to be exact) and the nut (the fruit proper) itself is hanging below this thing, inside a hard shell. Inside the shell there’s still a reddish skin to be removed. So just one well packed nut per fruit and not too many nuts per tree and so on. A lot of handwork picking the things, getting the nut out of the shells and pealing them. Yields per hectare are low (916 kg/hectare on average says Wikipedia).

The waterfalls were OK too.

After Banlung we head north to Lao PDR (after a little detour south). I went to Don Det on Si Phan Don in July 2002, and expected the place to have changed quite a bit. And so it had: now there are internet cafes, restaurants, trucks for taking Lao and Thai tour groups to see the waterfalls and so on. But laying down in the hammock, swimming in the Mekong and not doing much else was good for a few days.

Then to Pakxe. It has changed quite a bit too. We rent a Thai built 110cc Suzuki to drive around the Bolaven plateau for some days. If you do the same please check your bike properly before taking off. I didn’t and we had some troubles. As we rode off the chain on the bike was jumping with a horrible sound, and i took the bike back. The guy at the rental said it was just loose, tightened the chain and we went off again. I should have insisted on seeing the sprockets (the bike has a full chain guard as these bikes often do, a good thing otherwise, but it needs to be taken apart a bit to see how the chain and sprockets are really doing). I was rewarded for this stupidity after about 120km: the chain was jumping again. We took the bike to a mechanic in Salavan. The front sprocket was missing some teeth, and the rubber dampers inside the rear hub were in pieces. Paid 150000 Kip (about 12€) for new sprockets, front and back, a new chain and the rubber dampers, including work. Cheap and i even got it reimbursed without arguing when paying the rent for the bike. So no real harm there, but still, i’ll check it better next time.

Otherwise the trip was nice. On the first day drove east from Pakse before turning north towards Tat lo, a very picturesque village (with lots of backpackers) for the night. There’s a waterfall about 10km from the village (Tat suong). Not much water in it at this time of the year, but good views from the top.

Next day on north to Salavan, where we had coffee, saw the market, and got the bike fixed. Not much there. A bit backtracking south and then the dirt road from Ban Beng to Tha Taeng and on to Sekong, where we spent the night. There’s pretty much nothing to see or do in the town. For obvious reasons we wanted to stay in the Woman Fever Kosmet Centre Guest House but had to go elsewhere because we didn’t find any staff.

The final day was long, first south towards Attapeu to Ban Bengphua Kham and then west towards Pakxong along a dirt road, pretty steep at places. It rained the night before so the air was clear. The road goes through green forests with big trees before getting on top of the plateau. There’s a 100m high waterfall (Nam Tok Katamtok) on the way too. The dirt road ends in Pakxong. We first planned to stay there but as we were early and there isn’t much there we rode on back to Pakxe, stopping at two waterfalls on the way. About 450km in 3 days, a good trip and a sore bum.

The next day on to Thakek where we went on a trek organized by the provincial tourist office. Never really been on these organized treks before. The karst mountain landscape is scenic and the forests too, we went to caves and swam in streams, ate ants and something like a squirrel, drank a lot of laolao, and the villagers were friendly too.

As we came back to Pakxe i had my ceiling fan incident and next morning we came to Vientiane, and now i’m trying to keep dry here.

Got email from Oasis Hongkong: they are bankrupt and finished flying (thanks to rising jet fuel prices say the papers), so i had to buy a new ticket from Hong Kong to London. So i’ll be in Finland on 5.6.2008. I doubt i’ll ever get my money back for the Oasis ticket.

edit: photos added

photos from Tuesday, April 15th 2008
photos from Thursday, April 10th 2008
A strange colour lake 2 A strange colour lake
photos from Wednesday, April 9th 2008
Cave A sawmill in a cave A sawmill in a cave Mountains
photos from Sunday, April 6th 2008
Nam Tok Katamtok Naked tree
photos from Friday, April 4th 2008
Black goat Tree Plant Goats Stream Tad Suong
photos from Thursday, April 3rd 2008
Orange on blue
photos from Tuesday, April 1st 2008
Rapid Buffalo bath Postcard
photos from Monday, March 31st 2008
Dot Det by night Boatman
photos from Wednesday, March 26th 2008
Teens Waterfall
photos from Tuesday, March 25th 2008
A weird lake
photos from Sunday, March 23rd 2008
photos from Thursday, March 20th 2008
Bridge to Mekong island Boats on dry mekong