Friday, January 30, 2009

Le Capital

Bonjour. I'm in Vientiane- the capital of Laos. I took the cheapest mode of transportation from Vang Vieng- a pickup. A covered pickup with two benches on the side. It was crammed with locals and bags of rice and stopped frequently. But it was only 3.5 hours and was actually nice because of the steady breeze.

Vientiane is an interesting capital. It's very small and quiet. The French colonization is evident with the large governmental buildings and the signs in French. French restaurants line the streets. All of this means that Tegra loves it. Reading and speaking French feeds my soul. I met a French guy and he insisted that my French is perfect. I know this isn't so, but it feels so good that I haven't lost it completely.

The plan once here was to meet up with Carter- the guy I flew over with after meeting in the Seattle airport. He's heading into Laos as I'm heading out and we decided to meet up. Just as I was about to go find his hostel I ran into him on the street. We later ran into Owain and the three of us got a beer in a British pub. This really is a small town.

The next day Carter and I ventured out to see the city. We saw quite a bit of it on foot as we searched for the Thai embassy for Carter to get a visa. We passed the Arch- a large monument with a funny story. Apparently in the 60's the US gave Laos cement to build a new airport. They took that cement and built a monument modeled after the Arch de Triomphe in Paris. Some call it the vertical runway, I call it the f*ck you monument. Genius.
Anyway, once we reached the Thai embassy they told us to go to the Thai consulate a good distance away (typical French bureaucracy ;). We gave up because by this point we were starving. Finding food was not easy. You'd think that this huge tourist attraction (the Arch) and the "Champs d'Elysee of Southeast Asia" would be crawling with food stands and restaurants. There was nothing in sight. Once on a side street all we could find were expensive hotel restaurants or little Lao places with no menu. I understood that they pretty much just served traditional noodle soup, but there was no way to communicate that I didn't want meat in my soup. So we kept walking. After what must have almost been an hour we found a place with an English menu. After eating we headed to the large market- Talat Sao. It turned out to be a huge indoor, three story market mostly selling appliances, electronics, jewelry and trinkets.
Most of the shoppers where Lao and the place was bustling. We did find some really stuff including a old wood and stone compass. Not sure if it works, but it's beautiful. We bargained for two- which I've found works well. After seeing the same jewelry in every case, we'd had enough. Outside the market I saw this sign that reads, "Good people don't ruin their country and have manners not to litter thoughtlessly". So at least not everyone is okay with trash EVERYWHERE.
At this point we needed a refreshment. We wondered toward the Mekong River and found a little place with fruit shakes. It was the best pineapple fruit shake I've had yet. We watched some old men play boules (bocci ball) for hours while we read our books. Then we wandered some more. Around sunset we walked along the river and watched the locals play their version of volleyball. I'm not sure of the name of it, but they use a light bamboo ball and kick it or headbutt it over the net. It looks very difficult. A fair amount of people came down to sit and watch the sunset. Some girls blowing bubbles on the river bank:
The water level was really low and barely flowing, but a couple men were still out fishing with their nets. We found a bar right on the water (well, where there's water in wet season) and had a beerlao. (He's tall but also standing higher up than me!)

For dinner I considered splurging for French food. The menus looked delicious, but pricey. I tried to think about it in dollars, which meant $7 or 8 for a meal, but couldn't. I just couldn't pay 3 times as much as I would for Lao or Thai food. It was hard to walk away, but I told myself that there's good French food in Seattle. We tried the Vietnamese place that I'd eaten at the day before because it was so delicious, but it was closed. So we decided on pizza. It was still a splurge, costing a lot more than rice and veggies, but it was so good! And I got red wine! Such a luxury ;). We ran into Owain again at the restaurant and the three of us went in search of a bar. It wasn't easy. Everything closes at 11pm. We finally found "Martini" with outrageous prices, but good music. It's somewhat annoying that everything closes so early, but I'm also proud of Laos for not compromising their culture for tourists.

Today I cross back into Thailand. It will be hard to switch currencies and languages again. I'd just gotten used to kip. But tomorrow I'll fly South to Krabi to explore the beaches and "climber heaven". See you there!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rocks, Lao Lao and BBQ Fish

So I did go climbing, eventually. The plan was to meet Ashley’s two Kiwi climbing friends in the morning. Of course the day before they’d gone tubbing so waking up was a challenge. Luckily they eventually made it and after getting food, renting a harness and dilly dallying, we headed to the rock. Finding it was another story. We walked across the river to the other side of town and realized we’d been on the wrong side of the river. This side was quiet and beautiful with little bungalows where people were chilling out and swimming. Now I know where to stay next time.

We had hand written directions that said to follow the fence next to the bungalows, walk through town, through the rice patties, take a left and find the trail to the wall. Right. We followed the white flags through the rice patties, the mountain jutting up in front of us.

When we reached the brush the trail was guarded by a few Lao demanding money to pass. We explained that we were going climbing and not seeing the cave. They still wanted 5,000 kip each. We asked why and they didn’t understand. The climbing guide said nothing of a fee and we didn’t feel we had to pay. If it was their land I wanted to pay, but we had no way of knowing. They could just sit here and scam tourists all day. So we tried to just keep walking. They got angry and kept on us. So we paid half and walked away. One of the guys who’d been sitting and eating gets up with his knife and says something mean in Lao. The kids laughed loudly and we understood he was threatening us. We weren’t scared of him, but didn’t want to deal with it anymore since we couldn’t speak the language. 5,000 kip is less than a dollar, but it was the principle. We would have been happy to pay money that went to re-bolting the wall, but not to unofficial guards. The other thing is that you have to start thinking in the currency you’re in if you want to budget. I mean, I won’t haggle a poor old lady for .50 cents, but when 3 dollars is a nights lodging you can’t just throw dollars away. Anyway, we then tried to find the trail and could not. After going back and forth wondering which way it was we asked the girl working near the cave. She lead us back the way we came and went through a closed gate to the trail that we never would have found. She lead us all the way up the steep hill to the rock wall and asked for some money. We were happy to pay her and when we gave her what we had she was grateful and didn’t ask for more. Just goes to show you there are people of both sides everywhere.

The rock was awesome and the view of the valley below was beautiful! Huge stalactites hung down the wall above us and were incorporated in some of the routes. Joe had one rope so he lead the first pitch and we all took turns. The rock was smooth and there were plenty of holds. It was really fun climbing. We did two pitches and I made it to the top of both- my arms killing me. The view from the top was incredible! Sweaty, dirty and tired we headed back to town as the sun was setting.

The four of us met for dinner after hot showers. We went to one of the Friends bars- oh Vang Vieng is full of restaurants where they play TV shows all the time. You lay on cushions, order food and drink and watch Friends, Simpsons or Family Guy. Those are the three options pretty much. I can see that it would be nice when you’re hung over and don’t want to do anything, but why would anyone come to Laos to watch American TV? Plenty of backpackers party at night and then sit and watch TV all day. Personally I prefer climbing, tubbing, biking and caving. Anyway, the only BBQ place we saw was playing Friends so we faced away from the TV and ignored it. We ordered a whole BBQ fish from the grill, some curry and phad thai. The fish came first with some sticky rice and we just attacked it eating with our fingers and sucking the flesh from the bone. It was delicious! We also ordered coconut shakes and mixed in our Lao Lao whisky that we’d bought in the whisky village. And right as we were about to eat the power went off. Friends was stopped and candles were brought out to the tables. It was perfect!

After dinner we decided we’d actually go out one night and check out of the many bars. We had to finish our whisky anyway. We ran into Owain and Ashley and the six of us headed to Smile Bar across the bamboo bridge. A DJ played loud music while people danced around fire pits. We did the limbo and secretly mixed our Lao Lao with soda. I ran into Kelly who I’d met in Chiang Mai and another guy from Portland, OR. It was fun, but I was glad when the place closed at midnight (I’m getting old). The street back to our place was lined with carts selling sandwiches and pancakes and the westerners slowly dispersed with their food.

Today I’m taking a chill day to read and do email. I also have to book my flights south. Tomorrow I’m heading to the capital- Vientiane and then down to the Thai beaches. Ciao ciao!

I'm a millionaire!!! (1 million kip):

Monday, January 26, 2009

More pics from Slow Boat

Cards on boat

Kids on shore

Kids boarding with soda and snacks to sell

Front of boat group(90210 group)

Oh my Buddha

Hi all. Well, first off I’ve extended my trip one week. I would have had to really rush through Laos and there was no way I was ready to leave by the 6th. So I’m now flying back on the 13th. It still doesn’t feel like enough time, but I’m glad I was able to do it.

So the bowling alley was interesting. Luang Prabang is peaceful because they close the bars at 11:30pm. The bowling alley is out of town so they cart all the foreigners out there. It was an interesting scene. Luckily, we ran into the Opera singer from NYC who took us to a disco tech. It’s where the Lao people go. It was great…except it closed after three songs. So we had to go back to the bowling alley. We actually got to bowl and it was a good time. I just found it so funny that no matter where westerners go we need to party, and the locals found a solution to keep us from waking everyone up.

Ashley and I got about 3 hours of sleep that night because we caught an early bus to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars. The bus was 8 hours of windy roads, but it was beautiful! We drove along ridge tops winding through little villages perched on the mountains. There were mountains as far as you could see. I think the road was new and I can't imagine doing that drive on dirt roads.
Once in Phonsavan we were bombarded by people selling their guesthouses. One really nice guy drove us into town and showed us a couple places to choose from. Since we split the room and this town was cheaper, we got a really nice place with a hot shower (normally you’re lucky if it’s warm) and a TV. It was luxurious.

The next day we went on a group tour of the Plain of Jars. There are thousands of these 2,500 year old stone jars strew over the landscape. They were once carved for an unknown reason by unknown people. There are many theories such as they were used to make wine or spirits or they were coffins but no one really knows. They were very impressive and eerie.

This area of Laos was also riddled with bombs during the Vietnam war and you could see large craters everywhere (see above photo). We went to the three main sites of the jars, went to a small whisky village where we learned how they make Lao whisky, saw an old Russian tank that’s been striped of usable metal by the people, and got noodle soup in a little village where kids were playing soccer. It was a great day.

When we got back to town we went to the MAG gallery to watch a film on the bombing of Laos. MAG is a worldwide organization that deals with unexploded bombs. There are millions of unexploded bombies (small dispersed bombs air dropped by America) in Laos, killing farmers and children when they come upon them. During the Vietnam War America held an illegal secret war on Laos making it the most bombed country in the world. The damage is horrific and it’s the aftermath of that war that keeps Laos one of the poorest countries in the world. America has never taken responsibility for this. MAG is doing great work trying to rid villages of deadly bombies and needs as much help as they can get. Traveling as an American can make one feel very guilty.

That night we caught the night bus to Vang Vieng where we arrived at 1am. Luckily a tuk tuk took us to town and found a us a room. Vang Vieng is a huge backpacker destination so the first couple places were full. This is a crazy place. It’s full of backpackers because there’s a lot of adventuring around such as climbing, kayaking, caving and tubbing. It’s therefore of course a big party town. We ran into Owain (Wales) and Ashley (Ile of White) and did what everyone does- go tubbing down the river. We knew that there were bars along the river and it involves a lot more drinking than tubbing, but we had no idea. We got dropped off 3km up river where we had a drink before even getting wet. Then as we floated down we saw huge bars crammed with people, the techno music blaring. It was like "spring break". A rope was thrown out to us and we were pulled into the first bar. We ordered a gin and tonic… in a bucket and joined the party in the sun. There was a zip line into the river that we of course had to do. Ashley and I climbed up to the platform and went on the zip line together. At the end of the line was a spring that snapped you back sending you flipping into the water. We planned on letting go before the spring… the nice thing was you didn’t have to let go because the spring hit you so hard you were thrown off, but it also snaps your neck and you land in the water on your head. It was a blast, but my neck is feeling it today. We floated to the next bar where there was a water slide and a fire pit. The water slide was also fun until I hit the water and felt like I got punched in the face. So far I’m not sure their big on safely here ;). We had to get our tubes back by 6pm or else pay more so we hurried down. We’d only gone ¼ of the way and had a long, chilly float. We got our deposits back just in time. On the float we met Bjorn from Norway and he joined us for dinner. We all had big plans to hit one of the many bars, but after eating we were all ready for bed.

Today I tried to sleep in because my tummy felt a little funny. I’ve been lucky not to get sick so far and didn’t want that luck to end. Waking up to the view of big karst mountains over the river wasn’t so bad.

Bjorn, Owain, Ashley and I then met at noon to rent motorbikes and drive around (sorry parentals). We got two bikes (4 helmets) and set out to look for caves. The bikes were fun and I was relieved that Bjorn knew what how to drive a manual. Ashley and Owain:

We went 20 or 30 km and found a dirt road to the river. We had to pay to park, pay to cross the bamboo bridge and pay to enter the cave, but we went for it. We started down the trail into the dried rice patties and would have gone the wrong way if it weren’t for three little boys leading us. We weren’t sure where they were leading us, but followed anyway. We followed through rice fields under the rising peaks to what looked like a small cave. Right inside was a large Buddha.
Thinking that was it, I walked further in to the cave and got out my headlamp. Turns out it kept going. Our little guide was still in front of us so we followed for what seemed like forever. The cave was beautiful. The cavern was pretty big most of the time with a couple spots where you had to crawl through. There were beautiful sparkly stalagmites and stalagtites and rounded river rocks that show that in the wet season a river runs through. We must have gone at least a mile in when we heard water. We got to the river and waded as far as we could (it reminded me of Fern Gully). Our journey ended when we reached a deep pool and our guide stopped. So naturally we went swimming. A mile deep in a cave! It was incredible! The water was perfect and we were hot with sweat after the clammy walk. It was hard to tell how deep parts were and I scraped my toe on a sharp rock. I swam with my headlamp on to the next pool and it looked like the cave continued on. It would have been fun to keep going and see the end (or start). The swim was perfect and we all turned out our lamps for second and sat in total darkness. We definitely didn’t expect this much of an adventure and it was awesome.

We hiked out and wanted to give our little guide a tip. When we offered it to him he wanted more. He’d never told us it would cost anything and we never asked for the help. It’s frustrating to feel like he deserved a good tip, but to also feel cheated into something we didn’t ask for (a feeling I have a lot here). It worked out though and we headed back to the river for lunch. Then I learned to drive the motorbike. It was tricky to figure out the gears and the hardest part was stopping. The breaks were weak so down shifting was your better bet. I practiced on the dirt road for a bit and managed to only run into the bushes once. Bjorn was terrified to get on with me, but I did just fine. It was fun- even when I had to honk at the cows to get out of my way and maneuver through them. We biked for a little longer and then headed back for a beer. We laid on cushions at a deck restaurant by the river and watched the sunset. It was a great day. Tomorrow I’m going climbing! Cheers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Slow Boat to Laos

The border town of Huay Xui didn’t have much to offer. I did some well needed laudry, got some Indian food and read my book. It was fantastic. From there the next day I took a large slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang stopping for a night since the ride takes 14 hours. Parentals: you’ll be proud to know that I did not take the speedboat down because deadly accidents happen quite often. The slow boat turned out to be fun anyway. A bunch of farangs piled into this long narrow wooden boat. I got there early to get a good seat and sat there for 3 hours. The boat was half full and we all thought we’d be on our way soon, when bus loads of people come walking on. Once the boat was packed and it was now noon, we took off.(more pics to come)
The ride was beautiful. We passed water buffalo on the banks and fishermen casting their nets. Kids waved from shore as we leisurely motored down. The group of us sitting in the front started to make friends. A guy from Miami got everyone to introduce themselves and eventually entertained us with his opera singing. Amazing stuff. This energetic laughable American was traveling with his grumpy cynical Italian friend and they made a hilarious pair. I met a photographer from Argentina, a girl from Hawaii, a guy from Wales and many more. The ride was long and my butt hurt after hours on the wood seat, but it was a great experience. Getting off the boat with my bag was another story. Once we arrived at our overnight stay in a tiny village called Pak Beng, it was a free for all to get your bag. I scrambled on and off to trying not to get pushed into the water from the precarious wood planks. Once off, I was bombarded by people selling their guesthouses. Ashley (from Hawaii) and I decided on a place and split a room. We were exhausted after the long boat ride and went to bed after dinner. Not that there would have been much to do- the whole town runs on a generator which turns off at midnight, leaving it pitch black.

In the morning we tried to get our same seats. The same group met at the front of the boat, but it was a different boat with more hard benches and less leg room. They squeezed two boat loads of people onto one boat for the second day. We managed to get a corner spot with a guy from Wales and another from the Ile of White. The four of us talked and played cards and watched the scenery go by. A group of Argentineans sang songs in the back and another group got drunk in the front. At one point the guy from Miami convinced Ashley and I to help him sing the American national anthem since other nationalities were singing theirs. I felt a little silly, but seeing as it was January 20th, I did have something to be proud of. Too bad there wasn’t a TV for miles to watch the inauguration. The boat was an amazing experience and Laos is a beautiful country!
We arrived in Luang Prabang in the evening and the four of us went in search for a guesthouse. Splitting a room makes things more affordable and we found a nice place along the river. Luang Prabang is a peaceful and beautiful city. It’s an old French colonial town with beautiful architecture and brightly painted shutters. It’s a bit touristy and resorty, but nice. The four of us had a great dinner with wine (!) -I’d been craving wine since you can’t find it Thailand. Then we walked through the market and tried to find a bar. The town is so quiet that there are only a couple bars and they close at midnight. We got a drink, but were happy to go to bed without loud music, crowing roosters or noisy traffic. It was a great night’s sleep.

Today Ashley and I had a cup of coffee and a croissant and then walked around. We climbed the Phousi Mt to a temple that overlooks the city. It was a beautiful view of the river and mountains beyond.
Then we got spicy papaya salad at a street stand and headed for a massage. Luang Prabang is known for good massages and I needed one after trekking and sitting on a boat for 14 hours. Tonight we’re hitting up the only (literally) late night place, which is a bowling alley. First I want a street vendor veggie buffet for dinner and a crepe for dessert. The best part about this town is the French food!!! Baguettes sandwiches, mmmm good. I’m enjoying this sleepy town and my new travel partner. Tomorrow we’re heading south. Sabadi.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jungle Paradise

As you might have guessed by my lack of posts, I’m having a brilliant time (picked brilliant up from the Brits). So prepare for a long read. Lets see, I left you in Chiang Mai. From there I took a bus north to Tha Ton. It was a public bus and took about 4 hours. The young Thai girl next to me fell asleep on my shoulder. I didn’t feel the need to wake her and all the other Thai people laughed and smiled. When we arrived the bus driver shook my hand wished me luck. Standing in the dusty parking lot reading my Lonely Planet (everyone calls it the Holy Bible) looking for a hostel, I met an older Australian couple doing the same thing. We wandered down the street together and I was relieved to see that Tha Ton is beautiful and quite small. After finding a couple rooms, the three of us did the only thing there is to do in Tha Ton. We climbed the hill to Wat Tha Ton. You start along the Mae Nam Kok River and can go to higher and higher levels of Chinese temples. The first was a man-made rock covered in Chinese Buddhas. You walk up steps through fake little caves and up to the Wat at the top. Further up the road is another fake rock area with more caves, fake stone tigers and a large white Buddha. A huge gold sitting Buddha is next up the road. The last one we went to was a large gold Buddha with 6 snake heads surrounding it. Jim and Judy (the Aussies) thought that the snakes were protectors of Buddha. The view from here was incredible. We could see the whole valley with the s-curves in the river and rice patties around it.

It was getting towards sunset and Judy was dying for a cup-a (cup of tea). We headed down to the first level where we found free food! The temple provides not only for the monks, but for anyone who comes. So we made a donation, grabbed some rice and veggies and sat on the deck over looking the town just as the sun went down. Turns out Jim and Judy have a WWOOF farm near Brisbane probably not far from where I wwoofed 3 years ago. We had a lovely time chatting about travels and politics.

The next day I met them again for breakfast and for another walk. We continued up the steep road to the next temple. This one was at the very top and is brand new. It’s large, ornate and shiny. From inside you walk in a spiral up to the top. Workers were still painting and putting shiny metal dragon scales on the ceiling. A blinding white terrace on top gave extraordinary views. It was awe-inspiring and will bring a lot of people to Tha Ton. It wasn’t the end though. Further down the road along the ridge was the last temple. It was older and had a large gold standing Buddha holding a bowl or cup. People attempted to throw coins up into the bowl, which reminded me of how we throw coins in a pond, except harder. From there we had to hurry down the mountain to catch our boat.

From Tha Ton I boarded a long tail boat down the river to Chiang Rai. I was sick of buses and although this was only for tourists, it seemed like a nice way to travel. They crammed 12 of us and our bags (and a bike) on the boat and we were perhaps too close to the water level, but we motored down.

Water splashed in a couple times and we had to get out once and walk because of some rapids. When we left shore again, the propeller hit a rock and broke. We all thought that was it, we’d be stuck there overnight or something, but after paddling back to shore the driver pulled a new one out and replaced it. It must happen a lot. On the boat I met a very nice couple from Denmark. Thor and Kristina were getting off half way and staying in a mountain village. A guy from Akha Village Hill House was going to pick them up and take them into the jungle. It sounded so nice I decided to follow them. I had paid for the whole boat ride, but this place would drive me to Chiang Rai for free in the next day or two. I figured if I went to Chiang Rai and paid for a trek, they would we bring me back to this area. So when they got off the boat at a lonely looking dock, I followed. When the guy wasn’t there to pick us up, I hoped I wasn’t going to be stranded in the middle of nowhere since only one boat goes down the river each day. But, he showed up shortly after and we headed into the jungle. It was good we had 4 wheel drive since the road was steep and rutted. We passed a green tea plantation and headed up a very steep hill to the Akha village. There at the Hill House were lovely mud houses, bungalows and an open restaurant perched over the hill. It was an incredibly beautiful spot and I was really glad I came. To find a place like this is rare. It was nearing the end of the day when the light is golden so I went for a little hike. I climbed the hill to the top of the village (no more than 20 houses) and saw a trail on the other ridge. I wandered through town again looking for a trail. A little boy motioned for me to follow him and pointed me to the trail. Not far down it I looked back for a great view of the village.

I came to the end of the trail and realized I’d missed the trail leading up to the ridge. I found it on my way back and followed it straight up the hillside. The view was incredible- I could see over the other side to the endless ridges and valleys. I quickly headed down before the sun could. Back at the restaurant I found everyone sitting around a fire. I ordered some food, grabbed a Leo beer and met the other folks. There was guy from Portland, OR, a Dutchman, some Germans, a Scot, a Norwegian, a couple Brits, an Australian family and my Danish friends. At one point Portland, an Aussie and a Thai boy were all playing guitar. Puppies ran in and out of the group and eventually fell asleep in people’s laps. A friendly cat fell asleep in mine ;). It was perfect. Later in the evening a couple of the Akha men came in for a sort of show. The first “game” was the challenge of bending down on one foot and picking up a beer can with your mouth. A 3 year boy demonstrated and made it look easy. None of the farangs could do it. I of course tried and couldn’t make it. The next trick involved a bamboo stick and flexibility. That one I was able to do. Harder and harder tricks ensued proving that these two Akha men were very, very strong. I of course tried everything. My favorite involved a stick about 6 inches long that you pushed against a board on the floor and twisted your body upside down and back around without touching the floor (if that made any sense). I came really close to doing it and somewhat impressed them I think. We all compared games of strength and flexibility and I loved it (big surprise to you all I’m sure)!

The next day I went on a trek with Thor and Kristina and a girl from New York who’s been teaching in Chiang Mai. Our guide was Ame, one of the stong Akha guys. He led us into the jungle and taught us about the plants. We saw jungle tea, jungle apples, jungle beans etc. We hiked over the mountains crossing streams on bamboo bridges.
Thailand has many kinds of bamboo and the people use them all. Some are for houses, some for floors, some for cooking, some for chopsticks, some for weaving etc. We stopped at a stream to catch some fish for lunch. The tactic was to build a dam on half of the stream so there was less water and the fish could be caught. We couldn’t see any fish, but we followed Ame and moved rocks and dirt to build a dam. It took a while and we finally stopped the water on one side. We got down and felt around. Can you picture me hunting for fish? We found little tiny crawdad things and a couple tiny fish. It seemed like a lot of work for such a small catch, but it was fun. Then we hiked to the lunch spot. Ame cut down some bamboo and chopped it with his machete. He cut 4 little cups and 6 long tubes. He also cut chopsticks for us. We filled the bamboo tubes with water from the river.
We then sat back and watched him cook us lunch using traditional bamboo cooking. In one tube he put vegetables and water. He used a large leaf as a lid and put it in the fire. In another he cracked the eggs and added tomato and onion and put that in the fire. In another he put banana flowers, the fish and water. Once they were cooking he put large leaves inside a hole in the ground. He cracked more eggs in and added ramen noodles. When the vegetables were done he poured them and the boiling water onto the hole and covered it with a leaf to cook the noodles. The egg tube he cut in half revealing the cooked omelet. We ate out of our bamboo cups and it was delicious! The fish was boney but tasty. I was very impressed and felt like I’d learned some survival skills. After lunch we headed straight up the mountain to a Yao village. It was hard hiking and Ame waited for us patiently. The village was at the very top of the ridge and had an incredible view. I could see the tea plantation many ridges away. The village was mostly deserted since everyone was in town for work. There were a couple old ladies sitting in the street sewing. They were adorable. One had a needle stuck in her head wrap with string tied to it and her double thick glasses. I think it held the glasses on her nose as she sewed. They smiled at us with toothless grins as we rested for a moment.
The village was not an old ‘traditional’ village- it had power lines and satellite dishes- and I was a little disappointed with the lack of interaction. It was still nice to be that far out there and hear the Yao language. On the hike back Ame made all sorts of things out of bamboo. He made an air gun that shot balled leaves pretty far and made a loud bang. We shot fruit out of a tree with his slingshot. We finished our long hike with an amazing waterfall. By that time of day it wasn’t warm enough to swim, but it was beautiful and Ame and I climbed on a rock for a photo. We got back to the village dirty and exhausted wearing jungle hats made out of leaves. I felt like I got a unique experience that I couldn’t have found in Chiang Rai. That night we sat around the fire again. The cat feel asleep on me again and the guitars were played again. I tried the tricks again and learned that rumors about me being a dancer or a gymnast were circling the guesthouse. An elderly woman from the village came and silently sat by the fire. The 3 year old and one of the young Australian girls were best friends. Ame walked on beer cans while the farangs just crushed them. We compared travel stories late into the night.
I hated leaving the Akha village. I loved the community and knew there was more to see. I could have stayed to help build a mud house or gone down to the hot springs. But, I knew I had to move on to see Laos. A lot of people were leaving so we piled into the back of a pickup. Standing, we held on tight as the truck went down the bumpy road. I can’t imagine the amount of waivers you’d have to sign in the US, but it was fun. At the bus station I said goodbye to Thor and Kristina and thanked them for leading me astray. Then I took the bus to Chiang Khong and headed straight for the border- the Mekong River. There weren’t very many signs for the ferry across. I paid 30 baht and boarded a sketchy long boat. Within minutes I was in Laos. I got a visa at immigration and a new stamp in my passport.