Laos: Part Deux

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After 5 nights in Luang Prabang, I rented a motorcycle, and notice I said motorcycle, not motorbike. For the first time in Asia I had a real motorcycle! It had five gears, a clutch; it was such a nice change from the scooters we’ve been putzing around on.

This was our first real motorcycle trip together
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Kiran had to get off the bike after the first 30km due to the horrible vibration. A $1500 Chinese motorcycle (Zonshein) vibrates so much I actually wished I had a Harley for LESS vibration for once.

We found the solution in a little travel pillow that Kiran sat on for the rest if the trip. She was a real trooper — five hours heading north (including rest stops), dusty/bumpy roads, 94 degrees, with burning smoking farmland everywhere.
We pulled over and had lunch under this abandoned hut.
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Again with the burning
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Finally, we arrived at the scenic river town of Nong Khiaw, a town of 800 people or so. See how smokey it is? It’s such a shame.
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We stayed right there.

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The view from the balcony

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And imagine a bunch of other great photos, except those photos will never be seen, since I lost Kiran’s camera while tubing down the river – boner move of the year!

We did a little exploring on the motorcycle.

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Here we tried to find a Hmong village way out in the countryside, but we gave up since it was getting dark. The last thing you want is for the bike to break down, stranding you and your wife out in the jungle at night with no cars in sight (I think one truck passed us the entire time we were out there).
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Another day Kiran wasn’t feeling well so I went out for a ride. You have to look out for goats however.
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And pigs
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And cows
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And more cows
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But if you can avoid farm animals, you get these views.

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After two nights in Nong Khiaw, less one camera, we left the motorcycle and took a one hour boat ride north to the little village of Muang Ngoi. The boat ride to/from Nong Khiaw is awesome. I wish we could have gotten a photo when our boat had to zigzag water buffalo crossing the river.

The splash of the water indicates rapids are imminent.
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Thankfully we didn’t hit any rocks, as others on our boat going back said they had hit a rock going to Muang Ngoi and had to jump out as the boat started taking on water. Our biggest issue was that our boat’s motor started to melt the gas can, so we had to pull over to wait for the gas can to stop smoking.
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You know, melting can of gasoline in the boat, no life jackets, rapids … no big deal. Like they say, it’s the Lao way.

We arrived safely in Muang Ngoi
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Previously, Muang Ngoi was accessible only by boat, and you only get electricity for a couple hours per day unless you have a generator. Signs are posted all over town stating that there must be no loud talking after 9pm. Needless to say, it’s a pretty sleepy town.

Here’s some of the town’s roads

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However, Muang Ngoi got its first major road into it about one month ago. It looks like this
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These houses sit next to what used to be the little footpath through the jungle.
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Apparently, a bunch of government officials, some guys with machine guns, and a camera crew came to Muang Ngoi in February and announced to the villagers and the world that Muang Ngoi WOULD be developed. A month later, they had expanded the little path that used to lead through the jungle, and now there’s a dirt road into the village. Motorbikes have been around town for a few weeks now.

Sadly, we woke up in Muang Ngoi to discover there was a baby star tiger/marbled cat caged in the courtyard of our guesthouse, Rainbow Guesthouse. We asked a Swedish guy living in Muang Ngoi (who had a baby with one of the local women out of wedlock — BIG SCANDAL) and an American, Dan, who did volunteer work there, what we could do to free the tiger. The Swedish guy said the police wouldn’t do anything unless we bribed them to enforce the law. God forbid they’d actually enforce the law without getting paid extra. The American said the police wouldn’t do anything since the guesthouse was owned by the mayor. He added, ‘It’s not like the mayor is a poacher … it’s just what everyone does here.” I’ll say this … generally you don’t get a baby tiger unless you kill its mother, so call it what you want. Here’s the poor endangered (vulnerable) cat.
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If there is one thing you should know about Laos, it’s that the US dropped 5 billion pounds of bombs on Laos during and shortly after the Vietnam War, and a lot of the bombs never exploded. We dropped more bombs on Laos than we did on Germany and Japan combined. Every year, about 300 people die from ‘unexploded ordinance.’ For example, some of the cluster bombs are baseball sized, and kids often throw them around or play catch with them. BAM! Or farmers detonate them working in a field. BAM! Take a stroll through the jungle and step on one BAM!

People even use bombs to decorate their yards. These have gone off, but we saw a lot of others that hadn’t, still used as decor.
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We took the boat back to Nong Khiaw and stayed there one more night. We packed up the motorcycle and headed back to Luang Prabang, staying there just one night as well. On our way back down we pulled over to drink some water and realized a group of kids were pointing, waving, and giggling at us. I asked their parents if I could take their picture. One of the funnest things to do when you’re in remote places is to take pictures of kids and then show them the picture. Their laughs looking at their pictures are priceless.
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The next morning we took a 12 hour bus ride to Vientiane. It was 102 degrees there so we didn’t do too much. On our one full day there we watched Dumbo (Kiran’s favorite movie), a cartoon movie about biblical Joseph, and Top Gun. We ate at a great charity restaurant which I should plug. It’s in the ‘Friends’ chain of restaurants that takes kids off the street and trains them to work as chefs and waiters, saving them from being beggars and sex slaves.

Then we left for Malaysia.

Finally, your boat is scheduled to leave at 11:00, and for no apparent reason, even though your driver is right there, it leaves at 12:15 … it’s the Lao way.

Never getting exactly what you order at a restaurant …it’s the Lao way.

Going to restaurant/bar and sitting and waiting 20 minutes with no one giving you a menu or even saying hello, while the busboys play foosball right in front of you … it’s the Lao way.

Your waiter disappearing for an hour after some of your food comes but not all of it, so you can’t ask him for the rest of the food you ordered but never came … it’s the Lao way.

Local police who physically restrain members of our State Department in Laos trying to investigate missing US citizens … it’s the Lao way.

Speaking of police: Lao policemen who do not enforce wildlife laws; Lao policemen who refuse to arrest Vixay Keosavang, the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking (see March 3rd NYTimes); Lao policemen who hide a Chinese drug lord accused of 13 murders (recently caught and executed, see April 5th NYTimes); Lao policemen who you can only find by looking in the police station for the guy with his feet on the desk watching TV (or sleeping) … like they say, it’s the Lao way.

Still, given the motorcycling, it was my favorite country so far.

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One response to “Laos: Part Deux”

  1. Anonymous says :

    Serge. As always. Thanks for sharing with us mortals. Humbling as always. Love from the MadCity.

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