Thursday, September 15, 2005


Rain, Rivers and Reading

Welcome to my belated blog about Laos... I am actually in Sydney at the moment for a short stay before heading back to Phnom Penh as an AYAD (Australian Youth Ambassador for Development) for another 12 months. So I'll be getting back to blogging about Cambodia again very soon.

First a few words about my travels in Laos. The title I chose, rain, rivers and reading is really representative of much of my 3 weeks in Laos. I would have included buddhas but it doesn't start with 'r'. (the photo is of the Buddha cave in Luang Prabang)

Starting at the beginning with the border crossing at Lao Bao. It was fortunate that Wina (my Quebecois travel buddy) and I got our Lao visas beforehand from Vietnam, although a bit more expensive, we got 1 month visas and you can only get 15 day visas at the border. Wina is going to find out what Canada did to piss off Laos because her visa was the most expensive of any country. Crossing the border involved a long walk in the rain where the path of least mud was in the middle of the road between the bumper to bumper stationary trucks waiting to cross into Vietnam. It felt like I was 'an illegal' trying to sneak across the border without being seen. Continuing the feeling of being smuggled across the border, we were bundled into a mini van, 4 people to a row (very squashy) for the trip to Savannaket. My poor backpack was strapped to the roof, keeping dry - sort of - by wearing my raincoat like a limbless, headless body.

After the craziness of touristy Vietnam, the south of Laos was blissfully quiet and devoid of travellers. It was so peaceful to walk around without being hassled to buy something or go somewhere or asked 'where you going?' - that was the most annoying.

After a quiet night in Savannaket watching an amazing sunset over the Mekong, nursing an obligatory Beer Lao, we headed further into the sleepy south. The pre-angkor temples of Wat Phu Champasak were as interesting and mystical as the guide books say but the most fun was the adventure to get there. After a complex array of sangthews (local buses), tuk tuks, boats and more tuk tuks we arrived in the tiny riverside town of Champasak. The next day we hired bicycles to ride the last 14kms to the temple ruins. The ride was along a very quiet dirt road surrounded by peaceful bright green rice fields. The only concern on the road was avoiding chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows, buffalos, dogs, cats and potholes. We also got caught in a massively huge downpour at the temple - which will happen when choose to travel in the wet season.

That afternoon we did the tuk tuk- boat - tuk tuk relay back to the 'main' road and hailed the first sangthew heading south. In we piled alongside the babies, chickens and bags and bags of corn. I don't really like the smell of so much cooked corn I've decided. Somehow we conveyed where we wanted to go ('si phan don' or 4 thousand islands) and arrived after dark - in the rain, of course. We were surprised to see so many foreigners there but then worked out it's where you would end up if you came across the border from Cambodia. We stayed a couple of nights there and did a day trip to see the Mekong dolphins and what was somewhat dodgily claimed to be the 'largest waterfall in SE Asia'. The dolphin viewing place was actually in Cambodia. I got to say thank you in Khmer to the 'policeman' who was selling drinks. We saw quite a few dolphins, but as in Kratie, no good photos... The waterfall was really a cascade. Sure there was a lot of water moving over some rocks but we saw it at the end of a long day - and it was pouring rain - so a brief glance and one quick snapshot sufficed.

Having ventured further south than the south of Lao, we travelled north to Pakse then hopped on the overnight bus from Pakse to Vientiane. The only seats left on the VIP bus were in the VIP room downstairs which had a tiny doorway you had to crouch down to fit through and a ceiling so low not even I could stand up. Inside was a giant U shaped lounge. It was a very odd way to travel and felt like a cross between a hobbit loungeroom and the Spice Girl's limo (apparently). However, it lacked any popstar ambiance as the Laotians quietly went to sleep sitting up and the travellers fought for room to lie down while Mr Bean played on the TV (marginly better than the usual bus entertainment of karaoke clips).

We spent a few really nice quiet days in Vientiane. It was great after 6 weeks of travelling to stay in a house and have cereal for breakfast (thank you Paul!). From Vientiane we kept journeying north to Vang Vieng, which is set in a spectacular landscape of rivers and mountains but spoilt by Friends. Friends the TV sitcom, which blares from every restaurant on the main street. We arrived on a very rainy afternoon and sat in one such restaurant for lunch. After about 3 episodes in a row I wanted to throw something at the television and at all the backpackers watching. Tubing down the river in old tractor tyres (which is the thing everyone does in VV - apart from watch Friends) the next morning was very relaxing. We swam into a cave which was fun but turned back when it got too dark and scary.

I decided I couldn't deal with another day of Friends so we booked the local bus to Luang Prabang that afternoon. We were told it was the bus from Vientiane and should stop in Vang Vieng. It didn't. After about 3 hours of waiting - in the rain - a mini van appeared to take the 3 of us going to LP. It was great - instead of the usual 4 to a row we had one each so could stretch out and sleep.

I've already written a bit about LP. I spent about a week there - a lot of the time in a great bookshop cafe called l'etranger, sheltering from the rain. When Wina and I parted in LP, I went in a boat 8 hours further north to Muang Ngoi. I ended up being the only passenger in my 20-seat boat and other boats of foreigners were joking as they went past that I must be special and giving my the royal wave. It was a bit lonely but I finished my first book of 4 in 4 days (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Eleven Minutes and The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho and Bear v Shark - if you're interested...). Muang Ngoi was lovely and quiet and since I chose not to walk to the waterfall and get covered in mud and leeches, there was nothing else to do but lie in a hammock and read.

There seems to be a pattern of bus stories... my local bus from Nong Khiaw back to LP broke down. We spent 2 hours watching the driver bang wildly with a hammer at some part of the underside of the bus then another couple of hours waiting for another bus as apparently the banging didn't fix the problem. I was tired and starving by the time we reached LP. All I'd had to eat all day were 2 strange biscuits. One was salty with a chocolate centre and the other was sweet with seaweed on top.

As an appropriate end to my time in Laos, I spent 2 days on a boat on the Mekong from LP to the Thai border. I read another book in between watching the amazing scenery roll past. The jungle was so thick in parts it looked like a richly textured green blanket thrown over the trees.

I'll finish by sharing just a few of the amusing attempts at English we came across:

Above the toilet:
"Ladies, please don't throw your private papers in here" (I refrained from tossing my bank details into the toilet).

"Don't throw paper and napkins at the toilet"

In some menus:
fried sprigrolls
frurt shake
fried rice with cattle fish
boll eegs
meats with carry
samd wich
egg plant

Chrysler group is waiting for complaints

According to Mg Cambodia reported, the company of the modern cars is seeking for the complaints from the consumers about the a few kinds of modern cars.
The problem is about the ignition key that disable for the anti-lock brake feature, stop power steering assistance and airbags.
For the previous years, there was also having many problems with those kinds, that the problem was the same thing. These were happened on Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand vehicles, and then they invested to buy back all the cars that had problems.
Now they have not received the complaints about the airbag yet. And today the Chrysler Group continues waiting for the feedback from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Electric automobile plans lead to BMW and Tesla boards’ conference

Regarding to Mg Cambodia description, the superiors of both BMW and Tesla Motors had a session for seeking ways to endorse electric cars.
The BMW representative said: "Both companies are strongly committed to the success of electro-mobility and discussed how to further strengthen the development of electro-mobility on an international level."
Concerning the relationship between the two companies, BMW is one of Tesla stakeholders with a 4.3 percent and the company further produces Mercedes-Benz cars to strengthen their connections as well as receive supports from Tesla vehicle supplies.

After a long awaiting of Model X with the falcon-wing doors since 2012, the curtain has risen for this model car when the company announces they are ready to display the real concept of the car, delivered by Mg Cambodia.
The specialty of this model is its strikingly flexible and device equipped doors which give drivers the safety of avoiding objects when heading for the exit using the as updated by the company status: "Not only do these doors look amazing, but they also make getting in and out of the Model X so much easier than would a conventional front hinged door,"
"You can even do it standing up."
The arrival of the prototypes is in California this fall.

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