Luang Prabang, Laos

LP (Luang Prabang) proved to be a charming if not sweaty town. It was mid may and we were getting into the hottest season of the year where temperatures were reaching 40 degrees by mid day.

 

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A novelty sized road sign indicating the number of kilometres ’til the destination.
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Grabbing a bite in the market. Seating arrangements are DIY.
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The collection of bamboo weaving. Mostly different baskets, but also fish traps and hats.
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Look at that focus!
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The beginning…
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…and my finished product!
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And a few birds. I will never remember how I did these.

There are numerous monestaries in LP which makes the daily collecting of alms an interesting spectacle. Several monks from each monestary walk a path through town in barefeet. The oldest and most experienced monk leads the procession and the younger monks follow. Lay people kneel on the sidewalk and give containers of rice to the monks and the monks give some of it back to the poorer kids. This all happens at dawn.

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Up bright and early waiting for the monks.
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The monks give their extra rice to children.

 

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Later!

Northeastern Laos

Our last motorbike adventure ended up being a week long trip to the east. It turned into a much-needed history lesson on the devastations of the Secret War. We visited the Viengxay caves close to the Vietnamese border that was vital for the survival of the Laos people when the bombs hit during that Vietnam War. Communism is very prevalent in this area and the communist and Laos flag fly together. In the mornings and evenings the loudspeakers come on encouraging the communist values and lifestyle.

As usual the highlights of this trip included the moments in between the tourist attractions. One of my favourite memories happened after we stopped to buy a scarf from a woman at a small weaving village. She gestured to the fields and then back to the indigo dye they were using on the silk indicating the natural dyeing techniques. As we rode away I was wondering if the brighter magenta in my scarf could possibly be from natural dyes. A kilometre later a few kids caught my eye because they were climbing in trees with long-handled bug nets. They jumped down eager to check out the foreigners and proudly dumped out iridescent bugs from a glass jar. I pointed between my scarf and his bugs and he nodded enthusiastically.

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The cutest three kids catching bugs for making colourful dyes!
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The communist and Laos flags in Sam Neau.
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The scariest carnival game on earth. One guy spins the wheel and stands beside it while kids throw darts at it and bet on the number it will hit.
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Just cause I haven’t shown too many toilet pics yet, this is a pretty typical Southeast Asian squat toilet. The vat of water beside is for flushing.
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My special birthday dinner. Laos barbeque hotpot. You grill the meat and tofu on the top and simmer the broth around it so all the meat drippings fall into the broth. So good!
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The Plain of Jars. Where did they come from?
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We were feeling a wee bit tiny around these giant jars.
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MAG marked the path that had been cleared of mines.
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Leftover bomb shells from the war. They are re-used in everything from fences to jewellery.
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A couple invited us into their house and showed us how they melted down the bombs and turn them into jewellery.

Once we got back to Vang Vieng we reunited with our friends from Muang Kuai to celebrate my birthday. We spent a day walking to another – you guessed it – cave. We like to think of ourselves as cave conneseurs now after spelunking through every country. We’ve seen big caves and squeezed sideways through small caves. We’ve been to natural caves and man made caves. Caves where armies trained, famous people hid and caves where ordinary people lived for years. Caves where people come to pray to shrines. Caves that double as graves. We’ve climbed hundreds of stairs to reach caves, crossed paths with gangs of monkeys to get to caves. We’ve waded through rivers and climbed locked gates with local kids to get to caves. We’ve slept in a cave. We’ve explored caves in the mountains, on islands, by a boat, … well you get the point. Now I can say we’ve swam in a pit of dark water in a cave.

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The dark pit of water in the cave. The only reason you can see it is because of the flash on my camera. Besides that we were given headlights to explore.
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Hiking home from the caves.
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Group shot! James, Lisa, Melissa, me and Jesse
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Nothing like saying goodbye over a bucket of alcohol.

After briefly considering ceremoniously throwing our bikes off a cliff we decided we needed the $400 more and sold them. It was time to say goodbye to our beloved bikes and our beloved friends and ready ourselves for our first bus ride in three months. It really felt like a chapter of our trip was ending and it was a hard one to let go of!

Muang Kuai, Laos

Crossing the border to Laos was a blur (or nightmare) of bribing border officials, torrential rain, a gas tank running on fumes, riding our bikes well into the night, and a few tears. Luckily it ended in great relief at finding a town with a guesthouse and restaurant. North Eastern Laos is not the place you want to be wandering into the bush to find a place to sleep! More than 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Secret War (that’s a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes for 9 years!) and thousands of kilometres have yet to be demined. This is one place you want to stay on the beaten path.

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Rural Laos
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A pretty good representation of how we feel after a long day on the bikes.
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Muang Kuai
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On the balcony of our bungalow. We pretty much just read books here for several days looking over the river at the town.
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Steve, TJ and Melissa – three peas in a very small pod
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Getting cozy with the locals on the boat to Muang Neau, a village only accessible by river.

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Local kids training cocks for a fight.

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Several days later we decided it was time for one last adventure on our motorbikes before selling them. We waited out the rain by drinking too much coffee under a covered patio and were heading east before noon.

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Rain, rain, go away…

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New country, new soup.