Random sketches of Sapa, Vietnam and Various places within Laos
16.09.2010 - 25.09.2010
Southeast Asia, India, and beyond....
Random sketches of Sapa, Vietnam and Various places within Laos
16.09.2010 - 25.09.2010
French Paradise and the Driver from Hell.
20.09.2010 - 22.09.2010 86 °F
We ended up spending several days in Luang Prabang - they really blur all together. Equally fantastic, beautiful days in the UNESCO world heritage city littered with beautiful wats (Buddhist monastery/temples) and spectacular French architecture...... We saw the fantastic former palace turned museum of the Lao royal family, kayaked for a few hours, and spent some time relaxing by some waterfalls. We even were able to ride some elephants for a bit!!!
At dawn, we awoke to watch the monks getting food for the day. The Buddhist monks survive off the charity of the townspeople. Each morning they survive off of what food they manage to beg for. They appear in long windy orange lines with arms out stretched to townspeople and tourists providing fresh rice and vegetables. Though it was a bit touristy. It was quite the moving experience.
However, the best part of Luang Prabang was perhaps the most unexpected. The palace museum closed early at 4:30 pm so we decided to walk to an old wat where we would relax in the courtyard and take in some sketch time. The building itself was mesmerizing - empty of tourists we only occasionally spied children playing and teenage brightly orange robed monks doing various duties. At one point, a crowd of the teenage monks circled around us looking at our drawings. Finally, one had the courage to speak up. In broken but quite excellent English he talked to us a bit about art and his life.
A few of the children playing the courtyard soon got the idea and mobbed us. Pointing at buildings we were sketching and laughing. Finally one decided that Dragon Ball Z and Yugio cards were much more interesting for us to sketch than old Buddhist buildings! We obliged and began drawing them pictures of their favorite cartoon characters. We probably drew about eight between us before we could escape. (I say "escape" because we literally had to close our sketch books and move fast.... The kids would have had us there all night drawing them pictures). So with the backdrop of the setting sun against the old wat, we headed out.
We eventually decided it was time to leave Luang Prabang - we could have undoubtedly stayed for weeks - but decided there was still too many adventures to be had! We linked up with Elaine - a effervescent Filipina nurse on leave before a stint in the States to take a grueling 8 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng - the young 'party' capital of Laos.
The "bus" ride was really more of a joy ride for bulimics. A guide book noted that driving laws are only undertaken "in spirit" in Laos. Our driver proved this remark to be beyond fact. If not for fresh pumelos and Elaine's Chinese herbal smelling salts - we would been doomed. Green faced we braved treacherous turns near cliffs, bumpy gravel roads, and the maniacal habit of the driver to speed up whenever signs said to slow down.
We managed to arrive in Vang Vieng green faced and with only one fatality (a wayward chicken reduced to feathers in a nameless Lao village). Our guest house - recommended by Elaine - was absolutely fantastic. A tropical garden interlaced with dark wood huts and comfy couches. It was bliss after the terrible roller-coaster of a ride we had before.
Random Photos from our trip from Sapa to Luang Prabang
15.09.2010 - 20.09.2010 88 °F
A view from our bus in Dien Bien Fu, Vietnam
Our first destination in Laos, Muang Nua, Laos.
Amy and Jenni on slow boat from Muang Nua, Laos to Nong Kiow, Laos
Biking in Nong Kiow, Laos
Rice Paddy near Cave in Nong Kiow, Laos
A view of the river in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang at Night
Scorpion Rice Wine, Night Market at Luang Prabang
Me trying the local rice wine at the night market at Luang Prabang.
Wonderfully relaxing Laos...
18.09.2010 - 20.09.2010 96 °F
We slept in that day - exausted after our long trek from Sapa to Laos... The village was quaint & adorable - complete with a wat and a glorious guesthouse that overlooked the river. We took it slow that day - having our first taste of the delicious local cuisine. Sticky rice, Laap (sort of a salad with minced herbs, chicken, and vegetables soaked in a wet sauce), and the chocolaty taste of Lao Coffee. In fact, we perhaps lazed too much, almost missing any chance of leaving the town. We had to ask several people and haggle with the local boatmen to take us to the closest tourist town - Nong Kiow. They knew we were desperate but Jenni managed to bring the price down from $75 USD each to only $60 for all three. The "slow boat" was really more of a local bus - dropping off and picking up passengers from the banks of the river. Our companions included old women, a dog, an enormous catfish, and 2 parrots. The view, however, was breathtaking.... At first it was incredibly relaxing but as more people (and animals) got aboard we were a bit squished and were only relieved by the gentle mist of the river water and prayers that our destination was near.
Nong Kiow. We arrived at this town shocked at seeing Westerners again. It hadn't been since Sapa or really... Hanoi since we had seen so many young tourist. Most were the granola hippie type - seeking out enlightenment from villagers and smelling like the forest they wished to become one with. While we were offered accommodation for only $1.50 a night... we opted for the fancy $8 private bungalows overlooking the river. The bungaloos were amazing - set within a garden and comfortably built - but also had their fair share of forest creatures (scorpions, giant spiders, and lizards). If anything, it felt like were camping in a magnificent tent.
The next morning, we went bike riding through the town and up through several villages. We stopped once to cross a rickity bridge into a rice field. Amy and I explored a cave that had been fenced off for unknown reasons. The cave functioned as a bomb shelter for local villagers during America's "Secret War" with Laos. During the Vietnam war, the United States bombed Laos in hopes of rooting out the Viet Kong and their Laotian sympathizers. In affect, Laos holds the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history.After biking in the terribly hot sun, we showered and relaxed for the rest of the day. Taking in a few Lao Beers & conversations with locals and enjoying the wonderfully beautiful night.
The next morning, we took a local bus to Luang Prabang - the only major city to survive the American bombings and subsequent Indochina Wars of the 1970s. We had planned on staying only one or two nights... But to date, we are having trouble thinking of leaving at all! Its a fantastic French influenced town and UNESCO world heritage site with hundreds of historical buildings and wats (Buddhist temples and monasteries). While there are plenty of tourists, the relaxed vibe, wonderful food, and convince of a city with English signs has made this a welcome respite after our treks through villages and nasty border towns. Our first night we explored the oldest wat in the city and took in the food and shopping of the "Night Market". We bought lots of art and other local goods.
Honestly though, go to Luang Prabang. It is worth a trip of its own for it and nothing else.
Off the beaten track and onto muddy dirt roads... several muddy dirt roads....
14.09.2010 - 17.09.2010 80 °F
Our hiking trip through the villages outside of Sapa turned out much differently than we planned. We were in Sapa during the height of their rainy season (read: it poured the next day nonstop). We were forced indoors to tasty Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk, loads of books, and a misty view of the mountains. The day was, without a doubt, thoroughly relaxing but it left us with the urge to hit the road once again and forgo our tour of the Hmong villages. We were particularly perturbed when Hmong villagers - imitating zombies - would claw at our hotel window saying repeatedly "Hello?! What is your name? You buy from me?". While at first the tired old women were charming, they quickly seemed suffocating and petulant. Laos it was.
While we booked a minivan to take us to Dien Bien Fu (the Vietnamese border town), it seemed our trip to Laos would be indefinitely postponed. The next morning, the countryside of Sapa was riddled with mudslides and impassable roads and we were told - after waiting 4 hours - that no bus would come! Much to our suprise 30 minutes after this announcement the minivan managed to overcome all manner of obstacles to retrieve us and a crew of Vietnamese and French to Dien Bien Fu. We spent the day gazing at the unreal terrain of mountains, rice paddies, and villages from our minibus. In Vietnam, the roads may have seemed normal. In America, they would be considered off-roading. Muddy (with the monsoon), extremely narrow, and winding through the mountains; it was an adventure. We stopped several times due to cars stuck in the mud and roads blockaded by debris.
We arrived in the miserable border town of Dien Bien Fu at nearly 21:00. The border town resembled all border towns - smelly, unorganized, and sad. But this was Vietnam at the rainy season late at night. We grinned and bore it and went directly to our hostel and slept a mere 5 hours and left the town as quickly as we could. As we rode off in our bus to Laos we glimpsed war monuments commemorating the French defeat in Indochina and the advent of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Strange that the only two groups of Westerners in the town that night were French and American. How is that for irony?
The next day was spent much like the first - windy roads, impassable terrain, and lots and lots of mud. In fact, this day was even more difficult than the first. However, our bus was built like a tank and got us to our destination - almost. Nearing the end of our trip we were impossibly stuck in a small muddy village with no food, little water, and ill tempers. After a few hours of waiting, we bought orange soda and got a local convenience store to make us Ramen. The salty MSG laden broth tasted nothing more than a slice of homemade heaven after no breakfast and lunch.
To our astonishment, we realized moments later we were within eye shot of our destination and all we had to do was walk a few feet up a hill and catch a ferry across the river. We could have been at the village 4 hours earlier with food in our stomache and a warm shower! We rested for the rest of that day and built up our stamina for our next days adventure. The village - Muang Nuoa- had hardly a tourist and felt extremely remote. It had a spectacular view of a river and a laid back atmosphere unlike any in Vietnam. We slept that night ready to take a boat ride the next day and see what else Laos had to offer...