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Crossing People’s Paths

31 Mar
New Year in Phnom Penh

New Year in Phnom Penh

It is mind blowing the variety of people that you meet while traveling. It’s often in moments when I’m most down or sick and tired of traveling that I tend to bump into lovely or intriguing people… as if someone up there feels for me and sends some company around.

A little overview of the magnificent people I met:

The Effect of Asia on a Westerner

27 Mar
Probably not all Asians are like this

Probably not all Asians are like this

So are you ready for gross generalizations? This post gives a little insight of what could happen to a Western traveler when hanging around (South East) Asia too long (or maybe for a short time as well ;-) Asia does strange things with your body and soul – and maybe those things are not so bad after all – they just help you put things in perspective and appreciate the ‘differentness’… (see also ‘the only white guy’ post)

It messes around with your mind

No, I’m not going crazy – I could survive here in South East Asia for a long time easily, but nevertheless being far away from home makes you think… (that’s also part of the reason to come here) Continue reading

Happy Massage in Siem Reap

11 Mar
goldenbanana-1

Golden Banana - my favourite

It was with mixed feelings that I was leaving Laos… Lao PDR (Please Don’t Rush) had a very calming effect on me. Life is simply slow here – no reasons (or even possibility) to rush (as you are limited and dependent on the one or two buses or boats a day anyway) – so it is the place to chill and go with the flow. But on the other hand there was Siem Reap waiting for me – and I knew Siem Reap – and it is a great place. I already had booked myself into my ‘usual spot’: the Golden Banana B&B, and they even kept my favourite room for me in the tower bungalow (3 levels above each other – so you are a bit away from the main paths…). And I discovered the wonders of Khmer massage – mmm.

It was quite a process in my head to Continue reading

Hijacked in Vientiane & Blessed by the Monks

7 Mar
Monsters and Monks in Vientiane

Monsters and Monks in Vientiane

This title already indicates contrast – just as Vientiane was for me. On the one hand the gay life went a bit wrong – and on the other side I got a religious overdose. I indulged in lovely luxury and western food – in a lovely laid back Loas setting.

Dates via the internet don’t always go as expected and can lead to tricky situations, nearly getting abducted. But to make up for all my sins I visited about a dozen temples, a magnificent mix between Disneyland and temple at the Buddha Park – and I even got the monks blessing (and a wet head because of the blessing water…) Continue reading

Kayaking down to Vientiane

5 Mar
Kayaking into town...

Kayaking into town...

I was on many buses, trucks, boats, cars, mopeds, bikes and planes already, but when I saw it was possible to kayak down the river from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, I definitely wanted to give this a go. It sounded a bit like ‘kayaking to work’ or ‘going shopping by kayak’ – never t-done that before. I basically just signed up in one of the travel agencies (after bargaining the price down to 170000 Kip (17 euro)). Going by bus would be half the price, but this would include lunch, company and fun (sort of).

Having bought into one of these activities also meant that I was going to be thrown together with other people that booked the same trip, which in itself is an interesting experiment. Continue reading

Vulgar Vang Vieng – Tubing or not?

5 Mar
This is tubing - better and lazier than a trek

This is tubing - better and lazier than a trek

I had planned to stay only a two or three days in Luang Prabang, but ended up staying 6 nights. LPB is a very pleasant city, nice to get lost in – and then I met nice people, and lost track of time. I definitely slowed down in my travels, not rushing around anymore. And “Lao PDR” (which stands for ‘please don’t rush’) has a very soothing effect – you just want to take things easy here…

But on the other side there is rough and rowdy Vang Vieng – a magnet for everybody that wants to get high – either on outdoor adrenaline adventures or on booze and happy shakes. Average age probably 22. I was veeeeery skeptical about going there and join in the tubing (see below) or kayaking experience, but then enjoyed it to the max!

Wedding – Laos style

1 Mar
Stealing the wedding show

Stealing the wedding show

What would we do without internet? It’s via the chat that I got to know this Lao friend and we hung out together when I was in Luang Prabang (more for VIPs here). One day he asks me if I’d be interested to come with him to a wedding of a high school mate of his. My first reaction was to decline, because I thought it would be a quite personal affair, so I didn’t want to party-crash the wedding banquet. But that’s not how it goes in Laos as you can read below.

I was quite curious though to see a wedding from up close, so it didn’t take a lot more of convincing for me to jump into this smile-arousing intercultural experience Continue reading

Protected: The only gay in the Lao village

28 Feb

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Back to Civilisation in Luang Prabang

27 Feb
Luang Prabang - temple city

Luang Prabang - temple city

OK, I take back all I said about going back in time when arriving in Laos. As soon as I arrived in Luang Prabang, back in civilization, I did discover that there are roads, there are (loads of) western and Lao restaurants, there is electricity, all day – and a god sent gift – internet (even though it is not functioning half of the time). And you can actually sit on the toilets. Luang Prabang is Laos’ number one tourist destination, with its lovely colonial style town centre listed and protected as Unesco world heritage, the dozens of Wats (temples with monks) and somewhat of a tourist party scene (not sure if that goes together well with the previous characteristics).

I arrived from Nong Khiaw Continue reading

Getting Good at Doing Nothing

24 Feb
Hanging in my hammack...

Hanging in my hammack...

If there’s something I am not good at at all, that’s doing nothing. I came to this conclusion already long time ago, that I am a ‘homo faber’, a ‘doer’ and simply being is not my cup of tea. I tend to live through the activities I embark on: visiting places, meeting up with people, writing (as I am doing now), surfing on the internet, emailing, preparing some projects, etc.

But after more than a week in Laos, more particularly in Muang Ngoi (paradise), where there’s nothing much to do anyway, I am becoming Continue reading

Getting lost in Laos

23 Feb
Ricefields and mountains is all there is...

Ricefields and mountains is all there is...

There’s not all that much to do in Muang Ngoi, once you’ve done the tubing (did that) and fishing (not interested) and when you sampled all the different restaurants of the different guesthouses besides the daily plunge at the beach. The only thing left to do would be to go trekking to the neighbouring villages. You can have anything from a one day leisurely walk to a 3 day serious trekking visiting different minority villages.

With the adopted traveler family of Italians, Luxemburgish and Dutch we decided to go for a walk to the caves nearby, visit the 2 closest villages and go for a shower under the local waterfalls. It was great to Continue reading

Did you ever “tube”?

22 Feb
Ever heard of tubing? Great experience

Ever heard of tubing? Great experience

I’ve only seen this in Laos so far, but it could become a big hit in all countries where the water in the rivers is not toxic or polluted (that probably rules out most of the countries) and preferably warm enough. Basically, tubing is a water activity, in which you take the inner tube of a truck, and get dropped somewhere on a river: you, yourself and your tube. And then you float down the river, till you reach your destination.

What happens between the drop of point and the final destination is basically up to your creativity. You can  Continue reading

And I am staying here

20 Feb

The hole in my back from the too heavy backpack

The hole in my back from the too heavy backpack

Muang Ngoi Neua is simply paradise. I was a bit ill when I arrived (probably a flue, hopefully not the birdy type) so I needed to take care of me. And it’s at the end of the street that I found a massage place and herbal sauna run by a Scandinavian that speaks perfectly Lao (horizontal teaching I assume? The best way to learn a language ;-). I went in to give myself and my damaged back a treat – 40000 Kip (4 euro) for an hour of healing hands is a great investment.

But Muang Ngoi is full of little pleasant surprises and surprising pleasures. The other day I sat down at a little open air restaurant, under a shady parasol and ordered a banana pancake. Ok said the woman who took my order, and Continue reading

I found Paradise

19 Feb
Muang Ngoi - the view from my bamboo hut...

Muang Ngoi - the view from my bamboo hut...

Stop looking – I found it. Paradise is called Muang Ngoi Neua, and is hidden on the bank of the Nam Ou river in Northern Laos. Muang Ngoi is a loooooovely little riverside village, tucked away between towering lush green karst mountains. The village basically consists of one street, which is dotted with quaint guesthouses, makeshift shops and open air restaurants. One the North side of the street there’s a Buddhist temple, with drum tower and monk quarters and all. The other side of the street bumps into a karst mountain.

The people here are very laid back and seem to enjoy the symbiosis with the foreigners. They can make a living selling their wares, but they also enjoy the tourist grub they provide, when I see some locals munching away on pancakes or other tourist food. Continue reading

French Connection Laos

18 Feb
Ze French couple - great to "causer" (chit chat)

Ze French couple - great to "causer" (chit chat)

In order to get from Muang Khoa to Muang Ngoi Neua, I thought to take a boat 3 hours down the Nam Ou river. I had asked several people along the boat landing on the river bank, frantically pointing at my phrasebook, but with no result. It is only afterwards that I realized the sentence given in the phrase book was ‘when is the BUS going’ – so then I understood why the boat people were looking strangely at my question (and also because of my probably alien pronunciation of Lao language).

After asking a few people more, I found out that there was something like a ticket office (near bus stations and boat landings). There was a young guy who attended me in pristine English. Of course there was Continue reading

Muang Khoa river town

16 Feb
Muang Khoa of all places - besides the river nothing much there

Muang Khoa of all places - besides the river nothing much there

After a bone braking trip in the Songthew, we arrived in Muang Khoa, that is, on the other side of the Nam Ou river, which we had to cross by long tail boat because no bridge available. I just crashed in the first guesthouse I found, overlooking the river and ‘port’ (read ‘improvised cemented boat landing’), with fever. I decided to be my own doctor and wrote me a sick-cert for a few days: no strenuous activities allowed.

Anyway, in the little town, there was not much to do, besides walking up and down the main road (that was being rebuilt – a heaven sent gift – but for the moment it was still a path of rumble) and cross the river over the shaky cable suspension bridge to practice my Lao language skills (limited to Sabaidee at the moment = hello) with the school kids of the village down the other side… Continue reading

Back in Time to Laos

15 Feb
I made it to Laos - barely

I made it to Laos - barely

I have to say that my first impression I got of Laos is probably not the most representative image – coming into the country via the ‘back door’. The Dien Bien Phu border crossing only opened about a year ago, and besides the bus that goes 3 times per week, and the occasional lost Vietnamese car I guess nobody uses this border crossing.

So when walking across the border, it was clear straight away Continue reading

Evacuation from Vietnam

15 Feb
Vietnam Airlines - planes from before the war...

Vietnam Airlines - planes from before the war...

I squeezed as much I could out of my Vietnam trip, and out of the time with my ex. But to all stories comes an end. My goodbye-honeymoon came to an end at the same time as my visa for Vietnam: 15th February. Valentine I spent together with my ex (not quite as expected: VIPs can read more here) so the 15th was the last day I could spend in Vietnam, with the Laos border closing at 17h. I had to get there at all cost – and indeed I had to fork out some money to get where I wanted to get – but got a lovely ride through the mountains in return for it – and a not so lovely ride into Laos … Continue reading

Longing for Laos

11 Dec
Carst mountains rising from the plains

Carst mountains rising from the plains

If Thailand, Vietnam and Laos were tuk-tuk-drivers (three-wheeler taxi), the Thai driver would take you to your destination via a silk shop, the Vietnamese would almost run you over for your custom, while in Laos you’d probably have to go and find a driver, wake him up and persuade him to come out to work” (Lonely Planet – South East Asia)

So Laos seems to be the most relaxed country of the region, the most laid back, but this also means the ‘least developed’. The guidebooks advice to think twice before going off the beaten tracks – or rent a tractor instead of a tuk-tuk or taxi. When checking the MasterCard website for the location of ATMs (cash machines) it indicates – none… I requested a Visa for February and got one for January to March instead for the same price…

Continue reading

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