The way from Savannakhet to Luang Prabang where we park Prado until next May. Then a few days in Bangkok and back to Switzyland for hibernation. Huge opportunities to study banana-pancake-backpacker life in Vang Vieng and Bangkok’s Khao San and our ultimate conversion into a kind of master cooks in Luang Prabang.
Thakhek, 4th January
Savannakhet: 2nd largest city in the proud People’s Republic of Lao. Must be a really big urban center. Probably with skyscrapers, a brand new underground and a whole district for the most excentric’n’exorbitant nightlife you may ever experience. We approach this urban center. Well, of course the outskirts look slightly rural. Approaching the CBD no real change – maybe they don’t allow houses with more than 2 stories. Whatever. Finally we arrive in the sleepiest town of Laos. But with a nice town center. Many ancient houses the old Frenchies built mixed with old Vietnamese building.
We even discover a pretty interesting factory: a Buddha manufacturer. We can follow the whole process from the initial pouring of concrete into the steel mould to the final gold coat sprayed just before selling another Buddha.
Definitely true, nightlife is slightly below our expectations. It’s more about sitting in a cool al fresco restaurant around the central square, nipping some bottles of beer and munching some gleen, led ol whatevel cully.
Time to move on. To Thakhek. Another town on the Mekong River with an old day flair just a few hours northwards. We know it’s a small town, so our expectations are slightly lower than for Savannakhet. A place to admire all kind of Frenchie, Vietnamese and Laotian influenced buildings – sometimes even an incredible mix of old houses crying for repair and some fancy super kitsch modern architecture.
Kong Lor, 6th January
Enough of sweet city life. Now we’re ready for THE LOOP. Never heard of it? No problem, nor did we. The loop is simply a road some 430km long starting in Thakhek and ending in Thakhek. In between some karst mountains, some lakes and some caves not to be missed. And the loop is the ultimate opportunity for each backpacker to learn how to drive a Chinese scooter. Considering the popularity of the loop some claim it’s too touristy; therefore no longer worth a visit. So they rather remain in Thakhet eating banana pancake all day long. We consider where there are no tourists – there are no sights.
The 1st cave: Tham Pha Nong Phafa. Long name, isn’t it. Nobody outside Laos can remember that. For this reason it’s simply called Buddha Cave to attract the odd tourists. Nice landscape, innovative people – initiated all kind of different fees to see a rather unspectacular cave.
Then on thru more karst mountains.
An opportunity to invest in a couple of beers’n’barbeque and to exchange all kind of roadside tales.
We continue our way on the lake – from 1 ridge to the other, sometimes on a bridge, more often on a dam. In the water still the remains of the former jungle.
Then we have to follow the river to the cave’s entrance. No idea what’s expecting us inside. We have to pluck up courage. We just know we have to take a boat, drive 7km thru the mountain. On the way we’ll conquer some rapids, maybe encounter crocs – who knows. There could be some cavernous snakes, nasty mozzies or even drowned cockroaches.
… the boatman removes water from inside. We have to walk thru the cold water to get into the boat. We identify that the boat is driven by a small Chinese engine. Hopefully it will make the few km. – Anyhow we’re equipped with a bright orange life vest.
After a while we approach an illuminated area. We have to get out, use the walking trail. Admire the cave glowing in all different colours. Maybe not everybody’s taste.
Then – what a relief. We’ve made the 7km. Daylight approaches. Soon we’re driving on an ordinary small river, forget all the dangers in the dark, forget all the animals we could have met there – even if we didn’t.
Then after a short break the same way back. By now an easy task. We already did it. Now we’re experts in crossing whole mountains on wild underground rivers. Half an hour later we’re back on the other side.
No idea why the pic of our social exchange got slightly unclear.
Vang Vieng, 10th January
The next morning no hangover. The proof the guys around us invested in all those bottles.
We drive the 350km, 6h to Vientiane. The 1st 100km quite nice landscape thru karst formations.
Vientiane: not much changed since our last visit some weeks ago. Still a village trying to show its metropolitan character by constructing a few houses with more than 3 storeys.
In Vang Vieng unfortunately we cannot observe any improvement. It looks as ugly as before.
In search for some different culinary highlights neither we can state a big improvement.
Nearly 2 months ago we discovered the ultimate innovation in pizza production: take some dough, add any toppings you find somewhere in a corner of your restaurant, put it into the microwave – and finally sell it at a high cost as Pizza Berlusconi to an odd tourist. Wow, fantastic. By now it seems it’s the only novelty in this season; maybe with the exception of pizza pancake. Furthermore we just see these rundown eateries showing British comedies and some interesting mechanised braais …
1 is about this penalty system for local restaurant owners and their cooks.
Of course a simple offense is punished by extended waterboarding only. Should it be more serious, understandably nothing can avoid death penalty. Only for the worst cases these tortures are not hard enough – the delinquent has to eat the food he sells to tourists for 2 weeks.
Who knows. Anyway we’re not in Vang Vieng for culinary highlights but for the karst landscape and the caves. The most famous place: the blue lagoon – a kind of place where girls’n’boys try to impress each other by jumping from a tree into the water. The winners gets …
We follow a steep climb up the hill to visit the Poukham Cave. A lonely and awesome place.
The next morning: ballooning is planned for sunset. So some time to further explore the nearby sensations. Another cave: forgot the name. Apparently the place doesn’t receive many tourists. So we’re the only 1s climbing up to the cave.
And then we’re in. Without kids. Nevertheless, we couldn’t go that far. Many deep holes in the ground are sparsely secured. So the danger to suddenly land on a lower floor of the cave.
Time for a change. As decided yesterday we have to balloon. Of course there are several reasons for this strange undertaking:
- soon we’ll have to take our flight back home. Discovering the earth with a balloon may be a good preparation;
- nowhere on earth is it as cheap as in Vang Vieng;
- maybe the sunset with the karst mountains in the background is so gorgeous that we can forget for a few minutes how ugly Vang Vieng really is.
And we move up to the sky. Better not thinking too much about our unreliable camping cooker.
Of course it’s all about sunset and the karst mountains.
From time to time our Chinese pilot starts the burner to keep altitude. As we’re standing next to the burners each time we risk our hair to be burnt. Who cares.
Luang Prabang, 13th January
We think we’ve done everything in Vang Vieng we should do. So it’s time to move on to Luang Prabang.
Finally, late afternoon we arrive in rainy Luang Prabang. Having been here for the 3rd time we need other options than the must-have-seen-sights. Anyway it’s time to give Prado a wash and drive it to its place for hibernation. Thanx Monica to have arranged this hospitality for Prado.
Fortunately there’s the Bamboo Tree Restaurant. In the country 1 of the few exceptions, serving excellent Lao food. So we’re busy getting master cooks in their cooking school. Well, it’s an investment into our future. Hopefully we’ll be certified to run an all famous Lao restaurant somewhere in a super expensive capital and earn the hell a lot of money by selling flyly’n’plehly (fried’n’plain rice) with gleencully.
To start with we have to visit the market. Here we learn to distinguish between delicacies mainly dedicated to northeast Chinese, to Lao-mountain-area and to ozzy – frenchy taste. E.g. never buy dried buffalo skin for an American used to KFC’s oily chicken.
Then Linda our teacher instructs us about the basics: wash hands before cooking, cut fingers are not part of any decent meal, etc.
Considering all these advices we start chopping. Evidently everybody’s very motivated as we prepare what we’ll munch later.
So far the preparations. Now the training to become master cooks. Not an easy task. Some cook with great enthusiasm, while others are slightly distracted by the nice ladies admiring the incredible knowledge and skilfulness of the cook. Whatever – thanx to Linda’s huge knowledge and support every meal develops into a masterpiece.
Bangkok, 16th January
The next day – proud to have reached the level of a certified master cook – we leave Luang Prabang for Bangkok. As usual with Air Asia. So no further comments needed.
This time we decide to reside in Bangkok’s Khao San Road. In the backpackie scene this is the most important and most beloved hub in the world. Arriving there we quickly understand the reason for this importance: there’s a McDonald’s burger eatery every few meters. And who wouldn’t appreciate the carefully selected fine food offered in these greasy spoons after days of flyly and terribly hot’n’spicy gleencully.
According to our observations Khao San Road somehow must be an extraterritorial space. Definitely not Thailand. Could eventually be part of Mallorca’s Ballermann or some British dominated corners on Greek or Canary Islands.
Whatever it is, we even think it might become the future capital of an independent backpacker state – maybe of the Republic of Banana- Pancakistan.
Of course, you’ll never feel lonely in Khao San. There are quite a few other people around you: real backpackies, wannabe backpackies, slashpackies (former backpackies having earned a fortune in the last few years), high wheeled tourists making an adventurous expedition to see backpackies, touts specialised in taking advantage of the greenness of many backpackies, travel agencies canalizing the backpackies’ independent trips into organised tours, …
… restaurants and bars inducing backpackies to fast loo-runs, endless rows of shops selling cloth for backpackies nobody else would ever buy and of course 2 overlanders currently converted into backpackies. So evidently a real paradise where the whole world meets.
The offer is manifold, screaming and not always reflecting the very best taste. But it’s loved or at least admired by most guys sneaking around.
Well, the next day we return to Thailand. A stroll thru the old part of Bangkok. Passing the Royal Palace …
… on our way to Wat Pho. This temple famous for the world’s largest sleeping Buddha receives quite a number of visitors. And consequently, if we believe the warnings, it’s being converted into a dangerous place.
… then we cross Chao Phraya River to visit Wat Arun.
The Wat under full renovation. So not too much to admire.
A quite complicated place: everywhere else you have to take off your shoes before entering a place of worship. Not so on the Golden Mount. No doubt severe penalties await anybody not wearing shoes.
Nevertheless, a nice view from the top …
… and some interesting activities in the Wat.
Then it’s time to leave Thailand and to return to Khao San Exteritorial Area to enjoy the exorbitant nightlife.
If in Chinatown, of course a visit to their fascinating markets, …
… with a very special regard to their delicacies.
To recover from all this excitement a visit to our very last Wat – promised, at least for the time being. Wat Tri Mit with the world’s most valuable Buddha made of 5t of pure gold.
Then it definitely gets too hot’n’humid. Back to beautiful Khao San; getting ready for the last evening in Bangkok.
Laufenburg, 17th January
On 16th January we squeeze into the tube of a modern plane. Get our ½ sqm of space with an uncomfortable chair and a non-working amusement center on a small TV screen right in front of us. From time to time some terrible food and 12h later we land in Zurich, Swizzyland.
Outside it’s not that dark. The whole landscape is white – snow. -5 degrees.
In Laufenburg in our apartment slightly more comfortable 7 degrees. What to do? Heating the rooms and warming up ourselves with rotten grapes.
And now big work awaits us until we’ll continue somewhen in May: we have to organise the onward trip, especially thru China.
And that’s it for today. More after hibernation.