Ko Samui

The girls were really sad they had to leave Michaels Zoo.
We’ll all miss Lao.

After Vientiane we used the entire Lao train rail in existance. Just 15 Minutes to cross the boarder. Then one has to change trains. The night train to Bangkok was quite nice, especially compared to the Vietnam Version.
Bangkok Train station.

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I Guess not many families arrive in Thailand by train. This might change. We heard the chinese want to make a train from Singapore to China via Lao.

After a day in Bangkok with some Wats we flew to Koh Samui.
We now also booked our flight back to CH. That was also a strange experience. Anyway, we’ll be Back in CH 26.7.2013. Before we go there we are gonna spend 1 week in Oman.

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Not another Wat, just our Hotel.
***
Astrid erklärte Ada gerade, warum der tschechische Aschenputtelfilm (dieser Film ist daran Schuld, dass jede schweizer Frau das Gefühl hat, sie könne sowohl ein Lausmädchen sein, als auch den Prinzen kriegen) mit den Schneeszenen, einer der schönsten Filme sei.
Lena aus dem Off : “Nai, Pippi isch dä schönschti …”

4 black Dogs and 2 blond Girls

Michael is a tuk-tuk driver in Vientiane.
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We were honored to stay in his large beautiful house with his 4 big dogs Barolo, Baghira, Taiga and Mira and a whole bunch of other animals. Heaven for the kids.
(Michael’s Wife and kids are on vacation.)
Daily highlight for Ada was the stroll by the riverbank of Mekong at 17:00.
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The water level rose daily, it is rainy season, the last evening we could launch avalanches.
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After about 2 days Ada started bossing around the dogs and they happily obeyed her. Even Lena lost most of her fear and petted here favorite, Barolo.

Of course, Michael is not really a tuk-tuk driver, he just owns one.
Many happy Thanks, Michael.

***

We now go to Bangkok by night train and then proceed to Koh Samui (booked until here), an island in the south of Thailand. We may also change to one of the other islands around there. After 14 days or so we’ll go back to Bangkok for a few days and then fly to Muscat for 7 days. Planned day for arrival back in Switzerland is 26. July 2013.
A year and a day.

PS: someone told me that the pictures from the riverbank look very dangerous. We were not at all aware of that. The river below is shallow and flows quite slowly. Not very dangerous.

Vang Vieng, tubing captial

Now in Vang Vieng.

Just before we left the Tages Anzeiger (biggest Newspaper in Switzerland) had two Articles Der Party-Fluss des Todes (Party river of death) and Die tödliche Touristenattraktion in Laos (Deadly tourist attraction in Laos).
Written after a guardian article Vang Vieng, Laos: the world’s most unlikely party town was published.

The article says that at least 27 travelers have died in 2011 tubing and partying in Vang Vieng. Actually wikipedia says 22 dead people. Such discrepancies usually mean that no one cared to check the figure. I think it is as BS as most of the article.

Vang Vieng, deep in the jungle of Laos
Vang Vieng is a four-hour bus journey on mostly dirt roads from the capital Vientiane

Both are very far from the truth. If Vang Vieng is deep in the jungle than Nam Nern (See Where the Tigers are) is on the other side of the Moon. The main roads where paved years ago and the road to Vang Vieng is a pretty big road.

Anyway. Before we arrived here, we heard rumors that the tubing was closed. Not quite true. (for the truth see the end of the wikipedia artikel).
So we just had to do it. With the kids of course. And not enough. We also booked a cave tubing to begin with.

Here is the river:
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Then it started to rain and it rained the entire night and was still raining in the morning.
So we were on the verge of calling it off.
There was no way to get the money back and the rain almost stopped. So we decided to give it a try.

We were plagued by visions of sudden floods and drowning.
But they had the promised life vests perfectly fitting Ada and Lena.

The track to the elephant cave where the tubing cave is was slippery and very wet.
See the elephant?
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Finally only Ada and I did the tubing cave (Thamnam Cave). The Guide took Ada’s tube with his feed and pulled here into the cave followed by Papa.DSC_5450_Tubecave The entrance is quite small but after that the cave is 1 m high and 4 m wide. Actually piece of cake, especially because the more difficult part could not be done because of high water level.
One pushes up the stream by a rope the way out is just floating.

Back to the Nam Song river (Nam actually means river) after lunch and some drive we came to the start for the tubing.
They did not have a small tube for Ada, so they constructed a seat for her with ropes.
Lena was on the Kayak with the guide.

And then they came. A Group of young chicks with beer in their hands and no life vest. Honestly though, if not drunken a life vest is not necessary for that trip. Even with some high water, it was quite harmless.

Then we glided down and had a wonderful trip.
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I was not once afraid for the live of my kids. Despite all visions.

Plain of Jars

Arrived in Phonsavan.
We survived this long trip quite well. Back on the main tourist track.
Even found a hotel where one can go to the toilet without getting wet feet.

The main attraction in whole north Lao is the Plain of Jars.
Truly marvelous. We visited the Site 1, 2 and 3. There are over 90 sites, but some have but 1 jar.
For 2 month now we believed that the plain of jar is, well a plain with jars.
That is not the case. Most sites are on top of small hills or in the case of site 3 on a ridge. The entire region is not really a plain. Compared to the rest of Lao it is a plain, about as hilly as for instance Appenzell.

Nobody knows for sure what they were made for.
We were surprised on the variety of style and forms they have.
They are cylindrical, round, almost cubic, conical, irregular; they have a rim, no rim, inside rim, outside rim; are rather raw on the inside or smooth, thick walled, thin walled, almost hollow, just a fraction hollowed; have round, elliptical, square or rectangular (up to 1:2) openings; are made of sandstone, granite, conglomerate, limestone and breccia; are very big or rather small. The smallest were stolen.

Very few have lids but none were found in place.

Site 1:
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Site 2:DSC_5269_Plain_of_Jars_2_Vat_Sensou_Kharam

The only lid with a carving we found.
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Site 3:
A search picture.
Find Astrid, Ada, Lena, Thomas, Phong (the driver) and 45 jars.
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And now for something completely different.
We saw the following picture in and Indian restaurant here.
Where is it? Please comment. But no speculation 😉
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Hintang Standing Stones

On our way to Phonsavan.
A neglected archeolocial site is Hintang. Most infrastracture is detoriating.
Too far to go there. Some nice hikes to the several 100 menhires would be possible. We just were able to visit the main site.

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The discs once covered burial holes some meters deep with several urns.
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At lest 1500 years old but not much is known. The entire site is spread over 10 km.

The secret war and a hidden city

For nine years till 1973 a “secret war” waged in Lao.
Lao is actually the most bombed country (per capita) in the history of mankind.
History of Laos

Especially in the region we are in now the bombing was the worst and as ineffective as it was in Germany.

We did not stop in Sam Neua but went straight to Vieng Xai where the Pathet Lao Caves are.
Caves on wiki

In these caves the communist leadership and part of their army hid, up to 20000 people.
There was everything in these caves, from hospitals to cinemas.

Vieng Xai is a very neat village, we like it.

We had our guide and a very good audio device.

What can be visited are mostly the caves where the seven leaders lived and worked.
Here their main meeting room:
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Audio Guides:
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The caves are in a very neat environment.
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Where the solders lived, also a small stage:
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Into the heart of the mountain.
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The caves were artificially enhanced. But in some parts even stalacsomething can be seen.
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One of the interesting tidbit was the fact the bombers where often not given a specific target.
Just bomb where you see chicken and ducks they were told.
After they heard that from a captured pilot the people killed all animals with a bright color.

Tomorrow there will be a very long trip to Phonsavan. Sleep well.

Where the Tigers are

From Vieng Thong our driver Phong brought us the 50 km (=1.5 hours drive at full speed) DSC_4841 to Ban Sonkhoua (Ban=village) where the trip into the Nam Et/Phou Louey NPA (National Protected Area) starts.
Organize the trip with namet for details

This is actually the only place in Indochina where there are still tigers.
They took us into 2 small boats and the most incredible boat tour I ever did started.
I had no idea that such a small river can be navigated.
For Swiss readers. About the size of the Sihl.
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Up the river for some 20-30 km to the site of the lodge.
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Actually a village that was abandoned some 30 years ago. Nothing visible anymore.
It is cleared from mines and UXOs. At the hill close by was an american landing area for helicopters.
The secret war is everywhere in Lao.

From there we went upriver again on an ever smaller river, just a creek at the end.
At a salt lick was the end. A little bit downriver we had our diner on a river bank. They cooked on a wood fire.
One of the dishes was fern that they had collected at the riverbanks. I had no idea some species of fern are edible.
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Then we glided downstream in darkness just guided by flashlight trying to see some animals.
We were already warned that now in the beginning of the wet season not many animals can be seen, and so it was.
Does not matter, that trip was incredible.
The kids fell asleep after a while.

The next day we made a trip through the jungle by the lodge, where some plants and the history of the site was explained. We climbed a small mountain with the remains from the stupa.
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Here 2 persons and of course Astrid are missing. There were many people involved to keep as alive. Where were the only guests for weeks and some of the money goes to some 7 villages close by the park.

Then back down the river.
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This post actually written 15.06.2013

Vieng Thong or Off the beaten track

Muang Ngoi Neua is remote according to the guidebook.
There is a constant trickle of tourists from LPB going there and back.
Not a single person we talked to was however travelling onward to Vieng Thong / Sam Neua.
There also is only one daytime minivan on that road that takes up to 10 hours.
That makes it difficult to break it down in smaller junks and you are not sure if there is a place in the bus.
So we where somewhat nervous.
We already had a ticket (from Nong Khiaw) when a guy we already had spoken to in LPB briefly, started to talk to Astrid.
He was a subcontractor for the bus-line from LPB and actually owns the minivan.
Complicated system here. The money you pay seems to go to a least 3 different parties.
That is also why they suddenly try to charge for the AC in the bus.

Anyway, we ended up hiring him and his Van, he had a good price especially for the days that we do nothing. We tried that in LPB but some wanted full price even for day we do not travel. With the kids and our rest days, not a good deal.

We could even get 70% of the ticket price back.
So we went to his village where he collected his belonging and off we went to Vieng Thong.
(By the way, there is no English wikipedia for that village)

Next day we went to the Nam Et/Phou Louey NPA (National protected area) Park office. We thought that we could not go into the park itself. However, Paul and American told us that the night trip is doable with kids and checked the weather. Very good the next 2 days. So we booked.

We then did a track through some forest to old military trenches from two Indochina wars (the Americans had an secret airbase in Viengthong). It turned out to be 2.9 instead of the announced 1.4 km.
Anyway, it ended by some very neat hot springs.

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The water is supposedly 100 Degrees.
We boiled some eggs (not mine).

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The yolk was rigid but the white remained somewhat liquid. Not really 100 after all.

Our private bath.
It is empty when we arrived. One has to fill it. Unfortunately they forgot to add something so that the water does not flow out again. The plastic cup provided did a poor job. So it was difficult to get a temperature not too hot for the kids. Some grass did the trick.
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Nice environment. The public bath is on the right, no entrance fee there.

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Actually written 15.06.2013

Muang Ngoi Neua

Generally we felt the strain from travelling for so long.
After the 12 sick and recovery days in Luang Prabang (LPB)
We finally found some energy and decided to really leave the broad tourist trek and make the (almost) round trip

Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw – Muang Ngoi Neua – Nong Khiaw – Vieng Thong – Sam Neua – Vieng Xai, Pathet Lao Caves – Phonsavan, Plain of Jars – Vang Vieng – Vientiane.
On looooong and winding roads.

First going to Muaang Ngoi Neua according to the guidebook “even more remote than Nong Khiaw”.
To go there one has to go to Nong Khiaw and then take a boat up the Nam Ou river.
The village only has generator electricity and can only be reached by boat.

Once there we found out you still can get spaghetti but there really are no rooms with AC.
The setting is really really spectacular.

The next day we did an afternoon trip even more upriver, where actually the landscape is best.
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If you ever go there, either take a boat downstream to begin with (i.e. not from Nong Khiaw) or make a tour upstream like we did.
We walked from one minority village to another with a local guide that spoke very little English.
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Always the kids flocked because they were bored I guess:
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This evening we had lunch on a terrace to see the sunset.
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The next day we booked a full day tour to a cave and back through some rougher terrain.
To the caves was along a dirt road, not really interesting. But the caves were great.
Very well hidden and not even a path to go there.
A little river flows through the cave and to get in one has to crawl almost.
The we waded upstream up to knee deep some hundreds of meters. Great.
Lena was piggybacked by one of the guides.
We had a general guide and a local guide. The money has to be spread.
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Lunch in a village served by the chef of the village in person.
Then it started to rain. And rain. And never stopped.
We were lucky to make it back to the river along the road the mud sticking everywhere. Soaking wet.

The next day we left.

Well. The village got electricity 6 Month ago, the hospital opened 3 days ago and a road is about to reach that village. Soon not so remote anymore.

Actually written 15.06.2013