You will all recall that a few days ago, I posted about a 2-day trek we did from Louang Phabang. I posted some pics then, and a few more today, but I wanted to post our journal entries from the trek for more insight than just the pictures. Some of this is written by me and some by Justine (see below).
After the trek, we returned to Louang Phabang for two more days (see the pictures of the wats, Buddhist temples/monestaries) before going to Vang Vieng, a crummy town alongside a river, known for it's TV bars and drunken parties. We didn't really know this ahead of time, and several people we met made the outdoors stuff sound cool (including tubeing down the river, passing numerous bars along the way). There's gorgeous scenery there, but the town is a total dump. Every bar and restaurant is blasting episodes of Friends or the Simpsons, and there's these pasty-faced 20-somethings all oogling the TV and ordering dope and opium straight off the menus. We looked for the one restaurant without a TV, and it happened to be a Chinese place all the way at the end of the road (though to be fair, after dinner we got a beer and watched the Family Guy for a bit, hating ourselves the whole time for being hypocrites, but there was nothing else to do!). Inside King Dumpling were a bunch of Chinese people celebrating the new year's eve, so we popped in and had some delicious food. The next night, we did the same thing, but at a different Chinese restaurant on the other end of town (which is just two parallel roads that go on for about 5 blocks). There we met a cool Spanish couple living in China (Enrique -- British descent -- and Aga -- Polish), who we spent the evening with. We all couldn't wait to leave Vang Vieng as soon as possible, so we took a bus south to the Lao capital of Vientianne, and they went north to Louang Phabang. Now on with the journals.
The saddest thing about the first village is that when we finished our lunch, the kids seized upon our garbage: 2 water bottles and an empty pepsi can. They used these for toys and sucked the last few drops out. The shack where we ate was also a shop, but clearly it's only a tourist/trekker shop, with a few cans of soda, water, and chips, etc. Nobody in that village eats snacks and soda... they probably can't afford it! We both felt a bit ashamed, because this is exactly the kind of thing that caused us to hesitate to do this kind of trek in the first place: The owner of that hut is now entirely dependent on tourists to buy junk food, which results in trash that is left behind because most people don't bother carry theirs out (we would have, but didn't have a chance to collect it before leaving since the kids took it as soon as we finished). After this experience, we made sure to carry out EVERY piece of trash we made.
The trek continued over a ridge and we reached a primary school (see pics), which is shared by the Khamu village we ate in and a nearby Hmong village. The teachers live in Louang Phabang on the weekends and live in the villages during the week! We walked more, through the Hmong village, and into a more wooded section of the hills... finally SHADE! After tackling 2 more small hills, we hit the top of a ridge around 4pm and came out of the woods suddenly looking at another freshly-burned landscape at our feet. Shortly after, we reached the village we would spend the night at (Khamu).
Our shelter was a rickety bamboo hut with 3 raised platforms, enough space for about 8 adults (with mosquito nets), situated outside the village chief's hut (complete with the one light bulb in town and a satellite dish TV system blasting Intel commercials into the still night...). [Quote of the day: "I saw the pillows from afar and they didn't look too savory." - J, after seeing our bedding for the night.] The place was adequate for us, since we had our sleep sheets and they provided blankets (it got quite cold at night). The toilet was an enclosed dirt pit witha 4.5 ft. ceiling, making it difficult to gety anything done (plus a HUGE brown spider right above the hole!).
Before dinner, we walked the dirt streets a bit, this village was quite large, and saw more kids playing a game with two bamboo sticks that we had seen in the earlier villages. Dinner was traditinoal Lao food (cooked by our excellent guide, Vang Thong), which consisted of sticky rice, green beans, fried veggies, and some kind of tomato sauce thing that was truly amazing! Definitely the best food we've had in a while. After dinner, we passed the time singing songs and playing hand-slapping games with some of the girls (aged from 2 to 13 years) and we even taught hem a new game, one we had learned from the girls at the orphange in Nepal.
14.Feb.07 - Day two of our trek started with many fried eggs and Nescafe coffee a baguette. We spent the early early morning hours, though, staying warm and cursing the multiple rounds of rooster crowing around the valley. After b/f, we killed time by rolling hoops and drawing in the dirt with the kids (see pics), Nuan, Xi, and their sister (?). At 930 am, we took off towars a rather large waterfall, passing cool riverside scenery and bamboo forest landscape on the way. Another hour on after that (passing farms and villages along a wide dusty road that's slated for paveing later this year), we have arrived at a small village for a break, where the shop keep is playing Hotel California (acoustic), appearantly for us, since everyone in Asia assumes white people love the Eagles (blech!!).
At noon, lunch is served, consisting of an excellent noodle soup and scrambled eggs. The rest of the hike was through farm lands and absolutely scorched land following a river. We walked mostly along a wide dustry road, waded across one shallow river crossing and leapt across a rather deep one, arriving suddenly at a paved highway that will take us back to Louang Phabang. We're waiting at our guide's "second family's" home, consisting of 3 generations of a family from Udomaxi, Laos (in the North), where Vang is from. He's told us all about Lao New Year and also about how the Lao people celebrate Valentine's day (basically the same as in America, but it's a bit more social with huge parties and clubbing going on). He invited us to drink with him and his friends this evening. The bus is late picking us.
(9pm) After enjoying a nice hot shower and a pizza dinner, we took up the offer of the guys from Green Discovery Tours and went over for drinks. A group of 10 or so (including our Van's sister, another worker named Pang, and a few couples, two with babies) were eating dinner in the office when we showed up. They all welcomed us heartily and sat us down with them, offering us food (mostly fish and chicken, so we declined), and then the beer started to flow. Huge bottles of Beerlao were poured into a single cup, which each person at the table must finish before it gets refilled and passed on to the next person. This went on for a few hours! Later, kap pan was brought out for us all to enjoy, which is Mekong river seaweed (riverweed?), dried and pounded into flat sheets and flavored with garlic and tomato.... delicious! We were regaled with stories of the prowess of Lao men and the beauty of Lao women (as well as a few lousy jokes) before heading off to bed before the midnight curfew ($5 fine for locals, who knows what it is for falangs). Ban lo fan dii (Sleep well)!