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Don Det - 4000 Islands at the Southern tip of Laos

View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

Between Laos and Cambodia we stopped for a day at Don Det, in Laos' 4000 islands. The island is a few kilometers across, and near the ferry docks are hotels and bungalows while further from the tourists there is a small farming village. The half-hour boat across has nice scenery, not too different from Canada's 1000 islands (just 4 times more islands)

We took a long walk and crossed into the next island over, Don Khong, across the only railway bridge the French ever built in Laos, which has more trees and a waterfall.

A large and hungry group of piglets. So cute.

All in all our 4000 islands experience was pretty nice. The food options are pretty limited and there isn't too much to do, but we had a bungalow with concrete walls for $3.50 (they are available, on the waterfront, from $2.50 with thatch bamboo walls). The island doesn't have much beach and the water is a bit murky, but with a bit of walking it would certainly be possible to have a section of beach or even a small island to oneself.

From there we crossed into Cambodia. Since it was a weekend the Laos customs officers charged "overtime". I don't know if that means the government doesn't pay them, or just that they like to charge bribes. They were initially asking for $3 per person, but after 20 minutes of negotiations someone on the bus got them down to $1 per person. At the Cambodian side it was similar but seemed more legitimate: there are 3 steps to getting a visa, and each costs $1 per person.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:17 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Vientiane - Small capital city and 25th SEA Games

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We rode to Vientiane on a rickety afternoon bus, and pulled into town in the mid evening. Though we hadn't given it much thought, we knew from ads we saw earlier in Laos that the Southeast Asia Games were in Vientiane starting on the 8th. Not too surprisingly, it was hard to find a place to stay - after passing by about 15 places that were full, we settled into the first vacancy we found. It was more expensive than we're used to (about $15) and they were full for the next day, but at least we had a spot for the night.

The next day we went to Buddha park, which is a really cool, really small park full of Buddhas and Hindu god sculptures. The park is 15 km out of town and only the size of a city block, but has hundreds of impressive statues. It is one of very few recently built attractions (only about 50 years old) that is truly worth visiting. The largest sculpture is a 30 metre reclining Buddha, but there are a huge amount of amazing pieces, of which a fraction are pictured below.

After getting back we took in some of the main sights of the capital city (population 200,000, in a country of 6 million people). I liked their version of the Arc de Triomphe, the Patuxay. It is similar to the original, but with a bit of an Asian twist to the design. It also has the brilliant distinction of being built of concrete donated by the US in the 60s for the construction of an airport runway. Unfortunately local officials don't hold as high an opinion of the structure as I do: the sign below is posted at the base of the Arc ("Built in 1962 but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete.") Seriously, it's not that bad. Also, apart from a few steel rods poking out near the ceiling there is no evidence that the structure was never completed.

The black stupa, an old part of a temple that seems out of place surrounded by modern buildings close to city center.

The city has one of the world's fanciest Culture Hall buildings.

Part of dinner: one of 3 frogs we bought on a skewerfrom a roadside stand. One tasted fishy, but the other two were actually pretty good.

We were in the capital for a few days over the beginning of the SouthEast Asia Games, a sport competition in which 9 countries compete (Laos, Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia). On the first day we went to see Tae Kwan Do, with 5 medals contested. It took us an hour to find out where to take the bus, and another hour to get to the venue including the 2.5km walk from the bus stop. Luckily, we were still hours early. It turned out they were only doing katas (sequences of moves, everyone does the same thing) that day, but it still got pretty exciting. Medal winners come from 4 of the 9 countries, as there are 2 bronze medals for all sports where braketing is possible rather than having a bronze medal match to decide who takes 3rd and 4th place. They win a stuffed animal in addition to their medal. It's exciting.

Back home in the evening, after deciding that we'd sleep at the bus station if we don't find a place to sleep, we were able to find a single room in a guest house. The price was right and everywhere else was full, so we decided to stay a couple days. Sue was so happy to see the Full sign when we went down after checking in, and she laughed whenever we saw people lugging around their big backpacks going from place to place looking for a vacancy.

The next day we went to see thai boxing, but arrived 8 hours too early. So we went to karate a couple kilometers away. It was katas, similar to what we saw at tae kwon do the day earlier, and they adjourned for a few hours when we got there. So we ended up going back to tae kwon do. To our relief they were fighting that day, and we arrived just in time to see the gold medal finals. We still don't know how scoring works, but sometimes the coach would use a card and get 3 points, which seemed a lot like a video game move.
Laos Superfan #1 and Superfan #2 (with flags found at the side of the road the prior day)

Vietnam guy winning his fight. Immediately after he won gold, rather than running around the arena with his flag like he ran to the stands. We thought he was going to see his coach or president or something, but no, he was picking up a cheque for 5 million dong (roughly $320). The same happened each time Vietnam won gold (which was one other time, plus one time it nearly happenned and they got the novelty cheques out then put them back away).

We saw some table tennis, which in southeast asia is not at all competitive -- almost all matches are won 3-0, which is an impressive gap between each team for a league with 9 teams. The stadium was not at all inviting: here is a pic of Sue using what I think is the main entrance to the stadium grounds.

Dinner in our cheap guest house's fancy dining room. The table and chairs are each tree stumps, and we're eating 2 fish, some rice, and some vegetables.

Our last night there we downloaded a detailed schedule (with times) so that we wouldn't arrive at the wrong time like we had half the time in the last few days. So we got up in time to get to the Diving preliminaries at 10am. We got there just after 10 and the cheering squad was there, with a few divers practising on the boards. A bit odd but whatever. Then the cheering squad left, and we waited for it to start until 1pm. We saw some good dives (and some bad ones) for half an hour, before leaving early so we could see Thai boxing. So unimpressed with their scheduling and transport.

Finally we arrived at the Muai Thai arena, which we were really happy to see since we hadn't seen Thai boxing when in Thailand and these were world-class competitors. It did not disappoint - it's a vicious sport, and especially after seeing Tae Kwon Do I can see why most successful MMA competitors are trained in Thai Boxing. It's also a bit like pro wrestling, in that there are a couple minutes before each match where the competitors dance or work the crowd. There is an asian band playing music in the background as the fight goes on. These last two points hold true even in international competitions. Wonderful.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:15 Archived in Laos Tagged events Comments (0)






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Luang Prabang - More temples and another colonial town

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The food in Laos generally is sticky rice along with a vegetable mush that is mildly bitter, and either salty grilled fish or unknown parts from pork or beef.

Luang Prebang is supposed to be this incredibly charming old French town, but we simply didn't feel it. The main market is nice but extremely tourist-oriented with foreigner-priced souvenirs, and the town seems not too much different from most small cities. It is a bit special that the town is situated at the junction of the Mekong and another river, but with it being dry season at the time we were there the rivers had very little water or current in them.

We saw monks slowly making buddha statues by hand out of cement at one of the temples.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:13 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Luang Nam Tha - Lao countryside and kayaking

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From Thailand and through Northern Laos was some of the best countryside we've seen. The mountainous landscapes were breathtaking, comparable to Cape Breton, while the road passed by many villages of thatch houses built on stilts. After 2 months in Asia this was the first large area we were in that hadn't really been touched by modern technology.

Our original plan was to go to the northern end of Laos, known for having more authentic hill tribes and being less touristed than parts of Thailand (the tribes part of the Chiang Mai trek seemed more like a zoo than like a village). Unexpectedly (because working out basic itineraries from a map has worked out well so far), it would have been something like 10 hours each way to get to Muang Sing, which has the best trekking. We settled on only going halfway, to Luang Nam Tha, from where Muang Sing would have been 6 hours each way for 60km of distance on a map. Transport in Laos is generally very bad - takes a long time to cross short distances, and overnight transport is generally not available so instead of getting free lodging on a bus we waste a day each time we have to go from place to place. We checked in to a pretty fancy hotel room for $3.50/night, though we changed place the next day because the plumbing and electrical were both extremely wonky (for example, the bathroom sink tap does nothing: the water is controlled by a knob on the wall, which when turned makes water come out from both a faucet on the wall and the sink).

Northern Laos in December is pretty cold, about 20C during the day and 5-10C at night. We therefore decided to not do an overnight trek, and instead did a 7-hour river kayaking excursion. It was very hard to keep the kayak straight, and it seemed we paddled faster and went slower than anyone else on the trip. But it was an exciting experience at times, and a chance to get some exercise beyond walking. We also made a couple stops in villages, and a stop where the guides cooked some fish and buffalo they had bought in the morniing.

Posted by chrisvasil 13:27 Archived in Laos Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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