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Category Archives: Mekong River
Itchy feet, high metabolism, well rested ? Whatever it is I am on my way tomorrow. Luang Prabang (LP) is a delight, the people are friendly, smiley, gracious, polite and as far as I can tell scrupulously honest. According to my Rough Guide they have an innate sense of “muan” (fun) and if something is “baw muan” (not fun) then it is quickly abandoned. Sounds reasonable. I see much hard work going on, running stalls and shops, fishing and farming, maintenance, repair and building but alas it all seems to provide little in the way of return. The most used bank note is the 50,000 Kip note, about $6.00 US, and frankly everything seems to cost less than this. Example, the restaurant I am currently sitting in features a menu with nothing more expensive than, yes, 50,000 kip. Johnny Walker is $3.00 a shot, cocktails are $3.25, Daiquires, Piña Coladas, even a Long Island Ice Tea. Not much of a markup available there. I suppose there is some solace in the fact that I am helping to contribute towards the fifty percent of the Country’s revenue which comes from tourism. But not even my meager contribution is not going to help Laos drag itself up from its position in one of the ten most underdeveloped countries on Earth.
I think it is here, for the first time, that I have found it unfortunate that I do not have a travel companion. All those activities in Hong Kong, HCMC and Hanoi were just fine to do solo but here, after the initial exploring, I could have done with some company. There are all sorts of one and two day excursions to waterfalls, elephant preserves, ethnic villages etc that really lend themselves to group travel. Bit boring on ones own. So, tomorrow I go to Siem Reap, site of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
Will let you know how it goes.
A very slow day in Luang Prabang as predicted. I did leave the hotel at 5.30am to catch the bus into town as one of the big attractions here is the early morning Binthabhat ceremony when the monks from the 30 odd monasteries in town process down the main street receiving alms from the citizenry. As well as receiving, the monks also donate some of the food stuffs they are given to the less fortunate, children mainly, as far as I could see.
Well this all sounds fine and admirable, however the reality is something completely different. I arrived, solo, sat on a low wall to watch and initially, in the dark, made out a long row of citizens sitting quietly with a pot of rice before them ready for the procession. All very heartwarming. However, as dawn broke, the light strengthened all hell broke loose. Convoys of laden SUVs, tuk tuks, and taxis arrived depositing hundreds of camera toting “people”, who proceeded to behave in the most appalling fashion. I watched, amazed, as a camera with a two foot lens was thrust inches from a two year old’s face. When the monks finally came along it really was a nightmare. People falling over themselves, and the monks, to get the best shot. There was even one group led by a guide with a megaphone telling his group where to stand and giving them advice on what was going to happen next. Ok, I was there too, but kind of hanging back, on the other side of the street, behind the parked SUVs etc and quite honestly I took more photos of the deranged mob than of the monks. Oh it was dreadful, quite ghastly, wretched even.
So, bus back to hotel feeling sorry for the state of mankind and other profound thoughts. Had a shower and breakfast and fortified walked back into town. Found the ferry terminal for transport up, down and across the Mekong River, sat there for over an hour absorbing the timeless activity and felt better about everything.
Time to potter about the town which I did for about three hours, had lunch, came back to the hotel as it got rather hot and took a two hour nap.
Back into town tonight for the joys of street food, though last night’s hotel dinner with wine was no more than $15.00 and it was good, well ok, well passable. Street food may be better.
This is the first day since leaving SF that I haven’t had a schedule and I feel quite refreshed, already looking for local adventures. There is a two day boat ride up the river, then two days back that sounds appealing.
btw, I think I unlocked the you tube video from HCMC about crossing the road. That seems a long time ago and somewhat irrelevant but those interested will find it at the bottom of the Ci Chu Tunnels page.
More as I go.
Yesterday going to the Ci Chu Tunnels I mentioned a couple of Swedes on the tour bus, guess what, today it was just me, Mattias and Elinor on the tour to the Mekong Delta ! Elinor is a film animator, Mattias and I share an affinity for electrical pylons, turns out he builds them as well. Not too busy in the darkness of a Swedish Winter so here they are, enjoying the warmth.
8.00 am came round and we promptly departed.
It’s quite a drive to the Delta, about 95 miles, with the traffic and scooters this is about a two and a half hour drive.
Most of the distance is covered by the Ho Chi Minh Freeway (no kidding), the locals are quite proud of it as it has a central reservation. Head ons have been seriously reduced since its introduction I am happy to relate.
The first view of the river as we drew into the parking area was stupendous, just as I had imagined, only better. Hugely wide, just over a mile, alive with watercraft of every description chugging, steaming, speeding or just moored. Our guide, San, had filled us with some trepidation with instructions on moving slowly so as not to capsize, to check the life jackets, and such so we were expecting some sort of canoe. No, not really, the three of us made our way onto a rather large Sampan with chairs, driver and a roof. We chose to sit in a heap on the stern platform, the sun came out, my kind Swedish friends shared their sunscreen and we were off into the stream. Our first stop was to see the floating market where the local farmers bring their produce to sell or trade. Quite interesting but apparently much busier at dawn.
Then we were off on a long stretch across the river to a narrow tributary which we gained after running aground once due to the receding tide. We paused to tour a sweet (candy) factory, Mattias and I muttered comments about child sweatshops and we tried to look interested. After some assurances that this was a family run business and that the young children were part of the family we thawed somewhat and began to pay attention.
One of the main trade goods on the river is rice husks, these are used to provide heat for cooking. So we watched what we assumed was the manufacture of pop rice (think popcorn) which was then flavored with strawberry flavoring. It tasted ok, far too sweet for my taste but I see the appeal.
Tea was served and local delicacies offered, the local ginger was tasty but I fell for the Lotus seeds and even bought a packet. It apparently is a sleep aid and how I need that.
Lunch followed at a great looking old French Colonial house with a huge back garden converted into an open air restaurant, a highly surprising destination in a narrow spur of the Delta.
Elephant fish in rice paper with salad was followed by king prawns, then rice and unidentified meat, pot stickers, all deliciously fresh. We three were pleasantly surprised. Further up what could be called the bayou we paused for a short music recital by local musicians on local instruments. I was somewhat put off as we arrived as the previous group was leaving, to the strains of Auld Lang Syne!
Then it was off again and turning a corner we found ourselves in the main stream, packed with boats all heading downstream on the rising tide. I was in boat heaven !
Following that, we went to a brick factory, yes a brick factory. It was quite interesting tho Mattias and I muttered sweat shops again. It is a massive operation with enormous kilns baking hundreds of thousands of bricks at a time. Then it was over and we came back to HCMC through the rush hour, a three hour drive.
All in all a great day on the river and I wish there was an easy way to share photos instantly using the iPad. I will keep looking and will try and endure the glares in business centers.
To Hanoi in the morning. See you there.
Bye bye scooterland, oh, and correction, there are 8 million people in HCMC and five million scooters, there are half a million cars. Enough said.