Monday, March 31, 2003

Shopping Heaven!

Last night we went to the awesome shake restaurant, and had shakes and played cards. On the way to the restaurant, Courtney got kissed by a local, on the cheek!

We headed back to the guest house about 10:00.

Up at 6:00AM, showered, packed, checked out and waited downstairs in hotel lobby. Bus came at 8:00.

About 9:45, the bus stopped at Lang Co Beach for about 20 minutes. Nice beach, kind of dirty, though. To the south of the beach was a mountain range, it was an incredible view.

The bus continued south, and climbed up the mountain range, and stopped at the top. We got out, and there was some amazing views of beaches on both sides of the range. Incredible, beaches for miles and miles.

A while later, we stopped at Marble Mountain cave, but we didn't go in, we've seen enough caves, and don't need to see anymore. The town has lots and lots and lots or marble sculpture stores, creating some amazing sculptures of lions and eagles and elephants. They were huge sculptures.

The bus continued on to Danang. Danang is a city built along a huge beach, that stretches for miles and miles. By the look of things, they are just trying to get the tourist industry happening here, lots and lots of work being done along the waterfront.

We made it to Hoi An about 1:30, and the bus stopped at Thien Trung Hotel, and we got off. Very beautiful hotel, looks expensive, but it was only $4/person, and includes everything (A/C, fan, satellite TV, hot water, and even a tub!!!) They showed us a room, and it was for two people, we asked to see a room for three (so Dana could stay with us), but were told they can't have 3 people in a room, the local gov't won't allow it, they will only allow 2 people to stay in a hotel room. Dana was not impressed, because she would have to pay $7 for a room by herself. Courtney and I were ready to take the room for the two of us, when the lady finally took us upstairs to a room with a double bed and a single bed, and told us $12.00 for the room, but she told us to, please, if anyone asks how many people are staying in the room, there are only two in the room. As we were going upstairs, another guy (local, hotel employee, I think), asked me where I was staying, and I said with them, pointed to Court and Dana, and he said, "Three in one room??? Oiiii.", and didn't sound like it was a good idea to him. Strange.

When we checked in, the lady told us we get a 5% discount at Nhat Vy tailor/clothing shop, just a few shops down from the hotel. Ends up being the same place that Darren and Mavis got their clothes done. I ordered 2 suits, 2 shirts and another casual shirt. The suits were $30US each, the shirts $8US each, and the casual was..hmm, forget, like $7 or something. I might order more tomorrow, we'll see. Court ordered a jacket for $25, and Dana ordered a few things too. After we orderd, they measure us all up, then we can leave. We have to back at 8:00 tonight for our fitting.

It's so cool, they have all kinds of fashion magazines and books, and you just browse through, and pick out anything, and they will make it! Same day service too!

We walked around for a while, then went back to the room and showered. Walked around some more, and Court found lots and lots and lots of jackets she wants. She ended up buying 3 more jackets (winter jackets), one is white with light purple fur inside (this one is VERY nice), a beige one, and a very nice blue one. She paid $96US for all four. She would have paid over $150.00CDN for one jacket in Canada. She loves it here.

We went for supper, I ate a huge pizza. It was quite good, and nice to have a pizza from rice.

They have some sort of carnival in town tonight at the waterfront, so we walked down there, lots of people, music (traditional-type music), and they had a big stage on the water, showing traditional dance. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long, as we had to go back for our fitting at 8:00.

We got back to the tailor, and everything we had ordered was ready. We tried it all on, it all fit perfect, and was very nice, so Dana and Court got more stuff, and I ordered a fleece jacket for $13 also. She tells us the stuff will be readabout 10:00AM the next day.

We went for a drink at a restaurant, then to an internet for a short while, then back to the hotel.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

River Tour...don't do it!

About 6:55, Court barged into my room, carrying her backpack, followed shortly afterwards by Dana. They were staying in my room for tonight, since I had 3 single beds. I got up, and showered, then we went downstairs and had breakfast, and waited for the bus.

Bus came about 7:50, we got on, and it stopped at some other hotels, and then dropped us off at the river, and we got on a boat. 5 minutes later, we had to get off and get another a different boat. They always do this to us!

We left about 9:00. The river tour consisted of a boat ride up the river, with stops at temples and tombs for $1.50US (most people paid $2US, so we got a good price). The first temple was ok, but then things went downhill. Ends up, the river tour is just that, a tour of the river. It makes stops at these temples and tombs, but doesn't include entrance fee into them. And at at least two of them you have to hire a motorcycle to take you to the tomb or temple. The first tomb we stopped at, they wanted 20,000 dong for the 3km motorbike ride, we decided to do it, even though it was expensive by Vietnamese standards, and we got to the temple, and then, they wanted 44,000 dong to get into the tomb. That's when we realized that we were screwed. This was going to be the same at every place we went to. Most everyone on the tour was pissed off, because everyone was under the impression that it was all included. Needless to say, we didn't see much. And lunch sucked too, it was just lunch on the boat, cooked up by the family that owns the boat.

The only good part of the whole thing was the old man at the front of the boat. He looked like he was permanently stoned, and would light up a joint every once in a while. He was quite funny to watch. He was dressed in his pajamas all day too.

Finished the boat tour about 3:00, then I caught a cyclo tour of the old city for two hours (25,000 dong), and went inside the old city fortress. Cost me 55,000 dong, but it was worth it. It was the old city of Hue, and the American's bombed it flat in the Vietnam war, and this is simply the remains. Very interesting to see. It was a huge place too.

Back to the hotel about 5:00, showered and shaved, then we went for supper about 5:45 at the awesome shake place. I also mailed my postcards. Stamps are expensive here, 9000 dong for one to Canada, it cost me 90,000 dong to mail them all ($9CDN)! I had spaghetti at this shake place, and a dragon fruit shake. Dunno what dragon fruit is, but the shake was good! Spaghetti was cheap and good, and huge, only 15,000 dong.

Today was the first day we had a full day of sun in a long, long time! Well, around 6:00, we had a small shower, but the rest of the day was shiny!

Tomorrow we go off to Hoi An to buy some clothes!

Saturday, March 29, 2003

DMZ and Hue

It was nice to get out of Hanoi. What got to me was the HORNS that everyone feels they must beep and toot every 5 seconds, for no apparent reason. It really gets on ones nerves after a while. Court was getting totally sick of the vendors, who can sometimes get quite push about trying to sell stuff to you. They won't take a "no thanks", they insist on keep trying. The kids and people selling the travel books are the absolute worst. They think they can sell you stuff by striking up a conversation with you before trying a sales pitch.

Anyway, kind of slept on the bus last night, but not much. The bus stopped at Dong Ha at 7:00 for breakfast, and while there, a tour guide was trying to round up people for a DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) motorbike tour. Anyone interested would have to get off the bus here, then take a local bus to Hue, 2 hours away later on. After much humming and hawing, I decided to do it, along with 5 others. Court and Dana didn't. Court said she's e-mail me when they got a place to stay in Hue, so I could catch up with them.

The tour was $15US, and I was going to go to Hue after the tour, by local bus (20,000 dong). The other 5 decided to stay in Dong Ha that night, so because I had to catch another bus that day, the one guide decided to take me and do the tour early. So, I got my own personal tour guide, just him and I, as we darted around the countryside on a motorbike. He showed me rubber trees (condom trees, Vietnamese call them), they the Contein bunker (American bunker on a hill, near the DMZ zone), then the National cemetery, which has the graves of 10,543 North Vietnamese fighters that died in the war. There are more than 70 other grave sights. This was a nice cemetery, with some very nice stone and marble monuments in memory of them. Very nice, comparable to the cemeteries I saw in Europe for WW1 and WW2. Also saw the Ho Chi Minh Trail (well, saw one part of the many trails that spread around Vietnam). The Vietnamese gov't is now widening and paving one of the Ho Chi Minh trails, so tour buses can drive along it. During the way, the Ho Chi Minh trail was used by North Vietnamese fighters to get food and weapons into southern Vietnam, to their supports down there. It was very narrow, only a bike could fit on it, so as not to be discovered my the Americans and the south. Yay for tourism! He took me to the one and only bridge that connected North and South Vietnam before the war, and after the Americans came in, they bombed the bridge to smithereens. All over the DMZ are huge bomb craters, dropped by American planes. Before the Americans bombed the bridge, the bridge had a two metre section right at the middle that was cut out. So, if a person from the north and a person from the south wanted to talk, they could each go onto bridge, and talk to each, but could not cross. Right next to where the bridge used to be, is another bridge for the highway. The Vietnamese gov't is now in the process of rebuilding the original bridge (to look like it originally did), and it's strictly going to be for tourism vehicles will be driving on it. We went to the Ving Moc Tunnels, apparently the best preserved VC (Viet Cong) tunnels in all of Vietnam. Then we went for lunch, then stopped at an old M41 tank leftover from the war. Most of it has been stripped of everything but the shell now. All this was done on a motorbike, and took about 6 hours.

My driver then took me to the bus station, and got me on the 2:00 bus to Hue. It was a minibus, and there were 21 people packed on the bus, I was the only foreigner, everyone else was locals.

2 hour bus ride to Hue, then walked across the bridge to the guest house district, and found and internet, and there was no e-mail from Court. I ran into another girl in the internet that was on the same bus as Court and Dana, and she said the internet was down most of the day. So, I asked if could keep my bag at the internet place, they said it was problem, so I walked around for a while, then checked my e-mail again at 5:45, still no e-mail, so I went for supper, and walked around, and vegged, then about 7:00, I went back to internet and there was an e-mail Court, so I walked to the hotel, and Court and Dana had booked a room for two, because they didn't know when I was coming back, so I had to book a room for myself. I got a room with 3 single beds for $5.00. Court and Dana's room was 2 single beds, they were paying $6 ($3 each).

I showered, then booked a river tour (Court and Dana had booked it earlier) for $1.50US. Then we all went to an expensive place for ice coffee and pop, ditched there after one, and found a small restaurant, run by a nice woman, who advertised the best fruit shakes in Hue.. They were cheap too (5000 dong), so we got one, and it was awesome. We played cards, and each ordered a 2nd shake. The to bed.

Court and Dana took a 1-hour cyclo tour of the old city today, while I was in Dong Ha.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Dead People and Propositions

After booking into our hotel last night, we had supper, then hit the internet for quite a while. It was really, really slow, finally Court gave up, so Court and I went for a quick, brisk walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, twice, for exercise, then back to the internet to see if Dana was still waiting. She was, and the internet was quite a bit faster, so Court did her internet stuff again, and I decided to walk around part of Hanoi and see it at night.

I walked south of the lake, into a big market area. It was night time, so most everyone was close, but I walked around anyway, just looking.

There are tons and tons of motorcycle taxi's waiting for rides. They sit on the sidewalk, on their motorcycle, and say things like, "Excuse me, motorbike." or simply "Motorbike". You simply say no thanks, and it's easy as that. They're lazy, they won't come after you like many of people on the street selling stuff.

As I was walking back, a woman on a motorcycle pulled up to the curb, and asked me if I wanted a ride. I said no thanks, and continued walking. A few seconds later, I look over, and she drives by me, going in my direction, looking back at me, smiling, as she's driving. I think I probably smiled back, and she drove up on the sidewalk, and drove directly at me, and stopped right in front of me, and sticks her hand out, and says she's very pleased to meet me, and wants to know if I want to go to a hotel, she says there are lots of hotels around. I say no thanks, and at this point, she's caressing my arm with her other hand, and she asks me again to go back to her hotel room with her. I said no thanks, I already had a hotel room, and walked away. I know I was grinning from ear to ear at the hilarity of it. She was older, perhaps in her 40's! It was hilarious! I should have asked her how much!

I walked back to the internet place, Court and Dana were still there, so I went up the room to bed.

The internet place we were using was right across the street from our hotel. It was a bar, and they had internet computers in there as well. They advertised rates of 47 dong/minute, but once inside, it was totally on honour system. You're supposed to keep track of how much internet you've used, and put the correct amount in the honest box, they didn't keep tabs on your usage at all. A sign indicated that you were responsible to have correct change...the bar staff were too busy serving beer to make change for you. Another sign said something like:
"You are responsible for putting correct amount in honesty box, or I'll bash your head in." Hahaha, funny!

We got up about 9:00, showered and packed, had breakfast, did internet, then checked out. We stored our bags at the hotel.

We took a cyclo to Ho Chi Minh Complex, to check out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and museum. All three of us had to squish into the cyclo seat that barely had enough room for two people to sit. Good thing we're all skinny!

Cyclo cost us 30,000 dong.

Ended up the mausoleum and museum are closed on Friday, so we walked through the botannical gardens that are there (only 1000 dong), then we tried to get a cyclo to take us back, but this cyclo driver wouldn't take 3 people in his cyclo, so Court and Dana took cyclo, and I took a motorcycle taxi. We agreed on 10,000 for each of us (so Court and Dana would pay 20,000 to cyclo, and I would pay 10,000 to motorcycle taxi). When he dropped me off, he tried to rip me off. He told me 30,000 dong, for myself, and for the cyclo driver, that he was friends with cyclo driver, and would give 20,000 dong to him. I refused, and told him no, I pay him 10,000, and the girls will pay the cyclo driver 20,000. He did give me my correct change back, after a bit of bickering about it. I walked around, to a bakery that motorcycle taxi drove past, and got a piece of cake, expecting to see Court and Dana in the cyclo coming by, but never saw them, so I walked to the market I had been at last night, it goes for blocks and blocks and blocks, and they sell electronics (both real brand name and cheap Chinese ripoffs), appliances and clothes. Walked around for more than an hour, and bought 4 CD's (for 10,000 dong each...$1CDN each). Then I went to the CIAU Cafe (or however you spell "chow" in that other language), and had a filet mignon and 2 7-ups for 62,000 dong, cheap by Canadian standards, but expensive by SE Asian standards. Then I walked back to the guest house about 6:00, and found Court and Dana there, they were worried sick about me! They couldn't find me for hours, and were scared that something had happened to me. Ends up, they got screwed around by their cyclo driver, who dropped them off outside of the Old Quarter, and told them cyclo drivers were not allowed to go in there (which is a lie), and they got left somewhere totally foreign, outside the Old Quarter, and they didn't know where they were. Took them an hour to find the hotel, then they couldn't find me, which made things worse. They had bought bakery stuff for the bus ride, so I ran to the bakery and got some stuff too, and bought 2 more CD's as well.

The bus guy picked us up about 6:45, and we walked to the bus and got on. Crappy bus, I can't stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me!

The bus finally left about 8:00, after stopping at other guest houses and hotels, then it stopped on the highway south of Hanoi, where everyone that was going to Vientiane had to get off and get on another bus. The bus then stopped at Ninh Binh, a small town and picked up a few more people. The bus was now full

The bus ride was crazy, very busy highway, especially at night, and crazy driving tactics by everyone in Vietnam.

Tried to sleep, but I wasn't really tired, because I had slept so nice the night before.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Back to Hanoi

I got up about 6:30, Court about 6:00, she couldn't sleep anymore. We had breakfast about 7:30, and the bus came about 8:15, and took us to thbe boat, then we headed back to Halong City.

There's lots of garbage floating in Halong Bay.

We got to Halong City about noon and had lunch, wasn't very good, then got on a bus to Hanoi. Arrived about 4:00. Court, Dana and myself booked a room for three (cheaper), watched a little CNN, then hit the internet.

And that's all for now. Tomorrow we're heading south, to Hue, via a night bus.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Easy Trek

Up at 7:00AM, had breakfast (2 croissants and a banana), then hopped on a bus to the start of the hike, in Cat Ba National Park. The bus ride was about 1 hour, then we hiked for about 2 hours (myself, Court and Dana were teh only ones on this short trek, everyone else did the long trek) to the top of a mountain, then back down. The view from the top, while not a high mountain, was quite nice. We bused back to the hotel, and had lunch. Lunch was noodles with pork and veggies, quite tasty.

The afternoon was free time for us. It was cloudy all day, so we just wrote out postcards, then at 2:00, Court and Dana and myself went for a coffee shake and sat around. A kid was calling me a monkey because of my hairy legs.

Court napped for more than an hour, I read a book, and did more postcards.

We had supper about 6:00, then walked around, played some shuttlecock hackeysack and went to bed about 10:00.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Off to Halong Bay

I forgot to mention about the lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It has huge tortoises living it (>300kg's), but I haven't seen any yet. It's a very nice lake, with a temple and a tower on two separate islands in teh lake, and at night, the lake and the streets and buildings surrounding the lake look magnificent.

We got up at 6:00AM, showered, checked out, and waited. Bought some fresh baked bread and water from a woman on the street. The bread here is wonderous.

The tour guy came and picked us up, and we walked to the bus, which was parked along a busy street, along with a multitude of other buses. It was about a 4 hour bus ride to Halong City, stopping about 3 hours in for a "souvenir shopping break". Had lunch at Halong City, then a 5 minute bus ride to the dock, and we got on a boat ("junk", I think is the name) and started through Halong Bay.

Stopped at an island that had very touristy caves, all lit up with lights, and with stairs and pathways through them, and lots of opportunities to buy souvenirs. Yawn, pretty boring after doing some real caving with headlamps and crawling on your belly to get inside a cave.

Continued on in Halong Bay, very nice, but very touristy. Lots of people on our boat. Some beautiful views of mountains jutting out of the ocean. (Ack, I hate this keyboard!!!!)

It was cool and cloudy this morning, in the afternoon, the sun started to come out, it was kind of a light cloud cover.

We then stopped at another cave, that was not part of the tour price, so anyone who wanted to see it had to pay extra. Court and I didn't do it, we've seen enough caves.

It was a long boat ride, arrived at Cat Ba island about 5:30, then had to wait for a bus to take us to the hotel. We played cards on the boat to pass the time.

The hotel is nice. Court and I got a huge room, a double bed and a single bed, a rotating fan, a ceiling fan, and an air conditioner, and hot water shower, and a TV (only two stations, no CNN or BBC). We're up on the 5th floor, so it was quite a workout to get to the room every time.

We had supper (all meals were included in the tour), then walked around Cat Ba town. Dana and Court and I (Dana from now on refers to Dana from Israel) bought some ice cream from a lady along the waterfront, and it was very tasty, so Dana and I went back for seconds.

There's a group of kids all trying to sell postcards and "shuttlecock" hackeysack-type things. They all speak excellent english, and they kind of persistent, even after saying "no", so I told one girl I'd "sleep on it", and she laughed. She knew exactly what I meant by that phrase. Then she said to me, "Ok, when you to bed tonight, you go like this (as she put her arm across her forehead) and you think about it, ok?" I had to laugh!!! It was funny. Another girl was very upset that we didn't buy anything from her, and was saying things like: (bad words warning...)
"So suck yourself."
"Go f*ck your mother and have 20 babies"
"You're white. Go back home, whitey's"

What a way to make a sale, eh??? She was totally rude.

We walked around, and went to a small lounge, and had a drink, then to a dance club for a while. Mostly locals at teh dance club, and can they dance!!

Court bought some postcards from a kid (boy) on the street, 10 of them for 7000 dong, so I decided to buy some as well, the same price he tells me. As I'm digging for my money, he makes a remark about 8000 dong, and I got confused, and said 8000 dong, and ended up handing him 8000 dong, at which point, he grabbed the money and ran about 10 feet from me, and Court turned to me and said it was only supposed to be 7000 dong. The kid was laughing and saying to me, "Hahaha, you say 8000 dong, hahaha". Needless to say, I didn't get my 1000 dong back. It was only 10 cents.

And that was the day.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Later On...

This afternoon, we did the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Old Quarter this afternoon. We had bought a Lonely Planet book from a kid on the street last night. He had told us it was the real thing, not a photocopy, and we believed him, and he wanted $27US for it. We ended up only paying $10US for it, and after we opened it up, it was a photocopy. Good thing we chewed him down!!! Anyway, in the Old Quarter, each street name designates a different thing that they sell on that street. It's really weird. One street sells shoes (lots and lots of shoes!!!), another specializes in towels (never thought I'd see a towel street), there's a blacksmith's street, a tinbox street (where they make tin boxes!), a gravestone street, etc. Very bizarre.

I hit another bank machine and withdrew 2,000,000 dong this time! Twice a millionaire!

When we walked through a market today, we saw a woman killing live chickens, and draining the blook from their necks. The things you see here are so strange to foreigners, but just part of life for locals.

We hit a restaurant for supper, then went to Fanny Ice Cream, and hugely a hugely overpriced (for the size!) ice cream. It was tiny, and we paid a fortune for it!! We then headed back to the guest house, and I stopped off at the shoe street and bought myself a new pair of flip-flops (paid $11CDN for it, but they're a good pair), then back to the guest house, then walked to the Water Puppet Theatre for the water puppet show. Water Puppet Show was neat, all the music and singing and talking (in Vietnamese) is live, and all the puppets are controlled from underwater. The show consisted of a bunch of Vietnamese traditions and ways of life. Very entertaining, and a must see for anyone coming here.

After the Water Puppets, we went to the Hanoi Jazz Club. Very good music. I played a couple of games of pool with a Danish fellow, and we beat a couple of locals and then beat a two British lads.

Court and Dana and Dana went back to the GH when I started playing pool, so I got back just before midnight. The Old Quarter is pretty dead late at night.

IN Hanoi...

We got up about 8:00, showered and watched TV, and waited for Dana and Dana, then got prices for a tour of Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. $20 for a 3-day/2-night tour. Then we went for breakfast with Dana and Dana, then back to the guest house and did laundry. I had to clean everything I had, it's been so long!

This hotel is brand new, they're still working on it. At 8:00 this morning, saws and drills woke us up. And our drain in our bathroom floor isn't draining. Hopefully they'll fix that today.

Back at the guest house, we booked the tour to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island for tomorrow. We also applied for our Cambodian Visa.

It's almost 1:30PM right now, we are going to do a walking tour of the Old Quarter this afternoon, then see the underwater puppet show this evening, and early tomorrow morning, we're off on our tour. Probably no internet access for a while.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Bus Ride From Hell

The bus driver woke up about 6:00AM, and we were on our way! The road is washed out in places, just dirt, and very bumpy. The bus had to crawl in spots. Very mountainous, lots of turns, and very, very foggy and misty. The road followed a river gorge, lots of very nice views. Too bad it was so foggy, it would be great to see the mountains.

About 7:45, we stopped at Laos immigration and got stamped out of Laos. At the border, there was a big truck with hundreds of dogs packed tightly into small cages. They were going to Vietnam to be eaten (yes, they eat dog in Vietnam).

A few minutes later, we stopped at the Vietnam border and had to pay $1US to get our passports back from the officials. Corrupt!

AFter finally getting through customs, we went back to the bus and waited. 5 or 6 Vietnamese customs officials descended upon the bus, checking everyones passports, going through baggage, etc. They spent more than 10 minutes checking everything out. They were more interested in the locals than the falang. Finally the bus driver told everyone that was going to Hanoi to go to another bus. So, we changed buses. This bus is even worse! The back 1/3 of the bus was packed with baggage (which is where we had to put our backpacks). As we were getting on the bus, there were more customs officials checking passports again, so we had to go through that yet again. Courtney and I got the rearmost seats, just in front of all the baggage that was being bused to Vietnam. The whole thing was crazy, with so many Vietnamese officials swarming everywhere. They "caught" one woman who had bags and bags of shoes stored all over the bus. I don't know what happened to her (if anything), because we had to depart that bus for the Hanoi bus before we could know.

We finally left about 9:30.

Roads much better than in Laos. Vietnam is more like Thailand than it is like Laos. Much more developed.

At noon, we stopped at a small restaurant for lunch. No english menu, so we had to use a Vietnamese-to-English dictionary to order rice, egg, and vegetabes, and tea to drink. Court and I both craving McDonalds!

Cloudy and cool today.

There are a helluva lot of cows in Vietnam!! And they're not smart enough to not stand in the middle of the roads. Traffic is constantly dodging them.

The stretch to Hanoi is total agriculture. It's like the locals live in a huge swamp, that goes on for hundreds of miles, and they just build up areas where they want to put houses, or roads, or rail lines, or cities, or whatever.

In Thailand and Malaysia, they drive on the left side of the road. IN Laos, they drive on the right side of the road. In Vietnam, they drive on both sides of the road. It was a very scary and crazy bus trip. I'm surprised we got out without getting into an accident.

The bus stopped outside of Hanoi, in the middle of the highway, and some guy got one and asked all the falang to get off and get on a mini-bus for the trip to the Old Quarter area of Hanoi, which is where most of the guest houses are. The guy told us that ths big buses can't go downtown into the old quarter, that's why we had to get on this bus. Court turned to me and said something smells fishy, but the mini-bus was free, and it didn't appear we had much choice, so we all went along. Once we started our mini-bus trip to the Old Quarter, the guy started extollling the virtues of his hotel and travel agency. That was the catch, it was a hotel operation, and they were taking us to their hotel, in hopes that we would stay there. Of course, Court and I are easy (and most of the other falang apparently are too), and we stayed there. Our room has a double bed, fan, en-suite washroom with proper hot water tank (for real, high pressure, very hot-water showers!), and satellite TV, so we can watch CNN 24 hours a day of we want! We're paying $7/night. The name of it is the Prince 55 Hotel.

The Old Quarter is very, very nice, Hanoi seems very nice. We had heard so many stories about how bad Vietnam is, how the people are so pushy, in your face, trying to get you to buy stuff, but it's just not like that. It's great! The only bad thing about it is horns. Horns are like play-things to people here, they all love to lay on the horn when they're driving around. The bus-driver we had today was horrible for that, half the time during the long bus ride, the horn was blaring! People love their horns here, and it does get irritating after a while.

Court and I showered, then went for supper with Dana and Dana (from Israel and Korea). They were on the bus with us. Then we walked around the Old Quarter, then for a non-alcoholic drink, then to bed.

I hit an ABM today and withdrew 1,000,000 dong...I'm a millionaire! It's about 10,000dong for $1CDN, so my 1,000,000 was $100CDN. Easy to convert here!

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Off to Vietnam

We got up about 8:00AM, Court and I went for breakfast, and then packed our stuff, and lounged on the verandah.

About 11:30, the four of us went to a buffet place, an all you can eat for 20,000kip ($2US). I never ate, because I had just had breakfast. It was Sri-Lankan/Indian food.

AFter lunch, we went to a restaurant that had BBC on and watched the war coverage. Courtney then went to the internet, then we all met back at the guest house, Sapir and Jasmine went their way (they were heading into south Laos) and Court and I took a tuk-tuk to the Sihom guest house, and collect our passports/visa and where the bus was going to pick us up for Vietnam. There, we showered, read the newspapers, watched BBC, then went for supper and back to teh guest house.

The mini-bus picked us up shortly after 6:00, stopped at a few other guest houses, then took us to the bus. Not much of a bus, tight seats, they don't recline, a really crappy tape audio stereo system, no sucks. And it's a smoking bus. The bus took us to a vacant lot, and we waited and waited while more and more locals showed up for the bus. This is definately not a tourist bus. The bus finally left about 8:00PM. The bus was not full, Court and I each got 2 seats to ourselves. At one point, a local grabbed a mat that was stored in the baggage compartments above the seats, and laid it out in the aisle of the bus and went to sleep. At about 1:30AM, we stopped at a cafe somewhere, and we got off to eat. None of the falang ate, because they didn't have any english menus, or recognize anything, then about 2:00AM, everyone got back on bus, the bus driver shut the door, grabbed a blanket and a seat and went to sleep!! Mmm, that was it. Sleep time.

So, we all curled up and went to sleep.

About me getting skinny. The problem is manyfold. I'm not getting the meals and nutrition I'm so used to getting, lots of meat!!! Plus, in Laos, I've been getting the runs quite a bit, which I'm sure doesn't help. Also, portions in Laos are not all that big. And I get sick of rice and vegetables after a while, and just don't want any more, and price of real meat (if it's real meat at all), is prohibitively expensive, and/or just plain gross. I had a big burger a couple of nights ago, and it tasted awful (Jasmine had one too, and he didn't like his either.) For supper last night, I had chicken fried rice, and was still hungry after, but not for rice, or chicken, or veggies. So, I had a chocolate sundae, which was small and quite expensive, relatively speaking, and was still hungry. I realized after that the only thing that would fill me up was a big steak.

When we were at the sauna yesterday, I was talking to one of the locals there, and mentinoed about my watch, how I had bought it in Vang Vieng and how it all kinds of condensation in it, and I couldn't read it. He laughed, and the lady working there asked to see my watch too, so I showed her, and she started laughing. She tells me it's a cheap Chinese watch, that's why it's like that, then she asked me how much I paid, I told her 25000 kip, and laughed some more, and said, "too much, too much, no more than 10,000 kip". Oh well.

During the basketball match yesterday, I noticed that all the locals wear "Western" shirts (Nike, Converse, Toronto Raptors, etc.), and all the falang wear Laos shirts of some sort (Beerlao is popular, and also shirts with Lao flags and country on it).

Thoughts on Laos:
Very nice country, scenery wise. Beautiful views and mountains and waterfalls. People are generally friendly, and I remember, as we were heading for the border, I was staring off into the nighttime as Laos passed, and I was kind of sad, realizing this was the last time I may ever see Laos, ever in my entire life. I liked Laos, it was quite primitive in many respects, and very different than Thailand, but still very interesting.

Goodbye to you Laos. (Sniffle)

Friday, March 21, 2003

Sauna and Massage

The name of this guest house is Pathoumphone Guest House.

We got up early, about 7:45, showered and had breakfast. Went to the morning market, lots and lots of clothes, textiles and cheap Chinese electronics. Then went to internet for a while. I spent almost 2 hours there, updating journal and reading about the war.

About 3:00, the four of us took a tuk-tuk to Wat Sok Pa Louang, which offers herbal sauna and traditional Laos massage for 25,000 kip. Spent more than an hour there, then we walked to the University of Laos, Department of Engineering and Architecture, because Jasmine wanted to play some basketball with the locals (they had a court there, obviously). Lots of locals playing soccer in the soccer fields, and also lots playing basketball. Jas and Sapir had to wait a couple of games before they could get in on a game. They finally played a game, they played on the same team with some locals. They lost, but they are both good basketball players. Then we took a tuk-tuk back to the guest house and went for supper.

After supper, I had a sundae at a dessert place, then back to the guest house and to bed.

The sauna was neat, you could smell the herbs in the steam, and the steam was HOT! The lady tending it said it was between 55 and 60 degrees (that'd be celcius). The massage was, well, ok, but they sure stretched and pulled muscles a lot, and poked and prodded, and, because it was a sauna, you got naked, and just had a sarong around you, and during the massage, the masseuse (which was male), kept massaging my ass, and got awful close to my family jewels numerous times. He may have touched them at one point. It was interesting. Courtney masseuse was also male, and when he was massaging between her legs, she was much enjoying it!!!!!

Thursday, March 20, 2003

The Island - Day 3

Up about 8:20, had some Laos coffee, and started packing. As we were packing, Courtney remarked that I'm getting skinny, losing weight. Whe says she can see my rib cage, and she never could before. She needs to fatten me up! I was surprised, as I haven't noticed it at all.

We had breakfast (amazing omelette with croissant), she gave us our bill. Mine and Courtney's was 275,000kip, which is $27.50US for 4 days, 3 nights, that's less than $10.00 a night, all-inclusive. Pretty good!

Boat came and picked us up about 10:40, and took us to Na Nam, about 11:00, then tuk-tuk to Thalat, arrived there about 11:35, and got on a bus for Vientiane. Good timing. Bus left shortly after noon.

Got to Vientiane about 2:30, and went to the guest house that Sapir and Jasmine were staying at before, only $5.00/night, shared bathrooms, but hot showers. AFter settling in, we all went for a late lunch about 3:00. Then hit the internet, and learned of the "Iraq Freedom" operation had started by US and Britain.

AFter the internet, Courtney started walking back to the guest house, and I followed, but she was walking in the opposite direction. I thought she just wanted to go for a walk, so I never said anything. At one point, she asked which way we should go, and I pointed in the direction of the guest house, but she didn't go that way, she kept going straight, so I just kept following, thinking she knew what she was doing. Finally she asked me where our guest house was, and I told her it's WAY over there, and pointed behind us, she looked at me kind of funny, and said "are you sure?", I said ya. She was hopelessly lost. Now we're even, I got lost in KL, and she got lost in Vientiane.

We finally got back to the guest house and found Sapir, then went to a restaurant that had movies on a big screen. They were showing "Heaven and Earth" and "The Others". Now, this is ironic. Heaven and Earth is an Oliver Stone movie based on a book called "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places" (or Switched Places or something like that), and I had just read this book before coming over to SE Asia, my brother gave it to me, it's the story of a girl/woman growing up in Vietnam during the French occupation and Vietnam War. "The Others" is a cool ghost movie, but it's funny, because when we were on the island two days earlier, the four of us were talking about the movie, "The Others", Sapir and I had seen it, Courtney and Jasmine hadn't. Sapir and myself were telling the other two how great a movie it was, and how they should both check it out, and here it is playing at the restaurant.

Anyway, when we got to the restaurant, they had BBCWorld on (satellite dish), and we watched that for a while, and they started the movie about 7:15. The movies ended about 11:30, so we headed back to the guest house, sat on the verandah until about 12:30, then went to bed.

The strap on my new sandals, the ones I bought in Vang Vieng, broke already! Aghh!! And my watch, it's supposed to be waterproof, but it was all kinds of condensation inside the glass, and I can't read it!!! UGH!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The Island - Day 2

Court got up about 8:00, I got up about 8:15, I had a horrible sleep, it was very hot in the room.

After we got up, lady made us Laos coffee (did I mention Laos coffee is great!), Court bathed, I shaved, and breakfast came about 10:30, an omelette and a loaf of bread, very tasty. After breakfast, the lady climbed up a fruit tree, about 20 feet up, and got us some fruit. This lady must be at least 40 years old, and climbed the tree like a monkey. It was unreal.

We swapped some coins with Sapir, he collects coins from all over the world. Then we played some Uno, then about 12:30, got the boat and paddled to another island, and swam to another close island from there, lounged around, then paddled back to our guest house island. After getting back to our guest house, we lounged, laid in our hammocks, played cards until supper.

Before we went boating, she asked us if we wanted fish or chicken, and we all agreed on chicken. AFter we got back, we could hear the chicken making noises in the chicken, then after a while, no more noises. I remember looking over to the cooking area, and there she was chopping up the chicken. Mmmm, doesn't get much fresher than that!!

Supper was BBQ chicken, rice, and french fries, very good, very good. This woman can cook!

During supper, we saw lightning and thunder, and then about 7:45, the storm rolled in, but the main part of teh storm missed us, but we still got quite a bit of rain, and a nice light show. It lasted about half an hour. Courtney was a little spooked about the whole thing, on a very deserted island, with a big storm rolling's the thing horror movies are made of.

No roosters on this island! YAY! And the cats were quiet last night. YAY!

Everyone went to bed about 11:00, except me, I wasn't tired for some reason, so I laid in the hammock for a while, then went for a skinny dip in the lake about 11:30. I've never done anything like that before, it felt so amazing! I felt totally free of everything for those 20 minutes! Awesome experience!

A little about this lake. It's Nam Ngum Reservoir/Lake (or something close to that). It's a huge lake created in the 1970's when they damned a river to creat hydro electricity. The damn was created using Western expertise, but no one thought to harvest all the lumber that would be submerged in the lake before creating the damn. The result was a lake filled with rotting and decaying trees, which kept muddling up the turbines in the damn, and the decaying trees were sucking oxygen out of the lake, so no fish could survive. The result. The Laos people invented underwater chainsaws, and swapped their lumberjack boots for fins, and started an underwater lumber harvesting operation. Nowadays, old, dead trees stick out of the lake, almost giving the lake a kind of creepy feeling, very surreal, not like anything I've ever seen before.

The lake is also home to a huge $200 million, 200 room resort with 18-hole golf course, Laos first post-communist Casino (the casino only accepts Thai baht...kip is not accepted), swimming pool, massage, many different water sports (jetski's, parasailing, etc.) and everything else you'd expect out of a huge resort. Rooms range from $15-40 (according to Rough Guide), Courtney and I talked about splurging for a night there, but ended up not. The lake is very, very underutilised as a tourist resort area, still, but that's sure to change in the next 10-20 years.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Island - Day 1

Stupid cats, howled all night, especially when the sun was starting to come up. Geeze!

We got up about 8:30, sat around, played cards, the lady made us some Laos coffee, then Court and I bathed in the lake with our swim suits (no running water, obviously), then about 11:15, lady made us some breakfast, an absolutely superb omelette.

We all went swimming, and swam between 3 islands, and were totally wiped when we were done. We also had a mud bath in the mud around the island. The shoreline is not sandy on this lake, it's more either rocky, or soft, mushy mud. Then the lady told us we can have a paddle boat if we want, and gave us a couple of paddles, and showed us the boat, so we tried to paddle, but kept going in circles, and Sapir and Jasmine kept arguing about whose fault it was, it was quite funny. I'm sure the locals were watching laughing their heads off at us. We finally figured it out, and we made it to the island, and finally back, it took us about two hours, then Court and I bathed again (to get the mud out of us).

Before we did our swimming, the lady asked us if we'd like fish for supper, we said sure, then she asked us if we'd like some pineapple as well, we said sure, so she want to the market to get provisions.

AFter our water fun, we sat around, talked, played cards, and waited for supper. There's not much to do on this island. Courtney was so hungry, she felt like she was going to die, and she's pissed off and upset, and won't stop complaining, because she's so hungry. She needs food NOW.

Supper finally came about 6:30, and WOW, amazing supper. It was beef (I think it was pork, Sapir says beef), but it was awesome, so meaty, and we had steamed rice and tomatoes. It was easily the tastiest meal we've had in Laos.

We played cards tonight, Court was really tired, so she went to bed about 9:00, I went about 9:30.

Monday, March 17, 2003

2 Month Anniversary

2 months today since we left. Holy cow!!!

Last night, Court and I sat up for about two hours and talked. About ghost stories and scary stuff we've experienced, and our lives as kids. We weren't tired. We finally went to bed about 12:30.

We got up about 7:30, and applied for our Vietnamese visa and bought bus tickets to Hanoi. Our bus leaves on Saturday, March 22 at 6:00PM. It's about a 19 hour bus ride. Yikes! The visa cost us $55US, the bus ticket $27US. We arranged it right through our guest house, which was a mistake, because if you shop around, you can find better prices on both the visa and the bus trip. Oh well, we'll learn eventually.

We went for breakfast, then back to the guest house, packed and took a tuk-tuk to the bus station and found the bus to Thalat (or Thalath...there's usually many different ways of spelling places over here, sometimes similar, sometimes totally different). As we were trying to find the bus, there are always friendly locals coming up and asking where you going, and pointing you to the correct bus, or bus stop, and not expecting anything in return. It's great.

The bus we had actually very nice, air conditioned, but the seats were very tight. Both Court and I had our knees up against the back of the seat in front of us.

We got to Ban Thalat (Ban meaning "town"), then got a shared tuk-tuk with some locals to the lake (a small port community called Na Num) and then ran into a small problem. We were kind of expecting a "ticket booth" of some sort selling boat rides to different islands, but there was none. We walked around with our packs for a while, then put them down, and wandered around a little more, then finally decided to just follow the shoreline and start propositioning locals to take us to Don Santiphap (Santiphap Island...I'll let you figure out what Don means here). We finally found a group of friendly locals who indicated one of them would take us out, for 50,000kip. We bargained to 40,000kip, so one of them got a small boat, and came and picked us up, and off we went. It was about a 15 minute boat ride in a very wobbly boat. Most boats I feel safe in, but this boat felt very unstable. Weird. We got to the island about 2:00.

The island is small, and the guest house is quite run down, and Court and I are the only ones here (and 3 or 4 locals who run the guest house). Our bed is clean, though. To get an idea, you have to be careful where you step at this guest house, because you never know when a board will break underneath you, that's how run down it was. It was falling apart. Both Court and I loved it!!!

The lady asked us how long we were staying, maybe 1 day, maybe 2? I said we think about staying 3 days, maybe 4, and she started clapping, jumping up and down with glee. I don't think they get very many people at their guest house.

Court and I decided to go swimming, but before we did, the lady of the guest house asked us if we'd like chicken for supper at 6:00, we said sure. She was going to the market in Na Num to get supper. We went swimming for a while (water is very warm!), then setup our Siam Hammocks for the very first time. We just lounged in them for a while.

Then two other falang showed up, about 4:30, Jasmine from US, and Sapir from Israel.

We are totally isolated here, and it's so quiet! No electricity, no animals (except for two cats), nothing.

The four falang sat around, waiting for supper. It finally came about 8:00, and consisted of chicken, potatoes and other veggies in a stew, and steamed rice. The chicken was actually chicken parts, Courtney got the rib cage. I was fortunate enough to get part of the breast, but I also had other parts, I had no idea what they were, so I left them alone.

After supper, we played cards and sat around in the evening, and went to bed about 10:00.

Intereting note:
Tiger Balm, I'm sure you've all heard of it. Over here, it's called "White Monkey Holding Peach Balm", presumable because Tiger Balm is copyrighted!

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Buddha Park

We got up about 9:00AM, had breakfast,bought and mailed some postcards, then headed off to teh bus station to go to Buddha Park, a park with a bunch of bizarre concrete statues from the Buddha and Hindu religions. There's some really weird stuff here, including a huge pumpkin-type conrete thing, that has what looks like a tree growing out the top of it, and inside this thing (it's, perhaps 30 feet high), are a few floors of really strange things, like people stabbing other people, skeletons, and weird monsters and other wild images, it kind of looks like things you might see in a childrens nightmare. Very cool.

Finding the correct bus was fun. When we got to teh bus station, our Rough Guide said take bus 14, but someone approached us, and asked us where we were going, and he said take bus 45. Well, we figured he was screwed in the head, because the board even indicated the Buddha Park was bus 14, so we headed over to where it told us to go, and waited for bus 14. There are dozens of buses around, so we're walking all over looking for bus 14, but it's nowhere to be found. Finally it hit me. We want Route 14, not bus 14. Every bus has a unique number, but many buses run Route 14. Once we had that figured out, we went to get on a bus that indicated Rotue 14, and Courtney asked a woman on the bus if the bus is going to Buddha Park, and she said no. quare one again. As we waited, another guy started talking to us, and he said, ya, route 14 is the one you want, then the bus that we were on, that the old lady told us wasn't going to Buddha Park, pulled up, and this guy told us to get on, it is going to Buddha Park, and it was Route 14, so we got on, and sure enough, it got us to Buddha Park. It was 3000kip for teh bus ride, which was 29km out of town.

To get into Buddha Park was 2000kip and another 2000kip to take pictures.

We got back about 6:00, had supper (actually found a relatively cheap restaurant!), then back home, then to the internet. Yesterday we had seen an internet place that advertised 64k upload, 1Meg download speed, so we walked for, like, 45 minutes trying to find it this evening, eventually we did.

Central Vientiane is small, easy to walk around, but it's hard to remember where anything is, because it all looks the same, and there's not much for landmarks to use as reference points, except a fountain.

Saturday, March 15, 2003


We got up about 8:00AM and went and had breakfast, then back to the guest house and got a $6 room. A lot more basic, a fan, double bed, and the showers/toilets are shared, outside, and no hot water. The cheap rooms are in behind the main guest house, and the courtyard area is actually very nice to sit and read or write or whatever. Oh well, only $3US/person/night.

Courtney's not feeling well, she's sneezing, sniffling and has a headache.

We walked to the internet and used it for a while, then it went down, then back to the guest house so Courtney could pee, then back to the internet again, then we walked to Lane Xang Avenue, which was to be Vientiane's Champs Elysees, and up the Arch of Victory, called the Patouxai, which is supposed to be Vientiane's Arc de Triumphe. The Patouxai was supposedly built with concrete donated by the US gov't for the construction of Wattaw Airport, so the structure has been jokingly refferred to as the vertical runway.

We climbed to the top (1000kip), and it gives nice views of Vientiane. AFter that we walked to That Dam, some really old thing sticking out of the ground, then had some lunch (sandwiches), back to the guest house, and Court laid down.

While Court rested/slept, I walked to the elephant statue (small), then to an evening market, which was just hardware, construction stuff, automotive goods, absolutely nothing of interest to a falang.

About 6:30, Courtney was awake and up, so we walked to the night food market near us, then down the night food market along the Mekong river, and had a small, candle-lit supper at the bank of the Mekong. It's a somewhat bizarre and surreal experience, kind of weirdly romantic in a way, having a candle-lit supper, with plastic chairs, along the Mekong River, with food being prepared by street vendors, in Laos, a communist country, and one of the poorest countries of the world. Of course, there's a few cool sights at night in Vientiane, but neither Court or I had our cameras. Always happens!! I mean, after all, we were just going to get something to eat!!

Sunny and hot this morning, in the early afternoon, as we started our walk to the Patouxai, clouds started moving in, the a small thunderstorm, a little rain, and by 5:00 it was sunny again.

In the guest house, they have copies of the Bangkok Post and the Vientiane Times (both English) newspapers, so I did a quick read. The Vientiane times had a couple of interesting stories.

First, let me explain. There's a lot of garbage in Laos, people just throw it at the side of the roads, at spots, it looks like a garbage dump! So, one of the articles had a story on how the government is trying to encourage people to recycle and properly dispose of garbage, and help clean up Laos before it gets out of hand. (Seems to be it's already out of hand!)

The second story was quite fascinating. As I believe I commented on in a previous journal, perhaps last month, the Thai government had started a severe, new war on drugs in Thailand around the beginning of February. The Vientiane Times reprinted a story that appeared a short while earlier in the Bangkok post, the drug lords in Thailand and around the world have put a price tag on the Prime Minister of Thailand's head. The drug lords want him assassinated/killed/murdered, and all the drug kingpins are dumping money into a pool, which stands at more than $1 million US, for the person (or persons) that can get him. I'd be damn scared if I were the prime minister!!!

Saw Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You" today on the TV in the guest house, and heard Shania Twain's "Gonna Get You" emanating from somewhere today. Some good old Canadian artists over here in Laos.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Thunder and Lightning

When we departed the internet yesterday, the clouds looked ominous, dark and foreboding in the mountains. And we could see lightning and hear thunder. Cool, our first thuderstorm!!!! We both love them, so we headed down to the river and wathced the storm approach. You could see the mountains dissappear in the rain, it was quite cool. Of course, we didn't have any cameras with us. We ate supper at a riverfront restaurant, as the storm passed us by.

But, alas, the heart of the storm passed north of Vang Vieng. We did get a lot of rain, but the thunder and lightning was a fair distance away. And the rain came down in buckets for a while.

While it was raining, we went to another restaurant and watched "I Spy". Very funny movie. They were advertising it is brand new, so the restaurant was quite busy. Then we went home and to bed.

I slept crappy last night, Courtney too.

We had breakfast about 8:30 or 9:00, then checked the weather forecast on the internet. It's not supposed to get nice until Sunday, so instead of hanging around Vang Vieng and doing the kayaking trip tomorrow, we decided to head to Vientiane today.

So, we went to the bus station to check the schedule, and the next bus to Vientiane leaves at 12:30, so we went and packed and checked out, and walked to the bus station about 11:30. The bus was already there, so I had to actually climb onto the top of the bus with my backpack and deposit it up there, then come back down, put Courtney's backpack on and do it all again. We then grabbed a seat on the bus, put our bags down, and browsed the little market around the station. We got a few snacks for the trip, and I noticed a lot of locals and more and more falang getting on the bus, I got concerned for our seats, and sat down with our stuff. (The space bar doesn't work good on this computer, so don't complain about my sentences...)

The bus was packed by the time we were ready to leave. They had all kinds of plastic chairs down the aisle of the bus, and a few people had to actually stand. Good thing we came down here early and got a seat.

Courtney had the aisle seat, and an old, great-grandmap was sitting beside Courtney, and she spit red stuff out of her mouth onto the floor, and part of it got on Courtney. She wasn't impressed. A while later, everyone in thh aisle shifted around, and the old, great-grandma got moved away, to be replaced by a "not-as-old-but-still-old-grandma", and she sat beside Courtney and kept bringing up huge gobs of mucus and spit from her throat and spitting it into a plastic bag. Courtney turned to me and said, "Ok, I'm getting thoroughly disgusted." Later on, some other woman behind Courtney started vomitting into a bag, Court thought she was going to hurl too, listening to it. Oh well, what can you expect for an 80 cent public bus in Laos.

We got to Vientiane about 4:00. A few falang climbed to the to top of the bus to get their bags, then climbed right back down, so I climbed up there, and helped the bus driver unload all the bags. As we were unloading he asked me my name, and where I was from, and he was very grateful for my help unloading the packs.

While I was unloading the packs, a tuk-tuk driver hit up Courtney, so when I got down, he asked me where we wanted to go, I told him the one I had picked out of Rough Guide, he said he knew that one, so off we went. The Rough Guide indicated that this one was relatively cheap, and had satellite TV in the rooms, hot showers in the rooms. When we got there, they only had $10 rooms available, with A/C in them. We took it, and will try to move to a $6 or $7 room tomorrow ($6 has fan and outside bathrooms, $7 rooms has fan and en-suite bathrooms). According to the Rough Guide, it's hard to get a good room for $10 in Vientiane, anything under the $10 price range is a dump, so I think we got a pretty good place. It's not in downtown Vientiane, but just on the outskirts of central Vientiane (within easy walking distance).

Cloudy today. Court has a cold. She stuffs a pointy piece of toilet paper up her nose to make herself sneeze.

Our satellite TV isn't...we only get 2 channels...our TV isn't programmed correctly, I tried to have it scan for channels, but didn't come up with anything more. Oh well, this is Laos. But, our hot water heater works superbly!!! WOW!! It's like I'm at home having a hot shower!

We went for supper at a food night market, then back to the guest house and watched some Vietnamese TV, Courtney dosed off, and I started reading "The Damage Done". It's a book someone recommended to us (and Courtney bought in Chaing Khong), and it's about an Australian that spent 12 years in a Bangkok prison for drug trafficking. Courtney was addicted to it, she couldn't put it down when she was reading it.

I finally went to sleep about 10:00.

Everything in Vientiane is very expensive. Expect to pay 2-4 times the price for food and accomodations compared to other places, especially food (except internet, which is dirt cheap here!)

Thursday, March 13, 2003


We got up early, about 8:00AM, showered then for breakfast. I'm feeling 100%, but Court is still feeling blah.

About 10:00 we walked to the Nang Oua cave, about one kilometre north of town, then turn westward to get to the cave. First we had to pay a 2000 kip "toll" to cross the Nam Xong river using a bamboo bridge some local buddy built to get money from tourists. The river is only thigh deep, we could have easily just walked through the river. OH well, it's only 20 cents. Then we had to keep hiking, then when we got to the cave, 5000 kip/person for a guided tour of the cave. Our guide gave us each a headlamp for our trek.

We spent about an hour in the cave, it was really cool. Spleunking is awesome, it's so dark and quiet in the cave. There were many, many cool rock formations.

We got back to the guest house about 1:00, then showered again, then went for lunch. The restaurant we keep frequenting has banana shakes for only 1000 kip, and Courtney loves them.

AFter lunch, we hit the internet, and here we are.

The plan is tomorrow just explore a little more (perhaps another cave or a waterfall), and on Saturday we're going to do a one day kayaking trip, then head to Vientianne on Sunday, where we can deal with our Vietnam visa. We have to be out of Laos on March 25...geeze, time flies!

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Yucky Day!

AFter tubing (and yes, it was the Nam Xong river we tubed), we had some supper, then watched a movie in one of the restaurants, then went home.

We had a crappy night, we must have ate something that didn't agree with us for supper. We were both not feeling too well today, so we didn't do too much. And it was blistering hot to boot, like a sauna outside! I had some breakfast, then we went for lunch, but not much of an appetite. I started feeling better late in the afternoon, but Courtney was still not too well. It sucks being sicky.

We went for supper, then to the internet, to check e-mail, then the internet died at the internet cafe we were at, so we waited for half an hour for him to get reconnected, but he couldn't make a modem connection, finally we left and went to another internet place. There was only one free computer, so Court took it, and while she was using it, someone knocked on the glass window from the outside, and it was Ren (again). He waved at us, and indicated that he'd come back after he walks around. Court finished the internet, so we went back to our guest house, and never saw Ren. It's funny how you keep running into people you've met before.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


Courtney got up and went for a jog this morning. I was lazy.

While she was out, I got up to have a shower. No hot water at all, the electric water heater doens't work at all now.

Courtey got back from her jog, and she had a cold shower, then we went for breakfast, walked around, I bought some sandals, then back to the guest house. We remarked to the owner/manager/guy who works there that our hot water didn't work, so he came up with us to check it out, and started apoligizing, and said he has another room for us, we can move into it after we go tubing.

So, Court and I rented inner tubes, and floated down the river (dunno the name), which cost is 20,000 kip, which included a tuk-tuk ride up the river. We spent about 2 hours floating (and paddling) our tubes down the river, back to Vang Vieng.

When we got back, we moved into our new room, and guess what? The hot water shower works awesome here! YAY!!! Ahh, it felt so nice.

We got some lunch, then we walked through the market, and I bought a new watch. I went to one place, and asked for a price on a cheapo watch, and he said $30US. I could buy this watch for under $10 in Canada. I told him I'm going to keep looking around, and I'll come back. He wasn't happy to see me walk off (they never are). I hit another place, and found a neat watch, and she started at 30,000 kip ($3US). We bargained to 25,000 kip ($2.50US), much, much better than $30 from the other guy. I wonder how long my Lao watch will last, though. It even has Laos writing on it!

Then we hit the internet, and according to my brand, spanking new watch, it's now 4:12 PM. So, see ya, until next time!

Monday, March 10, 2003

To Vang Vieng...WOW

We went to the Scandinavian Bakery in Luang Prabang last night, and had a good chocolate fix. Yummmyy!!

Another cool, cloudy day.

We got up at 6:30AM and got a tuk-tuk to the southern bus station, and bought a ticket on a VIP bus to Vang Vieng. The VIP bus costs more than a public bus, and is aimed at falang, naturally, everyone on the bus was a tourist. It was a nice bus, by Laos standards. It even had air-conditioning.

If you haven't been reading the comments on my journal, my dad has been following our progress using topographic maps he found on the internet, and he sent me an e-mail indicating that it looks like the road to Vang Vieng is quite spectacular. He's right. The road (Route 13) is very mountainous, the road is very, very twisty as it winds through the mountains. Lots and lots of hairpin corners. Needless to say there are some spectacular views from the bus. The bus didn't travel more than 50 or 60 km/hour most of the time, barely reaching 30 km/hour much of the time, because of the roads. I don't know how the distance from Luang Prabang as the crow flies, but it took us about 6 hours by bus.

Another thing that makes the trip quite spectacular is the number of armed locals you see walking along the side of the highways, or sitting at the edge of the road, with their machine guns perched up against a tree or laying on the ground. Kind of unnerving, actually. I even saw some teenagers that were armed, including one teenage girl! The Canadian gov't web site advises travel from Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng to be done by convoy in the day only, because of shootings and banditry. Indeed, we heard stories about shootings along this stretch in the weeks and days leading up to our trip.

They overbookd the bus, and a couple of people had to sit in the aisle of the bus.

At about 12:30, the bus stopped at a town for a lunch break for about 30 minutes. My watch was working at this point.
When we arrived at Vang Vieng, there were a bunch of guest house operators waiting for us, so they could try and sway us to stay at their guest house. The first guest house that approached Courtney and I offered rooms with hot-water showers in them for $4US, so we took the first one!! We're easy! The name of the place is Bountang.

When we got in the room, I went to check the time, and my watch was dead. Hmmm, must be battery. Oh well. Tossed it on the bed, and forgot about it.

Court and I walked around Vang Vieng, and there are lots and lots of people along the street and in the market selling watches, and a few have watch batteries as well. I didn't bring my watch, so I'll have to check it out later.

One restaurant we walked by has pizza, and in the menu, at the end of the pizza section, it says for an extra 10,000 kip, you can get stoned. Hahahahaha!! They'll put magic mushrooms (presumably) on your pizza for an extra 10,000 kip ($1US).

So, Court and I had pizza for supper! Hahaha, well, we did have pizza, but just regular pizza at another restaurant. I had a "fruitee" pizza, it had cheese, tomato sauce, chicken and oranges on it. Yummm!!!

After supper, Courtney went for a jog, I tried to as well, but I couldn't keep up. I found out something very interesting about myself...I can't run on a full stomach! Major cramps.

AFter that, we went to a restaurant, and watched The Matrix, and sipped on fruit shakes. Many of the restaurants in town have VCD's of movies that they show, including new stuff, like Harry Potter II and Catch Me If You Can.

AFter the movie, we went back home and went to bed.

Oh ya, our guest house offered "hot-water shower" in the our case it was "barely-luke-warm shower". Oh well.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Back to Luang Prabang

Rained hard last night, until about 6:00AM, then stopped.

We got up about 7:00, had breakfast, then went to the boat landing and bought tickets back to Nong Khiaw. Went back to the guest house, got our stuff, and waited at the rivers edge, until somebody told us to get into a boat. A lot of falang ditching Muang Ngoi today, the boat was packed full.

Once at Nong Khiaw, we got the bus back to Luang Prabang. The bus (truck) was packed as well. It's a cool and dreary day today, a good day to travel. I had to sit in the middle of the truck bed, in a plasic lawn chair, all the cushy seats were taken.

We got back to Luang Prabang about 2:30, and took a tuk-tuk to our old guest house, the Vong Vichith, and had a hot shower, the first shower in 4 days!!

We headed downtown, had supper, then the internet.

Mom, don't be such a worry wart about us!!!

Tomorrow we head to Vang Vieng, there's been lots of shootings on that road in the past few weeks. Apparently they're sending armed soldier's on all the busses on that route now, but we'll see if that's just a rumour tomorrow.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Poopy Pants!!

I slept amazing again last night. I woke up about 9:30, got up about 10:00. All the roosters and other commotion doesn't even seem to bother me anymore while I'm sleeping.

Woke up to a cloudy day, not too hot, nice temperature. I think this is the first full cloudy day we've had since we started our trip.

We had breakfast, I had a banana pancake (yumm!!!), and Court had French Toast, then we decided to hike to the cave.

BTW, I'm feeling quite a bit better today, not constipated, and actually ate my whole breakfast, the first full meal I've had since we got to Muang Ngoi.

It was 2000 kip/person to go see the cave. Very cool, an underground stream flows out of the cave, and you can walk/swim up the stream for a long, long time, into the cave. Court and I never did that, we didn't have our swimsuits or anything.

After spending some time at the cave, we walked past the cave, through a bunch of unused rice paddies (they'll probably get re-used in future years), for probably a couple of miles, to a village, and I got mugged by a bunch of children who wanted me to take their picture so they could see themselves. I obliged.

It's a nice cool day for hiking!

After walking back, we had supper, lounged around the guest house for a while, then met up with a bunch of people at a restaurant later on. Court was very tired, so went to bed about 9:15, I stayed up and went to the campfire with the group, until about 11:00.

Remember Sarah (also Canadian) was so drunk, she couldn't stand up anymore. I had to walk her home (she was at the same guest house that Court and I were at).

I bought a new pair of flip-flops from a store on Muang Ngoi today too. My other ones were starting to wear. The new ones only cost me 80 cents US!!!

Friday, March 07, 2003

Muang Ngoi

I slept amazing last night, easily the best sleep I've had since we got over here. I didn't get up until about 11:00AM. Court was up about 9:30.

Life in Muang Ngoi totally too slow for Courtney.

We had brunch, then met up with Shen and Mark and Nick, and we all booked a boat and went to the waterfall. Nice, but no comparison to the waterfall in Luang Prabang. To get the waterfall, we have to rent a boat (10,000 kip each) so we can get to another village downstream, then we have to buy a ticket at the village (2000 kip/person), then hire a guide (5000 kip for the group), who takes us to it. The Laos people are catching on to capitalism pretty good!!! Our guides were a couple of teenage Laos local girls.

AFter we returned from the waterfall, we sat with our boat driver and his helper and did Lao Lao shots (Lao Lao is Lao whiskey), we each had 4 shots. Read in Rough Guide (and had others tell us), it's considered very rude to refuse Lao Lao when offered by a local. It's pretty good stuff. Hopefully the captain of our seaworthy vessel isn't to drunk to captain us back to Muang Ngoi!!

WE made it back to Muang Ngoi ok, and went home, and met up with Shen and Mark and Nick and an older German woman (45 years old) at the restaurant. I started feeling sick to my stomach. I'd been not been feeling right all day (constipated, and going poop lots), now it was moving to my stomach.

About 8:00, Court and I walked back to the guest house, we were going to rest for a bit, then meet them down at the river for another bonfire. Well, we laid down, got very lazy, the power went off about 10:00ish, I asked Court if she was going to the campfire, she said now, so I blew out our candle and we went to sleep.

Other notes, serious or not:
- Muang Ngoi only has electricity from about 7:00PM-10:00PM.
- A lot of bomb casings being used as fences, flower pots, etc., presumable left overs from the Vietname war.
- Saw one boat that was made out of fuselage of an old airplace.
- Nick from Winnipeg is a wholesaler of pot smoking pipes back in Canada. He's a total pot-head.
- The reason for the increase in accomodation price: The gov't jacked the price, and is taking half.
- May have mentioned this before: most pop is sold in glass tastes so much better from a glass bottle than a can (or plastic bottle).
- The talk this evening got into global corporations having too much power, and one guy mentioned that diesel engines will run on vegetable oil with no changes to the engine or to horsepower or anything.
- I got a new nickname from Courtney today: Poopy-pants

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Public Bus!

We got up at 6:45, and there was no water pressure, so we couldn't shower. Hate it when that happens!!!

WE had breakfast, then paid for our room, and had the guest house exchange a bunch of baht for kip. They gave us a better exchange rate than the currency exchange place! (BTW, Court is feeling better now, good enough to travel.)

We got a tuk-tuk to the northern bus station, which is about 6 km north of town. (10,000 kip each for the tuk-tuk there.) The bus station is nothing more than a dirt lot full of tuk-tuk's and large songtheaws (those trucks with seats and a roof in the back). All around the bus station are shops selling everything from water to clothes to shovels, and everything in between. Our bus (truck!) has 16 people on it, 4 falang, and the rest locals, and lots of cargo (bags of cement mix, food, boxes, a large cooler, 3 long plastic tubes, probably for water or sewer). We lucked out, no farm animals on this run (which does happen!) The bus, surprisingly, tried to leave at 9:00, the posted time. But it wouldn't start, so all the guys had to hop off the bus and push start the thing.

Off we go to Nong Khiaw. The four falang are sitting at the very back of the truck, and as we pass villages on the highway, children wave at us, and we wave back. About two hours into the bus ride, the bus stops in the middle of the road, and everyone hops out and runs into the bushes. Ahhh, pee break!!

I got the total best seat on the bus. I'm able to hang me feet over the rear door of the truck, and stretch my legs. Along the way, we picked up an old lady (local). The aged in Laos are typically so agile, it's unreal. This old lady hopped into and out of the bus like a child, it was unreal.

We got to Nong Khiaw about 12:30, then ate lunch, then bought boat tickets to Muang Ngoi, which is about an hour upstream.

We got in the boat, and waited and waited and waited, then we were told to move to another boat, and waited, then we moved to a third boat, and waited, then we had to move back to the second boat (by this time, the first boat we were in had left, and been replaced by another boat), and we still weren't leaving. At least 2 hours had passed at this point. Then another boat pulled up, and a local lady indicated to us that they had room for two people, so Courtney and I hopped on, beating out Shen and Mark and Nick (Nick was a third falang we met in Nong Khiaw, he's from Winnipeg). We finally left about 3:00.

It was a fun boat ride, we made friends with the locals on the boat, and gave out a bunch of our Canada pins, and let them listen to our discman's. We made a few stops along the way, and little by little, the locals hopped off at their villages, and it was only me and Court left, and the driver and his helper. AFter about an hour, made it to Muang Ngoi.

As we were walking up the river embankmen, there was a sign, dated March 2, 2003, that indicated that accomodation costs in the town were going up to 20,000 from 10,000 kip/night. Thought that was strange, but oh well, 20,000 kip is only $2US a night still. Muang Ngoi is a very small place, Court and I walked down the main street and took an attached bungalow hut for 20,000 kip. Our room was huge, and had two big double beds in it.

The scenery and mountains around Muang Ngoi are awesome. The mountains around here are very steep, and because of that (according to our book), a lot of the jungle has been spared the hack-and-slash burning by the locals, so a lot of it is pristine jungle, untouched for centuries. Lots of beaches along the Nam Ou river as well.

We had supper, and ran into Ren (Ren was that guy we hung out with in Luang Prabang). He was the only one left, everyone else he went up there with had left.

I'm also not feeling well, I tried to eat supper, but didn't have much of an appetite, and have been having lots of bowel movements (travellers diarrhea (sp?)). As I was eating supper, I had to all of a sudden grab a roll of toilet paper from the store in the restaurant and make a mad dash for the WC (water closet...toilet in western terms). I remember, as I rushed through the back room, the guy who took our order was standing back there buck naked, bathing himself. He looked at me and kind of grinned, but I was in too much of a hurry to apologize.

A little later, we met up with Shen and Mark, and Nick, and sat with them for a while while they had supper, then we had a campfire down by the river. We got home about 11:00.

Ren came by our room real late (midnight, maybe), making a big racket, he was coming by to say goodbye, he was taking off the next morning. Court got up and talked to him for a while, and told me the next day he was stoned and drunk. Haha.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Later on in the day...

Ok, I'm back. So, after the internet, we headed back to the guest house, and Courtney went to sleep. She was totally wiped, no energy. I decided to go for a walk.

I headed down a more non-touristy area, and a younger guy (local) got of a tuk-tuk in front of me, paid his fair, and started talking to me. He asked me where I was from, and a little bit of small talk. He told me about himself, he's 25, Si was his name, he was a monk until 22, and he's considering going back to the monkhood next year. And he teaches english out of his house to a handful of students. His house was near there, so we headed for his house, and he showed me his classroom, and he asked me if I would come by around 6:00PM that night, as his class would be there, and he'd like to have the class talk to and with a "falang" (foreigner), in real english (he speaks very good english, which he learned when he was a monk). He also wanted to take me around Luang Prabang and show me some of the wat's (temples), free of charge (usually there's an admission). We agreed on the deal, and he got his scooter, and we took off. I told him about Courtney, and asked him to stop at the guest house first, so I could check on Court and get my camera and tell her what's happening, and see if she's interested in coming to the class or visiting the wats. We stopped at the guest house, Courtney was sleeping, but woke up when I came in, but very groggy. I explained to her, and she said she'd like to go to the class at 6:00, so that was set.

I headed back downstairs, and off Si and I went. We visited That Chomsi on Phousi Hill (Phousi Hill is a big hill in the centre of old Luang Prabang). That Chomsi was where he studied when he was a monk. He showed me all around, then we headed across the Nam Khan river, to the Peacefulness Temple (Wat Phonsaat, I think it was), which was very nice. It's a new temple, very pristine condition. Then to Wat Xiang Thong, which is the main temple everyone goes to see, next to That Chomsi, then to another older and smaller one, not sure what wat that was.

AFter that, he dropped me off at my guest house (about 5:00), then at 6:00, Court and I headed to his house. Of course, I'm a guy, and I got lost, and we were late by about 20 minutes, which is kind of too bad, because he had started another lesson instead. We sat and watched, he was teaching his students (maybe 15 students) about the Laos New Year, which is next month, in english. He had a whiteboard with information about the New Year written on it in English, and they had to transcribe into their notebooks. He also had us check his spelling, which he had a few mistakes.

A little later on, he asked me to read what was on the whiteboard to the class, so I did, then both Court and I stood up in front of the class and answered some questions and also asked a few of our own (what everyone's names was, how old they were, etc.) His students range from 12 to 17 years of age, some of them better at english (the older ones), other very shy and not too good yet. Anyway, it was very enjoyable!

After class, about 7:00, we went for supper, then went home and slept!


Court got worse over night. She started vomitting blood, so I had to take her to the hospital this morning. Our Rough Guide says to avoid hospitals in Laos, and get theeself to a Thai hospital as soon as you can. Courtney can't travel in her condition.

Anyway, the hospital was an experience. The doctor that saw us carried a cigarette in one hand and a bunch of used needles in the other. The hospital is totally run down, there are dogs in the hallways and lobby area, and I swear I saw a rat or two.

Gotcha!!!! Here's the real update for this morning.

We were both awake and asleep all night long, Courtney was like a furnace, she was sooo hot, but didn't seem to have a fever (forehead was cool), so I wasn't that concerned. We finally got up about 9:30. Courtney's hair is pretty wild after spending two days in bed!!!!!

She's feeling a tad better, but still very, very weak. She hadn't vomitted since yesterday afternoon, almost 24 hours, so that was a good sign. Stomach cramps are all gone, but she does have a headache, probably due to lack of fluids and food in her body right now. We showered, and she felt she was able to walk downtown and try to eat some breakfast and use the internet, so we did that. It's about a 20 minute walk from our guest house to downtown, and the it is HOT.

We took it slow, and got breakfast, and Court ate about half of it. It was a BIG breakfast, so she did good to get what she did down. Hopefully it'll stay down.

After breakfast, we hit an internet place (which is right now in internet time), then we're going to walk back to teh guest house (or tuk-tuk it if Courtney wants), and she needs to rest some more. She's very, very exhausted.

Other notes:
- Try a little bit of lime in your tea (in place of cream or milk, if you use it). Mmmmmmm. So tasty! A few restaurants serve a piece of lime with tea, and it is so tasty!!!!
- I was gonna comment on us teaching english in a hill tribe village. Our trek kind of brought us back to reality. I think Courtney and I had a sort of romantic vision of what it'd be like to teach english in a village. The trek brought a little reality check to us. There's no electricity, it gets dark about 6:30, and then there's NOTHING to do. Your only source of light is a few candles in your house. During the day, it gets blazing hot, too hot. There's now running water, no toilets (nature is the toilet), roosters crow all night long, it would be a very tough life, and Court and I wouldn't be able to handle it for too long before getting bored out of our minds. We'd probably have to take up smoking opium to pass the time.
- Getting sick of croissants, they are everywhere here (that's the French influence, no doubt).
- Quite a few UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) trucks around, and there's a lot of construction (road building, sewer's, etc.) going on in Luang Prabang.

Anyway, with that said, Court is getting better. We don't know if she'll feel well enough to travel tomorrow, so we may end up staying another day here as well, we'll see this evening how she's feeling.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Later on this day...

With Court tied up being sickly, I walked to the night market area and used the internet and exchanged some baht into kip. We had exhausted all our baht paying for the trek, picked up some oranges for Court (she was craving them, and figured she could stomach them), and walked back to the guest house. When I got back, I fed a couple of oranges to Courtney.

I then went out to get some lunch for myself, and ran into Guy outside our guest house. I told him about Courtney, and he says he has something for her, it's a medication that will kill the parasites. It's designed for Westerners who get food poisoning in SE Asia, very effective, and cheap, so off he goes to the pharmacy to get them, and he comes back a few minutes later with 20 pills, $3US total. He got more, because we'll probably need them in the future as well, it's nice to have them just in case. I went up to the room and gave a couple of them to Courtney. Guy says she'll feel better in no time. The name of the drug is Lopil.

After tending to Court, I went for lunch, then came back to the guest house and sat outside on the balcony and read a book until it got dark (about 6:15), then lied down for a while (I was tired, up a lot of the night before concerned for Court). About 8:00, I got some supper, then came back to the guest house and went to bed.

Bad day...

Court got very, very sick in the middle of the night. Vomitting and severe stomach cramps, and dizziness. Me, Jon and Suzie are all fine, it must have been what she had for supper last night, she got some food poisoning.

I got up and got her a sports drink (Gatorade or Powerade-like stuff), which the Rough Guide says is good for helping to rehydrate your system (along with water). Unfortunately, Court can't keep it down. I feel bad for her, I wish I could do something to make it all go away for her.

I went and had breakfast at a restaurant, ordered a potato omelette. AFter I ordered, two little girls left the restaurant and returned a few minutes later with some potatoes.

As I left to go to the internet to post this, Courtney was still very sick.

I'll report more next time. One of the girls we were on the original boat ride with last week got food poisoning a few days ago, which kept her and her husband in Luang Prabang a lot longer than they had anticipated. Court will be fine, it just has to run it's course.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Hilltribe Trek - Day 3

It was actually warm last night, not nearly as cool as the night before. We got up about 7:30-8:00, had some awesome Laos coffee and breakfast, and headed out about 9:30.

Oh, I should point out, last night Guy presented two options for us for the return trip. One was to head back down from this village back to the original river, where a boat would take us to the waterfall, where we could swim and relax, then tuk-tuk it back to the town. Or, we could hike along the mountain top to a few more tribes, and visit a huge cave, before heading back to the river, and the waterfall. The first option is the "standard" trek. We decided to go for the 2nd option, it would cost a little more because we'd have to take a 25 minute board ride down the river to our original starting point, but a few people tought it'd be cool to see the cave.

So, off we trek about 9:30. We walked through the village, and stopped at an opium "garden", where they were just about to finish harvesting the rest of the opium crop for that year. Opium only grows in the high altitudes. Getting opium from the bulbs of the plants is very tedious and time consuming. The plants have bulbs on them, the opium comes from a thin layer of skin between the outside skin and the bulb itself. You have to take a knife and make a fine slice on the outside of the bulb, and a white-colouried liquid will ooze out. This is the opium. The rest of the plant has no "drug qualities". Heroine is made from opium.

We continued along the top of the mountain, through meadows and tall grass and shrubs, getting all scraped up. After another village, we started our descent, and down and down and down we went. We were running low on water (there ain't no 7-11's in the hill-tribe villages!), so we tried to ration.

At one point, Courtney slipped and started falling down a cliff. Fortunately, Suzie was there to grab her backpack and get her back up on the trail. She skinned her knee and shin, but she's fine other than that. Of course, Court and Suzie have a good laugh about it as we hike along.

As we descneded, we ran out of water. Everyone is getting dehydrated. At our next stop, we stopped at a cave. Guy and the 3 guys hike up to the cave opening. Very cool. Guy lit about a dozen candles in the cave as we hike along, and it was lit up in this cool glow. Some awesome stalacmite and stalagtite formations too. The tree roots from above hang into the cave. While we're in the cave, my arms and legs and stomach and all over broke out in this red, itchy rash. I knew I shouldn't scratch, but it felt sooo good to scratch all over! And my body had stopped perspiring.

While we're in the cave, the girls walked ahead to the village, and sat down with some village women. Of course, they can't communicate at all. The hill tribe women gave them some water to wash themselves down. One of the tribe women had a baby that did some projectile diarhea thing (Rebecca said it was glowing poop), and the puppies ran over and licked it all up. They were kind of grossed out over that.

We pickd up the girls and walked to another home in the village and rested. As we sat in the home, my scratching got worse, but I kept scratching. When we were going to leave the house, Courtney wasn't feeling well, no energy, kind of dizzy. So I carried Courtney backpack for her. I could tell she was kind of out of it.

We continue walking, and we descend more and more, before finally reaching the village. We all run to the store, and she has a bunch of bottled water available for us. We all start drinking. I remember chugging my 1 litre in a matter of minutes, and as I drank, my pores opened up all over my body, and I started to sweat profusely, all over my body. My itchy rash started to away almost immediately. I had heat stroke, and I didn't have enough liquid in me to even sweat anymore. As we sat and drank, we bought some snack, and, as usual, all the kids are swarming around us, gawking and talking amongst themselves, about these strange, white "falang". We had lunch here as well, which was actually quite good, a fairly spicy noodle soup. Getting water and food back into our systems brought everyone back to life.

We continued hiking, it's flat now, and hiked to the Nam Khan river, where we had trouble finding a boat with a motor that could pick us up and take us downriver. Finally a young boy came across in a boat, using a long bamboo rod to push the boat, while his dad (grandpa? or some other adult?) retrieved the motor for the boat. The boy picked us up, and we all barely fit into the small boat. It was leaking quite bad. We got back to the other side, and the man came down with an outboard motor, hooked it up, and he started motoring up the Nam Kan river. Along the way, we had to pull over, and everyone had to move up a seat, so the kid could bail water at the back of the boat. We were taking on quite a bit of water. It's getting late at this point, and we decide to not visit the waterfall, but go straight to town and get a tuk-tuk. Of course, that's assuming that there's actually a tuk-tuk there waiting for us.

We get back to town, and low-and-behold, there's our tuk-tuk waiting!! We got a drink from the store, then drove back into town, got our packs, and took the tuk-tuk to the same guest house that Guy is staying at, as he tells us it's very nice, and cheap. It is very nice, and we get a large room, with a shared bath for $4US/night. The bed is sooooo soft and comfy!!! It's a fair distance from downtown though, but it is walking distance.

We had a nice hot shower, our first bathing in 3 days, and we're all caked in dirt.

The six of us (the trekkers) decide to meet at 9:00 at the night market for supper. Rebecca and Aaron didn't show up, so Court and I and Jon and Suzie went for supper. Rebecca and Aaron showed up later, after we were done eating.

Walked back to the night market, bought some dessert, then our tuk-tuk brought us back to our guest house about 11:00.

Vong Vichith is the name of the guest house.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Hilltribe Trek - Day 2

Roosters started crowing about 5:00AM. It was cool last night, I was ok, but everone kept steeling blankets from me. I had Court on one side, and Jon on the other side, and spent half the night trying to keep Courtney warm, trying to pry pieces of blanket from Jon or Courtney whenever I could.

I woke up about 7:45 to see a bunch of children staring at us from the bedroom door. Before that, all the little girls were peering into the house and bedroom through the cracks in the bamboo, hoping to sneak a peek at us. We must be really fascinated to them, these white people who very rarely show up. Everyone is family here too, no one knocks before entering a house, just like the kids staring at us in the morning, they just walked into Guy's house like it was there own.

AFter we got up, Guy made us coffee. It was Laos coffee, and was it ever good. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. It's very, very strong, he adds a drop of sugar, and uses sweetened condensed milk, and it tastes soo good, it actually tastes like a really good Cafe-Mocha, it seems to have a hint of cocoa flavour in it, but there is no cocoa (or chocolate) added. We had quite a few cups of this stuff.

Guy started breakfast about 9:15, croissants with something inside of them. Very tasty.

After breakfast, we went up and played some badminton at the takraw net, then Guy showed us the homemade rifles they make in the villages. He also let us shoot them, then he showed us how they make their own gunpowder (from bat shit, that they collect from caves), and make their own bullets, then he took us to a blacksmith's blower, where they fashion metal tools, then to another hut where the chief played some really cool, fancy wind instrument for us, then we visited the house of an opium addict. This was kinda sad. It was 12 noon, and two guys were in the house, laying down (which is how you smoke opium, it seems), smoking up, and between them, a tiny baby sleeping in a cradle. (I'll talk a little more about opium in a later journal.)

Guy then cut us up some sugarcane, which is quite yummy.

We noticed that there are hardly any teenage girls around, but lots of teenage boys...where are they???????

We had lunch, and started hiking at about 2:00. Very tough hike, lots and lots of up, steep up. Courtney was getting pissed off. Walked along some nice cliffs, and saw some really spectacular views, though. When we finally summitted, the views of other mountain ranges was amazing, rocky peaks, like one might see in the Canadian Rockies, minus the snow and glaciers. I asked Guy about snow, and he told me they never get snow, even in the highest of elevations, despite how cool it could get.

When we finally arrived at the village, it was very different from others we had visited. It looks like they're living on a lunar landscape. Or a Martian landscape, because of all the red rock and soil. There is rocks jutting up all over the place here. They use rocks to build fences and build up land for houses, not bamboo/wood fences and houses on stilts. They have a huge watering hole in the middle of town, where they wash themselves and their clothes, and where the livestock drink and clean themselves.

It wasn't long before the children came to gawk. Word travels fast in these communities. They are a lot shier (shyer? more shy!) here, a lot of them shy away from getting their pictures taken. I remember two little girls who were peaking their heads over a rock fence from the neighbouring house, and when I pointed my camera at them, they would duck behind the fence, and giggle. So we sat outside our house and handed out candy and balloons again. There was this one kid, which we named aggressive kid, who would fight tooth and nail for every balloon we let go, then he'd take them back to his little brother, give them to him, then come back and stand in front of us, all innocent looking, like he didn't have a balloon.

Darkness fell, it started to get cool out, and we waited for supper. Kind of gross, rice with sardine sauce, pumpkin sauce and some other kind of gross sauce. BTW, supper was not very good last night either.

After supper, we drew dancy wrappers to see who would get the one bamboo bed. Courtney and I won, the others had to sleep on the floor. Because we got the bed, though, we had to take the crappier blankets, the floor people got the thick comforters.

As we were waiting for supper, a remark was made about Courtney and I dating, which we aren't. They were totally shocked. They couldn't believe that we weren't dating. They said, in fact, that they thought we hda been dating for a long time, maybe even married, because we act just like an old, married couple, that had been married for years. Hahaha.


Albino monk lives here.