The Laos work-around

We left Luang Prabang with very good memories, but for one small detail: on our last day  Stephen exchanged $200US to Laos Kip (currently trading at about 5700 k to $1 CAD). The lady counted out 1 million, 600,000 kip, Stephen made a joke about being a millionaire, she laughed, and that was the end of it. About 8:30 that night, Stephen re-counted the  money and realized he had been short-changed about $20 US. He kicked himself for not counting it at the counter, but it seemed right at the time and…lesson learned. Except he couldn’t let it go. So he headed back up to the main street and another lady was just closing up. Stephen explained there had been a mistake, and after a bit of conversation, she believed him and handed over the missing cash! Amazingly, this very thing happened to another person who was staying at our hotel, and he also got his money back. It’s a nice little scam – when confronted, they simply hand back the money – it must be a profitable side business. Aside from being astounded that we got our money back, we have no hard feelings. It falls to us to be aware.

The next day, we headed out on our six-hour mountain bus trip from Luang Prabang south
to Vang Vieng. Almost immediately, the scenery grabbed us.

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The switchbacks were a little hairy, but our driver was (mainly) safe, and the road was (mainly) in good condition, so we just enjoyed the view.

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Laos is struggling to pull itself out of a state of truly dire poverty, and we saw some desperately poor houses in some of the mountain villages.  I was struck by the message on this house, on so many levels.

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In other villages, we would see a little more prosperity and comfort.

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A ball game of some sort was in full swing as we drove by.

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And then this happened. We came around a corner to find a tanker stuck in the middle of the road; its axle broken and the brakes gone. The driver had positioned rocks behind the wheels and could not be persuaded to let the truck roll back enough to allow other vehicles to get by (which may have been a spectacularly bad idea anyway). Much consultation ensued – our bus driver and the tanker driver walked back and forth and measured out the distance. Several other men joined in the discussion, and the decision was made: Our guy would try and squeeze through. He inched along, inched along and then stopped.

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The guardrail would have to be removed, which we’re quite sure is not legal. At first one piece came off, then two, then one of the posts, and again, each time our driver attempted to come forward, he was encouraged by a half dozen swampers, waving this way and that, yelling out encouragement.

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This entire endeavour took about two hours, but we all got to know each other a bit better, shared our banana chips, and generally took it in good humour. When all else fails, there are sun salutations.

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Stephen captured it on film – this will give you a better idea of how little wiggle room our driver had to get through. The big trucks in line behind us may still be stuck up there.

We were a pretty giddy lot by the time we got going, and when we arrived in Vang Vieng, it was almost dark. A short story about the hotel we booked – the Green View Resort. We saw it online, it was a tiny bit more than we wanted to pay, but situated on a lake, with swimming and kayaking and we were sold. After we had booked our non-refundable room, we realized too late that it was not even in Vang Vieng – it was 20 km. south. We would have to pay a $30 tuk-tuk fare to get there, and once there, we would be trapped. We were annoyed with ourselves, but decided to make the best of it.  A couple of days of R&R would be perfect.
Then…the fun began.  At the bus station, we told the tuk-tuk driver our hotel’s name and that it was far out of town, but that seemed okay to him, so we hopped in. After an hour of dropping off all the other passengers, our driver suddenly realized he did  not have the foggiest idea where we were going. He returned to the bus depot to settle the day and consult with his fellow drivers. He then went looking for a car (instead of driving all that distance in a tuk-tuk). The car was nowhere to be found, and after watching him on his cellphone, we pleaded to just get out there in the tuk-tuk.   He phoned our hotel owner for directions and set off, stopping at one point at a creek to pour water over his overheating radiator. He then almost ran out of gas. Stephen insisted that we stop to buy beer before we got to the hotel. Once there, he called our hotel again, and within a few minutes we had left the highway and bumped along a narrow rocky road in the pitch black for another ten minutes. We could see steep embankments on either side.

Finally, we arrived -we saw our hotel owner coming down the hill with a flashlight – I could have wept. He took us to our beautiful bungalow, we had showers and came back up to join a few loquacious French tourists for a delicious dinner. All was right again.

The view from our dining room. In the rainy season, all those islands are underwater.
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The view from just around the corner from our hotel.

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We spent yesterday in total relaxation mode. First we walked back up the road to the small village – about 30 minutes – to pick up some beer and snacks. We were a big hit with these little girls, who called out “hello”, then burst out giggling, then “what is your name?”, then more giggles. The driver of this contraption, Natalie, could not have been more than 10 or 11.

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We waved at a woman fishing from the banks on the way back. In the rainy season, the water rises almost to the top of the banks.

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We took out a two-man heavy plastic kayak for a spin around the islands. We were trying to find Monkey Island, although we were advised by the owner not to get out of the kayak, as the monkeys are very aggressive, and we didn’t want to get bitten. Duly noted – but we didn’t see any sign of monkeys on any of the islands we paddled past. We met up with lots of fishing boats and several fishing nets.

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We turned the corner and saw our very first water buffalo – a small herd of them were grazing on one of the islands. As we approached, they started to come down the hill toward the water’s edge, so we moved in as close as possible. This big male was giving us the hard stare, and started to paw the ground a little, so we conceded his territory and moved on.

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Back on dry land!

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Time to head back to our cabin and enjoy the view from our balcony, with a nice cold Beerlao – Laos’ fabulous homebrew, apparently courtesy of a German brewmaster.

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14 thoughts on “The Laos work-around

  1. Rhonda February 12, 2017 / 5:53 am

    Love following your adventures. You are such a good writer and the photos are fantastic.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 11:23 pm

      Thank you Rhonda – much appreciated. We are having a wonderful time trying to figure out a culture that is so foreign to ours. It makes everything fascinating.

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  2. Kris McDonald February 12, 2017 / 6:03 am

    Love it when everything turns out alright….I was holding my breath!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 5:14 pm

      We were really lucky. Any of the bigger trucks behind us would be stuck for hours – maybe the night. We were wondering how a tow truck would get up there and be able to have access to the broken vehicle, or if an attempt would be made to repair it on the spot. Meanwhile, the vehicles keep driving up, unaware of what lies ahead…

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  3. Elisabeth Charlotte Dieryckx February 12, 2017 / 11:28 am

    Hello friends! you were indeed lucky to, first ,get out of the Bus/Truck jam on the road…..typical of situations that happens frequently in the many interior roads of Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador……so I have seen/lived these situations quite often…they take forever to fix, but with the good will of the locals, everything in the end, gets fixed, one way or the other! The second lucky bit was the willingness of the TukTuk driver to take you all the way to the Hotel you had booked, considering it was in the total blackness of night, and a place he had, in principle, no idea where it was !!!
    I suppose this poor man had to spend the night somewhere at this Hotel, after dropping you safely off, with the good will of the owner, as he could not possibly have wanted to go all the way back, again, driving in the total darkness…..such is the good will of the local people, and this is to be highly commended!
    A Tuk Tuk driver is usually a simple man, living mainly in poverty, just trying to make a living. But who is nevertheless, willing to go to great lengths of extra work in the not best conditions, to accommodate his Foreign Customers. I remember in Bali, they were the very same way, always willing to accommodate us, the Visitors. Great people I would say!
    Be safe and happy, hugs from Lis , on snowy Gabriola

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 5:22 pm

      Hi Lis – We are very sensitive to the plight of the people we meet here. Not nearly as dire an outcome for the tuk-tuk driver, as they are the only means of transport out here and regularly make the trip, so this distance is very normal.

      We understand the motivation of the tuk-tuk driver to want our business, but it also put us under great stress. And for his drive back, it would only be in darkness on this road to the highway – after that – he would be on a lighted highway and back again within an hour.

      There are a number of resorts out this way, and the tuk-tuk drivers come back and forth all the time – unfortunately for us and for him – he didn’t know where he was going.

      They are great people and we are very lucky to be meeting them, no matter the circumstances.

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  4. Eveline Boysen February 12, 2017 / 11:48 am

    Those photos are worth more than a thousand words. I felt like holding my breath until the bus got through. Thank for sharing your experiences with us.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 5:24 pm

      We were also holding our breath! I think once the guys started taking off the guardrails we felt we might make it.

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  5. Danielle February 12, 2017 / 1:44 pm

    Great adventures to remember when you will be 90 and over!!!
    Love the hotel and surroundings!!
    Happy travels!!Danielle

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 5:26 pm

      You mean we won’t be doing this when we’re 90? Our inspiration are a lovely couple we met in Oaxaca years ago – a couple in their 90s who were stage actors in New York City. They came to Oaxaca every winter, and came to the same restaurant frequently. they always had a glass of wine with dinner.

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  6. Nancy Twynam February 12, 2017 / 4:26 pm

    We are thoroughly enjoying travelling along with you! We love the stories, the pictures and are in awe of your adventuresome nature. Your current lodging is spectacular! Where are we going next?
    Nancy & Dave

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 12, 2017 / 5:32 pm

      Thanks Nancy and Dave! Yes, this is our treat hotel – our cabin was just lovely, as well as the setting. Another time, when we’re not travelling for such a long time, and on a strict budget, it would such a treat to stay every night in places like this. By Canadian standards, it is still very affordable – $60-$70 a night for really comfortable accommodation. We are more in the $25-$30 a night normally.
      Now we are off to Vientiane, the capital for a couple of nights.

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  7. Heather Scott February 13, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    It took awhile to comment on you blog because we were busy the last few days with your wonderful son. Hope you are having as delightful a time (and it sounds like you are) as we did this weekend with Alanna and Alex!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 13, 2017 / 4:10 pm

      Oh Heather – wouldn’t we love to spend a weekend with Alex and Alanna right now -or any of our family or friends. That is the part of travelling that can’t be reconciled – not seeing the people you love.
      I bet they were grateful to see you all in Edmonton and to escape the bad weather in Vancouver:>)

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