Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Trip: Lao PDR
Date: September 26, 2006
Place: Luang Prabang

I REALLY hope that there are not any chickens in Dhaka!! I am getting very tired of waking up to the sound of roosters at 5am!

Yesterday I took a boat to see the Pak Ou caves. The boat ride on the Mekong was nice, but the caves were not nearly as impressive as I thought that they would be. We stopped at a couple of small villages before and after entering the caves and I finally broke down and bought some Lao textiles. They were VERY hard to resist, especially when the girl was sitting there weaving them asking you to buy some of her handiwork! The prices were ridiculously low too, especially considering that it takes her 10-15 days to weave each piece, so I bought a couple; OK, I bought four, but I did resist buying more when I went to the night market last night and there were stalls after stalls of gorgeous silk textiles!!

After the caves I went to the Kwang Si waterfall which was quite amazing! There were several tiers of pools that you could swim in (sadly, I did not bring my suit with me, however, and I did not have time after the caves to go get one.) There was also an amazing large waterfall more toward the back.

On my afternoon excursion, I met several more travelers from all over the world - Israel, Canada, France, and the UK to name a few places. What is amazing to me is how many people are taking 3-12 months off to travel. (None of them Americans of course!) In fact, I have only met a handful of people who are here for just a two week vacation. Everyone else is traveling for a significant period of time. Granted, many of them are students who are just taking a year off during or after school. But about half of them are not students. A couple that I met from the UK told me that it was very normal for Brits to take a year off in their late twenties. One guy that I met from Sweden told me that there you could apply for a once in a lifetime sebattical which lasted anywhere from 3-12 months WITH PAY! I think Americans have the short end of the stick! We work longer and have less vacation than everywhere else in the world. Plus not many Americans that I know could afford to take a whole year off..

Anyway, back to Lao... I learned two important things yesterday about Lao:
1) There are no ATMs for foreigners here. You have to bring in money and exchange it. (Although you can pay for things in dollars and baht.) Apparently you can also go to a few places and give them your credit card and they will give you money, but they charge anywhere from 3-6 percent interest for that favor plus whatever your credit card will charge you. The best bet is to bring your own cash.
2) Foreigners are not allowed to rent motorbikes here! Alas! I guess I will have to content myself with a bicycle...

I also found out that there are no direct flights from Luang Prabang to Pakse. Before I left I found some timetable somewhere that said that there were, but as far as I know Lao Airlines is the only airline that operates within Lao and they don't have any flights. I now have to fly back through Vientiane and the only flights from Luang Prabang to Vientiane are at 2:40pm and 7:10pm. The only flight from Vientiane to Pakse is at 6:30am tomorrow. The ticket is also quite expensive. I would take the bus, but it would take me three days by bus and I would have to go back through Vientiane anyway, as there are no highways going from Luang Prabang to Pakse. The infrastructure in Lao is VERY undeveloped! I read that there is only one paved highway in the whole country! In fact, yesterday going to the waterfalls, we drove on a gravel road. Unfortunately, on the way there, I had the "scary driver" who drove twice as fast as the other bus. Everyone in the van was terrified, especially around curves! He even ran over a family of chickens! He didn't even slow down!! Thankfully on the way back I rode in the other bus!

Anyway, I think that flying is really going to be my only realistic option at this point...


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