Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year's and Mekong Slow Boat


Once again, I am shocked that New Year's was but 10 days ago. Moving towns and countries opens you to lots of new memories and experiences. Ran into Aaron today, last saw him in Pai, 21 days ago. Another lifetime! Took a bit to cipher who he was, since he, Slim, Dani and Phil had headed to southern Thailand, while I headed north...mostly to stay cooler...20C in the mornings and evenings is just such a pleasure even if the days climb into the 30's.

My stay in Chiang Mai was the longest in any hostel ever. It included Xmas and New Year's with some breaks for the trip to Pai and the 3 day jungle trek. I was trying to do some Wwoofing in Thailand, but had no luck with the few local farms, mostly setup as guest houses, not farms. Instead, I opted to do a few days volunteer work for the hostel's owner (Noom). The picture may not look like much but involved a fair bit of labour to redo the surface of the driveway and include some bamboo edging

Noom organizes a lot of social stuff for the hostel, and we hit a BBQ buffet (like big group meals in Korea) that could feed at least 500-600 people. Amazing. For New Year's, there was a gift exchange, then dinner at a restaurant and then downtown for the midnight fireworks along the canal. With all the people linings the canals and the fire kites in the hundreds and about 40 minutes of ongoing planned and locally set off really was a magnificent sight and a cool memory


In order to keep the cool mornings, decided to stay north and head to Laos. This involved a bus to the border, night over, then a morning spent getting across the Mekong River and dealing with the hassles of a land border. It was mild chaos all around. The best part was the list of rules of things not to do, including no sleeping with Laos women...unless you are married to them...the usual possible death sentence for drug use...blah blah blah. Too funny...altho friends did get nailed with some consumables in a Laos town and paid a heft $600 US to get their passports back. Not funny.

The long boat was a lot of fun, the scenery gorgeous. Lots of little villages along the way. At times, low mountains on both sides, speedboats zipping by at a furious rate...the drivers with serious helmets, the passengers...maybe helmets, maybe not.

The first nite, we do a stopover in a little built up village (Pak Bang) and find some great food and the one and only late night bar. The boat finishes in Luang Prabang...which is a crossover of Pai and Chiang Mai (lots of ex-pats and a very busy riverside restaurant and bar scene.


I enjoyed Luang Prabang a lot. It is on a nice part of the Mekong and I like towns that the river plays a major part in (not true for Vientiane, the capital, where I am right now). There was a great night market that had a funky food street with big buffet tables...$1 to fill a plate..same same for a big BeerLao. There were some cool bars including the very chill Utopia.

Notice the kids playing in the boat below. Parents are up the hill about 50 meters, no helmets, no life jackets..just playing in their 'yard'.

The sunset pic is from the temple that dominates the center of town (Chomsi) and is a big hit every night.

You meet a lot of people travelling (hostels, boat tours, jungle treks, long-run buses, bars, etc). While this makes for a very social SE Asia, with the cheap prices, warm weather and tons of backpackers...this means a lot more partying. I will have to go a a diet and exercise regime as soon as I get back (likely before Super Bowl).

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