A Travellerspoint blog

Scenery on the Way to Vang Vieng, Laos

...and a silly photo from the past that refused to stay buried

semi-overcast 26 °C
View South Pacific Paradise!!! on LadyCroft's travel map.

TIIIIMMMMMMYYY!!!
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ha! This photo was taken on the Bridge in Pai, THailand. I've titled it TIIIIMMMMMMYYY! after Southpark's wonderful character. I hope you get it!! My friend said I looked like a retard with a helmet, oversized backpack, green shoes, and an icecream cone, and I just started screaming TIIIMMMMYY! and we both died in fits of laughter. I nearly lost my ice cream cone to the river. (apoligies to mentally retarded people...i know, mean.) I had to include the photo here!

ANYWAYS

I caught the 9 o' clock bus to Vang Vieng and said goodbye to the charming Luang Prabang. THe road was mostly paved, but some parts were in bad repair and the bus had to naviagate slowly or risk losing a drivetrain or something. Much of the way we snaked through valleys where the road fell of sharply to one side and wonderous mountainous vistas spread themselves wide open to view. We stopped several times. I thought this picture of piggies and puppies, rooting around the tables of a restaurant was pretty cute:

puppies and piggies
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I took a lot of photos out the windows of the bus. They're not the best, and the powerlines especially liked to get in the way. It's really hard to describe otherwise the unique shape to Laosian mountains.

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pretty laos mountains
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Laos Hills
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Sun behind a Laosian village
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So Now I've arrived at Vang Vieng, a VERY special little town. But I think I'll have to wait til the NEXT blog to tell you about it, because this particular computer connection is slow, and its going to take a while to get the photo's uploaded. It's a great place to sit back and be really lazy. mmm mmm!!

HOgs and Quishes

Posted by LadyCroft 21:52 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

sunny 29 °C

This is such a wonderful *wonderful* city. It is just so unbeleivably beautiful. THe setting for one; set along the banks of the mighty Mekong River and also between one if its tributaries, the shores of which are divided into neat culitivated squares of vegitables and rice paddies. The streets are well paved and quite clean. French archatecture whispers a colonial influenced past in the libraries, banks, and the plethora of guesthouses. In the middle of the "city" (I"d consider it more like a large town) rises a steep hill with a sacred gold leafed temple on top, the perfect place to watch the sun go down. THe locals are ever so polite. Tourists arn't allowed ride moterbikes here and although tuk tuks and scooters abound, there is much more order in the streets than Chiang Mai, Pai, Bangkok, or anywhere else I've been in S.E.A for a long time.

The tributary river that flows into the Mekong.
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The night market bustles with rows upon rows of red tents displaying an assortment of hand crafted linins, woven textiles, leatherbound books and crudely made paper note books, as well as trinkets, key chains, jewelery, and soaps, oils, and coffee. Food Vendor Street, as I come to call it, are right around the corner from the night market. To walk down this street is to undated with smells and sights and sound of all manner of fish, flesh, and foul are roasted over coals, while bowls of curries and laap and vats of sticky rice await hungry buyers. My friends, one evening, selected a fish on a stick to eat. It was litereally a whole fish, about 10 inches long, held pinched between a long split piece of bamboo. It had been sitting over hot coals for a few hours and looked like a big, cooked...well...fish! I thought it looked horrible, all head and skin, and fins attached. But my friend simply discarded the fins, and picked off the flesh. It was...the most...delicious...amazing...tender...succulant...tasty...melt-in-your mouth...fish I have ever had. Yes, you had to pick through all the bones and goo...but boy was it worth it. I got one too.

I met, like, a MILLION people on the Slowboat. Everywhere I went I bumped into people I knew which was really nice. the first night in town, it was dark when we arrived. Naturally just off the slowboat we were assailed by Laotions with pamphlets trying to get us to try their guesthouse, but i and several others just took off walking to see what we could find. Many guesthouses were full, and they were all more expensive than I imagined. (after paying around a dollar per night, suddenly paying 7 or 9 dollars seems like a lot. After moving around town and a tuk tuk ride, i ended up sharing a room with Gabi.

She was a LOVELY 45 year old lady who carried on and acted like an energetic and vivacious 30 year old. Our room at Suk Dee Guesthouse was lovely, and the hot shower was a special delight. We had an amazing dinner that night. We shared two fish meals and a caraf of the nicest red wine I've had since leaving the U.S. Score!!

In the early early morning one can't ignore the drumbeat that eminates from the temples all around the center of Laung Prabang. The temples are empties of their Monkish Population, as the orange clad, bald-headed religious men walk the streets barefooted with canisters to collect alms and stickyrice. Gabi and I woke early (5:30 am-ew!) and watched the monks come in long endless lines past the local folk kneeling on mats and passing up, with their right hands, balls of sticky rice and food wrapped in banana leaves.

Monks taking alms
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They ranged in age from maybe 9 or 10 to 20 something. Despite all having the same "style", there was a delightful range of personality. Many held their heads high in the reserved dignity that one would expect a monk to have. Others exchanged furtive words with one another when they thought no one was looking. A few actually gave a jolly "Saa baa dee' as they passed. (hello!). It was really humbling to watch. I felt it really inapproriate to photograph such a solomn and sacred happening. However tourists were just going right up and flashing their cameras in the monks faces. it really degraded the sanctity of the ritual if you ask me. I took a photo after the monks past. Even though that's still kinda sneaky.

Then Gabi and I met Youcif and Andreas from the long boat. We were all hungry and headed for a little Cafe that turned out the most amazing pastries and frothy cappachinos, that i ended up eating their for breakfast 2 days in a a row (and getting the SAME thing!! A ham, egg, and cheese bagel! oh my god YUM)

Breakfast with Yucef, Andreas...Gabi is taking the photograph.
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Then we decided to walk about town and visit some of the temples. Here's some of the things we saw.

When in Rome (err...Louang Prabang)
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Some (dog?) statues outside a temple
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Oldest Temple in Luang Prabang...built around Old Bill Shakesperes time
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Inside a temple....
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Then we took a little break, enjoyed some delicious banana smoothies, and wrote some postcards we had bought. There i snapped this little photo of a sweet pussy cat on front of a spirit house.

The Cat's Spirit House
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Our snack spot on the MeKong: Andreas, Yucif, and Gabi
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Then we walked towards one of the most important temples in Laos, which is also featured on their money. This is the temple
More temple
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Here there were lots of monks walking about doing their..ahem..MONK thing. Some banged on bells, some drummed on drums and clashed symbols...some walked around looking thoughtful and mysterious. The temples in the compound were magnificent. the golden temple here shone shimmeringly in the late afternoon sunlight.

Golden Temple
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Golden temple door detail
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Temple-golden man
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Andreas, Youcif, and Gabi in Laung Temple
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dragon in temple
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The shadows were getting long, and we all walked with eagar steps to the bottom of the great hill in the center of town. At least 200 steps were required to surmount it. There we joined a thronging crowed of tourists snapping photographs of a richly colored sky.
Croft awaiting sunset
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The sunset was nice, but I'm getting quite spoilt on sunsets these days. It was a little cheesy, there being about 9 million people crowded onto the western varanda of the temple, but the views were never-the-less magnificent. As the light faded, the lights of Luang Prabang far below twinkled. Smoke from fires wafted up into the atmosphere, and the towering mountains all around made for an astounding backdrop.
Luang Prabang Sunset
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Once the sun was gone, most of the tourists skipped like rabbits to the night market. I and several other eagar beavers stayed to watch the best part of the sunset. The colors intensified over the next half hour, and the full moon rose large and blindingly bright in the eastern sky.

Croft's Sunset salute!!
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THe night was far from over. Next we went to Food Vendor Street and chomped down on meat on a stick and consumed several bags of sticky rice. Then we tuk-tuked to a temple 3 kms from town and went to a Buddhist festival. The were lighting off fireworks and sending colorful lanterns into the sky. Several hundred or more locals carried candles and incense in hand, and, lead by monks to a rhythmic drumbeat, they circles the temple three times. It was all pretty incredible and beautiful...except the part where a novice monk threw a firecracker at me and my friends. I dove for cover, all my stuff, waterbottle, bag and camera tumbling to the ground. the locals had a laugh, or at least i think they were laughing-i'm not sure because my ears were ringing from the nearby explosion and I was deafened temporarily. Stupid monk.
No really, it was great. Good times for all.
Buddhist festival
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Then we all met up with loads of people from the slow boat at the Haight Bar.

Last night party in Luang Prabang
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It was a late night that night, and bed felt REALLY good. But I was destined to move once again. The next day I took a bus to Vang Vieng. And though I'd really really like to tell you all about this magical place RIGHT NOW, i can't, because it's nearly midnight and I"m gonna get kicked outta here soon. So you'll have to wait til tommrrow.

Miss home. a lil.
Happy,
Croft

Posted by LadyCroft 07:54 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rebellion on the Slow Boat to Laos

...and many thanks to the Man in the Yellow Hat...

sunny 26 °C
View South Pacific Paradise!!! on LadyCroft's travel map.

It's the second day of my slow boat journey from Chiang Khong, Thailand, to Luang Prabang, Laos. I take one of the last available bench seats on the slow boat. Looked past rows of travllers crammed in like sardenes at rush hour I notice quite a few more of my fellow travellers sitting on the sandy beach of the Mekong wondering how exactly they were going to fit on the boat.

Day one had been on a far more pleasant boat.........

  • Flash back to day one*

After a late night bus from Pai, Thailand to Chiang Khong on the Thai/Laos border, I collapst into a nice clean bed at around 4 Am, roused early, was fed some pretty nicely seasoned eggs and toast, shuffled to the Mekong River to clear immigration and then ferried across the big chocolate river (aka the MEKONG) .

Croft and some of the guys and gals I'd come from Pai with-we're in a Tuk tuk in Laos after having gotten our visas...on the way to the slow boat
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Getting a visa was pretty chaotic, as the facilities were quite cramped and no one was really cueing up properly. You just kind of flung your passport at a uniformed officer; he told you to return in five minutes; then you returned and got stamped, waited again, got more stamps, moved across the street, got MORE stamps and then finally you give you passport to the tour guides who show it to some more authorities. While you worry whether or not you’re ever going to see your pass port again, a slow boat representative gives a little shpiel to the crowed.

He tells you that you can get milaria. He tells you your bag can get stolen. He tells you the boat can rock side to side and your likely to get sick. None of this will be teh fault of the tour company. After utilizing the aforementioned terror tactics he informs us that we can opt for a bus ride instead…for an additional 200B to the 1800B we’ve already paid. 15 people took the bus fare on the spot.

Suckers.
Like I said. Day 1 was rather pleasant after all the paper work and formalities were over with.
A steel hulled bohemoth of a boat has a flat red roof and lots and lots of rows of wooden benches. Maybe 80 or 90 of us scuffled on board. We deposited our bags in a huge mountainous pile in the back of the boat behind the engine. There is a minibar selling Lao Beer and Pringles for high prices. You can sort of move the benches and I opted to sit on the floor leaning up against the side of the boat.

Our SlowBoat: Day 1
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We were underway shortly after 11 I was still really tired from just a few hours sleep the night before, so I curled up, with the cushion I bought just moments before for 40B, and slept for several hours. Once roused, I sat up and watched the scenery slip by.

One of the slowboats, much like ours, on the Mekong
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Its really an incredible way to travel! The Mekong is very wide and mysterous. The surface is smooth and shiny and there is no doubt that unspeakable power surges in its voluminous depths. Churling undulations hinted at deeply hidden rocks. We frequently passed large swirling vortexes in the middle of otherwise placid water. The lush mountians became more dramatic as the day went on. Layers of mountains attained different hues of blue as they faded farther into the distance. Small villages drifted by consisting of bamboo huts with thatched roofs. Children swam in the shallows of the Mekong and women washed cloths. Life here is much as it has been for hundreds of years.

Kind of hard to see Thailand Scenery on the Western/Southern Bank of the Makong
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The boat did indeed sway back and forth a bit. I felt a bit sick after a while, and really couldn’t eat my lunch. I started thinking that I was definatly not going to make it, when finally we arrived at PakBang.

Seriously, NOT my idea of a cool town to visit. The town seems to feed off the daily slowboat delivery of tourists. The restaurent and guesthouse propritors are really pushy and you’re constantly told to “buy somesing! Buy somesing!”. The guesthouses and food are all over priced. I saw too many women burning plastic to start fires in the street, their little children just inches away from the toxic fumes. A giant rat, the size of a small cow was tied up, alive and hissing, underneith a restaurent stand.
My guest house wasn’t too bad however, and after a delicious indian meal I went straight to bed. My lights didn’t’ work and the music from across the street was so loud I could only sit and read with my headlamp on and wait til the generators turned off at 11 pm. Then the town finally went to sleep.

Through out the night, rats scuttled loudly in the rafters above.

I was pretty eagar to leave this place, and determined not to let its negative impression spoil my opinioin of Laos. I had a really yummy lemon and sugar pancake and headed for the sandy shore of the mighty Mekong.
The boat, a half hour before lift off, was full. I took the last seat. Thus begins Day 2.

  • flash back ends*

I looked to the shore and several of my friends were plunked down on their bags sitting on the sand. I had heard of slowboats being over croweded, and passengers having to team up and go on strike until their demands for more boats or bigger boats were met. It seemed that these measures would have to go into effect now.
I started talking to people around me. They all agreed that the circumstances were unfavorable, but no one wanted to take action. A man next to me me in a yellow hat sat passively looking straight ahead. I assumed he couldn’t understand me because he was Laotion. He was, infact, the only Lao passenger on the boat. I failed to incite any enthousiasm for mutiny amongst my neighbors. They had a spot on the boat and didn’t feel the need to cause trouble…I mean, who WOULD want to get stuck in that horrible place for another day.

This boat was half the size of yesterday’s boat. It was narrower, and a tall person couldn’t even stand up properly. The benches were so close together, that even I, a small person, was crammed right up against the seat on front of me. My resolve solidified as I saw nearly 10 people now on the sand shaking their heads. I got up and retreived my bag from the back. People stared at me incredulously. “you’re leaving?” they all kept asking me. And my response was the same “yes, and if you all do too, we’ll get a bigger boat.”
I trudged up the sandy bank and threw my bag down next to the people I had shared a bus ride and hotel with the two nights before. They seemed pleased I’d joined them, but were seriously concerned for what was going to happen to them.

There was no getting more people on that boat. It looked to be sitting really low in the water. In an effort to sit more comfortably and with more room, people had started sitting up in the window frames, making it look literally like the boat was so full of people that they were busting out the sides. Lots of faces were turned towards the Left Behinds on the shore wondering what was going to happen to them.

One or two of us started talking to the boat organizers. They kept shaking their heads and saying “NO” when we asked for a bigger boat “one boat, one boat” they said, when we pointed out 18 other boats lined up on the shore. All of them , infact were much larger than our piece of junk. They told us another boat “might” come later, but we felt that would mean waiting for a boat not likely to come, getting stuck here another night, and possibly reliving the same situation in the morning. They told us we could also take a bus, but that was outragious because we had paid quite a lot for this trip. Some of the stranded folks started getting a bit more edgy. “its not safe” some of us said. “its not what we paid for-this is a scam.” “you can’t just cram us onto a small boat the day after we had a nice one.”
The situation was getting tense. The boat driver, several employees, and the woman who ran the minibar were getting really irritated at our refusal to board the boat, as the departure time was at hand. It was time for action.
I walked down to the waters edge. I cupped my hands and shouted to the passengers. “Come on everyone, if we team up we can get another boat! There’s no reason we should all be on this little boat when there are so many other big boats. There isn’t even room for all of us! Come on ! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
My friends behind me were smiling. I guess my little high pitched voice didn’t exactly carry the tones of a people mover.

But one or two more people came off. Eighty or more remained glued to their seats, unsure of what was happening.

I called again “you don’t have to get your luggage, just get off the boat and join us and we’ll get a bigger boat!”
Not much happened….until a little yellow hat appeared and out stepped the Laosan man. Simon, a brit was at the top of the beach trying to communicate with the boat driver. The boat driver wanted 20,000B for another boat. Simon was trying to say nicely “hell no.” The Laosian man ended up speaking good english. Him and Simon began feverent nogotiations with the boat driver, aided by Yellow Hat’s translation skills.
One or two more people got off the boat, sans luggage, just to mull about, smoke a cigg and see what was going on. Then a lady came up and started yelling at Yellow Hat, assuming that he was one of THEM, saying that she was a journalist and she was going to write a letter to everyone including lonely planet etc etc and tell them how they were scamming us. Then I interjected and pulled her aside and told her that he was our translator and she needed to direct her voice and eye contact to the people we WERE trying to convince.

The boat’s engine turned on. The tension escalated. Some people were scared and got back on the boat. The prospect of staying in this town overrode thoughts of safety or fairness. But there was still too many people on the shore, some with luggage still on board. Simon then did something that changed the tide.

HE got on the boat, cupped his hands and made an announcement. His booming british accent annouced that the boatman had another bigger boat we could use, but he wanted 100/head extra. Simon didn’t think we should pay anything, but he’s nogotiating at the moment and he just wanted to let everyone know what was going on.

People really appreciated the communique. A babble of voices erupted as people considered the possibly of getting a bigger boat. Our wonderful Yellow Hatted Friend kindly helped Simon persuade the boatman into giving us a bigger boat, no charge. We succeeded!

Pandamonium broke out as people made a mad dash for the back of the boat to retreive their bags. It was lucky Briton and some others called for a fireline, and soon we were passing bags from the back and making a pile on the beach. Then people collected their bags and moved 3 boats over to our new ride.

The new boat was even nicer, bigger, more stable, and plush than the first. It had fancy little curtins around the open air windows, bigger cleaner toilets, and 2 large rooms in the back behind the engine, as well as a wide long open area in the front for people to move around in.
The Boatmen, in a sour mood, went around collecting tickets. Five tickets were unaccounted for -lost in the shuffle between boats. The boatman refused to leave until they were found. Yellow Hat Man went around saying “ticket ticket” trying to find the people who might have forgotten to turn one in. Some people started yelling at him angrily, because they had already been asked for their ticket on the other boat and turned them in. Many of my fellow passengers had no idea who Yellow Hat was and how he actually helped us tremendously. I helped him scour the boat, explaining to people that we wouldn’t leave until we found all the tickets. After a few minutes, 3 tickets manifested themselves. When the other two failed to show, and the boatman made it clear he wasn’t leaving until they were purchased, Yellow Hat Man actually paid for the tickets (400B each) out of his own pocket. I was leaning over his shoulder when this transaction happened, trying to tell him that he shouldn’t be doing this. Quickly, I went back to tell everyone what he’d done. Soon there was a line of people donating small sums of money to pay him back for his selfless genorsity. Then boat started pulling away from the shore, and Yellow Hat man got an ovation.

All through out the journey people came up to thank me for my efforts in getting us a nicer ride. We were all incredibly thankful, because the first boat that morning had been such a sardene can. It felt really good to have helped make it happen. I was the last to get on because I wanted to be sure “my flock” all had good seats. I was quite happy to sit anywhere. I ended up close to my friends, but I hardly sat still the whole trip. I spent several hours in the back, where an intimate circle of people chatted over the engine noise, blackened pots and pans hanging on the walls, and the smells of bagged spices pleasently pungent in the air. I sat in a window for a while, watching the water slide by. I spent a few blissful hours right out in the front of the boat, crammed onto the wide brimmed bow with as many travellers that would fit, dangling our legs over the edge, taking in the ample sunshine, and enjoying the everchanging and unobstructed view of the mountains on eitherside of the Mekong.
The boat was stable. I didn’t feel sick at all. It stopped at many villages to pick up local Laotians just to drop them off a little further down. Villagers carrying bags of rice, baskets of spices, and even two live ducks joined us on the 8 hour ride downstream. I have no idea how we would have managed this on the boat they’d prepared for us that morning.

Me and my new dutch friend, enjoying the sunshine on the bow of our roomie slow boat
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Slow boat sunsets...damn skippy!
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Luang Prabang was bathed in evening light when we approached it. We were all tired and hungry. The dramatic sunset had us all snapping photos and taking in natures awsome beauty, but now that the big orange ball was behind the mountains in the west, a crisp chill was in the air. We gratfully trudged up the steep hill to Luang Prabang City towards the inviting twinkling lights that beakonded fine french food, good music and company.

The fading sky across the Mekong, from Luang Prabang Laos
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But this blog is long enough. More to come on Luang Prabang tommrrow, and also Vang Vieng, where I am now. I’ve moved five cities/villages in six days and I’m beat. Its time to enjoy Vang Vieng for a few days.
Lots of love
The croft

Posted by LadyCroft 05:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

TAKE YOUR VOTE!!! Best Spirit Houses-Thailand

you see em everywhere-here's a taste

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While traveling through northern Thailand, it's impossible to noticed the miniture houses erected outside peoples dwellings. Some are simple, others elaborate-all are an attempt to get those spirits to stay happily taken care of within the spirit house and to keep them from roaming inside YOUR house...

You find them in the strangest of places sometimes. We found them not only outside houses and stores, but on long empty stretches of road, and on mountiain pathways while trekking.

Here are only a few of the thousands you'll find here in Thailand, But let me know what you think and I'll up date y'all on the one's most voted upon.

if you don't have a travellerspoint account, then email me your vote seaspotrun@yahoo.com

  • **HUGE THANKS TO GAVIN for the IDEA! As soon as I get the link to his travel blog, I'll post it here! This was HIS idea and i stole it!!!!!

Spirit House 1 -gotta love that color!
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Spirit House 2
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Spirit House 3-this one Amir caught sight of while driving on a long stretch of open road. Who put it there, we'll never know. I LOVE the water bottle with the straw left for the spirits!!!
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Spirit House 4
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Spirit House 5
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Spirit House 6
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Spirit House 7
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Spirit House 8-inside Cave Lodge-defiantly the BIGGEST!
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Spirit House 9-that's amir in the background-note the drink and chips out front!
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Spirit House 10
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Spirit House 11
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Spirit House 12
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Posted by LadyCroft 00:02 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Pai to Sappong-Tham Lod Cave

scooters to bamboo rafts-and lots of good photos!

sunny 24 °C
View South Pacific Paradise!!! on LadyCroft's travel map.

I'll be leaving Pai at the end of today...and I'm....sad! Pai is an amazing little town, one in which one can easily spend weeks, even months. The live music scene is outrageous. The food is cheap and varied. Faces swirl in a mix of origins, new ones appearing daily. The dogs sleep right in the middle of busy intersections, while scooters and peds swirl around them like so many electrons around a nucleus.

No one hurries here. Pai is a slow and sleepy town. Get manicure or back massage for a few dollars, chomp down on a big juicy american burger or a spicy red eggplant curry in a coconut shell. Ride an elephant, explore hot springs and water falls. Nap all day in a hammock. I'm going to miss this place.

Two days ago, I embarked on a wonderful tour of the countryside. Amir and I rented scooters and stored our bags at our respective guesthouses and headed for the mountains north west of Pai.

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The land was low and flat in the valley, the sun warm on our faces. Rice paddies and corn fields stretched to the threshold of the mountains. Thatched huts and teak bungalows dotted the landscape and peasents in wide brimmed hats bent their backs in the hot sun and lent their labor to the earth.

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Slowly the land began to rise, as our scooters gobbled up kilometers like so many ice cream cones in Bangkok. Occasionally a faster motorbike would pass us, or we'd meet an oncoming car, but the road was wide and the pavement newly laid, therefore the going was very easy. Soon we began to weave our way into the mountains, the way curving back and forth like a grey snake under the sun.

The steep hills around us often gave way to sweeping vistas of the Thai country side. We could see for ages, the darker patches of green on green, and the winding brown rivers in the valleys below. The mountains here are covered in jungle and shrouded in mist. Their peaks, unlike the familar and predicable peaks of the rockies, have been worn away into uniquely twisted formations and bubbily knobs.

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We reached the pass between Pai and Sappong. The view towards both directions was amazing. Far to the east we could see Pai, glittering in a large flat valley. To the west we could probably see Burma, although I'm not sure if this is true...its just that we could see very far and I know we're not too far from the border here.

At the Mountain pass looking West...burma maybe?! Certainly Sappong!
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We began our decent. The road double backed several times, and I made sure to take it really slow around the corners. Thankfully the road was new, and visibility was very good. The air was quite a bit cooler up here too. It was nice to descend on the sunny side of the mountains. It wasn't long before we reached Sappong. The turn off to Cave Lodge is just 1 KM before town, so we turned North and the road was concrete and in poor condition. We just took it slow and bumped and jostled our way the 7 Kms to Cave lodge. On the way we passed children playing with balls, adults tending little gardens, and lots of lovely but simple thai dwellings. We had to avoid the pigs and chickens who like, for some reason, crossing the road. Chickens, i can understand, but pigs...?

Here are some cows we "ran into"
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All in all it was about 45 Km to Cave Lodge, an easy 2 hours puttering along, enjoying the scenery, and stopping to take photos.

Cave Lodge was intensely beautiful. The Bungalows were all set above the river, with large hot water showers attached for 350 B a night. John Spies, the owner is a fascinating man, who I could sit and listen to rapturously all day. He started the Lodge in 1977 and the stories and experiences he can tell are enough to fill a book. they DID fill a book actually, and I bought a copy from him. It's titled Wild Times: 30 Years on the Thai Border.

The Lodge was full of Americans, as well as a few dutch and brits. The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating.

Here is a picture of Slutmuffin, the cutest kitty EVER (except for you Belle!)

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That evening, Amir and I walked to Tham Lod cave to see the "bird and bat show." I'll try to describe the cave:

A river flows into it. The mouth is (estimating here)30 M tall and maybe 40 or 45 M wide. (HUGE). The cave goes on for about 1/2 KM and then the river reemerges in the jungle through an equally large exit. The cave is huge within, with many large branches splitting off from the mammoth inner cave. At dawn and dusk, bats and swifts exchange places.

We approached the cave enterance. We were making our way to the exit, where the show was to take place. We didn't know where the path was that went up and over the cave, and none of the thai locals around spoke any english. I knew what direction to go in though, which was over the river and around the cave.

One problem. The bridge over the river had half-way collapsed. There wasn't going to be a dry crossing. Amir and I looked at each other, and then to the west, where the sunlight was already turning the darker shades of blue and pink. High high in the sky Bats could be seen circling. A LOT of them.

I resolved the cross the river. Bridge or no bridge. I rolled up my pants, took off my shoes, and stepped in. Amir followed me in, a little unsure at first, but his trepidation gave way in face of his pride, perhaps. The water rose from ankle deep to knee deep and then half way up my thighs. I counted on the river to get no deeper than this, and sure enough, half way through the water level slacked off. The current was strong, though, so it was slow progress, but we were motivated by the fading light and the gathering flying things above our heads.

The mud on the other side of the river sucked in our feet. We scooted barefoot to higher ground and then washed our feet in a little stream that trickled into the river. Two other American girls had come as far as the broken bridge with us, but had not the courage for the river crossing. I yelled at them that the water was shallow and to come over, but I couldn't wait to see if they followed. The light was fading fast.

The path through the jungle was wide and flat. On either side lay wide swaths of soft moss. The trees to our left and right resonated with the deep GWARPPING of what I can only imagine to be frogs. To our left we began a fence beyond which lay a tilled field, and to our right the earth rose steeply: it was hard to imagine that just under that hill was a huge hollow space; a labyrinthine convolution of passages and rock formations. the path began to narrow until we were on a single track, following behind one another. The signs for the "bird show" in Thai and English were faded, like they were scores of years old and faded with time. The path split and in one direction was a temple that we could just make out in the gloom. The other way was a wooden gate hanging off its hinges.

We went this way, and the path became ever more rough. Gnarly tree roots reminded us to be very cautious in the dimming light. We hopped across several large flat stones over a mountain stream and soon we were aware of a noise.

It was the sound of thousands-no...hundreds of thousands of swifts whooshing, swirling, chirping in the air. An opening in the trees ahead revealed the river which had just exited Lod cave. There we were at the exit point, the enormous mouth of the cave revealing its inky black interior into which streamed an endless mass of swifts. It was like watching a movie where someone CGI created birds, except these were real. Nearly half a million made their way into the cave to rest high above the ground clinging to stalactites.

This picture didn't really come out well, but I hope you can KINDA see what I mean:

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We were in awe. We sat well off to the side on a little bamboo bench under the ledge at the side of the cave exit. We didn't see any bats, but I'm thinking we got there a little late. I'm thinking the bats have to leave for the swifts to come in. At any rate, the show was amazing.

It was also our first taste of the cave, which yawned its mysterious at us in the gathering dark. There was literally nothing stopping someone from bringing in a few high powered torches and just setting off to explore the cave. Course I wouldn't do that. Place reeked of bat guano anyways!

Amir and I made our way back in the darkness. I had a flashlight and my uncanny knack for direction got us back to the river. It was a little more thrilling crossing the river in the dark, but I had a large bamboo stick this time for support. We walked all the way back to Cave Lodge, exhilarated at having seen such a wondrous sight, and eager to explore the cave the next day.

The next day, did indeed to prove to be AWESOME.

First we sat in the sauna. It was run on a little wood burning stove and a Thai lady had collected lots of Thai herbs so that one inhaled the healing aroma while taking in the heat. Then I had a thai massage. Divine! For breakfast I had a banana smoothy and some whole wheat toast, which was made in large stone ovens right there at Cave Lodge. Then we checked out, but not before I purchased John Spies book.

We scooted to the Cave, which only took a few minutes. It cost 150 B for our guide, a cute little Thai lady who spoke very little English but had an eager smile. We walked to the cave entrance. In the daylight is possible to see all the formations at the entrance to the cave; a truly impressive sight. In flowed the river, and upon it long bamboo rafts which we clambered on, with our guide.

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Me, just inside the cave enterance

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We floated only moments before reaching the first stopping point. The cave rose sharply to the right, and we left the river and with the aid of a few Thai-made steps, ascended into a cavern riddled with Stalactites, stalagmites, vents, sinkholes, and wondrous displays of natures unutterable power to create beauty out of time.

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Kinda hard to see, but Amir is at the bottom of a GIANT COLUMN
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Me strong: if it wasn't for me, cave might fall
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I just lack the skills to describe how amazing this cave was. The ceiling was just lost in shadows, and only the bottoms of imposing stalactites could be seen. Our little Thai guide turned out to know a few English words. She would point to a funny looking formation-made by millions of years of dripping water and limestone and say "elephant." and indeed, the thing would look like an elephant: about the same size too. She would end up saying "monkey" "dog" "Buddha" " pancake" "crocodile" and even "UFO" which was a surprise. It's no wonder the cave was called "spirit cave" because surely people believe that animal spirits (and apparently breakfast spirits and UFO spirits) inhabit the cave and make themselves manifest in the formations.

The squeaking of bats high above our heads became background noise. I got used to the smell of the gas lantern. I wondered at every new corner turned. Eventually we got back on a bamboo raft, were pushed to the other side of the cave, and ascended a new even higher ledge. I must note here that safety standards are NOT even CLOSE to American standards. There are no safety rails. You can pretty much walk anywhere. There are a few deep sink holes with the occasional road cone and a faded "danger" sign. There was another chain across an entrance with a sign that read "do not pass-low oxygen." Our guide pointed to a piece of wall and said "cave painting."

We looked. We looked harder. the thousands year old hunters cave painting had been rubbed out. All that was left was a shadow. Below the "painting" was a photograph taken perhaps 30 years earlier. It had been a picture of a deer, an arrow, and the sun. It was sad looking at that smudge, barely visible now--faded by countless fingers over the years-feeling the need to touch the past...it's a lost treasure-Art from the imagination of a man (or woman!) who clambered up wet steep and treacherous slopes in the pitch darkness to etch a picture in the wall with burnt bamboo or some such instrument one, maybe two thousand years ago.

Down we went, stepping carefully over pools of water, dipping around dripping columns that glittered in the gas lamp light. Down rickety wooden steep steps we carefully tread til we were at river level again. Again we got on a raft, and again we floated ever deeper into the darkness. In just minutes, the cave exit was visible.
We got off the raft and ascended once again to a difficult to reach cavern on the side of the cave. The smell of guano here was overwhelming. I heard Amir retching behind me and i scrambled to wrap my scarf around my face. The guide merely giggled.

Me, with the cave exit behind me-totally exited that it smells like bat butt!

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This next part of the cave held an unexpected surprise. we turned a dark corner and there was a coffin, dated 1700-2500 years old. It was very long, maybe 8 or 9 feet. It was striking witnessing where a people a hundred generations ago or more buried their dead. One had to imagine the painstaking work it would have taken to haul the wooden coffins up there. As we moved on we saw about 7 more of these ancient artifacts, and pottery as well.

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Back to the bamboo raft we went, this time to return to the cave enterance. How would we get there, we wondered. The river flows one way, and these little rafts haven't got any motors.

We were pulled. It was a little disconcerting actually, having quite an older little wiry man pulling on a rope, hauling you half a KM up river through waist deep water. He defiantly earned the 400B that was asked of us!!!

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It was really good getting back to fresh air. I felt really dirty after having been in that cave!! Amir and I hoped on the scooters and scooted to Sappong where were had a light lunch, gassed up, and drove back to Pai.

I had a nice relaxing evening here last night. Listened to some great live music at Edible Jazz, ate some wicked Red curry. I booked my ticket for the slow boat to Laos as well, so I'm leaving tonight!!

I'm also going to have A VOTE! ARE YOU READY!

My next entry is going to have photos of all the spirit houses I've had a chance to photograph. The thai people often erect little houses outside their own dwellings, replete with figurenes, food, beverages, incense and flowers, so that spirits will be happy living there and not take residence inside of peoples homes.

Some of the spirit houses are really cute! Others are very elaborate and yet others very simple. Sometimes you find them in the darndest of places. Cast your vote!!!

Love everyone for following!
xoxo
Croft

Posted by LadyCroft 21:46 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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