Rambling Robert's Travels

This blog chronicals the travels of myself, Rambling Robert, on my next adventure to South America.

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I am a world traveller. I do not work as such. I have been homeless and unemployed since 1October 2003. I worked as a chef for 30 years in America.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

travel update from Louang prabang Laos

Hello everyone,
I am in Luang Prabang, a small city of about 30thousand people on the mekong river in North Central laos. Tonite is my third night here and I expect to be here for 3 more nights and then I will go back to Thailand.
since my last update I have been travelling North from Don Det first to Pakse. From Pakse i went to the bolevan plateau, which is a praticularly beautiful part of this particularly beautiful country! this is where most of the coffee and tea that is produced in Laos comes from. They grow 4 kinds of delicious coffee here. I was with a little group of peoplle in a tour arranged by Saibadee 2 guest house which is where I stayed, both times in Pakse, firts time on my way South to Don Det and then on my way North to Phonsavan. the green teas and the coffees we tasted were first quality. I dare to say the tea is even better than the malaysian tea from the Cameron Highlands that I had been so impressed with.
the bolevan plateau is also home to many "minority" tribal peoples. we visited a couple of villages where the minority folks live. it was very intersting. These people are mostle "Animists" so they worship the spirits of their dead ancestors. this is a religious system not uncommon in ancient asia. it pre-dates inuism and buddhims. The main religion here is buddhims now. but a lot of the more isolated tribes are still animist. They keep these coffins under their houses with the dead bodies of their expired family members for about 10 years. When they die they have a big feat and get wasted on a potent form of rice whiskey called Lao Lao. Then they put the remains of the departed loved one in the coffin and seal it up and after 10 years they unseal it and bury the bones. go figure!
They also smoke home grown tobacco out of a bamboo water pipe called a bong. I of course sat down with an old woman with only 2 rather rotten looking brownish reddish teeth and had a smoke. the local villagers found this quite amusing. I, being not at all acusttomed to tobacco get quite dizzy and a little off balance. I tried to keep up but called it quits after 5 or 6 good hits. I just dont see the appeal of this particular drug although I smoked camel filters as a youth...
The people in these villages have lived here for many generations. Aye Zukes for centuries, and they feel that their ancestral spirits are part of the earth.. they have "modern" schools where the youngsters all learn to read and write lao and also maths and sciences. i think the majority lao people are quite tolerant of the tribals but it is hard to say. the government here tolerates zero dissent and no criticism. the villagers all seem happy and healthy although dental hygiene is aparently unheard of.
The real joy of the bolevan plateau as with so much of Laos is the undescribably beautiful waterfalls. Since they are undescribable i wont try. We went and looked at two and the most spectacualr was at Tad Lo. another minority village, but this one has guesthouses and paved roads. As we were walking along among the white water on the marked trail, along came two villagers riding on elephants.
They were females and had no tusks. the guide explained that they are used as beasts of burden and work with the farmers. In ancient times An old king took a census and determined that Laos had one million elephants! now fewer than 2000 remain. Our guide wasnt sure but he thought there were no wild elephants left in Laos. Human encroachment and UXOs have killed them off. Pity.
From Pakse I continued north back to Savanaket for 2 days. I became travelling mates with a fellow named Marcelle from Holland in Pakse and we were on the same tour in Bolevan Platuau and shared a tuk tuk to Savanaket with another cool traveler named Leiven from Belgium. We determined to stay at the same guest house which was a good choice (i have forgotten the name) and were all going to rent bicycles and go to a buddhist stupa the next day.
Leiven was sick with some kind of travellers lower G.I. problem. and needed to be not moree than 5 metersfromthe nearest toilet, and so marcel and I rented bikes and off we wetn. It was abuot 30 km (24miles) there and back. Going there it was slightly up hill. Aye chingaso i aint so young anymore!! i huffed and Puffed and the weather was cool and breezy and it was a good exercise, for an old guy!! The bikes were not what you would call high tech, they had only one speed and it was a strain but the route was beautiful and i am glad i did it.
The stupa was okay. A stupa is like a tomb where the buddhists put relics of old saints and holy men and enlightened monks. A solemn place with lots of incense and candles and gold gilt statues. I gave a donation and an old nun said some prayers and tied a little braided string on my wrist. it is white and made of 32 strings which represent the 32 spirtis they believe inhabit a human being. this is supposed to be good luck. so far I am feeling pretty lucky!!
Next day I went north again this time to VangVien. I had been here in 2004 in the first year of my journey. The town has changed dramatically. I guess you would say for the etter. There is a lot of modernization happening here. I think the government is trying hard to benefit the people.
This town is a little pricier than it was last time but still very cheap. All the roads are paved which was NOT the case last time. It is still a lovely town and I recommentd it for anyone in this part of the world. A lazy hang around kind of place that is famous for people taking inner tube rides down the beautiful river. It used to be a big druggie hang out but there are signs up everywhere that smoking spliffes is not tolerated and the locals warn against it. 5 year priseon terms could result.The word is that If the local gendarmes see you they will demand a 500 USD "fine" on the spot. they dont take plastic and they dont give reciepts and if you dont got the dough you go to the can!! Here I met up with Leiven again and a cool Austrian green party political scientist named Kurt. We travelled together to Phonsavan.
Phonsavan is the main reason i came back to Laos. Ever since i was a teenager i have wanted to see the plain of Jars. I hearde about it during the Vietnam American war here called the second indochine war. the French wre incensed because they said America was bombing the Jars. Nixon denied it.I looked it up in an encyclopedia.(We didnt have interent when I was a teenager!) the jars are betwen 2500 and 3000 years old. no one really knows who built them or why. the largest is about 2 meters tall (6.5feet) and weighs 3 metric tonnes (6500 pounds). they are indeed a very curious site. I dont know really why I wanted to see them but I always have wanted to and so I did. It wasnt as impressive as I had built it up to be in my mind. but still well worth the journey and effort.
The truth is that indeed we did bomb the plain of jars. it was a secret at the time. but now a well know fact. The area is littered with thousands of UXOs(unexploded ordnance). this is the most bombed part of the world. More bombs were dropped secretly on Laos than all the tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan in World war two. This bombing was against international and American law.The past is done.
The problem is that most of the bombs (not all) were CBUs. Cluster Bomb Units. they disperse little hand grenade size bomblets called bombies by the locals and only about 70%detonated. The UXOs are then land mines. If you step on one it is curtains for you!
There are said to be over a million UXOs still here. You must walk only on the paths marked by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). it is weird to be walking through a minefield, even a marked one. In each of the three Jars sites I visited, the MAG has a big poster telling how many square meters they have cleard and how many bombies were found and detonated. The lowest number was 22. The only areas cleared are the pathway to the sites and the sites themselves which are fenced in with bamboo poles and barbed wire.
Except for the Jars and all the war junk left (we also visited a destroyed russian tank)behind, Phonsavan is not very intersting and so after two nights i went to Luang Probang which is where I am writing this update from.
I was here in 2004 also, and this place has really grown! it is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is a beautiful old Provincial capital and just filled with extraordinary colonial architecture and beautiful buddhist temples and I love this town, although I sadly admit it is an overpriced (by Lao standards) tourist trap now. I will still be here for 5 days and 6 nights because...well because I just love this town! I am staying in Moukdavan guest house, which is the same place i stayed in last time. I even got the same "mini suite" as last time. It is a beautiful old French colonial home. that is all for now. Next update from thailand.
As always I will leave you with a couple of quotes.
Peace and Love to all who read these words
"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."-Martin Luther King
On the authority of Anas bin Malik, the servant of the messenger of Allah, that the prophet said :
"None of you [truely] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."


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