Day 2 – Sabaidee Laos

Sala Kae Koo is a park with gigantic concrete structures with Buddhist and Hindu influences. There is a similar park on the Laos side of the border, but the sculptor and his followers fled into Thailand after Laos’ political unrest during that time and created this second park. 


Nong Khai is a simple little border town. Head towards the shops along the riverfront and the indoor market where you have hardware stores, general wares shops.


Vientiane, even though it is the capital of Laos, retains its charm. French architectural buildings and signs line the streets. The highlight is the Patuxay which is a miniature Arc de Trompe. This unfinished monument is found in the middle of a park, where the locals relax and have picnics.The park itself is in the middle of a roundabout. The entire city is clean, and you even have joggers in the evening.

Vientiane – 15Jun’08
Woke up late by half hour. Still managed to take the 11 baht per pax 56 km train ride to Nong Khai, the border town between Laos and Thailand. Tuk tuk driver didn’t understand where we wanted to go. Here in Udon Thani, fewer tourists, so signs are all in Thai, and locals don’t speak english too well. Neways, after a hand gesture mimicking a constipated train and a “chugga-chugga-chugga” he got us to the railway. Reached Nong Kai at 9+. While everyone else made a beeline for the Friendship bridge, we went to this sculpture attraction on the outskirts of Nong Khai. Sala Kaew Koo, tall stone statues (25m high!) of Hindu and Buddhist influence. Went back to town, dropped at the Tha Sadet day market, which is a mish mash stretch of stalls that the locals frequent right by the Mekong. Had lunch before crossing into Laos via the Friendship bridge, and off to Vientiane.

Vientiane has more tourists, besides the angmoh backpacker types, also had groups of asian tourists who’s origin countries i cant place. Could be Thai, dind’t sound Chinese, dunno where theyre from. After dunking our stuff at this 50 000 kip joint (basic amenities, staying here tonight, SHOULD have picked somewhere nicer), went down to the Patuxay Arch, which is a bit like the Arc de Triumph in France. This Vientiane version is unfinished, and the immediate area around it made into a park. But for 3000 kip, we climbed to the top and got an birds eye view of the city. Oh yeah, before Patuxay, visited the local day market, walked around, bought some “hey ive been to lao!” type t-shirts. Dinner was at this indian food place, Nazim or something. Pretty ok, but ex. But then again, Vientiane is the capital and a tourist hub, compared to the quiet Udon Thani.

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These posts sound kinda sucky, without the pics and vids to back them up. Tomorrow will be off to Vang Vieng, where the supposed highlight is tubing down the Mekong. cheers.

Udon Thani – A dinner of grasshopper fish

Udon Thani is a town on the northeast of Thailand, near the Laos border. Not too busy, with a nice central market beside a food center selling local fare. Mainly as the launch point into Laos as well as the Ban Chiang UNESCO archaelogical dig site about 47km east of Udon Thani.


Udon Thani – 14Jun’08
Greetings. This is Red reporting from Vientiane. 10pm here and I am on day 2. The travel buddy Kris is off to get a food massage leaving me here internet shop. Pictures are missing cos this PC can’t read my htc touch, no windows m sync installed.

DAY 1 –
Singapore to Bangkok. This bit is as boring as it sounds. Transit and sat around stuffing selves at Suvarnabhumi ‘port. Then was Bangkok to Udon Thani airport. Reached at 5pm in evening. Udon Thani’s a quite little Thai town with minimal tourists running around. They normally head straight to Vientiane from the Udon Thani airport. Walked around (and around) with our gigantic backpacks before settling on a nice Mono Mansion guesthouse/hotel. Went out to the night market area for dinner. Looked around at the shops a bit. The food shops had lots of stuff I can’t eat. Pork sausages, pork balls. pork everything. And lots of stuff I wont eat. Like fried bugs, fried larva….Settled on this fish thats a lot of the shops put on display. BBQed and coated with what looks like salt. Ordered 1 (like 100 baht only) and was halfway through when Kris said theres a grasshopper stuffed into the belly of the fish…
Hokay. I retched.
Much panic later, and after poking at the fish (not me, I didn’t want anything to do with the fish by then), realised that the “grasshopper” was actually a tightly folded bunch of leaves (looks like lemongrass without the smell) and stuffed into the fish belly to give it taste. Gah.



Doi Ithanon and back home

Doi Ithanon at 2565 meters is the highest point in Thailand. It is an accessible drive up to the summit.


Doi Ithanon – 17Sep’05
Early morning went up to the summit, we were the first few.  The summit was a stretched raised wooden boardwalk meandering through the vegetation. In the morning mist, it was quite serene and exquisite. Then met up with the couple again at the twin Thai Chedis. The tourists were starting to appear around the area. Explored the chedis, including the flower garden around them. Finally left with the very nice couple who drove me back all the way to Chiang Mai. Thanked them lots, for without them i would probably be stranded halfway up the mountain.


Can’t quite recall whether I left for SG on that day itself or stayed one more night. End of Chiang Mai. =)

Doi Ithanon

Doi Ithanon at 2565 meters is the highest point in Thailand. It is an accessible drive up to the summit.


Doi Ithanon – 16Sep’05
Reached Chiang Mai in the afternoon around 1pm and got a room near the Tapae gate. I asked around and decided that I could make my way to the foot of Doi Ithanon using a public songthaew before taking the transport up the summit. The idea was to have a quick visit, catch the sunset and be back in Chiang Mai by dusk. 

Best laid plans, but I upon getting off the songthaew, I found out that the transport up stopped for the day. around 4pm i think. So i was stranded halfway up the mountain. I waited to flag some public transport and sat at the roadside stall. Fortunately a nice young Thai couple from Bangkok offered to drive me up (one of them works at Unilever) where there are basic huts and a resort to stay overnight. Now my bag is still back in Chiang Mai and I have nothing on me but my clothes. Still, I got the cash so decided to go with this arrangement. Got a room, with a towel and soap. Took dinner with the couple and a shower before hiding underneath my blanket. It’s 2000+ meters high, and very cold at night. We’ll meet up again tomorrow morning to take their car to the summit.

Myawaddy

Myawaddy is a burmese border town between Myanmar and Thailand.

Myawaddy – 16Sep’05
2pm, took a motorbike taxi to the THai Myanmar border. Tourists can cross over to Myanmar and visit the town as long as they have their passport. The Myanmar immigrations will keep the passport and you have to return to Thailand by 5pm latest. I have 3 hours.



On the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, met this ‘volunteer translator’ Thong Li, who speaks very good English. He offered to take me around. Basically Myawadee the town is very different from Thailand. Streets dusty, broken sidewalks. Lots of temples. I visited 3, in depth, since the guide was there. Explained all to me. In detail. See pics. 2nd temple even had porridge at communal gathering in the temple with the people. Got introed to the head monk. Pretty much was very lucky, brought me to market and bought some stuff as well. Actually lots more happened, but spent too long now on this PC. maybe will elaborate later.
Went back cross border, Mae Sot, had dinner at Indian place, chat with this fella who was jailed trying to illegally immgrate to Malaysia…
Yawn. Sorry. Goodnite all. Tomorrow its 1st bus out to chiangmai. Just see pics for more details lah. Damn tired, already halfway down to Bangkok…

Mae Sot

Mae Sot is the main border town between Thailand and Myanmar located in the Tak province. It houses a large Burmese refugee population.


Mae Sot – 16Sep’05
Early at 5.30 am, I dropped my key at the front desk, everyones sleeping, and rushed to take the songthaew (those 2 row pickups) to Mae Sot. Its a 6 hour ride south, on hills. No coaches go down, probably no tourists too. Starting from Mae Sariang, Im getting mistaken for thai more and more. Prob they see much less foreigners down here. Flemming the danish guy went separate ways, we said bye. He’s going up to Chiang Mai then Laos. Me, I’m off to Mae Sot. Took breakfast of coffee and 2 halfboiled eggs. The two eggs were a real bad idea. In the Songthaew, which was terribly cold, because of the wind, bumpy, motion sickness and I keep feeling the 2 eggs coming up. But the trip itself, in 6 hours, passed throught the countryside, and lots of people boarded on and off. Met a lot of villagers close up that way. Reached Mae Sot at about 2pm. Got really lost trying to orientate myself. Plus this far south, no signs were in English, and even fewer spoke the language. Mostly Thais come to tour here, from Bangkok etc. And its low season. The stupid unupdated map in Lonely Planet didnt help either. After hunting for the tourist police without success, found a guesthouse which appeared on the map. Orientated myself, dumped stuff in hotel. Then set off for Myanmar. It was 2pm.

Mae Sariang

Mae Sariang is the southernmost town of the Mae Hong Son province.  To the north is Mae Hong Son, to the east is the road leading back to Chiang Mai, and to the south is to Mae Sot. West is of course Myanmar.


Mae Hong Son – 15Sep’05
I need more time. 2pm after the village visit, rushed to take bus to Mae Sariang, thats like 4 hours south. Flemming had tons of stuff/souvenirs in his pack. Mailed home at the post office. Some screw up or what, maybe they couldnt understand him, we nearly missed the 2 o clock bus. Havent eaten anything whole day except for peanuts from the morning market. Not sure if I will go back Chiangmai after this or travel more. Reached Mae Sariang in evening. Uneventful, beside border police checking for refugees. Stayed at a very cosy guesthouse by the river. Needed sleep, cos decided to go even further south to Mae Sot. This far down in Mae Sariang, number of foreigners very much less. Guesthouse even offered us 120baht ($5), instead of normal 150. We felt that we were ripping them off, we paid 140 baht each for 2 rooms.

Mae Hong Son – Long-necked

Nai Soi is a traditional village catering to tourists near the Thai-Myanmar Northwestern border. The Padaung Long-necked inhabitants are refugees fleeing from Myanmar. The villages are set to attract the tourist dollar.


Mae Hong Son – 15Sep’05
Day 5, woke up about 6.30, went down to the morning market. Local crowd. Took in the smells and sights, nice. Early at 8 oclock, set off for Longnecked Karen village. Again got a good deal, planning everything ourselves. The agency charged 1000baht/pax, we went with Flemming’s guesthouse person and got 500baht/pax, which include the 250baht village entry fee.

The longnecked village Nai Soi was primarily catered to tourists. Fled from Myanmar and settled in Thailand. We arrived like just when the villagers were setting up their handicrafts. Since we were the only 2, plus one Taiwanese chap who was on the bus last night, we had a lot of time on the village. The agency gave us one hour at the village. We spent 2.5 hours there. Talked to the villages for a bit. Took photos. Went to their school. (You have to see the photos). Learnt that their primary source of income is the tourist flow. They dont do agriculture, they depend on tourists to sustain them. A bit exploitative, to gawk at them like tourists do, but its like their way out of a poor life. The 250baht entrance fee goes to buy necessities for the families. The school was amazing. Lots of kids from nearby villages attend the school. You see really cute 4 year old kids from the tribes, long-necked, big-eared and others. Just see the photos. (Photos lost cos imagestation closed down). As we were travelling back to town, passed by 15 van-loads of tourists (not exaggerating) going to the village. Lucky us. Avoided crowd again.


Here’s an article from the NYT – http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/20/travel/nai-soi-s-long-necked-women.html

Mae Hong Son

Mae Hong Son is the scenic capital of the Northwestern Thai province. Especially around the lake area. Not too many tourists descend on the place, even though it’s proximity to the hilltribes, nature activities actually make it a better place to serve as a base for treks out to the countryside.

Mae Hong Son – 14Sep’05
Waited in Soppong for the next bus out to Mae Hong Son. This time the bus was full as hell… Had to stand all the way for 2.5 hours. There were hill tribe people, bunch of army guys, pregnant women, one angmoh (flemming), and a whole bunch of others. Amazing how they could squeeze so many people. Nothing exciting, just that one part up a steep slope, the landslide made the road slippery. We weren’t sure what was going on. People had to get off and walk up the slope so that bus is lighter when going up. Suprisingly, the pregnant women and the tribespeople with kids all walked up. The army guys and us (we had no idea whats happening) all stayed as bus went up. Oh yeah, along the way lots of roadworks, recovery from floods.

Reached Mae Hong Son, decided to go up to Temple on Hill. Doi something its called. Took motorbike taxi. Few people there, lucky again. Traveled with the Danish guy whole day. Nice chap. Took some photos, can see entire Mae Hong Son from up there, plus the surrounding valley. Halfway through, 2 van-fuls of Israeli tourists came along and crowded the place. Went down, we had dinner at some nice restauranty place.

Which leads me to this PC now. Next day itenary : We wake up really early and visit the Longnecked village, those people with rings. Going very early to avoid the tourist crowd. hahah. Nite

Tham Lot – Off To See The Caves

Tham Lot is a cave system near Soppong, halfway between Pai and Mae Hong Son. It’s open to the public, there’s a nice park in the outer grounds. The cave itself comprises 3 subsections. 


Pai – 14Sep’05
Right, day 4. I’m done with Pai, time to go to Mae Hong Son, down the provincial capital. 9 o clock bus ride. Up and down mountains again. This time bus was almost empty. Met this Danish guy Flemming on the bus, who just finished his pilot training and taking his ‘graduation’ trip. He’s dropping midway in Soppong, to see some great limestone caves, Tham Lot. Decided to go too since Im not in a hurry to go anywhere…

Soppong, reached in 1.5 hours. Small village on the highway (no 7-Eleven), took a motorbike taxi out into the limestone park. Needed a guide carrying gas lamp to go in. Bloody gigantic limestone cave. See pics. Sure beats all those previous ones Ive seen (stong? blah. hahaha). All in all, there were 3 caves, one big one. A 2nd doll cave across the underground river, and a 3rd reachable only using bamboo rafts.

Sadly, only Cave 1 was opened today. Cos of the flood, guide said water level was one head taller than me last month, the underground bridge was washed away. Even now, rafts needed to be used at entrance area, when previously one can just walk in.
So we were the only 3 in the cave, Flemming, guide and me. with one gas lamp. Pretty exclusive, got to see a lot.

On our way down, motorbike taxi! saw a whole bunch of tourists in 4 wheel drives coming up to the caves. Imagine 40 people with gas lamps in the caves. We were so lucky again, to avoid the crowd.

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