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Slow Boat to Luang Prabang with Sara (Part 2/2)

                       Sara on the Slow Boat

                       Sara on the Slow Boat

I walked by a guy selling Khao Soi and he was again in the traditional Thai denim/cotton shirt and pants with a rattan safari hat. I wasn’t sure if it was the right place so I keep on walking to the back of the market looking to see if there was another one.  

For all I know, he could be faking it.  

Of course I was wrong, he was the guy selling the best Khao Soi in the Sunday night market, and after coming back to see so many Thai people sitting and slurping on his noodle, I just have to try another bowl.  There are a set of veggies for you to add into your bowl, also the Chinese pickled cabbage and fresh raw onion.  Immediately after the first bite you know this is something special the crispy noodle was just the right crispiness.  The egg noodle was the right size and texture, chewy with al-dente feel to every noodle and before the thought of

this is real good” passed your mind the bowl was empty.  

Sara passed by and see me finishing a bowl, but she was already full and decided not to try it, even as I insisted that this was the best thing in the market, if not the whole of Chiang Mai.  Sara was really into green curry and everything she had the option of ordering, she would every time eat it.  Also she was into the simple mince pork or chicken stir-fried with sweet basils and chilis with a little bits of garlic on top of rice and a fried egg on top of everything.  

 

This dish is equivalence of a hamburger for Thai lunch.  I don’t think it is common in Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, but the simple wholesomeness of the half raw runny egg yolk on top of this dish mixed with the secret ingredient of oyster sauce with your daily dose of MSG would take it to the next level.  We usually put a dash of ‘Nam Pla Prik’ which sit on most table of Thai quick cook restaurant, consisted of fish sauce, lime juice (hopefully made from real lime), and small thinly sliced fresh bird eyes chilis. That’s the real crazy spicy chili.  Even-though they are real small, they can still be extremely spicy the the uninitiated to the capsaicin effect.

 

It is interesting that chili pepper came after the Columbian Exchange, which meant that no one in Asia had a taste of it before 1500’s. 

Scooter and monks collecting alms

Scooter and monks collecting alms

Now proper Thai food are known for this burning sensation. And if you can eat spicy food, life become very interesting trying everything the food culture in Thailand have to offer.  It was unfortunate that Sara was not into spicy thing, but by the end of the trip I got her to try some quite spicy Laotian food by the time she was departing for the Southern Island.  

I was feeling pretty woozy by the end of dinner

After we finished the Sunday market walk, I can only think that I have to go back to get a rest at the hostel.  

As we walk back I can feel my legs are loosing their energy and my muscles are just not wanting to keep walking anymore.  

Each step was an agony now...

I have the feeling that only will the long rest for night can help me recovered the next morning.  Under my feverous condition I was thinking that if I don’t book all our accommodation all the way to Luang Prabang now, it would not be so smooth and I didn't want to be carrying my sick self walking around town to look for a place.

 

So I decided to just call up all the places I used last time to book them and using internet to book the worse part of the trip at the slow boat to Luang Prabang midway stop in Pak Beng.  I just book a place that look the most comfortable without paying way too much.  After that I went down stair to ask for an extra bottle of water and as we got back upstair, I just went up to my room and just passed out on my bed.  Then about half-pass mid-night when I woke up and as I was feeling pretty awful with the cold and the fever, headache, and sore throat. I decided to walk downstair to the bottom of the hostel and grab a free bottle of water from the refrigerator.

 

Right before I got out of the room, I decided not to bring the key and not lock the door thinking there is no one to come in to steal anything. I walked downstairs to the first floor and at the bottom of the staircase there is a door that separated the small ‘lobby’ and the staircase upstair.  I open the door and close it without realizing that it would lock behind me. By the time I came back with the water, it just notice that now I have been lock out from the comfort of our bedroom and the bathroom.  I keep banging on the door loudly but no one can hear me the hostel was pretty empty, I believe that night there was only Sara and me and another couple of American girls.  But not of them can hear me now.  I keep thinking that I only have to open the lock somehow and try to pick at it with paper clips and other things. But It was no avail.  

 

I was stuck at the lobby only the refrigerator and lots of water but no bed or no bath.  After half an hour of trying to pick the lock, I settle into the space and try to see if I can make it more comfortable.  Then I got the urge to pee and realized that there is no toilet on the first floor.  I had to come up with someway.  The first thought was to pee on the street, but that seems a little barbaric.  The area was kind of a local shophouse in the alley way that was typical of Thailand, but anyway I need to go soon.  Finally I got out of the front door and look for a place to relief myself, then immediately in front of the hostel there was a trash can! So that was where I went for the less of the night to urinate.   And I kept going the whole night, my thought was to drink a lot of water, like gallon and gallon so I can get better the next day.  So a gallon going in was also a gallon coming out. That trash can was full in the morning.  The street light was coming in through the front door pretty bright and it was keeping me up into the morning.

 

 

 

So I had to find a space behind a coffee table to hide my eyes and I grabbed a pillow from the sofa, which was too small for me to sleep on, so I was laying on the floor with rattan mats and it was good for a few hours of sleep at the time before I woke up again to pee outside.  Once the Sun came up it was close to 6am. The American girls came down very early and I was able to tell help to open the door for me, then back to the room to get another 2 hours of sleep on a proper bed. That next day, Sara and the hostel owner was surprised that I had to sleep downstair the whole night.  the owner asked why I don't call her, but I didn’t have anything on me when I came downstair, and If I had a phone I would have call Sara to come down to open the door first without the need to ask the owner to came from her home.  It was one adventurous night for me, and a lesson on taking your key, and phone with you wherever you go.  

 

 

I decided to go get a rental scooter from the place that have been renting to me 2 times before, they had a pretty new bikes and only asked for a deposit of 3,000 baht.  But once I got to the shop the girl at the shop that rented to me the first time told me that they no longer rent to Thai National anymore.  Her reason was that they had too many trouble with Thai people renting their bikes.  I wasn’t how that would be bad for their business, but ok so they don’t rent to me with my Thai ID card, I said I am also an American, but I did not bring my passport with me.  Her answer was no passport, no bike.  So, I walked to another place right in front of the street where the hostel was at. And it was 5,000 baht deposit and I had to leave my Thai ID, it was a decent click with empty tank not like the other place which have full tank when you get a bike. Anyway it will do, just had to go to the closest gas station and fill it up, and sure, you filled it almost full since you don’t think 40 baht was enough to ride around the whole day so I get another 40 baht on top of the first 40 baht.  

 

But of course 40 baht was more than enough for the whole day of riding.  We rode up to Doi Suthep to go see the Wat Doi Suthep.  As sped up the hill, it get cooler and cooler the higher the elevation.  And at the Doi Suthep temple, you needed to go up the long staircase of more than 300 steps to the temple which at my current condition I declined and tell Sara to head up to the temple on her own.  I just got a bowl of noodle and sit at a cafe to wait for her to come down.  I briefed her about this temple a little and told her to make sure to take in the spectacular view of Chiang Mai City.  By the time she finished and head down from the temple, we jumped back on the scooter and rode to the Phu Ping palace, which was only a few more miles, but during this ride you can feel the weather get much cooler and the air was reminiscence of Alpine forest. I just had the feeling that I would feel more sick if we kept stay up here long. But Sara was quick at the Palace.  The only that took time was getting the sarong to wear so she can be properly dress to go into the palace.  After about 20 minutes wait she came back out and said it was not worth the ticket and the cost of the sarong rental to just go into to see a garden.  So, we sped back down the Suthep hills and back into Chiang Mai.  Visit a couple of important temples and museum then we were back to return the scooter and grabbed a Grab Taxi to the bus station.  We had an hour and a half at the station, so I introduced her to the massage place upstair of the station which was really a great place to get a massage.  

 

I had one of the best there last trip, just so relaxing for 2 hours. But as I was having a fever, they recommend me to just get a foot massage with was not something I really like but it was have to do.  We had a great time there and afterward we realized that it was raining very hard outside.  It was very fortunate for us to have been at the station all along and now we didn’t have to fight the rain to come here. The bus was just waiting for us to get on downstair without being wet and cold.  So the VIP bus ticket that we got earlier paid off now, we were on a comfortable bus right all the way to Chiang Rai, with only the cold A/C to content with.  I broke out my tower and used it was a blanket, which Sara got her scurf, we were riding in style. It rained on and off, heavy and light all the way from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. When we got into Chiang Rai it was still raining and got to our guesthouse on the back of a red public pickup truck or “Songthaew,” which literally means 2 rolls of seat in Thai.  They are essentially working as small public bus and taxi roll into one in the Thai countryside.

 

We got to our guesthouse at 10pm and start to ask the guest-house people about something to eat, since we didn’t want to walk in the rain we ask if they still serve dinner.  They said no, it’s too late, and they also said that it is a Thai Mother day which is the Queen Birthday in Thailand.  That would mean that everything was likely closed that night. We just got a bowl of instant-noodle each to fill up our stomach for the night.  The Lady at the guesthouse see me quite sick, so she offered me a huge mug of ginger, lime, with honey which I manage to almost empty the what left of half a small squeeze bottle. I also got a couple of industrial straight Ibuprofen to help me with my high fever. I thought of Sara day tour and decided on getting her a tour of the Chiang Rai area by van the next day, this way I can take the whole day to rest and recovered.  

That whole night it was raining cats and dogs.  The rain was making so much noise!  The wind was howling like crazy! 

I was up 5 times during the night to listen to the thunders and rain drops all night.  Both the A/C and the fan was unnecessary with the unusually comfortable low temperature. 

 

 

The next morning after full breakfast, the came by and pick her up the the day tour.  I was crossing my finger and hope that it would be really good tour for her. and told her to take lots of pictures and report how good it was later.  That day was really just a long day of naps and hanging around watching youtube all day.  It was exactly what I need to rest and recover from by cold.  The day was sunny and I was feeling much better by the afternoon and walked out to look for a nearly restaurant, and I sat down to have a Hainanese Chicken Rice right in front of the street of the guesthouse.  I rested until that night time, when Sara came back from the tour, then we walked out to the downtown Chiang Rai where there is a beautiful Clock Tower which was decided by the same guy who did the White Temple for Wat Rong Khun.  We just have some Thai/Chinese style porridge and end the night right after taking some photos of the Clock Tower. 

          German Guy with us on the Redbus

 

        German Guy with us on the Redbus

         Sara at the White Temple

         Sara at the White Temple

 

The next day was to be a very long journey day for us to cross the Thai/Lao Border and catch the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang.  Since we will rock and roll from a very early time, I called the taxi call center to order a car, but there is an extra charge for that, so I decided to went with Grab Taxi instead.  The driver call me back to confirm the time of 5:45am since the red bus for Chiang Khong was gonna leave by 6am.

 

 

When morning came, we were already packed and locked and loaded for our public bus ride in the morning. We forgo our breakfast to catch the red bus. We got on the bus and met up with another German backpacking kid who is doing his gap year right after graduating from his university majoring in biochemistry.  It was a good morning ride all the way to the border, which I learned the hard way last time that you needed to get off at the Thai/Lao Friendship bridge where the new border crossing is located, instead of heading into town of Chiang Khong and have to back tracked by a Tuk Tuk to the border crossing.  The three of us share the Tuk Tuk cost.

At the border we cross easily enough after Sara cleared her decease control and got a reentry permit from the immigration officer at the border. 

                           Kuang Si Waterfall

                           Kuang Si Waterfall

It cost her 1,000 baht to do that.  We ran to the border service government bus as it was leaving, got on and ride to the P.D.R. Laos which we say stands for Please Don’t Rush Laos due to the relaxing nature of people, culture, and how things are run in Laos like bus and boat schedule as well as how relaxing everyone there seems to be.  

 

From the border we rode a pick up truck to where the slow boat pier located, and from my previous trip, I made sure I exchanged the Thai baht to Laos Kip right after the immigration.  

 

Actually I made the mistake of using the ATM machine which give me a very bad exchange rate but it was just enough to cover the cost of our slow boat tickets and I was still ahead with more than 200 baht to spare.  I make sure we got the best seat on the boat, these are seats at the front of the boat that face forward, and not the ones that face each other, those will be use by local laos getting on and off the boat during the cruise as people come in and out during each stop along the way.  

So these were like musical chairs where you will be squeeze by locals, scooter, and stuffs that Laotians’ luggages which they usually pack into used rice sack, all these are being transported along the Mekong river by our slow boat in the direction of Luang Prabang.

For the front half belong to the locals laotians, the slow boats are regularly used as a transport by locals and they were getting on and off along the way with a much shorter distant trip than the backpackers and most doesn’t travel the whole length of this route from the border all the way to Luang Prabang like the foreign tourists. 

                          On the Slow Boat

                          On the Slow Boat

 

The boat we got on this time was a little bigger than the one I got on last time. It was also equipped with 2 bathrooms with the Asian style squatting toilet.  I preferred the last time boat, it was a little more cozy but I have a comfortable seat in the front with wooden bench.  This time the seats were taken from automobile, with a small reclining ability, but without the seats being attached to the floor of the boat, it was not really more comfortable in that sense.  

 

I would guess that most people would choose to travel by plane instead of a slow journey by boat with locals unless you were looking for a more authentic experience or need to kill time instead of money.  But once you forget about the comfort level, boat can bring you much closer to the local life and see how people really live in this poor country, who when you think carefully about them, they are rich in the heart, doing their best with little materials’ comfort.  It’s a big contrast to our country where huge advance in development have taken place or in the process trying to improve our lots in the world standing while loosing a little of our soul in a trade off to the richer world of material success.  

 

Are we more happy than our poorer neighbors? Must be right? or maybe not…

 

Any way you can decide only after you have seen both side of the fence.  After the first 6 hours that afternoon riding along with view of magnificence and best example of the rain forest of South East Asia growing on the hills and mountains of Northern Laos, we made an overnight stop in a town of Pak Beng.  

                     Bike and Local Laotians

                     Bike and Local Laotians

From the first look at the pier when we arrived, this town primary economic activity must has been the daily arrival of the backpacking tourists, which trigger the group of about 25 touts who were trying to get the tourists coming out of the boat to go to their hostel or guesthouses.  Sara and I got off and waited for our bags to be off load. From my experience last time in this small town, I have already booked 2 rooms for us in a place that look good on the photos and have a reputation to be very clean and next to the pier so we don’t have to walk far.  Once we got the place, the people at this guesthouse show us our room but then mentioned that A/C was not included in the price and ask for the remote control back.  

 

They wanted 200 baht extra for each room, but I negotiated for 100 baht for just Sara’s room, and since I was sick, I was just going to sleep without the use of an A/C.  We then went out to eat at the place opposite this guesthouse which I tried last time I was here and their noodle was pretty good.  Sara ordered stir-fly sweet basil with minced pork.  I had a bowl of Lao style Khao Soy with topping of minced pork which look closer to Vietnamese Pho than the Chiang Mai style curry Khao Soi.  

 

My first thought of Laotian food would be that it is saltier than Thai food.  Thai people seem to have a sweeter tooth.  Lao food wherever we tried, the restaurant would have a condiment of MSG right on top of every table.  Maybe that would go to help explain some of the saltiness.  Is MSG going to kill you, I’m not sure too.  A popular belief in the States is that large doses of MSG can cause headaches and other feelings of discomfort, known over there as the "Chinese restaurant syndrome," but double-blind tests fail to find evidence of such a reaction, in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration test back in 2012.  So I would not mind eating a little of it while I am here in Laos.  But at home we would rarely put this chemical in our food, unless I was eating instance noodle.  It’s interesting how most of the food borne allergies happen a lot in the first world countries.  In the developing countries, it is pretty rare to find too many people who develop food allergy when they are older, maybe the only exception is Lactose Intolerance which is very wide spread in most East Asian countries including Thailand.  

 

After dinner we when back to our guesthouse and I felt fast asleep until the next morning when we got up and went out to breakfast, at least unlike my last trip we had hot water for shower.  We got to the pier and another thing unlike my last trip was that we got on the same boat that took us here to go all the way to Luang Prabang.  Maybe due to the sizes of the boats that they use to run this routes.  At one point on the long journey it start to pour heavy rain.  

                Tiny Little Ferry Boat at a Village Stop

                Tiny Little Ferry Boat at a Village Stop

As the rain was getting harder, the boat captain made a turn to port, then a huge amount of water started to shower all the passenger on the left side (Starboard side) of the boat the wind was so strong that half of the boat passenger was getting wet.  Everyone scrabble to the other side of the boat to avoid getting wet.  

 

Then people notice that there are plastic curtains that was already in place for the rain we all just have had to untie the plastic string to release all the curtains.  And that was what everybody did almost in unison, then 5 second later we had the whole length of the left side of the boat covered.

 

Then another 5 second later the boat have turned to the other side and the left in turn is now received that same treatment with rain streaming into everyone. So we copy the right side people and deployed the rain cover on our side as well. 

           Women from Small Village Along the Mekong

           Women from Small Village Along the Mekong

                 Canvas are down for the downpour

                 Canvas are down for the downpour

So after everyone along the side of the boat wrestle with the rain plastic canvases, we were all safe from the wet rain.  After about 10 minutes of heavy rain, it stop to a trickle for another 5 minutes then the rain stoped and we were able to see the sun again.  The boat made a brief stop to pickup more passengers at this village, but this time the they had to bring one man on the back of a small 3 wheelers pickup scooter. I can tell that he was looking very sick.  It look 2-3 guys to load him on to our slow boat and his family came along for the long journey to Luang Prabang.

 

A Little later on after the boat have left the pier Sara was talking to other Spanish speaking passenger and was able to get some understanding of the man illness.  It seems that he have been having a strong headache for over 2 months without any medicine at the village disposal able to help.  I assumed he might have some form of brain tumor and probably need a sophisticated and a very complicated surgery. 

                     Very Sick Man Coming on the Boat

                     Very Sick Man Coming on the Boat

 

Which would means he needed a very good hospital.  Then I remember that Laos have one of the lowest number of doctor per capita in the world.  Does this mean that he would have to travel to Thailand for a treatment or maybe there is a volunteer force of doctor without border that would look after him here in Laos? Has his family bring him to traditional healers and they might have exhausted all their supposed abilities to heal him, and have given up on treating by trying to chase away the evil spirit(s) that might have caused his headache?  Is he being forwarded to the big hospital in Vientiane for treatment by the government. How is his family going to pay for the treatment and does the communist government in Laos help with the medical funding. Laos P.D.R only spends less than 5% of it’s budget on health care system in the country.  UNICEF considered the effort to construct a primary health care system in Laos to have failed in it’s entirety.  According to a book by Ireson, W. Randall.  

 

 

This help to remind me that the health care system in Thailand have advanced years ahead of our poorer neighbor.  And it is something that you could rely on in time of sickness, without worrying about the high price like in the good old USA.  Where the birth of my first son would have cost us more than $16,000 with out insurance.   Compare that to the hospital bills for my second son, it was only less than $3,000 at the best private hospital in Thailand.  It was at Bumrungrad International which was as modern and advance as any hospital in America. It is no wonder that Thailand is one of the top destination for medical tourism in Southeast Asia region.  Sara mentioned about the healthcare system in Colombia, which was mostly run by government without much input of the healthcare professionals.

 

She told me that her boyfriend is a medical doctor in Colombia.  Anyway the medicine she passed me which I took the night before was working pretty well, and I was feeling better by the hour on the boat and after more than 16 hours for both days boat ride, and the night of good sleep at the town of Pakbeng.

I can feel that my energy was slowly coming back to me!

            Laotian Girl Watching the Scenery Goes By

            Laotian Girl Watching the Scenery Goes By

 

Maybe the clear air along the way and the simple big bowl of noodle the night before help along a little bit as well.  Once we got to Luang Prabang the pier that the slow boat stop at was about 10 km out of town and we had catch a Songthaew service at the desk set up by authority and pay 20,000 kip to get into town.  The driver ask for our hotel, but I just tell him to drop us at the center of town.  I already called the old guesthouse that I tried last time, which as good enough for our use. I just make sure Sara had a room with a bathroom inside.  This was a place a house back from the view of the Mekong river.  If you hang out at the fence of the house you could watch the Mekong flow by.  

But that was the last trip!    

 

 

For this time there was a construction right where you could look out to see the view.  It was mostly blocked this time which was too bad.  It was better than walking with heavy bags to look for another that you can never sure if it would be good until you walk in and inspect.  For the first night I just walk with Sara to see the night market and try to get something local to eat on the street, which has a very good selection of Laotian style street food which is not too different than Thai Isan (Northeast Region) food.  

Isan people are essentially half Thai half Laotian.  They have so much similarity as far as spoken language, cultural festival, food.  Most of the past war between Thai people and Laotian have cause the resettlement of many Laotian who were force to migrate across the Mekong river to the Thai side of the border.  

                 Young Monks passing by a VW bug

                 Young Monks passing by a VW bug

As the evening wore on I got to talk to the Thai guy who has now become the boyfriend of the guesthouse owner/manager.  He was talking about getting his own place last time, but now he told me that most house have already been brought up by investor, most bend on converting them into guesthouse for tourists.  So, he is now semi-permanently settle into Luang Prabang which is actually reversing the past 250 years trend. I was now more concern with Sara sightseeing tour of the Luang Prabang area.  The plan was to have her take the join tour with the van to see the Beautiful Kuang Si waterfall and anything to the west of the city.  Last time I went up to Kuang Si Fall, I had to do a 45 hike up the fall to the top to really enjoy this spectacular view and a swim in the pool high up on top of the main fall.  But under my condition, I decide not to bring her myself and just buy a day tour for her to join just like in Chiang Rai. 
 

 

Then later that night, the light went out for about an hour.  We took out our flashlight and the neighborhood went quiet for about 15 minutes.  Then people in the other guesthouse and hotel started to make noise, some singing, maybe other dancing.  The Thai de facto manager told me to look up at the sky and we can clearly see all stars, without the city light to complete.  They were so brightly lit and you can clearly see the million of stars.  Something you would not see if the light were on.  About an hour later the light came back on and everyone was ready to call it a night. 

                Kuang Si Waterfall

                Kuang Si Waterfall

The next morning, I think I made a good decision on my part, I would not want to be hiking while I am recovering from a cold.  Kuang Si Fall is one of the most memorable waterfalls that I have the chance of swimming in.  It’s not too big or too small.  It’s not too cold to swim comfortably in.  The weather was just perfect for a climb and a swim at the top which was a good work out.  After she came back from the fall we had an evening of walking to the Phou Si Hill which has a temple on top with a wonderful view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside.  

 

 

It was just right next the old king palace, now turned into a museum for tourist to explore.  The palace would be for tomorrow.  We had a wonderful evening of clear sky just for that few hours.   Late that night we found Utopia!  Which was a bar/restaurant by smaller river on the Eastside of Town.  Sara ordered Larb or Lao style mint salad with minced chicken, and I had a great buffalo hamburger.  We went back to our guesthouse for a few shots of Lao Lao with is a stronger rice wine made from sticky rice that the guesthouse Thai manager got from the corner store.  It tasted close to Japanese Sake but a little smell of rice still noticeable.  Then we quickly call it a night because I planed to show Sara the early morning ritual of the monks doing their alms round.   The next day, after seeing the monks do their round at 5am we went for a breakfast by the Mekong river, it was a really local place that was full of Thai tourists that morning getting their old style coffee and the Chinese donut that becoming harder and harder to find in Thailand. 

   Me and the Bears from the previous trip

   Me and the Bears from the previous trip

                     Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill

                     Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill

 

For us we had poach eggs that was served in a small coffee glass that was so common in Thailand in the last.  It just reminded me of Bangkok when I was still young back more than 35 years ago, I still remember the poach eggs was still very common for breakfast.  Now no longer you can find that on the street or any restaurant.  A stay in Luang Prabang just remind you how much things have change and how much they have stay the same in Thailand.  Also it make you think how you do you really need in your daily life.  Here Mother Nature is still strong and pollution is mostly from the few automobiles that still only few people can afford.  Technologies are really a two edged swords, where it provides convenience but cost us in term of the long term degradation of our environment. Any tree hugger will fall in love with this big town in Laos.  And you get to understand the P.D.R in front of P.D.R. Laos, really means “Please Don’t Rush” head long into the pollution trap like what is happening in Bangkok and else where in the quickly developing South East Asia cities.  I have a secret wish that the countryside in Thailand would remain pristine without the illegal logging and the new shiny cars and are now being pump out from the factory in the industrial park in Thailand.  But I'm sure that most people preferred to drive their new toys and show off their new found wealth than to go out to see the forest.  But enough with my rattling on about my secret green world wish.  Who rather ride a bicycle to work in a hot sweltering sun in Bangkok when you can ride a large air-condition luxury automobile instead.  

                                    Haw Pha Bang

                                    Haw Pha Bang

 

It’s a lost cause for the planet, and our future generations.  On our last morning in Luang Prabang, I didn’t really have any plan. It was 8am.  We asked the Songteaw driver who always waited in front of the guesthouse if we can go to another waterfall and he recommend Tad Sae fall.  So, we check out and pack our back, throw it into his pick up truck and quickly head out.  After about 25 minutes drive out of town we got to a parking lot by the side of a big creek where many vans and trucks had already been parked. There were a bunch of very little Longtail boats waiting to take us to the fall. We paid 10,000 KIP each and off we go.  As a compare and contrast to the Kuang Si fall, this place is kind of a hidden gem.  Not crowded like Kuang Si, and there is an elephants camp that does cost an arm and a leg to see them.  If you are not into riding them then just go to feed and only to touch and take photos would make a nice memory of an elephant interaction without taking the expensive elephant tour selling in town.  When we got there, we were the first people to there, and Sara just went in to the pool first.  

     Sara on the Tiny Longtail that ferry us to the Tad Sae fall

     Sara on the Tiny Longtail that ferry us to the Tad Sae fall

 

The water was pretty cool in the morning, but after a short swim we forget the coldness.  When no one is around you feel like you have the whole fall to ourself, which make it special.  Then as morning wore on more and more people arrived.  It was maybe 70 percent tourist and 30 local.  Eventual by late morning it was full of boisterous people climbing up on rope that had been tied to the tree and swinging into the water.  I was recovering so didn’t want to stay in the water for too long.  I told Sara I was going to be at the restaurant on a higher ground over looking the swimming area new the swing with the nice view of local kids and teens and their parents, effeminate Thai guys and and a group of Thai girls, European backpackers, and a Japanese family, young Koreans and Chinese tourists.  After I had a pot of mostly twigs hot tea, then we decided to make a quick departure and be on our way back to the airport in time for a lunch and to catch our flight back to Bangkok. 

                  Nice cool pool at Tad Sae Waterfall

                  Nice cool pool at Tad Sae Waterfall

 

Our driver took a short cut to the airport which was very rough dirt road just right outside of the airport for a few kilometers.  Then in a flash we were at departure terminal of the Luang Prabang international airport.  We arrive early, like one and a half hour early.  I remembered from my last time here that there wasn’t much food available in the airport due to the high rent. But this airport’s international terminal is very small you would run from one end to the other in 3 minutes.  So Sara and I walked out of the airport and ask the people waiting to pick up arriving passenger where would be a good place to grab our lunch.  They all pointed to a few small restaurants across the street from the airport.

 

We went to one of the place and ordered a few Laotian dishes, there was Lao style Larb, which is sour and spicy salad with lots of lemongrass, mint, garlics and chilis with mince duck.  And a Laos Tom Yam with house chicken, the only different from a Thai style is the lack of coconut milk and a very skinny chicken which you would call free range chicken.  We also have grilled Water buffalo meat and a 2 order of sticky rice.  All to be chase down with a couple of 1 letter bottle of Beer Lao.  As I promised anyone who come on this tour will get free Laos beer the whole journey, I reminded Sara that I will pay for the beer and the food too since it is our last meal together.  As it turned out every dish were a much bigger portion sized than what I expected and we had a hard time finishing everything.  

 

The food was delicious and only if we had another person to share with it would still be enough for all three of us to enjoy.  Should have invited our driver to stay and have lunch with us.  Back in Don Mourng Airport, Sara and I hug and said our good buy.  She got another flight to Suratthani to catch.  Her destination is actually Koh Samui, but she could not find a flight from Luang Prabang, so her plan was to catch a bus and ferry service which I recommended Lom Phraya Catamaran service which was the fastest and most convenient to Samui and other island on that side of the Kra Peninsula.  That concluded my 10 days tour with her which was a real learning experience for me on how to do this new tour.  My only concern is the Elephant riding part, which is something I know a lot of animal lover would find offensive and I could omit it from this program all together.  Anyway you guys should let me know if this is something we can do without in our itinerary

                  Luang Prabang International Airport

                  Luang Prabang International Airport

Slow Boat to Luang Prabang with Sara (Part 1/2)

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On a rainy afternoon in July, I got a message from WhatsApp, this is a messaging app that I hardly ever use, but it’s now going to make my life much easier.  It was Sara, she was someone my previous client from Vietnam recommended me to be her guide during her travel in Thailand.  It was very fortunate for me since I have been planning on selling our Slow Boat to Luang Prabang tour since the beginning of the year.  This is a program which we have been working on for a group of American University Students.

 

They were interested in having us do a custom tour for them for the Northern Thailand and Southern Islands tour.  But for our part of the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang, I added as quick break away from Thailand and I was trying to create a little more of an adventure in Laos.  This would also be a quest for the rare greenery of the Mother Earth that we have less and less of here in Bangkok.  Which I am sure is causing some psychological problem for us city-dwellers.   I guess it was a way for a bunches of us city-slickers like Sara and I to give ourselves a treat of getting closer to the forests and hills of Laos.  

So, I have done some scouting a couple of time before by taking the sleeper train up from Bangkok Hua Lamphong station.  The train route was to be a very scenic railroad start of the adventure up into the Northern Part of Thailand especially through parts of very beautiful and hilly Chiang Mai area by way of Lampang, where the terrain make change to a more interesting landscape than the flat plane of Central Area near Bangkok, my second city of angels which I was very used too.  We have been doing some planing for already did 2 trips up to Chiang Rai during the past several months to scout out what we need to do and see up in the Lanna area which is which was actually a different Kingdom 200 years ago.  The idea was to use the over night train to cut cost on a night of hotel as well as getting transport up to the North sleep most of the way there, which I did with my wife on our first scouting trip. It was all fine and good except we forgot the elephant part of the trip.  The elephant experience we planned for was a place that is up in Lampang which was a stop before reaching Chiang Mai.  

 

I had to go check out this place the second time which I did very briefly with another Vietnamese friend before this trip.  Sara was actually the one WhatsApp me about her trip through Thailand and she wanted me to go pick her up from the Airport.  She is a divorcee in the 50s who just got the travel bug bad.  From working in corporate environment to taking her time to travel the world. And of cause her first chance was to do Japan and South East Asia first. Since she has a Convention that she had to attend in Singapore, which meant traveling from her home country of Colombia. You can imagine the long flight from South America all the way to Singapore with stops in Tokyo, Kyoto then on to Northern, Central, Southern Vietnam, then on to Siem Reap, Cambodia to the Angkor Wat. That was the last city before she flew into Don Mueang International Airport.

 

I got to the airport half an hour before her flight arrival time. That was a bad idea. As I waited at the airport she sent me a picture of the line at the Immigration.  My feel a fever coming on.  During the long wait for Sara, I walked to a convenient store on the departure level to look for fever reducer and a drink. But, it was not really helping me to feel any better.

                        Night Market by the River (Nice Tourist Trap)

                        Night Market by the River (Nice Tourist Trap)

It turn out that it was the time that all the Chinese tourist decided to arrive in Bangkok at the same time and the line at the immigration was 2 hours long.  As I was waiting for her I started to feel under the weather and a light cold that I had the night before which made me vomited in the middle of the night follow with a diarrhea in the morning was developing into a full blown flu symptom with fever and headache.  As we met and were leaving the airport she immediately ask about getting a tourist SIM at the airport, but another 10 Chinese tourists thought of the same thing and it was a long wait at the phone service at the airport.  So, I told her we can take care of the that later tonight anyway by getting into any 7/11 in Bangkok.  After I drop her off at her hostel. This hostel was a very small place on Pan street near the Hindu Temple on Silom road which is essentially a little Indian town by.  We walked to have dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant that I frequented with my wife for our yoga and meditation class.  Anyway it was only less than a block from her hostel, so that was easy enough.  Then I went on to bring her to the Asiantique night market, the place is very touristic and maybe make a good night out for family but not really for a place for a backpacker looking for authentic experience.  It was still a useful trip to the market since we could walk over to get the local Thai SIM card for her phone which will be very useful for the whole trip for her.  Since we left the airport not wanting to get the unlimited 7 days package or the 10 days package that was a little expensive, we got the 8 days refillable as Sara requested instead. After dinner and night market I went home feeling like taking a rest and getting a good night sleep for tomorrow we planned for a big day of the old city tour, we were going to see the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Pho or the temple of the Reclining Buddha.  

 


The plan was to cross over the river to see Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn as well before taking a taxi to meet up with my boat on the canal.  That night after I went back home I was feeling a sickness coming on slowly, and I was still thinking if I can bailed out from 10 days of traveling.  But, It really was too late to back out now.

                   Things we see and tasted on the Road (Not the Lizard!)

                   Things we see and tasted on the Road (Not the Lizard!)

 

Afterward I quickly went to look for fever medicine and hope that it would not turn this trip into a another nightmarish travel episode.  I woke up the next morning feeling much better than yesterday, and was ready to do this day tour for Sara. The night before we were already chatting about what would be the appropriate outfit to go into the Temples, and the Grand Palace. I have been doing the Grand Palace tour in Bangkok several times after the passing of King Rama the 9th.  And they have change some of the procedure to get in especially the part of the what is appropriate for you to pass into the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple.  

 

Of course with the mourning of the passing of our King, only Thai people are now allowed to go inside the Grand Palace proper, where the King body is lying in state until October 26 when his body will be cremated according to the Thai traditional rite.  Thanks goodness, tourists are still now allow into the Emerald Buddha where most tourists actually want to see anyway.  Except I like to show the museum of weapons as well as the Museum of the Emerald Buddha which are both located within the Grand Palace, but both are closed during the mourning period.  So, we will just see as much as what we are allowed to see.  When I show up at her hostel, she was in long tight legging pants with an appropriate top.  But the tight legging is not going to fly at the entrance to the Emerald. But her response was very casual,

“I will just buy one of the pants at the entrance, since I will need it in the future anyway.”

After making sure she understood that it might take a long time to get inside the Palace due to the pants.  We head out by the BTS (Bangkok's "Modern" Skytrain System)  being on a Saturday, it was empty of people, which make me realized after half way walking to the station that the traffic was also very light as well and we could have take a meter taxi quickly to the Palace.  Anyhow we took the train to Saphan Taksin BTS to connect with the Chao Phraya Express river boat service which was full of tourists and again reminded me that we could have done this commute in a taxi at half the time.  As usual the Emerald Buddha Temple was pack to the brim with tourist from around the world, but Chinese tourists are the one you have to elbow your way through while keeping place by staying alert to their elbows.  Sara got the harem pant right when we got off the pier and we got through all the security in a breeze.  

The security staffs now have change the procedure for the check in again with no second bag check as we were funnel through the entrance pass the big group of tourist taking photos at he entrance.  I quickly got the entrance ticket for Sara and as I has been having problem with the staff who writes down register license tour guide license which I have, but I did not want to be reminded again that I am not in a proper attire for a licensed guide which require long slack pants as well as a collar shirt.

 

I keep thinking to myself that why uniform is so important in Thailand where the humidities usually hover around 80-100 percent, and the temperature is around 35 degree Celsius on most days.  Why would you want to walk around in the Sun in an outfit like that? I quickly put my license under my t-shirt and just walk pass the lady while they alway ask if you are Thai, I just answer in Them in Thai and not mentioned about being a licensed guide.  This way I could get in and not worry about the shirt and slacks.  

 

Once I got inside the Grand Palace, I just took out my license and start the tour like normal.  It was the usual hot and humid day in Bangkok and we had to cover the ground sometime in direct sunlight.  But most time we could take cover in some shade with we did as much as we could.  After quickly finishing up the Grand Palace with many photos on Sara Camera and her iPhone.  We moved on to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and of cause wait for the perfect picture where you can get the whole of the Reclining Buddha from head to feet and from feet to head.  All in all a great photos session for Sara, and I recommend all the good place to do her shots.  

                                         Hindu Temple on Silom Rd.

                                         Hindu Temple on Silom Rd.

                                       Our Small Boat Canal Adventure

                                       Our Small Boat Canal Adventure

Sara and I wolfed down the delicious food and jump right back into the boat to see the Artist House where Sara decided not to stay for the Traditional Thai Puppet demonstration due to our time constrain.  We cruised the canal as I have been doing for the past 6 years with interesting stop at an orchid farm and the Wat Paknam which is where a new school of Thai Buddhism called Phra Dhammakaya sect which has become a powerful force in religion and cosmology in Thailand.  To the point, that the current military government have decided to crackdown on the temple’s leadership. But we are not here for the politic, only to enjoy the sight of the beautifully painted and sculpted interior of the huge stupa which was built as a place for important ceremonies, a meditation center, as well as a museum to house the many gifts that were donated to the temple.

                                 My Last American Students Group

                                 My Last American Students Group

She had a great time and we jumped on the Wat Arun ferry to cross over the river and it was a good day for more photos since Wat Arun has been under a major renovation since last year. The workers finally removed all of the scaffolding form the main stupa which is the most important landmark of Bangkok and is the sight that every Tourism Authority of Thailand been putting on their advertisement.  

 

After Wat Arun we were getting very hungry and we took a taxi to meet up with one of our boat in the canal, first call was for a restaurant on the side of the canal.  We were doing well by the time we got to the restaurant by the side of a canal that I frequented. The food was great, and the price was very reasonable. Most of my guests that came here with us before have also been telling us that the food there was excellent.  The food was really nothing fancy, but it was always cooked with fresh ingredients and done right after you just ordered it as how Thai food should be.  

 

We ordered like we were loss in the desert for a month. We had Tom Yum Soup and Chicken Panang Curry that Sara requested not to be spicy.  We also ordered stir fried sweet basil with mince pork, and also a big plate of fried frogs which you guess it, “It does tasted like chicken.”  But we think it tasted more like half chicken and  half fish.

           Sara at the Golden Stupa in The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

           Sara at the Golden Stupa in The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

                                    Wat Arun or The Temple of Dawn

                                    Wat Arun or The Temple of Dawn

The spectacular huge white stupa or what we would called in Thai a Chedi is a beautifully painted and decorated with hand painted mural and hand sculpted intricate details on the wall and ceiling of this amazing place.  We can see the skyline of many skyscrapers on the other side of the Chao Phraya river, while looking down you can see the canals on the both side of the temple.  The canal to the Eastside of the temple is call ‘Klong Dan’, ‘Klong' is canal in Thai and ‘Dan’ means check point. This is due to this historic canal use during the Ayutthaya Kingdom as a place to inspect any boat traffic moving up from the sea through the old course of the Chao Phraya river that flowed through the present day Bangkok Yai canal before 1542.  At the advice of one of the Portuguese engineer working under the King of Ayutthaya at that time to make numerous short cut along the old course of the Chao Phraya river to make transportation between the sea and the old Capital be shorten by several days.  During this period of time the King’s men would have been waiting inside Wat Pak Nam to force any boat that pass by to stop and get search and pay for all the necessary tariff before being allowed to go farther north on the river. We went on to visit the Orchid Farm, which Sara was mentioning that in Colombia they have many of the similar plants and flower.  But a little different, one example was the dragon fruit that has purple and green on the on the skin but with inner white or red colored with small edible seeds.

 

In Colombia they have yellow colored one that look kind of like a small pineapple.  She showed me the picture, but I just wonder if it taste the same as our and figured that the only way to find out was "to go to Colombia one day."

 

We ended the day by taking the taxi back to her little hostel on Pan Road right by the Indian Temple by Silom road.  We popped into the temple for a quick look, due to my unfamiliarity with the many gods in hinduism, I usually explained about the syncretic of many elements from Hinduism in the Thai Buddhist cosmologies.  

 

As for my luck, by this time my cold was getting worse and was heading home intended on getting a really good night rest which I did. The only problem was trying to book a ticket of the sleeper train the next night. 

              Where we should have catch the night Train to Chiang Mai

              Where we should have catch the night Train to Chiang Mai

        Due to the time constrains, I was unable to get the sleeper train ticket as our itinerary stated. Oh no, that meant no first or second classes sleeper!  This is for all practical purpose would be the most comfortable way for us to go up North smoothly.  That night I can feel the virus or bacteria or what ever cause my discomfort was getting to be full blown. I got to get rest!  I hope for a good sleep on the way up in a comfortable real bed on the rhythmic railroad with that familiar pattern of steel wheels and the suspension noise that turn into a musical lullaby to put you into a comfortable sleep for your whole journey.  So now our only practical choice was to head to the Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal and get a night bus up to Lampang.

 

I quickly got an online the VIP bus ticket that was the more expensive option in the little hope that sleep would come with the acronym VIP.  Hah, was I wrong.  When we got to the station, I quickly head to the right bus birth. It was another 30 minutes wait until the bus got there and we were sitting in the hot and humid tropical heat at this outdoor terminal.  Then as the bus arrive and we got on I remembered that I opted for the farthest back seat in the hope that it will be far way from staircase down to the toilet at the lower level of this 2 levels VIP bus.  Right on top of our head where we have no way of escape there were big air vents that brow freezing cold air on our heads.  

I was thinking.  "Ok, this night will not be my best night of sleep again."

That night bus air-condition system was blasting really cold air down on us like

"The Old Man Winter himself came with us on the bus!"

 

I could not believe how cold it was.  The whole night as we speed up to the Northern Thailand, which local called Lanna for more than nine centuries.  We both had to put on something to cover our head and put on some extra clothing to keep from freezing to death. Sara used her scarf and she had a jacket, and I used by bath towel and an extra T-shirt with long sleeves.  The VIP bus has those massaging seat that were vibrating and an Entertainment LCD screen just like on a plane, but after a whole night of that vibration and LCD that just put more light in your eyes, this was not going to help me sleep any better tonight.  Sleep was of cause impossible, and I thought to myself, that this is going to be one of those sleepless night nightmarish bus ride.  I had one of my worst transportation story with a night bus in South India from Bangalore to Goa.  It was a bus ride from hell. If you haven't see how Indian bus driver drive and the traffic situation in India you might not really have the picture in your mind.  Let me start by saying that our bus driver and all the driver on the Indian countryside highway who still up and driving at 3 am are all nuts or have a death wish or in all likelihood both.  Think of all these honking and high beaming each other to scare the other driver or more likely their own passengers and passing at crazy fast and illegal speed on a single lane highway with variably maintain cars and trucks swaying from side to side coming so close you wonder why they still haven’t slam into each other already.  Then you start to get some ideas of the road condition during the night.  During the whole ride my wife was fast as sleep in a regular seat in the back as other passengers.  

 

I was on the other hand had to sit on a jump seat right by the driver with the bus conductors sleeping on the floor right next and behind me the whole way.  For 12 hours ride, I had to get up and keep folding the backrest again and again in order to let other passengers get on and off to go out on the side of the road to relief themselves during the night. And when we stop for a bathroom breaks, it was usually done right on the side of the road, this includes women. But then again, I had a similar experience on a wedding caravan in Vietnam this year as well.

 

Clean bathroom was in short supply in both India and Vietnam and travelers frequently have to relief ourselves on the side of the road in these countries.  When we got to Lampang.  We jumped off the bus at 6am and walked around looking for a place to get a coffee but since nothing except 7/11 was open.  

Even though you can almost get anything you needed in 7/11, there was no seat for us to hangout until later in the morning. 

                                   Japanese Mahout in Training

                                   Japanese Mahout in Training

       As we were walking out of the bus terminal to the main highway, we decided to just grab a scooter from a shophouse restaurant next to the bus terminal that we walk past earlier and look for a place to have breakfast on the way to the Elephant Conservation Center.  After we fill up the bike was gasohol, and grab a bowl of beef boat noodle along the way. We arrived at the center just as it was opening and got the bus shuttle into the park and we went to watch a regular of the elephant camp.  This little Japanese lady wrote an elephant on the neck as we were at the elephant corral.  She looks pretty comfortable on the her ride sitting a top the neck and you can feel her mastery of the elephant even though there was a mahout walking in front. The mahout also feel very relaxed as she expertly control her elephant. I started talking to her by saying

“Ohayo Gozaimasu,”

which is “good morning” in Japanese.  As Sara also join in the conversation we start to ask her about her elephant adventure. This Japanese girl has a traditional Thai farmer deep-blue denim mixed with cotton shirt and pants garb on.  I talked to the Thai mahout and he mentioned that she has been to the camp for more than 20 times.  He told me that when she arrives at the camp now her elephant would recognized her and come up to greet her right the way.  It seems that she has been coming here twice a year for the last 10 years.  I was very surprise that someone would be so keen on being with elephant that much. 

                War Elephant with Japanese Mercenaries

                War Elephant with Japanese Mercenaries

        Essentially, the elephant have became her giant pet that she see twice a year.  She look so content to on the neck of her ride that it look like that her purpose in life and I thought to myself that she would have make a pretty good elephant driver back when we still used elephant for work as well as for war.  Maybe she would have been conscripted into the ancient army to work with elephant, like the old Japanese samurai who came to serve under the king of Ayutthaya in their frequent war with the Burmese empire.  We did have someone like that in our history such as Yamada Nagamasa who was an exiled Christian Samurai who came to settle in the Ayutthaya kingdom and fight along the Thai army during that time, along with many other nationalities and people from around the world who came to call this part of the world their home in the pass.  So, after seeing this of course After this conversation Sara was now also very interested in riding the pachyderm as well.  She insisted on getting a 10 minutes ride and told me to take lots of photos.  Of cause the set up there was in such a way that they have a good camera girl standing in ambush in front of the elephant and since you not sure where to position yourself, you missed the shot. After this riding episode we when to see elephant feeding and bathing in the lake and goes back to see the show that they have the elephant perform the work they used to be working as in the logging industry.  It is sad to know that the logging industry have manage to cut down most of the rain forest in Thailand by now, mind you, not with elephant but with modern bulldozers.  Some animal activists now are trying to stop the practice of elephant riding all together, by telling conscientious traveler to not participate in this practice of animal tourism.  Which is maybe good for feeling good about oneself, but not so good for the people who livelihood depend on making money from the tourist or for vast majority of the elephants in captivity in Thailand.  They can not be released into the wild since they have been domesticated and now had lose their abilities to care for themselves.  Is riding the neck of an elephant considered ethical, how about riding in the Howdah tied to the back of the elephant? Is it really just marketing by a more expensive elephant places? I don’t really have all the answers.  Please visit the website http://www.elephantexperts.org for your own conclusion. 

                                         "We're in the VIP"

                                         "We're in the VIP"

 

After the show we rode back to the bus station and found out that the VIP bus to Chiang Mai was running out of ticket soon, we were in a line of about 40 people and figuring that we will not be able to get ticket for the A/C bus we decided on local Non A/C, which turned out to be a real adventurous ride.  When we went to the bus, it was full of people trying to get on.  We got in and took the back seats with fighting cocks in paper boxes at our feet, and a scooter that someone decide to bring along on the bus right in front of us.  It was about 2 hours of this awkward situation until most of the people got off and we had extra legroom to ourself which make it much easier to bear.  Once we got to Chiang Mai I immediately get the VIP bus ticket for our next ride to Chiang Rai, so we can ride in comfort.  As we got off the at the Chiang Mai bus terminal, I used the Grab Taxi app to call for our taxi which I have tried before last trip, and it went pretty smoothly again. We headed to a hostel place that was near the old city wall.  As it was low season most places are still sitting empty so booking was not really needed.  I got an old room that I had stayed the previous time, and it was pretty comfortable.

                            King of Khao Soi

                            King of Khao Soi

 Sara was pretty lucky since we arrive on when the Chiang Mai Sunday night market was open, We walked to the night market to get something to eat.  As we got into the market, and seeing the first shop that sell the famous northern style egg noodle curry, Sara and I got us a couple of noodle bowls.  My was a Khao Soi which was a really bad version of it. Sara got green curry with lightly fermented rice noodle, which she said was a little too spicy for her.  I remember from my trip here 3 years ago with my Thai guide license class that there was another very good place right the back of the market.  So after wolfing down my first bowl of Khao Soi, I went on to look for this better place. 

Original blog from :  https://1thinglearn.blogspot.com/2017/09/tom-praisan-my-travel-blog-august-18.html

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