26 days summer 03
When: heart of the wet season (2003 summer)
How I moved: by minibus, by bus, by pirogues and by moped
Where I slept: in dormitories and huts
What I liked: "not pushy at all" attitude of the people, feel a laid-back country, its safety, the low clouds on the green montains, tubing on the rivers, bathing in the waterfalls, hanging out by moped, the fellows I met....
What I dislike: the f...ing superhumidity and hotness, that made my brain melted.
What you do need: nothing more than few T-shirts, some pants, and, if you wanna enjoy the travel, don't bother for the hygenic local conditions and for the water snakes!
I dont really
know why its years that the idea of hanging out in Indochina buzzes
in my mind; attracted by this cluster of nations so known as stages of
some past human madness (from the 65-73 war to Pol Pot and
the Khmer Rouge), on the opposite so few mentioned in their actual situation.
this trip for months before leaving: first of all reading pages and pages
of funny reports to plan my itinerary and at the end I completely changed
my way following my instinct and some funny fellows known on the
road (thanks Leigh, thanks Enn). But this is the fun of travelling
"Travellers dont know where they are going, while tourist dont
know where they have been"
ITINERARY OF THE WHOLE TRAVEL
in Bangkok, still jetlagged and already sweat soaked, I jumped on a unexpected
deluxe train heading to the north. The next morning I was in the exotic
and touristy Chiang Mai where I spent some relaxant days waiting for my
Lao visa and getting my feet massaged. My passport wandered through Thailand
for four days before coming back to his fu**ing worried daddy in Huay
Xai (the Lao border) at 7 am brought by a moped-boy coming from "whoknowswhere".
Right here I crossed the Mekong river getting in Laos and experiencing
a 30 years gap of development in 500 meters of water. No more roads here
in Laos, in particular in the rainy season! Thats why I had to get
packed for two days in a crowded (and touristy) slow boat to reach Luang
Prabang. But I had fun, especially because most of the guys on the boat
where travellers plenty of interesting stories experienced around the
world. And what about the nice village of Pakbeng where the boat stops
for the night?
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT LAOS
"Laid back": definitely
it is the right word to define Laos. When I crossed the border with Thailand
in Huay Xai I felt to live a thirty years gap back to the past. The Thai
tractors to cultivate the rice fields were substituted by the plough pulled
by an ox, the well paved road by the rivers and the soft seats of the
buses by steel benches fixed in the back part of the camions, but unliked
Cambodia there was no confusion in all this.
PS: If youve planned to go to Laos or to the North in July or August I hope you like sweating as hell. I mean that kind of humid hot that doesnt let you to sleep unless a fan blows on your body the all night. Good luck!
WILD LIFE IN MUANG NGOI NEUA
I was with Enn (tough Dutch girl) and Leigh (funny Canadian)
when I spent some days in the village of Muang Ngoi Neua plunged in the
mountainous green north of Laos. It was so hot and humid that we didnt manage
(frankly we didnt even try) to do nothing but snoozing on the hammocks under the
porch of the hut that was our accommodation. Time flied observing village life: men
carving the wooden boats, fishing in the river, kids playing chasing each other,
women pressing the corn, washing the clothes
.I liked this simple quite life,
disturbed just by the quick daily thunderstorms.
LAO VISA, IF I HAD KNOWN I WOULDN'T...
I was just arrived in Chiang Mai trying to figure out how to get a Laotian visa as soon as
possible when I met a woman, who run a hostel, saying she could provide it for 30 $. I
decided to trust her (frankly I didnt have other chances) and I left her my passport
paying in advance. Unfortunately it was Friday hence there was no way to have it before
Tuesday. It meant four days but, at least I could get it in Huay Xai, the town at the Lao border
where she had another guesthouse. I was worried of separating from my document at the
beginning of such long trip, having just a piece of paper as receipt and I was looking
forward to get it back.
After two weeks hanging around Laos finally I
reached the four thousand islands archipelago
, called si phan don, placed in the very south, almost at the Cambodian
border. I settled down on the Don Det island in a nice hut with the typical
hammock under the porch overlooking the Mekong. On this island there is
the only laotian railway
(just 5 km) built by the France at the beginning of the 20th century and
abandoned since the 1945. This made me curious and I wanted to follow
its way through the forest. Now I can say it has been a bad idea; better
going on swinging in the hammocks. I rented a bike and started following
the trail. Of course not many rails were left being dismounted by the
locals to build small bridges and houses. At the beginning the trail was
just a little bit bumpy, but nice. Then it becomes very difficult to be
spotted and I diverted a little bit to the riverbank. Here I decided to
reach it again so I headed to north without following a real trail in
BRING THE ESSENTIAL
As very travel I strived to tuck in my backpack only the essential, but travelling I realised how many useless stuffs I brought. Consider it was so hot that I never need something heavier than a light sweater for the flight. In addition you can have one kilos laundry for 1$ in most of the guesthouses. And finally you can buy extremely cheap clothes everywhere. Isn't it enough??
FLIP FLOP OR HEAVY SHOES
Depite I met many traveller walking everywhere with the flip flop, I don't raccomend you to do it. Even they can be convenient for the hot, leeches and all the dead or alive insects on your way will stick to your feet. One the other hand I recognised my trekking shoes were too heavy. The best is to use some sport shoes bringing a pair of flip flop.
Almost every day usually in the late afternoon it rained heavily. Hence don't forget a small umbrella and a waterproof wrap.
IT'S HOT AND HUMID
Just God knows
how much I sweated! In the day and in the night expect to be always soaked.
There's not so much you can do with the clothes, but if you organised
your activities in the early morning (before 10.00 am) and in the late
afternoon (after 16.30) maybe you'll survived;-)
FORGET THE ELECTRICITY
In most of the places there're only generators working few hours. So don't forget a flash lamp and some candles to read in the night swinging on the hammock
WATCH OUT TO THE INFECTIONS
Travelling I met other travellers who got a kind a boring eye infection. Especially a girl I met while I was on a boat to Muang Noi really seem to suffer. If you are sensitive to such things bring some medicine
How boring are this stuff about visa!!!!!! Where to get it, waiting for it, pay for it, extend it...... It was an hassle for me the laotian visa, but at the end I realised I could get at the Huay Xay border!! (read about the story)
Luang Prabang maybe is not
so "off the beaten track" as you could think about a town in
the mountainous north of Laos,
but definitely its a place you cannot dislike. This small town is
plunged among green mountains at the junction of the Mekong and the Nam
rivers. I still remember the view view that I admired
from the top of the hill towering from the town centre: the contrast of
the red colour of these snaking large rivers with the bright green of
mountains and the golden glittering of a big temple that towers far away.
THE FOUR THOUSAND ISLANDS
The flat area of the four thousand
islands archipelago is so different from the mountainous north of Laos
and so similar to the typical Cambodian landscape. Here the Mekong enlarges
till a 14 km width where a lot of small and not so small islands emerge.
Most of them are not reachable unless you have your own pirogue but the
main two, Don Kong and Don Det (or Don Khon) are connected by a kind of
I think this part of Laos is so different from the north, that if you like this country and you want to know it you cannot miss!!