Happy New Year
We started the new year waking up, showering, getting Packed, having breakfast and ready to board our mini van by 8.30am! Not bad for the morning after New Year’s celebrations I think”.
There are new year’s greetings all over the place – not different from at home.
Today we are crossing the border with Laos. The drive there takes about 6 hours. We leave the city Chiang Mai and drive through a lush green hilly countryside. Slowly the landscape turns into a mountain range.
We stop after 2 hours at a specialty shop for some snacks for tomorrow. Their specialty is cashew nuts. The nuts are covered with various additions like sesame seeds, garlic, barbeque, caramel and sweet and sour tastes. The owner showed us the cashew fruits on the tree beside the shop. He then took us to his workshop there and demonstrated the process of making the cashew nut edible! Every cashew fruit is opened by a hand and foot operated “guillotine" without breaking the nut inside. There is a poisonous substance inside the fruit around the nut. It was explained to us that this “rubber” burns the skin and the next day the skin will peel off. Needless to say that they are very careful breaking the fruit open. The cashew nuts get dried, roasted and dried again before they are shipped for export to Hong Kong etc. It takes quite some time from harvest to shipping. Realizing the intense labour it takes to make the cashew nut the delicacy that we like, we accept the price we pay for it in our stores as being cheap!
We stopped for lunch in Chiang Rai. After eating our food we walked across the road to visit a very elaborate white Buddhist temple. We foreigners were not allowed in the temple without our tour guide the sign told us, because of inappropriate behaviour – says something about us as tourists and our respect for other people’s culture doesn’t it!
There were some huge buses In the parking lot where “our” vans were parked. One of them had lots of stuff painted on the front and back. Brian took a picture and then the people who were in that bus wanted to have their picture taken with us. We obliged them, wished everybody a happy new year and it looked like they had been celebrating hard the night before and maybe continued it into this day.
Just to let you know, I am writing this journal entry on the 2nd of January while floating down the Mekong River on a very nice tour boat having a cup of green tea.
Back to January first!
We continued our journey towards the border having some good conversations with some of our travel companions. Let me introduce you to them:
Tour Leader: Komphak (Kom) from Cambodia, 29 years old, married with 2 children and has adopted his niece after his brother died.
Group members: Valerie and Bruce from Calgary; Diane and John from Edmonton; and us that makes up the Canadian representation. Ingrid and Sarah (friends) from Australia; they left their husbands at home. Susan from New Zealand and Christian and Leonie from Germany, who are at 29 by far the youngest members. The rest are 50 and up. We “oldies” feel a bit sorry for the young couple but they seem to find their spot in the group quite easily.
Back to the story. At the Thai- Laos border we hand our “Departure” form to the Thai official and load our luggage and ourselves into a narrow longboat that brings us across the Mekong River to Laos. Once across we hand the Laos official our visa application form with picture, our passport and our “Arrival” form. After a wait of about 15 minutes, we are “called” to the window ( the official holds up our passport open at the photo page), pay $42.00 plus $1.00 for the “convenience” fee and we are free to explore Laos!
Our transportation to our guest house was a tuk tuk truck: our luggage piled on the roof and we on benches in the “bed” of the truck. Our host, Mr. Singkham greeted us in very good English and then we got the keys to our “bungalows”. Our bungalow turned out to be a very rustic cabin. Electric wires and plugs are all exposed and the bathroom plug just covered with a loose piece of plastic. The tap of the sink in the bathroom is held together with a piece of wire of some sort. Everything works though and we had a queen size bed for the first time on this trip (versus two twin beds)! Several of our companions joined us on the “porch” for a beer and some laughs. The beer bottles are huge (650ml), cheap (10,000 Lao Kip; $1.25) and according to Brian the Lao beer is very good.
Dinner was at a patio by the river. Not many restaurants were open because of the holiday. Eke had a local dish called Koi chicken. The dish consists of ground chicken meat with mint and spices with lettuce, raw green beans and cucumber on the side. Eke chose to eat it with sticky rice. Sticky rice is eaten with your fingers. You take a piece, roll it and then take some meat with it and fill your mouth with all of it. No utensils necessary!
After dinner some of us gathered again on the porch for a beer and lots of laughter. Sleep called and by 9.45 everyone was asleep to be woken up in the middle of the night by fighting dogs and time-challenged roosters that do not know when the morning starts.