July 13 - Pakse, Laos - Josh's tale
Today we got a late start due to the exhaustion of everybody. We hung out at the boutique guesthouse place that we were staying at reading and writing and sleeping until about 1:30 when we went to lunch down the street from our hotel. Before lunch Josh and Jim also watched a rerun of the consolation final game between Holland and Brazil in which Holland won 3-0. At lunch, I enjoyed a wonderful noodle soup with pork and bean sprouts which kind of reminded me of the ramen that we ate in Japan. After lunch we walked around town for a little while trying to exchange our dollars for kip(the Laos money) and find a place to rent bicycles. An ice cream bar later we found both of these places as well as a place to buy Laotian SIM cards for our phones. We rented bikes and made a plan to go to the Mekong river. We had general directions to get there but never really had any intention of following them too closely. We wandered in the general direction of the river until we got lost and then we just went with it. We eventually ended up at the river and then Mom and Adrienne decided to turn around but Dad and I continued on through the countryside. Looking at the country side was really intriguing and interesting because it was so much more wealthy than Cambodian countryside but also very different. The houses were wide rather than tall and there weren't as many rice fields; most of the work was fishing. Dad and I continued for about half an hour before heading back to the hotel the same way we came. We arrived at the hotel and almost immediately continued on to dinner which we planned to have on the riverside. We walked through the market to the river. The market was very similar to Cambodian markets but like most of Laos more wealthy. We arrived at the river which was a really interesting scene. There was a very long road with restaurants lined up on the sides of the road. The people were mostly young Laotian people who were out singing karaoke and drinking and eating in large groups. They would drive their motorbikes up and down the road very fast and try to show off. We were trying to find a certain restaurant and ended up walking for about one and a half hours up and down the road looking for it with no success. We eventually settled on the first restaurant that had an English menu and was not completely packed. My dad ordered the barbecued fish he had been craving the whole walk and I got cashew nuts with chicken and vegetables. My mom shared the fish and got some traditional Laotian rice that was not supposed to be spicy but ended being agonizingly so. My mom cried and moaned and talked gibberish for a while as Adrienne and I giggled at some of the things she sputtered out. After our satisfying meal, the restaurant owner that had helped us and got to know us took us back to our hotel because apparently, there are no tuk tuks out after six o'clock. The drive home was kind of awkward but it worked out and after I got back, I went straight to bed because I was going to wake up early to watch the World Cup finals between Germany and Argentina.
July 14 - Pakse
Today Dad and I woke up early at about 145 am to watch the World Cup finals between Germany and Argentina. We went downstairs and watched the game on a really bad tv in the lobby of our hotel with three other German guys who were pretty young. It was really fun watching the game and I had fun chatting with the German guys and making fun of players when they did stupid things as well as me trying to pronounce the names of the German players. I watched the whole game but my dad went to bed at the end of regular time. Germany ended up winning 1-0 much to the pleasure of the German guys who started singing but very quietly so not to wake the staff. I went back to sleep and crankily woke up again around 630 to get ready for the day. I kept falling back asleep so in the end I had or scramble to get ready. After our stuff was mostly together, we got some breakfast at the same place as yesterday and I got the same thing because it was so good. But I didn't learn my lesson of putting in a small amount of chili peppers and then adding more, so I ended up with very spicy soup. We came back to the hotel, gathered our stuff, then boarded a minivan with another French couple setting out for the Boloven Plateau which apparently had some cool attractions. Our first stop was the tea plantation which had two different types of teas growing there. It didn't really interest or entertain me at all. Our next stop was a twin waterfall that was supposed to be the most spectacular in Laos. It was stunning. Two sheer drops covered in moss and lichen with water emerging out of the dense forest and cascading down into what seemed to be an endless pit with mist erupting out of the cauldron below. Unfortunately, it was a foggy day so there were only a couple times when we got a clear view. We next visited a coffee plantation which was located at a gorgeous resort. The coffee part was not interesting but the grounds of the resort were stunning and tranquil. We then ordered lunch and while the food was being prepared, went to a village and walked around for a little while and observed village life. Like I saw yesterday, it was all much wealthier than Cambodian villages and more organized. This particular village had a large clearing in the center with a spirit house in the middle and houses situated around. It was also very clear whose house belonged to the village chief. Whereas in Cambodian villages, everything is spread out and hard to tell the borders or limits of any particular village, this village was very clear. Laotian villages also are communist due to the government so villagers pool their money in order to buy water buffaloes and other animals. Animals wander around making it impossible to tell whose animal is whose so they just share all of them. It is also not uncommon to have anywhere up to 45 people living in one house because the man might have multiple wives, and they live with multiple generations. After visiting this village we went to lunch where I got some delicious noodles that I then made way too spicy but still ate.
After lunch we went to a different village that had a different culture and different way of life. This village was a little more poor, and naked, unattended children wandered around in the jungle despite the serious threat of snakes and insects. We actually saw a young man who had been bit by a snake and was probably going to die but he couldn't afford and didn't have access to the antidote. The parents and older siblings were all out working the field from dawn to dusk. This village was very similar to the other one in terms of organization and power structure but had a different belief on what was to be done with the dead. In the latter village, they put a coffin under your house before you died to let people know that you were old(houses were always on stilts). When you died, they would place you in your coffin and out above ground, covered in branches and leaves. In the other village, they waited for you to die, and then burned you and did what they pleased with the ashes. Another difference between the two villages was that in the first one, they believed strongly in Shamans instead of medicine so they would go there first before actually curing the injury if their budget allowed. I'm not sure what the second believed when it came to this but I think if you had the money for medicine, you bought that. Next we went to another waterfall that was peaceful and quiet. We got to hop on the rocks pretty close to the waterfall so that we could feel the cool mist in our faces and experience the rush of the water. We then journeyed to one more waterfall(me sleeping on all of the car rides) which was not as spectacular as the others but had pretty streams with ferns lining the sides that descended more slowly which made the scene pleasant. We were going to go to a museum at the same place as the waterfall but our plan was foiled by the rain so we ended up going back home without seeing it. When we eventually got home, we discussed where we would travel to next before wandering the streets amidst the rain in search of food and settling on a nice Indian restaurant. We enjoyed our meal and Magnum(even though it was not as good as Curry Walla in Siem Reap) and headed home tired and wet but satisfied.
July 15 - Pakse to Tha Khaek
Today we were allowed or sleep in because we were planning on having a quiet day. I woke up around 830 and then we went to breakfast at a western place that had a good deal during the off season. I got some French toast and bagels which was very satisfying considering the lack of western influence for the last couple months. There were restaurants like this in Siem Reap but they were expensive so we hardly ate there. We finished up and went back to the hotel where we showered off and packed up all of our stuff in preparation for 1130 checkout. We checked out but left our large luggage there and went to the restaurant down the street where I got my usual soup not too spicy this time though. We then went across the street and used the wifi to check email, make hotel bookings, and do other work related things except for me, I played games. After about two hours of this, Dad and I went bowling which was very fun. The bowling alley was not particularly nice and was pretty empty but it was still fun. After we played two games and I had been crushed two games, we walked to a restaurant on the river where we met Mom and Adrienne. The restaurant was located on the river and it was on a floating raft overlooking the river and the mountains in the distance. It was at the juncture between the Mekong River and the NamKhan with a temple at the juncture point surrounded by trees. The idea was to go there for sunset which we were on time for but the sun was mostly covered by clouds making it not as gorgeous. It was a wonderful view seeing the sun illuminate the river with canoes floating with fisherman standing and propelling themselves with bamboo sticks. We had a wonderful and peaceful meal in which my dad got fish again and I got broccoli with pork. After our meal, we got a ride back to our hotel with a restaurant staff member which must be common here. We showered in the public stalls at the hotel and then boarded a minivan to the bus station where we waited for our bus to take us to Tha Khaek. On the minivan and while waiting for the overnight bus, we met an interesting computer engineer from London who had been traveling for five months. We talked to him for a while and found out that his mom is from New Zealand and he still has family in New Zealand who love to put people up so we might utilize them if we make it to New Zealand. We then got on the sleeper bus. It was not as expected which was not unexpected as most things in Asia are. We bought four tickets and knew that we would have to share beds but never predicted that the beds would be smaller than twin size, incredibly short, and that the ceiling would be shorter than three feet tall. We settled in to our two little stalls with me having my book bag under my legs, the computer case as an arm rest and my soccer ball as a foot rest. I didn't attempt to sleep for the first two hours or so and just listened to music but then I got tired and started nodding in and out of an uncomfortable sleep for the remaining three plus hours. After we got to Tha Khaek, we were dropped off at a mostly deserted parking lot with another couple and markets surrounding the edges. There were some tuk tuks in the back corner and the couple wanted to share one because we were going to the same place, so after bargaining and studying maps for about fifteen minutes, we accepted a price and boarded the overcrowded tuk tuk. The ride to the hotel was about fifteen minutes on cement roads and it was cool to look out the sides at what kind of businesses they had here. We arrived at the hotel and chose two rooms to stay in and decided on the nicer rooms for ten dollars more. We then eagerly rinsed off and went to bed after making a plan with the couple to go to the caves tomorrow morning to cut down the price. So it is safe to say, that after another enjoyable yet hard day in Laos, we have reached our destination.