Friday, August 20, 2010

Leaving Luang Prabang

I am almost 2 weeks behind on the blog now due to our faster pace of travel and my tiredness from continuously keeping it I'm borrowing some info. from my travel buddy, Jacob's blog until I can get caught back up.  I'm also glazing over many of the details of what happened and not worrying about how anything sounds so please forgive me... 

After taking the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang we spent a few days relaxing and exploring this Unesco protected World Heritage city.  The town is completely the opposite of anything you'd expect to find in Laos, at least in my mind.  French influenced architecture, food, and some awesome bakeries fill the town.  A lot of the town actually reminded us of our home town in Charleston. Originally we were going to rent dirt bikes so we could explore the country side, but this proved to be difficult and expensive. After one afternoon of speaking to local tourist companies and dealerships, I started getting the impression that bike rental was discouraged due to the local tourism office wanting us to pay for the local taxi services. Anyhow, we changed our plans and decided to relax in Luang Prabang for a couple days, then head to Vang Viene for some tubing down a river and cave exploration, then to Vientiane (Laos' french capital) to fly out to Hanoi, Vietnam so we could get dirt bikes there. This cuts our trip a little short in Laos but allows us to extend the time in Vietnam. To try to relax from the frustration, we rented some beach cruiser style bicycles and grabbed some cold beers for a leisurely pedal around the town. 

While exploring the town we ran into an UXO (unexploded ordinance) museum that was really interesting.  We learned about the 'Secret War' going on in Laos that wasn't made public until sometime later in the 70's.  Apparently, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world and it continues to affect the Laotians even to this day.  Below is an excerpt I pulled from Lonely Planet to briefly explain the history during the Vietnam war.

In 1964 the US began its air war over Laos, with strafing and bombing of communist positions on the Plain of Jars. As North Vietnamese infiltration picked up along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, bombing was extended the length of Laos. According to official figures, the US dropped 2,093,100 tons of bombs on 580,944 sorties. The total cost was US$7.2 billion, or US$2 million a day for nine years. No one knows how many people died, but one-third of the population of 2.1 million became internal refugees.

A large portion (they estimate some 30%) of the bombs dropped on Laos did not explode leaving millions of unexploded bombs (technically called bombies) all over Laos.  This has made the land very difficult and expensive to farm, develop, and improve.  It's really a sad thing to hear about and they say that every day someone is injured by an unexploded ordinance.  Many of the small bombs are round and look like toys children.  Many, many children and adults have died or are missing limbs.  Many of the farmers are so poor that they try and salvage the bombs for there scrap metal, which often results in dire consequences.  The museum was really interesting and gave us some good insight on the damage that was inflicted on the people, and it was saddening to see how they're still being effected.

Collection of UXO's

One night we met a Malaysian guy (Andrew) who was in the room next to us. He spoke great English (in addition to 5 other languages), and he joined us at the local pub for some (Tower Beers).
They were the cheapest drink out, and pretty cool looking. We rode our bikes to the pub, in the rain and when the pub closed Jake offered to give Andrew a ride (the bikes had a seat that you could sit on above the rear wheel), which obviously sounds like a bad idea from the start. Things were going pretty well (although I'm sure Jake had things completely under control in his mind), until he missed a turn. Andrew shouted "There it is", and about 3/4 the way past it he tried to make a quick turn. The bike slipped out like they'd run hit a banana peel, and they both spilled...laughing. Luckily no one was hurt. Jake offered Andrew another ride and he said "I would rather walk"...which no one could blame him for. Jake then preceded to get back on the bike and continued riding down the right road. Before we got back to the Guesthouse, he tried to bunny hop off of a curb...and the bike did the same thing...slipped out....adding a nice ding to his upper thigh.  "All part of the experience," he said. Andrew then suggested that "maybe Jake should walk too"...He agreed and made it home fairly unscathed.

The next day we ended up renting two scooters from a local restaurant for $15 (3x more than in Thailand) and going to some really interesting waterfalls. They had a cool rope swing and also a small waterfall that we could jump off of. We were soon joined by a busload of Buddhist monk children, that were soon jumping off the waterfall and rope swing with us. It was great seeing them in a relaxed state since we always see them marching around town with such serious faces. 

We are now leaving on a small bus for the 6hr trip to Vang Viene...

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