Monday, February 23, 2009

Phonsavan, the Plain of Jars and 24 hour scuts

For my last day in Luang Prabang I decided to check out the Pak Ou caves nearby and the Kouang Si Waterfall. The caves were a tad crap but the falls 'Mama Sita!'. They were wonderful. An actual paradise.

Kouang Si pool

Glass Buddha

Post that I split to Phonsavan in the east to see the Plain of Jars a mysterious megalithic site no one really knows anything about.

Phonsavan is not going to win any awards for it beauty. It is totally devoid of any personality. The reason being it was flattened during the Vietnam war and the province has 1.5 metric tonnes of unexploded ordnance per person. It is literally everywhere, you don't go off the beaten track as there are claymore mines, Blu cluster bombs. The other problem is scrap dealing, kids find the bombs and try to dig them up to sell for 1000 kip a kilo, that's about 9 cent. But they are some of the poorest people in the world and don't have a lot of options. UXO Pics

Cluster Bombs

Mortar tail fins

I went to one of the local cafes and waited for over an hour with just a beer Lao for company and watched a rerun of a football game. Seeing as I loathe football I passed the time wishing horrific and comedic injuries on the various players. My malicious intent backfired, I was hit with some kind of karmic switcharoo. The plastic garden chair I was sitting on gave up the ghost and with two loud cracks the back legs snapped out from under me and I tumbled backwards with my legs in the air like 17 year old on her debs night.

Ideally for me, I was at the front of the restaurant and in full view of everyone. I didn't even have the option of sheepishly skulking out the door. It was obviously horrifically embarrassing although only the Laotians laughed. The other travelers there just stared at me. I found that strange as had it been someone else, I would of been beside myself with laughter.

So with all that going on the waitress forgot my order and my food came late. I was sitting there for about an hour. Thankfully as I now exist solely on water, beer and cigarettes I wasn't really that fussed. I eat more from habit than anything else. Had I known this was possible I would of come to South East Asia years ago.

To top it off, I got the scuts from the chicken noodles. It was nowhere near as bad as the time I was in a complete jocker in Africa. I got off quite lightly.

The plain of Jars was interesting enough. But without any context to frame an understanding of the site it got tired quickly. Les Photo's fantastique

Jars #2

I met up with a traveller I met in Luang Prabang and we decide to catch the bus together to Vang Vieng. Thankfully we got out of town a day earlier and got a bus that was something out of Borat.

Laos Bus

For the entire seven hour trip we had the dreaded karaoke box blaring away. Then some weird Laotian comedy that involved.

1) Bestiality - One lad spies a another humping a dog, decides this is a great idea but having no dog he shags a water Buffalo

2) A monk crapping on another monks robes, said crap is then given to a blind man as food.

3) A lady wazzing from a tree on top of a passing chap. Then coming down from the tree to make a little sexy time with the urine soaked lad.

It turns out there was a Hmong uprising while I was up in Phonsavan so we had an armed guard on the bus. Basically just some guy bumming around with mussel of an AK47 sticking out from under his jacket.

We arrived in Vang Vieng at midnight and just made for the nearest guesthouse. Then the next day I went tubing and the rest is a drunken blur. I'll keep this clean as me Mum will be reading but its crawling with Irish and northern Europeans on lash. I did the tubing the first day but after that you don't bother you just take a tuk tuk up to the first bars and swim and do zip wires etc. It is fantastic, I was poleaxed for four days on the trot.

Sunset over rural Laos
Sunset on the road out of Phonsavan

Friday, February 13, 2009

Speedboats down the Mekong, Laos and Luang Prabang

Hello chums! Tiring of the daily beatings I finished up in Thailand last week. I traveled north to Chiang kong, a border crossing into Laos. I quite liked Chiang Kong. It was a lot nicer and more fun than Mae Sai the crossing into Burma, which has all the charm of Basildon. Chiang kong is a traveler hub and is thronged with farang's waiting to get the Slow boat down the Mekong. Basically people get a ferry to Laos, get through the chaos of immigration in Huay Xai then make for the slow boat.

Huay Xai visaThe slow boat takes two days stopping off overnight at some tiny and apparently grim village.

I decided to pass and fueled mainly by a lack of patience rather than a sense of adventure I opted for the speedboat. Well known to be lethal and cramped with a least a few traveler fatalities a year I felt this was a better option. Virtually to a man, upon hearing my mode of transport all shook their heads in "You're rightly boned my friend" nuance. We were given badges naming our chosen boat type and herded over the river. Just outside Huay Xai was the speedboat dock and looking at the tiny boats I got a rush of nervous excitement.

I was first on and tried to sit in the middle to get away from the noisy engine but the driver was having none of it and despite my dumb whitey routine harangued me into sitting in the back seat by the engine. My spirits dropped, I was going to have 7 hours of this shagging thing in my ears. Then across the floating bamboo dock came my salvation. A tiny old Laotian woman was to be my traveling partner. I was delighted I would now have some degree of leg space. Believe me it made a difference.


We hit the river and it was fantastic. It was brilliant. The river was very low as it was February. All around us you could see the actual level of the river on the rocks. It was about three metres lower than the wet season. Don't just imagine...peep the clip!

It was seven hours and was doper than dope. But being cramped up for that long was akin to some kind of medieval torture Once I got to Luang Prabang I looked for a guesthouse. At this stage it was pretty clear to me that anywhere listed in the Lonely planet never costs the same once you get there. The city itself is beautiful, a mix of colonial french style with Laos temples and teak houses. Le pics.

Wat Xieng Thong

I volunteered to teach at the one of the Temples. Basically this involved me pronouncing words in English for the novice monks to repeat. It was a good laugh and I am delighted to announce that there are about thirty or so monks that now pronounce a sizable about of their English vocabulary with an Irish accent.

Monks and Parasols

Nikkon Novices

Post teaching the Laotian teachers took me out to the street vendors for dinner and taught me the fine art of balling sticky rice. They really are lovely people here, and outside of the dead-eyed tourist touts, they are delighted you've come to Laos. Its clearly poorer than Thailand and has retained more of its innocence. Probably not for much longer mind. On Friday I'm off to the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan.

I'm flying as I'm a flash packer and that's how I roll. But I'm flying with the wonderfully unsafe Lao Air! This area was part of the Ho Chi Man trail and during the Vietnam war was the most bombed place on earth. Apparently its still covered with live ordanance... great!

Smiling Novice

Chickens for sale

Wat Mai door

Finally for no particular reason other than its a great picture. Some tropical fish being sold in milk bottles
Fish in milk bottles #6

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Macha Bucha

Yesterday was Macha Bucha, an important Buddhist holy day and seeing as my foot is in bits I went instead of training. Then again with less than a week left of training it takes comparatively little to dissuade me from going.

One of the most important Buddhist celebrations - Macha Bucha Day falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month. Not particularly a festival, Macha Bucha is a Buddhist holy day and marks a point in history when 1,250 of the Lord Buddha's followers gathered to hear his sermon. Macha Bucha Day is a day when worshipers to walk three times around temples in a bid to make merit.

I have to say its a pretty cool event and in Chiang Mai it was centred around the two most famous Wats, Chedi Luang and Phra Singh. The former being particularly beautiful. One of the incredible things happening at Chedi Luang was the casting of three new buddhas to commemorate the day. The heat radiating from the Kilns was unbearable so I didn't hang around for the finale.

Not having a tripod made taking pics difficult. But with Macgyver like ingenuity I used any flat surface I could find to take long exposures of the worshippers as the light went. The D60 has a series of settings that allow you to control one element while it selects the remaining components as best suited to the photo you're taking. In this case I manually operated the shutter speed while the camera automatically selected the aperture and ISO for me. Now this is fine but for night photography, the D60 can sometimes select a higher ISO then I would like and the camera does not preform well in the higher ISO's. So I'd pre-set the ISO to 200 and whatever shutter speed I want and let the camera then do the rest. Le super super pics

But the following are my favourites
Makha Bucha - Images by Darragh Mason Field

Here's a video of the candle area of Wat Chedi Luang. Now that was amazing and very other worldly as you can SEE and HEAR through the miracle of badly compressed flash video.

One downside of the evening was being chased from Wat Phra Singh by some crazy dogs. Actually it was one crazy dog and it might of been a puppy, I couldn't tell it was dark. This was deeply incongruous with the blissed out feeling of peace I had enjoyed all evening. Particularly when I automatically assume that every canine here has rabies. Never the less after a particularly desperate and high pitched plea to the dog to "Go Away!". It trundled back to its mates looking well hard while I looked like a big girl's blouse.

Off to Laos on Friday, up the Mekong by Speedboat!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"This Sex Organ's on fire".... and Sukhothai

I had just got in from cycling around the massive ruin complex of Sukhothai, taking hundred of pics and getting the mother of all farmers tans. Sweating in a way I did not think possible before Thailand I decide to shower. I put my towel down on the toilet cistern and jumped in the cool shower all the while feeling rather smug at having the spent the day wandering and photographing ancient city ruins while the majority of my friends had their dignity ground to dust working for the man. That is, with the exception of those of you who have never worked a day in your lives. You know who you are.

Sukhothai hand

Golden Votive  Hand 1

Picture 103

Pleasantly refreshed and without a care in the world I start to dry myself and then an alarming and eye widening burning starts... in my most private of places. As you can imagine this startlingly painful burning has my undivided and complete attention. This is often the case when ones genitals are on fire. On closer inspection I find my groin is covered in tiny, biting, scrambling ants.

I'd been violated, without so much as a "Hello Sailor".

It turns out my towel is impregnated with hundreds of tiny biting ants with whom I am now covered. I had literally rubbed them all over my body. Cue Benny Hill style comedy histrionics as I wildly flail myself. A bit like at the end of King Kong, you know, with planes and that.

I now have a singular thought process with a primal reasoning system.

1) OUT of shower.
2) RUN to room.
3) KILL anything with more than two legs(this includes mammals)
4) PANIC..if that doesn't work, possibly cry

I bolt out of the shower after taking what seemed like three weeks to put my shorts on. I make for my room door and with a level of remarkable fluidity considering my state I get my key and unlock the padlock and get in. Seriously though, Sebastian Chabal wouldn't of stopped me getting into that room.

One minor panic attack, several loud expletives and pleading invocation's to any deity that would answer later and I'm dried and sprayed head to toe in Deet so any remaining whoremasters should be toast.

It's a day later and I'm covered in ant bites, easily in excess of a hundred. Its a bit like my own personal version of "The Singing Detective". Only not nearly as severe or traumatic and disappointingly without a comforting and intimate bed bath from Joanne Whalley.

As an added bonus the bites are not all from Ants, there are some Mossies too!....Brilliant! Thank heavens for that eh! I am literally I walking fucking buffet for these bastards. I hope they get indigestion or at least are uncomfortably full. Honestly, considering the amount of bites I have there must but a Mosquito the size of fucking tennis ball in that hotel.

Anyway heres a picture of a brilliantly green Paddy Field Picture 250

...its probably filled with Mossies