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22 Days in Burma, Northern Thailand & Southern Laos

22 Days in Burma, Northern Thailand & Southern Laos

Old Jan 11th, 2011, 07:56 AM
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Yes, what a story! I'm sorry you didn't get much time at the Anantara, it's such a lovely setting. But you did muscle your way through a lost passport situation. Give yourself a medal (or a massage) for that!
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 03:34 PM
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Thank you Patty and Kathie and all for your support. Oh by the way the passport was found in the shrubs not scrubs. And while you are at it, please ignore all mistyping, misspelling and any other errors.

PART III: SOUTHERN LAOS
I’m still in the Business Class lounge waiting for our flight to Pakse, Laos from Bangkok. By 2:30 p m they still had not called for us to board a bus to get to the plane for the revised 3 p m departure time. Not a good sign.
After more computer work, including a thank you to the GM at Yaang Come for finding my passport and a mention (I couldn’t help myself) of how a more thorough search could have spared me two lost days of my trip getting a new passport and considerable angst, I went to check on fight updates.
Back in my seat in the lounge, I chatted with DH and several passengers. Its always useful to get to know your cellmates. The gay couple from London just bopped over to Bangkok and then decided southern Laos looked interesting. One man was compact and good looking, the other rougher, built like a fullback with a Cockney accent. They like to travel “on the fly” so they were madly reading about hotels in Pakse. They elaborated on their spontaneous travel style with illustrative tales of when that approach led to wonderful experiences and times when they were left wondering why that method had failed miserably.
The affluent Thai couple sitting diagonally from us kept to themselves. Both were casually and smartly dressed. Mrs. Thai does, however, get demerits from the fashion police for lack of designer label coordination. In an effort to be democratic she had paired a LV shirt with a Chanel handbag. After checking the stitching, zipper, emblem and leather, I certified the bag was genuine but her lack of brand loyalty appalling. I also certified myself as massively bored.
At 3:30 p.m. the Lao Air representative collects the 20 to 30 passengers and we follow her back down stairs only where she tells us that the flight is now leaving at 5:00 and we were asked to sit in the uncomfortable chairs at the gate (since we’d been booted out of the BC Lounge) for the unforeseeable future. I thought this a poor idea and inquired about other more comfortable sitting areas. Ah yes, next floor up there was an area with padded, leather reclining chairs. So up we went to wait, now much less patiently, but more comfortably on floor 3.
At 5:10 the Lao Air rep comes upstairs to our seating area to announce we can go back downstairs to board a bus shortly. I am not phased. By this time my expectations are very low. Some other Thai businessmen told us we were being introduced to “Lao time” even before crossing the border.
At 5:30 the bus takes us to our “plane”. It looks like a Piper Cub with hair under its wings. Actually, its a 50 passenger prop jet. The usual safety instructions were delivered in Lao and Thai after which the steward at the front wei-ed us briskly and vanished into the cockpit. Wei-ing, like smiling in these parts, can convey many meanings. This one felt like “goodbye and good luck”. By 6 p.m. we are finally flying to Pakse, Laos.
Our hotel, La Folie Lodge, had a driver waiting for us. After a 40 minute drive south, trying to glimpse the countryside in the dark, we arrive at the boat dock. We are escorted onto a motorize platform that sits on two small fishing boats with a motor in the back. This is our boat transfer. Imagine doing this without help at night with 2 large duffles. The boat ride was terrific. The breeze was warm, the moonless sky was filled with agazilion stars only matched by the southern skies or Elizabeth’s Taylor’s diamonds.. This ersatz boat was kick. Ah, and the navigational equipment aboard, a flash light.
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 04:02 PM
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The boat landed on Don Daeng Island where we would stay for 2 nights. Our luggage and the two of us were off loaded from the boat onto a tractor with a platform holding two wicker chairs for us. The tractor put putted us from the shoreline to the lodge. Far to walk, its a very wide beach.
The kitchen had a Lao dinner ready for our arrival around 10 and we were then taken to our bungalow. La Folie Lodge consists of 25 cabins, 2 per bungalow plus a VIP suite. The rooms are rustically charming with a balcony looking directly on to the Mekong. This place felt so homey I wanted to stay a week and had just arrived.


DAY 15 Don Daeng Island
Finally a day to rest. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting. We sat on the balcony watching the water buffalo finish bathing in the Mekong and make their daily trek up the beach. Breakfast was tasty and ample. The wait staff welcoming and eager to please. The view of the pool, with large orange umbrellas with the Mekong beyond was perfection. After breakfast we took a walk to the north end of the island. En route we encountered the lively village of Ban Hua Done Daeng. Villagers were busy with morning chores. This seemed to be a prosperous village; some houses appeared to be at least 2000 sf and of sturdy materials. It was recess time at the elementary school when we passed by, children running and playing with a jump rope.
Just past the local temple upbeat rhythmic music was blaring from a loud speaker. A villager materialized and signaled for us to enter their compound. What a hive of activity. Women were preparing food in large vats for some celebration today. Fathers were supervising the children. They held their little ones with much love and tenderness. One spunky 50ish local woman began dancing to the loud music and moving her arms in graceful motions, an amalgamation of Hindu, Balinese, Lao and Hawaiian dance gestures. No point dancing alone, I joined her and tried to imitate her hand movements, much to the amusement of the small crowd.We later learned it was a festival to the local spirits for the neighborhood families
Back at the Lodge we found chaise lounges and there I sat, booked propped, for several hours. The sun gets intensely hot (90+) but the umbrellas and breeze from palms and other trees provide a delightful cooling.
My Salade Nicoise was so fresh and well presented, I could have been eating in France. Back to the pool. Just before sunset we decided to walk back to the family festival and see if more action was going on. Men, women and children walked from their home up the road to place their food offerings by the shrine just inside the compound. Some picked up their sanctified offerings and went back home, other stayed and ate. By now there were 40-50 people dining at long communal tables.
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 04:31 PM
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We had dinner with two Brits we'd met earlier in the day. They now live in southern Spain, a few minutes from where Fred's parents retired. The receptionist whispered to me that there was someone to see me, how odd? It was our tour guide for the rest of our Laos trip. Det and I reviewed the itinerary and all was in order. I had a very positive impression of him and looking forward to having him lead us. The British couple said they had toured with him all day the day before and sang his praises.
Why a tour guide and company? Because the logistics are very complex. Drive 20 miles here, transfer us and luggage to a boat, get off boat and transfer to ferry, etc. This is not an area where one covers the surround. Yes, we could have done some touring based at La Folie but the trip to the touring area and back used up half a day and limited what time was left.
I'll digress to say a word or two about finding travel agents in Laos. First thing I printed out a list of all accredited travel companies. Then I eliminated those without websites. Then I eliminated those whose website had a pop-up "this site has been suspended for nonpayment". That narrowed the field from maybe 35 to 6. Several wanted to slot us in to a pre packaged tour, no thanks. A company called Green Discovery seemed reasonable and responsive so I began working with them. The hotel I wanted to book directly for New Year's eve said they were sold out and another hotel, had no useful contact information. So I booked these two places with GD and also booked transport from Pakse to our departing airport. ([email protected]). Along about this time the answers to my questions regarding routing were not yielding constructive answers. I began to recognize that they, too, were used to slotting people in to packages. I made some inquiries from La Folie. No they could not recommend a private car and driver because most cars couldn't go very far. Take a mini van. Luckily, I got a reply from Rob at Viengchampatour.com, who had been on tour the previous 2 weeks. His answers were very informative so I decided to work with him putting this puzzle together. After describing our time frame, places we wanted to see/stay and our special interests, Rob laid out, after several drafts, a sound itinerary that included a driver, his best guide, a 7 person van and all the transportation and touring logistics. He also purchased our Lao Air tickets at a good price. I was totally satisfied with Rob Hansen and Vangchampas, a class operation. They are headquartered in Vientiane with a branch office in Pakse.
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 06:16 PM
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Thanks for all this great detail on Laos.
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 08:00 PM
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Thanks Kathi. More to come if you can bear it.
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 03:01 AM
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Thanks so much for your report Robbie. I am presently trying to convince my husband to travel to these exciting regions and ignore the post 60 age tag. You and Fred are an inspiration for us both.
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 05:34 AM
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Robbie-I am following your report.. Both the highs and lows of your travel are so intersting.. I am impressed with your coolness under pressure when you lost and had to replace your passport. Waiting for more.
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 09:18 AM
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i'm loving how you are laying out the trip and its activities... it all sounds so wonderful...
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 07:30 PM
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Thanks all, I'm inspired to continue. And b_b remind your husband that you';; both be dead for a very long time.
I would highly recommend La Folie Lodge ($150/nt), by far the most lux property on our route, aside from the big city hotel in Pakse. La Folie serves continental and Lao dishes. The Managing Director, Axel, makes it a point to chat with each guest during their stay and adds a warm, personal touch to being there.

DAY 16 Don Daeng Island
We awoke early to take the 7 am lodge boat arrangement to Dham pasah pier and then a tk tuk to Wat Phou. We disembarked down a rickety plank, two pier hands held up a bamboo pole at either end of the plank, voila, a hand rail. Surprisingly a driver was waiting for us from the lodge. We took a 20 minute drive through town to the temple. Not a tuk tuk in sight. Glad the lodge predicted this. Our driver showed us where he would be parked when we finished our tour.
After paying entry fees we walked along an ancient road and saw two structures under restoration. They were in such bad condition, I could not recognize them a Khmer. The path seemed to end except for some impossible steep steps leading up in to the jungle. Fred thought it such a beautiful morning, why spoil it with vigorous exercise. So he watched me disappear in to the jungle. I knew there must be more to this site, I recalled some photos despite leaving the descriptive materials in our room. At the next level there was nothing but steeper steps. Then I saw several village women with bags full of what looked like tourist goods. So I followed them. So I knew to keep walking up and up and up. About 130-140 tiny, uneven ancient stone steps. I recalled reading to see the temple in the early morning for the best light. I would add that by 9 am its hot, another reason to begin early. Breathless, I finally reached somewhat level ground and the temple structure. Clearly this was a lovely small Khmer temple that pre dated Angkor Wat. The style of construction and setting reminded me of Ta Prahn in Angkor. The carvings splendid. And the climb down as hard as the climb up.
Our journey back to the hotel provided an unexpected adventure. Our driver and van were no where to be found. We was not in the spot where he indicated he would be. We walked up and down several side roads in case he was chatting with friends. After half an hour we needed a new plan. A young, dapper local on a motorbike, seeing our bewilderment, asked if he could help. Every jam we've gotten into we've been "rescued" by the kindness of strangers and this chap was no different. He tried calling the Lodge for us but they could not locate the driver. He asked around about tuk tuks for us, there weren't any despite the travel literature. Down a side road, our helper found an older man with a jitney in front of this house. It usually seats about 10 but he was willing to take us for the price our new friend negotiated (basically, anything he wanted).
The man drove us to a dock but I knew it wasn't the right one. We'd gone much further in this direction than outbound. So there we were on an unfamiliar pier, We'd point to a boat and say "Don Daeng Island?" and the deck hands would shake their heads no. I spotted a small group of Europeans being led by a guide. We asked him where our boat would be docking, he didn't know but he could charter us a boat to our island. Yes, good. So we had a 15 person sightseeing boat all to ourselves. When we got to shore we walked the wide stretch of beach up to the lodge.
At a late breakfast, Axel came to our table to apologize. The driver had unilaterally decided we would spent to whole morning at Wat Phou and had taken off for early lunch. Why do our adventures have to be such a mixed bag?
We again lounged by the pool. The same two Brits, whiter than a sheet were again laying out all day. It might take them a month to turn slightly pink, let alone tan.
We checked out and reversed our movements: tractor to boat, boat to Champasak on the mainland. We moored further down river and our guide introduced us to our driver, Tet.
So out we set with Det and Tet. We were off to Um Tomo (10 minutes south of Champasak town) another ancient site. Tet was a skilled driver. Once he turned off the main road he had to do a slalom course between potholes the size of small craters every 15 feet.
The quiet, wooded setting in a copse of forest trees was lovely. The ruins amounted to stones strewn about here and there. There was not enough left of any structure to guess what it might have been. So unless you are an archeology buff, I'd give it a pass.
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 07:46 PM
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Well, it has been an adventure!
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Old Jan 13th, 2011, 08:04 PM
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We drove further south and stopped at Phonsaad, an animist village. As much as I like to witness local ceremonies, I was glad we'd arrived 3 hours after the village had sacrificed a water buffalo. Only the head with horns and the tail feathers remained, propped on the scaffolding in front of one of the sacrifice huts. The men were lying in side a hut, all woozy from too much moonshine.
All the bamboo houses were on stilts. The rope wrapped around each dwelling was to protect the house from evil spirits. The villagers are very poor, unaware or unable to provide minimal sanitation. Most older villagers cannot read or write.
I saw a pretty young woman sorting rice in a large round bamboo container. I gestured asking if I could take her photography. She put the bamboo in front of her face. I asked Det if villagers believed that taking their photo was stealing their soul. No, just shy. And unresponsive to my nopping and greeting of "sabadee".
We then drove to a dock where we'd just missed the hourly ferry boat. Cars, trucks, busses were lined up to get on the next ferry. A lively dockside trade was in progress. Very fresh fish, still flopping around, were being inspected and sold. Det was very involved in a fish purchase while on his cell phone with his friend about this. It reminded me of the Loehmann's shoppers who is on the phone describing a garment her daughter might like. Actually, Det was checking with his friend on the amount of fish for their New Year's eve BBQ tonight.
We took the short ferry ride to Don Khong Island, the largest island in this island wonderland. Before arriving at our hotel Det had us reserve a table at Pon's and select our meals. We were originally planning to go to the newer restaurant, Pon's Arena. But Det said the place would be jammed with noisy Thai who cross into Laos for New Year's (this was now the second slightly disparaging comment about the Thais I'd heard from the Laos. We checked in to Senesothxeune (SSX). I'd reserved the 2 room suite with balconies fronting the Mekong ($80) through Green Discovery since they told me they were full when I inquired directly. Their brochure states their mission as follows: We are striving to serve the travel enthusiast and impulsive people who seek variety and excitement". Perhaps a Madison Avenue ad man and a Bangkok bar girl were playing text games.
Dinner at Pon's was edible. The wine list provided some giggles: White Wine (Chardonnay) ------price; Red Wine (Chardonnary) ...price. We intended to check out a street party after dinner but decided to celebrate the New Year early, surely it was New Year's in Sydney and we were tired. The beds are hard in Laos. Very comfortable for me. But I can't bear a lumpy, spongy pillow, so I bring a down pillow that collapses on itself in a suitcase.
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Old Jan 15th, 2011, 03:19 AM
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Thanks Robbie...It's interesting to me that you have been able to see so much of the village life by car..I wonder how it compares to train travel..where it is available.. .Hoping to hear more...
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Old Jan 15th, 2011, 06:29 AM
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Following along with you...waiting for more. Glad your passport "issues" got resolved.
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Old Jan 16th, 2011, 07:09 AM
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Okay, let's get back to Robbie's wonderful tale...
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Old Jan 16th, 2011, 03:10 PM
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Don't know a thing about train travel, sorry. I can say that I saw no passenger trains in the parts we traveled in six days.
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Old Jan 16th, 2011, 03:49 PM
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DAY 17 4000 Islands touring
I can hardly believe its the beginning of a new year. Just as I was getting used to writing 2010. After a decent breakfast in a utilitarian breakfast room,we set out to tour the countryside in a long tail boat. I had originally asked for us to visit the Muang Khong market, knowing that it was an early morning market. Well, 4:30 am was just tooo earlyfor us,so we skipped it.
The translation "4000 Islands" is based on the French misunderstanding of this area called Si Phan Don. They don't know how many islands there are but 33 of them are inhabited. We pulled up to the shore at the fishing village of Vern Som on Don Som Island. The village is known for its fishing and boat building. We saw the teak hull of a boat under construction. And learned that most of the fishermen we saw fishing came from this village. I quite liked the village. I approached two children lounging on rice sacks and was about to ask the mother for permission to photograph her adorable children when they began to wail in unison. They seemed terrified and burrowed into their mother as close as possible. Det explained that when children cry a lot the mother often tells them she is going to give them to strangers (foreigners) if they don't stop crying. This explanation didn't make sense since they were not crying when I approached. Maybe they thought I was the promised stranger from some crying jag earlier in the morning. I felt awful and thought walking away would be the most reassuring to them.
We boated the morning away, captivated by the great natural beauty. The water picked up its pace and we had genuine .25 rapids. The skillful boatman could read the water and used the eddies for maneuvering. We boated past Don Det island,known as the backpackers haven/heaven.
We disembarked on Don Khone Island (second largest after Don Daeng). I felt as though I'd stepped back in to a time when life was simpler, slower, and you could feel the rhythms of the day. This feeling persisted until we approached one of the big attractions of this area: the old French railway car. Huge busses were spewing diesel and stirring up dusk as they disgorged their load of tourists. We walked to a clearing where stood a solitary, rusty French railway car on a bit of track. People were swarming, cameras were clicking and my marginal interest was decreasing with every degree of increased temperature. Det asked if we'd like to walk to Liphi waterfall. How far? Just 2 miles roundtrip. Thanks but no.
Now another lovely boat ride from Don Khone to the mainland. Driving further south we stopped at Khen Khong riverside restaurant. Det got us a table with a partial view of the Khone PhaPheng waterfall. By volume this is the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia and it is impressive. Not a dramatic drop from on high but a wide expanse of three linked falls. We were so far south in Laos that the Cambodian border was only 10 miles away.
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Old Jan 16th, 2011, 04:04 PM
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I'd read so many appealing things about Kingfisher Eco Lodge, I wanted to try it. As soon as Fred saw the word Eco on the entry gate he broke out in hives and gave me one of those looks. But that resolved, once he saw the grounds and the ambience of the lodge. It is set in the northern wetlands area of the National Biodiversity Conservation Area. The lodge creates tranquility through its simplicity. Made of all natural woods with a wall of glass facing the wetlands, our bungalow is lovely. The large deck has a comfortable hammock. The owners Massimo, an Italian, and his Lao wife, On, manage the property themselves with the help of On's brother Kiao and their little daughter Camilla. They really walk their talk about the environmental considerations that went into the property and the policies guests are to observe. Food was very good, views from the dining room world class. About $95 night.
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Old Jan 16th, 2011, 09:26 PM
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could it be that fred scared the kids?? they could not possibly know what a pussy cat he is...
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Old Jan 17th, 2011, 02:01 AM
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"Don't know a thing about train travel, sorry. I can say that I saw no passenger trains in the parts we traveled in six days."

No trains in Lao, (yet), except to Tha Naleng from Udon Thani.
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