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22 Days in Burma, Northern Thailand & Southern Laos

22 Days in Burma, Northern Thailand & Southern Laos

Old Jan 18th, 2011, 10:54 AM
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Yes Bob, I'll tell Fred.
DAY 18 ELEPHANT RIDE & BOLAVEN PLATEAU
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then Fred begged off on the elephant ride, claiming his age required 2 hours of morning loafing.
One of the pleasures of staying at Kingfisher is its proximity to Ban Khiet Ngang,a village devoted to elephant culture. Although the Lodge can make your reservations for you, its just as easy and much less costly to do the arranging yourself. Det picked me up and drove me to the village. Training mahoots and offering elephant rides are the main economic activities of this village. Because elephants are costly to maintain, usually several families own one elephant.
There I met Kon, the 40 year old elephant I would ride and her mahoot. I entered the bamboo basket atop Kon, the mahoot jumped on behind her ears and away we went into the forest.
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 11:24 AM
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In contrast to my two day ele ride in northeast Thailand where the mahoot gave word commands, this mahoot (wish I could remember his name)guided by gutteral sounds( hum, hummph, haap) that have different intonations and pitch. As we were making our way up the forest trail, the mahoot had the elephant stop and he dismounted and seemed to disappear. "Dont't leave me here all alone" cried the young child inside me. The mahoot had disappeared to behind Kon from where he continued to utter commanding sounds. One time Kon replied with a similar sound. Another time Kon made a sound like a base horm blowing. It was just a personal noise Kon was emitting from beneath her tail. We kept climbing deeper into this beautiful forest until we reached a clearing
at the top. The views of the surrounding countryside were splendid. Kon took me right up to the ruins of Wat Phou Asa. Little remains of the Wat but the setting is atmospheric. We ambled back down to the village. The ride was about 1 1/2 hours and cost about $20.
We checked out of Kingfisher and began touring. We visited a wood carving village called Bane Nong Bung. Det walked us through the village to the master wood carver. A young girl was working next to him, taking instruction. All the wood carvers in the village learn from one or two master carvers here. Such was the case with the 14 year old boy from whom we bought a carved piece.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch at The Riverside Restaurant in Pakse.
We were just about to turn into the weaving village of Katou, when I heard a loud smashing sound and felt a jolt from the back of our van. The driver of the motor scooter behind us had smashed into us. The owner of the scooter had let his friend drive it; he'd never driven before. The kid was shaking and was bleeding from some cuts and scrapes. Dr. Fred set up his ER on the side of the road, where a crowd of neighbors had now gathered. With the supplies I had available, Fred cleaned and dressed his wounds. All the excitement over, we entered the village. The villagers are another sub group of the Mon Khmer ethnic group. We walked around the village and checked out the weavings. We found two scarves we liked and Det helped us bargain.
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 12:06 PM
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Correction on last post. The weaving village is Ban Hoey, the villagers are of the Katou, Mon Khmer sub group.
As we get higher on to the Bolaven Plateau, the dry scrub land turns to fertile soil where coffee and tea plantations abound. About 20 minutes before reaching our lodging for the night, we made a stop at Lao Ngam market. I really liked the lively yet relaxed atmosphere at this market. The colorful catfish were swimming in tubs of aeriated water waiting to meet their destiny. Several of the stalls were on the order of beauty supply stores and with Det's help I finally located a much needed emery board.
Tadlo Lodge (not Tadlo Resort) has bungalows adjacent to a river in a forest setting. The rooms are simple and comfortable ($40) and the higher elevation gives respite from the intense heat further south. The staff is short on English but long on desire to help.
When I tried to book Tadlo online there was no email shown, no phone, no nada so I had Green Discovery book it for me. They have no internet, at least not for guests, no phones in rooms, no cell phone receptivity. The Lodge is remote and that's part of its charm.
On our bill it did show contact details: email is [email protected] and mobile # 20 227 2222.
Since there's no where else in the area, we had dinner at the Lodge. It was the best grilled chicken I've ever had. So I ordered seconds.
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 12:22 PM
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Great report, Robbie. I love these remote places you visited!
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Old Jan 18th, 2011, 02:05 PM
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fred is my hero... i love to stay home mornings too
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 09:53 AM
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DAY 19 Bolaven Plateau
Tadlo Lodge also offers elephant rides across the river and in the forest. The elephants get bathed, if ridden, morning and afternoon. With several photographers at the ready, three elephants and their mahoots saunter down to the river about 8 am, following their morning ride. I've seen elephants getting bathed before but never entirely submerged in the water. Each elephant willingly, it seemed, walked deeper in to the river until only the tip of their heads were visible. The mahoot is standing atop his ele and using one of his flip flops to scrub him down. The rest of the bath is on higher riverbed so each ele has his head partially above water. After their baths, the three elephants are left to wade in the river. After cooling down sufficiently, they ascend the riverbank and stand in tree shade while they shower spray their bodies with dirt and dust via their trunks. Does the dust further cool or coat them or are they looking for a reason to get back in the river?
The dining room where we had breakfast overlooks the river and the morning sun playing on the water and trees was an inspiring sight. The fresh fruits that introduced breakfast were also inspired.
Kieng Khong was our first village visit today. The villagers belong to the Ngae sub group of the Mon Khmer ethnic group, hence they are animists. The village was similar, if not dirtier than the animist village we saw yesterday, so w did not stay long..
As we drove higher on to the Plateau, I saw coffee drying in front of village homes. Ban Bong Neua is home to a group of Alak ethnic people. Their sacrifices are less frequent, they only kill one water buffalo a year. As with the first sacrificial buffalo I mentioned, the louder the buffalo bellows in his brutal death, the greater the amount of spirit is released. This is considered most beneficial to the village.
This village has a novel sanitation arrangement. None of these villages have toilet facilities other than the bush but here, the hogs follows the villagers to their squatting location and eat the human waste.
A quick gander through Lok Sipha market was enough; nothing distinguished it from many other markets we'd seen. We stopped at a coffee plantation with a resort and restaurant on site. We sat out on the patio facing an exceptional garden, sipping the best iced cappuccino I've ever had. The quality of coffees at Sinouk Coffee Resort and Restaurant were exceptional. Det led us on a nice walk through the coffee groves and we talked coffee.
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 11:16 AM
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The village of Houey Ten comes right to the edge of the road. Along the roadside are forgers working metal at this knife making village. Fred often buys his son-in-law an interesting knife from our travels but the ones here were crudely crafted and we moved on.
We took a forest trail to the look out point for Tad Fane waterfall. I could hear the force of the rushing water before catching sight of the actual falls. These falls, viewed from across a gorge, are quite beautiful, set in deep forest where deer, tiger and elephant roam. Strategically placed across from the falls is Tan Fane Resort where we lunched. The service was slow, as it is everywhere in Laos, but taking in the majesty of the waterfall made time stand still anyway.
I had been looking forward to our last stop, the silk weaving village of Ban Siphay. I don't agree with the guide books on the quality of the weaving here. The work is rough and unsophisticated (so unlike the beautiful weavings from around Luang Probang) and they "embellish" it with cheap gold or silver threads. As we drove back to Pakse, there was much wet rice farming along our route.
Det drove us to the Viengchampa Pakse office to settle our bill. Our tab was $593 for 3 1/2 days of guide and driver in the comfort of a Hyundai Starex minivan. Plus the $330 for 2 tickets Bangkok to Pakse on Lao Air. I felt satisfied with the services provided. Our guide, Det, could not have been better. He taught English for a year before becoming a guide so his language skills, as well as, general country knowledge were superb.
Before checking in to our hotel for our last night in Laos, I stopped by the Pakse market. It is huge. Its a good place to pick up souvenirs or other last minute shopping.
DH and I spent our last night at the Champassak Grand Hotel. Its a large city hotel with all the first class amenities. We got upgraded to a suite that overlooked the Mekong and had the luxury of a living room and two bathrooms.
Since we had to leave very early next morning we had dinner out on the hotel's terrace, overlooking the Mekong. It was a memorable tableau, as the sun faded into the clouds leaving a pink glow. The crab dish was delicious, ordered a second.
In reflecting on our days in southern Laos, I really enjoyed the laid back way of life here. Each region tries to extoll the virtues of its sights but there were few WOWs. Many of the villages were interesting but if I were looking for places where ethnic attire is prominent, I would pick the hill tribe areas and markets in the Sapa region north of Hanoi. My best memories center on the experience of just being here. Tomorrow its back to Thailand and a beach on Krabi.
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 12:44 PM
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DAY 20 BACK TO THAILAND Pakse to Krabi
This morning's arrangement went like clockwork, as they needed to. At 5:30 am the drive from Pakse to the Lao-Thai border took about 50 minutes. Once at the border our guide, Mr. Si of Green Discovery, directed us to one window, then the next. There is an extra "fee" for the border guards to stamps our passports before official opening time at 8 am. Stamped and paid Mr. Si walked us through no man's land to the large modern building that is the Thai Immigration Authority. More paperwork and special scrutiny of my new passport. Then its another 1 1/2 hour drive to the Thai airport at Ubon Ratchathani. Why not fly from Pakse? No flights scheduled this day or next. We had to go through formalities in Bangkok, recheck our luggage and wait, wait, wait. Finally, we were en route to Krabi and the Amari Vogue
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 01:50 PM
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It sounds much more interesting to me to travel overland at least part of the way as you have done.....Have you had any problems with the bathroom facilities along the way? ....hope you don't mind touching on this very fundamental but actually crucial topic.
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 02:13 PM
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wonderful time in laos... anxious to see how you like the vogue.... we found their food to be excellent and the chefs to be very friendly...

make sure to try his knochi-- a specialty..
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 09:39 PM
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b_b the bathroom situation is highly variable during the road trips. The best places (nicer restaurants, hotels ) have clean facilities with western style toilets and toilet paper. I also do fine with Asian style squat toilets which are more common. Some of them are clean, some nasty. Never pass up an opportunity to use a good bathroom. If you have to find a bush or squat in an outhouse, leave all your belongings with someone else since there's no clean place to hang/place a purse or camera. And make sure your spouse is not nearby telling you to watch out for snakes. I always carry a zip lock baggie with a roll of camping toilet paper and Purell with me when heading for a potty break.
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Old Jan 19th, 2011, 10:10 PM
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I really enjoyed your report. I am heading to Pakse on Tuesday from Vientene and not sure of my plans when I get there. I know I want to see the 4000 islands and Wat Phu but thats it so far so your report is very timely for me. I only hae 5 1/2 days on the ground in full so dont want to plan too much. Great detail and wonderful information, thank you.
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Old Jan 20th, 2011, 12:18 PM
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live42day, looking forward to hearing about your experiences, enjoy.

DAY 20 continued
Finally we arrive at the Amari Vogue Hotel on Tub Kaek beach. Bob and Karen recommended this hotel and I am so glad they did. Thank you, its wonderful. Following Bob's instructions we requested the 4th floor of the north building. We booked a Honeymoon Deluxe (#4401) and were told by several staff and the GM that we had the best room in the house. That's partially because I emailed them reminders of my request a month in advance and then a week in advance. Quite considerate of me to help them plan room allocations properly. The room is well appointed and the bathroom big and well designed. The best part for me is the large balcony that has the most uninterrupted view of the Adaman Sea possible from this property. There's also a big round soaking tub on the balcony. For a beach stay, I usually choose hotels that are much smaller and less family oriented but I came to like the place enough to forgive them their 57 rooms and pint sized guests.
It wasn't more than 15 minutes after check-in that we were already loafing on our balcony catching some late afternoon hazy sun. As part of our gradual re-entry to our hi tech life, we turned on CNN and caught up on all the bad news.
We decided on an early dinner, having awakened at 4:30 this morning, at Bellini's, their Italian restaurant. Our table, just up from the sand, afforded a perfect view of the sunset, actually sun fade. We enjoyed Happy Hour, unwinding and excellent Italian fare. I'll have to return for that signature dish Bob. The temperature was perfect, low 70s, no bugs. As we make our way back to our room, the night time beauty of the hotel was on display. Well done landscape lighting softly highlighted the fountains, cascading water features and Thai roof design.
I collected my mail from the front desk. It was bittersweet getting my superannuated passport back in my hands. So sorry, I had to go through all that hassle to replace it and so glad I have my "scrapbook" of 25-30 immigration stamps and 6-8 visa labels.
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Old Jan 20th, 2011, 12:32 PM
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DAY 21 KRABI< THAILAND
We sat on our balcony and made breakfast of the basket of fruit in the room and coffee making facilities. We talked and read and looked at the sea until lunchtime. From our balcony I can look down on the broad clean beach with its shallow, calm water. Several jagged rock formations are a mile or two off shore and they are framed by a mountain range at the horizon line.
Belllini's was just as good for lunch as for dinner last night. Scallop salad, very fine. Then Fred and I went our separate ways. I stationed myself on a comfortable recliner on the sand and read until the errant raindrops turned to a steady, heavy drizzle. So I ducked in to the computer area to wait for, what now was a downpour, to stop. Good time to begin my trip report on Burma.
It rained steadily. From our balcony the wind made the trees look like they were doing a Hula dance.
We tried Lotus, the Thai restaurant, for dinner. Decent Thai food but none of the subtlety found in the best of Thai cooking. I kept looking at the starless sky trying to devine tomorrow's weather. The five day forecast slipped under our door this morning showed hot and sunny, no rain. No wonder its said that little boys who lie grow up to be weathermen.
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Old Jan 20th, 2011, 03:33 PM
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i'm so glad you like it... it really is a nice smallish hotel....oh if they could just do something about those steps however...
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Old Jan 21st, 2011, 10:43 AM
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DAY 22 KRABI
I woke early and thought this morning the perfect opportunity to slowly resume exercising. Besides little exercise on the trip, I'd pulled a ligament in my foot 3 weeks prior to the trip and discontinued working out on the treadmill so I would not have walking problems on this trip. My foot responded well to the rest but my weight was creeping up without my daily workout. So having given thirty seconds of serious consideration to working out, I vanquished the notion and jumped into my bathing suit. The sun was behind heavy cloud cover, again. Fred and I hung out on our balcony chatting, reading.
At some point I undertook the arduous labor of relocating from the balcony to a chaise by one of several pool areas. I liked the idea of being able to choose from among several pool areas, despite the fact that it was probably 50 steps from the lobby level all the way down to the beach. Every 15-20 steps was a pool area, a bar/lounge area, a restaurant with pool in front of it.
My favorite location is just above The Sunset Lounge. On this level, there are 4 chaise lounges in front of the bar, facing the sea. Immediately in front of each wooden chaise was a shallow pool containing 4 stone body contoured chaises with headrest and leg elevation. So you could sit on a chaise in the water, turn the jacuzzi on, read, admire the sea and sip your ice water. I was mentally adjusting to sun bathing without seeing the sun. I could still feel the sun's warmth and still needed sunscreen but the sun continued to hide.
We enjoyed another sun fade and very good dinner at Bellinis.
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Old Jan 21st, 2011, 10:50 AM
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DAY 23 KRABI
Perhaps you also have detected a small inconsistency in my report. I seem to have a very specific mathematical impairment. I cannot count beyond 22. Despite 22 Days appearing in the title of this report, we were gone 26.5 days, port to port. I usually just count days on the ground and then we added days to Krabi after my first draft itinerary
Another lazy day. The sun peeked through the clouds now and then. The hotel's computers are on the fritz, so I'll check back later.
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Old Jan 21st, 2011, 11:57 AM
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My "accomplishment" for the day was finishing a thoroughly trashy detective novel. If you want some junk food for the mind, written without any literary merit I commend you to Silent Scream by Lynda La Plante. It does have the benefit of very large print and no need to ever consult a dictionary.
Our big excursion this afternoon was to take the hotel's shuttle van in to the town of Ao Nang. The journey on country roads with tropical foliage was much more pleasing than the destination. For An Nang think of South Beach, Venice Beach without the eye jollies, or any other tacky town swarming with stall after stall of cheap T shirts, wood carvings and tour operators. The handbag shops were second generation knock-off ( tawdry knock-offs of cheap Chinese knock-offs). This is probably the best place to arrange a trip to Phi Phi Island or other snorkel and dive adventures. The hotels can arrange these trips, adding a generous mark-up.
So we found an Italian joint and had dinner on the main drag, across from the beach. The drunk Russians two tables away was so loud we relocated to the table farthest away from him. The Pad Thai with chicken and the pizza both exceeded expectations. Too bad I can't recall the name of the place. After another walk along the strand, we tuk tuked it back to the Amari.
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Old Jan 21st, 2011, 12:12 PM
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DAY 24 KRABI
Just reread day 21, 22, 23.
In addition, I'm enjoying a masterfully written novel, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. The major "event" of the day occurred when two hotel staff began running up some stairs and dropped to the ground in a planting area. Apparently one of the catfish who resides in the waterway across the path had jumped across the path and into the shrubs. He or she was quickly returned home.
DAY 25 returning home
So if I'm counting this long, long day as day 25, then our departure day would be day 26.
We arrived back in Bangkok and had an unavoidable 8 hour layover. We must catch the tail winds on the return flight since it was only 14 hours Bangkok to LA, instead of the 17 hours on the outbound flight.
Wow, what a satisfying trip.
Photos will take me a while. In the meantime, I'd like to write one more post about the reading I did preparing for this trip and about my packing strategy and tips.
Thank you all for your help, your comments and for sharing this journey with me.
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Old Jan 21st, 2011, 01:56 PM
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Many thanks for this wonderful report Robbietravels.
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