Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We can't stay here, this is baht country

I've spent way too much money already, we both have. We keep meeting people who have been roughing it, staying in places that cost 100 baht (roughly 2 EURO), and thinking to ourselves, yeah we'll have to get used to the idea of staying in those places soon and besides Laos and Cambodia are going to be much worse than Thailand. But still, everytime we arrive somewhere and need a place to stay it's the same thing. The two boys look around and start justifying their addiction to luxury.

"Seriously man, it's going to be bad enough in other places, and it's cheap by euro standards."

"Seriously man, I can't take a gaff without air con tonight, it's too hot, seriously."

"Man, seriously, I'm not sleeping in a double bed with you, I don't care how cheap it is."

"Listen alright, it's seriously cool man, and we're here now, so come on, I mean seriously. Man."

Both of us are guilty of the straight faced utterances of any combination or mutation of the above. But comfort is a nice thing to have when you're away from home. Anyway the result is that we've paid something like four times what almost every backpacker we've met has for our rooms. But fuck it, seriously man, we're rolling like pimps.

So exodus from Thailand has kept me off the grid for the past couple of days. We took the charmingly titled and far less charmingly realitied slow boat to Luang Prabang from where I'm sending this message into the ether. (Say that out loud: Luang Prabang. Say it a few times, it's the nicest place name I've come across so far. Luang Prabang.)

A bus from Chiang Mai, the inside of which was the setting for a humourous exchange with some agreeable belgians, to Chiang Khong, the last town in Thailand before Laos. At Chaing Khong you get a boat across a river which forms a natural border between the two countries. It's rainy season here so it was LASHING down when we got there, ferried over in the back of a pickup truck even though it was LASHING. I bought rain ponchos for us but since it was LASHING so hard all the colours but pink were sold out. So standing in thick slimy muck up to our ankles, knackered from a nights traveling, wearing our delightfully butch pink ponchos, we climb into a boat with all our gear on our backs, hoping it wouldn't get soaked, fearing rightly that it would and all this in the relentlessly LASHING rain.

(I should point out that while Ireland is considered a rainy country one can't really enjoy it - if you're in bed or the bath or something - because it rains hard for only a couple of seconds, then impotently resigns itself to drizzle; not here, here when it rains it rains the whole day and all the while it's totally mercilessly frigging LASHING out of the heavens.)

Across this hard crossed river is Laos (silent S for those reading this aloud to the elderly) immigration. I thought there were some shotgun operations in Ireland but this shit right here, this shit was off the hook yo. Honest to God, in the LASHING rain they have everyone wait while a dude checks each passport and a little up the hill at a plastic table under a sun umbrella a guy looks at it and says something unintelligible at which point you're officially visiting Laos.

Anyway after this we pile into another pickup and head to the pier, where we wait, double check our passports, buy oreos and bags of lay's and exchange our baht to kip.

*A side note on cold firm cash: Kip is in my humbly arrogant opinion the lousiest currency available today. You get 12,400 of the blasted things for a euro. My breakfast this morning was fifty five thousand kip. What the hell are they messing around with it for? I got about fifty squids out of the ATM (of which there are two in Luang Prabang (ahh) and only a handful more in the whole of this country) and it was a wedge of notes that actually weighed me down slightly. *

Then the slow boat for 7 hours which takes us to Pak Beng, half way there, and we get out and stay in a guest house that looked, how to be kind, spartan, to begin with but after coming back from dinner a bit pissed was found to have been running on a petrol generator and was now devoid of electricity. You heard me right, indoors in the place the lights flicker as the engine ticks over and they turn it OFF at 10.30pm. Nightmare. (Incidentally, as I'm sure future posts will continue to mention, the idea of a nightlife in Laos is totally unnatural. There are no pubs, just restaurants that serve hooch, and all are shut by 11.30pm. Even coming back to the guest house at midnight last night seemed like asking for a kidney from the proprietor, who after much taking of deep breaths opened the gate and let us in. No amount of pandering will resinstate your position within the pages of one or more of his good books.)

Next day it's the same shit. Only this time it's 9 hours down the river. I shouldn't complain though, it was truly stunning to see, but after two hours of consecutive epic beauty you start to think, oh look, over there, more awesome landscape that almost moves me to tears.

Anyway I woke up a few times with the foresight to take a few quick snaps which appear below with a round up of others which got mixed up in the washing.

The same same guesthouse in Chiang Mai, lovely heads and decent digs. English, at least in the first sentence above is either very bad or irrelevant in the face pursuits of the flesh. I can not corroborate the assertion in said above statement.

Real people, of the child variety, who live on the banks of the Mekong in Laos, just chillin'.

The misty mountains of northern Laos, who's beauty was dampened, like that pun, by the damp weather coupled with my outside-ity.

A surreptitiously stolen photographic record of my real world encounter with a man of the cloth while on scooter back in Chiang Mai, lost. Not a frigging word of English out of him but he wouldn't end the encounter without repeatedly pointing in that direction. We found the park afterwards incidentally as his directions much like his orange habit, were spot on.

Fun Fact: Internet speeds here will make you want to slide naked down a jagged sharply inclining cliff into a receptacle of salt and leeches so it is for that sad reason that I hereby deprive you of further photos and videos.

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