Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

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March 17, 2012

Luang Prabang and Beyond!

Luang Prabang is one of the major cities of Laos (not too many) and the entire city also happens to be a UNESCO site.  We ended up staying 3 nights just to catch up on the website and get regrounded.  Tom decided to go south, so after 2 nights he left.  It was a great experience traveling with other riders.  It gave us a better feeling of what we were doing and also introduced some new ideas.  I’m sure we’ll run into Tom again since we’re heading to Australia!  LP is a really cute, boutique kinda town with old French shop fronts and loads of ethnic stores selling silk and cotton woven cloth, silver pieces, and wooden housewear.  Many of the items were so beautiful it hurt!  How could we possibly take anything on the bike?  I have been impressed by our restraint!

After traveling with other overlanders for 2 weeks, we needed to get back in our groove.  We wanted to go east to see Vieng Xai.  On the way we stopped in Nong Kiaw which was definitely a good move.  We got there early enough to take in the beauty of the river and limestone karst scenery.  This was exactly what I was chasing after in Laos…to see this scenery.  After settling into our cheap, basic bungalow we decided to venture down into the river and possibly take a swim.  It was tough to get down since there wasn’t much of a ‘beach’.  The water was pretty clean and you could see the limestone rocks in the water below that were carved in Dali inspired shapes.  After having some not so good fish laap (minced fish and herbs with sticky rice) in the afternoon we were ready for a good dinner.  Indians proved to be everywhere once again, and we decided to try our luck again with Indian food in this part of the world.  It turned out to be really good and we slept soundly except for the occasional bug taking a nose dive on our arms and face.

Our draw for going to Vieng Xai (far east close to the Vietnam border) was to see the limestone caves that once housed about 20,000 people supporting the Pathet Lao during the Secret War (which took place during the Vietnam War) bombings by the US.  It was a long haul to Vieng Xai and real twisty and turny.  Even being on the bike was making me a little woozy…we got a bit tired of turning.  Before we hit Vieng Xai, we passed through a city that was super clean, very Vietnamese in spirit, and very Soviet looking…random!!!  But when we got into Vieng Xai, we were towered on either side by amazing limestone karsts that were topped with deep-green jungle.  Really stereotypical I know, but it truly was something out of Apocalypse Now.  There weren’t too many guest houses but we were able to find one for a decent price.  Next job was to find some food, it seemed like everyone hid in their houses after dark.  We thought we’d have to resort to biscuits.  One note on biscuits…India has the best.  You get all kinds of cream filled biscuits…in Southeast Asia the biscuits suck.  You may wonder why is this at all important?  Sometimes you can’t get to your night halt in time and all there is that’s open is a general store and you’re freakin hungry.  At least in India you can get a couple of packs of Bourbons and you’re set.  They go with everything!  Bourbons and milk, bourbons and tea, bourbons and coffee, bourbons and rum.   All they have here is shrimp tasting chips and weak weak biscuits, if you’re lucky you may be able to buy an overpriced pack of plain chocolate crackers.   You appreciate India for what it is once you leave.  Anyways…

We found a restaurant that had some fried fish and sticky rice left, so that was plenty.  The next morning we were revved up to go on the tour of the caves.  The tour was well-done and interesting, we were able to take our bike around to each cave site.  The sites were spread all over the town.  They had a hospital, bakery, offices, houses, schools, theatres within these networks of caves, it was amazing!   It was sad to hear the accounts of the bombings from the commentary on the tour headsets.   The tour gave us more insight into what the Lao people went through in the recent past and made us feel a bit embarrassed since it was America’s doing.  (Not that I believe that the Pathet Lao or other communist/socialist organizations are correct). No one in these parts treats you any different despite what happened 40 years ago but you can tell that there is that resentment throughout the world that US likes to throw around it’s weight…like how people believe we are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Vieng Xai is a sleepy city with a tough past but somehow people have pushed through it and seemingly forgiven, despite being carpet bombed ‘back to the stone age’.  We found ourselves contemplating how people find it in them to forgive, not just here but in other war-torn areas.  Complicated, draining thoughts!  On a daily basis we are petty and proud, this makes you rethink how you live or at least shame us…

Came across this link for an old NPR spoken essay by ‘the girl in the picture’ or Kim Phuc, that pic embodies the horrific pain of the Vietnam War.  Once you get to the site, click on “listen to the story” and hear it in her own words    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91964687

How fickle we are!

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