Part Deux – Don Det

Don Det, 4000 Islands, Laos – Pakse, Laos
November 14 – November 15, 2013

Part 1 – here

We’ve made it back to the Mekong somehow and in marvelous fashion. The cerulean skies are adrift with smoky-white Santa beards. The Mekong is its usual muddy puddle brown. And Laos is as chill as ever. My shoes are at the front of the restaurant so I let my toes play with the wooden boards that hang over the river. Katie’s in a hammock with an inebriated puss passed out on her swaying lap. And aside from an Asian actor being interviewed on the tele, it’s pretty near impossible for it to get any more peaceful.

Meow

Meow

Don Det is a spaced-out island serving up fun treats and shakes with slogans like make it happy for 20,000 ­­- so it’s hard not to immediately feel at home. We have already walked the island twice over and found that 95% of it is traditional Laos, staying true to its roots of tending, building and living off the land. The 5% (if) is at the northern tip and has been seeded with foreign interest. A hedonistic getaway to fall into your senses and release yourself of reality. I only say that this isn’t reality because it’s not sustainable; once the green has withered it’s back to work I hither. Ha, that’s a silly way to put it. Actually just thought of it, but it’s true. I can’t keep this lifestyle up and soon enough I’ll be a teacher back in my ol’ stomping ground Seoul.

SAMSUNG CSC

But there is lots of living to be had until then, and in two days time we’ll be back in Paksong with Tyson & Janelle celebrating their coffee house opening and then we whisk off to Thailand for Muay Thai and yoga in the north. And with perfect timing, yesterday I received an email from the training camp and they let off so much good energy and assured me that there are a lot of good people there right now and the vigor is high. And with grand news it has only birthed more. It has been almost 3 months without having a home and Chiang Mai will offer us that, even for a month. It will be nice to let our lives breathe from our packs and put up our stones and shells on a shelf alongside our books, and home cook meals and have a desk and wooden chair to bring outside and write and write into the night and wake early and run and train and kick bags and burpees, and sit in the hills at night with campfires below…this is a big deal, a real wallop to get worked up about, this month could change the way I look at life! I need to be able to prove to myself that I can accomplish one of the toughest tasks I’m about to set on myself in my life. This isn’t this last minute whim I am signing up for as a goof, whether I know what I’m fully getting myself into or not. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I went to Thailand in 2007. I want this to be the last year of my gut, the last year of rubbing thighs, the last year of ever caring about taking my shirt off. 30 years is way too long to live in self-created fear.
KT: I’m not signing myself up for Muay Thai, I don’t have much interest in it. Instead, I’m going to dive into the Chiang Mai yoga world and see what’s going on there. I’d also love to get into some meditation (as Janelle so wonderfully suggested!), but I’ll have to scope that out once we’re there. Really looking forward to keeping put in one spot for a month, and being Lou’s cheerleader as he commits himself to this crazy workout routine.

Supa ugly birds

Supa ugly birds

We ended up at an Indian restaurant for dinner with our elbows on the railing over looking the soupy Mekong. In the distance, deep within an ominous cloud, a perpetuating display of lightning prevailed in the sky, lighting it up in electric gasps, larger and longer each time, until all chairs had been turned and eyes adrift. The food was magnificent and spiced perfectly, so much so that we ordered an extra curry and naan for dessert.

The nights were early for us and the days long, all spent in hammocks and chairs or walking about or picking up children and swinging them in the streets like vintage carnival rides, as the two tiny little girls no more than six, swapped back and forth between Katie and I with arms out to be hugged, and stern little faces that meant business. They wanted to be swung and that was that, so we picked them up more and twirled and rocked and upside down and right side up, until they giggled and let out whales, and swapped places and ran into either Katie or I’s arms until we did it again & again & again, until we said sorry we had to go and tried to level with them, and they weren’t sad, they only high-fived us and blew us kisses.

KT: Don Det was indeed more Rock & Roll,in the most relaxed sense of rocking and rolling. Although there wasn’t a lot going on, it was telling that many souls got lost on Don Det, very similar to what we saw in Vang Vieng. In the evening, Lou & I went for a long stroll all the way around the island, taking in the Mekong sunset. What a place.

Transportation in 4000 Islands (and some great hair!)

Transportation in 4000 Islands (and some great hair!)

It had been five days on the islands and it was time to make our way back to mainland to wrap up our last 5 days in Laos, so we bought a boat & bus ticket (50,000LAK) from a woman who ran a restaurant that held a litter of kittens and their mother in a Styrofoam box under her desk. On her phone she showed us videos of them sleeping in a swing she has above one of the tables. It was a swing similar to one you’d rock babies to sleep on, but instead it slept three kittens and their mother. I paid her for the ticket and she told us to meet her at our guesthouse at 11am the next morning.

Doesn't look like much, but it was all we needed

Doesn’t look like much, but it was all we needed

Well 11 am rolled around and about 50 people had amassed along the murky beach at the tip of town, about 20 feet from our guesthouse. Everyone was heading back to main land, it seemed like the whole island had been drained all at once. Everyone was in a long line waiting to hop on one of the 6 long boats awaiting passengers. We hung back as we always do, hanging out until we have to get on. Sitting around waiting, she came up to us from behind.

“I told you to wait at your hotel” she said sounding upset.
“Ahh…the manager said to wait by the beach. We’re sorry!” we said.
She softened up right away and the three of us walked to her own personal boat where we loaded in and took off in minutes, sailing past the claustrophobic beach.

“What the hell Katie? That was amazing!” I rejoiced.
“So good! How do people not know about this?” Katie said rhetorically.
We bypassed these tourist-filled boats to have a whole one to ourselves. Lucky us ;)

Switching busses....grrrreat

Switching busses….grrrreat

We docked and cleared the boat in a heartbeat and made our way to the bus…only to have the slowpokes catch up and saturate our quiet little brew-ha. The bus eventually left, but snapped it’s clutch minutes before reaching Pakse. Another bus oddly enough was trailing not too far behind us and all thirty of us managed to find a seat. So back in Pakse we were, for the third time, sitting at our favorite coffee joint and Indian restaurant and riverside bungalow being the creatures of habit that we are. Tomorrow we ride.

Our favourite Pakse puppies that live at the guesthouse we stayed at (3 times...)

Our favourite Pakse puppies that live at the guesthouse we stayed at (3 times…)

4000 Islands pt. I

Pakse – Don Khon Island – Don Det Island (4000 Islands), Laos
November 10 – November 13, 2013

Our idea behind hitting the 4000 Islands was to purely hangout, fill our days with getting lost, reading, and sitting along the river; a lot different from the relaxing we’ve been getting ourselves up to the past month. This is different, now we’re on an island. Two completely different levels of chilling. We took a boat to get here…this is a commitment.

Travel Laos boat ride kt

Due to the language barrier, our tuk-tuk hauled us all the way to Don Khon instead of our intended destination Don Khong…silly us. Although we took it for what it was and made it our home. Ohh the troubles of island life. We loaded a long boat with a slough of tourists also looking for a getaway and we snaked past twenty of the 4000 islands, passing Don Det on our way to Don Khon. (Lonely Planet quotes Don Det as being a more ‘rock & roll’ island.) KT: We were looking to avoid this “rock & roll” – we had enough in Vang Vieng. Peace and relaxation was our ultimate goal ;)

Behind Lou is part of the infamous railroad bridge you'll read about shortly...

Behind Lou is part of the infamous railroad bridge you’ll read about shortly…

Our boat docked as the sun was going down and the shore along Don Khon was lit up with riverside bungalows and stilted restaurants draped with lanterns and laid out with day beds and Thai pillows. It wasn’t even six and the island had a sleepy feel. Seven of us unloaded, climbed the bank, and put our packs on to explore and find a guesthouse.

The first two bungalows we looked at were charging $5 a night, but we held out for one that didn’t resemble a castaway shack. We ended up splurging and got a bungalow with an en-suite bathroom, front porch and hammock for $6.50; which is quite handy since hanging out on your front porch is the lifestyle that is in store for the evening.

Our bungalow - loved it :)

Our bungalow – loved it :)

We sat around all night drinking fruit shakes and eating three dollar thai curries with sticky rice in cartoony day beds with kittens being adorable on our laps and table, and then

kitty love

kitty love

bumping into the same couple from the boat over and over again until they curse out “oh no!!! it’s the Canadians again” and then we even see them again. In front of our bungalow grew a tree that now sleeps all the roosters in town, all making a branch there home, until one has a nightmare and starts cuckoo-ing wildly in the night, like a miss-set alarm clock.

Where the roosters slept. & our neighbours

Where the roosters slept. & our neighbours

The next morning we rented bikes and rode to the other side of the island with views of Cambodia and kayaks afloat hoping to catch a sight of the elusive Mekong River

Rapid rapids

Rapid rapids

dolphin. We also learned the history of the island and the importance the French held upon its position in their conquest during the Indochina War. I felt rather nostalgic sitting at the banks sipping beers looking out across the river, knowing that 100 years ago many French men did the same with big dreams in their hearts. Not much has evolved at these coordinates in the past 100 years though, and if it wasn’t for a few signs and train engine you’d have no idea that a train track once linked these islands past the rocky cascades and waterfalls that prevented their ships from channeling up the Mekong.

Bike riding day

Bike riding day

With difficulty I tried to drift back 100 years to an era bustling with activity. But I’ve always found it hard to really imagine myself there. But that was what I was left doing. If it’s not trying to transcend myself into a NYC jazz club in the 50′s jiving to the renegade sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I’m trying to picture myself as a 1920′s street tough suited up with long suspenders standing outside of the fruit market juggling an apple scheming about the day, and always how I would have really whooped it up.

puppy play

puppy play

A toss away a gang of kids pass a wicker ball back and forth over a net in teams of two, bopping it with their heads, shoulders and toes, sweating in the sun with their hands cautiously held back. An old wrinkly woman walks by with a mouthful of something awful, red and juicy, constantly at dribble, which is even more cause for alarm because she’s grinning over her big haul. In one hand two silver fish hang hooked through their agape mouths & her other hand dangles the instrument used to catch these edible victims. She has paraded the whole town over trying to sell her catch, although so far her attempts have been fruitless.

"Hey gurrrrrl. Whatchu sellin'?"

“Hey gurrrrrl. Whatchu sellin’?”

All this while a  school lets out and a sea of uniformed children start running about, but

BeerLao, to be exact

BeerLao, to be exact

when I look closer I see that they are collecting garbage, while their teacher in the background sets a small pile of it ablaze. The kids keep running around collecting more and throwing it all in the fire until the harbour smells like burning plastic, which is just toxic and not fun. And here Katie and I are relaxing over a beer, much like the French must have who oversaw this project 100 years ago. And I feel oddly in touch with the beauty in today, gazing out onto Cambodia, like all the others who have stood here before.

Cow + Louis, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!!!

Cow + Louis, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!!!

On the bike ride back to town we had managed to locate the waterfall which we were first in search of. The same waterfall that caused the French to build the train track to the north.

Fishermen!

Fishermen!

In the rushing waters, a handful of Lao men were checking a slough of traps they had set up to catch fish that battled through the currents. Long bamboo shoots were aligned like alleyways that curved up and out of the water to coop their catch. This all within crashing rapids near the base of a falls. When they docked their boat they came back with a minuscule haul, a few mere morsels for their gallant efforts, while one fish appeared as though it had already been munched on.

Rapids the fishermen were set up in front of - nutso!

Rapids the fishermen were set up in front of – nutso!

We ended up staying on Don Khon one more night, doing nothing more than this & that. In the morning we filled up on chocolate banana crepes, picked up our laundry and strapped our packs to our backs and started walking. We shuffled across all 158 meters

THIS sunset!!

THIS sunset!!

and 13 arches of the French bridge that connected Khon to Det and then trundled the whole island heading north along one rocky shadeless path as it’s labeled in the Lonely Planet. Hell, it wasn’t too bad – gorgeous really, even weighted down by our packs. We passed a glowing field being harvested by a few ladies smeared in sewn fabric from toenail to eyelid, just working away as life goes, chomping away with razored machetes at fields of rice. I couldn’t see their faces, but a stereo grooved and if I had to bet, I’d say they had smiles on their faces. We came across a pack of smokes along the dirt road with two cigarettes stretched out begging to be smoked, this omen came just when our conversation led to smoking and lung cancer.  It was a test. We passed-being that we aren’t smokers. Our high came to an end when we met this downer named Donno.

Typical Lao "shower" - water buffalo included!

Typical Lao “shower” – water buffalo included!

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TBC…

Check out our next blog to ironically read: to the woman who wasted 15 minutes of our time.

 

Paksong: a Wonderful Twist of Fate

Pakse, Laos – Paksong, Laos
November 8 – November 9, 2013

We rented motorbikes to get out of the city and explore the region around us known as the Bolaven Plateau. A scenic drive that bypasses a handful of spectacular waterfalls, pineapple, banana, and exotic fruit stands, worn in homes with tin roofs, built stilts, and coffee trees on front lawns  all interwoven by people busying themselves at work or shouting sabaidee all laid back in hammocks.

Travel Laos waterfalls

Travel Laos waterfall 3

The first four waterfalls were exactly what they claimed to be, and in some wonderfully symbiotic way we had visited the falls just as tourists were leaving, and stayed just long enough to leave as a new set of tourists arrived.

Travel Laos waterfall pakse

Travel Laos KT Lou waterfall

The last waterfall was by far the golden child. With a ticket price of $2 that included Travel Laos KT waterfall edgeparking, it was also the steepest price. But if I were you, which I am at least for this vicarious minute, I would splurge. And so we did. The top of the falls is a perfect spot to hang out and have some sticky rice and tom yam fish soup. A coiling stream cuts through the emerald meadow all connected by bridges to the edge of the heartbeat-skipping falls. If the water is low, which it was, you can wade in the water and poke your head over the edge to get a glimpse of natures swimming pool.

Travel Laos Paksong huge waterfall

The views off the lip were hidden from the world. A spectacular find for the first explorers and preserved and built-up for people like me to be able to pay $2 to enjoy its beauty.

Travel Laos Pakse bike waterfall lou

The town of Paksong was only 10km ahead and we begrudgingly left the falls to find a guesthouse before sunset. It only took 10-15 minutes to get to the slow town of Paksong and you could almost drive right through if you blinked. OK maybe ten blinks. We passed

Puppies that followed us around one waterfall

Puppies that followed us around one waterfall

a few guesthouses but wanted to find one off the main road. Coming to a T in the road, I found a sign that read yadda yadda guesthouse and yadda yadda Korean restaurant. Well the guesthouse was laid back against a stream and if you know me there are two things I love; streams and Korean food. So we busted a left and followed the road over two bridges and ended up face to face with a woman who ran the guesthouse who said it was full and they also weren’t serving food. LET DOWN! We scoffed, turned our bikes around and luckily found two more guesthouse around the corner. Both peaceful and open and perfect for a night under the stars.

Brightest room ever? I think so

Brightest room ever? I think so

We were shown a room at the first guesthouse with pink candies, bears and presents for sheets, pillow cases and blinds, and then Katie ran over to the other to compare prices, but was also turned down for a room. So it looks like we know where we are staying tonight.

A kitty in one hand, a puppy in the other, and green curry in front of me!

A kitty in one hand, a puppy in the other, and green curry in front of me!

Across the street there was a restaurant and that’s where we found ourselves eating when two foreigners walked in and changed our night…perhaps our lives.
KT: But first about our dinner! The food itself was decent, but it was the owners that made

Hmmm

Hmmm

us love the joint. They were an incredibly friend duo who apparently also own a restaurant called Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang – where Louis & I had our date night! There are pictures of it here. They have a dog, Lucky, and a couple kitties (Mimi and I didn’t catch the other name). Lucky has a bunch of tricks up her paw, her most infamous one being the delivery of money from customer to her mom. Lucky is the first dog we’ve seen since leaving home that knows TRICKS! And Mimi comes when you call her. The husband offered us some of his home-made Lao Lao whiskey, which we had to be polite…but it was just awful. It was the colour of the Mekong and tasted like…well…how I imagine the mekong tastes, spiked with whiskey. Ok back to L’s story…

We had met the two people that we wanted to be. Two people that were living their dream (literally). Two people that crafted a dream that would not only affect their life but thousands, tens of thousands more. Tyson and Janelle, a wonderfully fun, conscious and energetic American couple that are a week away from the grand opening of their for-profit coffee shop that raises money for their non-profit organization spreading the education of health & sanitation and providing the resources for clean drinking water for remote villages.

Saying goodbye to Lucky, Mimi & the gang at Luang Prabang Restaurant! Yes, they were day drinking.

Saying goodbye to Lucky, Mimi & the gang at Luang Prabang Restaurant! Yes, they were day drinking.

I wish I could quote Tyson, with his energy and passion that flooded out of him as he proudly explained his undergoing project; about all the people onboard and all the new friends he’s met in Paksong, and about the cat they just rescued, and the two water wells they have already installed, and the video-plays they are going to display at schools to educate the children on sanitation, and connections and the beauty of it all. And in no way, not even once, did it come off as insincere, as if bragging about his path, but solely in a way where he is excited and explodes when he meets people, and his energy is infectious. If you are interested in knowing more please check them out on Facebook @ Jhai Coffee House.

If you're not already convinced that Janelle & Tyson are super rad - here is their rescued cat named My Favourite Sandwich (AKA Sammy)

If you’re not already convinced that Janelle & Tyson are super rad – here is their rescued cat named My Favourite Sandwich (AKA Sammy)

After dinner the four of us went for a walk to a little waterfall and laughed and laughed until it was 10 o’clock and past their bedtime. Walking out of the waterfall and onto a patch of grass Tyson spotted something.

“There are fireflies over there,” he says pointing, “don’t let them out of your sight!”

It was an odd comment, honest and worded in a way that only brought us all to tears. Minutes later we were all in awe with a shooting star that has blazed across the sky after we stopped to gaze. It was a perfect night. It had been a long time, even when you factor in travelling and life back home, that we had met a couple people genuine and so ambitious. It livened Katie and I, and I hope that the feeling stays with us. I even asked Tyson for his  business plan because they had taken myself & Katie’s dream of opening a coffee shop and added a philanthropic worth to it.

Coffffeeeeeee

Coffffeeeeeee

The next morning we woke up and went to check out their coffee house in progress. Their grand opening is projected for this Sunday, and that night Katie and I had already been rerouting our trip so that we can come and celebrate in Paksong, of all places. Which is a valid enough reason that it’s not necessarily about the where, but the what!

When we arrived, they had waffles, donuts and this sweet caramelish fruit called la müt that you eat with a spoon. It was way too sweet, but it was the thought.

Day-drunk wacky Lao ladies wanted a picture with me! Cross that one off my bucket list ;)

Day-drunk wacky Lao ladies wanted a picture with me! Cross that one off my bucket list ;)

Outside the café they were finishing up a second floor balcony with bamboo railing. Inside Janelle was painting on a black chalk board, while Tyson showed us around the spot. He showed us the recycled table tops, handmade chairs, paper maché  lights, and stage for live music, where the coffee bar is going in and even their bedroom upstairs. The whole grounds were bustling with people sawing and sanding and lifting and making deliveries and through it all the two of them hung out with us and ordered us eggs from their neighbour.

Us with Janelle & Tyson in front of soon-to-be Jhai Coffee House!

Us with Janelle & Tyson in front of soon-to-be Jhai Coffee House!

We left so they could get work done, but we knew we would see them again so the goodbye wasn’t that bad. We saddled back onto our bikes and cruised 150 km back to Pakse after stopping at another waterfall on the way home.

One last waterfall!

One last waterfall!

That night we ate at Hassan Indian Restaurant on the recommendation from Tyson & Janelle who are friends with the owner. The food was delicious, but we didn’t get a discount for name dropping. JK.

We ended up back at the same guesthouse where the Dutchmen had followed us and made plans to head to Don Khong in the 4000 islands of Southern Laos in the morning.

Life is looking good.

Where are we? Paksan? Alright!

Ban Na – Paksan – Pakse, Laos
November 5 – November 7, 2013

Katie woke up sick again but we felt like we had over stayed our welcome. So we slowly packed and got ready to leave. Before we could leave, the husband of the house (our father) ran out and came back with a loaf of bread. We had turned down breakfast to get on the road and Katie’s stomach couldn’t handle food anyways. It was the sweetest thing that man had ever done for anyone. I’ll miss him.

The walk out of the village was brutally hot, but we eventually made it to the highway where I made a few attempts of thumbing a ride. One attempt was yielded at a military officer who stopped, but not to pick me up, instead someone handed him a baby and off he went. I believed it to be some form of protection payment.

Travel Laos Paksan lou

Two minutes later a tuk-tuk to Paksan showed up and we boarded. We got dropped off at the station and walked five minutes up the road in search of a cushy hotel we had read about where Katie could lounge about, recoup and feel better. We found it and I went for a walk for Pepsi and regular chips.  That was about the extent of our night. Well that and a dose of Dumb & Dumber. A get better quick remedy I’ve been prescribing since 1994.

Travel Laos Paksan hotel

KT: The 2KM hike from our homestay to the main road seemed never-ending. And it was all I could do to keep myself in order on the tuk tuk. Paksan wasn’t exactly where we wanted to end up, but I needed to lay down again and just couldn’t stomach the ride to Pakse. I checked us into the fanciest hotel I could find – $14 a night, ice cold AC, hot water shower, flushing toilet, and cushy bed. It was necessary. Sometimes, while travelling, you just need to splurge and spoil yourself. It was one of those times.

Day 15- Paksan

The decision came to us the night prior to skip central Laos. Although when we first boarded the bus south to Pakse we didn’t know that we’d be en route for the next 14 hours.

Our first bus! We had the whole back row

Our first bus! We had the whole back row

Second bus - looks cozier, but we were swarmed with  mosquitos!

Second bus – looks cozier, but we were swarmed with mosquitos!

With only two weeks left in Laos we wanted to spend it lounging on the 4000 islands along the Mekong. And from what we have read Central Laos doesn’t have much to offer aside from breathtaking landscape. I know ehh…how trite.

Sticky rice in a bag - why not!

Sticky rice in a bag – why not!

Fast forward fourteen hours into midnight in Pakse and the two of us unloaded the bus alongside two Dutchmen. And much like the rest of Laos, the town had shut down two hours ago- so we took to foot and walked through the deserted streets in search of a guesthouse.

Chicken sellers swarm busses when they pull over

Chicken sellers swarm busses when they pull over

It turns out that we confused the bridge entering the city for another bridge which threw off our bearings from the Lonely Planet maps in our hands and after twenty minutes we were standing aloof in the middle of an intersection when a Lexus pulled up.

“Guesthouse?” the man in a pimp style gold necklace asked.
“Yes…yes…guesthouse” the four of us chimed.

He got out of the car and popped the trunk and the four of us threw our bags in before snuggling up in the back seat. He turned around and rode off to the exact guesthouse we had all been searching for.

The gold chained man and his wife clad in braces got out to escort us and our bags inside but it turned out to be full. Next door we had better luck. But there was a catch. There was only one room left. Since it was nearly 1am the four us climbed the stairs and piled into our separate beds; Katie and I in one & Dutchman and Dutchman in the other. The beds were made of 3-ply cardboard but we had such a wonderful sleep.

Day 16- Pakse

We woke up before the Dutchmen and packed our bags to duck out and find a new spread. They woke up when we were leaving and we extended our farewells and nice knowing you’s before we slid out the door with guffaw looks on our face that said I can’t believe we just bunked with 40 year old Dutchmen. You would know the face if you saw it.

In the daylight we got our bearings and found a nice and cheap guesthouse along the Mekong. After unpacking, would you guess who strolled on through? Yep, the two travelling Dutchmen. This time they stayed two doors down. Which was nice of them. We left our courtyard to explore the town. But with three Indian restaurants and a proper coffee shop we pretty much had our sights in store.

We quickly find pups to play with - they are abundant in Laos

We quickly find pups to play with – they are abundant in Laos

I honestly don’t think we did anything other than eat Indian food and hang out at the coffee shop. Although I do have to say that both Katie and I are spoiled when it comes to Indian. I don’t know if we will ever be able to pay the exorbitant Canadian prices ever again. All

Masala chai in a bag - epitome of class

Masala chai in a bag – epitome of class

throughout Laos, Indian joints have popped up serving mixed vegetable curry and mattar paneer for 10,000 kip, the equivalent to $1.30, and plain naan for 5,000 kip, and sticky rice…and masala chai to wash it all down for $1.00. Ah, what wretched affairs have been cast on us. One month of bargain Indian for a lifetime of sorrow. But alas, I have one last thing to say. At Bolaven Coffee Shop we were served a real treat. After battling with the quality of baked goods country wide, we had found this gem that served up real brownies and cookies and pies and cheesecakes and if you bought one you got a free cup of coffee. I mean real coffee. Fresh roasted. Real beans. To the brim, cup of coffee. So if you ever end up in Pakse somehow you have a couple things to look forward to. Well, that is if you enjoy the finer things in life.

Vientiane & Ban Na – Homestaying, Hiking, Puking

Vang Vieng – Vientiane – Ban Na, Laos
November 2 – November 4, 2013

After two buses and a tuk-tuk that broke down we ended up in Vientiane after five hours or so in search of a guesthouse, which seemed as though it took another five hours to find.

The stupa...ooohhh ahhhh

The stupa…ooohhh ahhhh

Coming out of our abode we strolled around the capital and found a stupa (a dome shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) and then a café serving tuna melts. I preferred the tuna melt. KT: With a side of rootbeer! Mmmmm

Can't eat river weed ALL the time!

Can’t eat river weed ALL the time!

At night the waterfront came to life with stalls selling mostly women’s garments and unnecessary touristy trinkets. I found the sitting area for the men. It was full. We carried on looping around passing a geriatric fitness club in session. Everyone was wearing purple. I don’t know. Afterwards we found a café and planned our escape.

Market at night

Market at night

It feels a little as though we are trying to find ourselves in Laos. At first it was a refreshing break from Vietnam that we had longed. It was nice evading the money hungry vendors, but as of recently we have been reminiscing about the Vietnam we miss. Katie summed up Laos perfectly when she said “The whole of Laos is like rural Vietnam” – even the cities have a lackadaisical feel. It’s just getting to the point where we are a little templed out and

Blah blah blah - this is a picture of a cat w/ face paint wearing a blonde wig & a tiger striped hoodie, as an Ace of Spades, on a t-shirt.

Blah blah blah – this is a picture of a cat w/ face paint wearing a blonde wig & a tiger striped hoodie, as an Ace of Spades, on a t-shirt that I found in the market

we are craving something we can’t yet put our finger on. That is just yet. As of late it feels as though we are just doing our rounds on the tourist circuit. Ever since we entered Laos in the North we had been boat & bus-side a handful of familiar faces. Now don’t get me wrong, we aren’t that hypocritical backpacker couple that keep to themselves and are looking out only for their lone personal experience that’s unique from everyone else’s- at least I don’t think we are. Dang, maybe that is us. But goshdarnit some people you just click with and some people you don’t.

We left the café and made haste back to the café for tuna melts before they closed. Tomorrow we break free from the tourist circuit. We have a plan. The plan will work. Oh yes, it must! It’s a mighty fine plan.

DAY 12- Ban Na Village

Sixty kilometers north east of Vientiane lies the village of Ban Na. Some years back a company came to them and in one word or another got them to switch their crops from vegetables to sugarcane. I assume it was either pressure, or more lucrative. Well they did and before long a herd of wild elephant came and ate all the sugarcane. After a few attempts of fruitless efforts they swapped crops back to vegetables because of their elephant-sized problems. The only downside to this was that the elephants never left. That is to this day. So in order to combat the costs of these hungry beasts they installed an observation tower and began offering hikes and stays in the forest. We thought it would give us a chance to break free from the circuit.

We ate breakfast and grabbed a tuk-tuk to the local bus station. It was something like 8 km out of the city. From there we boarded another local tuk-tuk that left the station and parked itself on the street in front of a baguette stand for 30 minutes- now we were running on Laos time. Once we started cruising, the countryside opened up and we shared the breeze with a bus full locals. Three hours down the road, the tuk tuk driver actually left the highway solely for us, and drove 2km down a dirt road to a large gated field with a hand painted sign out front that read Ban Na Home-stay.

Thanks for the lift, pals!

Thanks for the lift, pals!

A man came to greet us and give us the lowdown. It turned out that the water levels were low and the elephants had headed for the hills. With that being said, we decided to do a home-stay rather than sleep at the tower – mostly because it was cheaper. So we opted for that route and booked a trek the next day knowing that elephants would be out of the picture. And believe me this is no Segway into an OMG LOOK AT THE ELEPHANTS! WE LITERALLY SAW NO ELEPHANTS! BWOP…BWOP…

We paid and the guy walked us down the dirt road and into the village. The village was laid out in the shape of a Y with the two north-facing ends leading into buffalo filled meadows and then further out into the forest. Our guide began yelling at a few locals trying to auction us off;
“Anyone want to make a couple dollars?” he shouted.
“What do I have to do for it?” asked a woman.
“Well I have here a couple of Canadians. I need you to watch, feed, and keep them occupied until tomorrow?”
She asked if there was a catch.                                                                                 “No catch mam… pure and simple. Cash for Canadians!”

She agreed and he walked us into her home, aptly named homestay #5.  She told us her name and it sounded something like Candy, but less stripperish and more Laotion.

We’ve passed thousands of village homes along our travels and we have always tried peaking in, although we have never stepped foot. Inside the room was split in half. One side laid ocean blue ceramic tiles while the other an earthy brown, separating the family room from the dining room. There was one couch and two love-seats along the outside wall. All three of them were bursting with stuffing, so much that you could almost see a guilty tail stuck between a couple of hind legs.

Our home! That's our mom squatting

Our home! That’s our mom squatting

The room was empty and simple. A TV sat in the corner on a dresser but it was never introduced to us and we had not expected one. Behind a wardrobe, a curtain draped off a thin mattress on the floor underneath a mosquito netting. This was our room. Outside in the back was their kitchen. A kettle brewed on an open fire while another pot splashed with our dinner. Her daughter was by her side washing and chopping herbs & veggies.

Kitchen

Kitchen- that’s our grandma!

Out front we found a boy who turned out to be a neighbour. He was 10 years old and paused a great deal before answering our questions. I brought out a hacky-sack & soon the three of us were in a full on game. Then it turned into a game of baseball after we turned a stick into a bat. We took turns throwing each other pitches until we ended up in wacky routines of rounding the hacky-sack around our head, between the legs, and behind our back before lobbing in some obscene pitch. We played until I got sweaty and quit.

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Dinner was on and we were called in to a bamboo basket of rice, two four-egg omelets and then a huge bowl of sweet and sour tom yam soup with fish and a heap of what looked like seaweed. We struggled to get it all down.
KT: The portions were obscene! I started feeling belly rumbles shortly after finishing…

SO MUCH FOOD!

SO MUCH FOOD! & yes that’s popcorn.

After dinner we played our habitual game of cards, and like many times before, it drew a crowd. Being guests in their home we taught the daughter Thangmo and her father. After running over the game in an open hand we challenged them to a game – and following suit with the law of first in gaming, Thangmo and her father won the first two games in spades.
KT: They didn’t just win. Thangmo and her pops KICKED our asses!

We entered...

We entered…

The house shut down around 9 and we made our way into our little netted cave and woke in the morning to a harem of rooters as I shouted mocking their clucks with bursts of “someone eat him already.” And I meant it.
KT: I woke up with a belly full of rumbles. I knew it wasn’t going to end well for me today…so I brought along a roll of TP and slapped a smile on my face. Candy fed us another massive meal for breakfast. A couple more omelets, huge bowl of noodles and more river greens, and more sticky rice. This didn’t help the belly rumbles.

The hike commenced the next morning. Two men in their 40’s to 50’s showed up at Candy’s door. One with a backpack and the other with a bag of eggs and a machete. Bushwhacking was my first instinct. The hike was simple. We mixed paths along sandy red earth, blanketed underneath bamboo thicket, and stretches of rippling barren stone fit with sinkholes until we eventually came to a river and stripped down to go swimming. I cannonballed in and instantly became encircled by a school of mini fishes. Some had orange fins; some had vertical black stripes while some had horizontal. But they were all interested in me.

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I have always enjoyed spitting in the water and watching a pool of fishes tear it apart and pull it under – and these fish would not disappoint. And when I was out of spit, Katie threw crackers.

KT puked near here :(

KT puked near here :(

We eventually made our way to the observation deck where Katie was able to release herself of a deserved puke. All day she had been ill, presumably from the mix of eggs, seaweed and fish soup. Her puke was green and I had to pull back the dog from getting at it. He was just like those fishes. Up in the tower we met an active man from South Africa who came to see the non-existing elephants along with his two loud Lao tour guides. It could have been their excessive drinking and high tonal frequencies that scared off the elephants, because the water looked like it was flowing pretty well.

Spider we saw on the hike.

Spider we saw on the hike.

Katie lied down on a matt and skipped out on more fish soup and seaweed and tried to think happy thoughts. When everyone woke from their little post-lunch siesta we got back on foot. Unfortunately, Katie’s stomach never prevailed from the battle and our guides called in a favour from a buddy who showed up on a motorbike. As he road to safety we carried on and were back within the hour.

My saviour - & the pup who hiked with us the whole way!

My saviour – & the pup who hiked with us the whole way!

When I got back Katie was out cold so I let her sleep. I ate a little rice and soup and played cards with the family. The knew a similar version of Asshole except they didn’t know about the trading of the best & worst cards between President and Asshole. I drew them a diagram  1—&—4 (best 2 for worst 2) and 2—&—3 (best 1 for worst 1). It didn’t work.

After cards I went out back to check out the stars and Katie came out to puke at my heels. On the way in we saw an intense looking spider the side of a child’s face. So naturally now I cannot sleep because a)I’m only lightly draped under a curtain in a bed on the floor and b) fearing those two freaky eyes, scrambling long furry legs and hurty fangs of a mammoth spider just chilling outside waiting for me to close my eyes so it can scamper onto my legs and dance across my body. So there is that!! And did you know that gecko’s scream in the night? Well they do! And they also hang upside down, all foot and a half of them. And in the corner of the room I see another two eyes poking through a gap in the concrete. I think it’s another gecko’s boyfriend and he’s coming home late.  Ahh I just heard something land and run, but the sound it made lacked feet, it just cut through the air whoosh! Ahh!  It just smacked against a wall and I can hear it gripping the wall on its way home to its gecko wife. Then I heard:
“I’m sorry baby!”
“Don’t you I’m sorry baby me, Leonard, we have a child! Do you know what time it is?”
It’s a rhetorical question, Leonard! Don’t answer! Just apologize! I say to myself.
“I know honey, but…”
Ahhh he blew it!
“No but’s, Leonard…No buts!” she fumed.

Then it went silent and I slowly closed my eyes. Then I heard a fish jump. Tin pot with a lid style – swoop bang splash! The pot shook and rattled in the backyard kitchen. I closed my eyes once again trying to sleep. Bahhh!!! The spider is all my mind can think of. It’s tricking me into believing I see them. But now there are seven of them. He called his friends. I eventually dose off with the covers tucked into every inch of me.

Four days in Luang Prabang. That’s one lucky Luang:)

Nong Khiaw – Luang Prabang, Laos
October 26, 2013 – October 29, 2013

DAY 4
We woke up early with efforts to climb Nong Khiaw’s mountain before catching a bus to Luang Prabang. So everything had to come down to timing. The day prior the manager for

Starting point

Starting point

a trekking agency had bet me that I couldn’t beat his time up the mountain. The going rate is an hour and fifteen minutes up. But his best was 36 minutes. The placard outside the mountain read “______2 km”. But that 2 km was straight up with no shortcuts about it. He said that if I beat him that he would pay for my ticket. I accepted since I had nothing to lose. After a banana crepe and masala chai we took off for the entrance. We paid and I took a picture of my watch. It read 9:24:00. We took off and within a minute Katie sensed my haste and as the awesome loving girlfriend she is, said “just go” . So I went.
KT: haha! I knew I couldn’t keep up with his “packhorse on steroids” way of hiking a mountain, especially if there was some form of competition.

Travel laos KT mountain

Travel Laos LOU mountain

To cut the story short I got to the peak the second my watch beeped 10:00:00. Yah! I couldn’t believe it…36 minutes on the dot! It was a good thing I had a mountain to curse off of. Katie made her way up 13 minutes later which was still almost 30 minutes below the average. Fist bumps ensued and then we busted ass down the mountain to shower and catch a bus.

Travel Laos mountain

After waiting two and a half hours for the next bus we made it to Luang Prabang in the evening only to have a Gravol overdose onto my plate of rice and veggies.

Had to say goodbye and take a picture of the Indian restaurant where we ate for every meal...

Had to say goodbye and take a picture of the Indian restaurant where we ate for every meal…

Apparently two Gravol is too many. This was a first for me. I was so gone off Gravol that I was struggling picking up my chopsticks and nearly quit when I needed two hands to pick up the hot sauce. Katie carried me home and I slept for 14 hours like a body at a crime scene.

KT's first tuk tuk!

KT’s first tuk tuk!

poor drugged Lou

poor drugged Lou

KT: Poor Lou! While he was unconscious I walked around the town and along the river, seeing what Luang Prabang had to offer. The night market was really beautiful, and while I was scoping out a store in search of Lou’s favourite M&M’s I found this…

haha don't worry...he crawled in there himself & had a way out.

haha don’t worry…he crawled in there himself & had a way out.

Day 5

Luang Prabang runs on banana/Nutella crepes, baguette sandwiches and oreo coffee shakes. And each morning a row of a dozen vendors all open their pop-up shops selling the same thing back to back to back. We threw caution to the wind and walked up to Mama, though I had the feeling they all answered to Mama. We ordered a couple crepes and went for a walk to a temple.

Travel Laos Luang Prabang temple

The town of LP has an exotic mix of ancient meets archaic with the blending of two cultures. Amidst the ageless temples, flamboyant statues and orange flowing robes lies a wonderfully old world French colonial vibe that saunters in the air like the perfume of a fresh baked croissant. We dipped across the city. Mostly noshing here and there.

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DAY 5

We sat. We Ate. We drank coffee. We worked on our blog. We did this all for you. You’re welcome.

Mmm morning crepe and OREO and COFFEE smoothie! Best. Ever.

Mmm morning crepe and OREO and COFFEE smoothie! Best. Ever.

KT: Like Lou said, Luang Prabang has quite the exotic mix. In addition to the French vs Laos cultures, the tourist vs monk mix is interesting in itself. Every morning at dawn the almsgiving takes place, much like other towns that have a monk population. As much as I wanted to see and perhaps take part in the almsgiving, we opted to not go after all, as what we had heard is that the monks do not appreciate the presence of non-participating tourists. For them, almsgiving is a spiritual connection, and our presence at it is not worth making them uncomfortable.

DAY 6

The food in LP had created a routine for us: wake, eat crepes, café, baguettes, walk, café, dinner. So we instinctively woke up and went right to Mama. Afterwards we decided to climb a hill in the middle of town with a lookout over the city. There were 190 steps up and 130 steps down. This is where I found out there was a back side to the city. We climbed the 190 steps then took a couple hundred more exploring the top. Coming down along the rear we found a bunch Buddha statues with days of the week written underneath or to the side.
KT: The “hill” that Louis is describing is Mount Phou Si.

“Tuesday Buddha?” I said. “Who knew?”

Travel Laos Luang Prabang buddha kt

Shit I wish I had a Tuesday Louis cause Thursday Louis is bushed. We made our way past the Buddha statues and into a dark hole that apparently had a preserved footprint from Buddha. I mean, it could have been anyone’s footprint. You really have to put your initials beside it to hold any clout. Back in Dundas I’ve got a prime cement block with Louis ’99 written in it- All Buddha had to do was throw down a B or even Bud. I wasn’t impressed. My friend drew a I heart (symbol) cock in fresh cement in front of a new bank back home.

Puppy hahahaha

Puppy hahahaha

We passed monks chanting and an eight year old smoking a cigarette on some steps before hitting the street. We couldn’t believe it. We had spent two days in this city and a whole new world just opened up to us. We walked along the river front until it led us into a party district. A row of restaurant-cum-bars hidden behind a jungle canopy with drooping vines swaying to music and signs like “don’t feed the tiger”. We ended up at a Dr. Fish.

Dr. Fish is an unlicensed, non-practicing, un-medical clinic where a minimum wage employee wipes your feet down before you place them into a giant aquarium with Travel Laos KT dr fishhundreds of tiny fishes with the intent of eating all your dead skin. Katie flipped her shit. She paid for 10 minutes because she didn’t know if she could handle it. And she couldn’t. Well that is until about 2 minutes left. Katie’s feet flopped around more than the fishes. Seeing all the fun, I decided to deal with my fear of ticklishness head on and pony up for 10 minutes as well. And I’ll be honest- it was creepy. Tiny fishes swimming between your toes. By the end of the 10 minutes my legs from toes to calf were covered in a good hundred plus fishes nibbling away on my flesh. A few more of these treatments and I should be down to my goal weight.

Travel Laos Lou Dr FIsh

DAY 7

Travel Laos Luang Prabang sandwich

Heavenly

Since we found the other side of town we decided to stay for one more day. So after our morning routine we ended up at a café on the other side catching up on our blog. That ran into lunch time where we shot back to the other side for my habitual tuna avocado and cheese baguette and then we popped back into another café and then back to the other side for a date night dinner. Today was just a big write-off for relaxation and gluttony. Hell we deserve it- tomorrow we have a bus to Vang Vieng-a hippy town notorious for mushroom shakes, happy pizzas and intoxicated river rafting. We needed all the rest we could get.

Date night dinner at Lao Lao restaurant. Dark beer, candlelight, cards, and cats!

Date night dinner at Lao Lao restaurant. Dark beer, candlelight, cards, and cats!

Date night!

Date night!

DAY 3- Cave Bank, Bike Rides, Pens & Candy, Indian Indian Indian

Nong Khiaw, Laos
October 25, 2013

“We’ll have one vegetable korma, one muttar panneer, two nans, and one rice” I said to the waiter who must have just woken up. “Anything else Katie?” I ask.
“I’ll have a masala chai” She says.
“Me too. Make that two. I’m 30 years old and this is the first time I’m having Indian for breakfast. It’s a good day.” I tell our waiter

He doesn’t seem to care. He just feigns some morning smile and walks away to prepare our food.

Travel Laos Nong Khiaw bikes

After breakfast we rent a couple of bicycles with baskets and go explore the sleeping countryside. We set off for a cave. We walked our bikes down a rocky path to a rickety booth set up along a steady creek. Somewhere inside the mountain hanging over our heads like a piñata is the cave. The woman, womaning the booth is breastfeeding her child with a litter of children around her. Now I see where the dogs get the idea. We pay her almost nothing to enter and we rent a headlamp off her for also next to nothing.

Travel Laos Nong Khiaw biking lou

Ahead three kids cross a makeshift bridge that is nothing more than tree limbs tied together with bamboo. It looks shotty but we make it over safe. The kids are going to be our guides we can only assume. All three of them were chatting to each other ahead of us making small talk like it was just another day on the job. They were no older than 13.

“What is your name?” One asks me.
“Louis” I said

The three of them mull it over between themselves

“Ahh Louis, yes. “ I imagined them getting back to there conversation. So I got home late last night to the wife, and she could tell immediately that I’d been drinking, but I was like No, baby I was good I just had a coke. “Sorry what’s your name?” “Louis” I said. Ahh Louis. Ok so like I was saying….

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The kids rambled on the whole walk nonchalantly. I knew we’d be stuck tipping them. We all climbed up this long and steep ladder- think Snakes & Ladders steep. You know that lucky leap right near the beginning of the board where you climb to the second last row, then BAM we were into the mouth of a cave.

Travel Laos Nong Khiaw cave

We read that the cave was converted into a bank in the late 60’s during the war. Although the cave we went into showed no signs of any teller booths or offices or even seating outside of offices. The kids shown their flashlights into some holes in the limestone and called us over to see some bats. There they were all crunched up sleeping in little holes deep inside the rock like corner pockets on a pool table.

We climbed down knowing there had to be more to this mountain.
“Hey” I mouthed to the kids “more caves? I said pointing.
“No.” they shook their heads.
“Fuck it, Katie. Let’s just go this way we already paid. Lets go explore.”

Katie was on board. And so the kids followed. We wrapped around the base of the mountain along a path, underneath a blanket of forest until we ran into another group of tourists.

“Amazing!” said a woman
“Totally worth the trek,” said another.

We looked back at the kids like you little fuckers! Not far ahead we came to another mouth of a cave with an aged placard with a worn-out blue patina that read “The Bawk Office of Luang Prabang” and on a second line “Betwten 1968 – 1975”. We climbed inside and couldn’t believe our eyes, which needed to be lit up with headlamps.

Kids drawing pictures of themselves at the cave

Kids drawing pictures of themselves at the cave

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We found it. No thanks to the kids who obviously knew about it because they darted by Travel Laos Nong Khiaw caves 3and said “three caves” pointing to three different tunnels for us to explore. Passing my bag to Katie I crept through the first one until she handed it back and crept through herself. It was void of any sign of light. We crept our way down and down and down snaking through this eerie cave that somehow used to be a bank. I tried to picture it in use, but it was impossible. There was no place to sit. Where would they put a desk? Did they use candles? This is just fucked up is what mostly ran through my head.

Travel Laos Nong Khiaw caves 2

We crept back through and then went into another tunnel. It was all dark and all the same but it was just amazing to experience it. To be able to walk through a piece of history. Only I have a camera around my neck and can leave this place at my own will. We climb out and end up back at the creek out front of the booth. The kids are taking off their shorts and going swimming. I join them.

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Further down the road we found a village of children shouting out to us as we rode past, but what they were shouting for really touched us. Throughout the whole trip kids have been at our heels with palms out pouting “money, money, money” while some of them shouted it as if they didn’t even know what money was and just that it was the thing to do. But these kids shouted for pens and candy.

Pens and candy. These kids want for pens. What an honest thing to want. They want to draw, to learn, to create. How sad is that pens are such a necessity. If I had known I would have stopped and loaded up.

It’s actually quite funny because pens and candy are two things that I had recently written on a list of things to get when I get to Hanoi. It’s not that I can’t write with any pen; it’s just that I prefer my trusty Uni-ball Micro, in either blue or black. See I’m not that picky. And candy, well that’s just a given.

We ride past the kids apologizing until we climb a big hill and they are out of sight. Katie and I had both loaded up on Uni-ball’s in Hanoi and we had about seven between the two of us. That along with a couple shitty pens that float around at the bottom of her purse.

“Katie, let’s go back there.” I said, as she’s already fiddling through her purse with the same idea.
“We can get more pens. But we can totally help these kids out.”
We turn around and coast to a cascade where the bunch of children had now congregated.

“Pens. We have pens” I shouted as they all gathered around. There were four of them and we had three pens. I explained the best I could that they need to be shared and before they get them, that they had to draw a picture of themselves. It’s something of a habit I’ve gotten into while traveling and it’s a funny way to break the ice.

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We kept riding until the sunset and then rode some more. It was night time and we were tired and hungry. The waiter brought us two menus with a smile.

Don’t bother I already know what I want. And yes it tasted just as good for dinner.

KT: Before dinner I sauntered over to an Herbal Steam bath place to get my steam on. It was one of the most relaxing times so far this trip. I had the steam bath to myself and when I needed a break from the heat I could step out into the fresh country air and sip on some tea. I also ended up buying a really neat scarf/wrap/sarong thing from an older lady that lived next door. When I went back to the room Louis was hella jealous and tried to go after me, but they closed! Muahaha.

Some of the herbs they boil into the water for the herbal steam bath

Some of the herbs they boil into the water for the herbal steam bath

Laos Now Brown Cow

Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam – Muong Khua, Laos – Nong Khiaw, Laos
October 23-24, 2013

We woke up at 5am and made our way to the bus station. A time when the streets are asleep and the bus yards are buzzing. The 5:25 just pulled in and a line of stretchy bodies unwind down the stairs. The street vendors lick their lips at the hustle. Whistles blow. Long buses with TO and FROM are written in huge block letters along the sides like names on a jersey. We hand our packs to the man on the roof of our bus – he’s on a mission and shouts next all before the sun even blinks an eye.

Yawn!

Yawn!

We’re off to Laos. The second leg of our journey, but not our last leg. Ohh No! We have 8 ½ hours before we are no longer welcome in Vietnam and I am damn sure we had made the most of our three months. We’ll miss you Vietnam. Thanks for the good times.

We loaded into the bus. Eight of us. All foreigners. The two Argentinians Bruno and Jimena, and four others with sleep in their eyes. We had barely eked out of the station before we pulled over to pick up a band of Vietnamese. And with a swift foot, our man had climbed back on the roof and bags were being flung into his arms. He shimmied down and the whole gang loaded in filling all the empty seats. All of us, united, travellers of the sunrise, heading to the border for one last hoorah.

Travel Laos border bus

We passed through two offices. One to have our Vietnam Visa exit stamp and the next to receive our Laos Visas. There was a list posted on the office window of the prices for visas for the following countries. If it was an Olympic standings sheet we would have made Canada proud. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Visa Fee’s per Country:
1.    Canada           $42
2.   Afghanistan      $40
3.   Bangladesh     $40
4.   India                $40
5.   Nipal               $40 (They spelt Afghanistan right, but Nepal?)

Even Al- Queda gets a better prices than us. This list ran all the way down to Norway or something and then had a little paragraph on the side that read all other countries $30. Canada wins again! We all board the bus and the clock starts ticking on our 30 day visas.

Ain't it tha TRUTH

Ain’t it tha TRUTH, thanks Germany!

Our destination is the dusty gateway town of Muang Khua and when we get there our connecting boat has already set sail for the day so we ended up getting a room.

Travel Lao bocce ball

They shared their beer with us while we cheered them on

The town was quiet aside from outbursts of locals at play. We ate breakfast while two Travel Laos KT animalsroosters fought each other inside of a circle of children along the riverside. When the cocks became lethargic they brought them to the water and hand washed them before throwing them back in a circle and they were back at it with furious beef. We couldn’t make out a winner. Then we walked around the town and  ended up with puppies throwing back free beers bench side bocce ball. Then I somehow ended up in a badminton game.

Travel Laos Lou puppies

Hey babe, nice puppies ;)

Travel Laos badmintonDAY 2

We woke up, bought our ticket and cast off down the river in a boat long and blue like Gonzo’s nose and as wide as a Chocolate Labrador. I don’t really have a clue where we are going. I took off my watch and fixed it to my pack. It’ll be nice not to worry about the days, just going, going, going. In the thick of the boat, satchelled smack against a roaring  motor is a chicken, maybe a rooster and I know this because the bag is flapping its wings and pecking about.

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The world is beautiful. We all know this whether we have traveled it via web or foot. But when you open yourself up to it you begin to see a lot of practices that just don’t seem morally humane or ethical. The world isn’t all eggs, baguettes and local pricing- it’s dirty, filthy and two timing, but unless you open yourself up to the evils there is no way for the beauty to filter in. I accept the chicken in the bag against the motor and get back to the unbelievable views around me.

The river is much like the road. It has its oxen and goats along the banks. Villages hang onto cliffs. We pass other vehicles and wave and smile. There are obstacles too; but instead of buses and animals and rain, there are rocks and waves and low tides. Garbage still litters the banks and city noise is played by the rumbling motor. And most importantly they both share the same soul bursting surreal and spectacular landscapes.

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We keep floating downstream for five hours while picking up nautical hitchhikers and passing these beastly machines that look as though they collect rocks from the riverbed and shimmy them along a giant conveyor belt washing each one before spitting it back to the river below. A wonderful invention to mankind this machine is- and all this time I wondered how rocks got so clean. We continued downstream and docked at our new village of Nong Khiaw.

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We found a bungalow right beside two Indian restaurants and I made a deal with myself that I would eat nothing else for the three days. Lucky Katie!
KT: Yeah, lucky me!

Michael Douglas Breakdowns, Chilling Countryside, battle of the $5 hotel…and we keep on keeping on!

DAY 11- KILLER ROADS!

After strapping my pack to my bike I noticed I had a flat (note to self) so I paid some guy SAMSUNG CSChaving coffee to fix it- turns out he was a mechanic. So far I’m 9 mechanics deep into my cruiser, which I named Michael Douglas, which was an offshoot from its original name “Mechanics Dream”. I changed the name because I thought Michael Douglas had a nicer ring and that it added a human feel to the bike, since each day it has been both my friend and my worst enemy. I’ve just about replaced everything, namely; seat, horn, tube, battery, clutch, and in a few pages you’ll read about my chain and sprocket and then in a few more pages something else-lucky me. I took a picture of the guy fixing my tire, because after at least three jobs this ordeal needs to be documented- I pay the guy $5 to kick-start my day.

The rain took a day off and the sun was like “what’s up everybody! Sorry I’ve been away, I was back to school shopping with my wife!” So that was nice. We jumped on our bikes and slid out for coffee before our 170km ride to Quy Nhon. The coffee was good. In front of us a grandmother took her daughters baby to the corner to pee- I hate to say it, but it was yellow. Last minute we decided to drive to Quy Nhon over Kon Tum. I know ehh, pretty crazy?? But really it was because we were tired of the poor roads in the mountains and were craving the beach and the sun.

See ya LATER Pleiku!

See ya LATER Pleiku!

We left early enough in the morn to drive the 7 hours. I know what you’re thinking…seven hours to drive 170km…pretty long? Well it sure is. I don’t know the facts, but the average speed limit has to be something like 30km/hr. You might want to look that up. At least that’s the way we were driving. Pretty wild ride, though. Pleiku sits at an altitude of around 750m in the ol’ sky and since we’re hitting the beach, well…you get the picture. After cruising out of town, the buildings swapped hands with rice paddies and bushy emerald mountains, casual wear for greased-&-earthed-up-workin’-garments, and cars for archaic machinery oozing with tar as if it bled from the years of use and abuse, years beaten by overtime, stolen golden years; fixed time and time again by aged farm hands in makeshift ways. Machines that ought to be taken out back and shot, sold for scraps, piled atop its fellow farmers in a rusty grave….But No…No…No…No….Those same machines I speak of chug along the country roads speaking their own old-world tongue…sputtering a charcoal smoke as if a chimney was fixed to chassis and four muddy tires. Today was a good day.

Sitting at the top of a mountain, with a valley cast out like an ocean’s view, I had no clue that the slithering road down was over twelve minutes. I threw my bike in neutral and weaved with the curves and whooshed with the wind. If my OCD had been switched with that of one who had to take a picture every time they saw a thing of beauty…then I might as well have called that place my home.

I reached Katie at the bottom a scared wreck. Poor woman missed too much she was in tears, apparently she didn’t catch me at the top filming her embrace the descent. We kept Travel Vietnam beauty daycruising the countryside passing mammoth oxen, scurrying piglets, scrappy looking pups, always itching some scratch, until my chain ripped apart and jammed up my bike as I slid across the road leaving a 25-30 foot skid-stain before coming to a stop. I rolled the bike backwards inching the jammed chain free. Katie took the chain and road off to find a mechanic after a man stopped and told us there was one 2km down the road. The rain poured for the first-fucking time today just as my bike came to a halt. I threw on my rain get-up, grabbed onto the handlebars and started running. Every time I got some steam I’d hop on Michael Douglas until I eventually hit a nice little hill that, I’m not joking here, rolled me along and stopped dead in front of the mechanics driveway…honest injun. Anyways, the new chain and sprocket ran me a cool $13.00.

Just another mechanic stop...

Just another mechanic stop…

The sun returned and we continued along our new found road- entirely etched with the beauty and tranquility.  On the road you have nothing but time, it’s like taking a sick day, sitting on a couch and flipping to the discovery channel. On our left we saw an armoured tank perched on the side of a hill. Turning around, Katie and I made eyes in agreement so we spun around and pulled up the side road. As we got closer, it turned out it was just a painted sculpture, unless they embalmed this one. Unknown to us, we had just walked onto an army training camp. Soon we were flanked by military; yielding rifles, grenade launchers, and AK’s, or that’s what they all looked like to an uneducated eye. One stopped five feet in front of us without even acknowledging our foreign presence and dropped to the ground in combat mode. Then we saw more running through a field and towards us, all dropping to the ground or beside a tree. From a bow of the bumpy dirt road, I saw a giant white smile glowing in front of the murky backdrop. That could be me. I mean in a way I am him. We are all like him. At least we used to be, and hopefully still are. What else is youth than a state of immaturity & innocence? His smile represented an existing youth, unknown were the tortures his parents and grandparents experienced. War is nothing but a youth destroyer. I hope he keeps that smile till he grows old. I smiled back.
Travel Vietnam soldiersWe reached our new home a few hours later after finding a $10 hotel and stopped at a night market to explore our dinner options- it ended up being noodles and octopus.

DAY 12- HEAVY DAY!

The next morning we paid, got our passports and strapped up our bags for a 300km trip to Hoi An we were trying to attempt. I put the keys in the ignition and saw a fucking flat tire in front of me. I didn’t scream in the sense that I made a sound, but I felt the same shockwave inside my body. Instead of losing my shit, we went for breakfast. A pretty below average one at that- just a pancake, not even proper Canadian one, three slices of banana and one strip of wilted bacon. The owner called a mechanic. He said for an extra $2.50 he’d pick up Michael Douglas himself. 45 minutes and $17.50 later we were on the road.

The road…Ohh the road…there were two out of town and we opted for the leisure coastal-countryside one; it was like if you had two children and one was gifted, which one would you love more? We had read that one of the worst crimes during the Vietnam War happened at My Lai, an area that we would be driving by if not through. It was an undercover mission gone awry. I mean how can it not, when over 500 innocent, unarmed women, children, and men were led to ditches to be slaughtered by machine guns while their homes were massacred and set ablaze. People’s lives. Real people. There were a few courageous Americans that, like helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., saved a few tormented souls from being killed by the horrors, but ultimately, I could only imagine saved from the horror that is now life.

The street divided the flowing villages, one side with homes and the other with mountains flooding into ride paddies. Families, like families in any country, sat on their porches, drank coffee and played cards, and unbelievably, smiled and jested me “hello”‘s upon passing. I know it’s been about forty years since the war ended, and although I’m Canadian, I also wear the complexion of an American- and it amazed me the love that was shared.

Travel Vietnam beauty night

Ahead in the mountains were giant craters, more so earth that died and created a ring of burnt trees along the ring of the battered earth. There were two of them. To me, the only thing I could think of was chaos- it didn’t look natural in anyway, and it added to the chills the village had already bestowed upon me. Soon it began to rain. And not rain that drizzles and then disperses, the kind of rain that is worshipped, the kind of rain that African’s dance for. So much fucking rain. I told Katie we bought the wrong jackets…we bought rain jackets…not typhoon jackets. Shut up, you had to be there!

After quickly changing our destination to the town of Quang Nhai 100km closer, we switched routes to the highway QL1/AH1 to make better timing. The rest of the road was uneventful. We arrived into town soaking wet looking for a bed.

I found a lady, but it would be more appropriate to say she found me. “hotel… hotel” she shouted, with a baby in her arm, running to get my attention. Wanting me in her hotel, she grabbed my arm with a free hand and, if I had let her, would have dragged me up three flights to the best room in the joint- but before it got to that, I asked her how much for the room.
“150!”
“150?”
“Yes…150!”
“Ok Katie, I’m going to check this place out- go next door and check out how much for a room there!” Seeing as that we had found a strip of hotels, all standing like tall houses in a row with giant garages as entrances with a little desk that reads Reception, we wanted to play the “which hotel is cheaper” game. So I walked inside with the woman, who adamantly put her baby on the ground in a “just stay here” sort-of-way, she went to get keys. Coming back, I asked her once again, because I don’t trust this woman in the slightest, “how much for a room?”

“300!” she said after fumbling around for a price, a reoccurring theme that would take place many times over this trip.
“Come on! What? You said 150!”
“No!”
“Yah you did!” I say as I turn my back and start to walk out.
“No…I never say 150”

Then the two of us get into some semantics, but I have already lost all interest in rooming at her hotel. I shout out to Katie, “babe, she just doubled the price on us…let’s go…”

As we get on our bikes the lady begins saying “ok…150…150!” I feel bad and all, and I would deep down love to support her business…ultimately for her babies sake…but not from someone playing tricks. She lost out and I hope she doesn’t pull that trick on anyone else. But really, I just hope she learned a lesson- but who am I anyways. So we cruise about four seconds up the street, pull into a driveway and she says she has a room for 100,000 dong ($5). We took it.

Makeshift market kitchen

Makeshift market kitchen

What does a $5 room look like? It looks like the most comfortable thing in the world when you’re soaking wet, so wet that even the inside of your pack is soaked, which was wrapped in a waterproof cover much like yourself. But really, a $5 room is equipped with a bed, table, TV, fan, and sometimes AC, hot water and a stranger walking into your room in the middle of the night. More than anything you could ever want when you’re on the road.

DAY 13- HOI AN BOUND

The next morning Katie searched for some dry clothes while I threw on the same getup as the day before. No point in changing and throwing a round of well-travelled clothes in a pack of semi-clean ones, it’ll stink up the pack like a shoe in a closet.  We had the last stretch of 100km to Hoi An, a town that had been on my radar when first researching this little journey of ours. Knowing nothing about Vietnam, I considered Hoi An for its fusion of beach-town meets classic French architecture. Other than a few photos on Google maps with Asian lanterns lining streets and hand-crafted dragon boats bobbing about, I had no clue what to expect. Nothing like betting it all on red and diving in head first.

The road was open as the sky above and our tanks full of petrol…a liquid, which is worth as much as gold to the biker going further. Leaving town we had no choice, there was only one road. Now a little deeper than half way into the country we had covered between 12 & 1300 km, and the road signs had now began to read ‘900km to Hanoi’, the capital in the communist north. Well it’s all commi really. Call it a socialist republic or whatever you like, but Vietnam’s steady minimum wage of ten cents an hour keeps everyone in check. God bless ya if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Well we weren’t heading to Hanoi, not just yet. We were heading to Hoi An. Same letters, but 700km closer. A town spared, much like Dalat, from the atrocities of war, and now stands as a UNESCO heritage site the whole village wide. And by driving along the highway I’m beginning to see why it was spared- there are no fucking signs ANYWHERE that point us in the right direction. Fortunately we had our GPS that kept us updated with “nope not there yet”’s & “just keep going straight.” We did.

Somewhere along the road we flew past a row of ancient temples that loomed behind gated grounds. Now I’m a firm believer that when the road offers you bounty, you reap the harvest; the whole point of exploring is to discover the unknown, and it’s hard to do that strictly glued to the seat of your bike. So we circled back and put on our adventure caps. Parking our bikes outside the gate, we got our first glimpse of the three towering temples without the blurs of flight.  Set behind a field of ruins, we humbly creaked past the gate, which, in a sense, acted as a portal back in time. The year 2013 had vanished. It was the 10th century. I try to visualize a group of people sitting around a stone table drawing up plans for these temples 1000 years ago and I’m lost in awe in every aspect of the word.
Trave Vietnam TowersOut of nowhere a woman walked over to us to sell us a ticket. It was Sunday and the grounds were closed, but money talks. I paid her 50 cents and she ripped a ticket out of her book. A bicyclist entered the grounds and walked over the same time as I asked the guide if she spoke English…she didn’t, but he chimed in. Wanting to know the history of the temples I now had a translator. It was a perfect balance of worlds colliding.

The three temples represented three gods: Vishnu on the left, Shiva in the center, and Brahma on the right. Made of a rustic brick they stood about as tall as a three-story building with the center at around four. Shiva’s temple was decorated with sculptures of Travel Vietnam tower thingsdancing women and a fight scene laid out like a comic strip all showing no wear. The facade of the temples were set like giant fireplaces, with an entrance eight feet high by four feet wide. Walking inside, the only light intruding was beckoned by the entrance. I heard the whoosh of bats before my eyes could adjust, then they came in clear. If I were a bat it would definitely be a nice place to call home and raise bat children- shielded from the elements and in the arms of god(s).

The ruins ahead were grounds for the worshippers. Now reduced to rubble, the crumbled perimeter still exists in a haunting exhibit of antiquity. It reminds me of The Hermitage back home in Dundas, a turn of the century estate nestled in the middle of the conservation area- it too a product of fragments from fire and a century of being exposed to the elements.

The outside of the temples have circular dents that can easily be distinguished and I’m told that it was from facing combat during the American War. It’s as though they have left scars on everything and everyone they came across. And even though the nation is in the process of rebuilding itself, it still wears the scars on the outside, a credo to forgive but never forget.

We left and pressed on eventually finding a placard the size of tombstone head half-hidden behind a bush that read Hoi An. Only 7km left.

Pulling into town my first impression was that it was just another tourist trap. Before we even stopped to get our bearing a woman on the back of a motorcycle was welcoming us to the city. “Where are you from?” -a line that would soon lose all value. “When did you get here?” “Just now”, I responded. “Are you looking for tailor?” Ahhh that’s the point. At least she got to it quickly. “No thank you” I replied, wanting to get on with my day. “You looking for cheap hotel? I can get room $8-$10”. Well ya I am, but you have already bothered me and thrown off my equilibrium so I excuse her even though the purpose of our stop was to get our bearings and locate a hotel to drop off our bags. It’s the same as leaving an airport and being bombarded by taxis. Yeah you need one, but you want to find it on your own terms not by some in-your-face-slick-talking-greasy-whore-monger. I prefer, and always have, the laid back salesman, the one in the back doing their own thing. Maybe they get business today, maybe they don’t. Undoubtedly they want it, but perhaps they are too tired of the hustle, annoyed with the hustle, cant bother with the hustle…so they just hang around waiting for people to come to them. Now those are my people-and you’ll always find them-they appear broken, but will warm up quickly. Good folks, probably been in the game a long time to see the flood of newcomers sweep in and steal their clientele. I get it, I understand it all too well, as a person that hates playing the game. I sympathize with these folks and try to seek them out any chance I can along my dusty foot journey.

After blowing her off…or leading her on…because these people really don’t get it, you could tell them right to their face “no…get out of here you bothersome flop, I don’t need your help or a room at your cheap hotel. I’d rather pay twice-fold than speak to your loose jaw a second longer” and they’d come right back with the old ok, you want a shirt made?- no self respect. If I were them I would have jabbed me right back, called me an American to really get my rotisserie churning, but it’s all dollars that makes this mad world circulate and if she had popped me back that would have put a halt to her little scheme.

We decided to drink instead of search for a hotel. A few beers would ease the process and we found a spot serving them up for 15 cents a draught.  (later in the week I ran out of money, or hadn’t any on me to be more accurate, so I asked Katie to borrow a 20,000 Dong bill so I could grab some beers while I went out writing…which is basically like saying- No- it’s exactly like saying- ‘hey babe, can I borrow a dollar? I want to go out drinking.’) The beer was good too, your average back-room lager, brewed and bottled in house and served up cheap. The restaurant beside had the same menu and 3000 Dong draught, but was utterly empty- I don’t know if had something to do with their name… Lamé Café.

It took an hour to find a hotel, and of course it was the first hotel in the book- pretty typical for us. The room was $8 but was about as small as a $4 room, though it was late and the cheapest we’d been offered. So we ended up staying three nights.

Slather Me With Peanut Butter Because…

These buns are toasted!

The first 3 days of our motorbike trip through Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
SAMSUNG CSC

Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City – Mui Ne

We set off from Ho Chi Minh at 10AM after a hearty breakfast and some coffee at our favourite HCM hot spot – Santa Cafe. It was later than expected, but hey, we’re on vacation (our excuse for everything these days hehe). I was a little apprehensive about how the roads were going to be out of the city, as we had experienced treacherous roads out

Awkward photo of the year goes to...haha loved this family

Awkward photo of the year goes to…haha loved this family

of the city previously on our way to the Mekong. We got incredibly lucky; no rain, bearable traffic, and great roads all the way out. Puttin’ along the highway, we were making great time. We had one extended stop at a highway-side cafe/karaoke joint full of hammocks and smiling faces. After a short photo-shoot with the local mamacitas and grandmamacitas, we hopped back on our bikes and continued on. If you’ve read our previous blog posts about road-tripping, you know we got lost a LOT on our way to Ba Dong Beach. But not this time! Nope. We headed to Phan Thiet, which lead us to Mui Ne.

At about 5PM we were popping our heads in to some hostels and guesthouses; we were determined to not pay more than $10. We found one lovely little place, Ly Ly Guesthouse and decided to call it home. After dropping our bags in the room, we set out in search of food. Famished from our first day of motorbiking excitement we went to one of the first joints we saw. The lady was also incredibly friendly, which we’re suckers for. A couple of unexceptional meals and some free fruit later, we snacked on some ice cream cones and sat by the sea, watching the fishermen do their thang farrrr out in the water. We walked back to our home and Louis was fast asleep and snoring almost before his head hit the pillow. I stayed up and read (finished Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coehlo. Very interesting book, I recommend it!).

Day 2 – Mui Ne – Di Linh

The next morning we had some breakfast down the road (mushroom and onion omelets), played with a puppy, and went for a cruise on our bikes. Sand dunes on one side, sea on the other – wow! I can see how people could get completely lost in the desert. Walking up and

Our faces say it all...

Our faces say it all…

down dunes with the sun shining so bright is disorienting. Tobogganing down the rolling sand dunes seemed like the natural thing to do, so we parked our bike and started the twisted trek up the dunes when an old(ish) Vietnamese lady came running over with two toboggans. We decided on a price of 50,000VND for both Lou & I. We all hiked up together, with a younger girl joining us, then another girl. The older lady cleared a path for us and I won’t lie, at first I was a bit nervous. It was hella steep, but really…it’s sand, get a grip, right Katie. We went down 5 times in total, twice with both of us together. It was pretty hilarious and we got entirely covered in sand. I could feel my legs burning as I climbed back up the

She gave us kisses

She gave us kisses

dune, and I was completely out of breath. As we thanked the ladies, and found some more breath to laugh with them, they decided to change the price from 50,000VND to 150,000VND. “You tip her!” the youngest girl said to us. “Yes, we were going to” was our reply, and we held out our hands with a huge tip. The older woman thanked us, hugged us, kissed us, while the middle girl looked at us disappointingly. She had tried to change the price on us at the last minute, not this time, sand dune lady!

We drove home, changed into our suits, and hopped in the South China sea. And ahhhh how amazing it was! It gets me every time how incredibly warm the sea is. A huge wave hit us…”Ah something touched me.” “AHHH THAT DEAD FISH TOUCHED ME!”. And sure enough, there was a dead fish floating in the water beside me that had just graced my back with its dead scales. It was close to check-out time and we had to get on the road so we got out, packed up, and headed out.

The spot we wanted to hit up today was Di Linh. We were excited about the drive there because we had a met a man at Santa Cafe that has a coffee plantation in Di Linh and had told us about the beautiful roads and scenery. Nothing could have prepared us

CLOUDS I tell you...CLOUDS!

CLOUDS I tell you…CLOUDS!

for the beauty of this day. Driving along the open roads with fields and rice paddies on each side, and mountain ranges in the distance, we were laughing and grinning like idiots. Then before I knew it we were in the mountains. Louis and I are both nutty about mountains. Twisting and turning up the mountain, both my bike and I could feel us climbing. She kept puttin’ away and didn’t let me down. Soon enough we were driving through clouds and ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the mountain towns and fields etched into the sides of hills. Up and up and up, then down and down.

It started to rain and we were ready for a pit stop so we pulled off at a little shack with a few (very very) drunk men taking shots, eating snacks and chillaxin’ out hard. We took our coca-colas and strolled through this hill-farm-town. Knowing that there was much more to come, we got back on our bikes and headed out the last 30KM towards Di Linh.

Happy as a pig in...

Happy as a pig in…

It was getting rather chilly as we got to Di Linh at 7ish. We bartered some hotel rooms, found what seemed like a decent one, threw our bags down and went to grab some (cheap!) dinner. Just down the street we ran into a lovely little pho shop with a woman and her son running the joint. It was heavenly. The best pho we’ve had so far. Thick noodles, delectable broth, chunks of beef, fresh greens, steamed bean sprouts – YUM! Before calling it a night we went for a stroll to digest our drool-worthy meal then parked our butts in bed to watch a movie – Now You See Me – it was just OK. We were lights out pretty quickly after that.

 Day 3 - Di Linh – Da Lat

I won’t lie…I woke up groggy and grumbly. The mattress was, well, worth nothing more than the $6 we paid for it, and there was a table full of Vietnamese men down the hallway that I swear were up gambling all night. After some com tam (pork and rice, with a tasty soup side) and a ca phe da for breakfast, we flew out of Di Linh in pursuit of happiness – Da Lat.

It was another day full of breathtaking views and lovely roads. It only took us a few hours to get to Da Lat and we were driving along the centre river by 1PM. A river! And mountains! And french-inspired buildings! Da Lat is in the center highlands of Vietnam where the

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff - from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff – from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

French soldiers went to escape the heat of Vietnam, so all the architecture is largely french-inspired. Da Lat is said to be the city of eternal spring. It is very warm in the morning, quickly followed by a light drizzle and cooler temperatures. It’s everything we wanted. We’re escaping the heat of Saigon and couldn’t be happier about it. After checking out a few hotels, we settled on one basically by the very friendly owner and his willingness to barter and give us a good deal on two nights. Our room is on the third floor facing a field and mountains, and half the room is windows. The mattress is a complete 360 degrees (lol jk – a complete 180 degrees) from our mattress the night before.

We hopped on my bike and went for a scoot around town, stopping at the market to have a gander at a mountain market and get some grub. The meat market had live chickens and ducks for sale, that could be butchered while you wait. There were also dishes full of brains and other body-part substances I couldn’t name. Don’t forget the flies buzzing all around and women cutting meat on the cement ground. I’m still in awe at the handling of meat here. We wandered up to the second floor and grabbed a seat at a little stall selling Vietnamese things with a menu translated into English. I can’t remember what the dish was called now, but it was just alright. Something with mushrooms and pork.

We decided to kick back to our hotel to grab our computers and go to a coffee shop to do this – blog – but when we got back to the hotel we both crashed so hard…for 5 hours. We woke up and it was pitch black out, 9:45PM. Da Lat has a curfew of 11PM but we knew we had to get out of the hotel and eat something before being stuck in for the night, so we snuck out (not really, we told the owner we were leaving so he knew the front door would be unlocked) and walked through the light drizzle in search of cheap pho-ood. It was incredible. The city was fairly empty, just the odd motorbike whizzing past and the odd shop open. The air was so fresh – something we had really missed after being in smog-filled Ho Chi Minh. We came upon the night market and each got some vegetarian chow mein (funny, because Louis had JUST been talking about how much he would love some chow mein and we hadn’t seen any anywhere) and a couple of pops (or sodas for you American-type). We sauntered back to our hotel, walking along the river, and marveling at the gorgeous mountains and peacefulness of this Vietnamese-French mountain town.

We again started to blog, but Louis put on Kickass 2 so we watched that and passed out so hard – that bed! So comfy! We had looked at a bunch of stuff we wanted to do around Da Lat, and were contemplating living there forever as we fell asleep. Tomorrow would mean more Da Lat adventuring.

What kind of adventures have you been on? What has been your favourite roadtrip? What roadtrips do you hope to do in the future?

PS: Hey guys! We’re on Facebook and Twitter :) We’ll post little updates and non-bloggy things there as well!