Saturday, May 7, 2011

Birthday on the road

The last 2 or 3 weeks have been pretty much all about work for both of us. 

In my birthday week I had another week trip to the Northern provinces of Houaphan and XiengKhouang.  It was NOT one of those excellent trips – it was simply hard slog – but the locations were certainly interesting and the people I met were as lovely as always. 

 
Views from the van on the drive

Flying into Phonsavan was a bit hairy.  Given that Laos airspace is probably one of the least congested in the world it shouldn’t be necessary to excute sharp panic turns when making your approach to the airport.  Obviously something upset the pilot and it carried through to his landing which careered from one side of the runway to the other.  However we arrived safely.
The traffic on the road outside our guesthouse for the evening
The next morning on the road to Sam Nuea – a 6 hour drive (plus stops).  The road is like driving through the Kawerau gorge – not very wide and turns the whole way.  The driver spent the whole trip with his hand on the horn.  Whenever we approached a blind corner – which was every 1 – 2 minutes - it was to signal to other vehicles and people that we were coming.  I realised the benefit of this after our 1st near miss with a truck.  Trucks go FAST, cut corners, and generally ignore anyone else.  We literally skidded into 2 corners to avoid trucks. 

And then there was the van overheating and we sat on the side of the road for at least 30 minutes to let it cool and to put fresh drinking water in.


Sam Nuea, the capital of Houaphan Province is very small.  We were going to visit the Vieng Xai caves, but did not because the delays nursing the van along.  The importance of the caves is that about 500 caves in the surrounding hills were used by the Communist resistance to shelter from American bombardment  1968- 1975.  Up to 23,000 people lived in the caves, which contained a hospital, a school, Pathet Lao offices, bakeries, shops, and even a theatre. Now some are open to visitors.   I am still bitter and twisted about the missed opportunity not seeing them!  Driving around the town and having the road that went to the caves pointed out to me was NOT an adequate substitute in my opinion.

The newest thing in town is the main street statue.  My colleague wanted her picture taken in front of it as she had seen it being built on TV.  The lonely planet describes it as a glitter disco ball on the top of tweezers in front of a communist wall sculpture – I didn’t pass this little bit of guidebook opinion on to her.

A day of training then, the next morning at 6:00am, the return roadtrip.  My birthday.  We drove 2.5 hours to a little town for a meal of Pho – noodle soup – again. 
Mmmmm more pho noodle soup - not my dream cooked breakfast
Back into the van and another few hours back to Phonsavan,  We showered and changed and went to the provincial office to meet the officials.  Lunch for me was 4 mandarins from my bag – because everyone (bar me) had filled up royally on Pho.  Dinner was at the best diner in town and was good.

Some more training in the morning then a little trip out to one of the sites of the mysterious Plain of Jars.  And I ended up with an A4 sized photo of myself and my colleague – because my colleague wanted one.  I always wondered who purchased from the photographers at these tourist sites – and now I know.
My colleague is quite tall for a Lao, but note she is
still standing on a rock to even our heights up.
It was nice to get on the plane back to VTE

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