Thursday, October 20, 2011

What we saw on the River

Along the river we stopped twice to visit villages and once for lunch.

The first village we visited was that of the Lanten people. Andrew and I were very pleased about this, because we have seen in Vientiane a number of pieces of weaving by the Lanten people  -at the Japanese Coffee house.

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The Lanten people are recognisable by the indigo blue clothing that they wear. They weave and dye cotton using indigo plants that they grow around the village. The women wear their hair pulled back off the faces and when they marry they shave their eyebrows

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The next stop we had was for lunch. It was a pre-prepared picnic made by the Boat landing. The guides went and picked banana leaves and laid them down as a recyclable tablecloth. As per usual, the food from the boat landing was lovely.

Further downstream we stopped at a Khmu village. Khmu are one of the many different ethnic minorities in Laos. This village did not seem as prosperous as the previous.

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Back on the river and the final set of paddling. We were all pleased to be out of the boats it had been hard work. While the guides loaded the kayaks on the van we spent a few minutes interacting with the locals.

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Andrew was MOST impressed with the lad in orange walking around the village with his slingshot  & the 2 boys showed off their prowess.  Sadly the little boy didn’t give him a go with it.
We were driven back to the boat landing, which was about 20 km away by road. Driving slowly along the pitted dirt road, it took us nearly an hour.
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And this is how you launder your money  - needed if you keep it in your pocket on a river journey – isn't that right Andrew?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

White Water Kayaking–Luang Namtha

As no one was taking up his suggestion of hiring motorbikes and riding to China, Russ suggested the kayaking trek.  And everyone agreed .

Two guides, and 2 sets of NZers headed downstream.  When it came to the white water one man could could be heard relentlessly yelling

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And the other had some female yelling
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(it’s a loss of control thing)

There were a group of younger backpackers on another tour doing the same route.  When asked the guides said they preferred the older travellers – less trouble.  And so it proved, none of us came out but the backpackers seemed to spend some time with overturned boats.

R&R steamed through most of the route but had one sticky moment caught sideways in some trees in the middle of the rapids
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We had one moment where we came out of the rapids into the calm and Andrew did a turn to watch the other boats.  He managed to spin the back of the boat under water and was a bit closer to swimming than he had intended
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It was a hard day and at the end we were pleased to walk up the hill from the river.  Both men had found the lack of back support in the kayak made it hard work but both managed to steer us safely for 5 hours

We stopped at some interesting villages during the journey …more to come

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Monday, October 17, 2011

4 bicycles in one horse Luang Namtha

The lodge had run out of mountain bikes so we headed off on what they described as smaller bikes.  Smaller, but we managed to ride the 6km into town, around town, up a hill and back again.
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Luang Namtha is small and very quiet in this off season time.  We checked out the market – which is a nice one and I got a new hat as my own was back in VTE.  It was stylish and when you velcroed the fabric around your face no dust from the road  (commonly worn by locals in the field or riding motor bikes)
We did the journey the hill to the new gold coloured Stupa, built in 2003.  The reason there a new Stupa was built is that the Americans bombed the old one in 1966
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Having seen the Stupa we headed back into town for lunch at the “Minority Restaurant” Run by members of local minority tribes it serves good Lao food…eventually.

We were the first people to arrive and it prompted a call from the lady wearing a military uniform.  Maybe 10 minutes later a motorbike arrived driven by what turned out to be our lunch chef.  Our orders were taken and we sat happily sipping some Beer Lao.  Twenty minutes passed and then our chef zoomed away on her motorbike. To return 10 minutes later with some noodles in her bike basket.  Our meals came a good 45 minutes after we had arrived and sat down.

Back on the bikes we took the back road back to the lodge.  Lots of rice about to be harvested or just starting to be harvested.
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Rice waiting to be harvested
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Some harvesting had started

The Chinese have invested a lot of money in Rubber plantation and everywhere you looked there were large tracts of rubber trees – it takes 8 years before the rubber tree starts producing.
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Then we had a little inconvenience.  Andrew got a puncture. 

However we dealt with this by sitting him on the padded seat while he guided his bike and I doubled him to a roadside stall that mended punctures a few kilometres away.  At one point we went past a gang of roadside labourers.  They watched as two falang (foreigners) rode up with a tall older man sitting on the padded carrier nursing his bike.  They broke into spontaneous clapping and cheers of encouragement – it was quite funny. 
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Returning home from school keeping the sun off


Back to lodge early dinner (working our way through the entire menu), early to sleep and early to rise for another day - white water kayaking...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Silk grown and woven under a house

When we were wandering around the village near the Boat Landing we came across a lady offering to sell us silk scarves.  We had seen the weaving looms all around Laos but this was the 1st time we had seen the silkworms being farmed. 
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Under her house she had an in meshed in area baskets and baskets of silk cocoons and eggs waiting to hatch and feed on shredded mulberry leaves
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Knowing nothing about the process we found when we got back to Vientiane the yellow cocoons were genetic – just like eye colours.  In the wild many cocoons are yellow for camouflage but farmers bred to get more white silk.  It’s obviously easier not to have to bleach the yellow ones before applying the colour dyes.  Some information resources about silk-worms are Silkworms for classrooms or About Silkworms
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In many parts of the countryside it is really common to see a loom under a Lao house.
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But this was the first time we had seen the go – to –woe of the whole process.  From growing the cocoons that unravel to be silk thread, the thread being spun and dyed, and the silk being woven into scarves.
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The lady was really good trying to show us what materials were used to make the colour – woods, roots, leaves plant stems...  She had been dying some gentle pink/yellow silk when we visited and to achieve that she used a special wood we were familiar with – we use it to light our barbecue here.
And we bought number of scarves
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Days in Northern Laos

Russ and Rosalba arrived in Vientiane after a brief look around the town we took them out for dinner.  A bit of torrential rain came down and we were treated to localised flooding and having to wade home through ankle deep water. 

The next day we headed north to Luang Namtha – 1 hour by plane, 24 hours if driving.  Bordering on Burma and just 50km from the Chinese border.  Russ was keen to hire a motorbike and ride to China, but sadly none of the rest of us wanted to participate in that 'adventure' so it did not happen :-)

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A few months ago we found the cook book:

 Food from Northern Laos - The Boat Landing Cookbook 

This is an excellent book not only full of Lao recipe but with superb photos, descriptions of ingredients and about the way of life in the region. 

Both of us had been there with work projects but this was an excellent opportunity to revisit the region, to do some more touristy exploring and to stay at The Boat Landing


The Boat landing is an eco-lodge located 6km out of Luang Namtha
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The Boat Lodge - situated just above the river
We wandered down to the river banks where large parts of the local community were watching teams practice for the upcoming boat races. 

Next Thursday all of Laos (except Luang Prabang who do it slightly earlier) marks the end of Buddhist Lent with boat races.

So we watched the teams coming down the river to the sound of pacing whistles and the cheers of encouragement of the locals.
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The lodge itself was quiet and peaceful. 

Except.... in the mornings when the roosters crowing would start about 4:00am, then the early morning boat practices and their whistles between 5:30 and 6:30am. 

And the calves that were grazing in the field by the boat landing after a boat ride from somewhere about a day’s journey downstream. 
Oh, we also had a rat in the ceiling  of our bungalow that got busy during the night to gnaw through the cane roof.  Thankfully the gnawing job remained a work in progress that was not completed during our stay. 

Otherwise the place was so peaceful and calm, the butterflies giant sized and the people friendly.  And we ate our way through most of the book, so we have some future inspiration

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Siem Reap–Temples

So someone wrote a post about the temples at Siem Reap and then no one posted it and we went away for a week to Northern Laos.  So slightly after the fact, the remainder of our trip to Siem Reap.

The next day dawned and the water was higher still… but we were able to go out to 2 of the main temple complexes Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
DSC05618x1Prior to the trip we had watched a series of 6 educational programs about the Khmer kingdom & Angkor Wat. These had been sent through by the Shepherds after they had participated in a series of Otago University lectures on the subject.  It really helped understanding the background of this amazing series of temples – and our pictures don’t show the scale of the place.  One little fact adds some perspective is that when Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century there were over a million people living in the city supporting the complex.  By contrast London was a booming town of 50,000.
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The temples of Angkor Thom were described as looking like a pile of stones from a distance, but the wonder was in the detail.  And that seemed to be the case.  Lots of faces carved into stone, tug-of-war bridges…
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We may only have managed a small portion of the temples of the area, but what we saw were amazing.  Maybe we will get another dry weather weekend in Siem Reap.

We came back to Siem Reap town and swam in a wonderfully deep salt water pool before the All Blacks played France in the RWC.  Watching in Cambodia was better than Laos as the commentary was as broadcast from NZ.  In Laos when we watch at home the commentary is provided in Thai – unless we head out to one of the bars in town.

Another little quirk was that our hotel gave us a promotional scratchie after dinner as part of an official Rugby World Cup promotion.  We won 2 cokes and 2 glasses of wine.