The day we visited the waterfall, we also went to the butterfly park nearby. The park has been created by a Dutch couple.
My friend Zarah advised me to take a look at the big waterfall near Luang Prabang, at Tat Kuang Si. We took a tuk-tuk and up we go.
A little bit further down the walking trail in direction to the waterfall, you can find a bear sanctuary. Those bears were saved from those horrid bile farms. If you are interested in helping them, please take a look at: www.freethebears.org.au
After a little break, finally our series of blog posts continues once again. Hopefully we manage to keep it up this time. Enjoy!
It was a warm and sunny day in Luang Prabang and we decided to visit the Wat Xieng Thong or the Temple of the Golden City. It’s a Buddhist temple (Wat) near where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers join. The construction took place between 1559 and 1960, by the Lao King Setthathirah. The Lao kings used to be crowned there as it was the royal temple, but it was until 1975 that the Wat was under the patronage of royal family.
Typical Laotian art and craft is represented as well, like carved gilded wood depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, decorations made out of glass mosaic.
Because of wars and neglect, major projects of restoration took place in the fifty ‘s and sixty’s, including the notable help of the french who participated in the share of the cost.
Although we knew beforehand Vientiane wouldn’t be that interesting, it is the place where most international flights arrive. But after two nights we saw more than enough of it. We couldn’t wait to leave this depressing place and go to somewhere more interesting.
Luang Prabang is about 220 km to the north of Vientiane and is the place to be for tourists. To get there we could take a local plane, but the only airline that goes this route, Lao Airline, is not famous for its safety record. Furthermore, when going by bus or train you get to see a little bit more of the real country. As there is literally only a few kilometers of rail in the whole of Laos, we opted for a ten hour bus ride via Vang Vieng.
Early in the morning we where picked up from the guesthouse with a still empty bus, but we ended up with a full mini bus after a short tour through the city with mostly Asian tourists and one German guy. It went slowly at first due to heavy traffic and often horendus road conditions, such as big holes in the tarmac, or large deep pools of mud, but after an hour or so the roads were mostly empty and the road conditions improved to acceptable levels, maybe even better than Belgium roads. The driver took this as a sign to speed up a little (much). Either he must have thought he was Schumacher or that the road was disappearing behind him. Overtaking other vehicles on the twisting and winding road in corners without any visibility of oncoming traffic was no exception. Adrenaline was pumping nonstop through our veins, every corner thinking, “if someone is coming now, we will either crash into it or have to avoid the heads on crash by driving into the 100m deep ravine. Either way, we’ll die”.
Amazingly we survived the first halve of our trip and arrived in the backpackers mekka Vang Vieng, infamous for drunk partying tourist and dangerous entertainment like tubing (going steerless on the river in a car tube). Interestingly, many signs over here where written in Korean. Apparently the city attracts many South Korean tourists because a famous movie (to them) was filmed here. Except for the German guy everyone got off here, but we had to change busses to continue. Unfortunately, a guy took our bus tickets when we left in Vientiane and we didn’t have any proof that we bought a ticket all the way to Luang Prabang. Much confusion among the tour operator staff when we tried explaining the situation to them in english, which they didn’t understand too well, but after a while we got hold of someone that could translate our predicament. A few phonecalls later, to the guesthouse that sold us the tickets and we were cleared to go with the next bus that was due to leave in an hour. When we drove through the city our ideas about this place where confirmed and we were happy we skipped it altogether.
The next leg might be the most exciting drives I had ever experienced. But not in a good way, as the driver was even more crazy with his overtaking behaviour, and we started to come in the mountains, with dangerous ravines right next to the road all the time. Especially nerve wrecking was a part of the road that had apparently vanished in a landslide earlier. They where trying to rebuild the stretch of 1 kilometer bumpy and slippery mud with a bunch of machines, but they had some work to do yet. One part of the ‘road’ with bumpy uphill mud was very narrow, but we had to pass it to reach our destination. The driver didn’t hesitate, took a run-up and we just bounced past the deep ravine to the other side. That piece of road was even more narrow after we had passed it, as part of the edge of the mud road had slide into the abbys. Our hearts where racing, it must have been at least 200 beats per minute, but we where happy we survived this ordeal.
After taking in the views from the mountain pass, we continued and arrived safe and sound, close after sunset, in Luang Prabang. Dropping us at our hotel was an imposibility, so we had to hike a mile to the hotel with 20 kilos on our back before settling into our relaxed Vietnamese-run guesthouse with a cold beer. Next time we prefer to play Russian roulette as bus rides in Laos seem to be a little bit too much excitement for us.
After visiting the arc, we walked back to our hotel and passed a bunch of temples. They are totally different from anything we saw in Japan and South Korea. The Laotian people seem to be especially fond of gold. In contrast to the temples in Japan and Korea, where every part of the temple has high quality details, the temples in Laos looked very beautiful from a distance, but up close it looked like it was rushed and painted by a three year old that can’t color between the lines yet.
It was a sunny day in the capital and we decided it would be a good day to see the arc the Triomphe called Patuxai (literally meaning Victory Gate). It’s a war monument built between 1957 and 1968, dedicated to the people who fought for the independence of the country against France. We had to cross some roads which was pretty much an adventure in itself (as it is in most country’s in South East Asia). We were lucky enough to find that the frangipani trees were in blossom and I could pick up one and sniff its delicate smell.
For a small fee we were allowed to climb the arc. The only things inside were some local entrepreneurs with loads and loads of overpriced souvenirs. Still the view from the top was worth the climb.
On the second day in Vientiane the wheater was much improved, bloody hot and sunny instead of hot and raining. We decided to visit the Buddha park, a 1 hour tuctuc drive out of the of city. We found a taxi driver that looked like a nice guy and negotiated a little about the price. We settled for 200000 kip. A fair price was 180000 according to our friendly hotel owner. When you remove four zeros you will get the euro amount, so it was about 20 euros. Not bad for a 1 hour return drive, where the taxi driver waits for one and a half hour for you to visit the park. It was probably still too much, but we were happy with the price and he seemed to be happy as well, a win-win situation. Although we thought we would go by tuctuc, he told us the tuctuc would take much too long and he took us in a regular taxi. A missed opportunity…
The entrance of the Buddha park was 5000 kip plus a fee of 2000 kip if you wanted to make photographs. What the heck? Well, it is only 0.70 euro per person in total, so we didn’t complain.
The park was littered with Buddha’s, most of them in a bad state with broken limbs and heads and such. Also has its charms. There were two main sculptures.
Luckily the taxi driver was still there to get us back in one piece. In fact, we later discovered it was one of the safest drivers we encountered in Asia, but that’s something for another story.
10 October 2015.
At the end of the afternoon it was time to leave South Korea and move on to our next destination: Laos. Or in full, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Very democratic really, with an amazing number of parties to vote on. That is one. With an average GDP per capita of about 1600 euro it belongs to one of the poorest countries in Asia (many African countries are much worse BTW), so we expected a lot of misery.
When our plane arrived in Vientiane, first we had to go through the usual hassle of going through customs and pay for our fine (also called Visa). We where standing in line at the customs and I was called forward, when I almost tripped on something. It appeared to be a piece of woman underwear, a string, lying just in front of desk of the customs. We almost could not help laughing out loud, but managed to keep a serious face. Of course we didn’t dare to take photographs at the customs, they usually have little sense of humour and don’t like that sort of stuff. After paying 30 dollars each for our precious stamps, we got into the country in a record time, so it seems there is really no reason to bribe the customs with a string between your passport to get into the country. From disembarking to collecting our bags and going through customs took only 15 minutes or so.
The local time now is half past eleven in the evening, so we where a little anxious to arrive safe at our hotel so late at night. Luckily they had a way to make it reasonable safe. At the airport it was possible to get a pre-booked taxi with a reputable driver. So we just ignored the armada of taxi driver scum that probably would robe you, rape you and left you for death in some unknown ally. The taxi was a whopping 6 dollar and extremely efficient. Just before a traffic light he would dive into an ally on the right only to appear on the other side before all other traffic. It was as he was driving in a game of Grand Theft Auto. In no time we were at our guesthouse, in which they were aware of our late arrival. A boy showed us our room, and we slept like a charm until late in the morning.
When we arrived it was raining and the next day was not any different. We decided to take our umbrellas and go for a walk to the COPE museum. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. What they do is help people with physical disabilities and give them free access to things like prostetics and rehabilitation. The most interesting thing in the museum were the documentaries about the terrible things that happened during the war and what is done at the moment with the help of volunteers to recover from the mess they are still in due to the 270 million (!) cluster bombs which America dropped on Laos (what they denied BTW). Laos is still littered with unexploded bombs and much of the land is unusable because of the dangers. In one of the documentaries it is shown how Australian military try to teach the locals to dismantle unexploded bombs. The sad thing is that when a bomb in a village is found, the villagers actually do not want the bomb to be taken away or destroyed, because for these people the bomb has much value for its scrap metal that they can sell. They appear to be totally unaware of the dangers, risking their lives for a few tens of dollars.
After leaving we were a little depressed and in a sad mood. A girl looking creepy at us at a shop where we had some noodles, as if we were the ones that were responsible for the bombs, and a little boy with only one leg at the side of the street didn’t help to improve our mood.
We had dinner at the That Dam Wine house, a luxurious restaurant nearby, but it was full of loud noisy drunken people in a room with lots of echo in it, the airco was set on minus fifteen degrees and it featured "ongezellige" TL lighting, as is the norm in Asia. A fitting end to a somewhat depressing first day in Laos.
Although we already saw so many temples, we were told the temple complex Gyeongbokgung was not to be missed. So on a late afternoon when the worst of the brutal heat was gone, we took the metro from Seoul station. We were fortunate enough to run into the changing of the guards, which is performed twice a day.
An hour from Seoul by metro we went to the poo museum (officially called the Toilet Museum), in Suwon City. I discovered it on 9gag a few years ago and since that time I dreamed to go there.
Sim Jae-duck aka Mister Toilet was the mayor of Suwon City during the 1990’s, he was then well known for promoting and beautifying South Korean public toilets, one example of it was during Word Cup 2002 where he improved the city toilets.
He also helped found the World Toilet Association, which is dedicated to improving sanitation around the world. The head quarters are now in Singapore.
His passion grow so much that he redesigned his house of 30 years into the shape of a toilet seat.
He passed away in 2009, the house was than donated to Suwon City, who converted the building to a museum which opened on the 4th of July 2012.
Going to the toilets is still a taboo in many societies. Yet it is very important in our daily lives because what goes in goes out (even for us girls, our farts don’t smell like roses and we don’t poo glitter ). Think about how disgusting it was in the middle ages in Europe, throwing it away through the window making everything dirty and propagating many illnesses.
Here a few facts about how important sanitation is : (Source: World Toilet Association *)
-The 2015 goal to halve the proportion of people living without sanitation is running 150 years behind schedule. 1 billion (15 % of the world population) still practice open defecation.*
1000 children died per day from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation in 2013. These deaths are preventable.*
Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a $4.3 return in the form of reduced health care costs*.
If you want to learn about this cause : http://worldtoilet.org
WARNING !!!!! DON’T READ WHILE EATING !!!!