Northern Thailand and Laos with Stray

15 10 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

-In Laos culture, meals are shared. When you order food at a restaurant everything comes out at different times, as the locals eat family style.  Westerners have to put what we consider “being polite” aside, and not wait until everyone gets their food.. unless of course you’re a fan of eating a really cold meal.

-The concept of “there is always room for one more” should be official motto for any form of public transportation in SE Asia.

After wrapping up in Phi Phi (Thailand), it was off to Phucket for a few hours (literally.. just to catch a flight) and then to Chiang Mai.  Now, I LOVED Chiang Mai, but unfortunately I only had about a week before I was meeting Bex (former roommate and friend from Wellington) and Bekah (who I met while touring NZ) in Cambodia.  That gave me all of two days in Chiang Mai!  Luckily, I ended up meeting two girls on the overnight trip at Maya Bay who happened to be on my exact same flight (it’s funny how the SE Asia traveling circuit works.. you end up bumping into the same people, or ending up on the same path).  So I spent the day with Rebecca and Tamara and their friend John touring the temples.  In all honesty, I wish I had had a bit more time to explore, because it was a cool little spot.

Rebecca, Tamara and I

Rebecca, Tamara and I

I wanted to be able to fit Northern Laos into my trip.  I knew my time was limited, so I booked a tour with Stray.  I heard about Stray in New Zealand (it’s founded there). Stray is a hop on/hop off bus type deal, with the slogan of “off the beaten track.” At this point, I didn’t really care what track we went on, as long as it included the highlights of Northern Laos.

In the morning I met Yuval or “Wan” as he goes by in Laos, our tour leader, and the other four girls – Rachel and Shauna, friends from Uni in England, and Anna and Kim, sisters (also from England).  The journey began with a stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  I saw A LOT of temples during my six weeks in SE Asia, but have never seen anything like Wat Rong Khun.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai

The White Temple in Chiang Rai

It is painted white for purity and covered in glass. The temple is designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, and is expected to be finished in about 50 years.

Chalermchai Kositpipat Postcard and I

Chalermchai Kositpipat Postcard and I

The outside is covered with images and statutes of both good and bad (hell) if you will. Right before you cross the bridge into the temple you cross a sea of hands struggling to reach.

Crossing the Bridge

Crossing the Bridge

Wat Rong Khun is rich with symbolism derived from Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  Once you enter the main temple there are depictions of the “end of days” – chaos, fire and popular culture.  It’s a unique experience to walk around and see drawings of Harry Potter, Elvis, Neo (from the Matrix) and Superman on the temple walls!  The other cool thing about this temple, is that it is a work in progress.  Wan was saying that every time he goes back something new has been added. It’s pretty incredible now, so it will be amazing to see what it’s like when it’s completed!

White Temple - Wat Rong Khun

White Temple – Wat Rong Khun

Our next stop was Chiang Khong, a tiny little town on the border of Northern Thailand. It was here that we were deemed the
“spice girls” (as there were 5 of us).  We borrowed bikes from our guest house and went out to dinner, where I ordered a pizza that took about 2 hours to cook.  I was warned to not eat Western food in Asia, but I really wanted a Hawaiian pizza!  I have the extremely good habit of biting my finger nails (lol), so luckily my stomach is used to all kinds of bacteria. Even though the pizza took awhile to arrive, it was delicious 🙂

The next morning it was up nice and early to take a 30 second boat ride over to Laos (really, it was over before it even started) and become a millionaire.   It will probably be a once in a lifetime experience but I’m not gonna say it didn’t feel nice to have a million of the local currency in my wallet (or purse for all you Brits out there).  Yes… I easily admit that I am a nerd.

Thailand/Laos Border

Thailand/Laos Border

First stop in Laos was a tiny village where we bought sandwiches for our slow boat to Pak Beng.  Laos used to be a French colony, so because of that there were baguettes galore.  I loved the guy at the “store” (converted bottom of the house) where we bought our baguettes. He had quite a few signs to attract the “ladies”

The sign says "Don't forget me"

The sign says “Don’t forget me”

Now the slow boat was an interesting experience.  Luckily we got there earlier enough to save actual seats.  Just as I thought we were leaving and all seats were filled, a group of 50 backpackers rolled up.  Please see “items I’ve learned today” lol.  I didn’t think there was any way we could possibly fit them, or the locals that were transported, but some how they all got squeezed in.  Where?  Not sure?  Maybe the engine room, on the floor, on the top of the boat??? I have no idea, but miraculously room was made.

Some how 5,000,0002 people were squeezed onto this boat

Some how 5,000,0002 people were squeezed onto this boat

The slow boat was actually really beautiful. We spent the night in Pak Beng, and then rose early to head off to Ban Lad Khammune where we would be doing a home stay at the local village. It was nice to be floating along the Mekong river taking in the beautiful sites of Laos.  I was happy for this part of the adventure to be starting!

Mekong River - Laos

Mekong River – Laos

More to come.



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