A lot has happened since my last post. After Vang Vieng in Laos, I headed further north to Luang Prabang, a more laid back city, on the Mekong river. A less traveled destination on the backpacker trail. I traveled here with 3 people I met in Vang Vieng, Jarro, Jamie, and Martin, all from different countries but the best of times where had. There is not too much to do in the city except the local night market selling local crafts, and cheap food. I was here 3 days and 2 of the days I was sick so I didn’t do much.
Further north there is a small town called Nong Khiaw. My friend Martin that I met in Vang Vieng, and I decided to hitch hike the 93 miles to the small town, while Jamie and Jarro stayed back meeting us there the next day. It was a great experience and my first time hitchhiking. The idea of hitchhiking is foreign to the people of Laos, so when you wave them down, they just wave back like you are saying hi, but you eventually get picked up. Nong khiaw sits along the Mekong river and it is a nice little town, that looks like an old mining town, the houses have corrugated tin roofs and everything looks very rustic and abandoned. The further north you go in Asia the colder it gets, and I didn’t really pack for cold weather, at night it would get down to around 40 degrees. We stayed in Nong khiaw for 3 days, and on our second day, Jamie and Jarro joined us, and we rented motorbikes and explored the mountain villages, where the huts are made from woven bamboo. The villages are very rural but a lot of the huts have satellite dishes on top, it is a weird contrast.
On the way up to Nong khiaw, the road follows the Mekong river and we were able to see the effect of over consumption of power first hand, and how we don’t look at the environmental impacts we as humans have on this earth. The Xayaburi Dam can be seen being built in northern Laos. The Chinese company Xayaburi Power Company Limited, is currently finishing up building on the new damn. One of eight dams built on the Mekong River, known as the heart of SE Asia, feeding more than 60million people a year. The dam projects are posing huge concern for the environments and community’s 100s of miles down stream from where they are being built in northern SE Asia. Farmers and fisherman rely on the Mekong River and they have for 1000s of years. The dams are restricting flow of water causing fish populations to decrease and farmers suffering from droughts. When I was in Khon Kaen, Thailand I saw the direct impact of the Chinese dams first hand without realizing. Tula told me that it was a hard season, and farmers where struggling do to lack of water. The farmers depend on the nutrient filled water from the Mekong River and the dams are impacting farmers that live hundreds of miles away from the dams.
It is sad to see the impact humans have on this planet of ours, and it is hard to see a change ever happening. Every country is only worried about expanding and no one ever stops to look at the effects. The hydropower energy is green energy, but there are still impacts of this. I believe that instead of changing the environment to suit our lifestyles, we change our lifestyles to suit the environment.
The average American uses approximately 313 million Btu of energy, while the worldwide average per person is around 75 million Btu. If we all take a look into our own lives and consume less for the greater good of society, we could make the world a better place. But changing the world for better requires every individual to start making a change. Even I am guilty of this. It is not an easy thing to do, we are creatures of habit and unless we all take a step outside of the bubble we live in and realize the bigger picture it will never happen and we will all have to live on the moon in small shitty bubbles, maybe then we will realize the bubble we live in.
Further north, about a 1 hour boat ride from Nong khiaw, is a small fishing village called Muang Ngoy, only accessible by small panel boat, there is not too much to do there but it was nice to hang out and relax in our bamboo huts over looking the Mekong river with limestones mountains cascading as far as the eye could see. It was peer bliss until the sun went down and the rats would wake you up by crawling on your face, and chewing holes in your bag, but rats aside, it was a nice to lay in the hammocks on the balcony watching the sun set. Even in the most remote places, the village people speak good English and you can enjoy the comforts of home, which sounds nice, but not when you are trying to escape it. This is where tourism starts to turn into something negative.
From the small village of Mong Ngoy we took the same panel boat back to Nong khiaw, had breakfast, then deciding we were too tired to hitchhike back, we got on the small bus headed back to the bus station, just outside of Luang Prabang, where I would stay for the next 6 long days while I would wait for my visa to arrive. It was only supposed to take 24hours, but when you go the cheap way nothing is ever on time, especially in Asia. The hostel we were staying at had some cool people that Martin Jarro and I met and we all rented city bikes and road around the city all day exploring and trying to find the elusive black smith that we ended up never finding. In our second to last day in Luang Prabang, we went to the The Kuang Si waterfall. It was a nice waterfall but it was crowded with tourists with selfie sticks not even looking at anything except through their phone camera. Finding genuine experiences has become more important to me and I have realized now that true experiences are farm more important that going and seeing all of the places that google tells you to see.
The day came that we finally got our letter of invitation to Vietnam, and Martin and I sticking with our plan to hitchhike the 529 miles from Luang Prabang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Right when we got our letters we set out for our 3 day adventure.
Martin Kosovenka is from Lithuania. Most people don’t know where Lithuania is, but it does not bother him. I have been traveling with him for about 4 weeks now and he reminds me of my good buddy from home and also my cousin, so it is like having a familiar face around, which has been nice in this vast sea of unknown faces.
It was 1pm on a Sunday when we arrived to the bus station that would take us to Pak Mong, 40 miles north of Luang Prabang, the starting point of our hitchhiking journey. The 2 hour bus ride, which actually wasn’t a bus but a tuk tuk, with way to many people and a pet monkey, was not my favorite bus ride, because I had to ride on the back standing platform that hangs off the tailgate of the tuk tuk while we hoped down the pothole filled road going about 50 mph. What a thrill!
We got to the town of Pak Mong around dusk so we decided to camp there for the night. We found a nice bamboo resting hut on a rice farm that we decided would make a good place to sleep. It was until about 3am a man walked by our hut making very strange noises, zombie like, and continued walking down the road. We were in between 2 towns so it was unsettling knowing that we weren’t alone so we packed up and hiked back to the next town and got a guest house. We woke up around 5:30 and got an early start to hitching. We didn’t have to hike to far maybe about 10 miles until we got pick up by a Chinese truck driver headed back to China with rubber from Laos. Laos is a very big rubber producer in SE Asia, there are rubber trees everywhere. We were lucky enough to get a ride to the intersection of the next road we needed to take, 57 miles away from our starting point. While there we stopped for some lunch and kept moving to our next destination getting picked up 3 more times by small trucks eventually stopping deciding we wouldn’t get picked up again today, so we found a small bamboo hut somewhere in the middle of northern Laos away from any tourists and surrounded by wilderness and a small village. There was no guest house so we had to spend the night in the bamboo hut. We woke up at 6:30 hiked another 15miles finally getting picked up by a Vietnamese truck driver going to the Tay Trang border. The Tay Trang border is a small border crossing that does not see a lot of people because it pretty far between major cities. So it is not an easy place to hitchhike.
We had only planned how we where going to get to the border and we didn’t plan the rest of the trip to Hanoi, which was actually the biggest leg of the trip. We made it through the border, which I didn’t think we were going to get through, because our letters of invitation to Vietnam we bought from a guy on the street in Luang Prabang, and the official document was a printed page of and email. On the vietnam side, a Vietnamese truck driver hopped out of his truck to stop us, to take pictures with us. Immediately after an American looking semi truck, heading into Vietnam, stopped for us when we flagged it down, and when we should them our sign labeled Hanoi, they explained to us using pointing that they were also headed to Hanoi! We got very lucky that we only had to take one car all the way to Hanoi, because we had a deadline to make it before Christmas.
On the way we stopped somewhere around 9 for dinner and they ordered for us. We all enjoyed some very tasty food. We didn’t know what kind of meat it was, it had a very interesting taste, something I have never had before. We asked the truck drivers what kind of meat it was, and one of them started laughing and pointed at a dog that was in the restaurant, we thought he was kidding so we laughed and kept eating. Later we figured that he wasn’t kidding and we got a taste of a local Hanoi delicacy, of dog meat, that is served around winter time. It is all part of the experience, I wouldn’t eat dog again, but I am glad I got to try it. After dinner we kept pushing on towards Hanoi. About 12 miles from the city Old Quarter, Hanoi, the truck drivers stopped to sleep and we woke up at 7 and the truck drivers dropped us off in the middle of the freeway while it was raining, and we knew Vietnam was going to be fun.
From Hanoi, I don’t have a plan so I might head north to Sapa, or Halong bay. I hope everyone has a great Christmas!