Photos from our trip along Mekong river with Världens Resor
5th of December 2008 to 2nd of January 2009
To see the photos, click at the index to the left.
This is my diary from the 29 days round trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with the Swedish travel agency Världens Resor. Our original travel program is written in italics and it’s not translated into English.
Friday 5 December / Flight to Bangkok
After a week of uncertainty we finally had gotten a flight through Copenhagen instead of Stockholm to Bangkok. The flight from Gothenburg was later so we didn’t depart until 8 am by a taxi. It was rainy with some slush so it was perfect to leave Sweden today.
There were plenty of time after the check-in was done and we took a morning coffee, where we met a couple of ex-colleagues called Thomas and Supalak Klingvall, who also headed for Bangkok. On the flight we soon found out that they had placed all from the group beside each other. There were Thomas and Lena who also were from Borås, Karl-Gunnar and Birgitta plus Evert.
We had quite a lot of time in Copenhagen but we had to exit the transfer hall to get new boarding cards and this queue was very long so it was nice with company. When we finally had returned to the transfer hall we had some lunch before it was time to go to the gate. The flight was about half an hour late but that was no surprise.
It was a big plane and as we had a late check-in we couldn't sit next each other. After dinner it was hard to fall asleep, although we ought to do it. The time difference is +6 hours. Between the naps I saw a movie called “Ghost Town”, which was okay.
Saturday 6 December / Bangkok - Chiang Rai
Ankomst Bangkok på morgonen. Vidare med flyg till Chiang Rai, en liten stad som mest är känd som porten till Gyllene Triangeln. Vi besöker Chiang Rais Hilltribe Education Centre för att bekanta oss lite med de etniska minoriteter som finns i området. Många av de etniska minoriteter som finns i Thailand återfinns också i Laos. Välkomstmiddag med kryddstark och god thailändsk mat.
We arrived about 7 am local time without having enough sleep. It was worse for Christina who had a drunken man in front of her, who complained loudly through the night, that he couldn't sleep. She also had a square-shouldered man on each side.
It took a while to get through the customs, but on the other hand we didn't need to wait for the luggage such a long time then. We split up from the other and were fortunate to find out that we were able to check in at the domestic flight 6 hours before departure. We tried to get a nap to manage through the day, but both the floor and the benches were cold and uncomfortable. We ate some Japanese food before we went through the security control to the gate, where we met up with some of the others.
The domestic flight to Chiang Rai departed on time. It was a big plane, but only half full. It was nice to see all the fields during the landing.
After we got our luggage, we met our guide Mikael Karlmark plus the people who had arrived from Stockholm. They had been on the same flight, but we didn't know who they were before. There were still three people missing when we departed. We went to Golden Triangle Inn and checked in, while Mikael went back to the airport.
It was a warm and comfortable evening, when we went out to a big local market. They sold quite a lot of different things at food stalls. Sometimes it was difficult to identify the food and there were influences of different Asian countries. We wouldn't mind to eat there if we shouldn’t have welcome dinner within a few hours. But there were a lot of other things on sale and I bought a new belt cheaply, as my old one was nearly broken. Several locals played and sang to earn some money. We met some of our co-travellers. When we've been around it all, we went back to get some rest, as we started to feel the lack of sleep. It was also time to charge all batteries, as there was a big risk that it wouldn't be possible the next evening.
After 8 pm we went to the reception to meet up with the other. The three missing people had arrived and it turned out that one of them was Anna-Lena, who had been with us on the Silk Road voyage two years earlier. We went to a restaurant nearby for a Thai dinner and returned around 10 pm and packed before we went asleep.
Sunday 7 December / Chiang Rai (Thailand) - Pakbeng (Laos)
Till den laotiska gränsen på morgonen och vidare med båt 8-10 timmar längs Mekong till Pak Beng. Resans första båttur på Mekong blir en vacker färd med slow boat till en trevlig liten rustik stad som heter Pakbeng. Du bor på hotell med vy över floden och kan följa livet på Mekong.
We had a pretty good breakfast with both toast and fried eggs. The buses were late. We departed 7:15 and travelled on a slightly bumpy paved road. It was hazy but it soon became sunny. We passed many small villages and fields.
When we arrived to Chiang Khong we went over the river Mekong in a small boat to the side of Laos. The customs didn't let us enter as we hadn't made the departure procedure in Thailand, so we had to go back to fix this and then return back to Laos. We had to pay a small overtime fee of one US dollar each as it was a weekend day. The name of the Lao border village is Houayxay.
We went by tuk-tuks to another harbour, where we boarded a slow-boat, which was big enough for our group of 16 persons and 2 guides. The name of our local guide was Phoneysei, but we just called him Sei. He spoke surprisingly good English.
Laos lacks coasts, so the Mekong river is extremely important for the country. 60% of the water comes from Laos, although the river source is in Tibet at a sea level of 5500 meters. It is 4800 km long where of 1800 km flows through Laos. The population of the country is 6.5 million and has a surface like half of Sweden. According to the government there are 3 main groups depending on which level they live, but in practice there are over 50 ethnic minorities.
It is about 140 km to Pak Beng and we left about 10:30. Now and then there are a lot of rocks, so we had to arrive before the sunset. Soon it was Laos on both sides and the boat had to visit a customs checkpoint. During this stop several children entered the boat to sell biscuits, chips, dried fruits etc.
The weather was really sunny and warm when we stopped to visit a village. We had to walk up the river banks of sand. As it was the dry season the village seemed to be located quite high. It was a highland tribe village with about 55 household. The staple food is rice and a lady protected it from the hens, while it was drying on straw mats. Normally the village moves after 2-3 years, which the government is against as it’s harder to give the people education and health care. Most houses were built on poles and some of houses were special rice storage houses.
We had lunch on the boat when we returned, which cost 60000 kips. 60 SEK is outrageous, but they had monopoly and it was a nice buffet of vegetables and fish. Okay, I had preferred a fish with fewer bones. The river didn't change much, but the streams and whirlpools made us understand why we had to arrive to the port before sunset. The arrival to Pak Beng was about 5:30 pm and the landing was very narrow. First we had to walk over a cargo boat and then some got help to get ashore. We also got help with the luggage, which went ahead to the hotel on a tuk-tuk.
The hotel was built 2005 and there is an apparent frenzy of constructions in Pak Beng. We had time to start charging batteries (they even had a European plug here), when I shaved myself I had to find the torch they had provided, as the generator stopped. When it started Christina tried to take a shower, but she gave up when the generator stopped again. It was supposed to work 18-22:30 and 6-8 am, but this is apparently nothing you could trust.
We all went to an Indian restaurant nearby for a group dinner, but this took quite a long time. After sitting on the hard seats, we needed a short walk, even though it was dark outside. We had to go to bed before the generator stopped in the hotel.
Monday 8 December / Pakbeng - Udomxai
Från Pak Beng utgår en av de få vägar som finns i norra Laos. Vi följer den mot Udomxai och kommer under dagen att stanna till i byar.
We had a breakfast with omelette and then we went out for a walk in the village. It was easy to see that this was a village where many tourists pass through. They sold a lot of drinks, chips and biscuits. Further up the hillside there is a local market. We also saw a restaurant, which had bomb shells framing the entrance.
We departed 9:30 in a really colourful bus from Viengchampa tours, which was the local agent for Laos. The road was pretty good but a little bumpy. We passed quite a lot of villages and the houses were normally built on poles. In between we were surrounded by forests.
The first stop was at a Hmong village. According to the government, they have settled here instead of in the mountains to get health care and education for the children, but also to avoid to growing opium. There were ongoing activities like weaving and net repairing.
Along the road we saw corn and banana plants. We stopped in another village for a walk. At this time the year they grow corn and tobacco, but in the wet season they harvest rice and cotton. There were many waters buffaloes in the fields. In the next village we had a noodle soup for lunch. We made a stop and several in the group went out to take photos of people working in the fields. I felt a bit dubious of just rushing into the locals activities like that.
There was a fee gate along the road. We finally arrived at Hotel Surinphone in Oudomxai. We made a short walk in the dark, but there wasn't much to see except a bus station nearby and a small local market. At 7 p.m. the group went together to a restaurant. It was a mistake, as we were too many and it took long time get the food. Evert didn't even get his soup. We also met Mikaels girlfriend Anca Balintescu from Romania, who just had arrived through China. We went to bed at 10 pm.
Tuesday 9 December / Oudomxai - Mouang Ngoi
Vi besöker marknaden i Udomxai dit mängder av de olika etniska minoriteter som bor i närliggande byar kommer till. Laos har en enorm mångfald vad gäller etniska minoriteter. Trots att befolkningen inte är mer än drygt fem miljoner så finns här över 70 olika etniska minoriteter, mestadels i norra Laos. Vi fortsätter med buss till den vackert belägna orten Nong Khiaw, varifrån vi färdas med båt till den lilla byn Mouang Ngoi där vi bor över natten. Här finns det endast el några timmar på kvällen.
I had planned to take a shower in the morning, but the electricity didn't work, so I couldn't even get water through the shower. It was quite cold, some clouds and even drizzle in the air, but that changed to warm and sunny weather after an hour. We went by bus to the market. It's always interesting to see the food on sale, but otherwise the market was still quite dead. All the ethnic minorities mentioned in the program seemed to have disappeared. We changed money in a bank before we went on, now on a much bumpier road than yesterday. At one point we passed an accident along the very curvy road.
Sei told us about the history of Laos. Its greatness was until the 15th century and after that it has been in a battle between China, Siam and Vietnam. The country used to be called Lan Xang, i.e. the country of the 1000 elephants. Fa Ngum was the great hero in the early history. The Frenchmen arrived 1893 and thought that Laos would be a good backdoor to China, but they found out that Mekong was too rocky for transportations. They let the Vietnamese take care of the administration. Laos saw the colonization as their best defence against their stronger neighbours. The area was in a tug-of-war between France and United Kingdom until World War II, when the Japanese invaded Laos and Cambodia. After the war the Frenchmen returned, but lost their Indochina colony 1953.
USA bombed the country heavily during 1962-73. They emptied all the leftover bombs, after they had bombed Vietnam. This was held a secret for 5 years from the American public. The Communist resistance was situated in cave systems up in the North. 1975 the communists took over and the king abdicated. He and his family were sent to a re-education camp, where they died a few years later.
Today you may own land and the trading has started, but the annual GDP per capita is only 4-500 USD.
We made a stop in a village to see a local market. There were birds, marmots, fabrics and much more. In all the villages it seemed to be many satellite antennas. We had lunch in a bigger village and bought water and biscuits. There we saw parrots, hides from rats and something which looked like an ocelot on sale.
We arrived in the very dusty village of Nong Khiaw, from where we took three boats to Mouang Ngoi on the Nam Ou river. The river is surrounded by a splendid landscape in between high mountains. The trip took about 1.5 hour.
We stayed in a bungalow and it was too cold to take a shower in cold water. There were no glasses in the windows, only a mosquito net. We got information about next day’s trekking and then we all had dinner together. As the electricity only was powered 6 to 9 p.m. we went to bed early.
Wednesday 10 December / Trekking
Vi börjar vandringen på morgonen. Vandringen går delvis genom orörd skog till en by befolkad av en etnisk grupp som heter Khmu. Vi bor natten i denna by, 1200 möh. På vägen får vi fina vyer över vackra bergsområden.
We met a Swedish man who lived here half of the year with his Lao wife and their son, who’s name is Nimit Erik. They ran a hot bath, sauna and Lao massage parlour. Christina said she would visit him later, both for a chat, as well for a hot bath.
After breakfast, where we even got warm baguettes in a French manner, we all gathered outside the hotel for the trekking. Christina, Evert and Nils-Gunnar had chosen not to do the trekking, as it could be tough. Anna-Lena and Gunnar should only walk halfway and then turn back with one of the guides.
At the end of the village, we passed by the school, which also was used by the other villages for the secondary level.
Halfway to the first village we stopped at a large cave, which had protected up to 300 people during the bombing, by the Americans, during the Vietnam War. Whenever people heard the planes they run into the cave. Pregnant and ill people had to stay nearby. Here was the first stream we had to pass, but it was easy to balance on flat stones. At the next stream I had to take of my walking shoes and walk barefoot. Some people changed to sandals instead. We walked through fields with both crops and water buffalos. We passed another 4 or 5 streams before we reached Ban Huoysen after less than 3 hours. It was quite warm when we sat down for lunch. The guides had brought packets of rice and vegetables. We got a vegetable soup in the village, where they also sold soft drinks and beer in a sheltered house. It was slightly more expensive as someone had to carry them to this village without any good infrastructure. There was even a minor guest house and a toilet shed.
After lunch at 2 pm the tough part of the trekking started. The path was quite steep and breathtaking for most of us. It was quite narrow and surrounded by forest, so at least it wasn't too hot to walk. The clay on the path was some kind of reddish earth, which I believe could be quite slippery in the rain. I tried to drink quite lot water along the road to avoid headache and a bad stomach, but I think many other cheated with this. I drank around 2 litres. The view was great and green with many surrounding high mountains. The group was quite spread out and only gathered now and then during a break. The guides carried water, but also the small backpacks for some persons, who had a tough time to walk. On the other hand there were only a few minor creeks to pass. One of the guides sang a lot along the path.
We arrived at Ban Khiaw Khan at 4:30 pm. It is a small, but crowded village. Storage houses and pigs were outside the fences around the village, as well as the school house. We noticed that beer and soft drinks had an extra add-on for carrying them all the way up. Seven of us stayed in a community guest house and the other six stayed with three families. I shared a room with Mats.
At 6 p.m. we had a welcome ceremony in the house of the chief. This village has animists, so this tradition is according to their belief. Some were translated, but most of it was difficult to understand. The ceremony included drinking the Lao-Lao local alcohol and all family members tied a string around the wrist of each guest. As Mikael was our “chief”, he got as much as seven shots of the strong liquor.
Afterwards we had dinner. The table was lit by a single low-energy bulb. The village actually had a cable from a hydroelectric station. The evening was warmer than the one before and we had a full moon, which lit up the village. After dinner we had time for questions and answers with the chief, and he seemed to be slightly affected by the strong liquor. There were many fires lit around the village. The children got balloons and somebody had brought sparklers, which were popular. I sat talking with Mikael, Lena and Tomas until 10:30 pm. My torch failed to work, and I borrowed one from Lena. The small room was covered with a mosquito net and I went under the blanket without undressing.
Thursday 11 December / Trekking - Muang Ngoi
Vi fortsätter vandringen genom regnskogsmiljö och kommer så småningom åter ner till Nam Ou floden och tar båt tillbaka till Mouang Ngoi, där vi bor ännu en natt.
I had been less disturbed by the roosters during the night than Mats. I got up at 7:30 after a hard night. The mattress was hard but luckily the bamboo floor had been quite soft, so I was just slightly stiff. The morning clouds quickly changed to sun.
After breakfast we walked around the village. There live 37 families, which makes about 140 persons. They have been supported by UNICEF to build a water tank and pump, which supplies four taps. The village is over 60 years old, which the guide Muen could see on certain houses. Each family had their own barn on poles outside the village. The poles were surrounded by metal to protect against climbing rats. The forest is used as a toilet, but they sometimes use the toilet shed, which was built for the tourists.
We saw bark of the orange beetle nut tree, which was chewed mainly by women to protect their teeth. This made the teeth go black. Bamboo houses can only last for 4-5 years, sometimes up to 8 years, but they keep cool. They had one house with corrugated plate, which they thought would last for at least 20 years, but it was quite hot inside. Most of the work is done during the rain period and mainly on the fields. Now they were mostly repairing and building new houses as well as minor things. It is mainly the women who carry things up to the village.
We looked into the school on the way out of the village, where there was a class. First the path was going up and down and along some ridges. Many locals walked along it, as this was the main path down to the river. There were several small fields along it and we also saw some water buffalos.
When we came further down into the forest, we got more shadow, but the path was quite steep here and there. Birgitta fell on one of the slopes and later also in a water stream. After an hour it was time to change into sandals as we walked in a stream quite a long distance and some of the stones were slippery. The water reached mostly up to the ankles and a couple of times up to the knees. During the rain period the water reached up to their chests. Many had problems with this tough trekking, but the guides were undisturbed, although Mikael joked with them and said that they were slow. They were extremely helpful to those in need and again carried some backpacks. Again I drank about 2 litres of water but it was difficult to find places to pee…
Closer to the final destination, we saw many burnt fields and many people working people. We arrived 3.5 hours later to the river village Ban Had Saphouit, where Christina, Lena and Gunnar had arrived with the boats. They had stopped in a village on the way, where they had bought marvellous silk scarves, as that village is famous for its good weavers.
Christina had spent the day before with resting, strolling around the village, talking an hour with the Swede and taking a steam bath at his place and eating in a restaurant that he had recommended.
We went in the boats and then stopped for Lunch at Phaxang beach. Some even took a bath after lunch before we continued back to Mouang Ngoi.
I was happy to take a cold shower in the bungalow, but several others waited until the steam bath and massage opened. We rested before we went out for dinner, and we went to the same restaurant Christina had visited yesterday. A few others in our group were already there. Christina said that the village was much calmer than yesterday and we later found out that an old woman had died the night before. The Lao people avoid showing their sorrow in public.
In the bungalow we packed, but we didn't have time to finish before the generators were turned off at 8:45 pm already, so it meant an early evening for us. My body enjoyed this after the trekking, despite this also was a hard bed.
Friday 12 December / Muang Ngoi - Luang Prabang.
Båt längs Nam Ou floden till Luang Prabang. Vi besöker Pak Ou grottorna, ett par kalkstensgrottor som är helt fyllda med buddhastatyer, gamla som nya. Det är vid Pak Ou grottorna som Nam Ou flyter ut i Mekong igen och då är det bara 25 kilometer kvar till Luang Prabang på en betydligt bredare flod än du just färdats på. Ankomst Luang Prabang på eftermiddagen.
We went up 6:30 and had breakfast at 7:00. The Swede and his son came to say goodbye, before we left in 3 small boats for a 6 hour trip to Luang Prabang. We left just after 8 a.m. and had a short stop for gasoline in Nong Khiaw. There we met a French couple who wanted to share a boat upstream, but we were in a group as well as we were heading downstream. It remained to feel cloudy and chilly, when we continued in the boats.
We went downstream about a quarter of an hour when one of the boats broke its propeller. The boat drivers were good at towing the boat between the other two to a village nearby. They tried to fix the propeller, but they had to call another boat, and luckily they had cell phones. Most in the group went up to the village to stretch their legs, before we continued after half an hour or so.
The sun finally showed close to noon and soon after we stopped at a beach for lunch. They set up tables and chairs for us, and served sandwiches and fruits. Afterwards we got Lao coffee and tea.
We continued at 1:30 p.m. The boat felt even more uncomfortable and noisy now. Somebody pointed out later that this was more straining then the trekking yesterday. In any case I didn't get a lot of water on me in the rear seat. The captain had to drive in serpentines to get around marked nets as well as many rocks in the river. Suddenly he had to increase the speed to avoid some of the rocks in the heavy stream, but he failed and scratched a third of the middle part of the side. We never got fear before we were out in the stream again. At least we couldn't see any leakage of water. But after a quarter of an hour there were some water on the floor and a couple of luggage became wet, among them my backpack. The driver’s deck hand had to shovel water and seemed to get it under control.
More and more villages had fields on the river banks now. At the East side there was a road parallel to the river, and there were also electricity wires along the road.
At the mouth of Pak Ou river where it went out into Mekong river we stopped at the Buddha caves of Pak Ou. Here it is placed a lot of Buddha statues, which are in too bad shapes to be in a temple. There were quite a lot of stairs to climb. Christina thought it was a plot against her that there were either steep river banks or stairs for her to climb everywhere, as it was painful for her hip. The caves have been used since the 16th century. Most Lao people are either Theravada Buddhists or animists. The communists tried to get rid of all religion but it is too strong established in the country. I and a few others went up to the upper caves, but those were a dark (no light) disappointment and they weren't worth the 200 steps. There were several dirty children who sold small birds in really small cages. For one dollar they could be released. Guess if they were caught again? We heard later that according to local superstition, this was made to give good luck.
When we continued they probably had fixed the boat somehow, as it didn't leak any more. We continued to a village, which was allowed to produce the strong Lao liquor. I tasted some, but it was awfully strong. There were also several market stalls, mainly with scarves. I bought a nice wooden turtle for 7 USD.
During the sunset we continued the last few kilometres and arrived in Louang Prabang at 5:30 pm. The entire city is considered a World Heritage by UNESCO. There were plenty of steps again before we were up at the street. Fortunately we got help with the luggage up to the tuk-tuks, which waited for us. The landing site is a couple of km from the centre.
Our hotel was just next to the night market. It is named “Ancient Louang Prabang” and was quite luxurious in our eyes. The room had a big bed in the middle of the room without any place for an alarm clock, an extremely large bath tube in one of the corners, but the wooden floor would easily become wet. There was also place to hang towels, but it had a big flat widescreen television with a DVD player... But it was nice with hot water and possibilities to recharge batteries again, so I shouldn’t whine too much.
We collected our laundry and left it at the reception and sent some email before we went out for dinner in a Lao restaurant. I was really starving after the meagre meals today. On the way back we went through the big night market, which was just outside our hotel. I was tired and started to feel a cold, so it was nice to go to bed.
Saturday 13 December / Luang Prabang.
I stilla takt utforskar vi den trevliga lilla staden Luang Prabang. Staden var tidigare det mäktigaste av de tre kungadömen som kom att bilda Laos. Du besöker Wat Xiang Thong och Kungapalatset. Det blir mycket gyllene prakt, men också fina ornamenterade väggar och målade pelare med vackra mönster.
På eftermiddagen bestiger vi Phou Si. Från det heliga berget blickar du ned på staden och Mekong. Hela Luang Prabang är upptagen på UNESCOs världsarvslista.
After a good night’s sleep in warmth and soft bed, we went up at 8 a.m. for breakfast.
At 10 a.m. we were picked up by three tuk-tuks and went to Wat Visounnarath, which is the biggest temple in the city. The original temple was built 1512-14 in wood, but burnt down 1887 by North Vietnamese. It was rebuilt 1898 in concrete. The roofs of the temples are protected by three-headed dragons. 1975 it became a museum of religious art. Outside a family had set up three pennants in memoriam to a dead relative. There is also a stupa called the “watermelon stupa”, because of its form. Sei told us the story about how prince Siddharta became Buddha. He had been a monk during four years, so he knew it well. It was also in the monastery, where he had learnt English so well.
The temple Wat Aham next to it had marvellous paintings, which described the life of Buddha. The temple was built 1814 and most of the paintings were done through donations. The temple seemed to have been restored 1994 with aid of USA.
The tuk-tuks picked us up to go to the main attraction in the city, i.e. the monastery Wat Xieng Thong. The name means "tree of life". It was built 1560 in a typical style of Louang Prabang, standing directly on the ground and with a roof in three levels. There used to be 65 monasteries in the city, but the Frenchmen converted many of them to barracks during the colonization.
After the temples, we went to the outskirts of the city for lunch in a restaurant. As usual it took a while, but it's just to keep your patience. Then we went back into town to the National museum, which is in the old Royal Palace. We saw the Phabang, a buddha which is used in a yearly procession. Then there were all the royal rooms for reception, dining and sleeping. The palace was built 1905-09 and has been used by four kings until 1975, when the communists took over the country. Then it became a museum for Buddha figures. You were not allowed to take photos nor carrying any backpack in the museum. The building itself is built in a French colonial style, but restored 1967 with a stupa on top of the roof and a relief showing a three-headed elephant under an umbrella representing the unification of the three old Lao kingdoms. There are also 15 dragons representing the provinces, which actually now are 18. Outside there is a temple to the right and a statue of King Sisavangvong and the theater Phralak-Phralam to the left.
Christina took a look into the temple, when most of the other of us went up on the hill Phou Si by climbing 328 steps. Fortunately they were in the shadow as it had become hot during the afternoon. It was a nice view over the city, but some was hidden behind trees.
When I came down we went through the night market, where we bought a couple of silk scarves. Then we went to the hotel a while before we went back to the Phralak-Phralam theatre to see a one hour dance performance by the Royal Ballet. This ballet existed until 1975, but was recreated 1994, as a way to keep the national history. Their performance was called "Offering of the ring to Sida", which only is a part of a longer legendary story. We met Anca at the theatre.
Afterwards we went out for dinner at a restaurant and we strolled through the night market before we went back to the hotel. We helped Birgitta to create a gmail account, before we went to bed, as my cold and running nose required this. Still they hadn't done the laundry we had left to the reception the day before.
Sunday 14 December / Luang Prabang
Valfri dagsutflykt - 35 kilometer från Luang Prabang ligger Kouang Si vattenfallet. Det är ett mycket vackert vattenfall i flera våningsplan. Det går utmärkt att bada här. Transporten fram och tillbaka tar ca två timmar.
Du kan självfallet välja att vara kvar i Luang Prabang. Det finns många fler tempel och det är en behaglig stad att bara strosa omkring på gatorna. Det är också en bra stad att handla i. På marknaden hittar du fina dagböcker och andra saker tillverkade av mullbärsträdspapper. Vackra korgar och textilier kan vara andra saker värda att titta lite extra på.
I got over nine hours of good sleep, but had tossed and turned so much due to my cold, that Christina had slept worse.
It was a hot and sunny day without any program, so we could have a relaxing day. We had planned to go to a silk factory and Anca and Mikael were keen to join us, so we shared a tuk-tuk to Ban Phanom. First we looked at a weaver. The looms were very intricate and complex. The lady and Christina understood each other quite well without a common language, as she has good knowledge about weaving. Again we couldn’t resist buying a couple of scarves. We noticed that the lady, as well as other salesmen hit their goods with the money they just received. It was probably to get good luck with further sales. There were lot of choices, but all were probably hand-woven. Mikael also bought a couple for his parents and he wanted our advice.
The next place we visited was Ban Xangkhong and the Boualay silk handicraft. The most interesting here was that they showed all of the process from silk larva eating mulberry leaves, to spinning cocoons. We also saw the pots where they heated the cocoons to untwine and refine the silk threads. There is also an exhibition of dying and which plant gives which colour. The shop was less interesting here.
When we came back to town we went for lunch, while Mikael and Anca went to the waterfall Khou Si by themselves as nobody in the group was interested in this optional excursion. We found a place by the river where we ate sticky rice pancake with mango. This was actually more like rice porridge with mango on top. It was nice to view the Mekong traffic from above.
We walked along some smaller street nearby and had a look at yet another temple called Vatphonxay Sanasongkham, but this had very nice pictures like those in Wat Aham. Then we picked up the laundry and rested a bit.
Next stop was the Traditional Art and Ethnology Centre. They had gathered many different clothes from the minorities and had them on display. There were also some tools and a display of dowry, which included a mosquito net. There was of course the mandatory museum shop. Afterwards we took a coffee and fruit cake at the colonial porch called Patio café behind the museum. It was more expensive than a dinner, but relaxing with a possibility to read a book from a book shelf, so we passed over an hour there.
We went through the Dala Market, which seemed to be quite dead and then went back to the night market, which had started its activity. We had a dinner with a noodle soup at a market stall and then walked around. We met Evert and Per-Gunnar and chatted with them and then went home to do the packing. I felt that the cold had got worse when I went to bed.
Monday 15 December / Luang Prabang - Vang Viang
Hyrd buss från Luang Prabang till Vang Viang. Bussresan går genom ett vackert bergslandskap med mängder av sockertoppsliknande berg. Hmong, den största av de etniska minoriteter som håller till i bergstrakterna, bor i området. Det är Hmong som varit mest drivande i att försöka få till stånd en förändring i Laos styrning av landet. Deras motstånd går tillbaka till tiden kring Vietnamkriget, då opiumtillverkande Hmongbönder blev till en hemlig armé under CIAs beskydd. Det pågår ett ständigt arbete från Laos regering att försöka flytta ned Hmong från bergen och bosätta dem i dalarna, men det är inte så lätt. Bland annat för att det inte finns så gott om platt mark i Laos. Utanför Vang Viang finns i alla fall en by för de nedflytyttade.
Vang Viang är en liten ort som ligger längs Nam Xongfloden omgiven av höga karstberg (sockertoppsberg) av samma slag som man finner i Halongbukten eller Guilin.
We went up at 6 p.m. My night had been worse but it felt better when I got up. We carried down the luggage and had breakfast at 6:30. They were quick to serve so many people at the same time.
The luggage was already loaded on a tuk-tuk when it was time to leave at 7 a.m. to the Southern bus station, from where we should take a local bus. We arrived in good time and the bus was definitively upper class, but it was only some other westerner on the bus. It departed on time at 8 a.m. and it was getting warm and sunny. After a while we made a short stop to fill petrol.
The roads were very winding and went quite a lot through forests. It felt as the road was 3-4 times longer than a straight line on a map. Now and then we passed a small village, which in practice was a few houses on both sides and often there were both children and animals running in the road. Even if this bus was more comfortable than the other I felt more restless, probably because I still had a cold.
In the middle of in a slope we met another local bus and both stopped and changed drivers in the middle of nowhere. There were also a few places where it was difficult to pass due to road works. About 1 p.m. the bus stopped and gave everyone a possibility to eat something before we continued. Now we had come down to a flatter area and the road was less windy and we passed more villages and fields. We finally arrived at the bus station of Vang Viang just before 4 p.m. We got all into two tuk-tuks with the luggage on the roofs. The Le Jardin Bungalow hotel was rather a resort, reminding us of a holiday place in Spain or so. We had some discussions about what to do the next day and when we should leave for Vientiane. Many wanted enough time for a bicycle tour, but we cared less about that.
We unpacked and started to charge batteries and took it easy on the porch, talking to Thomas and Lena, who stayed in the other part of the same bungalow.
After a while we walked towards the centre of the small town. It is apparently built for tourists, mainly backpackers who wanted kayaking, riding tractor tubes in the stream, hire a bicycle, trekking, elephant riding etc. You found many places to eat, check internet, adventure agencies and shops with biscuits and different things to drink. There are also several bars, so there is probably high life in town during late evenings.
The town itself is pretty boring and we ate a meat skewer and pancakes from food stalls before we went back. Christina stopped at a place to get a foot and leg massage, while I went back for a shower and a rest to get rid of the cold. At least they had nice and warm water here.
I wrote some postcards and then we went to bed at 9:30 p.m., but we woke up 11:30 by a hard explosive sound, and flushing water. When we went outside, we saw that a water pump was broken and the water was flooding around the bungalow. I went to find someone to fix it. The only one I found was a non-English speaking guard and it took a while to convince him that something serious had happened and he knocked on a door. The hotel owner went with us and when he didn't manage to fix it by himself, he fetched a couple of other guys and we went back to bed.
Tuesday 16 December / Vang Viang - Vientiane
Valfri dagsutflykt - På förmiddagen hinner du göra en cykeltur på landsbygden kring Vang Viang. Du omges av märkliga bergstoppar, men vägarna cirklar mellan dessa på relativt platt nivå. Det blir behaglig cykling.
På eftermiddagen åker vi till Vientiane och vi ser Vientianes mer majestätiska byggnader och avslutar kvällen med att sitta vid någon av de hundra små restaurangerna som lutar ut över Mekong.
We went up at 7:30 and packed before breakfast. Most of the other had already eaten, but as we had chosen to not participate in the group walk during the morning, we were in less of a hurry.
When we went back to the room a guy came and fetched our luggage. Then we walked slowly to town. The day was already very hot and many locals used umbrellas to protect themselves either they were walking or cycling. In general all seemed to have a better life here than we had seen before, probably thanks to the tourism.
The town wasn't much different than yesterday, but we were both disturbed by the fact that most tourists here didn't even try to pay respect to the locals by dressing properly. I don’t see any reason to offend people, just because we are helping to pay their salaries.
As we had a lot of time we decided that it would be nice to try Lao massage for an hour. It was a nice and relaxing experience. It is less hard than we used to have in Sweden, but more all-round.
Than we went to an internet café to check email, as they seemed to be up and running now. Earlier all had been what they called "powered down", but we suspected that they had trouble with a telephone line to the town. The line was as usual slow and it took time to read a Swedish newspaper.
We had lunch before we went back to our resort and we departed just before 2 p.m. with a chartered bus. We now went through a quite a flat landscape, but the road was still quite bumpy in many places, as well as there were several road works.
We made a stop in Ban Tha Heua, as they had an interesting fish market with fish in all formats. Behind the village is a big lake, which is created because of a big power dam. Thanks to the Mekong river and all other small ones, Laos still has a surplus of electricity and exports it to Thailand. I have a feeling when the comfort of the civilization is spreading, it won't be enough. In any case everybody are using low-energy bulbs in the country.
We passed Nam Lik bridge, where internal political negotiations where held 1955 just on the middle of the bridge.
In Vientiane we saw traffic lights for the first time in Laos and the traffic was quite dense. We arrived at hotel Inter City at 5:30 pm. We got information about the next day before we got the keys. It is definitively an upper class hotel. It had a lot of antique-looking things everywhere in the lobby and the corridors.
After putting the luggage in the room and checking the view over the Mekong river with Thailand on the other side, we went out looking for a restaurant along the riverside. We choose one where they had living fish and shrimps on display, as Christina wanted to eat shrimps. She said they were good, but I preferred green curry with beef.
We took a walk in the other direction by the river and wondered how all these restaurants and food stalls could sustain the owners as most were quite empty. We were back close to 9 p.m. and checked emails, as it was free internet for the guests here and then we went up to our room. It was even warm enough to keep the window open, if the noise from the street hadn't been too load.
Wednesday 17 December / Vientiane
Vientiane, landets huvudstad och den enda stad i Laos med någon större befolkning. Vi åker till den märkliga Buddhaparken i Xieng Khuan med en mångfald av buddhistiska och hinduiska skulpturer, de flesta med en bisarr prägel. Eftermiddagen fri att strosa omkring i Vientiane på egen hand.
We were up early enough to take a walk after a great breakfast buffet. It was already quite warm. We walked towards centre on the first street and stumbled upon the "Swedish bakery and pizza" place. We continued to Lao National Cultural Hall, which looks like a five storey temple. Next to it is the National museum. It was still quiet in the streets. We passed the Wat Mixai where I took a photo of a guardian statue outside the entrance. They are often both colourful and fantastic to see. I also took a few pictures outside the big temple Wat Chanthabouli, which is situated near the hotel.
We met the group at 10 a.m., which we thought was too late to start the day. Vientiane had been the capital since the 16th century. When it was built it's said that arrows with golden heads were shot over the bamboo forest and then people who wanted the gold cut down the bamboo to find the golden arrows.
We passed the Arch of Triumph, for which USA had donated the concrete. Actually the concrete was planned to be used for a railway station. The Frenchmen helped to erect the Arch 1962.
We stopped at the Golden Stupa, which originally was built 1566 and is called Phra Thatluang. It said that a rib from Buddha is in the original stupa, which is concealed in the middle of a new, much bigger stupa. This one is covered with. Everything was covered in yellow or gold colours, but it looked quite shabby. Outside there is a replica of the original stupa. This is a very important place for the Lao people, so there were several people who worked with maintenance.
Nearby is the Thammasapha hall, which a new Buddhist centre for the whole country, but it still has to be completed. Outside the stupa is an enormous large area, which they were flattening, to use as a place for all spectators during a yearly Buddhist ceremony in November. There is also the old parliament building, which is in use until the new one, next to the Arch of Triumph, is completed.
On the way we saw the large president palace, which is built 1955. It was about half an hour trip to Xiengkuane, the Buddha park. This was built 1958 by the monk Bounlua, after he had been educated in Vietnam in a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Those influences can be seen in the strange statues. It was interesting, but it also felt quite weird.
After a walk around the park, we ate lunch at its restaurant. Then we made a stop at Friendship Bridge, a 1174 metres long bridge over to Thailand. It was said that the new trading opportunities had increased the GDP with 20 percent since the bridge was built. We walked halfway out, to the border.
Then we went back to the city and stopped at the market Tala Sao, but Christina and I walked directly to the National Museum, where we had just over half an hour before it closed. The first section is ancient history including items found at the "plain of jars" plus a few tings regarding clothes and tools among the minorities, then next section had an exhibition of a Dutch merchant who arrived in Laos during the 16th century and his impressions and how he created trading possibilities for his country. The last part is modern history from the French colonisation until today, with paintings and photos describing how badly the people had been treated. In a communistic way they talked about the imperialistic countries, which had conquered and tortured the people. Nevertheless it was probably too true in most cases.
When it closed at 4 p.m., we walked back to the market, which partly had started to close. It was fun looking around the first modern style shopping centre we had found in Laos. We went back to the hotel by a tuk-tuk.
After a shower I went down to the reception alone at 6 p.m. to get information from Mikael, but I had to fetch Christina when I understood the reason for the gathering. The travel agency Viengchampa Tours had offered us a few bottles of French red wine, because we had gone with local buses instead of a charter bus to Vang Vieng. I don’t really understood why, since the bus had been fine enough for us. But we enjoyed the nice gesture. Then we went out for dinner at a restaurant by the river.
When we came back, there were no key in the reception and the girl promised to send a house keeper to open the door, but she never turned up. Not until I went down the second time the reception girl understood that I meant room 417 and not 317, and the key had been in the reception all the time. Then you really need to be patient and not make them loose their face. We got our breakfast boxes (which were very meagre compared to the buffet we had got in the morning). Finally we went up to pack and weren't in bed until 10 p.m.
Thursday 18 December / Vientiane - Champasak - Don Khong
Tidigt morgonflyg från Vientiane till Pakse. Vidare med buss till Champasak direkt vid ankomst. Vi besöker Wat Phu, en småskalig föregångare till Angkor. Ett mycket atmosfäriskt hindu-buddhistiskt tempelområde. Wat Phu är Laos andra kulturarv på Världsarvslistan.
Efter lunch blir det dags för nästa etapp längs Mekongfloden till Don Khong, den största av de 4.000 öar, Si Phan Don, som samsas i denna del av Mekongfloden.
I had a restless night and it felt tough to get up at 4:15 in the morning. We all were on the bus at 5 a.m. and it left on time for the airport, which is quite close to the centre. It was a simple check-in procedure for the domestic flight, so we had plenty of time to eat and wait. We also said goodbye to Sei who had been an unusually good local guide. Mats (as a general secretary of the Swedish pistol shooting association) couldn’t resist to be photographed in front of a counter with a sign saying “show all of your weapons”…
We departed 6:30 to Pakse in the Champasak province, where we arrived 7:45. Our new guide was named Det. He was both younger and had worse English than Sei, but he was very eager that everything worked smoothly.
We went by bus on the newly built highway, which goes southwards and then on a smaller road towards the river. We left the luggage in the bus and change to a large tuk-tuk, where nearly everybody succeeded to squeeze in, but a couple had to hang on the outside. We were going over the river to the second world heritage in Laos, i.e. the Wat Phu temple. We drove aboard a very weird ferry, which looked like something from the movie "Waterworld" by Kevin Costner. It was like a catamaran, but with three hulls, where they had attached boards across. It seemed that it might fall apart any time...
On the other shore, we stopped at a restaurant to order lunch before we continued. We passed the royal palace belonging to the last Champasak king. Today it is just a simple hotel.
It took about half an hour on a bumpy road, before we arrived at Wat Phu in the heat. Fortunately the tourist agency had thought of bringing extra water for everyone. The temple was built during the 5th century and it was built by followers of the religion of Jela, a predecessor of the Hinduism. The archaeologists believe that the activities were moved to Angkor Wat, which is just 240 km away. Det told us a lot about how it was used, but according to the guide book, little is actually known about the usage of the temple. In any case it is a very interesting place to see. At the lower level there are two large pavilions. Then there are plenty of steep stairs up. Christina decided that it would be too much for her, and she stopped a few meters after the guardian statue halfway up. It was worth the effort to walk up. The temple is partly in ruins, but the rest is definitively worth seeing. Behind the temple, you could see the holy mountain, from where it was said that a water flow was lead to it. It was easy to understand why they had chosen this place.
When we came back to the restaurant, we picked up the lunch, which we brought with us on a boat, which waited for us nearby. We were lucky to have chosen dishes without a lot of sauce, as it was easy to handle and didn’t spill.
To reach our boat we walked over a big colonial style boat, which it would had been fun to travel with. In any case our boat had a roof as protection against the hot sun and wicker chairs to so sit at. We departed 12:20 and went on a much wider and calmer part of the Mekong river, than we had seen before. We all tried to get a small nap on the boat, to catch up on the sleep. The boat changed side now and then. I wasn’t sure if we followed a particular route for the boats, but there were a lot of stone markers, which showed where the rocks were. We passed villages, fields along the shores, plenty of small fishing boats and acacia trees. Downstream we started to see several small islands in the river. We saw one prey bird in the air and a bunch of aigrettes in a bush, otherwise birds are rarely seen.
We arrived to the hotel at 4:40 pm in the village Muong Khong on the Khong Island. Our room was the biggest so far, but it had hardly any furniture. We sat for a while on the porch talking with Evert and P-G before we went to a restaurant next to the hotel. We joined K-G and Birgitta, who nearly had finished their meal. I got a few mosquito bites, which I had to take care of before we went to bed at 9:30 pm after an unusually long day.
Friday 19 December / Don Khong
Heldagsutflykt till några av de 4.000 öarna. Denna del av Mekong kallas oftast för Si Phan Don, som betyder just 4.000 öar. De flesta av dem är inte mycket mer än små tussar som sticker upp, medan anda är stora och befolkade.
Vi åker till öarna Don Det och Don Khon. På grund av att Mekong just här vid gränsen mot Kambodja inte är farbart med båt, så byggde fransmännen en järnväg för att kunna transportera de gods som man forslade längs Mekong från Kina och Thailand. Järnvägen, som går på en bro mellan öarna är inte mer än 14 kilometer lång och smalspårig. Vi tittar på några gamla lokomotiv som står här och följer den gamla järnvägen.
Atmosfären här på öarna är mer som om man befann sig på öar i ett närliggande hav. Si Phan Don skiljer sig kraftigt från övriga ställen längs Mekong. Efter lunch fortsätter vi med båt mot fastlandet för att fortsätta till vattenfallet Khon Phapeng. Tillbaka till Don Khong på kvällen.
Some persons had already been up at 6 am for the sunrise, but we had slept well. We got a great buffet breakfast before we left at 8 am in two boats going southwards. It was already both hazy and warm. It took nearly 1.5 hours before we reached the island Don Khon. The life on the river was very active. On the island Don Det we saw a pier that the Frenchman had built for reloading goods between the river and the railway. Between two islands the Frenchmen had built the only railway in Laos. This was used to bypass the waterfalls and the rocky streams, where no boat could go.
We got a bottle of water each, before we walked to see the last remnants of the railway. The bridge between the islands is today used for pedestrians and cyclists. One single rusty locomotive was remaining. The railway was constructed 1897-1910 and was used until 1941, when the Japanese invaded Laos. They kept the Frenchmen in the administration and didn't take over fully until 4 months before the end of the World War II, when they were forced to leave. The railway was only about 15 km long.
We ordered lunch before we walked 2 km to Sophamit waterfall. This was a wonderful place to stroll around and we stayed there for about 45 minutes. The rock formations with the water streams in between were beautiful to see. Many other tourists, particular the Japanese took a tuk-tuk or hired bicycles to get to the falls.
When we came back to the village we had lunch at the restaurant before we went back to the boats. We went to the mainland and then into the waiting bus, and then on a bumpy and dusty gravel road, before we came turned on the main road southwards near the Cambodian border. We even passed a golf resort. We turned to see the other waterfall Khon Pha Pheng. This is 15 meters high and about 1 km wide. Even if this is lower, it is said that there passes more water here than in the Niagara Falls. This is a bigger waterfall, but I thought Sophamit waterfall was more impressive.
When we turned back, we had to wait about half an hour for the ferry. At a food stall, Det ate a boiled egg with a foster in it and Mikael wanted to try one as well. This is quite common here. When the bus went on the ferry it took a while before I understood that the floating boards were the ferry and not a pier and the boat beside it would push the ferry… yet another inspiration for the movie “Waterworld”.
As we were back on Don Khong island quite early, we went by the southern loop to a place where they climbed sugar palms to collect sap in bamboo pipes and then refining it to sugar by cooking it. The pipes were burnt, to scare off insects, so the sweet sugar juice had a smoked taste. They sold the refined sugar to by passers. One customer was a man, who went on the back of a motorbike, with a fighting cock under his arm. The sugar was wrapped in palm leaves. We bought a couple of sugar parcels, but K-G made the old lady happy by buying ten of them as small gifts to friends and family.
We continued around the southern loop through different villages and this made me to decide to skip the bike ride tomorrow, as Christina wouldn't bike anyway. The president of Laos had several interests on the island, among them an ostrich farm, so he had arranged the roads to be paved and that there was a ferry to the island.
When we came back, we decided to eat the roasted duck at the hotel, which several other had praised yesterday and then we went to bed quite early. I tried to read some, but it had been a hard day and the light was bad as usual, so it was tiring for the eyes.
Saturday 20 December / Don Khong
Valfri dagsutflykt - Don Khong är den största ön med sina 18 kilometer i nordsydlig riktning och som mest åtta kilometer i öst-västlig riktning. Det är mycket fint att cykla runt ön. Det finns flera trevliga tempelområden och risfält ser du överallt.
As we had went to bed early we woke up already before 6 pm, so we decided to get up and see the sunrise by the river. Some of the others were already there. Even if the daylight already was quite bright it was a bit cloudy, so it took a while before the sun could be seen. We also had the opportunity to see when the monk procession came and stopped outside to get food donations from the inhabitants.
Anca had heard that there is a daily morning market at the other side of the village, so we took a walk in the fresh air. We found out that the village is quite long, but we didn't find any market, so we went back to eat breakfast. Except for the river path, there is only one main road through the village.
Several of the others were eating breakfast before they went out to bike. We sat on the porch in the shade to write in the diary and read the guide books. It was also fun to see the three hotel kittens playing around.
We went for a walk and found a nice restaurant, with a view over Mekong for lunch. During the afternoon several of the bikers returned and most thought it had been very hot to cycle, so we were glad about our decision to take a day off. I even had time to read the novel I brought. We went to the restaurant next door for dinner, where we found some of our friends and the most of the others also came to the same place later. Afterwards we took a small walk and when we looked at the stars, I got something in my eye, which probably was bird shit, so we went in. We packed and I got some more time to read before I turned off the light at 10 pm.
Sunday 21 December / Don Khong (Laos) - Kratie (Cambodia)
Buss till den kambodjanska gränsen och vidare med båt fem mil till Stung Treng. Du äter lunch i Stung Treng innan färden fortsätter med båt till Kratie. Vi kommer fram sent på eftermiddagen. Kratie är en liten kambodjansk stad med fin arkitektur.
We went up at 6 am and departed by bus at 7:30 to the ferry, where we had to wait for a while. Christina bought fruit from the sugar palm. Then the bus went directly southwards to the Cambodian border at Veukham. It was a quick departure procedure in a small shed, and as it was Sunday there was a border fee of one US dollar again.
The Cambodian customs officer had a portfolio, where he kept his stamps, and the entry procedure was quickly done in a shelter further down the road. The toilet at the border didn't even have a door, so we helped each other to act as a door. The boat was of much less quality than the others we had been on before. Everyone had to sit on the floor in the boat, so Mikael tried to get a few chairs and borrowed four from somebody. We departed at 10 am.
Mekong was wide and calm but the boat driver had to crisscross now and then, probably due to shallow water. There were quite a lot of trees in the water, otherwise an uneventful journey. I and other had a lot of time to read. When we got nearer our destination, we saw more fishing boats and here they were partly covered, probably because of the stronger sun.
We arrived in Stung Treng at 1:20 pm and walked directly to a nearby restaurant owned by the boat owner. The town looked shabbier than any town we had seen in Laos. We had a nice lunch buffet and as we were told, it's easy to pay in dollar and get exchange in riel (4000 riel = 1 USD).
When we were going to depart, a Dutch group from the hotel on Don Khong arrived. They had gotten the other boat with seats. According to Mikael the owner had mixed up the days and the groups and he had considered that the Dutch group had booked their boat first, so they got the better one. We checked that our luggage was in one of the two minibuses before we left at 2:30.
Even if the road seemed to be quite new, it was very bumpy and the driver drove quite fast. He seemed to honk on everyone at the road and that gave an aggressive feeling. Christina felt ill, but it passed after an hour. Since the local guide and Mikael were in our bus, we stopped to look at a bomb, that where found when they dug for the road a couple of years ago. They had hanged it as a monument beside the road.
The landscape is quite different from Laos. There are more trees and bushes and the houses were made of wood, and had roofs from either corrugated tin or brick tiles if they were nicer. In the latter case they often had metal decorations along the roof edges. There were more or less houses spread along the road, except where there was a crowded village. There were many banana plantations and something the guide called potato tree along the roads. A lot of vegetables and crops were dried on the road. Otherwise it is quite similar to Laos. We saw less Buddha temples, but the ones we saw were much bigger. We also saw quite a lot of political advertisements, mainly for the Cambodian People's Party, which is the governing party.
We stopped to se the rare irrawaddy dolphins, which are in a colony just North of Kratie. There were a lot of discussions in the group if it was worth to pay 7 USD to go out with a boat to see them closer. A police said that it would cost the same amount to see them from ashore, but that was probably a scam. In any case we saw them quickly, as they don't jump as most other dolphins; we probably wouldn't had seen them much better from a boat. Nobody except was that keen on going out, but later it appeared that some hadn't understood that this was instead of the dolphin watch planned for tomorrow according to the program. Mikael pointed out that dribbling with the program and trying to get more money is normal here in Cambodia and nothing that he really can do anything about more than try to keep it on a low level. This is one of the biggest differences compared to Laos.
When we left our driver couldn't start the car due to a bad battery and four guys got paid to push it. We arrived in Kratie at 5:10 pm at Heng Heng hotel II and checked in. It was nice to have a shower after this sweaty and dusty day.
We gathered at 7 p.m. for a dinner together at a nearby restaurant. There were ordered three different courses, and "tom yam" and "amouk" are Cambodian specialities. We had a nice time and we wanted to make a walk in the shops, but they were closed when we departed the restaurant and it was time to return to the hotel. It was a small and warm room, so we had to put on the air condition. As there were no upper sheets, we used our silk sheets. The time was 10 p.m. when we turned off the light.
Monday 22 December / Kratie - Phnom Penh
På morgonen åker vi med egen båt och försöker få syn på se den ovanliga Irrawaddydelfinen som finns här i Kratie. Bland öarna några kilometer söder om Kratie gömmer sig delfinerna ofta så här års.
Buss till Phnom Penh, Kambodjas huvudstad, dit vi anländer sen eftermiddag.
We went up at 6 a.m. and carried down our luggage at 6:30. This hotel didn't serve any breakfast, and Mikael had arranged it at a restaurant around the corner. Afterwards we went for a walk on the local market to buy some fruit. We noticed that the shops here had more and stronger protection against burglars. Some shop owners were parking motorbikes and in one case even a car, in their shops during the night. There is a lot of the French colonial style here.
We were supposed to leave at 7:30, but Mikael had new discussions with Mr T, who had made the arrangement until Phnom Penh. He seemed to try to change the arrangement to get more money all the time, but this is the Cambodian style in all business. It was much easier in Laos.
It was already very hot, when we left at 8 am. Apparently we avoided the large road and took a shortcut along the river. That meant that we drove through many dusty villages. There was much cultivation along the road. Many houses collected rain water through spouts to big jars. There were plenty of political party signs along the road. The school children seemed to have a uniform. In general the country is more prosperous than Laos, but the class differences are more visible.
Our driver overtook the other bus and soon turned into a petrol station to fill up, just after we had turned up on the highway. Afterwards he really tried to catch up and drove like a maniac. Many cars, motorbikes and cycles were overloaded with stuff. We saw at least two motorbikes that were carrying a double bed.
When we crossed Mekong and entered the large town of Kampong Cham, the driver talked with the other on a cell phone in an attempt to find him. They had stopped at a restaurant and tried to get a translator, as our guide had remained in Kratie. Apparently the drivers had passed where we were supposed to stop and it was in a big mess. The drivers tried to get us to eat here despite it was only 10:30, so they had probably a commission here. We studied two ladies who prepared cockroaches to eat outside the restaurant.
When we continued, we made a short stop at an old temple nearby. It was a Hinduism temple from the 8th or 9th century. A guard wanted 2 US dollars entrance fee from everyone. Christina had put the hand in her pocket to get the money, but the other preferred to continue after a few pictures from the outside as none was prepared to pay the fee.
The next stop was probably in the small town Skun, where we stopped to see a market where they sold a kind of big fried spiders. Both I and Christina ate a leg, but Mikael ate a whole one, but said that the legs were the best part of it. It was an okay but not sensational taste. There were also fried cockroaches and grasshoppers for sale. Quite many beggars were around and hoped to get something from by passers. Among them a blind man led by a young boy. We had lunch before we continued.
The countryside was getting more flat and wet with many rice fields. Many houses had stairs that was nicely decorated and often in a 90 degree angle and a platform halfway. Generally the houses became nicer when we approached Phnom Penh. Already in the suburbs there are many hotels, but also many construction companies with caterpillars parked outside.
This is a really busy city and the streets were heavily trafficked with both cars and motorbikes. We crossed Mekong river and arrived at hotel Khmer Royal beside the river at about 2:30. We made a quick check-in and again we got a pretty big room with air condition.
At 3 p.m. we all went for a city walk. The first nice building we saw was the National Museum where we turned to the right and walked through a park to see Wat Phnom. According to the legend the city was founded when an old woman called Penh found four Buddha images that had come to rest on the banks of the Mekong River. She housed them on a nearby hill, and the town that grew up here came to be known as Phnom Penh (Hill of Penh).
In the street we saw a man walking with an elephant for tourists. We walked outside the French quarters before we turned back. There were many monkeys in the park around temple Wat Phnom. We continued towards the Russian market, passing the central market, but after 2.5 hours constant walking, most people were tired and dropped off the tour. There was actually nobody who went all the way to the market with Mikael. The walk was too long and partially meaningless except to get some orientation, as the distances are quite long and we had probably walked over 5 km. Christina was quite frustrated as she constantly had to look where she stepped and avoiding to be run into, so she didn't really see anything except when we stopped. It is also quite many beggars everywhere. They are disabled, elder, as well as women with small children.
It was getting dark when we returned, and we rested before we went out for dinner at a nearby restaurant. At 9 p.m. we went up to the hotel restaurant at the top floor, where Mikael gave us information about Cambodia with aid of a map. Some people thought it was too late and didn't show up.
Phnom Pehn has about 3.3 million inhabitants and Siam Reap about 300000. Tonle Sap river and lake gives about 60% of the protein in the country through fishing. The changed direction of the flow of this river is very important for the richness and varieties of fish. It changes in mid-October due to the rainy season’s high flow of water. We went to bed a 10:30.
Tuesday 23 December / Phnom Penh
Reseledaren tar dig med på en stadsvandring genom en stad hon har bott i under ett par år. Vi besöker bl a de franska kvarteren och Wat Phnom och andra sevärdheter. Senare på dagen kommer vi till kungapalatset.
We went up early and departed at 8 a.m. in five tuk-tuks to Cheung Ek Genocide Centre. It was already very warm, when we went through the suburbs. We got a nice overview of the daily life along the road. They had built a memorial stupa in the area of the "killing fields".
This is the place where mostly people were killed after they had been imprisoned and tortured in the prison Tuol Sleng. This happened during 1975-79 and this place was found 1980. There are 343 known genocide places and totally over 2 millions were killed during four years. Most people were intellectual and Pol Pot had decided that all of the families should be killed. 129 mass graves are documented, but only 86 are found. Most of the other graves are probably removed by the Mekong river, as it's quite low land here. The mass graves are 4-5 meters deep and there was a terrible smell, when they were found. Nearly 8900 skulls are found and put into the stupa. You can still find remnants of clothes, bones and teeth everywhere on the ground. The prisoners were blindfolded and sat bent on their knees, when they were hit by a farmer's tool, as Pol Pot thought it was too expensive to use bullets for the executions. One of his goals was to get rid of money, and you had to pay to get bullets. Loudspeaker played music so nobody would hear the screams. If his own soldiers fled and were captured, they were decapitated with a saw-toothed leaf from a young palm tree, and they would die a slow and horrible death. The children were mostly taken by the feet and swinging them so their head hit a tree. Sometimes they were thrown into the air and caught by a bayonet knife.
This place was originally a Chinese graveyard and it was probably chosen to hide the bodies, as Buddhists always burn the bodies, but the Chinese normally buries the whole body. The place has been plundered afterwards, not least the tools were taken by surrounding starving farmers, but the most valuable items were already taken by Pol Pot and his followers.
Pol Pot was influenced by Mao, but he wanted to go a step further and wanted to start a society, without any money, school or health care. He saw all educated as enemies and a counter force, so he let them be killed. One theory is the fact that his scholarship was withdrawn when he didn't succeed with his examines in Paris, and this influenced his view of intellectuals. There was a large network of informers, who were prepared to give up people. Pol Pot died by old age 1998 (he was born 1922), which many think is an injustice.
Lon Nol was a general of the Red Khmers, who took power from the king, but the people wanted their king back. The Red Khmers promised that if the King supported them, he would come back on the throne. The Red Khmers also used to pay in the villages, where they stole food, so they were generally considered to be better. There was a civil war 1970-75 and when the Red Khmers were victorious, they said that USA was going to bomb Phnom Penh and had the city evacuated in less than two days. Pol Pot let all banks and other commercial buildings be destroyed with bombs. The Royal Palace was saved as the king acted as spokesman for the Red Khmers, but without any power. There was a resistance movement, but the enforced evacuation to the countryside made it difficult for them to be effective. It only required three witnesses to tell that a person was guilty of treason and that was always easily found.
We ended the tour by entering the 17-storey stupa to look at and contemplate over the skulls.
We went back to the city and made a short stop to see morning-glory plantations along the road. It is grown in the river and looks like big fields of vegetables.
When we came to the centre, we went directly to the prison Tuol Sleng, which also is called S21 (security office 21).
S21 was the largest of the prisons and originally it was a school. It had two parts, one for the high-ranked, where they were only one in each cell and one for others, where they had built really tiny brick cells in the class rooms. There is a lot of documentation around the cases. If you said you were guilty, you were sent to Cheung Ek. But first you were required to give the name of two other traitors and often in their state of mind, they could only think of saying the name of close relatives or friends. If you didn’t confess and gave up two other people you were tortured. Women were considered more dangerous due to their “immoral” behaviour and after they were raped, which often happened, they often were killed, so they wouldn't be able to testify against their interrogator.
Only seven persons survived the prison and this was only because they were skilled painters, sculptors or photographers, which could be used for the propaganda. One of these has later created many paintings, which depict these years. Every prisoner was photographed when they arrived to the prison. There are also photos of the dead persons, who were found when the prison quickly had to be abandoned and the Red Khmers fled. There is an exhibition of many of the photos and torture tools.
You have difficult to understand how this could happen and according to the guide, he never listened to his mother until he saw the film "Killing Fields". After that he asked her a lot of questions. But few of the young people want to know about this history. The school classes we saw during the tours were mostly laughing and running around.
We continued to the Russian market, where we had lunch nearby. We walked around the market for a while before we continued to the Royal Palace with the tuk-tuks.
They were very strict that you had covered your shoulders, and we lend our jumpers to Anca and Lena. The palace was big and in good condition. The old king has abdicated and moved to China, but his son has taken over. He has no children, and he might be the last Cambodian king. He only has a religious role and it's more Hinduism than Buddhism. The first palace was built during the 15th century 15 km away, but this was built during the beginning of the 19th century. We weren't allowed to wear shoes when we entered the throne hall and the Silver Pagoda. There are many magnificent buildings, like a banquet hall, the residence of the king, a colonial building which is a gift from Napoleon III, a library and some stupas. Many things are in odd numbers, as they are lucky numbers. The court ladies court wore clothes in different colours during different days of the week. The guides continued this tradition, and as this was Tuesday they wore purple. We also saw copies of the regalia. On the wall around the silver pagoda, you can see paintings, which tells the Hindu story of Ramayana.
The library contains Sanskrit rolls. The Silver pagoda has a floor of 5000 silver plates, the emerald Buddha and many other Buddhism items. Finally we saw some palanquins, which the king and his followers used, when they were transported by elephants in the country. There was also an exhibition of the coronation of the last king.
Together with, Mikael, Anca, Lena and Gunnar we continued with two tuk-tuks to the French quarters. First we stopped at the ferry terminal, so Mikael could arrange the tickets for the next day. It was getting dark and we went to see the sunset by a lake among quarters, where many guesthouses for backpacker are situated. We spoke with a couple of backpackers from Manchester in UK. One had gone bitten by bed bugs.
When we came back we went out for dinner before it was bedtime. It had been much better getting around by tuk-tuk, and we were less tired despite the heat.
Wednesday 24 December / Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh förvandlades från en stad med en knapp miljon till en stad med 10.000 invånare under åren 1975 - 1979 när Röda Khmererna utrotade närmare 2 miljoner av landets invånare. Phnom Penh tömdes på folk genom tvångsutflyttning och massavrättning. Denna fruktansvärda tid som självfallet satt spår hos varenda kambodjan finns också dokumenterad. Tuol Sleng var en skola som gjordes om till fängelse och tortykammare. Idag fungerar Tuol Sleng som museum.
Killing Fields i Chuong Ek var platsen där 17.000 personer avrättades. Över 8.000 skallar finns bevarade som en påminnelse om att något liknande aldrig ska få äga rum igen.
Kvällen avslutas på den stora Ryska marknaden.
A day off, so we slept until 8 am. There were several others in the group who had a late breakfast. We walked to the National Museum, which was nearby. There we hired a guide for 5 USD and she was worth every cent. She gave a good overview of the Angkor Wat period, as well as Hinduism and Buddhism. This was the major part, but there were also some items from the 19th century as well as pre-historical ones. Afterwards we spent a couple of hours to look into details. When we looked in the museum shop, we stumbled upon Mikael and Anca. One advantage with the museum shop was that I found both postcards and stamps at the same place.
It was past 1 p.m. and very hot now. We walked towards the Russian market and hoped to find a restaurant on the way. We found many art galleries but nowhere to eat. We ended up in a different part of the market, which we didn’t recognise. As we didn't find any suitable restaurant nearby, we decided to take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel area.
There we decided that it could be fun to try Foreign Correspondents Club. The staff was dressed in Santa Claus caps, which looked very weird in our eyes. But except the fact that the food was 3 times more expensive it didn't taste better... on the contrary! As Christina was very tired she wanted to rest and I prepared the postcards with addresses and started to pack. We heard that there is a postal service just around the corner, so we weren’t forced to go to the post office.
Just before 6 p.m. we went to the restaurant "Friends", which is a project where homeless teenager had the chance to learn to cook and serve. We had a Christmas dinner together except Mats who didn't join us because of principles. He was even less keen than us to celebrate Christmas. We choose four tapas plates together and a dessert and all tasted really good.
When we came home we made a phone call through internet to Christina's son, as the phone operator didn't work for our cell phone. This was true for all but one person in the group, who had a different network operator. Then it was time to pack and go to bed just after 10p.m.
Thursday 25 December / Phnom Penh - Siam Reap (Angkor)
På morgonen båt till Siam Reap. Under regnsäsongen mellan maj och oktober är vattenflödet så högt i Mekong att floden backar in i Tonle Sap. Under övriga delen av året följer floden sitt normala flöde - uppifrån och ned. Detta fenomen med dubbla flöden gör att Tonle Sap är en av världens främsta fiskeområden.
Ankomst vid lunch. Det är från Siam Reap du kommer att utforska Angkorområdet. I resan ingår en biljett till Angkor som gäller i tre dagar. Angkor är ett gigantiskt område med flera hundra tempel som byggts från början av 800-talet till 1400-talet. Första dagen åker vi till Angkor Wat. Bara att titta på de kilometerlånga reliefväggarna med legender ur Khmers historia och ur hinduismens kända sagor tar flera timmar. Efter att ha bestigit de branta trapporna upp till Angkor Wats översta etage ser vi solnedgången över Angkor Wat.
We had to go up before 6 p.m. for breakfast and departed 6:45 by tuk-tuks. It wasn't far to the ferry terminal. It was a balance act to get aboard with the luggage and we took our numbered places on board.
Most persons in the group preferred to sit on the roof, but it looked uncomfortable and would probably be too sunny, although it was quite cloudy. In the beginning I spent time hanging out of the doors to take pictures. There was a lot of fishing boats, industries, two mosques, houses in more or less bad shape, but also many floating houses.
Then I wrote all the postcards and my diary until the battery ran out and then I continued to read in the Angkor Wat book Christina had bought at the museum. Apparently we had driven slower than usually in the first parts, so instead of 5 hours it took 6:15 and we didn't arrive in Siam Reap until 1:45 pm.
Then the chaos started. Christina went ashore with both our hand luggage, which was difficult to balance with her crutch and she was near to fall overboard while trying to get ashore while crazy tuk-tuk drivers tried to get aboard to hunt potential customers. Normally Cambodian people are very timid and careful in their behaviour, but this was an exception. Then she happened to be behind an American who blocked the way while negotiating with a driver and it ended with that the driver thought she was his wife and pulled her bags and she had to pull it back. After a nightmare-like experience she finally was ashore.
Meanwhile I balanced at the edge of the boat to get to the back of it to find our main luggage. I had to climb up on the roof and as we had come out on the "easier side", I was actually first in our group. As we were early on the boat, our luggage were at the bottom and it took awhile before the first appeared and I handed it over back to Bengt. When I had put on my backpack and took the other bag in my hand, I had to climb down, which was more difficult then getting up. I was afraid to tip over into the water as I only had one free hand to hold myself, but finally I also was ashore. It took awhile before everyone had made it into the bus.
Our guides name was Saroeun and he told us some old and new facts about the country in really good English. The lake Tonle Sap is about 140 x 32 km. The house boats are moved 4-5 times per year to adapt to the level of the lake. The town is situated only three hours from the border to Thailand, so it's easy to export fish and other things to them. About ten ton fish is caught every day in the lake.
We stopped at a restaurant in the centre of Siam Reap and I got a really good fish plate, as I thought I ought to eat fish here. When we continued we passed the royal residence, which is in the middle of the city. There were many apartments built, which mostly have been bought by Cambodians from overseas. A private hospital, created by Swiss donations, takes care of children up to 13 years old, who suffer from mostly malaria or dengue fever. It was unique, as it was known to both have uncorrupted doctors and be free of charge.
When we reached the entrance of the Angkor Wat area we had to go out, as our 3-day passes were printed directly with a photo from a web camera. We continued through the forest, which mainly is hardwood and gum tree. The export of wood is about 60% of the GDP, but it's mostly mahogany and teak.
It was still quite cloudy when we arrived at Angkor Wat. The name means “the city which is a monastery”. There is an immense hand dug moat around the Wat. It was king Jayavarman VII who ordered it to be built. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. From then 15th century it has been maintained by Buddhist monks. This is the only temple which faces West, as it originally was a funeral place. All other temples in the area face East. This temple area is 1.3x1.2 km. The stones were fetched from a quarry, which was situated 60 kilometres away. They were transported by elephants and bamboo rafts. There are three entrances. The middle one is for the King, the left for the priests and the right one for commoners. The total area including the Angkor Tom temples is about 40 km2 and it took 30 years to erect the buildings during the 12th century.
I've dreamed of seeing this place for 20 years and it was a great feeling to finally be here. It's so immense that you hardly can understand it before you have been there. The buildings are fantastic, but still nothing compared to the stories all the relief is telling you.
There were images of the heavenly Apsara dancers, which have 36 different kinds of hair styles. There are 7 pillars in the false windows. Nobody has ever lived in any of these temples. One of the relief showed the story of the "churning of the ocean", where the gods and demons try to get the elixir of life. It actually reminded us of some of the stories about the Viking Gods. Often doors and roofs were made of wood, which means that they haven't survived the time. Another relief shows a war 1113-15, where they used mercenaries from Siam. They were equipped with spears, swords, bows and small round shields.
We stayed until the sunset, although it was too cloudy to get any pictures of the sunset, but hopefully good photos of the temple over the moat.
When we arrived to Angkor Star Hotel in Siam Reap, it was 6:15 p.m. and there were even a couple of rain drops in the air. The hotel felt unnecessary luxurious. We were very tired and after we had taken a well needed shower we went out to find the nearest restaurant, which turned out to be a fast food place next door to the hotel. It was very clean and the only guy who seemed to know any English was a bit disoriented, but the food was better and cheaper than in many other places we had been in. It was also a minor supermarket, and we bought water and some biscuits. Iit was nearly 10 p.m. when we went to bed.
Friday 26 December / Siam Reap (Angkor)
För att det enorma Angkorområdet ska bli lite mer lättillgängligt har två olika vägar lagts ut i två cirklar, 17 respektive 26 kilometer, för att lättare kunna komma till huvudattraktionerna. Vi kommer att följa den kortare vägen med cykel.
Angkors storhet ligger i att det är så många helt olika stilar bland de närmare 100 tempelkomplexen. Hybriden mellan hindusim och buddhism, variationsrikedomen, templens sammanväxt med regnskogen och de fantastiska reliefväggarna för att bara nämna några. Under dagen kommer vi att stanna till vid några få utvalda tempelkomplex som är representativa för var och en av dessa stilar.
Vi kommer att besöka det enorma Angkor Tom komplexet med Bayon i centrum. Bayon är tillägnat boddhisattvan Avalokitesvara och det syns eftersom hans ansikten finns överallt på templet. Därefter följer skogstemplet Ta Prohm, där träden vuxit samman med tempelbyggnaderna. Det blir tid för flera andra också. För den som hellre tar sig till Angkor med hjälp av motorcykeltaxi, bil eller annat fordon går det självfallet att ordna. Det är däremot svårt att se området till fots, då det är för långt mellan templen och då själva Angkor ligger cirka sex-sju kilometer från Siam Reap där alla besökare till Angkor bor.
We went up before 7 a.m. to be able to speak with Mikael regarding the plans of the day. He had arranged four tuk-tuks to get as around the full day for 15 USD to each driver. It had rained during the night and there were still a few drops in the air, but now it just remained cloudy and very light, which made it difficult to take photos. Our driver was called Sakhorn. The guide Saroeun also went in our tuk-tuk, so we could ask him a lot of questions and he told us that he was born quite a distance from Siam Reap and his parents are farmers. First he went to Phnom Penh and worked for a construction company. If he had some money left, which he didn't send home, he went to English evening classes. When he knew some English he got a job at a hotel while studying, but to earn more he bought a tuk-tuk and later he got guide jobs like this. He also has another work in a Siam Reap in a gallery. Now he is studying English at the university.
We passed our cycling friends and had to wait for them outside Angkor Tom at the East entrance to the Bayon temple. Luckily that they had started about half an hour before us. There was a ticket control before we went in.
The Angkor Tom area was built by Jayavarman VII, who built nearly half of all temples in the area, which also includes Angkor Wat. Angkor Tom is a place where both the King and commoners lived and with about one million inhabitants it was the biggest city in the world at that time. This was the last capital of the Khmer empire and it was founded 1181 and was used until the middle of the 15th century when it moved to Phnom Penh, which was after the declination of the Khmers. The city then disappeared into the jungle until it was rediscovered by the Frenchmen during the 19th century. The main area inside the moat is about 3x3 km. The buildings are a mixture between Hinduism and Buddhism and most of the temples are constructed in 3 levels. In most of the buildings they have found at least one stele with inscriptions, which describes date, builder and function of the buildings.
First we saw really amazing relief from the war with the Champa (who used to live in current Vietnam) 1179-83. It is really detailed with battle scenes where you can see the armour, weapons and how they were dressed. But you could also see the supply line and life of the commoners, sometimes teasing each other. Partly there also are some sea battles and you could always see who the winner of the war was... We also went up to the other levels. There are 54 towers, where each of the four sides has a face of Jayavarman VII. We saw many reliefs of Apsara dancers, all in the well preserved sandstone. Not least there were many Buddha figures, but there aren’t many left as they have been removed by his successor, who went back to the Hinduism.
We passed the earlier temple Baphuon, which was built 1055-66 and dedicated to Shiva.
We went through a market with many sellers who were eager to sell, to see the temple Phimeneakas. It used to have a golden covered dome. It is from the 10th century and was dedicated to Shiva. Some in the group climbed the stairs to the top. Now it was quite hot in the sun, since it had cleared up. The king had to stay up at the top together with the spirit of a Naga during nighttimes; otherwise he would die, according to the legend.
In front of the wooden royal palace, of which there are very few remnants left, there are two pools. The small pool was for the king and other men, and the other larger one for the women.
We walked up on the terrace of the Leper King. It was long believed that he had leprosy, as there were statues of him without fingers and toes. Later it has been proven that this is an incarnation of the Hindu god Jama, who sometimes was pictured like this.
The Elephant Terrace was the place where the king could look down at his army from. It is 350 meters long and has many relief of elephant hunting. It used to be surrounded by a wooden wall. From the terrace you can see 12 towers, which isn’t known what they were used for.
We all went to the outside of Angkor Wat, where there are a few bigger restaurants. It took about an hour to eat. As usually we had to wait for those who were biking. Already four of the cyclists had disappeared to make their own tracks. In any case I'm convinced that this tour ought to be planned as a tuk-tuk only tour. Many of the bikers were already very tired in the heat and of the strain.
The last stop was at the temple Ta Prohm, where we arrived about 2:15 pm. There were plenty of sellers outside, which were difficult to ignore. It's a Buddhist temple built by Jayavarman VII 1186 as a dedication to his mother. It was chosen by the Frenchmen not to be restored. It should remain as it is to show how the temples were found. There are many high trees grown on the remains and some temples have even been restored later, as the construction had fallen down. The temple has been renowned today, as it has been in one of the Tomb Raider movies. Many in the group thought this was the most fantastic temple, but compared to the relief of Bayon it's nothing. Also the temple we were to see the next day, Banleay Srey, is more interesting for anyone with historical interest.
When we had finished the tour the group was split up. Saroeun went back with one of the other tuk-tuks, as we went with Sakhorn to Bayon. We wanted to look more at the relief, particularly at the other sides. Along the road we made a short photo stop at the Ta Keo temple, which seemed to be worth a longer visit if we had had the time.
The other sides of the Bayon relief were not always finished or just rough. In one place we saw Khmers fight against other Khmers and when we checked the guide book afterwards, we could read that there had been a local uprising during this war. It was also much nicer at this time of the day, as there were fewer tourists around.
When we returned to Siam Reap, we made a short photo stop at Angkor Wat, as the sun was shining today. We returned to the hotel just before 5 p.m. We had time to rest before 7 p.m., when we went to the restaurant Koulen II just opposite the hotel. They had a buffet and Apsara dances for 12 USD. The restaurant could probably take 300 persons, but it was just half full. We were lucky to get a table near the stage. I noticed when I fetched food from the buffet that the stage looked very small far away. The food was far from the best we had eaten and at least half of the dances were rather some kind of other traditional ones, but that was what we had expected of the performance. There also was some sort of mosquitoes, which loved to bite our legs.
It had been a long and tiresome day when we came back after 9 p.m. to pack for the tomorrow’s flight.
Saturday 27 December / Siam Reap (Angkor) - Saigon
Fri dag i Angkor. På kvällen flyg till Ho Chi Minhstaden, eller Saigon som den också kallas. Du har nu anlänt till resans fjärde land.
We were supposed to leave at 7:30, but the driver decided that our luggage would be too heavy for the bus, when we would go up the mountain, so we had to put it in a corner of the reception.
There was a police control in the city who stopped every motorbike without a mirror and fine them one USD. The government had started with compulsory registration plates and at the new year it would also be compulsory with helmets.
We passed the Royal Bath of Jayavarman VII, which is a hand dug pool of 700x350 meters.
It was quite far (about 60 km) to our destination Phnom Kulen. The last part was on steep, bumpy gravel roads, which had very sharp curves now and then, but in any case we didn't need to go out and push the bus.
We arrived near the top just before 10 p.m. It was quite cloudy but still very warm. First we looked at "lingas", which had been there since the Khmer empire. They are phallus symbols dedicated to Shiva and always encircled by a square. Here they were found in a river stream. There are over 2000 of them, but they are quite difficult to see. Some of the water came from a nearby source, which were considered magic, as water came bubbling up from the bottom of a pond with soft white sand. In the forest around this place there are plenty if small temples, which hardly are excavated due to their inaccessibility. They were mainly built by counsellors and relatives to the king Jayavarman VII.
Next stop was in the village of Phnom Kulen, where we walked up to the top, except those who wanted to avoid too many stairs. At the top of the cliff, a reclining Buddha had been cut directly into the cliff during the 16th century. Above the Buddha, a temple had been built later to protect it. There were several beggars sitting in the stairs. A few of them were playing a flute or singing.
We continued through the village and I took a photo of three children who apparently were very used to it. They made the “Asian V sign”, which all Asians seemed to do, when somebody takes a photo of them and afterwards they rushed to me to see the result. After we passed a very rocky bridge we walked down to a waterfall. There were many stairs so Christina and some in the group avoided it. It was quite an impressive, but you had to jump between rocks to see it in full view. A couple of girls had made a rocking chair of lianas and flowers, which tourists could sit in and take a photo for a minor charge.
We walked to the place where the bus picked us up, and then it had to go back and pick up Birgitta and Anna-Lena who had chosen to wait in the village.
We went to the village of Banleay Srey, where we had lunch, which unfortunately took quite long time, which irritated some people. But you must be patient and be prepared for this in these countries. Afterwards we went to the temple in the village. The temple has really amazingly detailed relief, mostly inspired of Indian art. They didn’t tell a story as those at the Bayon temple, but they are more beautiful and distinctly cut into sandstone, or rather they are better preserved through the times. We could recognize scenes from the legend of Phralak-Phralam, which we saw in the ballet in Luang Prabang. The temple was built 967 by one of the counsellors of the king Jayavarman V and the name means “the citadel of women”. He was a brother of the king and a seer. The temple is made of pink, grey and yellow sandstone. The temple was rediscovered 1814 by the Frenchmen and cleared off the jungle in 1924. As a curiosity tale: a young Frenchman and some of his friends stole carvings from the temple to get money. They got caught and imprisoned for this. Later on this Frenchman became culture minister in the government of Charles de Gaulle.
At 3 p.m. we turned back to the hotel to fetch our luggage and continued to the airport. We said goodbye to Saroeun, who definitively earned some extra tips from us. We were at the airport at 4:30 p.m. The check-in was quick and we stopped at the security check, as we were waiting for Mikael to pay the airport tax. Anca had problem at the check-in, as she is a Romanian citizen and they required that she had arranged her visa to Vietnam in advance, which Swedes don’t need. We paid the tax ourselves and went aboard, while waiting for Mikael, who had to leave Anca behind. This was quite a tough destiny. We said goodbye to Håkan and Anna-Karin who were going to leave the group and go to Thailand for a week. We departed 6:30 p.m. and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, inVietnam about an hour later. We could change to the local currency dong at the airport, as the usage of US dollar is less common here.
Apparently you didn’t need any photos for a visa, when you are staying less than 15 days in Vietnam. We were met by the guide Toan and not the guide Le Hong Phu, as Mikael had expected, as he was quite busy. Toan told us some facts about Vietnam. Ho Chi Min City is the biggest city with about 7 million inhabitants and is the economic centre of the Vietnam, but Hanoi is today the capital of the country. But Saigon used to be capital of Indochina from 1859.
There were motorbikes everywhere in the city and I wouldn’t guess how it would be if everyone had a car instead. We arrived at hotel Hong Thien Loc at 8:30 p.m. It was with our life at stake we crossed the street. You had to walk in a steady pace and keep eye contact with the motor bikers. One of the bellboys from the hotel stopped the traffic and helped us to cross the street. The street outside our window was very busy and noisy. In the park at the other side of the street, there were performances at a stage and also a big food court. It had been a long day, so we decided that we didn’t need to eat and went to bed as soon as possible.
Sunday 28 December / Saigon - Cantho
Saigon har en väldig puls. Vi gör en tur runt i staden på förmiddagen och får bekanta oss med stadens franska kvarter, distrikt 1, som också utgör stadens kärna. Här finns klassiska byggnader som Presidentpalatset, Notre Damekatedralen och Hotel de Ville där Graham Greenes Den Stillsamme Amerikanen utspelas.
På eftermiddagen buss till Cantho, Mekongdeltats största stad. Det är ett mäktigt skådespel att sitta vid något av fiken längs vattnet och se när folk är på väg hem från sina arbeten. Rusningstrafik har du naturligtvis sett förut, men inte som här. Hundratals med små båtar tar sig fram och tillbaka i floden med alla som är på väg att avsluta sina arbetsdagar.
It was cloudy and Christina had had a bad night, when we went up 7:30 to pack something for two nights. After breakfast we were going for a city walk at 10 a.m. I took a taxi with Christina, Evert and P-G to the starting point where we had agreed to meet, while the other walked. But when we arrived, we realised that it would be quite a bit further to walk, so I let the other continue with the taxi and waited for the other to arrive. The sun had broken through and it was already quite hot and sweaty. We walked through the market, mostly to get an overview. Four of the other decided that they preferred continue on their own. When we met up with Christina and the old guys, we looked at Saigon Continental hotel, where the book “The Quiet American“, by Graham Greens, took place. It is situated beside the beautiful Opera house. The Notre Dame cathedral is quite impressive, but unfortunately it was locked, so we couldn’t get inside. We also passed the American embassy and at the President’s palace we took a taxi back to the hotel. We had some lunch nearby before we departed 1 p.m. by bus towards Vinh Long.
Mikael and the guide hadn’t agreed on the program. Toan said that we were going to run a standard program, as he didn’t know about anything else. First of all we were going to do the trip in the reverse direction, which was okay for us. But apparently we weren’t going to see what was attended to according to the original program, but still that could be okay.
The Mekong delta is 40000 km2 and has about 17 millions inhabitants. When we departed from Saigon, we saw many new industry buildings built on old rice fields as the city is expanding. We passed many cafes, where they had hammocks, where the motor bikers could rest for a while along the road. It was getting cloudier and when we arrived to the harbour in Vinh Long, we had to put on our tiny raincoats as it had started to rain quite heavily when we went aboard a boat.
The first stop was just a few minutes away. It was a coconut candy factory. It felt as Toan was taking us to some relatives to sell tourist stuffs. In any case it was quite interesting to see how they made the local “pop corn” of rice and how they made rice paper, which they used to wrap the candies in. We were also offered to taste some rice liqueur, which were in bottles with snakes and scorpions. It was said to be good for the potency.
The rain had stopped when we continued along the river. There were many barges, which either had a crane digging sand and mud from the bottom of the river or they were transporting it. Many people seemed to live on the river and most of the boats were some kind house boats. Others were trying to catch fish, mostly in nets.
We arrived at the guest house on an island around 6 p.m. Except the owners, we didn’t really see any family and we lived in two big dormitories with mosquito nets and very creaky beds. There were simple showers with cold water and both Asian and European toilets. We spent some time at the porch until 7 p.m. when we had dinner. The first course was a big “elephant ear” fish to share among five persons. Toan was absorbed by the Asian soccer championship at the television between Vietnam and Thailand, so he didn’t care to explain what we were going to get for dinner, an attitude he increased during these days. In any case nobody needed to get away hungry, not even Gunnar who always seemed to be hungry. We chatted until 10:30 p.m. when we were tired enough to go to bed. Some people were already at sleep. We used our silk sheets to get some protection from the fan, which we were glad to have above our beds, as it was warm and slightly humid. It was also good to avoid the mosquitoes under the net, as they had started to be quite annoying.
Meanwhile it seemed that everything had worked well for Anca, as she had got a visa during the day and came with the same flight but a day later. She was picked up by the guide Phu, who drove her to Vinh Long, where he had a boat to take her to the island. All for 80 USD but there were no options and it was nice to hear her arrive safely around 11:30 p.m.
Monday 29 December / Cantho - Vinh Long
Cantho är den stad som erbjuder de bästa marknaderna, såväl flytande som de på land. Vi beger oss tidigt till en eller flera av de flytande marknaderna. Här ser du små flytande kiosker som samsas med större båtar som aviserar vad de säljer genom att hänga upp just den typen av frukt eller grönsak i fören på båtarna.
Vi tar buss till Vinh Long och är framme där lagom till lunch. Vi hinner titta en stund på marknaden innan vi åker vi i mindre båtar för att utforska den enorma mängd av småkanaler som finns i området. Vi besöker flera av de öar som ligger här i floderna. Fruktöar brukar man kalla dem, eftersom hushållen på flera av öarna helt och hållet sysslar med odling av tropiska frukter. Vi besöker ett par av dessa plantager och provar naturligtvis att smaka på papaya, mango, jack fruit, durian, rambutan och andra spännande fynd.
Våra båtar tar oss sedan till vår by i närheten av Vinh Long där vi ska bo natten hemma hos en fruktodlande familj. Vi äter middag och frukost här.
The uncomfortable beds and sleeping in the silk sheets had made me wake up every time I had to turn, so I didn’t feel as I had slept enough, when we went up at 6:30, just after a bypassing boat honked quite loudly. But it was a change from all roasters, which had woken us up during this journey! After breakfast we made a walk in the garden to see some of the fruits on the trees, but this was far from a tour of fruit plantations and testing different kind of fruits, as promised in the program. It was still quite cloudy.
Bengt couldn’t find his passport when we were supposed to leave at 8:15. It is required to leave this at every hotel to be registered. But finally he found it in his small backpack. Both Christina and I felt slightly ill. Toan continued to show how bad he was as a guide, as he avoided giving us any information and that he said, he always repeated 2-3 times as if we were idiots.
The first stop was at a Bonsai garden. Many rich people in this country love to have one. The house was quite fancy with very heavy wooden furniture. We made a tour around the garden, but the sun was hot and I felt worse every time I came out into the sun and sat down quite a lot. The tour ended by showing us a boa snake in a much too small cage, which Christina directly commented on and said it would be better off in freedom. Toan disagreed and said that then it only be caught as food, which Christina promptly said that it would had been better for the snake. It ended with that Toan closed the cage without taking it out as he had intended. He didn’t really understand her point. Then we were offered some local rice wine, i.e. some strong liquor, which I didn’t feel like testing.
When we came back to the boat, there were some small rowing boats, which we were supposed to get in. I felt too ill and stayed on the big boat, but Christina went with one of the small boats, as she expected to see something that couldn’t be seen from the big one and she was very disappointed when they took the same way. If Toan had given any information, she had avoided this, because it was difficult to descend, as well as ascend the boat for her.
We continued to see a brick and pottery factory. There was some interest in seeing this, but we were pretty tired of the guide who only followed his own program without checking if we wanted it or not. But at least I felt better now and joined them.
When we came back to the town of Vinh Long, we made a visit to the local market and instead of deciding a time and place and let us go by our own, we went in a long row and only the first two or three persons could hear what he said. This was a quite meaningless exercise, but it was fun to see the fish market, where they sold crabs with blue legs and living snakes. Then we took the bus on the ferry and continued to Can Tho, but I couldn’t even engage myself in taking photos from the ferry, instead I tried to get some sleep. Can Tho is the biggest city in the Mekong delta and we arrived there about 2 p.m. We had lunch nearby the hotel, when it started to rain heavily and we quickly had to move indoors. We had a nice view over a big silvery statue of Ho Chi Minh, the father of the country, who had led the Vietnamese to victory against the Americans. The rain combined with tiredness and my illness made that we never got out seeing much of the town, which maybe was a pity. In the evening we just went to on a nearby restaurant for a sandwich and then went to bed at 9 pm. Christina used the evening to study the different television channels, and it’s fun to see advertisements in other countries. She saw a part of a beauty contest. You could notice that the “beautiful” women often had an appearance or a makeup that made them look very much like European women, which really is a pity.
Tuesday 30 December / Vinh Long - Saigon
Vi tar en lång morgon och får eventuellt möjlighet att följa med våra husvärdar ut i fälten. Vi åker sedan tillbaka till Saigon. På väg tillbaka till Saigon besöker vi stadens stora Chinatown, Cholon.
I felt better today, but not yet really good. At 8 am we were picked up by a boat nearby after leaving the luggage on the bus. It was already quite a nice and sunny day. We went to the big 300 year old floating fruit market, which is well-known here. The sellers often had samples of their fruits on a stick as advertisement. Those who bought from the producers just boarded with a boat until the business was finished. As there were several tourist boats, some boats only sold fruit and drinks to us. We stopped by a boat to buy pineapples, which the seller prepared to be easily edible. After the market we went into some smaller channels and we could see minor bridges everywhere, as most of the areas are small islands.
We continued to the mainland, where the bus met us at 11 am to go back to Ho Chi Minh City. We stopped at restaurant Mekong, which was one of the worst tourist traps I’ve seen during this trip. It’s a really big place only for tourists and you could even pay in US dollars. They also sold many imported biscuits, chocolates etc in the shops. Definitively the worst kind of tourist trap, which only Asian tourists and maybe Americans would appreciate. When we complained to Toan, he just thought we were cheap, because it was comparatively expensive and he never understood why we disliked this place.
We returned to Ho Chi Minh City at 4:30 pm and went with the bus through the Chinese quarters, but it wasn’t much different from the rest of the city. When we came back, Christina felt ill and it had started to rain again and soon it was at least 5 cm of water in the streets. I went out by myself to eat something and bought some bananas from the food court for her. There were performances at the stage outside the hotel, presumably rehearsals for the New Years Eve. We went to bed early.
Wednesday 31 December / Saigon
Valfri utflykt - Med buss tar du dig till Cu Chi tunnlarna och Caodaitemplet. Under de franska gummiplantagen började Viet Minh att gräva ut sina första tunnlar här redan på 40-talet. Tunnlarna blev till ett helt nätverk av tunnlar som sträcker sig mer än 25 mil. Du får här besöka en del av tunnlarna.
Ytterligare en bit ifrån Saigon ligger Caodaitemplet i Tay Ninh. Det är här huvudtempelt i denna märkliga fusion av världens samtliga större religioner samsats under ett tak. Resultatet är osedvanligt färggrannt och bland gudarna märks utöver Konfucius, Muhammed, Siddharta Gautama även Lenin, Churchill och Victor Hugo. Tja, varför inte? Tillbaka till Saigon på eftermiddagen för en avskedsmiddag.
We had to get up early, as we departed on the optional excursion at 7:30 am. We were 11 who joined the tour, including Christina who had been very reluctant the day before, but who felt better today. Toan had said a few harsh words to some in the group, because he thought we weren’t enough engaged and only thought about the cost of everything. He would never understand what we wanted from the tour and in any case this wasn’t the expected behaviour of any guide anywhere. It was rather us, who could complain about his engagement.
It is 65 km from Ho Chi Minh City to the first stop at the Cu Chi tunnels. France occupied Vietnam and made it a part if Indochina 1859. The tunnels were originally built before 1954 as a part of the effort by Ho Chi Minh to get rid of the Frenchmen. After a UN conference France withdraws, but communism scared USA and they invaded the country. It was parted it in two and USA had control over the capitalistic city of Saigon. The Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh had his Vietcong army and they transported weapons along the unofficial road through the jungle and mountains, which got the name “the Ho Chi Minh trail” to a base near the Cambodian border. Most of the Vietnam ground war took place between this base and Saigon, and Cu Chi is in the middle of this area. The old tunnels were expanded by the Vietcong and in the end the tunnels totals to about 240 km, in 3 levels and up to 10 meters deep. An American base with 6000 soldiers happened to be built upon one of the old entrances, the Vietcong went up during night time and placed mines and traps, which really scared the American soldiers, since they never discovered how this could happen. The Americans dropped 500000 tons of bombs in the Cu Chi area, to get rid of their invisible enemy. They also dropped napalm and with the action “Agent Orange” they tried to remove the leaves of the trees, and they would discover the enemy easier. The American soldiers didn’t know that this poison was dangerous for human beings and both Vietnamese as well as American soldiers got injured because of this. Many unborn children were handicapped after their parents had been exposed to the poison.
We saw bomb craters and exhibitions of how the underground life was. Vietcong only cooked meals at 2 am and they had made long smoke passages, which often ended in termite stacks. This together with the night humidity concealed the smoke well. The staple food was tapioca. They made sandals of car tires, and made mines and traps of remade bombs in many innovative ways. They could only use oil lamps in the first level; otherwise they used torches, which they had gotten from Russia or China. Some in the group tried to enter one of the 35 x 40 cm entrances and then most of us walked through the enlarged tourist tunnel. It was so hot and sweaty down there, so I was more than content with the short 10 meter passage, but Mikael and Anca went through the longest passage of 100 meters. On the way out we passed a shooting range, where you could buy ammunition for one dollar a piece to shoot. This felt very cynical, but seemed to be quite popular.
We were getting a bit in a hurry to continue to the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh. We passed through many rubber plantations along the road. We arrived just before noon, when a service would start. The three pillars of this strange mixed religion are Buddhism (yellow), Confucianism (blue) and Catholicism (red). It was founded 1926. One of the three venerated saints is the French author Victor Hugo, as he was propagating a lot for the poor people in his writings. The temple is a really colourful and beautiful building. We attended the 45 minutes long service on the balcony, which is reserved for visitors. The communists had forbidden the religion after the Vietnam war, but it was reopened 1990 on condition that the services are open as tourist attractions. We found it a quite fascinating experience and stayed until it finished, although most others in the group went out after 10 minutes or so. Cao Dai has 2-3 million followers in Vietnam and about 30000 abroad.
After the service, we went back and the road was extremely bumpy in the back of the bus and it was a relief when we stopped for lunch in a small village. Toan seemed very reluctant to help us, but we got a really great noodle soup from the sweet lady who seemed to be running the place. Even if she didn’t speak English, she was very helpful to show how to mix vegetables into the soup and bring something to drink, all with a great smile on her lips. When we were departing, Christina saw that the lady wanted to hand something looking like candies to the guide, but he refused to take it to us. Some in the group went to another place on the opposite side of the road. We stopped along the road at a shop, because the driver wanted to buy a special kind of candies for his children as it was New Year’s Eve. It started to drizzle started and we were back at 4 pm.
We rested for a while and at 7 pm we took a taxi with Evert and P-G to a Chinese restaurant, where we should have the farewell dinner. It started to rain and the other who had planned to walk also took taxis. It was a lot of people in the city, so it took a while before we got to the restaurant. When we sat down, we discovered that Bengt and Anders were missing and nobody had seen them. Mikael called our hotel reception as all were supposed to walk in a group and they weren’t informed of the restaurant name. Apparently they had got the message, as they appeared within half an hour or so. The restaurant was very large and very popular and as we were 20 minutes late they had already given our reserved table to another group. After some discussions they got us a new table. We had a nice meal to celebrate the final evening of the trip.
After dinner we took a taxi back to the hotel, but it took even longer time now, particular through a central roundabout, where all motorbikes seemed to just drive around. When we finally came to our exit, the police redirected us, which frustrated our driver. He took another street and when he was nearby the hotel, he realised that it was impossible to get there and pointed us in the right direction to walk. We walked for a while in the park outside the hotel, where there were performances for children at the stage and quite noisy, and we decided to spend the last hour in the hotel room. In the reception they had laid a table with different kind of fruits and sweets for the guests and staff and everybody wished us a Happy New Year. It was a bit strange when the first song we heard after midnight was “Happy New Year” by ABBA and then we went to bed.
Thursday 1 January / Saigon - Sweden
Dagen fri. Återresa på kvällen.
We went up at 7 to pack and at 8:30 we took a taxi across the city to the Historical museum, which is situated in a nice old building just beside the Zoological garden. It was a quite okay museum, but not really impressing. Maybe we were getting blasé on museums for the moment. It was very hot when we continued by taxi to the Revolutionary museum. A large part is about the development history of Saigon and on the top floor there are exhibitions about the Vietnam War. There were also some couples who took wedding photos in the vestibule at a large stair. This looked as they were taking photos for a magazine with a lot of photographers and other staff.
It was really hot and sunny when we walked towards the central market. We had lunch in a small restaurant before we entered the market. They seemed to sell everything, food, clothes and tourist souvenirs. We walked back towards the hotel, and rested in a park. Near the hotel we stopped at “Highland’s coffee” and we had for the first time a European coffee with chocolate cakes, to start the adaptation…
We returned in time to pick up the luggage and leave with a bus to the airport at 6 p.m. Today we got Le Hong Phu as a guide, which had been the original intention. In less than half an hour we learnt more about Vietnam than we had done for days with Toan. The check-in was quick and we got boarding cards for all the flights back to Gothenburg. It was about one and a half hour to Bangkok, where we changed flight.
The flight to Stockholm departed just before 1 a.m. We were lucky to share three places on two persons this time, and it wasn’t difficult to fall asleep.
Friday 2 January / Return to home
Even if we had slept better, we were tired when we arrived in Stockholm 6 a.m. local time. We said goodbye to some in the group and checked in the luggage again due to customs routines, even if it had been checked all the way. We arrived in Gothenburg about 9 a.m. and after saying goodbye to the rest, we took the airport bus to Borås and a taxi home. The weather was sunny, but very cold (below 10 degrees minus). When we tried to start our car it refused after standing still for a month… I immediately knew why I love to go abroad during winter…
This site is created and maintained by: