Sunday, March 21, 2010

010107 Huay Xai to Chiang Khong

Hopelessly lost cat finally found its way back to Thaveesinh Hotel at ~10AM, long after its companions from the Pak Beng-Huay Xai boat had checked out & left for Chiang Khong.

Based on reports from other travellers it was expecting to have to pay an 'overtime fee' for crossing the border on a public holiday, but the two Lao immigration officers on duty just waved the cat through after collecting the immigration departure card & adding their bit of red ink to its passport. Making its way down the slope to the Mekong, no-idea-who called out to the cat & told it to hurry up & jump into a boat with 2 guys that was already pulling out to cross the river. In the middle of the Mekong...

Mr Passenger 1: yiam Thai leu yiam Lao? (visit Thailand or visit Laos?)
Cat: ??
*scratch head* isn't this boat going to Thailand...?
Cat: yiam Lao laew bpai yiam Thai (visit Laos already go visit Thailand)
Mr Passengers 1 & 2: ?!
Mr Passengers 1: khon Thai leu khon Lao? (Thai person or Lao person?)
Cat explains that it is from Singkapor...

Turns out that Mr Passengers 1 & 2 were trying to figure out if it was a Thai visiting Laos or a Lao visiting Thailand - so why on earth was it saying that it's visiting BOTH? :P

Looking back at Huay Xai with the bell & drum tower of Wat Chom Khao among the trees:


Only at this point did the cat realise that there were sheltered boats - both times it had crossed on unsheltered ones. Mr Passengers 1 & 2 headed off to start another day of work operating the cross-river vehicle ferry, while the cat made its way to the Thai immigration:


20 baht + 1 chatty tuktuk driver + 1 more round of explaining that it isn't a Siamese cat (my ears, face & paws might be tanned from the sun but my tail is black not brown!) later, the cat was dropped off at a roadside fruit stall in Chiang Khong market. Madam Fruit Seller asked the cat where it was going & then yelled out no-idea-what to no-idea-who - apparently the bus to Chiangrai was about to leave & she was getting the driver to hang on so that the cat could jump on board through the back door - just like how it had scrambled onto the bus to Chiang Khong a fortnight earlier...& so within 20 minutes flat of stepping back on Thai soil the cat was waving goodbye to Chiang Khong:


1 police road block + 2 seat changes (to make way for monks) later the cat was back in Chiangrai city to meet the others at Baan Bua Guesthouse...

Sunday, March 07, 2010

010107 Get lost! (in Huay Xai)

Also at Wat Chom Khao to welcome first sunrise of 2007 - Mr Japanese Businessman...

Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ (rattles off excitedly in Japanese)
Big fat question mark balloons above clueless cat's head...
Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
Cat rummages through memory archives - where da hell is dat magic incantation when i need it??
Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
!!!! WAIT !!!!
Cat pulls Japanese rabbit outta magic language hat

Cat: 日本語はできません nihongo wa dekimasen (lit. Japanese language cannot)

Mr Japanese Businessman: ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓
Cat: 日本語はできません nihongo wa dekimasen

Mr Japanese Businessman: !!!! ah sodesu ka! Sorry I thought you said dekimasu! (dekimasu = can)

* Thank you to Japanese-literate colleague for teaching the cat how to recite this magic incantation in preparation for its 2005 trip to Kyoto - long after that trip it's still coming in useful :P

Beside the stairs leading from riverside road up to Wat Chom Khao - chickens that don't care about the sky falling on their heads...


...but for stars(fruit) falling from the sky:


The 4 men who sponsored the cat's trip:


Within Laos - the 20,000 is worth less than the 500 or 5. Outside of Laos - the 20,000 is worth less than even the 2. Such is the deal with 'soft' currency. Hence this morning's project to use up the remaining 20,000 & a few of its counterparts.

The cat left Wat Chom Khao shortly after the resident monks & novices returned from collecting alms. They + a temple boy + Mr Japanese Businessman + a few scattered almsgivers had been the only sign of life on the otherwise empty streets + empty temple. Wandering south along the river road...

Stationery shop with a few books in glass display case - 50,000kip for standard green Lao-English/English-Lao dictionary - second last souvenir for this trip.
Little gift baskets wrapped in red cellophane on a table outside - in ones & twos they disappear with people stopping by on motorbike to pick up their orders - reminder that it's New Year's Day.

Turn inland somewhere beyond the Post Office - intended destination = market.
Roads leading inland don't run perpendicular to the Mekong but curve off at all sorts of angles...??

Every road seems to go uphill...
Every road seems to have both paved & ex-paved sections...


Every roadside plant seems to be brown...


At last - crowd of people - but no market...?
Many green uniforms with red + gold epaulettes.
Civilians carrying babies.
Tall fences topped with barbed wire.
Uniforms & civvies squat + stand around outside concrete building.
Bare rooms with wooden beds & not much else, not even doors.
3 ladies walk past in pristine magically dustproof white nurses' uniforms...
Cat has wandered into military base + military hospital...

Hopelessly lost cat asks for directions...
Puzzled but friendly green uniforms point to steep dirt path through backyards of several homes.
Cat walks downhill past several households' worth of laundry & chickens into back of Huay Xai market.

Dry goods section - no luck.
A little row of shops behind dry goods section - a seamstress points to another structure further behind.
An entire section devoted just to clothing!
Stacks of sinh piled on wooden platforms + more sinh hanging from bamboo poles.
Wooden floor raises market above grass + mud beneath - exactly like pasar malam in Singapore :)

Mission to track down green silk sinh accomplished:


Prices all quoted in Thai baht - cat requests to pay with combination of kip + baht...
450 baht sinh = 88,000kip + 125 baht = last souvenir for this trip.
Mission to use up remaining Lao kip accomplished!

More ex-paved road + brown roadside vegetation...
Cat now hopelessly lost somewhere to the east of Wat Chom Khao.
Not even a passing soul on motorbike around to ask for directions.
Bokeo province hospital - like Nambak district hospital, even sadder-looking & more run down than the military hospital...
Unlike Nambak district hospital - devoid of all sign of life...& this serves the entire province...

Gas station.
Arimid Guesthouse - extremely vague recollection of mention in Lonely Planet guidebook.
Nice paved road - the main riverside road again!
To the right - Mr Luang Prabang-Pak Beng slowboat captain & sons walking into town - big fat smiles :)
Cat has walked entire inland road from market to junction near slowboat landing...

First Beer Lao delivery of the year for roadside noodle stall: