Archive | November, 2011

9th November – Mukdahan

11 Nov


One UK pound is about 49 Thai baht.

Diesel is around 30 baht and petrol 34 baht.

Our camp spot by the plane was on the Mekong just by the Friendship Bridge and so to loop around to the border was only a couple of km’s. We passed through the Laos side very easily and although they seemed totally unfamiliar with the carnet, they were ok stamping and signing at the places I pointed at. As normal with the Laos people, all done with a beaming smile. They are lovely people, kind, gentle and however modest their lifestyle, happy and generous. They have had a tough time for all sorts of reasons, but there is no hint of bitterness and they truly seem to enjoy life. Maybe it is because they have been through so much that they appreciate what they have now.

The Thai  border post is very modern and smart, which is immediately on the other side of the bridge. There is a crossover here as they drive on the ‘correct’ side of the road in Thailand! The first time that we have driven on the left since leaving England.

On arriving at the Thai side we filled in the arrival card and as we had the visa, were sent straight through to Customs. We encouraged them to stamp the carnet, although they did not really know what it was. The fact that they could see what the Laos customs had completed made it easier to explain. They had waved us on before another official stopped us and said that it is very important that we have a form called the ‘Information of Conveyance’, also called a TM2. Without it it is supposed to be difficult to exit. If you would like to see what it looks like let us know as we have photographed the document.

Marjool was really excited as we were told that there was a Tesco with all the things that she had dreamed of … chocolate, cakes, biscuits, cheese, fresh milk ….. funny how little we appreciate the variety of food available at home! Just imagine her face when she saw the shelves ….. !!

However as we moved through the aisles there was plenty of things to tempt us. The poor souls whose houses have been flooded are having a really tough time. In Bangkok it is apparently difficult to get anything, including safe drinking water. They are saying here that a third of Thailand is under water … hard to believe. We had not realised how bad it was, as we have not been seeing news or reading news papers.

Outside of Tesco we met a Scot called Mick  who had lived in Thailand for years. He saw that we were driving a Toyota and asked if we had met Edith. She owns the Toyota dealership and is a local magistrate. We needed insurance and she sounded so nice that we decided to go along and check out the price of an oil change. We were quoted the equivelent of 5o pounds to change the oil and filter and adjust the fan belt. As the oil cost 30 pounds in Russia and a filter 15 pounds in the Uk, it seemed an excellent deal! They checked various other fluids and gave it a really good clean.  They were very efficient and professional and were incredibly polite and friendly. I would strongly recommend a pit stop there if you are driving a Toyota.




The car looked new as the mechanics drove it out of the washing area, they had even blacked the tyres. It looked like a different car!

We were picked up from Toyata by Noy, a friend of our host’s girlfriend. We were going to stay the night outside his house and next to the community swimming pool. Sounds great!



In the evening, Noy took us to the night market, a nice restaurant on the bank of the Mekong and then finally to a western (as in cowboys!) bar where they had a band playing. The bar staff were dressed in cowboy gear complete with guns. We played pool and darts with the staff. Great fun and good band.


8th November – Savannekhet

11 Nov

We spent another day here waiting to pick up our visa. It was a noisy night at the tennis court as everyone in the town tends to have at least two dogs and as soon as one barks, the others all start! It builds to a mad crescendo and then slowly fades away until the next disturbance sets them off. However it was a nice central spot in town meaning that you can wander around in the evening. The countryside is much nicer during the day, but when it gets dark at around 5.45 pm, it can be a long evening in the camper!

We got up early so that we could see the monks ‘taking alms’. People from the town are dotted around a fixed route and the monks walk in line and take offerings of food (usually rice). This happens at 6.00am every day. Marjool had not got up early enough to make rice, but did have a packet of cheese crackers ….. they probably don’t get those every day!



After breakfast we headed down to the river as it is nice and breezy there. Graham fished for a while and caught one tiny fish. The sun then popped over the trees and he retreated to the shade.



The locals were not having much more luck, but it was great to watch.




We picked up our visa at the consulate at 2.00pm. It is really organised, and you are called to the counter in order that you applied the day before to pick up the passport. We had been given a double entry 60 day visa, which would take us through to 7th January. That fits with the timing of shipping the car out of Malaysia mid to end of January.

We decided not to go across the border until the next morning as it normally takes a couple of hours with the car. We had been told that locals can cross until 10.00pm, but for temporary import of foreign cars, we would need to be there before 5.00pm. We found a nice spot by the river by what we thought was a bar. It turned out to be a private site, but they were happy for us to stay. It was an interesting place as it had an old Laos Airways plane in the back garden.




It was another warm night, and at 8.00pm it was still 29 deg C.

7th November – Visas at Savannekhet

8 Nov

After another porridge breakfast (not sure if its the right thing for the tropics!) we emptied our water tank, which we had filled with some smelly bore water in a village a few days before, and filled with water from the guest house. There is nothing worse than weak Chinese tea bags in boiled bore water …. yuk!

The town is a reasonable size, but with the directions given to us from the guest house, and a piece of paper with ‘consulate’ and ‘visa’ written on it in laos, we found the consulate in Chymuang Rd. By the time we got there at 9.15 am there was a small queue. We picked up a form on the other side of the road, which was also filled in by a Laos girl, for a fee of 70pence each. We then took it over to the consulate counter and after ten minutes had submitted it along with our fee of 2000 Thai baht each. This was for a 60 day double entry visa … we hoped. We were told to pick it up at 2.00pm the following day.

We had also been told that there was a temple and stupa that was not to be missed about 15km from the town, and a lake with little huts on the lake, that were nice to relax in.

Before we went in we picked up some flower offerings and Marjool had to put on a traditional Laos skirt. The offerings were made out of banana leaves and flowers.

Once inside we watched as people made their offerings and prayed. They took it all seriously, but at the same time they were all smiling and laughing as they walked in small groups around the site.

The girls who had been praying then went over to a giant gong (I’m sure that that is not the right name!) and rubbed at the centre until it started to resonate. It was an amazing sound! It is like the moving of your finger around the outside of a wine glass until it hums …. just on a massive scale.

All around there were gold coloured buddhas, in all sorts of shape and size. The site here is an important one because  it is over 500 yrs old and is believed to be the burial site of buddha’s bones.

After having lunch, we drove back towards the town, where the lake and huts were. It was almost like a restaurant, but the food and drinks were served in the little huts over the water.


In the evening we headed back to town, where we parked for the night at the tennis club. Nice grass and toilets too!


6th November – Savannakhet

8 Nov

We continued down route 13, with the temperature rising all the time … or is it just our imagination?! The scenery has changed along this route in so much that there are not so many well defined villages, just long strips of tiny shops, noodle bars and houses. We have also started to see some large wood processing plants. All with big hardwood logs being cut up for timber. There are still lots of untouched forest in Laos, lets hope that it stays there! We had talked about the contrast between Laos and Borneo a couple of times. The poor road system in Laos has slowed the logging, but it seems inevitable that it will gather pace. There is no palm oil here, that seems to be the activity that has led to the destruction of much of Borneo’s rainforest.

We decided to take a turning off the main road to see if we could find our way to some caves. The tourist sign was very old and faded and it turned out that the route was now a dead end. It was good to see that only a few hundred meters off the main road, villages were just as pretty as in the north, and the life was still rural. Just outside one village some water buffalo’s were having a bath … they loved it!




The water buffalo were trying to keep cool, it was now about 32 deg C and we were looking for shade as well!



It was starting to cool down when we made our way back to the main road and continued south to Savannkhet. We briefly took a look at the new Friendship bridge that gives access to Thailand and then headed back towards town. We needed to arrange visas if possible and we had read that it was possible here, and was quieter and easier than Vientiane. We hope so as otherwise will be stuck!

We stopped off at a guest house to see if we could park outside and sleep in the camper, but when shown the big rooms, with aircon and en suite for 7 pounds, we decided to have a room. The lady looking after the place spoke a little English and we needed to ask directions to the consulate building in town, so it was a good find. This is her and her baby.



When we cooked a curry in the evening by the camper, she came over with a big bowl of rice. She also gave us a Lao sticker for the side of the camper. Thank you!

On the way up to the room we saw a praying mantis …. at least judging by its front legs, I assume that’s what it is!



We enjoyed a nice cool night in the room, with the luxury of a shower …. simple pleasures!


5th November – Route 13

5 Nov

The last part of the road to Pakxan was pleasant and very quiet. We only stopped a few times to take  pictures. First stop was for an unusual bit of roadkill. Not sure what type of snake it is but wouldn’t want to step on it in the dark! Next stop was to look at the cows. Even the fully grown ones are only about 1.2 m to the tip of their horns. The calves are the size of dogs.



The houses on the side of the road still built in the traditional way with hardwood stilts. On some of the ones we saw later the hardwood stilts had been replaced with reinforced concrete posts.



We joined Route 13 at Pakxan which was the biggest and busiest road since entering Laos, although you still could not say that the traffic was heavy. Route 13 follows the Mekong at this point, which is absolutely gigantic. It looks to be more than 1 km wide. We had the normal audience of small curious children as we cooked our meal.




We continued along route 13 where the traffic consists of either new looking Toyota pickups, coaches, timber lorries, motorbikes or the multi purpose tractor units which are used for ploughing fields, moving rice and family transport. They are literally everywhere in Laos. People have to be fairly patient when covering any distance as they only travel at about 10km an hour.



Further along the road Graham jumped out of the car to buy a few bananas. Ten minutes later he came back with at least 5kg of bananas and one huge pineapple……… far too much, but it only costs the equivalent of 140p.

We finally left the mountains behind us after having travelled through them all the way from Xian in China. It is a huge range of mountains covering thousands of kilometers.

We found a place to stop for the night which seemed to be amenity land which is by a small river, so that we could wash the car and has it own pump for fresh water.


4th November – Road to Pakxan

5 Nov

Woke up in a thick mist by the lake. We could see that the sun would come through fairly quickly and so got ready to visit the jars site before it got too busy and warm.




It cost 10000 kip to enter the site (5000 if you are local). It’s a good idea to have two prices so that the locals are not excluded.

The first thing that you see as you arrive is the signs explaining the effort that was involved in clearing the site of UXO’s. This area was one of the worst hit areas in the Vietnam war. All the villages in this area were completely wiped out by carpet bombing. The whole area was deforested and lots of the hills remain bare and barren to this day. Our guidebook suggests that the land was poisoned in some way. Another thing to look up on our return!




The jars are thought to be over 2000 years old and their purpose is not completely understood. It is thought most likely that they were used for burial purposes. It is a shame that the area was bombed so much, but being on the top of a hill with a system of trenches running around the hill, it had to be a target.





We decided to try one on the minor roads to Pakxan rather than go to Vientiane as we did not feel like going back into a busy city again yet. A driver warned us off one route and said ‘maybe’ you can get through on the other option. We set off south and at first the road was really good. In fact it was brand new tarmac! There were no crash barriers in the high mountain sections, but driving slowly felt fine. The road then changed to dirt although still very wide as though it was waiting for bitumen. As we went further the road showed more signs of mudslides and washout. Still not really a problem in dry weather.



The road continued to switch between bitumen and dirt, sometimes rough where it had been washed away and then refilled. There were a few small rivers to cross as the bridges were under construction all the way through. Nothing deep until we got to a point where a bridge was being built over the main river. By this time we had come too far to turn back and so we hoped we could cross!

We watched some water buffalo walk across and at no point was it over their backs, but it was close in a couple of places. More worrying was the fact that nobody else was driving across. In fact there was no traffic. Some locals told us it was no problem and pointed out a route which would take us via some shallow spots.



The nearside was fine, but there were two sections that looked deeper and faster.



We then went up onto the last shallow before the faster section. We were a bit nervous as we had not forgotten the time that we got stuck in Mongolia. The car went into the current and it felt that we were travelling sideways. There was a bit of a hole on the riverbed and the front of the car dipped until the bonnet was covered. The engine also slowed and the fanbelt screamed as the fan tried to turn under water.




After one moment of doubt we popped up out of the dip and surged up onto the far bank.



We decided at that point that we not do any more river crossing on this trip … if possible!

Another 10 km down the road we got to another river crossing! This time I waded through to check the depth, and found that if I did a big loop downstream, we could cross with no problem.

We were hot and bothered and needed a drink and so stopped at one of the many roadside stalls. The lady was really nice and insisted that we take photos and show them. Hoots of laughter followed!




We continued along the road and found a nice place to camp by the river.



Tomorrow we just had 63 km to do to get to Pakxan

3rd November – Phonsavan

5 Nov

We spent a couple of hours at the Elephant Village just watching. The first thing that happens each day is that the handlers bring them back from the forest where they spend the night. They take quite a bit of encouragement to get out of the water!




When they get back up to camp they are bought to a feeding station. One of them had an itch and used a tree to scratch it. It reminded me of Jungle Book, but not sure if it was the bear or the elephant that had the itch …




We drove south from the Elephant Village towards Vientiane, following the river. It was interesting to see that at the end of the wet season, locals start to plant on the edges of the river in the fertile silt. Lots of rain would be a disaster!



Further down the road was a local bus. With all the dust and no windows, we would not like to go too far in that.



We turned off on to the road to Phonsavan and drove through the mountains for about 90km. The land started to flatten out and again rice was the main crop. The drying was done in big bell shaped stacks which looked great spread out across the landscape.




Some of the rice is thrashed by hand to separate the rice from the stems, here a machine was used. It seems like farm contracting goes on here just the same as home.




There is lots of evidence in the area of the Vietnam war, bombs are displayed around in the little town and here a bomb crater forms a handy pond!



We continued on to Phonsavan and out on the road leading south west to the Plain of Jars site one. Just before the gate we took a track to the right and asked in the house if we could park for the night. It was just on the bank of a lake which was used as a fish farm. A really quiet spot and only 100m from the entrance of the jars site.

2nd November – Xieng Lom

5 Nov

After a slow start in Luang Prabang and breakfast in the JoMa Bakery, we drove out to the Tat Kuang Si falls which are about 32km south west. It was a warm morning and were looking forward to a swim in the pools below the falls.



The woods were nice and shady and although the water felt cool it was nothing like the cold rivers of Dartmoor!




There is a good path that follows along the course of the pools. The shade allows you to take some long exposure pictures. Interesting but it makes it look like a Chinese postcard!



All along the trail are tropical plants and the moisture from the waterfalls attracts the butterflies.






At the top of the main path you get to the biggest fall. It must be really dramatic in the wet season.




There is also a trail to take you up to the top of the falls, but there is no viewing point that we could find and so could not really see much. It was good exercise in the heat and humidity though.


On the way back we passed the bear enclosure where they have rescued bears. A lot had been kept as pets in tiny cages or some used to perform. This has been virtually stopped now and the problem that the bears face is being kept and used to supply bear bile to the Chinese for medicine.




We then drove back to Luang Prabang before heading south towards Vientiane.  On the way we saw a sign to the Elephant Village, which was 5km off the main road on a dirt track. It was a rescue centre where elephants that retire from logging go to do light work giving tourists rides and splashing around in the river whilst be scrubbed with brushes … they seem to enjoy it. Sometimes they get elephants that have been injured by UXO (unexploded ordinance) left over from the Vietnam war. For some reason they say that 30% of the bombs dropped on Laos did not explode, leaving nasty little booby traps all over the country.

The camp is a nice place to relax and does offer accommodation that looks out over the river. We stayed in the carpark which was free, but we left a donation for work with the elephants instead.




We went to sleep to the sound of thousands of frogs in the pond next to the carpark and woke up to the sound of almost as many cockerels! It was a nice spot though.

1st November – Luang Prabang

2 Nov

Spent a couple of hours updating the website. It is a nice spot, right next to the river and the overhanging trees make it shady.

Next to our camper is one of the tuk tuks that run around all over the city.

The middle of the day was spent just walking around the town. There is lots to see and one road follows the Mekong and the tributary in a big loop. It is shady and the views are good. The road that runs through the centre is the main street for restaurants and is also where the night market is held.

Towards sunset we walked up onto the hill in the middle of town, which is the site of That Phu Si. There are good views of the town, buddhas, a temple, flowers and it is also a good place to see the sunset.

Up close the flowers are really delicate, unlike the stems which have vicious spikes like a rose.

Again the colours of the sky were worth a picture or two … no more we promise!

Walking down from the hill, the path drops in above the night market. It was early and so pretty quiet.

There are loads of things to tempt you but our lack of space in the camper puts us off the shopping. The colours are great.





So once again we looked and bought nothing!


There are lots of restaurants along the main strip, and we chose Thai. We had a large beer (Beerlao 640ml), tea, curry and a stir fry for 62000 kip. That is about 4 pounds 25p, and that was a nice place. You can each much cheaper if you leave the main tourist area!

31st October – Luang Prabang

1 Nov

Woke up to a lovely view of the rice fields and mountains behind.




The funny noises that we had heard a couple of times during the night were explained. It was pitch dark last night and had no idea what was making the splashing noises!



The bridge that gave access to the other side of the river was all made of bamboo. The baskets in the river were filled with rocks.  It probably needs replacing each rainy season.



The caves were small but interesting. They were used as a hiding place for army units  and civilians during the Vietnam war. The entry fee was 5000 kip, about 35p   ….. very reasonable! In China it would have been 15 $ US.




The lady who was collecting the entry fee had her son with her. They arrived early so as to not miss any customers, so her son had breakfast there.




All the villages have little shops with the basic essentials.





All along the road there are people busy harvesting the rice crops.






The hats have not changed for centuries but the baseball cap must be a fairly recent modification.




The scenery was still stunning all the way through to Luang Prabang.



When we arrived in Luang Prabang we found a great place to park on a private parking area right next to the Mekong. It was a lovely evening and we looked out over the river as the sun set.




We have never seen as many western tourists as there are in this city! They seem to have all come to escape the floods from Thailand …. many are en route to Vietnam or China. We also met the Swiss couple who had travelled through China just before us with our guide Spring. We were not happy when they said that they had been charged 20% less than us for the guide, even though we were a single car and they were a group of three! As we said …. talk to us before you book your drive through China. We are still disappointed that the the system that you have to follow for your drive through the country forces you to rush so much.

We met two really nice couples today, that we hope we see again. One was a couple from New Zealand who are living in the UK called Paul and Bridgette, and the other were from Finland, Eero and Laura.

Overall a great day.