We woke after the day from hell and decided that to take a shower in the same room as the squatty potty, would be counter-productive in staying clean. So we declined to bathe today. I got the bikes gassed up and I had a low front tire. I drove to the nearest shop and they changed out a leaky inner tube. We packed up and were on the road around 8am with a breakfast of tasty and nasty cakes and our two nescafe espresso cans each.
Map of the Region
Up Up and Away
We left Sop Lao and headed out on the road. The first half of the day was cold. As we climbed and climbed and climbed up the mountains, we realized we were just under the cloud base. Soon we were in the clouds and riding in dense fog for about 2 hours. I seemed from the pits of hell that was Sop Lao, to kissing the clouds on a damp cold ride to the heavens, was an extreme weather change for us. What a switch! We rode half the day and began the descent down to a calm warm valley. The valley was nice and the roads suddenly opened up to our first road with a line down the middle and one capable of handling bidirectional traffic.
Crater's Cafe In Phonsavan, Laos
We arrived at Phonsavan at about 4pm and found the best hotel we could find. After spending the last 5 days traveling and staying in less than accommodating accommodations, and for the simple fact we hadn't showered in two days, we found the best hotel we could find. The Xiang Khouang Hotel right on the main strip. Two twin sized beds, but the nicest place we have stayed since the Au Co Hotel in Hanoi. The price 23 dollars per night was a little overpriced for Laos, but acceptable for our needs. It was absolutely freezing in Phonsavan when the sun went down. I haven't been this cold since living in Argentina in the winter time. Humid cold is 100 times worse than dry cold. When it's humid, no matter of layering will keep you warm. It cuts right through you. Our hotel room didn't have a heater either. Phonsavan is about 1300 meters above sea level as well, making it a cold!
After setting in we dropped by the Crater's Restaurant and Cafe for some western food. We had spent the last few days eating little more than noodle soup and cakes and felt the need to eat something familiar. The food was a let down. I got the chicken BBQ pizza and Shelly got the hamburger and fries. Both were sub-par, small portions, and overpriced. We got on the internet for the first time in nearly a week, and called our family to let them know we were alive and post on Facebook. Needless to say, we slept well after I showered, Shelly simply fell asleep before getting to do so, even if it was cold in our room.
Hmong Couple In Phonsavan
Eating Dog and Elephant Trunks
The second day in Phonsavan involved getting laundry done and relaxing. Buddha had less than one day of dog food that we had purchased in Hanoi, and we went on the search for some food. This resulted in a difficult task as no one spoke a lick of English. We knew the word for Dog, which is Ma. However, Ma can mean a lot of things like elephant trunk, mother and who knows how many more things. The meaning of words in languages like this rely heavily on where the accent is placed on the vowel. We spent a couple of hours going into every market and small shop in Phonsavan pointing to our mouths and saying Ma. Either people thought we wanted to eat a dog, or taste an elephant trunk. We knew this by either the shock or laughter that ensued with an inevitable shaking of the head or finger.
After spending around 2 hours asking people if we could eat elephant trunks, we stopped somewhere and a lady spoke perfect English and said... "what do you need?" We were elated to find someone who spoke English even if she looked Laotian. We explained what we were looking for and she told us we needed to say "Ahan Ma", which means dog food. Within 5 minutes we were purchasing Pedigree dog food at a local shop. It amazes me how difficult it can be to communicate your wishes at times. Something that should take 5 minutes took hours and endless frustration and embarrassment.
Hmong Family In Phonsavan
Our First Indian Food Experience
That evening we found a fantastic place to eat. We had read great reviews of the Nisha Indian Restaurant. We had never had Indian food in our lives and figured it couldn't be worse than the Crater Cafes food and decided to give it a try. This place was AWESOME! We gorged ourselves on Naan and Curry Masala dishes and enjoyed the company of other westerners such as a lady who sat at our table with us from Switzerland named Tatiana. She is a midwife living here for a month helping out a Swiss doctor group at a local hospital. Another cold night. Not as bad as the previous night, but the restaurant and all the shops in general in Phonsavan are soviet style shops. These are shops that have drop down metal doors and open shops behind them. Therefore the restaurant was open in the front completely. I wore my hood on my head through the entire meal. It was still cold, but we realized we love Indian Food!
Today we woke up and decided to give Craters another try. Maybe they have better breakfasts. Nope! Terrible! I had the American breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs, one strip of undercooked bacon, two slices of cold toast with frozen butter, and a tablespoon of baked beans. Yeah... baked beans. Wierd. Obviously they have never had a breakfast in America, or if they had, it was on a cattle drive somewhere. Shelly had an egg sandwich also cold. We won't be back...
The Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars
We went to lunch at the Indian place again and had a spectacular lunch and headed out to the local draw, the Plain of Jars. The site is thousands of years old and one of the most important historical sites in Laos. In this area, for no discernible reason, the people made gigantic stone jars made of limestone. Archeologists are not even sure how old these things really are. They believe that they might be burial urns and the cave nearby a crematorium, according to wikipedia. The hillsides here are apparently dotted with them in over 60 distinct sites. They estimate them to be 2500-3000 years old. They aren't even sure if they carved them from existing stones, or quarried them and brought them to the places they sit now. Either way most are about 3 feet tall, and some are as tall as 9 feet in size. They weight in the tons.
We drove 10 minutes outside of town and for about a buck, we entered the park. This is an area that was heavily bombed in the Vietnam war and the Laotian people put anti-aircraft guns and had trenches built near them. I am not sure why, maybe thinking they wouldn't bomb an archeological site such as this. They were wrong. The site was called #1 and had about 300 jars of different sizes here. They ranged in size and shape. Some had water in them from rains, and other did not. There were craters potholed around the jars as well as old trenches.
The Plain of Jars Cave
Plain of Jars Cave
Shelly and I walked through the plains for about an hour taking pictures near the jars and in craters. There was also a neat limestone hill on the site where the Laotians would hide during serious bombing runs. This cave was pretty large and I am not sure if it is manmade or natural. I would say it was easily 200 feet tall and 50-60 feet wide. At the top were two holes that let sunlight through. The entrance to the cave had an alter for worshiping Buddha with incense and offerings of fruit, nuts and money. We enjoyed the sunshine and warmth for once, and decided to make a 25 KM run to another city where the was a large sitting Buddha statue erected in the 1500s.
Hmong Festival Gathering
We rode out through the countryside passing small village after small village. Everyone was outside due to a weekend-long festival of the Hmong-Mien (indigenous people of this region of Laos who migrated from China and Mongolia in the 1800s). We have seen people all weekend dressed in the traditional dress, mostly women. The men and women, girls and boys stand facing each other and do something which resembled the egg toss in grade school. We hear they traditionally used a bone as a courting thing, but most we saw were tossing a tennis ball. Each little village had their own two lines of people throwing a tennis ball back and forth. Men on one side and women on the other. Interesting... yet I wish I knew more about it.
Wat Piawat Buddha
Muang Khoun and Wat Piawat
We arrived in another village called Muang Khoun where a statue of the Buddha sits near a temple called Wat Piawat or possibly Vat Pia Vat. Were not sure which. We paid the dollar fee, and walked around the ancient statue taking pictures. It was an entirely enjoyable afternoon of sightseeing. This site was ancient. The village of Muang Khoun and the surrounding area has a large history of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai occupations. The Indochina war wreaked havoc on this area of Laos, and bombings destroyed most of the temple and damaged the buddha. You can actually see bullet holes on the statue's head. The temple and statue were built in the 1500s. We were the only ones at the complex and it was nice to just sit around and explore the ruins of the temple complex and shoot some pictures.
Off To New Adventures
Off To The Warmth of the South
In the evening, we went back again to the Indian place... yeah ... it's that good! We sat at a table with a guy named Robert from Pittsburgh, 3 British; Sue, Wayne and Graham from London, and Silke who is German, but lives in Amsterdam. We at Indian food and had stimulating discussion that reminds me why I love to travel so much. You frequently get small glimpses into the lives of others from vastly different backgrounds, but for a short time you seem like old friends. It's truly a unique characteristic of travel.
Tomorrow we head out of cold Phonsavan and head south and west to Vang Vieng. We hear it's a fun place and we look forward to warmer temperatures. Get us off this arctic plateau!