Our last day in Luang Prabang and Steffen and I decided not to go to the Museum or the Phusy Mt. We went down the river and hired someone to take us across the Mekong River. We heard there were some small villages around and we wanted to explore something less touristy. When we got over to the other side we walked and walked until we got to a village. Boy was this place poor, and I mean poor. We found a 10yr old that spoke little English and we bought from his a ticket to a pagoda on top a mountain, or more like a hill. The temple was disappointing, but the kid could use the money. He had to go to school at 14:00 since he couldn't go earlier in the day because he couldn't afford to buy the books. Steffen and I met up with a 27 year old Aussie names Heather who was traveling on her own for 2 weeks. All three of us say a sign to a cave and an arrow pointing down some 'path'. We followed this path and sure enough we got to what looked like a monastery. We were approached by 3 or 4 monks and they asked us if we wanted to buy another ticket to see the cave. At this time we felt everything we did was costing us money, but not much. 5,000 kip for the boat ride, another 5,000 for the pagoda, and now another 5,000 for the cave. I mean it's only $1.75 USD in total, but it was a lot relativistically speaking. We paid for the ticket and followed 2 monks another 200 or so meters up a rocky hill. One of the monks was 13, and the other 16. The older was studying English and Computers. You see, many children train to become monks solely for family honour and to get a basic education. At the age of 20 each monk in training, coined a 'novice', can chose to become a monk or remain a novice. The cave was unbelievable hot and humid. I would never come to the conclusion that a cave (completely shut off to sunlight) would be hotter than the constant irradiated land. My theory is that since there was water in the cave this acted like a sauna and the humidity have the illusion that the cave was hotter. Also, there was no wind inside. We explored the cave and I got to use my flashlight for the first time all trip. It was very rocky and definitely was not 'set up' for tourists. We all slipped several times, the monks included. As we left the cave the monks locked a wooden door and then a metal gate, closing off the cave's only entrance. After this we walked back to the small village where Steffen ate some local Soup. I thought this was a bad idea since the water was likely from the Mekong and no bowls or utensils were washed. He has since been sick for two days, but it's inconclusive on what caused this... Afterwards I ate lunch and sat with some mid 40 year old woman who was traveling for 7 months doing volunteer work. I wasn't too found of who she spoke, like volunteer working is so much more important than other work. In my opinion it's quite the opposite. If you have a skill, a unique and valuable one, and you choose to dismiss this ability in order to pursue volunteer work, I ask why the hell would you do that? The type of volunteer work that most people do and that I'm talking about is unskilled work that can be done by any high school educated lad. It's more efficient and valuable to society and yourself if you either volunteer doing the SAME thing you are skilled or trained in, or not volunteering and working. The problem is that you cannot volunteer as an engineer, doctor, nurse, etc. because most people have loans to pay off, and why would you obtain such a hard to obtain skill, just to give it away as to sacrifice your ability for the benefit of others? Communism doesn't work...I can see this from what happened to Lao and Vietnam. Ok, enough ranting.
We took a 10 hour boat ride to Pakbeng up the Mekong River. This boat was covered and had a TV on it (though none of us even bothered to turn it on). There was a v-10 or v-12 engine running the boat, with no cover or insulating. You can imagine how damn loud it was. We were starving by the time we got off the boat. We got off the boat and took a 15 minute walk to our hotel: up a sand hill, down a wet march, across an unpaved field, and finally up 25 stairs, all carrying our luggage. We discover that all rooms have TVs, but none of them work. You ask why? It's becuase the amount of electricity is too expensive. The city only has electricity from 6-10am and 6-10pm. Cold showers too. The next morning we leave early and are on the boat heading up the Mekong River by 6:30.
Chiang Khong, Thailand
Another 10 hours on the boat, well actually maybe 11 hours. This time we got breakfast made for us from the hotel, we carried it on the boat and ate it later. We also had the family on the boat cook us lunch for 20,000 kip. The family (man, woman, and daughter) lived on the boat as well as make Lao -> Thailand and Thailand -> Lao border crossing trips. We check out at the Lao immigration and exchange Lao money, since it's not worth anything outside of the country. We take a longboat across the river to Thailand and get another Visa on arrival. Welcome to Chaing Khong, Thailand. This is a sleepy town, but still much more lively than Lao. There are 7/11s and 'real' places again. We checked in our hotel and then went out to a nice dinner, where there was a man playing guitar and singing western songs. AJ, our group leader played and sang some songs, one being 'Tears in Heaven', after he'd had a little help with some alcohol. Kim, the Dutch girl that left our tour at Hanoi, was traveling to Lao and had been spending the night in Chiang Khong as well. She met us for dinner and we had a ball. It was hard to say goodbye to her again.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
After a 4-5 hour van trip (in a very nice van) we arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand a little before noon. We only have until 5:00 at which point we need to leave to catch a sleeper train to Bangkok. But this was ample time to get a thorough feeling of the town. Steffen, The Finnish Couple, and myself walked around the old city for 3 or so hours. I was looking in all the book stores for a lonely planet for India and Ireland. I ended up buying the book 'Lila' by Robert Pirsig. I am super stoked to read it, but may just wait until I get home since it's not what I would call 'easy reading'. I have finished up reading Sophacles, The Theban Plays and must say it was much better than when we were forced to read it in grade school. I have been considering staying in Chiang Mai for the next 3 nights and take a bus or train to Bangkok a day before my flight to India. Steffen and the Finnish Couple are staying in Chiang Mai and thus leaving the tour here. I think 4 days in Bangkok may be too much, but I think I'll do it anyways. I think I want some down time and Chiang Mai is all about trekking, and hiking, and extreme activities, etc. I may pay a little more and stay in a nice hotel for 1 or 2 nights and enjoy the pool in the humid 90+ degree F weather. I am off to catch my sleeper train with AJ and the Aussie Couple...and then there were 4. We arrive in Bangkok tomorrow around 6:00 am and we will be staying in the same hotel in which with we had stared the tour.
P.S. sorry for the typos and poor grammar. I am trying to get in as much as possible in such a short time. I've been writing for maybe 40 minutes while at the same time, updating my facebook, uploading and backing up my photos. So please understand why my writing mimics that of a 14 year old boy's.