Donate Button



Donate today BECAUSE Logan will use it to visit the USA in 2017!

Monday, November 7, 2011

OFF TO LAO

FORBIDDEN THAILAND LORE

OK - there were some things I found out which seem fairly mello to me, but had I published them while I was still in Thailand, it is possible that I could be a 'guest of the Thai government' indefinitely. Hence, I decided to wait until I got to Lao to pop these up. To me they seem fairly innocuous but to Thais, they are little landmines of unhappiness. So now you get to seem them. Without further delay we give you 'Forbidden Thailand Lore'!

When I was on the bus ride from Chaing Mei to Chaing Rei, I was fortunate enough to sit next to an old (80) man who could speak English. We talked over many things but something of interest went like this:

Logan: "I heard that the king (pause) is in the hospital? Is that true?"

During the pause, the old guy had the same expression as if you had said to someone from the Republic of Georgia,

"I heard your mother (pause) is a good cook?"

During the pause, they get the look in their eyes like "If the next thing out your gab isn't positive, we're throwing down right here and now."

This is an example of the type of nationalism in Thailand.

I was curious as to why the Thais LOVE their king so I decided to question one about it...very diplomatically.


I found a Thai who had lived in the states for many years and carefully questioned him about why the Thai people love their king so much.

All of this information is from my source who asked not to be identified. Logan's thoughts are in []'s. I have withheld publishing this information until I was out of Thailand because - despite my not being critical of the Thai government - talking about this stuff (just talking about it!) can get you landed in jail. While a year of free food and lodging is in some ways appealing, I am sure I can get better accommodations in some other way.

The current king of Thailand is beloved by his people due to his hard work for the Thai people.

The king is currently 84 years old and stuck in a hospital.

The king's son and heir to the throne is not respected due to his philandering. [Yes, that does strike me as odd in Thailand but like the Netherlands, Thailand is actually quite conservative despite it's huge number of hookers.]

The king also has a daughter but she has publicly said in the past that she has no interest in ruling.

Between Thais not liking the son and the daughter not wishing to rule, should the king die, calamity will follow.

In Thailand, like in England, the king is more of a figurehead than a day to day ruler.

The head of the kings council was accused of trying to have a Coup d'├ętat a couple years ago. Either before this existed - or following this became in existence two 'power groups' - 'red shirt group' and 'yellow shirt group'. The reds apparently want 'pure democracy' whereas the yellow is the military.

Last year (2010) 91 people were gunned down in red vs yellow. [Not red vs blue - that is a whole different battle.] During this, a thousand red shirts were tossed in jail. They are still there despite a red shirt being the current prime minister. This is due to the huge amount of separation of power - the PM can't pardon the people. That is a whole different part of the government.

All of this (red vs yellow and the continuation of the monarchy) continues to cause a lot of tension in Thais, but the effects are not generally felt in their daily lives.

Discussion of the king (at all, including questions like 'how much money does he have') were - and apparently continue to be a jail-able offense. [I had asked why discussing the monarch's finances was 'verbotten' (forbidden) and was told that if he had X amount of money then people would ask questions like 'why is he so rich and the country so poor'. I myself don't care how much money he has because I know he's not planning on mailing me any. Plus, I guarantee that if I were king, I'd have a nice nest egg.]

If you say anything negative about the king, you can get landed in jail for eight years.



OFF TO LAO

Please forgive the rambling nature of this narrative. I blame my editor who has not yet stepped forward to bear their heavy, heavy cross.

I was toying with the idea of winding out some of my time left on my visa in Thailand at the border but I decided there was nothing which interested me in the one street town. I said 'fuck it' and decided o push on.

After reading the horror stories on the internet, I bought a pillow. I briefly toyed with the idea of earplugs as it was suggested. Now, after being on the boat for a time, I have to wonder what kind of pussy would suggest ear plugs. It's bad near the engine but not really worse than nightclubs people subject themselves to for as long as the boat ride. As to pillows and their reports of hard wooden benches, those seem sadly out of date. It seems that seats ripped from god knows where are on all of the boats I've seen. They are as comfortable as bus seats you are stuck on for eight hours at a shot. I ended up ditching my pillow when I got to Luang Prabang.

I had some munchies for the trip via the 'long tailed boat'. I tried to find dried fruits but unless you want 'dried, disgusting sea monster' you are pretty much out of fucking luck in that area. Things like boxes of rasins and such are totally unavailable in both Thailand and Lao at the shops I've been to. Unless they were sea monster shaped and I just missed them.

There were stores open to buy munchies and such at but I recommend getting your currency exchanged the day before you leave. The currency exchange places don't open early and you want to be at the border crossing at eight AM.

It may be because their own money is so horribly inflated you could knock three zeros off of it and have it still work but the Thai Baht seems to be pretty widely accepted in Lao.

We were told that the boat leaves prompty at nine AM but the truth is that they will delay the departure as long as possible in order to fill the boat. They want all one hundred plus people on there. We ended up leaving closer to 11:30AM.

While we were still docked, I went exploring the boat and failed to follow one of my own rules of 'look at your feet'. It may have been partially because I was worried about the ceiling having repeatedly bashed my head against it and it's 'unusual' construction. I fell into the bildge and scraped up my leg pretty well. By a sad coincidence, it turned out to be the same leg as I'd gotten the burn from the muffler of the scooter on. I'm not sure why so much abuse gets heaped on that particular leg.

The boat was as packed with tourists as Snickers are suppose to be packed with peanuts - though I've found an actual pack of peanuts seems to have more in it. The tourists seemed absolutely horrified at the way the Lao boat crew not only stood on their luggage but would occasionally jump up and down on it in order to get it to fit within the bilge. I tried to tell the other tourists that the crew was just experiencing 'high spirits' and not attempting to destroy their luggage but they did not believe me.

There were a handfull of Lao folks on the boat but over one hundred tourists. That does bring up an interesting thing. One of the things constantly said about Lao is that it is 'forgotten'. It even says it on Wikitravel. This is utter bullshit. The places I've been are crawling with tourists. It's a marketing ploy to make you think 'oh, no tourists are here - it's virgin. Somehow, I will see something interesting that few others get to see'. Wrong. If you want to go to some place few others get to see you can do that in almost any country - but it won't be 'interesting'. People might say "Well, Logan, you are in the tourist areas." No shit. So are all of the tourists. I could go out to some remote uninteresting village here, Ukraine, Canada - where ever and not see any other tourists. But they go to where the interesting stuff is. Assuming these boats pump in say half (split the rest up between the buses and speed boats) of all of the tourists, this part of the country alone gets a hundred a day. Simple math says that's...uh...many. Every year. So, be advised that tourists seem very common. There are the couples of all ages, out to see the world with their spouse. There are the college age people. I've run into several that are 'adventurous' as well as several who believe they are or will form the next 'upper crust' in the 'new world order' (read as arrogant little pricks who have rich parents, go to the right schools and will be on the 'fast track' to career success. My only consolation is they will probably have a mid life crisis.) There are also the forty something men who have just begun to realize that after half a life or more of hard work they really have nothing of value. They've spent their life going for the school/career/family/stuff route. They hate their jobs, their family has left them - usually in a divorce - and they found they no longer care about material goods. They have just started to take their first steps into a new, bigger world. I had a long conversation with one such guy from Quebec. Well, to be fair, he talked, I listened. But I thought it was worth hearing. There were plenty of friendly college age people as well and some travelers that I considered extremely seasoned. All sorts in the boat. People seem to bring their women to Lao. They don't to Thailand - usually they seem to be there looking for a woman. Or they read 'exciting night life' for Pattaya and didn't realize what it meant and mistakenly brought their spouse or girlfriend. Or maybe they are there for more creative sinning with them.

Their infrastructure for the tourists is still building though. While there are plenty of grocery stores and pharmacies (ill stocked, glad I grabbed medicine in Thailand) there aren't any 7-11's yet. Yet. I'm sure those will spread like a rash as soon as the government permits it. No real night life I've seen either. If you are wanting loud discos and dancing, this isn't the place. I'm happy for that myself. This is more of a 'go drink beer and stare at the Mekong' type of place. Beer is cheaper than Thailand by about half. (7000 KIP to 10,000 KIP which is at the high end about $1.25. In Thailand, the average beer was like 70-80 BHT which is $2.61 on the high end. Better in Lao. Plus, the Lao beer tastes about the same (mediocre) though I don't mind their dark beer.

Back to the slow boat. I'm not sure how fast it moves in knots (I feel so nautical) but in KPH, I'm guessing 40-60. Not a bad clip. From all accounts I've read indicating that if they don't offer life vests and crash helmets for the speed boat, I'm thinking the words 'death trap' apply. Additionally, they cost more. Let's face it - I have the time. The slow boat makes you happiest when you get off it. As I suspected, at first it is fine but eventually being packed in there wears you down. I've heard the roads are worse. So, infrastructure-wise, no - Lao isn't there yet. But I think it's working on it.

After an hour of traveling in the severely crowded boat we stopped to take on a load of leaky propane tanks. No matter how bad you think things are they can always get more interesting. I could clearly smell the gas escaping.

Eventually, we unloaded the propane tanks at the town we were suppose to stay in during the first night. I forgot the name of it but it was a very forgettable town. Later notes showed it is Prabang - but it is still forgettable. It is also not as advertised on the internet. I've read it is a 'shithole'. I'm not sure how old those articles are but I absolutely failed to discover anything bad or horrible there. It was just not very interesting.

I ignored the twenty or so touts who showed up at the docks to show faded pictures of what the rooms may have looked like twenty years ago and clean and just hiked onto the dock and passed them to go into the town itself. There were a lot of them offering free transport to an out of the way place you could be stranded at if you announced the rat infested accommodations weren't what you had in mind. I am really not sure why people talk to the touts at all. Accommodations are also more expensive when they bring you as you are paying their cut. I don't get it. I probably walked for about one hundred meters until I got to the first place and checked on the room there. It was run by a harried girl who spoke less English than I do Arabic. They had no touts I knew of. I got the room for 50,000 KIP (about $6.25). It wasn't the kind of place I'd want to live but for one night it was no problem. Getting a receipt was like pulling teeth. I didn't want them to think 'oh, fat boy no pay'. She was unwilling to understand the concept so I bullied her into it. Nicely. If you give someone money, get a fucking receipt! The room was clean. The plugs did spark a bit when I stuck something in them but after the initial bit of grumbling they seemed to calm down and work fine. I'm guessing if a professional electrician from the states got a look at the wiring he'd burn the building down and start over.

There were not even any wifi connections showing up on my computer to taunt me with their lack of availability.

It was interesting to sleep that night as I could still feel the rocking of the boat. It seemed to gently rock me to sleep. Others didn't report that and looked at me strangely when I mentioned it. Yeah, I get looked at like that a lot.

When I went out on the town, I found an unusual thing here. Getting 50,000 KIP bills (horribly inflated money) is pretty bloody easy. Beer costs 10,000 KIP. OK. So a 50,000 KIP bill is $6.25. A 10,000 KIP beer is $1.25. Fine. But the people look absolutely stricken when you offer them a 50,000 KIP bill and ask if you have anything smaller. That's like going to dollar beer night and trying to pay with a five dollar bill and the bar tender demanding smaller change. What the fuck? Also, this currency is suffering from even more inflation than the Russian ruble. Time to knock some zeros off the end if you ask me but whatever. I'm not sure about the rest of the country but they do accept Thai Baht in places near the border.

I didn't wander too far around town. My leg was hurting from my most recent self inflicted injury. Also, I dislike going around a new place at night. Night is when worse things happen. That's why terms like 'broad daylight robbery' still seep into the headlines. It's unusual.

So I kept within about two blocks of the hotel and ignored my ever incessant need to wander about. While I was sitting eating some rather bland food and drinking a beer, an undercover policeman (?) wandered by and asked me if I'd like to buy some marijuana. Although I am sure that there are no end of tourists who enjoy being in a strange, communist foreign country stoned out of their mind on their first night there on what could be oregano, I do not want that. Nor, do I wish to be a long term 'guest of the Lao government' by force. I politely declined and he went on. I thought that would be the end of it but later at a restaurant I was offered both pot and opium. Mixed, if I wanted it. By the owner of a restaurant no less. I declined that as well. Sorry I'm not more insanely adventurous for the sake of a wild story in the blog but typing with handcuffs on does not make Logan happy.

After the initial frantic check in the hotel I stayed at seemed to be deserted of any staff. I presume they fled.

The town pretty much closes everything about 10 PM.

The way on and off the docks was a pretty rough climb for the people who brought the roller bags or packed way too much shit. I was very curious to see if one would scream and fall into the river but sadly, none did. It was tempting to film the people getting into the boat but by then I was in the 'traveler's funk' and couldn't be bothered.

We had been told that the boat would leave at 9 AM. I'm not sure if the people believed that when they said it. We waited till the slowest, stupidest, most oversleeping person had finally managed to board the boat before leaving closer to 10:30 AM. There is a reason that countries in South East Asia are not held up before the world as models of 'leaving on time'. Had this trip been run by Germans and a German company, late folks would have been presented with the sight of the boat leaving and an offer to sell them new tickets for the next boat. That would have made me happy.

That being said, it is worth it to get there early. Unlike the first day, there are no assigned seats on the second. Catch as catch can. Someone eventually did come by to collect our tickets. I wasn't sure if they ever would. If they didn't, it would be a good way to smuggle yourself through. You really don't need a ticket if you have the cash, however. Despite how packed it was, they are always willing to accept more passengers.

I was sitting amidships that day. Although my bulk filled most of the seat, a thin girl drew the short straw and had to perch on the edge of it. Our seat turned out to be one of the better ones as water leaked through holes in the roof or just ran down at random onto others. Many people apparently didn't pack umbrella hats in preparation for the trip. The passengers attempted crude repairs with duct tape and plastic bags to stop an impromptu version of the Chinese water torture that was being done to them.

During day two of the journey it rained almost incessantly. At first, people raised the boat flaps because they wanted air and to see. People then got wet. The boat flaps were again lowered. People bitched. Eventually the rain decreased slightly and the boat flaps were again raised. There wasn't anything out there which required observation. It was more of the same stuff we had seen the previous day. Yea. Too much natural beauty all at once just tends to upset me anyhow.

The state of the bathrooms on board made me very happy I had eaten very little and was able to pee standing up.

Despite the boat being slightly smaller (or was that my imagination?), despite all of the people who were on before coming back as well as new people paying in cash we (you guessed it) stopped for yet more supplies en route.

There is always room for more shit.

I also discovered the boat acts as a taxi. If someone wants on, they simply flag down the boat from the shore and can get dropped off en route.

Occasionally, we were passed by boats headed back from whence we had come. Without exception they were empty.

The 'traveler's funk' I mentioned earlier is a state I (and possibly others - I don't know) tend to slip into when doing long range travel. You're sometimes lightly dozing, sometimes staring into the distance. You no longer really pay attention to things - you're just enduring and waiting for it to end. I listened to my audio book though I doubt I would pass a test on what it was about as I nodded off a couple of times. As our bags were simply stacked in the back room adjacent to the engine room, I was able to retrieve my sweater to combat the cold brought on by the rain and our speed.

We chugged down the Mekong, the mist laden jungled hills bounding the muddy waters. The mists crowning the hills lent the area a primeval look. Signs of extreme poverty - and habitation - dotted the river irregularly in the form of nets and poles.

Eventually, we reached Luang Prabang.



PRICES

Lao Visa $35 USD or 1500 BHT

Boat from border to Luang Prabang, $20

Thai pillow (extra hard) 100 BHT

Getting some yahoo to carry your bag for you (in Lao) 50 BHT (screw that).



MOVIE REVIEW

In Time. 3/10. Dull. What the fuck is that shit? Hell, I even went to the end and that looked dull. Bah.



VIDEOS

Bike Rickshaw

Chaing Khong

Leaving for Luang Prabang

Along the Mekong

Charley on the Mekong

Jaws Redoux

What is outside my mutherfucking balcony - YOU WIN TJ

2 comments:

  1. Looking out from the balcony... hey, there are no satellite dishes on the roofs! Are you in an alternative dimension again?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It does feel like an alternative dimension. I'm not thrilled with Laos so far.

    ReplyDelete

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

For videos with a Loganesque slant, be sure to visit here. You can also Facebook Logan.

If you enjoy this blog, please donate! Help Logan keep on traveling.