Tag Archives: river

Those Poor Americans

Let’s face it. On a world level, Americans are rich. Not all of them, but most of them. Sure we complain about the high cost of living, excessive taxes and the general lack of economic opportunity based on our perceived lack of material goods. But we are still rich. It’s not only the Americans though. It’s the Australians, English, Germans, Swiss and many more. We know who we are.

 

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Along the Akerselva River- Oslo

 

As we have travelled around the world through the last several years, it is these people we have seen enjoying themselves in the museums, art galleries and expensive cafes of the world. As for us, we have voluntarily sentenced ourselves to a minuscule budget that forces us to count all our pennies and doesn’t always allow us to do everything we might like to. But we still enjoy a standard of living that is at least middle class in almost every country we have travelled to. In fact, in many of these countries, despite our frugal budget, we would still be considered well-to-do.

 

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Bar Code District- Oslo

Very seldom have we been shocked by the cost of living in many of the places we have visited. As long as we have kept ourselves to small apartments and eaten a majority of meals at home we do OK. I can’t say we have ever been hungry or uncomfortable. With the exception of a few cities (Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Tokyo) we really didn’t have to worry too much about how much we were spending. As long as we stayed realistic and lived more for experiences than souvenirs we have done just fine. But we may have finally met our match. We now know what it is like to be a poor person. For the last 30 days, we have found ourselves looking at the world from the other side of the fence. The tables have been turned. Norway is not a budget country. We are no longer rich.

 

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Royal Palace- Oslo

For a long time, we have wanted to visit any of the Scandinavian countries. It was our last undiscovered area of Europe. We could never really find an apartment within our budget. Copenhagen was always out of reach and Stockholm was nearly as expensive. We finally found one in Oslo that was new on the Airbnb list and seemingly priced low to generate business. It was perfectly located near downtown and priced within our range. We took a shot and luckily enough, we had found our home for the next month.

 

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Oslo Opera House

After the blistering heat of Athens, the chill in Oslo’s morning air as we hurried to catch our airport bus shocked us. We paused briefly to dig into our suitcases for sweaters we were glad we had. The air felt wonderful and noticeably smelled clean. Not flowery sweet or sea breeze fresh. Just really clean.

 

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Oslo Maritime Museum

We had a choice between well-organized bus, train or taxi transfers into town. For convenience, we might have chosen a taxi since it is usually easier to find our Airbnb that way. Not a good choice in Oslo. The 40-minute ride would have cost more than 100 dollars. Far too rich for us, so we opted for the bus. At 20 dollars US each, it was still too much for us but we had no choice. We hadn’t even left the airport and we already had our first taste of being poor.

 

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Oslo Architecture

We checked in to our tiny apartment. What it lacked in size, it totally made up for with lots of charm. Located in the middle of town near the university, it was convenient to grocery stores and had 3 tram lines just outside the door. After checking in we made our way to the market where we got our second sticker shock of the day. Food is nearly 1/3 more expensive as other cities we have visited. Some items were doubled. We would definitely have to check prices before purchasing. Perhaps this is why all the people we had seen looked so trim and fit.

 

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Oslo Subway

We would need to make our way around the city if we were going to enjoy it fully. We found that 30-day transportation passes were available for around 90 dollars US. 180 dollars was a shock to our budget but the benefit of having “all you can eat” transport for our whole visit seemed like a luxury worth the price. Oslo has excellent public transport. Trams, buses and a wonderful subway are frequent, clean, on-time and go everywhere you would want to go. In addition, ferries are operated on the Oslofjord and they are included in the monthly pass.

 

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Aker Brygge- Oslo Harbor

The weather was cool but clear when we arrived. The citizens seemed to be enjoying the last of the sunny and warm days and the streets were always full of people. Walking in the beautiful downtown area we found throngs of people filling Karl Johan Gate, the pedestrian-friendly main boulevard of town that runs from the train station to the National Theatre. All the designer brands are located here along with classic cafes and ornate hotels. Norway’s fort-like Parliament building dominates one flower-filled square. The Grand Hotel, famous for traditionally housing all the Nobel Peace Prize winners, adds class nearby. The road continues onward up the hill until it reaches the Royal Palace and gardens.

 

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Oslo Waterfall

The Aker Brygge area is popular with visitors and locals every day. This is the harbor area around which the city grew. On one side of the harbor, the Akershus Fortress towers above the various high masted sailboats moored to the piers. On the other side, we found the hypermodern design of apartments and businesses that surround the almost completed National Museum. In the middle, the Brutalist architecture of the City Hall completes the unique mixture of buildings that represent the past, present and future of Oslo.

 

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Oslo Islands

We were disappointed that we would not be able to afford a visit to the National Gallery which features Edvard Munch’s famous “The Scream”. Once free to visit, the prices are now high and no free days are available. However, public art can still be found everywhere. Vigeland Park is a huge park on the west side of town that features the life work of sculpturist Gustav Vigeland. More than 200 figures are on display amidst lakes, fountains and immense green areas.

 

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Oslofjord Sunset

Norwegians love their nature areas. Ekeberg Park is a hilly area on the east side of town. The heavily wooded area is intersected by well-maintained trails and provides grand sunset views over the fjord. Many sculptures and other artworks are uniquely displayed along the trails to add to the enjoyment of the area. The area is used by walkers and nature lovers at all times of the day and evening.

 

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Akerselva River- Oslo

The Akerselva River splits the city. Walking trails follow the river and many of the old warehouses and factories have been repurposed into office buildings, food halls and apartments. The days grew shorter during our visit as Autumn turned the thick foliage along the river to incredibly bright colors. Oranges, yellows and reds reflected in the ponds and waterfalls roared with life each time we visited.

 

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Fall Colors- Oslo

Oslo has some great neighborhoods to explore. We especially enjoyed the Grunerlokka district of town. This hipster area is filled with cafes and specialty shops. Flea markets fill the parks and art galleries and vintage stores line the street. Young families socialize in the coffee shops or over delicious brunches. Dog walkers and stroller-pushing moms and dads enjoy strolls under leafy tall trees. Picnic lunches on warm afternoons were delicious.

 

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Holmenkollen Ski Jump

The snow had not arrived during our visit, but we found that was no reason to not visit the Holmenkollen ski area in the hills just north of town. The entire area caters to anything winter sport oriented. The most noticeable and incredible part of the facility is the massive ski jump. Just picturing the excitement of racing down the ramp at over 60 miles per hour before hurling yourself into the stadium that holds 70,000 screaming revelers made our hearts beat faster. We got a small taste of the excitement by watching the zipliners that were soaring from the top of the jump, most riders nervously laughing and whooping as they sped through the sky. Cross-country skiing is a major sport in Norway and many were already practicing their strides on small skis with rollers on them.

 

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Oslo Fall Colors

Perhaps the most enjoyable adventure was riding the ferries through the islands of the Oslofjord. A cruise through the islands on a tour boat would not have been affordable for us. By using our monthly transit pass, we used the ferries to create our own tour. We visited all the islands in the nearby area. We hiked to abandoned forts and walked through the tiny clusters of colorful summer houses that dot the islands. Ascending the hills and watching the harbor activity on a warm afternoon was a memorable treat.

 

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Oslo Islands

Norway is a rich country. Wealth from oil has turned them from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest. Judging by the number of cranes in the skies, massive building projects are underway everywhere in Oslo. They seem to be spending their new found wealth well. Universities are free. Health care is free. Everyone enjoys a living wage. Children are obviously well taken care of. Families are valued and well supported. The water from the tap tastes bottled and the air smells clean. The politicians seem honest and are accessible to the people. They are one of the few countries that do not have a National Debt. They have set up a fund to invest their wealth to provide for future generations.

 

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Oslo Autumn

We never ate a meal in a restaurant. A McDonald’s combo meal can be nearly 20 dollars here and the prices for a decent meal are astronomical. We never had a beer. They are heavily taxed and a draft beer is at least 10 dollars in a bar. Drinks can be 20 dollars. We never had a cup of coffee in a cafe. While Norwegian coffee is a specialty, a cup can be 5 dollars or more. Our hair grew long. Haircuts are at least 30 dollars. Our only shopping was done through a window.

 

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Oslo Reflections

But strangely enough, we had a very nice time. The people are friendly, polite and low key. Literally, everyone speaks English, many with a bit of a California accent from watching American media. We enjoyed our excursions into nature. Walks in the woods or along the river as the leaves magically became neon explosions of color will be remembered fondly. Harbor cruises and tram rides through the lovely streets filled with interesting architecture will stay with us. Everyone seems happy and content. It was odd to be poor people and I don’t know if I would want to stay this way forever. But for our month-long visit to Norway, it really wasn’t all that bad.

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Taking a Second Look

There seem to be two types of people in the world. Ones that enjoy the comfort and security of an established routine and those that desire difference and change and are always seeking something unique. When choosing a restaurant, the former will always know a great restaurant with a favorite dish that they enjoy immensely every time they have it. The latter will always seek a different flavor or preparation from what they have chosen before. When picking a radio station, the former probably have their favorites set in memory. The latter pushes the seek button and only stops when they hear something that suits their current mood.

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Montmartre Cafe

I imagine these two types of people probably also pick travel destinations in the same way. Some love their tried and true spots and return as often as they can. The convenience and familiarity of a previously visited hotel with a friendly and well-known staff provides the comfort of knowing what they will get. Others desire to shake things up and usually opt for different or unknown paths on their journeys. They seek the new smells, tastes and views that offer the excitement of the unknown and the unpredictability that comes with it.

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Night at the Louvre Museum

A big part of our travel experience has been discovering new places. Seeing something new and exciting adds to the sense of adventure and increases the intrigue that any destination offers. I guess this is why we have generally not returned to many places in our travels. However, at times our love of a special place (and probably a really, really cheap ticket) has changed our normal behavior. Such it was that we decided to take a second try at Paris.

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Sinking Houses of Montmartre

Four and a half years ago we visited Paris for our first time. We absolutely loved it. We are often asked to name our favorite place we have traveled to and while our answer often changes, Paris remains constantly high on the list. Evening walks by the river, mornings sipping coffee in a classic sidewalk cafe and afternoons visiting the well known and world famous monuments of the city are well cherished, often remembered and frequently discussed. Paris would have lived in our memory for years to come without ever visiting again. But the opportunity to purchase a 225 dollar ticket from Oakland to Paris changed our minds. We wanted to head back to Europe and we just couldn’t resist the crazy low price.

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Notre Dame

We again chose to stay in the Montmartre area of town. When we envision Paris in our mind, the images of tiny winding alleys, tree-lined streets, quaint houses and the incredible city views of Montmartre are what we see. Yes, it is over-touristed and probably doesn’t represent the best of Paris discovery but we find that if you squint your eyes just right you can almost see Renoir, Monet or Degas painting a windmill or beautiful Parisian girl in a flowering garden. We again stayed in a tiny, rooftop apartment under a zinc roof in a typical 1880’s 7 story Paris apartment building just down the steep stairs from Place Tertre, the historical center of the area.

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Notre Dame

Almost daily we took walks to hillside parks or braved the breath-stealing stairs to access the commanding views from Sacre Coeur which towers above the cities highest hill. In the cool of the morning before the tourists arrive or in the evening as the sun is sinking and the lights come on were our favorite times to visit. We had time to discover the leafy parks and hidden pathways rarely frequented by visitors. We made a mental list of the benches that provide the best shade and breezes to enjoy the homemade snacks we usually prepared for our daily journeys.

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Pretty Parisian Street

Our apartment was tiny and without fans or air conditioning and the scorching summer sun made being inside uncomfortable during the day. Even at night, we were forced to leave open the windows. At first uncomfortable, we learned to appreciate the sounds of our neighborhood. We heard crying babies in the mornings, children playing in the courtyard during the afternoon, early evening cafe conversations and the sounds of lovers throughout the night. We were soon able to identify what our neighbors were having for dinner by the wonderful smells of food being prepared nearby. The heatwave finally ended with a massive 30-minute blast of marble sized hailstones that sounded like the end of the world on our thin-skinned metal roof. Even after the cooler temperatures returned, we kept our windows open to stay tuned in to our surroundings.

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Musee D’Orsay

Quick access to the incredible Paris Metro is the secret to fully experiencing the city. Despite the crowded cars, lack of air conditioning, frequently smelly passengers and the apparent use of every hidden corner as a urinal, we love the Paris Metro. Nothing brings you closer to the real Paris than the Metro. It is convenient, quick and takes you anywhere you want to go for a very appealing price. Even when it at it’s worst and seems unbearable, someone playing a violin or accordion will enter the car and make all the bad evaporate instantly. Returning to street level amidst the grandeur of the Parisian boulevards from the Metro never gets old. The combination of fresh air, classic architecture and stylish commotion is always a satisfying start to any days journey.

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Galleries Lafayette

We are thankful to have stayed for a month on both this visit and our last. We consider ourselves lucky to have the time to see the city at a more relaxed pace. Paris has a lot to offer and it takes time to appreciate it correctly. While even a couple of days here can be enjoyable, we often feel for the families that are rushing through all the big name sites too quickly, especially on a scorching summer afternoon. Red faces, crying kids and spent adults with stressed faces doesn’t create the best picture of people enjoying their days. While someday they may look back with a romantic vision, it doesn’t seem like they are having the time of their lives.

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Montmartre- Sacre Coeur

I think most people think of Paris as being an expensive city. We find it to be quite affordable. By selecting a small apartment, preparing most meals at home and taking advantage of inexpensive public transportation we have no trouble staying on our tight budget. Staying longer also has benefits of taking advantage of the many free days offered by Parisian museums and major sites. Enjoying the breathtaking art at the Musee D’Orsay on a free day was incredible. We arrived first at the museum and made our way directly to the impressionist area. Standing face to face with a Van Gogh self-portrait, Monet cafe scene or Renoir portrait before the crowds arrived was something we will never forget.

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Paris Opera House

A second visit also gave us an opportunity to see things we missed the first time. We enjoyed walking along the abandoned railway that has been turned in to a beautifully landscaped elevated walkway called Promenade Plantee (or Coulee Verte). Strolling through Le Village Saint-Paul in the Le Marais area gave us an untouristy view of what Paris looked like centuries ago. Shopping the busy open-air market area of Place d’Aligre gave us a chance to sample the best of Parisian craft foods for non-touristy prices.

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La Defense

We enjoyed a long journey to the La Defense area of Paris that most visitors don’t get a chance to see. Hypermodern skyscrapers and futuristic art-filled parks create an atmosphere most would not associate with Paris. On the hottest of days, we also came to appreciate the elevated terraces that provided some breezy relief along with their incredible views. The terrace at the Galleries Lafayette department store gives incredible views of the Paris Opera, La Madeleine and other attractions of the 2nd arrondissement. The 9th-floor observation deck of the Institut du Monde Arabe showed unprecedented views over the River Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral.

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Eiffel Tower Sunset

Of course, just wandering the streets of this historic city provides the true Parisian experience. The streetside cafe next to the park in front of the grand Saint Sulpice church, the epicurean delights viewed through the windows on Rue Mouffetard or having lunch on the shaded steps of the Pantheon are memories that will always be reflected upon.

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Parisian Houses

We will always seek out new and exciting destinations in our travels. We will always find fascination with new places. Discovering something for the first time will always be the highlight of our best journeys. However, as we found with our 2nd trip to Paris, some destinations are worth taking a second look at.

You’re the Only One Moving Fast in Laos

You’re sitting in the Bar Ponnyang, 4 stories above the Mekong, gazing across the marshy sand bar that separates you from the river. Across the river is Thailand, greener and obviously more developed. The river here is wider and slower than the fast moving muddy channel you left a week ago in Luang Prabang. It’s only 2 and you’re a couple of beers ahead of where you should be. The map says the hotel is 2 blocks away so it shouldn’t be too hard to find your way. You’ve had a good day touring Vientiane and you don’t want to mess it up now by getting lost. You’re reflecting back on your busy week following the Mekong River south to Vientiane. It doesn’t seem possible it’s only been a week; you’ve made 3 moves and probably won’t be here long either.

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Mekong River

It’s a hazy day, thank goodness. Yesterday was crazy hot with no breeze to help. You arrived in Vientiane a little after noon, the tuk-tuk driver laughing when you approached him for a ride and explained where you wanted to go. It’s only a block to the hotel from the minibus drop-off and he says you should save some money and walk. Maybe the only honest driver in Southeast Asia. You check into the hotel and turn the air conditioner to 16, hoping for the best. The heat quickly overcomes and you fall asleep quickly without even unpacking. You wake 2 hours later feeling disoriented and dehydrated. In 2 hours the thermometer says it’s dropped from 31 to 30. The guesthouse roof is made of tin and 10 feet above your head. It’s never going to cool off and you realize you’ve made a mistake. You tried to save a few dollars on the hotel, but it’s the capital and the backpacker prices of the north aren’t going to be found here. You tell the teenage clerk you want to find a new place. He’s got a huge scar on his leg from the surgery to repair his knee, trashed from playing soccer. He tells you there is nothing he can do; you have to pay for a half days rate for your bad dream nap. You want to argue but its Laos and no one does that here.

 

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Luang Prabang

You left Luang Prabang, a week ago, early in the morning, a bit sad to be leaving the warmth of the home-like atmosphere of your guesthouse, but happy to be making your way to new adventures. You don’t really have set plans anymore and made a quick decision on where to go next. The friends you made around the breakfast table had good ideas. You listened and took good notes. Everyone seemed 20 years younger than you (at least) and maybe they weren’t quite where you were in life, but they had some good ideas. You weren’t ready to head to Vientiane yet but didn’t know where to go next.
Phonsavan is a small town in the highlands of Central Laos. The town is famous for 2 things, the Plain of Jars and for being ground zero for secret U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War. It is in a southeast direction from Luang Prabang and would be your next destination.

 

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Vang Vieng

Along with 13 others, you crowd into the waiting 10 person minivan, destination Phonsavan. The road climbs quickly into the hills surrounding Luang Prabang. The road is an amazing achievement, winding its way up the lush green hillsides. The recent rain dislodged many rocks from the steep roadside, which now litter the roadway intermittently. The first hour of the 6 hour ride is the worst, switchbacks and hairpins pushing the driver to his limits. The steep climb necessitates turning off the air conditioning and the heat and lack of air quickly takes its effect on the sardine-like passengers. The westerners seem to fair better than the locals, perhaps just covering their car sickness better. Luckily the windows are open as people start to throw up. The ones that aren’t spending time at the window have their heads down and have taken on a noticeable shade of green. As you reach the top of the first set of hills, you make a welcome stop at a well-placed roadhouse with unbelievable views over the valley and road you have recently traversed. Passengers stock up on crackers and chips to help their queasy stomachs. Only the brave or foolhardy grab a bowl of the delicious soup or a plate of spicy Laap, the Lao specialty food.

 

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Near Luang Prabang

You arrive in Phonsavan, happy to be done with the ride. There is not much selection to the hotels that line the one main road through town. The town has a look of a dusty border town in any third world country, flashes of wealth and business nestled close to many others just trying to make ends meet. One main street lined with the necessities of travelers, tiny restaurants and small, cheap hotels. You get your hotel for the night, no AC but you don’t need it up this high anyway. You’re starving and you get Indian across the street. The hostess is also the waitress as well as the cook. Her two daughters help serve. It’s surprising good and as authentic as it gets. Phonsavan is your kind of town. Back in the hotel, you find blurry CNN and semi-hot water showers. Despite the long ride, it’s been a good day.

 

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Near Luang Prabang

The travel agencies want too much money for a tour of all the Jar sites. You arrange a tuk-tuk to take you to Site 1. It’s the best one and you heard from other travelers that the other sites were hard to get to because of mud caused by the recent rain. The tuk-tuk driver stops at a government agency on the way. No one speaks English and everyone has military type uniforms on. You’re not really sure why you’re here. They ask for your passport and fill out several pieces of paper. An official from the back comes out of his office and asks you where you are from and what your birthday is. He seems satisfied and relates that he has relatives in California. We always say we’re from California; it seems everyone has a relative there. He stamps several pieces of paper and gives them to the driver. No charge, so maybe all is well.

 

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On the Mekong

The Plain of Jars is a collection of stone containers of unknown origin spread in different areas in the green hills surrounding the high plain area around Phonsavan. Probably burial containers from an earlier civilization. Perhaps celebratory wine jugs of some giant warriors who ruled the area in the past, if you believe the legends. The jars are strewn in many locations across the plains, most areas off limits due to un-exploded ordinance (UXO) still active more than 40 years after the war, known as the American War locally. America dropped more bombs over a 9 year period on this area of Laos than they did on Japan and Germany combined during World War II.

 

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Vang Vieng

Back in town that night, you find a bar to watch a video about the Secret War in Laos. The video is banned in Laos and the bar owners late father is a featured interviewee. The U.S. secretly bombed Laos from 1964 to 1973. Half way through the movie the power in the town goes out. Candles get lit and the guitars come out and no one seems to miss a beat. The guitar gets passed between the Lao’s. Everyone seems to be able to play something, mostly American songs. The beer starts flowing pretty well and someone has just lit a joint. There’s not a light lit in town, but the party is going good where you are and you’re happy you found the right place to be when the lights went out. You’ve got a bus to catch in the morning and you head back to the hotel before it gets too crazy.

 

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Luang Prabang

The next morning, you’re back on the bus again. This time destined for Vang Vieng. Backpacker Central for Laos. You pass through several small villages not far out of town. It’s the poorest towns you’ve seen in Asia so far. Woven palm sides on the houses. The houses are braced by wobbly pilings driven in to the steep cliffs along the roadside. Outdoor shower areas from the one water source in town. Chickens, dogs and pigs running loose everywhere. The driver uses his horn to clear the way as best as he can. Lots of little kids playing on the road, women with tiny babies watching from wooden steps nearby. Everyone seems to be smiling and happy despite the situation. Some houses have outdoor toilets and a satellite dish on the tin roof. It makes you think a lot.

 

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On the Mekong

The bus ride seems easier today. Perhaps you’re just used to it or maybe everyone is distracted by the stunning scenery. Once you begin the decent from the plains the road gets faster. The van is less full today and the driver turns the AC on, now that you’re heading downhill. Stunning limestone karsts rise from the valley you are descending in to. Rising perhaps thousands of feet from the valley floor, some have rock faces and some have tall trees somehow clinging to the few outcrops. It’s stunning and you wish the driver would stop so you could take a picture, but he seems to be in a hurry now. You stop for a quick bite to eat in Kasi at the bottom of the hill, where all the other buses stop.

 

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An hour later you arrive in Vang Vieng. The town is a little rough looking but the scenery is breathtaking. The town is situated on one side of the Nam Song River. Huge mountains line the opposite bank as far as the eye can see. Young people come here to tube the river or explore some of the local caves. They stay closer to the cheaper guesthouses and Don Khang Island where the party goes late every night. The package tourists and older crowd stay at the quieter end of town closer to the old bridge that leads to the cave. The hotels here have manicured lawns and views overlooking the river towards the mountains.
Mostly you stay around the hotel during the hot part of the day, gazing at the misty mountains that don’t clear until mid-afternoon this time of year. Just before the sun drops behind the mountains you cross the old bridge. You get a sense of what the town probably looked like 20 years ago when people first started coming here. You meet Kaz, the owner/chef of the elevated bamboo shack-like restaurant with wooden floors that shake when you walk on them. He strikes up a conversation, telling you about being born in Thailand and growing up in Germany. His restaurant serves both Lao, German and Thai food. It’s a combination that is hard to resist and you decide to combine cultures and order a plate of Schnitzel to go along with another plate of Lapp. A spicy papaya salad sounds strangely complimentary. He brews his own lemon flavored beer which comes frothy and oddly delicious.

 

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Luang Prabang

Kaz heads to the garden to pick fresh lemongrass, mint, cilantro and other herbs. Green papayas are picked for your early dinner. He brings them by the table to let you smell. The combination is wonderfully fragrant and you’re appetite increases. A few minutes later he returns with the most tender Schnitzel you’ve ever had. No two Laap dishes are the same in Laos, but Kaz’s is unique and perhaps the best you’ve tasted. He tells you his recipe, but swears you to secrecy. More people start to show up and it’s soon time to head back across the bridge toward town.
You hang around Vang Vieng for a couple of days enjoying the view when it’s not raining. Mostly just making your way into town for a bite to eat. It’s fun to listen to the backpackers swapping stories about river adventures or just trying to clear their heads from a late night. You make easy reservations for an onward bus to Vientiane the next day. The road will be flat and fast and should only take a few hours in the morning.
You arrive before noon the next day in Vientiane. After checking out of the hot hotel, you did some quick shuffling and grabbed a tuk-tuk to a nice remodeled Colonial Hotel in the center of town. It’s all dark wood, black and white tiled floors and ceiling fans. It nicely creates the French ambience that you were hoping more of the town would look like. The old days are certainly gone from Vientiane, though. The stores look modern. The people dress western and you realize the old days are probably gone now. It’s a nice town filled with young educated people. There are a few temples to see and some beautiful wide boulevards just off downtown that lead past the government offices, around a small version of the Arc de Triomphe and finally ending up at the Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos.

 

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On the Mekong

As you gaze across the Mekong, you realize it’s time to head home and end your day. You’ve been in Laos for 17 days, but it seems a lot longer. Everything slows down in Laos. Perhaps you cross the river back to Thailand soon. Perhaps you use the remaining time on your visa to spend a little time in Southern Laos. You already have a visa for the one country you haven’t visited in Southeast Asia. It’s kind of burning a hole in your passport. Maybe for today you just want to finish your beer and enjoy the sunset over the Mekong. It’s Laos and decisions don’t have to be made quickly here.

 

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