feat. Our Treehouse in Laos
Saturday 15 January 2011 - Thursday 17 February 2011 25 °C
So we high-tailed it to the border, said goodbye to Thailand and crossed the Mekong River into Laos.
The official buisness didn't take too long and apart from a little panic because we thought they would only accept USD and all we have is Thai Baht to pay the visa fee. They took the Baht- it is money after all. Up 'til now we have been calculating the exchange rate as US$1 for 30 TB, now it's US$1 for 8077 Kip, that's gonna be fun.
The border town, Huay Xai (Hway-sigh) is dusty and perhaps a hint more primitive than the Thai equivalent. Laos is one of the 20 most impoverished nations. The little mainstreet has a sense of cheeriness somehow and people are nice enough and helpful. Our guesthouse is cozy, it was actually called Friendly Guesthouse. I chose it because the woman proprieter had such a warm smile to her, the husband was helpful too. He spent most of his day laying on the couch in the lobby smoking and watching TV really loud but loaned me his plug adapter and offered to organise our 2 day boat trip down the river to Luang Prabang. Andrew and I go walking out of the main part of town and stop in a bar-type-thing overlooking the river. We try to order coke, no dice, lemonade (sprite to all you Americans), from the menu. Ten minutes later they arrived with hot water, lemon juice and sugar but they were so nice we took it. It was not the cold refreshing beverage we'd pictured but then- it wasn't as hot anymore either. Our guy waiter had painted nails. Hmm.
I got to have a lovely photo session as the sun set behind the Mekong. We have dinner in the same restaurant every night we spent here and tried a few different Laos dishes. I think the best is a local green curry with sticky rice. It was really herbal and fragrant. I brought a phrasebook that covers Thai, Lao, Khmer, Vietnamese- all our destinations. I really have made an effort to learn some words in the local language but it's hard to get started. We spent a little time practicing but in the end, hello and thankyou are the most important and I genuinely think people appreciate the sentiment. I am amazed at how everyone seems to have a little English, enough for our transactions anyway.
We are in Huay Xai to do 'The Gibbon Experience', a highly recommended (by Lonely Planet) jungle adventure with treehouses and ziplines. Yahoo! It was my birthday treat, I was keen to choose a Neverland style activity to stalve off aging another year.
So we get up stupid early in the morning and prepare for a 2 hour drive into the mountains and jungle. We get some pancakes for breakfast and get our first look at some of the other people in our tour. They are all older than us but not old- good, we don't really like anyone too loud or boisterous. Turns out our ride is a pickup truck with benches in the back, a sawngthaew, nice. It was a bit blustery in the back but we got to see all the villages and people on the road so it was pretty cool, plus we forded a river and drove off-road a bit too. It reminded me of the Animal Kingdom Safari ride...a feeling I could not wait to tell my mother.
We got to the village late in the morning, just as the heat was starting to come up. There were little children spying us but keeping a distance. We were asked not to go in there like National Geopgraphic taking photos and I tried to be respectful of that. Our ordeal was about to begin. Did I say ordeal? I mean massive uphill, crazy hot, jungle hiking. I was the youngest female and skinny and to the untrained eye fit. No. I struggle to keep up with the group the whole 3 days, it was embarrassing. The guide who had to trail the group was chain smoking and probably massively frustrated with my slow progress but he never let on and even made me a walking stick. I'm telling you, it was really uphill. That's why they use the ziplines to get around otherwise you'd be walking up and down steep hillls all day. But the ziplines are at the tops of hills so you have to get there somehow. Good thing I gave up smoking or I would have died. Turns out one of the couples we were with do marathons so I feel less bad but more resentful. As we reach the outer edges of the jungle village area we get a safety brief and everyone puts on a climbing harness. Sweet.
Andrew bravely zips first so I can take pictures and even though I know he's nervous he just lets go and flies! I hear a wahoo! Clicking on and then taking off is just as I'd imagined and the primary reason for my choosing this trip. There's a loud, high-pitched metal screeching noise and the air on my face and I'm above the forest canopy and can see for miles through the hills as I reach the other tree platform. Amazing.
To be continued...