Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Friday, January 03, 2003

Sapa to Laungh Prabahn -- Well it seems so long ago that I left Vietnam that it's difficult to write too much about it. My trip to the beautiful hill country of Sapa was mostly a dud, as the weather closed in and there was 5 days of consecutive fog. Sapa is a hill town near the Chinese border in north-west Vietnam that used to be a center of ethnic minority culture, but is fast turning into a museum piece. This website has a nice panaroma of several Sapa views in a link located about half way down. Meanwhile, everywhere you go you are chased by young girls and old ladies selling tribal wear. (It's actually pretty funny, especially as they can't come into the resturants and stand outside trying to catch your eye. The little girls speak great English -- I had great fun trying to stop about 20 of them mugging me for my blanket, which the old ladies from the Black Hmong tribe had sold me using the one word sales line "Jolie! Jolie!". The other main tribes-people you see are the Red Tzao in their very impressive headresses. There are also lots of little girls selling pillows when you walk out to the villages. The villages themselves must be very beautiful when you can see them, as the rice terraces go to the tops of the mountains and in some cases are only wide enough for one ox to plough. I hung out with a few nice people including Silvia the poverty-stricken photoqrapher from Manhattan who wanted to pay good money to save this ferret which she thought a hill-tribesman was selling for food (apparently it was going to be a pet!). Here are her photos (not of Sapa but her professional B). There was a funny twosome of Jorge, an Argentinian who'd met a motorbike he didn't like in Hanoi and hobbled around asking his new best friend Singaporean Joon Kait (on left of Jorge here) to fetch his walking sticks for him! How Jorge survived when Joo Kait went to China I don't know. The full Sapa set is here

I came back from Sapa on the same rather flash "Royal" overnight train as young Aussie adventurer Amanda who I found will be at the Mountain Cattlemen's festival that I'm going to in Tasmania in early February! We wondered around Hanoi past the Opera House as the poopulus was waking up, exercising and playing badminton in the street at 5am......very bizzare! But they were also selling these nice flowers from the back of their bikes. All my Hanoi photos are here.

There was a litle drama at the airport when the Vietnamese Immigration people notice that I'd overstayed my visa by 5 days. But eventually they let me on the plane to Vientiene in Laos. You've already heard about my dinner with Lisa, Anne and Ulf but not yet about my trip to the 4,000 Islands near Pax-Se in the south of Laos. I hung out there with a food broker from San Francisco called Lee and a German couple called Maikka and Uli, although Uli struggled to get a word in edgewise with Maikka and me around! From PaxSe we went south to the 4,000 islands area. There the Mekong becomes 14 Kms wide and looks essentially like a lake with lots of tropical islands in it. We took a boat down to a couple of the southern islands, went to see a wide waterfall and a tall(er) one (allegedly the biggest in SE Asia) before we went to see the fast dissapearing Irrawaddy Dolphins. There are only 10-15 of these freshwater Dolphins left, but we saw a few, and if you squint hard you can see one in this photo! My art photo of southern Laos river life is here. The rest of the 4,000 Islands shots are here

On our way back to Pak-se we stopped off at Wat Phu Champassak, an Ankor-era temple that was carelessly left over the border in Laos by the Khmer/Cambodians. It had some impressive features, not the least of which was great spring rolls at the on-site resturant, but also some impressive ruins , some stylish "bas-reliefs" (carvings to you) and this rather interesting "crocodile rock"-All together now, LA, lalalala-La, La-la, La-la, La. la-la-la-la. All the Wat Phu Champassak photos are here.

Lee and I took a bus trip up to the Bolovean Plateau in order to see the Tad Lo waterfall, where we swam in a big pool under the waterfall, narrowly avoided death fording the river, went through a strange former military-like base with concrete houses, tennis courts and barracks with air-conditioning that wasn't on the map, and then to a wooden village that was about a mile and 2,000 years away from it. After trying unsuccessfully to ingratiate my self with these two Celtic cyclists (Peelee and Orla) who were rather more interested in each other than Lee or me (and who can blame them), I nipped back to Pax-se, delayed only by the bus stopping to put an entire plantation of bannanas on the roof. The Tad Lo photos are here.

After a quick massage and dinner with the two Celtic cyclists (who have their own rather strange website/bulletin board) who had turned up by then I got on the overnight bus to Vientiene, where I attempted (with some success) to meet the germans (Uli and Maikka), Lish and Anne from San Francisco and Lisa and her friends. After a crazy evening in which I managed to meet all of them not where I was supposed to at different times, it was finally Christmas day and time for all my presents--not that I got any! So in the next chapter you'll find out how we tried to kill Lish (otherwise known as going kayaking in Vang Vieng)
posted by matthew  # 7:53 PM
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