Friday, 2 May 2008

Destination Laos: Part 25 "Boy you are Malaysian ah?"

Bumped into this old hippie who just sat there quietly with his Beerlao watching me and the Israeli Amid have a dinner of baguette, spring rolls, a big bag of vermicelli which we ate using his metal spoon bought from the the Chiang Mai night market - of which he had a long story to tell, and piping hot Lao coffee with milk in the night market, seated on the raised wooden platforms of the night market, which served as stalls earlier in the evening.

He whispered "Boy, you are Malaysian ah" out of the blue (we had thought he was Lao) in his raspy, sandpaper voice, from which one could hear the years of experience and travelling, which also evident in his appearance. Dressed simply in an old shirt, unbuttoned, shorts, and flipflops, he just sat down with his can of beer, smiling serenely and returning our sabaidees.

Apparently he was one of them hippies who plied the Hippie Highway from Oz to London, him making his way on a ferry from Penang Island in Malaysia bound for Madras, India, before making it to Italy overland, working when he ran out of cash. It was 4 years later before he finally went home to Malaysia.

He said he had worked as an actor in Italy, acting in stage productions. "Perlakon (Malay for actor)", he intoned when i couldn't catch him when he whispered "actor", or maybe because i was actually coming to terms with this chance encounter with a fellow Malaysian backpacker in a marketplace in Laos.

An old hippie, a fellow solo traveller, an aged vagabond, who probably have seen it all, just sitting down sipping his beer with no hurry and watching the world go by. He probably saw in me himself some 40 years ago, as i did see in him as possibly what i would be like in 40 years.

The irony of the situation (or is it fate) is that now, as i'm typing this entry, i'm headed the same way, to Madras, now Chennai, a booming industrial city from the sea port of the British colonial empire, newly independent, 40 years ago.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Destination Laos: Part 24 Caves and Waterfalls

Pak Ou Caves - disappointing, nothing special, the morning boat ride down the Mekong was fun though (2 hours going - just to see a cave!, and another one and half back), chugging down the muddy and languid waters of the Mekong, wondering if there were any monstrous catfish or head-sucking nagas (seriously, locals tell tales of drowned corpses with shrivelled heads sucked clean) prowling its depths. The water was brown, the boat didn't look all that safe, tendrils of mist still clinging on to the thickly forested mountains on both banks on a chilly December morning, with the occassional farm and people working on them. It got me thinking about the nagas quite a lot.

Above: Nagas and monstour catfish lurk (probably. A result of a wandering mind as does occur when one has to seat on a small seat for 2 hours on a boringly cold December morning.)

Saw the (in)famous speedboats headed downriver - crazy fast, but probably crazy dangerous as well. Why else do you think they hand out crash helmets to passengers in a country where attitude towards transport safety can be described as cavalier at best? It makes me wonder.

The Kuang Si waterfalls were much better - and I shall let the pictures do the talking. Caught a glimpse of the "mascot" of the park on the way back - Phan, who just ambled over to where we were and sat down for photos. He's a tiger, by the way.

The park, in which the falls are located, is scenic, with benches and rest areas. Really atmospheric waterfall, spectacularly landscaped, as if one was uprooted from the tame surroundings of the park and transported into deep unexplored tropical jungle. Multitiered, cool turquoise pools fed into a river, and lush vegetation surrounding it. The only flipside to an awe-inspiring sight was the crowds. But what did i expect yea? When some place gets discovered, and some place as beautiful as this, you'd expect people to follow. Would have been amazing discovering this for yourself, say trekking through the jungle, stopping dead in your tracks and just going wow.

Tiger tiger burning bright - Phan poses for a photo