Saturday, 12 January 2013

Goodbye Thailand, hello Laos!

This morning we were up at 7, for breakfast at the hotel before boarding the mini buses - all of us still half asleep - and set off for the Thai/Laos border.

Jamilla (Child psychologist from Germany) and I have made it clear to all that we need to sit at the front due to us both suffering from car sickness. To be honest, this is still a reasonably new thing for me, as I was fine up until India! I think all the travelling I did there last year along the pot holed roads (when there were roads) and swerving out of the way of oncoming cars and cows, has now left me a little sensitive to being a passenger in a moving vehicle?!

Our first pit stop was at a Cashew Nut producers and shop. Once inside we were treated to sampling the delights of all sorts of vacuumed packaged dried fruits and savoury snacks. There were cashew nuts in abundance, coated in a variety of flavours: caramel, honey, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, coconut, chocolate and even garlic!!

For those of you, like myself, that love this little peculiar shaped nut and have often wondered why it is so expensive. I, have found out why! You see each little mite grows alone, attached to the bottom of its pear shaped fruit, which has to be carefully plucked from the tree and then the nut harvested from it, avoiding touching the rubbery juice from inside the fruit, as it can seriously burn the skin. The 'cashew man' rolled back his shirt sleeve to reveal various burn scars up his arms!! Kind of brings a whole new meaning to the term " Nut Job"!?

And then we we back in the coach, all of us munching on the delightful snacks we had just purchased and discussing the health and safety issues of cashew nut farming ...

The next stop has been my favourite place so far; The White Temple, otherwise known as Wat Rong Khun. It is a Buddhist and Hindu temple designed by Chalerchai Kositpipat in1997.

Still unfinished, it is one of the most stunning buildings I have ever seen! Ironically, macabre and surreal, this House of worship is fascinating. All in white with tiny mirrored tiles, on a sunny day it reflects the light, that seems to enhance it even more.

The bridge crossing to the front gateway depicts one dragon coming out of the mouth of another coming out of the mouth of another and so on ... It is supposed to represent the cycle of rebirth with the pits of hell below. Come out of the ground beneath are thousands of hands, from those who are trying to escape from their eternal torture in the fires below.

The large arch looms ahead at the end of the bridge, guarded by death, before you step inside to the temple.

It is forbidden to take any photographs once inside, so I will try to describe the murals on the walls as best and briefly as I can.

High above the entrance is the devil looking down at all who enter, in his eyes are the reflections of Bush and Bin Laden respectively. Painted in the swirling mass of smoke and flames below are images of all sorts of well known characters including: Batman, Superman, Freddie Kruger, Spider-Man, Neo from The Matrix and even ... Michael Jackson! There are various space ships and tableaux and most poignant is an image of the Twin Towers in flames.

Kositpipat no longer lives in Asia, he has moved somewhere in America, but his disciples are being trained to finish of his work, though it is reckoned it could continue for at least another 60 years! Why has he moved to lands far away? Well rumour has it that the King began to worry that the great designers popularity would soon exceed his own, so he banished him! While others believe it was all a self imposed exile?!

Either way, the magnificence of this building has to be seen to be believed. And therefore a must to add to your 'Bucket List'.

Finally we reached the boarder at Chiang Khong and crossed over the water to Laos. (Karen seemed to take this in her stride). Three minutes later we reached Huay Xai and clambered out of the long boat and up to the visa office, where us Brits ended up having to pay more for our visas than the other Nationalities!

Our home for that night was The Arimid Bungalows - cute little buildings that consisted of a reasonable sized bedroom and an ensuite bathroom the size of this iPad - ok well maybe a tiny bit bigger!? But the owner and his family were absolutely adorable and welcoming.

Before meeting the rest of the group for dinner, Karen had a quick look through our guide book, to find out that it is in fact ILLEGAL for a Lao person to date a foreigner and a punishable offence ... We decided not to bother with lipstick that night!!

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