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FOF This Date In History – Thanksgiving in Vanuatu

Ramen and baked beans. That was our Thanksgiving 2009 dinner menu. So what are we thankful for this time around? Real food and great family. On this date last year, we dove a shipwreck, called an oceanside motel home, and Ash vomited after drinking the Vanuatuan traditional kava drink . Not your typical Thanksgiving to say the least.

Click here for our Thanksgiving 2009 post:

Remember this short film we put together last year? Yikes.

Happy Thanksgiving, beware the triptafen!

- Greg & Ash

Treehouse Dining, Absinthe, Rocket Ship On Water & Saffron

Laos. A Southeast Asian country treading in Communism, bombed by America and grasping for an identity. Hard as it may be to believe, the nation opened its border to tourists in just 1990. Backpackers, ourselves included, hope the throngs of suitcases stay far far away. The quaint village of Luang Prabang is magnetic, what with insanely beautiful restaurant landscapes, saffron robed monks, exhilarating excursions on a myriad of rivers, and a charming old village complete with a bustling night market.

Luang Prabang - Typical Street Luang Prabang - Jeep

Flame TreeWe had escaped the bamboozling fraudsters in Vietnam. Or so we thought. Before getting in the taxi at the Luang Prabang, Laos airport, I triple checked with the driver on the price. Upon reaching our destination, I paid the driver and expected change back. The driver turned and headed back the driver seat. I restated our agreed price and demanded change. As he hesitated to hand over the money, my patience grew thin and he reluctantly gave me 30% of amount due back. My additional petitions fell on deaf ears as he pulled away. His bumper may or may not have been kicked by a Salomon shoe. With a “here we go again” feeling, we made our way down a narrow alley lined with banana trees. Luckily, the aforementioned taxi driver was the only bad apple that crossed our paths while in Laos.

Treehouse Dinner Flaming Shots of Absinthe

Street Night MarketNivan and Snay from San Francisco were sorting out a moto when we checked into our guesthouse. Its funny how you meet people with whom you instantly connect on the world road. Within five minutes of chatting, we had agreed a time and place to enjoy Laotian food and tall bottles of Beer Lao (my favorite foreign beer, that could be a whole other post). Next, we made our way across a risky bamboo bridge to the opposite bank of the Nam Khan River. Sitting in a treehouse, we had a smorgasbord of incredibly delicious local cuisine with Nivan, Snay, and an Israeli couple. To say the setting was picturesque would be an understatement. Under shifting moonlight and moderate rain we crossed the wooden span held together with ropes then found a taproom serving absinthe. The Estonian bartender lit the shots of green liquor on fire then we saluted our new pals. Already soaked, we happily rode bicycles through the warm Luang Prabang night back to the guesthouse.

Our Speedboat Arrives Man Throws Fishing Net

Mekong River ShelterNext morning, Ash and I met our mates from San Fran for a boat ride up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Cave. Nivan had arranged a boat earlier in the day, so we carefully negotiated the steep embankment down to his vessel. We boarded a slender wooden boat with a low slung roof and motored up river for forty minutes. Roughly halfway to our destination, the captain grounded the boat on a muddy bank where we swapped boats, “upgrading” to a more slender boat with a pointy tip and powerful outboard motor. We shot up the muddy river at an incredible pace, the rocky shore turned a blur of brown. The captain never released the throttle, even goosing it when we quickly approached a fishing line stretched across the river to ensure the tip of the boat would force the line below. We explored the Pak Ou Cave’s 4,000+ Buddha statues then made our way through a dense mountain forest to the upper sanctuary. As interesting as our destination may have been, the thrilling ride made the the Pak Ou Cave look like chopped liver.

Pak Ou Cave Speedboat Up Mekong River

By far the most popular activity in Luang Prabang begins at sunrise and lasts all of ten minutes. The “feeding of the monks” is a parade of orange filling the streets where tourists and locals alike offer alms. The spectacle takes place in near silence as the shaved black heads walk in a single file line filling silver pots with white rice. The youth of the barefoot boys took me by surprise before they disappeared to their hillside pagodas. Every morning, the same quiet process is performed.

Feeding The Monks Alms For The Monks

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Your first expenditure arriving via plane in a new nation is usually a taxi ride. ATMs generally distribute large bills that many cabs are loathe to break. Do your best upon arriving in a new country to get smaller bills from the beginning to avoid situations like the one mentioned above. Best spots to break money are at fast food joints, convenience stores, and gift shops.
  2. My favorite rule of bargaining is this: the money in your wallet is yours, not theirs. That is to say, don’t be pressured into buying something you either don’t want or think the asking price isn’t even worth countering.
  3. A corollary to #2 above. Think twice about buying items from locals in popular tourist areas. These places are prime spots to be ripped off. For example, Nivan paid the equivalent of $80 for two bowls of rice to distribute to the monks that was promptly gone in ten minutes!

3…2…1… Action – Dangerous Speedboats, Monks & Waterfalls in Luang Prabang, Laos

We could have spent a week just soaking up the rustic charm in Luang Prabang, Laos while being surrounded by monks. Yet the surrounding activities drew us to the dreamlike Kuangsi Waterfalls and an exhilarating slingshot up the Mekong River.

A rich tradition in Luang Prabang is offering alms to the throngs of monks who trek to town from hillside wats. Watch the colorful display:

It took Greg five tries to perform this strange backflip off the rope swing at the Kuangsi Waterfalls:

With our friends from San Francisco (Nivan and Snay) aboard a rocket ship up the Mekong River, we are nearly decapitated by a fisherman’s line. Pardon the foul language:

Watch a steadier and far calmer video of the speedboat surging up the Mekong:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. There is strength and fun in numbers. By sharing the cost of the speedboat up the Mekong River, we split the cost four ways rather than two. Not to mention, we had a heck of time with Nivan and Snay.

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