christmas in laos

Quiet main street in Thakhek, Laos

Quiet main street in Thakhek, Laos

Judging by the bus ride, the roads in Thailand are pretty good. And the driving is more restrained than that provided by Indian bus drivers. Gentle lane changes, rare horn usage. Thai buses, or at least the VIP class I was travelling in, are quite luxurious but the seats are upstairs and the bus seems to sway like a boat in medium seas. I slept a little, but not enough. Arrived in Nakhon Panon around 7:00 am and caught the 8:00 am bus across the border at the Friendship Bridge III to Thakhek (?). Mainly Laotians, I think. As on the bus from Bangkok, I was the only Westerner but that’s pretty old hat after the east coast of India. The border was quite impressive, big modern buildings for the limited amount of traffic going through. It still took some time though; I had to ‘check out’ of Thailand, go through the border, purchase a ‘visa on arrival’ and then get stamped in to Laos. Then just a few kilometres to the bus-station in Thakhek. I got a million kip (!) out of the ATM at the bus-station. The tuk-tuk drivers didn’t seem very impressed with my offer of 100,000 kip for the ride out to the Green Climbers’ Home and there didn’t seem anywhere else to go so I settled for 150,000.

Green Climbers' Home

Green Climbers’ Home

Bungalows and tents, Green Climbers' Home

Bungalows and tents, Green Climbers’ Home

Nicolas relaxing in the Kneebar at the Green Climbers' Home

Nicolas relaxing in the Kneebar at the Green Climbers’ Home

Very scenic, impressive karst hills, and back driving on the right! About 12 km out of town, a dry dirt track lead to the Green Climbers’ Home: a large-ish central building which is the bar-cum-restaurant-cum-hangout (the Kneebar), a few bungalows and two longer buildings that are the dorms. And a dozen or so tents. N and I are in the dorm; probably N’s first choice anyway but I would have settled for a bungalow (not wishing to inflict my loud snoring onto other unfortunately-located guests) but the bungalows were booked up over the holiday season. As are the dorms now.

Tanja showed me to my bed in the dorm (next to Nicolas) and I got unpacked a little. I wandered out towards the crag and met N coming back to meet me. We’re both looking different (N tanned and with longer hair, me thinner and with no hair) and we had to get quite close before we recognised each other for certain. A quick moist-eyed hug and we were back to normal. On to the crag, did a route (although I can’t remember what it was or whether I did it ‘clean’), comfortable and happy to see Nicolas.

25th December 2012, Green Climbers’ Home

Low key day, by the looks of it.

Christmas Day climbing at Thakhek

Christmas Day climbing at Thakhek

A good few climbers nursing hangovers after last night’s Christmas (Eve) Dinner and subsequent alcohol-fuelled partying. Where bottles of rum, tequila, whiskey,… surfaced and were duly dispatched with a determined efficiency. Dancing had the whole building shaking, the floor bouncing beyond the tolerance (presumably) of even the Laos building code (if such a thing exists out here, away from town). Having seen the size and spacing of the joists supporting the floor, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the dancers deposited unceremoniously on the ground a couple of metres below but the floor remained true to the task.  Some inebriates disappeared night climbing a little before midnight – and N was in their number. He returned about 4:00 am  but seems reasonably well this morning – apart from having torn a flapper on his palm. After a relatively restrained evening (a beer, most of a bottle of wine, some tequila) I went to bed half-an-hour after we ushered in Christmas Day. The music continued long into the night.

It’s almost eleven now. There is limited enthusiasm for a proposed cricket match due to start in a few minutes – to be fair, it’s only the Brits and an Australian who even understand the game. A few have shambled off in the direction of the crags. I suspect an early night for most tonight.

Thursday 27th December 2012, Green Climbers’ Home

Lousy night, woke up lots of times (almost full moon?), feeling pretty second rate. Did a 5c warm-up (Rambo Girl). Then, a while later, had a first try on my ‘project,’ a 6c (5.11a in US/Canadian grading) called Mon General. Much trepidation and hesitation. Climbed around and avoided the first series of hard moves before the first bolt and made it up the reasonable climbing to the crux. Where my timidity won out. Even with a high bolt providing a top-rope, I didn’t want to try a fall. Tried all sorts of sequences around the crux move (I don’t have the power, or commitment, to do it N’s way) and may, conceivably, have a way to the hold over the crux (after which it is just steep, sustained and pumpy for a while – great). Enough of the route for one morning so N and I went for lunch. Afterwards, we went for a walk through an impressive cave next to the camp and on to a river where some of the group set up a slackline between trees on each side of the river. Much hilarity as many short-lived attempts were made to cross the river by some slackline experts (no point in me trying). But it was a relaxing afternoon and I have the moves on Mon General going through my head.

The fifty metre walk back to camp

The scenic fifty metre walk back to camp

A few minute's walk from the Green Climbers' Home

A few minute’s walk from the Green Climbers’ Home

Laura, from Berne, is doing her master’s degree in Laos. It involves talking to lots of villagers about the effects of foreign investment. There is much contempary evidence in the villages of the lasting effects of the Vietnam war forty years ago. Most areas, apparently, are still littered with bomblets (metal, slightly larger than tennis ball-size, rusted and blending in with the ground) distributed by US-dropped cluster bombs. Children find these and play with them, getting killed or losing hands, arms or legs in the process. Farmers clearing ground for paddy fields suffer the same fate.
The message here is to stay on the roads wherever possible. Laos is the most heavily bombed (on a per-capita basis?) nation in the world.

A sign on the bathroom wall in the Kneebar reminds us that we’re some way from home. We are instructed to carry our passports when climbing: in the event of a serious accident, it will be necessary to cross the border to reach the hospital in Thailand, where the health care is superior. We should wear closed shoes (no-one does, most wear flip-flops) and stamp our feet to warn snakes of our approach. And check our climbing shoes for small nasties before putting them on. The climbing guide describes a cobra that can spit venom into the eyes with good accuracy from a distance of three metres, and this is just the first line of defence. Back off slowly. Rinse the eyes with clean water. Hope for the best.

Happy holidays!

Brad on Jungle King

Brad on Jungle King

Nick on Crumpet

Nick on Crumpet

Group attempts on The Sound of Music

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