Faster-Than-Walking 歩くよりは早く世界一周!?

Faster-Than-Walking

Taking the slow road round the world, on the cheap, on a postie-bike... 2-up.

"ファースター ザン ウォーキング""歩くより早い"
2008年4月30日オーストラリア・フリーマントルを110ccのちっちゃいバイク1台で出発。
期限なしお金尽きるまで世界一周目指すのーぷらんスローな旅。

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Road Report: Laos


It was clear from the get-go that Laos was going to be a challenge for us. For the first time on this trip we had a schedule to keep, friends were waiting for us in Cambodia. I didn't really have any picture of what to expect from the Lao conditions, I knew that it was mountainous and quite wet but that was about it.
Luckily it was the dry season!

Maintenance of the roads that are paved is slow at best, rare if done at all. The remoteness of the terrain and the lack of infrastructure equates to some truly disastrous surfaces, even on ones fortunate enough to be numbered as national roads. They simply don't have the resources available to keep on top of the work thats needed to be done. The harsh wet season and road pounding large trucks keep them more than busy.

Locals are happy with what they have though, you can see this in the way they ride and drive. The basic rule is that you keep right... and thats about it.
Of course if there is a pot-hole, obstacle or animal in your lane then moving left suddenly into on-coming traffic is perfectly acceptable. This means that bikes flit in and out with joyous abandon and that trucks stay stoicly smack bang in the middle of the road most of the time. There are usually no lines marking the center so how can you complain? The resulting mess is pretty easy for you to picture.

There are a few well maintained routes though, the good tarmac usually starts about 40kms out from the capital Vientianne... We rode right through the city and we're surprised how easy it was to cross the Friendship Bridge into Thailand. It was free for the bike too!

Dirt road in the wet season anywhere outside the capital?
Don't even think about it.

Total Time Taken = 8 Days
Total Kms Ridden = 1,425 kms
Total Litres Purchased = 85 Litres
Total LAK Spent per Person = LAK 953,815



We both are sorry we couldn't have spent more time to explore Laos, especially the far north, but a future trip on a Minsk is already on the drawing board!!!!
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Vang Vieng
Time to leave Phonsavan. The town itself has little sightseeing potential of its own but Phonsavanians don't seem too jaded with the ever increasing influx of travelers coming to gawk at the bombs and vessels there. The owner of our guesthouse was one of the most hospitable we have had on our trip so far, super friendly even though we verbally were galaxies apart.

Aki and I toyed with the idea of going due south to Pakxanh but we couldnt get any reliable information on the conditions of the tracks heading off in that direction. I estimated it to be 250 - 300km away, skirting (hopefully) around the country's highest mountain. The angry clouds on the southern horizon convinced me that taking the sealed road west to Vang Vieng would be the best option if we wanted to be sure of finding a dry place to sleep for the night.

We are kind of glad we made the decision as the road was fantastic and the scenery spectacular. We saw some awsome land formations that just can not be reproduced with photography...



The clouds cleared and left us free to think of things other than staying dry and upright. We met some nice people and shared some good times too...



Entering Vang Vieng though things changed a little. It felt like we had arrived in a completely different country, a country over run by all the nasty things consumo-capitalist culture is responsible for. Noted this is elsewhere, but the contrast from what we had just arrived from was so great it was hard to contain our shock.

Vang Vieng is famous on the backpacking trail primarily for it's tubing activity. Floating down the Mekong on innertubes and seeing the sights from that perspective has its appeal I must admit, its all the periphery attractions that had me second guessing the investment though. I didn't shell out.



Upon arriving back in Vang Vieng from a day floating and drinking at all the waterside bars along the way the resulting mess is pretty visable. Floating drunk travelers wearing just thier swimsuits are a common sight on the streets after sundown and they are usually in search of food...
What better way to reflect on your days experiences than to sit down to your "Shroom" Burger and Space Pizza to watch a re-run of Friends on a big screen TV...?



Confused? Not as much as we. There are numerous restuarants with a constant stream playing to packed houses, day and night. Obviously I'm missing something here, I must tell you I've never even watched one episode, perhaps it is that great.
We didn't stay too long as the eating options were rather meager once you eliminated the ones with TV's.
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未だ残る戦争の跡
ポンサバンへは夕方5時くらいに到着。
到着後「ジャール平原」に行く予定にしてたけど
思った以上に時間がかかり翌日朝に行くことにしてとりあえず街を散策。

街自体にこれといって何もなくやたらと目に付くのはゲストハウス
観光地なんだけどいまひとつ頑張りきれてない雰囲気の街。
何より思ったのが宿の質がいまひとつの割には値段が高いかと。。。

そしてここポンサバンのあるシェン・コーン州は未だに数多くの空爆が残る地域の一つで
空爆処理活動を続けるメンバー(MAG)の活動記録のミュージアムがある。



あのベトナム戦争でアメリカ軍によって残されたいった巨大な数の不発弾(UXO)が
今もなお取りきれずにあちこちに散らばっている。。
そしてこれによって命を落とした人、両手両足を失った人、失明した人
その数もはかり知れない程巨大な数。

ツーリストオフィスには回収された不発弾がたくさん展示されている。




「ジャール平原」ここもまた空爆が残る場所。
誰が何のために作ったのか未だに謎の石壷の集団。
石でできた真ん中に穴のあいた石の塊が辺り一面に広がっている
大きいものから小さいものまで色々。

謎です。。。




この中を歩く際は注意書きの通りに地面の赤と白のコンクリートのサインの間を歩きます。




そこから外は空爆が残っている可能性があるそう。
ちょっと緊張・・・。



ポンサバン付近の風景は赤土丸出しで緑が少なかった
やっぱりこれも戦争が残してったものですかね。。
やっぱり戦争ってイヤですね。


P.S
今日カンボジアのシェムリアップに着きました。
4ー5日ゆっくりしながらアンコールワット拝みに行きます。

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UXO's and The Plain of Jars.
During the Vietnam war the US military held a second "Secret War" in the countries that shared a border with Vietnam (sound familiar?). Very little hand to hand combat transpired but the method they did use is still having terrible consequences to this day. Over a 10 year period two million tons of bombage was dropped on Laos soil, 30 percent of which failed to detonate. In an effort to stop the commy threat accused sympathizers were chased north to Xieng Khuang Provence where the heaviest bombing was taking place. Two birds.

MAG works on helping to limit the tragedies of UneXploded Ordinances and has many projects happening throughout the world (unfortunately). They have a facility in Phonsavan, you can see bomb scrap everywhere in and around this town.
A small sample of these parting gifts from the sky...



A perfect place when looked at with a sick sense of humour. With all these "flowers" falling its clear some found their silent resting place alongside these ancient vases...



Its not really known why these vessels were carved in such a shape nor what they were used for. Their age is difficult to measure too but studies have shown they could be over 2000years old. Some theories are that they were used as funeral Urns for deceased members of passing caravans from northern India. Others are that they were used to store food and maybe alcohol.

Here is Aki pondering the idea of stowing her baguette sandwich to keep it freshcool while we take a look around in the sunshine...



There are thousands scattered around the now rather barren landscape and you have to be a little careful were you walk else you end up scattered yourself... The area is not completely cleared of bombs.

Here is Aki after lunch, deep in thoughts of what these things could have possibly been used for...



Got it!
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ラオス的お見合いイベント
ルアンパバンでは2ー3泊を考えていたけど
特に長居できそうな宿にめぐりあえず結局1泊だけで
翌日ポンサバンへ向かうことにした。

またまた激しいぐにゃぐにゃの山道を登り下り約300kmの移動。
途中ルアンパバン州からシェン・コーン州に入ったあたりの村で
まだ10代前半〜半ばくらいの女の子達が独特の衣装を着てなにやら儀式を行ってる
風景を目にしたので立ち寄ってみた。



結構ド派手目な衣装を着て向かい会った女の子達が
手に持ってる小さいボールでキャッチボールをしている。



気になったので調べてみた。
モン族の正月祭り(ぺエ・チャオ・モン)に行われる催しで村公認の
集団お見合いのイベントらしく普段忙しく出会いの少ない少女達に
出会いの機会を作るというものだそう。
未婚の女性が並ぶところへ未婚男性が正装で出向き
気になる女性へ向けてボールをパスするというシンプルなもので
女性は相手の男性を気に入らなければパスされたボールに手を出さず意志表示をする。
もし気に入ればキャッチボールを続け最後に一緒に歌を歌いカップル成立ということに
なるらしいけど、実際投げたボールをボトッて落とされる男性側は結構プレッシャーよね。。。

私たちが見た村では男性の姿が見えず女性同士でボールを投げ合っていた。
女性同士の場合はただ御挨拶でよろしくねーって感じらしい。
しかも女性っていうより少女って感じでまだ若かったような。。

ちなみにラオスのモン族は中国からの移住民族なんだそう。

そしてポンサバンでも同じ催しが開かれていて
ここでは男性の姿もあり今思えばまるでねるとんですな。。。
山裾の村で見たより人数が多くもっと現代的な感じ
そして女性のスカートはひざ上15cmのミニスカートでした。

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Luang Prabang. Aint no fun
The World Heritage town of Luang Prabang (LP) was a bit of a non-event for us. The French colonial architecture and craft markets spattered throughout the place somehow diluted the rich images we already had of Laos. Interactions with locals seemed rather one-dimensional and we found ourselves in need of something a little more "real", something less commercial perhaps. Nice baguettes though!
We listen to these nagging tunes when they become loud enough and as we were escaping into the mountains again the increasing silence was only broken sporadically by the bikes high altitude backfires.



As we were headed east towards Phonsavan we passed through numerous villages clinging to the mountainside, many people were busy making thatch and at a few we saw groups of these girls in traditional dress.



Standing, facing each other about a meter apart, they would throw a ball to the person in front of them... Sometimes a man would join in and they would talk while throwing and catching. We were not able to work out the reason why but we saw the same thing going on in a few villages over the space of 2-3days. The costumes were slightly varied, some with very short skirts and some with elaborate head dresses but at all of them balls were being thrown about.

Just before Phonsavan the landscape flattens and the roads become straighter. In some areas I could have been back in Australia, I almost felt homesick...
Almost.



We heard that the plains in this area are covered with large ancient monoliths carved into jar-like forms, it took us a day or so to locate them...


:::UPDATE:::
Aki did some interweb investigations and the game is performed by the youth of Hmong Tribes in Northern Laos. Its a way of breaking the ice and finding a marriage partner, played out as part of the Hmong new year celebrations. If the girl likes the boy then they continue throwing the ball for a while then organize a second meeting, in the hope to tie the knot in late January... Dont muck around do they? If the girl doesnt like the boy then she fails to catch the ball. Youre dropped!
Oh such rejection.
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村人の笑顔にメロメロ。
ウドムサイからルアンパバン向かう途中の村で
なんだかおもしろい昔ながらの道具で綿をこしらえてる女性を見かけたので
見学させてもらった。

足でキコキコ踏んだら手元の木が回転する仕組みになっていて
これで綿花をくっつけているのかどうかは定かではないけどなにやら
昔ながらの感じで新鮮ですね。




と、気づけば人だかりができてて
裏を振り向くとNATが村の男衆に囲まれてる・・・。
どうやらヘルメットから豪快に出てる「毛」にものすごく食いついてる様子。



そしてNATがヘルメットをぬいで見せると
「おぉぉぉ〜!!!」の歓声がいっせいに。



思わず爆笑。。。
ほんとに和やかで子供たちはかわいいしもっと長居してもいいくらいっだった。




しかし・・・

どこへ向かうの?と村の男衆の一人に聞かれルアンパバンと答えると
あ〜。と言って「あっち←」と私たちが来た方向を指さしている・・・

え・・・?

そんなことはないよね??
もいっかい聞いてみる。
するとまわりにいる男衆もそろって同じ私たちが通ってきた方向を指さしてる。

ガーン・・・。
思い返してみると2箇所だけ分れ道があった。
しかもどっちもウドムサイで泊まった宿から15分とかからない場所にあった。
ということは70km近く戻らないといけないことに。。。
やってしまった・・道がきれいだから絶対こっちといって
何もチェックせずにルアンパバンに続く道だと決め込んでしまっていた。
痛恨のケアレスミス。。。
まぁ、でも行くはずのなかった所も見ることができたからオッケーとしました。

この時期、どの村でも家の屋根を張り替えるべく作業に大忙しの様子で
女性や子供が頑張って山からとってきた大量の材料をせっせと運んでました。



ほんと村の女性はたくましい。。。

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Mountain Spirits
More fantastic roads and beautiful villages awaited us as we turned south out of UdomXai on our journey to Luang Prabang. I was mesmerized by the scenery so much I wasn't really paying attention to where we were actually going. Aki seemed just as carefree... I could hear her humming away behind me.



Going through one particularly nice village we stopped to watch a woman ginning cotton on a homemade treadle ginner. As Aki was watching and talking to the her, a small crowd gathered around me, most were pointing and laughing some were just staring. Long gone are my self-conscious days so when one guy asked for me to take off my helmet I did as slowly as possible to maximize the suspense and drama.
On queue raucous laughter exploded on the street where we stood as my true appearance was revealed, people even came out of their huts to join in on the fun.


Helmet Hair coupled with Helmet Beard does not a boring day make.

Once everything had calmed down a little I happened to mention we were on our way to Luang Prabang...
Dead silence with dead serious looks...
What could be wrong? Is it dangerous? Have I said something bad?

It was noon and we eventually worked out we had made a wrong turn somewhere because everyone was pointing back up the road we came in on. Its was all the way back to UdomXai until we found the road we were supposed to take, it headed east not south.

So a day that started off relaxed and pleasurable soon turned into a stressful day of deadlines and head down motoring. We really should start using maps.

You guessed it... It gets even worse.

We were heading up a pass ready to turn a sharp bend when another bike, oncoming, appeared in the middle of the road (this is normal here in Laos) so we moved further right to give him room (Laos drive on the right side, officially!).
As we moved right he continued to come towards us, closer and closer encroaching on our lane.
He ended up using us as his guard rail, we in turn very nearly bounced off down the mountain side.
Aki, the bike, and I are soon upright but the other guy is still lying in the middle of the road. He cannot stand up and for a second I think he is seriously hurt. We walk over and realize he is rolling drunk, slurred speech and fruity aroma. As expected a crowd appears from out of no where but its clear they are all drunk too. After about 30minutes of us explaining(gesturing) what has happened and with the other guy agreeing with us completely we are told to move on.
Just around the corner we pass a wedding party in full effect empty bottles littering the roadside, people staggering about, perhaps our little altercation wasn't the only one that day.
Aki sustained a grazed leg, I a bruised shoulder but the bike came out on top yet again.



Some frigid night riding was needed to get us to our destination, hopefully this will be the last time.

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ラオスのかしまし娘!?
ルアンナムターで出会ったマーケットガールズ
チャーミング過ぎてちょっとの間釘付けになってしまった。
髪型真似したい・・・





マーケットの入口にデンと陣どって
夕方の4時くらい?かもう少し前から私たちがマーケットを去る時も
寒いなかずーっとフルーツやら野菜やらを売りつづけてるんですよね。
ほんとアジアの女性は働き者です。



夜は宿で出会ったタイ在住で旅行中の西さんと三人でこのマーケットで夕食を。
タイの政治話しやらでかなり盛り上がり色んな話がきけておもしろかった。
牛の串刺し肉がおいしくてほとんどベジタリアンになりつつあった
私達にとってはかなりひさしぶりの牛肉でした。

そしてラオスの料理ではまったのが「カオソーイ」
辛いもん好きにはたまらん。旨すぎる。

左:辛豚ミンチがのったカオソーイ 右:ゆで豚のスライスがのったカオソーイ


お店のおばちゃんに「スパーシー?ノースパーシー?」って聞かれたから
私は「ベリースパイシー」でNATが「ノースパイシー」を頼んだらこんな感じで出てきました。
どっちもおいしいけどやっぱ辛い豚ミンチの入ったカオソーイが一番好き。
麺狂いの私はフエサイからここまで毎日カオソーイを食べつづけてるけど
残念ながらここバンビエンではカオソーイはないみたい。
まだ食せず・・・

そしてもうひとつラオスの食堂で必ずあるこれ



カニ味噌ならぬエビ味噌?
味は瓶づめのカニ味噌をもっと塩っからくした感じでテーブルに置いてある野菜につけて食べる。
匂いきついけど結構好き。



野菜は食べ放題でミントやレタス、ライムにいんげんまめの長いやつが
たっぷりと盛られている。野菜食べ放題っていけてるよね。
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Huay Xai, Luang Nam Tha, Udomxai
Prepared for the worst we started out early on the road to Luang Nam Tha. Our bellies full with a warm breakfast and our veins pulsing with caffiene to fend off the cold morning fog.
After about an hour on the road a few things became clearer:
The road was in very good condition, almost Malaysian Standard.
My clothes were superbly inefficient at keeping me warm.
And that we probably should have bought a map...



Along the way we passed through countless villages, all populated with smiling children and busy adults. The new slick road smoothly snaked its way over mountain ranges and delivered us gently into the calm streets of Nam Tha way before sun down. A slow trickle of backpackers come through here to experience the "Eco Trekking" the region is famous for. The only trekking we participated in however was a brisk march to the night market to get some quality chow. Chatting to new found friends until the wee hours was something I'd been missing.

Leaving town the next morning on roads similar to the ones that landed us there the day before was more than welcomed, and it continued for a while, but at the turn off north to Boten things changed rather abruptly.
We weren't going to Boten, it's the border town with China, but I now wish we had. Over 100kms of rutted, ripped and routed road separated us with our destination... UdomXai.


"I can see China from here"

A tough day for us but the sights seen and people met on the way were just reward.
We managed to find a bed in UdomXai just before the towns power was cut off around 6pm. Ever prepared, a result of our experiences in Nusa Tengara, torches were at the ready which helped us both dodge man sized holes in the pavement and made the task of finding suitable food just that little bit easier.
Not a pretty town by any stretch of the imagination, it surely doesn't fit anywhere in my image of what I expected Laos to be but I did find its dusty ruggedness and sino/buddho/neo barroc stance mildly alluring.

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