Thakheking Care of Business – It’s all about connections, having fun and the process.

Before heading to Southeast Asia, spending three months back home was an absolute godsend. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was really in need of some home truths and my people. It was a very strange feeling to not feel at home in your own country for a while, but I settled down and started to feel better about what I was doing and where I was in fact going.

I had lost a lot of my motivation for harder climbing and I didn’t really put in much effort before going home. Only occasionally ticking a hard route and then doing a bunch of easier ones just to fill in time and climb. I didn’t really feel like I was improving at all, but I was at least at a consistent level that I still enjoyed myself.

img_3689
Opening up new avenues of adventure and fun…..slack-lining is not easy, but you gotta try.

My time with my mates really got me focussed again and I really enjoyed the training I was doing and the climbing was really motivating as well. They even got me on a project I had wanted to start for years, which I did ok on, the few times I tried it in the Australian Summer.

A couple of close friends sat me down and talked to me about a few things that I was trying to resolve in myself and they really helped get me back on the path of least resistance. For that I am eternally grateful and appreciate all of your feedback, input and support.

img_3445
Below the first crux on “Whiplash” 7a (23).

I arrived in Bangkok with a brand new vision of how I was going to spend my time on rock and had some solid goals to kick but most importantly I was going to have fun doing it. Karine and I were heading off to Thakhek in Laos for two weeks of climbing with a group of friends and we were all very excited to be catching up. I had my eyes on the prize and continued to remind myself to have as much fun as possible.

I had five routes that I wanted to send, they were all 7a’s (23) and all very different styles. Switzerland, The Sound Of Music, Whiplash ,Sintersizer and Nid Noi, Nid Toi. I just went with the flow and we ended up at the crags where my routes were and I got on them. It was all about just going through my process. Work the route, get it dialled and then red-point it.

img_3647
Playing around on “Stalker” 7a (23).

We headed to The Hangover Sector and I got on Switzerland, worked it and send it. All done in a morning…….I was stoked. 🙂 The next morning I belayed Derek while he worked a route and then I had a shot and flashed it….stoked again. Tom was getting on Sintersizer. He said “C’mon mate give it a go, I need my draws back!” After a little coaxing I tied in and pulled on. 21 metres of steepness and I had ticked the route. I was so pleased and excited I yelled with joy.

img_8299
On the send of “Sintersizer”.

I didn’t get on the fifth route, but I had more fun climbing in the two weeks in Thakhek than I had in quite sometime away from home. I guess the whole point is don’t forget to have a monumental amount of fun when you’re out there doing what you do. It can all get a bit serious sometimes and we forget why we are all hanging out together in the first place. It’s all about connections. Connecting with people, connecting the dots, connecting with mother nature, connecting with here and now.

Advertisements

the adventure continues:- Koh Lao Liang and that chilled Thai relaxin’ thang!

I am sitting here on a little raised platform on a soft cushion with a coffee over looking the Andaman Sea of Thailand. There are lover kissing in the lightly lapping ocean as the sunrises for the first and only time here today. The breeze is light and the vista is breath-taking. There is so much that can be said about this place and the descriptive words that come to mind are seemingly endless. Koh Lao Liang is nothing short of a castaways paradise.

img_3815
My Office…..this is what working remotely should be about…..anywhere…..anytime

We arrived here three days ago with the intention of doing a little rest and relaxation and a little rock climbing. Lao Liang is situated about an hours long tail ride from the mainland. The pier name is still an unknown to me, but it matters not right now. We are here and it is wonderful. This 400 metres of beach that we are staying on is divine.

img_3768
Beautiful everyday

Our accommodation is an eight man tent with two very large mattresses, a fan and a light for night vision. The power is all on generators and is only available between 5:30pm and 9am. Apparently five years ago this place was truly incredible and very new, however the upkeep has not been maintained and it is starting to look a little worse for wear. A good injection of funds would help it a lot.

img_3769
The housing estate on the island…….options are only slightly varied….. 🙂

All this aside my time here with Karine is wonderful and we are swimming, snorkelling and we have been doing   lot of bouldering in the little cave on the western end of the beach. I don’t know whether they are first ascents or not but we are having a great deal of fun. A lovely couple we met last year are here with us and we are enjoying their company incredibly. There are moments of indecision and disagreement but so minimal, mentioning it is really a waste of time.

img_3754
Karine sending her first route on the island. An unknown 6b

Just being here is enough to make you want to really drop out of society and live a very simple existence. It motivates in a very different way and although living in a tent longterm would be not my ideal, I think that a nomadic life is far more where I am right now. It is a satisfying way to see the world and it is also no less a life than what we live in big cities, it is just different.

img_3782
Pulling hard on some V something in the Boulder Cave

The climbing here disappointed me a little. From what I had heard it was good and there were many varied routes to try. In total I climbed three routes, being more inspired hanging out in the bouldering cave adjacent to the Bay Sector. We all enjoyed attempting unknown problems and putting up a couple of possible first ascents, although unlikely as people have been coming here for five years now.

img_3780
Karine being spotted by Maurice in the boulder cave.

I wouldn’t come here for a climbing holiday. There are far better destinations on the planet for that, but I recommend this little island for a great getaway. Its about three star and thats it. The food is ok the beer is cold and it’s a little more expensive than it should be, but none the less its a little touch of paradise.

img_3763
The Office

I guess I really enjoyed simply swimming in the sea, kayaking a little, watching the fish jump, reading a couple of books and seeing my lovely lady walking the beach in her bikini. These are the simple things in life on Lao Liang…….if I want to have a seriously relaxing break from it all, I would definitely come back here. Its primitive and the place is gorgeous. Come visit sometime, you’ll not regret it at all. 🙂

 

the adventure continues:- I had never been down this road before, but thats ok to!?

Its Friday night in Thakhek, we were out at dinner in the western most part of town and it was buzzing with traffic. I had noticed a very large change in the amount of ambient noise on the streets. There were trucks and large utility vehicles rolling past filled with people all heading south.  I had never been down this road before…………However it was busy.

Curiosity got the better of me and I asked my friend Kaew if she knew why there was all this additional hustle and bustle on the streets. All of a sudden Kaew said Mario and her were heading to the Temple festival and asked if we would like to go. Karine looked at me and I said “Yeah sure! Lets do it!!” I wasn’t entirely sure what this would entail and thats the best part of any adventure.

img_3594
Weaver’s stall
img_3595
Sticky Rice Baskets by the dozen..

The trip to the festival grounds was pretty uneventful, but as previously stated, there are no rules on the road in Thakhek. We just followed the throng of scooters, trucks and dust clouds down the road until we arrived at a large and very noisy arena. Not an arena like I am used to. It was a very large paddock with market stalls, technology and agricultural venders, car salesmen and wooden carts full of fruit and vegetables and super loud Lao pop music.

img_3597
An “Old” New Honda……….beautiful beasty
img_3603
This is a multi-purpose agricultural machine…….that also substitutes as a car with a trailer attached if needed.

After being frisked by a very friendly  and very short police officer we all wandered in to the market area and began to check out what was being peddled by the local merchants. I was a little weirded out as I was being stared at constantly. I realised pretty much immediately that it was because I was indeed the tallest person in the whole of the festival.

That is not a difficult thing in Lao as the average height is just under 168cm (about 5’6”). I stand 188cm (about 6’2”). One local even snuck up behind me and quickly measured where she came up to on me and scurried away giggling. Mind you I was wearing a very bright orange down jacket from Patagonia Clothing (preferred attire for my trip)……hint hint, as there was a chill in the air that night.

img_3598
Fast food at the festival……..

I loved walking around and just checking out all of what was on offer. It was truly a wonderful experience. It broadened my view of Laos and I again realised we are all the same in this world, we just have different perspectives of what is acceptable.

img_3607
More fast food…..but a more “vegetarian” option is available here.

I try to remain positive about what I experience and it’s important not to judge……..but it is certainly eye opening when you see a lady sitting in a pile of garbage selling vegetables right next to a Samsung technology vendor at a Lao festival.

img_3602
Pop a balloon and win a Pokemon……

The contrasts here are paradoxical. On one hand, people live on incredibly low incomes and the divide between rich and poor is gargantuan. On the other, they all have mobile phones and a lot of Hilux Utility vehicles with big stereos on board racing around. I am yet to completely understand and take on how this all works.

I do love being here and it makes me realise that all I can do is embrace the differences, learn about the people and what makes them happy. They have a very different view on material possession and whats important compared to the society I was raised in, but thats ok too.

img_3604
Green Papaya’s……..what else do you really need in life…..Yum!

The festival experience was one I will not forget very soon as it gave a huge amount of perspective in a microcosmic area. Culturally confusing and intimately intense. Exactly what you need to make a great Friday night out.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

– Joseph Campbell

the adventure continues:- Chaos and carelessness resolve one of life’s great uncertainties

Returning down the AH131 from Xiangliab just on dusk is something that should be experienced. The traffic heading to Vietnam at this time of day is nothing short of terrifying, large trucks, four wheel drives and scooters all vying for a piece of tarmac. Unnecessary fog lights flare up and blind the weary rider as the light of day sneaks away to recover for tomorrow. It’s now 7pm on Friday night.

I am almost prepared to say that there are no apparent road rules in this part of Laos. There is an unwritten sense of courtesy that is displayed however, nothing in concrete and certainly nothing understandable from the outsiders point of view. We are so used to rules that we find it hard to adapt to the randomness of highway travel here and real time problem solving.

During my stay here I have listened to many western people try to reconcile with themselves about what they think the rules are and I am certainly one who has thought about this at length but, my conclusion is now set in stone and there are no rules. If you try to abide by them you will only get frustrated and possibly injured or killed on these chaotic and incredibly dangerous roadways.

img_3590
A quiet Thakhek night.

Trying to explain a night heading out for dinner is a task, but I have to say witnessing a scooter with four people (two adults and two children) travelling in the same lane as I was a first for me. Then there is the mass of 4×4’s that line the streets jostling for position and trying to pass each other while scooters zip in and out of what seems like a maze of oncoming traffic. There are two lanes with five lanes of traffic operating flawlessly within their confines.

Lanes are identifiable but irrelevant, indicators available for use, but irrelevant and there is no give way to anyone. If you want to turn right into the traffic then just do it. They will do their best to avoid hitting you and then maybe even speed up to assist in the continuing flow of random behaviour that  occurs in this dusty town. I have witnessed it all over the past week.

This is truly something to experience people. Rent a scooter, get helmets and get out there and see if its as big an adventure as I think it is. I recommend highly using the roundabout here too. WOW! It will blow your mind. It’s a roundabout that is used to protect a statue of one of the many face gods and thats about it. Anything else is now for me one of life’s great uncertainties.

the adventure continues:- Sabaidee, Kopchai Lai Lai and Pet Nit Noi will get you by.

So people, after a hasty visit to Bangkok (two days in fact) we are settled into our little villa in Thakhek. Our friends have all arrived and we are enjoying the company of each other immensely. I must say it is a truly wonderful experience to travel to a nation and hang out with friends whom you have met in your travels, kept in touch with and all decided to converge in a tiny dust bowl of a town.

img_3435
R to L…….Kaew, Mario, Miss K, Derek and I catching up after a 12 month hiatus.

I am saying this partially in jest as Thakhek is an amazing place, rich in history and culture. Steeped in tradition and as a foreigner quite enriching. Thakhek is situated by the Mekong River and known for mountainous terrain, hill tribe settlements and an amazing array of cave systems that are relatively untouched.

img_3481
The rice fields of Pha Tam Kam, Thakek.

Just this afternoon on a self guided tourist ride on our trusty Chinese made 50cc scooter we stumbled across a small and very new monastery. Walking across the access bridge we were greeted by a local man who gave us a tour of one of the cave systems. The cave had a small temple in it and as we went deeper into the caverns the more incredible it became.

img_3489
A Tyrannosaurus head tufa forms part of the cave system………
img_3485
Beautiful………….

Simply wandering around aimlessly will get you a long way in this dusty, bustling town. At night the restaurants are a buzz with locals and foreigners a like and the food is not only very cheap, but for the most very good. It is important to also learn a little Laotian while you are at it. Sabaidee is Hello. Kopchai Lai Lai means Thank you very much and Pet Nit Noi is A little bit Spicy. It’ll help you just get by if you know these things. English for the most is off the agenda.

img_3453
The Evening Street Market in downtown Thakhek 50 metres from the Mekong River.
img_3456
Old favourites turn up in the most unusual places….

A favourite of mine here is Roti. Its very similar to a crepe, with banana, egg and condensed milk. Sugar is a main stay of the Laotian diet and everything will have it unless you say “No Sugar Kopchai”. I would eat one everyday if I could but I have to control myself and keep a moderate intake of filth. I am yet to have a bad experience with food, but be sure to bring your own coffee and lots of it.

img_3459
Roti preparation is a sight to see, they way they prepare the doe is incredible.

This the second trip to Laos for me and I must say I do like the feel of the place. It would be a big culture shock for the less travelled or the lovers of home luxuries, but for an outer world experience and a truly wonderful place to start a trip. The Thakhek Loop is the popular tour with the people staying here. You hire a bike and head out through some incredible country. It’s highly recommended. The sunsets over the Mekong are sublime and the scenery is magnificent.

Go to Thakhek……and you no come back 🙂