Archive for March, 2008

Schere oder Welle?

---> Wo ist das?

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008 Latitude: 50.936336581008185N Longitude: 6.952199935913086E

Dass einem die Tasche geklaut wird, ist nicht schön – vor allem, wenn Laptop, Kamera und anderes, vermeintlich unentbehrliches für’s Leben unterwegs mit abhanden kommen. Langsam aber sicher kaufe ich mich auf den vorherigen Bestand zurück – immerhin waren in der Tasche Notwendigkeiten. Wo möglich, wird die Verbesserung genommen. Eines der Verluststücke war mein treues Victorinox Swiss-Tool eine Art Schweizer Offiziersmesser auf Koks, der beste Werkzeugkasten, der je in eine Damen-Handtasche gepasst hat. Vor etwa 20 Jahren (ja, ich bin inzwischen so alt…) in München bei einem Waffenhändler gekauft, hat es mich bislang überall dahin begleitet, wo ich es letzendlich gebraucht habe. Jetzt dient es einem anderen Herren – und ich hab’ mir Ersatz beschafft.

Victorinox Swisstool

Dabei war dann zu entscheiden ob ich das Modell mit Wellenschliff-Klinge oder lieber eines mit Schere nehmen sollte. Wellenschliff oder Schere? Ich hab’s gemocht, das wellengeschliffene Messer. Hatte ich die Schere vermisst? Würde das normale-geschliffene Messer ausreichen? Am Ende war’s relativ einfach: 20 Jahre mit der Welle – dann werd’ ich jetzt mal 20 Jahre mit Schere unterwegs sein. Mal sehen, was man noch so alles abschneiden kann…

Erd-Erkaltung

---> Wo ist das?

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008 Latitude: 50.92499001142292N Longitude: 6.940183639526367E

An ein Ostern im Schnee erinnere ich nicht, ich glaube nicht mal aus meiner Zeit in Stockholm. Vielleicht ist die Erinnerung ja auch gnädig. Aus Südostasien kommend ist das dannn schon eher schwierig. Selbst wenn ich zur Akklimatisierung vorigen Sonntag mehr oder weniger direkt aus dem Flieger auf die Düsseldorfer Eisbahn bin, um mit M. Schlittschuhlaufen zu gehen.

Skating Schlittschuhlaufen

Auch wenn es im Norden Laos am Anfang unseres Aufenthaltes Mitte Februar doch empfindlich kalt war – wir reden von Strickjacken-Wetter – das hier hätte ich nicht gedacht, dass mich das in Köln erwarten würde:

Schnee Ostern 2008

Schnee, der auf Schienen fällt, Ostern 2008, Blick aus meiner Wohnung in Köln.

Man wünscht den Hasen ordentliches Schuhwerk bei Ihrer Arbeit. Merry Eastern everybody, schöne Feiertage allerseits.

Hi-Tea in Kuala Lumpur

---> Wo ist das?

Thursday, March 13th, 2008 Latitude: 3.144373N Longitude: 101.680312E

Ruhe in Kuala Lumpur? Man findet sie – wenn man weiß, wie man hin kommt und den Weg dahin erklären kann. Dann eröffnen sich einem neue Erkenntnisse – zum Wesen der Schwed(inn)en, Briten und anderen Weltenbürgern.

Der Taxifahrer weiss nicht genau wo es ist, die Karte im Reiseführer verhilft ihm wenigstens zu einer groben Idee. Und dennoch, zwischen den Wolkenkratzern der Metropole winden sich die Straßen wie Gewürm im Kompost und selten ist Geradeaus die richtige Richtung, wenn man etwas erreichen will, was in Luftlinie vor einem liegt.

Ich versuche, anhand der beiden höchsten Gebäude, Twin Towers und dem Fernsehturm, irgendwie auszumachen,wo wir gerade unterwegs sind, als völlig unerwartet die Abzweigung auftaucht, die uns ans Ziel führt: Lake Gardens und darin die ehemalige Residenz des britischen Gouverneurs zu Kolonialzeiten. Heute ein Luxus-Hotel, inmitten einer Parklandschaft, Ruhepol im Chaos.

Die Residenz des Britischen Gouverneurs in Kuala Lumpur
Eine feste Burg ist mir meine edle Residenz…

Prachtvoll-dezent, kein Widerspruch an diesem Ort, es wird einem immer Grandesse vermittelt, das ganze jedoch zurückhaltend, Understatement ist das Schlüsselwort. Die Veranda des Speisesaals öffnet zum Park hin, links und rechts zwei Separées, in der Mitte zwei Gruppen von Korbsesseln, wir nehmen Platz auf der einen Seite, auf der anderen residieren bereits zwei Damen mittleren Alters, die sich im Schwedisch der feineren Stockholmer Gesellschaft unterhalten.

Die Karte wird gereicht, das Menü, die Zeremonie ist immer die gleiche. Wir wählen unsere Teesorte und bitten um die Tee-Tafel aus Sandwiches, Apple-Crumble, süßen Kleinteilen, die umgehend auf einer Etagère gebracht werden, danach folgen Scones, eine Art Hefeteig-Muffins, die von einer Erhabenheit sind, dass sie jeden Bäckerlehrling in die Knie gehen lassen. Dazu gibt es zwei Sorten Marmelade sowie Sahne, die so punktgenau geschlagen ist, dass sie eben gerade nicht Schlagsahne ist, sondern immer noch cremig.

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Rechts im Bild Kollege Thorsten K., der dieses Kleinod aus den Tiefen des “Lonely Planet”-Reiseführers hervorgeholt und am Wochenende bereits einmal angetestet hatte.

Wir genießen, parlieren und lauschen dem Geplauder vom Nachbartisch, während im Park der Spätnachmittag-Regen niedergeht und die Kellnerin dafür sorgt, dass unsere Teetassen gefüllt sind. “May I?” und “Do you want some more…?”, alles sehr vornehm, dabei ausreichend relaxed, dass es auch Spaß macht.

Zu Gouverneurs Zeiten wäre unser Benehmen vielleicht nicht durchgegangen (Isst man Scones mit Messer und Gabel? Oder bricht man sie mit der Hand auf? Fragen über Fragen….). Leckere Kekse runden das Mal ab – und: eine Erdbeere.

Die Rückkehr in das, was sie hier Zivilisation nennen? Leider sei es gerade nicht möglich, ein Taxi per Telefon heranzurufen. Vermutlich ist es zu kompliziert, dem Fahrer zu erklären, wo er eigentlich hin soll. Uns wird angeboten, im Personalbus mitzufahren, um dann am Bahnhof umzusteigen.

Unsere Kollegin Heidrun klärt uns auf, als wir am Frühstückstisch davon berichten: “Da lässt man sich ja auch mit dem eigenen Wagen vorfahren und abholen!” Die beiden schwedischen Damen fanden das wohl auch. Den Personalbus lehnen sie höflich, aber mit Nachdruck ab, um sich per Handy jemanden heranzutelefonieren.

Wir klettern in die landesübliche Rumpelkiste, sehr zur Freude der Mitreisenden, ein letzter Blick auf die Terasse, die freundlichen Schwedinnen winken erfreut (und wohl auch erleichtert) zum Abschied, zwei Strassen weiter: das Chaos hat uns wieder.

Liebling, die Gartenbank wackelt…

---> Wo ist das?

Monday, March 3rd, 2008 Latitude: 19.8605N Longitude: 102.233E

Luang Prabang to Vientiane on motorbikes

Saturday, March 1st, 2008 Latitude: S Longitude: E

Flying up was a 55 minutes fasten-seat-belts-and-eat-your-snacks-experience, riding down again on a motorbike is something to remember a lifetime. The N13, the road from Luang Prabang in the north of Laos to the capital Vientiane ranks among the most beautiful stretches of road this planet has to offer.

Riding south from Luang Prabang? Bring enough time, we were warned. First of all because of all the curves, the mountainous up and down of the N13 between this centre of the Laotian north and the plains around Vientiane. The road cuts off the long western curve of the Mekong between the two cities and leads right through several mountain chains. Making time to take pictures and enjoying the landscape was another good advice we got.

The idea had been born last year returning from a day-trip out of Vientiane on a Honda 250 dirt bike. Already then it was clear that we would be coming back this year to work in Luang Prabang, and that we would have to travel from Vientiane to the north and back as we had business to attend in the capital before and after.

Flying up to Luang Prabang had been a pragmatic decision: The long-haul flight from Germany through Bangkok to Vientiane had left us exhausted, plus being jet-lagged doesn’t cater for a relaxed trip. But in between working for two weeks in the north and another week in Vientiane, the weekend would be perfect for this two-day trip.

Leaving Luang Prabang

We left Luang Prabang Saturday morning after a last Coffee and Croissant at the notorious JoMa bakery, a stop at the gasoline station and a short trip to the market next to the radio house to wave a last good bye to the girls who’d been selling fresh Lao coffee to us during our breaks for the last two weeks.

Temperatures had finally gotten to where you’d expect them in this region, somewhere in the lower 30’s (that’s Celsius) after more than a week of cold, cold temperatures and cloudy skies. Still we put on long sleeved clothes – after all we were heading for the mountains.

Luang Prabang is not a big town. Past the stadium, past the chinese market, past the southern bus terminal, a last goodbye from a rusty billboard and off we were.

The long and winding road

2008-02-23_04-26-06_UTC_Laos_Luang_Prabang

Driving through villages, kids are waving, huts look like they were built a thousand years ago, chicken are crossing the road, followed by cows and goats, seeds are dried in front of the house, children and older people alike roll long leaves to make raw material for the roofs. Curves and curves, rolling hills and mountains, the landscape in shapes of green and blue rolling into the glazing sunlight.

Another road side attraction

Riding like this takes all your concentration. The road is good, but any mistake might send you flying over the edge. We stop again and again to take pictures or just leave the camera untouched to take in the landscape whenever we felt it’s larger than life. The concentration and density of impressions can make you forget time, but when our stomaches indicated noon, we stopped at one of the many road side restaurants. Instant noodles, hot broth and an abundance of fresh vegetables are served for the perfect lunch, juice and ginger tea round off the road side feast.

2008-02-23_04-47-32_UTC_Laos_Luang_Prabang

No discussion about who’s doing the dishes in this joint…

Speed can be measured in meters, miles or kilometers per hour – or also in a bigger scheme. As we drive south, both the vegetation and landscape are changing. Green is the prevailing colour from the deepest valleys we drive through up to the mountain tops left and right of our route climbing up to above 2000 meters altitude. Often the road climbs up along the slopes for miles and miles, crosses over the ridge and winds down again on the other side. The ride is playful, a symphony of the landscape, the road cutting through it, the motor between our knees and our ability to lean through the serpentines. Brake, bend into the curves, release, pull the gas and accelerate into the next turn, hours and hours, almost like dancing.

Altitude log Lpq2vv
The altitude log of the first day from Luang Prabang created using a GPS enabled cell phone

Down to Vang Vieng has us speeding – we have called and reserved the last two rooms at The Elephant Crossing, one of the few hotels in this backpackers stopover, but they will be held only until five in the afternoon. Vang Vieng looks with its abundance of neon lights like a Lao version of Las Vegas, only for backpackers, where eating burgers and fries while laying in front of a TV-set running US-american dailies like “Friends” is the favourite and widespread “activity”.

A good place for a sun-downer

2008_02_23_VangVieng

The Elephant Crossing is quite a water-hole in this place with its beautiful terrace and the panorama on the other side of the river. While we’re having our first beer, backpackers float by on tubes, another favourite past time in Vang Vieng.

Next morning sees us on the road for the second part of our trip. No need to hurry. The distance between Vang Vieng and Vientiane might be the about same as Luang Prabang to Vieng Vang, but the road is, well, straight forward. In some places actually to the extent that there’s no curve or bend for more than a dozen kilometers. But before we reach the plains of the Mekong we are treated to what best could be described as flying-carpet-style riding. The countryside is just a series of rolling hills with the road as if built by passionate motorcycle fans.

Vientiane is not a good final destination for such a tour, as the city greets us with its endless string of workshops, houses, truck-stops, companies, dirt and dust and mad traffic. Well aware of what’s awaiting us we decide to take a long enough break at a fish farm with restaurant to get one of the typical “surprise yourself lunchs” that are the rule in rural Laos as long as you don’t speak enough Lao to tell people what you want – and maybe don’t want. Grilled fish, vegetables and the notorious sticky rice send me sleeping afterwards, dreaming my way back into the mountains…

What does it look like?

Google Earth ImageYou can have a look at what the trip is like using Google Earth. For this, download the files behind this two links (using you right-click menue) of the trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and from Vang Vieng to Vientiane and open it in Google Earth. To see the pictures of the trip displayed in Google Earth with the exact position where they where taken, you want to do the same with this link to my Photos of the trip from LPQ to VTE.

You’ll find all my pictures from the trip also on my Flickr-page.

How to do it yourself?

The bikes we organised through remoteasia.com. This company is owned and run by Quynh and Jim, where he seems to have the motorbike and travelling competence and she run’s the office. Both of them are not only very professional but also very friendly and fun to deal with. We booked by e-mail, made a down-payment to secure the reservation using Paypal, met them on our stop-over in Vientiane to talk about the trip beforehand – What would the road be like? How do the bikes work, etc.? Everything of importance (see my list below of things to think of when going on a motor bike trip in Laos).

Remoteasia also organised the transport of our luggage from Luang Prabang to Vientiane house to house while we were riding the bikes with the light pack we needed for the overnight stay in Vang Vieng.

As this was a one-way trip only, our bikes were shipped up from Vientiane to Luang Prabang on one of the many buses (how this is done remains a secret of Remoteasia and there business partners…)

Good to know

  • Make sure you get the right size of bike. The usual dirt bike you can rent in Laos is a Honda Baja 250 cc. These machines offer enough power to get you anywhere. Some of them are quite high, so if you are less then my 1,90, you might not feel safe getting on and off if you get a bike as high as the one I had…
  • Make sure the bike is in order. Renting a bike like this involves a number of people. There is the owner of the bikes, most of the times Mr. Fourk in Vientiane who also maintains them. Jim of Remoteasia will check the bikes if everything is in order. Then the bikes will be shipped up to Luang Prabang on the bus and handed over to you at the office of Green Discovery. They are the ones who pick up the bikes at the bus terminal. So even if they should be ok, as they go through quite a few hands, you want to make sure they also are
    ok. If not, there is a workshop in Luang Prabang willing to fix anything if necessary.
  • When renting, helmets and other security equipment will be provided. Make sure you give an indication of the size of your head beforehand so you don’t end up with a helmet to small or to big.
  • You might want to bring a washable inlay for the helmet or use one of the tube-like scarfs as the helmets have seen a lot of sweaty heads during their life…
  • Get the Laos road map published by GT-rider.com. Not only is it the best road map available in Laos, it is also laminated, so it will last long enough to get you where you want to go and back. GT-rider.com also features a very helpful online forum.
  • If you don’t speak Lao, a no-words-dictionary like this one from Langenscheidt is a good thing to have as in between the tourist-spots english speaking people are few and not always at hand when you’d need them…
  • Sunglasses, sun protection, long sleeved jacket, gloves and enough warm wear, as the road goes upt o about 1300 meters in altitude and even if it doesn’t get freezing cold, you still want to feel comfortable even after several hours of riding…
  • A good idea is to get the bikes a day or several days before so you can get accustomed to them before hitting the long road. It will also allow you to day-trips out of Luang Prabang.
  • Bring a camera.