(written by Dave)
Getting up this morning was a little like the day after Christmas, for me at least. I had been looking forward to the Loy Krathong festival for such a long time, then to have it over when we got up today, I had that same empty sort of post Christmas feeling. But I have to say that it was worth it, the festival was great and something we’ll probably never forget. Thankfully the post holiday hangover of rubbish that I half expected to see on the streets wasn’t really visible. A few lanterns came down in our area and throughout the day we saw the odd krathong remnant floating past on the river. Other than that, there was no more mess than any other day in Thailand.
We took our first shot at the western brekkie here at guesthouse and it was darn good. It was basically eggs on toast with each of us getting ½ a baguette. I’m happy to report that we are close enough to Laos now that fresh baguettes are on the menu. We love Thai food but really do miss quality fresh bread.
The main event of the day was to head for Leua’s Sala Keoku (sculpture garden). As the story goes, a Laotian artist and mystic (Leua) was hiking in the mountains when he fell into a hole and ended up landing on a hermit named Keoku. The artist stayed in the cave for a few years and learned about the Buddha and the underworld. During the 1970’s war in Laos, Leua worked in Laos building a garden full of images that he had learned of from the hermit. After the war and the communist victory, he moved to Cambodia and started up a new garden.
The sculptures are hard to describe. Physically, they have brick/concrete cores and concrete sculpted exteriors. The images are a mix of Buddhism, Hindu and underworld. There lots of snakes and dragons, and of course Buddha. The Buddha are not the normal simple Buddha we’ve grown accustomed to. They were much more frilly and ornate. We wandered the site for more than an hour, then visited the main building where there are more sculptures, bells, gongs and the mummified body of Leua. Leua died in 1996 and work is now continued by volunteers. Work seems pretty slow now, there is not much new concrete visible.
We rode our bikes to and from the sculpture garden so we were ready for lunch when we returned to the guesthouse. While the menu here is great, I talked Nancy into trying the Hospital Food Court that is noted in Lonely Planet. We had lunch for $2.50 total (drinks included) and as expected the food was great. We’ll be back eating at the guesthouse tonight I’m quite certain.
We spent the afternoon sitting on the raft/dock restaurant owned by the guesthouse. There was a nice breeze and a surprisingly fast flowing river helping to keep it cool. In the guesthouse flyer they suggest that you sit down there if you are going to be on the internet (so as not to tie up tables in the restaurant) and that they serve great coffee. We tried to order coffee only to discover that they only had instant. Not to worry, as both places are owned by the same person, the staff were more than happy to run up the dock and get us our first Laos coffees from the Guesthouse kitchen. Laos coffee is basically a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk which they pour very strong black gritty pot coffee (think Turkish style). You have the choice of how much you mix the ingredients. I mixed mine fully and the coffee colour barely changed. This is strong coffee, a little bit sweet and somewhat chocolate tasting – I liked it, though our portions probably equalled 4 shots of espresso, we’ll certainly need to measure our consumption as we ride in Laos.
While we sat on the water, we watched lots of boats coming and going across the river (and border).. There are no loading docks on either side, rather a long set of stairs where one by one boxes are carried up/down, mostly by young men. Mostly the boats left Thailand packed full and returned from Laos empty, letting us witness an international trade deficit happening real-time. We’ve read that Laos imports most goods so this sort of makes sense. At least on this side of the river, we’ve seen that they unload trucks to get the goods down to the river. As you can see the Friendship Bridge from the dock, I can’t for the life of me figure why they simply don’t drive the stuff across – perhaps the bridge fees are high, or even duty is somehow by-passed when goods are transferred by boat –clearly further research is required. So, we are staying put at this guesthouse for another day or two…