From March 21 2009:

"I have lost Jacky" (Laos e-group and announcement)

Sabadea (hello)!
Cambodia and Laos pictures and videos have been posted. Please view them when
you have time. If I don't say so myself...they are some pretty cool pictures.
Blog is updated through Vietnam and home page photo is changed. Vietnam egroup
will come in a couple of weeks.

Tomorrow we start to head through northern Vietnam to China.
Jacky and Ward

E-group below:

"I Have Lost Jacky"

Leaving Cambodia meant a large change for us. The border crossing into our 41st
country, the Communist Laos, was uneventful. The border guards were kind, not
intimidating. It was a pleasant change. It was good that we got our Laos visas
in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, because there was no way of obtaining the visas at this
very remote border location. Prior to entering Laos the hotel
owner of the previous night told us that we would need Laos
money (kip) before we got there. Our first chance of using an ATM would be in
Pakse which was a week away on bicycle. He claimed American dollars would only
bring 6 Laos kip per dollar even though the rate was 8.4 kip per dollar. He
would do us a favor and give us kip at a rate of 7.1. We exchanged some money
to be safe. (Note to self - favors are usually in the favor of those offering
the favor.)

30km from the border there was a small island, Dong Det, in the middle of the
Mekong River that many backpackers go to. It was very rustic and very touristy.
After 6 hours of sitting
on the deck of our $3/night bungalow, I was ready to get off the island. Where
was Gilligan when you needed him? Oh, by the way, this touristy island that was
supposedly going to screw us over with the kip exchange rate ended up offering a
rate of 8.2 kip per dollar. I really hate it when the hotel owners scam you.
But, what do you do when you don't know when you will be able to get money next?
You're forced to trust them.

The restful time at Dong Det Island was nice and it was good for us to prepare
for the long days ahead. This part of Laos was sparesly populated and the
villages and towns were 30-40km apart. Many did not have guesthouses and barely
had a place to get a meal. On our route to Vientiene we had to cycle 160km
between overnight towns. The Laos people were more laid back and not as
aggressive as the Cambodians with their greetings of "hello". The homes were
either of woven bamboo panels or home sawn wooden boards. The roofs were of
rusty tin or grass thatch. The homes seem to be of a better quality than those
in Cambodia. They use better materials and have better construction techniques.
The houses were set back off the road about 25 meters and at least 75% had
electricity which enabled them to have electric coolers. This is different than
the houses in Cambodia. In Cambodia they had to use batteries for power and ice
to cool their coolers. Their houses were sitting right next to the road which
resulted in hundreds of kids playing in the streets,
or close to it, and yelling "hello" all day long.

As we followed the Mekong River Valley north to the capital city the terrain
was primarily flat to rolling and had forestry as the primary crop. The rice
paddies were definitely less in number. To escape the intense heat we were
leaving our hotel at 6:00 a.m. when the temperature was 60-70 degrees in the
hopes of being done by noon when the temperature soared to 105-108 degrees. The
humidity was just as high. The sweat would run down our arms and off our
handlebar grips making them very slippery. It was hot! It was at this time
that "I lost Jacky". (To prefice, Jacky is not an ice cream fanatic like I am.
1/2 cup, once a month is all she desires.) We entered one small town with the
temperature at 106 degrees. We went to every freezer that we could find in
search of ice cream. While we were sitting having a cold glass of water Jacky
heard the "ice cream song" that the ice cream man plays on his bike to notify
people of his presence. Jacky was so delirious from the heat that she didn't
jump up to get the ice cream. Five seconds later she realized her mistake and
chased him all over town in search of that ice cold treat. She listened
carefully for that so desired melody. I was chuckling inside as I saw her go
through this painful search for ice cream. She never found it that day and I
dread the encounter that would have happened if she would have tracked him down
only to find the ice cream cooler empty. (Two days later in Pakse we found a
grocery store that had ice cream in the 1/2 gallon size. Is five minutes to fast
to eat that much ice cream for one person? You be the judge. I have witnessed
that Jacky and heat are not good companions.)

We reached the capital city of Vientiene, and spent a couple of days getting the
flavor of the Laos capital. Vientiene sits on the Mekong with Thailand just
across the river. We could see some of the French influence in the architecture
and we really saw the influence with all the extra ordinary Budhist shrines.

From Vientiene we had about 5 days of riding to Luong Probang. The terrain
changed to hilly/mountainous so there were days we had 25-40km of continuous
climbing to be followed by 20kms of downhill. Our days were shortened to
80-90kms because of the hills. Luong Probang was also very touristy with the
Mekong River being its primary draw. Along with the river, they had a beautiful
waterfall. The waterfall actually pooled up in many areas so it created many
swimming holes. In the route to Luong Probang we met many cyclists also
self-contained and biking through Asia . It was fun to hear their stories and
learn more about the roads and terrain that lay ahead.

Luong Probang did throw us a curve ball. When we arrived the ATMs were not
working and had not been working for the past 3 days. We always try to
calculate the amount of cash we will need before we see another ATM. Too much
money can be a problem because of theft possibilities and additional money
exchange fees. Leaving Luang Probang without cash was not an option. We had to
get cash since our upcoming route was through the mountains and would be less
populated. The chance of ATM access would get less and less. We downgraded our
hotel selection and moved to a sketchy hotel to get the absolute lowest cost
possible. We were eating only rice and bread so as to conserve our money until
the ATM started working again. I felt like I was in Bolivia all over again as
this similar situation occured there as well. Luckily, after a total of 7 days
of being down, the ATMs started to work and we took out enough cash to get us to

Our next major stop was Phonsavan. This area is noted for the "Plain of Jars".
There are 3 major sites where huge rock jars have been hewn out of solid rock.
There are only theories as to why they are there, but they are really cool.
While at the site we were told to only walk on the designated paths. We saw
signs that indicated the area was free of unexploded ordinances. We had heard
from other cyclists about the dangers of free camping and trekking in this area.
Now we are seeing the warning signs ourselves.

I will try to explain what happened in this area during the Vietnam War and how
it still effects the area today. (Please keep in mind that the information we
received was from Laos. Please do more research if you desire.) During the
Vietnam War, US aircraft would take off from Thailand heading for North Vietnam
targets. If those targets were not achievable because of weather or heavy enemy
protection, the aircrafts were redirected to sites in Laos. The North
vietnamese were using Laos for the movement of troops to the south of Vietnam.
(Here is the catch, Laos was considered to be a neutral country and not involved
in the war. This was a United Nations Resolution. The bombing was illegal and
therefore kept very secret from the American public and Congress. Hence called
the Secret War.) Up until Oct. of 1968, about 300 missions a month were against
Laos. After Oct. of 1968, the time when the U.S. stopped the bombing of North
Vietnam, the missions in Laos increased to 13,000 per month. Over 500,000
missions were flown into Laos. The missions included a very high use of cluster
bombs. The cluster bomb was an effective weapon as it could eliminate all
living things in a 300 square meter area. The part that still haunts Laos today
is that only 90% of these baseball size bombs exploded. The remaining
unexploded 10% (roughly 3,000,000) are still lethal today. Something as simple
as staking out our tent, or having the metal cleat of our cycling shoe strike
the bomb could detonate it. The daily work in the rice fields of hoeing, the
staking of the cows, the children searching for the metal to sell for cash are
much bigger problems for Laos today. Many, many people are killed and mained
every year because of these bombs. Because they cannot farm the land it has
kept them in poverty. Clean up is occuring at a very slow pace. They are only
able to detonate about 30,000 bombs per year. Jacky and I biked past many
fields where the MAG team (bomb detonating organization) were staking out the
bombs, wiring them up and detonating them. Yes, this is real. It was very
unsettling for us but a very normal activity for any Laotion that is 40 years
old or younger as they grew up with this.

We really liked Laos. It is a very calm country and the people are genuinely
friendly and helpful. It is also very easy to bike through. The roads are wide
and there isn't much traffic since most are too poor to have a car or scooter.
Any traffic that does exist is very courteous to us bikers. They give us a
polite beep of the horn to let us know they are coming and then pass us way over
in the other lane.

I will finish our Laos e-group with this story.
We were returning to Luang Probang after biking to the waterfalls. It had been
a 70km rountrip bike ride and we were hungry. We knew the center of the city
would be full of tourists so we stopped to eat at a busy roadside cafe on the
city's outskirts. Grilled duck, salad and Beer Lao were the dinner options so
we ate what everyone else was eating. It tasted very good and the price was in
our budget. As we were preparing to leave a gentleman asked us to join him and
a friend to share a beer. Our beer became two which then became
know how it goes. Our Lao language was getting better and their English was
improving greatly. They were complimenting Jacky on her beauty and me on being
strong and handsome. When we shared our photos of John and Ross things started
to get scary. I kept hearing how strong and how handsome I was many times over
and how I could make strong boys. The guy would grab me around my waist. But,
when the cell phone came out to call in some women for me to impregnate we
decided it was time to leave. (Jacky's note: They wanted Ward to help make
strong and handsome children in Laos. What a great addition to their gene
pool.) Before we left we took a picture. The guy wanted to kiss me (Ward). I
don't think so! Scary!

Later Jacky and I laughed and laughed. We should have charged for this stud
service and maybe it could fund our trip. However, if we pursued it this scam
could have blown up on us. The catch...I had a vasectomy in 1991.

On to Vietnam...the weather has cooled and all ice cream men are safe from
Jacky's threat of violence.

Take care friends,
Ward and Jacky