Sep 19, 2009

Vang Pao charges dropped

Last night I turned my web browser to read that all charges had been dropped against General Vang Pao. The general stood accused of plotting the overthrow of the Lao Government.

I was a guest in a Hmong house last winter, the first time I'd ever done so. There were marked differences from Akha or Lahu. Notice how it's built on the ground, not so drafty, nice clay oven,also a good roof of split wood not straw. It's the one in the background.

The ending to the story is a lot less melodramatic than the beginning. An out of control ATF agent suggested to a retired American officer that he supply guns to the Hmong. The whole plot was an idea hatched in the mind of a rogue American policeman abetted by a retired American Army Officer and later to include a couple of old Hmong guys. They were about as ready to take over Laos as I am to fly to Mars. No arms purchased, no army raised, just a silly attempt to further some policeman's career.

U.S. Drops Case Against Exiled Hmong Leader - NY Times

Gen. Vang Pao's Last War - NY Times

General Vang Pao

What about the damage done to Lao / Hmong relations?

The whole whoopla gave plenty of cover for both the Lao and Thai governments to be a lot more proactive in resettling Hmong refugees from the camps in Thailand. There was also friction between Lao militias and Hmong in already resettled villages in Bokeo province, and around all sides of Xaysombone. Many Laotians assumed they were about to be attacked by Hmong guerrillas, after all it was just recently that the Hmong stopped receiving arms and money via the porous Thai border.

Vang Pao 1961

Another aspect is the disrespect shown to the old General himself, after all America is definitely in his debt. He not only fought a war for us, in which tens of thousands of his people were lost, and and contributed greatly to the war effort in Vietnam but his forces saved innumerable US air force pilot's lives. He is now 79, in the twilight of a life spent mostly fighting for US causes or recovering from that fight.

I think our government owes an apology for over reaching and a certain ATF agent should be looking at facing a jury.

Sep 6, 2009

Tad Fan / Sihom Sabai Guest House

A different view of Tad Fan, from the top of the falls. Click for a clear picture

I first noticed the sign for Siihom (pronounced "see home")Sabai on the way to Paxon, couldn't miss it, big billboard, "guest house Sihom Sabai 200m".

Later after renting a motorcycle in Paxon and poking around the area a little I stopped back in to take a look. I thought it ideal. Shady, house set back off the road, small restaurant out front with a big covered table for lounging. I asked about going for a walk and the owner's daughter volunteered that her husband and her brother could act as guides.

Hom, the owner of Sihom Sabai Guest House and many many rai of coffee plantation. Now tends his garden, bounces grand children on his knee, and drinks Lao coffee.

Siihom Sabai is named after the couple who own the guest house Ms Si and her husband Mr. Hom. Their daughter Boontom was the best English speaker there, but she also had a sister working at the Sabaidee 2 Guesthouse in Pakse which is the most popular backpacker Lonely Planet guest house, so I'm sure she too speaks great English. The rates were very low, maybe four of five dollars for a room in the guest house and two or three to "home stay" in their personal house. Don't hold me to the rates, things change, my memory fades.

I returned my motorcycle and came back with my bags early the next morning. All the towns and points between Pakse and Paxon are named after the mile marker, Siihom is at Ban Siisip (village kilometer 40).

Treking guide and his covey.

When I arrived at the guest house I was surprised to see eight or ten other foreigners there. Green Discovery and another company use Sihom Guest House as a place to sleep and a base to start walks into the surrounding countryside. One group was leaving to return to Pakse and another group was beginning their walk that morning. After many coffees and after the second group started walking I met my guides, Ad and Ham, Boontom's husband and the youngest son of Si and Hom.

Ham with coffee and knife in left hand.


Eventually we crossed a creek where there was a small house, the owners had been fish farming using the dammed up creek as a water source, they also had these home made rat traps. I have to assume for catching the rat to eat. Inside the bamboo was a loop of wire and a small stick spring loaded to trip the bent bamboo and throttle the rat. I thought I knew all the different traps from when I was a kid but this was a new one on me.

Close up

Edge of Boloven Plateau

Above the house the hill became more rocky and we came to the edge of an escarpment. From our overlook we could look down into the Dong Hua Sao National Biodiversity Conservation Area. I walked in a couple of circles along the ledge until I found the scat from some kind of mid sized cat. I knew this was too good a place not to have a scent marker.

Tad Nguing from above

From our viewing point we walked back to the west heading steadily downhill, crossed the river and abruptly came up on Tad Nguing, a much better waterfall for swimming than Tad Fan.

Tad Nguing from below

Tad Fan Lodge

Later yet we crossed the top of Tad Fan as in the photo at the beginning of this blog post. I bought both of my guides a soda or a coffee at the restaurant but we quickly left. Tad Fan attempts to be a little bit more than is called for. Too much suupap and too little sabai.
Tad Fan

Gate to my overgrown hectare behind bike.

We walked back on the access road to Tad Fan Resort and passed the entrance to a hectare I own there. It's at the Y in the road, feel free to pick the wild coffee or tea. We took a shortcut back so that we didn't have to go all the way out to the road.

Si and Hom of Sihom Sabai