If we could use one word to sum up Laos it would be wow, and not just because it rhymes. The scenery is amazing - we had no idea just how beautiful Laos is. When you travel from place to place you really get to experience the true beauty. The countryside consists of huge tree covered mountains and limestone peaks, there are loads of little villages as you pass through the hilly windy roads and all this is complemented by the Mekong river passing by. Driving in Laos is like driving through a time warp, the people in the rural areas live in really basic bamboo huts, even more basic than the ones we have been staying in but with about 20 people in the same space. You see children working cutting off tree branches from trees or carrying heavy bags on their backs and there are cows, goats and pigs at the side of the roads. The only sign you are in the 21st Century are the satellite dishes each village seem to have!
Our journey from Chaing Mai to Huay Xai worked out perfectly, we cut it close though as we arrived at the border at 5.50pm and immigration closed at 6pm, luckily the border is a 30 seconds boat ride from Thailand to Laos so we made it in time! Phew! Hauy Xai is pretty much a stopping off point so we used it to run some errands before heading off to Luang Prabang the following evening. We did get to experience Laos beer for the first time though which we both really enjoyed!
What a nightmare journey! It all started so well when we turned up at the bus station and our bus had beds in, that's where it all began to go wrong. Everyone was given a bed number and it soon became apparent that it was pot luck if you got a good bed, a bad bed or an awful bed. So we weren't surprised when Hickey got the worst bed on the bus, right in the corner with no head room, no foot room and no air con! Plus he had to climb over people to get into bed. Lorry had a bad bed which was a top bunk with little to no head room. The free meal we were promised turned out to be a small bottle of warm water and a teeny tiny cake. It gets worse! Hickey left his bed to chill out on Lorry's bed for a bit even though there wasn't much room to sit; as it began to get dark he headed back to his bed only to find a Laos women and baby asleep there! Cue the next few hours trying to head to tail in Lorry's bed very unsuccessfully! At the toilet stop a German girl on the bunk below offered to swap beds with Lorry to see if we could have more room, we didn't so Hickey then decided to sleep on the floor squashed between 2 beds!! The uncomfortable enough journey was made worse at the roads in Laos are terrible with pot holes everywhere! After over 14 hours (with pretty much no sleep) we made it to Luang Prabang.
We found somewhere to stay and headed out deciding not to bother sleeping. We had some brekkie and tried Laos coffee and then headed to the morning market which was pretty much full of raw meat being munched on by flies! We made a quick exit and decided to head to the Mekong River. This is where we started to realize just how beautiful Luang Prabang is. It set on the back drop of the river with lots of side pebbled streets, French Chalets and cafes and lots of unique little side shops. We walked along the river and explored the little side streets, we then had a lovely lunch at one of the riverside restaurants. We also nearly crashed a Laos wedding but bottled it at the last minute! We can see why people refer to this as the most romantic place in South East Asia.
After our day walking around in the boiling sun we showered and headed to the night market which takes place every night. The main road closes and people line the streets selling all sorts of handmade goodies, we bought ourselves a few bits of bobs. We then ate at an all you can eat vegetarian buffet (well all you can fit on a plate) down a side street for under a quid! We met the German girl from our bus plus a Dutch girl we had made friends with and also ended up dining with a crazy Hungarian, a laid back Israelian and a Swiss girl. This is what we love about travelling!
Later that night we ended up bumping into loads of people we had met in Thailand so we all headed to a bar where we then bumped into Pierre- Luc from Perhentian Islands! Crazy! We then all headed to another awesome bar called Utopia and had a few beer Laos before closing time. Everything closes at 11.30pm in Luang Prabang - well except the bowling alley! So about 100 tourists all squashed into some tuk tuk's and all went bowling! It was great fun and we drank quite a few more beer Laos! We then headed back as we hadn't slept for bloody ages, however the tuk tuk dropped off ages from our guesthouse and when we did arrive the gate was locked ad when we managed to get through that the door was locked! We woke up both the old man and old lady and finally made it to bed after a very eventful 36 hours!
The next day we felt very ropey, as we have no watch we had no idea what time it was. Hickey said good morning to the old couple who looked back strangely at him, the reason being that it wasn't in fact the morning it was 5.30pm and we had slept pretty much the whole day! We quickly got up and headed out for some food where we bumped into the other half of the French-Canadian couple - Vanessa. We had some food and then she took us to a fancy hotel where some traditional Laos dances were taking pace. The place was very expensive so we ordered 1 beer Laos between the 3 of us! They didn't treat us any differently to the not so scavvy customers though and kept topping up our water and even bought us out a big bowl of peanuts. After we had watched some of the dances we headed to Utopia to say our goodbyes to all the people we had met along the way, we made sure we left before 11.30pm though as we didn't want to get locked out again!
After taking 7 hours to travel about 150 miles we finally arrived in Vang Vieng. We found a guesthouse to stay and went for a walk around the town, it was hard to believe we were in Laos, the place is very touristy and full of restaurants playing eposides of Friends, Family Guy or South Park all on loop! As we are tourists we sat down and watched 8 episodes of Family Guy and ordered some food, a decision that would come back to haunt Hickey for the next week! The Laos salad Hickey ordered tasted good at the time but once back at the guesthouse the heavens opened (if you can call Hickey's ass that!) and that pretty much was that for our time in Vang Vieng! Hickey didn't leave the bed for a couple of days with Lorry playing nurse and doing lots of water and toilet paper runs! We were both gutted about missing tubing as it was something we were looking forward to doing all trip! As soon as Hickey felt a little better we got straight on a mini bus and headed to Vientiane.
After another painstakingly slow journey we got dropped off 10km from Vientiane and were forced to pay 20,000kip each to get another bus into the town centre (we are getting pretty fed up all with all these scams!!). Determined to turn around our bad luck so far we found a nice cheap room with a shared bathroom and headed out into town.
We ate some lunch at a lovely little restaurant over looking the river. We thought we would play it safe and ordered broccoli soup. This however was not safe enough as Hickey was back on the toilet for the rest of the day and night, making our decision to have a room with a shared bathroom a complete schoolboy error!
Next morning Billy bad luck turned up again and Lorry lost one of her contact lenses meaning she can now only see properly out of one eye! We were feeling very sorry for ourselves due to the amount of bad luck we were having so decided to find a nice play to stay and splashed out a bit. We found a beautiful room with en-suite, air con and flat screen TV on the wall! (it actually only cost us 10 quid for the night!). We headed to the Vietnamese embassy to sort out our visa for Vietnam and then decided we needed to salvage something out of Laos so we went sightseeing. We went to Patuxai Park which was very pretty and then to an Arc De Triompe replica were we took some cool photos overlooking Vientiane. We then headed to the market and ended the night being ripped off for a very poor meal!
Such a shame that our time in Laos was a bit of a disaster but it is a lovely place with lovely people, especially the Laos children who say saba dee (hello) smile and giggle everytime we see them, they are very cute! We have a 24 bus journey to Vietnam next, bit worrying as Hickey is still not well!!!