Stayed in Brooke and Kat's house for a few days after our trip from the South, which gave us time to do lots and lots of laundry, eat our fave street food, and have yet another 'one last visit' to Pub Street. We'd had sooo many late nights out and long journey's that we set ourselves a midnight curfew as we had lots to get done the next day before we left. As you can probably guess that didn't happen. When we'd been at the station booking our train tickets for the following night three unknown ferang with backpacks wandered in. We're as agog as the locals were when there's stranger's in town. Turned out they were teachers from BKK up there for the climbing (!) so we ended up all going out that night and causing a stir in the pubs, which turned into a 4am finish!
Five of us went up to Laos: moi, Brooke, Kat, Imi (new teacher in town who arrived a few months ago from South Africa) and her Thai friend Ake who she works with at the english language centre. Having company made for a much better overnight train journey than I'm used to, bet the local passengers loved us, the hawkers did at any rate! Rocking up at the border in the morning I remembered that getting new passport pics done whilst in Saraburi got forgotten about, I'd made a list as well (which included massage, sticky rice and Tesco on it, so all the important stuff!)
We found a fab hostel in Vientiane for about a quid a night; I think we surprised Paul, who'd had the dorms to himself, when he got back later in the day to find us having taken over the place. We went out for a delicious brekkie of fried egg croissants at a lovely cafe, which us girlies proceeded to stay in to have massages, upstairs, not in the cafe itself. They basically put all four of us on one big mattress in the same room so we got to have a chat at the same time, quite novel. Eventually dragged ourselves away, went for a wander, and bought some Beer Lao to sit on the balcony with, it was midday after all.
Went for more beer on the river and then to a fab restaurant with live music, where we shared an odd combo of fresh spring rolls then curry and cheese naan, washed down with beer towers. The food was incredible. Me and Brooke thought we'd show off our much-practiced pool skills, although that was before we realised we were playing the local pro who was uber serious and took all the fun out of it. Back at the hostel I top-bunked and Brooke slept on the floor, the coolest place in the room.
After a divine brekkie at a nearby smoothie bar we hauled our bags ontop of a tuktuk (mine being ridiculously big compared to everyone else's) and tootled of to the station where we made the bus to Vang Vieng with five mins to spare. Sat by the ladies and their vegetables at the back, with tempermental fans, sticky leather seats, winding up and down mountain roads, for three and a half hours. We found games to pass the time. The driver teased us by slowing down whenever we went through a town with food and drink stalls but never stopping long enough to let us out for much needed supplies, so were happy to arrive and find a bar with beer and pizza, first priority before finding accommodation.
Found another cheapy for around a quid a night, the a.c. girls went together and I shacked up with Paul, Ake, and a fan. Instead of showers we opted to go for a splash in the river, which was a source of great amusement to the local kiddies and tourists in nearby hammocks whenever one of us screeched that something had grabbed us under the water (seaweed/Paul!), or when the current threatened to drag us away. None of us were overly impressed with the place we ate at that night, but what we lost in food enjoyment we made up with buckets and beer at the club in town until the wee small hours. Will we ever learn?!
Day 2 in Vang Vieng: let the craziness begin... V.V. is basically a p-a-r-t-y town, nothing authentic Laos about it in the slightest. The main activity of choice: hiring an inner tube, floating between the six or seven bars on a stretch of the river, zip-lining and swinging in to the water, getting painted, having mud-fights, drinking copious amounts of cheap beer, and dancing on wobbly wooden platforms on stilts in the river. This was pretty much the order of every day for the whole week.
However, being newbies that first day we had a few problemmos because we didn't know tubing down the rest of the river to the end-point took up to three hours, or that you could otherwise opt to get out at the last bar and get a ride home in a tuktuk. Without being armed with such knowledge we left the last bar pretty tipsy around 5ish and floated along, getting bumped and brusied bums because it was so shallow as it's dry season, and then the darkness hit, and then we got split up. Not good. Looking back it's a fun story, but at the time all I could think about was that it was like a scene from a horror movie: stranded in the middle of a fricking river. Paul freaked when some Laos guys went past in a boat spear fishing, convinced they were out to kill us and shouted from the blackness to me to run away, so I put my tube up over my hips and waded through the water! After what felt like an eternity we found one another and a way to get out the water and up a sideroad; I could have kissed the tuktuk driver. It was then, as we went to pay, that we discovered the bag of money in the drybag was no longer in the drybag. Luckily most of us had only taken the bare minimum out with us, but poor Ake had his whole wallet with the equivalent of 200 quid, cards, and driving licence as well. So, not the best end to our first day on the river, but an experience, and we were more than grateful to get back (three hours later than planned) and have a well-needed... beer, of course!
To be honest, there isn't a great deal to say about the remaining five or so days we spent there. It was pretty much a same-same blur of watching Friends or Simpsons, eating baguettes at breakfast, spending the afternoons on the river (no repeat's of the first day, although we did get caught in a storm the other time we headed all the way to the end-point!), dinner then more partying in the evenings, followed by late night munchies of more baguettes. Met some cool peeps there, one of whom happens to live a few doors down from mum's best friend, crazy eh?! Also met some very weird, some very weirdly dressed, and some permanently stoned people. All good clean fun then :S!
Our last full day there was pretty special as there was a big rocket festival to do with the lunar cycle, so we spent a few hours down at the river near our hotel watching these massive rockets shoot into the distant mountains and the local kiddos playing in the river, which we blatantly joined in with and ended up having a massive fully-clothed water fight with them. Then we went for one last afternoon of river shenanigans and a big final night out: buckets all round!
Then there were three. It was sad saying tarrah's to the Saraburi-bound members of our happy little group when me, Brooke, and Paul took our tired selves off on a six hour mountain bus ride to Luang Prabang. Winding roads are an understatement, no chance of sleep, everytime I tried to nod off I kept wacking my head on the blimmin' window. The views were breathtaking, rolling mountains in every direction and little villages of huts in the middle of them.
Once in LP we only had enough time to find a guesthouse and go out for food. Went to a place along the river where I decided against beef stake, chinless soup, lice chicken with mush room and bam bo, and fish with peeper, and went for fried veggies, which turned out to be a curry :S! The electric disappeared just after we ordered so I was praying they cooked with gas as I was starvinggggg. After a very hot night with an insufficient fan we got up and Brooke and me hired beautiful bright orange bikes from the pharmacy (!) and took ourselves off around the city. Stopped at a few temples and scenic spots along the river, and found the most incredible bakery in all the world, the cinnammon rolls are indescribable, had mine with a cup of tea, how very english. Went back again later in the day for mango crumble and milk. We were going to make it a third time but thought that might be a tad extreme so arranged to go there for brekkie the next day instead.
Caught up with Paul in the evening and had a meander around the largest and most laid back night market in South East Asia, had a wee drinky on red bean bags at a gay wine bar, and then feasted on veggie food for 50p in the market. Went in search of their 'pub street' and found ourselves in a lovely outside bar full of greenery. Paul called it an early night as he was full of ear infection (had an interesting experience at the local hospital!), me and Brooke stayed out a bit longer and when they chucked out at 11.30 we went bowling! Laos has a midnight curfew, whereby everyone should be in their registered residence by that time, so not sure how the bowling alley gets away with it... backhanders?! Was a very surreal night of drinking beer, eating popcorn, and bowling. I wasn't very good, although I blame my talon nails and weak wrists rather than my level of tipsyness. Turned into a very late night, which meant I wasn't feeling grand the next morning. Couldn't even stomach a cinnammon roll for brekkie, this almost brought me to tears.
Was feeling much improved by the time of my flight to Hanoi late that afternoon. Luang Prabang airport's not much more than a shed. I was literally checked in at an office desk, and my backpack weighed on a pair of scales like you find in gyms. Got fed on the one hour flight which was a nice surprise, although I'm pretty sure I was eating pork not chicken. Bit of turbulence didn't help the hangover, but distracted myself by the amazing views over the mountains as I left Laos and crossed into 'Nam.
Another day, another country...