28th - 29th - Huay Xia
We had to finally leave our favourite guest house (Baan Rub Aroon) of the trip so far, to jump on a local bus and head to the Thai/Laos border. We stopped at the town of Chiang Khong as we heard it had a pretty good Mexican restaurant, which lived up to its reputation. We then walked through the main street of Chiang Khong to the river crossing. We jumped on a long tail boat and headed across the Mekong River to the sleepy Laos border town of Huay Xia. We spent the early evening finalizing our details for the Gibbon experience and walking the one main street. We finished the day off having a couple of drinks at Bar How (the only bar in town), with its funky indie tunes.
We had a pretty chilled out Sunday. We looked at all our transport options for the rest of our travel around Laos, made some pretty big dents in our books and walked up to Wat Jom Khao Manilat where we watched the sunset over the Mekong.
30th - 2nd December - Gibbon Experience
Unfortunately out of all days, this was the day Chris ended up with food poisoning! After the first 1am wake-up and with minimal hours of any sleep achieved, I decided to heed my own advice and harden up as our Gibbon Experience started today. Well with a couple of stops to vomit on the journey to the Bokeo Reserve it was definitely not looking to be my day. Once arriving it was then a further 1.5hr trek to the base camp, where I was very lucky to have gained sympathy from someone who carried my pack for half of the trek up the mountains. On reaching base camps we were split into different tree houses each with around 5 occupants. Our group consisted of Meca and myself, Moniek and Robin (The legend that carried my bag up the mountains) and one of the nicer yanks you'll meet, Andy. We then meet our amazing guide Song Kao. We then continued our trek another kilometre or so before reaching the zip wires, what an amazing experience these things are, you hook yourself on, then jump and fly! After a few zip lines and trekking down a massive hill we made it to our tree-house. What an amazing place it was, we were just the 4th group to use it and it had been built to be the VIP tree-house; it was three levels with the bottom level including the zip lines and open air bathroom with a view over the valley, the middle floor consisting of two king size beds, kitchen with fridge, dining table and relaxing area; and the top being a lookout with room for a single bed; oh and we even had our own personal masseuse. Whilst I slept from that afternoon through to the next morning, the girls relaxed on hammocks chatting, admiring the view and reading a book; whilst the other guys went out to find more zipping.
We were woken to the sounds of the Gibbons, whistling from all sides through the jungle. We spent the early morning having tea and coffee with fresh fruit whilst attempting to spot any of the Gibbons that we were able to hear, unfortunately to no avail. With tummies starting to grumble we heard the sound of the zip-line and in came our breakfast. We then headed out for a trek through the jungle, and went to explore some of the other tree-houses. We zipped from here to there, over amazing canyons and rivers, with our longest zip being just over 450m long and about the same height from the ground! After several hours of intense zipping and trekking we headed back to our tree-house for another feast. That afternoon most of our group relaxed and all got to enjoy the services of the onsite masseuse, whilst Andy and I headed out to do some more zipping. We found some amazing zip lines and were really getting into it, even inventing our own tricks, like the backwards jump-off or the reverse-superman. We also visited all the other tree-houses on offer and quickly realized why ours was the VIP, even our food was better! After several hours of zipping we headed back to our tree-house just in time for sunset. And again, we heard the zip of a line and in came dinner, with all our favourites including chilli sauce!
We were again woken by the sounds of the jungle, we all woke a little earlier today in hope of a Gibbon sighting. It was unfortunately not to be, however we did see many types of birds, a couple of squirrels and some amazing butterflies. We were again treated to a great breakfast before having to say our goodbyes and head out of the jungle. We left our tree house and headed back to the local village where Meeks and I left the group and jumped on a local bus to head to Luang Namtha. It is a chilled out little town in the North of Laos, close to the Chinese border. It basically consisted of two main streets and is a basis for trekking the North of Laos. After finding a great little café to relax with a glass of iced coffee, the day was away before we knew it.
3rd - 5th - Luang Prabang
We left Luang Namtha and jumped on our minibus for the 9hr journey to Luang Prabang. What a fun journey this turned out to be with Meeks and I having to rotate between the ejector seat, one guy making noises I've never heard before come out of a throat, another doing the same through his nose, a crazy Slovenian lady that tried to tell the driver how to drive whilst pushing bread against her neck and the guy next to me who spilt everything that even came close to entering his mouth, we were bloody excited to see the sign that read Luang Prabang. What an amazing town Luang Prabang is; it is on the UNESCO world heritage listing and has many of the remnants of being a French colony, with brilliant bakeries, great coffee, wine, crepes, baguettes, croissants and amazing array of cute little shops, it truly is a magical place and our favourite Asian city of the trip. After the long bus ride we spent our afternoon exploring the main street, before relaxing in a wine bar to release the stress of the day, finally a place with good wine! As darkness set-in and with the lanterns coming on it was time to hit the night markets. We explored the markets before finding a little street stall to sit down at and enjoyed some vegetable soup, but it had beef (yeah, work that one out).
The next day we found an amazing little place for breakfast, Le Café Ban Vat Sene, a café set in a world heritage listed French villa, so quaint. We spent the rest of the day exploring the town, we saw Wat Xieng Thong, followed the edge of Mekong River up to the Royal Palace and went and explored the entertainment district, stopping many a time to enjoy a great coffee or pastry. In the afternoon we went up to Wat Phu Si, sat on the steps and watched the sun set over the Mekong River and the Mountains that surround Luang Prabang. In the night we meet up with Robin & Moniek for dinner. We went to an upper market Laos restaurant and enjoyed a Laos feast, eating the meal the traditional way rolling rice into balls and dipping them into the food. After dinner we enjoyed a couple of drinks at another wine bar.
We spent Saturday with Robin and Moniek, grabbing a tuk-tuk and heading out of town to the Kuang Si waterfalls. The waterfalls are a multitude of different cascades, full of an amazing turquoise blue water, set in a massive park. We walked all the way to the top of the falls with a great view out over the area, before heading back down and jumping into the alluring water. There is also a bear sanctuary in the park, housing around 8 sun bears, all rescued from the hands of poachers. We then headed back to town and had an amazing feed at the Joma bakery. That night we all walked back through market, picking up a few odds and ends before heading to the night-time entertainment district. We ended up at Hive a pub with $4 jugs of Sangria made of Laos whisky and massive jugs of cheap beer, where we meet up with a whole heap of fellow travelers cruising the same route through Laos as us. It was unfortunate though the night was ended prematurely due to the town having an 11.30pm curfew.
6th - 7th - Vang Vieng
An early start to a Sunday morning we were up at 6 to see the ulm parade, where a procession of around 100 Monks walk down the road and hundreds of people fill up their bowls with rice. It was an amazing sight to behold. We then grabbed a quick coffee at our favourite café and breakie at our favourite bakery before jumping on the bus to Vang Vieng. The journey took around 5.5hrs, taking in some amazing scenery with most of trip winding through the mountains. We then arrived to Vang Vieng, culture shock plus, a town built purely for partying. We spent the afternoon exploring the town, very different to the life of Luang Prabang, with every café here set up so all the seats face the tv showing re-runs of your favourite American sit-com, an island full of bars with neon lights and a couple of bonfires. So we did our best to embrace the culture that is Vang Vieng and relaxed our way into the night by grabbing a couple of beers and sat by the bonfire.
Tubing… What an awesome day, floating down the river with a bar every 20m or so to stop at, rehydrate with their specialty bucket, enjoy each bars entertainment, be it beer pong, rope swings, zip lines, or even the waterslide that you go down on your tube. There was such a brilliant atmosphere, with the river and bars full of fellow travelers and everyone in the mood to party.