I left off last time as we arrived in Laos. It seemed fair to let the country have it's own section!
Sunday 27th was our first day in Luang Prabang. It's a lovely city - quite strange as it's a cross between Laos and French architecture. Everywher4e in Laos still has a strong French influence, left over from when they colonised the area. It also means we've spent the last 2 weeks eating plenty of baguettes!
That day we had a quick wander around town and realised that the entire main street at night is taken up with a huge market. They have some really nice crafts there which looked like better quality than the ones available in Thailand, but we still don't have sherpahs so can't buy much... Wemet up with the other travellers we met on the slow boat for pizza that night (really immersing ourselves in the culture...). We got 2 for 1 cocktails, free Beer Lao with every pizza and free shots of Lao Lao rice whiskey with pretty much anything we bought at the restaurant! As the night wore on we got a taste for this drinking business, but there's a curfew in place in Laos which meant that we were very politely kicked out at 10.30pm. It did mean it was the erfect time to have a proper Laos night out though. When all the bars and restaurants shut early, the only places which can serve alcohol are the bowling alleys! So we donned our snazzy shoes and had a game, - along with Beer Lao of course.
I took no photoes on Monday, so I can only assume we did nothing. Everyone else was heading off toa waterfall, but I'd been eaten alive by mosquitos (yet again) and had to track down a pharmacy to supply me with anti-histamines and cooling gel etc. Instead we booked a trip on Tuesday to Kuang Si Waterfall. We were dropped off by minibus at about midday and had to walk the short distance to the falls. The first thing we passed was a Bear Rescue Centre. Very cute. Bears aren't very exciting though. I just checked the ticket we got for our visit and realised there was a Tiger Rescue Centre directly opposite - how on earth did we fail to notice tigers?? The first part of the falls we reached was a small swimming area with clear torquise water and a couple of people in the shallows. We decided to keep going, and going, and going... The falls are on a few levels and each one seems to get deeper and the current stronger and the falls larger. We finally reached the main fall and it was absolutely massive. There are plenty sterotypical pictures of us standing at the foot of a massive waterfall just to show it's size which will be posted next time we have a good internet connection! We had a quick dip in the water but didn't have much time before we had to be back at the bus.
Back in Luang Prabang we decided to trek up Phousi Hill right in the centre of town to watch the sunset. There are about 300 steps leading up the hill to a Wat at the very top and it seems to be a really popular place to come at sunset - it was teeming with photographers. Theview from the top is really amazing. The land aroun d the hill is wuite flat until it reachs the mountains, and you can get a 360 degree view of Luang Prabang. We descended on the opposite side of the hill which is absolutely covered with statues of Buddha. There was even an area which had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc Buddhas - one for each day of the week. The main attraction on that side seemed to be Buddha's Footprint which was hidden away underground. I didn't get to see it as the cave was too dark, so I had to wait to see Ryan's photographs (my camera battery ran out).
On Wednesday September 30th we left for Vang Vieng - famous for tubing down the river. We got a nice little room just off the main street for about 3pounds a night between us. I'm really glad we ended up getting a nice room... We just went out to eat that night and Ryan booked a tour of caves on a tube and then a tubing trip down the river. I wasn't sure about the tubing malarky at that stage - I find it hard enough to swim in a pool not to mind in a river. At least there's no current in a pool! I relaxed for the day and got most of the way through a book borrowed off Ryan. 've already finished the ones I brought with me and all the english bookshops here seem to have are Danielle Steel novels or something equally as terrible. I'm hoping Ryan's books will keep me occupied until we get to Oz and some real bookshops!
When Ryan got back we decided as I'd been sitting about all day we'd have a good night and tried our first (and last) buckets of the trip. They were sandcaslte buckets filled with a few shots of Tiger Whiskey, Red Bull or M-150 energy drink and 7Up. They tasted pretty good but neither of us have a full recollection of the night and I ended up with a 2 day hangover. I can't even drink Red Bull at home or I get a bit twitchy and it's stronger here - I won't be doing that again! It was a fun night out though - I've never seen Ryan dance before, it was wonderful! God knows what we were dancing to.
On Friday morning we got up at midday to meet people and head out tubing. We met them in a cafe and after swaying down the road for a bit I decided it was probably best to go back to bed. That's why I was so glad we had a nice room! Even after relaxing all day on Friday and heading out in the early afternoon Saturday, we rented our tubes and got to the river, made it to two bars/swings/stops and had to turn back. Sorry to Ryan for ruining the day. From the bars we got to you could see a large chunk off the tubing part of the river and it was fun watching people play about in the watyer. At each bar (there's probably about 10) they have swings out over the river, zip wires you drop off into the water and one had a huge slide which threw you out into the middle of the water. Ryan had a go on them the first time he went, and went on one of the swings when I was out too. It's really funny watching people sidle up to the swings looking really brave, then once they start swinging all their faces have the same very very serious expression, as if they've never concentrated so hard on anything in their lives, then finally when they have to let go it's an expression of mild panic and their legs flail about in mid air until they finally decide to let go and drop awkwardly in to the water!
On Sunday Oct 4th we took a crowded bus with no leg room (the guy in front of us decided he needed to recline his seat for his guitar) down to the capital Vientiane. It was a mini Bangkok but without Khaosan Rd really. Neither of us were very impressed. We booked into the most decent looking guesthouse we could find as we got there quite late and we couldn't be bothered wandering around looking for somewhere else with our heavy bags. The place was overpriced but it had ai-con, a comfortable bed, cable tv and a hot shower. Unfortunately it also had a pile of insects pupal casings in the bathroom, cigarette butts down the sides of the furniture (a dustpan and brush can't cost that much, surely) and some odd brown smears on the bedroom floor (I don't want to know what they were). I just kept shoes on when I walked around. No problem! That night we wandered to the nearest restaurant, a little local place with cheap food which wathe second best meal I've had since starting the journey! The best was a chill, basil, vegetable and ground chicken dish we were given when we stayed in the jungle near Kanchanaburi - this time it was also a chilli, basil and ground chicken dish. It seems I like it.
We hadn't realised but we arrived in Vientiane at a really good time. Oct 5th was the annual Dragon Boat Race so there were market stalls and a fun fair set up down by the river. The place was absolutely packed as it's a national holiday in Laos. The plan was to head down to the river to watch the race, but the crowds got too much (it was roasting in Vientiane even without people around you) so we found a nice air conditioned cafe to sit in instead! We're wimps. While we were in Vientiane we decided it wouldn't be a good idea to go to Vietnam after all. The recent typhoon had devestated a lot of the areas we wanted to go (Hanoi to Da Nang) and there was another on forecast in the next few days. We looked on the internet for information and found stories of travellers stuck without any transport because bridges were knocked or who had to be airlifted off islands before the water hit - it just didn't seem worth the risk. It's a shame really, I ws really looking forward to Vietnam. Instead of heading east, we decided to head down to Cambodia from Vientiane. We managed to find a travel agency that was open during the holiday to book our trip down to the 4000 Islands in Southern Laos. The journey was on a sleeper bus which left in the evenings so we could have left on the 5th but we'd already paid for our accomodation to the night. That meant we had to kill more time in Vientiane...It wasn't a very eventful day. We left our bags at the travel agency so we didn't have to drag them around all day, but the highlight of the day was breakfast in a Scandinavian Bakery early in the afternoon. They sell real cheese there - edam, gouda, monteray jack, feta... I never realised how much I love cheese. I miss it. The dairy here tastes horrible, the smell reminds me off the smell of sewers in Bangkok and it upsets my stomach. I'm not wishing the time away, but when I get home I'm going to have a feast of cheese and crackers. We whiled away the time by going to see the Presidential Palace (more like a big house) and That Dam Monument - purely because the name is funny.
At 7.30pm we were picked up from the travel agency in a taxii (along with 8 other people) and brought out to the station to board our sleeper bus. The bus was surprisingly comfortable. Well, it was for me anyway. The beds were obviously made for the transport of Asians and sized accordingly, so I had plenty room but Ryan could only lie down if he put his head flat on the top and feet flat on the bottom. I slept well though :) haha.
When we got off the bus, we had another 2 hour minibus journey over very bumpy roads, we were being thrown out of our seats, and then a short ferry ride to Don Dhet - the 3rd biggest of the 4000 Islands. Don Dhet was lovely - it's the most relaxed place I've ever been. There's only electricity from 6pm-10pm so after that you have no choice but to sit around with candles. The first night we opted for luxury - a hut/bungalow with an enwuite bathroom built on to the b ack at a guesthouse with a pet monkey. We bought him some bananas because he looked bored and hungry. We got to the island quite early in the day so we decided to explore.There's one road that goes around the entire outside of the island and one which cuts through the middle - that's about it. There is a bridge which joins Don Dhet to the bigger island Don Khon, so we decided we'd find it. After walking for what seemed like ages in the midday heat we gave up and turned back. After the long journey we needed a nap anyway. We found out later it was 3km to the bridge and we were nearly there, but our legs wouldn't have made it!
We had a nice night with Pad Thai and cocktails until the electricity went off, then got an early night so we could have a full day on Thursday. Thursday morning we moved our bags to a guesthouse right on the rivers edge., This time it was a hut/bungalow with just a bed and two hammocks on the porch. It was lovely, and all for 50p each for the night! We rented some bikes for about 70p and went to find the bridge and explore Don Khon. About 15 mins into our ride we had to pause for a funeral procession. We got there just as they were carrying the body out of the house in a gold and black wooden casket and lifting it on to a trailer decorated with leaves and flowers. Monks and locals took the procession through the centre of the island, although I'm not sure what they do at the end. Apparently Tibetan Buddhists chop up the bodies of the dead and leave them on the mountains for the birds. They have no attachment to the body as they believe the soul is reincarnated. Ryan said he saw a funeral in India where they burned the body and put it in the sea - that would be more likely on an island I suppose.
We took the opposite road along the edge of the island. When we rented the bikes they gave us two choices - an old rickety bike for 70p, or a mountain bike with shock absorbers and gears for 1.50. After a short time cycling we both really wished we'd gone for the fancy mountain bikes, even though the old bikes had nifty little baskets to put our water and biscuits in! It had been raining on Wednesday night so the already potholed road was now covered in deep muddy ruts! I'm convinced my arse is bruised, it still hurts. We made it to the other island in about an hour after crossing the less muddy but really rocky bridge (ow) and set off to explore. The most famous attractions at Don Khon are the Irrawaddy Dolphins so we went in search of them, but we don't know 'dolphin'in Laos and the locals didn't know it in English so we were being sent in opposite directions. First we ended up on a trail that led straight in to the river, so we tried the opposite direction. This was the main road so was even more muddy then before, we both ended up getting stuck in ruts and having to put our feet into the mud and looked like we'd been rolling in it by the time we got back to our guesthouse! I had the genius idea of trying to speed off when we reached a flat bit that meant my legs got tired and the back tyre sprayed mud in a line up the middle my back. It was great fun though. It was the most relaxed bike rode I've ever had, just wandering through the willages avoiding wandering cows, ducks, pigs, cats, dogs, chickens, cockerels, children etc. At the end of the main road we found signs pointing to a waterfall so we decided this would do instead of dolphins. It wasn't really a waterfall, more like rapids, but it was bloody impressive. The entire width of the river was crashing down over rocks, with whirlpools at points that would drown smash anything that dared to get in the river. There were some ropes hanging over parts of the water to rocks in the middle, but we didn't figure out what these were for until we saw a young boy on the opposite bank hanging off one. He was fishing on the rapids, right next to rocks about 4 times the size of his body! It really must be their only way to get food if they risk that!
Yesterday while we were out exploring, we realised that we had very little cash on us and there were no banks or ATMs anywhere. We honestly had not thoought of this before! We decided the best thing to do was leave Don Dhet this morning or we'd get stuck working in the paddy fields to pay our ferry fare. We booked to Cambodia for about 4pounds, changed anough Kip in to Dollars to pay for our visa and had 6pounds left between us! Thankfully, that will by you a good meal on Don Dhet. We ate dinner, splashed out on some candles, a packet of pringles and a Beer Lao each, and retired to our riverside hammocks with our ipods and speaker.
So ended our last day in Laos, swinging lazily on our porch in the moonlight.