A new country to explore and one that we had heard lots about. Getting our visa was not a hassle and as we waved goodbye to our previous home country that had hosted us for a month, we embraced the beauty and simplicity of Laos.
After departing with our visas we began our rickety bus journey through the windy clay made road, we realised two things... First how amazing the views were, lush green mountains with clouds teddy bear rolling off them, and second that the road we wished to pass through had not quite been finished. Yes, the road was being JCB'd to make a clear path through a huge mountain. We had previously been warned that the roads in Laos were not in 'great' condition. But to not have been built in the first place was amazing!
We had been on this bus since 5.30am in Vietnam and were lead up to the 'non existent road' senario in Laos at 10.30am. We then came to realise this was going to be a really long day. However, again the scenery was just breath taking so we could have been stalled in worst places.
Mountain after mountain, it really did feel like the set of a fantasy film, until the bus smacked your face on the window that you eagerly had your nose pressed up against to see the enchanting views. That was enough to bring you back to reality. Our destination we were hoping to get to was Luang Prabang. The destination we got to after 8 and a half hours on a cramped, bumpy but scenic bus journey was Moung Xai (the nearest town to the border). Well, what did we expect... this is Asia!
Before travelling to Laos we knew it was significantly under-developed. What we didn't realise was how much it hadn't developed. Apart from there being no tarmac roads, Laos's villages also didnt harbour any ATM's. So, unfortunately for us who only entered Laos with Vietnam dong worth $5, and an additional $30 US change from the Visa's, we were stuffed. Only then did the realisation hit, we had no money to escape the ATM-less town in the middle of nowhere. To then be told at dinner by an Italian girl that the town next from the village we were at had no ATM either! AHHHHH! This happened only twice before in Fiji and Malaysia when our cards were blocked by the 'oh so helpful bankers'. Luckily for us, the 2 Italian ladies saw our predicament and without an inch of hesitation offered to pay our travel until we reached Luang Prabang. We were very relieved and were a bit embarassed at our current situation showing lack of research and organisation. There was also the tense thought of 'would we be late for christmas?'
After being helped by our Italian friends we ended up taking a boat and bus ride to Luang Prabang. It was a 'slow boat' which meandered its way majestically through the ultra stunning and epic scenery of Laos' highland's. Being on a boat really does exagerate the fact that in the scheme of the world, you are but a mere spec. We were quickly beginning to realise that Laos was going to be a country we could come to love. If the scenery was anything to go by I think I would get ultra trigger happy with the camera in this upcoming month.
As we arrived in Luang Prabang at night we realised that it was a touristic hot spot. The thing about Laos is that it really does not have the development needed to occupy travellers and tourists. Only 3 main places are really accessible, the capital Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. The rest of the country is truelly local villages that speak little English, have no ATM's and have unsealed roads to get there! There is 2 arguments to this; the first that it should stay native to locals in Laos and if your a tourist it is all part of the adventure. Secondly, that it is not readilly accessible therefore still making the country poor due to lack of an economy in tourism. Unlike Thailand who has opened every area to all and even brought back traditions that had died out, to entice more tourism. Our opinions are that we shall enjoy Laos while it is still raw and just pray comercialism doesn't take over the people and the land.
So... back to what I was saying... Luang Prabang! A tourism hot spot and haven for a cultural experience in Laos. The 'Bible Lonely Planet' exclaims, 'this UNESCO protected world heritage city is both enchanting and diverse in what it has to offer!' And this statement is totally 100% correct! Which for the lonely planet is rare. The food to begin with was so great, after a month of Vietnamese 'same same' food. We were exstatic when we saw bakeries, sweet stalls, good clean looking food stalls, and not to forget the chocolate filled donuts!!! It was heaven! As christmas was coming we had an excuse to put on a few extra pounds!
The night market is the main event that goes on in Luang Prabang. An entire street of goods laid on the ground (on cloth of course) with blue and red tent/marquee things which gives the market its flair and colour. The first time we visited the night market, I was wide eyed and truelly excited. Knowing that out of all the amazing goods being sold, Santa would choose which ones were meant for me for christmas!!!
We had bumped into some friends that we met on the bus from Sapa (Vietnam) to the border town in Laos. We all decided to get breakfast and then hit this pool/bar called Pistoche. The great thing was it was always good/amazing weather in Luang Prabang. So the thought of a swimming pool was salavating. The only problem was it was about an hours walk away from the town centre. Had we known this I think a tuk tuk would have been employed.
However, by the time we did get there we dived straight in. Pistoche was run by a westerner so the pool didn't dissapoint (check our pic...again). After we went for dinner on the riverside and decided to play a traditional Laos game of 'chicken head'. A bit like spin the bottle, apart from when the chicken beak points at you, you have to drink a shot of traditional Laos Laos (a strong spirit made from rice). Unfortunately for me, Daniel decided to give me an extra dare, "if it lands on Fay, she has to nibble the chickens mohawk!" Cocky, and thinking I had an 8-1 chance I wouldn't get picked I agreed. Of course the dreaded beak pointed quite clearly at me. Miffed that it was my own boyfriend who had dared me in the first place I showed that I was no pushover and nibbled away. Yes, disgusting I know, but I merely nibbled, I definately did not eat it!
Christmas eve had crept up on me and Daniel. Not really feeling very christmasy we decided on the eve of Jesus' birth to go and visit a nearby waterfall. An hours drive out of town, we decided to take a tuk tuk. When we arrived there were the typical touristy stalls selling t-shirts and crafts. What shocked us the most was that, before we even reached the waterfall we had stumbled across a Bear sanctuary specifically for black Asian bears, from across China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. A reservation in the middle of the forest, fenced off from visitors. What looked like a kiddies playground made out of wood and old tyres. As we approached we realised the keepers were hiding their lunch in all sorts of places, making the bears work for their food. Not that they needed to, because as soon as the gates opened to let them out into the enclosure they knew exactly where all the food was hidden. Clever Teddies!
As we plodded onwards to find the waterfall, we came across the bottom of it. Not that we knew that at the time, or at least I didnt know that! Just the bottom of the waterfall looked big, with a calm type of lagoon under it. The water colour was just so blue, more turquoise than blue really. It was like something you could imagine mermaids swimming in. Daniel said that he thought the lagoon like pool looked mystical, and could imagine people once coming here believing the water had healing powers. Lucky for me there was plenty more where this came from. As we walked further up stream there would be another small waterfall after another all in a row of terraces. One of the lagoons we actually swam in because it looked so magical and tempting but it was very cold. Finally we had realised that all the little waterfalls were part of one gigantic, ginormous, humungous, so overly big waterfall. Enough description there? So it was big, and then we decided we needed to investigate some more. So we climbed up rocks to reach the top of the gigantic monster of a waterfall. It took guts, determination, discipline and lots and lots of effort on my part. To haul my body up slippery mud and rocks to reach the most awe inspiring view of Laos. A view spanning miles and many hills, this was truelly worth the climb. The waterfall itself was spectacular and something me and Daniel will remember as the most amazing but unusual Christmas Eve ever!