just another blog from my trip.
Due to recent visa restrictions when you enter Thailand via air you only get 30 days in the country and 15 days if you enter via land. So I had to make my way to the border to renew my visa for my remaining days in Thailand. Everyone I spoke to recommended Laos, Vang Vieng where people go tubing down the river. So I decided to experience the train and do it Thai style and go 3rd class. I also thought this would be a good way to meet other backpackers. But there were no westerners in the 3rd class part of the train and no windows, but there was hard bench like chairs, and lots of people to fill them. I sat with 3 Thai women who didn’t speak any English but were very pleasant and who later looked out for me. I read in the lonely planet book I acquired, that feet are known as the lowest of the low part of the body and placing your feet on chairs and tables etc is very disrespectful. So I sat up right with my feet on the floor until the Thai women told me to put my feet up on the opposite chair like them. It was cold, extremely uncomfortable, and a completely alien experience and nobody spoke a word of English around me, but I felt relaxed and happy to be in a safe environment. It’s amazing how body language and facial expressions can speak volumes.
I eventually dozed off early hours of the morning only to be woken up by the Thai women one of whom was laughing. As I said earlier the windows of the train were open and because of the heat fires were smouldering in fields we passed, and so yes you guessed it we were covered in ash. However as I was so tired my mouth had been wide open and was now full of ash! The Thai lady found this hilarious; I just smiled, and was glad to have amused her so much.
The journey seemed to go for days, but I saw some beautiful views and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise. Before I reached Nong Khai the border between Thailand and Laos, the whole of the 3rd class gang left me. As the Thai people were getting off the train, they all made an effort to say bye to me in Thai and nodded their heads at me. I thought this was so polite and very touching, but I realised when I finally got off the train that it was out of respect for me as all the westerners were in the 1st class sleeping part of the train. I wondered why people were looking at me so strangely when I was sat with them in 3rd class, but I genuinely enjoyed the journey with the happy Thai women and I was glad I experienced real backpacker travelling on my own, I even would do it again.
The next part of my journey in Laos involved meeting some great people who I had the most amazing time with. We all arrived at a rip off Visa Company, who don’t actually give you a visa just change your baht to dollars and then try to charge you an extra £10 to get from the Nong Khai to Vientiane which is suppose to be about £1. So if ever you go to Laos just make sure the Tuk Tuk takes you straight from the train to the actual border where you get your visa. However this was a bonding experience for eight strangers, who ended up spending the next 2 weeks together.
We finally reached Vang Vieng after another 2 hours crossing the border and another 4 hours on a bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and found Dukkhoun Guesthouse 2 and all split up into shared rooms, accommodation is so cheap in Laos and of good standard.
We were all so excited about the notorious river tubing and as we set off in our bartered down Tuk Tuk, after we had all decided what to wear, how to keep our money dry, etc we all got very giddy and when we arrived at the first bar on the river, where loud music blared out of the huge speakers, people swinging through the sky into the river off the zip swing, and people drinking out of buckets on carpets outside, we were all extremely excited and raring to go. We went to the bar to see where we were to rent the tubes to go down the river on, only to be told…the tubes had to be rented back in town.
We all were on such a high after bartering the Tuk Tuk down and seeing what had been described to us so many times, only to find we had to traipse all the way back into town to rent some tubes haahha it was pretty funny.
When we arrived at the tube renting place there was a sign saying no rental for people not dressed appropriately i.e. bikinis! As we had never been tubing before we didn’t know this and we didn’t know where we would put our clothes when floating down the river! So Toni and Alyssa (two Californian girls travelling together after graduating) were turned away and told to put some clothes on, they were devastated, and not the stereotypical Californian girls, this is when I knew I really liked these girls. They were so upset that they had offended the village people unintentionally, but typical me, found this quite funny, especially because there was the biggest queue behind us! A few of us rented out tubes and then we all made our way back to the river and shared the tubes.
Tubing is great fun, it’s a bar crawl on the river in a rubber ring with a spectacular mountainous view. You can sit and admire the view as you drift down the river or you can sit on a carpet with a buckets and watch people swing on the zip lines into the water and give them scores out of 10. As you move further down the river the bars get busier and louder. Then you reach the mud bath bar where you’ll smell like pig poo for a good week and stain your bikini green! I actually lowered myself into it carefully and covered myself in mud up to my chin, as I didn’t want to be chucked in by the group of mud hungry lads. The next bar had a campfire and dance floor area and of course a huge slide with a upward diagnol jutty bit at the end of it, so people slide down it and then up in the air and slap bang into the water. It never got boring to watch people sliding down it into the river. Extremely funny to hear people gasping as they hit the water. A good way to wash the mud off, I thought. haha
Susan from Seattle, Sara also from California, Sari and Vill a Finnish couple, Alyssa and Toni and I all met back up at the last bar, we exchanged funny stories and spent the next week together.
On the last day Toni, Alyssa, Sara and I went on a mountain trekking day. It was as strenuous as it sounds but fully worth it for the views and of course the luxurious swim in the waterfall at the top of the mountain after our 3 hour hike up to it.
To cut it short we had a great day and many funny things happened as it always does when I’m around nothing is straight forward. We walked through this cave which was pitch black with candles when suddenly the biggest gust of wind came through the cave and blew out all our candles, so we were stood in pitch blackness!
The cave had uneven rocks all over so we were forced to stay still for about 5 minutes whilst the guide tried to relight his candle!!! Not going to happen as the wind just wouldn’t stop blowing!!! Very strange as it was a clear, sunny none windy day hahah, but then a miracle happened a man appeared with a light on his head, so we followed him. We were safe hahaha, very scary but funny at same time! If that makes sense. It was like something out of a comedy sketch.
Then as I was trying to walk back down from the waterfall I lost my footing and grabbed onto a rock rope tree thingy which snapped and I fell into the stream, which truly hurt, but I live to tell the tale at least ahha.
Then we walked across a bamboo bridge (like in the picture above), I swear was from Indianna Jones, with a fast flowing river beneath it, and as most of you know I’m scared of heights, so I was quite scared but again I live to tell the tale, even if my face kept a complete look of fear on it all day, I’ll do an impression when I see you all. We waded through many knee high rivers which were waist high on me, hahah.
We stopped for a beautiful BBQ lunch made by the 16 year old guide and we watched two children brother and sister play in the river, well they were actually fishing with a spear! We were saying how lovely it is to see children free to swim and go off and play in the rivers etc when the sister accidentally speared her brothers foot!!! This then changed our minds about children playing in the river hahah. He was ok just a little cut but he was a bit upset and ran home!
I have to advise you all to go to Laos as its so beautiful and full of lovely people. I will return there one day as it is a very special place. It’s also a very diverse place. So from tubing down a river, to hiking through caves up to a waterfall, to dancing around campfires to chilling in hammocks next to the river whilst watching people fly through the air into the water, Laos is a land of fun, relaxation and blissfulness.
Well I think I will do one more blog after this but it won’t be my last travel report as I will never stop travelling and I am actually looking at Cambodia as my next port of call but this time as a community volunteer, rather than a traveller.