Sorry for the long wait for the latest installment.
Currently in a Laos town called Luang Phabang which is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We have stayed here longer than we planned and probably won't be leaving to head south until Wednesday.
Just chilled out here in the most part and read and ate at restaurants. Probably the biggest challenge is trying to convert between Laos Kip, Thai Baht and US Dollars as they accept all three. We went to a waterfall two days ago and saw a couple guys we'd met before jumping off the top of a mini waterfall. As you can imagine we all got straight into our swimshorts and rushed to the top. At no point before hand did I ever feel the slightest bit daunted by the height but when it came to jumping we all got a mental block. None of us could bring ourselves to lift our feet off the ground to make the jump, we seemed to make each other more nervous. By this time we were starting to attract a crowd which made it even more difficult! Finally we each managed to pluck up the courage to make the jump and I rushed to jump again and had almost exactly the same mental block again but just about managed to block it out.
Possibly the most amazing thing about the place is the view from the top of Sacred Hill at sunset. There are temples at the top of the hill and you can see for miles in every direction. The sky goes red and you can see over the whole of Luang Phabang and there are rivers and mountains silhouetted against the sky, think I'll be taking the arduous trip up the steps again tonight.
Another particularly enjoyable part of Luang Phabang is the journey to get there. It begins in Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the border where we spent the evening playing cards and looking out across the Mekong River to Laos itself. That evening the moon was a brilliant red and when we asked the waitress what the big red ball was, not believing it could be the moon, she informed us it was Buddha Day. We may have got a little lost in translation I think!
The following morning we made the trip to the river for the short crossing into Laos, I have never seen such laidback, no lax, border control in my life! Then followed a day on a long boat down the Mekong enjoying our first Beer Lao and the view was spectacular every minute of the way.
We then arrived at our overnight destination of Pak Beng. We found a restaurant owned by the nicest guy you will ever meet called Lai who introduced us to his family and the locally made Lao Whiskey. Did I say he was a nice guy?! The whiskey came in a petrol can, I don't think I need to say much more than that!
A small number of us then went down to the river where a guitar was being played and we were joined by locals and the mysterious Kurtz, whom we named after the character from Conrad's Heart of Darkness. We can't honestly be sure he really existed, he may have been a byproduct of the glass of whiskey! Kurtz was a fairly elderly Austrian man who wore a red waistcoat and carried a Jew Harp around with him. He only had one tune in his repertoire but his singing was something to behold, it was without doubt the ramblings of a madman!
The second day of the journey was fairly uneventful but was made more interesting by the decision to use one rather than two longboats. This made the journey somewhat snug and at one point I was sandwiched between a monk and the driver, whose arse was far too close for comfort! We arrived in relative discomfort at our final destination desperate for a shower and a shave and paid the price with a more expensive guesthouse. We have subsequently rectified the situation you will all be glad to hear!
That brings us up to date I think. We plan to go to a place called Vang Viang next where you can go tubing and then down to the capital.
I'll try to update this in the not so distant future although I can't promise any more stories of the calibre of Kurtz!
Going to have a dip in the river now as I'm absolutely boiling.
Take care of yourselves and stay in touch,