Having stripped most of the bandages off that seemed to cover slight scratches and grazes we spent a week in Bangkok . There are only so many repeats of premiership football you can watch while being 'detained' in a room with no windows so we had to push on. We actually lived our own groundhog day for a week eating 4 Oreos and a glass of milk for breakfast, rice for lunch and mixing it up a little for dinner! We got a night bus to Vientiane, Laos, which involved crossing the border at 6am. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was unbelievably un-city like; no skyscrapers, no buildings higher than two stories for that matter! There were a few sights but the main past time is sitting at a bar on the river drinking beer...this wasn't a problem. I should point out now that Laos is quite heavily influenced by the French due to the French control up until 1953 which explains the laissez-faire attitude but nothing can explain why they go to bed by 11pm! Our guidebook sums up the effect the French have had on Laos perfectly: "If South East Asia could be described by tuk tuk drivers, Thailand would go out of their way to get you somewhere, Vietnam would run you over trying to get your business and with Laos you would have to go to his house, wake him up and drag him outside"!
Not much to say about Vientiane and to be honest I wasn't overly impressed, the scenery was nice but nothing I hadn't seen in Thailand and the city offered very little in nearly all respects apart from a strange mix of French and Asian architecture. On to Vang Vieng, this is where Laos really showed itself and became my favourite country so far, admittedly that's not many! You will hopefully see from my pictures what I mean, the scenery is so rich and pure and the town fits into the landscape to give a real feeling of true Laos living. Tubing (going down river rapids and slides in a rubber ring while slaughtered) is the main thing to do here which means it's filled with loads of young westerners but strangely that doesn't ruin it. Obviously I'm not quite ready for a day's tubing yet so I worked on the balcony of our guesthouse and then in a bar watching the world go by while Kunaal flung himself off 20ft zip wires! Something that day made me fall in love with Laos and I really do plan to go back.
We then moved on to Luang Prabang, the most picturesque place in Laos and home to hundreds of Buddhist monks. The mix of French and Laos architecture here was incredible and the whole city is simple but elegant. The night market and temples dotted about the city were the main attractions as well as stopping off in bars and restaurants for shakes, beers and even steak! The best thing, however, was getting up at 6am (actually that was the worst thing!) and seeing the monks walk along the street collecting food from people. They do not get paid so they get given handfuls of rice and other foods from people, not very hygienic I know! We wanted a good photo of a monk to make a black & white photo and Kunaal got a beauty, have a look!
From LP we went to Phonsovan, our last stop in Laos, knowing very little about it and expecting very little. The town was a ghost town, nothing to do, nothing to see, but its surroundings have opened my eyes to the history of a large part of South-East Asia.A nice fact here: Laos is the most bombed country in the world, per capita. The Americans would drop their unused bombs on Laos when they could not see the targets in Vietnam...why, we cannot work out! This has meant that Laos is held back in almost every way, people are kept in poverty, much of the land cannot be used and people are killed and injured every week by unexploded ordinance (UXO). There are about 10 million unexploded cluster bombs still in Laos and many big 400kg bombs which could wipe out villages. We visited a place called the plain of jars as part of a tour day, they are a bit like stone henge...old and no one knows why they are there. The old city with the Buddha temple and the Stupa (tall overgrown temple) were impressive but going to the village where the inhabitants use bomb parts to grow plants etc was incredible. Seeing how Laos people really live and work was a real experience but even better in a country with such friendly and thoughtful people.
The next day we got the 22 hour bus to Ha Noi, Vietnam...what a journey, we never thought transportation would shock us again but this micky mouse outfit astounded me! We stopped about 20 times within the first hour for people to hop on, hop off, buy bananas, vegetables and generally just do anything apart from get on with the journey. We stopped in Vietnam to fix the windscreen wiper...45 minutes of welding later we had a bent wiper that hit the other one but just about cleared the screen. An hour before hand though when a guy came off his motorbike in front of us we didn't have time to stop and help. We've seen 5 motorbike accidents in 3 days (none serious) so I'm feeling less stupid and more relieved!
Sorry for the essay but that's a whole country summarised...bosh. We're in a nice hotel on an Island off Halong Bay called Cat Ba in Vietnam at the mo living the dream! Had an awesome day on a big wooden boat travelling through the 3000, yes 3000, islands, went to a massive cave and as usual eaten stupid amounts of food before finishing the day off with some beers!