Hello people....So I last wrote a full blog from Dali in China... to complete and bore the story for you I'll carry on from where I left you last in China feelfree to skim read!....I think I was about to sample some more delicious Chinese cuisine in Dali...what a treat I was in for.... As it was our final night we decided to eat from the street vendors basically they're lined up and you choose a skewer for about 10p a go then they cook it...I dread to think what we ate but I'm ashamed to say dog was on the menu and we think we ate it as it certainly didn't taste like any other meat any of us had ever eaten before and when in Rome... I have a foot in my mouth on one of my pictures but trust me it's chicken I'm not that sick to eat a dog's paw...honest Kim! So after street food and Dali beer with some randoms from East London in a bar we headed off the next day to the border with Laos. We drove for much of the day in the monsoon rains (we all thought of the UK...) and eventually found a delightful bushcamp by the side of a road on a bend, Steve the ever thoughtful leader gave Nicole a reflective jacket to hang on the side of her tent so vehicles would see us..! I opted for the back seats of the truck and remained dry and content. The next day another long drive day and another delightful bushcamp in another old quarry type place (certainly not in the Lonely Planet under campsites!!) the following morning it was up at 5am for an early start for the last stretch to the border or so we thought. The truck got stuck and we hadn't even left the quarry, it took two hours in the rain and mud to dig the truck out put what felt like tonnes of stones under the front wheels for us to be freed, still considering we hit Asia in the monsoon we haven't doen two badly with that incident plus the landslide at altitude being our only truck breakdowns as such. It's all good fun watching those that get involved to help and those that don't there's always a moan afterwards as to who did most work etc etc truck politics is ridiculous at times....So two hours behind schedule (the border closes at 5pm so we had a deadline) about an hour or so into the journey and we met another landslide, typical. The day was going from bad to worse I as always kept everyones spirits up by repeatedly saying "we could be at work" naturally that went down like a lead balloon!! Anyway we were stuck in a roadblock for six hours and bored ourselves stupid, the highlight was watching Christine's hand swell following a spider bite whilst using the roadside facilities...you see it's not all fun and games on the road. So waiting over and the road was cleared by some not so efficient Chinese highways executives we were at last on the move again but had no chance of reaching the border in time. We were damp, a tad miserable and to be honest needed a good wash so Steve and Kirsty found a delighful hotel (which used to be a knocking shop) 50km from the border for us to crash the night in which we quite literaly did. I woke up the next morning to find a few worms in the bathroom and there was a huge bug on the floor making such a noise it sounded like it was playing with marbles, we checked the hell out and got back on the truck only to be told due to some Chinese bureaucratic problems we couldn't leave until Monday asthe papers weren't ready, it was now Saturday morning. Thankfully we got upgraded to a decent hotel down the road and spent out last weekend in the delightful Chinese town of Mengla. Disappointed at first not to be going to Laos soon turned around after the weekend that we had. Mengla was superba great finale to our stay in China.. We were complete aliens to them as we've been pretty much right through China and we were welcomed with open arms..I found a 50m outdoor swimming pool which was much needed as the rain stopped and the heat of Asia melted us. On the Saturday night we all decided to go out having scrubbed up in our air con rooms and we were led astray by some locals! After a few Chinese brandies our new Chinese 'local' friends wanted to take us to as they put it a 'disco' which it certainly was...I complained (harsh I know but I said it nicely!) and said we'd prefer something more Western but beofre taking us to another 'disco' they ushered us into the bar area whre they had completely filled the tabls with more drink thanwe could consume (honest!) next thing I knew we were on themarch to find another venue and that we did. Now China was a completely random country, it went to the extreme in many cases but we ween't expecvting the next thing which was just around the corner. As we approached the other club we heard sounds of animals squealing quite distressingly...in our drunken curious states we decided to sk what was going on..our chines friends led us in to the adjacent and I mean literally adjacent building, such said building turned out to be an abbatoir.So at about 1am ona Sunday norning we found ourselves walking through pigs blood to try and get out. There was nothing humane about the abbatoir, the procedures that were going on would be banned in the UK and for most other countries I would hope to think, it was one of the worst things I have seen in my life second to my work in Thailand after the Tsunami. What was even stranger was that none of the locals that were working in the abbatoir and there were a fair few of thiem batted an eyelid when a bunch of Westerners were led in. Random. Anyway think you probably get the picture other than that it was a good night and the locals were very hospitable. The next day was spent in the pool recovering from the trauma avoiding Martin who kept making squealing noises at me!! He was sick enough to take a video of it on his camera may I add.
So Monday morning came and we finally left China with (other than the pigs) very fond memories of quite a unique country. We also bid farewell to our guide John who left us at the border after the bushcamps that we had he said he's never work with an overland company again!! where's your spirit John!! So onto Laos....
From Luang Prabang to the Plain of Jars to Vang Vieng to Vientianne it was stunning. Never have I seen a country so greeen, Nepal comes close but Laos was an incredible green. It doesn't beat China for the topspot so far but it came close...
Luang prabang was our first stopover following a bushcamp.On route to the city we took a wrong turn and ende dup at a ferry point. Rather than endure over 10 hrs on the truck a large group of us decided to hop off and take a slow boat down the impressive Mekong River....for 7 pounds we had an amazing 7hr journey to Luang Prabang. The Mekong travels more or less the entire stretch of Laos (I think) and divides the country from Thailand. I hope I've recovered the photos for you all to see as it was awesome, the trip began in the intense heat and ended in a terrific thunderstorm, priceless. So the boat took us to Luang Prabang famous for the Buddhist Wats (temples) and western tourists!! Our first thoughts were spot the localsasthere were so many westerners and given the countries we had been too we had been spoilt thus far avoiding the main backpacker trails...until now!! Needless to say with western tourists came western delights so we found bread, bacon and coffee simple things we craved for...Luang Prabang was a bit of a tourist mecca and the city/town shuts down at midnight, thankfully thanks to a good tip off from Mel we found an after hours drinking spot called the Vietnam bar we got 22 people on one tuk tuk to get there...so I was told!! Cheers Mel it was far better than Khob Chai! Having only three days there we did as much as we could we climed up to a temple Mount Phousi for an awesome view over the town , had a massage at the Laos red cross followed by the hottest steambath I have ever encountered and we went to the waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si.They were stunning.Turquoise water pools staggered into tiers leading down from the waterfalls themselves which we climbed to the top to see. They were pristine swimming pools and I had to be dragged out!! My personal highlight was basketball. We stayed at a guesthouse in the centre which was family run.The owners daughter played basketball for the local team and me being me I invited myself along for a practice. I shouldn't have bothered.They were pro and I was poor!!...nevertheless it was cool to spend an evening with the locals away from the tourist mecca that was. Our final morning involved rising at 5am to feed the monks it's called giving alms. Basically every morning they walk the streets in a line (hundreds of them) and are given food for breakfast by the locals, it was an experience but one that was ruined by the hawkers selling the rice who were only interested in our money they kepy plying us with food to give to the monks and demanded more and more money not really the point I'm sure...
Anyway that was Luang Prabang a must see in Laos but after no westerners thus far on our travels it was a bit of a culture shock. Next was the Plain of jars on route to Vang Vieng. It took us 8hrs to get there and less than ten minutes to view. Not my kind of a day. Basically lots of jars (not not jam) of stone scattered around a plain dating back 2,000 years, give me Stonehenge any day! They were thought to have been used for burial purposes so say local myths but to be honest it was such a dull site I enquired no more.
Onto Vang Vieng next, another and infact more trumans show esq town created for the westerners. A small town pop 26,000 ish like Luang Prabang but less cultured and row after row of bars playing friends and free movies and free pool so not a bad place to relax after another birthday truck night out! I watched the The Queen and tried to update my blog with photos which you have probably already read about on e-mail..an internet cafe lost several hundred by infecting my card with a virus...nevermind I've managed to save several hundred and it's by far the end of the world. (Although it was at the time!)
The main thing folk travel to Vang Vieng for is Tubing. Basically you pay a couple of dollars to float down the river on an inner tube stopping off at several bars/shacks on route you also jump of huge swings into the river itself a great morning out but not with a hangover, the current was strong and the river high after the monsoon rains but we came out unscathed!
The next day we left for the capital of Laos Vientianne...well the truck did a small group of us decided to stay behind and kayak there instead. Again for a ridiculously small fee we paddled to our hearts content and had a barbie on the riverbank a good trip some good exercise at last and some fairly average rapids! The best thing was jumping off ship at the end and swimming the last 200 metres aginst the current...not easy!
So the capital was our last stop in Laos well worth a visit with some stunning architecture. The city hugs the Mekong River and Thailand could be seen across the way. Although the mosquitoes were out in full force food by the river at sunset was stunning. The weather picked up since we left Vang Vieng and we arrived in the mid thirties. Our hotel was central and we had yet another truck birthday on the first night I'm so glad Asia is so cheap!! A few cocktails later and we found ourselves on the 3rd floor of a 5 star hotel basically the place to go after hours, it was great although bizarre walking into an expensive hotel geting a lift to the 3rd floor and it opening up to a dance club with western music a treat following our recent nights out!!
The next day I rented a bike and explored the city and posted even more belongings home...the city was beautiful very much French Colonial style with a very burnt Raquel...I didn't quite notice the burn with the breeze running through my hair until I went out in the evening and was ridiculed! So that brings you up to date with Laos, next on our hitlist being Vietnam at just short of five months into the trip...
It costs 10,000 pounds to take the truck into Vietnam so we've all split into smaller groups and are going our own way (like proper backpackers using public transport you may say!) some folk are heading North to Hanoi but we've opted to hug the coast and end in Saigon...so as I'm updating two blogs today I'll move swiftly onto Vietnam..you know which button to press to read....
Thanks for the hints, tips and messages photos will be uploaded this weekend technology allowing...sorry I can't reply to you all I hope the blogs are working.. they take so long!!
Missing you all
P.S It's just occured to me and to Lorna who is sat beside updating her blog that it may appear that all we've done is drink. It's not true there's just been alot of truck birthdays to contend with and I'm not one for missing a party, Mum/Dad I'm not throwing my money down the drain!! Asia is cheap my stomach is fine no lanzoprazole needed and I'm still being educated and overwhelmed on every day of this trip!!