4th-5th October - Luang Prabang, Laos
As I sit writing this post, I am on a VIP Express Bus from Luang Prabang, on route to Vientiene, the Capital of Laos. They say it takes 8hrs to get there, lets see if they're correct! The road, or what they call a road, is a winding road which so far we are climbing and climbing up to the top of the mountains, left to right, right to left. Pot hole after pot hole. Lets hope this laptop stays on my lap and doesn't end up skirting down the centre walkway of the bus - eek!
We left the Southern Bus Terminal this morning at 8am, so fingers crossed we reach Vieniene by 4pm. At the bus station I bumped into the two same lovely girls who were on my tuk tuk from the overnight bus into Chiang Mai. We're on the same bus together again, with nowhere to stay, so I'm sticking with them :-)
So, obvioulsy it goes without saying, that round two of getting my flight from Chiang Mai was successful! YAY! Well done Raz!
The airport is only tiny and after a little walk around the shops in the terminal I waitied for around an hour before boarding the plane. It had propellers!!! Ha! Mel, you'd have hated it, albeit it was bigger than the one we took to The Grand Canyon in Vegas last year! I was in the back row, row 18! Two seats either side of the aisle. I was proper excited to take off, never been on a plane like this before. So before I knew it we were up up and away and i was taking in the views of Northern Thaialand from a birds eye persepctive. It was lovely. AND i was one happy Raz since I was (finally) on the next part of my journey.
the flight only takes an hour, so shortly after reaching our highest altitude we started to desend again. Many travellers do this particular route by slow boat which takes two days down the Mekong River after crossing the Boarder. Because i'm on borrowed time and trying to fit in as much as I can, I chose to fly.
As we started to descend through the clouds I clapped eyes on Laos. OMG seriously. I've honestly never seen anything so beautiful! The greenest of green mountains, vallys, and of course not forgetting the famous Mekong River running through it. I was stunned. My first impressions were amazing and I couldn't wait to touch down and get looking around.
After paying for my visa as we entered the arrivals desk, a lovely $36 for the privilidge, i strolled outside to grab a taxi to the centre. Once again I hadn't planned accommodation before arriving since it is low season and apparently booking in advance isn't necessary so I'd already picked out a Guesthouse to head for from the lonely planet guide and off we went.
Kinnaly GH had spare rooms, and for $12 a night i had a massive double bed, a fan, a/c, HOT RUNNING water (yay), and even a balcony. Laos all of a sudden was getting better and better. First thing I did was dump my stuff down and head out to find the night market which I knew opened at 5.30pm. The time was around 4.30pm by the time I arrived so first things first i wanted to go and find the views of the Mekong. in the reception area of the GH there was only one map which was attached to wall - there was no 'you are here' symbol. Bummer! Not like us westerners these Laos people ;-)
It was when I was looking at the map on the wall that a lovely lady came into the GH looking at the map too. Immediately I decided to ask if she knew where we were in relation to the map. Yes I thought, she's English! Penny knew exactly where we were as she'd been in LP a day already and on this day she had hired out a bicycle to navigate the area. She told me it was relly small, however lovely. In that brief moment of crossing paths looking at the map at the same time we also discovered that we were both travelling alone, and as a result she told me she had some friends arriving into LP today who she was meeting for dinner and would I care to join them. I was delighted. i instantly said yes ;-)
So one happy little Raz was now in LP, GH sorted, an idea of where things were that I wanted to visit, happy friendly English people to talk too and dinner all set up. Off I trotted to find the Mekong. Penny wasn't wrong. LP is tiny... but seriously I loved it. I realised from the moment of arriving that I loved it. Laos has such a great feel to it, and the people who live here are so welcoming and warm that you instantly feel secure. Whilst walking down to find the Mekong to take some photographs i took everything in. Restaurants and coffee shops, bars, hotels and guesthouses all lined this particular road. The buildings (or structures rather) are all French Colonial style. mostly painted either white or cream, with blue or brown shutters on the windows, respectively. It was beautiful. I strolled for a short while down the road, taking pictures where I could in the break of the trees, then turned back to find the most common street in the centre of LP which is also where the night market lies.
As i walked along, i was in awe. So many different things to look at. Restuarants, bars, spa's, travel agencies, coffee shops, textiles, jewellery stores - the lot. This was when i arrived at the night market. Nothing like I expected either. It was so clean, bright, and just looked, well nice! The night market is made of mainly textiles, so things like clothes, dresses, trousers, t-shirts, shawls, handbags, purses, bed throws, teddies, puppets, lanterns, jewellery, trinkets, paintings etc. It was great. i honestlly could have bought one of everything and spent a fortune! LOL - Not that anything is expensive mind you. My pants cost me $6, my handbag and purse $7, and my shawl $3! Fabulous!
It was now time to head back and get ready for dinner as i'd arranged to meet Penny at 7pm. we met at reception and headed over to the main street talking the whole way. She hadn't managed to get hold of her friends to arrange a specific meeting point but we decided to head and find somewhere for dinner, then contact them a little later to meet for a drink. Penny is lovely. 39, a history teacher and so interesting it's un real. Before coming to LP she'd been to Bangkok and Chiang Mai like me, but before then she'd also been to Burma and Koh Toa. I was so jealous! She told me it was amazing! I can very well believe her. Penny is away for an entire year, and has friends worldwide that she'll meet along the way. I could have talked to her forever. After dinner, and to emphasise how small LP really is, Penny left the table to pop top the ladies toilets, when two tables behind us were sitting the girls that Penny was meeting up with. Mary and Gemma. They're both 21 and from Rochester in Kent. Both lovely lovely girls who I liked immediately. The four of us after we'd each paid our bills went to a bar called Lao Lao. It was gorgeous Almost like a tranquility garden with beautiful seating areas, twinkling lights in the dark, candles on the tables and last but not least the most important part - a cocktail menu. You can guess it. My vow to not drink whilst in Asia was fallen when I was handed a free Tequilla shot followed by noticing a mojito on the menu! Oops, oh well - I lasted a week for not drinking. Not bad I guess. Two lovely Canadian guys then joined us who the girls had met on the bus. Rodreguez and Daniel, both from Toronto. They'd read in the Lonely Planet that there is a really cool bar called Utopia that many travellers go to, so we all decided to head over to there. Turns out that when we arrived at 10.30pm it actually closes at 11pm (everything in Laos shuts early we discovered). So instead we were persuaded by a tuk tuk driver to take the 6 of us as well as a bunch of other guys from Holland and the US to a late night 'disco'.
This 'disco' was the funniest thing. It was rammed with locals who all looked at us as we entered with one of those 'you're not from these parts' look. They were all dressed in all sorts and the sound system was awful. The reverb was awful! All that said however, it was such a funny night, watching the dancing going on around us and taking it all in. The best way to describe it is, 'it was an experience' :-)
The following day Penny had booked herself onto a cookery course, and so the girls and i decided to spend the day together, having a 'girlie' day. I met them for a lovely cream cheese bagel for breaky closer to their hostel and afterwards we decided to go for a walk in search for a spa. 8 days of lugging that backpack around and my back is already killing me. That'll teach me for packing so much! So i decided to treat myself to an hours full body massage for the bargain price of 35,000 kip which is the equivilant of about £3! Get in!!! (no happy ending though i'm afraid, lol).
After our massages we seeked out a tuk tuk to take us to one of the two waterfalls in LP. Due to rainy season, the biggest of the two you are unable to swim in, so we decided to go to the smaller one. It was stunning! And I have the most amazing photos of us swimming in it. We had such a fun time. it was a bit of mission to get to, but i can honestly say it was MORE THAN worth it. It was cold, but the water was so fresh you soon got used to it. I think we were there for about 2 hours. it was great! Not least we were also made to feel like celebs for once again we were constantly papped by Chinese tourists who seemed to find white western girls interesting?
After returning from the waterfall it was time to get ready for dinner. On this night we decided to eat in one of the restaurants which lined the Mekong River, rather than eating on the main strip. It was lovely, so peacefall and the food was also lush. We follwed dinner by turning up to the bar Utopia early enough for us to enjoy it. It was so chilled. Almost like a den with bean bags on the floors, draping trees surrounding each of the areas all lit with twinkling lights. We loved it.
This day for me was the best so far. Not only had I already fallen in love with Luang Prabang, but i had the pleasure of meeting three lovely people to share it with too ;-)