We got the bus ok to Udomaxi but had decided on the way that the place we all really wanted to go to was the little known town of Muang Vieng Tong in the far east of the country. Our bus didn't arrive in Udomaxi until 5pm and we really didn't want to stay there a night so were a bit disappointed to learn that there was only one bus a day at 9am to Nong Khiaw, which was where we needed to get to in order to get yet another bus to Muang Vieng Tong. We hadn't eaten all day so found a local restaurant to fill us up then Max suggested trying to hitch hike our way there as the road seemed pretty busy so we thought we had nothing to lose...
We made a sign and stood just outside the bus station thumbing for a ride... we were only there for about 10 minutes before a pickup pulled up and said they were going to Pak Mong which was just down the road from Nong Khiaw so we jumped in on top of the bamboo shoots and made ourselves comfortable for the 3 hour ride there all
who was on our bus
feeling a bit pleased with ourselves that it had only taken a few minutes to get the ride.
The pickup screeched to a halt after about an hour and we wondered what was going on... we were a bit dismayed to see that they'd done this emergency stop to catch a baby hawk that was flapping around at the side of the road and bundled it into the cab.. presumably for dinner or as a pet. As we have mentioned before in our Laos blogs, karma is very quick to come back on you here and we'd only been going for about 15 minutes before we got a flat tyre and stopped again. We all had to hide our laughter and happiness when the hawk managed to escape from the flimsy bit of string they'd tied to it's leg and flapped off into some thick buses never to be seen again. We wanted to keep our driver happy though so pretended to have a look for it so they'd let us carry on with them.
The journey was quite fun picking up various people along the way, we even stopped at a shop where we got some Beer
Lao to make a party of the whole event and soon enough we pulled up in Pak Muong and my oh my what a village that is! We had the choice of 2 guesthouses.. one overpriced one and one complete s**thole where we could all share a room for 40,000kip so, being the cheapskates that we are we opted for the latter! This place really was quite special for all the wrong reasons so we laid out our silk sleeping bags to keep us off the dubious stains on the beds and settled down to watch a DVD on Max & Yincas DVD player. The 'highlight' of the evening came when we all had to go to the bathroom which was not inside but in the yard outside.. Sophie had to take Dale to hold her hand after discovering that there seemed to be a whole new breed of giant insects flapping around here.. cicadas, preying mantises and a number of other unidentifiable insects all made their home here and she was too scared to wee alone for fear of them eating her. The best was to come though when we had to flush the toilet using the usual barrel
of water and scoop method and found a turtle swimming around inside it.. none of us are scared of them but we were when we weren't expecting one to rear up it's head as we scooped out the water!
We survived the night and got a tuk tuk to Nong Khiaw the next morning armed with cakes and water.. the food here really was awful and fried rats on a stick for breakfast didn't really appeal! We'd already spent the night in Nong Khiaw a week or so back so just used this as the point to catch another bus to Muang Vieng Thong but were not happy to be given the price of 110,000kip for a 4 hour journey. Pricing for buses here seems to be made up by holding a finger in the air and seeing what they think they can get.. for a 4 hour bus we've paid anything from 25,000 up to this stupid quote of 110,000kip! We really weren't having that so decided to walk down the road and see if we could hitch hike our way there again. We'd only been waiting a while though when the bus went past and offered us
the ride for the reduced price of 80,000 so we took him up on his offer all grumbling that it was still too much but not wanting to get wet as the rain was drawing in.
The bus ride wasn't the 4 hour one advertised in useless LP, but instead a 7 hour ride winding up and down through the beautiful mountains. We loved the scenery here and were a bit disappointed that yet again you can only look at it in Laos rather than having the opportunity to go trekking though it. We arrived in Muang Vieng Thong just as the rain stopped so that was good timing and set out to find a guesthouse. It's quite easy here as it's only a small village set along the main road but with 3 guesthouses to choose from we were a bit spoilt! We finally opted for the more expensive option of rooms with a ensuite hot shower as the girls wanted to wash their hair and set out to get some dinner as it was getting quite late.
Tourism hasn't hit here yet and it's still very much the old style Laos but we did find one
restaurant that had an English menu so opted to eat here. We made a bit of a mistake with our food though so while Dale went for the safe option of pork noodles, Max, Sophie & Yinca went for the noodle salad and asked for it a bit spicy. Obviously they don't understand a bit
here and the noodle salad nearly took our mouths off it was so hot! Sadly we also think that this dinner was the start of our problems over the next week. Electricity is an evening only affair in Vieng Thong but this meant we could again have a movie night and watched another film until the lights went off at 10pm.
The following morning Sophie, Max & Yinca were all suffering a bit from the food the night before and we didn't fancy straying too far from the guesthouse. Luckily you don't really have much option here as there isn't a whole lot to do but we took a walk to the edge of the village where there is a Wildlife Conservation Society Office, it was here that we wanted to find out information on the tigers that were rumoured to live in these
Tigers live here
We didn't see any though!
parts. This office was really helpful in telling us about their work in the area and how they protect the tigers and other wildlife. Unfortunately they also discouraged us from actually going into the park to see for ourselves, we think becuase they work so hard to keep poachers at bay that tourists would just get in the way of their good work. The best thing in the office were the camera trap photos which were excellent showing not only tigers but leopards, clouded leopards, black asian bears and a whole host of other creatures we would never have thought lived here. The research is obviously still in the very early stages as they still aren't sure how many of each species live here, haven't actually seen a tiger for many years and the photos dated back to 2005 but they are all working very hard to maintain the numbers the think they have and we found it very enjoyable to learn all about it.
After visiting the office we were a little stumped for things to do after being put off trekking so we decided to venture down the road to see the natural hot springs. We all
Warning of UXO's in the area
had visions of steaming baths but this was not to be when we walked up to the area and found a steaming green alge lake with pipes coming from it where you could wash but that was it. It was really hot anyway so we didn't bother to experience it for ourselves and headed back to town for a siesta as our tummys and the heat were taking it out of us a bit.
After a little rest we were keen to make the most of the early evening and headed back out of town to see what was further down the road we'd seen earlier. As it turns out there isn't much so we headed off cross country a bit and ended up finding a village where a group of local boys were playing football so we stopped to watch. Dale was not content with just watching so joined in with them much to their delight but now he's knocking on a bit he isn't quite as quick as they were so no goals were scored by him! We watched the football until the sun went down and walked back to town in the dark. This was not
the best of ideas either as we have learnt from experience that when the sun goes down the bugs come out to play. Sophie and Yinca then spent the whole walk home squealing and jumping as all manner of flying and creeping things came out the bushes, we also had to contend with the millions of small frogs that decided to jump in our paths so progress home was quite slow!
The following day we felt we'd exhausted all that Muang Vieng Tong had to offer so caught the one bus out of there to the next village of Nam Noen where we'd have to change buses to get to our next destination of Phonsovan and the famous Plain of Jars area. The bus ride was the usual no leg room bumpy affair but quite painless apart from that and we arrived in Nam Noen at around 9.30am where a nice man informed us that we'd have to wait until 11am for the next bus to pass though so we settled down in a shelter to wait. We had waited for around 1 hour when a people carrier with a family pulled up and so we thought we may
as well see if they wanted some company and as luck would have it they did, for a small fee of course but it was less than the bus and we'd be in air conditioned cushioned seats so we jumped at the chance. The ride there was another good one but we were slightly annoyed when the driver pulled up just short of Phonsovan and told us we'd have to pay 10,000kip more than he'd said at the start. We just smiled at him and paid him the amount we'd agreed when we got out and walked off, he didn't speak any english so was hardly in a position to argue with us.
Phnosovan is the town nearest to the famous Plain of Jars site but Sophie was quite sick by this point so missed out on the whole experience and left Dale, Max & Yinca to go out and let her know what it was like. They struggled to find a reasonable price to get there so ended up walking and managing to score a free ride halfway there. This walk was not the best idea though as Max decided that it would be quicker to go cross
country as he was sure of the way.. a good idea in principal but probably not such a good one in this area where there are still thousands of UXO's (Unexploded Ordnance) littering the land. While Dale & Yinca tried to tell him to at least keep to the cow tracks he decided to wander off to find the right way. Dale & Yinca could only look on through their hands for fear of a loud explosion going off any second, thankfully all was ok but they were all very lucky that an accident didn't happen and soon made their way back to the main road where they scored a ride. The danger they were all in was only confirmed when they watched a video in the MAG Office ( Mines Advisory Group
) later that day and decided that cross country trekking would not be on the agenda again!
The Plain of Jars site was vaguely interesting but not really a highlight as it's just an area with lots of big stone jars. All very interesting if you like jars but not that exciting if you don't! Some weigh up to 6 tons but with no explaination of what they are or
what they are for they didn't really get that much out of the trip and were glad they'd only decided to vist site 1 rather than opting to visit all 3 sites in a day long trip!
The day after our time with Max & Yinca had come to an end as they were travelling back to Luang Prabang and we were heading south so we bid them a fond farewell and hope that we will see them again soon when we get the opportunity to visit Cologne and the famous cathedral that used to be the biggest in the world! (yes Max we won't forget that!)...
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