Published: March 20th 2012March 20th 2012
March – Gibbons Experience (Bokeo Nature Reserve) Laos
We arrived at the Gibbons office at 8.30. From Huay Xai to the Bokeo National Park was a 2 hour drive on road and 40 minute drive off-road in a hilux ute with 11 people on it. We arrived at the village where we met our guides and started our trek around lunch time. We trekked for three hours over a few mountains and through bamboo dominant forest before we reached a waterfall where we made the most of the cool temperatures and flying fox into the water. The first treehut where we spent our first night was only a 10 minute walk from the waterfall which with spectacular views had a separate shower and toilet and 4 mosquito nets for us to sleep under. Once we got to the treehut we had a couple of hours free time zip lining before sunset and dinner as we were told no one is allowed to zip after dark. After we had dinner (sticky rice and stewed veges) we all (nine of us) played cards and got to know each other a bit better. In our group we had two best friends from Iceland, a couple from Luxembourg, a couple from Switzerland and a woman from France as well as two guides.
March – Gibbons experience day 2
After a reasonably sleepless night we awoke to the sound of the guides zipping into the treehut to make us tea and coffee and to let us know that breakfast would have to be served at the kitchen (the maximum number of people a hut can sleep is eight but due to a logistical error we had nine in our group which meant a double bed had to be shared between three people and the guides were short of a harness so couldn’t deliver our breakfast). We all had a good brekky (more sticky rice and veges) and continued on to the next tree hut. We trekked for another three hours but this time without the treat of a swim when we got there. The second treehut was slightly bigger than the first one and had a separate toilet and shower (which you will have seen in the pictures on facebook), it also had a second level with a semi private room, but it was no palace, especially when the spiders came out at night.
March – Gibbons experience day 3
The last day of the Gibbons experience, after breakfast we took 8 zip lines and trekked for just over an hour back to the village where our ride back to Huay Xai was waiting for us. We had a well-deserved beer at the village before heading back to the town where we got a heap of washing done, booked the speedboat for the next day and went out for dinner and drinks with our group we did the Gibbons experience with, it was a blast!
March – Huay Xai – Luang Prabang
After a good night sleep we woke reasonably early to catch the notorious speedboat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Despite rumblings and threats due to mortalities, the ludicrously dangerous but undeniably expedient speedboat service was our choice of transport for the day (other options were a 17 hour bus ride or a two day slow boat). The speedboat/canoe cannot have been any longer than five meters and would only have been just over one meter wide, there were seven of us squeezed into the boat sitting in pairs (the space we had to share between two persons was 1x1 meter) plus the driver in the back. To begin the speedboat was a bit of a thrill and we all had our cameras out capturing this ridiculous ride as we speed down the river about 80km an hour with our life vests and crash helmets on; it didn’t take long until we started cramping up and getting numb bums and sore legs – and we were only 30 minutes into our six hour journey. A painful 5 ½ hours later we were all very relieved to hear to sound of the engine slowing as we pulled into the river bank at our final destination.
There are places that linger in the imagination long after you visit them; Mekong-bordered Luang Prabang, with its Unesco-protected peninsula of gleaming temples and crumbling French villas is such a place. Timeless and reinvigorated, this once inaccessible Shangri La is an absolute most for its Buddhist architecture, the tangerine stream of monks taking alms at 6am and its vast array of shopping and cusine.
March – Luang Prabang
We woke up feeling rather fatigued today so we slept in before heading out for a French inspired baguette based breakfast and for P some muesli and yoghurt that she has been hanging out for. We felt horrible all day (the start of a tummy bug that was to last for a week) but hired bicycles to take a look around the small peninsula town, needless to say we slept all afternoon and only went out for a quick dinner before heading back to bed.
March – Luang Prabang
We both woke up feeling a little bit better than Tuesday so we got up at 6am to see the walking on the monks and provide them with alms. The walking of the monks is when the locals it in lin down a street with fresh made food, and the monks walk passed in a line as they are offered the food. The put it in their big pot and keep walking, when the monks get back to the temples they share between everyone all the alms. When you witness this event you are advised not to be too intrusive with your camera and avoid close up in the monks eyes (which a lot of dumb foreigners don’t obey). I used my long zoom lens with no flash and stood on the other side of the street while P took the glory with her offer of sticky rice to the monks. I was super glad to get a couple of shots which you have probably seen on facebook. After brekky we went and hired a scooter, about 190k kip ($24au) for the day and cruised to the main waterfall attraction Tat Kuang Si. This waterfall has a whimsical beauty that sets a smile on your face, with its multi-tiered cascade tumbling over limestone formations into menthol green pools. Near the entrance are enclosures housing cuddly sun bears rescued from poachers. There we had a picnic, and after a couple of hours watching the protected bears and having a few photos we cruised back to Luang Prabang. P decided that she had had enough of riding on the back of the scooter and wanted to drive, well after 10 mins I was begging her to pull over so we could switch back and let me drive as I learnt sitting on the back is highly uncomfortable. Once back in town we stopped along the Mekong riverfront and had a quick drink before heading out to the popular bars which we hadn’t been to before. We caught up with Bekky and Stephen (couple from Luxembourg who we met at the Gibbons experience 487 km away) again and had a few games of pool, cards and scattergories. From there we ordered a mean dinner where we had a coal fire lit under our table and a cooking apparatus on top, we seared our meat in the centre of this round device that was more elevated then the outside, and around the sides we poured a broth into the dish and cooked the veges in that. Once it was ready we mixed the meat in with the veges and had a broth style dinner. Literally 10 minutes after dinner a gust of wind blew and all the locals were running for cover, we were saying its only wind we will be fine… three minutes later a massive storm hit, the rain drops were the size of golf balls and the wind blew the rain horizontally into the bar (nnedlss to say we had to stay for a few more drinks as we couldn’t get back to our guesthouse). On our way home after the storm had passed, we walked through the main street where the night market normally is, we realised everyone had fled with the storm except one family. As we walked by we realised that this family hadn’t got out of the storm soon enough and all their clothing and souvenirs for sale were destroyed.
March – Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng
We caught a minibus first thing in the morning to Vang Vieng which was a 6 hour drive; we were packed in the minivan like sardines and swore on several occasions as we were passing other vehicles on blind corners over a mountain that we were not going to make it all the way. The roads in Laos are apparently much better than what they used to be, however they are still full of pot holes and have sections of tar-seal missing so it’s also a very bumpy drive. Much to my amazement and a very long six hours later we rocked up at Vang Vieng which offers a rich selection of caving, trekking, mountain-biking and climbing opportunities, however the real draw is the tubing. Walking around town you can see how keenly the town tries to secure the foreigner dollar with many video bars looping Friends or Family Guy episodes, it’s a light relief to find a bar that just has background music. Once we found a guesthouse (about $10 per night) we went and got some dinner before calling it a night ahead of a big day floating down the river.
March – Vang Vieng
Vang Viengs’ biggest attraction involves hiring an inner tube from the cartel but the old market, who will take you three kms up the river and leave you to drift back in your own time. We hired tubes with our friends who we met on the Gibbons Experience from Luxembourg and Holland, and the six of us set off down the river…. we didn’t get too far as before we even got in the in the river we were herded into the first bar offering free whiskey shots and drinking games by fluorescent dressed/painted foreigners who ‘work there’. After our first beer Lao we were in our tubes and on our way, once again we didn’t get too far as the locals throw out a half filled water bottle on the end of rope and pull you into their bar. A common theme we found is on offer as you arrive more free whiskey shots and colourful woven wrist bands, also most of the bars have some kind of apparatus whether it be a flying fox, big swing or giant slide. After a long afternoon of drinking, floating, mud volleyball, sliding, flying and swimming we only found ourselves half way down the river when the sun went down; lucky for us there are tuk tuks all the way along the river for those people who spend too long in the bars and not enough time floating down the river.
March – Vang Vieng
Happy St Patricks Day!!! Today we met up with one of our friends from Luxembourg and hired motor bikes for the day (they are so cheap about $7/day). After we found our bearings we crossed a meter wide bridge and made our way along a dirt road towards one of the many caves. The stunning limestone karsts around Vang Vieng are honeycombed with tunnels and caverns, and after tubing, caving has to be the town’s main draw.
On our way to Tham Phu Kham cave we stopped for a drinks break at a road side restaurant, at this restaurant the owner sat down with us (he had to be the kindest local on our adventures so far). We never caught his name (he spoke very good English) but he gave us the most precise directions to the cave, he warned us of other Laos people who might try and scam us and even drew us a map. We got into a deep conversation with him about his life and all the travel his has done and all the walking!!! In his lifetime among a fair amount of travel, he was a monk for four years in Thailand, he told us about his life as a monk and how everyday they woke at 3am, meditated and prayed for an hour, collected alms, had breakfast (their only meal of the day) and walked and walked and walked. He had walked from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (10 hour bus ride) and back, he had walked from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai (3 hour bus ride), he had walked over most of the Central and Northern Thailand and all along the highways in bare feet. He told us how in his monk life he learnt 40 different types of meditation and was taught to only do good things in his life, now in this life which ties into the Buddhism religion he must do only good things so he will be reincarnated as something good. From this point in the conversation he told us the one person who we should love and treasure the most in our lives is our mother as she went through a lot of pain for us and risked her life for us to be born, since then she has been our first teacher and the number one person to care for us; I think the three of us all almost felt a little homesick at this stage, but had heard enough in the sweltering heat and were hanging out to get to the lagoon at the cave.
We found this cave which was massive, and the blue lagoon at the entrance was beautiful also. After the caving and swimming we made our way back to Vang Vieng hooning along the dirt roads on our motorbikes, and found ourselves sitting down with a few cool bevvies to cool off again.
March – Vang Vieng – Vientiane
Another travel day on the VIP bus to Vientiane which is the capital of Laos. This bus ride was only 3 ½ hours and because it was on a bigger bus the bumpy ride was slightly more tolerable. With its sunbaked boulevards, locals playing petanque and orange-hued monks whispering through its many temples, the cities easy ambience is more akin to that of a town. Settled by the French as an important hub of Indochina, the architectural refinement and culinary stamp of those former colonists lingers mercifully on in Vientiane. Once again we found ourselves a nice guesthouse with our friends from the Gibbons experience Becky & Stephen, then went to find a cold beer and taste some of this much talked about cuisine. We visited a few bars this night, seeking out pool tables and beer Lao before hitting the sack.
March – Vientaine
Today we explored Vientaine on bicycle; this was a nice way to take in the French architecture including Laos’ very of Victory Monument (Arc de Triomphe replica). In the afternoon we visited the COPE centre – an inspiring organisation dedicated to supporting the victims of UXO (unexploded ordnance) providing clinical mentoring and training programs for local staff in the manufacture of high tech but low cost artificial limbs and related rehabilitation activities. An estimated 260 million submunition ‘bombies’ were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, sadly 78 million of them failed to explode. Since the end of the war over 12,000 people have fallen prey to UXO (many of them children), rendering the work that takes place at the COPE centre. In the evening we went back to the same roof-top bar as the night before for some more pool, drinks and delicious food.
April – Siem Reap
We had a very early start this morning, up at 3.30am to catch a 6.30am flight to Siem Reap Cambodia. On arrival in Siem Reap at 9.30am it was already sweltering hot as we caught a taxi into the main centre of town to seek out another guest house for the next three nights. Siem Reap is the life support system for the temples of Angkor, the eighth wonder of the world. Although in a state of slumber from the late 1960s until a few years ago, the town has woken up with a jolt and is now one of the regional spots for wining and dining, shopping and schmoozing. We visited the Angkor National Museum to get more of a background on the history of Angkor and the Khmer people before we head to the temples over the next couple of days. In the afternoon the heat got the better of us so we spent the afternoon around a (very smelly) pool reading out books and sleeping in the shade.
Still having a blast, will check in again soon
Love P&D x