Published: April 10th 2007April 10th 2007
Border Crossing into Laos
Easy boat trip across the water costing 10 pence each
So we crossed the border in the north of Thailand into Laos. I was so stressed as they kept telling us that we wouldn't be able to get a visa at the border and were trying to make us pay in Thai Baht as opposed to US Dollar, which would of been twice the price. Anyway they were putting a lot of pressure on us and I was already worried about the border crossings as you always have to pay a bit extra to the guards and its not worth it to argue. So me being as stubborn as I am decide that I was not going to pay double and take our chances at the border but as we were the only two who made this desion out of a group of twenty this made for a stressful 24 hours, but they all play those games out here to get more money out of you. Anyway we crossed at the border the following morning with no problems and no extra cash to the guards, I could of killed them for making us worry.........................................So after all that stress we boarded a long slow boat down the Great Mekong River which
Jims new friend
A little girl from Laos who we spent 2 days saying "Saba dee" hello)to, mainly as thast all the words we knew but also it was such a fun word
was to take 2 days, our destination was to be Luang Probang.
We boarded a large slow boat, with tiny wooden seats all really close together, lots of other travelers and Laos people, there wasn't enough room for us all, so some were on the floor and the roof (burnt faces), which was where we were on day 2 but it was actually more comfortable. We met some guys on the bus on the way up so passed the time chatting to them and saying "Sabai-dii" over and over to a very cute little girl who kept clambering over us. So lots of food is shared around and mixed conversations from both sides. The views were spectacular and although it was a long day it was totally worth it. All along the banks of the Mekong you saw family's bathing, washing cloths, children playing in the river, men fishing. Lots of communities live on the water and you could see the bamboo villages from the boat.
We stayed the night in a small village 1/2 way down, very basic accommodation but had a great meal. Electricity is run by generator and shuts off at 10pm so not much
Villages along the Mekong
You see many communties living around teh Mekong, mailnly in the basic huts you see in the picture
else to do but have an early night. The next morning we re boarded the boat for day 2, again great scenery and loads of pictures taken. We arrived in Lubang Probang a couple of hours later than told (but that is very normal out here).
Oh yeah forgot to mention that we passed a dead body floating in the river, still don't know why they didn't take it out, but Ix00m sure its something to do with the spirits (no not the drinking kind), anyway a wee bit of a shock. Especially as it was the busiest part of the river for fishing.
Arrival in Luang Probang:-
When we arrived in LP the guest house where we had booked apparently didn't understand and gave our room away. This would not have been a problem but we were 2 days away from the Laos New Year and half the country was going to descend on the town, which not only meant hiked up prices but a severe shortage of rooms. Anyway we managed to find one but had to pay $10. Nice enough but the bed was rock hard, no seriously a bit of wood with a
Men and boys out fishing
Men are out fishing every day for a fresh catch. You also see many young boys out on their own with their eldest being no more than eight; they all seem to stick to their own part of the water
very small amount of padding. Anyway we stayed there for about 5 days.
LP is a beautiful town with loads of French architecture, it is sandwiched between the mighty Mekong and the Nam Khan River, it also has many beautiful temples (Wats) which means there are many monks all in colorful cloths. The best thing the French left behind was the bakery's, you canx00t go far with out passing a fab bakery and best of all lots of street vender's selling large baguettes filled with chicken and salad for $1, fantastic. The food was great and they even had a wine bar, so had to treat ourselves to a bottle, I'm getting a beer belly with all the beer so far.
Happy New Year Laos - Songkran Festival
The town had a great feeling about it and a real buzz as everyone prepared for the biggest holiday of the year (Songkran). They basically celebrate their holiday with water, it started as a cleansing ritual both in the house and their bodies, but for most they look forward to the water fight. The celebrations last 6 days, I won't go into them all but each day signifies something
else, some days they have street processions other days they build sand stupors on the beach, other days they wash down all the Buddhax00s in the temples. But the town has a fantastic energy about it and I am soo glad we were there to celebrate. On the first days it was just Jim and I as we were waiting for friends to arrive from Thailand as they had to stay in Chang Mai a few days longer to recover from Thai belly!!!!! so we left them to it.
Some kids started soaking people the day before the official day, we did not realize this and hired bikes to see the sights, anyway it wasnx00t long before you had a refreshing bucket (yes bucket) of cold water thrown over you, it was either that or head straight into oncoming traffic. Anyway no cameras were damaged and the kids enjoyed it much more knowing we were foreigners.
Soooooooooooooooo Day 1 - We got prepared and bought 2 great big water pistols and headed into town, it was not long before we were soaking and then even more determined to join in and not just get soaked. Basically all the
restaurants and shop fronts set up areas with access to water (no street is safe) if your going out your getting wet and thatx00s that!!!!. Also many people get open back trucks and tuck tuck to drive them around and they soak and get soaked from there. It was honestly one of the maddest and fun days, we had a crazy day. But its not just water, some of them get a hold of you with tar stuff and get it all over your face other spray you with paint (it washed out), and the worst flour. Itx00s just mad. We had our fun on the main strip then we followed the crowds over to the island where they have music and they walk up to the temple to release birds and fish, then they go back to the river and make Sand Stuppas on the beach. All the time you are getting covered with stuff. See pictures.
George, Matt ands some Aussie friends of their arrived that night, ready for a fight the next day. We had a ball, there were also parades through the town that day so after the parades had passed the fights began (water
of course). This continued for another 3 days. On the 3rd day we went out to a beautiful waterfall and as it was the holidays many Laos familyx00s were there enjoying the time off (which is very rare in this country) I imagine thatx00s why they have such fun when they get the chance (once a year).
Once Songran was over 3 couples left LP and headed to the North of Laos. Couples were friends were Ashley and Eric who we met in Java , Indonesia and in Thailand and Matt and George who we met in Bali and again in Thailand . From there we purchased 2 hand made wooden canoes from the local people in the village. Of course they thought our plan to paddle to the next main town was crazy (as they all have motor engines) why would the foreigners not just catch a boat like everyone else? Anyway we were lucky and managed to buy the boats the morning after arriving, which meant we could leave that afternoon, for which we thought would be an easy down river paddle. We had bought all our provisions in LP including enough noodles to feed a village
................for a week, 3 sheets of tarpaulin, mats and blankets and a pot.
Well we set off 3 in each boat, we had a bit of a wobbly start but we were getting the hang of things. Paddling canoes definitely tests your patience, and many names were called, but manly we were doing ok. All along the river banks the people were shouting x00Saba deex00 and waving. They are such happy people so friendly and very inquisitive. All the way down river we met loads of people especially young boys out on the river, they were all having such a great time, living a real boys child hood, and when we stopped to set up camp they would help get the wood and stones, and loved unpacking the bags to see what we had in there. Thankfully we had brought some sweets and a football which kept them amused. Although the plastic bottles seemed to be of the most value to them. The canoeing was far more strenuous than we imagined, the rapids that we usually dreaded incase we tipped over were a big welcome as they pushed us further down stream and gave what had become Olympic muscles
a rest. We paddled for about 6 hours a day, but we never knew how far along the map we were, everyone would try to tell us, but with none speaking each other language it often became confusing, but still we were having a great time. When we stopped to set up there was always so much to do, but a dip in the river was the best, funny but we seemed to resemble the heard of buffalos that we would see a long the bank, just sitting in the water was so refreshing after paddling in 40 degree heat. Dinner although only noodles and some veg were great and of course the box of wine was a great way to spend the rest of the night round the fire. Well until around 9:00pm when we were all knackered. So once all in the tent you were waiting for the storms, we had 2 each day, always last thing at night and first thing in the morning, we had to hang on the to tarp incase it blew away and we always had rivers running through us, the lightning and thunder provided good entertainment but youvx00e never heard thunder like
it, it was pretty scary. Getting up was always easy even before 6:00am as the ground was a nightmare on your back, besides you were excited about a quick wash in the river and to get on your way to the next place. On the 5th day on the river we were due to arrive at our destination and from where we would sell our boats and get a big boat then bus back to LP. But a few hours before arriving one of the boats got damaged on the rapids, fortunately we were near a small village and some boys came out of the fields to help us, maybe aged 9 & 10. Anyway along with their grandfather they repraired the boat, while us girls were invited up to the village for a drink with the locals, the village was beautiful and they were all excited to have us, and us equally exited to be invited up. We bought some of their hand made cloths and went on our way. When we arrived at our destination we were so happy and after no cold drinks for 5 days, a beer went down rather well and so did some good
food, no one could face another bowl of noodles. So we settled in for the night in our bungalow over looking the water, rather expensive x00x00x00 not at 75 pence per night, it even had a hammock and mosquito net for that, unbelievable. We stayed in the village for 2 nights; we would have loved to stay longer but had not bought enough money. We sold off the boats and all our belongings we had a little auction with the owner of the bungalows it was really funny, he laughed when we told him the prices we had paid only 5 days before at the market, but that what happens to tourists, but we thought we got a great deal. The boys had both bought steel machetes for 1pound each and we sad to let them go, but not advisable to keep them as you cross borders!!!!
So we set off back to LP, after a very scenic slow boat for an hour we transferred to a bus, well not exactly, it was a large tuck tuck, that could accommodate 19 people, we had 32 not including all the rice and baskets that the local people were carrying, it
was a colorful and eventful 5 hours, not to mention very sore on your but and oh yeh did I say it was above 40 degrees that day, but all in all it was fun, although the best part was getting off and running to the air con restaurant and sitting for the next few hours to try and cool off. At least we didnx00t have any live pigs of chickens with us that I had seem on other tuk tucks.
So after a restful back at the guest house we set off for Vang Veing, where you basically get a big inner tube from a tire and float down the river, where there are bars set up with swings and jumps for you to do along the way, it was a really fun day. We then left for the capital, after bargaining hard for a room, we spent a few days there but not really much to see, they have an Arc de Triomphe like in Paris sand some nice monuments, but in comparison to LP it was not so great. I wished we had bought things in LP as their markets were amazing and so many hand
made crafts, but the capital had nothing. From there we set off to the 4000 islands, we have still been traveling with Matt and George so company has been good. The 4000 islands are beautiful; they have very basic accommodation on them but amazing scenery. We hired bikes and went to visit the biggest waterfall I have ever seen, we then swam a few pools down from it and off course I got a flat tyre on the ways back. Anyway with the help of one kind local we were on our way. After 3 nights on the islands we were ready to cross over to Cambodia , something I was dreading as we had heard so may stories that the guards charge you silly money or just shut the border. So after about 3 hours on a road from hell we arrived at the border in Loas, where we only had to Pay one dollar extra to the guards, I dared question them as George had threw a fit when they tried to charge her as they were entering Loas and they stamped denied on her passport, so she had to plead with them to get let into the
country. Anyway we had to walk about 1/5 mile to the next crossing where the Cambodian guards wanted 2 dollar extra, again I just paid and went through. We then waited for an hour in the blazing heat to wait for enough people, we were supposed to arrive at out destination in Cambodia at 6:00pm where we were to spend the night and travel to Sierm Reap the next days. We arrived at 10:00pm, after getting stuck in the mud, a major rain storm and just generally traveling on the worst roads you have ever seen, my clothes were orange from the road, and had to wash my face three times to get it clean. Anyway we spend the night and set off for another 5 hour trip to Siem Reap. This time we had air con!!
We arrived in Siem Reap and organized to be picked up with our tuck tuck the next morning at 7:00am for our tour of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is amazing, the people of Cambodia were so advanced before the wars I canx00t believe that they are still a 3rd world country. They have such hard lives and the government is unbelibielbly corrupt,
you would like these people have been though enough, its so sad. Theyx00re main highway only covers a very little part of the country it is still being build and so many people still use cart and ox to get around in the country, but to look at the workman ship in these temples its so hard to imagine. We spend 2 days going to most of the temples and to one silk farm. The Cambodian people are so friendly, and always smiling, but the education system is so low and the salaries very poor. The good thing is that they have a lot of fair trade ventures set up and many charities working in the country.
Tomorrow we are heading to Battambang, then down to Phnom Penh to see the killing fields and then further south.
There are more photos below