The trip into Laos was an interesting one. There are several ways of getting over to Luang Prabang from Thailand: by plane (pricier), by slow boat (2.5 days by bus and boat along the Mekong river, sounds nice but a very long time to be sitting on a chair on a boat) or an overnight 'VIP bus' that takes about 24 hours. We decided to go for option 3 and get it over with. First part of the trip was relaxed; we had a spacious seat on a minivan, A/C, a nice stop at the White Temple - all pretty good. When we got to the border at Huay Xuay (no idea how to spell this) we took a little boat across the river, sorted our visas and were almost ready for the next part. We hadn't changed money for Laos and this was a little tricky as our cards didn't work in the ATM. The lady was rushing us to pay so we ended up paying a few Euros and Dollars too much, but at least we got in our next minivan. This took us to the bus station a few kilometres ahead, where our "VIP" bus was waiting for
us. Not really VIP, as this bus looked like it had been waiting for us the last 20 years, but it was a bus, departing at 5pm. It was fully packed when we boarded, but another 5km ahead it turns out there was space for more. A few plastic seats in the aisle and there was space for at least 8 more locals and a chicken. We thought 'OK, they'll probably get out after the next town"....but instead, they got out about an hour before we got to Luang Prabang at 8am the next morning.
Jorn was sitting in the aisle seat and his friend on the plastic seat next to him inched closer to him with every hour. At one point he was pretty much hanging in his crotch, much to the amusement of the British girl on the other side of the aisle. Little did she know that after the toilet stop he'd be hanging on her lap.
Luckily we caught a few hours of sleep here and there and we got to LP on time at 8am. A short ride into town by red truck (a pick up truck with two benches and a roof
fitted makes a nice taxi over here) and we strolled around to find our next guesthouse. A few were full, others too expensive but we found a nice room in Guesthouse Somjith for 140,000kip (ca.14 Euros) which is relatively expensive over here (!).
We had a few hours to kill before we could check in so we hung out at Joma Bakery for breakfast with a bagel and pumpkin soup. After checking into our room and freshening up, we rented bikes and explored the city, to see the many temples and the charming streets. We stopped at the bottom of the hill where Phou Si temple is located, right in the heart of town. We climbed to the top, where we had a wonderful view over the city and the Mekong River. The temple itself was like many of the other temples we've seen so far...but then maybe we have overdosed on temples a bit!
That night we visited the night market, which was right near our hotel. Ladies selling handicrafts or Beerlao sweatshirts, which you'll see everyone wearing because the north of Laos can get very chilly at night (during the day too..). We chose a restaurant
just past the market where we had a lovely curry and beef dish. We have also become daily ginger tea drinkers, which I'm sure is what has kept us healthy so far
After sleeping in the next day we decided to check out Kuang Si waterfalls, located about 16 km outside of the city. We chartered a tuk-tuk, not hard to find ...as you walk by you get asked by every tuk-tuk "Waterfalls? Caves?". We managed to bargain him and got a reasonable price (400 Baht there and back). The waterfalls have a bear rescue centre at the entrance so we watched the little ones play around for a bit, then walked to the top of the falls. It had warmed up a bit so it was nice to cool off in the water afterwards.
The next day we were too late to join a trip to the Pak Ou caves so instead we walked around for a while, sat in a cafe along the river, read our guide book and planned our itinerary for the next few days. We then walked to the end of the peninsula where you could cross a bamboo bridge to a
little sandy beach. We ended up sitting here for several hours, watching the young monks work in the gardens, bathing in the river....very peaceful. We watched a beautiful sunset and then headed back to our hotel. In the end we decided to book a trip to the Pak Ou caves the next morning, planning to catch a bus to Vang Vieng that afternoon, if we would make it!
So it was an early start the next day, because before leaving on our boat trip we wanted to see the monks morning alms. This is a ceremony which takes place at dawn. People line along the street with rice or other food that fits into the monks' diet, and they hand them out to the monks one by one. This has become quite a tourist attraction though, and signs everywhere ask tourists to respect the tradition, not get in the way with their cameras, stand back, etc etc. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. We stood on the opposite side of the street as monks walked by and adults (40-50 year olds too!) jumped in front of the monks to get a good shot. It was like the paparazzi at a
movie premiere. Sad to see, but I hope they manage to keep the tradition nonetheless.
We were all packed and checked out, ready to leave. At the boat terminal it was busy and we were put into groups for the boats. Our boat with 6 rickety wooden chairs was the last to leave. Less than 5 minutes into our journey a big tour boat passed and we got swept onto another boat by the waves. knocking one of our wooden sticks holding up our roof off. It landed on top of the German guy sitting at the back (he wasn't hurt)...so it wasn't a great start! We drove back a few meters, his colleague handed him a bamboo stick and rope and Voila - our boat was fixed. Sort of.
The breeze and the weather in general wasn't great so our hope of a nice sunny 1,5 hour boat ride was unlikely to happen. Instead we sat on the bottom of the boat instead of our chairs to try and avoid the cold and we fought over who could have the backpack to hide behind.... We made a stop at a Lao Lao village where they make local
whiskey, we had a taste of all 3 varieties (one is 50%!!) and decided to bring 3 bottles on our trip.
When we got to the caves we walked up to the top cave, which was very dark and there wasn't that much to see. The bottom one was very busy (lots of boats were just arriving) and was filled with small and big buddhas. Other than that, there was nothing, so we were a little disappointed, but the boat ride back was more enjoyable as it had warmed up a little bit. The other 4 people on our boat (2 Germans and an elderly Australian couple) were also nice to chat with, so we shared travel stories.
Back in Luang Prabang at 13.15 we rushed over to the tour agency to see whether we could make it onto the 13.30 bus to Vang Vieng. Luckily that was no problem so 15 minutes later we waited for the bus to pick us up with our bags. Six hours later we made it to Vang Vieng, a slightly tacky town (lots of 18-21 year old Brits and Aussies drinking) surrounded by amazing mountain views. More about our 4 days
stay there in our next blog.
Greetings from Vientiane, we're off to Bangkok on the overnight train tonight!
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