Published: April 20th 2012April 6th 2012
Journey to Luang Prabang, by minibus again. It was a very bumpy, windy (as in curvy not wind blowing) road as we had been warned but it was also very beautiful. The unsealed roads took us round mountains giving us spectacular scenery. When we arrived we did the tuk-tuk negotiation and were taken to our guesthouse: Sysomophone. This was basically a family’s house with rooms turned into guest rooms. It soon became apparent that the family – dad, mum, sons, grandchildren all slept downstairs in the reception/living room under a huge mosquito net. They did have themselves a T.V though. We got a very warm welcome from the dad/granddad who was, as he informed us proudly, the official owner. He was keen to show us his photo albums which were largely full of passport photos of backpackers who had put their name and date on them. It was kind of cute, but also a little creepy. Reminded us of something a serial killer would keep, making his victims sign and date the photos before he finished them off! Anyway with this thought in mind we headed off to explore Luang Prabang. This place was full of Falang and
for a reason; it’s a really nice place and still had that great lazy Laos feel to it. We bumped into Michaela (who we met in Kampot) whilst we wandering around. She had decided to extend her stay in Asia and was working in a bar there. We met up with her there later and it was just like a more modern Bodhi Villas (minus river and bungalows). We chilled out there for a bit then headed off to bed trying not to disturb the sleeping family!
Today we headed off to a waterfall 20km outside of Luang Prabang, complete with bear sanctuary, what more could you want?. This was a beautiful waterfall really impressive and we were able to swim in loads of pools at different sections of it. At one point above one of these pools someone had hung a rope for swinging in. We watched several Falang having a go at it and messing it up big time. One girl stood there for ages being really wimpy and causing a massive queue. We were all watching with baited breath for her to jump and she finally did – without really using
the rope in the end and making a massive splash. All the locals and other Asians were having a good laugh at her. Then a Chinese guy strutted up and showed everyone up by doing an awesome ninja style jump onto the rope swinging round on it and landing expertly and hardly causing a ripple when he landed! Show off!! We decided not to embarrass the Brits off any further and didn’t have a go. After a climb to the very top of the waterfall and peering off the edge we headed back down to the bottom for some yummy BBQ chicken on a stick with sticky rice (becoming a bit of a theme).
That evening we were invited to join the family and others staying at the guesthouse for a party, with some food and some drink. By the time we arrived at 6pm most of the Laotians were pretty drunk – apparently they had started at lunch time. We were a little confused about them celebrating New Year, as we thought they celebrated later in the year. However it seemed the whole street were happily embracing the Western tradition and they had all clubbed together to buy
food and drink to share. We were shown how to drink Lao style – host pours drink into a glass and drinks it all then pours into same glass and passes to next person in circle and it continues round the circle. Very nice, unless your host is very drunk already and just keeps pouring the drink and drinking it forgetting about everyone else! However, we were able to grab ourselves our own beer Laos for free so no complaining. We met some other nice Falang as well and had a good laugh, and Tanja turned up later on as she’d just arrived in town. We were kept entertained by a group of children jumping around in the back of the truck next to us. They all seemed very hyper, maybe because of all the excitement or maybe because of the bright blue drink they were being given by the adults? One very drunk Lao guy picked up one of the children at one point in his arm. In the other arm he had a firework thing which of course he lit and held onto whilst it sent rockets into the air. Child still in other arm. He then asked
Michael to fetch him some more beer so Michael followed him up the street to find a tuk-tuk literally crammed full of beer Lao, Awesome! Anyway he disappeared at this point leaving Michael to carry a very heavy crate on his own!! Michael rewarded himself with a beer and so I rewarded myself for being great with a beer as well! After a bit more fun, including ducking out of the way of a puking local (man who had carried child and firework simultaneously half hour earlier) we headed off to Utopia. We were joined by the other guests from our guesthouse. When we arrived Michaela was completely rushed off her feet behind the bar. The place was rammed full of more Falang then we have seen the whole time we have been away. Not a single Laotian, apart from a few members of staff. It was actually a bit of a culture shock to be honest!! We had a few drinks, one girl ordered a bright blue drink…we recognised it straight away, it was the one the kids had been drinking, it was alcoholic (5% vol.) That would explain the hyperness! Michael was keen to catch the Arsenal game
so we headed off with Tanja to track it down. We found an Australian bar showing the game. Tanja and I chatted whilst Michael watched the game and we were soon joined in the bar by a couple of Irish guys. We saw in New Year out in the street after full time singins Auld Lang Syne and watching hundreds of lanterns being let off into the sky which was pretty cool.
Following this Australian bar manager gave us a free shot of Baileys stuff and then politely asked us to leave so we headed back to Utopia for more partying with the Irish guys, one of who was the spitting image of Webb (Jeremy from Peep Show).
Luang Prabang turned out to be the perfect place to spend New Year.
Feeling a bit worse for wear we spent the day lazing around and mooching around the town in the heat trying to recover. We wandered around the markets and local shops, ate more BBQ food and booked onto a bus to our next destination Luang Nam Tha where we had booked to do a jungle trek.
Today we went on the bumpiest scariest journey we have ever been on – EVER! We had been told the journey would take 9 hours, and in Lao time you normally add at least 2 hours to that. However, it only took 7 hours including an hour stop for lunch. Now you would think this is a good thing right?? Wrong. The reason it took only 7 hours was because our minibus driver was clearly on something. The whole journey was on unsealed roads, the worst we have seen since being in Asia (apart from the ones we tackled on the loop). It was again winding roads around mountains and very narrow in lots of places. Unfortunately our driver was undeterred by all of these things…in his world he was on a racing track in a racing car and yes he was Jenson Button! He drove at break neck speed, and so everyone was thrown all over the place. Extra unfortunately we were at the back above one of the wheels so we were thrown around even more. We whacked our heads on the ceiling god knows how many times and our knees were covered in bruises from banging
into the seats in front (no seatbelts of course, haven’t seen any so far on our travels). Our driver was buzzing, when we made stops he was clearly struggling to stay still and his hands were shaking a lot! Glad for a reliever at lunch we stopped at a place serving Pho with a non-descript meat and tentacles in! Not our best meal so far and as we were worried about keeping it down we limited ourselves to half a bowlful. Anyway, we arrived in one piece thankfully (well two pieces, we are not joined at the hip just yet) and bruises and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aside no-one was hurt. We needed some Beer Lao, BBQ chicken and sticky rice after that ordeal!!!
Luckily there was an awesome food night market we could go to, happy days! We were surrounded by dogs trying to get some scraps. As with all the dogs we’ve seen they looked so poorly, extremely thin with cuts every, matted fur and scratching like mad. As always we took pity and threw them some scraps whilst the locals hit them and shouted at them. We noticed all the dogs were tending to hang around
the few tables which had Falang sitting at them. It is interesting to see just how differently they were treated at these tables. Funny considering it’s a Buddhist country, right. But animals are just viewed so differently over here and “pets” don’t really exist. This also means that domesticated animals like dogs and cats aren’t neutered and so they run rampant (we’ve seen lots of doggy on doggy action) and their populations are huge.
Trek time! We strolled down to the office where we were being picked up for our two day trek. We met Petra, a German girl living in Switzerland and George, a Scottish man living in Japan who were also on the trek with us. The fifth person was nowhere to be seen so our 2 tour guides headed out to find her. She turned up in the end, think she had got herself lost; she was Bee a 64 year old lady from Singapore, living in London. So we were the only ones still living where we were born, apart from the Laotian tour guides of course! We were all very impressed that Bee had booked onto the trek, not
to be patronising at all but we had been informed that it was going to be a tough couple of days. Off we headed in a minivan to the start of the trek. Cue some more beautiful scenery on the drive to a small village where we met our first tribe of the trek. The tribe had a self-sustainable community where everyone grew crops, owned their own animals and made everything from bamboo. We watched a few people making roofs from bamboo leaves including an old lady with an awesome looking pipe! We were pleased to find out we were going to be staying in a village similar to this in the middle of the jungle that night. So off we set into the jungle for some good old trekking. Poor Bee soon found herself struggling with the walk; well to be honest we were all finding it a bit tough. Luckily one of the guides (Hak) was able to help her and keep her morale up. She asked if we could walk in two separate groups as she obviously felt bad about being slower. Our lovely tour guides were having none of this and told her that it would
upset the spirit of the forest! This was good news for us because it meant we could go nice and slow and get plenty of breaks. As I said we weren’t finding it to be a walk in the park so we asked our guide (Ben) how far quite a few times. He replied with “one big up, one big down, two small ups, one small down and then one big up, then lunch.” Right, OK then! This whole “one big up thing” turned out to be a bit of a recurring theme, unfortunately. We did get to our lunch stop after all the ups and downs (smiles and frowns) and our tour guide gave us lots of info about all the fauna on the way. At the lunch stop was a ready-made bamboo shelter with table and benches. Hak had found lots of banana leaves to use as table cloths and he also had loads of yummy food, wrapped in banana leaves that he had prepared earlier! Cue the best meal we have had in Lao so far (BBQ chicken aside), which we ate with our hands Lao style, using one hand and only thumb and first two fingers
In the afternoon we carried on through the jungle, lots of big ups and small downs and small ups (which we big ups if you ask me) until we reached a stream and a couple of locals fishing. They were from the village where we would be staying and so after admiring all the fish they had caught we followed them to our rest stop for the night. We arrived in time to have a good look around before sunset. We wandered around the small village full of huts on stilts, animals, children playing, women working. We sneaked into the school hut, with blackboard and then we had a quick dip in the river. We were joined by someyoung boys from the village who started a riverweed fight with us. They hit us quite a few times, and I accidentally hit one of them in the side. He looked so pissed off, I got the death stare and decided I should get out sharpish before he killed me! After this we played with some children on land, away from death stare boy. George taught a few wrestling moves to one of the boys, who then started trying them
Time to learn
Katie and Petra didn't understand the maths on the blackboard
out on his little sister…whoops!! I ended up with a group of girls following and copying me, so I decided to show them some of my amazing dance moves! However, it got a bit tricky and once I’d exhausted all my usual classic moves like big fish, little fish I started getting desperate. Somehow I got so desperate that I ended up teaching them the YMCA. They loved it and I even had a couple of them learning a few of the words. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all our fellow Falang for choosing this song and dance as a representation of our society, I am also sorry to all members of the tribe who now are being subjected to this song and dance. I am deeply, deeply sorry.
Next was a few beer Laos by the the camp fire before another great meal and then the dreaded Lao Lao was brought out. Lao Lao is a lethal whiskey. We’d managed to avoid drinking too much of it until this night (tubing aside). We were told by our hosts that we needed to finish the bottle between us along with our hosts. We were
taught a Lao drinking game in which everyone takes a turn drinking a shot of the Lao Lao. They must raise the shit glass before drinking and look everyone in the eye, then down it, then turn the glass (or wooden cup) upside down to prove that they have drunk it all. If one drop falls out they must do another shot, if two drops then two shots and so on. By the time the bottle was finished we were all feeling a bit merry, but not so merry that we couldn’t fit in a few more Beer Laos! That night we all slept on a long wooden bench thing, under mosquito nets in a hut, listening to the rain hammering down on the bamboo leaf roof. Apart from a few drips we stayed surprisingly dry during the night….the same was not going to be true for the following day!
A very wet and very muddy day for us today! Today it rained a lot, pretty much from the time we started to walking until the time we stopped. We woke up in our hut to the sounds of various animals and then went outside to
see a big pig lying next to the dying campfire and the bottles of beer Lao, she looked like Party Pig! After a huge breakfast we headed off on a hard day of trekking. More amazing jungle and lots more big ups and small ups and MASSIVE downs. We stopped off at another village to meet some more locals who all came out to have a look at us, and try to sell us a few handmade crafts. The rain started getting heavier at this point and our guide asked us if we wanted to go a slightly different route which he thought would be better and safer in the heavy rain. He explained that the route we were supposed to be taking was a dry season route (it was currently dry season) but due to the heavy amount of rain overnight and during the day it might well be a bit treacherous. We decided that he probably knew best and took the “safer route”
If this was the safer route we are very, very glad we did not take the other route. It was so, so slippy from the start, Ben was the first to fall over, this
Katie busting some moves
Who would have though I would be a dance teacher??!!
was not a good sign, we have never seen a tour guide fall over yet. We did one very big up before stopping for lunch when we made some seats out of branches and banana leaves. Cue more yummy food prepared by Hak and then we tackled the slippiest, slidiest walk EVER! We basically ended up walking/sliding down a muddy stream the whole way. Bee was the next to go over taking out Hak on her way down. Next was Michael falling spectacularly sideways on a big slippy rock – it looked and sounded really painful. That left Petra, George and myself. George was next sliding ionto his bottom down a grassy stream, then Petra fell shortly afterwards. I was feeling extremely smug at this point, but as we all know pride comes before a fall, or in my case 3 falls before I reached the bottom. Everyone fell over at least twice by the end and we were all covered in mud as well as being soaked through by the rain! From our lunch stop it had taken 4 hours to get down in the pouring rain. It had been a long painful but funny experience. Our final destination
was another tribe’s village. As we arrived the pointing and staring and laughing began, as they took in the sight of the muddy Falang! Of course on our way down we had passed a man from the village who was dragging lots of heavy wood behind him. He was barefoot and guess what, he didn’t fall over once…bloody ninja!
We stayed in the village for a bit whilst George played slaps with a young boy – watched by the entire village who loved it! Once Bee had made it down (also covered in mud and telling us several times that “trekking was definitely not for her”) we headed back to town. That evening we headed to the night market with Petra. Bee had already got herself on a night bus to Luang Prabang. She was clearly traumatised by the whole trekking experience and didn’t want to spend any more time in Luang Nam Tha! We enjoyed more BBQ food surrounded again by dogs and cats!
We travelled to Huay Xai today a small border town, which would be our final destination in Laos. Unfortunately in Luang Nam Tha we had a bit of
a mix up and ended up getting on the wrong tuk-tuk and making the half hour journey to the bus station where we were told we were at the wrong place. We decided our best bet was to get back to where we had bought tickets for the bus so we took another half hour journey back to town. They looked very concerned when they saw us turn up and told us their tuk-tuk driver had left without us because he couldn’t find us. Guess what he was at the bus station we had just left! Luckily the tuk-tuk driver sped back and picked us up making it in record time to the bus station. Luckily the bus waited for us, thank god it was Laos where life is more relaxed!
Another rough journey – though nothing compared to the last one. The usual chickens and eggs with foetuses in were being eaten and sold throughout. We were kept entertained by a very jolly old Laotian man who communicated with us through hand gestures, big smiles and lots of slightly manic laughter!
When we arrived in Huay Xai we checked into a guesthouse and walked down to the
Gibbon experience oofice to check in. This was our main reason for being in Huay Xai and we were pretty excited about the 2 day expedition we were about to be heading off on the next day. We had lunch with Petra and Mascha, a Dutch girl, who we bumped into on the way to the office.
In the afternoon we met a lovely cleaning lady and spent the afternoon on the roof of the guesthouse with her. We had met her whilst we were carrying our very muddy laundry out of our room in search of a laundrette. She stopped us in our tracks and started waving her arms around and making loud whoosing noises. After a while we realised that she was doing an impression of a washing machine!
Anyway whilst our clothes were drying in the hot sun we shared some Beer Lao and crisps with this lovely lady and she shared her fruit with us. She spoke no English and we spoke only 3 words or so of Laos, but we still managed to act out a fairly good version of a conversation. Think we invented a fairly good version of sign language between
That evening we headed out with Petra and Mascha to a place which served…yep BBQ chicken and sticky rice oh and yummy papaya salad! It was a really nice little place run by a Dutch lady and her Laotian boyfriend and was part of their project for supporting women and children who had fallen on hard times. Very nice place and we got free shots of Lao Lao and wine, Hooray!!
Tarzan time!! (or was it George of the Jungle?)
Today we got to play Tarzan – it was awesome! Ziplinig in a huge jungle with 8 others (Vic and Kaura a honeymooning couple from England, Tim and Dana friends from San Fransico; Eleanor, Eliza, Elana and Sophie friends from Adelaide). Our group headed out on a truck after watching a very funny safety video at the Gibbon Experience office (basically just hope the ropes don’t snap!) When we arrived at the edge of the jungle we were kitted up with our harnesses and those who hadn’t bought saftery gloves bought those. After a short walk we reached a “practice” zip line which was comparable to the ones at GO Ape
in the UK and good fun! After this we had a long upward trek to the start of the real zip lines. We could not believe how high up this zip line was, or how long it was. It was 400metres long (this is a short one, our guide told us) and several hundred metres above the forest floor. To explain the ziplines are tied to trees at either side of huge drops down to the bottom of the forest so you zipline above tree tops. It is incredible. The first one was pretty scary but very exciting. Soaring along whilst looking out over beautiful views. The rest of the day consisted of doing a little more walking and a lot more soaring above the jungle. I got a bit of a scare on the third zipline of the day as my glove got caught up in the zip line. I was holding on to the top of the bit that holds me up, as you are supposed to but I was holding too near to the front and as my gloves were a bit baggy it got caught up in the tracks as was gradually get sucked into the
mechanics. A horrible burning smell was coming from it and I have toadmit for a second I thought I was going to lose my hand. Luckily the adrenaline gave me the strength to rip the glove out just in time! Remember all this was at several hundred feet off the ground at a very fast speed. I was pretty happy to reach the end of the line. Howevere because of th incident I didn't make it to the end of the line as it had slowed me down. I had to pull myself in hand over hand to the end, during the process my singlasses fell off into the forest below. Luckily our ninja giode travelled down to retrieve them. All in all I was in a slight state of shock, but it didn't take long for the rest of the group to cheer me up and be ready for the next of the lines and I soon got back into the swing of it (excuse the pun!). The longest zip line was a little under 1km long! Our destination that day was our house for the night, which happened to be in a tree. It was the stuff of
kids dreams a proper big tree house! Dana was a yoga instructor so the first thing we did in our tree house was a yoga lesson…as you do. Cue lots of funny yoga phrases, Tim was told to go for a deeper pigeon several times! “Keep those pigeons deep Tim.” Then it was some more fun ziplinig. Later our dinner was brought to us by guides on ziplines…did I mention that the only way to get to or from our tree house was by zip line because it was so high. It was a big old tree. After a yummy dinner, we made sticky rice, condensed milk and peanut brittle for desert (it works believe it or not!) Then we washed up in our sink, with running water and we all enjoyed a trp to the toilet with amazing views - watching out for all the bees hovering around the toilet rim! We then had a great night playing cards and chating and enjoying the noises of the jungle - hoping no rat would make it up the tree (it was over 100 feet high so we figured we were safe from rats!) The four girsl from Australia slept
upstairs (yep this place hd 3 flors!) and we slpet on the middle floor on matresses, covered by huge mosquito nets.
More Tarzan time! We were a bit sad to be leaving our treehouse but we knew it was to spend a day swinging through the jungle so it was a little easier to swallow. It was also our last day ion Laos, but again Tarzaning made up for any sadness! Another fantastic day including 2 of the longest ziplines - whixh went on forever - both just under 1km long! The ziplines and walking took us to a little hut at ground level by a huge lake where we had late lunch before travlling back to Huay Xai. This was an extremely bumpy ride in a Sangwatheu. Luckily me Michael, Vic and Laura were in the cabin up front but the others were on the wooden slats at the back bumping all over the place, there was a lot of screaming from the girls...and a bit from Tim too!!
Back in Huay Xai we enjoyed another beautiful Mekong sunset (going to miss these a lot) with a few last Beer Laos and then out
This picture is courtesy of Tim's amazing camera!
for some final BBQ food Laos style with sticky rice.
We had such a great time in Laos thanks to: the beautiful scenery; the beautiful local people we've met who, on the whole, have been so welcoming, friendly and funny; the fellow travellers we've met and shared some fun times with; the amazing BBQ food; the slow pace of life which we succumbed to fairly quickly; and last but not least the very tasty Beer Lao.
We were sad to be leaving, but looking forward to our next country Thailand, whic we had heard we were going to love too!
There are more photos below