Hi guys, I've added a whole load of pics from the waterproof camera to the last blog so if you have a chance, check them out! Thanks,
So we crossed across the friendship bridge into Vientiane, Laos.
Vientiane is the new Capital city, it has a lot of history and interesting historical buildings left over from the French, but with the time constraints we decided to head straight up to Vang Vieng for some more adventurous activities. Laos apparently holds the not so prestigious title for the most bombed country in the world and has been in a constant struggle over the last century. Laos is thankfully more stable now with tourism and other industries flourishing.
The minivan stopped along the way to pick up locals and one got on with a basket of live baby chicks squeaking away! Oh how I love Asia!
Vang Vieng... Hmmm...an interesting place, it's a city built on demand rather than natural supply, what used to be no more than a stop over town between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is now a thriving tourist hub but sadly very un-Laotian. It's full of young drunk travelers all scantily clad,
loud and unfortunately mainly English!! Nearly every restaurant serves pizza, pasta, roast dinner, pancakes and has either Family Guy or Friends blasting on tv. The shops are full of rip off Havianas and board shorts. Certain narcotics were even advertised on the first page before the breakfast menu to freely order despite drugs being illegal in Laos! This town has run wild and the authorities don't seem to be doing anything to stop it as its a great source of income!!! The main activity here is floating down the river in an inner tube of a tyre and pulling in at riverside bars blasting Red Hot Chili Peppers for a drink before floating down to the next bar. morally I just couldn't do it! We had lunch in what used to be a tranquil beautiful place, it's called the Organic Mulberry Farm, an Eco friendly farm that has various projects to support local children but somehow they all had sad faces, the place was empty and instead of hearing the river lap by you could hear loud bass and music blasting out from the nearby river bars. Although I may sound all high and mighty the truth is that at
the end of the evening we succumbed and ate our dinner with eyes glued to Family Guy! Oh the shame!!
We spent the day trekking through the fields to the natural caves. These caves were astonishingly huge, the widest (and least claustrophobic) I've been in. The first one we walked for about half an hour with our head torches before our guide said that it goes on for 7km but from that point onwards can get a bit tricky to navigate so we turned back. Each cave had buddha statues in the entrance which had apparently been moved here to shelter them from the bombs and Up until the 70's the locals use to shelter in the caves and catch the bats for food. The last cave we had to explore by rubber ring, we sat in little inner tubes and pulled ourselves along a rope to the end of the cave, a very relaxing and beautiful way to see them.
We were staying in a beautiful little bamboo stilted bungalow on the other side of the river which was connected to the party town by a 100m wobbly bamboo bridge, we saw many brave motorcyclists carelessly zoom across.
One morning Khalid opened the curtains an saw a young Lao lady wobble on her bicycle then plop off the bridge into the river below!! She looked a little Bewildered then fished for her bicycle and pushed in back to the side she came from having to go home and start her day again!! Poor thing!!I couldn't help but laugh though!
The streets are riddled with fresh fruit shakes (using tourist ice) and crepes, I've managed to limit myself and have only had one nutella lard fried pancake so far.
Our next stop was Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos. The only way there is a grueling 7hr bus ride... We armed ourselves with fried rice, crisps, water and iced coffee and had our expectations set pretty low. Luckily somehow we had booked into a minivan for the same price as the big busses and the only other people on the bus were the loveliest Australian-Turkish couple, around our age and similar mind set. We found so far that everyone was either so young and only looking for a party or much older and had even traveling for years! Our driver fancied himself as a bit of a
Louis Hammelton and every turn we took, the tyres screeched and we were thrown from side to side. The good thing about that is we managed to get to Luang Prabang in just under 5hrs albeit a bit shaken up! The views along the way were stunning, we watched the sun set over the beautiful backdrop of rich green forests broken up by limestone rocks, I really think the scenery made up for the terrible roads and formula1 speed corners!
Luang Prabang... What a lovely place, it has a lot of French architecture, cuisine and just a generally European feel to it. The main part is set at the meeting point of the Mekong and Nam khan rivers on a kind of 300 m wide finger that juts out. Something about this place is just so relaxing. It's the first place where Khalid stopped thinking about work, the kind of place you can just do nothing but the surroundings are so pretty and peaceful that you still feel you are getting the cultural experience you're looking for. We sampled some amazing deep fried sesame coated Mekong seaweed or should I say 'riverweed' and Laap (traditional Lao minced meat fried
with coriander , shallots and chili) as well as my favorite Lao noodle soup.
The next day we started with omelette baguettes, the standard out here, I guess the baguettes are another one of the left overs from the French. We spent the afternoon spread eagled under the fan as its suddenly getting hot then at sunset took a lovely cruise up the Mekong. We drove for about an hour upstream then he switched off the engine an we just floated bak down to where we started stopping only to buy some beer and home made holy-basil-garlic-toasted-peanuts from a small shack on the riverbank. Beautiful! Khalid's highlight was that the captain let him drive the boat, he was a complete natural! Wasted talent!!
That night we flexed our bargaining skills at the night markets where there are genuinely beautiful hand crafted artifacts and paintings. Every morning and evening they come and set up their little rug with jewelry, artwork, hand carved stones, clothes and spoons fashioned from old bomb shells, and then after a few hours pack it all up again! What a lot of effort for a few sales a day...the street is almost unrecognisable during the market
That night, Arie, my lovely Greek friend from university made the terrible 11hr bus ride (with obligatory flat tyre thrown in) to Luang Prabang where she and I would begin our travels together. This trip is a good 7 years overdue and although I'm sad that khalid has to go back to work, I'm excited to start the new stage of my trip. I'm so lucky to have had the time alone to grow in Nepal followed by the time to party and take a holiday with Hannah and Matt then the treasured days with Khalid and now Time to travel with Arie, I'm so lucky to have these people in my life to share these experiences with.
The next day we started slowly (seems to be becoming a habit) and booked in an afternoon of rock climbing. It was just us three and we took a little fishing boat 30 mins down the river then pulled into a tiny beach and trekked up to the unbelievably steep path to the rock face we were climbing. The limestone had plenty of holds and was easy to scale but a little tough on my soft hands, and my muscles
are a little too relaxed after all this traveling ! the view from the top was just beautiful, we had timed it so we could watch the sun set over the river from about 65m in the air (50 m trek then 15m wall) really beautiful.
It was Khalid's last night so Arie hit the night markets and Khalid and I went for our first posh (ish) dinner. We walked down to the other river and across a little wobbly bamboo bridge to a lovely little restaurant where you rag sit in you own private bamboo hut. We had steamed banana-leaf-wrapped fish, with smoked eggplant dip (a bit like baba ghanoush) more river weed and pork Laap. So delicious and made even better by the wonderful scenery.
Khalid left the next day as unfortunately he had to get back to work, Arie and I spent the afternoon pampering ourselves with foot scrubs, pedicures and I went for a Lao massage. The massage was possibly the worst experience ever, she was punching my thighs and painfully kneading my cellulite then put her knee in my back and twisted me into an odd pretzel shape which was all in all not very
pleasant. I have learnt my lesson which is to only go to reputable massage parlors in the future and trust my instincts as if something doesn't feel right then stop. The next day we went to the waterfalls and I had been complaining of a sore back but it was bearable then as I slipped a few inches on the we mud I jarred my back and could hardly move!! I was in absolute agony and for a moment didn't think I'd be able to walk back to the bus but after many odd stares as I performed my yoga cat stretches kneeling on a bench and groaning in agony I made it back to the bus. The next two days have been pretty uneventful for me a I've jut dosed myself up on Brufen 600 and all kinds of pain relieving gel trying to recover in time for our flight to Hanoi. I've been living vicariously through Arie who has visited the temples and Pac Ou caves and taken lots of pictures for me.
Last night we had the most crazy thunder storm an one of the electricity pylons about 100m away got struck with lightening!! The sky
was ablaze with orange sparks flying and the smell of electrical burning in the air. Luckily it went out pretty quickly rather than spreading but for a brief moment I thought the whole city could catch fire as all the houses are wooden! I must admit I did grab my passport wallet and phone just in case.
We had stayed in ManiChan guest house for the first 4 days but I was getting itchy feet and wanted to move on so the latter days were spent in the most bizarre but beautiful place. There didn't appear to be any management around and only two cleaners who accepted $20 per night cash for this beautiful large wooden room equipped with tv, ac, fridge as balcony. The downside was that there was absolutely no service and Even the cleaners We're out for most of the day! When I googled the hotel it was $59 a night including a special discount!! Very odd a we didn't sign the book either so something wasn't right!
Luang Prabang is a city I would freely recommend as a travel destination, its very calm, beautiful, set on two rivers, small enough to walk around but
having spent a whole week here, longer than I've spent anywhere on my travels, I still feel there is a lot to see. The food has been amazing, we didn't get too ripped off an all in all great week.
Although I've only just scratched the surface of Laos in order to fit everything in we have to keep moving! Onwards to Hanoi!! We flew to Hanoi on the eve of independence day so the streets were absolutely heaving with people and scooters and the complete extreme from Luang Prabang! If I'm honest it was really quite overwhelming so we ducked into a rooftop restaurant and observed the chaos from behind a bowl of beef pho noodle soup! Deeelish!
Off to Halong bay tomorrow...
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