As we only just survived white water rafting in Thailand, we thought it time to head for the quieter land of Laos. To get into Laos we took a bus from Chang Mai to the border town of Chiang Khong, got a tuk-tuk to the river, got our Thai exit stamps, got a ferry across the river and into Laos, got our Laos visa and we were in Laos. Easy! We we tried to get a boat out to Luang Prabang on the same day but we had missed the last one, forcing us to stay the night in the insignificant town of Huay Xai. It is literally one road alongside the river, which has a few guesthouses, a couple of places to eat and a temple. We exchanged some money and ended up with a few million Laos kip. Laos currencies are very confusing, especially if your arithmetic is not good. Basically, they use three currencies: Laos Kip, Thai Baht and US dollars.
The next day we finally got to leave for Luang Prabang. We opted to go on the speedboat, which was more expensive but it gets you there one day quicker than the slowboat. Only when we
got to the boat did we realise it was a long thin wooden boat with a massive engine on. We had to wear helmets and lifejackets as the river is full of small rapids and tiny whirlpools. After our experiences a few days before this was really not what I wanted to be doing for six hours. However, it is quite fun at first but after the first half an hour you become extremely uncomfortable sitting in a space about 2 foot squared and the novelty of the speed boat fast wears off. After arriving in Luang Prabang and kissing the sweet sweet ground beneath my feet, we searched for a guest house and ended up in the charmingly named Phousie 3 (pronounced Pussy). Luang Prabang is fairly quiet and everything seems quite new. We probably saw more westerners, most over 40, than locals. There is also a curfue set by a lot of the guesthouses here, usually 10pm.
After a good sleep, we found ourselves back on another boat! This time it was slow boat and had a lot more room. We headed back up the river to the Pak Ou caves (Buddha caves). These caves consist of
a lower and upper cave, which hold thousands of discarded Buddha images. It was interesting but definitely not worth a 2 hour boat ride and $2 entrance fee. While walking around the caves women try to sell you little birds in cages. Basically you pay for their release and then about half an hour later they fly back to their owner who cages them up again and sells them to another tourist. Leaving the caves, we turned back towards Luang Prabang and stopped off at a place called whisky village, now we're talking. Whisky village consists of a temple and a few stalls selling er... Whisky. The good thing about these stalls is they give away free samples. After about 8 free samples we headed back to Luang Prabang to catch a minibus to the Kuang Si Falls. These falls consist of three swimming areas below the main 60m waterfall, which is by far the most beautiful waterfall I've seen yet. At the entrance to the falls they have a bear and tiger rescue centre. Hear you can see quite a few little bears messing about and at the moment one tiger in another area. These animals seemed a lot happier than the tigers in Kananchaburi and it seemed as though they do rescue these animals. The swimming pools here were absolutely freezing but a least they had no fish in. One pool had a rope swing which I had a go on and burnt my hands as I slipped off mid air and slapped the water. You can walk to the top of the main fall which gives you amazing views over hills and jungle.
The following day we took a bus to Vang Vieng. The bus journey went up lots of winding mountain roads and the view out the window was of a valley covered in clouds. Vang Vieng is definitely more of a young people's place compared to Luang Prabang. The town is full of guesthouses and bars, most of which play films and there are even two bars which play Friends all day everyday. We spent the night having a few drinks sat in a bar that just plays Family Guy. The next day we went on a small trekking trip around the caves just outside Vang Vieng. The first cave contained a reclining buddha where people come to mourn the dead. The next cave involved slipping about in the pitch black. The third cave was really good though. We were given headlamps and we walked inside it for a good 20 minutes. The fourth cave beat all the other caves hands down. The entrance to the cave is on a little stream. Here you sit in an inner tube and pull yourself through the cave using a rope. This took about half an hour just to get to the end of the cave.
After seeing all the caves we quickly saw a village then headed to the real reason we came to Vang Vieng: Tubing! Tubing is one of the most genius idea of all time. You sit in an inner tube and float down the river for 4km taking in the beautiful scenery. The best part is that the river banks are lined with bars, rope swings and zip lines. To get into a bar, a guy throws you a rope and pulls you in. There is one main bar where you can play volleyball, badminton, eat food and drink a lot of beer. It also has the best rope swing on the river. I chose to sit back and watch other people belly flop into the water. We had played to go to Vientienne the next day but decided a day of tubing would be a much better idea. I eventually did try another rope swing but this time landed flat on my back.
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