Published: November 1st 2010October 24th 2010
After crossing the boarder into Laos, we made the short journey to the town of Lac Sao. This town was not much of a town at all, it only consisted of about two streets, a bar, and a handful of restaurants. We we were only staying in the town for a night, and the most memorable thing was the spectacular view out from the balcony of our rooms - it was verging on breathtaking. This magnificent mountain dominated the skyline over this tiny little town.
The next day we made the 6 hour drive to Vientiane. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, the city was a nice change of pace for us. It was a gentle and pleasant place and considering it is the capital, and is a good indication of the atmosphere of the rest of the country. The city itself was clean and bright, with a mix of Asian and French architecture throughout. I was particularly looking forward to reaching our hotel, because for the first time, I would have a room mate. Soon after we arrived, I met him. Michael was an Englishman, a couple of years my senior, who had just spent the last year in Australia, and who would be joining us for the Laos part of our trip. After 5 minutes in his company, I could see that we were going to get along fine. During that day, I did nothing really exciting; went for a walk to look around and had my usual afternoon snooze.
That night we all went to this lovely restaurant, which was again giving local youths hospitality qualifications and work, so that they can then earn a living. The meal was better than anything I had since Cambodia, and was delicious. After dinner, as it was Jake's birthday, we all decided to go to a nearby bar, which was one of the few bars in the city which had a licence to serve drink after 2300 (told you the place was quiet!). The bar was a rather cool place and as the night progressed got busier and busier with Westerners. After spending a few hours there and enjoying several 'buckets', we unanimously elected to go to a nearby club. The club only had one dancefloor, but the room where it was located was the size of a barn, and was absolutely packed. Our time there seemed to pass rather quickly though, as it seemed we were only there for a short time before we were leaving again to head back to our hotel (though I think the earlier consumed buckets were helping to speed the evening along!).
The following afternoon, we travelled to Vang Vieng. Unlike the first two towns we had experienced in Loas, the place and its people live of foreigners partying. It is home of the infamous 'tubing'. This involves sitting in a giant rubber ring and coasting down the Mekong river stopping at any riverside bar that takes your fancy. There are about 8 along the river, and if you want to stop at a bar you signal to the designated guy and he throws you a rope to catch and pulls you in. Anyway, after checking into our lovely hotel, a few of us decided to go and visit one of the tubing riverside bars, in preparation for us doing it the next day. We pulled up to up this bar half way through the tubing route, and the place was absolutely jumping. What with the music, all the happy tubers, the cheap drinks - generally the whole atmoesphere; It made all of us just want to start the tubing right there and then, it was almost infectious. I for one was very hungover that day, and turned down the initial offer for free shots because of this fact. But after half an hour there, I'd bought my first beer. We left after a couple of hours, all of us thoroughly looking forward to the next day when we would be the ones tubing.
Prior to doing it, we had been told by Kevin that tubing was neither endorsed or recommended by Gap (the company which runs the tour) as a few years previously a Gap tour member had drowned. Also, we heard from several fellow travellers that about 5 people had died over the last 2 years doing (although I took a lot these stories with a pinch of salt). Added to this, the river was especially high and fast, as Laos had just finished its rainy season. After hearing this, several of the girls opted not to do the tubing, but meet the rest of us at one of the bars on the route. We arrived at our first bar for noon, and there the drinking started. As the day progressed we drifted from bar to bar enjoying what each had to offer. Towards the end I lost all my fellow tour members, but there are so many other travellers that it is easy just to temporarily befriend a bunch of people. I eventually found everyone, and we then made our way back to the hotel. It was at this point where I should of called it a day. However after a dinner a few us went out to a few of the numerous bars which are all over the town.
The following day we we took the long journey to Luang Prabang. On the way we stopped a couple of times just to take in some of the scenery. I have seen some wonderful scenery in my time (coming from Scotland you'd expect that), but the views which we saw here certainly equaled, if not bettered anything which I have seen before - it was just 'wow'.
After arriving, I spent the rest of the day relaxing in my room as I was pretty tired from the last few days. A few of us had decided to go on a elephant trek. We rode the elephants in twos, so me and Sarah hopped on one. It was not the most comfortable ride I have ever been on, but it was magnificent being so close to these massive yet gentle creatures. Our elephant obviously was a competitive soul though, as whenever the track opened up he would pick up her pace and try to overtake the one in front of us. After, the trek we got to feed 'our' elephant, as well as any other we wanted to. I gave the majority of my bananas to our elephant, but kept a couple aside to give to a nearby baby elephant. They almost offer their trunks out for you to place the food on it. It was a great experience to touch and feed them.
Later that day, we all went to a nearby falls, which happened to have a bear sanctuary within its park. After seeing the bears, we headed to a lagoon further up where people like to frollick in. We all ventured into the water, but it was very cold, and I didn''t like the sensation of the tiny fish which inhabited the lagoon nibbling at the mosquito bites on my feet. I then climbed to the top of the falls to take in the great view, and get some much needed exercise!
First thing the following day, we boarded a slow boat to make the day long journey up the Mekong to Pakbeng. This definitely represented a change of pace for the tour. The boat was a long wooden boat, which we had to ourselves and which was comfortable enough. Over the next couple of days we drifted idly down the Mekong, as the sun shined on the boat throughout. It was at this point, while taking in the green and beautiful landscape and the glorious sunshine, that I had a feeling of vindication in my decision to go travelling. I just sat there in silence with a feeling of absolute contentment. After about 10 hours on the river, we arrived at the riverside village of Pakbeng where we would be docking for the night. That night for dinner we went out for a curry, and I had my first Indian meal in over a month! The rest of the group went out after wards, but I was not really in the mood. The reason being that for some reason, a sudden bout of homesickness had come over me that night, so I just went to bed to read.
The next day we continued are journey gently up the Mekong towards the Laos/Thai border. Again it was a gloriously sunny day, and we spent the day chilling on deck reading or playing cards. Late that afternoon we docked into the Thai border control centre. After going through the usual checks, we were back in Thailand and boarded a bus to Chiang Kong. We arrived to our hotel, and were greeted by the hotel owners dogs, which were the first truly domestic, non-stray dogs we had experienced in weeks, so a few of us dog lovers certainly enjoyed having their company. That night we had dinner in the hotel, with plenty of beer being consumed after wards.
The next morning we made our way to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately we only had an afternoon here before we had to board an overnight train to Bangkok. However, we attempted to make the most of it, and went to a tiger conservation place. All the tigers there are tame, nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience, if slightly unnerving, getting to go in their space, touch them and be so close to these powerful and beautiful cats. You only realise how big they are when standing beside one. That night we headed to the train station to board our train to Bangkok. This overnight train was certainly better than the Vietnamese affairs which we had experienced before. The journey was not bad at all, as we had a good time sinking a few drinks and enjoying what was the penultimate night of the tour.
It was a rather strange experience as we stepped into the same Bangkok hotel in which a month earlier we had been strangers to one another, and were now returning friends. We arrived at the hotel early that morning, so I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep. That night was our last, and so again we dressed that little bit smarter. Kevin had decided to take us to this 'sky restaurant' - which was a restaurant located on the 170th floor of a 175 level floor building, which was supposedly one of the tallest buildings in south Asia. The meal itself was a buffet meal. As we were going out afterwards, I had the difficult task of reeling in the food consumption, in case I became too full for drinking. After heading to a bar, we headed to a nearby nightclub, which was full of tourists and therefore extortionately priced. The night was prematurely ended though when the police busted the club and shut down the evening (someone had obviously not been paying their bribes!). Mind you, I was not overly fussed as the night had not been as enjoyable as I'd hoped - probably because it was our last night and it just felt a little forced to have a good time.
By next morning, the time had come for the majority of us to say goodbye to one another. It was a bit sad saying goodbye to the other members, most of whom I had been with for a whole month. Some, if being completely honest, I will never see again. But some live in Britain, and even Edinburgh, so I'm sure to meet up with them on my return. Overall the tour itself, was fantastic. I had certain experiences that one could only get by doing a tour like this and having a guide like the one we had. There were moments that were less enjoyable than others, but the life-affirming cultural experiences I had, vastly outnumbered any negative moments I encountered.
After the tour ended, I had a few days to burn in Bangkok until my flight to Melbourne. I stayed back at the hotel where I stayed in Bangkok previously (the one from the Beach), and spent most of my days traversing about the Khosan Road (the main tourist street) area.
Australia now awaited me, but after 2 and a half months out of any type of employment, the thought of having to get a job as soon as I landed there, tempered my excitement somewhat....