Laos - Huay Xai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane & Vang Vieng - Finally one country where I’m not leaving behind a natural disaster!

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October 12th 2011
Published: November 1st 2011
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Luang Prabang - Tad Sae WaterfallsLuang Prabang - Tad Sae WaterfallsLuang Prabang - Tad Sae Waterfalls

They also had a Zip line course above it!
Laos – Finally one country where I’m not leaving behind a natural disaster!

Internet access has been a little difficult at times so I have decided it’s time for something a bit different, one country, five cities all in one blog, please forgive me if this one goes on a little longer than normal.

After making my way through Thailand it was time to cross the border into Laos, I decided I wanted to leave Thailand in traditional fashion so I jumped on board a trusty tuk tuk for the 3km journey to the crossing point and it reminded me just how noisy these things are, it’s like being at an F1 race. I was expecting to be greeted with the normal chaos that exists at most small land based border crossings however much to my surprise and enjoyment I was completely wrong on this occasion, the check point was the most relaxed and quiet I’ve ever encountered. It was so simple I just gave the Thai authorities my passport, they seemed not to care and just stamped me out of Thailand, job done! I knew the next stage of the process involved me crossing the Mekong river to
Thai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossing

Could it be anymore relaxed?!
reach Laos but I wasn’t really sure how this would work I just thought there would be boats leaving at set times or something formal and organised and I would just get on the next boat, well how wrong I was again! The two options were jump on board the cargo/car ferry or grab a ride with a local in their boat for the going price of about 40Bhat or £1 to you and I. I opted for the latter option mainly because it was an instant solution, having said this I would have felt happier with a life jacket but this wasn’t on the list of options. The ride across was so quick and easy, they just simply dumped us on the other side of the river, turned the boat around and disappeared. This relaxed approach to everything left me feeling very positive about what was to come in Laos. So after paying my $35 for my visa I was heading up the path towards my resting place for the night, it was so quick and easy I think the main thing they were interested in were my dollars, what was in my passport or on my entry forms
Huay Xai - The slow boat to Pek BangHuay Xai - The slow boat to Pek BangHuay Xai - The slow boat to Pek Bang

I really didn't want to fall off whilst this photo was being taken
didn’t seem to matter which suited me fine.

The point at which I entered Laos is called Huay Xai, here my plan was to explore for the day and catch a slow boat the following morning for two days down the Mekong River to a place called Luang Prabang. There is a speed boat option available but having seen and heard them on the river this didn’t look like a comfortable alternative, it would have been like a tuk tuk on the river for 3 hours, no thanks!

For those of you who have not heard of the Hash House Harriers let me put you in the picture. They are a rather large group who organise various events all over the world involving running, motor biking and of course drinking (check them out on line for more info if you’re interested.) In my hotel for the night were a couple of guys heading to the same destination as me but on motorbikes and they were organising an event in Luang Prabang in conjunction with a festival that was happening there. It looked like I might have struck gold because I would be arriving on the night of an important Laos festival and I couldn’t wait to experience it, more on that later. So after listening to some of the many interesting stories from my two motor biking friends (not quite Mcgregor and Boorman) I decided it was time to explore and stock up on food and drink for my two day slow boat ride the following morning. Everywhere in this small town was busy setting up for its festival celebrations in a couple of days’ time and there was a great feel about the place in anticipation of the events, I was hoping where I was heading would have the same vibe but I had two lazy days to ponder about that.

It would appear I’m visiting Laos during low season for tourism which would explain why it is very quiet with regards to tourist. But to be fair I was more than happy with this and had everything crossed the slow boat would be quiet because I had read it can be unbearable and very unsafe at busy times because they will cram over 100 people onto a boat that should only hold about 70. As you can see from the photos the slow boats aren’t
Heading to Luang PrabangHeading to Luang PrabangHeading to Luang Prabang

I hope the captain has seen these??
the height of luxury but they were comfortable enough, there was a choice of an old bus seat or a wooden bench for seating and thankfully I was allocated the bus seat which at least had some padding, the boat was only three quarters full which meant I had two seats and got the chance to relax in relative comfort compared to those on the wooden seats, result! The boat ride itself was fairly uneventful but the scenery along the way was beautiful, every time I looked up from my book I was greeted with lush green mountains and clear blue skies that went on for miles it was truly a sight to behold and one I couldn’t get bored off, thank god because I was going to be on here for two days and the book was finished within a few hours.

After two days on a slow boat we reached our destination called Luang Prabang. I had a good idea there would be a festival happening somewhere because of the conversation with the two guys at the start of my trip, all I had to do was find out where. I arrived at 5:30pm, found a hotel and dumped my bags. I tried to ask the staff at the hotel where the festival would be but they just kept saying stay here and have food and it will come by the hotel at some point??? I wasn’t comfortable with this and didn’t want to miss it so I set off to explore. By this time it was getting dark and I could hear noise and commotion so I headed in that direction, I’m not sure this would be good advice on normal occasions but I knew tonight would be different. After walking for about 1km I turned a corner and was greeted by several small children throwing fireworks and bangers in any direction they could. After the shock of having a mini explosion happening around me I lifted my head to realise I was right in the middle of a street festival involving what appeared to be everyone in the city, it was complete madness!

The festival is a celebration of the end of the rainy season which seemed a little ironic when you look at the news about all the floods but who am I to suggest the timing could have been better. There were
Huay Xai - The night before a festivalHuay Xai - The night before a festivalHuay Xai - The night before a festival

Well every festival needs a car with some serious music!
all manner of different things taking place with most centred on the temples, the river also came to life when they floated many small boat like floats complete with thousands of candles down it, the whole event was a mix between beautiful and crazy but either way it was sensory overload. The party went on all night and was brilliant to be a part off, I think most of the tourists were just dumb struck by the noise and chaos happening around them, what an awesome evening!

The following day it was time to check out the city in the normal light of day, it was a bit dirty and messy after the festival celebrations but I guess that helped give it more of a genuine French feel, sorry I couldn’t resist! OK, that’s enough of my little digs about our fine neighbours.

On my final couple of days in LP I went to the most incredible water falls, they were so different from anything I have seen before, the photos will explain more but it was like something from Human Planet, well that’s if you remove the tourists of which there were quite a few. I spent
Thai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossing

Me on the boat across the border.
a quite a lot of time there swimming in the plunge pools and generally chilling out it was simply perfect. Along with checking out the usual markets, museum’s and general way of life I spent my last day walking around and exploring after my cooking course was sadly cancelled, I was gutted because I was looking forward to eating six course in one day again.

Vang Vieng – After leaving Luang Prabang I was heading to to Vang Vieng, the roads here are simply shocking. I wouldn’t say they are dangerous but more just half missing. The pot holes are so frequent and so large that it’s impossible to go more than about 30kph. So a journey of about 200kms can take about 7 hours which is not a lot of fun as you bump your way along jumping in your seat like it’s on fire. After quite an uncomfortable ride I made it to Vang Veing where I would no doubt see a very different side to Laos, this place is known for its activities but is also known for being mega touristy with continual repeats of Friends or the Simpsons shown in every bar and café. The guide book was spot on but it wasn’t an issue after all this was what I was expecting. I stayed in a really cool riverside cottage where I could watch the drunk tourist float by on tubes after visiting numerous bars on route, it was most amusing to sit back with a beer or two and literally watch the world float by.

It was time the following day for me to get involved with some activities so I opted for a bit of caving, with a twist. The twist being it was on tube, as you will see from the photos you jump on a tube, strap on a head lamp and drag yourself through some pitch black caves filled with crystal clear blue water. It was excellent fun and at points along the way you would hit areas of naturally hot water which were most welcome because it was a bit cold at times. I’m pleased to say there were no dramas or natural disasters in the cave and it was a very relaxing affair.

I only stayed in Vang Vieng for two days and made my way on yet another glorious bus ride after the
Thai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossing

View across the river into Laos
caving to my final stop called Vientiane.

Vientiane – Is not really known for a lot apart from re-entry back into Thailand or vice versa, which was where I was heading. I would be in Vientiane for two days and my plan was to just explore, relax and visit a place called the COPE centre. The city was nothing special and certainly not worth a specific visit should you be heading that way. However I can really recommend a trip to the COPE centre. It is basically a rehabilitation centre and education centre for raising the awareness of unexploded land mines dropped during the war. I was aware of the problem in relation to the land mines but I just had no idea about the real size and scale of the problem, it is immense! To the likes of you and I we could just think well why don’t they just leave the bombs alone if they see them or call for assistance or stick to the cleared paths?? Sadly the value of the scrap metal from some of the bombs is apparently worth the risk to so many who are uneducated and in particular the children. To
Thai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossingThai - Laos border crossing

The other option to get across the border
actually hear some of the stories first hand, meet the victims and read about the tragedies makes you wish there was more you could do but with over 180 million mines still unaccounted for the problem is not going to be resolved quickly and sadly without further causalities. It’s fair to say this centred touched me and left me pondering about the real harshness and devastation of war. The centre can create false limbs for as little as $30 and can offer individuals and families the chance of a new beginning for such small sums of money, I realise this is not the only centre of its kind but having visited it for myself it has made me realise just how priceless such places are and how truly amazing the people are who work there. All in all a very memorable day for the good and the bad sides to the aftermath of war, but the stories relating to some of the victims will stay with me forever and I can only imagine how it must be for them.

This was the end of my time in Laos, I absolutely loved it! One of the most relaxed and laid back countries I have been to, complete with its jaw dropping scenery and mixture of old and new in every aspect of life it’s hard not to have a great time here. A must see for anyone visiting Asia, add it to you must see countries!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 63, Displayed: 30


Huay Xai - The night before a festivalHuay Xai - The night before a festival
Huay Xai - The night before a festival

These cars seemed a bit out of place here because there were worth moth than all the houses?!
Huay Xai - The slow boat to Pek BangHuay Xai - The slow boat to Pek Bang
Huay Xai - The slow boat to Pek Bang

2 days on a boat, here we go :)
Huay Xai - The slow boat to Pek BangHuay Xai - The slow boat to Pek Bang
Huay Xai - The slow boat to Pek Bang

What an amazing view and complete silence. Well apart from the engine

2nd November 2011

Love this new blog post. Keep up the French digs. We love them, too. Also, I went to a presentation about land mines and cluster munitions. The stories are horendous and deeply touching, even though I have yet to meet an actual victim. I am just starting the job search for next summer, and this is definitely one issue that I am considering working on. Anyways, glad to hear of the absence of natural disasters at your end. We just had the worst snowstorm ever for October. Take care!!

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