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Published: January 8th 2009
The guys from the gibbon x stayed in Luang Prabang (LP) for Christmas and Boxing day, so I spent most of the time there with them. LP is a beautiful place. Laos was a French Colony and you can really see it in the architecture here. It's really pretty and very arty. There are lots of shops selling wonderful art work at even more wonderful prices!! I believe it's a World Heritage site as well. It certainly has many wats (monastaries) and lots of monks, many of whom don't look much older than 14 or 15. The other lovely thing is the bakeries! One, called 'Joma' is well recommended....specially the pizza and hot chocolate with whipped cream .........mmmmm to die for! When you walk in, it's just like a coffee shop back home! Very nostalgic......especially this time of year!
Madeline, who I met on the gibbon experience, and I decided to give the local silk weaving a go. I did a two day course run by Ock Pop Tok. Two days turned out to be more than enough for me! My eyes were completely boggled by the end of day one! I made what is apparently a silk scarf! It's ok, but it's a shame it's not a wee bit longer......it's only long enough to go round your neck one time, rather than wrapping it round a few times.
The first half day of the course was probably the best when you learn how to dye the silk with natural dyes.....what a fab way to get your fingers dirty! The colours are amazing as well. I'm not sure why we use chemical dyes in the world when the natural stuff does such an amazing job.
The weaving was a really nice thing to do, but it was pretty expensive in Luang Prabang. I think it's actually cheaper to do it elsewhere in the country. It was also a shame the girls they have helping you weave don't speak English. Maddy had a bad time where she didn't understand the girl and thought they were hurrying her and taking the mickey out of how slow she was......I'm not sure whether that was the case or not, but whatever the case, it's not what you want when you spend $50 a day to do it. I felt really bad for her as it kind of ruined what started out to be a really good day with the dyeing.
Christmas night, we all met up and had dinner which was nice. The night before we'd had a pretty disasterous turkey barby and knew not to go for that one again, so instead we headed over the river to a restaurant that had been recommended. It was run by a french lady, who seemed really nice. The restaurant was nice too, but, like everything in LP, it was still pretty expensive for what was relatively a pretty small portion.....it's probably the first time I've ever felt hungry on Christmas day!! :O)
It was wierd being away for a second christmas. The first one was easier. This one I missed being home a lot. That's not to say the company wasn't good, and the place....that was really lovely. I even found a house specially for me! I say that in jest by the way....... I told my mum that on the phone and she seems to think I was serious!!
After the guys headed off, it was really quiet. It's funny how you get used to people being around and then when they go, it seems really wierd being alone again. Max and Ricarda are still in Laos somewhere, but unfortunately our paths haven't crossed again. I didn't stay too long in LP after they all left, just one more day weaving and then a day going to see a waterfall. After that I caught a mini bus down to Vang Vieng for New Year.
I'd heard the town was completely full so I stayed on an Organic Mulberry Farm just outside Vang Vieng town for new year. I'm not sure how organic it is compared to UK definitions, but it supports the local school and has volunteers teaching English there, which is really nice. It's a really lovely place to stay too if you don't want to be right in the middle of it all in Vang Vieng, which is full on party town! It's not the most organised of places though unfortunately. I and two others I met had all rung ahead and booked a room, but when we turned up, found there wasn't a room saved for you. Luckily we all did get a room though which was the main thing, just not the kind of room we'd booked! You soon get the idea that you have to order food at least an hour before you're hungry too! One night, having been cycling all day and being exceptionally hungry, I ordered curry and rice. The curry came over an hour later, with no rice! Another half hour and the rice turned up! Ten minutes into eating it, a second curry turned up! I have to say, the food is fantastic when it arrives though. The mulberry shakes and the deep pan mulberry pancakes (literally a cake made in a pan!) are fab.....well worth the hour's wait!
They were advertising a New Year's party at the farm, so being right out of town, I decided to stop there rather than risk being completely ripped off on transport to and from the town. When I'd arrived in Vang Vieng, the bus station is conveniently located (for the tuk tuk drivers!) a few kms out of town, so they have you pretty much by the short n curlies. They'd tried charging me 40,000 kip, 3 pounds something, for a ride which was just over a km up the road! Am I in Asia or Europe?? Since I've been in Laos, I seem to forget! Needless to say, I walked, and hence, I wasn't going to risk taking a tuk tuk into town on New Years. Funny, the whole world over, tuk tuk drivers are the same!!
The party turned out to be really for the local kids and hence, it was kind of a different new year to normal! It was pretty cool though.....the kids could really dance....kinda gangsta rap styley.....very entertaining. I met an Irish trio also staying there, who were fab drinking partners for the evening and the dj even played us a bit of rock when all the kids had gone home!
It was wierd being a full 7 hours ahead of England. When the sun came up, you guys were celebrating New Year. I thought of you guys loads n loads this year. Like I said before, it's been really hard being away over Xmas and New Year for a second time. I hope you all had a fantastic time though.....and I hope 2009 is a good one for all of you! :O)
While I was in Vang Vieng, I wanted to do a bike ride over the other side of the river where all the limestone karsts were. It's supposed to be amazing scenery with lots of local villages along the way. There's a circuit described in the Lonely planet, which is about 40kms, taking in some caves on the way. The main cave of interest is the Blue Lagoon, which is supposed to be a wonderful swimming stop......sounded good!!
On New Year's Eve I was talking about doing the ride over breakfast with Jackie, Trish and Ed from Ireland, when this old guy from the US, Gary, came over. He's actually only 60 something.....sorry Mum n Dad!.....'older', thats what I meant to say! Anyhow, after listening in, he decided to invite himself along! Not that I minded......well not really! I did try putting him off at first by telling him how far it was, but it didn't seem to deter him! He then proceeded to tell me how he goes to the gym and spinning classes all the time......so much so, that I began to wonder if I was going to be eating his dust!! Having finished brekky and not having managed to put him off......and now wondering what on earth I'd let myself in for! ...... we decided to go a couple of days later on the 2nd Jan!
At breakfast on New Years Day, Gary realised he had an embroidery class on 2nd and couldn't make it! I'm not sure how I let this 'get out clause' get away (!), but somehow I did, and we decided to do it that day instead.......luckily the hangover wasn't as bad as it could've been!
After brekky we headed off on the one-gear bikes we'd hired from the place next door to the farm and soon realised we needed mountain bikes. After a lot of searching in Vang Vieng town, we finally found some 'ok' bikes.....and I mean just about 'ok'!......and set off. The first challenge was to find the footbridge we'd been told about where you don't have to pay to get over the river.....yep, you even pay to cross a river here!!
When we got back to the main road on the other side, we were greeted with hundreds of signs to the Blue Lagoon Cave, all pointing in different directions! Unfortunately, all the locals are cashing in on the famous 'Blue Lagoon' by advertising the tiny caves they've found with the same name (spelt one letter different!) and trying to charge the same 10,000 kip entrance!! It make's things pretty interesting! We had directions to the real blue lagoon from the guide book, but still got confused and took the wrong path with a sign saying 'blue lagoon cave' on it. Luckily a km or so along the path we met a russian guy who told us we'd taken the wrong turn off from the main track. The path to the real blue lagoon was another 5 or 6 kms up the main track. My bum was pretty grateful to turn around! .....the path we were on was probably a river bed in the wet season and was just boulders the whole way.
Before we turned around we had a five minute pit stop and Gary decided he needed to pee. I kind of figured he'd head off up the path a bit, but he literally just turned his back n went just a couple of metres from where I was sitting.......mmmmm, not so good!
Anyhow, back on the bikes again, we headed back up to the main track and carried along a bit more, stopping at a shop for water on the way. While we were there we met a couple from Korea who we'd passed on the way.....both on one, one-geared bike! Fair play to them, but I was glad I had my own mountain bike of sorts! They were really lovely people! It was funny though, they asked if we were related......father and daughter I guess they thought......and when we said no, from the looks on their faces I figured they must think he was some kind of sugar daddy! Oh my god!! I felt embarrassed by the thought of it and quickly proceeded to explain that we were just staying in the same hotel :O/ Stupid really, not that it mattered what they thought, but I just didn't want them to be thinking that!!
Anyhow, when we finally made it to the blue lagoon, it was a very welcome site. It's much smaller than you imagine.....just a stream which widens to about 5m, with a tree next to it which you can climb and jump from the branches into the water. It's incredibly picturesque though with beautiful turquoise water........ A bit chilly, but very welcome after a long hot ride down there! There were a fair few people there, including the couple we'd met just before, all swimming and chilling out. Having thought the peeing was bad, Gary then decided he was going to swim in his underwear! Lovely bright pink, silk boxers! Guess it could've been worse.....I just hoped all the other people weren't thinking the same 'sugar daddy' scenario!! :O)
After having a swim we headed up to the cave with the Korean couple, having decided to share the cost of torch hire between us. I originally thought the cave must have a lagoon inside it, but it turned out the lagoon was what we'd swum in, and the entrance to the cave is a few hundred metres climb up the limestone karst behind it. It's quite a climb as well......literally rock climbing in parts, but well worth it when you get there.
When we got to the top, Gary decided he'd had enough climbing and decided to meet us back down at the bottom, so the three of us carried on. The first cavern you go into is enormous....a good couple of hundred metres to what you think is the back of it.....and full of stalactites and stalagmites, oh and a buddha statue for good luck! There's a big hole in the side wall which lets lots of sunlight through into the cavern ........ great for seeing the cave, but we were beginning to think we'd been ripped off with the whole 'hire a torch' thing! As it turned out though, the cave is even bigger than you first think and as you get further back, it's completely pitch black! Even with the torch, we got completely lost and ended up on a ledge in the top corner of the main cavern, with no idea exactly where we were or how to get back!! It was pretty scary for a few minutes, but we soon managed to scramble our way back across a load of rocks and get back to the main cavern in one peice....... thanking the buddha statue on the way back through!
When we got back to the bottom, Gary had arranged with a couple of young Canadian guys to cadge a lift in their tuk tuk. I say 'arranged', he probably invited himself along as he had done with me and the bike ride! Whatever, it was a welcome ride home as by this time we only had an hour til sunset and it meant I could have a beer without thinking about the long cycle back home!
I was glad to get back to the farm that day! Gary kept making noises about doing another bike ride, but 'unfortunately' I was moving into Vang Vieng town the next day to do the tubing! I just couldn't face those boxers a second time round!! :O)
The next day I did move into town and found a nice bungalow by the river. I say nice. It looked nice, and the place was really popular.....seems you're lucky to get in......but I spent the couple of nights there wondering if the place had bed bugs! I'm not sure if it was that or mosquito bites I'd got beforehand, but even my bug proof sleep sheet didn't seem to help much. The other thing about being in town is the party scene........thumping dance music........you don't get a huge amount of sleep while you're there!
The day I moved was pretty cloudy and not particularly inviting for floating up the river, so I decided to leave the tubing until the following day. Tubing is basically where you hire a tractor tyre inner tube, which you then float down the Mekong River in. The starting point is up near the Organic Farm where I'd stayed and from there you float a few kms back to the main town. It's better to do the trip staying in town though as you get a free ride up to the Organic Farm included in the price of the tube hire, and you then end up near to where you're staying at the end of the day.
The optional extra is to stop at a few of the bars set up along the side of the river, cashing in on us crazy tourists! Each of them have big rope swings and slides set up from which you can hurl yourself into the river below.....taking care not to land on your fellow tubers passing by below! The rope swings are probably the best bit about the whole tubing experience! You spend ages getting the courage up to try them because they're so high up and you're not sure how well you can hold on, but once you've done it once you can't leave it alone! It's all great fun with the whole thing getting incredibly messy after a few vodka redbull buckets! There's a really good party vibe as well and you can't help but meet lots of people........most of whom you've forgotten about by the next day! I think, somewhere in the haze, I met the couple from the cave the day before, but I'm not too sure!!
Anyhow, the time goes incredibly quickly once you get caught up in the bar/swing scenario, and before we knew it, it was gone four in the afternoon. With a 6 o'clock deadline for getting the tubes back to the office without getting fined, we all fell into our chariots and floated off down the river.
The thing with the bars is that they're all congregated in the first few hundred metres down the river from where you start, so from where we were back to town was still a good few kms Hence, when you forget the time like we did, you can either get out and get a tuk tuk back or end the day with some manic paddling trying to make the deadline! I chose the paddling scenario. I'm not quite sure how, but luckily me and my tube both made it back to the office before the 6 o'clock deadline.....and in one peice! Twas a bit like staggering back home from the pub after a session.....you're not quite sure how you got there, but it didn't seem half as far as it would've done in your normal stone cold sober state!
We rounded off the day with dinner in a place which is always packed out......and we found out why!......fab barby food and home made coleslaw! All that followed by a few episodes of 'friends' in the bar next door! Friends is the other thing Vang Vieng is famous for......you can spend a whole day in a bar watching episode after episode! And many people do! ......It's a good option when the tubing hangover hits home!!
Well, there endeth my time in Vang Vieng. It was really great.....lots, lots better than I thought it would be. Given the chance, I'd go back and try the rock climbing and maybe even do the full 40 odd kms of the bike ride.....without my sugar daddy this time!! Unfortunately though, my 30 day visa is down to under 2 weeks and I still have the whole of the South to see, so I'm heading down to Vientianne, Laos' capital city, to continue the adventure.
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