Heres the next chapter... A new country- Laos! I really hope these ramblings are iinteresting to read. There is so much to write that i just cant mention it all!
From Chiang Rai we got a local bus to the border crossing. Once here we headed straight to the boats and after getting our exit stamp for Thailand we bobbed across the mekong river (a very short distance) in a tiny little boat. I honestly thought it was going sink!! On the other side in Laos (Huay Xai) we paid for our visas (35 dollars) without any problems and went to find somewhere to stay the night.
We had decided to get the slow boat to Luang Prabang from here- it takes 2 days (yes, it really is slow!) and we had heard both good and bad things about it.
The views were lovely- you can see little shacks along the banks along with pretty mountains. You can sit and laugh at the high speed boats that come crashing by with everyone on them wearing crash helmets and hanging on for thier lives! But on the downside it turns out that the stories we heard about the slow boats packing too many people onto them is true! Luckily the extra 100 people that tried to get onto our boat refused to get on and they got another one for them...Eventually!!! That happened both days! On the first day we sat with a great bunch of people, some guys from Leeds, 2 dutch girls, a canadian and US guy along with 2 guys from Belgium who tried to force us to drink whiskey every 5 minutes! Needless to say they all got pretty drunk and played cards which was entertaining as everyone disagreed with the rules! After spending the night in a little village called Pak Beng we set off for another 8 houirs of boating. I was bored of it by then to be honest, and we didnt end up sitting with anyone too interesting that day. I did manage to read lots of my book though! It was pretty chilly so we had to wrap up in hoodys and blankets- we did look a bit silly!
We spent two nights in Luang Prabang before heading north up to Nong Khiaw by mini van. We knew we would return to Luang Prabang for Christmas as we hoped there would be more people around.
Nong Khiaw was beautiful. Its a tiny little village, with no real roads, high up in the mountains with a river runng through it. We found another lovely shed on stilts to stay in right on the river side, next to the main bridge. In the mornings it was really misty so you couldnt see the tops of the mountains. The hammock on our balcony was great for chilling out and admiring the view, plus the resident black kitten also kept us entertained! Here we visted some caves where the Laos people had hidden during the war. They werent that great to be honest, but still worth seeing! Once again i was reminded of just how short life is. We met a group of people in a bar one night, one of which was a guy called Dom. We later heard the news that he had drowned in the river further up stream, only the next day, after going for a swim with the group of people. We were completely shocked by it.
We ended up getting an open truck type thing back to Luang Praband after 3 nights. Not the greatest way to travel for 4.5 hours as it was pretty cold and windy, but we didnt have much choice! They packed 22 of us into the back of the truck, along with bags of vegetables etc. We even stopped to mend something on the truck along the way!
Once back in Luang Prabang we prepared for Christmas by shopping in the night market for presents! I was pretty pleased on Christmas day when i opened slippers, a keyring, 3 cakes, an orange smelling doll air freshner and some mouthwash! I think Danny was pleased with his things too! We used a magazine and some plastic bags to wrap the presents as we couldnt find any warpping paper anywhere! We even got a little christmas tree and some Santa hats, so in the end it felt pretty Christmassy!
On christmas day we had a lovely big breakfast by the river before watching films on the tv in our room and chatting to our families on Skype. In the evening we had a hotplate type dinner at the Laos Laos Gardens which was great! No turkey but we did try water buffaloe! They played Christmas songs and gave everyone hats and had really gone to town with decorations. Amazing really considering it is a really Buddhist town!
By boxing day i had developed a nasty cold so I ended up sleeping quite a lot of the day! We went out for another nice dinner in the evening though. The food here was great. They do amazing baguettes and shakes! Luang Prabang, like a lot of Laos, has a really French feel to it. All the street names are in French.
Once i felt better the next day we did some travel planning and decided to head to Vang Vieng for New Year. On the bus the next day we met a Canadian couple, Chris and Hayley, who teach English in Japan and ended up spending quite a bit of time with them. There was some great views of the mountains on the 5 hour journey, but the roads are really just dirt tracks so it was once again very bumpy! We went out for a pizza on the first night with the couple we met (this was a real treat after lots of noodles!) and also arranged to go tubing with them. We found a great place to stay there- was like a log cabin, brand new, with white sheets! It almost felt like my bed at home! :-)
So, i had heard lots of stories (both good and bad) about tubing in Vang Vieng. Basically you get given a inner tube from a big tyre, they put you in a tuk tuk for a couple of very bumpy km and then let you loose on the river! There are loads of bars along the way as you drift down in your inner tube. They throw out ropes to you and pull you in so you can stop to have a drink! Its a real party atmosphere and was great fun! Some bars even have water slides, mud volleyball areas and inflatables to jump out onto. There were 3 canadian guys on the tuk tuk there with us so we also joined up with them. Most of the bars were at the beginning, and by the time we reached the end i was starting to feel pretty cold! You had to be so carefull of the rocks in the water as lots of people hurt themselves on them (perhaps also in correlation with how much drink they had had!). Luckily we all survived and had a good time! Vang Vieng is full of great places to ea, watch Friends or Family Guy and admire the surrounding mountains!
On my birthday, after opening my presents of toothpaste and tea bags, and eating the little chocolate cake Danny got me, we went out for breakfast. I had muesli and fruit salad which was massive! It also turned out to be a bad idea as we then hired bikes and set of for the Blue Lagoon 7km away. Instantly i remembered how much i hate cycling and after about 10 minutes in the heat i felt sick! After constant moaning from me we eventually made it to the Blue Lagoon! It was worth the cycle, the water was really clear and had loads of fish in it. We sunbathed and swam for the afternoon and met Chris and Hayley there too. Danny ventured up into the cave for a bit. We managed to share a tuk tuk back with a group from Zimbabwe- we attached the bikes to the roof!
In evening we went for a curry with Chris and Hayley and then went to "Bucket Bar" for some drinks. There were loads of people there, including the Candian guys from tubing, and a couple we met on the truck back from Nong Khiaw, so the atmosphere was great. The actual count down to midnight was not really a big deal for them, but we still had a great time!
On 2nd Jan we got a mini van to the capital Vientianne (another bumpy journey), where we arranged our Visas for Vietnam (50 dollars). Here we have eaten more noodle soup, sat in the sun and looked across the Mekong at Thailand, visted their national monument and their mini arc d triomph. We hired 1 bike this time and i made Danny give me a llift on the back of much better- but i dont think he enjoyed it! Last night we went bowling, which is actually pretty much the same as at home- but only 1 pound a game!
We are leaving for Hanoi tonight on a 24 hour (ish) sleeper bus. Departing the laid back country of Laos means we once again have to beome accustomed to a new language and currency! Always a bit tricky to begin with!
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