Part 2 of 3: Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in Three Weeks. Visiting the Mekong, Vientiane, and Luang Prabang (including the Elephant Village Sanctuary and Resort, and a visit to the Sun Bear Rescue Sanctuary)

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December 24th 2009
Published: December 24th 2009
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See Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in Three Weeks, Part 1 for pictures and details of Thailand, now we are in Laos, before flying to Vietnam, which will be featured in Part 3 of this journey.

December 24th. We crossed the Friendship Bridge from Nang Khai, Thailand yesterday. An Irish ex-pat we had met in Nang Khai the night before recommended we take the 20 minute city bus instead of taking a Tuk Tuk from the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane, where we are currently staying. He told us that it was not only much cheaper, the locals appreciate seeing Westerners take public transport. He was right. We were treated with kindness and although it was crowded and bumpy, it was one of those simple experiences I am glad we did. Now, getting to the Lao Orchid Hotel was another matter. We were dropped off at the city station. Our Irish friend told us that it would be no problem finding our way, but we were lost immediately. We soon were assisted by a friendly local that helped us get a Tuk Tuk and get us on our way. We went to the Vietnamese Embassy to get our Tourist Visas, which we will pick up later today. So far, we have found Vientiane to be a bit too large for our comfort, but we will get out and do more exploring today to let it grow on us more. Yesterday we did eat out a few times, along with stopping at two tourist businesses to try to get flights to Vietnam and also to Luang Prabang. It is high season and Christmas... but things eventually worked out. Steve was waiting to complete our reservations as we did not know how long the VISAs would take to process, and how long we wanted to stay. We are without a reservation in Luang Prabang for tomorrow (Christmas Day... nor the rest of our time as of this moment) and we head there tomorrow. So, this may certainly be a very interesting Christmas. We no doubt will find something, as it is a large city. But, we shall see where we end up. Our attempts thus far have left us empty handed. Oh the adventure of traveling! We are getting ready for a walk to the Embassy, instead of taking a Tuk Tuk. I am sure we will catch some interesting photos today, which I will add later. Happy Christmas Eve. :--)

Well, after spending the day walking around Vientiane, we can now report that it has grown on us. We especially like the smaller, quaint streets with their less commercialized scenes. The larger streets are not so comfortable for walking, as they are loud and the exhaust is pretty powerful... although still doable. The many cafes near the popular tourist district by the Mekong also hold appeal. We saved $10.00 by forgoing the Tuk Tuk and making the hour walk to the Embassy to pick up our Visas and were able to get a much better feel for where we are. On the way back, we joined several locals at a little stand to get some soup and could not resist the smell of BBQ chicken lofting in the air at another stand. We are getting ready to venture out once more and will take on the many food vendors by the Mekong. Although, it is more dusty and is definitely more busy and noisy... one must do what one must do... go where the good food certainly must be! We saw several hundred locals down there last night, but played it pretty safe... but tonight... we are feeling a bit more adventuresome. (Oh, the update on our lodging is we now have a place booked for Christmas Night in Luang Prabang, and will piece the rest of our trip together once we get there). We catch our flight to Luang Prabang tomorrow, so will update then. Merry Christmas... almost.

December 26th. We arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday and must say... This is the Laos we were hoping to find. We have much to explore of this area, but it feels like a village near the Mekong, rather than the tourist destination it has now become. There are people from all over the world here. If you are thinking of coming to Laos in the future, I feel it would be better to come sooner than later. There are many things about it that remind me of Bali, although no ocean it is cleaner. It is easy to get around, and there are many photo opportunities just calling out. We just got done doing some research on the Elephant Village, it sounds like a mixture between an elephant camp, and the Elephant Nature Park (which rescues abused elephants) and the Elephant Conservatory (that does Mahout Training) in Thailand. We will go to the main office, as if you go directly to the Elephant Village website it talks about booking directly through them so they get more of the proceeds, instead of going through a tour operator. We will try to go in the next day or two, as it looks like it is going to get colder. We never got up early enough to see the monks doing their early morning procession of alms. We shall tomorrow, as the monks go right past the place we are staying at. We now have lodging throughout our stay, although need to move from where we are for our last night. I have attached some photos from my morning walk (Steve went his way, and I went my way, so we shall see what photos he has to share later).

What a great day! We found the original Elephant Village office in the main part of town. We have decided to not organize a tour, but will take a Tuk Tuk out ourselves to the park tomorrow morning. I will be adding a separate blog entry/ review about our visit to the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang. Right now though... we shall go out and get some more food and take in the scene by the Mekong once more. Life is good.

December 27th. Wow. What another wonderful day. Will write more later, but we got up early to see the monks doing their daily begging, made it to the Elephant Village, and took a sunset boat ride on the Mekong. Photos attached. :--)

December 29th. I created a separate blog entry for the Elephant Village for those who are interested, and also put on a review on Trip Adviser. Yesterday was a busy day for Steve. He rented a mountain bike and rode some 32 kilometers out to the popular water fall, Kuang Si Falls. We will include some photos of his journey. He also discovered a Rescue Center for the Sun Bears (similar to the Dancing Bears in India, see my blog entries on the work of Wildlife SOS in India, and also my blog write up on the Yellowstone Park Bear and Wolf Discovery Center for more information). This rescue center is mostly saving the bears from a popular and devastating practice of gall bladder harvesting. He took some cute shots of the rescued bears which I will also include here.

For me, I spend the day writing, then wandering around Luang Prabang. It was a peaceful and heart opening day for me, for no particular reason. My Facebook entry summarizes one of my experiences well, "Today my gift was witnessing some monks mold and paint some Buddha Statues. They have no doubt done this many times before, to the point that perhaps it is no longer new to them. Sometimes, like today, Consciousness likes us to witness something through the eyes of absolute freshness and devotion. We cannot know when these spontaneous moments will come, we just show up again and again, then are led deeper into the heart of awe and divine love. Om Buddha Om." I will also include some shots of the monks and other scenes from my walk on the beach of the Mekong. It was a great day for the both of us. And again, we ended our evening with a wonderful dinner at the edge of the Mekong. Today... we shall see what it brings.

Steve just left for another Mountain Bike ride, this time to a different waterfall. Currently, I still do not know what I will be doing my last official day in Luang Prabang. Steve and I leave for Vietnam tomorrow. We changed rooms (our third time this trip) due to availability. But, we were fortunate that they had some cancellations so we were able to stay in the same Guest House, just different rooms. We would recommend where we are staying: The Chitdara Villa Guest House 1. (There are two of them, one is by the Mekong, the one we stayed at was on a quiet street one over from the Mekong, and is where the monks pass by for their early morning begging procession).

It's nearly sunset here, as we get ready to head out for our last evening in Laos. Today, Steve made it to an small waterfall after a good bike ride on his rented Mountain Bike. At the falls, he was invited to join a large Lao family & friends that was having a picnic. There was a wedding a few days ago, and the family was still celebrating. Steve reports that several were working professionals and several had master's degrees. They fed him well and even offered him a little Lao Lao (the potent paint thinner whiskey), and the traditional Beer Lao. What was he to do!?!! He came back a well fed and happy man. Steve is now out getting another massage. He has had four or five this trip thus far.

For me, I spent most of my day by the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers just taking in the relaxing life. I even got my feet wet in the Mekong. Did watch some young monks horse-playing in the river, jumping off from rocks, and laughing up a storm. Buddha likes to have fun, too! The other thought that came to mind was "Boys will be boys" even with the holy garb they wear. I walked for quite awhile just taking in the scenes, lots of photo opportunities but today mostly passed on potential shots and just enjoyed all the sensory input. I wasn't meaning to end up again at the Buddha/Monk work area of yesterday, but turned a corner and realized I was there again. I watched the progress and handy work of the monks. Again, an enjoyable experience. Did stop for a late lunch of papaya salad and sticky rice with mango (yumm!) Life is good. :--)

December 30th. Steve and I got up "early" (for us) to take a nice walk around Luang Prabang, savoring our last peaceful memories of our time here. After a stop here and there for some fruit shakes and snacks, we caught a taxi to airport late afternoon. We departed feeling that "Lao Time" had taken over for us. We both were so relaxed. We both agreed that Lao also has some of the most friendly people, and beautiful children. We were made to feel welcome wherever we went, and greeted by so many kind smiles. Our time here will be remember.

December 31st. Actually, we are now in lively Hanoi, Vietnam and will be continuing our journey for another week. Please visit blog entry "Part 2 of 3: Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in Three Weeks." Happy New Year!

Additional photos below
Photos: 120, Displayed: 29


Monks walkingMonks walking
Monks walking

Orange cloth mixed in with the scenes of the city.
Stopping for some soup at a popular locals stand.Stopping for some soup at a popular locals stand.
Stopping for some soup at a popular locals stand.

Yumm.... and spicy enough to leave your lips tingling for twenty minutes after the meal was gone.
Steve venturing out for some more street foodSteve venturing out for some more street food
Steve venturing out for some more street food

Everything on a stick... we ended up with chicken. Fishatarian me even ate some. It was good I must say.

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