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Published: February 13th 2011
After just a night in Vientiane (we planned to return later for another night) we took a bus early morning to Vang Vieng. VV is a rather small town surrounded by pristine rolling limestone hills hugging the town. We stayed at a charming little guesthouse called SpicyLaos backpackers
with simple rooms and beds with mosquito nets. After chilling for a bit, we went walking around for a while towards the river. On crossing the wooden footbridge across the river, we walked around 1.5 km across the field and reached a small hill. Climb this hill at your own risk since its a little dangerous with steep climbs and sharp rocks. A Brazilian guy who was climbing with us got a deep cut needing stitches. That said, if you are careful enough this is an easy climb and you will be rewarded with beautiful views at the top. late in the evening, we came for dinner at a restaurant watching endless re-runs of FRIENDS (some restaurants even had FAMILY GUY running). After dinner, we went back to our hostel, chilled out on our hammocks before crashing for the night!
Early next day, we woke up to a chilly morning.
We met up with this American girl, Danielle who joined us to explore caves in the morning. Our first stop was Tham Jong which is south of Vang Vieng. After walking until Vang Vieng resort, you should take a dirt road to the right and walk until you reach the gates. There is a fees of 2000 kip
to pay for entrance to the grounds and another 15,000 kip
to the cave entrance. After paying the entrance fee, the guy will come to the top with you to open the cave gates and switch on the lights. Its best to go to this cave early in the morning since it gets very crowded by 9am. At first the cave looks really artificial and modern with lamps, guardrails and stairs but don't let a "No Entry" stop sign from preventing you exploring the cave in the dark. The cave went really deep into narrow passages and wonderful caverns in the dark. There was a bit of climbing to do among the rocks but it was worth every bit. once you come out of the cave, you can see a stream coming from the cave flowing into a
pond. We went swimming in the stream for a while and swam into the cave. Overall this cave was a great experience and definitely worth a visit.
After this we got back to the town for breakfast and rented bicycles to get to Tham Phu Kam/Blue Lagoon cave. It was a great bike journey across the fields. Finally, we reached The Blue Lagoon Cave after a few stops for drinks/food with 2 Swedish guys, Marcus and Marcus. This was a beautiful cave, and we once again explored deep into the cave. Just outside the cave, there is a Blue Lagoon, where you have lots of swings and great swimming. We were able to catch the sunset on our ride back to the town and it was beautiful. After dinner we decided to go to Q-Bar for some drinks. This bar is filled with tourists, mostly Australians and they have TV-Screens showing the Tubing videos. Definitely recommend BeerLao and the other buckets of alcohol.
The next day we woke up late in the morning and decided to catch a mini-van to Luang Prabang (30th Jan). On the mini-van we sat next to 2 French kids, Julius and Barbara. Little
did we know that we would be spending the next week travelling together. The road from VV-Luang Prabang through the hills is full of sharp bends and make sure you don't eat anything before you get on the bus. On reaching Luang Prabang, we couldn't find any accommodation, so we got a small yet comfortable room for the 4 of us and shared it for the night. We went for dinner at this Indian Restaurant, Fatima which I do not recommend since the food was not authentic and didn't taste as good!
The next morning we were up real early at 5am to watch the alms collecting ceremony of the monks. We made our way into the town near the temples where we saw people sitting on the sidewalk with some food waiting for the monks. To join in the spirit, we got some food ourselves and sat down next to them. Soon enough, Buddhist monks came in a single file with a bowl to collect food. We soon ran out of food and decided to give way to other people. It was such a picturesque and beautiful sight of the monks clad in orange robes collecting alms. We
took some pictures and got breakfast in a French restaurant. It was slightly expensive but the food was delicious. We pretty much just walked around the town for the rest of the day and visited many temples. After lunch we decided to go to top of Phu Si, a small hill right in the middle of Luang Prabang. We visited the temples on the way and got a beautiful view from the top of Phu Si. Luang Prabang is surrounded by hills on all sides and looks like its sitting in a deep valley. The scene was so serene and peaceful. After going back down, we decided to change our hostel to a better place. After some negotiations, we stayed for the night at Mekong Charm GuestHouse
. The rooms were very comfortable and spacious with bath tubs in the bathrooms. This came with a price of 15$ per person but we decided to shell it out after much thought. We were celebrating Barbara's birthday tonight so we decided to hit a couple of bars. Funny thing is all the bars in Luang Prabang close by 11:30 pm. There was one discotheque which was also closing at 1am. We
went to 2 bars next door to Hive Bar
since there was a 2 For 1 cocktail offer. We had a great celebration and since the bars closed early, we bought a couple of beers and made our way back to the hotel to continue our celebrations.
The next morning we woke up to a hangover. However we had heard about teaching English to kids at a place called Big Brother Mouse
. This place is real close to 3Nagas Restaurant
which is located right on the main street. a short walk away from Lao National Museum. I taught english and learnt Lao as well from a kid over there. This is a great place which promotes literacy among Lao people and encourage learning English. Later in the afternoon after a baguette sandwich for lunch, we booked a van to go to Kuang Si Waterfalls
. These waterfalls are located about 25 km about Luang Prabang. We arrived to a Bear Rescue center where some Asiatic black bears rescued from poaching have been housed. The waterfall, just beyond the Bear Rescue Center is breathtaking. its multi-tiered and at every level you got a
naturally formed swimming pool, perfectly safe for swimming. We climbed to the top of the falls and got a great view as well. After spending the entire afternoon here, we got back to the town to take a bus to Vientiane. We decided to skip Pak Ou caves since we had already been to some amazing caves at Vang Vieng and we heard that the caves here were not so great. Besides its about 150000 kip/person to get to the caves which is quite expensive. The bus to Vientiane was an overnight journey so we left at about 7pm by a VIP bus. The bus cost us about 100000 kip per head and was quite comfortable. We reached back to Vientiane around 7 am in the morning.
The next day in Vientiane, we rented bicycles and went out to visit Lao's famed That Luang
. Its the iconic architectural symbol of Laos and it shines in the sunlight during the day in all its grandeur. We spent a couple of hours walking around the temple complex and the other nearby areas amazed at the architectural wonders. Its truly a marvel to see the ceiling/wall paintings in one of
the temples depicting the story of Buddha' s journey to enlightenment. later, we biked over to the morning market to shop around a bit and then headed back to return the bicycles. We were all taking a bus to Pakse the same evening. We all tried to get tickets on a sleeping bus but there were only 2 tickets left so we decided that Julius and Barbara have the ticket and we could just take a local bus. Our bus journey to Pakse was a very unique experience. The bus was filled with mosquitoes and over-booked. A couple of people were sitting on the floor. There was redundant Lao music playing on the T.V and unfortunately our seats were right next to the damn speakers. We tried to sleep for a few hours but to no good. After putting up with the "noise" for hours, I finally went and gestured furiously to the driver to turn the music off. We managed to get a few hours of sleep before they turned it back on at 5 am. DAMN! Tired and worn down, we finally reached Pakse at 7 am. Though the bus journey was not so comfortable, I really loved
it since we met a lot of Lao people and traveled with the locals which is the best way to travel. It was definitely a great experience that I would remember for a long time!
On reaching Pakse we checked into this hotel whose name I can't remember but its in the backpacker area. Eventually we met up with Julius and Barbara and we all checked in together. Since we planned to stay in Pakse for just a day, we decided to make full use of it. Without further ado, we went to the bike shop at Lankham Hotel
and rented bikes. We got a map of Bolavean Plateau
and decided to go to Tad Fane
first. To get a great view of the waterfall up close, you can climb down the cliff. Although, its a little steep climb and exercise full caution while going down. We then biked until Paksong and crossed left to go on the road along to Tad lo
. We first visited Tad Hang
which is a beautiful waterfall over the rocks. We swam there for about 2 hours and it was wonderful. The water was
at a perfect temperature and the rocks made it challenging to walk about. Tad Lo is a pretty small waterfall, yet an amazing place to hang out or have a picnic. We hung out at the resort next to Tad Hang for a couple of hours enjoying the sounds of the waterfall. We then heard about this waterfall over a cliff called Tad Song
. This is definitely a must-see. Its not really a waterfall, more like just a small stream falling off a high cliff. Nevertheless the views from the cliff are absolutely breathtaking. We also encountered a lot of Lao kids there and it was fun playing with them. By this time it was already 530 pm and we still had 100 km ride back to Pakse. So we rove back really fast at almost 100kph on 100cc bikes!! However, it still got dark pretty soon and we finally reached Pakse around 7pm. Completely worn down from the long day, we had pizzas at a local restaurant and headed to bed early.
The next day, we were up quite early and took a local jumbo
to Si Phan Dhon
or "4000 Islands".
This was like a mini-van meant for 15 people but crowded with 40 people. Soon enough, 15 minutes into our journey one of the tyres busted. But the driver surprisingly was real efficient and changed the tyre in under 10 minutes and we were back on the road headed to Ban Nakasang
where we were going to catch a ferry to Don Det
, one of the bigger islands next to Don Khong. The jumbo cost us just 30000 kip each for a 3 hour journey. We bought a ferry-cum-bus to Siem Reap inclusive ticket at Ban Nakasang and it cost us about 18 USD. This was a pretty good price and we were pretty happy to buy it. During the ferry ride, we saw why this place was called 4000 Islands. There were numerous islands of vegetation floating around on the Mekong and it was gorgeous. We stayed at Souksan GuestHouse
on Don Det which is a nice charming place just by the beach. We got hammocks to ourselves and I set about reading my book "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. This is a fascinating book which talks about the endless
adaptability of the human brain through patient studies and it was a great companion for me during my travels. I had many long conversations with Loic, Julius and Barbara about these topics and we always had a long debate. We got beer and enjoyed the sunset together. One beer led to more drinks and we were soon having a great conversation about our travels so far and future expeditions. We continued to chat over drinks late into the night and it was finally time to hit the sack and wake up to a long long day of travel.
The next morning we took the boat back to Ban Nakasang and took a bus to the border. One the way, my slippers tore and since I was just too lazy to wear my shoes, I decided to go barefoot all the way to Cambodia. I crossed the border into Cambodia heroically barefoot. I guess this explains the title of the blog. Some important things to do and remember before getting to the border are
*Have enough cash with you (atleast 40USD)
*There are no ATMs at the border and they do not accept Credit Card for payment
*There are 3 payments to make - 20000 kip
at the Lao border for exit stamp; 23 USD
for Cambodian Visa on arrival unless you don't need one; 2 USD
for Cambodian stamping on the passport
One other thing to remember is to have photos of yourself for the visa. If not, then you have to pay 2 USD more to get the visa. Once in Cambodia, we got onto our Paramount Angkor Bus
again for the long drive to Siem Reap. The bus goes through Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampung Cham. At Kampung Cham you got to change to a bus heading towards Siem Reap. The buses normally reach around 10 pm but it does get delayed and it reached only around 1130pm for us.
As soon as we got off the bus at Siem Reap, we were hoarded by tuk-tuk drivers. They ask for 2 USD/person which is quite steep since the city center is really close. But don't try negotiating with them since they don't budge from their fixed price and scoff at you. We arived at Siem Reap Temple Villa
which is a pretty cheap hotel. However this hotel was out of rooms. After walking around until half past midnight and finding no place to stay I decided to call my Cambodian friend, Savong, and he came to pick us up. We went to his house and had a pretty comfortable room for the night. After the long, arduous journey we were happy to call it a night!
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