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October 10th 2011
Published: October 11th 2011
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After a fairly good nights sleep on the train, awoke to another bright sunny day and was then told that the train was running about 4 hours late so we would get to the Laos border about midday instead of 8.00am! (cutting down our sightseeing hours!!) The train arrived at Nongkhai and after having our passport stamped, boarded tuk tuks to take us the 2km across the ‘Friendship’ bridge and the river to the Laos border. Had to then complete forms for our Visa’s and arrival cards etc, so took about 45 mins or so to get through and board the mini buses that were taking us the 30 minute drive to our hotel (Mali Namphu) in Vientiane. Vientiane, situated in the Mekong valley, became the capital of Lan Xang (million elephants) in 1545. Ransacked by Siam in 1828 it was named as the capitol of Laos by the French in 1953.
Anyway, time was ticking on, so we had a quick walk round with London (our tour guide!) to orientate ourselves before we left the group who were going to have lunch, and walked back, past the Presidential Palace to Wat Sisaket, arriving just before it closed. Had a walk around the old temple (1582 I think!) and the cloisters before walking up the main boulevard to get to the Patouxay Monument just before that closed also! We were able to walk to the top of this “ Arc de Triumph lookalike” (apparently the US gave Laos enough concrete to build a new runway, but they built this ‘monument’ instead!) and take in the views!
As time was short we took a tuk tuk to the That Luang Stupa – another temple/monument which is now a museum, saw the National Assembly building and walked across the huge square to the Revolutionary Monument. As it was now getting dark we took another tuk tuk back to the hotel for a quick shower before we were off again, first to have a lovely meal in a French restaurant, and then to have a walk along the Mekong River and wander around the fair and night market. A full on, knackering day so a fairly early night!
The next day we had to get the public bus to Vang Vieng – four hours of body and bone shaking along the pot holed main road up into the mountains. The scenery, after weeks of flat rice paddy fields was definitely more interesting, and we passed many small villages of ethnic minority people, living a very poor but simple life, the landscape turning to dramatic limestone karsts.
Arrived about 1.30pm (Le Jardin Organique Guest House) and after a quick snack, London (our guide!!) had arranged for us to go on a bike ride! After crossing the bridge we rode for about 7kms along the stony dirt track, full of more pot holes mostly filled with muddy water, past the village and stopped at Sabaidee Garden for a refreshing mixed fruit shake! The owner of the Shack was from Thailand and after fixing the drinks, showed us around his garden pointing out the pineapple plants as well as the papaya and banana trees before letting us have a look inside his one roomed hut where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Rode on past a stream where the children were busy playing in the fast flowing water and onto the village where the old women were sat weaving cloth before reaching a deeper part of the river where everyone (not me!!) could have a swim. Good fun, lots of large fish but when Chris saw a water snake, he decided to get out! Had to then cycle back the 7kms and just about reached the town before it got dark......had a group meal then sleep (I think?!)
Thursday was a ‘free’ day for us. We could have gone kayaking but decided to walk and explore the caves and the villages where we were yesterday. The first cave was easy enough to find, just turn right at the end of the village, signposted to Vang Viene Resort, and after about 1 km you reach a flight of steps that lead up to the first cave. It’s actually enormous, with pathways and most of it is well lit, and we were able to walk to the viewpoint for a view of the Nam Song river valley and then also to the other end of the cave. Back out onto the sunlight, across the bridge and found another small flight of steps to the Buddha cave.
We then walked back to the bridge and walked to the signpost for a two caves. First we crossed an enormous rice paddy field with loads of butterflies and eventually came to the pay hut! 10,000 kip each (about 90p!!) Carried on walking, following the path, across a dry river bed, into another rice paddy field, but as the path sort of fizzled out we eventually gave up on finding the first cave. Back to the other path and bumped into a guy who had just explored the other cave, (with a guide!) He was covered from head to toe in mud and said it was very muddy, slippery and wet inside and quite small so we had a quick peek at the entrance and gave up on that one as well!
Carried on walking along the potholed dirt track and had some lunch in Sabaidee Garden and chatted to the owner again. It turned out that he had actually worked in Switzerland and owned a house in Bangkok as well as living in a monastery and walking from Bangkok to Chang Mai on a pilgrimage. Said he now enjoyed living the simple life in Laos and was teaching English to the Ming children in the village.
After lunch we tried to then find the Blue Lagoon cave that he had recommended. Followed the signs....found the Blue lagoon but once again we were advised by other tourists that the cave was dangerous as you had to climb up to it and it was very slippery so yet another one we gave up on! Started to walk back along the track and a friendly villager stopped and gave us a lift on their tractor affair for a very bumpy ride back to the hotel!
We decided to then take a tuk tuk out to watch the people ‘tubing’. didn’t look as dangerous as it was portrayed and if you just sat in the tube and went down the river, it would take about 3 – 4 hours. BUT....there are about 10 bars along the way that everyone stops at to drink literally ‘buckets’ of cocktails so as the afternoon wears on, everyone is getting very drunk, music, dancing, slides etc at each huge fun as well! We met up with the rest of the group, had a beer and then (as we didn’t have tubes!) had to get a boat to the bar on the other side of the river! Very scary ride as if you even breathed the boat nearly upturned!! Fortunately, after another beer, we were able to walk across a footbridge to get the tuk tuk back to town for a quiz and a late meal!
A lie in this am as the bus wasn’t leaving until 10.30am! We then had 7 hours of spectacular scenery up and down over the jungle mountains littered with banana trees, past all the small villages where they live in small huts made out of rush mats and thatched roofs, the floors built out over the valleys, supported by thick tree branches. One water tap per village, where the naked children were bathing and washing their hair, women washing clothes and the men sat weaving baskets or cutting the grass verges. Children and mothers collecting firewood in baskets carried on their back. There are chickens and ducks all over the road as well as a few dogs, cows and pigs roaming around. Fascinating places! Not sure how high we climbed but our destination of Luang Prabang is 700 metres above seas level. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was formerly the capital of the Kingdom of the same name, the King, Sisavang Vong becoming Head of State for the Kingdom of Laos after Laos achieved Independence with the help of the French.
Arrived at the hotel (Malida) about 18.00 – just about time to have a quick walk around the town to the night market and to have a lovely meal – do it yourself table BBQ/hotpot!
The next morning we were all getting up at 5.00am to meet up as a group and see the monks collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers at sunrise. It was a bit bizarre as the saffron clad monks filed out from the various Wats around the town (most of which we visited later in the day!) and walked in single file up and down the main street, collecting the rice, fruit and money from the tourists and villagers. It was all over in about 20 minutes so we visited the local market which was buzzing with people! Usual goodies of all sorts of fruit and veg for sale as well as fish, frogs, beetles, a dead falcon and songbird, snakes and chickens!
After breakfast we went on our included trip to Kungsi waterfalls, about a 30 minute drive away, which were quite spectacular! The biggest waterfall must have had a drop of about 60 metres but difficult to capture on camera! Walked back through the woods to a Bear Reserve where they rescue black asiatic bears from poachers and look after them in captivity.
Back to Luang Prabang and a tour of the various Temples, Wats and Monasterys in the afternoon, one of the highlights being the Royal Palace which was built in 1904 and in use until 1975 when the Monarchy was overthrown by the Communists and the Royal Family taken to re-education camps and the Palce turned into a National Museum. At about 5.00pm we walked up the 300 steps to Phu Si, a temple on top of a hill, and were rewarded with fantastic views of the town and the mountains as the sun set!
A quick shopping expedition around the excellent night market before food and bed at 10.30pm! Tomorrow is our last day in Laos and we have a 6hr speed-canoe boat ride up the Mekong River to the Thai border.........
What an exhilarating end to our stay in Laos!! After donning our lifejackets and our crash helmets we set off on the 332 km journey doing speeds of 60 – 70kmp and dodging around the many rocks and whirlpools in the river! The weather was perfect – a lot of high cloud and just a little bit of sun and the scenery was amazing – passed many small mud hut villages nestling on the edge of the Mekong River, small children plating in boats and on the water, some making mud slides into the river! Not much wild life around - saw a falcon, a few ibis but that was about it! We stopped every two hours for food and toilets (very basic as you can only imagine! Sometimes a squat in the bushes seemed a better option!) and arrived at our destination about 2.30pm ish! A 10 minute tuk tuk ride to the very quiet border , another ferry boat across the Mekong and into Thailand. We then had an air conditioned minibus for 1 ½ hrs to take us to our hotel in Chang Saen (Baan Thai Hotel) where we had a quick wander around the town and some excellent food in a nearby cafe......... (more pics at bottom of page)

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11th October 2011

A-mazing picture!
20th October 2011
Speeding along the Mekong

Nice to see you've been kept busy, boat ride sounds good!

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