Here we a in Vientiane, our last full day in Laos before we head off to Vietnam on our 22 hour bus journey. (well we’ve heard 22 hours, we’ve also heard 28 hours and 31 hours, so we’ll patiently wait and see) Since our last blog we have done loads of fun things and we’ve both loved Laos, although we have experienced freak rainy season weather…..
After 4 Countries, 3 planes, 2 trains, 2 taxi’s, 1 local bus, 1 tuk-tuk and a boat…all in 24 hours, we finally arrived in Houayxai which was the starting place for our 2 day slow boat journey up the Mekong river into Luang Prabang. We spent our first evening in Laos sampling the local beer and watching the sun set over the river, it’s a hard life!!
The following morning we headed off to the port in search of a boat. I’d read many different reviews and generally we’d been told to turn up early to avoid sitting in the hot and loud engine room. I think I may have taken this advice a little too literally and made Tom and I trek down there 3 hours before the boat was due to set off……we were the first ones there!!
The journey was pretty uncomfortable as we were sat on a wooden bench for 8 hours but the scenery more than made up for the cramped conditions. We passed riverside villages and watched local fisherman try and earn a living by line fishing in the Mekong. It was just nice to see local people going about their everyday lives as we floated by! Plus the views were incredible.
We stayed overnight in a place called Pakbeng Riverside Lodge and managed to barter with a local hotel owner for an amazing room overlooking the Mekong river for only £6! We sampled the local cuisine laap which is minced meat with mint, vegetables and a lot of chilli!!! Amazing though and ridiculously cheap. Cheers to Sydney and his wife (the chef). If you’re ever there check out Sydney’s Steak House (a lot more rustic than it sounds!!). The highlight of the 2nd day was the wave that came out of nowhere and soaked about 10 people who were all asleep! This included ‘guitar boy’ who was some French giant who jammed on his tiny guitar and repetitively sang the same rubbish French Jazz song all day, until the wave took him out!!
Once arriving in Luang Prabang the following afternoon we found somewhere to stay and headed off to explore the town. It’s really pretty and many of the buildings are giant French villas, it’s also a UNESCO world heritage site so they are very proud of it. It was a bit more touristy than previous places but the whole town seemed to revolve around the Night Market, which was fantastic. It was a great place just to wander around, even Tom didn’t seem to mind the pointless walking!!!
One of the highlights was getting up at 5am to watch the monks alms giving ceremony. Every morning at sunrise people line the streets of Luang Prabang in order to offer alms of cooked rice to the Buddhist monks. Unlike some tourists (don’t get me started) we were very respectful and positioned ourselves well away from the ceremony so we could experience the true peaceful ritual.
I also wanted to do some voluntary work in Luang Prabang. I’d read about a charity called Big Brother Mouse which is a drop in centre for local children where they can practice their English with tourists. I was a little but sceptical at first as to whether it actually did any good, but I am so glad I went along to help. The amount of local kids that turned up off their own back was amazing, and they all made notes and were hanging off my every word. Basically the group is there for them to get some one on one time, something they don’t get at school. It is such a great charity and I urge anyone who is in Luang Prabang to pop along, even if you can only spare a few hours, the kids really appreciate it. The three boys I spoke to were big football fans so I told them all about the mighty PNE! Weirdly, they’d never heard of them…..
Whilst in LP we met up with Ellie who we’d travelled with in Africa and her boyfriend Joe and visited Kouang Si Waterfalls. Absolutely beautiful, the pictures just don’t do them justice. There was also a bear sanctuary near the falls where black bears had been rescued from a life of cruelty. They looked a bit sad but at least they weren’t being mis-treated anymore.
We also visited the UXO museum (unexploded ordnance) which was really shocking. I’d obviously heard the stories of children picking up bombs that had been left behind from the war, but I didn’t realise the scale of the problem. 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Lao between 1964 and 1973 and approximately 80 million of those failed to detonate. The UXO Lao programme have managed to destroy 498,800 of these bombs but that’s not even 1%! The facts and figures were shocking and the stories we heard were really upsetting. The UXO Laos programme is doing a great job in educating the villagers on the dangers of these unexploded ordnance as well as clearing areas within villages, so we made a donation to the cause.
Unfortunately the weather in LP changed and we couldn’t do the hill tribe trekking and homestay that we were planning on doing. As we are travelling in rainy season the odd day of rain is expected but 5 days of torrential rain is apparently unheard of at this time of the year. We wanted to trek into the north of Laos and stay in a Khamu tribe village. With the weather being so bad we decided that we’d move on instead and head to Vang Vieng with a view to doing some trekking in Vietnam instead.
For those who have travelled South East Asia by bus will know that it’s pot luck what kind of vehicle will await you at the bus station. The “VIP” buses, as they are called are generally pretty rundown but I think we managed to travel on one which had been in operation since the 1920’s
Let’s just say the 8 hour journey was pretty revolting sitting on damp seats in a mouldy bus….and just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, the rain started pouring through the roof for the last 4 hours!!
Vang Vieng was quite an odd town, but was really pretty. The legendary tubing down the Nam Xong river isn’t what it used to be as most of the bars have been closed down due to health and safety. We were planning on doing it anyway but it looked so depressing. The bars were so quiet and it felt a bit like a ghost town, so we opted for the kayaking instead, which was brilliant. Tubing into a cave, and kayaking down rapids before stopping for a cold beer by the river was a pretty fun day. Plus, it finally stopped raining!!
After a couple of days in Vang Vieng we went to Vientiane for a few days. We’d heard there wasn’t much to do in the capital of Laos but decided to head there anyway before our long bus journey to Hanoi, Vietnam.
To be honest, there wasn’t that much to do there and it was very different from the other parts of Laos we’d visited. The city was much more built up and everyone seemed to have a lot more money, but it was a nice place to spend a few days. We went to a charity restaurant called Makphet where all the profits go into a project to help local street children. Plus all the workers in the restaurant had been vulnerable children who were given a chance to make something of their lives by the charity. A really worthwhile cause…plus the food was AMAZING.
Finally before leaving Vientiane we had to go and see one of the massive promenade aerobic sessions we’d heard about. This is exactly as it sounds, about 200 people all doing aerobics together in the blistering heat…highly amusing, we didn’t take part though, far too hot for us!!
Thank-you Laos, it’s been great. Next stop Vietnam……
If you want to see more pictures click here
Caroline and Tom x