Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiene
30.06.2009 - 10.07.2009 27 °C
To get into Laos from Thailand I got the two day slow boat down the Mekong river from Chiang Khong in North Thailand accross the border and into Luang Prabang in Laos. The slow boat was an experience!!!! we started out at 8am in the morning on day one and arrived at 5pm on day two. There was an overnight stop off at a small little village in the mountains called Pak Beng but the rest of the time was spent on hard wooden seats exhausting all the travel games we could think of and drinking Sangsom rum and sprite to pass the day along. I met some cool girls and guys on the boat and two girls in particular Emma and Sarah I travelled with from that day for 2 and a half months until we had a sad farewell in Cambodia and went our separate ways! Travelling with them was brilliant fun, my alcohol consumption greatly increased in their company, as did nights partying, with lots of fun adventures, tears, and jokes inbetween :-)
Luang Prabang is a small town famous for its beautiful waterfalls and Buddhist temples. Laos is a previous French colony and still heavily influenced and so there were lots of little cafes dotted about the place selling salami baguettes, croque monsieur and croissants and not so much Laos food. We visited some of the temples in Luang Prabang and spent a day at one of the waterfalls swimming with the locals and jumping in from the rocks. The weather had been rubbish on the two day slow boat it rained from the moment we left Thailand but for the first time when we got to Luang Prabang the weather cheered up and was really hot. In the evenings there were a few little bars but a curfew runs in Laos which is enforced by the police so the only place that you can go after 11pm is the local bowling alley (which also happens to be run by the police...hmmmmm !) We spent a fun night bowling of which I was absolutely rubbish but consoled myself at the sight of 2 ladyboys bowling in the highest pair of heels I have ever seen. FUNNY!
After a few days in Luang Prabang we hired a mini bus between us all and headed to Vang Vieng. Before I went to Thailand I had never heard of Vang Vieng but everyone I met had a 'tubing in the Vang Vieng' T-shirt and I soon learnt that this small little village in the middle of Laos was a big party place where you jump in the river on a rubber tube and float down stopping at every bar along the way until you..hopefully... make it home.
Unfortunately...or fortunately :-) the weather when we were there rained so much that they shut down the tubing as the river overflowed. The only other things to do were to sit in traveller cafes watching repeat versions of Friends or Family Guy and I quickly grew very bored and wanted to move on! Before we left we did have a few good nights out though at Q Bar dancing the night away and one particularly messy day/night where we decided to just walk from tubing bar to bar instead of going down the river! We started at 4pm and by 8pm I had to go home to bed after having made it to only 4 bars due to the amount of extra whisky that was being poured into my whisky sprite buckets...a very messy few hours! The way home was a bit a of a blur but I vaguely remember humming the superman theme tune in my head to stop myself from being ill in the tuk tuk.
I was really glad to leave Vang Vieng and head to Vientiene which I had heard from some people was a bit of a boring place...i loved it though...loads of little cafes and museums and lovely places to walk and eat down by the river we spent a good few days chilling out there.
Laos has the unfortunate title of being the most bombed country in the world despite never actually having ever been at war. We visited a charity in Vientiene called COPE which raises money to look after people who have had limbs blown off by undentonated bombs of which there are still 25 million in the countryside. It was really sad to hear some of the stories as most of the victims are children and villagers who go out into the fields looking for scrap metal which they can sell at a high price to get money for their families.
I feel that I didn't really do Laos justice as a country as I only spent 11 days in total going amongst three of the most touristy places. The Laos countryside is beautiful, lots of big rolling hills and mountains, very green covered in forest, loads of caves and rock climbing and lovely little towns. As we travelled through the countryside most of the villages and smaller places that we passed were built from wood and people seemed to live very peaceful and basic lives in comparison to that of the rest of South East Asia I have seen so far. The people on Laos were very nice too, they didn't speak much English so we got to practice a lot more of the general courteseys in their language, Kup Jai La lai (thank you very much) was our favourate saying as it just rolls of the tongue!
We left Vientiene on a 30 hour bus journey to Hanoi in Vietnam after deciding not to opt for Laos Air which most insurance companies will refuse to cover you on due to the number of accidents and lack of EU standards being met. We had heard loads of horror stories about the bus journeys crossing the Laos/Vietnam border, where you don't get a seat and have to sit in the aisle or you are crammed up with chickens and goats for the entire journey or that at the Vietnam border they try to get more money out of you before they will go any further, so we set our expectations really low and were nicely suprised to find that we had good seats...no animals ...no extra charges to pay. As with most night buses we didn't get much sleep and the driver was a bit of a looney so with the money we saved from being (safe) cheapskates and not flying we arrived in Hanoi tired, grumpy, hot and bothered but treated ourself to the nice meal and a big bottle of red wine to make ourselves feel better which was definately worth it!