Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Laos!

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
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Trip End Dec 24, 2011


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The day starts at the ungodly hour of 5.30am, but nevertheless we are eager to be out of DBP and into Laos for the first time! 
The 7 hour bus journey could not be a better introduction. On board are (amongst many locals) a 2 orange clads monks with more than just a whiff of campness about them (from here on out they will be referred to as the mincing monks), a loud young flirty girl who hops between every Vietnamese/Lao guy on the bus fawning all over each in turn, a spattering of sarong clad ladies with huge bags and bigger bellies and 4 other westerners (a French/English couple, One Spaniard and a Japanese lady). Our driver shouts when he talks, has a combat patterned 'US ARMY' baseball cap and slows almost to a hault when his phone rings, which it does several times in the first 20 minutes of the journey.

The journey to the boarder as the sun comes up is about an hour or so and once there we can see it wasn't a bad way to end the country as it is deserted and positioned at the top of a mountain with stunning views to either side. There is about 10 minutes drive between the Vietnamese and Loas check points and the steep drop into a jungle flled valley on one side makes it a bit precarious at times to say the least. At the Vietnamese checkpoint one of the Monks what mince feds two baby pigeons in a box continuously and the border guards laugh at our 'cigars' (my liqourice rizla). 
Its 9am when we finally enter Laos and already things seem freindlier with a sign just into the country that reads: 'Goodluck for your journey in Laos!'.
In fact there are alot of other interesting signs along the way, all of which refer to the horrors of drunk use and are sponsered by the German governent. Our favourite include:

- 'Life is sunshine without drugs'
and
- 'Sweat from sports is better than tears from drugs'

(what is interesting is that all of these signs are in English... hmmm)

The next 5 or so hours of driving are spectacular in lots of ways. The scenery is just as beautiful as we could have possibly imagined and the obstacles just as interesting. 
The first relatively small river (but still big enough for any westerner to think/say 'I'm not going through that') we simply plough through, leaving the small bus smoking from the rear on the other side. After a quick check from the porter we're back on our way and the smell passes. 
The next river crossing is a little trickier. We stop just before it and the passengers at the front (namely the monks and the old fat ladies) are moved aside so that a panel can be pulled up, reveling the engine. The porter, using a piece of drainage pipe, then begins to make alterations to the engine. Once complete, we again plough through the now much deeper water, to the other side. After returning the engine an passengers to its/their former state again we're on our way, weaving past small village of wooden houses on stilts and green mountain sides dotted with waterfalls. 
Then an even bigger with an even bigger truck stuck bang in the middle of it comes into view. This truck is blocking the one lane across and the wetserners start to exchange horror stories they have heard about being stranded for 48hours on Lao bus journeys for similar reasons (although the Lao people are prepared for such eventualities and supposedly food, beer and even tents always appear from somewhere)
Our driver gets out and takes a look. So does the porter. 
They (apparently, although it isn't clear to anyone else where/how) they can see a route for the bus to pass further up the river but the steep river sides mean that no one else can be on the bus when it crosses. Alas, everyone (pigeons in box lovingly carried by monks included) is ousted off, forced to remove their shoes, and directed to walk across the strong flow of the river, clutching the side of the stuck truck so as not to get swept away. Its bloody brilliant. 

There is one stop on the remainder of the journey for lunch or breakfast we can't tell which, where noodle soup is on offer, and where a can of coke is double the price of the meal itself. 

Just after midday the bus stops but not at a bus station as we were expecting. Our large bags, piled at the back of the bus for the journey are passed out the window onto the road and we are all a bit confused as to whether or not we have arrived yet. Just down the hill is a very fast flowing river and on the opposite bank a small village clings to the steep hillside. Surrounding on all sides are massive Karst mountains thick with trees. Its a pretty incredible first stop in Laos. This is Muang Khua.

We take a stick-thin motor boat across the river to reach the village and head straight to the nearest guesthouse to dump our stuff. We get a room for 50,000kip ($6) with our own bathroom, fan and a matress (the significance of this will only start to dawn on us as we travel further south where wood planks are apparently considered comfy). 
After this we ruch to change money, not knowing when an ATM will appear, and rush onto the 'Tourist Information' to enquire about boats down river the following day. 
The next thing is to wander slowly through the village and a freindly gentleman directs us voluntarily toward the suspension bridge (one of the big attractions here). It rattles and shakes as we cross, particularly as we are passed by kids running home from school and motorbikes.

Finally all there is to do is what the locals do; sit and have a Beer Lao over looking the river. The whole village appears to be asleep mid-afternoon which again plays to the stereotype of Laos PDR (please don't rush) we had built up in our minds. 

Down below we watch kids swimming in the river Ou, oblivious to the dangers of the fast current and using logs of wood as floats to spin in the twisting thermal whirlpools.    

At this stage Laos is looking pretty good!

When darkness falls we head for dinner at one of the villages 2 family-run restaurants and are served by a Laos lady boy; she is pretty beautiful and we are fascinated by her living in the tiniest of villages in rural northern Laos. 

After eating we walk back to the bridge to see what we can see on the opposite bank of the river. Walking across in darkness is a very different experience as it quickly becomes clear that this is where all the young boys from the village come to chat to and pick up girls. We gets a few 'Sabaidees' (greetings in Lao) and Jo is tempted to shout back 'I'm old enough to be your... much older sister'. 
Nevertheless there are a few more guesthouses on this side and we find one by following its music, which is blaring out into the night, expecting to find it full of people (local or falang). 
Its empty but the sound system is at full whack. We politely buy one drink but then leave, still a bit confused.

We head to bed exhuasted by such a sudden change of environment, passing a group of local guys drinking Beer Lao and playing patang as we go.   
   
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