Trip Start Apr 16, 2013
17Trip End Dec 20, 2013
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Following our fantastic adventures in North Thailand we crossed the border for just under 3 weeks in beautiful Laos.
The border crossing was relatively straight forward - a rather cramped local bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong, tuk-tuk to the border, stamp in the passport and we crossed the Mekong into Laos on a tiny long boat (quite interesting trying to carry 2 big rucksacks on to a rocky boat in rubber flip flops!) However, once into Laos things got a little more difficult. Our first stop in Laos was Luang Prabang - a 2 day slow boat or overnight bus ride from Huay Xai on the border. We decided to go with the "VIP" overnight bus thinking it would be quicker and as it was "VIP" relatively comfortable allowing us to get a little sleep and saving us the cost of a night's accommodation - how wrong we were!
Luang Prabang (LP) is a beautiful little 'city' with lots of buddhist temples to explore alongside a huge French influence giving it gorgeous architecture and an almost European feel which was lovely. We stayed at the fantastic Manichan Guesthouse where we really felt at home with the staff and Ali - the Irish manager. We spent 6 days in LP which was the longest we'd spent anywhere so to save rambling, here are a few highlights:
- Visiting Kuang Si waterfalls - it looked like something out of Fern Gully or Avatar and we couldn't believe that the aqua pools and tumbling waterfalls were natural
- Laos cookery course with Tamarind restaurant - really gave us an insight into Laos cuisine which is made up of lots of sticky rice, lots and lots of herbs and tasty dry meat dishes. We got taken around the market and saw some interesting things including a whole buffalo foetus ready for the pot (luckily we didn't cook with that!) The course was really hands on and we made 5 courses including a traditional 'Laap', chicken cooked in lemongrass and fish steamed in a banana leaf - Jim has lots of ambitious plans to recreate the dishes back home - watch this space!
- Climbing Mt Phousi to watch the sunset - not really a mountain but a temple up lots of steps rewarding you with spectacular views over the Mekong. We took a bottle of NZ Sav. Blanc up with us which we had to drink rather sneakily due to underestimating the amount of people there would be up there but it was still magical!
- Laos massage - we treated ourselves after the nightmare bus journey and it was amazing
- THE FOOD - we are continuing our fatpacker quest and the endless French bakeries, cafes and riverside restaurants in LP helped us along the way nicely.
From Luang Prabang we took another very cramped mini bus to Vang Vieng (but thankfully only 6 hours this time). Vang Vieng is probably best known for 'tubing' - a rite of passage for backpackers who hired a big rubber ring and floated down the Mekong stopping at various bars along the way. But VV has cleaned up it's act in recent years and most of the bars have shut down leaving a town surrounded by beautiful limestone kharst scenery but a little lost in identity - no longer a party town but not living up to the culture and cuisine of other Laos destinations.
To be honest, our first impressions of VV weren't that great, it is still largely geared to partying backpackers meaning lots of identical cafe/bars/hostels serving rubbish food and showing episodes of Friends or Family Guy on a continuous loop. We realised here that the opportunity to eat good food really shapes our opinion of a place (spoken like a true fatpacker!)
But outside of the town, there are some truly spectacular places which we had a great time exploring. Our first day there we hired bicycles and cycled 20 kilometers over the river and along a very bumpy path to The Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham cave. We climbed up a treacherous path/steps to the cave and had to use torches to look around inside but were rewarded by some amazing geology and an appearance from geography Jim who gave Laura a lesson on the creation of stalagmites and stalactites
The next day we went on a kayaking tour with our lovely guide Toe and a slightly dull grumpy American - Geoff. It was a great way to see the scenery and gave us quite a workout - 30km of kayaking = about 4 hours! We also got a lovely lunch and chance to see some more caves including one where we pulled ourselves through on a rope in rubber rings.
Another (non) VIP bus journey took us to the capital of Laos - Vientiane. We had 6 days here and planned to do very little to save a bit of money and plan for our upcoming month in Vietnam. This was definitely aided by our stay in the lovely Soukxana guesthouse where hostess Isabella and Brad made it feel like we were staying with friends. We spent lots of our time in Vientiane eating (no surprises there) and wandering the shops. The weather wasn't great but we managed to use the local swimming pool a couple of times and hired bicycles to see a bit of the city. We also enjoyed making the most of the free wifi to catch up with friends and family back home and the flatscreen tv to catch the start of Wimbledon!
One of the highlights of Vientiane for us was visiting the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) centre - a not for profit organisation who offer rehabilitative support and prosthetic medicine to victims of unexploded bombs left over from the war
Saying goodbye to Laos we jumped on a sparkling new plane to Hanoi which took us only 40 minutes and avoided another 27 hour "VIP" bus journey - hurrah!
Watch this space for updates on our Vietnam chapter.
A quick note to say a big thank you Jackson, Emma and all of our friends back home who made it possible for us to be at Glastonbury this year at the same time as South East Asia. We had an amazing time. He He :-)
Til next time, lots of love
Laura and Jim xxx