Up at 2.30am to get taxi to Bangkok Airport. Whilst packing up Nic finds cockroach on zip of her backpack. Peter runs out of bathroom thinking she has been attacked. Both stand around thniking what to do. Decide to kick bag around room for a while. Then use wire coat hanger to try to weedle it out. It appears and we run for cover. It hides in a pocket again so we kick the bag until we are out of time and have to go for taxi. Peter carries bag down. Nice big car. Costs 1600 Baht - about 25 quid. Driver fast but every time we stop at lights he puts extra thick glasses to eyes and looks around as if he has just gained power of sight. Bit worrying but he gets us to Bangkok airport at 5.30am. Flight leaves at 8.30am. Cost 9000 Baht for both - about 140 quid. Nic nips to bathroom where a couple are saying their goodbyes in adjacent cubicle much to amusement of staff. Board flight after P smokes 6 fags. Nice big Thai Airways plane. Heads nodding we take off 1 hour late. Arrive Vientiane and queue for Laos visas
. $30 dollars each. In arrivals there is a Hotel desk and we book into Tai-Pan Hotel at cost of $68 per night. Pricey but nice hotel with free transfer. Doze for couple of hours then wander into main square with nice fountain. Wonderful old French buildings, many crumbling but place beautiful and people very friendly. Have some pastry in one of the lovely bakeries in town. Nice strong Lao coffee. Wander along Mekong river. Thailand on far bank. River receeds about 300 metres in dry season which this is. Locals grow veg on dry riverbed during these months. See photo. Head back to fountain and eat in dearest restaurant in town - Cafe Namphou. Nic has delish wine, Peter new fav beer - Beer Lao at 35p per 650ml and both enjoy deep fried camembert followed by steak. Bill comes to $36. Walk back past lovely shops selling silk, antiques etc. Early night watching TV in our room.
Day 93 - Wednesday 26 November
Up for a very English breakfast in Hotel. Spend nearly 3 hours on Hotel internet. $3 per hour. Get tuk-tuk to That Luang about 4km from town. This is Laos' most famous monument which hosts many big religious events. Has been partially rebuilt several times by French who made a mess of it first time round. On way pass Laos' version of L'Arc de Triumph which was built using cement donated by USA for building schools and hospitals
. Back to town and, after couple of Beer Lao, do architectural walk of the town. Lovely slow pace of life here. A famous saying goes - The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow. Us, we are just here to eat it so go to another highly rated restaurant in town which was always busy when we passed it.
Security man does metal detector test on everyone as they enter. Quite why they should be worried about people bringing metal detectors in we never discovered. This restaurant used by a lot of foreign workers. Glorious food. Draught Beer Lao to crown it out. Back at hotel bar there are over 300 types of vodka available. Have Beer Lao then go to bed. Decide to head North tomorrow.
Day 94 - Thursday 27 November
Picked up by minibus from Hotel at 10am. We are under impression that this bus will take us to Bus Station where we will board proper bus to Vang Vieng. Once bus is full we call at another hotel and four Irish girls have yet to board. Somehow get all aboard but P sitting with Nic's cockroach infested bag on his knee and v little legroom. We also realise that this bus is going to take us the whole 4 hour journey to Vang Vieng. Happily the minibus bursts into smoke after an hour so able to get off and stretch legs
. Locals, smilingly, bring us out stools and water. Driver performs last rights on engine. A local bus stops and sqeezes the Irish girls and a few others on board. Six of us remain at roadside. Eventually accept that there wont be another bus coming from Vientiane to rescue us so board a passing tuk-tuk with bemused locals. Nicola falls badly getting onto bus. Foot gets trapped between bus and step. Very sore and as usual embarrassing. Dutch girl gives Nic some cream for bruising. Three hours later arrive in Vang Vieng which was recommended by Mark Stephens as good stop off point. Have pre booked dearest and only hotel in town. Hotel Namsong at $30 per night inc Bfast. Check in to v basic room with A/c and hot water. Views unbelievable and doubt camera will do justice. Go for short walk towards mountains then back to town. Town small but full of bars cafes and internet shops all seemingly there for the multitude of backpackers. Go to lovely Sunset Bar for beer and sit on decks over the river. Get chatting to Canadian lad called Dan. Dan is on antibiotics for Tropical Flu but we persuade him that Beer Lao would be much better for him. As we sit watching local life going on on the river all the people we met on the bus pass by and a couple who got the tuk-tuk with join us. As sun goes down the last of the tubers and canoeers float past. Bob Marley blasts out from the bar on the opposite side of the river Namsong. Tubing is very popular here. You pay about 2 pounds and get taken about 8kms upriver where you get an inner tube from a tractor tyre and float downstream
. It takes about 3.5 hours and you pass many bars both on the banks and some mid river. We regretefully didnt try it but Dan did and said it was superb. Hans and Soskia have only been going together for 3 weeks. Met back home in Holland and were both about to go on separate travels. Go for some Lao food and agree to meet tomorrow for caving.
Day 95 - Friday 28 November
Five of us meet up at our Hotel restaurant for breakfast. Stunning views and watch locals crossing river in tractor type vehicle, washing, fishing etc. Very relaxing. Head off for most famous of the caves, Tham Chang, which have been used to hide local militias for hundreds of years. Other three are paying $3 Dollars for their rooms so we get much stick. Walk 3ks or so to cave. Walk past friendly villagers, chickens, pigs etc. As ever here the views are unbelievable. Little bridges over river, small caves, tunnels with rivers running through. All breathtaking. Main cave closed until one. We arrive at 11.30. Wander about. Spot v large spider - see photo and sit in little restaurant chatting until cave opens. Steep steps up to cave which is big but a little disappointing. Follow various little paths through forest but end up having to go back and follow original route back to village. Decide that it is time for Beer Lao
. Sit on decks and watch the sun go down again. Decide to head on to Luang Prabang tomorrow. Have dinner with Dan and crash early. Agree to meet Dan, Hans and Soskia in Maylek Bar in LP at 5pm Sunday.
Day 96 - Saturday 29 November
Six Dollars each for bus which picks us up at 9.30 for five hour journey to LP. Small minibus but only 9 of us aboard so comfy enough. Lady in front from Donegal who nearly drowned yesterday whilst canoeing and her new husband from Yorkshire. Both have lived in Abu Dabi for many years and are here on 2 week hols. Journey up into mountains is stunning. I'm sure that all of these adjectives we use to describe the scenery are a bit annoying but this place really is picturesque. The windiest road in the world passes through village after village where multiple images just bore into your brain. Old women drying big carpets full of bright red chillies. Young girls showering in their shiny silk robes under slow flowing hoses. Young children squatting their dust coloured bottoms over bottom coloured dust. Babies chasing piglets. Young men walking along the side of the mountain roads, waving at us with AK47's over their shoulders. We stop about halfway in a mountain village full of other minibuses and passing mountain tribes selling their wares
. Nicola queues for 1000 kip toilet (17400 kip to the pound. US Dollars and Thai Baht equally welcome in Laos) with 20 other backpackers. This must be as odd a sight for the locals as they are to us. Arrive LP at 3.30pm. Book into Ban Lao Guest House for $20 per night ex bfast. Very nice but are going to try to find somewhere less expensive for remaining time in LP. Know Soskia will shout at us otherwise for wasting money. Wander into town. Night market just setting up on footpaths of main street as day market winds down. Main street a mix of markets, shining golden wats, bakeries and internet cafes. Have baguette in one of the bakeries. Walk back through market which is ablaze with the colours of silk. Peter buys Beer Lao t-shirt ($2.5) and Nicola a pair of linen trousers ($3). Later discover that neither fit very well. Find nice looking guesthouse (Mano Guest House) near to our current place but it is full. Owner suggests we call back tomorrow. Around here they dont bother to ask you your check out date. I suppose because so many people just stay on and on. Maylek Pub is just 4 houses away from Mano where we plan to meet others tomorrow. P has usual, Nicola has v expensive glass of French wine (25 000 kip - 2 quid) which is full of cork. Ask barman if he sells local red wine (made from red sticky rice and called something like khoew khum) which we have read about. Says no but will try to get for us tomorrow. On way back to guest house Peter gets number two haircut all over. Might join monkhood.
Day 97 - Sunday 30 November
Wander into town for brekkie at Cafe des Arts of croque monsieur (ham & cheese on toast) which is delish. Lao coffee strong and lovely, esp with two Coffee Mates in it. Climb 329 steps up to Mount Phoissi for view over Luang Prabang. Locals chanting in temple at top adds to atmosphere. Decide that Laos is our new fav country. Head back to Mano Guest House which has room available for $10 per night. Book in and get our stuff from other guest house where we check out. Get photos burnt onto CD then get lovely ham and cheese baguettes. Head to Maylek Bar to see if others turn up. Dan arrives at 5.15. No sign of Soskia and Hans. Barman has got local wine which we finish then go to Mano for dinner. Chicken Lap is particularly nice. Move off street into lounge and watch Newcastle match followed by Chelsea Man U. Dan gets scores right which means that Peter pays for trip to waterfall and buy him dinner. Nicola goes to bed before United match (11.30pm) and by the time P goes to bed is locked out. Takes 10 mins to wake her and rest of guests.
Day 98 - Monday 1 December
Meet Dan for baguette in Cafe des Arts then tuk-tuk 35kms to waterfalls
. Pass stray elephant in field. Waterfalls again are breathtaking. Forgot trunks so only Dan goes for swim. Most impressive falls we have ever seen. Not biggest but cetainly niceast. At start of falls they have a 3 year old tiger (Phet), which was confiscated from poachers. Eats 3kgs of buffalo meat per day. Its keeper gets it to rear up for some meat and lets us stroke its back. Take crap photo but are awed. Donate some Kip towards its new compound being built on Mt Phoussie. Tuk-tuk gets flat tyre on way back. Go into town. Dan meets Hans and Soskia whilst getting money changes. They have just arrived in LP. Arrange to meet at our guest house but Dan cannot remember name and gives poor directions. Sit and have beer by the Mighty Mekong then up to Mano to see if they arrive. They dont but we have nice dinner with Dan (on us) and have early night. Have booked two day 'cruise' up Mekong which costs $160 each (ten times more than other boats but includes accommodation, meals for two days and trip to Ou Pak Caves) leaving Wed morning and getting to Houie Xay on Thursday night. Cross river to Thailand then get bus (3.5 hours) to Chang Rai. Watch AI and crash at 10ish.