Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2013

It's early evening when we reach Don Det, but due to our long journey it feels like it's very late in the night. Having no map of the place and only the name of two guest houses on the island we're a bit lost as to where to stay. We soon realise we won't find the recommended two places and just search around till we find a decent place to crash. Our journey from Savannakhet turned out to be an interesting one, although quite exhausting. We started off with a local bus from Savannakhet to Pakse - nothing odd in itself, just the same standard as our way from Vientiane to Savannakhet with the usual storage of goods along the middle of the bus and people on plastic stools filling the gaps between the bags of rice, or whatever the content was, stacked in the isle. Getting out of the bus at breaks is like the assault course of a military training camp... When we arrive at Pakse we have to find a means of transport to the bus depot on the other side of town 15 kilometres away, and the tuc-tuc driver's eyes lights up when he see a bunch of tourists coming off the bus of course. We decide not to join the crown of tourists cooped up in the tiny vehicle and go outside of the bus depot and flag down a tuc-tuc for ourselves (turns out to be cheaper, and without being crammed full).

As we’re passing by the outskirts and centre of Pakse we notice this place is quite a lot dirtier than the places we’ve visited in Laos, with rubbish everywhere and everything caked in dust. The bus stations were really grotty, especially the northern station where we arrived at coming down from Savannakhet. Here the cows were eating rubbish from a heap behind the really disgusting toilets – it’s like we'd been thrown back to India again. It looks like this area is very poor compared to the places we’ve visited so far in Laos.

At the opposite end of town we learn the rest of the journey will be by large tuc-tuc and not a bus as our guide was indicating. Sitting in an open truck on dusty roads doesn't particularly appeal to us, but we don't have much of a choice. With us on the journey was mix of what looked like poor manual labourers and more well-to-do people, a piglet in a bag (only the snout sticking out) and lots of bags of cement, armouring rods snaked around and strapped to the roof and the sides, pig-fodder, and something that were leaking tons of dust that almost choked every one and all on the truck. We had the pleasure of a three and a half hours journey at these conditions stopping off everywhere picking up and delivering goods of various descriptions. If it hadn't been so extremely dusty at the back it wouldn't have been such a bad way of travelling - sure beats the way our fellow passenger, the piglet, was travelling though stuffed in a bag and squashed under a seat... When we arrived at the Ban Nakasan village, from where we would get our boat to the island, we were in luck as a bus had just arrived from the Cambodian border, this meant there were enough people to get a boat at a decent price, and also that we didn't have to wait for long before departure. The boat-trip was a little bit crammed, but quite pleasant as we were gliding on the water in the moonshine with a sprinkle of stars above. Many of the other passengers acted as they've never seen a starry sky before so there was a lot of aaah ooooh woooow going on.

Don Det is a tranquil haven after a long dusty and noisy journey from Savannakhet and we were happy to just take it very easy and not do too much. We did however go dolphin-spotting and had a visit to one of Asia’s largest waterfalls as a half day trip. We managed to see some dolphins in the distance, but none came close to our boat really. The boat-ride in itself was really calming, especially just floating around on the river waiting for the dolphins to appear.

[caption id="attachment_1613" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1614" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1615" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1616" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1617" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1618" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1619" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1620" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1621" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1622" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1623" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1624" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands. Khon Phapheng Falls, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1625" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ban Nakasang Village, 4000 Islands. Ban Nakasang Village, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1626" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ban Nakasang Village, 4000 Islands. Ban Nakasang Village, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1627" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1628" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1629" align="aligncenter" width="545"]4000 Islands. 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1630" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1631" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1632" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1633" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1634" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1635" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1636" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1637" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1638" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1639" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1640" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1641" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1642" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Don Det, 4000 Islands. Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1643" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands. Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1644" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands. Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1645" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands. Impromptu beach party, Don Det, 4000 Islands.[/caption]

We book our further travel to Siem Reap from one of the travel agent’s on the island and it’s advertised as a ten hour journey, but this is clearly a big lie as we were to discover later on. We leave early in the morning only to spend hours waiting for the bus to take us to the Cambodian border. We then have another two hours wait there before we can finally get onto the bus taking us further towards Siem Reap. With one more change of busses (we were told the journey would be direct...) we finally get to Siem Reap four hours later than advertised - which meant in the middle of the night of course... The organiser of this less than perfect journey was of course trying to sell everyone a place at his chosen hotel. Needless to say he got no takers from a mob of angry, fed up and tired travellers.

The journey down from Vang Vieng did not quite go to plan, with a misunderstanding with the booking, and a transfer from Vang Vieng to Vientiane in a bus that was about to fall apart. Added to that we ended up in a local bus instead of the luxurious sleeper-bus we paid for. At least we had proper seats assigned and not a plastic stool or a bag of rice for seat in the isle as some have to settle with. We're starting to get used to arriving silly early, but we're confused to why they schedule the busses to arrive in the middle of the night in a country where there is a curfew between 23:30 and 06:00. When we booked our tickets we were told we were to arrive at 06:00 in the morning, which would be OK as it's about the time businesses and guest houses start to open up. Completely shattered we decide to get a tuc-tuc into the town centre. We're in luck - as we pass one of the guest houses mentioned in our guide we find the owner stretching out after a run. He let us into the guest house and wakes the staff for us. The poor girl is half asleep as she checks us in. The guest house is clearly under refurbishment and it looks like it'll be a great little place when it's finished. Our room is not quite finished refurbished yet, so it's basic and a little bit rough around the edges. All seems very clean though and the bed is very comfy. We settle in and get a few hours kip.

In the morning after our little rest we go out to find a place to get our laundry done and most importantly to get some breakfast. In the old town we're instantly charmed by the old French colonial architecture. A lot of the buildings are in disrepair and are crumbling away, but unlike in India we don't mind it - these are not tourist attractions you pay extortionate rates to visit, where you know the money is probably not going back to the restoration but rather swindled away by some fat cats in the administration. Many buildings have been beautifully restored though, and many are under restoration so it looks like they have started to take better care of the town. We head down to the Mekong riverside to look for some of the food vendors mentioned in the guide - for once a good suggestion by the Lonely Planet. We go for the first one we see as we can't resist the sight and smell of the barbeque chicken on the grill. We order some chicken, sticky rice and some green papaya salad. It's a very tasty small feast, and we have the lovely view of the Mekong River with Thailand on the other side of the water.

[caption id="attachment_1551" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1552" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1553" align="aligncenter" width="401"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1554" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1555" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Breakfast by the Mekong River, Savannakhet. Breakfast by the Mekong River, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1556" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption]

We've read about Eco Guide Unit and head over to their office to get more information on their tours. We're initially interested in a cycle tour around Savannakhet. We're a little bit undecided and need a little bit more time to mull it over, so armed with a tourist map showing some of the sites in the town by foot we go out to explore some Chinese temples, a couple of Wats, more of the old French colonial architecture, and the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures). At the museum one of the staff starts taking us around the exhibits on an impromptu guided tour. He explains in broken English- and with a bit of French mixed in- about the various bones on display and about where they were discovered and how. He also lets us hold a 3 million old piece of bone, something you'd never get to do in a museum back home - especially without wearing gloves. He took the bone out of a drawer where it said "Do Not Open!" so don't think we were supposed to be able to handle the piece of bone anyway, but who are we to argue with the museum staff? We're very surprised of how heavy this little piece of bone is - it is obviously a very dense bone-structure. As we exit the museum we get to see the archaeologists at work in the workshop separating dinosaur bones from the rock and compact soil that it's been fused with over millions of years. With the use of small pneumatic drills (similar to dentist-equipment) and various small tools and brushes it's a tedious, noisy and very dusty job.

[caption id="attachment_1557" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1558" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1559" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple and school, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1560" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1561" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1562" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1563" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1564" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Chinese Temple, Savannakhet. Chinese Temple, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1565" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1566" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1567" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1568" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1569" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet. Dinosaur Museum (Musee Des Dinosaures), Savannakhet.[/caption]

A nice surprise awaits us when we visit Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He). A group of novice monks approach us and asks if we have a moment of time for a chat so they can improve their English skills. They bombard us with all sorts of questions about where we’re from, and even why we westerners are so fat, but they mean that in a good way apparently - it signifies wealth. We try to convince them it’s unhealthy to be too overweight and it’s due to a poor and damaging diet, but they don’t seem to quite understand and say “beautiful” and point at my belly... we have to laugh. It’s quite good for us as well to get a little more insight into their lives as novice monks. Hopefully we've helped them a little bit by having a chat.

[caption id="attachment_1570" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet. Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1571" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet. Wat Sainyaphum (Th Tha He), Savannakhet.[/caption]

As the day draws towards an end and the closing-time of the Eco Guide Unit office is nearing we decide over a coffee in Cafe Anakot to go on and book the 36 kilometre cycling sightseeing tour.

[caption id="attachment_1574" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cafe Anakot, Savannakhet. Cafe Anakot, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1572" align="aligncenter" width="533"]St. Teresa Church, Savannakhet. St. Teresa Church, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1573" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Savannakhet. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1575" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1576" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1577" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1578" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet. Some gorgeous food at Xokxay restaurant, Savannakhet.[/caption]

Our cycle trip starts early in the morning next day, which is good as it's still relatively cool. The guide informs us it's quite rare that he takes people sightseeing by bike, most prefer their walking/hiking tours. Not many people cycle here because of the heat and it's not the done thing - it's a sign of lower status if you're cycling or walking about - apparently it indicates you can't afford motorised transport like a motorbike, or even better a car. People do give us a strange look as we're peddling about - they're probably perplexed as they expect all tourists to be rich, but then we're cycling around like poor people... The start of the journey is a 8 kilometre schlep alongside the main road into town so not the most exciting start, but then we head off on a small side-road before heading into a protected forest area on sandy paths around a nice little lake. Along the road our guide informs us about some of the way the tribes here use the plants and trees for various purposes, be it food, medicine or other purposes. By an old house where the administration of the area used to be housed we sit down for a bit of lunch and a rest - some grilled chicken and sticky rice does wonders. After a rest we head on towards a local tribe’s village, but on exiting the shaded paths of the forest we get hit by the scorching sun that almost knock us out instantly. None the less we have no choice but to cycle on to the village, and here we get a glance of the production of torches made with the oil from one of the species of trees from the forest. After this we're off again to visit a Wat and stupa which is very significant to the people in the Savannakhet area. We have a walk around. After, we purchase some sweet sticky rice from a stall outside of the Wat and head back towards Savannakhet with a stop at another lake very popular amongst the younger crowd. We find ourselves a little stilted bamboo hut on the edge of the lake and have some drinks and dig into our lovely sticky rice purchased earlier. From here we head back into town and our tour is over. Our guide offers us to have a little rest in the office when we get back but we have to decline his kind offer as we have to collect our washing before the Laundrette closes for the day.

[caption id="attachment_1579" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our bicycles parked up in the woods by Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Our bicycles parked up in the woods by Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1580" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1581" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Lom Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1582" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1583" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1584" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1585" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1586" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1587" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1588" align="aligncenter" width="423"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1589" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1590" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1591" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1592" align="aligncenter" width="533"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1593" align="aligncenter" width="545"]That In Hang. Savannakhet. That In Hang. Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1594" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1595" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet. Nong Bungva Lake, Savannakhet.[/caption]

Early the next morning we head for the bus station to make our way towards the 4000 Islands and Don Det. We jump on a local bus to Pakse where we'll have to change for another bus towards our final destination.

We arrive in Vang Vieng a little bit ahead of schedule but find we're quite far out from the centre of town where all the guest houses are located - so we share a tuc-tuc with Masuk and Jonathan with whom we'd had the pleasurable company of travelling with on the last two journeys from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, and then from Phonsavan to Vang Vieng. More people in the tuc-tuc means we can get a little bit cheaper deal, so that's good. After a bit of walking about searching for a place we finally settle on Phoubane Guest House were we get a small bungalow for a good rate. Hannah came here several years ago and is shocked to see how it's changed - the town has expanded drastically, due to the tourist boom here over the past few years. We soon start to notice the behaviour of some of tourists here is very loutish and not in any way respective towards the locals and their culture. There are many signposts in town explaining quite clearly that certain dress-codes are not tolerated, such as guys not wearing tops and women in their bikinis. We still see guys parading around shirtless and women in skimpy bikinis wielding their bottles and cans of beer and generally being loud with vulgar language. You can see the reactions on the faces of people in the shops and stalls, and they're not positively loaded. We also have a chat with a guide from Green Discovery on our way to a bit of cave-trekking about 30 minutes drive north of Vang Vieng, and he's got some pretty shocking tales to tell about some of the extreme behaviour of tourists here in the past. It's like hearing a tale about completely brain dead Neanderthals on steroids. I think it's a blessing for the local population that the government finally intervened after many years of this awful behaviour that turned this town into a deadly circus - but it has also put many bars, restaurants and guest houses out of business. The government basically shut all the bars down along the river where people would be stopping off on the way down the river on their rubber inner-tires (tubing). They would get absolutely wasted and this resulted in the unprecedented lewd behaviour and also in many deaths by drowning, or people jumping into the river where it's not safe - with the obvious consequences that can bring. In 2012 29 people died while tubing in this river and in the late summer all the bars were closed down by the government, many by force - or by being torched - apparently. It could possibly been a better tactic to punish the unruly tourists rather than the local businesses - this could have cleaned up the dangerous and disrespectful behaviour while keeping some of the businesses running. The tubing still carries on in Vang Vieng but has now a much more relaxing atmosphere about it. Some people are still behaving badly and don't respect the laws, regulations and culture, so there is still a very present problem here, despite the closure of all the bars. In my opinion Vang vieng need to shift their focus on a different type of tourism, although the tubing can be a part of the experience they can rather emphasise on the wealth of the beautiful nature in the area, with lots of mountains and countless caves it would be perfect for adventure trekking, caving, canoeing and more. They should definitely clamp down on the behaviour of the troublemakers and fine them if they break the rules - this would discourage future troublemakers and maybe restore the relations between the local people and the people visiting the town. It's a beautiful place and I'm sure it could again be a thriving destination, but with a better type of tourism that would not upset the people living there. We're taking it a bit easy in Vang Vieng and start off with a half day trekking and caving. It's not too strenuous a hike and we get to see a few caves and I get the pleasure of a dip in the Tham Nam Water Cave - it comes at a cost though, as I manage to lose my lovely torch - c'est la vie. We also have a day of cycling around and exploring the area, and in the evening go to the Tham Poukham Cave and Blue Lagoon - about 45 minutes (if you know the way, which we didn't) cycle on the most bumpy road I've ever cycled along, and not with large bumps that you can avoid by going round, but small bumps EVERYWHERE that makes your bones ache... It's fun at the same time as it's a bit painful, and talking to each other along the road becomes comical as our vocal chords are obviously affected by the rough ride. The cave is pretty impressive, but the climb up to it is pretty steep and it really get the heart pumping. A refreshing dip in the Blue Lagoon and some sticky rice and barbecued chicken after the cave is very refreshing and prepares us well for the journey back to our guest house. The last day we test out the tubing down the river - we get dropped off four kilometres upstream from the town and slowly drift the way back to town with one stop half way at a bar (probably illegal) at a resort. The gathering at the half-way-bar was a very pleasant collection of people from around the world, so we had a good old chinwag over a couple of beers before continuing down the river. It was a very relaxing experience and we didn't see any reckless behaviour at all. There was a party by the river close to the start where some brainless kids were trying to entice us up to, but this didn't appeal to us at all - we like a good party now and then, but prefer the crowd to be a bit more mature than topless rat-arsed teenagers... [caption id="attachment_1512" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1511" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1510" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1509" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1508" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1507" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1506" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking, Vang Vieng. Trekking, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1505" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking, Vang Vieng. Trekking, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1504" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Hoi Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Hoi Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1513" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Lovely Barbecue, Vang Vieng. Lovely Barbecue, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1531" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1530" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1529" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1528" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1527" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1526" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1525" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1524" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1523" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1522" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1521" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1520" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1519" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1518" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1517" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1516" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1515" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1514" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1532" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1541" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1540" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1539" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some local kids enjoying their food on some rocks in the middle of the river,Vang Vieng. Some local kids enjoying their food on some rocks in the middle of the river,Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1538" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1537" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1536" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1535" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1534" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Canoeing on the river, Vang Vieng. Canoeing on the river, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1533" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] All in all our visit to Vang Vieng was a mixed bag of relaxing, and of annoyance with drunk and lary twats, plus the lack of sleep at times due to our neighbours staying up all night talking drug-hazed bullshit and coughing their lungs out due to smoking - not a good sign when you're only about twenty years old... We really enjoyed the nature and the caves, and wish we could have had an extra day with canoeing and even a hot air balloon trip, although the latter was very expensive. From Vang Vieng we move on towards Savannakhet, a small town close to the border with Thailand. We book a ticket with a seemingly reputable travel agency for a deluxe sleeper bus in the belief it will be a direct bus and a pleasant journey. The journey doesn’t exactly go to plan... First leg of the journey is to Vientiane on a bus that is about to fall apart LITERALLY! It's a fairly short journey so it's not too bad, but we had paid good money for these tickets and deserved a better standard. When arriving in Vientiane we’re left to wait without any instructions for what seems like ages, and when a van finally arrive to pick us up there seems to be some problems with our booking... lots of back and forth and we’re allowed onto the van to take us to the bus depot for our onward journey. Once at the depot we learn that the agency had only booked us to go to Paksan... More back and forth and we suddenly hold in our hands tickets to Savannakhet, but these as it turns out are only by local bus, and not the deluxe sleeper bus that we paid for. The driver of the van disappears and we can’t go back to him to complain. Not too impressed we just have to settle with what we got and be content with the fact that at least we’ll get there.

In the late afternoon our VIP van arrives in Phonsavan after a fairly short, although not a very comfortable ride. The view along the route is stunning as we go over the mountains and the time in the van went by extra quick as we had the very pleasant company of Masuk from Morocco, John from the UK, and Jonathan from Austria. We're dropped off fairly close to the centre of town where the majority of the hotels are located, so we decide to walk there rather than get a "free" tuc-tuc lift to a hotel of the tout's choice... We first head for one of the Kong Keo Guest House, warmly recommended by the Lonely Planet, only to find it was a spider-infested damp dump... We had to look at alternatives and ended up in White Orchid - a fairly OK place with breakfast included, and it's relatively cheap.

After settling into the hotel we head out to find some food and beer. Hannah had spotted a quirky little bar and restaurant called The Bombie while we were walking about looking for accommodation, so we head there. We also realise later that this bar is mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and that every evening it shows a documentary banned in Laos about the "Secret War" conducted over Laos parallel to the Vietnam War (The Most Secret Place On Earth). It's a speedy history lesson, and it's not in any way a happy tale. The owner of the bar also has a little travel company that arranges tours to the sights around Phonsavan called Sousath Travels. As we're watching the documentary we discover that the local guide for the film crew is called Sousath as well, and after inquiring we learn that it's the father of our host that soon start to bring out the local (and very lethal) Lao Lao Whiskey. We'd contemplating booking a sightseeing tour with Sousath as he's got a bit different itineraries than what the other tour operators are offering but as it was just the two of us we thought it a bit expensive and needed to have a think about it. As we were having our dinner some more people wanted to sign up for it and suddenly it seemed much more affordable. Sousath runs another documentary after the banned "The Most Secret Place On Earth" and we stay there to watch it while enjoying the beer and a couple of shots of Lao Lao - although enjoying the beer and Lao Lao we're in shock watching the horrific documentaries. The third documentary, or more stunt reportage, was a bit disturbing in a completely different way, and I thought this one should have been left out... It's an MTV production about blowing up a cow - something you used to be able to do in Laos as a "tourist attraction" apparently. This reportage was featuring the owner of the bar as the guide of the MTV film team. I thought it just looked like he'd sold out for a bit of "fame" to try to be like his dad. Needless to say I was NOT impressed by this...

[caption id="attachment_1476" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Bombie Bar and Restaurant, Phonsavan. Bombie Bar and Restaurant, Phonsavan.[/caption]

The next day we head out on our sightseeing tour which takes us to see the Plain Of Jars site 1, a Russian tank, a secret CIA base and airfield (although there is little trace of it left - it's now a village), a glimpse of how they've used parts of old bombs from the war in construction of houses, a nice lunch, some of the caves used for air shelter and even hospital, and finally a very holy stupa. On our itinerary there were much more listed though, so we felt a bit betrayed. The tour is "not what it said on the tin" - one of the posts was to visit a UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) field, to see how they are working to clear unexploded bombs left over from the war. We were also supposed to visit another temple and Buddha statue damaged during the bombing raids. A couple of more posts were skipped, although they weren't the most interesting ones anyway, so can't remember what they were...

[caption id="attachment_1477" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1478" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1479" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan. Plain of Jars Site 1, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1480" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Russian Tank, Phonsavan. Russian Tank, Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1481" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some shy but curious kids in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Some shy but curious kids in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1482" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1483" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1484" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1485" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1486" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1487" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1488" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah having her fortune revieled in the Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hannah having her fortune revieled in the Buddha Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1489" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1490" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Hospital Cave by Muang Souy village Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1491" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Holy Stupa in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan. Holy Stupa in Muang Souy village on the secret CIA base and airstrip, Xiangkhouang near Phonsavan.[/caption]

We return from our tour early - funny that - and went over to the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) and the UXO Visitor Information Centre for more information about their work and the impact the remnants of the war has had on Laos. We both find a nice t-shirt in MAG and can feel a bit better for donating a little bit towards their work.

[caption id="attachment_1492" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Phonsavan. Phonsavan.[/caption]

In the evening we go for dinner in an Indian restaurant called Nisha (yes, we get India-Withdrawal-Symptom). John, our fellow traveller on the bus from Luang Prabang recommended it to us - when we get there we find him there waiting for his order and we sit down with him for a nice chat and a very tasty meal. Masuk and Jonathan also arrive a bit later and settle on the table next to us.

We arrange with our hotel for a van down to Vang Vieng and funnily enough end up in the same van as Masuk and Jonathan again. John is going in a different direction as he's heading for Vietnam. The journey down to Wang Vien passes very quickly, as we're engrossed in conversation for most of the trip.

Like zombies we crawl half asleep out of the bus as it rolls into the bus-depot at 04:00 in the morning. We can't quite understand why the journey took fourteen hours instead of the eight hour journey they advertised. I had been thinking from the very start the bus was going very slowly, despite the roads were very good. At the bus depot there was a diagram displayed with the distance (500 odd kilometres) and the time (eight hours) and with these roads - at least for the majority of the journey - it could be feasible to meet that target. However when the bus seems to be moving at maybe 40 km/h you soon realise it won't succeed...

After a little bit of confusion with all us westerners on the bus knocked out by the lack of sleep, disorientation and being thrown by the fact we all expected to arrive six hours earlier, we collectively get a tuc-tuc to take us into the town centre. We probably paid over the odds for the ride, so the driver must have been a happy bunny that morning. We get dropped off on the main road in the town and absolutely everything is closed up - it's a curfew here from 23:30 till 06:00. In the hope some places will have their gates a bit ajar we start walking about, but to no avail. Luckily for us an old lady cleaning the pavement in front of her house helps us out by waking up the night-watch at the neighbouring guest house. Initially we find the guest house way too expensive for our limited budget, but after a bit more consideration we agree to spending what feels like a small fortune for getting a few hours rest before heading out in the late morning to find another guest house more suited to our budget. The room we got was very nice though, so it's not really overpriced, although it's the most we'd paid for a room so far on our journey.

We end up moving to Oudomphong Guest House II, a very lovely place run by a sweet elderly couple. It's got a nice garden as you enter through the gates, and there are a few tables by the reception where they serve breakfast in the morning.

[caption id="attachment_1467" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Oudomphong Guest House II, Luang Prapang. Oudomphong Guest House II, Luang Prapang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1468" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Oudomphong Guest House II, Luang Prapang. Oudomphong Guest House II, Luang Prapang.[/caption]

After dropping off our bags we go for a wander around Luang Prabang to find a place to book a boat-trip to the Pac Ou Caves and a trip to the Kouangxi Waterfall. We find All Lao Travel do both in one day so we book it up with them. We then head down to the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School and book a class up. Once all the booking of activities is over done with - and after a cheeky cake in the Scandinavian cafe - we start our little self-guided sightseeing walk visiting some of the many temples around town finishing with Wat Chim Si on the of Mount Phousi  for a view of the sunset. We also walk around admiring the very well kept old French colonial architecture and all the craft shops.

[caption id="attachment_1388" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Little Scandinavia, Luang Prabang. Little Scandinavia, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1389" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1390" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Maintenance work at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Maintenance work at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1391" align="aligncenter" width="531"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1392" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1393" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1394" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1395" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1396" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1397" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1398" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1399" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sene, Luang Prabang. Wat Sene, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1400" align="aligncenter" width="466"]Wat Sene, Luang Prabang. Wat Sene, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1401" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Sene, Luang Prabang. Wat Sene, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1402" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Rickety bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang. Rickety bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1403" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1404" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1405" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1406" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1407" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1408" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunalat, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1409" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1410" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Overlooking the stall-roofs of the night market, Luang Prabang. Overlooking the stall-roofs of the night market, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1411" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Haw Pha Bang, Luang Prabang. Haw Pha Bang, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1412" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of Luang Prabang from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi. View of Luang Prabang from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1413" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang. Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1414" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of the sun setting from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi. View of the sun setting from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1415" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah decending from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang. Hannah decending from the Wat Chim Si on top of Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1416" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Luang Prabang night market. Luang Prabang night market.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1417" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Luang Prabang night market. Luang Prabang night market.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1418" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Luang Prabang night market. Luang Prabang night market.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1419" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Luang Prabang night market. Luang Prabang night market.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1420" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang.[/caption]

It’s an early start next morning for the tours to the caves and the waterfall. We first get on a boat to take us along the Mekong River to the Pac Ou Caves. As the sun is hiding behind clouds and mist it takes a long time before it starts warming up, so most of the journey up to the caves is a bit chilled. The caves are quite interesting with thousands of Buddha statues in all sizes just about everywhere. On the way back to Luang Prabang we stop by a small tribe-village (no doubt entirely set up for tourists) where they sell the local, and very lethal, Lao-Lao Whiskey. We, of course have to have a taste of it, and Hannah buys a tiny bottle of a milder version of it. Afterwards it's back to the town and a mad rush to get a few baguettes for lunch as we're running a bit late for our next half of the day and the trip to the Kouangxi waterfall.

[caption id="attachment_1421" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Boat Station on Mekong River, Luang Prabang. Boat Station on Mekong River, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1422" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Fisherman on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang. Fisherman on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1423" align="aligncenter" width="545"]On the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. On the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1424" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah on the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. Hannah on the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1425" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah on the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. Hannah on the boat up to the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1426" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1427" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1428" align="aligncenter" width="545"]By the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. By the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1429" align="aligncenter" width="545"]By the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. By the Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1430" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1431" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1432" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1433" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1434" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1435" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang. The Pac Ou Cave temples, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1436" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Visiting the Whiskey Village, Luang Prabang. Visiting the Whiskey Village, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1437" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Mekong River, Luang Prabang. The Mekong River, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1438" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Visiting the Whiskey Village, Luang Prabang. Visiting the Whiskey Village, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1439" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Temporary jetty on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang. Temporary jetty on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang.[/caption]

We jump into the van to go to the waterfalls, and after a bit of palava about who-sits-where between some Russian guys and an Australian family we're off. Just after the entrance gates we come to a bear enclosure, but it's late afternoon and the bears are dozy and hardly moving about at all. We walk on further and get to some pools and smaller waterfalls where people are swimming and jumping in. We pass these and go further up the path to the main waterfall, which is very impressive. After a few snaps we head back down to the pools where we can have a bath to cool down. Hannah doesn't feel like going into the water, so I draft her as stand-in photographer for when I slingshot myself into the water from a tree. After a few goes it's time to dry off and head down for a bit of grilled chicken and sticky rice while waiting for the van to take us back.

[caption id="attachment_1440" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah as a bear, Luang Prabang. Hannah as a bear, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1441" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1442" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1443" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1444" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1445" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1446" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1447" align="aligncenter" width="532"]Jumping into the pools at Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang. Jumping into the pools at Kouangxi Waterfall, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1448" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tribe Village by Luang Prabang. Tribe Village by Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1449" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tribe Village by Luang Prabang. Tribe Village by Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1450" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang. Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang.[/caption]

Every evening there is a night-market along the main street i Luang Prabang. It's a nice market with lots of handcraft stalls, as well as clothing and souvenirs. We find a few nice things here, and we manage to get a fairly good price as well. There are also some nice food and cake stalls along the road where you can get some nice treats at a reasonable price.

At the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School the next day we're a good size group of seven people, and after first having a cup of tea and some introductions of ourselves we head off in a tuc-tuc to a market just outside of town. It's a really lively market and we constantly find ourselves in the way of people trying to go about their business. Back at the restaurant our teacher explains the various ingredients, and how to chop and cut them for the various uses. We also learn how to make a rose from the skin of a tomato, and the leaves from a cucumber which is quite fun. The structure of the cooking lesson is very different from the one we had at Thai Farm in Chiang Mai. When we move into the kitchen all the ingredients have been prepared for us and rather than everyone cooking what they'll eat themselves as at Thai Farm we take in turns cooking one dish that we all get to eat. Luckily everyone got it right and all the dishes came out perfectly and we had a huge feast in the restaurant to finish the session - no one left that table hungry. We finished the cooking lesson around lunchtime which was quite nice as it gave us time to have a walk around town to admire some more of the French colonial architecture, and having a little browse of the shops.

[caption id="attachment_1451" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1452" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1453" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tour of the food market with Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1454" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1455" align="aligncenter" width="534"]Hannah at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Hannah at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1456" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1457" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1458" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1459" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1460" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1461" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1462" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Hannah cooking up a storm at the Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1463" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1464" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1465" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1466" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang. Tum Tum Cheng Cooking School, Luang Prabang.[/caption]

Luang Prabang has a very relaxed air to it and can be a great escape for a relaxing holiday, but still with the hustle and bustle of the markets and many bars and restaurants to explore if that is wanted as well. There are also many options for excursions you can book with the various travel agencies. I would most definitely recommend it coming here.

We decide to head to Phonsavan next and ask our guest house to arrange for the ticket. The next day we get picked up by a tuc-tuc that takes us over to the bus station from where we get a "VIP Van". For being VIP it's not much of a Poncy Van I think to myself when I get in and realise there is no space for my feet, and even less space for my heavy bag that I have to rest on my lap for the whole six hour drive - it could have been worse, but my legs became slightly numb...

Early arrival in Chiang Rai was welcoming, although we were a bit frazzled from the 5 1/2 hours of crazy driving from Pai via Chiang Mai. Not too happy to be dropped off 8km out of the centre, but after a bit of asking about we find there are frequent shared taxies to the centre for a pittance.

We had looked up a place to stay – Chat Guest House – before we left Pai and had sent an email to enquire about availability – unknowing to whether they got our mail or not, and whether they have a spare room we went directly there. We were in luck and they had reserved a room for us, and when settled in and connecting to their Wi-Fi we got the confirmation e-mail… Chat guesthouse is a lovely little place with friendly staff, and the room was quite nice too. We were quick to book up a couple of trips with them. We booked a day’s trek and a day’s sightseeing. The first afternoon – after we’d settled in and booked our adventures – we did a walkabout to see some temples, but didn’t get as much done as we’d hoped for. The next day we hired a scooter for the day and whizzed around a bit to see the Asean Flower Festival and floating market (although it wasn’t much floating going on… The stalls were on a path between two small bonds). After the market we went to see the Kings Monument and then the Hill Tribe Museum – a nice little museum with a wealth of information about the various tribes and their origins. After a complimentary coffee/tea downstairs in the Cabbages & Condoms Cafe we again got onto our scooter and headed for the Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park, which we just missed the opening times of, so had to skip that one and continue to the next stop Chiang Rai Beach. Not so much of a beach really, but it had a row of terraces where you could sit down and order food and drinks – feeling a bit peckish and thirsty we ordered some grilled chicken and sticky rice, with accompanying bottles of Leo Beer of course. The light was vanishing and it was time to get back to freshen up before going out to see the New Year celebrations by the Chiang Rai Clock Tower.

We first headed down to the night market for some food before the New Year celebrations and after that we went to the Teepee Bar, a quirky little bar we’d noticed by chance on walking to our guest house on our arrival – if you ever find yourself in Chiang Rai I can recommend this one. After a few beers there we continued to Cat Bar, a bar recommended by the Lonely Planet – what-a-mistake-to-make (Italian accent intended) – it turns out to be a go-go-bar on quite a seedy road and we’re not impressed by this recommendation, so after a very quick beer – left half of it – we move on towards the Clock Tower and stop by a much nicer Rasta Bar for another beer while awaiting the midnight kick-off. The area around the Clock Tower is absolutely ram-packed and it’s very difficult to move around, but we get into the crowd to count down the last seconds of 2012. After the finale we have a little walk around the centre of Chiang Rai, but are a bit conscious about the fact we have an early start in the morning for our jungle trek, not the ideal situation for a hangover exactly.

So, on the 1st of January we have an early start trekking through many hill-tribe villages and through the jungle. We’re also joined by one more traveller Megan on a break from working at STA. Our guide Chai also picks up a friend and helper Chang, a Lisu tribesman, on the way to the start-point. Large parts of the trek are easy, and then there are parts where we get the heart pumping and lactic acid in the legs – it’s good variation of exercise and when we arrive at a waterfall it’s nice to have a dip to cool down and wash off some sweat. We have a quick stop in Chang’s village and have tea at his mum’s house – which is very nice – and Chai tells us it’s possible to have a home stay here if going for a two-day trek. All along the route Chang goes off the track, and we can hear him chopping things down and collecting things – we don’t really know why, but we can see him crafting objects out of bamboo with his machete. When we sit down for lunch in the jungle we realise what he’s been up to – he’s made us all a little cutlery-set and cups while walking with us (good multi-tasking) and when we arrive at the spot where we break for lunch Chang and Chai together quickly makes up more containers for serving the food, eating bowls, and a container for cooking water and tea from leaves Chang collected earlier – again all out of bamboo of course – we’re starting to realise how versatile the bamboo is. After a very lovely lunch we started to head back down from the mountains and back towards civilisation, and at the end of our trek we stop by a hot-spring where we can soak in the warm mineral waters (it does smell a bit like rotten eggs, but you get used to it) – it’s certainly nice for softening up the muscles.

Next morning we have a full day sightseeing trip with a very nice guide Wisanu, or Mr. M. as he likes to call himself. Wisanu can tell us that he was taught in the business as a guide by Chai, the guide that took us trekking the day before. He tells us how he only two years ago started as a driver without much knowledge of English and had to call Chai whenever he needed to communicate with the people he was driving around. It’s quite astonishing how good his English is – we can’t quite believe he’s only had two years of learning the language. Our first stop of the day is The White Temple, a creation by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat which we meet and say hello to while walking about in one of the galleries. Although not yet completed (60 more years to go) it’s quite a magnificent temple, all in bright white with mirror inlays it literally shines like a huge jewel in the bright sunlight. We have a good look around inside the temple with its massive mural depicting George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden as reflections in the eyes of the Devil. After The White temple we go to a very contrasting place called The Black House, a collection of houses and artworks of the artist Thawan Duchanee, which we also see while walking about on the grounds – and unlike the creator of The White Temple Chalermchai Kositpipat this is apparently a rare sight as he’s a very private person. For some reason he was in a good mood that day and were to be seen sitting in one of the houses talking to some of his fans. The Black House is a fitting name for these houses and the art within – it’s really dark – it’s a bit like Twin Peaks and Viking style rolled into one.

Next is a stop at The Golden Triangle and on the top of a hill we get a view of the triangle border where it’s split between Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Thailand by the Mekong River. We also visit the Opium Museum – where we learn a lot about the history of the opium trade and the effects it’s had on the people in this area. Our last two stops are located close to each other, the first being Sinakarintra Stit Mahasantikhiri Pagoda on the top of a mountain above the Chinese village Mae Salong Nok our last official stop. This mountain village specialises in tea and coffee, and there are plenty market stalls where you can sample the teas – very nice and aromatic teas, again we wish we could buy some to take home, but no space in our already overstuffed backpacks. Strange enough I can’t see any stalls where you can sample coffee, but there are loads of other spices, sweets and various roasted nuts. Our guide Wisanu recommends the butter-roasted almonds at the stall we have a tea-tasting and they’re dangerously good, so we end up with a bag of these and some very nicely roasted peanuts in their shells from another stall. After the Mae Salong Nok village we start the journey back to Chiang Rai, but as a little extra we have a quick stop at a tea plantation with a good view of the valley below – after this it’s time to go back to the guesthouse for a rest after a full day of sightseeing.

Next day we’re off to Chiang Khong to cross over to Laos. By local bus we take the two hour journey up to Chiang Khong, and eager to get the border-crossing over and done with we head straight up to the ferry-crossing over to Huay Xai. After a bit back-and-forth to organise payment of our visas in Laos Kip rather than US Dollars (they make it difficult for you to pay in the local currency, because they prefer you to pay in USD) but we’re persistent and finally get our visas paid in Kip, which saves us a couple of pounds as well as supporting their economy rather than a foreign economy, and this gives us a bit of a good feeling as well of course. There are no night-busses towards our next main destination, so we settle in a nice guest house called Sabaydee for the night and get our bus to Luang Prabang through them as well. Next day we’re off on a very long bus journey – it’s supposed to be eight hours and we’re supposed to arrive at ten in the evening. We arrive after a 14 hour long journey we arrive like zombies at four in the morning when absolutely everything is closed – not much fun… but we’re glad to finally be there.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: