Still loving it in Laos - how can you not
Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
35Trip End Sep 01, 2007
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However we got a little pick up - full stop - and with active suspension. Meaning little to none. Funnily enough no one else was volunteering to get into however Yuri, Bjorn, Jacob and I thought what the heck and squeezed in with 4 locals. So that's eight in the back of a little pick up - cosy.
It was pretty mental getting to our first port of call about 5 miles as it was a rutted back road and we were getting thrown around everywhere. However, it became quite comical after a while, especially for Yuri aka Kinky Boy (as the numpty likes to be called) and I. So when we stopped and a few people decided to get out, Yuri and I decided to stay in the back of the pick up (along with a couple of locals who had no choice) instead of moving to a more comfy bus. It was only 2 more hours, how bad could it be? And what a laugh, it was easy one of the most memorable journeys of my life.
Quality laugh but an absolute pain to get off. I had to wash my hair 4 times and I felt like I needed to scrub off the skin on my face to get the red dust out. Ah well, no pain no gain.
By now there was ten of us. 6 from the Gibbon Experience - moi, Bjorn, Yuri, Ruben, Wolfgang and Caroline - plus a four others we met on the boat. Tine (Belgian), Dorien (Dutch) and Chris and Nick from the lovely town of Musselburgh. For the uneducated this is a town just south of Edinburgh.
After spending a totally unmemorable night in the most transient place I've ever been - Pat Beng - we arrived at Luang Prabang. On the way we passed apparently one of the main sights of the Luang Prabang area - Pak Ou caves. Don't go, it's rubbish. I spoke to a few people about it and no-one liked it.
The first day in Luang Prabang, Ruben and I decided to explore the town on bikes. Taking in a game of locals playing boules and kids playing marbles for money. Boy those kids sure can play a mean pinball, I mean marble ball...at night I got to experience a bar called the 'Hive' which would not look out of place in any city in the world. Highly recommended except for the Lao Lao which should have a health warning attached to it.
Next day Ruben and I decided to part company while he headed more quickly for the Cambodian border and I stayed to enjoy Luang Prabang. I couldn't leave so quickly and even the 4 days we stayed there I could probably have happily tagged 2 or 3 more days on. This left 5 of us - Yuri, Bjorn, Tine, Dorien and big bad Alan.
There is also a great food market where you can get a heaped plate of scrummy food for 50 cents. I plumped for the barbecued Mekong fish which was a delectable delight as was the coconut bread I bought too.
If only for the view on this walkway.
There was a lot of monks, must have been 200+, all waiting patiently behind the head monk as he received his alms first. The head monk is 80 years old and is unable to walk far, however he always gets up to initially lead the procession.
It's a great and moving spectacle, however as often is seen, it was spoiled a little by a few (tourists) who insisted on either standing about 2 feet away from the monks snapping away at their faces without ever thinking of being respectful and asking their permission. These are the type of people who I am sure would be the first ones who would complain if someone was to do the same to them. In fact that gives me an idea, and I know what I'll do the next time I see this...
On leaving Luang Prabang I had another memorable journey, this time to Vang Vieng. We got on the bus and about 1 hour into the journey one of my 2 Dutch mates turns around and says something in Dutch to the other one, who then leans across to me and says the guy 2 rows in front has a gun! So rationally or irrationally - I'm not sure which - I think flipping brilliant we are going to get robbed. So I start to hide stuff down the back of the seats - the most important being my photo memory card. To be honest I couldn't have given two hoots about my passport or credit cards. They can be replaced but my photos couldn't. Then spend the next 1/2 hour trying to work out my escape route and peek to see if I can see the gun too while avoiding contact with the guy who looked pretty dodgy. Anyway you'll be glad to know that all was well.
He was armed (I saw the machine gun under his jacket at one of the rest stops) however he actually was an armed guard on the bus to prevent any robberies rather than commit them - there was a few about 3 years ago and the Laos government wanted to be extra careful it didn't happen again.
It's like a tacky tropical 'Spanish' resort. Where all the food is pretty much the same - either pizza or pancakes. They have perpetual 'Friends' re-runs playing in most of the bars. There is also a few who run 'Family Guy' re-runs and that's just hilarious so I admit I spent a damn fine 4 hours watching them one night.
Fortunately you can get away from this by finding a guesthouse next to the river and away from the town centre. We did this and stayed at a place called Champa Lao which had sensational views from their restaurant/deck. Little did I know that I would be spending an inordinate amount of time looking at these over the next few days.
One night we went out and had a chicken pizza. I got up the next morning and rushed to the toilet and dropped the kids off at the pool. When I went onto the deck Bjorn was lying there in the fetal position and informed me he'd been puking all night. Sniggering at myself I lay down and about 1/2 hour later, I thought mmm, I'm not feeling so tip-top. Leaning up I suddenly realise that things were going to rapidly go downhill so I put my hand up next to my face, just in time for me to vomit.
Now the local kids aren't daft as they hung around waiting for the stupid westerners to swing in and then dived in after them to see if they dropped anything, under the premise that they were looking for fish. I am sure a lot did.
Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and is tiny. One of the smallest capital cities in the world. I know some people think it's crap however I actually liked it. Granted it's seen better days and could do with some serious painting and repair work, however it's got nice wide avenues and some beautiful white washed buildings. You can really get the sense that it was special back in the mid-early 20th century when it was a French colonial capital.
Beer Lao is effectively the only beer sold in Lao and luckily it's good. Carlsberg must think so too as it bought the company. The four of us were the only people there so we got plied with a few cheeky little beverages, giving some stickers and shown around.
We spent one day putting the world to rights with a girl from Toronto (Nicole) and another from the mighty Chicago (Lliann). The next biking around the island watching the island life of fishing and rice farming though clearly in a few years (if not already) there'll be more money being made from tourism than anything else. Final day we spent being intrepid explorers and fishing using our homemade fishing equipment - even managed to catch one fish! Or rather Yuri did.
Sadly Laos is behind me and I've got to say I loved every minute of it (projectile vomit apart) and if you get the chance to visit. Do it and don't hesitate a moment. You hear me? Good.
Other memorable moments of Central and Southern Laos were:
(1) Experiencing Laos time for opening and departure times. It's risky to follow departure times too closely as they may leave early (normally if full) or leave late (normally if not full). For example, we were 1 1/2 hours late leaving Houei Xai on the slow boat to Luang Prabang as we were waiting for 10 people to get their visas after crossing from Thailand as the person at the immigration office had decided to take their lunch break about 10am instead of 12pm. Personally I would have said tough and let them get the next day's boat, however as you all know I am a heartless sod.
(3)Laos toilets are definitely an improvement from the Chinese and Japanese ones as they are sit downs like Western toilets. However what is weird about them is that they rarely flush, instead there is a big bin of water and a ladle and you do more of a manual flush.
PS You may or may not have guessed but these guys are actually better than I am...
(5) A nice French jeweller in Luang Prabang making a necklace from a snail shell that Tine had found the day before at Kwang Si Waterfalls. Then not wanting any money for it.
(6) You can get fly swatters here which are like electric tennis rackets and they're wicked and have helped me improve my backhand no end.
(7) The owner from our guesthouse in Vang Vieng thinking that we'd been ill on 'Happy Shakes' rather than food poisoning and told us to stay away from lemon juice as it would be very dangerous for us. We tried to tell him otherwise but I don't think he believed us.
(8) Sitting in a restaurant in Vang Vieng which seemed to have nothing to drink in it. When we asked for a coke they scurried across the road to another restaurant and served it to us. Same with Fanta. My pineapple shake proved to be a bit more of a challenge as that required a scooter ride to get the necessary fruit.
(9) I love sticky rice. It's a certain type of rice which you get in Laos (maybe Thailand too I don't know) and is a mixture of rice and cement but dead tasty. Now I'm in Cambodia I sure am missing it.
(10) Sunsets in this part of the world are really quick - like only a minute long.
(11) Meeting a group of 3 hippie travellers. Two of which had wives who were elsewhere, one even had a child but was away travelling and had been for 6 years, still 'keeping it cool'. One of the wives was actually finishing publishing a novel in Italian. Her husband is translating it into English and it'll be called 'Beautiful Piggish Souls' by Francesca Ferrando. You heard it here first.
(12) Staying over night on our kayaking trip and the 3 guides taking better rooms than we had. We were not happy campers, as we told them.
(13) Going to a local market and seeing gross things such as snake and squirrels. They even had some NSync CDs now that really is gross.
(14) Seeing too many road crashes. One a fatal one just outside of Vientiane were some young girl had been killed and her scooter had caught fire and was still ablaze when we passed it. Another one in Siem Reap which must have happened 30 seconds before we got there and fingers crossed the bike driver lived, but I am not too confident about that. As you might have guessed very few people wear bike helmets.
(16) Getting the best tuk-tuk driver in Pakse who flagged down a bus for us saving us about 3 or 4 hours.
(17) Constantly seeing the same faces when you went from place to place. Apart from the North of Laos there is a pretty obvious route which lots of people take. Saw one Belgian guy - Dean - in 6 different places - damn stalker!
(18) Finding out from Nicole and Lliann that you can make some good money teaching English in Taiwan. They managed to save about $1,500 each month in the 2 years they were there. South Korea is apparently pretty lucrative too but most other Asian countries are not - in particular China.
(19)Laos is definitely much more like a holiday than China. There are a lot more travellers around (mostly coming from Thailand) and you can nearly always find someone who can speak good English. Overall this is a good and bad thing as it's definitely easier when travelling about however in someways it's a little less rewarding as there is less challenges.