Too busy doing nothing

Trip Start Jan 21, 2007
Trip End ??? ??, 2008

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Saturday, July 14, 2007

After our brief visit to the depressing town of Phonsovan, the next day took us on a journey to Luang Prabang.  Unfortunately the route we had to follow was back tracking along the roads of death that had taken us to Phonsovan.  It was therefore another 8 hours of terrifiying roads and vomiting Laotiens, although happily again we made it in one piece without plunging to certain death over a cliff road on a blind bend.  Sadly this driver made me much more nervous than the last one, mainly because he was reluctant to sound his horn to signal that the bus was coming round the corner so we had several near-misses with large trucks on some bends!

Arrival in Luang Prabang was quite simple due to 2 other Western girls on the bus who had already been there, so we all hopped into a tuk tuk and set off to the town.  Half way there the driver pulls over.  We have a flat tyre.  He starts to change the tyre struggling a lot with the tight nuts using only his little spanner.  More progress was made when he borrowed a proper nut removing tool (the name of which escapes me just now!) and the spare was soon on.  Sadly it was also half flat so a quick phone call and 5 minutes later and one of his tuk tuk mates arrived to take us the rest of the way.

We arrive in the town centre and head off down one of the little lanes looking for somewhere to stay and something very rare happens, we agree to stay in the first place we look at!  At approx 1 pound each a night it was certainly cheap if not particularly inspiring.  It was only when I went to install my "products" in the bathroom that I find nowhere to put my toothbrush and realise that there is no sink!  Cue spitting toothpaste on the floor, something I have as yet never had to do!  Next morning Chad insists there is somewhere better out there for us, so we spend the morning hunting for a new guesthouse only to find that most in the same price range have shared bathrooms.  Seems pointless to take something worse than what we have so it seems we're staying in the no sink place.  It's only after an afternoon visit to a fabulous bakery/cafe called Joma that we take a walk down the pretty little lane beside it and find our excellent new place.  Ok it's a little bit dearer at 1.50 each but I think we can stretch to that!  It is much bigger, has two armchairs and a huge bathroom (with a sink).  We moved and we were happy.  And we are staying next door to Joma which is excellent/dangerous!  It has fantastic coffee, bagels, soup, sandwiches and cheesecake.  A fair whack of each day's daily budget has to be spent there.

Luang Prabang is a lovely little town, everyone told us before we got here that we would like it and it's good for hanging out, and it is!  We've managed to spend about 8 days doing not really very much at all!  It's on the Mekong, it's a little bit French, it has a couple of great night markets which sell different things to the junk we're used to seeing everywhere else, it has some nice restaurants, some nice shops, nice massage places, the fabulous Joma bakery as already mentioned and just generally a nice atmosphere.

We did manage to do the walking tour from the lonely planet (albeit over two separate days) which took us past the sights, which mainly consist of temples, temples and more temples!  There is also a mountain (well, large hill probably) in the centre of town with a monastry on top which gave great views all around as well as some chat with a couple of monks. 

Unfortunately the second half of our tour was ruined by some non-Buddhist type locals.  Sitting resting on the steps leading down to the Mekong a man rushes past us towards the river holding a dog by a rope tied round it's neck, almost strangling the poor thing.  It also had it's back legs tied together.  Seeing something bad about to happen Chad asks the man what he's doing, to no reply, so we sit and watch.  The man and dog disappear into the long grass at the side of the river and we hear the dog yelping in pain for a while, then  it falls silent and the man reappears.  On investigation, it wasn't dead as we assumed, just tied up by the river.  More men appear and begin loading things onto a boat including a large cooking pot containing onions or chives or something like that.  Last time we see the dog it appears to have been dragged onto the boat and we see it smashed over the head with a big stick of some sort.  We thought that had killed the dog, but no, the boat travels across the river to the other bank and even as we walk away we can still hear it howling in pain.  We're in no doubt that it was their lunch, and they do eat dogs in these countries, however I would like to hope that they are not always killed in such a cruel and drawn out way.

Another activity which has filled our time was a visit to a large waterfall, very pretty and freezing cold water ideal for cooling down in the horrendous heat here.  There was almost a tragedy when, standing in water at the very top of this high waterfall my flip flop comes off and starts to float towards the edge!  Anyone up to date with my adventures will know of the flip flop saga.  Anyway with no regard for anything apart from saving the flop, I climbed under the safety railing and retrived it before it could plunge to certain lostness over the fall!  Chad thinks I'm insane.

Another hot day (it really is stupidly hot here) was spent at a hotel with swimming pool.  Only 3 dollars for the use of a sunbed, the pool and a pool towel.  Stupidly though we both think we're way past getting sunburnt and although I took sunscreen it's just sooo much effort to put it on.  So a couple of hours later and I have a bright red stripe down my front.  Nice.

A couple of days ago we went on a mission to visit a baby elephant we had read about.  There is an elephant camp you can visit on various types of tours but with them being quite expensive and as we really just wanted to say hello to the elephants we just hopped in a tuk tuk and showed up.  Only to be told that all the elephants were out for the day doing toury things.  Luckily the baby was in, and after the mahout (trainer) was woken from his Lao-Lao induced sleep he agreed to take us to visit it for a small fee, which is good as it means no other people were there too.  A short walk later and we're in the jungle and are told to stay where we are while he goes to get the elephant.  He appears with him and he's bigger than I expected, about shoulder height.  The mahout has brought some bananas so we feed him those, skins and all, and spend some time patting his trunk and taking photos.  Then we get on him for a photo, where we look like giants because he's so much smaller than usual!  After a bit of playing we leave him to it and say hello to the two monkeys in a cage (seems quite common here).  Then it't back in the tuk tuk and the driver wants to take us somewhere else so he can make more money.  So we agree to go to visit the small waterfall, called Tad Thong.  It looked kind of disappointing at first but we went climbing up the many steps and found more levels, and it actually turned out to be really good.  Swimming was in our clothes since it was unplanned visit, but why not!

One important thing almost forgotten!  One morning we got up at the stupid hour of 5.30am to go out onto the street and watch and take part in the monks collecting their alms.  People sit on mats on the pavement and put food into the alms pot of each monk passing by which I believe they then pool and it provides all their food for the day.  We bought some food from a street vendor which consisted of bananas and sticky rice.  We weren't excatly sure what we were doing, did we give it all to one monk or share it out?  Turns out we shared it out, we had to break off a ball of sticky rice and give that and one banana to each monk.  The food and the experience was over quite quickly so we were back on our feet to take some photos of long lines of monks in their orange robes snaking way along the street.

At night in this town there are only 2 bars which stay open past 11pm, the Hive and Lao Lao Garden.  Lao Lao Garden was our preference and we spent a few nights drinking there.  On one occasion after checking our their decent wine selection three of us split a 14 dollar bottle of Chilean Cabernet and it was fantastic!!  After these two bars close at midnight there are two places to go, bowling or bed.  Bowling is the place to be as it's the only place open but why it gets to be open is a mystery since there is a curfew in place due to this being a Communist country.  It does anyway and our one night there was great fun.  We arrived and it was mobbed, so we asked at the desk if we could get a lane.  "Full" was the reply.  We asked how could we get one?  "Full".  So we had to check out who was about to finish playing and befriend them to get their lane.  That was ok as long as some of their players could stay on to play again.  That was fine so off we went.  This was fuelled by bottles of beerlao and by the bottle of lao lao rice whisky we had acquired at the village in Phonsovan which was shared round and ensured everyone had a good night!  Sadly when we tried to go again a few nights later it wasn't allowed to open.  We were informed by one source that that usually happened when one of the politicians was in town and demanded the whole town be shut down so he could get a good night's sleep!  A couple of nights later and we're walking home, probably about 11.30pm and a policeman drives past on a motorbike and tells us to get home to bed!

The only other thing we have found to do at night is watch movies!  There is "Le Cinema" which is really a house with 5 rooms with cushions on the floor and large tvs and a good selection of dvds.  So several hours have been wasted lying about watching dvds in our own "private cinema".

Tomorrow we're getting a slow boat which will take about 8 hours to get to the town of Pak Beng.  We stay over night there then get the boat again the next day to our destination of the border town of Huay Xia.  This boat may have soft seats like a bus, or it may have wooden benches, either way we've been reliably informed that it's going to be a very uncomfortable journey!  The reason for going there is to take part in a thing called the Gibbon Experience which involves sleeping in a treehouse for 2 nights and travelling through the tree tops on zip  lines.  There is also the possibility of seeing or hearing some gibbons although this is supposedly not very common.  I'm looking forward to it a lot so update soon!

Photos are not entirely up to date but I am thoroughly bored with internet cafes so this is the best I can do for the moment!! 
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