The rest of Laos

Trip Start Mar 09, 2008
Trip End Dec 10, 2008

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Where I stayed
RD Guesthouse

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April 3, 2008 8:41am  
Once again we apologize that it has been awhile since we wrote. We have had a crazy few weeks!
We ended up staying in Luang Prabang a few more days than we expected. Like Keir said before we could live there!! It was such a difference coming into Laos from Thailand because everything is so much greener. And it was the green that I have always pictured these countries to be! That being said, it is the dry season so that could be a reason it was so dry up north in Thailand. Luang Prabang has 3 main streets parallel to each other. The first one is next to the Mekong and filled with palm trees, vines, Champ Pa trees (Laos national flower grows on them, and they are really quite funky looking) and big huge banana trees lining the street and then little patio restaurants polka dotting along the side, between the trees. The otherside of the street are mostly all guesthouses and hotels, and it is them that own the restaurants and run across the street to take your order, run back and make your food in their family kitchen and then run back across to serve it. Very neat. Then when we had to use the bathroom, we had to go into the house, past the 3 year old watching tv, and use their toilet. Definitely different.
The second street has these buildings that make you think you were in France! Huge teak buildings either made into a restaurant or hotel, then a little bakery with baguettes in the window, and "real" coffee shops. They even have a wine bar!! And I'm not talking about a halfass kind of place...this was the best wine bar I've ever been to! Beanbag chairs to sit in, a wine menu with wines from all over the world, and pretty reasonably priced. The glass of Chilean Cab Sauv Merlot that I had was only $3.50! Pricey in Lao terms but more than half what we would pay at home if we were out! It was so good! That was the first glass of wine in a month! Then continuing along the street you would see a huge Buddhist temple with monks in their orange robes. That's when I would get reminded where we are. We're not in France anymore Toto!! At night the whole street closes down and it turns into a never-ending row of market stalls selling paintings, handmade quilts (not nearly as good as yours Mom) jewelry, silverwares, and Beerlao t-shirts.
The 3rd street is a lot quieter and it is also along a river. Not the Mekong...but I don't remember what it is called.  This street is full of the swanky guesthouses and hotels and again more street side restaurants. A little up the street there are some bars and art galleries.
We went to one of the BBQ restaurants with some friends and it was really cool. We were given a hotpot thingy, a metal dome in the center that you grill the meat on, and then the juices run down into the reservoir around the dome, and it is put over a little fire burning in the table. Then they brought trays and trays of meats, veggies, sauces and a kettle of broth. You fill up the reservoir with broth, start grilling whatever meat you want. There was chicken, beef, water buffalo, prawns, and squid. Add the garlic and chilies to the broth, add the veggies (which was cilantro, some leafy green similar to gai lan, bean sprouts, mint, basil and noodles too!) and then you can even crack an egg in the soup and make it a swirl soup! It was so good! 
Around Luang Prabang there are a lot of things to see too! There was a cave in the side of the cliffs along the Mekong that was a Buddha shrine. Very cool. We rented a long boat to take us there. The first cave is full of statues, big and small, and offerings that people left. The second cave, which was a bit of a hike up a lot of stairs, had some old writing on the walls and more statues of Buddha. Not to mention a lot of Bat poop! It was about a 2 hour boat ride to get there and a 1 hour boat ride back downriver. Very relaxing. The next day we met up with some people we were on the trek with in Chiang Mai, and 4 others, and we took a tuk-tuk ride up to some amazing waterfalls. They stretched quite a ways and made little swimming holes to swim in. We found the best spot too! The edges are all calcified from the water and you can sit in it like a hot tub. So refreshing, especially when it is so hot out!! We stayed up there all day!! So gorgeous!
The next day we decided to continue on to the next stop on our agenda. Vang Vieng. We took a big bus there, like a greyhound. Ohmigod the drive was awful! Neither of us realized we were going to be going over mountain ranges!!! I don't usually get car sick but wow! It took a lot of concentration (for 6 hours) to not lose our breakfast! The first thing we did wrong was take the big bus...we were so high up, that when we went on the many switchbacks we felt like we towered over the steep edges of the mountains. The driver was going like 70 kms / hour in a 35 km zone. We overtook big semi trucks on blind corners, little kids and their chickens running around that he would just honk at. It was nuts! I don't think I have ever seen Keir so white and clammy. We went uphill for about 2 hours and then 1 hour up and down and then 2 hours downhill. We were so thankful and relieved to get off the stupid bus in Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng has turned into a total backpackers haven. There are 2 main roads which have row after row of restaurants blaring friends or family guy episodes and guesthouses. We found a pretty nice one by the river. It was called The Orchid Guesthouse. There was a rickety bamboo bridge that went across to a small island right next to our guesthouse. On the island there were like 4 bars and 1 set of rentable bungalows. The bars were pretty cool, as they all have hammocks and pillows in about 4-5 open huts overlooking the river and you can look up to the huge limestone mountains. So perfect. Most of them had Bob Marley or sublime playing loudly on the speakers. It was nice just sitting there with a cold beer in hand and relaxing from the earlier gongshow of a bus ride!! We also saw a lot of people coming down the river on tubes. This is pretty much the main attraction in Vang Vieng. Tubing!! It costs about $4.00 and you get the tube for the whole day and a tuk-tuk ride to the top of the river. They have it so set up! You get in the water and within a 2 minute ride you are getting fished out of the water with a bamboo pole to go into one of the many riverside bars that are there for just that purpose! A few of them have zip lines to jump into the water others have swings into the water, and then one had it totally set up....3 beach vollyball courts, 1 badminton court, a food stall, washrooms, and a whole bunch of  bungalows to have a nap or just hide from the sun for awhile. Not to mention music blaring to attract other tubers to get out of the water!.It took all day to get to the finish point but pretty much only 45 minutes of actual tube time.  A lot of the bar owners would just give out shots of Lao Lao to whoever jumped off the swings or zip lines but the ones we came across were handing it out like candy! I have to say that Lao Lao is pretty yucky. I would describe it as stagnant dirty rainwater with a touch of burning. Not bad in 7up or coke but still...not a huge fan. Made for a pretty slow morning.
We stayed there for 2 nights...and what a first night we had. Now my writing skills will not do the night justice but I'll try. So Keir and I just had finished dinner the first night and we wanted to go and chill out at the place I was talking about earlier with the hammocks and stuff. It was a pretty cool place called Bamboo. It had clusters of huge bamboo all over and hammocks adjoined them as well as the huts. So we leave the restaurant and far away you can see the mountains lighting up from lightning and I was super excited as I love storms and sleep like a baby. So we go across the rickety bamboo bridge to Bamboo and just as we get there a huge gust of sandy wind picks up and screams by...and doesn't stop...Keir grabs me and we hide in one of the clusters of bamboo to wait for it to stop....It didn't stop. Sand is in our eyes and teeth and then it starts to pour buckets of water! The wind is so strong it is blowing the bottles off the shelf in the hut (bar) the bon fire that was going when we got there was totally out from all the water, and pots and pans were flying out of the "kitchen hut".  When we realized it wasn't just going to be a quick wind storm, everyone that was there ran into a concrete hut and huddled together. I started counting the lightning to thunder ratio back in town after dinner and it was at 35 seconds between, when we were huddled in the hut it wasn't even 1 second between. Of course the power went out right away so the whole town was black. It was nuts! I was kinda scared. All I could think of was what the story would be in the Times Colonist the next day. "huge typhoon in Laos Kills 80 backpackers!" I know...a bit dramatic but it was freaky! After the storm had slowed to just rain and a bit of lightning, we headed back in the pitch black to our guesthouse. Thank goodness people had there headlamps on going over the bamboo bridge cause I don't know how we would have made it back. We now keep ours on us at all times. When we get back to the guesthouse there is one whole wall blown in! Glass is everywhere! And we were in a proper building...not a hut! All of our bedding was soaked as we left the windows open, so they got us new stuff which was awesome...but still no power. It was off for 2 days!!! We left for Vientiane just as the lights were coming back on.  Crazy crazy!
We only stayed in Vientiane for 2 nights. It is the capital of Laos and it's a pretty big city. We had one day of exploring and one day of chilling out and getting our tickets to Hanoi planned.
So everything is still going well. We are both happy and healthy and ready for the next adventure in Vietnam!!!
We will hopefully write soon!!!
Take care!!
 Kylie & Keir
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