Laos for xmas and new year..

Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
Trip End Sep 14, 2010

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Luang Prabang, Champasak, Don Det etc...

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Louangphabang,
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Laos, land locked between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Burma its a small but beautiful country with mountains to the north and hill tribes and rice paddies and banana and coconut plantations to the south.

We crossed the border and began to make our way to the town of Luang Prabang where we would be spending Christmas with our friends Tom and Tilly who we met in India. We were crossing paths as it were and it was the perfect opportunity to meet up with them again.

As the roads in the north especially aren't great and the mountainous roads make for a very windy and slow journey we decided to stop a night en route in the sleepy town of Luang Namtha.

There is not much to the place as its mostly used as a jump off by tourists for treks up in the surrounding hills but we stayed in a great guesthouse and had our first taste of Laos food and a Lao Beer.. both were excellent! Mind you it was a shock staying here as it was bloody freezing, all the climate changes really do mess with your system. I had to have a cuppa tea to get warm brrrr

The next day we took the bus for the long and very bendy road to Luang Prabang, after about 12 or 13 hours we arrived at our guest house Mung Lao and pretty much collapsed into a deep sleep. The next morning though 23rd December we were so pleased to see that Tom and Tilly had arrived also after a very long journey, we had arranged to all stay in the same guesthouse. It was so good to see them and hear about all their travels, as we were passing ships so to speak, we had done Chiang Mai which they were heading to and they had done Vientiane, Cambodia and Vietnam again which we were heading to so also a bonus that we could swap notes with each other.

We spent our day looking for somewhere to have our Xmas meal and we found the perfect place, Lao Lao Garden.. we booked a table for Xmas eve dinner and had a chilled one that night. The next day we had decided we were going to go to the KS waterfalls, they are about 23km from the town center. Before we did this we split up so that me and Tilly could the get boys some Xmas pressies and vice versa.. so funny though as its a very small town so we would bump into Tom and Adam who were acting very suspicious!

Tom bargained with a Tuktuk to take us to the falls, we donned our Santa hats and set off. On route our driver picked up 4 Lao women who pretty much had about 5 teeth between them plus a little boy they all seemed to have gone to pick up from school...we gave him a Santa hat but have no fear because we knew we were meeting up we all just so happened to purchase hats Tilly and Tom had 4 swish ones with lights and pigtails and me and Adam had brought your bog standard ones in Thailand so we could afford to give some away!

The women were so excited about the hat and our hats too it was hilarious, one sat next to Adam took a real shine to him and had her hand on his thigh for the next 10 minutes until they had to get off.. so funny he was blushing!

We arrived at the falls and after the 20,000kip per person entry fee made our way up the path only to be astounded by the beauty of this place. It really was beautiful, the water was a brilliant gradient of blues and the mud was like sand, it looked like a tropical waterfall, however it was bloody FREEZING, I am not joking when I say that either!

Xmas hats on and we were in but could not feel my legs after about a minute, but brave Tom started off the jumping in and so we all took our turn, hat and all at throwing our selves in to the icy water.. as you will see from the pictures we have managed to hide our chattering teeth quite well I think! Once your in though its not so bad.. hmmmm

Mission completed we walked a bit further up and found another level of the falls this seemed to be where all the tourists had come whereas we had just had a whole pool to ourselves one level down.. but there was a tree which you could jump off into the water so I can see why this part was more popular.. Again Tom braved it but the rest of us were far too warm to try that again!

On our way back into town we noticed this guy walking along the road in khaki clothing (a lot of villagers wear army khaki) but he had a strange arrangement of foliage on his back, next thing there was another few men in the same get up, then a whole troop, clearly they were part of the army on some training thing it was such a bizarre sight and they were so relaxed waving at us and smiling, typical Laos, always so friendly!

Once we got back it was time to get ready for our Xmas eve Lao Lao night out.. we went to Utopia, this brilliant bar where you can watch the sunset over the Mekong, it was a very special place for us as we spent so much time there, it was that amazing you could never leave.. but Lao Lao was calling and so we ventured there. Santa hats in full swing we found our table and began our evening of festive fun.. by the time the food arrived we were pretty drunk which didn't help as the dinner was a DIY BBQ, basically they have a circle in the middle of the stone table where they place a pot of hot coals, on top of this they put a circular dish with a raised bit in the middle and you then get plates of veggies, meat and a bowl of broth. Adding the ingredients as you go along with the broth it all cooks in the well of this dish and then for the meat you put this on the raised cone to cook slowly and run the juices down into the veggies, obviously I didn't partake in the meat one but the veggie one tasted pretty good but I'm sure it took over an hour to cook as we didn't really have the mind for it at the time this didn't help with our drunkenness as we hadn't eaten all day, saving ourselves for this feast.. Oh dear it tasted amazing though as was worth the wait..

The atmosphere at first seemed a little subdued so Tilly, then me then Tom basically hassled the DJ into putting on some Xmas songs especially the Pogues and after giving in we sang along to the famous song by then we were in full swing and the night continued dancing, chatting to random strangers about complete random stuff until we all dragged ourselves home at a very reasonable 12am!

The next morning I expected to feel rotten but no.. just a twinge of a headache but that was it really, we all met up at Utopia for a Xmas day brunch of baguettes which sorted us all out and did the present thing.. Adam got me this lovely bag which I now use all the time. Me and Tilly had got Tom and Adam these rather special hats which they modeled for us, very sexy chaps!

Tom had got Tilly some beautiful earrings, well 3 pairs to be exact and a gorgeous hair pin. She had gotten him a wicker football thing for keepy uppy and a handmade chameleon toy thing.. cant think of the word but it was lovely. I got Adam some fresh local Lao coffee that he liked so much in a wicker container usually used to store sticky rice.

We then gave Tom and Tilly some very special gifts, a terrible book for Tom and a weird freaky looking doll pendent for Tilly, Nice! But we decided these were too bad so got them a bottle of wine to compensate.

Xmas day was pretty chilled, that night we went for a posh meal at a lovely french place they did Lao food too but on a gourmet front it was delicious and very sophisticated compared to our usual fare. We then found a lovely little bar to have some mulled wine walking back to our place we couldn't resist revisiting Lao Lao, this time more sober we had a couple of games of pool however it was the night of the staff party and they were wasted it was hilarious, we made friends with one guy called Good, he was brilliant! The way we met him was by him coming over and destroying our game of pool and then giggling to himself.. that pretty much summed him up, we got chatting to him and we decided to go to the bowling alley with him, it was about 1.30am but they open until 3am so off we went, us four took a tuk tuk but Good had his moped.. Dear God, he is crazy, he was smiling away weaving all over the road, he then decided it would be a good idea to hold on to the speeding tuktuk with one hand and control the bike with the other whilst smiling so much his eyes were closed, we were all panicking that he would crash and die and that would be our fault and then we would get beaten by the locals.. however these guys are pretty used to drunk riding and we all made it safe and sound.

We had a few beers on us and simply walked in got our lanes and off we went, they have a whole rack of bowling shoes however these are brand new as no one wears them, its hilarious! My bowling was atrocious, I cannot believe in 2 games I only hit the pins twice, TWICE!!!! terrible. But we had a wicked time and the locals were all laughing and helping us too got some great photos of us all so you have to check out the link to see them..

Finally they had to close so we said our goodbyes and headed home.. what a Christmas such a great way to celebrate!! by boxing day we were knackered, and again ended up at Utopia for a few hours.. that night we had a very quiet one as our last night together, saying goodbye was strange, and we do miss them, love you guys..

The next day we had a long bus ride to Vientiane, it was a good journey for us but for others it was a vomit fest, the smell was disgusting! But we made it with our breakfast and lunch still in our bellies. We were just using Vientiane as a stop over before another bus down to Pakse and then onto Champasak. Vientiane isn't an amazing place, it seemed seedy and just another city to us but then we only stayed one night and a day! Strangely enough the day we were leaving we had some hours to kill and bumped into Nick from our Chiang Mai trek, so random but was great to see him and catch up.

The bus to Pakse was a sleeper with beds which was great, mind you they are made for Laos people so extra short and thin but we coped, it was a good journey we arrived at about 6.30am and were straight onto another bus for the 1 hour journey to Champasak. We had a bit of a drama as we had to get money so I waited at the bus station the bus was leaving at 7am, Adam went off in search of an ATM, he hadn't got back by the time the bus was leaving so they got me on board and basically looked for him thank god we found him...

We arrived at the crossing for Champasak, got on the ferry and found a great guesthouse looking over the Mekong. Its a very small town, basically a long street with a post office, a school, a tourist info center, well hut, and a couple of nik nak shops but the main attraction is Wat Po, its a Angkor ruin about 8km from Champasak town (street) we decided to hire bikes and ride there, it was boiling but a lovely ride, saw loads of village kids waving at us and running after us. The people are sooo lovely in Laos!

The Wat was impressive set up on a hill and in ruin but it was so hot it was hard to find a cool place to appreciate it from as the sun was burning! Very impressive though.

We were going to spend NYE there but as it was that quiet we decided to head down to what are called the 4000 islands although there are only 40 of them in reality! We stayed on one called Don Det, we had a brilliant place, a hut with 2 hammocks looking out over the Mekong surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations, the guesthouse called River Garden is beautiful set in the quiet end of the island but I tell ya it was a proper hike with our backpacks currently weighing in at 17.5kilos each! Plus the camera and my bag at about 5 kilos each.. the walk took us over an hour, I nearly gave up as it was midday and so hot it was unbearable, the back was going the legs were flagging but then there it was like a oasis at the end .. and well worth the trek. However our dramas had only just begun as when we arrived we needed to get cash, we were told that we could get a cash back on the island, this was a lie. Now this was on NYE daytime and the panic of no money loomed so we found a boatman to take Adam to the mainland 1 hour away to the bank there where he could get money over the counter but no ATM, however it turns out the banks shut despite the fact that Laos don't celebrate Xmas or nye they had closed, the only other option was for Adam to go all the way back to Pakse where we had been 3 days before to the ATM there, in total it should have been a 6 – 7 hour round trip.. we decided that he would set off on NY day and we could enjoy the new years at our guesthouse and put our food/drink on a tab. It was a very quiet NYE for us, we had a BBQ with the other guests only 6 in total and relaxed on the deck watching and listening the celebrations all around us.

We were covered by a blanket of light from the brightest full moon I've ever seen and all toasted to 2010! It was lovely, however Adam was up at 5am to get the boat to the mainland again and then a bus to Pakse for the task of money collection.. I chilled all day in the hammock waiting for him, I expected him back by 3pmish however by 7pm I was getting worried. It was the longest we had been apart in 4 months and with no phone or email I had no idea what had happened to him, thankfully Shawn and Anna, a lovely Aussie couple staying next door distracted me until eventually by about 7.45pm Adam turns up covered in dust and knackered.. bless him he had had a chaotic and nightmare journey.

(Interlude by Adam – Operation Million Kip Man)

So, I got up at 5am to get the boat that our guesthouse owner had kindly arranged for me, a boat that I didn't realize at the time stopped at several other guesthouses to pick up shopping lists and the owners themselves to take to market. This process meant that I missed the 7am Bus and had to wait for the next one, I say bus but I didn't quite expect what I found. The bus was basically a flat bed pickup with a lid and 3 benches inside, myself and my 30 or so fellow local journeymen and women set off on our 3 hour expedition to the nearest town and the only ATM within a 120 mile radius. I decided to sit in the corner keeping to myself and a lad sat down next to me and an old fella opposite, now this lad must not have been used to such early starts because he fell asleep with his head between the legs of the old man opposite for the majority of the journey, crotch sleeping.. nice!

We arrived in Pakse safe and sound which is more than I can say for the dog we ran over on the way. I knew where the ATM was because I had already done a mini mission to find it when we stopped over in transit. I made the way there and became an instant multi-millionaire, in Kip at least! I then headed over to the VIP (I.E Swanky bus, in Laos terms and only $1 more expensive) bus station for the sake of my aching glutinous maxi mus but was told the next bus was 7.30, am, the next morning. I had to either stay over in Pakse on my own or try and find someway of getting back. I decided there must be another bus going back that way so tried to find the main tourist area, I walked for about 1 hours bumping in to some drunk locals to invited me to drink with them but I had a mission ahead of me and it would have been irresponsible of me to get hammered hmmmm.

Not long after I found my first Falang,(tourist) a french guy who informed me that the tourist area was round the corner and there it was, a pretty nice little colonial french area. I found a tourist information center and found out that there was one bus leaving Pakse back to 4000 Islands every hour, unfortunately it was the same bus I had come on.. I had 15 minutes to get to the bus station 8k away so managed to find a moto (motorbike side car) and raced there. The bus had just left so I had to wait for another hour, it was now 2pm. The next bus was already there so I sat on it waiting to depart, laughing at the foreigners turn up shocked (as I was) at what they had to travel in. The bus left and typically had a flat tyre on the way delaying my journey but I got back just as the sun was going down, I crossed over to the island had had the long , dark 4 km walk back to the guesthouse. it must go down as the longest journey to an ATM ever.

(back to Rae)

So following that drama we were finally able to relax together and enjoy our few days on Don Det. We hired bicycles for a couple of days and went round to the other side of the island to see probably one of the best sunsets I've ever witnessed, the colours were unbelievable, hence the amount of photos but it really was breathtaking. The next day we went to see the Waterfalls on the other island attached by a bridge you have to pay 10,000kip to cross, bit like Billy Goats Gruff! But it was well worth it, the waterfalls were stunning, not just one but about 4 or 5 torrents of water spilling over the crevasses of granite rock, and the water was ice blue and green absolutely beautiful! On route back we came across a group of village kids playing with a rundown wagon and they had got stuck in a ditch, so Adam jumped off and helped them pull it out, they were so excited we then played with them for about half and hour, Adam tied the rope to his bike and pulled them along much to their amusement, they were adorable and such a great experience for us, we couldn't understand them and they us but you don't need to when your playing with the kids, they were brilliant, definitely a memorable experience for us.

That night was our last so we relaxed on the deck of our restaurant watching the stars and preparing for another journey into Cambodia the next day.
See all the pictures from Laos on the following link -

Until then take care everyone and lots of love as always.

R xxx
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