Heaven is a place called Luang Prabang
Trip Start Feb 28, 2012
40Trip End Nov 22, 2012
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New word of the day, Namaste, basically a greeting from India but used at the end of my yoga sessions, usually straight after an ohhhhhhmmmmmmmm (that's not slow electricity by the way)........ more to come on later....;)
So after Vang Vieng i took the 6 hour minibus journey to the next place on the map, the world heritage centre site of Luang Prabang and like bees to honey it seems i am not the only one who's attracted to this place... I have mentioned a few perfect places i have been to and this has to be one of them. Apart form the steady influx of 'tubers' from Vang Vieng, this place is great; holistic heaven and surrounded by beauty and really epitomises the relaxed feel this whole country has...
The bus journey up was mixed. For the first hour the driver drove slowly and was constantly on his phone and eventually stopped and chatting on his phone we heard the word phalang quite a lot and guessed someone had missed the bus and were being brought to where we had stopped. I say we and i mean the other travelers on the bus. Generally a good mix but including some loves and hates about traveling with some other travelers sometimes. The hate is sometimes listening to them on the buses. If you get a local bus or standard coach you only get a few travelers and if you want you can chat at the food and toilet stops and meet after the journey and just sleep, read. listen to music etc but on the minibus your crammed in and surrounded. Travelers basically just love to talk about where they have been and are always very opinionated and obviously not everyone shares those opinions so you get, not disagreements, but 'discussions' and for the whole 6 hour journey! But there are also good points to being with travelers. About half the bus were pretty cool and i met them on their stay here until i was the last one here. One guy, Matthais from Belgium had trained for 3 months in Thailand training in Mauy Thai, Thai boxing and i saw him running one morning at 7am in lashing monsoon rain.... the kind of guy i could have travel led with for a bit. Another couple i went on a kayak trip with and Walt, or Wouter, from Holland i spent a few days with here
Anyway, back to the bus.... so after waiting about 15 minutes i see something happening by the minibus so i go back over and someone has arrived and the driver is on top of the bus looking through the luggage and following some instructions and he pulls out my bag, which has my distinctive orange waterproof cover on, and this woman below asks who's bag this is and at the same time i realise i know this woman from somewhere and so all at the same time i say hello, say its my bag and realise who she is.... its the woman who i bought the bus ticket from..... hmmm.... why has she just picked out my bag and why is she here?! She is all in a fluster and in broken English begins saying 'your here', 'your here' with a mixture of relief and frustration....and realising i am here and so is my bags she half storms off and at that moment i realise whats happened and in front of the whole bus i have to explain that when i booked the ticket and walked off to find a bag and came back late and about 50 yards from the place i got the ticket the pickup van had picked up my bag and then stopped by me to pick me up. Now at the time i thought it was strange that my bag was in there, i mean, who put it in and how did they know they would come past me and who i was to pick me up but at the time i just got in and thought nothing of it. There were 2 Brazilian guys in there already and if they hadn't i could have got away with the whole thing so when it came to explain i had to tell everyone the story and so what had happened was that the woman must have been told that someone put my bag in but that i wasn't there and the pickup truck left with my bag but not me and so she must have been In a blind panic calling the bus company, getting the drivers number and then calling to say they had taken my bag but not me so she drove a good 45 minutes out of town, asked the driver to show the bags, recognised my You've Been Tango'd cover and singled it out and then when i said it was mine and she recognised me she realised i was actually on the bus, hence the reaction of relief and frustration all in one go but by the time i realised and put all these pieces of the jig saw together, she had driven off and i never got chance to either explain or thank her for coming back for my bag...
On arrival i just knew i was gonna like this place.... just something about it here. The fist night was the first England game vs France at 1:45am and i stayed in a dorm room across from the only place showing the game. I talked to a Canadian girl called Courtney and she was trying to get 4 more people for this unique kayak trip in two days. The unique part was that this was a 'discovery tour' meaning it hadn't been done before and the tour company were taking all four guides and the boss and no more than 5 customers. The trip was a kayaking trip driving by bus, or pickup truck as it turned out, for 6 hours and then kayaking back to Luang Prabang and stopping on the way at villages on the river to see if we could stay and the tour place could make it a regular thing. They, or no other company, had kayaked this part of the river or stopped at these villages. There was no roads to the first village and was about a 10 hour boat trip to the nearest small town. At a cost of $65 for 3 days and 2 nights, everything included, it wasn't a hard decision as to whether to go, nor was it hard to find 3 others for the trip so the day after we set off on the trip.
The trip was amazing
Anyway, after the amazing meal myself and Maurice the Oz guy went to go to sleep, at about 9:30pm which was late because in Laos everyone gets up early and at sunrise everyone is out and about working already so they go to bed at sunset, also partly because they only have candle light there, the whole village was pitch black after sunset. We had one separate thin mattress on the floor under one mozzy net and 3 next to each other under one net next to it. There was me Maurice, the other Oz guy and one of the guides, Mong but The Oz guy (cant remember his name so he is Oz guy for this story!) took the single bed, Mong was already asleep at one side of the 3 and Maurice took the other side leaving me the middle! Now there wasn't much room for 3 and Maurice was a big guy and it was pitch black and all night i laid on my back because anytime i tried to turn i hit someone. Maurice snored all night and Mong rolled and put his arm round me several times! I woke Maurice a few times to stop him snoring and to move over but he said he was right on the edge and so i just had to try and sleep motionless on my back! In the morning i looked over and Maurice had about half the bed space to himself!! Nightmare, so not much sleep but we got up at sunrise, packed up and set off with all the villagers helping us with equipment, laughing at me and Oz guy when we both fell on the way down to the river and all seeing us off from the river front
Next day was a big one, we did about 7 hours kayaking and i had my first and the groups first fall and after that another fall but a much worse one, or potentially worse one anyway. One of the guides, Thongkhoon, was taking photos when we got to any rapids and he got a great shot of my fall. In the Kayak, in the back position you sit up higher and wedge your feet under an inflatable separator in front which separates me from the luggage and then the other kayaker. Wedging your feet keeps you in when you get bumped around but my separator wasn;t in tight enough and so when we went through some big rapids it popped out, and when i fell i don't even know what happened it was that quick, one minute i was paddling and the next i was looking at the underside of the kayak! Thongkhoon's photos are ace, one shows me upside down, vertical with just my lower legs still over water, i was bounced right out, went under the kayak and hit my ass on some luckily smooth rocks and came out the other side somehow will wearing my sunglasses too - how cool is that!! It was the Fonz of all falls...!
The 2nd fall was really down to the guides first and only error. For every rapid they would go ahead, check the route and tell us and a guide would go first and we would follow the route but on this occasion there was only a guide and Maurice just in front of us as we approached a big rapid with these very branchy trees right in the middle where there was a huge swell, like a whirpool which were things you wanted to avoid
After a lot of kayaking and after seeing loads of great views, water buffalo and even a working elephant, we stopped at the next village though this one was accessible by road, was more in touch with civilisation and much bigger but still none the less very excited to see us and all very friendly. We had a great night here. We walked around a little and had an hour or so until our meal. Everyone was really friendly and we later learned it was a Buddhist holiday so everyone was having the day off and 99% were pretty well gone on BeerLao...this is the Laos beer of choice and let me tell you its the best beer i have ever had! Anyway, we walked past a kind of underhouse benched area where there were about 12 locals all sat, eating with a beer and they invited us in. They didn't speak a word of English but that didn't matter, we had the international language of beer to help us..! They offered us food and gave us a glass of BeerLao and so i just suddenly took the bold step of ordering 10 large Beer Laos for everyone to share at a cost of about 8 quid, so a mega cheap round but i have never seen a round go down so well in my life, talk about a party starter!
The guides told us we were joining a bigger river they knew and there were and their were 3 sets of big rapids and we had to now split and have one novice share with a guide who would steer. Anyway, one guide had gone ahead to check out the first rapids and me and Oz Guy were the only two customers to share with a plan to split at the rapids but we agreed that we would ask if we could stick together which we did and they said OK but watched us and one guide went right in front to try and guide us through
One major boost from the trip was that talking to Thongkhoon he told me he had motorbiked all over Laos and said he would share his routes, maps and places to stay no problem so it made me realise i didn't have to rush around Laos now looking for the best places and so i chose to stay in Luang Prabang also to have a place for my mum and sister to post my iphone out and a few supplies to too because my camera has now fully died which by the way is a crying shame because Laos has so far provided the most beautiful landscapes i have ever seen. Luckily i managed to get copies of everyone elses photos from the kayak trip and have uploaded a load
So after a day or two everyone i met moved on and i had the place to myself!! One main attraction here is Kuang Si Waterfall so i hired a mountain bike and did the 2 hour trek there and what a great choice to go by bike; the countryside, locals, all the farmers at work etc were all amazing and i loved the fact that other travelers all passed me by on tuk tuks and motorbikes and felt suitably ashamed...! ha ha, only joking, but i did have two motorbikers stop and chat and i met them later at the falls. The falls were AMAZING, you couldn't make anything as beautiful, clear blue/green water, stunning pools and natural falls and even a rope swing jump out in to the biggest pool which was great! When walking up the main steep climb to the top of the main waterfall i passed 3 Malaysian women looking at a massive dead red spider (that's a not living spider, not a really red spider!) and chatted briefly and carried on but when i took the bike bike i bumped i to them and they said they were staying at a nice guesthouse close by and all leaving next day so it would be empty and the ;price was 40,000 kip, just over 3 quid, so i went and had a look and wow, what a place, like a zen luxury pad, there was no way this was 40K so i went to ask and the manager was away but had a local guy in charge called Mr Pian who spoke little English but said the rooms were 200,000 upstairs or 150,000 downstairs, way more and more in keeping with how good this place was but i stood firm and said they had said it was 40,000 to which he just laughed so he said he would discount to 120,000 but i said i was only paying 40,000 but like the pace but could only offer 80,000, no more but explained i was staying for at least a week and told him i knew the place was empty from tomorrow (good haggling eh) so he said he would ring the boss and call me that night which he did with the news that he got the OK
So about 6 days later and i am still here and apart from one Oz guy taking a room for a few days i have had it all to myself. I have a great bedroom with the best bed ever and next door my own living room with 2 comfy tub chairs, table big LCD TV and dvd player. I have a small cool chillout garden just outside but then also upstairs there is another outdoor terrace with the most amazing views, then there is s kitchen and this huge chillout lounge with sofa's, another big tv and DVD and just laid out and decorated really luxuriously - i made a good choice here.
So i decided to use this time as my down time, to get back training, reading to start yoga and also do some volunteering here too which i have been doing most days. There is a school here where you can just turn and help kids from 4 right up to 18 to learn, some from the school and some that just drop in to improve their English. The other place is similar but mainly for teenagers who can drop in again to practice and hope their is a westerner there to help. Everyone who comes is amazing, they try so hard and just use all their free time to try learn English and they all say its to get a good job and look after their families. Many have families who have rice farms and they all say it is back breaking work and that they want to give their parents money so they don't have to work so hard
OK, i said i would come back to the school at the village and the reason is that after seeing that place i thought that i would love to volunteer there to teach English
After xmas i hear you cry...! Yes, i did a revised travel and budget plan the other day and i could be on this trip until next Christmas!! I am planning on probably coming back for this xmas but with all i want to do it would take me right up to the following December, heres the plan in brief:
Dec: Home for xmas
Jan: Vietnam (start of motorbike trip)
March: Thailand (full moon parties next month!)
So to finish i want to say a big well done if you read all that in one go