Heaven is a place called Luang Prabang

Trip Start Feb 28, 2012
Trip End Nov 22, 2012

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Namaste one and all....!

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.... luckily my explanation got an understanding reaction, we got back on the bus and resumed the now even longer bus journey thanks to yours truly...

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. We had a good group; myself, the Canadian girl Courtney who lived in the US and coined every corny phrase going like 'good job' every time anyone did something good, or said she was 'so pumped' every time she got excited about the trip. There was a guy from Oz who was quite a traveler but a bit annoying, one of those guys who whatever you said you had done or knew, he knew better or different but he was chatty and sometimes a good laugh. And finally an Australian couple, well Oz guy and German wife who were really friendly. The first day we kayaked for about 4 hours and then found and stayed at a village on the river. On arrival all the village started coming coming down to the river edge wondering what was going on and who we were. The guides spoke and arranged our stay and we got a room for the guys in someones house and a room for the girls in another house as separation was expected, even for the married couple, in this village. The guides showed us around, showing us a local man and woman preparing some rice by hitting it in a large wooden bowl with a huge weight on a lever which pounded the rice to remove the kernels. We saw the school which was just a huge wooden barn with nothing at all inside, no chairs, no tables, nothing. The guide told us that the teacher didn't speak or teach English, just taught the Laos language, maths and history. More to come on that later, After that i saw some kids with a football and asked if we could go up and see and they were playing a game so me and the Oz guy from the couple played and then the guides joined in, it was a great game and my first game of footy for months! Loved it! After that we were invited to the chiefs house for a meal, and what a meal, loads of sticky rice, fish soup, vegetables, soup, chicken, the works. Two things happened here which really struck a chord; firstly, its Laos culture to sit in someones house or for food with your legs crossed and i couldn't and still can't! Quite embarrassing but it made me decide that i would do yoga when i got back to increase my flexibility so the next time i wouldn't have the same embarrassment . The second thing was, myself, the other customers and the guides could all speak English and were chatting but the chief and his wife, who had prepared all this and invited us in were just sat watching and obviously didn't speak English or join in. I found it strange no one made any efforts, especially the guides who spoke Laos so i asked one guide if he could ask them how old they were - this is the main question Laos people love to ask and know, well one of two questions; how old you are and if you are married. So i asked and they translated back the answers and then they asked how old we all were. It was great, they had huge smiles and it just seemed much better but after that, for the next 10 mins or so it just went back to everyone talking in English without the chief and his wife included so then i spoke up in front of everyone and said 'can you ask our hosts (emphasising the fact they were 'our hosts') what their roles are as chiefs of the village, so he asked and they answered but then it just went back again to no chat with them... i tried speaking the very little Laos i knew to them directly just asking their names and telling mine but i knew no more and so they went back to just sitting and watching. I borrowed someones camera and took some pics of them and of the chief, Noy's wife Bayoun cooking in the house which i have uploaded a good pic of but apart from that it just felt they were shunned. This was the only bad point of a great day and night though, the guides were all really friendly and it just felt like one big group of friends and the locals were very welcoming but It did made me think i f i did a homestay again i would just do one direct and also only after learning enough local Laos to get by

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. A fantastic experience and something i knew would be hard to beat. 

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. Anyway we all approached in the centre when we should have been left and the boat ahead veered left at the last minute but as we did the guides started screaming 'left, left!' and it turns out in the panic that Courtney, who was behind and was the main steerer was steering right and so as we hit the current and about 10 yards from the trees it was just one of those moments when you know there is nothing you can do, your gonna hit em and its probably gonna hurt!! Our kayak turned sideways and we slammed in to the trees and the boat flipped on its side and wrapped around the trees stumps and flung Courtney out right in to the swell and i couldn't even see if she was alright but i had bigger concerns because i was stuck in the boat, at your feet there is a plastic cover which your legs go up to to your knees and i was stood with this hugely string current behind me, so Strong, i was pinned in with my legs, holding the tree but barely holding back the force of the water to stop myself bending over forward and maybe breaking my back because my legs were wedged in so i knew i had to stand straight and even holding the tree i was really struggling and don't mind admitting i was very scared especially as also right in front of me was this huge swell so even if i could fall in i didn't know if i would be stuck in it or if there were rocks there, plus i was completely alone now, everyone else had gone through the rapids and turned the bend but then i saw the guides running up the bank and the boss guy, Mr Nic, told me to throw i my paddle which i was kinda using to prop up and jump in but i said i couldn't move but he shouted to throw the paddle in and then use both hands to try pull out so i did but i still couldn't move and i was getting real scared about the pressure behind me and i knew i couldn't keep upright for longer than maybe 5 minutes so i started trying to pull myself up the tree and it took me about 2 minutes of pulling to obviously move an inch or two my legs, with the water pressure and the fact they had edged up a little just flung me forward face down right in to the swell and under and SO luckily for me there were no rocks and i came up and floated down river but if there were rocks there then my face would have been mincemeat! When i rounded the corner and swam to the side everyone gave me a big hug because they couldn't see and obviously knew our kayak had tipped as Courtney had made it OK but i hadn't come down river and with all the guides parking their kayaks and running back, they all though something had happened to me and i tell you it nearly did but adrenaline pumping and coming out unscathed i have to say it was a huge buzz and one of the many things which really made the trip for me.

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!! They all went crazy, they were already pretty drunk but it seemed they loved the gesture which was in return for their invite and hospitality but all we could really do was continually do 'cheers' and share names but it was great, everyone laughing and having a good time, then they put on karaoke and people started dancing and when it started to get dark they simply brought out a light fitting and screwed it to the wood beams above which i got a photo of. Behind us loads of kids gathered just intrigued at what was going on and we spent about an hour just having the best time before we had to go for our meal which was well timed because some of the guys were absolutely wasted as too was this village chief when we went for the meal, he could barely keep his eyes open but his wife put on an equally good spread and we all had a good chat, drank Lao Lao which i think i mentioned is the local moonshine made of rice whiskey and is gorgeous and about 40 or 50%!! But that night i got a better sleep, probably from the party time atmosphere and drinking and again next day we set off on our final 5 hour journey.

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. Anyway, the rapids were bigger and after my falls i was a little nervous but loving the adrenaline rush of it all. It turned out 2 were big and one just like the others but we made it through all 3 without a fall, i felt i had really got the hang of it and we were both on such a buzz getting through all 3. We had one hairy moment when we turned sideways and the kayak flipped up but somehow we stayed in, turned enough and got through and again that was a big highlight for us both getting out of what looked a flip. And that was the end of the trip, it couldn't have been better and has given me a taste for trying water water rafting maybe but definitely kayaking again and this time solo too.
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. FANTASTIC!.

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. On my bike trip to the waterfall i saw loads of rice farms and farmers, old couples with water Buffalo's ploughing up the land and it looked seriously hard labour. It made me feel so lucky to have the lifestyle and upbringing i had and the opportunities there to work and even travel like i am now. These kids were all really sharp, focused and probably maturer than there years but all really friendly and very eager just to get there pronunciations right which i can appreciate because learning Laos from a  book is difficult, its conversation that improves you most. So that's been 4 hours a day and in between i have started the yoga and also slept loads! I have had afternoon naps most days, i don't know if its the chilling out, the yoga, the lack of alcohol or what but i am super spaced out! I am here for another 10 days before the iphone arrives and my visa ends so i am gonna continue the yoga and volunteering, go see the monks who you can chat to and learn about Buddhism and meditation from as they also learn English and love to chat and then just go see some of the other things to see here, namely another waterfall where they have elephants you can see and feed for free. The guys at the tour company had said i could go in anytime and learn Laos with them so i have been doing that too and can now ask the all important questions: how are you? whats your name? how old are you? and are you married?!!!

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. To be there, so far from the nearest town nd to live and teach some basic English would be amazing. In return by living there i could learn all about their life and work, learn to cook, fish, farm, all sorts. Because no one speaks a word of English i would need to learn Laos well so have started now and would have 6 months or so to learn enough to get by and explain what i would be teaching like the alphabet and numbers and basic conversation. I approached the tour company with the idea yesterday, and remember these guys are really great, and they said they would put the request in worth the local Luang Prabang authority and help me try and also help me learn the Laos and organise it if i got the go ahead, all for free because they are a true eco tour company and its all about whats best for Laos for them so they are happy to try help me. Sounds goo eh and ill keep you informed with any progress but i would probably start after xmas sometime.

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:

Aug: Malaysia
Oct: Indonesia
Dec: Home for xmas 
Jan: Vietnam (start of motorbike trip)
February: Cambodia
March: Thailand (full moon parties next month!)
May: Laos
July: China
August: Mongolia
Sept: Tibet
Sept: Nepal
November: India
December: Home 
So to finish i want to say a big well done if you read all that in one go! That was a long one but that's what happens when i leave it so long! I hope like the photos i got copies of too. I miss you all very much and cant believe 4 months has flown by so quickly. I am still having a great time and am really looking forward to the plan above, i cant separate one part better than the other. Its not set in stone i will be back at xmas but its very likely as i really would love to spend it at home and to see you all especially with the rest of the year planned to keep travel ling. I'd love to sample xmas and new year out here but with the amount of further travel in mind i would definitely like to come home for it. Thanks again for all your posts on the blog, i love reading them but unfortunately can't reply to them on my laptop but keep em coming, they really spur me on. OK, next post will be in a few weeks when i get to Malaysia so in the meantime everyone take care, i love and miss you all loads and look forward a few drinks with you all at xmas too...xx

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Paul & Kerry on

WOW ! Sunday afternoon over here and both just caught up on your last 2 entries. What an amazing adventure you are having ! Laos and its people are amazing, love how friendly and welcoming everyone is. Photos are brilliant ! Reminds us of the night time kayaking we did in oz but much better.
Hearts sank a little when we read your travel plan for the next year... both really missing you now but know you are so into this travelling now its got a hold of you so you! Really proud of you and very jealous on all that you are experiencing- if you are still travelling next year we will fly out and meet you somewhere. If you fancy China hopefully your there while I'm on a trip March & september? in Nanjing plenty time to discuss that one nearer the time.
love you lots Lee, take care and look forward to the next blog xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Delly on

Lee Leeeeee :)

OMG I cannot believe you did that crazy rafting trip, sounds AMAZING!!! I would have so loved that, and loved reading about the thrills and scares of it all. You will always remember that trip that's for sure!

Great that you're practising yoga, can you sit yet haha? Hopefully the exercises I gave you when we last caught up will help... it's all about opening up the hips!

It's great also that you're loving the locals and the real culture, not just the backpacking trails that everyone does. Feels like you're really experiencing life and meeting many wonderful people with stories to tell and share, and friendships all along the way. I'm sure you're bringing fun, love and laughter to all that you meet, as you always do :)

Well I did have a heads up about your trip, but seeing it in black and white makes it seem real. Wow another year away, but like Kerry and Paul said, you're on a roll with it now and loving it so go on and enjoy, life's too short not to! And I am SOOOOOOOOOOO looking forward to having you back for christmas, I really can't wait ya know! We'll make it one to remember.

Sending you love and hugs galore (I hope you're getting your hugs out there??) and can't wait to skype you again xxxxxxxxx

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