25th Apr 2012 - 1st May 2012
Free Buckets B4 10PM!!
We were now in Laos! A new country with new money and one I was having trouble getting to grips with! The kip has large denominations and you talk in thousands about everything. I am sure I will get used to it but by the time I do we won’t be using it anymore.
When we arrived in Luang Prabang we decided to stay with Diane and Callum and go to visit the local waterfall the next day together. With our heavy bags and sore bums after a long time on the slow boat Dianne and I dumped the boys and the bags in a local coffee shop and went off to find some rooms. After a bit of a trawl around we eventually got some rooms close to each other and not too far away from the centre of town and the night market.
Luang Prabang was our first proper stop and our first taste of the French side of Laos. There are baguettes everywhere, on the side of the road you cannot go more than a few minutes without a sandwich seller tempting you with a soft white baguette. Sometimes it is a Laos style sandwich which has a pork, rice noodle, sliced up omelette and salad filling or in the more touristy places you can get any filling you like including good old chicken and bacon!
Just outside the town about 40 minutes ride away was an impressive large waterfall where we spent a fab day swimming and exploring. It was beautiful and the freezing cold water was very refreshing in the afternoon heat. They also had a bear sanctuary where we watched the bears for a bit too.
We heard that there is an impressive spectacle that takes place in the morning in Luang Probang where hundreds of monks parade through the streets collecting alms (sticky rice offerings) from local people. There are posters that warn tourists about getting too close to the ritual and taking part themselves. This has become something of a tourist attraction and now unscrupulous people sell food to tourists to get them to take part but this has caused problems. The ritual has to be performed correctly and tourists who take part often offend the monks by putting the food in their bowl incorrectly, looking directly at them and even pointing cameras in their faces. Sometimes the monks have even gotten sick after eating dodgy sticky rice given by tourists and the Laos government has issued more warnings to tourists to protect the ritual from becoming a circus. On the other hand though the government aren’t exactly angels themselves and rumour has it they threatened the monks that if they didn’t continue performing the ritual they would get some other blokes dressed in orange robes to do it instead as it brings people to the town. Anyway after some debate we decided to get up at 4.30am to go and watch it on one of the backstreets rather than the busy main road and keep a very respectful distance, taking photos discreetly. It was an early start and the alarm went off at 4.30am … 4.30am?! I hear you cry … yes really … what do you think this is a holiday or something!? Travelling takes dedication! Watching the monks was a wonderful thing to do and as we sat with Diane and Callum on the side of the road we were really glad we got up early.
After the few groups of monks had left and the locals had packed up their things we had 2 choices ..back to bed or go and find some breakfast. Well we were up already and so we thought breakfast was the order of the day! It turned out that we were in for a treat and as sometimes happens you stumble upon something really memorable. In this case we wandered upon a local food market before any other tourists and it was one of the best food markets we had seen on our travels! Most of the stall holders were crouched on the floor of the narrow street with their wares in baskets and laid out on sheets in front of them. As we walked along we saw some amazing, weird and wonderful creatures either side of us. Tiny frogs on sticks, huge black toads in big baskets, a live monitor lizard and monitor lizard meat at the butchers stall, huge fish, birds in little cages and more fruits and vegetables we didn’t know the names of.
After a walk through the market we stopped for breakfast at a local BBQ stall where lots of different meat and fish were being grilled on long sticks. We had big baguettes filled with bbq pork and salad and sat by the river to eat them. Diana even found her favourite, peanut butter and banana, so we were all happy … tired but happy!
That afternoon Andy and I went off to explore some of the local temples and see the palace. It was a hot day and we had to stop for shade and drinks along the way. We met up with Callum and Diane for dinner that night and tried one of the buffet stalls near the night market. The selection was great and we all piled our plates high with random stuff and for 10,000kip (80p) each it was cheap too! A few drinks in a local bar that night rounded off our last day in Luang Probang.
The next morning we were up early again and on a squashed Mini bus to Vang Vieng. The journey was a bit twisty and turny and the roads were crappy condition causing me to feel sick for most of the way. A bit of music courtesy of the iPod and I survived the journey. Apparently it was stunning scenery, I can’t remember probably because I had head between my legs for most if it!
In Vang Vieng we stayed in a very nice room, probably one of the best since we started travelling, a big bed, TV and balcony which proved to be the best medicine for a hangover! (One of the must do’s in Viang Vieng!) The place is popular with the backpacker crowds for 3 things tubing, getting high and drinking buckets!
The tubing experience is basically floating down the river in a rented tyre inner tube and visiting lots of bars along the way. It can be a drunken affair and dangerous if you over do it. We decided we wanted to have the tubing experience but maybe see a bit more of the other sights of Vang Vieng too so the four of us booked on a day trip which included tubing inside some local caves, kayaking down the river and an hour or so to stop at a river bar before kayaking home. We had a wicked time and tubing in the cave was brilliant!
So our visit to Vang Vieng ended with a chilled out last dinner with Diane and Callum and a fond farewell! We had really enjoyed travelling with them and had some great days (and nights) out! We were sad to be leaving them but the road was calling and besides we couldn’t take another night on the buckets! We wish them loads of luck and fun travelling and we will see them in Scotland in 2013!
The next day we got up early and caught a rickety old bus to Vientiane. After a couple of hours it stopped at the side of the road for a toilet stop ….. in the bushes. I went for a pee and while I was jogging down the road trying to get a few more feet away from the bus I went head over heels and ended up covered in mud down one side. This resulted in funny looks from the other passengers and using up all the baby wipes!
Vientiane is even more French than other parts of Laos. It is a large town and the rooms are obviously more expensive. We dragged our bags around for a bit trying to find something cheap and ended up back in the first place we asked…. Typical!
Vientiane was a cool place and we enjoyed our time there BUT it was the place where everything went wrong ……… first we had laptop trouble. We turned on the laptop one morning and the screen went crazy then it started beeping and we thought the hard drive had gone! (turns out we were right). In short we were freaking out. All the photos from 7 months of travelling were on the computer. Ok don’t panic, we hadn’t uploaded the photos to the external hard drive for a few weeks (stupid us!) but we had got all the rest safely saved on there right? … erm wrong… we went to check what was on there and we discovered it was broken. Seriously? So now we were basically very close to losing all our photos unless we could find a computer repair shop and it was even possible to retrieve them. We have some photos on the blog but it’s just a small selection of all the photos we have taken, totaling over 12,000, crazy but true. We were lucky, very lucky, we found a computer repair shop that was just closing and begged the French guy who owned it to look at our computer. He agreed and if he could recover the photos we would buy a new lap top from him. We spent a nervous few hours waiting for the news. We were unbelievably relieved to find the photos were saved and now stored on our new laptop. (You can always find something funny even in very stressful situations and ours was that we now had a brand new functioning computer but it was bright pink! In all the stress we had picked a computer but not noticed the lid was neon pink! We both chuckled about it afterwards and this new girlie laptop will remind us of this stressful day and how lucky we were to get the photos back!) But back to the story … there was more hassle when we went to get some money to pay for the laptop and after one withdrawal the cards were blocked. Despite talking to the bank a few days before and them assuring us there would be no problems getting money, low and behold there were! Luckily we had some Thai baht and the guy accepted a combination of Thai baht and kip. So now we had a pink computer but 2 bank cards that didn’t work. To make a phone call from Laos costs a fortune and we spent about £7 for a 10 minute phone call trying to get the cards unblocked.
After a very stressful day we soldiered on (thanks to Andy and his positive attitude) and we were determined not to miss some of the things we had wanted to see in Vientiane. We went to visit a beautiful large golden temple with our new laptop in tow! We were exhausted when we settled down for dinner in our favourite road side restaurant with all our bags later that night. We had just enough time to eat a yummy meal before going to catch the overnight bus to Paske in the south of Laos. But the stress of the day caught up with us and as we chilled out, shared a beer and finally relaxed we forgot where we were. I asked Andy what time it was and his single swear word reply dragged me back into reality …. It was just after 7.30pm, the time we were being picked up from the bus ticket office up the road, and there we were relaxing in a restaurant. We jumped up, grabbed everything we could, threw some money at the waiter apologising as we ran up the road. We were lucky and although we were 10 minutes late the bus was late too and we made it to the bus station on time! Phew! Travelling can be exhausting and stressful at times and today we had one of those days!
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