A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Vientiane, Laos

Final few days in Laos, in the capital city.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos; however it once again feels like a relatively small town rather than a capital as we would know it. It sits on the Mekong overlooking Thailand. We had initially got our hopes up that there could be some decent shopping as there were two malls marked on the map. It turns out that a mall in Laos is actually just an indoor market.

Our bus journey from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was a little eventful. After driving our of town for 10 minutes, we suddenly turned round and started heading back the way we came, we were almost back at the bus station when the bus turned around again, stopping to pick up a few Lao families from the side of the road. Who knows what had gone on there!?

Second attempt to go lasted a whole 30 minutes before half the Loatian people needed to get off at the side of the road for the toilet, and another half an hour after that before two of them started to be sick all down themselves. When we made an official toilet stop an hour later, we were genuinely wondering how long this 3 hour journey would end up lasting, and were pleasantly surprised it went without incident and took only 3½ hours.

Chris' Guest Curry Review

On arrival, we were pretty hungry so went for our first Indian since leaving the UK. We were initially sceptical judging by the plastic chairs and tables but it turned out to be one of the best curries we've ever had. The onion pakoras we had to start came with an unidentified but delicious sauce (green but not minty). For main, my Rogan Josh was perfect. Slightly sweeter than England but not to its detriment. Enjoyed with a slightly buttery and slightly crisp garlic naan. Zoë went for a Korma but it wasn't coconutty enough. That'll teach her to read the menu. All washed down with a Beer Lao. If you ever find yourself in Vientiane, check out Taj Mahal, you won't be disappointed.

After lunch, we wandered around town, questioning how we would manage to fill two days here. The following day, we visited Lao's history museum, which included some interesting modern technology pictures, which looked really dated by our standards. We spent the afternoon planning our trip to Australia and people watching in a very nice coffee shop.

The following day, we had a flight booked to Hanoi in the evening. We visited the morning market first thing before walking up to the Vientiane equivalent of the Champs Elysees to their version of the Arc de Triomphe. Afterwards, we took a tuk tuk up to That Luang, a stunning golden temple which reflects the sun. I would imagine that normally this is a pretty impressive temple; however today is the first day of the Lunar festival, which basically meant a 100 metre stretch of road in front of the temple was closed off for stalls, who were all playing loud music and/or using a microphone to shout goodness knows what over the top. The whole place was littered with rubbish, and it actually felt more like a desperate fair ground on its final day than a calming Buddhist festival.

With our ears still ringing, we had another coffee before taking a tuk tuk to the airport.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 08:55 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng, Laos

Tubing capital: hopefully the wettest place we will visit!

rain 35 °C

We arrived in Vang Vieng after a long 7 hour bus ride through the mountains, which we were told would take 5, 6 at most hours. It was an incredibly uncomfortable, hot bus.

Vang Vieng used to be very much a party town for backpackers stopping off en route to the capital Vientiane. It is famous for its tubing down the river, which over the last decade has become increasingly more alcohol fueled, with bars lining the entire stretch of the river offering free shots to anyone who stops for a drink. (Everyone.) With this, there were various slides, zip lines and jump ropes into too shallow water. Mixed with all the alcohol and a lot of drugs, unsurprisingly there were 32 deaths last year by October. The president, tired of getting calls from various embassies headed down to the river with the army and ripped the whole lot down, leaving only 3 bars along the river. This has meant a lot of backpackers do not even bother stopping here, and no longer do 1000 travellers pass through the town daily.

On the river it was really peaceful and relaxing, sitting in a rubber ring as we floated down the river. The first bar is within metres of the start point and didn't look that appealing. We think we could have been the only people to have not stopped. The second bar was half an hour down the river and we stopped here for a couple of beers. We were some of the first to make it to this bar, and most arrived about an hour later. Here, there was a rock to jump off which did go into very deep water, and the guy in charge of helping the people on rings stop was more than happy to demonstrate his moves. After about 5 minutes of jumping in, one of the other workers said a something to him in Lao and he went off and put his lifejacket on - safety first!

Chris and I left this bar after a couple of hours and enjoyed the 2½ hour float back to Vang Vieng. It was a lovely hot day, which is apparently unseasonal for this time of year, which made it very pleasant floating along the river in our wet clothes. Mum, you would absolutely love this as it's just sit in a ring and float down the river, admiring the spectacular scenery.

Following a recommendation by another couple at our guesthouse, we went out for dinner at 'Whopping Burger', where we had the best burgers ever. You had 2 homemade patties cooked either plain or with teriyaki sauce. There was a bit of salad in the biggest bap ever and no need or any sauce as the burger was so delicious.

The following day we hired mountain bikes and cycled 13 km out of town to visit some caves. The sign for the first cave was a homemade sign stating Tham Pha Thao, big and nice. You pay your 85p entrance fee, handed a torch and left to venture the cave alone. Inside, there are absolutely no signs of it being a tourist attraction. There is no lighting of any description, not even to guide you to the exit. The cave is split onto various different levels, with sections of low ceiling so if your torch did die on you, you would have absolutely no chance of getting out and just have to wait and hope someone else came. In the half hour we were there, no one else joined us, but 2 girls asked us the way after we came out.

The second cave, Tham Kiao was just a kilometre up the river through a village. As soon as you went into this one, you could hear the running water. About 50m in, you had to walk up the water, which came up to our knees. As we continued, the water level varied from ankle deep to waist deep. For one section, you couldn't walk down the middle and it was up to our chests at the edge. We carried on for about 500 metres, going through various different chambers until we made it to one chamber, which had a really big rock glistening in our torchlight in the middle of the cave. We decided to turn back as there was now the occasional bat flying around, and we were worried the torches might run out of battery. Also we had heard another group come into the cave but think they may have stopped at the beginning of the water. This cave carries on for 2km.

Our shoes were very sandy on the inside and so we decided to do as the locals do and washed our shoes and socks I'm the river. We did get a few strange looked from the villagers!

We set off on our bikes and cycled about 7 km back towards town before turning off to see some waterfalls. This next dirt road was quite hilly and took quite a while as neither of our bikes was particularly good; my gears didn't work properly and Chris once again had a slight puncture. He always picks the one with a puncture, or is it just he's too heavy for these poor bikes? As we were leaving the caves, it had begun to spit, which we had thought would be nice and refreshing and would keep us cool; however as we headed towards the mountains, this turned into a torrential downpour, and the road into a mud bath. After about 5 minutes, we found a tree to take shelter, although we were already soaked through, again. After about 10 minutes of huddling under the tree, jealous of the herd of cows with the better tree next to us, we decided to carry on as it showed no signs of passing and we were as wet as we could be.

The rain did ease off and about 45 minutes later we were at the turn off for the waterfalls, with our bikes and legs caked in mud. On the final 100m to the entrance, the heavens opened (if they can in a Buddhist country?) and we were once again dripping wet. We sat under a shelter for 10 minutes before thinking what's the point and heading up to the waterfalls.

There were a couple of average waterfalls with pools for swimming in. If it was still a hot and sunny day, then we think they would have been really nice. We spent about 10 minutes there before heading back to the entrance to pick up our very muddy bikes.

The ride back to town was a lot flatter and we stopped off on the way and washed our bikes in a lake. We probably got fewer strange looked for this than we did earlier for rinsing our socks and shoes! In total, we cycled 25 miles with well over half of that on dirt roads.

We topped Chris' bike up with air to disguise the puncture before returning the bikes and taking a lovely hot shower.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 22:22 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Luang Prabang, Laos

What a funny name!

sunny 40 °C

We set about exploring Luang Prabang the following day. Luang Prabang sort of reminds me of San Pedro de Atacama, as all of the signs are wooden and use the same yellow letters to name the place, all made out of wood. I like places which aren't overridden with advertising.

En route to breakfast we stopped off at a temple which was holding a morning service, with monks sat around in front of the Buddha shrine. This seemed to be quite an informal service, with a few of the locals joining in.

For breakfast, we ended up at a French café, where I had the most delicious savoury pancake, filled with smoked salmon, cream and lime.

Afterwards we wandered down to the river just in time to see a group of monks washing on the opposite bank. There was also a man fishing out of his long boat, throwing a whole net into the water and seeing what he managed to catch.

We walked along the river, stopping off at Laos' most spectacular temple Wat Xieng Thong. This temple had black walls inside with intricate gold leaf drawings covering the walls from floor to ceiling. In the middle was a lovely golden Buddha .

Afterwards we took a boat across the river to Chompett district, which is a more authentic example of a traditional Laos town. Here the main road was a dirt track and the buildings were more like huts,with no glass in the window frames, not that you need it. We walked along one of the main residential streets which was narrow with deep moats running along the side for drainage. All around there were various cockerels and the odd stray dog roaming freely.

Back on mainland Luang Prabang, we headed up the hill to a temple called Phousi, which overlooked the city and Mekong. The views over Laos were magnificent with vast forests covering the mountains. In the distance amongst all the trees stood a golden temple, glistening in the setting sun. We had hoped to watch the sunset up here but it was so ridiculously busy, we decided to head down to the water's edge, where we arrived with about 10 minutes to spare. As we watched the sun go down, there were a couple of men in the water up their necks washing out their fishing nets.

For dinner, we took a little rowing boat across the Mekong to this bamboo hut restaurant, hidden on the hill behind the bamboo trees. It was a beautiful setting, with scatter cushions on the floor and low level tables. There were pretty little romantic red and white paper lamps on the tables and the whole restaurant was on various different levels along the hill. We had a really delicious meal here; Chris had an interesting woody buffalo stew and I had a whole fish of some variety in lemon sauce.

After this , we headed back across the river and walked back to our guesthouse through the night market.

Tomorrow morning we are taking the bus to Vang Vieng.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:15 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Slow Boat Along the Mekong

Travelling across the Thai border down to Luang Prabang, Laos on a 2 daddy slow boat along the Mekong

semi-overcast 30 °C

We took a mini bus to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong, stopping off in Chiang Rai to visit the truly stunning White Temple. Over the last few weeks and in Japan, we have seen a lot of different types and style of temple, but neither of us was expecting this temple. We had both imagined a plain temple, which had been rendered and its beauty would be in its simplicity. It turned out that the White Temple was one of the most intricately decorated we have yet to see. Its neutral bright white made it stand out with its intricate plaster work and glass tiles for decoration.

After spending the night at the border, we set off on Saturday morning at 8.30am to travel across the river to Laos. We then booked our tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. We boarded the boat and were surprised by how comfortable the boat was as we had heard some pretty uncomfortable stories of people sitting along the wooden deck of the boat. We were on mini bus seats which had been placed on the deck.

The scenery along the Mekong was gorgeous and travelling outdoors on a boat rather than couped up in some air tight bus was lovely. We travelled for 6 hours on the first day, before stopping for the night at Pakbeng.

On arriving at Pakbeng, Chris and I split up as we'd heard stories of people sleeping in a freezing cold barn when they'd run out of accommodation. I looked around 5 pretty awful rooms before managing to find a clean one that didn't look too horrible. As it turned out, the electric went off during the night and in the morning. Plus there was no cold water so the toiled didn't flush, and the shower was scalding hot. At least we had water as others in the guesthouse did not!

The second day was a lot longer, with more stops for the locals during the 8 hour journey. Again the scenery was stunning, with luscious green forests, water buffalo grazing at the water's edge and the occasional waterfall.

We arrived at the port at about 4.30pm and took a tuk tuk into town with a man who according to Chris sounds like Brains from Thunderbirds. He updates maps online and includes bus and train timetables, trying to keep the information up-to-date. His website is www.hobomaps.com and he gave us maps for our stay in Laos. They're very detailed maps, showing all the accommodation for each town.

For dinner, we went to a barbecue buffet place where every table has their own little barbecue and you go up to the buffet table to get your raw meat. There were plenty of different types of meat and fish and a good variety of salads, rice and noodle dishes to go with it. We'll only have ourselves to blame if we're ill tomorrow, unless the meat was off!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 07:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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