10 days in a fabulous country
17.09.2009 - 27.09.2009 34 °C
well, Laos is amazing, I loved it there. Not just cos it's cheap as chips but it's also gorgeous. The people are fab, the food is amazing!! and the general vibe is great. The country has an 11pm curfew, all the pubs and stuff shut at 11, early to bed, early to rise to feed the monks unless you go ten pin bowling that is. Anyhoo, to the beginning of Laos....
I caught a bus from my guesthouse in Chaing Mai and headed for the border. Met Ben & Jenny, Joss and Lee and Cathy and Kaya on the bus who were all a great laugh. We stayed the night in Thailand then got into a really small boat and crossed over to Laos. Ben and Jenny had planned to cross over the night we arrived to we said cheerio to them before getting to the guesthouse only to meet up with them again on the slow boat the next day. It took ages to get the passport stuff done cos they just take your passport off you and flash it in the window when it's been stamped. No queue or anything just luck. Then you have to get it checked at the next window then checked again at a table on the hill before you are actually in Laos legally. When we got off the wee boat they had a medical unit set up checking everyones temperature... with the same ear thing which was lightly rubbed with a bit of cotton wool (the same bit) between each person ewww not much you could do about it, thankfully my ear hasn't fallen off yet cos of some ear to ear disease. So, we get to a bus stop travel agents place and told the horror stories of the boat we're about to get on for the next 6 hours. People will steal your bag, if you go on the roof you will die, the food is very expensive, there might be 80 people on the boat, the seats are hard, you must buy a cushion (we had one each already from the guesthouse) he was a proper scare mounger!! anyway, we then got taken to another agency and waited for ages again to get a ticket then got on the boat at about 11ish. The boat was a nightmare. well, thats maybe a bit of an exageration, it wasn't that bad, it certainly wasn't as bad as the wee bloke made it out to be, no one stole my bag and there wasn't 80 people on it. It was really small as in narrow with lots of thin wooden benches that wobbled and moved but as far as horror stories the only thing slightly nasty was the one squat loo you had to hover over while being swayed from side to side with the motion of the river. Everyone was in the party mood so the beer flowed and lots of fun was had. It was funny seeing everyone produce the same kind of baguette at some point during the trip, obviously standard issue in all guesthouses. I gave mine to some puppies on the main land and bought a takeaway fried rice instead. The trip was really good and the views were amazing floating down the Mekong. At one point we pulled into the bank and kids gfot on selling beer and crisps and bisquits and probably just about anything else you wanted. After about 6 hours, we stopped at a place called Pakbeng which was nothing but loads of guesthouses, nothing to do really after eating so went to bed fairly early and got back on the boat the next morning. Very much to my surprise and delight the boat was much bigger and me and my new mates got a lovely bit on the floor at the back so you could lie down, much better than having a seat. The 6 or 7 hours went by fairly quickly, it was much quieter than the day before, people nursing hangovers and generally feeling sorry for themselves. We reached Luangprabang with all luggage intact, some new Japanese friends and got into a very cheap guesthouse then headed out after a shower to the local market where they sell the best food ever!! OMG it was lush!! Tables of veggie food and BBQ'd chicken and fish and meat, it was all amazing, the best market food I've ever had. I had a foot massage which doesn't just mean your feet, it also means your legs, head, shoulders and back too which was ace. She even cracked my broken toe. I pointed out my missing toenail but she wasn't bothered about rubbing it bless her, I wouldn't have touched it personally but each to their own, I expect she's seen worse. I went to the post office or rather Le Poste, very french round these parts and posted off my photo of me sat on the head of an elephant which the woman forced into the wee box with a few other bits and bobs then had some food and a drink by the VW camper van which has been turned into a bar. Like I said before all bars shut at 11pm so we headed for the bowling alley which stays open till 3am, I think it must be the only legal way people can still have a drink after hours. Of course it was full of western people some of which were lads dressed as women or lady boys, very funny. It was a wicked night, we had 2 games and got quite drunk on cocktails and shots, I was as pants as usual but such is life, got 2 spares which is better than normal and I didn't loose. The next morning I got up at 5am after going to bed at 3am, to go feed the monks. The day before some of us paid for a bowl of sticky rice which is for giving to the monks. You have to kneel on a mat and be respectfully dressed, don't look them in the eye and don't touch them. Lines and lines of monks go by with their pots and you put a bit of rice in each pot. I ran out of rice too quickly and was refilled and told not to give so much so I got my stingy hat on and felt bad but they get rice off everyone so it's not so bad. Monks aren't allowed to cook, thats why they get 'Alms' every morning. It was a cool experience even if I had a lot of trouble getting off my knees again... drop and roll to the side, stretch legs out slowly, haul yourself up like both legs are broken, dust off and pretend you're not in your 80's... back to the guesthouse and said cheerio to Joss and Lee then who flew back to Bangkok, booked a bus ticket to Vang Vieng with Ben and Jenny, Karen and Penny and went off for breakfast. I was going to go to the plain of jars but changed my mind to go with them. Met up with Cathy and Kaya who were staying in a different guesthouse and went to The Big Brother Mouse place where you can sit and chat to local kids to help them improve their English. I sat with a teenager and read a book about a useful buffalo. The guy had very long finger nails, esp his dreaded left thumb nail eeek! It was a brilliant experience, I loved it although trying to explain what certain words meant was a bit of a challenge not that I can remember any examples right now. Its made me want to teach English even more now.
One thing I've noticed round here are people on motorbikes who drive with their jackets on back to front also there are a lot of people who sit and pick spots on their faces by the side of the road peering into the wing mirrors of their scooters with tweezers in one hand and a determined look on their faces not even caring if you happen to walk by. I've also noticed that Thai Cows and Laos Cows differ quite a lot. Thai cows are like a cross between a dog, a camel and a long eared rabbit with long floppy skin hanging from their necks while a Laos Cow looks more normal, bit skinny but thats par for the course.
Vang Vieng is made for tourists. There was a thing in the paper about it recently, a few days before we got there about an Irish guy dying doing the tubing. It said there haven't been any accidents there ever which is a total lie, 6 or 7 people die there or are very badly injured every year. The mixture of tubing down a river, drinking and quick nightfall is quite dangerous really but good fun all the same. You can't spend your life thinking of the what if's, if you did, you wouldn't do anything. Right, so Vang Vieng. The bus took ages round a windy road, it reminded me of bus trips in Indonesia where they pick up locals. One guy got in and practically sat in Ben's lap. He ended up being our second driver when it got really dark. I think he needed glasses or driving lessons though cos it was a pretty scary last hour. The views from the bus were amazing esp the sunset behind the mountains, when we finally got there the guesthouse we ended up in was lovely and really cheap. The tubing that Vang Vieng is famous for is basically a big inner tube which you rent then get taken to the river and arrive at your first bar. Get in the water then about 1 minute later you get out again at the next bar. It's mental. Buckets of whisky and free shots. Some of the bars give you free bananas too... I have to admit being the big scardy cat that I am when it comes to water I didn't get a tube, I just walked to as many bars as I could get too before giving up and walking back to town while the rest of my mates frolicked in the river and tried to keep hold of thier tubes. Many people steal them to get to the next bar. Lots of the bars in town had TV's with either Family Guy, Friends or the Simpsons on 24/7 which was funny. I like a bit of Family Guy.
In hindsite I should have stayed in Luangprabang or Vang Vieng longer cos my next stop in Vientiene, the capital of the country was pretty dull apart from the balloon games on the sea front. You get 3 darts and have to pop 3 balloons to win a prize which is usually a bottle of weird juice or beer lao. It must be one of the most laid back capitals in the world, interestingly enough, Laos has managed to avoid the golden arches from setting up shop and in fact all major chains which is nice, doesn't make the country so same same. Myself, Ben and Jenny got there by bus along with about 50 million other tourists, one of which was sat infront of me reading a self help book for men about sex. I managed to read a wee bit through the gaps in the seats on the dos and don'ts in bed, he'd even made some notes in the margin and underlined bits here and there, I couldn't decide if it was sad or admirable or if he was still a virgin or perhaps had just received lots of complaints. Anyway we arrived in the dark, found a place to stay that looked like a prison or crack den but it was only for one night so we all shared a room (safety in numbers) and tried not to touch anything. Thank the lord for sleeping bag liners, the bed was manky and the bathroom worse so after searching for a new place to stay and avoiding going back too early we found a place over the road which wasn't obvious when we first arrived and moved into nice clean rooms in the morning. Again the food was excellent. I shared a BBQ'd fish and some local rice balls which are all taken apart then you wrap a spoonful up in a mixture of raw cabbage leaves, basil other leaves and banana flower, it was lush. So good infact I had them again the next night although some of the leaves in the salad looked suspiciously like the leaves on the tree beside me... It reminded me of the lettuce and sugar rolls Granny P used to make us when we were kids.
There are a lot of Baguettes in Laos, take the slow boat to Laos for Le Cheese Baguette (ala chewing the fat)
The next morning the three of us went for a wander down a road we hadn't been down, why I don't know cos it was really nice even saw a temple thing and mooched about a very expensive shop before finding an international supermarket where Ben was pleased to find a packet of S&V crisps for sale.
I said cheerio to Ben and Jenny the next day who flew to Cambodia then left Laos myself and headed to Hanoi in Vietnam on a tiny wee propellor plane next to Bob the Ozzy....