Sa-Ba-Dee from Laos,
So here we are in Laos, the second country on my itinerary and the first that I have not visited before.
We woke early and breakfasted alongside the Mekong, it looks wonderful however the food was stone cold and the restaurant was playing heavy Asian techno pop at 7am!
Anyway cold eggs aside….Our entry into Laos was relatively swift and painless, we reached the Thai border early morning, got stamped out of Thailand, jumped on a coach which took us across friendship bridge and over to the Laos border.
We then got issued a visa and stamped in and during this process my name was changed to Vlaire, someone clearly suffering with ‘fat finger syndrome’!
We then exchanged some money, no longer trading in Thai Baht but Lao Kip.
After the formalities were complete we headed down to the Mekong to board our long-boat for the next 2 days. The boat has living quarters in the back for the family that own it, a western style toilet, bar, home cooked lunch, chairs, tables and loungers. Very swish!
We then proceeded to meander down the Mekong, the scenery was beautiful….jungle covered mountains sweeping down to the riverbank, small white sandy beaches with nothing on them but cows, goats or buffalo. We passed loads of small villages perched high up from the riverside so they don’t get swept away when the height of the Mekong swells by 10-15m during the rainy season.
We stopped at one of the small villages and climbed up the sandy bank to have a quick walk around the village, learn about their way of life and meet the village chief. Even before we had moored up a gaggle (not the correct collective noun but sounds good!) of children came running down to the boat and wanted to hold our hands and walk with us around the village. I had Gee and Loom (probably not spelt anything like that!) taking me round! We learned how they make their houses, what they farm, how they live, all about family life, school etc. One young girl was already married and pregnant at 14….totally different way of life to the western world!
After meeting the village chief and his extended family we wandered back down to the boat and set sail again for our evening stop over at Pak Beng. Pak Beng is a very small, local Laos village on the banks of the Mekong which is starting to see tourists due to its location on the Mekong and being halfway between Thailand and Luang Prabang in Laos.
We had a quick tour of the village and local market, which took all of 30 minutes and then wandered to the only bar in the village for a quick drink before dinner in a local restaurant.
I tried the local speciality rice…sticky rice…it is rice and it is sticky! Had a massive pot of sticky rice with my chicken and chilli in coconut sauce, it was so glutinous it took me a couple of days to digest!
The next morning we walked back down to the boat, boarded and set sail again along the stunning Mekong towards Luang Prabang.
During the tranquil sail along, I asked the local guide what animals live in the forest/jungle alongside the Mekong…monkeys and civets was the response! I then said ‘oh I have seen civets in Indonesia, they have civet shit coffee there and its the most expensive in the world, do you produce that too?’ (Me thinking surely a sure-fired way to get out poverty at £30 for a small packet!!) but alas no, they do not collect civet shit for coffee but they do make tea from the shit of silkworms!!!! Delightful!
After arriving in Luang Prabang (or LP for short) we headed out to the main town and wandered the night market before dinner.
Wednesday morning we hit the fresh food market which was an experience…everything from fruit and veg, to clothes and meat and fish. Asian markets are always good at encouraging vegetarianism and this was no different! I spotted dead chickens, live chickens, half dead chickens, bits of chicken, bowls of chicken feet, some animals intestines chopped up into handy sized portions complete with the last meal that animal ate inside, dead fish, half-dead fish that were slowly suffocating and had their eyes replaced with hooks! Pretty grim! I think we all turned vegetarian for a day or two after!
Traumatised by our fresh food market experience we headed to a temple and then the Ethnology Centre which is small but very informative about the people of Laos, where they come from, how different tribes dress and behave and an insight into their weaving practices.
After lunch we jumped in a minibus and headed to the Kuang Sii Falls, we walked up to see the waterfall before swimming in 3 turquoise pools of icy cold water! I must admit I took a dip in the first, passed on the second and third due to huge hungry fish who took it upon themselves to dine on your toes and legs!
After the falls we swung by a bear rescue centre to see some cute Asiatic Black Bears.
The evening saw us having a drink at a proper backpackers bar called Utopia before myself, Patrick and Lyn headed to a small eatery called World for something that wasn’t rice! Most of the menu either came with rice or was some version of cooked frog! So we opted for veggie spring rolls and some chips! A must say after all the rice a small portion of chips and mayo tasted like Michelin star food!
The following day was free so a few of us headed out for a walk along the Mekong, crossed a ropey wood and bamboo bridge, checked out a handmade jewellery shop, then walked to a couple of temples. We wandered round the clearly French-looking streets past boutique hotels, boutique shops, French-inspired eateries and classic cars!
One temple we wandered around was Wat Xieng Thong which is much like any other temple really but pleasant to stroll around and observe a few dozen more buddhas! It does have amazing artwork, buddhas and interior decor though!
We left the temple in pursuit of a cold drink and found a nice place alongside the Mekong (yes I know everything is alongside the Mekong!). We sat watching the world go by for a while.
Lunch was another bakery affair, quiche, served by a man unfortunately named ‘Thong’!
The afternoon was relatively low-key, mainly playing cards once I had evicted the chain-smoking, loud Chinese tourists from our balcony! Bloody Chinese get everywhere!
That evening we climbed some 300 steps up a hill in the middle of town to check out Buddhas Footprint, it’s a large hole in the ground…and watch sunset from the temple and stupa at the top. Bit hazy but still….
Friday, Naa had signed us all up for handing out alms to monks, so up at 5am to roll balls of sticky rice and place them in the monks alms bowls! All in a days’ work, didn’t anticipate utilising culinary skills that time of the morning so there may be some monks in LP with sticky rice balls coated in mosquito repellent! Fingers crossed no newspaper articles appear regarding poisoned monks!
Monks poisoned, sorry fed…we jumped aboard the minibus and made our way into the mountains and clouds to Vang Vieng (VV). We were meant to stop and admire a viewpoint but as visibility was about an inch we didn’t bother. The drive was a hairy 4 hours of overtaking on blind bends whilst driving blind and dodging fearless cows who were happily chilling out on the road (its like The Holy Cow all over again!)
That evening, nerves intact just, we hit Gary’s Irish Bar for St Patrick’s Day, mainly so Irish could feel at home for the night! The night involved guiness, baby guiness and the closet I have got to a pie in a while and probably will do for another few months! The pastry was substandard but the steak and ale filling, mash and gravy were spot on!
Most of us left at a reasonable hour apart from Irish who stayed until later and then got accosted by a ladyboy masseuse who attempted to drag him into a spa for a ‘special massage’! He claims he turned her/him down and rapidly headed home but who knows, the words ‘secret’ and ‘grave’ spring to mind!
Saturday passed as only a saturday should..huge croissant and hot chocolate from the bakery, good job we are walking so much to burn all these bloody croissants off! Damn the French!
Then Lyn and I hit the town on a mission to source superglue and elastic! Sounds far more sinister than it is…I needed superglue to fix my flip flops (well not so much fix as prolong life) and Lyn needed elastic to prolong the life of some trousers that were too big!
Found something akin to superglue in one of the marts..could have been M-Mart, P-Mart, B-Mart or J-Mart…they all blend into one, and bizarrely don’t run alphabetically down the street which if suffering from OCD could be somewhat troublesome! Anyway the packaging had a picture of a scantily-clad Asian woman bending over with a chair stuck to her arse, so assumed whatever the product was it would stick my flip flops together!
The elastic was somewhat more challenging but we sourced it from a lady who tailored bespoke clothing! Boom!
In the afternoon Lyn and I went for a stroll across a rickety old bridge and out to the river, the walk out was ok the walk back involved some river wading which gave me the opportunity to try out my new neoprene shoes! Worked a treat!
On route back we swung past a temple before meeting the group for sunset at Earth Bar.
The following morning we left VV and headed down to the capital, Vientiane. The drive was picturesque and entertaining as we passed through villages called Hin Tit, Pong Song, Phone Ho, Phone Hom (think ET), Thard Moon and my personal favourite Thong Pong!
We arrived lunchtime into Vientiane and had a walk around town before popping to COPE visitors centre which is a centre dedicated to UXO (unexploded ordnance) and the removal of it. Laos was more heavily bombed than other country and has been severely affected by a war that they were not part of. Villages and families have been ripped apart both during the war in Vietnam and still now, unexploded cluster bombs lie in their hundreds of thousands still across the country and although NGOs are working round the clock to clear them, sometimes locals accidentally find them before they have had a chance to clear them! People have been killed, men have lost their sight making them unable to work and provide for families, children have lost limbs. Terrible!
On the plus side, there is now international recognition of the issue and support is making a difference.
We left a donation as a group in the donation box, which is fittingly a prosthetic leg! Hopefully making a small difference!
The evening saw us head out for our last group meal to a nice rooftop restaurant before heading back to pack our bags. Thelma & Louise are returning to Thailand to lounge in Koh Samui for a week, Naa is returning home and the others (Lyn, Irish, Steve & Patrick) are heading to Vietnam on the next portion of a 30 days trip.
Today has seen me take a brief stroll along the boardwalk and park beside the Mekong with Patrick & Lyn before sadly saying goodbye to everyone, well not goodbye more ‘see you another time’!
So, I will be heading off in the morning to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. I have a couple of days on my own to chill out, walk around town, finish the book I am reading and laze about in the sun before meeting the next group of Travel Buddies Thursday evening and commencing a 2 week jaunt around Cambodia!
So to sign off, I summarise Laos as thus:-
Number of steps done – 115,000 give or take!
Number of times eaten rice – 8
Number of croissants consumed – 5 one of them being the size of about 3 croissants!
Favourite Dish – Steak & Ale Pie, Mash & Gravy in Gary’s Irish Bar (you can take the girl out of England but you can’t take England out of the girl! Bloody immense gravy as well!)
Number of places in Vang Vieng who claim to be the only restaurant with a wood fired pizza oven – 6