Sorry for the delay, we’ve been busy bee’s.
Laos is the final country on our G Adventures tour before we returned back to Thailand where it all started.
We didn’t really know much about Laos before we started, apart from it’s a landlocked country and nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia. It boarders China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
From Vietnam we landed in Vientiane – dropped our bags off at the hotel and went exploring in the tuk tuks. We went to another temple and then to the their version of the Arc de Triomphe called Patuxai Arch. It’s considered one of their most important monuments. In case you were thinking, whoa I wish I knew more facts about it… The monument was built using American funds and cement actually intended to build a new airport. The Royal Laotian Government instead built the monument, which earned it the nickname of the “vertical runway”. We climbed to the top of it, which normally would not be too bad. 30 + degrees always makes things a little harder to do. We’ll not complain too much as we know there has been a lot of cold weather and snow back home. Any tourist attraction here we have found you will generally face a barrage of market stalls, this was no different. Hidden halfway up the many stairs you’re greeted with a market full of tat. It was worth the climb as the view was beautiful and we found out Maarten was petrified of heights. Much to his horror when Stu found this out…
That night we went for a curry with the group – when we arrived our tour guide Phil was shocked because the restaurant said they no longer served alcohol. Phil would’t have any of it, and they ended up going to a local shop for us to get beer to go with the curry. Then we preceded to a local bar, which we later discovered was more of a hot spot for the older western gentleman and some very convincing lady boys…
The following morning we headed to Vang Vieng, this journey was a long and winding road up the mountains, which provided some beautiful views. We stopped off at one of the peaks for lunch and this allowed the girls and Maarten to do a photo shoot.
Vang Vieng is a typical backpackers town – with most shop fronts offering tours and dry sacks or the well established symbol of a tourist spot, the Irish bar. Phil suggested we got cheap street food and then head to the bars. We headed to the recommended street vendors, half the menu was pancakes (winning) and half was cooked sandwiches. We ordered our sandwiches with an emphasis on NO MEAT for Emma’s. Language barrier and the idea of a vegetarian being very foreign to them, we ended up with two massive meat subs. So we made one street dog very happy and the Irish bar saved the day for Emma with cheesy chips.
The next day was activity day, which was needed after sitting in a van for 7 hours the day before. First activity was going through the caves on rubber rings, the water was super cold and we had to wear helmets and head torches. It was a bit of a random thing to do, apart from the groups rendition of Bonnie Tyler echoing in the cave, it was anti climatic and you got to the end of a tunnel and just made your way back. Thankfully the second activity was zip lining. We both really enjoy this and it looked massive from the ground. We would say the only element of this activity which frightened us, was the stairs and ladders up to the zip lining platforms. These are the only parts you’re not attached to a line, and they seemed held together with duct tape and hope. Once we safely made it down to the bottom we had lunch and then headed for kayaking. It was 8 km back to our hotel, which was lots of fun as there were little sections of rapids. The river was also very low as we’re travelling in the dry seasons, so lots of people were getting stuck on top of rocks. The river used to be full of tubing and was shut down for a while as the town got a very bad reputation. Headlines reading “Laos town known for drunkenness and tourist deaths, cleans up its act.” Thankfully it seemed to be a lot calmer than how Phil described it in its heyday.
Luang Prabang was our next town to travel to and this is a UNESCO heritage site. It was made so in 1995 and is considered as being the heart of the Laoatian culture. It’s more of a developed town, with beautiful buildings and you can tell instantly the difference from other towns we’ve travelled through in Laos. We had the opportunity to do some laundry here too for a little freshen up of the same set of clothes we’ve been styling. It’s nice not having to do your own washing, but it’s always a bit of a lottery when your clothes have been returned. What’s shrunk, what’s changed colour and what’s missing. Mostly the top tip we’ve learnt is anything white will come back brown and anything you really like, wash by hand.
The night market here is huge and more relaxed compared to others we have seen in Southeast Asia. They love a night market, but usually you’re just constantly harassed to buy something. Some of the products are nice but they get very repetitive, although Em did manage to find a dress, which she looks lush in. After seeing some more sites we had some tasty food and treated ourselves to espresso martinis and brownie for dessert. Being a UNESCO heritage site it has a curfew in place so by 23:30 all business are required to close by law. Phil advised us that there was a bowling alley run by the Chinese mafia, which is popular with the tourist. It’s was only slightly out of the town and stays open past the curfew and served alcohol, perfect.
We had an early departure to get to our boat for the two day cruise along the Mekong River. Luckily as we had such a large group we had the whole boat to ourselves, which we were grateful for as we saw the public boat and it was cramped. We had so much room on ours and there was even some bed areas on it. We settled in for 8 hours cruising along this beautiful river, where we were served lunch and dinner by the family on board who ran the boat. Their child soon became our friend as we had the biggest bag of Mentos sweets, so he got one every time he walked past. Though he did have to fight for them with Silje, she’s now addicted because of us! We had a random stop half way to see the Buddha cave, which was just rammed full of every variety of Buddha statue they could fit in. It was slightly interesting to see, but not a must do.
Muang Pakbéng a small village is where we did our home stay for the night. This was far more basic than the one we previously did in Vietnam. The village was very isolated and had around 80 people that lived in it. We got shown around the different facilities, the homes they have, the school and their version of a shop. Due to it being stricter in the village, if you were not married then you couldn’t share a room. Myself and the three other guys were led off into the darkness of the village. Thankfully Sam Cooper aka boy scout had given us torches (Thanks hero). The accommodation was basic but cosy, a mosquito net and a small mattress and sheet. We shared a hut with a man which we guessed lived there, who spoke no English. He just looked at us all, and pulled a wire off a car battery and the light went out. We presumed he meant it was time for bed. We were trying to be quiet, but ended up in fits of laughter since we heard every animal walking past that night, even a cow with loudest cow bell.
That night there was a huge storm and these huts had corrugated metal roofs so it was so loud. Emma and some of the girls got to stay in the chiefs building, so it was slightly sturdier. She had Alicia aka the snorer and Tash aka coughing fit to keep her up all night. Plus she had to go pee while the storm was kicking off, so got very wet. Early rise with a 5 am leaving time that morning. No one minded as we had been up most of the night and we knew the boat was comfy. First time since we started the weather felt a bit chilly – we settled in for another long cruise for a leg back to Thailand.
Once we were near the boarder, we had to take a small bus ride, walk across the boarder hoping they let us back in and then another set of mini vans. We picked up a new local tour guide as well as having Phil and headed to Chiang Khong for one night. This was just a stop over to get some food and decent nights rest.
Next morning we headed to Chiang Mai – on the way there we stopped off at the White Temple or formally known as Wat Rong Khun. Another temple, there are loads and they are everywhere. The White Temple is a must see though, because it’s very unique and they don’t allow you to take pictures inside. We got to take some outside, which shows all the skulls, spikes and other things you’d not expect to see at a temple. The inside is just mental, there is some very detailed paintings on the wall of all manor of things. There’s one wall which is a massive skull and around it is modern day figures and cartoons. Within each eye are separate figures, one is Osama Bin Laden and one is George W Bush. There’s also paintings of the twin towers in flames, Michael Jackson and Harry Potter to name a few. Sat in the middle of it is a wax work monk. Very bizarre but one of the most interesting ones we had seen.
Chiang Mai was a town surrounded by an old moat. While on the tour we generally get top tips from Phil as he’s been to these countries many times and knows which attractions to go to. The first one was to get a massage by an ex convict, who through their rehabilitation programme would learn a skill to allow them to get a job and back into society. It was a dedicated facility where we both went and had a massage. We’re writing this, so we both survived… Second activity not to be missed while in Thailand was Thai Boxing. A few of the group were up for this, Phil’s contacts got us decent seats and we watched a number of men, women and blindfolded men try and beat the living day lights out of each other. It was awesome.
Our last night train and Bangkok here we are and the big fair well to our group! It’s been an awesome 30 day tour and genuinely loved it. We have met some very amazing people and made some new friends. It’s pot luck who you get in your group and we hit gold. Alicia, our hero and friend for life, can’t wait to see you in Bali for more de-briefs. Tash and Jess the pride of Wales, was so lovely meeting you both. The four Norwegians with two of you being our favourites… Stan and his German friend. The Belgium boys for giving us so much entertainment. Rose, you deserve a medal for putting up with Alicia, as no one else would. Plus all the others for the hilarious memories made and making it so enjoyable. We have taken far too many photos and try not to bore you with too many.
For our final night together Phil suggested we go to the Sky Bar for a drink and to get a great view of Bangkok. The Sky Bar features in the Hangover 2 movie and Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father (Hilarious and on Netflix if you’ve not seen). We had to dress up as no shorts or flip flops were allowed in this classy establishment. Phil had already warned us of the price of the drinks, and sold it as you’re paying for the view. Luckily the view was spectacular as it was £16 a cocktail. Considering we had been drinking whiskey that was £1 for the bottle, we felt we had saved enough for this treat. Loads of tears and emotions at all the goodbyes, but most people were off on their own new adventures, which we get to keep updated with and this is just the start of our adventure.
Next stop – we’re currently are is Philippines…