Hah, I’m pretty late with this post as the Laos trip started on the 25th Jan to 11th Feb 2017. Whoops.Anyways, this is following on from leaving the border town of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam to across the border in Laos and incidentally when it was also a start of a new friendship 🙂 More to come later!
Here’s Chris outside the border crossing, we had to pay $3 each for ‘processing fee’ (my ass) for the entry stamp. Luckily we had already got our Laos visas back in Hanoi so they couldn’t take anymore money off us for processing the visas.
We arrived in Muang Khua – Laos, a quiet little border town filled with guesthouses, lots of rogue chickens.
We hung out with the people we met on the bus across the border plus a crazy French guy we met in Dien Bien Phu. It was a nice evening with them all but travelling in a large group is no fun at all. People have different budgets to you, or different standards of what they want in a room or they randomly walk off to do something else when nothing has been decided yet. Never again.
Anyways, it was good because we met a couple of travellers from Switzerland who we clicked with. And the next morning when we were waiting for the boat to take us down to the next village (Muang Ngoi), I had a feeling and decided to ask them if they wanted to join us there (half being cheeky, the other half genuine with a dash of hope) and they said yes and changed their tickets! (They were going to head further down the river)
Later they told us they were wondering whether we were being floskel (sp?) I think it’s a Swiss german word meaning insincere, of course we were sincere cough But in all honesty, I’m so glad I asked.
Here are our new friends (replacements for Becky and Jimmy, only joking..?) Fynn on the left, then Meret and of course Chris.
The river boat is pretty narrow maybe 4/5 feet across with tiny little planks to sit on. It’s no fun if you’re tall because your knees touch your chest. The young daughter of the boat owners was only tiny but she knew how to moor up!
Awesome view of the river we travelled down.
Welcome to Muang Ngoi, a one dirt street village that only installed 24/7 electricity back in 2013. Prior to that it was only electricity from 5pm-10pm. It’s really beautiful but sad because everything now is either a guesthouse, laundry place or a shop or a restaurant and you could almost imagine it being a quiet village with no electricity or wi-fi back in the day. I read someone’s acc of it back in the 90s and they just stayed in a family’s spare room and played with the kids and ate with them (there was nowhere else).
There’s also too many tourists for the size of the place and when it expands, it’ll be really sad as it’ll lose its charm therefore I recommend that you don’t go.
Dogs sleep anywhere and everywhere.
We lucked out and stayed in an awesome bungalow overlooking the river and played games. It was such a beautiful location,who knows how much longer it’ll stay like that?
Our bunglalow.The sad thing is that there was only 1 hammock per room.
View of the river and some cows crossing it.
During our time there, we went out for a wander to some caves and the next village nearby.
Along the way we came across this lady weaving scarves. It’s insane, it takes her 2 days to weave a standard design which she then sells for 60,000 kip and that is only £5/6!
I bought a scarf, there’s no point haggling as the difference is so minute and it’s worth more to her than it is to you.
On our way to the next village.
The next village. It’s probably what Muang Ngoi used to be like 10 years ago, it has a more casual and quiet feel about it. People getting on with stuff and I think only 2 guesthouses and a small restaurant in total. The one dirt street seems even more casual if that’s possible.
It was sad to leave and know it won’t be the same if we ever go back.
Our next stop was Nong Khiaw, just down the river by boat again. It’s the place to be in order to catch wheeled transport to Luang Prabang – UNESCO city of Laos as you cannot go further down the river due to a dam.
Chris and I decided to stop off over night as we were in no rush and Meret and Fynn went straight to the bus station to go to Luang Prabang – we’d arranged to meet up in LP and along other places like Cambodia if we can (it turned out that we met up in LP and Vientiane). It’s really nice to make travelling friends and get to know each other so you can make jokes and stuff.
We had a nice view of the river again in another bungalow, the evening light was beautiful.
A view from the bridge.
We caught the minivan the next morning to Luang Prabang and it was an interesting ride as the roads aren’t in the best condition and we kept flying out of our seats every time we hit a hole. We got to Luang Prabang and had a nasty shock, a lot of places were full and one place was charging $100 for a standard double room! Luckily we found a room within our £10 ($12) budget although no hot water (being in Laos reminds me how we take hot water for granted in the west as not all places have them and also flush toilets. Quite a few places just have a scoop and a bucket of water to flush with).
We spoke to a french couple staying at the same place and they told us how they spent 4 hours (!) looking for a place at the weekend – it was chinese new year weekend and a lot of chinese tourists came then and filled up the place. But also, LP didn’t seem to have the capacity to take that many tourists because even over the next few days, there were quite a few tourists who came by trying to get a room.
It’s been interesting getting rooms in Laos, as quite a few places aren’t online (especially in the rural places and even in cities) and you just have to go in and have a look the old fashioned way. Instructions on what to do:
- walk around and find a guesthouse
- ask if they have any rooms
- ask how much it is
- ask to have a look at it
- check out the room and bathroom (and check out if it’s a flush toilet and if they have hot water although it’s not a deal breaker but more like bonuses)
It’s not a bad thing to do this because there’s more choice and you can check the room out in person and even if they’re on booking.com, it’s actually cheaper in person because the guesthouse doesn’t have to pay a fee to booking.com. In fact our double room with bathroom in Vang Vieng (our next stop after LP) was about the same price as a friend’s pre booked dorm room on booking.com in the same guesthouse.
So we discover why Luang Prabang is such a popular tourist destination, it’s really pretty with lots of french influences which you can see in the architecture.
They have beautiful temples too.
A cheeky one time expensive treat. Museli for Chris and coffee. (Chris has started drinking coffee with condensed milk, I have no idea who he is anymore). And mango pancakes for me with mango shake.
The cafe had cool lighting on the wall.
We met up with our friend Veronica who we met back in Hanoi. There was a landslide by the river…
I like how Laos people when faced with a bit of (not the above landslide) broken pavement, they fill it in unlike what we generally saw in Vietnam. Also another thing I like is that the roads are quieter than Vietnam.
One of my favourite things about Laos are the fruit shakes. Any combination is possible for a princely sum of 10,000 kip – that’s £1 or $1.25. Amazing. I think my favourite flavour combo is dragonfruit, pineapple and lime with ice, you get the subtle sweetness and refreshing taste from dragonfruit, then sweetness from pineapple with a bit of acidity plus the acidity and refreshing taste of lime..mm I really miss the fruit shakes.
Our fun in Luang Prabang came to an end and we moved south onto the town of Vang Vieng. Generally I don’t think people in Laos knew how to drive a car or do parking manoeuvres, our minivan driver did not know how to drive downhill – he just drove in 1st gear all the time and kept slowing down whenever the vehicle sped up! Even Qiuyuan, our new Chinese friend who doesn’t know how to drive said she could drive better than he could! I definitely believe she could drive better.
Anyways Vang Vieng- known as a backpackers place filled with delightful drunk people and tubing (you float down a river on a floatable device maybe even whilst drunk) and bars showing Friends on repeat. Okay, we did go to the bar with Friends and watched 3 hours of it. Sometimes you have to as it’s comforting. Vang Vieng wasn’t that bad once you escape and go out into the countryside to explore.
Look – amazing scenery! Chris did a stupid 30k cycle trip full of bumpy dirt roads (and ended up with a sore ass) and I went for a walk and ended up climbing a small hill (in the foreground on the right in the below picture). Amazing views. I may have claimed it was a mountain on facebook but that hill is deceptive – it’s straight up all the way, the incline probably about 30-45 degrees as the route doesn’t wind around as the other side of the hill is a sheer drop.
You start with some nice and steep rickety bamboo ladders to begin with (one even requiring 4 points of contact) and I did think about giving up because I hate steep clambering and it ends with more clambering up rocks. It’s not fun in 30 degree heat.
You see, it’s steep! I think the bamboo ladders were the worst as it was rickety and the rungs were so far apart that I had to climb back down backwards on the descent.
Good view though. I met some nutters at the top from Melbourne who did it in flip flops.
Vang Vieng is another place which is drastically changing – it’s probably what Muang Ngoi looks like in the future. Look at all those nasty hotels being built along the river front.
So pleased when I found this local badminton place except playing in normal Vans is not a good idea. I ended up getting a massive blister bigger than 50p or 2p coin.
The local kids didn’t have badminton shoes to play in (they have tough as nails soles), only the older men (who could afford them) did. Positive, they played with feathers, negative – they still played old rules…
I also ruined my favourite shorts playing badminton. They’ve been with me for 6 years…I hope no one noticed the big hole because I didn’t notice it until I walked back to the guesthouse to have a shower before dinner.Oh dear.
We move south west onto Vientiane, the capital of Laos (near the border to Thailand just so you know). It definitely was more of a city than Luang Prabang. So here’s something I spotted whilst in Vietnam and Laos – narrow buildings. Apparently it’s expensive to have a wide house along the street so people build narrow buildings instead.
We went to a COPE centre about UXO – unexploded ordinances. I’m not sure if you’re aware but Laos is the most bombed place in the world. The Americans dumped a load of bombs in the 1970s during the Vietnam war and there’s still so many bombs that are still there. It is dangerous to wander off unmarked paths and people are still maimed and killed by them. Villagers have to be educated about the dangers of these bombs because to them, they think it’s precious metal (even though it may be dangerous) that they can potentially turn into scrap to use as spoons, lamps, axes etc. A few kids died because they played with one. A man had his arms blown off and lost one of his eyes because he heard that bombs are a good way to catch fish (even though he heard it was dangerous). These are only a few of the stories. It has also affected livihood in other ways because villagers can’t farm in case there’s a bomb in the field so how do they make a living?
COPE is an organisation which has been helping people by making prosthetics for free and educating villagers about the dangers of the bombs.
After leaving Vientiane, we went across the border to Thailand into the town of Nong Khai. Laos is just in background behind Chris. We’ve really enjoyed Laos, I hope you don’t change too much.
The next post will cover our week or 2 in Thailand before we went to Cambodia for several weeks. And to confuse you further, we’re now in Penang, Malaysia. Yep there’s a lot of catching up to do, keep your eyes peeled!
Just to end on a random thing (which may give you in a glimpse into the Chinese and probably other asian psyches) something I’d noticed in a Japanese store – you can actually buy tape to give yourself double eyelids. WTF. A lot of Asians think double eyelids is the way to go and some even have surgery. Cream with whitening chemicals is another thing as to be pale is a good thing.