Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vang Vieng, Laos

Sabai dee - hello

Our way to Vang Vieng on our minibus was great at first. We met a couple from Denmark and a couple from Canada that were on the bus with us. It was very mountainous terrain along the way and our minibus was struggling from the get go. We knew we were in for the long haul when it started smoking. The driver pushed the bus as far as it would go until it was stuffed basically. They didn't speak any English and we didn't know what was going to happen and we were in the middle of nowhere! They gestured for us to get out and start walking up the hill. We were all sticking out our thumbs to catch a ride. The six of us ended up catching a ride in the back of a cattle truck the remainder of the 200km to Vang Vieng. Was funny in the end but sore on the old backs.

After our long journey we found our accommodation and checked into Sisavang guesthouse, rooms were good and clean and cheap. We freshened up then went out to find some dinner. We had a real craving for some pizza, we found this great little place and ordered a big feed and a bucket to share. We ended up joining tables with an English couple Jordan and Kathy. We got along really well and all ended up getting unexpectedly drunk together. We don't remember walking home but we made it and woke up the next day with very sore heads. We wasted the whole day in bed really ill. The following day we met up with Kathy and Jordan again and went Tubing!! I took our dive camera so we could get some great shots. It's on the Nam Song River and their are bars lined up on both sides of the river. The music was loud and everyone was in the mood to party. Most the bars had swings from them that you could swing from into the water. Or big slides from the bars into the water. We had the best day! If you wanted to stop at a bar they would throw you a line and pull you in, give you a free shot of whisky and half price drinks. We stopped at one bar that had mud volleyball, we all had our shots of whisky and played a game of volleyball in the mud, was so much fun and very messy. Luke hurt his big toe nail and almost tore it off, was really sore for him for a few days but he is all good now.

Had some amazing photo's on our camera and we couldn't wait to put them up to show everyone cause its one of those one of a kind of places. Unfortunately the camera disappeared never to be seen again.
We were so devastated but were still quiet drunk. We finished the tubing just in time before 6pm so we could get our deposit back. We met up with Kathy and Jordan again and went to have some dinner. We were all so drunk and loud when we think back on it and we had met a crazy guy throughout the day from Alabama. For some reason we thought it was the funniest idea to all talk in Alabama accents, this went on for quite some time. We feel sorry for the rest of the restaurant. Lucky for us Vang vieng is a pretty laid back sort of place. We said our goodbyes before parting ways, they said they would show us the real London when we came over that way, so we are really looking forward to meeting up with them again.
The next day we mourned for our photo's and camera and spent the day in bed again hungover. We did get out and actually do something besides drink, believe it or not!

We did a full day caving/tubing/kayaking trip. Went to an amazing labyrinth of water caves in our tubes. We kayaked 8kn down the river to Vang Vieng. The day was spent with four other people, two were from South Korea, one from Taiwan and one from China. They all spoke broken English and it was very funny having conversations in English. All were really nice guys and fun to be with. The Chinese guy was particularly funny. We stopped at one of the tubing bars on the way through and shared a bucket and had a few swings from the bar into the water. Fun day in the end. Tomorrow we leave on a bus to Vientiane and then catch the sleeping bus to Hanoi, Vietnam. 26hrs in total, wish us luck!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Luang Prabang

Arriving in Luang Prabang we could instantly notice the change of pace on the roads. Everyone was just putting along in no hurry compared to Thailand. We at our accommodation, Sopha guesthouse right on the Nam Kahn River, nice spot, rooms clean and staff were helpful. Only stayed the one night as we found another place which was 60,000 kip cheaper p/night. Our new place was almost right on the Mekong River. Great location, rooms didn't seem very clean and we soon realised it was very noisy, not from other guests but from the family that lived there and they woke up at 6:00am every morning!
The boy that lived there had a bit of a thing for Luke and said he had beautiful skin and was very handsome.
During our stay we watched the sun set over the Mekong river which was kinda special. We went out for a nice meal on valentines day. Alot of amazing restaurants here and expensive accommodation as well. Alot of older people rich people come to visit and everything closes around 11:30pm. We visited named Wat Xieng Thong, it was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat and had lots of impressive mosaics throughout the temple. There is also a Royal funeral chapel within the gates. Inside the chapel is a very large 12m high funeral chariot with carved dragons on it. We also visited Pak Ou caves about an hr drive north in a tuk tuk, it is right on the Mekong and at the mouth of the Nam On river. The caves are set into limestone cliffs and are filled with hundreds of Buddha statues. On our way up the steep steps to the upper level cave I heard something in the bushes, stopped for a second then went to continue up the steps when all of a sudden this 2m long snake literally comes flying through the air from a nearby branch and lands right in front of us. Luckily it raced off away from us but was pretty quick. Not sure what type it was?

About an hour south of Luang Prabang by tuk tuk we visited Tat Kuang Si Falls and also Kuang Si rescue centre for moon and sun bears.( ) Most of the bears have been rescued from bile farms and poachers. It was absolutely beautiful to see them interact with each other as most had been kept in a cage the size of a coffin their whole life and never met another bear or climbed a tree or felt grass under their feet.
The falls were truly magical, the water was turquoise blue, surrounded by ancient trees surrounding the pools with their twisted roots and there was a swing to swing from into the water. We spent a few hours here and found it hard to leave. Tomorrow we head to Vang Vieng by mini bus.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chiang Mai

We caught the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, 12hr trip. We decided to have a sleeping tablet each to try and hurry the journey along. We slept off and on and we didn't prepare clothing wise as we were freezing cold from the aircon and didn't really sleep at all just really tired. Got to Chiang Mai at 6:30am very tired and got a taxi to our accommodation. We arrived way before check in time but they were very kind and gave us a room to stay in and sleep until our room was ready. We got up bout lunchtime and decided to go exploring. We had some lunch then wandered around, we came across the night bazaar, there was so many talented artists doing very realistic sketches and paintings of people, their artwork was crazy good.

We called it a night and decided that we would hire some motorbikes the next day and head up into the mountains to visit a the oldest temple in Thailand, Doi Suthep.
We woke early and got on our bikes and headed up the mountain. The scenery along the was was amazing and we did a few stops along the way, one was at a swimming hole with lots of local and foreign guys jumping off high trees into a small but deep rock pool there was also a food stall selling all sorts of fired bugs to eat with a sign saying "Try if you Dare" (Hell no!). We thought they must have been crazy. When we arrived at the temple we were taken back by the beauty of it. Took loads of photo's and just people watched the locals really to see what this was all about. On our way back to our bikes we saw the cutest young girl, probably about 4yrs old. She was all dressed up in traditional hill tribe costume and was singing a little song to herself. We thought she was adorable and went to take a picture of her, as soon as the button clicked on the camera she was up demanding money, so we gave her all the spare change we had, not much. They train the children very young we are discovering.

After we got on our bikes we raced back down to the mountain as we had booked a Thai vegetarian cooking class the previous night. We arrived with not a minute to spare.The course went for 5 hrs and Luke and I came up with the menu of 9 courses. We did the course with 3 guys from Israel, very nice and got along very well with them all. The feast we cooked up was amazing and we are really looking forward to having a Thai cooking night with everyone when we arrive back home.
The next day we did a day trip out to the Elephant Nature Park, about an hour out of town. It is a place for rescued and abused elephants. We got to feed them, bath them learn about them and their past and also watched a very disturbing but interesting documentary on how they break the elephant's spirit so people are able to ride them. Was a horrible thing to watch and we strongly recommend that you don't encourage this tourism practice. If you were to watch this video you would never ride an elephant again.
Was a highlight of our trip and was an emotional day full of amazing highs and some sad lows but a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
When we got back to town that night it was about 6:00pm and we were told that it was Sunday night markets on Walking street. They close off the whole street and have the most amazing stalls of crafts and food and local traditional music playing all around you and the atmosphere is fantastic! We stumbled onto a 4 pieces band all of which were blind, they're music sounded amazing and we were in awe of their talent.

Our next stop was Luang Prabang, we asked around to see how long it would take overland and we found out i was a day but bus and two days by boat. We really didn't have the time to waste on 3 days travelling so we decided to fly. Was expensive but suited our situation at the time.