A Travellerspoint blog

Luang Prabang, Plain of Jars and Vieng Xai

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Our time in Luang Prabang involved mainly spending too much money. They had a great night market and we bought enough to fill a large box to post home the next day. Also the french influence was very apparent here. With really good cafes and street vendors sellling very tasty baguettes.

The highlight of our stay here was a trip to Kuang Si waterfalls about 25km away from the town. It is a series of small beautiful waterfalls in the jungle. The water is a bright blue colour and when we got there in the morning it was deserted. After lunch though the coach parties arrived and the pool we were swimming in got very busy.

Check out the photos on the facebook group or on my page.

Our next stop was Phonsavanh. The town itself wasn't very interesting but it's the closest place to the Plain of Jars. This consists of many seperate sites, sometimes with hundreds, sometimes just a few large stone jars. No one really knows how old they are or why they are there. This meant the tour wasn't very interesting as the guide didn't have a lot to say and once you've seen a collection of large stone jars on a hill the rest are all prettty similar. The tour did include a trip to a village where they make Lao Lao, a rice whiskey that most people make at home. We got a free sample, just what we needed at 11am.

We were now coming to the end of our time in Laos and we made ourway to a town near the boarder with Vietnam, Vieng Xai. The area around the town is an impressive landscape of massive limestone karst formations riddled with caves. This is where the emerging Communist government set up their headquarters after the Americans bombed them out of the Plain of Jars area. Some caves were natural, some manmade but they built everything the government needed underground. There was even a large underground theatre for putting on shows. The area was so heavily bombed by the Americans they say on average a bomb fell every eight seconds 24 hours a day for months.

Our time in Laos had now come to an end and we made for the boarder with two other couples we had met in Vieng Xai. The journey to the boarder was in the back of a small pickup with benches in, which broke down on the way and had to be fixed by the side of the road. Once we finally got to the boarder a bus to Hanoi had just turned up as we got the Vietnam side. Naturally we were completely overcharged for the bus trip as we didn't have any other way to get to Hanoi. What followed was a very very long bus journey with some very dangerous driving and angry bus drivers.

The first half of the journey wasn't too bad and the contrast in the scenery in Vietnam to Laos was amazing. In Laos all the rice fields were dry with no rice planted, in Vietnam they were a bright green. Every possible part of the valleys were terraced and planted with rice. Making the landscape look like a giant green patchwork.

As we got out of the hills and into the towns it wasn't so pleasant. There were so many people on the roads compared to Laos. There are about 6 million people in Laos compared to Vietnams 80million plus in a country of roughly the same size. We got to the largest town we had seen in weeks and had to change buses and this is where it went down hill.

The driver was a maniac and as soon as we got in he proceeded to drive up and down the main street at breakneck speed, sounding his horn repeatedly in an effort to fill the bus up before going to Hanoi. Eventually it was full and we got on the highway where he maintained the crazy speed and overtaking with barely enough room. At one point as he was driving way to fast a motorbike with two guys on got in the way and he had to break extremely hard to avoid killing them. The bike narrowly escaped and carried on un-harmed. Not satisfied with leaving it at that the driver set off after them, cut them up into the wall, stopped the bus and a group of people got out one with a metal pole and tried to beat the motorcyclists. They were quite elderly guys who looked bemused and petrified at the same time confronted by this group of shouting young men. Eventually the bus drivers left them got back in the bus having a good old joke about the whole thing.

This did nothing to slow the driver down though and he continued to drive dangerously. We came to a road toll and he tried to go to quickly and collided slightly with the barrier and proceeded to get out and argue very aggressively with the police officers there!

Eventually we got to Hanoi unscathed, got in a taxoi with a warp speed meter but a very slow driver and arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. To top the day off as we all made our way to a hotel I noticed we were being followed and as soon as we stopped the guy tried open a zip pocket on the bag of one of the guys we had been travelling with. I saw im do it accosted him and he just looked at me as if he'd done nothing wrong and walked off.

After leaving Vieng Xai at 6:30 we arrived in Hanoi at 21:30, 15 hours later after a long and sometimes stressful day.

Welcome to Vietnam.

Posted by AandSTrip 21:49 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nong Khiew and boat trip to Luang Prabang

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Our next destination was Nong Khiaw. We travelled there with the two French guys we met whist trekking. When we arrived we were immediatly taken aback by the scenery. The village was actually two small settlements either side of the Nam Ou river set in a large gorge. We spent two nights here, one of which we had a bungalow built into the side of the gorge, with our own balcony and hammock.

One evening I played Petanque (French Boules) with the French guys and the locals. The game is popular in Laos, a remenant of French colonial times, along with the baguette. They play for beer, the loser buys! Julian and Julian challenged the locals but ended up buying a lot of beer.

To get to Luang Prabang we had two options; sit on a bus along a bumpy road for 4 hours or get a boat down the river (apparently the most scenic river ride in Laos) for 7 hours. We chose the boat. We set off all crammed into the boat only slightly later than planned. The journey was definately more pleasant than a bus ride. A few times we had to negotiate a few small rapids and at one point we all had to get out so the driver could get the boat down a particularly tricky set and we had to walk. As we went back down to the river to meet the boat again it became apparent that he had come into a bit of trouble. All the bags were dumped on the river bank and the boat was perched ontop of a set of jagged rocks with the back end still in the river. On closer inspection there was a large rock shaped dent down one side of the boat. He had come to a corner and been unable to turn and just went straight on up the bank. All the guys had to push the boat back into the river. As the current caught hold the boat swung sharply away from me and towards the guys on the otherside, narrowly missing them as they scrambled out the way. The driver went swimming after his boat and dissappeared with it around the corner. We all waited with bated breath and then heard the engine start.

This delayed us a bit as we had to wait for him to patch up gaps that had appeared inbetween the planks of the hull by using a crowbar to stuff rags into them. Finally we got underway with water visably leaking into boat. Only a small trickle though and the driver's wife could bail water much quicker than it was coming in.

The rest of the journey was without incident and we finally joined up with the Mekong river and arrived in Luang Prabang at sunset.

Posted by AandSTrip 23:10 Archived in Laos Tagged boating Comments (0)

Trekking to the Akha hilltribe

Trekking out of Muang Sing in north west Laos

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We arrived in dusty Muang Sing and found ourselves a very basic but very cheap guest house for one night as we planned to go trekking the next day. We went down to the guide services office to discover that the trekking was a lot more expensive than expected especially as there were only two of us. Eventually we found one more person, Catherine from the UK, and settled on a two day one night trek. We almost had another two people, Julian and Julian from France, but they wanted to do a longer trek.

We set off early the next day with our Lao guide to a nearby village to have a look around before heading off again to a second village where we picked up an Akha guy who the guide services employ to help out on the treks. Here at the second village we had a look at their school and met the two Julians as they would be following the same route as us for the first day and staying at the same village for their first night.

The going was quite tough. It was very hot and the guides set a very fast pace added to the fact that it was the first time we had done serious walking since before christmas in New Zealand. As we travelled through the forest we could hear trees being felled. It turned out to be the Akha people from the second village. Our guides weren't happy as the area is supposed to be protected. At one point the track we were following was blocked by felled bamboo so we had to take a diversion down the hill and back up to get around the deforested area.

As well as bamboo blocking the way there was also a herd of water buffalo wallowing at the bottom of a valley on deep mud. We all felt a little cautious but our guides were completely un fazed and just walked in waving their arms and the buffalo all got out the way. Shortly after this we stopped for lunch which consisted of sticky rice and stir fried meat and vegatables all wrapped in banana leaves.

The next few hours we spent tramping through the countryside and eventually made it to the village where we would spend the night. Things were a little strange as there was no introduction to any of the villagers and after dinner we were left to amuse ourselves with no indication of what was happening that evening. Just as we were considering going to bed we were all ushered inside our hut and given "traditional Akha massages". It seemed to me more like we were being practised on for kneeding dough. The rest of the evening was spent asking a few questions of our guides about the Akha culture and drinking Lao Lao (rice whiskey).

The next morning the two Julians had decided to cut thier trek short and return to Muang Sing with us. We set quite a fast pace, which was easier in the morning as it was a bit cooler, as we wanted to get back in time to catch a bus to Luang Nam Tha. After about four hours of walking we arrived back at the second village we had visted and got picked up by a tuktuk to take us back to Muang Sing. We got back with plently of time for the bus and that night stayed in a guest house with a very nice bed with a proper matress.

All in all it was an interesting experience though a bit dissapointing with the lack of communication between us and our guide and the apparent poor relationship between the guides and the Akha people.

Posted by AandSTrip 22:25 Archived in Laos Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Stupa Party

While spending time in Luang Nam Tha in Northern Laos we happened to be there at full moon.

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Just out side the small town of Luang Nam Tha on a hill is a Stupa (Like a temple). Every full moon in February the local people gather to make offerings to the Buddhist monument on the hill.

It just so happened that we were in town at the same time and the owner of our guest house offered to give us and few other people we met a lift out there. On the top of the hill surrounding the Stupa many stalls selling food had been set up and a small stage and bar. Within a few minutes of arriving we were pounced on by a very drunk Lao guy and invited to sit and eat with his friends and drink beer. As the evening wore on we were entertained by the drunk guy's attempts at English, got plyed with beer, ate tasty sticky rice and made offerings to the monks and received blessings. As the sun went down we moved up to the stage area and got talking to some young Lao guys who were also slightly innebriated. We all eventually got up to dance, all the Lao people left the dance floor the music stopped and we were left looking slightly bemused. Everyone found it very funny.

All good fun.

After Luang Nam Tha Shelley and I made our way further north to do some trekking.

Posted by AandSTrip 21:48 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Crossing the Mekong

Boarder crossing into Laos

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Our journey to the boarder didn't start well as got to the bus station and the next two buses were full so had to wait over 2 hours for the next available one. This was a bus to Chiang Rai where we would change to get to the boarder. As we left a lot later than planned we didnt think we would get there in time before the boarder closed. No matter.

The bus from Chiang Mai was quite a run down thing. Not even the fans worked but the windows opened so it was fine. While on here I met a fellow Essex boy from Southend. He and his friend were trying to get across that day to meet a group the other side. We got to the boarder town of Chiang Khong with half an our to spare so it was a quick dash in Tuk Tuks down to immigration. Got stamped out of Thailand and then got our boat across the Mekong with the sun setting behind us. Even this far from the mouth it is still an impressive size. In Laos quickly filled in forms for the visa etc and got stamped in with ten minutes to spare. Just in time to witness a beautiful sunset across the Mekong.

The next day we headed up to the north west of the country.

Posted by AandSTrip 01:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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