A Travellerspoint blog

Wet & Wild In Laos

Crazy Times In Vang Vieng

sunny 28 °C

Vang Vieng is a tourist controlled town which is more like Las Vegas than a small Laos village.

Instead of appreciating its beautiful backdrop of limestone mountains and the river Nam Song, you're unintentionally drawn to the neon lit restaurants and bars that dominate the centre. You cannot help but hear and be forced to watch the series Friends which bizarrely is played on every TV screen in every restaurant in town.

Tubing is the biggest tourist attraction in Vang Vieng and probably the main reason why so many travellers come here. Tubing is a water sport which basically involves a giant rubber 'donut' shaped tube, you and the river. What should be an easy going and relaxing experience is slightly altered in Vang Vieng as there is an added element to the experience - 10 loud bars dotted along the river selling cheap Laos Beer. These bars literally fish you out of the river and reel you into their bars. The bars are thoughtfully positioned down stream so you'll never have to float 100m without having a drink. They compete with each other by who can blast out the loudest dance track from the 90s or by offering free waterslides & zip line rides to that dunk you into the river. It's like an adult's playground where it's up to you how hard you want to play.

Tubing.jpg

We spent a whole day sitting in our tubes and floating down the river only stopping off a couple of times at the bars to enjoy a cold Lao Beer and to sun bathe on their wooden decks. For us tubing in Vang Vieng was actually a really enjoyable and even relaxing experience but for others that we spoke to, an outcome of either A&E, a lost camera or a very sore head was the result. (we have some pics of us on a disposable camera which we hope to develop soon)

2204919-Tu..Vieng-1.jpg

Another thing this crazy town offers is a pinch of 'happiness' on anything you order. Many innocent customers have spent the day or night hallucinating after ordering a Happy Pizza or Happy Shake.

After experiencing the bad roads from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, we decided to sign up to a kayaking trip which would take us from Vang Vieng to our next destination Vientiane. The advertisement stated we would only go down 1-2 grade rapids but as we were in Laos, and nothing is what it says, we weren't really sure what we'd get.

P1020572.jpg Preparing for our kayaking adventure

We left at 9am in the morning and annoyingly drove for 2hrs to reach the starting point for the kayaking. After a very brief safety lesson, which focused mainly on how to recover when you've capsized!, we were in our kayaks paddling down stream. The first 30 mins were really pleasant & we were paddling at a great pace whilst enjoying the surrounding scenery.

We then started to approach one of the first rapids where the guides were waiting and instructing all 20 kayaks to slow down and form one line. They quickly reminded us about the steps to follow if we capsized and then let the first kayak through. We were about halfway in the line so couldn't see too much ahead. As the gushing sound of the water got louder, we knew we were getting closer to the drop. The couple ahead went down and we watched their every move with eager eyes. Next was us, we thrashed our kayak forward and head straight into the first drop. We successfully made it through, but with all our excitement, we slowed paddling and didn't see clearly the next drop. Milliseconds later we were thrown from our kayaks into the water. Both of us splashed up above the water, coughing & spluttering, grasping onto our kayak for dear life. Some how we made it to the side of the river and stayed there clinging onto the kayak and rocks until we got our breath back. Whilst wading in the water we watched most of the following people go through the same motions & fall, splashing about in the water trying to hold their kayaks and oars. We then realised we didn't have our oars with us! Who knows where they went. Luckily the guides were fully prepared and handed us some new ones.

Shortly after we overturned our kayak and climbed back in. After the initial shock had gone, we found the situation quite funny. Looking like drowned rats, we leisurely paddled our way down the river for the next couple of hours successfully making it through the more minor rapids downstream till we reached the end.

P1020573.jpg

P1020576.jpg

Picture of us after kayaking on our way to Vientiane

P1020580.jpg

Posted by willbourn 02:27 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Historic Indo-China At Its Best

The Stunning Luang Prabang

sunny 26 °C

In our eyes, Luang Prabang is the most charming city in SE Asia.

Each street is lined with old French colonial style shop houses and grandeur buildings which give you a true insight to the old Indo-China days. The recent addition of fine wine bars, coffee shops and bakeries reinforce its European influence and split personality.

P1020442.jpg
P1020515.jpg
P1020504.jpg

Luang Prabang's beautiful natural setting of green mountains and the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers which bound the peninsular together, make it a even more picture perfect city.

P1020445.jpg

As soon as we stepped off the slow boat, we fell in love with the place. It was late afternoon and the market stall owners were starting to set up for the night ahead. Each evening the main road closes to traffic and fills up with hundreds of red tented stalls which sell local handicrafts.

P1020508.jpg Colourful brolleys sold at the market

At night there is a real sense of romance in the air. Fairy lights and dimmed lanterns from the red tented stalls twinkle and light up the main street as well the cosy wine bars and restaurants whose candlelit tables spill out onto the pavement.

P1020490.jpg Night Market (with the Moon, Jupiter & Saturn seen in the sky as publicised in the local paper the following day!

By day we chose to spend our time relaxing in coffee shops and cycling along the tree lined streets admiring the beautiful French colonial architecture and the buddhist temples which are dotted around the city. At night we enjoyed the good food & wine sold by the street stalls tucked into the side streets or the restaurants along the main thoroughfare.

P1020496.jpg

P1020556.jpg Wine Bar

P1020519.jpg

Luang Prabang is a city where you can wind down and only know a day has passed you by from the ritual drumming by the monks in the temples each dawn.

Posted by willbourn 02:32 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Slow Boat Down The Mekong

Huay Xai to Luang Prabang - Laos

semi-overcast 15 °C

Having negotiated our 2 day "slow" boat tickets, we left Thailand and crossed through the old Indochina Gateway into Laos.

P1020321.jpg

With our teddy pillows in hand ("what the???" I hear you), we stepped onto the river boat which offered us only an assortment of hard wooden benches to sit on for the 7 hr journey!! You can probably guess now why on earth we bought the teddy pillows from the very convincing local sales women.

As per the referred name of the boat, the journey was extremely slow and long. From 3pm the cooler temperatures of the North slowly crept back in making our bodies feel even more uncomfortable.
The views however of the Mekong River and the beautiful sunset we watched managed to keep our spirits alive.

P1020324.jpg The "Slow" boat
P1020378.jpg The beautiful Mekong River, Laos
P1020403.jpg Sunset on the Mekong

Our overnight stop at the halfway point was at a hill town called Pakbeng a.k.a hell on earth! We were greeted by scavenging kids looking for anything leftover on the boat, pushy hotel touts and overly confident young males picking up our rucksacks demanding money at the same time. Pakbeng is one dusty street lined with a handful of guesthouses, all of which had limited electricity and cold showers. The rest of the street consisted of restaurants, market stalls and convenient stores. It was also cold...freezing cold.

P1020376.jpg Slow boats and Pakbeng village in the distance
P1020365.jpg Cold misty morning in Pakbeng
P1020369.jpg Nathan more prepared for the second leg!

We awoke in Pakbeng from the crowing roosters and the shivering of our bones to face another 7 hrs on the boat heading southeast to Luang Prabang. This time round we were fortunate enough to land ourselves a couple of old car seats at the back of the boat which had replaced some of the wooden benches. Thankfully the car seats made the trip somewhat more enjoyable. You can imagine the wave of relief which came over us as we saw Luang Prabang come into sight later that day.

This trip has it's positives & negatives. You can do the same route on a bus but I think as long as you're wrapped up, have a cushion, a good book and are mentally prepared for Pakbeng, you can somewhat relax and enjoy the extremely scenic boat journey.

P1020419.jpg Arriving at Luang Prabang

Posted by willbourn 02:22 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

All Wrapped Up In The Heights Of Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong

semi-overcast 18 °C

For those looking for an adventure, Northern Thailand has beautiful mountains, waterfalls and rural hill tribe villages to explore.

P1020363.jpg We stayed in this hut whilst trekking

Instead of trekking from Chiang Mai, we decided to head even further north to Chiang Rai in hope of a less touristy experience.

Chiang Rai is a city in Northern Thailand which is also the gateway to the Golden Triangle, an area of land that borders three countries - Thailand, Burma & Laos.

We arrived mid afternoon with the temperature being quite nice & mild but by sunset, the temperature dropped dramatically. After stupidly only packing for a beach bum holiday, we had to layer up with as many items of clothing as possible. Luckily for us, our chosen guesthouse had cosy rooms with giant duvet/doonas as well as a great restaurant which served up hearty hot meals.

We booked a 2 day/1 night trek through our guesthouse and set off early the following day with our tour guide Pu and his trainee guide Num. We hiked for 4 hrs on the first day, up & down the mountain range passing by a traditional Lahu ethnic village and a beautiful waterfall. In the evening we camped out in a Akha hill tribe village sleeping in a thatched bamboo hut. Again, the coldness went right through us so we spent most of the night huddled around a camp fire. The second day consisted of hiking for a further 5 hrs which seemed endless and tougher as our tired bodies were aching from the previous day.

P1020217.jpg
P1020219.jpg
P1020310.jpg Visiting a Lahu Village
P1020210.jpg
P1020364.jpg
P1020276.jpg
P1020251.jpg Kate & Num in Akha Village
P1020250.jpg Nathan trying to warm up!
P1020243.jpg
P1020305.jpg Nathan with our tour guide on our second day

After we proudly finished our trek, we headed back to our guesthouse and didn't move till the next morning. We spent our last night in Chiang Rai watching cable tv and drinking hot chocolate & loved every minute of it.

Our stay in Chiang Rai was short lived as we continued our journey north east to the border town Chiang Khong. Chiang Khong would be our final destination in Thailand before crossing over to Laos.

Here we dosed up on homemade chocolate cake, fresh tea, tasty mexican burritos and cashed up with US dollars ready for our long journey down the Mekong River.

P1020317.jpg Kate in Chiang Khong Thailand with Laos in the far distance

P1020318.jpg Nathan enjoying his cake & cuppa

Posted by willbourn 01:20 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Thailand's Bohemiam City - Chiang Mai

semi-overcast 29 °C

We continued our journey North to the city of Chiang Mai. It is the second largest city in Thailand with 1.6 million people however not nearly as busy as Bangkok.

Chiang Mai is mostly visited because of it's location, relaxed vibe & for the Thai's, its cooler temperatures. It's primarily used as a base camp for the hundreds of hill tribe treks and outdoor adventures being offered in the surrounding mountainous terrain.

We stayed in the Old Town which is the most picturesque part of the city as it's surrounded by a moat and remains of a medieval wall.

We arrived on a Sunday and lucky for us it was the day of the weekly Night Market. We both agreed it was one of the best markets we'd ever been too. They were full of colour with amazing smells wafting from the hundreds of food stalls, traditional thai music and dancers entertaining the crowds and local handicrafts and art for sale.

P1010798.jpg

Our two biggest highlights whilst staying in Chiang Mai was our visit to the Elephant Nature Park and our full day Thai cooking course taught by the lovely Gayray!!

On the cooking course we started the day out at the local market to pick out the ingredients & learn more about Thai fruit and veg. Each of us then chose 7 dishes to make with the guidance of Gayray. Back at her house we chopped, grinded and ate our way through the day. http://www.asiascenic.com/images/webphoto/Nov08/24Nov/241108.html (click here to view some more pics taken by the school)
P1010819.jpg
P1010807.jpg
P1010831.jpg
P1010840.jpg
P1010824.jpg Eating our creations!

The Elephant Nature Park is more of a conservation park for injured or badly treated Elephants. It was founded by an amazing Thai woman named Lek. To this day she looks after 35 Elephants & allows them to roam freely throughout the hundreds of acres of land she owns. We were fortunate enough to visit this park to feed and bathe the Elephants in their natural environment. To touch and talk to the Elephants was brilliant and just to watch them from afar was breathtaking. It was an amazing experience, one which I think we'll never forget.

P1020113.jpg
P1010974.jpg Helping Out
P1020034.jpg Feeding Time
P1020083.jpg Bath Time!
P1020095.jpg
P1020087.jpg
P1020102.jpg
P1020205.jpg
P1020064.jpg
P1020127.jpg
P1020166.jpg

Watching a Thai Boxing fight was something Nathan really wanted to tick off his "Must See" list. In Bangkok it was far too expensive so we were happy to see there was a live event in Chiang Mai for half the price. When we walked into the stadium it felt like we were in a 1970s American training gym. A bright neon shaped star overhung the ring with rows of wooden benches & chairs filling the room. We managed to get a ringside seat so we were chuffed! There were 7 fights, each lasting 5 rounds. The finale fight was between a International guest from Ireland & the local hero. The fight only lasted 1 round after the Irish guy won it by a quick knee in the b*#lls.

P1010910.jpg
P1010900.jpg

Chiang Mai is a great city and definetly keeps you on your toes. There is so much to do, however not much to see in the actual city. We wanted to leave Chiang Mai on a high so we decided to leave visiting hill tribes & trekking till our next destination, Chiang Rai.

P1010962.jpg Dining out in Chiang Mai
P1010937.jpg Local temple with Monk

Posted by willbourn 03:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 29) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 »