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Laos

Chapter seventy five - Luang Prabang to Hanoi

Long, long, long

sunny 28 °C

Day 270: Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam 25/06/2012

After the two Ashleys reduced me to a late, tearful night, we have a lie in and pay for a slightly later than normal check out as we don't get picked up for the bus until six. A very lazy day spent waiting for the bus, which comes round bang on time and before we know it country number nine is looming large.

On the bus for our longest journey yet. As always the bus seems to attract more than its fair share of fricking weirdos and is designed with discomfort as the most important of priorities. Start to drift away to the sound of overprivileged, underdeveloped dingbats.

Posted by tevs 07:22 Archived in Laos Tagged bus laos luang_prabang hanoi Comments (0)

Chapter seventy four - Luang Prabang

Culture vultures

Day 267: Luang Prabang, Laos 22/06/2012

Up nice and early for another warm bacon sarnie and we are soon on our way to Luang Prabang. In the minibus with a whole host of people we recognise/have met before - the backpacking trail is a pretty small world it seems. The bus ride is ok but slightly too long to be deemed completely comfortable and we eventually roll into Luang Prabang about two in the afternoon. We take a moment or two to check the map and get our bearings and are soon checking into a nice little place run by an old man, on whom I practice my francais.

We take a shower and then potter around the town - a truly stunning, serenely peaceful riverside town, with an abundance of culture and colonial charm. There are lots of smiling faces around LP and during a quick stroll around, to a nearby temple, we some very excitable young kids playing around and a very grumpy monk taking one of these by the scruff of the neck back to his mum. Trouble for the little boy I daresay. I entertain his friends with my breakdancing skills a bit further down the road and we have an incredible tea. DIY barbecue is the order of the day, pork and glass noodle soup done over the coals on the table in front of us.

Day 268: Luang Prabang, Laos 23/06/2012

After a decent breakfast we find ourselves successfully negotiating the rental of two of the local shop's finest bicycles. We manage to take on the roundabout at the bottom of the road safely, which is no mean feat given my level of cycling proficiency and the traffic coming from the wrong side of the road.

Some sumptuous temples and some serious culture for us vultures and we enjoy an easy morning riding lazily through the streets of Luang Prabang. There is one slight problem in that our bikes don't lock and so we end up carrying our bikes up the flights of steps to the sights we want to see. Hard work but enough to keep us fit...

We check out prices/arrangements for the bus to Hanoi and it seems that it will be a twenty four hour plus journey minimum. Oh well, needs must. We see a temple/pagoda at the top of a hill and decide to take a cross country route to get there. Some serious hill work on the rickety old bike (mine feels like it might break beneath me) allows us some breathtaking views over the city and the surrounding mountains and countryside. There is a rarity on this trip as Demolition Man helps two Lao kids fix the chain on their bike not once but twice. Another superb DIY BBQ is fantastic.

Day 269: Luang Prabang, Laos 24/06/2012

A quiet day today to prepare for tomorrow's epic journey to Hanoi. After a spot of lunch and a gym session, we have a mooch about town (we have become such townies) we have a very quiet afternoon. After teaching three young local lads the game of Uno, I have a couple of hours helping one of the boys with his English, a very rewarding way to pass an otherwise quiet afternoon. The lads tell me that private English lessons cost a fortune - 150 000 kip a month (about £11) for an hour a day of private tuition. A bit humbling when you consider how keen and how enthusiastic he is about it.

We go out for the evening, stumbling across and amazing night market, where as well as some beautiful trinkets and locally produced goods, they do an amazing barbecued chicken and milkshakes. Disappointed once again by England crashing out on pennos.

Posted by tevs 07:06 Archived in Laos Tagged temples culture laos luang_prabang bbq Comments (0)

Chapter seventy three - Vang Vieng

Kayaks, caterpillars and inner tubes. What a way to spend one's birthday

rain 19 °C

Day 264: Vang Vieng, Laos 19/06/2012

After a great few days in Vientiane we prepare to move on. Gemma runs out to get some breakfast whilst I shower. Hearing a knock on the door and assuming it was Gemma, I answer the door with my towel loosely draped over me. Turns out to be a member of staff. Quite a sight for him...

Leave the hotel with the staff on their best behaviour, yesterday's very public dressing down from the old West Indian woman who owns the joint (very funny to watch) was probably still ringing in their ears. We are taken to our Vang Vieng bound bus by a pick up truck, the bus being, to our distinct displeasure, full of drunken, gap year Khao San Roaders, high in number, high in spirit and highly annoying. Posh, hormonal, sweaty, intoxicated eighteen year olds are not what was particularly wanted on the eve of my twenty fifth birthday. Call me a grumpy old man but I'm sure many of you out there can sympathise. To appease me the bus takes more than a fair amount of time to leave, before the air conditioning duly packs up shortly after departure.

We arrive in Vang Vieng quite a bit later than expected with the drive taking in some seriously spectacular vistas and some seriously poor road surfaces. A short journey to the hotel G has booked as a little birthday treat and she has done well to be fair to her. A beautiful room, very luxurious with some nice facilities on site. We head for lunch across the road and wait for an hour and twenty minutes for some burnt chicken and cashew nuts and a salad. Poor. Probably won't take one of the cooking lessons they offer.

A quiet afternoon and evening - a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, which was nice and a night in front of the telly before England play the Ukraine.

Day 265: Vang Vieng, Laos 20/06/2012

Happy birthday to me! Twenty five today and I don't look a day over thirty. Up early, some pressies and breakfast downstairs before we head out for a fun filled day of trekking, caving and kayaking. We end up in the back of a pickup truck with a couple who have graduated from Manchester. Turns out he has even come up against the mighty Hulme Hall Baa Baas in his fledgling rugby career. Small world.

We have a great morning caving - some huge caves under the limestone mountains with some stunning stalagmites and stalactites inside the mysterious, dark cavernous rooms. From here onto some water caves, where we follow the caves round in an inner tube, our first taste of Vang Vieng's tubing scene. Following the rope in the semi-darkness (just a small head torch each) with our bodies in the water and our noses at times just millimetres from the roof of the cave is not as easy as it sounds. From here we have a fabulous lunch on the go - barbecued skewers with sticky rice before we head off in the kayaks down the Nam Song River.

An incredible afternoon, paddling down the river amidst some absolutely stunning scenery. The mountains rise up vertically either side of the river, which is flowing rather fast due to the recent rain, making life considerably easier for me as Gemma sits back and relaxes. We pass through the tubing area, bars a-pumping and tubers a-drinking and back to Vang Vieng town.

Have a drink back at the hotel and head out for the afternoon/evening. We run into the Manchester students on their way back from the river and they join us for dinner back at our hotel before we have a couple of drinks before the 11.30 closing time of the town's bars.

Day 266: Vang Vieng, Laos 21/06/2012

After a very nice birthday we awake and head for breakfast downstairs, where the first bacon sandwich of the year is served and eagerly consumed. A couple of hours relaxation time ensues before we head out for a bit of tubing. We line the stomachs with some pretty ropey Pad Thai whilst watching the rain teem down. The river is gonna be high...

We get our gladrags (well swimming stuff) on and pick up our tubes. Some Irish guys in the tuk-tuk who have been tubing for four days on the bounce. Reach the river and head into the first bar. Everyone seems so young to the new old me. Have a few drinks and a couple of buckets before being dragged out of the river in the dark, cold but merry and all in one piece (bar my flip flops, which Gemma helpfully lost). A bite to eat covered in UV paint and in need of a shower, ready to check out and move on tomorrow.

Posted by tevs 03:03 Archived in Laos Tagged laos kayaking caving tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Chapter seventy two - Vientiane

Laos...

overcast 27 °C

Day 258: Vientiane, Laos 13/06/2012

Well, we arrive at Nong Khai station at around ten thirty and despite the few young, impressionable, loud and murderable Canadian kids that decide to shout their mouths off (so glad we weren’t in their carriage – the laser eye/clenched fist to the face treatment doesn’t always go down well) we realise that Laos could be a real decent place to spend some time (despite the frantic search for two passport photos). Amazingly, the authorities still allow us through after a frantic attack on a more than irritating nineteen year old drunk Canuck and we catch a cab to Laos proper with a Kiwi and a man/daughter combo from Hong Kong.

The search for a hotel/room is a short one and after a quick check in a decent shower, we are off out, on the piss as it emerges. A couple of beers turns into plenty and we even end up watching Aussie patter-cake. Unfortunately, not able to describe/discuss the rest of the evening…

Day 259: Vientiane, Laos 14/06/2012

Wow, would love to have spent the first morning in Laos appreciating that life isn’t always spent feeling rough as a badger’s arse…where has this ivory tusk/dragon’s head come from????? Given the way I feel, I’m glad I don’t know the answer…

We drag ourselves out for lunch. A pate, pork and salad baguette is almost as good as a fry up for the physiological problems. However, a trip back to the room and a lie down reveals death to be the single easiest solution to the way we (I) feel. Death becomes particularly attractive when the runs kick in.

Ride the storm and I drag Gem out for an impromptu dinner and she is more than appreciative (maybe) after an afternoon dying watching HBO. Despite being well out of (lip) synch, HBO helps ease the afternoon headache, despite reminding one of his oral deficiencies after one or two normal drinks. Beer Lao is mental it seems…

We head out for dinner and have a nice evening, which makes us both feel a bit better. Some amazing food and another Beer Lao help us pass the time and we are soon back at the room. Reception take the piss (‘more beer sir?) and we are back in bed.

Day 260: Vientiane, Laos 15/06/2012

Well then, wake feeling a million times better than we did yesterday that's for sure. After another quick baguette breakfast (and very good they are too) we head out for a walk around the city. There are some absolutely beautiful sights to be seen, some incredible architecture and a very pleasant, relaxed and friendly atmosphere found throughout the city. We finally visit the ornate, peaceful Buddhist temple situated literally next door to our hotel. It has only taken three days but still...

After a spot of lunch we make a detour to the Vietnamese consulate to get our visas sorted, stopping en route for passport photos (not needed) and US Dollars (most certainly needed). After a slight wait for the consul to come back from lunch it takes precisely three minutes and $110 for our 30 day tourist visas to make their way into our passports. A pleasingly easy process, the ease of which makes us hope that they are actually real.

A quick jaunt back into the town centre sees me left on my own as Gemma has some 'secret birthday stuff' to sort out. Strolling along the banks of the Mekong on the new promenade and through the park on its banks allows me some personal reflection time, which is always a scary experience. After a nice tea we stroll back through the park and potter round the weekend market, where the world's greatest saleswoman somehow sells me a lampshade I wasn't even looking at...

Day 261: Vientiane, Laos 16/06/2012

A bit of a lie in after staying up to watch England 'perform' against Sweden in the wee hours here. We pack and move hotels as the one we are in asks us to move rooms, whilst generously agreeing to offer us a shared toilet room for the same price as the en-suite we have been staying in...works out well as we end up in a plush hotel just down the road.

Some more baguettes for lunch (a nice reminder of home yet the Asian fillings allow us to feel like we aren't cheating Laos) before a long, leisurely stroll around the less touristy parts of town, visiting the local produce market and getting completely lost in a residential part of the city. With the hangover still recent enough for me to appreciate normality this is an interesting way to see how the locals really live and to see that the peaceful, chilled out vibe of the centre spans the whole of the city. We end up stumbling across the 'Lao Arc de Triumphe' and return to the room with sore legs and very dirty feet.

After a bit of skype and a spot of dinner, we return to the room to take advantage of our new room's mod cons - a/c and LCD tv never felt so good.

Day 262: Vientiane, Laos 17/06/2012

A very quiet Sunday enjoyed by all, which should be a real interesting read for you all. Take advantage of the cafe culture and the weather and enjoy a leisurely stroll back down to the river. The Mekong reminds me of Southport, with the water hundreds of metres from the bank. There is even room for herds of cows to graze and kids to run around, without even the slightest chance of falling in. A skype session and a curry complete a very unadventurous day.

Day 263: Vientiane, Laos 18/06/2012

A bit more to report on today you will be pleased to hear, starting with me heading out for a haircut first thing. After strolling past numerous barbers on our previous strolls, I really struggle to find someone to give me a trim. Eventually find a unisex salon, where the woman cutting my hair looks petrified to tackle my sun bleached mop. She needn't have worried as she does an infinitely better job than the last woman in Kuala Lumpur, though she does not want a photo of me for her portfolio, which is a shame.

Out for lunch and then we go out to find the COPE centre, a rehabilitation centre for victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO), which is found across the country in worryingly high quantities. Our Lonely Planet map is very wrong about its location so we arrive after a bit of a hike but find that it was worth persevering with. A really moving yet inspiring exhibition highlights the great work that the organisation does to provide medical care and support for victims of UXO, as well as people requiring medical attention for other reasons that normally would not have access to such provision.

We meet Peter Kym, a twenty year old success story of the COPE centre, who after losing both hands and being blinded by an unexploded bomb five years ago, has been educated and supported by the centre. His charm and wit, as well as his gratitude to the centre and the life they have allowed him to live, make him a real inspirational figure, and after speaking with him for an hour or so, not somebody we will forget in a hurry.

Back in town, I tackle some of the gaps in the blog and we head out for dinner. Ready to move on tomorrow.

Posted by tevs 11:19 Archived in Laos Tagged beer city laos vientiane great Comments (0)

Chapter seventy two - Vientiane

Laos...

overcast 27 °C

Day 259: Vientiane, Laos 13/06/2012

Well, we arrive at Nong Khai station at around ten thirty and despite the few young, impressionable, loud and murderable Canadian kids that decide to shout their mouths off (so glad we weren’t in their carriage – the laser eye/clenched fist to the face treatment doesn’t always go down well) we realise that Laos could be a real decent place to spend some time (despite the frantic search for two passport photos). Amazingly, the authorities still allow us through after a frantic attack on a more than irritating nineteen year old drunk Canuck and we catch a cab to Laos proper with a Kiwi and a man/daughter combo from Hong Kong.

The search for a hotel/room is a short one and after a quick check in a decent shower, we are off out, on the piss as it emerges. A couple of beers turns into plenty and we even end up watching Aussie patter-cake. Unfortunately, not able to describe/discuss the rest of the evening…

Day 257: Vientiane, Laos 14/06/2012

Wow, would love to have spent the first morning in Laos appreciating that life isn’t always spent feeling rough as a badger’s arse…where has this ivory tusk/dragon’s head come from????? Given the way I feel, I’m glad I don’t know the answer…

We drag ourselves out for lunch. A pate, pork and salad baguette is almost as good as a fry up for the physiological problems. However, a trip back to the room and a lie down reveals death to be the single easiest solution to the way we (I) feel. Death becomes particularly attractive when the runs kick in.

Ride the storm and I drag Gem out for an impromptu dinner and she is more than appreciative (maybe) after an afternoon dying watching HBO. Despite being well out of (lip) synch, HBO helps ease the afternoon headache, despite reminding one of his oral deficiencies after one or two normal drinks. Beer Lao is mental it seems…

We head out for dinner and have a nice evening, which makes us both feel a bit better. Some amazing food and another Beer Lao help us pass the time and we are soon back at the room. Reception take the piss (‘more beer sir?) and we are back in bed.

Posted by tevs 11:19 Archived in Laos Tagged beer city laos vientiane great Comments (0)

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