Travel Notes 4

Travel Notes 4


As promised here is the fourth installement of my travel notes. When
travelling having the right amount of money is not always easy,
especially when cash machines (ATMs) aren't always available. At least
in Laos it was possible to get cash advances from your credit card, by
going to the bank. Though if you ever want to travel outside of the
big centers you really need to have a wad of US dollars. Kip will do,
but you don't want to be left with too much of it when you leave the
tourist areas.

The other thing I have realised, from my own experience, and from
talking to others is that when you do such a long trip you need to
make time to do nothing and just relax. Although you aren't working a
job, you are taking in a lot of new stuff, eating a lot of new foods,
having to deal with locals, who from time to time want to over charge
you and simply not being in a familiar environment. You also need your
wits about you and have to put up with getting up early and dealing
with people who imagine that two hours sleep per night is all that is
needed, for anyone.

** Vientiane **

Entry to Laos was by plane, since I did not feel like a 24 hour bus
journey between Hanoi and Vientiane. I took the the plane, a medium
sized turbo-prop, in the morning and arrived in Vientiane at around
11:45. Immigration was fairly fast, and since I had got my visa in
advance I  had the option of staying in the country for one month,
otherwise it is two weeks if you get it on arrival.

I managed to find a couple of people to share the taxi from the
airport and made our way down town. The taxi driver was nice, letting
us find a hotel with space for no extra charge - the first two we
tried were full.

We had lunch together in a restaurant near the hotel. The meal
consisted of making your own fresh spring roles, from rice paper,
green leaves, meat and rice noodles. I am not too sure of the name at
the moment, since the menu was in Laotian and we simply chose by
looking at the associated photo. Later on I was told that this was
more of a Vietnamese dish than a Loatian one.

The afternoon was fairly uneventful.

The next day I booked an afternoon minibus to Vang Vieng. I then spent
the rest of the morning walking to see the Patuxai, which looks like a
Laotian version of the "Arc de Triomphe".

** Vang Vieng **

After Vientiane it was a mini-bus ride up to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is
place to visit to see the Karst scenery and go tubing. Tubing is where
you sit on a large inner-tube, go up with 4km up the river with a
pick-up and then let the river take you back to town at its leisure,
buying beer along the way. Since there is nothing really to do in the
eveninngs most of the restaurants have TVs where you can watch a film
or a TV series, such as 'Friends'.

The first day I was there I did not do much really, since I was not
feeling too well. Maybe it was not such a bad thing since in the
afternoon there were two big hail storms. I hear the storm coming and
while I was talking to one of the tour agents about kayaking down the
river the rain picked up and it very quickly turned to hail. The wind
picked up and it was just incredible to watch the intensity of the
hail. The hail must have been 1cm across. After the storm subsided I
walked around town. The hail and wind had damaged some trees, signs
and a few roofs. There was even a satellite dish that been damaged. I
heard, what assumed to be, a second storm, but I wasn't sure. While
near the river a second storm moved in, while it wasn't as strong at
the first one, it was strong non the less. I was hiding under the
roof, covering the terrace, of a restaurant and eventually found
myself hiding inside the kitchen-come-living-quarters of the
restaurant, with some other people, since the rain and hail was coming
down so hard.

Later that evening when I got back to the guest house, I was invited
by the owners to have dinner with them, since it was the birthday of
one of the children.

The next day I went with a group to see a flooded cave. To visit it we
sat on tubes and pulled ourselves along a guideline that had been
strung, from the cave entrance along the river inside. After visting
the cave we has some lunch and then drove down to the starting point
for the kayaking. The river was not too rough, so it was fairly easy
going. At one point we get out and dive off a small diving platform
that has been erected on the side of the river. I jumped in three
times, but I think I must have been mad. Eventually we got to the
place where the tubers got in a were going down the river. You just
saw lots of people just lounging their way down the river, and people
trying to sell you 'Beer Lao' (there is only one beer in Lao, but it
is affordable and refreshing) down the river. The next stop was a big
swing on the river bank. Buying a bottle of 'Beer Lao', you get a free
to get on this swing which is pulled back, so you end up being 5
meters of the ground, and then it is release launching you into the
river. We bought our beer, go a free shot of "Lao Lao", which is a
Laotion whisky with the strength of a good vodka. We suddenly heard
and saw another storm moving in, so we decided to try to beat it,
forgetting to try the swing. We rushed down the river as fast as we
could, though the front was moving faster than us, so it beat us into
town. By the time we got out it was raining hard.

** Louang Prabang **

The next day I took another mini-bus, this time up to Louang Prabang.
We left at aroun 9am and arrived at around 5pm. I checked inmto the
first guest house that had room and felt reasonable. This was because
the first few places I enquired at were full and as a general rule you
know that the later you arrive the less chance of finding space.

The next few days in Louang Prabang involved discovering the town. I
was taking things easy and was not planning on using any tours. The
morning of the first day I went up to see the Wat on top of the hill,
along with the other structures around the hill. After lunch I hired a
bicyle and rode around some of the old part of Louang Prabang, and
talked to a few people. It always amazing the sort of people you meet
and what you can find out about a place.

In the evening I visited the night market, where all sorts of
different cloth is being sold. All very touristy, but it felt to laid
back. The sellers were sitting on blankets on the ground along a
section of the main street and it was so quiet with no-one trying to
get your attention.

The next day was more cycling around discovering Louang Prabang and
the temples dotted around it. I got talking to some people who turned
out to be the parents of a woman (she was either American or Canadian)
who owned three businesses in the town. I had visited of the three and
they told me about another one on the other side of the pedestrian
bridge, that I would not have found out about.

In the afternoon of the next day I bought a place on a pick-up, via a
tour agent, to the Kuang Si water falls. This is a multi-section, tall
water-fall, where you could bathe in a number of the pools along the
falls. At the bottom the shear intensity of the water coming down made
it hard to swim towards it.

Two days later I decided to return to Thailand, taking the boat along
the Mekong. The boat journey lasted two days, since I opted for the
slow boat. There was a fast boat, that would take one day, but given
its reputation I decided against it. The first day the boat went as
far a Pat Beng, where I stayed in a guest house over night. There
isn't really anything worth doing in town and it is more of a port for
the boats going along the Mekong. The guest house appeared to have
mice or something scurrying through the walls, but I was thankful that
I never got to see the wildlife up close.

** Pat Beng **

The next day we set off again, this time to Huay Xai. It was not the
same boat at the day before. We all got on the boat and then before it
left was told that some of us could move to another boat, since the
first boat, being a bit smaller, could not take the same load. The
first boat left and then around five minutes later the other one,
which I had moved to left. After what felt like twenty minutes later
we caught up with the smaller boat and then it was decided that
everyone from the first boat would be transferred to the second, since
it was faster. Instead of doing this at teh shore, it was done
mid-river, feelng like a boarding party.

The journey was affected by a Laotian guy purposely climbing onto the
side of the boat and jumping in. The foreigners on the boat for the
most part weren't too sure what to make of it, since we were close to
the river bank, but suddenly there was commotion amongst the crew  and
the engine-boy grabbed a jerry-can and jumped in. Realising the flow
was too strong he made his way back to the bank. After a while the
crew decided nothing could be done and continuted the journey. There
was a relation of the person on board and it turns on the guy who had
jumped was probably suffering from a brain disorder. In hindsight
there was not anything on the boat which could have helped save
anyone. There were no life-vests, floatation devices or rope. No one
really knew what to think.

** Huay Xai **

We arrived in the evening in Huay Xai, which is on the Laotian side of
the river. Because the border was closed we had to stay the night,
still in Laos. Most people had very little Kip left on them, since Kip
has no exchange value when you left the country.

The next day, some people I had met on the boat, and myself, made our
way to the border office on the Laos side. We missed first time, since
is down a small street. Afterwards we took a small boat across the
Mekong into Thailand.

** Chiang Kong **

When we arrived the other side we went through immigration and then
took a pick-up to the bus office. We had hoped to buy a ticket for 9am
to Chiang Mai, but had arrived a little too late. We all bought
tickets, from a seller who clearly did not enjoy her job. Because we
had time on our hands, we decided to go for breakfast. It took us a
bit of time to find something that suited what we had in mind.
Eventually we noticed a sign pointing to "Riverside Resort". We
imagined that it was probably going to be beyond out budget, but
decided we had nothing to lose. I turns out the resort was very low
key bamboo restaurant with guest rooms. It didn't really fit the image
of a resort. We ate breakfast and then made our way back to the ticket

Next Time: Chiang Mai, Bangkok and the HUGE shopping malls

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