A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng

sunny 32 °C

After a very nice few days in Luang Prabang we've arrived here in Vang Vieng. We've opted for far less salubrious accommodation here. We're pretty much on the main drag in a hostel called Pan's Place. On checking in I was obliged to write down most of the usual details; name, passport number, nationality but more peculiarly, age. A casual glance down the list of other residents it became very evident that I'm at least twice the age of everyone else. Nevertheless if I use the mean average of our family it brings us more into line with the rest. The accomodation is very much An Oige style. Seventies style bed linen but at least its clean. We took a mini-bus from Luang Prabang but in future I reckon we'll stick with the buses. Because there were only six of us in the mini-bus, the driver would slow to a crawl in every village we passed through in the hope of making a few extra kip in fares. Though he was unsuccessful in his attempts he added at least another hour to the journey here.

Vang Vieng looks like most Laos towns on the surface but as you look around you can see it really is geared to the younger travellers that pass through. Over the past few weeks I've really gotten to like the local Laos grub but there's an absence of local eateries in this place. There is however an abundance of pizza and burger joints. That said it also looks like everything is about half the price of Luang Prabang. That's no bad thing.

Caroline and the three older kids are thinking of going tubing tomorrow morning. I'm thinking of going for a bicycle ride with Paddy. The scenery around here looks pretty incredible so we won't have to go too far by the looks of things. As I'll be doing the cycling I'll have to task Paddy with reading coordinates etc.

As we move south through the country we've definitely favoured some places over others. Luang Nam Tha appears to have been a highlight for the whole family and our stay in Luang Prabang was definitely both easy and comfortable. We're winging it from hereonin and are looking forward to the delights in the south of the country; Tha Kaek, the 4,000 islands and whatever else we see along the way. Journey times appear to be shorter as we move to the lowlands and that is to be welcomed greatly. In two days time we'll have been on the trail for four weeks. Tempus fugit.

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:56 Archived in Laos Tagged vang_vieng Comments (2)

Chitty-chitty Luang Prabang

overcast 30 °C

Bread, coffee and lots of tourists. This is the most touristy place we've hit since Chiang Mai. That said, it comes as quite a welcome relief. After about ten days of the northernmost part of Laos its nice to have a really comfy bed to put the head on. Every day is an early start in this country. They don't seem to do lie-ins. This morning we had the drums beating in the various Wats around us, that was at 4am. I was chatting to one of the guys here and he said I can expect the same tomorrow morning.

We headed for Kuangsi Falls today. Clear blue waterfalls that you can swim in. Harry decided to brave one of the rope swings following much careful consideration. Our tuk-tuk driver promised us exclusive passage for the 35km journey for his best price. We then made a detour to his house to pick up his wife, one year old daughter, sister-in-law and two baskets of laundry. To be honest, its those experiences that make travelling all the more enjoyable.

When we stayed in Nang Khiaw we regularly frequented a place called 'Alex's' which was run by Mama. She has 8 kids, one of whom runs a place called Delilahs here in Luang Prabang. We had a great dinner there tonight albeit the kids found their food 'too spicy'. I suppose that's what you'll say when you've been fed a diet of spuds all your short life.

Paddy, our youngest, is fast turning into Little Lord Fauntleroy. His blond hair and red, sweaty face mark him apart from most kids in these parts. He's becoming an all-singing, all-dancing space cadet who turns it on for the locals. His whirling dervish antics means he now has to be regularly held in check when we're out, otherwise he starts wandering into the kitchen when he should be eating his dinner.

The kids and ourselves are planning a trip to the library tomorrow afternoon. They organise english conversation classes for local kids and novice monks where travelling 'falang' lîke ourselves can chat with them for a couple of hours. It should provide us with the opportunity to improve our english.

Posted by goldenmaverick 06:43 Archived in Laos Tagged waterfalls luang_prabang Comments (3)

Week three

Have really enjoyed our time in Nong Khiaw. The trip to Phongsali perplexed me. I thought the hotel was hateful but was aware it was a higher standard that most local people enjoyed. I found the blank stares we were occasionally greeted with unnerving, but it's not disneyland, why would people smile? Mostly it made me question what we want from this trip? What works for us? We are referencing backpacker sites but really? I can safely say we are not here for the trekking and a homestay would knock us over the edge. I suppose my expectations of what intrepid travellers we would make and how domesticated we actually are, are at odds.
No such concerns sitting on our balcony overlooking the river for the past few days. This place works because we can head out on bikes, or walking and see what happens along the way. Yesterday we had a great day, went walking to the next village to see caves that people holed up in during the Indochina war. We then raised a posse of 5 eight/ nine year olds to show us where the waterfall was. They were quite the little men, breaking off palm leaves to make hats for the expedition. The waterfall was gorgeous, all in, leeches included.On the way back there was a commotion, the boy/men had spotted a snake beside the path. Catapults did the initial work, then they set on it with vigour using sticks and stones and flung it into the ravine. A snake is held in such low regard it is not even eaten, and these boys didn't look over fed. Ours were impressed by the lack of parental involvement these boys enjoyed, and by their murderous ways. I feel the day of the snake will be remembered. I hope it's the only such day.
Arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday, it looks beautiful. Lots of tourists and higher prices. Will stay here for four days and start to head south. River travel has been wonderful, entertainment as you go, and cheap. You get to see all the coming and goings, remote villages. It is inexpensive to travel here, could be done a lot cheaper than we are doing it. I'm sure that day will come.

Sent from my iPhone

Posted by caroline 18:11 Comments (5)

Nang Khiaw - Pt. 2

sunny 30 °C

Ok at the moment we are in some really nice place called Nong Khiaw and are staying in a place called Sunset that is so queit and calm but when we first came here we were a bit lost in translation because the person who owns this place was away that day and the lady who worked here couldn't speak English.In Luang Namtha we met these two really nice people called Leane and Paul and we have stuck around with eachother and usually stayed in the same place and yesterday we went out to a really nice restuarant for my Moms birthday with Leane and Paul and we had told the people at the restuarant it was my Moms bithday and near the end they turned off all the lights but at first I thought they were trying to get us to leave but they brought out a chocolate covered pancake with chopped banana shaped into the word love.It also tasted animal.Another thing earlier that day we were at these caves and outside were you come in there was a big and sort of deep stream and when we came out two boys were jumping in so I decided I would too.So I cannonballed in in my jocks and it was great craic.At this very moment as I am typing this my Mom and Dad are planning stuff and it is a bit boring just sitting around but what can you do.Nong Khiaw is another supercoolyepic place.
P.S Harry wrote this

Posted by goldenmaverick 23:27 Archived in Laos Tagged harry nang_khiaw Comments (0)

Nang Kiaw

sunny 32 °C

Yesterday we took a boat from Muang Khoua which took five hours or so. Taking the boat is a far nicer way to travel in Laos than the normal local bus service. The only drawback is that you get a very sore backside. You get to sit on a plank with not a huge amount of legroom to begin with but as the locals alight along the way you do get a bit of a stretch. We landed yesterday afternoon and a little while after sorting the accomodation we were sitting down having a Beer Lao overlooking the Nam Ou river. This is quite a place. Its surrounded by huge limestone mountains on all sides which are covered in their natural forests. The journey down the river over the last couple of days only served to highlight how much slash and burn farming has been going on. Teak and mahogany forests have been removed and replaced with rubber and tea plants.

Today we rented some bikes and went to visit some caves in the village of Pakse. The limestone caverns were used to hide out in during the Indochina wars. The entire village population lived there for periods of the war. Pretty amazing stuff. There was a small river beside the caves where some local kids were taking a dip. Harry decided to join them. It was quite delightful until I saw one of the kids picking leeches from his leg. When I mentioned it to Harry it seemed to cool his ardour for swimming. In any case, he appears to be leech-free.

Unlike a lot of places we've been recently this place seems to welcome tourists. There's a good selection of restaurants and guesthouses and even in low-season there's plenty of tourists around. We'll chill here for a few days and then move on to Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos.

We'll go out for dinner in the fanciest place in town tonight as its Carolines birthday. I think we'll steer clear of the Laos Mojitoes we sampled last night. Made from rice wine its akin to drinking laundered diesel with mint, lime and crushed ice.

Posted by goldenmaverick 02:03 Archived in Laos Tagged caves birthday nang_kiaw Comments (7)

News from the North.

sunny 28 °C

Leaving Luang Nam Tha
It's 7.30 in the morning and we're heading further north to Phongsali. We've hired a minibus as in theory it will cut our journey time by four or five hours compared to public transport. The journey will still take around nine hours though. We are joined by a delightful Australian couple, Leanne and Paul who we met in Luang Nam Tha. Whatever they did in their past lives this journey will be the ultimate penance.

8.30 - winding around the mountain roads Paddy and Rosie have both had to puke in a plastic bag. Joe looks a bit sheepish too.

10.30 - Breakfast in Oudomxai. Nothing on the menu that the kids will eat. I search the town for some bread and eventually manage to find six bread rolls.

12.30 - Rosie needs a wee so we stop in a town where there's a market going on. Caroline gets surrounded by some Akha women who sell her some bracelets she doesn't want. We move from a semi-reasonable road surface to nothing more than a dirt track. The driver informs us that its 165 kilometres of this to Phongsali. This is going to be fun. I can't imagine how it might be to take the public bus. When I was younger I used to complain about the 4 hour trip to Donegal, this trip is putting that into some perspective. At least when I passed through Belturbet and Swanlinbar the kids had clothes.

5.30pm - After an arduous journey we finally arrive in Phongsali. We try a couple of guesthouses, the first has a man on a respirator in the kitchen which the kids don't take kindly to. The next place tries to charge us double the high season rate even though its low-season and is empty. The third refuses point-blank to take us. The fourth place, a Chinese run place is in bits but at this stage we've no choice so we book in.

6.30pm - My stomach is doing cartwheels. I go to bed whilst the rest go out to try and find food. Phongsali is becoming an increasingly unattractive place to be. Whilst I'm in bed there's some tears with the kids. They ain't digging Phongsali and I know how they feel. The kids new surrogate parents Paul and Leanne are playing a stormer and keeping spirits high.

Monday 18th June
4.00am - I'm woken by the sounds of about fifty roosters trying to outdo eachother. My stomach is still in flitters and there's no light in the bathroom. Things are not good on many fronts.

6.00am - Now I'm hearing some Laos music followed by public service announcements broadcast over the town tannoy system. I don't understand what they're saying but it seems to be something along the lines of 'get up'. This continues for a full hour.
We decide that its better to spend the day recuperating and looking around than to embark on the rest of our travels. Its taken us such a journey to get here that we feel obliged to do so. We take a look around the town and its obvious they are not used to travellers. We are the objects of interest and disinterest in equal measures and its really only the children who say hello. We dine in the hotel and Caroline remarks that it reminds her of Romania in the early 1990's. I think she's being a bit unfair to the Romanians.

Thoughts on Phongsali
This place feels like the very edge of Laos. In fact it feels like China. Most of the old town is made up of old Chinese shophouses and you're either rich enough to drive a Toyota Hi-Lux 4x4 or nothing at all. The former all appear to be of Chinese origin. The town has a couple of endearing qualities - a small bakery in an old ladies house, the majestic views from Phou Fa mountain and the road out of the place. It is not a place that is geared for tourists let alone those with four children. On the morning we left we were once again woken by the tannoy system at 5am and then the dawn chorus of throat clearing from fellow hotel guests. These guys and gals like nothing better than a good spit.

Tuesday 19th June
We left Phongsali with gladness in our hearts. We caught the bus to Hat Sa at 8am and shared it with the locals and a guy with a submachine gun who was apparently a police officer. It must have been dress down Tuesday as he was in flip-flops and a tracksuit top. The supposed one and a half hour journey only took 45 minutes which isn't very Laos at all. We then caught the boat to Muang Khoua and it took a leisurely five hours. It was quite a buzz if a little sore on the backside. Health and safety didn't appear to be of primary concern to the boatmen but in fairness the boatman was expert in his navigational skills. There were lots of drop-offs along the way and a few pick-ups including one lady who looked like she'd contracted malaria. Eventually we landed in Muang Khoua and its an altogether delightful place. Situated on the Nam Ou river not too far from the Vietnamese border its a pretty cosmopolitan place compared to where we left. Harry and Joe whiled away a couple of hours watching the local guys play Petang (a variation on the French game of Boules). We also had our first taste of Euro 2012 when we watched a replay of Ireland v Italy. We're only here for the night and we move on again tomorrow. The nadir of Phongsali now feels a world away. It feels good to be back in the real Laos again.

Posted by goldenmaverick 05:10 Archived in Laos Tagged phongsali muangkhoua Comments (2)

Laos. Wow.

rain 30 °C

After a particularly hairy dash from Chiang Rai to the Laos border, we crossed the mighty Mekong river to Huay Xai in Laos. On arrival it looked like just anothet town in Thailand. The local tourist information office in Huay Xai told me there'd be a bus leaving for Luang Nam Tha (our intended destination) at 2pm. We arrived at the bus station and guess what? No bus. The next bus was a VIP bus at 5pm. As it turns out, Laos timekeeping bears little resemblance to the traditional kind. After stalling until the bus was full of backpackers we finally pulled off around six. Once you leave Huay Xai you enter the real Laos. As the bus wound through the mountain roads there were traditional villages on either side of the road. In this part of Laos you can equate traditional with abject poverty. Womenfolk were cooking in pots at the side of the road, semi-naked children driving one or two cattle and men working in the fields. It was quite shocking but incredible. After a couple of days in Laos the steely determination of its people has been made evident. They are amazing folk.

We're staying in an oasis of calm in Luang Nam Tha called the Zuela Guesthouse. The owners and staff are extremely kind with our kids. The woman of the house has two young children of her own and Paddy has made friends with her 5 year old son. Language is no barrier in this instance.

We rented bikes yesterday and cycled around the surrounding countryside. Lots of poverty in evidence but smiles everywhere you turn. Shouts of "sabai di" (hello) from naked kids swimming in murky water. Every second home you pass appears to double as a shop or restaurant. Today we went on a longer cycle and witnessed the agricultural base of Laos society - the workers in the paddy fields. Fires were burning all around and smoke was filling the air. Twenty minutes later I understood why. The rain was coming and when I say rain, I mean rain. From thirty degree heat to a deluge in the blink of an eye. We were saturated within seconds. A bunch of sodden "farang" on bicycles. The kids seemed to enjoy the warm rain.

We head for Phongsali in a day or two. Its a nine-hour mini-bus drive away.

Posted by goldenmaverick 06:53 Archived in Laos Tagged luangnamtha Comments (1)

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