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Laos part one- the first 30 days

LAOS | Wednesday, 11 July 2012 | Views [1267] | Comments [1]

Luang Prabang morning monks

Luang Prabang morning monks

Paul - 16th June 2012
OK Arrived in Laos. When you cross the border from China you go through the 
high security, marble floor, polished stainless steel, air-conditioned check point
on the China side....50 metres and walk over to an old dusty shed and see a bloke at a timber counter welcoming you to Laos. Show your documents, pay some money, get your visa, and away you go!  Such a contrast!  It's hard not to feel a sense of relaxation after going through this transition from a country with such empowerment and rules to a landlocked state with little wealth and basic, third world lifestyles.
Had a relaxing few days in Luang Namtha at a great guesthouse named Zeulas. Rooms clean and cheap. It was a good place to meet other travellers  and exchange stories and share a Beerlao or two. I picked up bike and we packed a small pack and headed off to Muang Sing, about 60 Kim's away. The road was pretty good for a small bike, not much traffic and lots of villages along the way. Arriving in Muang Sing is like riding into a wild west town. Rode around and found a room for the night, woke up and went to the market for noodle soup and some fresh fruit then decided it was best for Leeanne to catch a public bus back as the rain was getting heavy.
We separated and met back in Luang Namtha. Riding back I couldn't help but count the numerous array of animals living in the roadside villages, most of which share the road with every other vehicle. Dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, pigs, piglets, cows, buffaloes, goats and a snake I ran over as well. What a managerie.
Paul -24th June 2012
Arrived in Luang Prabang. Civilization after nearly 2 weeks in Laos. Exploring the north of Laos has been well worthwhile. The people live in many tribal villages with the very basics for survival. Apart from Phongsali, we found guesthouse accommodation easily and very cheap (about $8/nt).
Phongsali is right up the top NE corner of Laos. We arrive by minivan we shared with a great Irish family (all 6 of them). With four kids under 12, it took me back so vividly to our earlier years with our kids. So, we became the surrogate aunty and uncle for the next 4/5 days to the Irish kids.
Spent two days in "Dodge City" -Phongsali, and made our way by river down to Luang Prabang. The trip has taken 17 hours over 3 separate legs, stopping along the way at small towns filled with friendly Laos locals, good food, cheap rooms, and Beerloa ( one of the worlds best beers at $1.20/ longneck)
The boat is, of course wooden, long and narrow. We buy a ticket upon leaving each town, climbing inside trying to limit the damage to our backpacks as we share with locals, random cargo, and other travellers just as confused as us!
Within a few hours on the river, you sort of get used to the cramped conditions, try and keep comfortable sitting on a plank barely off the bottom of the boat. I keep a close watch on the crack beneath me letting in a slow trickle of water into the boat. The driver struggles with every set of rapids we negotiate. White water and rocks seem to fly past. One wrong move by the driver and we are stuffed! We get plenty of wide open passages with breathtaking green hills, spectacular cliff faces, and lots of villages with children sliding naked down the mud river banks.
They share the river with countless water buffalo content on basking in the shallows. Travelling by river has been slow but rewarding. We aren't sure if our Laos visa is going to last. Only 2 weeks left and so much to see around Luang Prabang and down south to the Cambodia border. Will settle in here for a few days, hire a bike and explore the place. Since our last visit here 3 years ago, the major change is the increased numbers of tourists. The secret of this beautiful country is definitely out!
The trick is to to divert away from the main tourist trail and find those little gems. They still exist! Except watch out for the local police catching you out. I got done going down the wrong way down a 'one way street'. The copper didn't get my Aussie sense of humour. He asked me where I was going? Is said " I don't really know, but it mustn't be very good, cause they're all coming back!" well, he fined me $20, I got him down to about $12, and off we went. ( no paperwork, of course).
Paul -28th June 2012
We left Luang Prabang by bus to Phonsavan. Supposed to be a 9 hr trip but only took 8. Most of the road winds East across Laos through rugged mountains. We had a good driver, thankfully, as you look over each cliff edge on every corner you see your life flash
before you.
What attracted us to divert to Phonsavan is the Plain of Jars. These 2000 year old sandstone carved out funeral urns are in the middle of nowhere. Along side these ancient mysteries are remnants of a less glamorous modern war story.
 The Secret War, as it was really kept a secret, was the war on Laos during the time of the Vietnam War. The statistics are overwhelming! Over 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped into Laos by the US making it the most heavily bombed country in history. The town we are now in suffered the most, it was flattened and rebuilt in the 70's. UXO's are still everywhere. These are unexploded ordinances, killing local people almost daily. Still today.
So, as we explore the ancient funeral jars, we carefully stay between the designated safe areas which have been cleared of UXO's. You see heaps of bomb craters and listen to the sound of the bomb disposal experts blowing up UXO's dropped by US planes 40 years ago! It is quite surreal.
                
So Phonsavan is worth visiting for two very different reasons, both of which are worth the long trip. Accomodation is easy to come by, food OK, not much entertainment in town. But, you are guaranteed to leave with a slightly different view on the effects of war on village people, very poor people.
Paul -6th July 2012
Caught the public bus out of Phonsovan and made our way down to to Vang Vieng. The bus was packed, Leeanne and I the only westerners. The driver would stop randomly to pick someone up, drop off someone's bag of vegetables at a roadside village, or when someone yelled out for a toilet stop. In the middle of nowhere, we all get out stretch the legs and find a bush and take in the view. (usually right next to another passenger...male or female).
I spent most of the trip with 2 young Laos blokes sleeping on my shoulder and sharing my space. They were sitting on plastic stools in the aisle. At least they weren't filling plastic bags with vomit like half the bus was.
We get dropped off at Vang Vieng, get a tuk tuk into town and check in to a guesthouse we found called Le Jardin Organic. Really clean, roomy and right on the river. Leeanne negotiates a good rate ($7.50/ nt) for the room. We end up staying a week. Feel really relaxed in this beautiful river town with amazing limestone cliffs in the background. Sunsets are unreal. Vang Vieng is the tubing capital of SE Asia. Everyone must do it at least once, but be careful of the Lao Lao whiskey shots and never-ending supply of beerlao. It makes a good spectator sport watching the young drunk tubers come in each afternoon trying to negotiate the river bank and find their way back to tube shop to return their tube, usually forfeiting their deposit for getting back after 6pm.
We rented bicycles, and motorbikes and explored nearby caves and waterholes. I never get sick of riding through the open countryside here, watching the locals go about their daily routine. Rice planting season has started, so there is lots of action in the rice fields. Tourism is a big industry for Vang Vieng. We have been here on the quiet time, which has been good for our budget, prices are down with just a nice number of people around. 
Found a bar the other night to watch the origin decider, sitting with some great Aussie people (NSW supporters, of course). Unreal game of footy, wrong result, though! 
About to pack up, and share a minibus with a nice Aussie family and head down to Vientienne, the capital of Laos. We will need to extend our visa here as we have only a few days left, and so much more to see yet. I guess we always knew we would stay for a while in Laos. Beautiful country, friendly people, delicious food and really cheap travelling (approx. $50 per day total for the 2 of us). This can blow out a bit when you have a beerlao session!
We only have 4 hours driving today, getting picked up at our door, so no tuk tuks today or public buses! Should be luxury. But, as we have discovered on this trip, expect the unexpected!
Love from LEEANNE 11th July
After two months on the road we have met quite a few travelers, old & young, singles & couples, long & short term all sharing information, highlights and observations. Trying to find the best way to document our journeys for ourselves and also our beloved family and friends is a challenge. The last thing we want is to be tied to a daily blog reporting every thing we eat & drink (mainly noodle soup & beer Lao ) or being tied to the cost of everything so we have settled into a routine of writing what we feel and general information. Our  feelings are that every single traveller has different expectations for their journey from rooms to travel preferences to budgets. What's cheap for one is exp for the next. An exciting adventure for us is someone else's worst nightmare. 
I sometimes wonder at this wanderlust that seemingly is never satisfied. We have wonderful beaches, rain forest, outback,cities in Australia why are we drawn to developing countries? This particular trip we are travelling slowly with no destination or clear itinerary. The highlights so far are the times when you make a genuine connection with someone, somewhere. Like today I had been playing with some little girls - when we went to leave, the littlest reached up on tippy toes and planted a kiss on my cheek which is very unusual in Laos - I was overcome by emotion. Paul would say how much they love their Beer Laos and are forever asking us to join them. We have learnt to be careful as a simple beer can quickly turn into full scale session with glasses raised to toast something every few minutes and your glass never allowed to be empty. 
Travelling by motorbike or pushbike allows for many stops, many sabaidee's from the children. I love waking up early in Asia and watch the villages awaken. Not always our choice as the endless roosters seem to decide if you can sleep in or not. Sometimes alms being given to monks (not the tourist version in Luang Prabang but the real every day version from a distance) to the sweeping of the streets and washing clothes. The light in the morning is beautiful and if you are near the rice paddies a favorite pastime of mine learnt from the Laos is "Just to sit and Listen to the rice grow!"

Tags: boat trips, laos, northern laos

Comments

1

omg iam so so loving reading your blogs.. so love it.. the pics are so unreal xxxxx leeyou look so so hot yourve lost more weight xxxxxxx

  niki hale Jul 16, 2012 5:51 PM

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