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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Vang Vieng to Pakse

LAOS | Tuesday, 26 February 2008 | Views [6156]

Mon 18th Feb - Moving on to Vang Vieng today and Victoria and I had booked space on a minivan last night. Worked out the same price as a public bus and a great choice as the transport was a plush black toyota SPV wih comfy leather interior and movies followed by nice music.

On the way we stopped off at a couple of villages for photo shoots. At one, a group of women threshing grasses at the side of the road to make brushes and lovely thatched huts overhanging the edge of the hill with stunning views. A group of children came over to play. At another village, fried rats for sale where they had them resting on top of bright purple fruit. Not temped by the rats much, but the fruit was ok! As it turns out later, this may not have been a good idea?

Heading south towards Vang Vieng, the scenery is dramatic karst limestone peaks. With heat haze covering the vista, it makes for an awesome sight.

Made it to Vang Vieng by mid afternoon and the temperature had rocketted, so didn't want to spend long finding accomodation. So much to choose from here of all price ranges. Ended up in the lovely Ban salai bungalows (Xahoy restaurant) overlooking the Namsong river and the mountains.

Out for a quick reccy to get the feel of the place. You can easily spend a week here as there is so much to do, so re-hashed the plans. The Namsong river can be crossed in many places, one is a steel bridge (10,000 kip to cross with a bike), but the more interesting way is across one of the bamboo bridges that creak and twist as you spring your way across. The Dinner at one of the many chilled restaurants with raised cushion platforms. One of the town's major attractions is 'tubing'. Basically, you sit yourself in a big rubber tyre and paddle down the river with your hands , stopping at a few watering holes en-route. Where we sat had a good view of many of them returning from their escapade. It was dark and cold now and a few were still carrying beer bottles. One guy looked to have had some problems as he was delivered back by motorbike and proceeded to launch into lots of arm waving, shouting and generally insisting that they were crazy. It was funny to watch as the lao guys just had a typical nonchalant look on their faces as he ranted and raved. Retired back to the bungalow for and nice glass of wine overlooking the view. Could hear the noise from the town until quite late, so can imagine what it would be like right in the center of town. Started to feel a bit odd this evening....headache and just general oddness.

Tue 19th Feb - After a lazy start moving digs to somewhere cheaper, ended up at the 'Le Jardin Organique' and a lovely bungalow in a really quiet location further away from town. Feeling worse today and think that I might be coming down with something but can't work out what yet.

Despite feeling a bit dodgy, didn't want to waste time sitting around in case I got worse, so hired bicycles in the afternoon and set off with the naïve idea of covering some 30km or more. Hadn't appreciated that getting anywhere interesting meant  a very bumpy ride along stony dust tracks. Ended up at the Poukham cave and blue lagoon. The scenery is well worth getting saddle sore for. Pedalling through stunning mountains is breathtaking. The Poukham cave is high up in one of the mountains and takes a fairly dodgy climb up jagged terrain to reach. Well worth it though as it is enormous and has a buddhist shrine in the main cavern.

After the tortuous descent, the superb blue lagoon awaits at the bottom. Rope swings from the overhanging trees allow for plenty of play, and the turqouise blue waters were teaming with masses of colourful fish.

In the evening I was feeling much worse with nausea, headaches, pains all over and going in waves of bad sweats and shakes. Dosed up with everything available but had to keep an eye on the possibilty of malaria. Deteriorated through the night and was vomitting now. Signs aren't good.

Wed 20th Feb - Not too good this morning but able to manage breakfast and then pop some more pills. Wanted some fresh air so off for an explore around town with a mission in mind. This place is also known for being able to get almost any music you like downloaded direct to your iPod for cheap. Many internet cafes on the main street offer the service, with lists to choose from. I picked up loads of top albums for 10,000 kip each (or $1). Some offer discount for quantity but you have to check their offer as some aren't full albums. You can also get movies for $2.

After stopping for a refreshing mint shake, started to feel rough again, so decided to go off to hospital, which fortunately is close to where we are staying.

The hospital is a really clean and organised place and the nurses were outside doing aerobics when I arrived. Ended up having a check-up and blood test which thankfully proved negative for malaria and only cost me 100,000 kip (3 quid). Just have to dose myself up and see how it goes.

Into town later for dinner. One of the many things Van Vieng is known for is obvious when you walk down the main street. Endless episodes of 'Friends' on big TV screens in restaurants. The raised matted seating areas are all laid out to face the screens. All at competing volume of course. Back to the bungalow for a chill and watch the world go by, which in itself is interesting from here. At this time of year the waters are low (raising by upto 3m at high waters), so many people use the shallow waterbeds to cross from one point to another. Strange to see the local engine and cart 'buses' running down the centre of the river upto its wheel arches. Why should the locals pay to cross the bride when they can do this for free! In the dark a pair of headlights appeared from the dark as wagons added to the traffic along the river.

Thu 21st Feb - Thinking that I would be feeling much better today, we had booked on to a trip today including tubing and kayaking. Woke up feeling ok'ish so decided to go ahead with It.

Got picked up by tuk-tuk and dropped at the elephant cave north of town. Named because of one of the rock formations looks like a really convincing elephant. Also, has a reclining buddha image and some really tacky other stuff.

From there a walk to the Nam Tham cave and some great fun. Head torches on and into big inflatable tyres (tubes) to float into the cave, which goes fairly deep. At one part of it we had to get out and crouch down to crawl through into a larger cavern. Interesting rock formations and worth the trip. After lunch changed to kayaks for a 3hour or so paddle back to Vang Vieng. This was an amazing scene... At regular intervals there are makeshift bars along the river banks, loud music playing and some of the most inventive swings and launches i've seen for people to throw themselves into the water after having drunk copious amounts of alcohol. Mostly done by the tubers but anyone can join in. Later heard that one snapped whilst a girl was in mid-flight and she got hurt. Not surprising really.

A funny thing happened when we got off at one of the bars for a drink.... Was getting out of the kayak and had one foot in one and my other foot in the adjacent one nearer to the bamboo platform. The girl who was stabilising the kayak turned and got off....the kayaks rapidly drifted apart and I did a rather elegant forward somersault into the water between them. Came up with my hat and sunglasses still on to much laughter.

Unforunately, my back was wrecked by this stage so it was sort of the last straw and wasn't able to do any of the jumping or diving. Was in agony for most of the hour or so kayak back to town but managed to sit back occasionally and just take in the view, which is just stunning as I keep saying. Picked up a few hitchhiking tubers en-route who just grab hold of the back of the kayak in a chain and just float along with us and chat at at the same time.

Fri 22nd Feb - Even though my back is acting up at the moment, decided to move on to Vientiane so checked out the transport options. Not much choice, so settled on a VIP bus leaving at 1pm or so for 60,000 kip. Usual Laos timing and it left at 2pm. It's scorching today, I guess in the lower 30's. Fairly uneventful journey and arrived at about 5:30pm.

As the accomodation in Vientiane is fairly localised around a couple of main roads and side roads, despite there being many tuk-tuks pestering for business (and commission of course), walked instead. Most places fully booked by this time of day so took a while but got into the Douang Deuane  hotel for $20, which turned out to be an average price for the area. Not much cheap digs about.

Quick walkabout later and there seems to be plenty to do here for a few days with plenty of bars and restaurants along the Mekong waterfront, which livens up a night.

Sat 23rd Feb - A slow start to the day as I had a bad night last night. Nice breakfast at the 'Sabaidee cafe' on the corner of rue francois ngin (by the way, many of the roads here are 'rue' something. A hangover from the french). Victoria has to move on to Cambodia to start on a project she had sorted from australia, so had to sort a flight ticket out first thing. Plenty of time left to walk to one of Vientiane's most famous landmarks at 'Wat Pha That Luang'. Along thanon Setthathirat to the presidential palace first. Well worh spending more time here but decided to come back here later if time allowed. Carried on along thanon Lan Xang to the another famous landmark 'Patuxai' victory monument, built to commemorate the lao who died in the pre-revolutionary wars. An imposing replica of the 'Arc de triomphe' in Paris but never properly finished. Built in 1969 using cement donated by the USA to contruct the new airport - hence why some expats call it the 'vertical runway'!.

Only a short walk from here to the incredible  all gold 'Wat Pha That Luang'. Bad timing as it was closing when we got there but that's ok as the view from ouside is stunning.

Tuk-tuk back to town and then out for a nice dinner close-by as Victoria is leaving tomorrow. The full moon café was lovely. Good choice of food and some chilled piano playing from the owner. Sad evening as we have grown really close, but I will be catching up again in a short while when I get to south Cambodia.

Sun 24th Feb - Early departure for Victoria to get a taxi to the airport and I went back to bed for a while. Breakfast at Sabaidee café again. I may stop an extra day or so here to see if I recover before moving on. Far easier to get treatment here than if I move somewhere smaller. Moved across the road later on, to the Mixay Guest House at 50,000 Kip for a decent sized room with hot shower. The rest of the day feeling pretty rough and not able to eat much as I fealt like I was eating knives. Found a large pharmacist and got myself some broad spectrum antibioics to try for a week or so. It's sunday so trying to see a consulant anywhere costs double any other time.

Made the decision later to head south tomorrow to find somewhere I would like to stay for a while to recover, so booked a bus ticket to Savannakhet.

Mon 25th Feb - 6am pickup from Guest House by tuk-tuk and on the road at 6:30ish. A long journey of about 460km taking about 9hours in steaming heat for most of it. Great idea of mine, but at least a chance to do nothing for a while. Reasonably comforable public bus that stopped everywhere. An express bus would have been better. Anyway, not much happened on the journey.....I was the only non-lao person for most of it. People getting on with mountains of boxes that can only fit in the aisles making It uncomfortable for everyone. Lots of people without seats perched on small plastic stools in the aisle. Normal stuff.

Found some digs easy enough and shared a room with a dutch girl Tanya to cut the cost to 28,000 kip. Cheapest so far. Walked down to the Mekong to watch the sunset then checked out the tourist office. Had I felt up to It, there was a nice 2-day tour into the hills, but I feel wiped out and not ready. Savannakhet is a quiet place with a small central plaza and a few main roads with guest houses and eating places. Not many sights to see though. Plenty of internet shops and a single ATM. Enough for a day or so stop.

Joined up with a dutch guy for dinner so a nice evening. Acually managed to eat something, so that's a step forward.

Tue 26th Feb - Tuk-tuk to the bus station for the 9am bus to Pakse (35,000 kip). Should be around 6 hours. A lot more foreigners on the same bus this morning, as Pakse is a major hub for getting to Thailand or Cambodia. Most are doing the same and planning on visiting the 'Thousand Islands' area of Si Phon Don in the very south of Laos first, as I plan to do.

This bus is a bit more comfortable than yesterday's with soft seats. Very melancholy music playing most of the way, which helps with relaxation (not that I need it as permanently relaxed). Got to Pakse at 2:30pm. The bus does stop at the northern station, but if you hang on, it keeps on going into the center of town and stops past the Champasak museum.

Shared Sawngthaew back to the main area for hotels and sorted something fairly quickly. Stayed at the Thaluang hotel for 70,000 kip inc hot shower.

Freshen up then off to research opions as don't want to spend much time here. Main investigations were the options for getting into Cambodia. The Air-lao office was open. All flights from Pakse to either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh cost $110 and run daily. Discounts only available if booked more than 7 days in advance....That would be week's budget blown in one flight! Went next door to the tourist office and they confrmed that a visa is definitely issued on arrival in Cambodia, at all land crossings since end 2007, and should cost $35 for a 1 month's visa.

I want to be somehwere nice on my birthday on 7th march so that sets a timescale.

Ended up treating myself to some added comfort and booking a space on a VIP bus to the 'Thousand Islands' area in the very south for tomorrow morning, getting picked up from my hotel at 8am (60,000 kip and abou 2 hours). Will be staying on Don Khon or Don Det Islands, but will sort that when I get there. Hopefully a day or so and then off into Cambodia. More of that another time.....

Pakse is a nice place. Wide open roads, a good sized marke area with stalls to eat at. Plenty of fruit for sale. Enough restaurants to spoil for choice too.

Tags: Sightseeing


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