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Nicola and Christopher's Grand Adventure! This is a little story of our 3 month journey through, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We hope that you (our friends and family) enjoy reading about our trip!

Cycling, sun tans and kayaking in a developing country...

LAOS | Thursday, 29 July 2010 | Views [535]

Well folks, we are just wrapping up in Luang Prabang and thought we should add a little update about what we have been up to over the past 3 to 4 days. We have been busy. You last left us in the rain in a small northern town called Luang Nam Tha. The rain eased up and and we decided to rent some bikes (of the normal sized variety) and head out on our own to explore the local area.

Six hours later and not a drop of rain, plus our ability to forget sun tan lotion at the most inopportune moments, left us rather red, v. tired and with some great memories. In our defense the area was cloudy for most of the day. We traveled out to a local waterfall, which was not as spectacular as we had hoped, but we were spoiled earlier in the year with our trip to Milford Sound! The fun was in getting there in wet, dirt roads, cycling past rice paddies and getting lost, only to have a lovely older lady stop us and point in the other direction. It is amazing how far hand gestures along with a wave and a nod will get you! The Lao people outside of the tourist centres have been a real joy to be around.

We rode through several local villages to see what subsistence living is all about. We managed to get lost a couple of times, no doubt Christopher's inability to read a map properly! We stopped for lunch (chocolate chip cookies) in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of cows sheltering in some woods. The cows were poor specimens compared to the ones we had been used to seeing on the farm!! Several locals were laughing when they saw us standing by our bikes. We continued on our merry way for another 15 minutes only to find that the stream we were supposed to cross, to get to the next village, was now a raging torrent... we guessed that was why they were laughing. While we were searching for something resembling a foot bridge or a ferry man, a gentleman walked past us with his inflated rubber tube (we had overtaken him on the road earlier too), put his belongings in the tube and calmly floated down the river to the other side... we are sure we sensed a little `silly farang's with their bikes' when he got to the other side.

All is all it was a great day exploring, the kids yelled out hello in Lao wherever we went and the adults were equally responsive to our attempts at the local language. Again a smile and a nod of the head gets you a long way around here. We arrived back at the hotel, tired and sun burnt. Nicola is now a lovely brown, Christopher is sporting lovely sunburned lips and hands!!!

Our last day in Luang Nam Tha was equally memorable!!! (Parents need not read any further). We had decided that we would like to do some kayaking while we were in the area and get to see a little more of the v. scenic country up near the Chinese border. If we had thought about it a little more we may have opted for a leisurely hike. The flooded river that we came across when we were cycling should have given it away, combined with the lack of kayaking experience we have and Nicola's less than stellar ability on the swimming front, and all the red flags about adventure tourism in developing countries... oh well we survived. No safety briefing ala Queenstown and a general nod to how to kayak later and we were on our ways. At least we had life vests and helmets. The first stretch on the river was pretty straight forward and what we had signed up for. We stopped at a local village on the river, a lot more depressing than the ones we had ventured to on our own the day before. It then got a little interesting... several rapids later... two lost paddles (not ours may we hasten to add) and one broken paddle (Christopher is such a strong boy, ok maybe shoddy equipment, it is a developing country!!!) later everybody except for the guides had fallen in. We managed to get our boat trapped against a bush in the middle of this v. fast flowing river, we couldn't have done it better if we had tried. A couple of scary moments later, minus boat and flowing down some more rapids we had recovered. A little shaken up but still breathing... we stopped for lunch and had a lot more control for the rest of the day after the guides realised they might need to give a few pointers. We managed to stay in the boat for the rest of the trip, the only couple to do so (go us!!!!) All in all it was quite an experience and real lesson learned that for all the catering to Westerners over here, we are a long way from home!

We left Luang Nam Tha with some good memories and travelled by mini-bus to Luang Prabang. We ended up in the front seats and were treated to some amazing views as we drove through the highlands to get here. It must be said that the evidence of land slips and a couple of places where the road had almost been washed away, were a little too close at times, but we made it here with some great views of the country. It really is beautiful! One other thing about sitting up front, it meant that we got to keep an eye on the driver who was falling asleep at the wheel for the last hour of our trip!

Luang Prabang is a tourist town, and although it is a religious centre for Buddhists with a huge number of Wats, it definitely caters for western tourists, with western tourist prices. The people are not as friendly as we have experienced elsewhere and seem to resent our presence. As this is the terminus for the two day drunken boat ride from Huay Xai (that we exited after a day) and also a jumping off point for Vang Vieng (a bit of a drunken/druggy backpacker town) it should not be surprising, but it is a shame and takes something away from the Laos experience for us. The Wats and the location at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khon rivers make for some stunning scenery. We visited the former royal palace today, which was interesting to see, if only to hear how the Marxist/Leninist government covered up the death of the monarch. Nicola was not impressed that she had to hire a shirt to wear to cover up her offensive shoulders (when she was wearing a t-shirt!), but it's all in the name of being culturally sensitive.. We did manage to find a quiet (it is the off season) little guest house with a groovy courtyard and we have been catching up on some rest and Nicola has been practicing guitar, all before we head to the plain of jars (Phonsavan) tomorrow and maybe Vang Vieng after that, really just because Christopher hasn't had his fill of drunken westerners and "polite" tuk tuk drivers.

Apologies for the long entry... we have just been a busy couple of monkey's. Hope to keep you posted when we get to the capital in 4/5 days time and hopefully get some pics up of our escapade.

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