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The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.

Its all just fab-Laos..!!

LAOS | Sunday, 21 February 2010 | Views [2019]

So we made it to Laos alive. I have to say that I have a slight fear of flying but after that journey I am now a true believer in the fact that your far more likely to be killed on the road than on a plane… esp. on the roads around here. Its all part of the adventure….

After a long boarder crossing we arrived in Vientiane in Laos. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, the economy relies mostly on agriculture, there is little development, infrastructure and for the most part the it has been untouched by the western culture of fast food, shopping malls, big business and commercialism. People here work to live, life is simple and so its all very chilled. All this makes for an amazingly beautiful country. Outside the few small towns people live in small villages in their very basic, small thatched huts, there are very few cars but it seems like despite the poverty everyone has a motorbike or a scooter or some kind of contraption that will get them around.

What we loved about Laos is that it’s a culture so far removed from ours that everyday we found ourselves seeing things that either shocked us or just made us laugh. Like the tuk tuk drivers who shout at you from where they lie in the hamocks in the back of their tuk tuks.

Or like watching the women from our hotel wash her little puppy under the kitchen sink tap over a sink full of dishes and baby bottles. What was made this even more strange to watch was the fact that the kitchen sink is attached to the back wall of the outside of the hotel as is the rest of the kitchen. Or seeing a family who lived in the one room that was also the shop that they run.

Pretty much as soon as we got to Vientiane in Laos myself and James got dodgy stomachs. We had to get our Vietnam visas in Vientiane anyway so we stayed here a few nights. There is not much to do here so we just chilled out, slept, the lads went out to watch football on TV. We got our Vietnam visas and booked a flight from Luang Prabang, which is in the north, for the following week. Next we headed to Vang Veng which is about 5hrs north so we booked a VIP bus… it only cost 4euro. VIP my ass… the bus we ended up on  was a rickety old 24 seater chicken bus with no air con and the seats were so tightly packed together even me at 5ft 2in had to sit with my knees jammed into the back seat in front. Poor James was stuffed into the seat and his legs took up half the isle.

With our bags strapped to the roof we set off. The roads are dusty and bumpy, it was hot and cramped…. Not a very nice 6hrs.

We got to Vang Vieng and found ourselves a fab little guesthouse and got two double rooms with shower for less than  2.50 euro each. We came here for pretty much one thing… and that was the tubing. We had heard about tubing from loads of people on our travels and they had all said the same thing, that we have to do it! Basically tubing is when you float down the river in a huge inflated tube, stopping at the bars along the way.

So here we were. Vang Veng is a small town that has been taken over by the tubing phenomenon. Its full of hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and bars, stalls and shops selling everything a backpacker could want. Its over run with backpackers who come here for one thing… to go tubing and get pissed. If you want to see the real Laos your not going to find much of it here. It’s a nice place and great fun but at times you feel like your in some Spanish holiday resort with girls walking round the streets in their bikinis and guys in their board shorts.

There is not much to do in this little town but drink and go tubing… so that’s what we did. Beers are cheap and vodka comes in a bucket so how could we resist The day we decided to do the tubing we set off to rent the tubes at about 12.30pm. We thought this would give us plenty of time to get down the river and back to town before dark… we were so wrong. We got our tubes, paid the deposit and got a tuk tuk to the starting point on the river which is 3km from town. The first bar was here, we didn’t even have to get into the water. There are hundreds of backpackers doing the tubing every day, and there are almost as many bars to choose from as you go down the river.

They all want to get you to stop so they have people standing on the banks throwing bottles tied to a string at you so you can be pulled in. The bars have everything you need for a good time, drinks,

music, sun, hammocks,


swings and zip lines over the river.

Even a drugs menu. Yes a drugs menu! They openly offered hash brownies, shakes and magic mushrooms in all different forms (don’t worry parents we didn’t try them).

It was the best fun we had had in ages, such a laugh.  Pretty soon we realised it was getting a bit late and we hadn’t made it very far… in fact because we kept stopping at every bar we had only managed to make it less than 1km down river. There was still over 2km of river to go before we were back in town and we had already lost some of our deposit because we hadn’t got the tubes back so we just waited till it was almost dark and got a tuk tuk back to town. It was off for a shower before we headed out for a much needed meal and some more drinks.

Next afternoon we got mini van to Luang Prabang 6 hrs north across the mountains.  The road goes over the mountains and is a narrow twisty road that passes through loads of mountain villages. The scenery was worth the trip but once again we noticed that the driver was having trouble staying alert or at least we think that was the reason he slapped himself in the face a couple of times towards the end of the drive. What can ya do but laugh..!

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage town. The town is a really beautiful charming place with its French mansions, tiny side streets with beautiful wooden houses and orange robed monks roam the streets under their umbrellas. Its also got some great markets. We love a good market and the hand crafts here were amazing…. Money was spent and the backpacks are getting fuller by the day. We spent 3 days here.

Tuk tuk or truck is the way to get around here. We were going for a late breakfast on our first morning when we were ambushed by tuk tuk drivers wanting to bring is somewhere. Being nice we said yea maybe later to one poor tuk tuk driver and headed to the café. Sitting outside the café having breakfast and we realise that the tuk tuk driver is standing across the road waiting for us. Every time we looked over he was waving at us. Feeling a bit guilty we decided we were doing nothing else so we would make the poor guys day and hire him for a few hours. He was delighted and after some haggling we agreed a price and set off to the Pak Ou caves. We were only a couple of hundred meters down the road when his tuk tuk broke down in the middle of the road, the poor guy didn’t know what to do. We decided pretty fast that we were not waiting around so we jumped out and headed off up the road. A few minutes later the guy comes running round the corner after us all out of breath and sweaty, in very poor English he explained that his friend was coming to get us. So a few minutes later we were back on our way. The Pak Ou caves house hundreds of old, new and broken Buddha statutes and is considered a place of worship by Laos people. Forhundreds of years Laos people have been comming here with there budda statutes. There are maby thousands of them in all sizes all over the two caves.

Have to say we found it a bit strange. We also spent a day at Kouang Si waterfalls which are about an hour from Luang Prabang. There is about seven waterfalls in thick forest with amazing pure blue water lagoons and beautiful pools to swim in. We started at the bottom fall and made our way up the hill to where the falls start. Chilled out and cooled down in the pools.

On Saturday we got our flight to Hanoi in Vietnam. We decided not to get the bus to Vietnam as wed heard so many bad things about it. We had heard it referred to as the “hell bus” and “the death bus”. The bus takes anything from 24 hrs to 30 hrs so we decided to pay a bit extra and fly. The only issue with this is that the only air line we could get was Laos Airlines which apparently has questionable safety records and some governments advise against travelling with them. On the other hand we had also heard that they had a whole fleet of new plains and were very safe. We decided to take our chances with the flight considering some of the bus journeys wed had lately its was hard to know which was the safer option. Thankfully the 50min flight in a turbo prop plane went very smoothly and we made it in one piece to Hanoi in the north of Vietnam. We got off the plain to realise that its pretty bloody cold in Hanoi. Quite a shock since we left Laos and it was a sweltering 36 or 37 degrees and arrived in shorts to 10 degree, rainy, grey weather in Hanoi.  

Tags: luang prabang, tubing, vientaine, waterfalls


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