Laos · 14 Days · 29 Moments · August 2017

The Travelling two's adventure in Laos

21 August 2017

In need of some rest after the hike we showered and got ready for dinner in a leisurely fashion. Not interested in exploring the town that night we headed just up the road to a restaurant called Alex's. Funnily enough this turned out to be by a distance the nicest place we ate in Nong Khiaw. Laura had a veggie curry 🍛 and I had traditional river fish steamed in banana leaf. As is the custom, the fish was in no way filleted which slightly ruined the dish but it was really fantastic. The fish from the river is a sort.of catfish so has beautiful, meaty white flakes and it was cooked perfectly. Flavoured with their own basil that has an aniseed flavour and spiced with green peppercorns, I was really impressed. Great portion size and served with rice for all of about £2, it was brilliant. A couple of beers with dinner and we were almost relieved to be able to climb into bed. A fun, rewarding day that destroyed us. It can't have been later than half 9 or 10 when we fell asleep.
However, the view was sensational. Like, better than the Koh Phangan one or really any other viewpoint we've yet seen out here, really special. It was a picture of serenity, a few other people gathered at the top (only 3 or 4) all taking in the calm. The sound of a traditional Laotian boat rumbling up river in the distance. Then Laura arrived, winging and moaning because she's tired and hot and sweaty and generally slicing through the silence in her piercing manner. Eventually I'm sure she appreciated the view, even if my accidentally drinking all the water fuelled her fire further (I honestly thought she'd been drinking it with me the whole time! Oops). Jokes aside though, it was gorgeous and in spite of the truly challenging climb, was well worth it, both agreed. We met a girl called Emma during this adventure and later ended up bringing her ziplining, handy as a group of 3 was waaaay cheaper than just 2 of us :-)
Where the trail began was actually very close to our guesthouse so we ran back in to change clothes. This was a good decision. We really didn't think the walk was going to be too much to write home about, like so many other viewpoints we've reached that were easily paved paths to cater to all sight seekers. This one was different. At the bottom as we paid the small fee to enter, the ticket man warned us it was slippy in places (after we already paid, of course), to which I remember thinking, "alright mate, this ain't my first time, I'll manage". It was murder! Imagine a steep ascent (as steep as walking can be before it literally becomes climbing) for about an hour and 40 minutes that, for the most part, is super slippery mud. We did it, of course, but we were drenched in sweat, covered in mud, and after counting I had over 30 insect bites. When we did make it down, we looked less than chic.
As we were settled and ready by lunchtime, we went straight to a guide books recommended guesthouse for our lunch. Slightly more expensive than other eateries as we found later, but it had excellent breakfasts and an array of Western deserts! Neither of us are particularly sweet in the tooth but it has been a hell of a time since we've seen an apple crumble (easy choice for Laura) or a banoffee pie (for me). This was a place we frequented a couple of times during our stay, though it was for breakfasts and we didn't indulge ourselves in the sweets again. In a moment of madness we (I alone) decided that after pigging out at lunch we should tackle the viewpoint that Nong Khiaw is renowned for. So with full bellies and lethargic legs, we waddled off to find the start.
We checked out of our nice guesthouse and awaited our tuk tuk to the bus station 🚉. It was raining and grey and miserable which is always good when we're leaving a place, as if to reassure us that it's a good time to travel and move on. The coach ride was perfectly comfortable, luckily the seats weren't full in the minibus so plenty of room and great time to make headway on our books. Arriving in Nong Khiaw to beautiful weather was a bonus. As a small, sleepy town, it was all very affordable so I treated Laura to a taxi to our hostel, rather than the 2km walk I insisted upon in Luang Prabang! Sometimes I like to flash the cash 💸 The hostel was decent, big room and nice seating area out front with a great view of the river and the karsts. No air-conditioning but we did fine with the fan. And they had the sweetest little dog called Jasper, he would follow us out on an evening and we would often find him at our feet in various restaurants in town.

16 August 2017

Lazy day...rained all day so nice lie in, walked to the main street to meander about. Spent the afternoon cafe hopping and reading books. Very relaxed. At around 5pm we decided to head for a Laos massage... Unfortunately this was the rigorous kind and in some ways quite painful...not as bad as a Thai one though! Worked up an appetite before heading to the coconut garden restaurant...ordered our dishes... With a pizza on the side (we were starving)! Homeward bound early start moving on tomorrow. Loved Luang Prabang and excited to get off the 'banana pancake route' which is well travelled and known. Heading to the village of Nong Khiaw!
Definitely chosen the right spot for a dip. Descent was fine and we grabbed a quick bite to eat before the journey back home. Evening meal...delicious Asian fusion restaurant. Quite quirky design, the food was great and a bit different... I had a vege burger but the bun had been dyed bright pink. All very tasty. We had planned on heading to the night market but the torrential rain was off putting so we headed home
We started our ascent to the Waterfall on the way up we saw the blue cascades pooling with smaller waterfalls and lots of people swimming in the Lagoons, we weren't allowed to relax and get in though according to Josh as he wanted to climb to the top. We passed the Bridge of the viewpoint for the main Waterfall and it was gorgeous, difficult to get a photo however without capturing a Chinese person with a Selfie stick somewhere in the background. Luckily they cba to walk up to the top so they tended to congregate down at the bottom. There are 2 ways to the top...on a path or a climb and trek...Josh chose the trek. Wouldn't have minded so much however I had on my white shorts and the mud was slippy due to recent rain fall so I was scared in case there was a mishap. There wasnt and 30 sweaty minutes later we had arrived. View from the top was great as usual. Scenery everywhere in Laos is top notch. There was some spring water at the top with a rope swing and hardly any people so we'd
Just through the entrance of the waterfalls was the bear enclosure. Its set up was similar to that of a zoo with bits of trivia set up regarding info about bears and more interactive parts. The were also donation boxes around to contribute to the upkeep of the bears. I'd never seen bear up close before and there was about 20 of them. Some of them absolutely huge! A lot of them were mainly lazing in the sun snoozing but there were a few climbing walls and splashing in the water. There was one bear which only had 3 legs that's kept approaching the fence and was very curious. They are magnificent when they stand up its amazing to watch! We came back after we'd been up to the Waterfall to watch them again, on the way back there was two bears playfighting which was hilarious. Apparently all the bears have been rescued from poachers, they're captured and sent to China who hunt them for their bile which is meant to have medicinal purposes!

15 August 2017

To fully embrace the Luang Prabang lifestyle we woke up at 6.50am to walk along to take a early morning yoga class (who have I become). The class was at Utopia and overlooking the river, and mountains which had the early morning mist draped around them. Don't think anything could be more zen or picturesque. We took the class...never sweated so much and watching Josh who is the most inflexible person I know try and do the yoga positions was a spectacle. He did very well and both felt great after. Today was our exploration day, we'd hired a scooter and were heading the 27km to Kuang SI waterfalls. Again the roads were dotted with potholes so made the journey more...interesting I suppose.
Luang Prabang is absolutely lovely, such a chilled out environment and although on the surface it's not full of activities like Vang Vieng it's so nice to walk around the river, sample many of the nice bars and restaurants and take in the sights of temples and museums etc. There's lots of handicrafts here too, so if you wanted can get involved with weaving, making indigo clothing etc teach English. The town is well kept and not at all off the beaten track in some ways quite glamorous and anyone would enjoy it here. We initially only planned to spend one or two nights here but it's so pleasant to be we've decided to extend our stay...Joshs main reason is because the food is too good.
After working up a large sweat from the viewpoint we thought we deserved a treat. The red cross foundation run a spa to collect donations. So you can get a massage and not feel guilty as all the proceeds are going to a great cause. Laos massage for an hour made me a happy lady, and crazy cheap. They still don't quite get the ambience running round and jumping on you once or twice but in general you cannot complain. Dinner was another culinary treat. bamboo restaurant was full to the brim so you can tell it must be good. We tried river weed and aubergine spring rolls for starter which was amazing before getting our main. The food was impressive and beautifully presented utilising banana leaves as decoration. Very expensive for our budget but hey ho well worth it.
Woke up in the morning after a delightful sleep to the news that the room had bedbugs. Josh had found them during the night and more in the morning, we had breakfast before breaking the news. We promptly left of course. The owners of the hostel seemed aware of the issue so annoying they weren't doing anything about it. Just goes to show it isn't the grotty places as this hostel was absolutely gorgeous and clean! New hostel not as nice and more expensive but bed is just as comfy. We did a full bedbug inspection on arrival. At least I can recognise an infestation now... Got to look at the positives. We walked pretty much the whole of luang prabang centre today stopped at lots of places to drink on the river overlooking where the local river joins the Mekong. Headed back to the same restaurant as before for lunch as it was too delicious! Paid to walk the 400 steps of the Phoosi Mountain to get spectacular views of the town and surrounding scenery. Josh was of course outraged by paying.
A walk back through the main town to get our bearings before heading to the infamous bar Utopia. utopia is full on chill. A decking out on the river where it's littered with bean bags and pillows etc,lovely views, nice drinks and at last a bit of a breeze. Apparently next week is a massive boat race so lots of practicing boats going by. I'd overheard a German girl talk about free film nights at a second hand bookstore so we went along to L'entranger. Great establishment ran by a French lady. We ordered drinks and cheesy garlic bread and snuggled down to Watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on the big TV.
Left via minibus to Luang prabang first thing, omg the roads are scary. It was only a four hour drive but felt like forever. I'm sure we got whiplash from the potholes and lack of suspension, but the amazing scenery did kind of make up for it. At one point we'd got so high up a mountain we were completely in cloud and couldn't see! Arrived into Luang prabang bus station, Josh seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about taxi driver 'scum' and refused to pay the £2 to our hostel. Instead we walked in the midday sun half an hour...with our bags. Delightful. On first impressions our hostel was fabulous, fruit smoothie on arrival, the comfiest bed,brand new bathroom, slippers etc luxury! Out and about to explore luang prabang we walked for a good 40 minutes along the river to the discover we'd left the wallet at home 😭 we ate anyway and Josh got a tuk tuk there and back to sort it out. The food was EXCELLENT. And such good value for money.
In the dusk... The place was run by a Laos woman and her Australian boyfriend. We had a nice chat with him and gained some inside knowledge about living in a Laos community. Dinner was at our fave restaurant where we'd been 3 times, I'm trying out vegetarianism and the vege dishes there are amazing! Stayed up late to facetime my Dad on his birthday and bed.
For lunch we stopped off at a local restaurant where all profits went into the community and teaching local kids English, food was a small menu but on a lovely river setting. Everything was grown organically on the premises too. We headed off to another lagoon, which was around 8km to get to, so we didn't think it would take too long, we'd heard the road was quite treacherous but couldn't imagine it being that bad. It was worse than imagined but pretty fun. Driving through local villages, windy roads, dodging cows and buffalo's. The main fun came from ginormous lake like puddles which we had to manoeuvre, there was a torrential downpour on our journey also so we were soaked by the time we got to the lagoon. Again, lagoon was quite touristy, zip wires, canoes and freezing cold water which we could barely get in. Found a giant caterpillar which was cool. Then headed back towards town. A few drinks at a local place, where out if their backgarden you could see thousands of bats flying out

14 August 2017

The climb to the caves summit was extreme! Up ladders,rocks and semi steps it was quite an incline and we were exhausted just getting there. Inside the cave was just as treacherous with nothing other than spray painted arrows on rocks to loosely guide you where you need to clamber over rocks. We'd packed with us our head torches which were necessary, as we got further into the cave it became pitch black, and huge! The cave was 500m deep. It started to get a bit creepy, especially when we started seeing fist sized spiders, could hear nothing but bats overhead and we were the only ones there. We wimped out and headed back. A well deserved jump in the lagoon was needed. Spent a while watching people jump off high points off trees and tried not to laugh when the Koreans nearly drowned (not joking in half an hour 2 were rescued!) I even jumped off a little branch. With so much to see and do we moved on.
We needed to make the most of the last day in Vang Vieng so we hired a scooter and went off. We crossed over the bridge to a different part of town which seemed more rural, and a bit more off the beaten track which we would have liked so it was a shame we didn't find it earlier. It was nice not really having an agenda and pootling along until we found something that tickled our fancy. Vang Vieng countryside is breathtaking. Such lush greenery and mountain karsts surrounding you everywhere, along the way there are dozens of signs for caves,hiking points and views that you really are spoilt for choice. We decided to check out one of the Lagoons, the Lagoons are unfortunately far too touristy and so built up upon they now just look like outdoor swimming pools. With slides, rope swings and Korean tourists screaming in hoards everywhere (they can't swim). We headed to the cave that was by the lagoon as we thought that would be a bit quieter.
Josh was too hungover to get out of bed so the day was spent watching things on YouTube and chilling out. To be honest the weather was intermittent rain showers all day so we didn't miss much. I'd managed to drag him out of bed around 1.30pm for some lunch. We headed to Garys Irish Bar...and it was as authentic Laos as it sounds. But we didn't care. They serve all sorts of Irish stew, pies burgers and all the usual pub favourite comfort foods so we endulged ourselves! So good to have gravy!!! Back to bed for a little while before venturing back out into the rain for our evening meal. Bit of a waste of a day but lazy days are needed sometimes!

10 August 2017

We met a scouse couple at tubing who we went to dinner with. They took us to a cool bar called space, which had the normal things such as food and cocktails, but also had a menu of magic mushrooms, opium, weed and a whole load of other things in their different varieties. We stuck to the cocktails, Josh as usual had one too many and was taken home rather inebriated.
Vang Vieng used to be the party capital, cocktails of strong spirits, opium readily available and drunken tourists were a lethal combination which led to many accidents, deaths and what not which led to the government closing all the bars down a few years ago. It's redesigned itself now as an activity hub, a place full of hiking, climbing, kayaking, caves and ziplines. They do still have the famous tourist rite of passage Tubing but it's no where near as wild as it used to be. Tubing is where you rent the inside of a tractor tyre, get on the river and with its rapids it takes you down stream where along the way each bar throws you a rope and pulls you in for a drink and then you get back in the river and move on. There used to be about 20 bars along the river but now theres only 3. Still pretty fun though, we'd met a good crowd of people and had some fun day time drinking.
Bumpy ride, but some gorgeous scenery on the way to Vang Vieng. Dumped our bags in the hostel and went to explore and get some lunch. Had to make a quick decision of where we were going to eat as some heavy showers were down pouring for quite a while. Rain had died off so we had a quick wander round, town is set against a back drop of mountains and a river runs through it so the surroundings are pretty special. Evening consisted of finding a busy restaurant which had a massive menu... Josh decided to try the pasta which is usually rubbish out here but everything was delicious and reasonably priced!

8 August 2017

Laos, at one point was occupied by France so lots of typical French architecture. They even have their own version of the Arc de Triomph which we climbed up. Cycled around a bit and then it was time for lunch, stopped at a family restaurant for some tofu and noodles which was delicious. We were in desperate need of showers, sweated immensely today. I thought I was used to humid but Laos is something else! Ventured out in the evening for Lebanese food...more expensive than local stuff but we thought we deserved it. Felt like there wasn't much else to see in Vientiane so booked travel to move north to Vang Vieng in the morning.
We rented bicycles for the day to get round and explore some of the sites. The main thing to see is temples really which we weren't really interested in so we went along to COPE which is an exhibition and organisation which educates about UXO In Laos dropped by the US and the devastation it's caused. Great to see the work they're doing helping those thousands of individuals (mainly children) who have been maimed by bombs in the ground, by providing prosthetic limbs, rehabilitation, counselling and therapy for those injured. Very eye opening and of course sad finding out about the charity and what these people have to deal with. The place had lots of Sculptures made out of old prosthetic limbs or scrap metal from bombs which was macabre but also pretty cool. The exhibition was free but all donations go to the cause and profits from souvenirs do too...we bought a mug. It's also part of a wider hospital to help those disabled so you can see first hand where the money goes.

7 August 2017

Our hostel is in a pretty good location and is right by the local night market which runs along the Mekong River, after our much needed shower we ambled along. Not much culture and local items sold at the market... More knock offs not dissimilar to Stanley Dock! Some cheap food and drink stalls dotted around so we filled our boots,got our bearings and headed home as we were exhausted from the travel.
Travelling from West Laos to Vientiane (the capital) took the best part of 10 hours. However we were pleasantly surprised on arrival. Instead of being hoarded and chased by numerous taxi drivers bidding for your business and invading your space,they kind of just ask you and leave you to it which is what was necessary for our moods. We paid Satan aka our bus driver w****r and got a taxi to our hostel. Driving through the city, we noticed first off that for a city and the capital it's actually scarcely populated and not too busy or overcrowded at all, we also went past some lovely architecture which are French Colonial (I believe) and were pleased we were not back in the Phnom Penh brothel invested dirt city we were expecting. Hostel was ok, very average but it was a room and had good showers so we couldn't complain. We'd met an old hippy Aussie guy on the bus called Meric who also happened to be staying in our hostel so we had a friend.
Terrible idea, we had our visas processed and we were unable to pay with our cards, the place had no ATM our hopes were fading especially when the place barely had electricity never mind anything else! The Laos staff couldn't really help us any further and advised we speak to our bus driver to lend the money until Vientiane. Unfortunately our bus driver was the definition of a scumbag and an absolute c**t , who we already hated as he treated us like cattle and was incredibly rude and aggressive. He agreed to lend us the money on the condition we paid him back the cash plus an extra 30 dollars. That is an obscene amount of money here and given we didn't have any choice we had to agree. We spent the rest of the bus ride absolutely seething, with extra charges for whatever reason from the Laos border (we had given up in finding out why) our visas which should have cost 70 dollars in total cost £100! Well and truly arse raped. Despite my rage the mountains and views were breathtaking.
Not the greatest first experience in Laos. Tired from an overnight bus from Hanoi, we were woken by the staff on the bus...rather abruptly to get off the bus as we were at the border. Not one person spoke English who worked on the bus, nor at the border to explain where we were going or what we needed to do etc. The most you got was a rigorous point in some vague direction. There was a handful of us Europeans who were given vague directions several times until we were at the correct office to have our exit from Vietnam stamped. We kind of just stood there, until again we were moved on by border control, and had to walk 20 minutes alone through derelict grounds and building sites until we reached the Laos border. We arrived and began the process of getting our Laos visa, which was a lot more stress added to the mix. I had read online there was an ATM at the border, rather than withdraw more vietnamese dong we would need to convert we decided to get money put once we were there.