The end of Thailand and in to Laos

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

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Up to Nan on a 6 hour bus trip, arrived at 8.30 at night at a bus station with no English signs...realised this was not backpacker central like the majority of other places I have been.  Got a tuk tuk to one of only two guesthouses in Nan 'Nan Guest House' and immeditaely had a guy trying to sell me a trek but a lot more expenisve than Chiang Mai.  Very cold in Nan so had my jumper on, brought patti to eat and chatted to an old english guy who had been to visit a remote hilltribe that could only be accessed through 5 hours of trekking through thick jungle (they were chopping down bamboo at times to get through!).  Decided i wouldn't do that.  The next day I relaxed around Nan, really nice place...only a handfull of backpackers, quiter and nicer pace than the other Thai towns I've been to.  Visited the National museum and a very beautiful temple with 4 buddhas back to back in the centre and gold patterns all over the dark red walls/ceiling.  Got a Thai massage, which was a lot more painful than relaxing!  And then tried to go out and find dinner....I wasn't sure what was a restaurant and what was not as no signs in English anywhere.  Sat down in one I guessed was a restaurant as there were lots of tables out the front, i was right but didn't have a very friendly Thai woman serving me...she didn't even understand the word 'Coke'!

Friday morning I walked the 500m to the bus station and got a 5 hour bus up to Chiang Rai.  Arrived and taken to Chat House, where I got a room for 180B.  Met a chatty American called Kristen, and a guy from Boston called Hudson...we walked round the town together, visiting the Wat Phra Kaew temple, famous beacuse in the fourteenth century lightning struck the Chedi and cracked it open to reveal the emerald buddha inside (now in a new temple).  Walked down and found a restaurant to eat a burger/omlett and then to a bakery in the centre, where I ordered a marzipan cake (ahhh!).  Had just emailed Nadine (german girl i had met the week before at the festival in Chiang Mai) and she walked into the bakery, straight off the bus from Sukhati..she had come to check her emails and to meet up with me...these coincidences seem to happen so much!  She ended up sharing a room with me.

On Saturdsay Nadine and i foolishly decided to do another day trek (even though neither of us really likes walking!!).  We had a guide first take us to the hilltribe type village...but it was the furthest you can really get from a real village, we had to pay a 300B entrance fee and then walked around viewing 5 different hill tribes all on one plot of land, one tribe with the massive golden coils round their necks to stretch them (so heavy, they start at the age of 5 stretching there necks, up to the age of 25...they then can't take the neck thing off for long periods as their necks are so weak they would snap (apparently this is used to punish women who comit adultery), tribe who wear large earrings to stretch their ears, Akha hill tribe (headdresses if beads, and other silver ornaments), and Lahu tribe who wear black and red jackets, and the women wear narrow skirts.  The majority of these tribes have been chucked out of Burma and Thailand has offered them asylum...not sure how much better this is for them though, seeing as they are now like live museum sets...performing to tourists as soon as we walk into their plot of land and posing for photos...this happens all day every day...i think they must go mad with boredom.  The fact that 5 completely different hill tribes all with different customs are now living together on one small piece of land must mean they will soon lose their traditions (i think they probably have already, they just keep it up for the tourists).  We then went on to a market and chose some food for our lunch, ate lunch and then set off on a 3 1/2 hour trek along a dirt road through lush jungle, on to see a Tea Plantation, a waterfall and then we walked through 2 more hill tribes, didn't see anything other than lots of mangy dogs hanging around.  We hung around for our guide who had a shower at the hot springs for half an hour (she doesn't get hot showers at home in Chiang Rai) and then were driven back into town....sooooooo cold!!! So cold.  They had hot showers at Chat House but only between 7am and 9pm, so we rushed back...they were gas showers ...you had to ignite the flame in the little box on the wall next to the shower to get the water hot...i'm sure that's not safe!!

Sunday we set our alarm for 5am and left to get a 6.30am bus to Chiang Khong...unfortunately the bus didn't leave Chiang Rai until 7.30 so we sat there for an hour freezing.  When we did finally set off the bus driver didn't close the doors so we had freezing misty wind blowing around the bus for 3 hours!! Arrived at Chiang Khong where we got a tuk tuk down to the Visa point, crossed the river for 30B and entered Laos!  Quickly arranged for the 2 day slow boat down the Mekong River (leaving at 11.30am, $25).

I've been in Luang Prabang for two days now, after taking the 2 day slow boat from the border of Thailand all the way down the Mekong River...about 5 hours on the first day and then nine hours on the second day.  Cold and windy with a lot of people crammed on the boats...i think around 80 on the second day, with motorbike on front and produce etc on the roof and not enough seats for all the passengers...some slept in the engine room on the pile of back packs!  Lots of germans, french and english...of course the english were at the back getting drunk on Beer Lao for the majority of the trip....  Beautiful views all along the Mekong, at first with Thailand on the right and then Laos on the left and then bending into Laos completely.  laos seems so much lusher than Thailand, which generally seems to have a lot of its jungles cut to the ground.  We stopped over on the first day in the tiny village of Pak Beng...getting off the boat was hilarious...we had to balance ona plank with our back packs and then climb a v.steep sand dune to get to all the hotel touts...i nearly fell backwards a couple of times, hanging and pulling on clumps of grass to get me up it!  Nadine and i went to a nice indian restaurant where i had Tikka Masala, and had my first try of LAo Lao (a most disgusting alcoholic 50% liquer made out of rice).  Then up at 8.30am the next day and on the boat, sitting on very hard wooden benches....for 9 hours...there were 2 boats with lots of fallang, the other boat broke down about half an hour away from Luang Prabang so we had to toe it....creaking and groaning and dark by the time we arrived Luang Prabang...right onthe banks of the MEkong and beautiful lights..Got a tuk tuk with Nadine to Thavisouk Guest House and a room for 80 000 imediatelyhad a shower to try and warm up - it was hot and heaven!  Then out for a meal, went to a local laos establishment where there were 3 dishes on the menu - i had the soup with pork 8000kip and delicious!  chatted to French guys, there seem to be quite a few around...the city has a very French air about because of all the cafes, baguettes being sold on the street and the french colonial style buildings from when they ruled here.  

On Tuesday we woke up and visited numerous temples , including the Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham and walkeed up the Phu Si (big hill in the centre of town) to the temple at the top and get excellent views of Luang Prabang town and the river.   Ibumped into Alex (again) at the bottom of the hill and a few of the people on the boat so we chatted most of the afternoon, and ate in one of the cafes.  We met up with them in the evening to go and try the Lao Lao Gardens as an eating/drinking spot...very pretty...i shared a Laos barbeque with Nadine...they brought out a small bucket of coal and put it in the centre of the table and then a basket with noodles, veg, and eggs and a plate of fat and chicken and we had to cook it all our selves...tasty but a big effort for eating dinner!  We then went next door to the Hive bar...pretty trendy, looked like a London bar...where I downed a shot of Lao Lao with Rachel and Nik (2 from England).

On Wednesday Nadine, Marcus (german guy) and I went to the waterfalls that everyone goes to but are so beautiful, they look like something Disney would create..called Pak Ou (i think?) we got a bus and then a boat and then walked through the trees to find this massive cascading waterfall in to around 20 ? pools, which were turquoise green...with limestone formations.  Marcus and I went on the trek running alongside the river/waterfall, through again lush jungle, up ladders and then down steep steps to more pools that no-one had found.  Went swimming in the freezing but refreshing water and then back to the town centre. 

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Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2