Luang Prabang Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
We had seen the pictures of Sapa and it looked so beautiful that we had to go and visit. It is hard to describe the view. It is like the Scottish highlands, but rather than fields of grazing animals it has lots of paddy fields carved out of the hills, which makes it really unique. However, in true Pam/James fashion, upon arrival it was raining so much that the whole place was a complete white out and we could not see any of the beauty - shame! So we did not bother trekking that day, but we were determined there would be sunshine, views and trekking the next day. Just in case though, we bought Ponchos (waterproofs bought in the UK are just no good for Asia's rainy season). So the next day we headed for the hills. It was raining slightly but our guide assured us it was going to clear up later - how wrong she was.
We left that evening on the sleeper train back to Hanoi as we were headed for Halong Bay the next morning. Halong Bay is supposed to be like Krabi Island in Thailand (where Bridget Jones 2 was filmed) but better. We had arranged a 2 night / 3 day trip with Ocean Tours, who were quite a lot more expensive than other companies, and for once went with the theory of 'you get what you pay for'. The first day we sailed through the ocean past hundreds of huge limestone rocks soaring out of the water, visited a cave, jumped off the boat to go swimming and watched a stunning sunset whilst having a 'who can take the best sunset photo competition' (Roger from Oz won) over a few ice cold beers from the ladies selling their wares on their boats.
The next day we went kayaking around the caves and rocks, which was hard work with the currents, but lots of fun as James and I were champions of 'who can splash others in their kayaks the most'. Steve also lost the end of his paddle trying to wet us, which made for some interesting rowing for him and Ade. Then it was more sailing and sunbathing before heading to a secluded beach for a fantastic seafood BBQ! We were then taken to Ocean Tours beach resort on a private island for the evening. The island was stunning and we all stayed in beach huts looking out onto the ocean - it is a hard life. Unfortunately we had to leave the next day, but not before a final dip in the ocean and a kayak around the island. We were also pleased to hear (ina self-gratifying kind of way) on our journey home of other people who had chosen the cheaper options for Halong Bay and had had a dreadful time - bad food, no swimming etc.
That evening we had a bus booked to cross the border into Laos. We were supposed to be travelling on an air-conditioned tourist bus. However, the taxi was late getting us to the bus, so by the time we arrived the company had sold our seats and the bus had left (even though we were only 10 minutes late). We were then taken out of town to another bus that was also going to Laos - great! However, we got to that bus only to discover it was basically a cargo bus. It had 12 seats, the other 40 seats had been removed, and was full of sacks, crates and huge bags of who-knowswhat. Six months ago we would have never have got on the bus, but now we are hardened travellers so we thought 'sod it' and got on.
19:30 Bus departs
19:45 Breaks down for 4 minutes - no fuel
20:28 Breaks down for 3 minutes - no fuel
20:35 Breaks down for 4 minutes - no fuel
20:50 Breaks down for 31 minutes - no fuel. But someone is now finding a farm to get some diesal - Finally!
In the mean time we also picked up 3 other English guys who had also missed their bus and are surprised to be on a cargo bus as well - is this a big scam? Who cares! We then stop at an actual petrol station for a proper re-fuel and trudge on merrily until 4am when it is time for the bus to be loaded up with about 100 huge bags of onions. We now cannot see the aisle of the bus let alone get down it, so we have to climb over bags of onions to get to our seat. They actually made for a very good foot rest, but it got a bit whiffy if the bus was stationary, as you can imagine.
We got through the border that morning, with no fuss at all and hit the road again. Then the breakdowns start again:
13:22 Bus breaks down for 31 minutes - brakes or gear box (we are not sure)
14:52 Bus break down for 1 minute - loud bang and smoke from back tyre, but we carry on anyway
16:00 Bus breaks down for 35 minutes - the tyre gets changed at last
17:02 Bus breaks down for 1 minutes - we have no idea why
But that was the last break down and they safetly got us to Vientiene, the capital of Laos, 23 hours after we left. It just would not have been as much fun if we had flown. We only stayed in Vientiene for a night as it is quite a sleepy little place and we were itching for some excercise after the long journey. We caught a short bus (only 4 hours) to Vang Vieng for some countryside action. But before we caught the bus we visited the Pha That Luang Temple which is a famous golden temple and the symbol of Laos - makes a nice piccie!
Vang Vieng is another little stunner of Laos, set against the backdrop of mountains and running along the Nam Song River. On top of this, the Laos people are sooo friendly. It is also the first place is Asia where no-one is constantly hassling you trying to sell you things. They work on the theory that if you want a taxi you will ask for it. If you want a T-shirt you will go to a shop and browse and if you smile and say hello, they say hello back. It is so civilised it is great!
That evening James and Ade sampled the local Laos dish called Laap, which is minced 'meat', lime and chillies while myself Becks and Steve indulged in a Sunday roast, my 2nd one in 6 months. We all sample the Beer Laos, which is very good but definitely much stronger than the advertised 5% as one bottle is like having about 3 pints of larger, as we discovered.
The next day with our sore heads, myself, Steve and James hired mountain bikes and went to explore. Ade and Becks were feeling lazy and the lure of bars showing episodes of Friends and The Simpsons was too strong. We headed for the hills, but as all my clothes were in the wash I was dressed in a lovely outfit for the evening (a long pink skirt), but not very practical, so I tucked it between my thighs and cycled on. We headed for three caves about 15km away. The first was small with the shape of an elephant in - not hugely exciting - imaginatevely named Elephant Cave. So we headed to the second and were eagerly met by a couple of local lads who acted as guides. They us head torches and led us into a dark cave (James had to do without a torch). We eagerly followed until we hit shallow water and rocks (in darkness) but headed on cautiously. We walked into the cave for about 45 minutes before being forced to turn back by the water. The majority of it you could walk through upright, but other parts we had to crawl through and at one point we were wading through water up to our waists, which James went swimming in on the return journey. By the time we got out of the cave we decided we were too starving to see the third and headed back to the main road in search of food. We stopped at the first house we saw and asked for food. This definitely was not a resturant but the lady of the house and her young daughter happily made us noodle soup to fill us up for our cycle back, for a dollar each - so kind!
When we got back to town we found Bex with swollen sore eyes, which turned out to be the first of all of us to get an eye infection (not that we knew that at the time). We had a chilled, Beer Laos-free evening, and decided to go kayaking the next day. Bex decided not to come as she did not fancy getting her eyes covered in brown river water. We headed off to the river with the owner telling us "when (not if) you fall in the river keep your legs up to avoid the rocks". As you can imagine, I was a little scared at this point. We arrived at the river with our guides, Noy and Tula who were going to take us down the river rapids. I am convinced I am looking at a grade 4, but the rapids were really only a grade 1. Ade and I shared a kayak and Steve and James had their own. We donned our helmets and life jackets and hit the water. At this point we learnt that Noy's motto is 'No scary, no fun'! and he promptly led us to the first rapid through the most 'no scary, no fun' part. At this point Steve hits the rapid sideways and Ade and I careered over his kayak. A very graceful start. We hit the calm water and James fell out his kayak trying to find a more comfortable position. Another graceful start.
We safely negotiated a few more rapids and I was starting to like this 'no scary, no fun' stuff. Ade and I were getting more and more confident with every rapid we passed until of course we hit one wrong, capsised the kayak and we were suddenly no longer in the boat and being pulled along by a very fast river. I remembered the words of the owner and I got my legs up. At this point Ade shouted at me to grab the boat (which was actaully a good idea as I was in shock and merrily floating away). I missed the boat and grabbed the oar, at which point I realised the river is actually really fast. My legs were then dragged over rocks and bamboo growing in the river (very painful) and I was pulled under the water for a bit. Our guides were desperately trying to get us to the side to the slower water. We eventually managed to get there but the river was so fast we were still being dragged along and gashing our feet on the rocks. Finally, the guides managed to stop us. I was shaking like a leaf and was thinking that this 'no scary no fun' stuff wass actually no fun anymore. Even so, we both got back into the kayak. Fortunately we only had to negotiate one more rapid before stopping at a bar by the river - phew!
James, being the superb kayaker that he is, only fell in the river when there were no rapids (not sure how that works) and decided to play on the huge drop swing over the river. Steve also did the same and so did Ade (after a lot of peer pressure). I, having had my near death experience, decided to be the chief in charge of videography.
We hit the kayaks again and fortunately the river was pretty gentle after that, but actually 'less scary, was less fun' so I think I like our guides motto, which is becoming a bit of a mantra for our trip (sorry Mum there is more scary stuff to come). We arranged to meet Noy and Tula in the evening for a few Beer Laos in the local club. We bought them a few drinks to say 'Thank You' for saving our lives on the river (slight exageration), but I do not think they are used to the strength of the beer either and we were all merrily legless chanting 'no scary, no fun' at every opportunity. When the club kicked us out at 3 in the morning, Noy and Tula took us to the late night bar on the river. We stopped at an eatery (of sorts) and then left without ordering anything (or so we thought). Noy later admitted that he had ordered 6 Pad Thai's for us all and then had basically done a runner - naughty, naughty! We rocked on till 4am and promised Tula before leaving that we would go to his restaurant for breakfast the following morning before catching our bus to Louang Prabang at 9am. We did it. It hurt, but it was worth it - great night. We thought we had it tough though. Poor Tula was up at 6am to work in the restaurant and then had to go work on the farm for the rest of the day - poor thing.
We arrived in Louang Prabang by which time Becks, Steve and Ade had the eye infection. James and I took the opportunity to have a day on our own walking the city sights. Unfortunately, I also woke up with the eye infection, but carried on anyway. It hurt to have my eyes open or closed so I may aswell plod on (with shades).
The town was really sweet and we stayed a little longer than planned because James also came down with the eye infection.. We were all looking swollen, red and goo-ey together - lovely! We also discovered others who had been the Vang Vieng had caught the same infection, so there was definitely something in the water.
More randomly, whilst we were in Louang Probang we bumped into Ruediger and Sue from our trip in India, which was a nice opportunity to catch up.
Finally, the eyes started to heal, and we were able to continue with our travels through Laos, starting with a two-day riverboat ride to our next destination, Huay Xai and the Gibbon Experience in the Bokeo Rainforest.