2nd March - The alarm went off at 4am and we'd both had a bad nights sleep and both didn't feel great. Neil still had a bad stomach and even considered missing the flight but we decided to go for it and got a taxi just after 5am to the airport. Luckily the journey was a lot of small journies with no long flights, buses etc and we arrived off the 1 hour flight in Udon Thani just after 8am. We got a ticket (about 4 pounds each) and caught a minibus to the border which was about an hour journey where we then got off that bus, cleared Thai immigration and then got on another bigger bus to cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos. We were lucky as we got our bags off the flight quickly so were ahead of most other people and so didn't have to wait too long to get our Laos Visas, they were US$35 each.
We then caught a Tuk Tuk for the 20km journey into Vientiane
which is the capital of Laos and we chose a Guest House out of the Lonely Planet and were checked in and in the room by 11am, Neil was very relieved. We had paid a little more for the room than we normally would but it was nice with air con and a TV so Neil went straight to bed. Emma decided to go for a walk around the town, although it is a capital city it is very small and has a very relaxed feel to it, Emma went to a couple of different cheaper guest houses that we could move into the next day. Emma was a good nurse and got Pepsi and bananas for Neil as this is what the travel guidebook recommended.
We had to apply for our Vietnam visas here as it would be the cheapest place so we went out about 1pm to the Embassy and applied for the visas which were US$45 each and we would pick them up on the Wednesday afternoon. Neil also had to have his toe cleaned and there were two clinics in the town so we chose the 'International Clinic' as we thought their English maybe a little better, it still proved to be quite difficult although Neil got his toe cleaned. The hospital was filthy and would be shut down in an instant back home, it gave us the feel of what a war hospital would have been like. We spent the rest of the day in bed watching TV.
3rd March - This guesthouse gave a free breakfast so we got up at am for it. It was a choice between French Breakfast or a Tuna Baguette! We ordered one of each although Neil didn't really eat but we didn't eat much of it anyway.
We then checked out of that room and left our bags there and went looking for another Guesthouse, fairly close by as Neil could never be too far away from the toilet! We found a guesthouse around the corner which was fine with a clean room, aircon and TV as well for 10 pounds so we checked in and went back to collect our bags. We spent the day between the room, going on the internet etc. We went out to a nice cafe in the evening where Neil managed a bowl of soup before we went back to the room to watch the movie channel!
4th March - We had a long lay in this morning before getting up and going to get something to eat. Neil was still not feeling well and Emma tol him to get some antibiotics when they went to the clinic later that day but he thought he felt a bit better so said he would leave it a day or two (he should have listened!).
We left the room and walked to the clinic about 2pm and Neil had the stitches out of his toe and was told to leave the dressing on and still keep it dry for the next 2 to 3 days. From there we walked about 25 minutes to the Vietnam Embassy to pick p our visas but realised when we got there we had left our passports in the room which we needed! We decided to go back and pick them up the next day and caught a tuk tuk for US$1 all the way back to the guesthouse. We again just chilled out before going out for some dinner and watching films in the room.
5th March - Neil was feeling a bit better this morning although was still dehydrated and very tired. We decided to head on to Vang Vieng the next day and booked a minivan for the following morning.
In the afternon we caught a Tuk Tuk to the embassy and picked up our visas with no problem.That night we decided to try the nicest looking restaurant in the town that was always busy, it was really nice in there. Unfortunately the food we ordered was not great, Neil ordered a Mushroom burger thinking it would be a beef burger with a mushroom but it turned out to be a vegetarian breadcrumbed mushroom and potato burger! And Emma ordered Lab which is Laos food and she asked the waiter if it was spicy which he said it wasn't. It turned out to be very spicy and was served with sticky rice which they eat cold! So all in all it wasn't our best food experience but we would like to try the restaurant again when we are both feeling fine.
6th March - We left Vientiane on the minibus at 10am which took 4 hours to Vang Vieng.
We were dropped off in the centre of the town which is basically one road about half a mile long, and walked around and had a look at a few guesthouses before finding one for about 8 pounds a night with TV and aircon. We went out for a look around and sat in a restaurant/cafe for about an hour watching Friends episodes. This is a very common theme in Vang Vieng, the whole place is very chilled out and is a town set up soley for tourists Tubing, Rafting, Kayaking etc during the days and chilling out in the evenings. More or less all of the restauants have decking where you sit on mattresses and have pillows behind your back and they all show mainly Friends with some showing Southpark or Family Guy. We chilled out for a bit in our room in the afternoon before repeating the same thing in the evening by watching friends and having some dinner.
Neil even felt well enough to drink a beer but unfortunatly that was the last one he'd have!
7th March - We slept in as Neil was feeling preety rough. We went out and got something to eat before going back to the guesthouse. Emma went to the Pharmacy and although they hardly spoke a word of English she managed to get some antibiotics. Wes pent the rest of the day not doing much, went out in the evening for a while and some food.
8th March - We decided to check out at 11am and went to find a cheaper guesthouse. We found one just around the corner which was K70k for the night (about 6 pounds) with a Fan and cable TV. We decided as Neil was still not feeling great and because there is not much else to do other than Tubing in Vang Vieng to move on t the next place and we would come back to Vang Vieng in a week or so.
We booked 2 tickets in a minivan for the next morning to go to Luang Prabang
. That afternoon we went back to the room and Emma went into the toilet and then screamed. She saw a spider (like a tarantula) crawl from under the sink over her foot and then she ran so didn't see where it went, she said it is the biggest spider she has ever seen. We never saw it again after that! Much of the same that night, there were two good films on cable TV so we watched them in the room with a bag of maltesers and a can of Pepsi, living the dream!
9th March - We were picked up by Tuk Tuk at 8.30am and driven to the bus station. Our minivan left at 9am and it was much smaller than the one we had had from Vientiane and was packed, there was no air conditioning so we just had to have the windows open.
The journey took 6 hours in total with 2 short stops on the way. The scenery was amazing and we climbed up and through the mountains and past remote villages with lots of local people out on the streets, there were even men walking on the raods in the mountains with rifles which was a bit daunting. Neil survived the journey although found it very hard. We got to the bus station in Luang Prabang and took a Tuk Tuk to the centre of town and found a guesthouse with a nice clean room with fan for K100k. As Neil was still not feeling much better we asked where the nearest clinic was and walked there. Neil was seen by a doctor who spok excellent English and examined him and he said that he thought Neil was over the worst of it but said he should continue to drink lots of water and eat plain food.
He gave Neil 3 lots of pills, antibiotics, and others for inflamation and pain. We then found the Joma Cafe, we had been to one in Vientiane, and tried their carrot cake which was amazing. We chilled out in the room for a while before going out in the evening for dinner and walking through the night market which ws really buzzing and great to see. The main street is blocked off and there must be 200 different stalls set up with ladies selling bed covers, bags, slippers, books, toys, scarves etc... The stuff is very well made and looks excellent quality but the duvets are a bit too big for us to carry in our backpacks!
10th March - We got up and had a walk around the town in the daylight and along the Mekong river. At 4pm each day the monks ring bells from several of the temples of the town and you can hear them from everywhere.
We then spent some time on the internet before deciding to have a look at a few different guesthouses. We found one with a room with a massive double bed, a duvet that looked so comfortable with big fluffy pillows, the room was very clean and had cable tv, air con and a fridge so we decided to book it for the next couple of nights, all for about 9 pounds a night! That night we went for dinner in a restaurant that is in the Lonely Planet guide and it was packed and we had to wait for a table. Neil ate very plainly, Spag Bol, but Emma tried Loas food and had steamed fish with a local vegetable. She said it was really good. Neil had some carrot cake on the way home!
11th March - We checked out of the guesthouse at 11am and walked round the corner to the other guesthouse we had booked.
We decided to rent bikes for the day as Luang Prabang is a fairly small town and easy to get around on a bike. We tried a couple of places and finally managed to rent two bikes for a total of 3 pounds for the day! We first rode along the side of the Mekong River which is massive and very impressive. We made our way through the town stopping at various spots and looking at different temples and historic buildings. We visited a nice market before stopping at a French cafe bookshop which is listed in the Lonely Planet guide. We had a drink there before riding around the town for another hour or so stopping at another nice cafe so Neil could have a piece of Carrot cake, he was definately getting better now! We returned the bikes at about 5.30pm before going on the internet for an hour, internet is very cheap in Laos, about 50p for an hour.
That night we went out for dinner before going back to our room to watch a film.
12th March - We got up and decided to go and look at the biggest temple in the town. It is built high up on a hill in the centre of Luang Prabang with views all around. It cost us K20k each to go up the 198 steps to the top but the views were very impressive. On the way down there were lots of statues of Buddhas that were amazing and carved in so much detail. There was also a small cave that we looked in that the locals believe contains a large footprint of an anchient buddha. We walked back to our guesthouse along the river and decided to book a trip for the next day. It was a half day trip, leaving at 8.30am, to catch a boat along the river to the Whiskey village before then visiting to the anchient caves, it cost us only 5 pound each.
We went back to the room to get changed before going out for dinner, for the first time in a couple of weeks Neil thought he would try spicy food as he was feeling much better. First we stopped at a small cocktail bar set up on the side of the road that said they did the'Best Mojitos' so Emma tried one and agreed it was very good. Neil tried his first beer for a while and it went down well. We decided to go to an Indian restaurant that was recommended and the food was brilliant. We had all vegetarian dishes and were very full by the end and needed the 15 minute walk back to the room!
13th March - The alarm went off at 7am and we got up and showered and left about 7.45am to walk down to the office where we booked our trip. Emma said she was feeling a bit sick but just thought she needed some air.
We were led down to a small office where lots more tourists arrived and we had to wait for a while. We were kept waiting about half an hour and luckily Emma decided to go to the toliet and realised she was not well so we decided that it wasn't worth the risk on going on the boat as the trip was cheap so we walked back to our room. Luckily we did as as soon as we got back Emma was very sick and was for the rest of the afternoon and just stayed in bed. It was Neil's turn to play nurse!! Emma stayed in bed for the whole day and gradualy started to feel a bit better, Neil went out for a while in the afternoon for some air and to use the internet. For dinner Neil got a takeaway Lasagne from the Joma Cafe on the corner of the street and Emma just had a dry baguette but was starting to feel a bit better.
We stayed in bed that night and watched the movie channel.
14th March - After a lay in we both got up and showered and Emma was feeling a lot better. We went out for some food and spent the afternoon just relaxing and chilling out in a few of the cafes in town. Neil was feeling much better by now so had a few Beer Laos and he tried the Dark Beer Lao as well which he had been wanting to try for some time and he liked it, it's 6.5%. We noticed that there seemed to be a lot of Ash floating in the air and falling to the ground and it seemed to get worse as the day went on. We think they must have been buring all the fields around the town during the day as we had seen a lot of that on the journey from Vang Viene. Also for the whole day, from 8.
30am there was no electricity in the whole town so there were no internet cafes open etc... By about 5pm the power was still not back and we were getting worried as we wanted to watch the Man Utd v Liverpool match which kicked off at 7.45pm. Luckily at 6pm it was as if someone flicked a switch and the electricity for the whole town came back on. We went out and wtached the first half of the game in a bar although we didn't have a great view so decided to watch the second half in our room. After that match Emma was very happy as they showed the Newcastle match live so we watched that as well, she even wore her Newcastle shirt!
15th March - We got up and decided to rent bikes again for the day. We first went to a cafe/restaurant called Tamarind which was recommended in Lonely Planet to try Laos food but when we got there it was closed so we thought we'd go the next day.
We spent some time on the internet in the afternoon as we wanted to decide whether we would go to China after we'd been to Vietnam or maybe somewhere else and we found some good cheap flights to Malaysia so want to look into that a bit more. We then rode down to the Red Cross building where it is recommended that if you are going to have a massage that's where to have it. We didn't really like the look of the place so decided against it. Emma really fancied a cup of tea so we then went to a cafe where she could get one before we chilled out for a while before going for some dinner. We returned the bikes about 7.30pm before heading back to watch the movie - Sweeney Todd.
16th March - The alarm went off at 7am as we were going to go on the same trip we had planned for Friday when Emma was sick.
We both decided that we felt too tired to get up so rolled over and went back to sleep! We ended up getting up about midday having had a really good sleep, we loved this bed as it is so comfortable. We walked along by the river and headed to Tamarind, the cafe we had tried before but was closed. Emma had read about it in the Lonely Planet as being a really good place to sample traditional Laos food and it was right! We had two platters to share. One was 4 different dips with sticky rice, it Laos they mainly eat sticky rice which is eaten fairly cold and with your hands. You roll the rice up into a ball and dip it in things. The dips which are called 'Jeow' were tomato, coriander, aubergine, mixed with different herbs and spices, one of them even had dried water buffalo skin in it! The other platter was a 'snack platter' and had dried river weed (with garlic and sesame seeds), dried mushrooms, sweet potatoes (tasted like caramel), dried bananas, poppadums and rice cakes.
It was all very different but very tasty and great to see how the locals eat. Neil had a beer with it and Emma had a banana, honey and soy shake. Before we got to the cafe we had asked about the possibility of a boat trip but during the day you can only hire private boats which were expensive but they said we could go back at about 5pm for a 1 hour sunset cruise for K100k. During the afternoon we did some more research on the internet about our possible trip to Malaysia before going back down to the river about 4.45pm. There was a different guy sitting there on his own and when we asked he said he would take us on a 1 hour cruise up and down the river for K60k which is 5 pounds! The trip was fantastic! We passed families washing on the side of the river, two monks washing in the river, big groups of kids playing football and wrestling on the river banks, peoples homes/huts just built on the banks of the river.
It was a really interesting trip. the boat ws very old and rickety and was basically planks of wood nailed together. After getting off the boat we walked to the night market where Neil bought his Beerlao T Shirt and Emma bought a wooden statue for our lounge when we have one! That night we had dinner and went back to the room.
March 17th - We were up and picked up by a Tuk Tuk at 8am and taken to the bus station. Our 'VIP' bus left at 9am and it was by far the best bus we had been on in Laos. The seats were comfortable and it had plenty of leg room. Emma slept for the first couple of hours (she's good at sleeping on buses!) and we had our first stop about 1pm where we stopped at a place for lunch. The bus ticket we had bought included the lunch for free and we both had rice with mixed vegetables and it was ok, a little bit cold but fine.
After lunch we carried on and the journey that they said took 6 hours ended up being nearer to 8 hours and we arrived in Vang Viene about 4.45pm. We caught a Tuk Tuk the 4km into town and knew which Guesthouse we were going to try so were in the room within about 10 minutes, and it was a bargain for K50k (about 4 pounds for both of us!) We went out for dinner and then had a walk around to try and find a bar (not showing Friends) for a drink and as we walked past the 'Irish Bar' which had always been dead hen we were here before, we noticed it was packed, we had completely forgotten it was St Paddy's day. We had a good night in there and had a few drinks, it was a really good atmosphere with a lot of very drunk people.
March 18th - We were up and getting on a Tuk Tuk to go tubing at about 12.
30pm. We rented an 'Ocean Pack' which is a bag that is waterproof so you can keep clothes, camera, water in there etc. We paid for our tubes and got on a Tuk Tuk with about 8 hours and were driven about 10 minutes out of town to the first bar on the river. Tubing is brilliant! Everyone is in a party mood and all the bars are very basic wooden huts but all have rope swings outside where you climb high up onto a platform and then swing out over the river and let go and land in the river. We stayed at the first bar for a drink before getting into our tubes and then floating off down the river. When you get to the next bar which was only about 50m down the river a guy comes out and throws a rope to you which you grab onto and they pull you in. All the bars are playing music and selling beers, buckets of cocktails etc.
We watched a lot of people on the rope swings and hadn't tried it until the 3rd bar when Neil gave it a go. There was also a massive slide at this bar as well which shoots you up and out into the middle of the river, Neil went on and loved it although landed a bit awkwardly and has the bruises to prove it. Loads of people would be very bruised the next day! It was mainly blokes who were on the swings and Emma didn't fancy it. We continued down the river and stopped at a smaller bar where the bloke hd a bottle of Lao Lao which is the local spirit (rice wine). In the bottle there must have been about 100 wasps, much bigger than the wasps we get in England. We both had a shot of it and it gave you a very faint sting on your tongue, it was vile but you've got to try everything once.
We then carried on in our rings down the river and there were no bars for quite a while and the water got quite shallow at points so we were getting stuck on the rocks. We made it through ok and stopped at the last bar on the river before the end, there was nobody else there when we arrived but it soon got busier. We asked the guy there and he said it was another 40 minutes in the tubes to the end and back to the town so we decided to have another drink and then jumped in our tubes and crossed over the other side of the river where there were Tuk Tuks waiting and paid him about 80p each to take us back. We returned our tubes about 5.45pm so avoided the fine you have to pay if you get back later than 6pm. We went back to the room to chill out for a while and then had a lazy night not doing much.
March 19th - We got up a bit later but were in the Tuk Tuk and ready to go tubing again by 1.15pm. We got dropped off at the first bar again and it was packed, busier than the day before. There were 4 blokes and a girl (all westerners) dressed up in green shorts and bandanas and they were working for one of the bars in town so basically promoting their bar and sking everyone to go there that night for a party. Another thing with tubing is all the bars have marker pens and people get written on all over their bodies. These 5 all had how long they had been tubing for written on them and one of the blokes had beenin Vang Viene tubing for 128 days straight! Some of the stuff people have written on them is funny but also quite sick! One of the blokes in the green shorts was MC'ing at the bars along the river all afternoon, MC Roxy! We stayed at the first bar for a bit longer as it was a really good atmosphere and everyone was giving points to the landings off the rope swing, the first bloke to do a backflip and land it got a free bucket.
Neil stayed clear of the rope swings on this day as he was still a bit bruised from the day before. We took it a lot slower between the bars as most of the best ones are near the start. During the afternoon we went to about 5 bars but seemed to get a lot more free shots of Tiger Whisky this day. The last bar we stopped at had a massive mud pit , which was basically a swimming pool of thick muddy water. There were loads of people wrestling in there but we gave it a miss and kept drinking. We again decided to get a Tuk Tuk back about half 5 but just as we got in Neil realised that he didn't have his wallet. We went back to look for it but unfortunately didn't find it, we're not sure where we last had it. Luckily we had taken all of our cards and everything else out of it apart from the money and there was very little left in there anyway so we were lucky.
With that though it meant we arrived back late with our tubes so had to pay the fine which wasn't much and 1.50 pounds each. We went back to the room for a much needed shower and chill out before we went out for an Indian Curry that night.
March 20th - We were up and checked out of our room by 11.30am and went for something to eat. The bus we had booked back to Vientiane was due at 1pm but didn't end up arriving until 2.15pm. The bus was old but fine and the journey took about 3 and a half hours with one short stop and we arrived back into Vientiane at about 5.45pm. We headed back to the same hostel we stayed at before but unfortunately it was fully booked and so was the one next door so we had to walk around the town for a while before we found a guesthouse that only had one cheap room left, there were lots of backpackers walking around looking for accommodation and we were lucky that we got there before a big group.
The room was on the 5th floor of the 5th floor of the building and only had a fan but no aircon, it ended up being very stuffy but we made do for a couple of nights. As we hadn't eaten we went out to a nice restaurant and had a few drinks as well before going on the internet for a while.
March 21st - We got up and first went on the internet to have a look for a few things to do in Vientiane. We had a walk around the town trying to find a place called 'COPE' which is an exhibit set up for people who have lost limbs. We walked around for a while and asked a couple of people where it was but we didn't manage to find it. We spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling. We showered and went out and decided to have a walk by the river. We stumbled across a mini french festival going on on the banks of the Mekong River and had a drink and watched the French bands who were playing for a while.
We then stumbled across a restaurant on the side of the river and the tables were all individual and set up in small huts. We sat in the one of the small huts and had dinner which was really good before heading back to our room.
March 22nd - We were up and in a Tuk Tuk at 9am and on our way to the Friendship Bridge to cross the border back into Thailand. The border crossing on the Laos side was hassle free and we were soon crammed onto a very hot bus with loads of people to make the short journey across the bridge to Thai immigration. This again was fine and we then got a Tuk Tuk to the bus station as we were heading to Udon Thani which was about 60km away. As soon as we pulled up outside the bus station there was a bus pulling out and a guy jumped off and asked where we were going and took our bags put them straight under the bus and we were on our way, the bus only cost about 60pence each! We got another Tuk Tuk at Udon Thani bus station which took us to our accommodation which we had already booked, The Englishman's Retreat.
It was run by a welsh guy called Glyn. He was in his thirties and married to a Thai woman and they had a couple of kids. He called it The Englishman's Retreat as he knew that it would deter German's and French which he wanted to do! The place was great and had a swimming pool and gym. We sat at the bar and had some food and got chatting to a couple of scousers and then a geordie and we all sat round having a few drinks for a few hours. We then decided to get a Tuk Tuk into the town to have a look around and also to use the internet to use Skype. The guys at the accommodation also told us about a good Irish pub in the town called the Irish Clock so we went there for dinner. We both couldn't resist and had our first proper roast dinner for over 10 months.
We had beef and yorkshire puddings and it was amazing! We both now look forward to our first home cooked roast which will be even better! We caught a Tuk Tuk back before going to sleep but the aircon in the room was fixed and couldn't be altered and the room was very hot so we couldn't really sleep.