Laos and Thailand

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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We didn't intend to visit Vientiane, but we are glad we did. Apart from
being a good base to dissipate the jet-lag, it was also a gentle
introduction to Lao. Before adopting the "PDR" monika, and before the US
bombed the place to shreds (although that's another story), Laos was a
French colony. It has retained baguettes and some cod-French architecture,
the most ridiculous being the mock arc de triomphe in the centre of the
capital, which they built from concrete that the USA had donated to help
them to build a runway. Kind of funky, though. Very sleepy place.

After 2 nights, we embarked on a 4-hour journey to Vang Vieng by "local"
bus. We shared the journey with 6 seats of veg, a swarm of mosquitos and a
chicken. We got there in one piece after breaking down only once! It was
good fun, and a real introduction to Lao life. It is a very poor country,
but the people are proud (in a quiet sort of way) and seem very friendly.
The bus cost 1.25 pounds, so was good value.

At first glance, Vang Vieng was a bit of a disappointment. It looked like a
Greek island's 18-30 resort, in that the main strip was populated by bars
showing repeats of Friends and selling burgers. However, when we reached the
river, we realised why it was such a popular stop-off. The views were
stunning. We then proceeded to float down the river by sitting on an inner
tube. Doubt that we were insured for that activity, but we escaped
relatively unscathed. It was a wonderful way of seeing the place, and very
relaxing.

We decided to stop over for one night, and then travelled to Luang Prabang.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is stunning. We didn't want to brave
the local bus again, as we felt we had done the "urban commando" bit, and so
took the "VIP" bus. I'm not sure that VIPs take buses,and if they did I
doubt that they would expecting regular stops to pick up and drop off
locals, particularly given the fact that the bus was already full and they
sat on plastic seats in the aisles. We wouldn't have minded, but the Lao
people are universally bad travellers - on each bus they hand out plastic
sandwich bags for them to vomit in. And boy did they vomit. The woman sat
between Suze and I (we were separated by the aisle) seemed to be coughing up
a lung! I've never heard so much hawking and spitting in my life. She then
decided to leave her bag on the floor, and the woman in front of her managed
to put the leg of her plastic chair on the bag, causing it to leak. Not the
most enticing site!

Anyway, we had a wonderful meal on our first night in Luang Prabang (water
buffalo sausages for me) and went to an internet cafe, where one of the
trainee monks was looking at porn. LP is our favourite place so far -
beautiful location and wonderful cafes and food.

We took a 2 day trip along the Mekong river to the Thai border, and spent
two nights in Chiang Rai. We were a bit disappointed at first, as it was
much more developed than Lao, but covered in nondescript concrete buildings.
However, we had dinner in the nightmarket (meal for two plus a large beer
each for 2 quid - liked the fried chicken tendons but didn't risk the fried
bamboo worms) and saw what the place was all about. All the locals gather
around the market and there are tons of food stalls and a stage.

We are now in Chiang Mai. Saw some Buddhist Temples today. The Rough Guide
seems to be obsessed with temples, which causes me to wonder whether the
Rough Guide to England suggests visiting every church in, say, Bristol.
Anyway, they were pretty striking. We are going on an elephant trek tomorrow
(sorry - no gnus here). We are flying to Hanoi in a couple of days to check
out Vietnam, then Cambodia, then Australia and NZ.
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Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes