A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Indochina - random pics

The problem with taking pics is that we can't easily capture ourselves in various activities. We're on the wrong side of the lens (or the right side depending on your point of view).

So the following photos are a collection from various stages of the tour, and have been shamelessly pinched from a few other tour members, namely Luke, Danny and Shiva Rod (thanks guys). There's also a few from our waterproof camera which we previously hadn't uploaded the photos from. They make a good break from all the recent beach ones in Thailand...

Thailand

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Chao Praya River longboat trip, Bangkok

Laos

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Crossing the Thai/Laos border

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Gemma, Dan, Lucie, me and Ant... aka the Brits!

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First Laos cuisine in Pak Beng (overcooked buffalo - but Laos food did get better)

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Fab place in lovely, lovely Luang Prabang

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Ant mid jump. I should have photoshopped him out and made it a Spot the Ant competition

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Cute little bug at the falls (I'm getting better)

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Short boat trip to go cave tubing in Vang Vieng

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I'm going in!

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And I get out where exactly?

Kayaking (and getting a soaking) also in Vang Vieng...
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Brilliant shot! Pretty much captures how we were all feeling about going kayaking in that!!

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Vietnam

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Kayaking in Halong Bay

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Nightmare... I mean night... train!

Hue on bikes...
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Blair, Ant and me overlooking the Perfume River

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Making cinnamon incense sticks, he was pretty good!

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I'm to the right of the guy in black in the middle

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Rush hour!

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Hoi An

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A good shot of how Ho Chi Minh is, I'm sometimes too guilty of taking a beautiful building or a scenic shot and not 'just the way it is'

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Me being a fool in HCM

Cambodia

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Anthony's plaything, much to the disgust (and shrieks) of the rest of us!

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Cyclo tour, Phnom Penh

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Beautifully lit temple also Phnom Penh

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Anika, Gemma, Louise, Lucie, Christine, me and Verena - girls just wanna have sun (and cocktails) - Siem Reap

Posted by Galavantie 06:52 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane - capital of Laos

semi-overcast

Not a great deal to say about Vientiane, not a reflection on the city but we didn't have long here and our short stay was more about picking up our connecting flight to Vietnam the next day. Our hotel room wasn't great, a line of tiny ants making their way across the bed and really rubbish aircon.

We arrived late pm so just had time to head out for a beer before some dinner. The next morning Ant & I were pretty shattered from a series of busy days so we just chilled out and wandered around the city. We didn't get to all the main sights, but were pleased to see That Dam which is a monument of Laos' national symbol.

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Hotel balcony

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That Dam, national symbol of Laos

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Rod, our guide for the entire trip (we sometimes have local guides too), told us there was a nice promenade along the river so we set off for a stroll. Had to laugh when Ant referred to it as "more like a promenade of broken dreams"...

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Posted by Galavantie 17:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng - a city of two halves

sunny

It's strange rocking up at a place which turns out to have once been legendary in backpacker circles, without having a clue of its past notoriety.

Two to three years ago, Vang Vieng, a small 'city' in northern Laos was once party capital of SE Asia. It gained a reputation for 'anything goes' with no rules and widely available drugs, booze and sex. It all centred around tubing.

Foreigners partied along the river floating down inflated tractor tyres whilst being plied with buckets of lao-lao (local whisky 45% proof) from the riverside bars. Then people started dying... from drowning, alcohol poisoning and by diving into the river cracking their heads open on the hidden rocks beneath. Some locals won't swim in the river now as, since the deaths they believe it is full of evil spirits.

After around 30 deaths were recorded in 2011, the government and police have since cracked down and it's fair to say the party is definitely over. Thank God. We read this article whilst there and it looks like our idea of hell...

Guardian article

Parts of the riverside are littered with empty structures which were once the bars. In the evening the place has a hick feel to it, but some of the bars in the centre are still very much geared to young westerners looking for a good time. It has a washed up feel with a few hangers on to times gone by. We saw one good example, Simon, a British guy who was completely out of it both times we saw him... day and night. He'd been there for 9 months apparently.

But Vang Vieng offers majestic scenery (presumably another big draw for the party-goers) and is a great place for a number of activities. We only had 1 night here but packed a lot in... cave tubing (not like the aforementioned tubing... and more fun as you pull yourself along a rope through a low cave full of water), kayaking and cycling. It poured it down when we were kayaking which ended up being brilliant fun! When it wasn't raining it was super hot, which made for tough cycling but we were rewarded with beautiful surroundings and a chance to explore 600-700 metres inside a vast cave (complete with large 'cave' spider)...

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View from our balcony was stunning

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Action Ant

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Ant & I sat in the pitch black of this cave... certainly wouldn't have been so comfortable if I knew we could've been joined by this fella...

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Urgh

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Introducing.... Misssssss Peru!

Posted by Galavantie 08:39 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Laos homestay

sunny

After Luang Prabang we had a 7 hour drive to a homestay village, Ban Naduang near Vang Viang. Before we arrived we stopped for lunch at an amazing vantage point...

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It's fair to say everyone was a little concerned about the standard of accommodation we were about to experience. The group was split into boys and girls, and halved again so each house hosted 2-3 of us. I shared a room with Gemma (from Brighton), Ant was in a triple with George (Austrian) and Danny (Canadian). The rooms were basic, but a quick bug check reassured me and we also had individual mossie nets. Our host, Sim, was very welcoming.

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Ant's bedroom for the night...

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And mine

After a quick walkaround the village... pics below... we all ate together and had food prepared in an outhouse by several of the women from the village. It was pretty tasty.

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Sugar cane hut/storage

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Where it's black to the right of the pic, you can just make out the blue of one of their outdoor showering areas

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After dinner, we were thrown into the lion's pit. By this, I mean their village hall full of about 40 kids ready and waiting to make us dance. Bejaysus. It was hot enough as it was and little did we know, we had 2 hours ahead of us....

It was pretty good fun all in all, if a little sweaty, and the kids were super cute... with many if them desperate, and at times squabbling, to pick a foreigner to dance with! They showed and taught us some Laos traditional dances which was pleasant enough, if a tad repetitive. Then about an hour in, came Gangnam Style. The kids went bonkers! Even more so when we all started joining in. Globilisation eh, even in a small Laos village!

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Perhaps the dancing was a ploy to help us sleep better, and with earplugs in to counteract the cockerels, I sure did.

Posted by Galavantie 08:30 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Dengue Dan

On our last night in Luang Prabang, one of the guys in the group, Dan, started feeling unwell. He progressively got worse over the following days with a fever, vomiting, extreme tiredness and a bright red face. After a couple of days he agreed to go to hospital where they diagnosed Dengue Fever - a pretty unpleasant disease caused by a mosquito bite. Poor bloke.

It takes around 5 days for symptoms to manifest so he probably got bitten in northern Thailand.

Pleased to say he's now fully recovered but he was virtually out of action for a week, and pretty much missed all that Laos had to offer.

We've all been even more thorough with the application of mossie repellant ever since...

Posted by Galavantie 08:17 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Lovely, lovely Luang Prabang

sunny

We had 3 nights here and a welcomed chance to unpack and settle in for a few days. Our accommodation (Treasure Hotel) was excellent, best room we've had yet with lovely rain shower.

The city used to be the capital of Laos although it's smaller than we were expecting. It's very well kept, some streets look like suburbia with neatly trimmed hedges and bricked pavements. There's a fantastic morning and night market (see pics further down) and overall it has a really nice feel.

Our tour included a trip to the Kouang Si waterfalls on a truck with zero suspension... we were all eating our stomachs going over the potholes in the road! A bit sad that the waterfalls entrance is very touristy but such is life, and they appear to be the most popular tourist attraction in the area. They were very beautiful... pretty high and the pools beneath were an inviting turquoise which were possible to swim in (and we did).

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Steps of death!

We walked up to the top of the falls wading through water to get there... the thought of leeches did cross my mind... then Rod spotted one... followed by about 4 of us getting one on our legs/between toes. Bleurgh! I had mild hysteria as Ant went to Defcon 3 alert and had to remove offending sucker from my leg. All part of the travelling experience!!

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Pretty smiley considering Larry the Leech had just filled up on my left leg.

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At the very top of the waterfall

We were recommended the Red Cross for a 'health' massage so on our free day we decided to have one. Let's just say it wasn't your average massage experience. We were ushered to separate curtained and what looked like hospital rooms, with a mattress on the floor and a sweaty looking sheet on the top. Quite the thing to put you in a pre-massage state of relaxation. Needless to say there wasn't any whale music.

My masseur also had blocked sinuses. But aside from the hour long rasping, panting and ambience of the place, it was actually a pretty good muscle massage - if not a luxury or totally relaxing one!

We also got to experience a home cooked meal in a Laos home. We arrived to a basic tiled floor room which was open to the street outside, and all sat around on cushions on the floor in antipation of what was to come. Three old ladies in the centre of the room started to circle the group, each tieing a piece of twisted wool around our wrists whilst saying some words in their native tongue. It's for good luck and they're meant to be kept on for 3 days (ours came off on the 2nd day as they felt pretty soggy after a shower!). The food was fantastic and restored our faith in Laos cuisine.

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On our last day we were up at the crack of dawn (5am) to see the monks being giving alms (sticky rice in the main) and then climbed 328 steps up Phousi Mountain to the temple at the top, for a great view of the city. After we visited the morning market which was wonderful - such an array of colours, smells and fresh produce.

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Here come the monks

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Really loved Luang Prabang, a gem of a place.

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Heritage building in French colonial style

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Night market

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Not always roughing it!

Posted by Galavantie 07:54 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Mighty Mekong (meaning Mother River)

sunny

We had 2 glorious days cruising down the Mekong with an overnight stop in Pak Beng.

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Our boat

The Mekong is Laos' main artery for trade and transportation as there are no railways. The landscape barely changed in the 350km we travelled - very green and mountainous.

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Pak Beng was surprisingly geared up for tourists but equally had a local village charm... bbq chicken feet anyone?

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Our accommodation was perched right above the river with stunning views.

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We ate our first Laos traditional food which was interesting, in the main it didn't seem to hit the spot for the group but it was good to try some new dishes. We were joined for dinner by the largest gecko I have seen, crawling down the wall - thankfully I think they're cute little blighters.

Along the river we visited a temple within a cave, Pak-Ou, which is only accessible by boat. Views were stunning...

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Posted by Galavantie 05:50 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laos is already taking my breath away

sunny

To enter Laos from Chiang Khong requires a short 5 min boat ride across the Mekong river (12th longest river in the world... not an incredible stat, but one which I thought I'd share all the same!). Bangkok seems a million miles away.

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Rod, our crazy camp Peruvian guide

After border control we alight our transport for the next two days, a large comfortable slow river boat which will eventually take us to the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang. Great to have some down time with loads of room to stretch out, read, listen to music, enjoy the scenery, drink beer... write this! Our guide, Keo, is with us for the next 6 days... he's from Laos and it's really apparent he loves giving information about his culture, country and people. Laos is very mountainous and is bordered by 5 countries... Thailand, Burma, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. It has a population of just 6.5m. It is a poor country and work is hard for both men and women in searing heat. We're still in the rainy season in this part of the world so most days have been pretty cloudy with sudden downpours. Today is the most sun we've had and it's fierce - up to 40 degrees.

We visited a traditional Laos village, Huay Hao (inhabited by Khmu people) along the Mekong. I don't want to turn emotional like a teary Comic Relief celeb but it was an incredibly humbling experience. They have no electricity, roads, cars, shops... everything is farmed and the kids go to school until the age of 12. By 15/16 they are married off and start having their own families. The average life expectancy is 55 due mostly to lack of medicine and treatment. Obviously some live longer and a few of the women looked 80/90 but I guess they could be much younger and their way of life ages them more quickly.

The children were adorable with quizzical faces just peering at us. I felt somewhat guilty of my western trappings and something of a sideshow for having a big camera dangling around my neck, painted toenails and a smartphone in my pocket.

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Drying rice

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We were given the opportunity to follow after the kids as they ran back to school, and then see them in class singing Laos songs. Really adorable with them grinning at us. Such a simple way of life, certainly makes you think. The best experience of the trip so far.

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Posted by Galavantie 05:18 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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