17.05.2008 27 °C
Luang Prabang was probably the best place I've ever been to! We both decided we wanted to live there...in a shack with a couple of hammocks, between the waterfall and the town centre... it was the most laid back and peaceful place I've ever came across and completely different to Thailand.
On our 9 hour slow boat on the second day we talked to an Irish girl called Emma and a dutch girl called Claudia and after disembarking from the boat we all stayed together as we tried to find a few cheap rooms from the touts that surrounded us. After seeing two guesthouses we eventually ended up staying at the first guesthouse we'd been offered (the guy had literally tailed our tuk tuk on his motorbike and took us one by one on the back of it (with our massive back packs) to the guesthouse 2 minutes away. The rooms were great, clean and had en suite bathrooms and were close to the town centre (and cheap - 180 Baht). As we arrived in the early evening it was decided that we'd all get showered and dressed and meet in the Hive bar across the road to get some food and a few drinks and to get to know our new companions. As it turned out we ended up having two for one cocktails in the Hive bar and moving on to the bar down the road called Lao Lao bar which had a massive beer garden out the back and a very good menu. We ate, we drank, we talked. Iyt was a very enjoyable evening until we read the back of the menu which had information about Laos and we discovered there is a midnight curfew in Laos, meaning that all the bars kick out at 11:30pm... however...we left the bar and were immediately confronted by several tuk tuk drivers asking if we wanted to go to the bowling alley. At first we just laughed as this seemed like the most bizarre destination but wesoon found out that the bowling alley is the only place that stays open until 3am and serves alcohol. After a brief discussion and much amusement we decided that we only live once and even though 75% of our group hate bowling (me being the exception) we headed to the town outskirts for Beerlao and bowling (actually we didn't play at all). The only problem encountered was that the tuk tuk home cost twice ad much as it did on the way there and we the driver pocketed a 10,000 Kip (that's less than a pound) when we were paying and we had to pay again (it was more about the lack of honesty rather than the loss of less than a pound!).
The following morning we all arranged to meet at the cafe/bookshop to arrange our trip to the famous waterfall. Emma and Claudia were trying to get us all to cycle the 32 kilometres in the midday heat...up hill, but luckily we managed to persuade them that this was a very silly idea when we could be driven there by tuk tuk.
The waterfall was....breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it in my life. On the walk up the path we came across the lowest pool (which you could swim in) and thought is was beautiful until we realised that there were two more swimming areas and the highest fall to go. The last stop was incredible. We decided to go back to the first pool to swim in and it was freezing...so much so that I had trouble catching my breath the entire time I was in there! Claudia and I then decided we were going to jump off the waterfall (there was also a tree with steps nailed to it that you could jump in from) so we decided to scaled the slippery rocks. I was terrified, so much so that my legs were shaking so much when we were ready to jump that I thought I was not going to be able to push myself off! After a 1-2-3 we jumped. Well, Claudia jumped and had hold of my hand so I was basically pulled in! I felt incredibly brave and had an adrenaline rush!
That evening we booked ourselves in for a well deserved massage and discovered the night market, which someone joked that unlike Thailand where your are practically dragged over to stalls, you actually felt like apologising for trying to buy things!
The next day in paradise we climbed the hill steps which took us to some Buddhist monuments (and Buddha's giant footprint in a cave) and had our massages (I have decided I don't like them...) and got an early night ahead of our departure by minivan to Vang Vieng the next morning.
Vang Vieng as the guide book told us was a strange place dedicated to reruns of 'Friends' in every guesthouse and a phenomenon known as 'tubing'. We loved it!
We got dropped off in the middle of town and literally walked into a guesthouse and got a room then settled into some serious Friends addiction. The next morning was tubing day! Tubing involves being taken 3km up river being issued with a giant tractor wheel inner tube and floating downstream. Now this may seem harmless however there are at least 8 bars on the way down, and a swing jump into the river - the first of which was 10 metres high! I managed to work up the courage to climb up to the swing and then promptly (well after about 5 minutes of 1-2-3....no no no!) decide that my life meant more to me than embarrassing myself in front of a bar full of 'tubers' by chickening out.
The next bar had a smaller swing and Clare prompted me into action by saying she was going to do it. Not to be outdone, I went first. And successfully avoided death (and landing face first!). Clare managed to get four steps up then sat back down again!
Several bars and sings later though she did redeem herself and completed the second largest swing and we have video evidence luckily the video obscures the fact that she had to be pushed off the tower by a kindly man to save her the shame of descent via the stairs!
We had however spent far too long in the bars as the tubes had to be returned by 6pm and at 5:30pm we were back on the river trying to make it back in time. Darkness set in which did not please me so I left the safety of our group of tubes and paddled frantically downstream before realising that there were no signs to tell you where to stop and I should just land anywhere I could (around a mile past the end it turns out - long walk back for me and a worrying wait for Clare). More drinks followed with the Canadians we made friends with and a trip to one of the island bars for music before the curfew.
The following day we were sure we'd go tubing again however the paddling/singing/lifting beer had taken it's toll on our arms and the beer had taken it's toll on our heads/bodies/ability to move. More Friends and lots of food later we headed to the river to watch the tubers coming in and the sunset in hammocks. Followed by more hammocking and beer in the bar we'd been in the previous evening.
We left Vang Vieng the following morning for Vientiane (the capital city of Laos) where we are currently enjoying a mixture of sunshine and rain. As it is a Sunday everywhere seems to be closed (such as the National Museum) so we're a bit stumped as to what to do. Vientiane is not the best place to be entertained we have discovered and...we now realise that the country is indeed still a Communist state which explains why I keep seeing the hammer and sicle flag everywhere and why there's a curfew (people have been trying to tell me I'm wrong on the way but I'm sure it's just a mild form of Socialism here, hence you can get a Pepsi and other American brands). We're thinking of heading to Vietnam tomorrow night on another 20 hour night bus (I'm so happy about that....) but we're not sure about going to see the Plain of Jars on the way out of Laos...