Laos – The Slowboat and Luang Prabang

None of the tuk-tuks sitting around by the Laos immigration gate seemed ready to go anywhere so I just started walking the 10km’s or so towards Houayxai, the small border town where the slowboat leaves from, and a nice Chinese guy picked me up and said it’s too hot to walk!  He dropped me just near my hostel and I exchanged some baht for Laotian kip and then checked in.  The currency in Laos is so bad that everything is in the tens of thousands, so for the first time in my life I was a millionaire!  The girl who was managing my hostel thought it was quite funny as I ran in waving a huge wad of cash and pronouncing I was now a millionaire.  She introduced herself as Rose and said she came from Cambridge in England.

It was very early and there wasn’t much to do in the tiny village, so I got some beers and spent most of the day writing my blog in my dorm.  Towards evening the other dorm guests and I went for a dinner at a quaint little outdoor pizza place with lots of stray cats, and I had a few more beers.  As we got back to the dorm, Rose and a really nice Dutch guy were sitting outside drinking so I grabbed a beer and joined them.  We proceeded to get quite drunk and then at midnight the owner came out with some cookies and candles to celebrate Rose’s 24th birthday.  Soon after that the others went to bed and Rose and I started kissing and eventually ended up in her makeshift bedroom together. There must have not been a spare bed for her in the hostel, as she was sleeping on a mattress in a small corner with some sheets tied up as walls – needless to say we had to be very quiet.  At 3am she woke me up and said I need to get back to my own bed, so I kinda stumbled drunkenly into my dorm room and probably woke everyone up.

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The next day I discovered there had been a big fire in the town, and that’s why Rose had woken up at 3am.  A shop and a house burnt down, but luckily nobody was hurt and the whole town got together to help put it out.  I went and bought some beer, rum and snacks, kissed Rose goodbye and then headed off with the other hostel guests to get the two day slowboat to Luang Prabang.  The boat trip started fairly quietly, but within a few hours a bunch of British people were drinking and playing music up at the front.  It started to get pretty rowdy and at one point a big Isreali guy broke a plastic chair.  For some reason the boat drivers don’t have much concept of environmentalism and throw all their trash in the river, so just as I expected a few minutes later they just threw the broken plastic chair in the river.  It would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic, but I guess you just have to accept people how they are when 16603030_10158293718675220_6082551498680789708_nyou’re a visitor in their country.  Hopefully they learn to be more sensitive to nature before the Mekong becomes a landfill.  I got chatting to a cute Canadian girl and we spent most of the trip laughing at the chaos that was unfolding before us.  I also made friends with some hilarious Scottish guys and we shared our rum and whiskey, and proceeded to get well tanked.

By the time we arrived at Pakbeng, the tiny stopover town, everyone was pretty wasted.  Me and the Canadian girl got a room together in a cheap guesthouse, which inexplicably had a huge king size bed, with another double bed next to it.  The entire room was basically just wall to wall bed. So after showering and testing out the beds, we went out to get some food.  We also tried to find the Scottish guys and have a few drinks with them but they were nowhere to be seen, which was probably for the best since we had to be up at 8am for the second day on the boat.

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I must have been quite drunk because when I awoke in the morning I initially didn’t remember where I was.  Me and Canada showered, got some breakfast and then met the others back down on the boat.  Conor, the one Scottish guy, was so hungover he just lay with his head in his hands for almost the entire trip.  I was feeling fine though, so I had a few beers with his friend Alex and just chilled and watched the beautiful scenery roll past.  Some people say the boat trip is boring but I had the best time ever – even when not partying it was fun to just chill and enjoy the river.

We finally arrived in Luang Prabang and all got a tuk-tuk together into town.  The Scottish boys were too hungover to go out so after booking into our respective hostels, me and Canada went and got some food.  I also then found out that Canada’s name is actually Amanda because I saw her filling in her hostel booking form.  Luang Prabang has a great night market and food stalls, but is slightly more expensive than most places in Thailand.  We were both still pretty tired from the boat ride so didn’t stay out late that night, we just got some two for one cocktails and chatted to a funny Australian guy who looked like the stoner from Knocked Up.
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The next day we looked for a double room in a guest house somewhere.  There wasn’t much available or affordable, but we managed to find a place for 10 USD each, and booked two nights there.  Then we went to enquire about Vietnam visas but the embassy was closed so we went to Utopia bar, a popular tourist bar overlooking the river.  I was starting to feel a bit sick by this point, and after another beer quickly realised I must have a stomach bug or something.  I was feeling very woozy and light headed, but we managed to make it back to the guesthouse before I got properly ill.  The rest of the evening I spent throwing up, but luckily Amanda did a great job of looking after me and gave me some electrolyte tablets that she had.  She went out that night to grab some dinner with the Scottish boys and I said I might join them if I felt better but instead I just slept and tried to recover.

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The next day I was feeling considerably better, so after putting in our applications for Vietnam visa’s we got a tuk-tuk to the amazing Tat Keung Si waterfalls.  Crystal clear turqoise water cascading over amazing limestone rock formations – it almost looks like something out of Disneyland, but it’s all natural.  We walked through a small bear sanctuary on the way and then to the first of the many various pools that make up the waterfalls.  It was early and a bit cold to swim then, so we continued up and explored the various other pools and then hiked up a small staircase and along a trail through the jungle to the source of the falls.

At the top is a collection of pools and streams over which they have built wooden walkways, and the occasional swing.  You can also take a short bamboo raft trip to the absolute source of the falls, but we felt this was far enough and Amanda didn’t think the raft looked very strong.  We took some pictures on the swing and of the spectacular view and then headed back down.  I wanted to investigate an area that said Do Not Enter but some other people coming from that way said there is nothing there, so I didn’t.  I found out later they were lying and that is actually where the secret pool is!  Bastards!  I’ll have to go back.

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By the time we got down again it was quite a bit warmer so I swam for a bit and then we chilled in the sun on the lip of one of the lower waterfalls.  The tuk-tuk ride home was rather an adventure.  On the way up we had passed a crash site where a vehicle had gone off the road, and then on the way back we missed an oncoming truck by literally millimetres before seeing the recovery vehicles and witnessing the wreckage of the truck that had come off earlier.

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We chilled for a bit back at our dodgy little guesthouse and then I went to get some visa photos done, before meeting Amanda at the food market for some lunch.  We were going to go up this little viewpoint in the middle of town for sunset but it cost £2 and didn’t seem worth it, so we went to the riverbank instead.  It was a bit foggy anyway and sunset was crap so I’m glad we didn’t go up.  Then we went for dinner at another food market down a side street where for £1.50 you can fill as much as you want of various vegetarian dishes into a bowl.  I paid £3 extra for a big side of ribs, but in hindsight I didn’t need them as neither of us managed to finish our meal.  Luckily they donate any left over food to the monks, so it wasn’t wasted.

16602963_10158307987160220_5852572036283894721_nThe next day I said my goodbyes to Amanda as she was going a different way, picked up my passport from the Vietnam embassy and hit the road again.  The plan was to hitch to Vang Vieng.  I walked about half an hour to get out of town and then started hitching just past the southern bus station.  After about 15 minutes a Chinese guy took me a short way in his small car.  Then I walked another ten minutes before being picked up by a nice guy on a scooter who worked for the Elephant sanctuary.  Even though his scooter could barely cope with the two of us on it, he took me all the way to the freeway.  From there I soon got a lift in the back of a flatbed truck by three guys who were going all the way to Vang Vieng.

16507922_10158307987165220_7634862260283277552_n I knew it was a very long way so I made myself comfortable and settled in for the ride.  The guys even bought me some food and a strange pineapple juice in a bag!  They must have worked for China Power because along the way they kept stopping at various China Power plants and doing some brief business. Unfortunately none of them spoke a word of English so I couldn’t find out the nature of their work.  After  about six hours they dropped me about 10 kilometres from Vang Vieng and I managed to get two more short lifts into town, and then went in search of my hostel.
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