Monday, 26 September 2011

Southern Laos

So my southward journey began and we rolled into a place called Thaket, spent most of the day walking through the vibrant streets and settled for evening tea at the night market. The net day was an early start and we headed towards Tad Lo, close to a place called the Bolaven Plateau, this is a province filled with coffee plantations and rice fields. We visited an amazing waterfall within this province, the whole experience of the waterfall and surrounding area was breathtaking to say the least. The water burst over the mountain rocks, flushing through the river and as it fell at the top, the water gushed strongly down the waterfall. However, the over-spray of water faintly and quietly floated through the air, passing through the tree's and bridge to which I stood. The water covered my whole body, so faintly it almost didn't feel real. The air was fresh, crisp and most of all flavoured with the moisture of this magnificent beauty of a waterfall that stood in front of me. As we journeyed further south, we reached Pakse, this was the most developed place of all the Southern provinces. Here, I explored more temples and overlooked the 'Mighty Mekong' over a sunset dinner. The most southern place reached was one of the four thousand islands, near the Cambodian border. This was a place called Don Det, a small island that oozed uber coolness and an ambiance so laid back, nothing much happened in this place. My whole time spent here was laying on floor cushions, listening to chilled beats on overlooking the river. It was just what I needed...relaxing time! 

So, here I am back up North now in Luang Prabang, a place I dearly love in Laos. I spend my days strolling through the streets, exploring temples and enjoying some Lao tea. However, what is so special and probably why I mostly love this place, is how it comes to life at night. The whole main street into Luang Prabang is filled with small red and blue market stalls, the whole night time food market is crowded with locals and travelers, eating side by side. The streets are filled with fairy lights that glow into the night and the warmth in the air is one that is filled with happiness. As I now prepare to repack by backpack....having washed all my clothes, it was very much needed, I shall await the 24 hour bus ride to Hanoi, Vietnam. I am sad to leave Laos, a place that has touched me so dearly, but I am even more so excited to see what Vietnam has to offer. 

Exploring the caves near Pakse

Enjoying an evening meal

The amazing waterfall

Luang Prabang's beautiful night market

Admiring sunset on the Mekong River

Night time approaching in the South of Laos

Strolling around Luang Prabang

Why I love Laos so much

Another day exploring the waterfalls

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Central Laos

Sabadiee...this is my way of saying hello, Laos style. Having spent a couple of days recuperating in the capital Vientiane, I felt refreshed and ready to embark on my journey south bound. Reflecting on the capital, I could observe it was the most invested and developed place within Laos, however, even though it functioned as a capital city should, Vientiane was calm in a sense of hustle and bustle overlooking the Mekong and the array of beautiful temples scattered across the city. Having explored many of these places, we met a lovely monk called Ping. He invited us to his home, at the temple and welcomed us with food and drink. Ping was a welcoming friendly person, who shared stories on Laos traditions, a monks way of life and most Ping was a huge Manchester City fan and followed English football closely, so sitting in his warm comfortable home, we surfed the internet with him and he showed us great pictures of his home village. A great afternoon spent, exploring the city, meeting monks and eating traditional Laos food...wonderful noodle soup!

The next day we ventured to Tad Leuk, a tranquil setting within the National Park, an evening we spent camping, overlooking the wild nature reserve and amazing fast flowing waterfall. Having set up the tent for the night, I could take in the surrounding areas, listening to the animals sing, the water rushing through the rocks within the river and most of all just sit and feel at ease. The morning fresh air, of the open nature reserve was refreshing and needed, after the previous evening was shared with fellow travellers and three local Laos men downing raw Lao Lao whiskey. This is a tradition that most people in Lao do after sunset, eat under candlelight and share each others company downing Lao Lao. Plus, it is considered rude if you do not accept their offer of a shot of Lao Lao...therefore, I needed to ensure my shot was downed and then soothed with a BeerLao.

Moving on, we reached an enchanting place called Kong Lor. This is one of my favourite places in the whole of Laos. The aesthetic beauty that surrounds the village of Kong Lor is mesmorising. I explored the area, journeying on the 7km cave ride. This was a journey by boat through the caves surrounding Kong Lor, the experience was truly unforgettable. As the rainfall had been heavy through the evening, the caves had nearly hit flood level but the Laos guides assured it would be ok to travel through. So...after fitting my huge orange life jacket, I embarked into my small boat and we ventured into the caves. It is an eerie feeling in such darkness and vast overhangs of limestone rock. Some points, I felt I had to duck-down so the rock would not hit me, the boat meandered through the darkness with one bold light shining from the guides head-torch. The experience was somewhat unforgettable. That evening, the travellers we where travelling with, where invited to a ceremony in the village. This ceremony was held in the Chief of the village's house and we eat participated in the Shaman's prayer. We eating received many white string bracelets, each honouring a prayer given to you by the Shaman, willing good health, love, fortune and many aspects of goodness in your life. After the ceremony, we all enjoy the chicken provided by the family and of course...sticky rice. The whole journey to Kong Lor was beautiful, as the village projected an emotion of friendliness and happiness. Each person I met, greeted me with a wonderful Lao smile and life seemed so content and good for all.

Tad Leuk morning view!

Overlooking Laos on the right and Thailand on the left at sunset in Vientiane

Visiting a temple in the morning

Temple facing my bedroom window in Vientiane

After my 7km cave journey...reaching the village

Kong Lor...calmness

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Vang Vieng

Having traveled across Northern Laos for the past week...I have finally reached Vang Vieng. Now, it is slightly difficult how to describe this place, it is most definitely for 'backpackers' in terms of the party lifestyle and the evidently famous 'Tubing'. Let me enlighten you to as my journey began to here, I have been traveling with the Stray Asia bus (hop on hop off bus!) been great meeting people and have some great laughs along the way on the roads (or rather stone tracks). We travelled North up towards the Thailand border then moved north east, visiting Luang Namtha and Nong Kiew, then traveled one day on boat to Luang Prabang again then headed south to Vang Vieng. The journey to Vang Vieng is around six hours, however, our journey was more around the fourteen hour mark, this was due to the common occurrence in Laos life of a landslide. The landslide was huge, ripped through half the mountain, taking away the whole round,  four village houses and unfortunately three lives. It is a slow process and the waiting around makes you more inclined to explore, meet locals and engage in conversations, even though it was such a long day, the day actually felt as though it passed by quickly.

Well...first day in Vang Vieng was spent Tubing. Tubing is basically something that backpackers do to have fun and all I can say is, it's a whole lot of fun! We all met up in the morning, dressed in the minimum, bare feet and picked up our huge tractor rubber rings. From here, the tuk-tuk takes you out of town to the drop off point, here you float across the river to Bar 1...everyone starts with shots of Lao whiskey and a sandcastle bucket each to start of your day. After here, we hopped on the rubber ring and paddled like crazy across the river to Bar 2...this was the best bar, as I loved the swing. This is a swing, sort of like a trapeze style one where you swing out of the bar into the river. As the dance music rages through the air, the is a travel community all dressed up in bright colours, soaking wet, drinking from buckets with huge rubber rings...I shall never forget the sight, such a funny one! Our last bar of the day was the famous Bar 4 with the gigantic slide overshadowing the whole wooden shack bar itself. After another bucket sunken, I whizzed off the slide (this slide is also known as the slide of death!) into the river. As dusk began to crawl into sky, we opted to float on our rubber rings back down the river into town. It was amazing just floating and taking in the aesthetic beauty of Vang Vieng and so surreal that you are in fact on a rubber ring whilst doing it. we got into town, the sky was in total darkness and the wet feeling overwhelmed, we quickly went and changed and partied the night away. That whole day was such a crazy day...filled with buckets, laughter and trapeze tricks on the swing I loved! Most of my other days, I have chilled and rested, even enjoying a 'Tradiitonal Lao''s a hard life carry my heavy backpack! Heading to the capital tomorrow and then moving south again, so who knows what Laos will have in store for me. 

Enjoying my food and drink at the night market

Traveling through Laos

Feeling like death...throwing up 3 times due to travel sickness then 14hour delay on landslide

Nice afternoon walk in Luang Namtha

Slow boat journey down South

Way up above and in the clouds, highest point in Laos

Lovely Laos

There is one word to most appropriately describe how I felt the moment I landed at Luang Prabang and that one word is...beautiful. Luang Prabang is such a tranquil and calm place, I instantly fell in love with the place. The atmosphere the swarms across the terrain is one that is filled with luscious green mountains, low floating clouds cruising by and a presence of friendly warm people. I love the whole concept of Laos, perhaps not that it is a communist country but it is fairly laid back in certain factors and the attitude that all the people share is that 'there is no need to rush'. My first couple of days entailed lovely walks around Luang Prabang, night markets and meeting lots of new people. By day three I was booked onto an action packed day...trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. Well, the story of the dear old kayak....began with a lovely paddle down the river, arrived at the amazing Was Se waterfalls, spent most of the day jumping off the waterfalls and bathing the elephants. It was such a refreshing experience, felt so happy just enjoying the whole day. However, in the afternoon, as we floated down the river in the kayak, we hit some rapids, the weather began to get overcast, showering me with light rain, the water currents became stronger and rapids more wild. This is when I became slightly...anxious. I paddled the best I could and maneuvered through the rapids, however, a huge tree ruin sticking out of the river caught the kayak and the next thing I realised I was flying out, whacking my head on the side as the kayak capsized. I felt immediate panic but then reacted well, even if I was lodged against a tree in the middle of the river with a kayak pushing up against me and the current trying to pull me downstream. Luckily, managed to drag the kayak back over and hurl myself back in and then within five minutes all was tranquil again, as I floated softly along the Mekong River. Luang Prabang has an interesting atmosphere, the night times are the best, when the whole town arranges itself around the market and how there is an ambiance of laughter, calmness and warmth. This is something that I feel everyday in Laos....a natural warmth of the air, people and everything around me....I love it! 
Temple in Luang Prabang

At Wad Se waterfalls

Playing with the elephants

Exploring the waterfalls...before I jump off!