I’m going to try and finish off Laos today. I feel really bad that I am so behind. I really need to get better at keeping up to date. Sorry. Also this might be a TL;DR post so no worries if you skim it, I still love you.
We got to Luang Prabang and I was still feeling a little bit shitty from the last 2 days and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. Over the 4 days we were in Luang Prabang, all 3 of us were sick at separate times. Not with anything too drastic, it was mostly just general feeling shitty. It really does suck that all of us were sick at different times because I feel that it really affected our time in Luang Prabang. I was the first one to feel better so I think that I got the most out of the city.
Luang Prabang was recommended to me by a friend when I sent out a Facebook message asking friends what not to miss in Laos. I really wasn’t disappointed. There isn’t A LOT to do in Luang Prabang, but it has oodles of charm.
The French colonial influence is more in Laos than anywhere else that I have been in South East Asia. The roads are all Rue -, or Boulevard- and the official buildings have the names in Lao and the names in French on the signs outside, which is really helpful when looking for a seemingly nondescript building and you don’t read Lao….well I guess it would only be helpful if you spoke French….stupid point…never mind. The names aren’t the only things that have been given the French touch; There are baguettes everywhere. Seriously, Laos has some of the best freaking sandwiches that I have ever eaten. Merci, France. J’aime le sandwich. One big thumbs up for Colonialism right there.
Don’t worry, eating baguettes was not the only ‘cultural’ thing that I did in Luang Prabang. I went to the museum with some people from my hostel and I am glad that I went with other people because I think I would have been sorely disappointed if I had gone by myself and didn’t have other people to comment too. The museum is housed in the old palace, which in itself seems cool- it’s not really. In true South East Asian style there is no information about anything that you are seeing or there is too much information about useless stuff, for example not every ceramic vase in the room needs a sign that says; “Ceramic Vase”. But the huge room sized mosaic that was depicting a story of some kind could have used an explanation. Maybe that’s why you are supposed to go with a guide? Too bad, I am cheap. Signage aside, it was quite interesting to see the Royal Palace, and it was surprising how austere the Royal living quarters were compared to the visiting hall. I mean it makes sense but you don’t really imagine a royal family having the same furniture as your grandmother. I am seriously not shitting you, my nan had the exact same furniture in her house as the Lao royal family did. One other interesting point in the museum is just before the exit where visitors can look at the gifts foreign countries gave Lao. Canada in it’s humble and modest nature gave Lao the single most ugly pewter plate I have ever seen in my life. Thanks, guys, way to represent. Australia, of course gave a boomerang and I am sure it came with a bouquet of dangerous and deadly animals that were released on the palace grounds. Aaaaaannnnddd then you get to the USA’s gift….they gave Laos the freaking moon….TWICE!! Yeah, the USA brought took a Lao flag into space and brought them back pieces of the moon. I guess that’s a way that they can say sorry after bombing the shit out of the country during ‘Nam.
Something exciting happened in Luang Prabang, I met up with my American but know from Australia friend, Bola 😀 I left Australia about 3 months before she did and we both happened to be travelling in Laos at the same time and decided to meet up in LP. Like meeting up with Kenzie in Bangkok, it was really nice to meet up with a person that already knew your back story and you didn’t have to start everything fresh. You could have conversations about stuff that happened months beforehand and know that the other person would get it. It’s really nice to have that kind of connection with someone, especially when you are travelling alone. We hung out with the Canadian girls and headed out to this waterfall. TO be honest, I’ve been to lots of waterfalls over the last few months and some of them are little more than streams but the Kuang Si Falls are totally worth it. Number 1) They are huge. It starts off with a small but beautiful pools to which we thought…..”Oh, is this it? That’s nice?!?” Then we started following the path back more and came out to the ‘real’ falls . And it was totally worth the 45 minute drive and walk up there. It just keeps going up and up, and it would be totally more amazing in rainy season.
Later on we decided to have a hang out day and wound up sipping drinks next to the pool at Le Pistoche, this random ‘beach club/bar’ in the middle of Luang Prabang. There are all these little (for lack of a better word) shacks, then you hear this thumping dance music. It’s like the perfect western oasis for when Asia is getting you down. There is a huge swimming pool, a swim up bar and about 75,000 lounge chairs and bean bags. You have to pay to get in (20,000 kip) and you get a number tag that has 50,000 Kip on it but if you spend no money you get it back. It is a very odd system. They also have a 2 for 1 drink happy hour 😀 YAAAAAY HAPPY HOUR. So we just spent the day swimming, lounging on bean bags and reading. It was quite nice.
It was a very short lived catch up with B as me and the Calgary girls were heading to Vang Vien the next day. Vang Vien is the complete opposite of Luang Prabang; where LP is dependent on UNESCO and culture, VV is dependent on booze. You are not getting the ‘real’ anything. Well, maybe bros doing really bro-y things. The 5 hour bus trip is harrowing enough to completely excuse the drinking culture in VV. You are driving quite fast around incredibly sharp turns and when you look out the window you seen nothing but a couple hundred metre sheer drop. Oh and did I mention that there are no guard rails? The other girls were okay because they picked the inside seats on the bus and didn’t have to look into the jaws of doom that loomed around every corner. When we finally made it to VV, we had the usual swarm of Tuk-tuk drivers accost us before we even got off the bus but being smart backpackers we had made Tuk-tuk alliances on the bus before alighting. You really need to get your shit straight before telling the driver anything or you are going to get fleeced……well you are probably going to get fleeced anyway but pretending that it’s all in your control is nice. We got into a tuk-tuk with some people and this guy kept staring at me….and finally he was like, “I know you from somewhere….well I know your tattoo…”. He was on the trek in Pai with me and recognised the world map tattoo on my arm. It takes some getting used to that I am completely forgettable but my ink stays with people.
Once we had settled into the Central Backpackers, the girls and I decided to get our drink on….well mostly follow up on an intriguing flyer we had been handed promising Poutine. I should really start a random places I find Poutine blog. After an adventure to the wrong side of town, we got to the Kangaroo Sunset Bar and we got our Poutine. And damn it was good.
The Kangaroo Sunset was totally a bar of bros doing bro things. There was a bro dance off, bro beer pong, and general bro happenings. This is what happens if you let 20-25 year old guys drink in large groups people. As for us lady-bros, we had our own challenge : Buy 2 cocktails and get a free tshirt. Now there were 3 of us….and the math should sound simple. After a few beers and cocktails and travelling all day, I assure you it was not, especially for the bartender who I think was not all sober. He questioned Janelle at length about the variety of drinks that we ordered as to get the free shirts. BUT WE GOT THEM!! Now we are all proud owners of misprinted ill-fitting tank tops. YAY!
Vang Vien is famous for it’s tubing but after too many bros did bro things and died the government has been trying to crack down on the illegal bars that popped up on the river so VV has had to try and re-image itself as an outdoorsman paradise. One of the places to see is the Blue Lagoon.It’s marketed as a tranquil paradise where you can just get away from it all buuuuut in reality it’s bros trying to out bro each other by jumping off shit. It’s still pretty cool and worth a visit, especially if you are visiting when it’s hot out. Plus you get to jump off shit.
Alright here comes the part that everyone wants to know about – TUBING!!! Yes, we went tubing in VV. And it was so much fun. First things first- I totally recommend taking road beers or picking some up along the way. It’s a long way between the second bar and the third bar. I would also recommend picking up a few extras- beer is currency on the river! You can trade a beer for almost anything out there. It’s a dog eat dog world on the river!
We got to the starting point and were greeted by a group of people who “work on the river”….which in layman’s terms means they get free shit for partying all day. But once you took away the alcohol withdraw shakes they were actually cool people. The 2 main guys were from Calgary and instantly our best friends. After hanging out at the first bar for probably too long we hooked up with some more Canadians who had Super Soakers and promised to protect us from kayakers- which they did. We got to the first bar on the river and after our welcome shots we started a makeshift game of volleyball which proved to be very appealing to the next few groups of people who floated in. By the end I think we had the most multicultural game of volleyball that was ever played going. After playing for awhile we decided to move on to the second bar which is cleverly named “Second Bar”. This is the fun bar…this is the party bar. After a few rounds of shots we started up the volleyball game again, now it was probably the volleyball game with the most players ever. After awhile me and the girls decided to peace out and try and make it to the Last Bar. Now this is the section that you need to have roadies for! It is a long way to the Last Bar. Also it is probably the most shallow section of the river. One tip for you people, don’t lose hold of your tube if you are trying to portage over a rock bank in the middle of the river. The current will take that thing, send it flying down river and you will have to end up floating down the river to catch up to it. Rocks hurt. 😦 Needless to say I got pretty beat up, nothing new for me. We made it to the Last Bar and nothing really eventful happened. We got back on the river and were starting to worry about the time- at the tubing place if you return the tubes past six they charge you. So when a group of guys on the bank started yelling about tuk-tuks we got out to go back to town. Much to their amusement I am covered in tattoos which in Laos apparently means that you can grab the girl and smack her ass. Who knew. I got my own back, I went to kick one of them off, my foot slipped and I kicked him in the nuts. Go Team Kate.
The day after we had a chill out day…..nothing important.
Then we decided to take on the river again- we got to the starting point again and were greeted by the withdraw shaking hugs of the Calgary boys and presented with beers to shotgun because we “are Canadian and we need to show everyone else what’s going on”. That was how we started our day!! While we were at the starting bar, I saw 2 people that stayed at the same hostel as us in LP. So in backpackers terms, seriously old friends. Starting on the river, we forwent the volleyball at the First Bar to spend more time at the Second Bar, where we got a rousing game of HORSE going which yours truly won, thank you very much and a game of Beer Pong -which I didn’t win. It was an awesome fun day but a little bit uneventful.
Right I promise I am almost done now…..Only Vientiane to go.
After another bus trip, this time on curvy roads sans cliff we made it to Vientiane. Vientiane is a city. It’s a small city in South East Asian standards but it’s still a city and it was fucking hot. So hot that a lot of stuff didn’t get done. Our trip to Vientiane was really a stopping point that was necessary because we were flying from Vientiane to Hanoi. The second day in Vientiane we worked up enough energy to make a trip down the dustiest road I have ever encountered to the Buddha Park. It’s about 45 minute drive out of Vientiane and I totally recommend going just not in the middle of the day. The park is a number of Buddha statues set out in a field so it is not the ideal places to be at noon. We weren’t thinking about that. It is a good place to visit but don’t plan your whole day around it, you will probably spend as long driving out there as you will looking around.
The third day found us again walking through the middle of the city at midday – we really need to work on timing things out . This time we were heading to the Laos version of L’Arc de Triomphe, which is taller than the Paris one because of a spike they stuck on the top. You go Laos, you show your colonial masters what’s up. From far away the Puxay Gate looks quite impressive but as the information sign on the gate says from close up it is a concrete monster. Due to wars etc the gate was never finished or brought up to it’s full potential. Is is worth seeing, sure why not? You get a good view of the city from the top.
The highlight (if you can call it a highlight) of my time in Vientiane was a visit to the COPE Centre ( www.copelaos.org ) – this is an NGO that helps people who are injured by UXO (unexploded ordinates) left over from the American War in Vietnam and also help people who were born with physical development problems. It was an incredibly touching and moving place to visit. Laos was the most heavily bombed place during the American War (Sorry guys- I’m taking the Vietnamese cue for the title…..you did start it) and every year hundreds of people are injured by the UXO that were left over from the war. If you are going to do one thing in Vientiane, DO THIS! The centre is free to get into but there are opportunities to donate money and there is a great coffee shop, where there is the BEST homemade ice cream and all the profits go to the COPE. It is a bit out of town – we walked but most tuk-tuk drivers will know where it is.
Okay gang, that’s it. Next up Vietnam…..