After the interconnecting flight from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City then reclaim of bags to recheck back in to get to Bangkok we arrive at our hotel.
Really nice place and only £25 per person per night with a lovely roof top pool, bar and good location.
It’s just a couple of nights before to make sure we made our connecting flight to Myanmar. We spend the next day in the markets exploring the biggest wholesale/retail market in Asia. Strangest place, you can’t try anything on, not even just pop it over the top of your clothes and there are no refunds. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything.
What we also didn’t realise was that it was Makha Bucha Day. This meant that on this Saturday night in Bangkok that no one could serve alcohol, so no roof top bar for us. After going out we return to our room to raid the minibar of the sad 2 cans of beer and end up paying nearly £10.00!
Next morning we treat ourselves to the luxury of a hotel buffet breakfast and over stuff on western food to the point we both feel like we are going to explode, then off to the airport to depart to Yangon.
Nikki our daughter is ready and waiting to greet us in arrivals in a lovely new airport and getting through immigration with our e-visa was a breeze! The immigration officers were just so pleasant too. We head off in a random taxi with a space saver wheel and a driver chewing away at a betel leaf and spitting red saliva out the window.
Betel is a leaf that a lot of people chew. When you chew it your mouth goes red and produces lots of saliva, it’s got something in it that keeps you awake. Taxi drivers all seem to use it and you can see the big red spit spats all over the pavements.
We spend the evening at the Green Elephant eating a couple of delicious currys, coconut rice, lentil rice and soya crackers.
Next day Nikki is at work and we go and explore the Shwedagon Pagoda. We flag a taxi and for a sum of £1.20 we are dropped off at the north entrance. This pagoda is huge, you have to take your shoes off at the entrance and put them in a bag or pay for a locker, luckily we had a bag! It’s not cheap to get in currently $5 each but so worth it. You learn so much about the place and the Myanmar way of life. They even have 8 days in a week, Wednesday becomes Wednesday AM until 18:00 then it’s PM until midnight.
After a very hot few hours we then go and meet Nikki at the international school she works in and have a look around before wandering off into rush hour for a Burmese cooking course that was recommended to us.
We walk around and eventually find a rather spurious tower block in what we thought was an”interesting” area, ask some locals if we are in the right location and then up in a very dodgy lift to the 12th floor. Eventually we find the flat which has an amazing view of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The moral of the story, never judge a book by it’s cover!
We spend the evening being shown a select of meals to cook and learning about how life has changed in the last 17 years in Yangon. We sit around a table in the kitchen trying them all. In true standard fashion Steve scoffs the lot, smiling away and Deb has to pick through and force it down. Deb really is not an Asian food fan and it may even seem to now have turned into a bit of a food phobia.
Deep fried anything from spider, sparrow to chicken head is fine, put a bowl of mixed up noodle floating in liquid and Deb really can’t do it!
Time to get to bed ready for an early start to get ourselves over to Inle Lake.
We are met by our second guide, San, in Vientiane airport and start straight on a tour at 08:00 as our hotel check in is not until 14:00.
Our guide is an ex monk.. Although we learn alot from him, Deb and Steve quickly get bored of his bossiness and the lines that started with “Buddha says” and “sit here and listen, then you can take photos”
He then goes on to tell us about not being able to have children but by the end of our 2 days, Steve enjoys having great fun with him. Turns out day one was a rushed tour because he and his wife are trying for a baby and he had to rush home because it “was time” By day two Steve has taught him new English words, revolving around ovulation. San was going home to tell his wife she was ovulating and that they are trying to conceive.
We found ourselves in Vientiane as Deb wanted to see the Buddha Park. It’s about 45 mins from the centre and was built by a man in 1958. It’s an interesting place and even Steve liked it as he had already over loaded on Buddhist temples and really didn’t want to see more, although this one is different and interesting.
Upon returning to the hotel we chill out as we’ve been up since 5am to catch the flight down south. In the evening we wander to the night market, very busy and just full of the usual tourist rubbish, street food was limited so we walked back and had dinner in our hotel.
Happy Birthday Deb, 16th Jan and what do you do on your birthday in Laos? Well you start by checking your guide had a “good night” Wink, Wink.
Then you pop off to a lovely temple and get to make a wish and bong the gong inside a big temple. Rather intimidating having people and monks watching you.
Next you go to COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) which is the main source of artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs in Laos. Unexploded weapons still litter the countryside as a result of the Vietnam War and continues to injure and maim thousands of people in Laos. Well worth a visit, free and it’s very interesting to see and read about.
Last stop is lunch at Makphet, a restaurant run to help Street kids get a career in the hospitality industry. Food service is a bit hit and miss, well they are in training. Steve enjoys his lunch and then about half an hour later Deb enjoys hers, our guide jumps about behind Deb and Steve hasn’t a clue what he’s on about but says yes.
Soon the guide returns and all the staff come out of the kitchen singing happy birthday with a great big creamy cake. We have a piece and then let the staff share the rest, so sweet.
We go back to the hotel and relax, then start planning the next part of our journey when there is a knock on the door and the staff of the hotel are all at the door singing happy birthday with another big creamy birthday cake. Traveling is never going to make us thinner, cakes, beer because it’s cheap than water, me thinks we need to join a gym when we get home. Vientiane is really only a one day stop as there’s not much to do, so if you don’t have time you could easily give it a miss.
Next morning it’s up at five again to catch the next flight to Pakse, we arrive in the airport and meet guide number three, surprisingly he also says just call me San. This time we have a guide who practices Animism and Hinduism so get another perspective of the temples and religion. Just two temples here as we have come to visit 4000 islands and the nature.
As we arrive super early again, the tour starts at a local market, the smell…… Not something easily forgotten. You name it you can get it, fermented fish, dry fish, half live fish, fried fish stomach, raw fish complete with flys. Apparently chewing a stick of raw dried buffalo skin is rather nice too! We could go on but won’t. Then it’s a quick temple stop to re-hear another version of the story of Buddha, amazing just how many different interpretations there are?
Then we trundle off to Muang Champasak to go and see a temple ruin Vat Phou, believed to be earlier than Angkor Wat. It has very few tourists and has a rather interesting tale to tell, right down to the pre-Angkorian human virgin sacrifices. This place was so warm, there was no breeze. Now we know why our guide has a girly umbrella with him. If you look around carefully you can see carvings found no where else in Angkor depicting Krishna ripping someone called Kamsa apart.
Ask Steve about carvings in South Laos, he can tell you all about the Hermits and Indra riding an elephant. It had become the standing joke between Deb and Steve, our guide would spend most of the day saying “Steven, look at the hermit, Steven look at Indra riding the elephant” He seemed to be stuck on repeat.
We look at the time and realise why we are flagging and feeling a bit shabby, it is 14:00. We go off to find lunch at a restaurant over looking the river and then back to the hotel for a snooze. There aren’t many hotels around here, our room is huge and rustic, we have an outside shower and no hot water, what we think are bats in the roof, bed was very very small and last but not least the fastest WiFi yet, how does that happen?
Next day we have recovered and are up and ready for a day on the Mekong exploring the 4000 Islands, where the river becomes 14 kilometers wide. Opposite the hotel is our boat driver waiting to take us to meet our guide on the other side of the river bank. As we drift across you see the river in full use. Where else do you see a lorry crossing like this?
Once we land we transfer to a mini bus for a 2 hour drive to Ban Nakasang to take a boat to Don Knone. About half an hour in, the van has a blow out, the remolded tyre completely comes apart. Luckily we are all safe and have a replacement, another bus stops to help put out the eco friendly warning triangle which consists of 3 piles of branches laid along the road. Eventually the wheel is off, the herd of cows has gone by and we set off again, then we stop again to push the bumper back up, go again, stop again to screw the spare tyre bracket back in, then finally are on route!
We arrive at the next boat and hop on and down river to Don Knone, passing loads of tiny islands and grazing buffalo on route.
We arrive at a lovely island with stilted houses and locals in abundance, our tuk tuk driver is waiting and off we go down a bumpy track to take yet another boat to go and seek the Mekong river dolphin or Irrawaddy dolphin, which in Oct 2016 has been classified “functionally extinct” in Laos as there are only 3 left and no breeding pairs.
Are we lucky enough to see one? Of course we are, feeling very privilaged and not going too close, we do see one and get a picture of a hump, more that most people will ever do. Local word is that the dolphins have been killed by the illegal fishing technique of electrocution of the water to get lots of fish but this in turn just kills everything.
On our return we have lunch at a riverside restaurant and enjoy watching the locals going about their business, kids practicing for the local dragon boat races and everyone using the disused railway track as a crossing over the river. Our guide, keen to learn new English words takes a few more lessons from Steven the teacher, wanting to know the word for the big lorries of gravel that are being used to make new roads. “Hardcore?” This english word has many meanings, yes? Says San..Next new English word he learns from us is “impressive” Then everything we visit he says, “this is impressive,yes” 10/10 for wanting to learn English. Next question from him was, don’t you BBQ crows in England? We had some intresting chats as the journey continues.
Back out into nature we go and off to visit Lippi Falls, interesting place that holds a sort of mysticism for the Lao people who believe the falls capture evil spirits. There is also a tree that used to sit on a rock in the waterfall, the country saw this tree as sacred and when it finally fell into the water the Laos goverment brought a helicopter and rescue team to pull it out and it now sits in a temple by the falls so people can still come and worship it.
The falls are beautiful and rather mesmerising and if your crazy enough you can always have a go at canoeing the rapids? When we were there, we watch the guys shooting down and bobbing back up somewhere else.
Soon we are back on the mainland and off to see another waterfall, The Khone Falls are the largest in SE Asia and are the main reason that the Mekong is not fully navigable into China. There are thousands of small islands and countless waterways as far as you can see, hence the name ‘The 4,000 islands’.
To end our beautiful day out Deb slips on the boat and slides a lovely old nail into her knee and peels off a bit of skin and cuts and grazes another bit. Dr Debs 1st Aid kit to the rescue again. After a rinse in freshly opened clean bottled water, sterilisation of a pair of tweezers then unpick the skin that’s rolled inside the cut, a squeeze of anti bacteria cream, a couple of butterfly stitches, a non stick sterilised pad we are all sorted and ready to go to dinner. That’s one all now due to Steve slipping on mud in The Philippines whilst avoiding bikes and super pickup trucks and leaving a tasty bit of finger in a dirty puddle for the bugs.
We land at Luang Prabang after a very surprising flight experience with Lao Airlines. The flight was only 45 mins but the service was brilliant, we got a drink and a snack on route and it was better than a normal british airways flight and the flight was almost empty too.
We had arranged a guide for part of our stay in Laos and San was ready and waiting to collect us and take us to our 1st hotel over looking the night market.
Little did we know that “San” seems to be the name of all our tour guides in Laos?
Our room is lovely albeit a bit noisy but we are only in the hotel for 2 nights and over look the night market, before heading to a quieter area just down the road.
We unpack and go off to explore.
The market is full of a mix of stuff, some you see everywhere in Asia and others are things made by the locals and tribes people. Many restaurants seem to have a lot of french influence, there are alot of French patisseries and French wines, even gluten free options, if you are prepared to spend the money.
Steve and Deb thought better of this and went off to find the little alleyways of street food. Crammed into a little tiny alley were loads of meat and fish all waiting to be bought, then reheated by barbecue and consumed at small benches next to huge stalls of salad bowls of assorted vegetables we didn’t recognise.
After a chat about do we risk it, Steve and Deb go for it. 2 big bottles of Laos beer, Deb goes for a whole chicken and we mean whole, head, feet and all. Yes she even tried chicken brain, whilst Steve went for a sensible chicken breast. Yes we survived but next day after seeing it in daylight we would most probably not have taken the risk…..
After a very noisy night of ladies who cook coconut pancakes near our hotel, singing badly whilst packing up in the early hours of the morning and the street cleaners coming along to get everything cleaned up before 06:00 am. We wake up and see where we are. Deb just loves arriving places when it’s dark so you get a nice surprise in the morning, good or bad. Today is a good morning, the area is lovely and 1st impressions of Luang Prabang are good.
After breakfast it’s a wander around the streets. We are close to the old town and people are busy doing what they do. The monks are nothing like Thailand, they appear to be very local and much more natural in the way they live. If you want to photograph monks going about their day to day business this is the place to come.
BUT if there is one thing to say about this, it has to be PLEASE DON’T get up early to see the Monks Alms via a tour. Deb got up to go and have a peep at the daily ceremony when the monks get given food by the locals and get a blessing and was truly horrified by the lack of respect by tourists.
All standing close up, in the way, grabing Monks to take selfies with them, flashing in the faces of everyone, big video cameras.. Awful, people be respectful, this is not a tourist show, it’s real life!! If you want to see this, walk away and view from other parts of the village. Alms goes on from many temples all around Luang Prabang, you can stand on the other side of the road and just quietly watch it take place and take photos without a flash.. Rant over! You only need to ask nicely and monks are happy to smile for a photo.
Lunch is in a local resturant everyone raves about called Tamarind, personally Deb really wasn’t fussed apart from the Luang Prabang Sausage, traditional Laos food was not so tasty. Steve being a man, soon munched his way through everything.
We soon find ourselves at the spot that becomes “our local” with a lovely view over a river that flows into the Mekong. Coffee is cheap and the Laos coffee is extremely good and the service nice and friendly. Laos is full of surprises, Luang Prabang is a super place. Not sure what we expected but it has no one hassling you to buy anything, people are lovely, it’s clean and tidy, chilled and even has a very french feel. Definitely recommend.
We transfer to our new colonial style hotel in the old town, that sits just opposite a beautiful temple and go off to visit some temples with our guide who is from a local tribe called the hmong hill people. Temples here are just so much nicer, not so gold and just small donation boxes asking for donations to help with electricity for lighting. We visit Wat Xieng Thong which is one of the most important of Lao monasteries.
At 16:00 the gong sounds for ten minutes to call the monks to prayer. This is a great photo opportunity as you can see the monks popping out from everywhere to go pray, our favourite spot was down by the river where, if your lucky you can see the monks crossing the river.
Next day we travel into the jungle to The Kuang Si Falls, a bear sanctuary and a butterfly farm.
Picnics don’t get much better than this! Best view for a lunch time stop, the waterfall is so so blue, nature can make some great things.
We take a hike to the top, Deb and Steve now look like they have been swimming fully clothed, it’s so so hot and humid. It’s dry season now but as soon as the rain starts most is pretty impassable and the leeches come out. Once you get to the top the view is amazing and the water source is a natural spring that just flows and tips over the edge like an infinity pool. If you fancy it you can walk into the water and look over the edge by standing on a bamboo platform and looking down… It’s a long long way down…
On route back to the car park you walk through the bear sanctuary, the bears look so happy and healthy. Most have been rescued from the Chinese as they want them for their bile to make medicine and then it’s off to the butterfly farm.
Deb has a natural fish foot spa in a free flowing river whilst the butterflies flutter around her head all for the handsome price of nothing.
On our final day in Luang Prabang we take the boat up to another respected holy site, Pak Ou Caves, dating back thousands of years it’s a cave in the rocks packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons and a shrine to the river spirit.
Whilst the cave is small and very busy the boat trip up the Mekong is beautiful and a relaxing ride. We stop at the local whisky making village and check out bottles of pickled snakes, bear paws, scorpions and insects all used by shamans to help cure ailments of everything from headaches to infertility.
We decline some dodgy snake wine and instead sample some local black rice wine, then Deb is a sucker for a scarf hand weaved by a young girl in the village, well it was only a few dollars. We notice that wildlife along the bank is pretty sparse and after further investigation this turns out to be because the locals have pretty much eaten anything that moves, rats, birds, insects so the food pyramid has disappeared.
Final stop is a climb up to the view point over the town before packing up to go visit, what we are told is one of the smallest capitals in the world, Vientiane.