Well its been a few weeks since I left Aus, and I find myself in Laos after going through Malaysia and Thailand... and I can tell you, this is one of the best places I have been too... so laid back, has a hint of tourism but not the hustle and bustle of Thailand... could be here some time I think!
Leaving the luxuries of my cousins house in Sydney, I get to Kuala Lumpur (KL) late that evening and head to the first hostel that’s in “The Lonely Planet” and it was nothing like they described.. oh well, it was a bed for a few days. My initial plans was only to visit KL for a day or two, take in some sights and move on to Thailand, however that all changed when I went to get my Visa for India (yes, even I need one to everyone’s surprise).. Get to the office, have to wait hours just to hand in my application form and once I did was told 3 days before I get an answer as if it’s approved or not, I was fearing the worst as they ask you for an address in India when you first arrive. I figured Mumbai Hilton had to exist and took a chance on it, 4 working days later, and 3 more visits to the embassy I get the visa! Spent the few days between applying and receiving my visa in Meleka, a little town 4 hours south of KL which is a former Dutch and Portuguese colony – a lot quieter than KL and a lot more to see and do... so that’s exactly what I did, took it quiet! Left KL and headed north to Bangkok, and to the notorious Khoa San Road (KS), I say notorious ‘cos I had been there 3 years ago and knew exactly what to expect, and in that time it hasn’t really changed. KS is bustling with backpackers guesthouses, dodgy restaurants, 1000’s of backpackers, numerous market stalls selling “same same, but different”.. and not forgetting 60 year old dirty men, parading around with some teenage thai girl. Arriving to my room, I meet up with a South African (Robin) guy I had met 7 months ago in Chile, he’s a journalist for a few newspapers, and an online website and reading some of his articles I realised we would be in Bangkok at the same time, had similar itineraries and timescales and so would travel together for a while to make life easier and cheaper for us both.. as they say the world is a small place, I met 3 other people that I had previously met in South America, one was arranged but I met two just down KS Road. Spent a few days in Bangkok, loafing around, shopping and taking in the madness of KS. Took an overnight train to Chang Mai, which was another first for me but Robin assured me that this journey felt like first class after some of the sleeper trains in India. Chang Mai, located towards the north of Thailand is a very chilled place too, and luckily for us that we arrived in time to see the Loy Krathong festival. For a few days, the city was literally buzzing.. paper lanterns are set a light and freed in to the sky ala hot air balloon style.. four of us set one off together, ours failed to gain enough height on the first attempt and nearly burnt down a thatched market stall in the plaza which subsequently would have burnt the whole market down! Luckily for us, some nimble Thai guy managed to get it down and in time and gave it some more air and off it drifted in to the night sky, along with thousands of others. The next few hours were spent wandering around the over crowed, over excited streets with people setting of more lanterns, crazy fireworks going every which way they can and in same cases, towards you... The following day was a little more subdued, but just as colourful and interesting with a night parade with numerous floats and just as many people. Spent that evening at a funky Roots, Rock and Reggae bar which was soon to be come my local in Chang Mai.. had a good night, throwing cherry bombs, and crazy home made fireworks in to the night sky with dreadlocked Thai dudes (all those warning we have in the UK about fireworks, any thing goes in a place like this...). After a couple of days, we moved to a different hostel in to a quieter part of town, and it was like a home coming! This little hub had the best Indian food I have eaten outside my mums kitchen, and even had an English Pub aptly named “The Local” – which to my delight had hours and hours of soccer on! I was set, good food and soccer within crawling distance of my room. Chang Mai is known for the numerous hill tribes in the region, and so we decided to escape and take a day trip out, with the highlights including elephant riding, ox-cart and bamboo rafting down the river with the final stop at The Longneck Hill Tribe, the women appear to have a copper spring around the neck which stretches the neck out.. quiet freakish if you ask me, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking!
Left Chang Mai and headed towards the Thailand/Laos border. The six hour minibus journey from hell was just a prelude as to what would follow. The driver thought he was in some sort of F1 car, and had no remorse for us poor soles in the back getting thrown side to side, and I wont even talk about his overtaking maneuver in which the backend or our minibus literally ionized with the coach behind which was trying to overtake us, and the car we were trying to overtake!
The night at the border crossing was a compete contrast from the heat of Chang Mai and I started to regret leaving my warm cloths in Bangkok, but was grateful for my mac in a pac, silly as it may look it kept me a little warmer! One night at the border, arranging the formalities (visa and lunch) we start our “Slow Boat” trip to Luang Prabang which included a night stop over in Pakbang. Day one on the boat was hell, we were cramped on 6 inch wooden benches, with enough leg room for a 10year old – i was so grateful that i had Angels and Demons to read and my mp3 player. If we thought the journey was bad, our day was just going to get worse.. as we get dropped off on a sun dume, we are attacked by little kids wanting food and numerous guys offering us guesthouses. The kids didn’t stop at pestering us, they went as far as ripping the food out of our hands! One of the girls had a plastic bag with our goodies (including Oreo’s!) and these kids literally came up to her, ripped the bag and as the food fell on the floor they moved in for the kill and cleaned up! Again Robin assures me, good practice for India!
Having checked in to our guesthouse, I was greeted my a sight of a rat.. after 8 months of travel, this was a first... and probably not the last I guess! I got off lightly, only having to go to sleep with the sound of those pests in my room, one of the girls in our group had the honor of getting up close and personal with the pest as she slept – it came and nibbled her on the nose! Day two of the boat journey was a lot better, mainly because we were leaving the rat hole and we managed to find seats with cushions and ample leg room! The journey across The Mekong River (10th longest in the world) was spectacular, great views and an awesome sunset as we approached our stop in Luang Prabang. Having being here for a few days now as been fantastic, spent one day at a very tropical waterfall retreat.. taking in the rays, and a spot of dipping and yesterday getting on a bike and cruising around the town to take a look at the numerous temples in the region! Here for another day before moving on to Vang Viene, which from I gather is even more laid back that Luang Prabang, if that’s at all possible!