It’s been a bit since I’ve blogged so thought I’d catch everyone up on our latest adventures.
Vientiane is a very enjoyable capital city. We spent 5 days doing the Lonely planet walking tour, eating too much, and just wandering about. Because it takes so long to get visas for India we decided to take the time to get them in Vientiane rather than leaving early for Bangkok.
Unfortunately, even in Vientiane we were going to have to wait 7 working days. Ugh, that changed our entire plan for Laos. We decided to go to Vang Vieng for 3 nights and then come back to Vientiane to pick up our passports and visa and then fly to Luang Prabang rather than going by bus. We chose to do the 2 day/ 1 night package through Green Discovery Tours. We first took the bus to Vang Vieng, a 3 1/2 hr trip. The adventure started before the bus even took off. We got on and took some seats and the entire bus was full and yet they kept letting people on. So, first 2 girls got on, saw no seats and got off, making them remove their luggage from below. Then, a couple go on and same thing.. saw no seats and got back off having to get their luggage out, etc. Then, 2 young guys got on. At this point one woman said “why do they keep putting people on the bus? Do they think someone died and a seat is suddenly vacant?”. Just hysterical. These guys decided they had to be on the bus and they would just sit in the aisle. Magically, the driver then showed up with 2 plastic chairs which they stuck in the aisle and there were their seats. It was too funny and caused quite a commotion when we stopped and people had to get off for the break.
About 4 hours of beautiful scenery and we arrived in the little town of Vang Vieng. It is a very picturesque setting and our hotel, the Ban Sabai bungalows, had 10 cute little bungalows sitting right on the riverside. We spent an hour or so wandering about town. Vang Vieng is a bit odd in that it’s very Laos in many ways and yet has one street of a serious of restaurants that all play Friends episodes over and over all day and evening. Some people don’t like that aspect thinking that it ruins the local atmosphere but I must admit, we had an enjoyable couple of hours drinking beerlao and watching reruns!
The next day we walked to Green Discovery office, met our travel mate Isaac and our guide Pan and took a tuk tuk to the start of our trekking. Unfortunately, the transmission was going out on the truck so it stalled repeatedly and took forever to get there. But, was just one more funny incident throughout the trip. We left our overnight bag at the Bamboo eco-lodge and just took a day bag with some water for the trek. We had been told it was not too far and, in reality it wasn’t. However, unlike at home there were no maintained trails switchbacking up a mountain. Instead you just climb hand over hand up what appears to be a goat path pretty much straight up the mountain! Over rocks, trees, etc. It was a bit slippery and I can’t imagine doing this hike during wet season!
It was an 1100ft elevation gain and took about an hour of tough climbing. Then, we had to go down the other side of equally difficult footing into the valley. Our tour was called “Secret Eden” and is so called because there are no roads into the valley. We headed to a small stream for lunch and right before we got to the spot I slipped in the mud and cut my elbow up a bit. Not too big of a deal though, and Pan cleaned up the blood and put some antibiotic lotion on for me. For lunch Pan started a small fire and we had stickey rice and vegies in banana leaf and steak and vegie kebobs…excellent after the tough hike. Then, the bad part…we had to hike back out of the valley to get back to the village! Another couple of hours of tough hiking and climbing over rocks and we made it down the other side. I had worn my knee brace all day but by this time my knee was very weak and we were feeling tired, only to find out we had to walk 1 1/2 hrs back to the village! Thank goodness it was flat ground! I had been hoping for a bit of a challenge and surely got that!
The evening at the bamboo ecolodge was great. After a cold shower we had a good dinner of steamed rice and a chicken and vegie gumbo like stew. Then, Pan & Jim decided we all needed some Lao-han whiskey. It’s an interesting brew. They take rice, rice husks, and yeast and keep in an earthen ware jar. When you’re ready to drink it you add water, wait an hour, and drink it out of long straws, continuing to add more water. It’s not too strong and we spent about 3 hours talking and drinking whiskey. A good time.
We bought slept great even though we were VERY sore. The 2nd day of the tour was on the river. We spent about 6 hours kayaking, stopping at the Mulberry Organic Farm and exploring a couple of caves en-route. The weather was almost perfect and it was fantastic scenery. We got back to Vang Vieng around 4pm and checked back into Ban Sabai for 1 more night. We were incredibly sore and certainly feeling 2 days of more exertion than we’d been used to.
We took the mini-van bus back to Vientiane and had still more issues. There were 6 of us at Ben Sabai with tickets and only 5 seats in the van. So, after much discussion between the driver and hotel front desk another van was called and we all piled on board the 2 vans. We got back to Vientiane in only 3 hours so shaved an hour off of our trip, however, poor Jim was miserable because he was on one of the jumpseats on the end which was not comfortable. Back to the Lao Orchid hotel for 1 night.
As soon as we checked in we called the Indian embassy, praying our visas were ready. Thank goodness, they were. They only allow you to pick up visas from 4:30-5pm so we got there on time an waited and waited. Nothing fast happens with the Indian government and we’re not even in the country yet! However, who cares as long as we got them.
The next day our flight to Luang Prabang was not until 6:30pm so we had all day. We had decided to ship some things home from Vientiane because we were just sick of being overloaded with our bags. So, off to DHL we went. We got there, however, and the sign said Lao Freight Corporation. We asked if was not DHL and were told “same same but not”… ok, not using them! Next door was FedEx. Not only did they want $277. to ship 10kg of goods but they also said they didn’t have a credit card machine and it would have to be cash. Warning bells started going off for us both so we left there. UPS, price was $235. We just decided we were going to have to wait until Thailand where shipping is much cheaper. ugh
In the afternoon we headed out to the US Embassy to get extra passport pages in our passport. All of these countries that require visas end up taking up an entire page plus a page to do the stamps on. It took an hour but, we now have 25 extra pages. woo hoo. All of our passport issues taken care of in Vientiane!
Our flight up north to Luang Prabang was an uneventful 35minute flight. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend much time on Laos Airlines but they’ve been fine for the 2flights we’ve done so far.
Now, we’re in Luang Prabang. Yesterday we spent the day wandering the town, which is just delightful. It’s only about 25,000 people and sits where the Mekong and Nam Tha river come together. Everyone is very friendly, the pace is slow, and scenery great with lots of bars & restaurants and a great night market.
We also have gotten some things confirmed for further along our trip. We’re doing a cruise on the Nile in Egypt with our friends Jo & Jeff (who are on my companies tour) on 22-29 March and we have also booked our overland African Safari. From 20April-7June we’ll be doing a camping safari from Nairobi, Kenya down to Cape Town, South Africa visiting 8 different countries in 7 weeks. It should be absolutely amazing!
So, that is where we’re at. Today we’re doing the Lonely Planet walking tour of town and tomorrow, just wandering some more and enjoying our final day in Laos. We are loving it here and wish we had longer to spend to go to some more remote regions.
We fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand on Saturday, 12 January and then down to Bangkok on Sunday. We’re very excited to be meeting up with Ken & Wendy on Monday night, will be absolutely fantastic to see them after 5 months away and show them Thailand!
That’s it for now. Hope everyone is well, Cheers, Jim & Rhonda