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Laos

Vang Vieng - Laos

Adventure awaits....

all seasons in one day 30 °C

We took a minibus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng at around 9:30/10am, which cost 45,000 kip each ($5.40/£4) and arrived in Vang Vieng around 1pm.
The road between the two towns was long and winding going up and over a large mountainous range and sections of the road were missing, replaced by rubble and what looked like clay, from what I can only presume was the result of a landslide.
If you suffer from travel sickness, stock up on pills and pop them all because that journey will send your stomach through an assault course of internal anguish!

We arrived in Vang Vieng and luckily for us, our accommodation was only a few doors down from where the minivan dropped everyone off so we collected our suitcases and walked the few metres to our room.
Our accommodation was a 'guesthouse' apparently but in actual fact was more like a stable behind a restaurant. I'm not talking Mary and Joseph style stable of course but almost like a converted stable with a bed and bathroom inside.
It wasn’t horrible but for the price was acceptable. The whole town wasn’t of a particularly high standard anyway so the accommodation available seemed to follow suit.

We paid for a standard double which apparently means fan-only and to have use of the aircon would have cost us a further 120,000 PER DAY ($14.50/£10.80) so naturally we stuck with the fan and were lucky that Vang Vieng was not as hot as Vientiane had been.
We went for a walk around but to be honest there isn't much to see.
It appears that Vang Vieng is nothing more than one major road, full of restaurants and tour operators and some side streets of much the same.
However there is a nice view of the small river with the backdrop of mountains, but that was it really.

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There is also a large number of Korean establishments, which isn't an issue unless you're not in the mood for kimchi!

We stopped in to a few tour operators to see what kind of activities were on offer and there were many!

Vang Vieng got a bad reputation not too long ago for tourists getting drunk and rowdy by the river and then going tubing where they ultimately met an untimely demise.
However, the town has closed nearly all of the illegal pop-up bars by the river and everything seems to be more regulated now.

We booked an all-day tour of tubing through an underground water cave, kayaking and to visit the blue lagoon.
This should have cost 200,000 kip each ($25/£18) but instead we paid 120,000 ($14.50/£10.80) as he needed to fill seats - always look for a good deal!

For dinner we bought some sandwiches which were hardly in short demand as there were at least 5 venders within arms reach of each other offering the same food at the same price!

Now these sandwiches were only 10,000 kip ($1.20/£0.90) for a basic chicken with salad, fried onion and fresh garlic but they were some of the best and most filling sandwiches I've ever eaten.
We had one every day because they were the cheapest food available that would keep us full.

Ever since we spent more than a reasonable amount in Thailand we've been trying to tighten the purse strings in Laos, which is inherently difficult as you don't get as much money per exchange and everything is more expensive than most Asian places.

With 1,000,000 kip ($120/£90) we managed to buy food (not even expensive or fancy meals!), some trinkets from the night market, a boat trip and some entrance tickets to things like a museum or temple.

With the same amount in Thailand or Vietnam we'd have lived like kings.

Anyway, we got some rest before our adventure filled day the following morning.

We were collected in a tuk tuk, complete with a roof rack full of kayaks, at around 9am and after picking up others on the tour we made our way out of town towards the water cave.
It wasn't a particularly long trip and as we'd become accustomed to, bumpy, pothole filled roads led us to the river.
We put on our life jackets and accepted our free water with gratitude as the morning was already warming up under the suns powerful rays and we walked across a wood and rope bridge, over the river, towards the mountains.

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Our guide led us through a quiet, little village with locals observing us as we passed, their internal monologues most likely commenting on how ridiculous we all looked trudging along in life jackets despite not being near water yet!

After walking through wheat fields and climbing over what looked like and reminded me of old school gym apparatus (particularly the 'wooden horse' you had to jump over during gymnastics!) we arrived at a welcoming pool of water and settled down on the benches provided.

Our guide advised us that we'd be there for a while as after going tubing inside the water cave we'd be having lunch before moving on with the day’s activities.

As a larger woman with even larger breasts, life jackets are incredibly annoying as your ample bosom can go one of two ways, down towards your belly button and putting a strain on your chest muscles, or, as was the case for me, up into your throat.

I looked like a male bird of paradise attempting to attract a mate with my bulbous uni-boob protruding from atop the life jacket opening.

Ridiculous.

We were given head torches and advised to leave our things on the benches as they were ours for the morning and no one else would be using them (I'd have liked our own flag or something to put on the tables to indicate ownership but it doesn't work like that anymore…!).

We made our way down to the water, silently wishing we'd bought some form of water shoe with us, either a thin, porous trainer or even jelly shoes would have sufficed as tiny pebbles and unseen rocks are a foot's worst enemy!

The water was colder than I was mentally prepared for but on the plus side I got a free fish pedicure from the little bastards nibbling away at my feet and legs!

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We were each handed our tube (the inner tube of a tractor tyre) and hopped on, before grasping hold of a rope that would lead us inside the water cave.

Although not connected to each other, our whole group moved as one along the rope-system within the cave and slithered our way deeper inside, marvelling at the vastness around us.

At one point we had to abandon our tubes and wade through the shallower waters within, lest our backsides be grazed and nicked!

A large stalactite hung down, bathing us in fresh water as it poured from an unseen opening above.

Upon reaching an expanse of 'open water' (still within the cave and quite deep under the mountain) our guide instructed us to turn off our headlamps.

Complete blackout.

I wish we’d have a waterproof camera or go-pro as we’ll only have our memories of that adventure when we’re old, but alas, what better way to witness these wonders of the world than with your own eyes.

After making our way out of the water cave, we went back up to our benches and settled in for lunch.

Now anyone who’s been on one of these organised tours that include lunch are probably aware of the usual spread, a little bread maybe and some fruit?

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Well, we got a small baguette each, 2 large chicken kebab skewers and a banana leaf package of rice and vegetables as well as a huge platter of fruit.

Everyone in the group was pleasantly surprised, no doubt from having suffered previous ‘included lunch’ before and we were all happily stuffed by the end of lunch.
This was both a good and bad thing, as we weren’t really hungry for the rest of the day, but after lunch we went kayaking and it put quite a strain on our digestive systems!

Now I’ve been kayaking before in Halong Bay, Vietnam on my previous visit, but the fiancé had never done it before.
If you’re also a first timer for kayaking and you’re considering it, make sure you get some kind of tutorial beforehand or it can be a little scary when your kayak starts veering off and you instinctually choose the wrong side to correct it – as my fiancé quickly learned!

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Luckily for him, I deliberately sat at the back of the kayak as there is more power and control from there so I could correct any issues with our trajectory.
That didn’t stop him from ferociously trying to paddle on the wrong side causing us to change direction, despite me telling him which side – sometimes his listening skills are somewhat lacking…!

We stopped after about 1 hour and lord knows how many kilometres for the others in our group to do a zip-line course (something they’d paid for but we had opted out from).

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I’m sure after my acrophobic fiancé got over the volume of distance between him and the ground he may have enjoyed the adrenaline from such an activity, but given my density I felt being suspended metres above the ground by nothing more than a wire was probably not the best move and that I should never be suspended in mid-air, other than on an aeroplane!

The rain has been following us from country to country and true to form, an unholy downpour was released, masking out the distance mountains and thoroughly drenching anyone caught in it.
Including but not limited to the people from other groups still kayaking on the river and the apparently blissful people gracefully floating down the river on inner tubes.

The fiancé and I sought shelter at the starting point of the zip line and were graciously received and given chairs out of the rain, when the fiancé noticed a small black and yellow banded snake creeping out of the wooden boards beneath us.

Now anyone who knows me will know that snakes, lizards, anything reptilian or amphibious, anything with scales or crystal eyes, does not bother me, in fact I think they’re beautiful, unlike spiders which are nasty little 8-legged demons straight from proverbial hell!

I digress, baby snake – the fiancé has a deep and often comical fear of snakes, including ones in the zoo and fake ones… he really is an amusing man!
I’m in no way belittling his fear, as if you tossed a decorative spider at me, I would most likely soil myself. Fear is real people!

But this snake that decided to join us out of the torrent of rain was:
1) no longer than my forearm
2) as thin as a pencil or one of those thick straws for drinking smoothies
3) at least 2 metres away from us, also heading away from us

It was so insignificant in size that when fiancé first pointed it out, I thought it was a big worm.

I’m the inquisitive type that gets killed by animals for getting to close to them, I’d be one with my face chewed off my chimpanzees or the one destroyed by a hippo for encroaching on their territory, so naturally I got up to get a closer look at the beautiful serpent.

Black with yellow stripes.

Stunning.

It slithered away out of the rain, up a bamboo pole and inside through a little hole at the top.

When I turned around to return to my seat next to fiancé, he had both feet up off the floor and was wildly searching around the base of his chair for any other guest that may join us.

Other than the biggest toad I’ve ever seen, there was nothing else from the natural world coming anywhere near us.

As the rain began to settle, the zip-liners returned and we went back down to the kayaks and continued on down the river.

The fiancé seemed much more suited to his kayaking on this second leg of the journey and we were frequently working the paddles in unison, moving effortlessly along the river.

  • Side note – there was an awful lot of effort, I felt like the hulk by the time we were done, definitely arm day in the world gym!

We got back in the tuk tuk that was waiting for us by the edge of the river and made our way to the blue lagoon which I’m sure would have been more beautiful had the sun been shining but I was grateful for less UV rays attacking me after I felt my shins burning from the first kayaking leg.

I thought the river had been cold but this lagoon, this was ice water I was sure of it and after jumping off of a tree branch and plunging into it, I ultimately felt refreshed and contemplated opening a glass-cutting business with my nipples.

After an hour or so, we made our way back to our accommodation, got a 10,000 kip sandwich from our usual lady, had a shower (after eating said sandwich, we’re not into bathing with our food) and promptly passed out for about 15 hours.

The following day was mainly revolved around eating sandwiches, sleeping and resting our weary bodies, and before we knew it the time came to book a minivan to Luang Brabang and we watched Vang Vieng disappear into the distance.

Posted by Lady Mantle 21:03 Archived in Laos Tagged nature travel adventure laos kayaking snake tubing vang_vieng sandwiches water_cave Comments (0)

Laos - Vientiane

Last piece of the Golden Triangle! Achievement unlocked!

sunny 30 °C

We took a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and after a brief stop-over in Phnom Penh arrived within a few hours of leaving HCMC.

You can get a visa-on-arrival at Vientiane airport but the price varies depending on the country you’re from.
Myanmar citizens get a free 14-day visa on arrival, but somehow my jammy fiancé managed to get a full month without paying the $30 to do so!
I however, with my British passport, had to pay $35!

When you arrive at the immigration desks there are collections of forms to fill in beforehand – one being your arrival/departure card that you should have been given on the flight to Laos, the other is the visa-on-arrival application form that takes all of 2-3 minutes to fill in.
Now because I live and travel in Asia, I always have recent passport photos in my purse/passport holder which is useful for times like these when you need a passport photo (in colour) – don’t worry too much if you don’t have one, you just have to pay an extra $1 for them to scan and copy your passport photo onto the visa application.

For more information on the Laos visa-on-arrival and the costs, please use the following link: www.laos-guide-999.com/laos-visa-on-arrival.html

We arrived at the airport around 7pm and by the time we’d gone through immigration and collected our bags the SIM card place was closed, but luckily, I managed to change $200 at the open currency exchange desk, which gave me about 1,665,000 KIP.

Having just been in Vietnam where they also have large money denominations, I forgot that $200 gives you about 4,500,000 VND and Laos is more expensive than I’d realised and hoped for!

Another important thing to remember about Laos, particularly Laos airport is there is no meter-taxi service from the airport, but rather a fixed rate of 57,000 Laos KIP ($7/£5) to basically anywhere in the town of Vientiane.

I discovered this after being stubborn for about 30 minutes and refusing to take this information at face-value but rather wait it out and see if a meter-taxi would magically appear.

Eventually, realising that unlike some other places throughout Asia, these people were in fact not trying to rip us off, we paid the 57,000 KIP and were quickly on our way.

As an added bonus, the guy at the small desk before you exit the airport (where you pay for the taxi) advised me to not carry around a lot of money in my purse as when I pay for something there may be some opportunists looking to see how much money I have to try and steal it from me later.
Advice worth heeding throughout your own Asian adventures.

We arrived at our accommodation, Ali Backpackers Hotel, and checked in as I watched nearly 1/3 of my money that I’d just exchanged disappear into the friendly man’s hands (406,000 Kip ($49/£37 for 4 nights! That was one of the cheapest accommodation offers we could find, bearing in mind that we were in a private double room with shared bathroom as opposed to a dorm room which would be cheaper plus breakfast was included in that price).

With this in mind, using sites like www.agoda.com / www.agoda.co.uk and paying for your accommodation online saves huge chunks of cash leaving your purse or wallet at once!

What we were not ready for was 4 flights of stairs (no lift/elevator) to get to our room.

As we’re planning on moving to Singapore after this travelling adventure, we have rather large, cumbersome and heavy suitcases, so carrying 30+ kg up those stairs was beyond tiring and not advisable!

The accommodation however was in a good location and we could see Thailand (I believe the north of Chiang Rai) just across the river!

The beds in Laos follow the Asian pattern of being harder than a bag of rocks but the beds in this hotel took it one step further - I genuinely had to check there was even a mattress on the bed because of the firmness.
Add that to the teeny, tiny blanket we were given and the whole sleeping situation wasn’t ideal.
On the plus side though, we did have an excellent AC unit which was desperately needed given that the temperatures outside were constantly exceeding 30®C (85®F) with humidity levels well above 70%.

We got some food in the hotel (about 30,000 KIP - $3.60/£2.70 for a burger!) and hit the hay.

The following day we decided to try and save some money on tuk tuks and motorbike rentals by walking to some ‘nearby’ sites.

First was Wat Si Saket (just over 2km from the hostel by walking along the river) and second was the Patuxai Monument a further 2-3km from there and then 6km back to the hotel after that!

Wat Si Saket is beautiful with lots of Buddha statues around the outside of the courtyard housing a large, inner temple in the middle.

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Entrance was 3,000 KIP ($.035/$0.25) for locals and 10,000 KIP ($1.20/£0.90) for foreigners which doesn’t sound like a lot especially considering a can of coke was 10,000 KIP.

As always, the fiancé took over 1,000 selfies (number not confirmed!) and we walked under the shade as much as possible to avoid the insane heat from the sun, before leaving Wat Si Saket and walking up the boulevard to the Patuxai Monument modelled after the Arc Du Triumph of France.

I hadn’t realised how much the French got around in Asia before now really, in Vietnam and in Laos in particular, influencing not only the architecture and language, but also the food and flavours as well.

We stopped in to the Talat Sao Mall, mainly to enjoy the AC for a little bit and were greeted by a plethora of ‘cheap’ clothes (not cheap by Asian standards, Laos really is more expensive than the neighbouring countries!).

We continued on under the blazing sun, using the boulevard of trees to shade us as we walked up towards the Patuxai Monument.

When we arrived, we paid the 3,000 KIP ($0.35/£0.25) to climb up what felt like never ending stairs to the first upper level, then up again and again and again to reach the very top viewing tower.

Inside, on the first and second levels there were people selling clothes and souvenirs aplenty and some fans dotted about to feel a cool, most welcome breeze before continuing up the stairs.

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As the sign on the wall of the monument details, this was an unfinished piece of architecture so it isn’t particularly beautiful to look at and its used most frequently as a shaded cover for locals to meet and enjoy a cold soft-drink or an ice-cream!

After that we made our way back to the hotel along a different route, stopped into the Laos version of a convenience store and got some burgers (9,000 KIP - $1/£0.80) as it was one of the cheapest options for a meal, and had a well-deserved sleep!

The next day we rented a motorcycle from a different hostel as ours didn’t have any to rent us for 70,000 KIP ($8.30/£6.30) so that we could go further afield and explore.

Tuk tuks for one trip were in the range of 200,000-350,000 KIP ($24 - $42 / £18 - £32) for the same distance we’d travel on the motorbike so we made a good investment for our 24-hour rental.

We decided to go to Buddha Park as it was the furthest thing away from us and work our way back.

Now in my infinite wisdom, I decided to direct the fiancé to take the ‘scenic’ route along the river which after taking a right turn instead of a left turn took us from the real road down a much less developed path.

When I say much less developed, what I mean is that the road looked like it had suffered severely from chickenpox with potholes so deep you could see the earth’s core at the bottom.

To say it was a bumpy ride was an understatement.

We very quickly got the picture from the locals staring at us in awe that foreigners didn’t really use this road as not only was it in a terrible condition, it also, after some considerable time rearranging our internal organs, linked up with the original ‘good’ road we were on in the first place.

Huge trucks and lorries bounced along the road like they were competing to be in a 90’s rap video as we idiotically bounded along beside them.

It was at that point that I was glad to have the fiancé behind the wheel, so to speak, as living in Myanmar his whole life, he’s used to poor quality roads and manoeuvred around most of the craters with grace and poise.

There was one point on our treacherous journey that led us through an overflowing river, which had I been navigating, it would have ended with us wet and paying out for a damaged motorcycle, but he glided through it like an ice-skater.

Brilliant is he, that man of mine!

After consulting google maps, I suggested we take an even more neglected road to cut off some of the painful journey and re-join the actual road system we were on previously.

This was both an excellent choice and an ultimately rewarding one, as despite having to drive on what I can only describe as a water-less riverbed, complete with rocks and gravel, we were privy to beautiful rice paddies and farm land surrounded by forests of trees and some gorgeous puppies!

Life!

The beauty aside, when we finally made our way back around to the main road our joy was palpable and we continued on to the Buddha Park.

For such a tourist attraction, you’d think the road leading to it would be easily ridden, but apparently our detour was not unlike many other roads in Laos and the smooth tarmac we’d been enjoying was in fact the rarity, rather than the other way around.

If you plan to visit Laos, Vientiane and the Buddha Park in particular and will go there by either motorcycle, bicycle or tuk tuk (basically anything open to the elements) it is my strictest advice to you to buy one of those terribly fetching hospital face masks to protect you from the inordinate amount of dust and filth forced up into the air by other vehicles.

Plus, if you do indulge in such a necessary purchase, you’ll be just as attractive as us…!

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Finally, we arrived at the Buddha Park and were not disappointed.

I shall let my photos speak for themselves:
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We decided to utilise our renting of the motorcycle and went to visit the That Luang temple as featured on a lot of Laos advertising and a staple of Laos temple culture.

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The entry prices were the same as Wat Si Saket at 3,000 KIP for locals and 10,000 KIP for foreigners but in all honesty, what you can see from the outside is resplendent enough without actually going inside so we didn’t pay to go in and saved that money for dinner!

As Laos is landlocked between Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, the food available is heavily influenced by those countries so there was no short supply or fish curries, Pad Thai, satay, pho, or egg fried rice but we had yet to find anything distinctly Laos in the cuisine availability.

We walked until we found some locals sitting and eating near the convenience store and purchased some rice and Laos satay – a range of meat kebabs both external meats and offal, all of which were delicious.

I have very much a ‘don’t ask’ approach to food in foreign countries as generally, even liver can be tasty on a BBQ skewer!

And as always, when eating like the locals do, you save a pretty penny as well!

In the evening we went to the famed night market by the river near our hotel and to be honest, I was very disappointed. It was not the Asian night markets people usually envision with a multitude of handy-crafts and delicious snacks on offer, but rather a display of mass-produced tourist tat, poor quality and over-priced clothing with Italian pizza on offer!

We decided to use the motorcycle to view the main town at night as we had it there all paid for and found Joma Bakery and discovered that if you go there after 6pm, all of the baked goods are 50% off!
We got a huge cinnamon roll and a delicious Canadian Maple Syrup donut for 14,500 KIP ($1.70/£1.30) which made it just about a decent price!

The next day we booked our minibus to Vang Vieng (45,000 KIP each - $5.40/£4), infamous for its debauchery-plagued past but trying desperately to reform its image in recent years and made the 3-4 hour journey there to begin the next leg of our adventure.

Posted by Lady Mantle 03:18 Archived in Laos Tagged travel laos vientiane motorcycle expensive that_luang wat_si_saket golden_triangle off_roading buddha_park patuxai_monument laos_airport laos_taxi laos_visa_on_arrival jomo_bakery laos_prices dirt_roads Comments (1)

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