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Laos

Vientiane: Never order anything 'with chilli'

sunny 30 °C
View Babez on Round the World Tour 2010 on noodz4loz's travel map.

After a typically two hour late arrival in Vientiane, we searched for approximately 47 hours for a guesthouse which apparently there is a distinct shortage of in this city, we finally stumbled across a small doorway next to a shop where we were offered an amazing price, our prayers had been answered. The woman laughed at us as we peeled off our backpacks to reveal a backpack shaped patch of sweat...before we agreed whole-heartedly to staying for the full 3 nights. Once the fatigue and relief had begun to wear off, we realised what we had signed up for. The most disgusting bathrooms we've ever seen, the locks didn't work and the once white tiles were ridden with ants. Still we are thrilled to have left with neither bedbugs, nor aids.

The next morning, we discovered our favourite Lao cafe, Joma, which we became addicted to in Louang Phabang. Laura cried with delight (almost as much as when she saw the Kitten on the Leaf) when she tried the Cinnamon Bun and we discovered a lovely drink that would not have pleased Wendy or G (Earl Gray tea with frothy milk and vanilla syrup)...YUM. We managed to cover all the main sights within 2 hours, Presidential Palace, another bloody temple and a museum (we didn't want to pay for both the temple and museum as we've become so tight and have decided we are not interested in the Arts and Crafts crap although it was worth it in Chiang Mai for the toilet facilities...here we opted for the temple). We then stumbled across the Lao version on the Champs Elysees complete with its own Arc de Triomphe. After severely prepping ourselves we managed to climb to the top for an interesting view of Vientianne. By this point we'd shed 5 stone in sweat and treated ourselves to a litre each (the waitress found this hilarious, once again) of Beer Lao.

Having built up our appetite, we decided we needed a good meal, however, Donna made the monumental error of ordering a dish with chilli, while Laura went for a more mild Pad Thai. We were very excited when the meals turned up as they looked delicious. Soon after, Donna began to sweat and lose sensation in her tongue. Not wanting to appear like a wuss in front of Laura, she got through half before admitting defeat. Laura finished hers and encouraged Donna that they could finish the meal in a 'team effort'. Laura was wrong, as she too felt the sweat beads running down her forehead. Instead it was decided as long as the beef was finished we could let the rest go. Needless to say, we've both learned from the experience and the cocktails went down well afterwards.

We started to relax as some live music started, but realised the Lao musician clearly hadn't learned any of the words to the Western songs, opting to mumble to his guitar instead. It was at this point Laura looked around and noticed that we were the only table not occupied by a fat white man and his young Thai bride. Instead of leaving, Laura pointed out that in their case, Donna was the Western man.

The next day did not begin well, but ended happily. Having seen all the sights in the centre the day before, we had a day to kill in the boiling capital. We also wanted to avoid taking out any more Kip, but eventually both begrudgingly decided we needed to do something and even staying put would require money. However, when we went to get cash out, no machines in the city centre were working for anyone. Our decision to go to the Buddha Park, for the obscene price of 8 pounds return for us both, was off the cards. As usual, we decided cheap internet was the way forward and as we were trying to download some pictures, Becky and Katie (who we went tubing with) appeared at the doorway. Having concluded that we would never see them again after they'd passed out for our dinner date, we were all very happy to be reunited. Needless to say the rest of our day was spent eating and drinking which cheered us all up. Neither Becky or Katie had been in high spirits beforehand as Becky had been bitten half to death at their guesthouse and Katie's card was not working.

We're currently wasting time at the airport as Donna insisted we arrive early. Our flight is in four hours. We've already had a bit of an embarrassing experience, as we realised that our 15,000 Kip (just over a pound) wouldn't get us very far for breakfast. An American man approached us telling us 'If you're STARVING, we can help you out!'. Exaggeration is not always the way forward. Instead we decided we'd have to get some money out to avoid feeling homeless. Breakfast was good.

Posted by noodz4loz 20:15 Archived in Laos Tagged gay_travel Comments (1)

Vang Vieng: Our spiritual home

sunny 29 °C
View Babez on Round the World Tour 2010 on noodz4loz's travel map.

On arrival to Vang Vieng, following a (surprisingly) pleasant and uneventful journey we sat ourselves in one of the many bars, near the tubing drop-off point. We were still a bit confused as to what tubing entailed, but knew we were likely to enjoy it when we saw tuk-tuks full of drunk people arriving, soaking wet dragging their tubes behind them. Vang Vieng had been described to us as an Asian Malaga - this is exactly what it is. A small town of nothing but bars and Westerners. Tubing is the only daytime activity.

Sat at our vantage point allowed to bump into almost everyone we've met in the last 3 days, including two English girls, Becky and Katie who we decided to go to dinner with and join forces with for tubing the next day, as it was their first time here too. We had already decided before we began, that our trip to Vang Vieng would consist of nothing but eating and drinking and this is what we've been doing for the past 2 days.

We got up early to meet the girls and line our stomachs...we were recommended to hit tubing at 11am. We were a bit delayed as there seem to be only two cashpoints in the entire town - neither of which were working until after breakfast, so that we could finally get some alcohol funds for the day. What follows is hazy in our memories, but between us, we have tried to piece together what we can.

Now that we understand tubing...we'll explain it as best we can. You begin in Vang Vieng, signing away your life to rent a tube (rubber ring), you are given a number scrawled across your hand in permanent marker...you are then squeezed into a tuk tuk with 30,000 other people and the tubes tied on top to be dropped off 3km upstream. We were about 2 bars ahead of most people, which meant we mostly beat the crowd, but left us fairly bemused when we got left at the riverside and wondering what to do next.

The four of us took charge throwing ourselves with our tubes into the river making a pact to stop at every single bar to take advantage of the free shots from each. People stand on the side of the bars throwing ropes out to pull you into their bar. We made sure, having had our free shots, to buy a bucket in each bar. The shots (tiger whiskey) mostly came from bottles containing a number of animals including, to Donna's horror, massive bees. Needless to say, she opted for the snake bottle at that bar.

As we drank more and progressed down the river, we got enticed by the activities offered at each bar. These were mainly trapezes 40ft above the river which you could swing from, but included zip wires and a massive slide as well. We were worried about the embarrassment of falling as soon as we jumped off as we were concerned that we had irreversibly damaged our arms from the rope swing in Louang Phabang. After a couple of drinks, however, we no longer cared, which was fine as we both managed to keep our grip. Most of these were free...although some required you to buy drinks at whichever bar they were at. This was how we spent most of our day and meeting lots of people along the way as well. Laura, of course, believes it to have been the best day of her life, and for once, Donna thinks this not to be a ridiculous exaggeration. We made drunken plans to visit again every year.

Despite the fact that we were almost first to arrive, somehow we also managed to be almost the last to leave...paying a small fine (20,000 Kip) for late drop off of the tube. We proceeded to eat our own body weight in food on the five minute journey back to our guesthouse, before venturing out again for dinner...we have a feeling the girls may have passed out as they didn't manage to make it for dinner!

Luckily we have both escaped with our lives and no broken bones, but mishaps include Donna losing both her sunglasses and her flip flops, slipping over on her arse to bruise all along her legs, and managing to gash her toe. Laura doesn't have a mark on her, but has kindly given Donna some antiseptic wipes. We're slightly concerned about Becky's leg as on one of her trapeze outings she leg-flopped the water and had a delightfully red leg for the rest of the day.

Whilst eating dinner we went to one of the many bars constantly showing re-runs of Friends, but neither of us could face more alcohol, so once we both started to fall asleep, we called it a day and ended up in bed by half ten. Neither of us could face tubing today and are happy to keep what we can of the memory. We have high hopes for the photos, but Laura has recently revealed that she struggled with the view-finder on the waterproof camera and so just pointed the camera in the vague direction, hoping for the best.

Posted by noodz4loz 19:10 Archived in Laos Tagged disabilities Comments (0)

Laos: Every experience is a positive experience

overcast 20 °C
View Babez on Round the World Tour 2010 on noodz4loz's travel map.

Before catching our 12.30 mini-van to Chiang Kong, we needed to pay Jim for all the accommodation and the transport. The offer to pay him was met with cries of 'No, no! You have long time' (45 minutes), as he encouraged us to play with his gorgeous baby. We doubt Jim is actually Thai - he was completely uninterested in our money throughout our stay, asking us on our check out how many nights we had stayed. Jim left as we went to get our bags...and never returned. When our driver arrived, we attempted to pay his very young daughter who spoke hardly any English. She fetched her mother to give us the 200baht change we required - she preceded to throw 1000 baht notes at us until we were honest with her about what we were owed. This was unfortunate since we have been trying to get our money back from the Thai people since the ping pong show theft. We would have felt better about our honesty, did the following not happen...

The journey began well. We were further encouraged to believe we were British princesses when we were offered the front seat in the minivan. Laura kept insisting that she was Queen because of her Angel Gabriel locks and the fact that her seat was higher than all the others. This soon proved unfortunate when everyone else fell asleep and she realised she was the only one missing a head rest. Naturally Donna had been asleep for hours by this point. We were thrilled to see our driver repeatedly ignore signs for Chiang Kong...but finally he put on celebratory music...his fave Taylor Swift song to which he knew all the words announcing 40 hours remaining (Thais are big jokers).

We were concerned when we arrived and the minivan had seemingly pulled into a tiny village and what seemed to be someone's back garden. Laura was ecstatic to realise that we were finally being sold to a guesthouse, which she had been keen to learn more about since learning about it in the guide. She demanded a price for the night, expecting an extortionate price for the Queen of England and was vaguely disappointed when it was by far the cheapest guesthouse we had been to costing us 2 pounds each for the night. Luckily the guesthouse also provided Laos fast track visa services and a pretty speedy journey across the border and on to Louang Phabang. What we had forgotten from our time in Chiang Mai, is that you can trust no Thai. Although the visa situation was undoubtably made easier, the journey was far from what we had anticipated. Unfortunately for us, the apparent 'once in a lifetime experience' on the 2 day slow boat down the river Mekong to Louang Phabang was not to be due to record low water levels. What we hadn't realised was that we would certainly encounter a once in a lifetime bus journey to the same destination. In this case, once in a lifetime meaning you are probably pushing your luck to expect to survive more than one attempt. We feel both lucky and stunned to have escaped with our lives...so much happened on this one day that we can only summarise our main fears:

1. Tarmac does not seem to exist in Laos. We can only presume roads are not frequently used. This doesn't seem to affect the speed of any drivers. The smoothest you can hope for are mud tracks including huge potholes.
2. Drivers do not stick to either side of the road...we can only assume they drive on the right here. Our driver seemed both surprised and angry to encounter any oncoming vehicles when we were driving on the wrong side of the road.
3. Horns are used for fun.
4. The driver seemed more interested in watching us sleep, regularly turning on the light and taking his eyes off the road to laugh manically at us. We also feel he enjoyed our fear.
5.There is no flat or straight road in Laos. All of this occurs on a cliff edge with a u-turn in the road imminently ahead.
6. They love to overtake...on corners, on cliff-edges, when there's not enough room in the road. When you meet a vehicle, you overtake a vehicle.
7. Our driver must have had a bladder infection. He frequently halted on the middle of a cliff top, exited the van with no explanation to wee approximately 1 metre away from us. He then stopped to eat what can only be described as a raw onion in a manner suggesting he had never eaten before.
8. He decided we would have (one of our many) breaks in a bus station, declaring that we had in fact 5 hours remaining (we had been debating whether or not we had arrived at our destination), when he called a dinner break and drove off with the van full of our rucksacks and again, not a word of explanation. Oddly enough, we were pleased to see him return, even if this meant continuing the journey.
9. He also refused to let us listen to our own music...whenever an ipod was in sight he turned up his weird Lao music to the max...listening to anything else was impossible.
10. You know it's bad when the driver is swerving away from an oncoming lorry with one hand clutched to the ceiling for dear life and a grin on his face.

Needless to say, and to everyone's surprise, we arrived healthy and well, albeit 4 hours after the Thai guesthouse had told us. This wouldn't be a problem, had Louang Phabang not been an 'early to bed, early to rise' town. Never has such a phrase been so true. By half midnight, it was a ghost town, not a person in sight. We walked towards the very centre of town and even in the heart of Louang Phabang, we must have tried approximately 20 guesthouses before we found one with someone awake. We felt like we had been dropped in the middle of nowhere, when in reality, it was where the best guesthouses were (invisible at this time). We weren't happy to pay the extortionate price of 5 pounds each for this guesthouse, but enjoyed the luxury of having towels, a TV, and a lovely room. We moved to the cheaper area the next day and had to barter to get a room sold to us as being 'crap' in an effort to get us to pay for a better room. They're like the Thais, it's perfect.

Louang Phabang is like nowhere we've yet stayed, it's very pretty and quaint, although after 10pm, suddenly becomes quite depressing as everywhere closes. We loved our first day, having a delightful breakfast with two people from our mini-van, a Norwegian girl and Canadian guy. We then explored the town, finding our favourite temple so far as it was really different from the others we've seen. We also went for a walk along the river, and were shocked to find on our return, that the night-market was in full swing... at only 6pm. We then went to supposedly the 'best restaurant in Laos' which was fairly disappointing as we're starting to realise the food we like most is often the cheapest and from the more unlikely places. However, Laura has already gotten over her fear of rabies, as a cat (clearly not with rabies G) sat on her lap in the restaurant, with Laura declaring how she 'laughs in the face of rabies'. She almost cried with delight at the temple when she saw a 'kitten on a leaf' and a monk surrounded by sleeping kittens. Monks and kittens are now her idea of heaven.

Today was taken up by tours...a boat-trip on the Mekong to some caves, the worst Whiskey village in the world (we hope you enjoy the fruits of our boredom D-Dog and Ian) and in the afternoon a very angry English woman and a very fun waterfall. Things obviously didn't go without a hitch, highlights include:

1. Our boat breaking down and us drifting disconcertingly far back down the pretty fast flowing Mekong before having to jump ship to another boat.
2. Laura's highlight of waiting until we were in the darkest depths of the cave before shining the torch in Donna's eyes and shouting 'What do you think Donna?! Time to go!'. She enjoyed the power of being the torch bearer.
3. Donna, once again, who has been bitten approximately 3 times, being approached by a French tourist pointing at her legs exclaiming 'Mosquitoes!'.
4. Donna convincing Laura to do the rope swing into the freezing cold waterfall and then Laura (wuss) deciding it didn't count if she didn't do it 3 times as she was so excited. Donna did it 4 times...bitch. The final straw was Laura deciding, after Croatia, she couldn't be the Girl Who Didn't Jump once more (Mairi, you're still the Girl Who Didn't Jump Out Of The Boat).
5. Waiting for our mini-van back and being approached by a Lao man saying 'You come with me'. We put up a mild fight until he insisted we go into a bus with other English-speaking tourists...which turned out to be a bonus of sorts as the was a free stop-off at a village on the way back.

We eagerly anticipate our next mini-van journey to Vang Viang.

Posted by noodz4loz 04:32 Archived in Laos Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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