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Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

Laos Wrap Up

The Landscape

The Mekong and Nam Song rivers wind through mist covered mountains, farmland, jungle, and rice paddies.  The only downside is that a lot of slash and burning goes on here, so the sun is usually obscured by a smoky haze. The roads are horrible.   Since they are unpaved, it takes five times as long to get anywhere and you’re extremely lucky if your bus/van/car doesn’t break down or get a flat along the way.

The People

Lao people are some of the friendliest we’ve met on the entire trip.  Everyone goes out of their way to greet you with ‘Sa-ba-deee!’   The children will come up to you on the street to say hello and will run alongside your bus or tuk-tuk, waiving and smiling until you are out of sight.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of poverty here, but everyone seems to be pretty happy.   It reminded us that you don’t have to have much to live a full life.

The Costs

Laos is the cheapest country we have been to so far.  For a private room at a guesthouse, we paid around $5 a night.  Beers were $1.  Food was about $3 a meal at a restaurant (even cheaper if you ate sandwiches or pancakes off of street vendors).

The Food

Surprisingly tasty!   We figured it would be just a bunch of rice and noodles, but that wasn’t the case at all.  The local cuisine consists of a lot of stewed meat (mainly buffalo), vegetables, and eggs.  Our favorite food was laap – minced chicken, pork, or fish mixed with mint and other herbs, served with sticky rice.  

On the late night, we scarfed down a couple of the street vendor sub sandwiches and pancakes…banana and Nutella pancakes are to die for!!

The Booze

Beer Lao is one of my favorite beers on this planet. It is dirt cheap and delicious.  Lao Lao, the local whiskey, is absolutely disgusting, but you’ve got to try it.  Most restaurants give you a free shot before a meal…I think it is actually cheaper than the beer.

Other Random Thoughts

-Lao is a communist country. Commie flags everywhere!

-No joke – you can order joints and ‘magic’ mushroom shakes off the menus at many restaurants, despite the fact that drugs are illegal here.  No comment on if any of us partook.

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After our nice relaxing time in Luang Probang, Kim, Megan and I moved on to the infamous party town of Vang Vieng.   The main (and almost only) attraction here is tubing down the Nam Song River.   Now, many of you may know that most people from Texas are experts at tubing.  We take numerous trips down the Guadalupe or Comal River in New Braunfels every summer.  But here in Laos, its done a little differently.  Instead of packing up your own ice chest full of booze and attaching it to your tube, the river is actually lined with tons of bars for you to stop at and quench your thirst. 

Bartenders waiting to pull people in

 
The dancing Lao boys are waiting on the docks and they toss out a line for you to grab and they pull you in to come join the fun.  You are usually welcomed with a free shot of Tiger whiskey (terrible!-but hey, its free!) and led to the bar.  All the bars also have these crazy high “rope” swings or insanly huge slides for you to ride.  Kim and I might have partook, however, tons of people injure themselves on these everyday.   Depending on your water landing (and the amount of alcohol that is usually comsumed beforehand) so much can go wrong.  Faces split open (this actually happened to a buddy of ours that week), broken bones, and a worse case senario, one of Megan’s friends had to have his foot amputated a few years ago!!  So yeah, Kim and I sat back and took photos while Megan took a chance and went for a ride.  20 yrs old vs. 30ish yrs old:)

Megan on the swing

 
On to the next bar.  Mud volleyball!!  I’m always game for a good volleyball match so I was so excited to try out this new twist to an old fave.   It was awesome.   Not so much the game itself, just everyone falling all over the place trying to hit the ball!   It was quite difficult…one guy even suggested that we move over to another court without mud so we could play an actual game when one of the girls shouted “its not about the game, its about the MUD!!” I completely agreed.   It soon turned into everyone just running around and wrestling, completely covered.  Good times.

Mud Volleyball!!!

 
We moved on to the next bar for some snacks and more beer.  Kim and I actually went down of of the slides!  It was pretty small, but fun…nothing like the “death slide” two bars down, where one person a year actually dies…crazy.  A friend of ours went down it and said it was one of the scariest things she’s ever done.  No thanks.  Are we getting old?

At the bar

After you get through all the madness, the rest of the float is amazing.  You are surrounded by beautiful mountains and lush green landscape.  Since most people don’t make it past the first few bars, it’s extremely peaceful and quiet towards the end.  Of course there is one last bar to stop at before you get out and catch a tuk tuk back to town. 

Relaxin on the river

 
When you aren’t tubing in Vang Vieng, everyone lies around all day at  the restaruants equipped with cushion-lined tables and tons of TV’s showing Friends, The Simpsons or Family Guy.  I love Friends, but not sure that I can watch another episode for a while.   Still love me some Family Guy. 
At night, everyone heads down to another part of the river lined with bars and restaurants.  Most of them are blaring techno or rock music til the wee morning hours.  We spent a night or two down there and enjoyed some of the best drunkin’ dancing that Kim and I have ever seen.  Boys dancing on poles (yes, boys), some had pre-choreographed routines….we were speachless and almost wet our pants from laughing!  We were lucky to find a bar a little more our style that we hung out at most nights with our new friends.
 
After taking a chill day, we all decided to hit the river again.  However, I came down with some kind of stomach “bug” and actually had to take a trip to a Lao hospital.  Um..yeah…not good.  It was super filthy and well, just plain scary.  Luckily, they just checked my vitals and prescribed me some medicine and sent me home.  I’m so glad whatever they game me worked, because there was no way in hell I was getting admitted into that place!  Kim and Megan had a relaxing day on the river while I slept off my bug at the hostel. 
 
After a couple more chill days and one more crazy day on the river, Kim and I needed a change of pace (and some exercise).  We decided to rent bicycles and take a ride through the surrounding villages over to the Blue Lagoon, a small natural pool about 7km out of town.  The scenery was incredible and other than the fact that we rented cruisers instead of mountain bikes, it was a great trip.  But yeah, cruisers with crappy breaks on unpaved roads were not the best choice.  Kim actually thought she was going to die flying down some of the hills!

On our bike ride

 

Blue Lagoon

Vang Vieng is definitely a backpackers paradise.  I think Kim and I may have been two of the oldest people in the town, but we had a blast pretending to be 21 again.  We had to say goodbye to Megan, who has invited us to visit her in Denmark in June–can’t wait!  
We then headed off to Vientiene, the captiol of Laos and a former French colony.  We spent two days here wandering around the city, checking out the temples and eating delicious food.  It’s definitely the most developed place we went to in Laos. 
After our time here, we took an overnight train back to Bangkok to catch our flights to Nepal.   Laos exceeded our expectations big time.  We really loved it here and it will be missed. 
Now, time for some trekking in the Himilayas!!!   

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Upon hearing we were headed to Laos, a lot of our friends and family from home asked, ‘Laos?  Why are you going to Laos?  What’s in Laos?’  It seems to be a country that not many Americans know much about.

Wedged between Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos is a small country that during the Vietnam war, the USA dropped over two million tons of bombs over Laos, destroying villages and displacing thousands of citizens.  In addition, a large percentage of the bombs failed to detonate, leaving behind contamination from the unexploded bombs , which has injured or killed thousands of Laotians since the end of the war.

However, despite its grim past and current poverty, Laos is a beautiful country with friendly people…we looked forward to exploring and seeing what it had to offer. 

Crossing the Mekong in a longboat, we arrived at the Thailand/Laos border, had our passports stamped, and began the long and bumpy bus ride to Luang Prabang (there are very few paved roads in this country…it took us nine hours to go around 60 miles).   Along the way, we made friends with Megan, a fellow passenger from Denmark that was travelling for a few months around India and southeast Asia; she would turn out to be our travel buddy through the majority of our time in the country.  We arrived in Luang Prabang around 10:30 p.m., checked into the first reasonably priced guesthouse we could find, and passed out.

Thailand/Laos Border...very official

Our first couple of days we spent making new friends and exploring the town…Luang Prabang is so quaint and charming, it almost makes you want to throw up.   Situated between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, its cobble stone streets are lined with cafes, shops, Buddhist temples, and buildings inspired by French architecture.   There is an extremely slow pace of life here…all the restaurants and bars close up around 11 p.m. and the only late-night action after that is the local bowling alley (it only has 5 lanes…ha!), which of course we had to check out.

At the bowling alley. I bowled a 13.

One day, our group took a trip to the nearby Kouang Si Falls to walk around and do a little swimming.   It had rained the night before, so the pools were a little murky, but still incredibly beautiful.   Kelly and I jumped off one of the falls and Megan did the rope swing.   Fun times.

 

A couple of days later, we booked a one-day trek that involved a hike through the jungle, lunch in a mountain village, and kayaking on the Mekong.   After a month of laying around on beaches, the trek was a bit difficult, not to mention crazy…we were climbing over huge boulders, fallen trees, and walking through leech-infested forest.  We made it to the mountain village where we had lunch at a local’s home.   The poverty in these villages is somewhat shocking…there may be a house or two that have brick or concrete walls, but most are made of bamboo, thatch roofs and some plywood.   You see homes and villages like this all over Laos and it made Kelly and I feel very fortunate to have such cush lives back home.

This is someone's house

Our hosts were very friendly and the food was delicious.   After lunch, we began our kayaking down the Mekong, which made the hard trek worth it…the paddle down was absolutely stunning.

On the Mekong

Cute kid trying to get us to pay him $1 to set a bird free, which of course just flies right back to its cage. Lil' hussler!

On our way back to town, we stopped at Ban Xang Hai, a small village where Lao Lao, the local whiskey is made. A lot of the whiskeys are poured into glass bottles with snakes, scorpions, centipedes…even a fricken bear paw…and are supposed to give you crazy dreams. We tried a few flavors sans insect/animal parts and it was pretty brutal.   It tastes a lot like rocket fuel.

Lao Whiskey

The rest of our evenings in Luang Prabang were spent wandering the nightly street market, cocktails at Hive Bar (along with a Lao village fashion show!), and dinner by the Mekong.

Fashion Show at Hive Bar

One morning I dragged myself out of bed to watch the procession of monks, a tradition where monks collect their alms for the day.  Every morning at 6 a.m. the monks of Luang Prabang walk along the main street, which is lined with local men and women seated on mats.   They place sweet cakes and sticky rice in the monks’ urns…this offering is the monks’ only food for the day.  It is a beautiful custom to witness, despite having to watch a few tourists get right up in the monks’ faces to snap photos, which I found a little disrespectful.

After 5 relaxing days here, Kelly, Megan and I headed to the party town of Vang Vieng to do some tubing and watch an obscene amount of ‘Friends’.

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