Our Lao theme continues here in Vientiane too, we cannot afford much… so we did all the free stuff: watched the sunset over the Mekong, saw Victory gate and the Presidential Palace.

So we adopted the Lao culture of just taking it easy, watching the world go by and doing a little bit each day. And in 35 degree heat (and then some), this way of life comes a bit too easy!

The main thing we wanted to see, and learn about was the Lao unwilling involvement in the U.S bombing of Vietnam, which is known as the ‘Secret War’ as it has been wiped from America’s history completely, with many higher powers denying it ever happened. When you see the amount of amputees, it is quite clear it did. Too cut a very long story short, the U.S bombed Lao for 2 reasons: 1) due to the Ho Chi Minh trail connecting Lao to Vietnam in which goods and supplies were moving between the two countries. AND 2) mainly to get rid of bombs they had left over from bombing Vietnam and didn’t want to land with as it is unsafe and includes too much paperwork, so they just dropped them over Laos.

The bombing was so extensive that it works out Lao’s is the most bombed country per square metre, it works out it was bombed every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. Now, that’s a lot of bombs. What makes it worse, the type of bombs dropped were meant to kill civilians, not destroy buildings. Most of these bombs also did not explode, leaving live bombs in the ground.

Due to all this, over 20,000 people have been killed due to these unexploded bombs since the war ended, and they are continuing to be killed or maimed to this day as there is little to no money to clear the cluster bombs found in fields, by houses, schools and even growing up in the bamboo.

We visited the COPE visitor centre in Laos (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) which provides free care and support to people who need prosthetic limbs. Here it gave a detailed history of what happened to thousands of Laotian’s and what they do now to help.

It’s scary to think what happens in the world that goes unnoticed.

Travelling Highlight of the Week (w.b. 11th Feb)

Whilst sitting in a cafe in Vientiane (updating the blog, ironically) a man tried to exit the building without opening the door and face planted into the (very clean door) hitting his head and making a nice big coffee splat on the now not so clean door.

He took it well, laughed at himself and went to get another drink, and within seconds an employee cleaned the door until it was sparkling again…. ready for another unsuspecting victim.

Travelling Highlight of the Week (w.b. 4th Feb)

As we have withered on about the tubing enough and would be too easy of a choice for highlight of the week, we have decided to award a devious dog the honour (?!)

Walking through Vang Vieng we noticed a dog outside a shop going for a packet of crisps. We stopped to see how this would turn out. Perhaps we should have stopped it, but it was far too entertaining. We watched him pick a bag of his favourite crisps and continue to stand on it, bite it, whine at it, anything to try and open it. Eventually he gave up and ran away with the bag.

Just our type of entertainment!

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Tubing is still alive

Vang Vieng is (unfortunately or not) most well know for drinking, tubing and doing stupid things which could ultimately end in death (in 2012 alone, two people died each month). We arrived with mixed opinions and even unsure if tubing still existed, due to the multiple deaths in 2012 and the bar scene literally being burned to the ground by the government. We read various forums which said that it was now over and don’t go there or it still exists just the bars along the river have now gone and a new type of tourist has moved in.

We initially saw a few tuk tuks with tubes on their roof and heading to the start of the tubing route, but then after a walk around town we were left feeling a bit pessimistic again as it was a ghost town. Full of empty bars with raised up platforms with bed like seats and constant re-runs of Friends, Family Guy and South Park on the TVs.

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We went for a walk down to the river to see if we could see any of the bars or tubers for that matter and were met with a sad sight. There was at least 3 burned down bars in the space of 100yards on the riverfront and provided a small insight into what the old tubing ways used to be like. We were then releaved to see groups of happy tubers floating down the river, with booze in hand of course. Utilising the passing canoe.

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The next day we loaded our dry bag with our beer money and headed out to get our tubes. There was only one company renting the tubes (which from what i read is normal and changes weekly) and we paid about £5 for hire with a £3.50 deposit, which gets us a painted tractor tire and a tuk tuk upto the tubing start. We loaded up with beers from the nearby shop and hopped into our tuk tuk to meet our fellow tubers. We all set off together and casually chatted away, taking in the scenery and sipping beers whilst slowly floating down river. We kept floating past skeletons of bars and the infamous death slide, which we could easily see why it was given the name, given how shallow the water was. About quarter of the way we stopped at a cafe which sold refreshments, food and not beer out the back ‘wink wink’. So after a quick pitstop and re-stock we floated on again, meeting up with other tubers along the way, as well as thin speed boats coming up the river and people canoeing. Also a very friendly Lao local taking people rock climbing, who kindly informed us to watch out for water snakes biting our arses!! Thanks.

There was one bar (which i think is licensed and therefore official) near the end of the route and there was loads of people there, again chewing down on food and sipping a large beerlao, before re-stocking and setting off again. Certainly no slides or swings though. We finished the tubing in about 3/4 hours and it was a great experience, which i would happily return to and do again. After the day of tubing everyone heads to the irish bar and you can drunkenly natter on with the people you met on the river and find out when they are moving on to Luang Prabang or Vientiane.

The day after we were BIG fans of the Friends bars (as we named them) as they provided the perfect environment to nurse a hangover, watch Tv and eat junk food, just like home and can now totally see their appeal. Other than tubing and drinking in the friends bars, we didn’t really get upto much in Vang Vieng, we were tempted by the lagoon, but as we had done one in Luang Prabang, really weren’t too bothered, for Cheryl, Friends re-runs was much more appealing and for once i actually enjoyed watching it again and again.

So although it has vastly changed its style and lost all of the riverside bars pulling you in and giving free shots, the tubing scene is definitely still alive and has taken a different route (for now). As it will only be a matter of time before bars pop up, get licenses and make it what it was before, but just legit and safe, so that hopefully we can return and give the original style of tubing a go.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

Waiter theres a roach in my food!!

We immediately got ourselves to grips with our surroundings and got to grips with how expensive Luang Prabang and potentially Laos, was! Having spent so little in Thailand on daily food, drinks etc, we were blown away and left very hungry from how much food cost in Laos. Considering the main things being served were sandwiches, fruit shakes and cakes, it was also very hard to find a decent meal without breaking the bank. I came to the conclusion that thanks to rich tourists being the main visitors to Luang Prabang, and that they are happy to pay high prices so the priceskeep creeping up and it makes it impossible to haggle as rich tourists just pay the face value and don’t bother even trying to haggle!

After a bit of a walk around town and taking in the french colonial architecture and various Temples (which all charged £2 to get in!!), we headed to the night market, which takes over the main street through Luang Prabang and consist of row upon row of gazeebos, selling Lao Lao Whiskey (whiskey with a snake or scorpion in), local crafted goods and hand painted pictures.

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We managed to find a stall serving street food, where you pick your ingredients cold and they are then flash fried in a wok before you chow down. This on the surface seemed a great idea and after picking our food and having it served we were ready to tuck in. It was only after a few bites in did I realise I had been given a freebie at no extra cost, which initially I thought was a raisin, turns out it was a cockroach……nice. So all in all not a fantastic start to Laos and put a slight negative tint on our first day in the country, but it would take a lot more than inflated prices, snobby tourists and free roaches to dampen our spirits.

The next day we opted to hire some typically french bikes (there is a huge french influence in Laos, as they ‘colonised’ (invaded before the Vietnam war) and took ourselves to every inch of the town, including a cool bar/resteraunt across a small bamboo bridge called Dyen Sabai, which we treated ourselves to their Lao taster dish, along with sticky rice to be eaten in small balls made by hand.

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We also found some other cool bars and restaurants around the same area. Whilst cycling around we constantly saw adverts for the ‘blue lagoon’, so decided to check it out and found out what it was all about. Ironically turns out it was a blue lagoon at Kouang Si waterfalls and after looking at plenty of pictures, we believed them that it actually was a waterfall, so booked a trip for the same afternoon. When we arrived at the Lagoon we were blown away by how beautiful and serene it was. So we wasted no time and dived straight in, literally.

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It turned out there were loads of different pools on different levels of the huge waterfall and included a pool which had a rope swing, with after wondering whether the water was deep or not and seeing other people come out unscathed, it was time to give it a go.

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It was a very relaxing afternoon and after having such good grub and a dip in the blue lagoon, we were perked right up again. So after not being able to afford much else, we sorted our mini bus down to Vang Vieng and went and got stocks for the journey, which was a 6hour slog on a 10 seater mini bus through mountainous scenery and very very very very bumpy, windy, hairy roads.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—

A man fell in the Mekong! Our slow boat trip…

The boat isn’t actually that slow, once it gets going. So we turned up at 9.30am to get the boat which is meant to leave at 10.30am. I focus upon the word meant to as we didn’t leave till gone midday. But as we got there in good time, we were actually able to get the seats assigned to us and were happy and settled by the time the late comers turned up and were (literally) shouting and fighting over their seats.

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When we were waiting for the boat to leave, a very genuine man came on telling us that there were not enough guesthouses for people at our stop over in Prabang and that he would take bookings for his guesthouse for 140,000 KIP (about 12GBP) but he only had 11 rooms. Panic-stricken hands shot up all over the boat and an hour later he was still taking bookings… 11 rooms my a**e! This first day we were sailing for around 6 hours. The scenery is beautiful and you go past little villages and farms and mountainous areas. All very lovely. We kept ourselves entertained by eating our sandwiches we had bought on the shore before we left (they LOVE sandwiches in Laos…French influence and all that). by reading and playing games. But the thing that kept us most entertained when a drunk Aussie fell off the back of the boat when we were going at high speed. A girl came wandering through, a bit too calmly for my liking, “umm a guy has fallen off the back of the boat” she tells one of the workers and we instantly slow down, “WHAT?!” we all burst out, “I’m sure he’ll be OK” she says “he’s quite a well seasoned traveller”…. ooooohhh, I didn’t realise being a well seasoned traveller made you more buoyant…silly me! There’s no rush, don’t worry?!


So we turned around and eventually found him on shore, his excuse “you have no seats on the back, I fell off”, the real reason, ‘yeah, OK, I was trying to climb on the roof.” Silly Aussie.

We got into Prabang about 6pm and I went to find a room when Adam got the bags. I went into the first guesthouse; 70,000KIP for an OK double room with private bathroom. Half the price of what the guy was pushing on the boat. Not enough rooms, what ever.

We got back on to the boat the next day at about 8.30am to get going for 9.30am. This time no seat numbers just help yourself, so it was lucky we did turn up so early and got ourselves sorted. This journey lasted about 6/7hours and when we finally arrived in Luang Prabang everything was in walking distance, so easy to find a guesthouse to stay in and easy to navigate the town in general.

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Thailand to Laos (Chiang Khong/Huay Xai border crossing)

We had researched various ways in which to do the border crossing on various forums etc and one of the most straight forward routes was from Chiang Rai through to Chiang Khong and then cross the river over to Huay Xai (Laos). This can be done in either one day and then jump straight onto the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang or you can stay the night in Chiang Khong (Thailand) or Huay Xai (Laos), both border towns and then catch the slowboat in the morning, with less hassle and more ease, from what we had heard! Obviously we opted for the less stressful and fail safe option of staying the night in Huay Xai, mainly because once you have got through immigration etc (which takes about 15-20 minutes each side, depending on how much they like you) the slow boat tickets are cheaper on the Laos side!! Well worth the trip.

As it was the day after my birthday, we had decided to treat ourselves (me) to a UTV (dune buggie) experience in the mountains surrounding Chaing Rai, somewhere inbetween Chaing Rai and Chiang Khong. Therefore making our drop off Chiang Khong instead of back to Chiang Rai, once we were done. We packed up our bags early in the morning and got ourselves all psyched up for a morning of muddy dune buggying (thanks to the rain storm the night before). Once fed and ready to roll, we went to meet our driver, who would take us across to the outdoor activity centre, where we would set off from. within minutes of us finding each other, the heavens opened and out here when its rains……it pours!! A 10minute rain shower dropped enough rain to flood all of the streets and bring everything to a grinding hault, especially whizzing scooters.

Once we set off, we were lucky enough (sarcasm) to have a driver who was a stereo typical essex boy and by that i mean wouldn’t shut up, was obviously a multi millionaire (picking people up in a nissan march) his word not ours and loved nothing more than telling you how amazing he was. This was semi bearable until we were dropped with the news from his boss, that we wouldn’t be able to get up the hill to even start the UTV ride, thanks to the road being flooded and as the essex boy had opted for a nissan march, we were screwed. Sods law really, as i had pulled the guy as soon as we saw the car and said out of all the cars and pickups in Thailand, you opt for this, which he cockily replied ‘i don’t need a pickup’!!! YOU WORK IN A OUTDOOR CENTRE!!!

So we then had no option but to head onto Chiang Khong and make the border crossing a little bit earlier, which was fine as a) the driver was happy to take us at no extra cost since our trip had been cancelled and we were already halfway and b) we would get to sort our boat ticket and explore Huay Xai without rushing. After leaving the essex boy and his Thai/Burmese (he wasn’t sure) ‘girlfriend’, we strolled down to the Thai immigration office and got ourselves stamped out of Thailand (boooooo). It was an easy process and apart from a few Thais laughing at my huge bag, as they all had carry ons, everything went fine. We then jumped on a tiny boat about 2ft wide to cross the Mekong and hit immigration for Laos.

Laos immigration was fine as well, after filling out or necessary forms, handing over 1 x passport picture and paying the fee of 1500Baht each, we strolled on through to Laos, oh and not forgetting the random ‘official entry’ man who checks everything is OK, once your halfway up the hill, sitting on a plastic seat in a bamboo hut!! Welcome to Laos i guess.

We took a short stroll along the road and after a few ‘room visits’ and price negotiations, we found a little guesthouse so we could bed down for the night. Once we dropped our bags, we were immediately met with a sign in our guesthouse which showed after crossing the Mekong we already managed to save 800Baht each and that was without haggling, well worth the easy crossing.

After a walk to the official slow boat pier and noticing the ticket office was closed, we decided to book through our own guesthouse for 900Baht/250,000kip each as they sorted us a tuk tuk to the pier in the price too, which others didn’t. Once we were all sorted, we went for a wander and all in all had a stress free crossing, which from what i read, the same can’t be said for doing everything in one day.

—Stay Classy World—ACastling—