A Travellerspoint blog

On to Vang Vieng, Vientiane and Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

Thursday, December 29

Another G Adventurer was rushed to hospital first thing this morning with severe dehydration and was found to have a serious bacterial infection. Our trip to Vang Vieng was delayed a bit until we found out how long the hospital was going to keep him. We finally decided to drive on without him and his travel partner, and have them travel later in a separate vehicle.

The road from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was breathtakingly scenic. Laos is the Switzerland of southeast Asia ... except perhaps for the condition of the roads. It took 7 hours to travel about 250 km. ... it was a steep climb with lots of switchbacks, and there were quite a few potholes, landslides and boulders on the road along the way! We felt pretty jostled around by the time we reached Vang Vieng.

IMG_4407.jpgIMG_4431.jpg90_IMG_4435.jpg90_IMG_4434.jpgIMG_4432.jpg90_IMG_4408.jpg90_IMG_4409.jpg

While the others went for supper and shopping, I (Donna) decided to pamper myself and have another hour-long foot massage for the exorbitant cost of about $8.

Friday, December 30

We had a fabulous morning kayaking and engaging in splash fights on the Nam Song river – FUN!!! The river run reminded us of being on the Torch River near Nipawin, but the karst hill landscape was so different, with the towering green mountains and bamboo bridges. Very beautiful scenery!!

Before leaving Vang Vieng, we climbed through some the Tham Jang caves at the top of a small mountain near our hotel. The travel to Vientiane was pretty uneventful - just lots of activity along the highway (vendors, motorbikes, trucks of all sizes, pedestrians of all ages... We admired the bus driver's ability to stay focused despite everything that was going on around us.

Our group hired a couple of tuk-tuks and did a night tour around downtown Vientiane to see the Golden Stupa and the Victory Gate (a Laotian version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris). The Victory Gate was a gift from France at the time of Laotian independence from France.

IMG_4512.jpgIMG_4516.jpg

We're definitely feeling like our trip is winding down. One more day together with the G Adventure group and then it's back to our separate lives.

Saturday December 31

Our group decided to break from the G Adventure itinerary and skip the overnight train ride to Bangkok. Instead, we chose to fly to Bangkok so that we could be there for the New Year's fireworks along the river. We had failed to consider that, because of the passing of the king of Thailand in October, the country was still in mourning and there would be no fireworks celebrations this year. Ah well, we had a fun evening celebrating at River Vibe - but the main excitement for us was in GETTING TO the club. Our taxi driver from the hotel swore he knew the location we gave him, but we suspected something was wrong when he drove away from the direction we wanted to go and got into an area where the streets were all blocked off for New Years' celebrations. He dropped us off, saying that our destination was just on the other side of the blocked area that he could not get through. Lots of young people were thronging to the area, a few bands were setting up and starting to perform, and some people had laid out picnic spreads on the sidewalks. We found a McDonalds and the staff there were VERY helpful in speaking to our G Adventure host on the phone and helping us find our way out of the blocked off area, so we could get another tuk-tuk to get us to our party location. Our second driver was about to drop us off in front of a big building but fortunately, we asked - Is this the right place? and found out that it wasn't. The driver spoke on the phone to our host and got the right directions. From that point, he took us down a number of progressively smaller streets and alleys until we were in a very narrow lane where local people were eating their supper. The driver kept asking himself: Dead end? Dead end? but there always seemed to be a way through. Finally, a guy flagged us into a smaller alley, so the driver dropped us off and the guy led us to the club. We were very impressed with the map of the city that the tuk-tuk driver must have in his head! We were so grateful for all the angels along the way who helped us get to our destination: a rooftop club overlooking the action on the Chao Praya River. We were about an hour late, but were glad for the memorable adventure along the way! At the end of the evening, we bade farewell to all our fellow Adventurers and wished them well on their continued journeys.

On our last day in Bangkok (Jan. 2), we hired a private guide to take us to the River Kwai Bridge area at Kanchanaburi, a couple of hours west of Bangkok. Lyle was particularly interested in seeing the Hellfire Pass. It was grim seeing the recreations of the POW shelters and to learn about the abysmal conditions under which they worked. The museum and exhibits were well done. It is tough to learn again about how cruel some men can be to others.

I'm going to wind down the blog now, even though we will be on vacation for another couple of weeks. Our travels will be in Cambodia mostly (Phnom Penh to visit a World Vision project area, Koh Rong Island to enjoy snorkelling, and back to Siem Reap to do some more exploring around Angkor Wat and the nature reserves in that area). We've appreciated our wonderful trip but now we're looking forward to going home and reconnecting with family and friends, celebrating some birthdays of our grandchildren, and rediscovering the joys of winter!

We hope that you have enjoyed travelling along with us!

Posted by HosMiniTravels 17:07 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Luang Prabang Day 2

sunny 31 °C

Wednesday, December 28

We started the day early, getting up at 5 to walk downtown and give alms to the monks. Our coordinator had arranged for us to give the ‘tourist sampler’ offering to the monks. The streets were lined with woven bamboo mats and low stools to sit on after we removed our shoes. At our feet were a basket of various packaged treats, to which some of us had added fruit, and a bamboo container of sticky rice.

DSC02919.jpgDSC02944.jpgDSC02941.jpg

As the procession of more than a hundred monks walked quickly past, we gave the monks a handful of rice or a treat. These Theravada Buddhist monks eat twice a day before noon but they cannot cook for themselves. They must live on the food that others offer to them. After noon, they can only drink water. Among the procession of monks, there were quite a few novices (under age 18).

Later in the day, we went to the Museum of Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre and learned about the lifestyles and crafts of various hill tribes in Laos: primarily loom weaving, basket weaving and silver craft.

We also visited a silk worm farm and then rode in a tuk-tuk up a curvy mountain road to the incredibly beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall where we swam in the turquoise water. It was chilly at first but we had fun posing for photos with our fellow travellers.

IMG_4374.jpg
There was a bear rescue centre near the waterfall. One bear constantly wanted to wrestle with the others. When it finally pulled apart from the other bears, we realized it only had 3 legs.

IMG_4388.jpg

Back in the city, we climbed Mount Phousi to see the sun set behind the mountains but we came down before sunset because of the crowds in the limited space at the top. Donna bought a Laotian skirt at the night market which she plans to wear on New Year's Eve.

IMG_4394.jpgIMG_4362.jpg

Posted by HosMiniTravels 05:28 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

semi-overcast 27 °C

Tuesday, December 27

We had a free day today to just explore the old town of Luang Prabang. The nicest surprise was the climate!! Lyle found the early morning air actually chilly and changed from shorts into long pants. By mid-day, it had warmed up quite a bit, but it still was not sweltering, especially if you kept to the shade.

Lyle gathered the photos people had taken of the fellow who passed away and prepared a PPT presentation for his family to let them know that he had been doing what he loved when he passed on. G Adventures brought in some extra support people to help our host and us deal with the situation.

For the two of us, this free day was just a sweet time to walk along the 2 rivers, people-watch, eat some nice Lao food and ‘feel’ the vibe of the old city – a calm contrast to some of the other places we have been recently. In the mid-afternoon, we caught a glimpse of some young monks playing down on the beach. One was doing handstands and another was swimming with water wings the colour of his robe. We also found poinsettia trees!

IMG_4342.jpgIMG_4344.jpg

Efforts are made to keep the city very clean. Communist flags (yellow hammer and sickle on a red background) are flown alongside the national flag.

Laos has a new president (elected this past summer) who is taking a different approach to national development and sustainability. He wants there to be no poor Laotian. He cut off trade in forest products (especially the old trees) to Vietnam and is visiting rural areas to promote self-reliance using sustainable processes. As a result of these changes, some NGOs (such as World Vision) are no longer working in Laos. Laotians are optimistic that he is on the right path to help the country develop.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 05:28 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Wat Phu and flight to northern Laos

sunny 36 °C

Monday December 26

Breakfast was laid out in a similar fashion to Christmas dinner (on mats on the floor). It easily accommodated our large group, but some of us realized that our flexibility needs a bit of work!

Farewells to our home stay families, back to the beach and on to the same ferries (with the same comfy seating) as yesterday.

Host_family_farewell.jpgEarly_morn..river_ferry.jpgRiver_Ferry_loading.jpgIMG_4269.jpg

Back on land, we loaded onto a bus for a ride through Champasek Province which is called the sleepy province. It's a rural area where most of the residents are fishers and farmers. Actually, it is evident as you drive around the country that the main occupations of Laotians are fishing and farming.

We rode the bus to Wat Phu, the seat of power in the pre-Angkorian times (before Angkor Wat became the capital of the region). The site comprises development (now ruins) on 7 levels and we climbed to ‘heaven’ (the highest level) in intense heat and humidity. The kings in Laos are seen as god-kings, so the site has ruins of temples and a palace. The view from heaven was lovely, but we were relieved to get back to the air-conditioned bus!

DSC02842.jpgDSC02837.jpgDSC02845.jpgDSC02848.jpgDSC02872.jpgIN_Heaven.jpg

After lunch at a cafe bakery in Pakse, we went to Pakse's very small international airport to fly to Luang Prabang in northern Laos. Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos after Angkor Wat until the capital was moved to Vientiane. Like many of the places we have visited on our trip, Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site for its historic and cultural significance.

Unfortunately one of our G Adventurers passed away on the flight and was taken to hospital upon our landing. It’s been traumatic for all of us, particularly because he was in his late-30s. It was a reminder to all of us that anything can happen anywhere and anytime. It was amazing how some of the travellers applied their skills to help out in any way they could. We were pleased to see that G Adventures came through with support for any of the travellers who felt particularly affected. The regional manager came to talk with us and get us shifted back into vacation mode. He relieved our host (Sambo) of his duties and brought in another host (Yang) for the remainder of our trip. Due to his strong Buddhist faith, Sambo felt he needed to go to the temple for 3 days to pray for Jordan's soul. We and the G Adventures managers all supported him in following through on this.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 05:27 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Christmas in Laos

sunny 35 °C

Sunday, December 25

It sure doesn't feel like Christmas!! Our day started with breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the Mekong River: rice soup with fish, pineapple pancake and a fruit plate. We have acquired quite a taste for rice soup in the morning - with either rice noodles or ground rice and some chunks of meat or fish and seasonings. We took it easy for the morning, enjoying this little piece of paradise.

IMG_4233.jpgDSC02813.jpgDSC02812.jpgIMG_4229.jpg

After a short bus ride, we boarded a ferry to Don Daeng island. Upon arrival at our destination, we trekked across the beach and into the village where we were greeted by the children who presented the women with flowers.

IMG_4285.jpgIMG_4270.jpgIMG_4278.jpgLocal_kids.jpg

We were assigned to 2 homes for a home stay experience. The 6 women in our group stayed at one home and the 6 men stayed at the chief's house. While the others strolled around the island and enjoyed frolicking in the sunset, I stayed behind to ‘help’ with the cooking – a free Lao cooking lesson! The women had me stir the pot a few times and grind the lemongrass with a mortar and pestle.

0E0F1BB7B83937A7ADA620249D597D99.jpgDonna_in_Kitchen.jpg
DSC02822.jpgDSC02817.jpgDSC02828.jpg

While we were waiting for the dishes to cook, one of the women taught me some Lao words: how to count to 10 (sounded like: nung, song, sam, see, ha, ock, tet, payet, cao, seep) and words for some foods. The women prepared the eating area on bamboo mats on the floor.

Christmas_Supper_-_group.jpg

We partied at the village chief’s house, with the younger ones passing around rice wine, till about 10 (long after all the other island residents had gone to bed!)

Our mattresses were laid out on the floor in the front room of the home (the family's living room) and we shared the bathroom facilities with the family. At the women's home stay, we had to use a squat toilet and were supposed to sponge bath, but the guys had a regular toilet and shower so we women all snuck in and showered there! There were no screens on the windows in either home, but we had a comfortable mosquito net to keep us safe!

IMG_4271.jpg

Actually, we have encountered very few mosquitos. It's dry season and we have only had a few sprinkles of rain during our whole trip. I've used the umbrella more to keep the sun off than for any rain.

Posted by HosMiniTravels 05:04 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 33) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 »