Since our last blog post, so much has happened it seems shocking that it has only been six days! I am currently in a small village in Laos sitting writing this blog while the rest of the group are rowing a canoe up and down the Mekong River! Can’t exactly complain right now?
Just before we left for Chiang Rai we met our tour leader, our previously leader’s brother and the other ten people we will be travelling with. They are some of the most relaxed, kindest and wonderful people I could have imagined meeting travelling.
On the way to Laos we stopped off to see the famous White Temple of Chiang Rai. The White Temple is quite nice and had some pretty strange statues. For example, as you walk in there are loads of hands coming up ‘from hell’. Honestly, I didn’t realise that Buddhists believed in heaven/hell however they apparently do!
Laos is one of the most beautiful countries I have been to and has a such wonderfully kind culture. Laos is also one of the poorest countries I have been to. Without going into too much history, Laos have been invaded by the USA and French, and due to the Vietnam/US war is still suffering from having over 80 million unexploded bombs existing in Laos since WWII. It is the most heavily bombed country and is still surviving. It has/still is an amazing experience travelling around a meeting so many people – who cannot do more to help you – and learning how they live their lives.
As part of our ‘Stray Asia’ tour we have a homestay visit in a tiny village in Laos – this really is off the beaten track! In order to get there we have a six hour boat ride from Houay Xai to Paknuey. The boat ride was pretty smooth until our tour leader decided to start pulling our the life jackets as a ‘precaution’ due to the high water levels. Cheers for the scare Chao!
*Claire with Chao
Staying in someone’s home is a bizarre experience. We arrived and dumped all our bags in the living room. Because of the high rain fall (not that is has actually stopped us doing anything but swimming yet!) we couldn’t go swimming therefore Chao took us to the village’s main ‘attraction’, a bridge.
In the evening we took part in a traditional Baci welcoming/good luck ceremony. It was a very strange but interesting experience and the whole village turned out to welcome us. A traditional ceremony includes being given a number of cotton bands we had to wear for 3-10 days for good luck (or could place them in a temple under our ‘birth day’ buddha), having even number shots of Lao Lao ‘Rice Whiskey’ and a lot of chanting. My favourite bit of the evening has to be when a bug came in and we all ran screaming – and then the young local boy coming in to save the ‘westerners’!
Back on the boat from the homestay we travelled for 7 hours to Luang Prabang, stopping at Pak Ou caves. The caves was ok, it was filled with 1000 buddha status, however its not the best religious spot we’ve seen so far.
Luang Prabang is a relaxed town with lots to do including, the rice experience, waterfalls and a bear sanctuary. The rice experience was ok…we learnt about the 14 stages of making rice, however not sure it was worth £32 each. The waterfall was unfortunately mostly closed due to the heavy rain, however it was lovely (yes Aoife) walking around the bear sanctuary and running across the bridge getting soaked through. That evening we went out for a ‘few’ drinks – £1 cocktails thank you! However, then spent the next day running around the activities.
Travelling to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang was far too long, but must admit Vang Vieng was totally worth it. On the bus it occurred to Duncan that the rules of the road in Laos is a bit like the F1, you must overtake anyone in front! The buses around here do make you feel on edge most of the time, luckily my travel sickness pills knock me out for most of it.
We made it to Vang Vieng pretty late, and while half the group decided to get quadbikes, we went for a traditional Lao massage – very similar to a Thai massage but more focused on pressure points. Of course, as Luang Prabang is a party town we obviously had a few drinks that night…
On the way to Vientiane we went to visit a cave, as you can imagine quite a few of us were feeling a bit rough, so instead of walking up the 300 odd stairs went for a swim.
We did a half-day tour of Vientiane before heading to our hostel including; the COPE museum, the Stupa and the Victory Gate. The COPE museum was pretty horrific learning about all the bombings of Laos and how much it still affects them. However the Victory Gate was brilliant. The history behind the Victory Gate was that the USA paid Laos of build a runway, however they took the money and built a victory gate from when they got independence from the US.
I think that covers the last few days. Currently we are relaxing in a Riverside Spring Resort and will keep you all updated.