VIETNAM

Crossing borders: from Laos to Vietnam

By on 28th May 2015

We had an amazing time in Laos – what a beautiful country! From our journey down the Mekong, to the beautiful Unesco town of Luang Prabang and the breathtaking scenery of Vang Vieng … It took me by surprise, as Laos was perhaps the country on our itinerary that I knew the least about. And it is definitely a country that I would visit again in a heartbeat. 

Vietnam however promised a big cultural change for the first time in 5 weeks. We had our visas, we had our flights, we were ready to go.
We made our way to Vientiane from Vang Vieng – it takes 4 hours on a bus to get to the capital. We pre-booked a VIP bus for 100000 kips each (£8.33). Tickets for the VIP bus cost slightly more than for a normal bus, so we were hopeful that we ruled out any of the factors that could cause us to end up on one of the notorious ‘hellbuses’ that are so common round here.

Na-ah.

We turned up at the bus station and found no VIP bus (ie. a coach) but a minibus that was already full of disgruntled passengers as said minibus was supposed to have left an hour earlier. We were pointed to the minibus. We thought something wasn’t right – that vehicle is full, and anyway where is the VIP bus we had paid for? Well. We had to get on the minibus anyway if we wanted to get to Vientiane. So we did with trepidation, apologising to the passengers already on board. Turns out there were foldable seats screwed in-between the normal installed chairs. So we had to take our seat on these, squeeze ourselves between two rows of passengers into a space that was nowhere near big enough for a human-being. Not only that, but these seats had no backrests, so Adam and I spent the next 4 hours upright. Here we go: finally we could experience one of those hellish journeys we have heard so much about and were so desperate to avoid…

The driver, in typical Laotian style drove like a madman, so we had to try and stay upright in our seats without falling out or falling on our neighbouring passengers. We might as well have sat on the floor to be honest. There was no one in front of me and I had a clear view of the road ahead. I tried not to look. All I could think about was what if we crash, there is nothing to hold me to this so-called seat, I would fly straight through the windscreen… After about 2 hours I eased up a little bit. Eventually we arrived in Vientiane, slightly shaken up, but in one piece.

We had a few hours to kill in the city before our flight, but we didn’t bother with sightseeing, just went and sat in an Internet cafe for a couple of hours. Here I found out to my greatest delight, that I cannot download or upload my photographs anywhere and I had to make-do with my SD cards and just keep on buying them for the rest of the trip. This was going to be expensive if I carried on shooting in RAW at the same pace…

A major storm was brewing as we set off to make our way to the airport. We quickly hailed a tuktuk in the evening rush our traffic. It looked like it already had passengers, a lady and her two young sons in school uniform, obviously at the end of the day, trying to get home. We felt bad, because as we told the tuktuk driver that we wanted to go to the airport, he took a 180 degree turn and drove us all down the opposite direction. We were wondering if he did that because tourist money was worth more than local money and felt bad for inconveniencing the young family. We got to talking with the lady and she spoke amazing English, which so far in Laos was a rare occurrence. She had such good English that we were soon talking politics and tourism with her. She told us that tourists still don’t really know too much about Laos. And she told us that it is very rare that Lao people can get any kind of financing to buy vehicles, which is why there are so many mopeds on the road – they are the most affordable to buy outright. I bet the same is true for most South-East Asian countries. Turns out she must have been the wife of the tuktuk driver as when it came to paying our fare, she handled all the finances 🙂 This was definitely one of our most memorable journeys, what a lovely family!

We checked in at Vientiene International Airport and had the best airport dinner I think I have ever had, a huge portion of noodle soup with the freshest ingredients:

 

 

We got on our Vietnam Airlines flight and had a really smooth one hour flight to Hanoi, the storm didn’t cause any problems. At the airport we went through immigration with our prearranged visas already glued in, no problem at all. It looked like most people had to queue for a visa on arrival. You can get a visa to Vietnam by requesting it in an email, whereby the consulate sends you a confirmation email by return and you have to take this letter to the Visa on Arrival window at the immigration desk once you arrive at the airport. It looked like it was worth getting the visa in advance, just to avoid the long queue! And for the peace of mind.

Next we had to get from the airport, which is about 45 minutes outside the city, into our pre-booked guesthouse. But stay tuned for this fun story, I am going to leave it for an another day -it deserves its own blog post…
In the mean-time here are some more photos of Vang Vieng. Stay tuned for photos from Hanoi in the next post.

 

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LAOS

One day in Vang Vieng (and how to do tubing sensibly)

By on 26th May 2015

Vang Vieng is undoubtedly most famous (or infamous) for tubing. Thanks to tubing the town has become a favourite stop for backpackers travelling through Laos. In fact for many this is the main reason for coming to the country (which I think is a real shame as Laos is beautiful and offers so much more to travellers than that). One New Zealand newspaper once wrote that ‘if teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng’. With stories like this I wasn’t really sure about coming here and the town was not originally planned for us as a stop. However since Vang Vieng is located en-route between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, we felt we might as well stop for a couple of nights and see what the place had to offer. 

After a terrifying, but beautifully scenic 7 hour bus journey through the mountains of Central Laos we arrived at Vang Vieng bus station just outside the town. We shared a tuk-tuk into the centre with two young British lads who we also had lunch with earlier on our scheduled bus stop somewhere halfway on the journey. We each paid 20000 kips for the tuk-tuk (about £1.60) which sounds really cheap, but we all knew town was only 2km away which made this a very lucrative 5-minute drive for the tuk-tuks indeed. A lot of backpackers tried to haggle the fare, and this is usually an accepted practice, however these tuk-tuk drivers clearly all had an agreement amongst themselves about what the fare was and none of them budged. I had researched earlier the alternatives of getting to the town centre and knew that walking-it would take about half an hour with our bags in the hot afternoon sun. So, we accepted the fare and got our ride into town. We saw many backpackers setting off on the walk into town, not accepting the relatively high price, but to be honest we were glad to have had the good sense and got the tuk-tuk, it would have been a loooong walk…

In town we said goodbye to the guys and set off to find our guesthouse. The tuk-tuk driver didn’t seem to understand which guesthouse we wanted so he just dropped us at the intersection of the two main roads. We had no idea where our accommodation was, how big the town was, weather the guesthouse was anywhere near the centre, etc. and we started to feel just a teeny bit lost. A kind local girl must have seen our clueless expressions and asked us where we needed to go. It turned out that she actually worked in that same guesthouse! What a coincidence! She kindly offered to walk us there.

 

 

The main streets of Vang Vieng feature lots of guest houses, bars, restaurants and tour agencies. And even though we were here in the low season, the place was buzzing with backpackers. Sure the town and most eating and drinking establishments were nowhere near at capacity, but it was still busy.

We found the infamous ‘Friends bars’ – these are the bars where the TV series, Friends is played on loop on giant screens. When I first heard about these I thought they would be really tacky, but actually I really liked it 🙂       I love Friends anyway and the bars had a really laid-back feel about them – literally. There were no chairs just massive cushions. Guests would just lie down and watch Friends with cheap drinks and dinner. What’s not to like?!

That evening Adam and I had a disagreement about what to do the following day. Adam wanted to have a go at tubing and I really wasn’t that keen, but wanted to go kayaking instead. He managed to talk me round in the end, and the extortionate price of kayaking also helped swing the argument in favour of tubing.
Funnily enough I think that while we both really enjoyed tubing, I perhaps enjoyed it a bit more than Adam. And that’s purely down to the way tubing turned out for us.

Being a non-drinker I didn’t really see the point of tubing at first. And although I had heard about it before, I had no idea what a tube actually was. ‘It’s the inner rubber tube of a tractor tyre’, Adam explained. Right. I had never seen under a tractor tyre before, so still had no clue.

So if you are as clueless as me about what a tube is, here you go:

 

 

‘Tubing’ involves sitting in one of these and floating down the Nam Song River. Why this pass-time has become notorious is because a lack of regulation and safety measures meant that lots of foreigners have died in the activities that go hand in hand with tubing. There used to be many many bars on the riverbank. Bar staff would throw a rope out and pull tubers into the bar as they floated down the river. Getting drunk and recklessly jumping into the river via rope swings and hitting rocks, or drowning in the river caused as many as 25 tourists deaths each year. The Lao government was under pressure to crack down on this practice and towards the end of 2012 they did. Most of the bars were shut and all the rope swings, zip wires, etc were removed. With stories like these circulating, I was a bit apprehensive, but mainly because I just didn’t know what to expect.

The next morning we decided to get up early and get down to the river to make most of our one day in Vang Vieng. We walked to the tube rental place in town and hired two tubes and a tuk-tuk ride from a guy who could have passed for a Laotian Godfather. The tuk-tuk drove us down to the start of the tubing course, about 3 km out of town. All this cost us 260000 kips – 55000 each for the tube rental, 60000 each for the deposit, which would be returned as long as we got back by 6pm and 30000 for our tuktuk ride. As we did return well before 6pm, we got our deposit back, so all in all this only cost us 140000 kips or around £12 for the two of us. Not bad for a days entertainment..!


So here is how to do tubing differently and safely:

Our experience of tubing was definitely a toned-down version. There were various factors contributing to this:

– low season meant nowhere near as many people as usual on the river

– it was also the end of the dry season, which meant low river levels, slow river flows and a lot fewer river rapids

– we’re a couple where one half doesn’t really drink very much

– we started earlier than most people to make the most of the day. Most people start around midday.
All of the above meant that we floated down the river at a very slow, but incredibly relaxing pace. I think Adam was a bit bored, so he was in charge of steering both of us around rocks, a few rapids and a few bridges, etc while I was taking photos. I was just enjoying the scenery :-). We still got a couple of drinks just to honour ‘the real tubing experience’. There are still a few bars at the beginning of the course. I actually think they are placed rather unfortunately right at the beginning and then there are no bars for most of the way. If safety was a real concern, why don’t they put the bars somewhere along the middle of the tubing-course, so those who get drunk don’t have to float for that much longer?

The scenery along the way was beautiful:

 

 

To start with the weather wasn’t very warm so we kept our T-shirts on. About an hour into our floating the sun came out with all it’s might and we got nicely sunburnt, so we kept our T-shirts on to protect us from the sun!! Problem is that even if you put sunscreen on the river just washes it all off. Sunburn is inevitable. When the river is slow, you’re out there baking for over 3 hours. I don’t know how people wearing just swimsuits don’t get burnt to a toast!!
The scenery is beautiful though, and for that reason I did not regret tubing for one second. This may be a very different type of tubing than most people, who come here are looking for, but I think this just shows that you do not have to be drunk to enjoy the experience. You can still grab a drink if you wish in one of the few bars along the river. Stories of drunken shenanigans should not deter you if you want a more sensible, but equally memorable experience. Or there’s always kayaking.

 

 

For the rest of the day we chilled out in a bar with the most fantastic view over the lime karst mountains of Vang Vieng and were eating lots of sticky mango rice, which is my new love since our cookery school day in Chiang Mai. 

 

 

Adam also got his first haircut of the trip in a makeshift barbershop that was set up in a garage. The barber had all the gear, if a bit old and tatty, and he did a really good job. It cost about £2. 🙂

 

 

We went for a walk around the town just to soak up the scenery. Definitely my favourite landscape of our trip so far!

 

 

In the evening we went out into the famous Vang Vieng nightlife to get a few drinks and immerse ourselves in all the known cliches of the town. Truth is, there is so much to do in this town. You still get the party crowd, but a more mature type of tourism is quickly emerging. After the reigning in of tubing tourists have now started visiting Vang Vieng to take advantage of its beautiful natural setting and for activities like kayaking, caving, cycling and rockclimbing. We would have loved to have spent more time here and try some of these things! Maybe next time 🙂 But tomorrow would be an early start for us and all-day travelling to Vietnam!

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LAOS

Onward journeys and getting to Vang Vieng

By on 14th May 2015

 

This blog post is about planning and travelling from one place to another. I’m afraid it is not a topic that I can document very well with photographs and even the parts where there was some stunning scenery, I was too terrified to take proper photographs…. See the story further down…
And for this reason I thought I would decorate this post with some random photos from Luang Prabang, this gem of a city in Northern Laos that I adored! 🙂

When we received our Vietnamese visas from the Vietnamese Embassy in Luang Prabang we immediately sat down and started planning our journey to Vietnam and the rest of our route in Laos. We found out that getting a sleeper bus through Laos into Hanoi would take 20 hours and we heard and read quite horrifying stories about the conditions onboard. Some passengers reported having to sleep on the floor and that even if you had a reclined seat, the space is actually so small, that you cannot sit up. Stories of no working toilets onboard and dangerous roads and bus drivers were also doing the rounds in traveller circles so we decided not to explore this option any further. There are no trains between Laos and Vietnam and it seemed that the most convenient way for us was to fly. We got onto Skyscanner and to our surprise found out that the cheapest tickets were costing £100 each between the two capitals Viantiane and Hanoi. We could have flown from Luang Prabang but we still wanted to explore a bit more of Laos, so we decided to fly from Viantiene and stop on the way in backpackers Mecca Vang Vieng. So we coughed up the £200 and bought our flights to Hanoi. 

This was the second time we were horrified by the prices of flights in the region. Where were all the cheap flights like everyone said there would be? I was hoping for the £15-20 flights, but so far they were just a myth… 

Since the cheapest flights were already £100 each, we didn’t really have a choice in the date of travel, as all other days were a lot more expensive. This meant we had to cut our time in Laos shorter by a couple of days, but would still have time for a short trip to Vang Vieng.

In Luang Prabang, just like in any other major tourist destination in South-East Asia, there are many many tourist ticket offices lining the streets. Arranging tours, excursions or any onward journeys should not be too difficult. On our last afternoon here we went into one of these offices in the hope that they would still have bus tickets available for us for travelling to Vang Vieng the following day. Luckily they did! We bought tickets for the VIP bus (although again we knew VIP really did not mean anything and we could end up on any kind of vehicle). Each ticket cost 140000 kips (£11) including our tuk-tuk transfer to the coach station in the morning.

The next morning we said goodbye to the lovely guesthouse we had been staying in in Luang Prabang, had a hearty breakfast and got on our tuk-tuk to get transferred to the coach station. The coach was actually ok, we lucked out!! It looked ok from the outside anyway and for the first hour of the journey it was ok. The seats were very uncomfortable though and halfway through the 6 hour journey I could not put it off any longer and had to go to the toilet which was in the belly if the bus, where all the luggage a were stored. To get to the toilet I had the almost walk in a squat position and climb over dozens of backpacks. When I finally made it there was no light, so I had to manoeuvre myself into the loo in darkness while the bus was crazily swaying on the mountain roads we were now driving on. It wasn’t easy, but I managed and climbed back onboard successfully. 

As I said by now we were driving along the mountain roads between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng and if I want to be perfectly honest, I was terrified!

We got a preview of things to come when just as the bus was pulling away from the bus station it started swaying from side to side like a boat on the uneven dirt surface on the way out to the main road. The main road wasn’t much better: bumpy and full of holes, but we had actually been expecting much worse, so we settled in for the journey ahead. It was all ok until the bus started climbing up the mountain roads into the towering mountains ahead. It just kept on driving further and further up and round and round the mountains. The roads started to get narrower and narrower and dangerously close to the edge. We literally could not see the road anymore from the windows of the bus, it felt like we were teetering and swaying above a 2 mile drop with each bend in the road. And that’s not all! The driving style of most drivers on the roads was definitely something to get used to.. How can I say this? At first it may seem like they are all maniacs..! Big vehicles like buses and trucks happily overtake anything on the narrow road, and they especially love doing it while approaching a blind bend ! It’s crazy! They also beep their horns constantly, which I can understand when overtaking on bends, but perhaps if they just stuck to their lanes and overtook when safe then they wouldn’t need to constantly lean on their horns!! 

Anyway, amazingly, we were never really in any real danger, and the drivers obviously know what they are doing. We noticed that, unlike back home, where everyone is expected to look out for smaller drivers, here the bigger vehicles definitely rule the roads. If you are smaller than it’s your responsibility to look after yourself as the big vehicles certainly won’t think twice about cutting you off or driving in the oncoming lane. 
After a while we got used to the driving style and learnt to trust the driver. And we tried not to look out the window too much. Which was of course incredibly hard as they scenery was absolutely spectacular!! Mountains upon mountains, green valleys, just amazing, I was so impressed, the landscape really took my breath away. 

After about 7 hours we arrived in Vang Vieng, also know sand Laos backpacker central, home to the infamous tubing experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kuang Si Waterfalls

By on 11th May 2015

 

 

Finally by our third day in Luang Prabang the sky had cleared up and the first weak rays of the sun started to peak through.
The previous afternoon we had hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Kuang Si Waterfalls. The driver charged us 40000 kips each (£3.30) for the return journey to the falls based on sharing with 4 other people. We just had to trust the driver to solicit his other fares. Luckily he managed to do it and the following day we were picked up from our guesthouse with 4 other passengers already sitting on the benches of the songthew. They were a couple from Israel, an Australian girl and a girl from Germany. Again, I found that in the backs of these songthews, in such close proximity to each other conversation starts flowing easily. Inevitably we all start recounting our travelling histories: where we’re from, where we’re going, how long we’re travelling, and various funny or horrifying travel tales will be exchanged. The journey to the waterfalls took around 50 minutes each way, so plenty of time to get to know each other, ask for tips or get ideas for new destinations to visit. We told tales of our journey down the Mekong and collected wisdom on our upcoming trip to Vietnam.

We finally arrived at the entrance of the park where we agreed that we would meet again in 2 hours time. The 2 hours were suggested to us by the driver as he was going to wait for us and take us all back to the city. This is a routine way of visiting Kuang Su, but if you are ever in this area, let me give you a tip: arrange for at least a 3 hour visit. There is a lot to see and you will want to hang around, explore, swim, take some pictures, have a picnic, etc. Of course we had no idea what it was going to be like. We thought we’ll just walk into the forest and there will be the waterfalls. Actually Kuang Si is a collection of many waterfalls and lagoons and you will want stop at each and every one of them. If you do, it will take much longer to get to the main falls. There is also a bear sanctuary right at the beginning, that you may want to visit. We also climbed right to the top of the waterfalls and so we had no time left for swimming.  So if you don’t want to have to rush, you will need 3 hours at least. 

The entry fee into the park was 20000 kips each (around £1.60). We hadn’t had time to grab some breakfast before getting on the songthew this morning, so our main priority was to find something small that would see us through the next 3 hours, until we were back in Luang Prabang. Luckily, just like any other attraction where tourists congregate, there were plenty of souvenir and food stalls set up right by the entrance to the park. We found these amazing chicken skewers, that were basically a quarter of the chicken (and only the best part of it) secured into a stick of bamboo that had been split in the middle to allow for a tight hold on the big piece of meat. The chicken was then barbecued to perfection. This cost 25000 kips (£2),  but it was exactly what we were after. And it seemed this little doggy also fancied a bit of it and he followed the scent of the chicken for a while. Adam teased him a bit. He did get a little chicken just for being super cute.

We set off on our walk to the waterfall and the first attraction we passed by was a little bear sanctuary which was home to some rescued Asiatic Black Bears and some Malayan Sun Bears. We saw quite a few of the bears play-fighting with each other or having a lunchtime nap. 

We also by chance spotted the biggest spider I had ever seen dangling right in front of us on a string of its web. It was about the size of my palm and I don’t think this picture gives back just how big this spider was… We quickly moved on…

As we walked further and further on the woodland path the waterfalls and lagoons started appearing. The water was such beautiful turquoise, it looked almost Photoshopped! 🙂 There were some people bathing and swimming in the blue lagoons, but we decided to carry on towards the main waterfalls. 

After a 20 minute walk following the direction of the path and the smaller waterfalls, we finally reached the 60m high waterfall cascading down over the rocks. It was absolutely beautiful, and it could be admired from a wooden bridge erected in front of it. The bridge was already heaving with tourists taking in the beautiful sight and taking photographs. 

Once we crossed the bridge we noticed that the signs pointing to a narrow path that disappeared up the hill. We decided to follow the path and climb up to the top of the waterfall. The path turned out to be really slippery and steep and I was glad we had the good sense of wearing our trekking shoes! 

Some people attempted the climb in their flip-flops, I don’t know how they did it!! We hauled ourselves up on the steep path with the help of the branches and roots of the trees growing on the hill, hooking our feet into the roots, pulling ourselves up by the branches as if they were ropes. Eventually we made it up and were already scratching our heads thinking about the way down! 

At the top of the hill it was so quiet, you would never have thought the serene blue pool of water would turn into a rumbling waterfall just below..!

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore at the top much as we were running out of time and had to rush back down the slippery way we came up! Luckily the way down was nowhere near as bad as we had thought it would be. We also bumped into the American couple, Zack and Laura, who we had shared travel stories with over some bottles of Beer Lao a couple of days before! They were on their way up, we were on our way down.

We got back to our tuk-tuk and our group in time and headed back to the city.

If you are visiting Kuang Si waterfalls,  there is a butterfly park 300 metres down the road from the forest towards the village. Negotiate enough time with your tuk-tuk driver so that you can visit here as well! Unfortunately we didn’t have the time as the rest of our group weren’t interested in the butterflies. 

Back in Luang Prabang we spent a leisurely last afternoon drinking lovely coffee and arranged for our onward travel for the following day – talk about last minute!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FEATURED | LAOS

Luang Prabang – around the UNESCO listed city

By on 3rd May 2015

 

 

Unfortunately the bad weather we had been having continued for 2 days out of the 3 we spent in Luang Prabang. We got drenched a couple of times by heavy rain while out and about, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the town, especially as we only had limited time. 

Luang Prabang is a city in north central Laos and it lies at the the confluence of two rivers: the Mekong and Nam Khan. The city used to be the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover in 1975, when the country shut it’s doors to visitors for almost 20 years. The whole of the old town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as Laos was selected the world’s best tourist destination for 2013, the city is becoming more and more popular with tourists.

The old town is absolutely beautiful with a mixture of French and Lao architecture (Laos was a French colony), it has a certain European feel to it. The main street in the old quarter is called Sisavangvong and it is quite amusingly also known as ‘Tourist Street’ or ‘White Man’s Street’…

The whole old quarter, i.e. where most tourists are, is located on a narrow peninsula between the two rivers. There are some really nice restaurants lining both riverbanks. There are also some viewpoints and a bamboo bridge to cross each river. These bridges actually disappear when it’s the rainy season as both rivers swell. We were lucky to be here when both were visible and for a small fee you can walk over both bridges. 

Luang Prabang is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples – there are more than 30 of them in this relatively small city. Apparently around 80 percent of the male population of Laos live in Buddhist monasteries between the ages of 8-14 for a few months or a few years, and there are bright orange robed monks and novices walking all around the streets of Luang Prabang.

We visited a few of the temples, around town, most notably Wat Chom Si and Wat Xieng Thong.

Wat Xieng Thong, also known as the Golden City Temple, is a temple complex consisting of more than twenty shrines, pavilions and residences as well as some beautiful gardens. One of its shrines is also home to a large collection of Buddha statues. 

The walkway up to Phousi Hill is unmissable if you are walking around town. The main stairway is opposite the Royal Palace Museum, just where the Night Market starts. It takes over 300 large steps to get to the top, but well worth it to get an almost 360 degree view of Luang Prabang. However if you walk up on this side of the hill, make sure you walk down on the other side – much more to see there! 

The city is also famous for its culinary scene, but truthfully, having just spent a month in Thailand, we found the food in Lao more expensive, and nowhere near as nice. Chefs here are very generous with sugar and other sweeteners. We simply could not drink the fresh fruit juices, because they were loaded with so much sugar, I could not taste the fruit. However we did like the bakeries where the French influence clearly shows. Suddenly we were eating bread again after not having touched any in Thailand (apart from some guilty pleasure slices of peanut butter toast) and we could also buy really nice croissants with our coffees. The coffee of Lao is lovely, much nicer than what we had in Thailand, so we were happy about that. We could have lattes again! 😉

The Night Market in Luang Prabang is fantastic, with really good quality arts and crafts for sale, beautiful souvenirs and lovely clothes as well. We walked through there a couple of times and I wanted to buy so many things, but shopping is one thing that being a longer term traveller does not allow for. No space in the bag!

We also went to the Food Market a couple of times for some cheap dinners: for 15000 kips (£1.25) you can fill up your plate from buffets like this:

While in Luang Prabang, we also had to make arrangements for our visa to Vietnam, which was going to be the next destination after Laos. We had researched our options previously and we knew that we should be able to apply for visas in person at the Vietnamese embassy here. We walked for 20 minutes to the Vietnamese consulate in pouring rain and found it had just closed for lunch…it was 11.30 am and it wasn’t to open until 2.30pm! A rather leisurely lunch.. Actually turns out a lot of official places and museums in Luang Prabang close for two hours at lunch time and reopen for only a couple more hours in the afternoon.
We jumped on a tuktuk on the way back to save us another 20 minutes walk in the pouring rain. The driver, being a shrewd businessman, and knowing there was no other tuktuks or taxis around charged us twice as much than it should have cost. His smile said it all: pay up, or walk home in the rain 🙂

We returned to the embassy after lunch and applied for our visas. There was a form to fill in to which we had to attach our photographs and we had to pay $70 each to get them the following day. We returned the next day and just like that, as easy as that could be, we had our visas to Vietnam! 

That evening we had dinner with two other travellers, Tracey and George, who we met on our trip down the Mekong into Luang Prabang. Actually as this is quite a small city, we found ourselves bumping into and recognising quite a few people from our boat!

A nice article about Luang Prabang can be found here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/laos/10714633/Luang-Prabang-Laos-The-City-of-Gold.html

 

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