Crossing borders: from Laos to Vietnam

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 […]

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

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 […]

Onward journeys and getting to Vang Vieng

  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 […]

Kuang Si Waterfalls

    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 […]

Luang Prabang – around the UNESCO listed city

    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 […]

Slowboat down the Mekong – Day 2

    Read Day 1 of the trip here. At 6 am we were already awake, getting ready for Day 2 of our slow boating adventure. We got some breakfast in one of the guesthouses and tasted Lao coffee for the first time: much better than coffee in Thailand! For starters, it wasn’t over-sweetened with copious amounts of sugar!! We bought our supplies for the day ahead. In Pakbeng a lot of family businesses cater for travellers needs and they provide sandwiches, drinks and snacks for the slowboat passengers.  We hopped on the boat and were pleased to see that this boat was much smaller due to having already dropped many local passengers at various villages the previous day. Thankfully the rain also stayed away and although it wasn’t sunny it was still a much brighter and warmer day. We made sure we stayed away from the smokers and had a rather pleasant second day on the boat. It was still a long day, another 7 hours cruising down the Mekong, but again, the scenery made up for it as it took our breath away: With landscape that never gets old slowly swimming by our boat, we made our way further […]

Slowboat down the Mekong – Day 1

    Our first night in Laos was incredibly hot. Our guesthouse air conditioner proved to be useless against the all-absorbing heat, it was radiating out the walls of our room. Later on that night the weather turned and a storm that had been pushing the hot weather ahead of it ensued. It arrived with lightning forks across the night-sky followed by almighty bangs of thunder. The wind was rattling our broken window frame and after a couple of hours of thunder and lightning the rain started to come down. Adam was sitting next to the window for most of the show, impressed by the might of the thunders. I was in bed with head under the duvet getting increasingly stressed out by the thought of having to get unto the Mekong for two solid days on a teeny-weeny boat in this weather…. As morning came, and it was still windy and rainy, we started preparing for the journey and I almost bottled it. In the end, after Adam’s encouragements of ‘Don’t be ridiculous’, I put my reservations behind me to embark on a journey that was meant to be one of the most epic ones of our time in […]

Crossing borders: from Thailand to Laos

    After two days in Chiang Rai the time had come to pack our bags and make our way to the Thai-Lao border. When entering Thailand we received a 30 day visa on arrival and as hard as that was to believe our time in Thailand had now almost come to an end.  While staying in our guesthouse in Chiang Rai we discovered a lovely family owned restaurant just a few minutes down the road. We returned here for our last meal in Thailand and once more enjoyed the amazing food and the hospitality of the owners. I wish I knew what the name of their restaurant is, they served us the best pad Thai in the whole of Thailand!!! With our backpacks weighing us down in the hot midday sun we decided that this time we will try and travel by a nice air conditioned VIP minibus to the border town of Chiang Khong. However when we asked about this at the bus station’s tourist information desk we were directed to a local bus. I am not actually sure whether private buses travel between Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong, previous experiences in Thailand would have suggested yes, as […]

The White Temple

    After Adam had put his foot down and we went off-roading on our first day in Chiang Rai, I insisted we go and see the city’s most famous tourist attraction, The White Temple on our second day.  Before we made our way to get the bus we took all our clothes, shoes and bags that we had been wearing on our ATV adventure the previous day to a laundry service. The ladies were slightly baffled by the state of our clothing which were completely covered in thick orange dust. We desperately needed everything washed though as we were planning to leave Thailand the next day. After a spot of lunch in a lovely little family owned restaurant near our guesthouse we made our way to the central bus station. The White Temple is a half hour bus ride away from the centre of Chiang Rai on a local bus. We asked the tourist information desk to point us to the right platform and also to write down the name of the temple for us in beautifully drawn Thai letters so that we could hand it to the bus driver. We had found that when asking for directions the […]

ATV mountain adventure

    When we arrived in Chiang Rai we were kindly presented with a book of organised tours in our guesthouse. I carefully looked through them, trying to decide which will offer us the best value for our money and the most things to see around the city. And then Adam took one look at Tripadvisor and decided he wanted to do the ATV tour, which is currently the number 1 activity to participate in in Chiang Rai based on the reviews. Adam didn’t want to budge. So despite my careful considerations over what to see in the city and for how much, we signed up for a full day of off-roading an hour outside of the city for 5 times the price then any of the city tours and did no sightseeing. But boy, did we have a good time… 🙂 In case you didn’t know, because I certainly didn’t, ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle. And despite signing up for this pretty last minute, there were no other people signed up for the full day adventure, like us. There were another couple to join us for the afternoon but for the morning we were to have the guides […]