February 2018
  • Day27

    End of 4000 islands

    February 27, 2018 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ -10 °C

    For lunch we really wanted to go the Chez Fred etc Lea, which is where we have been having breakfast but it was shut! But we were more than happy to have lunch at the amazing Indian restaurant. After lunch we decided to try out a pool that we had seen on our cycle round the island. To be honest the pool was pretty grim but it was nice to get a bit of exercise after our very lazy morning. As Don Khon was such a small island it was so easy to bump into people that you have seen around or met in a restaurant etc so it had a really lovely village feel. In particular, we met a lovely retired couple from Devon who were on their first solo, unorganised, trip. They were such a pleasure to meet and share tips and ideas of things to do or restaurants to go to, so we planned to celebrate our last night on the island with them. Fantastic food, fantastic company, our first taste of....... an incredible end to an wonderful time in Laos!

    So as we are at the end of our 2nd country I thought I'd put down a few shocks that I just didn't know about or expect when coming to SEA. Plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic... I don't think I've seen so much plastic in my life and not just the use of it but the disaster that it causes. There is litter just everywhere because the villagers just can't dispose of it. Everything you get or buy will come in plastic. We have to specifically stop them putting anything we buy in plastic. Even takeaway drinks come in a plastic bag! It's truly horrible and saddening to see the effects of using so much plastic. We drink about 4-6 litres of water a day in this heat. Imagine if everyone is doing this. How many plastic bottles alone are being used! Luckily in Laos we have been able to use water fountains in hostels and if we can't we have a filter so aren't really contributing to the figures, but it's truly so sad.

    UXO caused deaths in Laos. Its unbelievable to think this even still happens after so many years since the wars. 25% of the countries villages are still in UXOs and in the last decade there have been over 300 deaths in Laos due to these.
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  • Day23

    Si Pan Don (4000 Islands)

    February 23, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Well after a rocky start the sleeper bus was actually OK. It wasn't our best night sleep but we were able to nap in parts. Will couldn't fit in the bed so it was a bit of a squeeze. We arrived into Pakse and decided to keep moving south and just spend our last week in Si Pan Don instead of constantly travelling. With sour cream onion pringles and chocolate biscuits (actually turned out to be chocolate covered jelly) for breakfast we jumped straight onto the next bus to Si Pan Don. When we arrived we saw a few familiar faces including the lovely Didi and Leo! It was great to see them even just for the short couple of minutes. They were starting their journey to Cambodia. There are so many scams with regards to the border crossing so I'm really not looking forward to this part of the journey!

    We took a lovely boat ride to Don Khon and then checked into our bungalow. We were absolutely starving, luckily on our journey in we tagged a couple of places we wanted to eat. So first stop was a local Tamil owned Indian restaurant. I've been craving home cooked for a while and this hit the spot!

    The next day we had the day off to just read our books, begin learning Vietnamese and enjoy sunset on the tip of Don Det.

    As we had a really lazy day, today we decided to have the complete opposite. We were up and out by 6am and hired bicycles by 6:15am! We cycled for half an hour, seeing some of sun rise and caught a private boat to see the Irawaddy Dolphins. Irawaddy Dolphins are salt water dolphins and not usually found in fresh water rivers but this part of the Mekong River has 3 of the species left. It was really beautiful and such a lovely start to the day, we saw all 3 dolphins only a couple of meters away.

    We then cycled around the island to see various viewpoints, beaches and waterfalls. It got to about 12pm and the heat was getting quite intense and we were starving as hadn't had breakfast so we went for brunch. We spent the afternoon cycling around Don Det, the connecting islands, and finished the day with a well deserved dinner!

    For our final day we decided to plan our big move onto Cambodia and relax before the hectic time ahead travelling across the border and in Siem Reap. The 4000 islands are really lovely and relaxed, definitely not to be missed when visiting Laos!
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  • Day21

    Whistle stop trip to Vientiane

    February 21, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    We only have a 30 day visa in Laos and its dawned on us we are quickly running short, but still have so much to see so I think the next couple of places are going to be whistle stop tours. Next stop the capital, Vientiane.

    For once we had a great night sleep, no Cockerells or manic dogs, and for once we were up and out early! We picked up our breakfast and lunch and headed to the bus station. The morning bus we wanted to catch was only a local one... after our experience with locals travelling when in Huay Xai let's just say we weren't so keen. We went for it anyway, the bus was absolutely jam packed with rice sacks, luggage, locals, us and a German guy on the very back seats. We waited outside the bus until the very last minute! While waiting the bus driver was cutting into a strange plant and eating something from inside. I asked him what he was and he offered me one... it was a maggot!!! I did not want to eat that before a 8 hour journey which was no doubt going to make me travel sick anyway!

    The journey although not as bad as we thought it might be was still very rough. We were constantly being bounced out of our seats and holding on for dear life, of course there weren't seat belts. We were being thrown out of our seats so much that our mi band pedometer thought were walking and by lunch time we had done our 10,000 steps even though we had barely done 100! For lunch we were very excited to have our omelette sandwich but we're very disappointed, we opened them up to find laughing cow cheese and salad. Not ideal but food all the same!

    We eventually got to bus station in Vientiane and of course the station was miles out of town. The haggling begam with the tuk tuk driver saying 50,000 kip each. I laughed at him and said 10,000 Kip each person, he said no, so I said 20,000 to which he said no 50,000 for the 3 of us. I don't think his maths was great so we ended up with a bargain ☺️ We started walking to our hostel after being dropped off central and the heavens opened. Luckily we weren't so far from the hostel and got in just in the nick of time. However, it's so bad that we weren't able to go out for dinner so ate our rations of an apple, banana, longan berries and coconut crunch sticks while watching peaky blinders.

    The next day it rained once again but we went to book our bus ticket, saw endless wats and took a bus ride to Buddha Park. Buddha Park was created by a guy who wanted to portray the Buddhism and Hinduism sculptures. It was different and definitely worth the small bus ride out of town. We then visited Laos very own Arc de Triumph, Patuxay and finished the afternoon sipping a pineapple and coconut shake and grabbing dinner before getting our 10.5 hour sleeper bus to Pakse.

    We arrived at the station with an hour and half to spare only to be told the bus is leaving at 7pm! It was exactly 7 when we arrived and the bus was completely empty! Phew we made it. I think we were spoilt by the sleeper train. It's not quite the luxury we had on the sleeper train... Let's see how the night goes...

    Ok I was going to stop the blog for the day and update in the next footprint but this is too funny. So as I mentioned we jumped on the bus at 7pm and off we go. Journey felt like it was going OK, but all of a suddenly the bus turned around drove back to the station. God knows why it left an hour and half early just to turn around, go back to the station and pick up everyone else. No wonder the bus was so empty! It's now fully packed and off we go again!
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  • Day21

    Phonsavan

    February 21, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Phonsavan isn't usually a destination for most travellers as its quite a long journey to get to it and it only has one thing to see. The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. It consists of stone Jars scattered around the valleys and foothills of the phonsavan area which were believe to have been used for bodies. So we began the 5 hour journey and met a lovely couple Ryan and Roberta from London and Staines who we chatted with for a lot of the journey. Again the journey felt ridiculously long and the roads were very windy. The minivan was quite an old one with no seat belts so the journey wasn't great. But... What a treat... The bus station was actually in the town centre! No tuk tuk scamming required! Basically everytime we've taken a journey in a minivan in both Laos and Thailand they drop you off out of town and then the tuk tuk make you pay over the odds to drop you off. To be honest it's a very unwelcoming way of entering a new town as you instantly become annoyed with the scam. Anyway we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. We checked into a hostel which was a really nice twin room with a terrace so we could do our washing! (It really is the little things!)

    We went to a lovely restaurant called Simmalys. It was unbelievably cheap, yummy food and wow the portions.... they were huge!! We actually ended up going here for breakfast, lunch takeaway and dinner for our duration in Phonsavan!

    From about 3am we were woken by a Cockerell and manic dogs that just wouldn't stop barking. It wasn't great! The next day we paired up with Ryan and Roberta to see the Plain of Jars the next day. We had a luxury minibus all to ourselves and it was great fun. We saw 3 different sites that have been fully excavated and are now safe from bombies. It didn't take long to see the sites so we were back by mid afternoon, just in time for a nap ☺️

    We then met up with Roberta and Ryan for drinks and dinner. I'd say a very restful and fulfilling day.
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  • Day15

    To Vang Vieng

    February 15, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ☁️ -12 °C

    I don't think we will ever get used to Lao-ish time. We decided to book the bus trip through the hostel. We were told a tuk tuk will pick us up at 8:30am and the bus would leave at 9am. The tuk tuk picked us up at 8:50am and then proceeded to pick up another 8 people. Luckily everything is on Lao-ish time and our minivan hadn't even started loading up. The journey begins. The journey was actually one of the best we've taken, comfortable and the driver drove like an old man so it was actually nice and smooth! I even had a couple of naps 😊 As its Chinese New Year tomorrow, the price of hostels are pretty high so we decided to stay in a dorm which turned out to be great. A hot powerful shower, comfy bed and a rooftop with a beautiful view of sunset, see pic below.

    Today would have been my dad's 78th birthday and although I feel pretty home sick I'm also so thankful. In terms of my health I literally couldn't be happier. Normally this time of year I'm really ill and I pretend to get on with normality. This year I've possibly had the most stressful couple of months since buying a flat and losing my job and yet I've not had a single attack. Touch wood, I'm done with it and when I come back to the UK I'd love to begin my path to raising awareness of non-epileptic disorder, something I've suffered with for nearly 7 years.

    I decided to have a night in reading my book while Will decided to hit the town. There are two bars in Vang Vieng that in the evening give out free Lao Lao, of course that's where Will went! I think he had quite the merry night!

    In the morning we went to the climb up the local view point. We left a lot later than expected, *cough* Will slept... I wonder why... but that did not stop us. It was a very very sweaty, very hot, very steep hike up to the top of Big Pha Nger, but such a lovely lovely day. We then cambered down and did its smaller sister Pha Nger. It was so peaceful and although a bit hazy a really amazing view. Altogether we walked for 5 hours and then decided to get a tuk tuk back to save an hour of walking. We stopped on the river side of the town for a well deserved Grilled Tilapia, salad and fried rice. ☺️ What a great find. The owner and his family were so welcoming, we were the only tourists there and he asked us to join them on their table to drink Beer Lao. It was so much fun. The family were already very drunk when we joined and it was so interesting how you can have so much fun with botched Lao and English speaking. The owner then invited us for a wedding the next day. We didn't know if he was serious but got ready for him to pick us up and he did. Neither of us had clothes suitable for a wedding so we felt very odd. But what an incredible day!! Everyone welcomed us from the very beginning and loved having sooo many pictures taken with us. Their clothes were so colourful and beautiful, it was such an honour to be invited. They insisted on us drinking lots, eating and doing a lot of Laos dancing. Also wow, can the Laos drink. We experienced a taster of this yesterday when we sat with the family but didn't realise they would do it for an entire day! Every glass of Beer Lao they poured they followed by "full" which means down it. The first couple we joined in but it was only 11am!

    At one point I nipped to the loo and came back to see Will teaching the men how to do the macerena. The guys were completely fixated on learning this dance and thought they were the coolest people on earth! They even made Will do it so they could record it on their phones so they could practise. Later on in the night a Hollywood song came on and I taught them my attempts of bollywood dancing too. Everyone was so friendly!

    We felt so guilty that we hadn't paid for anything so we asked the owner of the restaurant how we can gift money. We paid 200,000 Kip between the two of us which bought them 24 bottles of beer and they went wild for it! They did a huge announcement presenting us gifting the crates to the bride and groom and then we had our own special dance with them. They then invited us back to their house for even more drinks and dancing. It was 7pm and it was time to get out of the madness of constant drinking so we started walking to the town centre approx 1km, but soon realised this was going to be difficult, so we found some guests we had been drinking with and jumped in the back of their pick-up truck. Another thing off the bucket list. Today was by far the most welcoming and most incredible day of our journey so far. We have had small snippets of the Laos hospitality but this was just incredible. We can't wait to see more of Laos. We were only supposed to spend a couple of days in Vang Vieng but think we will be here a bit longer.

    The next day we hired a scooter and visited 2 caves and the blue lagoon 1. Although really busy it was still pretty fun to watch people dive off the top of a tree into the pool. In the evening we had dinner and chilled with a couple of brits that were staying in the same hotel playing President, a pretty fun card game. Obviously Dr Will as he is now being named everywhere was president and I was Vice Donkey 😂

    The next morning we woke up very early and on the spur of the moment decided its time to move on. We didn't have a clue where our next stop would be so we got to the bus station early so we could decide. Phonsavan was the winner!
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  • Day14

    Last and best day in Luang Prabang

    February 14, 2018 in Laos ⋅ 🌙 31 °C

    The next morning we woke up first thing to thick fog. Did this stop us, nope! We went to the Mekong River and jumped on the boat to begin our haunting meander down the river. It was like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean 😂 The fog soon began to clear and with a short stop at a whiskey village and the some caves the sun was soon beaming down. We visited the local Museum of Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, which was small but informative about the local community. We finished the day with an absolute highlight, we ate Bun Bo. The only way I can describe it is a an open summer roll with chopped fried spring roll in. Yum yum yum, possibly the best thing we've eaten in the last month! Will tried the Beer Lao Gold, the middle range of Beer Laos.

    Tomorrow we are off to what was once tubing and backpackers haven, Vang Vieng.
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  • Day12

    Final days in Luang Prabang

    February 12, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    The morning started with a whole fresh pineapple and papaya to make the most of having our own kitchen. Then we packed our stuff ready to check out.

    We went to the local Ock Pop Tock Living Craft Centre where they hand weave silk. It had a really lovely free tour showing us how they make the silk, dye it using various natural colourings and finally how they make it into garments.

    We then checked into our new hostel in the town centre and decided to celebrate our month anniversary travelling by going for lunch at the best place in Luang Prabang and by golly was it yummy! We ordered the Buffalo meat Fondue and Banana Daiquiri and we ate like Kings on the Riverside. It was such a lovely place to just sit and chill out so we did exactly that and ordered a Black Rice beer while finishing up my blog for the day.

    So being a month in I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect a bit. Honestly, we've only been gone a month and I just can't imagine going back to the hustle and bustle and stress that people have in life. Life is simple here. For a month we've stayed in various hostels of various quality, we've had little hot water, solid as a rock beds, been living out of a small bag with barely any clothing, doing our clothes washing in a sink of cold water and honestly I've got the hairiest legs imaginable (yes and I'm still wearing shorts), yet no one judges, everyone's so happy and so friendly and content with the very little they have. When is the last time you were stressed out about something... Yesterday?... An hour ago when the man in front of you walked too slow on the pavement?... Will and I keep chatting every so often about the craziness of how we get or got stressed so easily. I'm not saying it doesn't happen all of a sudden, but it's very interesting to remind ourselves and reflect. Does it really matter if you're 5 mins late or wearing the same clothes, or even have hairy legs? The other day I was feeling snotty and ill with my hairy legs out walking around the grand Palace. A security man came up to me and told me how beautiful I looked and compared me to a chandelier from Czech Republic. He didn't mean it in a weird random man way we always assume in England if a stranger talks to you. He was just being nice and friendly with no strings attached. Imagine if you complimented one person everyday. What a friendly and happy world we would live in. But maybe people do try but our perception is that these people are clearly weirdos and you can't accept compliments from strangers. Maybe just spend 5 minutes everyday talking to someone about your day, list 3 things that made today a good one.

    Both myself and Will are feeling pretty ill today, so glad we've done most of the sites we've wanted to do. Both full of a cold with stomach cramps. Had a slow morning updating my blog and then we ventured out for breakfast. For those that don't know, Luang Prabang is a town in northern loas which combines classic Laos tradition with a dash of French colonialism. For the past few days Will has been eyeing up coffee and cakes, but has been quite restrained due to us going for fancy dinners. Today Will knew exactly what he wanted for breakfast, a chocolate and almond pastry twist and a creamy coconut cake. I think he's forgotten we are backpackers 😋 While having coffee we met 2 lovely ladies who had a daughter that came to Laos to work in a school, moved back home to Edinburgh after 2 years and fell very ill and unfortunately passed away at the age of 22. The mother and her friend now come once a year to help the local community bringing luggage full of stationary, clothing, shoes and money that has been raised for local schools and hospitals. I think my favourite part of this holiday is when we meet such incredible people.

    We then decided to try and get a boat down the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves. Unfortunately the public boat only leaves at 8:30am and after that you have to get a private boat which is a lot more money so we decided to just chill out and sit on the river reading for the rest of the day before watching the story of Chiang in a free outdoor cinema. The film was about filmed in 1927 and is about a family living in the jungle of Thailand. A short and pleasant film to round off the day.

    We've decided to stay one more day as not taking the boat along the Mekong River is probably a crime in this region, plus being full of a cold the thought of packing and moving is rather unappealing.
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  • Day11

    Kuang Si Waterfall

    February 11, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    On our bus to Luang we met a lovely couple Leo and Didi, so we paired up and went to the waterfall together. So far I've not been very impressed by the waterfalls but this was actually very pretty and it was great that you could bathe in them. First we saw different kinds of bears in the sanctuary at the bottom and then trekked around to the top of the waterfall obviously off the beaten tourist track and making our own way. The rest of the day was spent bathing and taking more detours before heading back to our tuk tuk driver. Leo and Didi were really good fun and such lovely people. They were from Puerto Rico and had been amongst the thousands whose homes were destroyed by hurricane Maria and Irma. We are nearly a month in and from meeting all the amazing people along the way we are truly feeling so blessed about our fruitful lives and so lucky to have what we have.

    In the evening we had pan fried fish and Laotian watercress salad and of course Beer Lao. One of the tastiest salads we have ever had/ made!
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  • Day9

    Journey to Luang Prabang

    February 9, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Generally the rule in Laos is to buy tickets directly at the bus otherwise you get over charged. Knowing this we decided to try and get a tuk tuk ourselves and then buy the ticket ourselves... Long story short we tried and got ripped off but ah well. We quickly bought a croissant and a coconut muffin each and jumped into the tuk tuk. In the usual Laoish time it set off to the train station. Will was chatting to some of the guys and showing off saying he could cycle without hands whilst gesturing at the same time and he let go of our muffins which flew out the back of the tuk tuk. Disaster! The journey to Luang Prabang was 7 hours (ish) and after our last journey we weren't really looking forward to it but we were more prepared and sat in the seats near the driver to get as far away from others as possible. No one was sick this time but the driver was crazy and my seat was the most uncomfortable seat ever. I got off the bus with whiplash in my neck.

    When we arrived at our airbnb I was so happy, we could do laundry, have a hot shower, the bed was comfy and most of all it had a kitchen so we could finally cook ourselves!! We were both pretty worn out so we decided to cheer ourselves up with a date night 😊 Let's just say we were missing our beloved Theos Pizza and wine, so decided to have a taste of home 😍

    On Saturday we wandered to the market to get fresh fruit for breakfast and ingredients for Laotian dinners. Mushroom laap, fish and watercress salad, I was so excited to make our own dinner! The fish was so fresh it was still alive when we picked it out the bucket. We then wandered to the town, saw more temples, walked along the Mekong River and saw sunset on top of hill in the centre of town before heading back to settle in for our tasty dinner and beer Lao.
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  • Day8

    Luang Namtha

    February 8, 2018 in Laos ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Early start to begin what ended up being a very unpleasant 4 hour "VIP Minivan" ride to Luang Namtha. As soon as we sat down and the driver turned on his engine a local child was sick and then the Mexican wave started behind us. For 4 whole hours the people behind us were sick. To add to the craziness the "VIP Minivan" then picked up any local off the street for a free ride. This was a 12 seater minivan with all 12 seats taken and 3 ladies sat on stools and rice sacks in between the seats oh and just for even more comedy value we later heard a duck! Let's just say it was an experience but we arrived on time (ish, which we now add on to all Laos timing) and we tried a strange new fruit called longan which was tasty!

    Luang Namtha is very well know for its tribal villages and trekking, so we purposely decided to stay outside of the town in the hills so we didn't need transportation for trekking. We asked the owner, also an official trekking guide, whether there are any walks and he obviously said no you must have a guide,but there is a local village that we could wander to. As we were pretty shattered and queasy we decided to just wander to the village but us being us we quickly found a track and instead of having a short stroll ended up walking for 3 hours up a track which we later found out was an official track for guided tours. Wups...
    We then turned back to chill out and have an early dinner of yummy beef laap and sweet and sour fish. Its interesting, everyone's perception of South East Asia is really hot, humid weather. I'm now really sick of being cold. If it was 8 degrees in England you'd be wearing layers and although I'm glad we bought the light weight coat we really need more, but are still in hope that this is just a phase! Everywhere we go we now ask for double duvets for a snuggly night.

    The next morning we woke up and had a an amazing noodle soup and then moved to the town and rented bikes to see a temple and then to Nam Dee Waterfall. I'm not the most confident of bikers but I'm definitely getting more practise! This time mountain biking and it was a very very bumpy ride the whole way for about 6km. Pretty tired at the end we of course decided to carry on and do a 1 hour circular walk around the waterfall before cycling back before dark. We got back with plenty of time to spare... But I lost my phone! So we decided to take the treacherous journey back and attempt to find it. Of course this just made us both extremely tired, upset and we did not find the phone and jeez let's just say I had one sore ass! Although I was gutted I didn't want it to spoil our holiday so we decided to sign up for guided 2 day trek the next day.
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