Day 310, Sat 14th Dec
Another day, another border crossing. Arrived in Vientiane & wandered around for the day – nothing particularly to write home about, The hostel tried to rip us off on the price of the overnight bus ticket to Luang Prabang, but T soon put them right on that!
Of course the train breakfast was not up to much, but at least it was food :). The border was pretty straightforward after we managed to knock the tuk tuk driver down by 75% (then realising we only had the equivalent of a £20 note to pay him, could have been embarrassing if a chap we had agreed to include in our vehicle had not lent us 50 Baht.
More negotiation for the minivan to Vientiane ensued – I am going to have to thank the occasionally useless Lonely Planet for telling me how much this should cost – whoever wrote that chapter did a good job.
And finally… the bus ticket. The hostel was great, Siholme Backpackers, the fact that they add 50% onto the price of the bus ticket is not. Fortunately the man agreed to return my money, rather interestingly telling me that if I had seen the ticket cheaper it was probably not the VIP sleeping bus and that I was paying 220k instead of 170k because we could trust him. A possible precursor of the fabled Vietnamese liberality with the truth… we shall see.
Day 311, Sun 15th Dec
A day sightseeing & starting to update my CV (it’s almost that time to look for a job) & then the overnight bus to Luang Prabang. This was a new one for us in that the seats/ beds were in 3 rows of bunk beds running from front to back down the length of the bus. A little bit uncomfortable, but better than normal seats. T really wanted a top bunk, but had to settle for the lower – maybe next time.
After a wonderful breakfast at Le Croissant D’or (I think), where I was forced to suspend my non-wheat diet in favour of an almond croissant, we walked around to see the few remaining sights that Vientiane has to offer. Keir did his CV and I went to the lovely Wat Sisaket, no photos inside unfortunately, but it was full of niches with small Buddhas in each, very old, very beautiful..
I was VERY excited about the Mobilhome bus, we had been reading some hilarious reports of the bed bus, but this was actually very good – there was a little well for my feet, which they unfortunately had to share with my bag, but a good reclining position and a blanket. We had to remove our shoes as we got onto the bus, but luckily I had the forethought to keep my flip flops handy for the loo – one does not really want to enter any toilet with bare feet, especially a communal one – that said, it was one of the better bus toilets I have experienced, even when the bus driver decided to turn the lights and water off while I was in there…
Day 312, Mon 16th Dec
Arrived 2 hours late due to truck having had an accident on the road here, but Luang Prabang looks nice. Lots of tropical plants, very green & French colonial architecture. More importantly from T’s perspective – French inspired cooking!
Hostel is nice & the town feels very chilled.
Nice hostel with unbelievably friendly Vietnamese staff, it was too early for check in so we had some breakfast, and went for a walk to see a wat or two (like we were not burnt out after all those temple visits in Thailand!, then sorted some trips for tomorrow – including some last minute ziplining with Green Discovery – they suddenly CAN do the 20th, it is going to be a bit of a pain to get to Pakse in time, but we can do it!
LP is bloody freezing compared to everywhere else for the last 6 weeks, and unfortunately our hotel aircon only does cold L. At least I managed to score a blanket to augment the large towel bedcover (very weird, same in Pakse!), and the shower is super hot…
Dinner at a restaurant called Lao Lao, where we tried Laotian Lap (this is food, before the questions start coming in), and I tried making another Coxtail with Lao Lao whiskey. It was good. Very good
Day 313, Tue 17th Dec
We headed off on two half day trips – the first one up river to see the caves of Pak Ou stacked with Buddhas. The boat trip was nicer than the destination to be honest. The afternoon trip was to the waterfalls at Kuang Si – this was beautiful. The dissolved limestone in the water has coated everything like stalagmites/ stalactites so you get these beautiful smalls pools with petrified falls & trees in beautiful shades of aquamarine/ turquoise. We could have stayed there for hours. A bit too cold for bathing but T had a wade.
The boat trip to Pak Ou was nice, but a little chilly – perhaps we should have gone for the shielded seats at the back! The cave was interesting, but really only for 20 minutes max, so rather a long journey for a short visit… perhaps a trip for a warm day! On the other hand Kuang Si was spectacular, even if we did wimp out of the swimming part! It was a little like Semuc Champey, just without the heat…and with a Moon Bear sanctuary near the entrance!
Got back and managed to score a last minute table at Tamarind; the tasting plate and the Ko Lap (fish version) were phenomenal, as was the Lao Lao and Tamarind cocktail, very reasonable prices too. I cannot recommend this place too highly; go.
Day 314, Wed 18th Dec
A final day sight-seeing & chilling before the horrendous journey to Pakse for our zipline/ treetop adventure. This time on the overnight ‘bunk-bed’ bus T got a top bunk – it was like being next to a child… she was soooo excited!
Keir decided he needed to do admin today, so I was left to wander around by myself – trying desperately to keep out of the shade for the sake of warmth – I have given into the temptation of reading Twilight; we are going to have at least 16 hours of travelling and I am not sure the Spanish Elmore Leonard I am reading is sufficiently easy fodder for a journey of that magnitude.
Got the bus, same one as before, but TOP Bunk; hooray!
Luang Prabang, Laos
Day 315, Thu 19th Dec
So, the overnight bus was followed by a tuk tuk to the Southern bus terminal where we caught the 0715 bus towards Savanankhet. We then swopped from that 9 hrs later to another bus going to Pakse. We finally arrived there at 9:30 at night, dropped our stuff off after a bit of wandering around in the dark & caught the Indian just as they were shutting – perfect, a curry & beer before bedtime
It seems there is no VIP day time bus to Pakse, and no express bus running today. Damn. The ticket office told us the bus would arrive at 9 or 10pm and we seem to have little choice – the Savannakhet changeover is the quick way, maybe 8:30pm, if we are lucky L – on the plus side, I was actually really enjoying Twilight, I suspect this series may become a guilty pleasure…
The hotel we are staying in looked far from promising, a lobby full of motorcycles and a monosyllabic receptionist, but the room was actually very nice; a pleasant surprise!
Day 316, Fri 20th Dec
T’s like an over-excited child – we’re off ziplining!
Trekked through the forest to the edge of a huge escarpment & then had a simple but wonderful lunch out in the clearing; the beef jerky was excellently spiced.
Then we were flying through the air past trees & waterfalls – exhilarating, if not slightly scary!
All very safe, but you get that moment of uncertainty when you launch yourself off the edge of the platform out onto the zipline… then the adrenaline hits you & you’re off!
We got down to the base camp to be rewarded by the magnificent sight of the Kamet waterfalls towering over us – absolutely beautiful with the sunset. Aron will be jealous to hear that we reprised our sunset/ moonlight shower routine from Angel falls, this time with a Canadian (Peter)!
Then we had to zipline to our treetop cabins before lights out when the generator shut down!
Up early and in a frantic rush to get to the Green Discovery office for 8:30 with no breakfast, luckily we had a bit of time at the office (well Keir did), while I hared around trying to find somewhere to make us a takeaway omelette…
Then off to the forest! A light hike to the camp, safety briefing from our guide, Hot, and then off we went. Fantastic! We started on some short lines to get us accustomed to braking with a stick and progressed to longer lines. It was really good fun, and we were surprisingly tired and hungry by the time we got back for dinner. Had a natural waterfall shower – perhaps not have been the best idea as I ended up with soaking wet hair & towel – but how often do you get an opportunity like that?
Unfortunately the promised ‘romantic’ treehouse for 2 did not materialise, only 2 small cabins left and 3 couples. We let the honeymooners take one and cut the cards for the other, we lost. Never mind, they are individual beds with one person sleeping bags anyway
Day 317, Sat 21st Dec
Day 2 in the camp started with us ziplining out of our treehouse for breakfast. We then did ever increasing ziplines across chasms until we did a 450m one… it went on for over a minute – v cool. Our only note of concern was when our Russian colleague, Vlad, suddenly fainted on a tree-top platform 60’ up in the air… scary. Fortunately he was karabinered on & one of the others caught him as he fell.
Lunch under the Kamet falls with minkeys running across the rocks at the top then time to start heading back.
We hiked back up the side of the waterfall & finished the final 100m via the ‘Via Ferrata’ – a vertical & horizontal climb. I quelled my internal wailing & gnashing of teeth – heights & I are not the happiest of bed fellows – & manfully stepped up ahead of T to show her how it was done. I’d like to say that I shimmied up there like a rat up a drainpipe, but in truth I think it was more sloth-like – slow & measured!
Up early for breakfast and more ziplining, first one was from our treehouse
Poor Vlad was not feeling well, I secured him some hot water with ginger and an immodium, but this Tracified medicine was clearly ineffective when he fainted after one of the long ziplines – he had not been able to brake very well – like me in fact – and nearly careered into a tree (luckily Hot and the boys were there to catch us!), this was clearly too much for his depleted state; poor guy had to be zipped and walked back to the huts for some recovery time.
We, meanwhile, zipped along merrily, did a couple of weird steel cable like bridges, some light hiking, lunch and then picked up Vlad (now feeling a bit better, for the rock climbing – which I actually really enjoyed; unlike Keir, I fear…
Back to Pakse for a last Indian at Nazim’s, great food, but could be massively improved by offering alcohol other than beer (another booze- free evening for me – I seem to be practically tee-total now, and it is not by choice…). We stayed at the Nang Noi this time, not quite as nice a room as the Lankham, but since it is a third of the price, does decent breakfast, and Bounthong, the owner, is extremely helpful – read, the opposite of surly and non-communicative – it was a great find!
Pakse & Green Discovery
Day 318, Sun 22nd Dec
Up early for the 3 hr troop down to Si Phan Dhon – 4,000 islands. Arrived at Don Khon slightly wary as we’d heard that often they try & rip you off by selling you a ticket including the ferry only to then try & charge you for it when you arrive. But amazingly we had no problems as we are dropped off 300 yds from our guesthouse. This turned out to be very nice & perfectly placed by the French bridge for getting around & G&T’s for sunset.
This was even more amazing as T had incomprehensibly booked the wrong guesthouse the night before as we sat & researched them together?!
There was even a dragon boat racing festival on the river. A gentle meander round town after lunch followed by sundowners on the veranda – perfect.
We were glad to note that our slightly more expensive ticket to Don Khone really did include the ferry ride, thus actually making it a good option – all went amazingly smoothly and we bumped into the nice Austrian couple, Alime & Juergen, that we had met on our cooking course in Chang Mai
Keir finally cheered up about my mis-booking the guesthouse when he saw it was a good one. It is very chilled here, and very hot again, nice.
Day 319, Mon 23rd Dec
Hired bikes enabled us to get about the island, see some beautiful waterfalls, countryside & the backpacker intensive Dong Don. We had met some friends from Chiang Mai on the boat over so we had dinner with them – a perfect end to another chilled day.
Waterfalls were great, and an unexpected treat, we really just came here to see what it was like… We were expecting Don Det to be pretty backpackery and full of noisy youth, but it actually seemed nice – at least during the day time – I think we would have been as happy there as on Don Khone!
4000 Islands, Laos
Hotel Villa Um Theara, Siem Reap
Day 320, Tue 24th Dec
A day of traveling from 4,000 islands through the border, onto Kampong Chang & then onto Siem Reap. We left at 0800 & it took over 17 hrs, involving a ferry, minibus, border crossing, 2 buses & a Moto-remorque (type of Tuk tuk).
Finally arrived in our hostel at 0130 on Xmas morning…
Another hideously long journey, but we were prepared as one of the ladies for our ziplining tour had kindly emailed to say just how long and draining it was… It really would have been nicer to fly, but we just can’t justify that on top of the Green Discovery trip! The boat to the bus station was smooth and quick enough, then we had an hour hanging around waiting for the bus, being asked to pay $30 for our $20 visas etc, followed by the mammoth journey… at least the changeover at Kampong was reasonably rapid and our hotel in Siem Reap is lovely!