Day two in Luang Prabang and I awoke to strange smoke filling the air from outside Leia and Liam didn’t notice when they awoke but it smelt like someone was bbqing right outside. We got up and went to book our trip to the waterfalls and national park, 45,000 kip each, around £3.50. After this we headed for the hotel breakfast.
There was a limited choice but everything on it sounded amazing. I went for banana pancake, Leia and Liam both chose toasted egg sandwich. All of it was really good. After relaxing for a bit we went down to the river to wait for our minibus and watched various boats go up and down the fast flowing Mekong. The minibus arrived and we joined a group of girls all heading for the waterfall.
We arrived and immediately went to the bear sanctuary. They’re so funny looking, but they seemed happy and their enclosures were huge. There was lots of information about why they needed to be in captivity and it was pretty sad. Poachers catch them then keep them in a cage so small they can hardly move. Then they get sold and are kept in these cages for around ten years just so people can extract their bile for medicinal purposes. The bears just die after this due to the trauma. It was really saddening and I dislike how animals are abused for medicine that doesn’t work. It’s all just superstition but I’ll leave the lecture for another day.
From the bear sanctuary it was a short walk to the first of the waterfalls and pools. I’ve swam in a similar limestone stream in Croatia which was beautiful but this was something else. The water glistened a light turquoise and the forest around it swarmed with huge butterflies and Dragon flys. One Dragon fly even ate a fly off of Liam!
There were more pools further ahead but this one only had two other people in it so we waded in.
The water was cool and got very deep very quickly, I dipped down and couldn’t feel the floor so it’s was over six or seven feet at least. As we swam to the middle we realised how strong the current was sending us back away from the waterfalls.
The challenge now was to swim against the tide and make it to where the water crashed down in a spray of white. We failed several times and Liam decided to perch on a half submerged tree trunk so we joined him and basked in the sun like lizards. After deciding to sit on the edge of the waterfall from our pool and lazing in the sun with just a few people coming and going it felt like it was our private space. With this in mind Leia and I attempted to reach the waterfall again, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts we charged in from a different angle and made it!!
Triumphant and with only an hour and a half to go we dried off and wandered up through the forest. It’s actually a national park and was really interesting, a sign told us you can see slow loris and mouse deer but I guess with how busy it is they were hiding. There were a few more pools with people diving in and lounging around before we reached the big one. A towering waterfall coming down the mountain. It was beautiful so we took a few selfies, enjoyed the moment and roamed back down the path to our waiting minivan.
The drive back to town was uneventful apart from a couple of home made boats being pushed towards the centre. With an hour to kill before heading to the airport we sat by the river and watched everyone scurry about getting the last minute touches to their boats. It also turned out that from our vantage point above the river we had an excellent view of the sunset. It was glorious and you definitely didn’t need to be at the top of the hill to enjoy it. The sun reflecting down on the Mekong with boats sailing across it gave us another moment of beauty in Asia.
After that there wasn’t much that could top it so we said goodbye to our lovely Vietnamese host and tuk tuk’d our way to the smallest airport ever.
Once checked in and through security we had a farewell beerlao and boarded the smallest plane I have ever been on. The turbines were like a big office fan without the cage and there were only 17 rows but it did the job.
We had a choice of a 24-30 hour bus journey for £25ish pounds or a flight that takes an hour for £70. After reading horror stories of the bus we knew there was only one option.
Landing in Hanoi we breezed through immigration and out to meet our hotel pickup. Only they weren’t there, they still weren’t there half an hour later so we jumped in a taxi with an American girl.
The traffic into Hanoi was what I expected in Bangkok but didn’t really see. Bikes everywhere and no real order but the chaos seemed to work. We got dropped off at the hotel and the girl went on to hers, only later did I discover she had given me 10000dong instead of a 100,000!! Robbing me of £3! I only hope it was a genuine mistake. The hotel staff were again really happy and friendly with one girl taking a shine to my tattoo. The room was simple but fine for the night.
Refreshing ourselves after the days activities we went out to explore Hanoi’s old quarter.
It was mayhem, cramped streets lined full of tiny stools and tables with food and beer of all sorts being served lay ahead of us. Motorbikes went whizzing past and cars slowly crept through the smallest of gaps in the road. We had been told before we left that most places would be closing by 12 and it was half ten already. We stopped at a small place sat down and stared at the menu. Bbq pork buns immediately grabbed my attention but they had none left! We ended up having the sweetest sweet potato fries, cinnamon tinged sausage and bbq’d octopus. All washed down with three of the cheapest beers ever. They were about 50p if that. Although a big cockroach did scuttle past us as we ate.
We watched the chaos unfold in front of us and headed to another bar. Sat on our tiny stools we were befriended by a twee, a 22 year old Vietnamese guy who lived my tattoos and encouraged us to try a bamboo shisha, a lemon drink and some seeds.
Everyone we met was really friendly and just laughed continuously at us. It was great fun though. We drank up and a guy in a t shirt with ‘Tom’s bar’ emblazoned across it shouted to us. It must have been fate! As he took us to this nearby bar he told me that the police were breaking up the outside bars and closing them all down. This happens every night so we were hurried into the bar, sat down and were told we were the djs and could put anything we wanted on. We ordered some beers (expensive at a 1.20) but unfortunately a group of French people had already got to the laptop and put classics like ‘Macarena’ and ‘Play that funky music’.
We soaked up the atmosphere instead until a couple of beers later when the music stopped and everyone was told to be quiet as the police were outside! This didn’t really work on a bunch of drunk foreigners who didn’t understand the repercussions the bar workers might face. After about ten minutes the music came back on albeit slightly quieter than before and the noise levels rose.
We had another beer then decided to leave. The only problem was the front door was no longer an option. Instead we were taken through the toilets into a back alley where a series of people shined there phones as beacons to reach before we emerged into the dead streets of the old quarter.
As we stumbled into the light a new bar guy waved us quickly to follow him and with the beer giving us new levels of bravery we followed him past some police down an alley opposite our last bar up some stairs and through a small door. As we descended from the second floor into the bar we realised this was another Tom’s bar, exactly opposite the front of the last one.
We laughed at the genius of it and got more beer. There was only a couple of people in this one so Liam had full access to the dj laptop and used it well.
The guy who originally brought us to Tom’s bar came over and we taught him ‘Iechyd da’ which is cheers in Welsh. The guy found it hilarious and we found ourselves doing it every 2 to 3 minutes with him.
We were now tired and ready for bed so we said goodbye to the bar and went back to the hotel. Which we missed the first time as it had pulled it’s shutters almost to the floor.
A bit tipsy we made it into our room and crashed out for the night after experiencing the craziness of SE Asia properly for the first time.