Waterfalls, bears and finally finding Asian chaos.

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.
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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!!
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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.
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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.
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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.

Luang Prabang and a disappointing sunset.

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Luang Prabang Is a UNESCO heritage site due to it’s French colonial feel and picturesque views. Today we were ready for 8:30am, before we left the girl working at our hotel told us about an end of the rains festival where they race boats down the river.

The minivan that picked us up was modern and only had a small chip in the window which was a bonus after the last van. The driver also looked more respectable according to Leia. After picking a few more people up we started the supposedly 6 hour drive across winding mountain roads, past fields of tobacco, pepper and vast jungles cascading down the mountainside. Through small villages and past even smaller communities of one or two houses.

The roads were in a lot better shape than from Vientiane to Vang Vieng but the driver still had his foot on Tue brakes when travelling downhill. We soon saw why as we passed a car that had flipped onto it’s roof with the passengers sat looking forlorn on the side of the road. After 4 hours we made a second stop which I assumed was a toilet and good break, until the driver started getting bags out of the back.

We were in Luang Prabang. Although instead of dropping us in the centre, they had dropped us just outside and left us to the mercy of tuk tuk drivers. Luckily there was a Spanish couple willing to bargain and we got the journey for 10,000 kip each, less than a pound.

Getting dropped off on the main road we walked in what I assumed was the direction of the Mekong river where I knew our guest house was located. After ten minutes we had found it, and were warmly welcomed in by the Vietnamese host.

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Our room was right next to the counter and was huge! With 3 single beds. We quickly got ready and wandered down the Mekong, locating a place for lunch that had decking out over the river. The food was okay, enough to keep us going. So we paid up and carried on walking along the peninsula seeing varying sized boats being built out of wood and paper with torches and candles covering them ready for a festival tomorrow.

They were so colourful and bright and we noticed the town had more paper lamps and decorations strewn about. It was all very pretty. We also noticed that it was very touristy, even compared to Vang Vieng. I think it attracts an older crowd and you could see the difference. After circling the peninsula we made our way to Mount , a hill in the middle of town with various temples where saffron clothed monks live. The summit is supposed to hold breathtaking views so we clambered up the steps, past gold Buddhas of various shapes, poses and sizes and reached the top.

This activity is high on a lot of lists so unfortunately it was quite busy at the top, but not so busy that you couldn’t enjoy it. We got there with plenty of time to spare and found a great spot in the corner of a balcony. The views were excellent as you looked over the karsts with most swirling through the valleys between them.

The sun started dropping but unfortunately there was a thick bank of clouds on the horizon so we missed out on a glorious sunset. It was still good but I think we have all seen better on the west coast of Wales. Slightly disappointed but still happy we climbed up we descended into the town and found ourselves in the midst of bright red market stalls.

 Wandering through we made our way to the hotel, washed the days dirt, sweat and grease off and went searching for food.

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Walking through the night markets all you could smell was bbq meat. As we were wandering Leia spotted a buffet, 1 plate for 10,000 kip. This is like 80p! Liam and Leia both went for it but I realised it was all veg and I was craving bbq’d pork. The guys said it was delicious and we sat on a long communal table chatting to other travellers.

After filling their bellies on loads of nice veg food it was cake time. Due to it’s French influence Luang Prabang has lots of places selling baguettes, crepes and all manner of cakes. So we stopped off at a stall and had brownies and a cinnamon twirl. After this I was craving meat even more and noticed a smaller alley filled with street food vendors. We walked down and I immediately spotted what I thought was belly pork on a stick. Unfortunately it was just pork fat and although it tasted nice it wasn’t for me. So I ended up doing a buffet that was 5,000 kip more but did have a larger choice. It was all good and the belly pork fat went nicely with the rice, noodles and spring rolls.

After eating and knowing there’s an 11:30pm curfew we went for juice shakes which were amazing. I had pineapple, Leia had pineapple and dragon fruit and Liam went for mango and passion fruit. The mango still tastes like grass and we guess it must be a different type here. The stalls selling them are cute and had various signs written in English extolling their virtues over other stalls.

After this the hotel beckoned and we sat up for a bit but soon sleep engulfed us as we looked forward to a waterfall trip and seeing rescued sun bears the following day.

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Tubing and the human sized catfish

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We had a lazy morning as the tubing didn’t get going till 12:30/1ish so we chilled out and slowly got ready.

Wandering back into town the views really are something else. The karsts tower over this sleepy little town. We went for breakfast where I watched a hornet goad a spider out by tapping it’s web, pick it up and fly to a plant above me and eat it! I felt like I was in a live version of plant earth.

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Although Leia and Liam weren’t quite as excited. Finishing breakfast we went looking for transport to tubing. This is where you get given a huge inner tyre, taken up river from town, and float back down. It’s got some notoriety as a lot of backpackers died from various incidents at the height of it’s excess. You could buy drugs in the form of opium and mushroom shakes and jump into a fast flowing, various depths river. Not the best recipe for success. Gladly that is in the past as there are now only 4 bars left and they just sell booze.

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We arrived at the top of the river and watched the first few people dive onto their tubes, noticing that the current was strong. One guy lost his flip flops immediately and another went backwards off the tube into the water.

Learning from these mistakes and laughing the whole time we manoeuvred ourselves into the tubes. It was pretty difficult as we are at the end of the rainy season so the water was surging past us but we somehow got on and started to float down the river.

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If anyone knows me then this was a pretty brave move, floating along a deep river not knowing what was underneath us. Especially as the people in our tuk tuk up were discussing various doomed travellers including one eaten by a crocodile and supposedly giant Mekong catfish that sat at the bottom of the river waiting to drag you down.

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Once I was doing it though it was just too fun and we quickly made it to the first bar where people threw you ropes to haul you in. I of course tried to reach out for a guys hand as I floated past, slipped off the tube, down into the river where I couldn’t touch the bottom. I panicked a bit but grabbed my tube as I wasn’t going to lose it and swam for shore.

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I think it shows why people die tubing. We saw a few other instances where the ferocity of the river coupled with ignorance could have been more dangerous.

After this near death experience I was soaked through and ready for a beer. Luckily it was a scorching hot day so we sat on some steps, looked out over the river where some water buffalo were chilling out and relaxed. I had put my money in a sealable freezer bag but it was no good so I spent the day handing over soggy notes.

It was so relaxing just enjoying the sun, determined to get a tan. Then more and more party goers arrived as the bar pumped out cheesy dance music.

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Then we had our first encounter with the party gremlin of vang vieng. A little Lao man in leopard print spandex pants running around encouraging guests to drink and catapult water balloons and various other activities. It was hilarious to watch but the bar was getting busy and we decided to float down and check out the next bar.

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Something I would recommend. We got there and only a few people had arrived before us. This bar was the best of the three we went to, it had loads of platforms to sit and chill out on, a better indie and old school rap soundtrack and football! We grabbed a beer and had a kick about. After running around and sweating in the hot sun and managing to do a Carlos Valderamma type save from Leia, we went to a platform to relax.

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One of the highlights of this bar was watching fellow tubers consistently miss the ropes thrown out to them and sail down river screaming for their friends to help. It was a slightly sadistic way to enjoy the views but the hilarity of the situation was too much. People clutching to their drinks as they tumbled out of the tubes before realising maybe you need two hands to haul yourself into a bar. One girl in particular had gone really far before a small child dove into the water and swam out to rescue her.

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At times it was like watching a rescue mission with one middle aged Laos lady wading into the river to help drunk teenagers to the shore. We dubbed her the Laos Mother Theresa the ying to party gremlins yang.

After getting free (bright pink) friendship bracelets off an Irish girl who lived and worked in Laos and warned us not about snakes in the river at night we realised everyone had pretty much gone and there were only a handful of tubes left. So we quickly got back on the river, skipped the by now busy third bar and headed to the final bar.

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Arriving at this bar we realised we had enough money for a drink or the tuk tuk back. So we all walked away from the bar, drinks in hand This bar had table football, darts, and pool. So we immediately went for the football. We had just started playing when a Laos lady with a pint of beer came up and joined in on Leia’s side.

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Next thing we knew I had been joined by another Laos lady. This was hilarious as one team scored the other threw their hands up in mock despair and the scoring team danced and hi fived. There was lots of laughing and cheering drinks. The best part was no one cared about the score. It was the same with darts. Leia and I played a game of pool which I won and we headed back onto the river, with the Irish girls warnings of snakes and the river at night resounding in our heads.

As we floated down the river, every bend resulting in longer stretches of river with both banks covered in impenetrable greenery we started to worry. It was dusk, every insect in Laos had headed to the river and we now had to worry about snakes as well as catfish. We were soon joined by several other tubers who had run out of money and as night settled in we rode down rapids with no end in sight.

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In the gloom we soon saw a weird wooden fence across the river with an open gate in the middle and men started pulling the others out of the water. We had finally made it to town! Our happiness was short lived as the familiar questioning tone of tuk tuk?? Sounded out through the night. It was then that we saw a sign, town was a further 2km away on the river. With no money and no idea what time it was we started to walk, before we were given hope by a very loud and forceful Dutch girl. We had completely forgotten about the deposit on the tube! This gave us 40,000 kip back and the tuk tuk was charging 10,000 each. We were even more thankful when we realised just how far we were. Passing two guys who decided to walk the whole way. We were soon back at the hotel, tired and exhilarated from our day of tubing.

We got changed and went for food, where we were knackered. So we ate up but the highlight was the smallest, most adorable little cat that joined us. Treated ourselves to 30,000 kip worth of chocolate cake and went back to the hotel. All three of us were soon fast asleep. Ready to hit our fourth destination in 7 days. Luang Prabang.

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Crossing the border and party town


Up and about early the next day. We were ready to hit the road and make our first border crossing. We took the hotel tuk tuk who turned back halfway there after a phone call, as I had left a portable charger that didn’t work. We were convinced it was a scam and felt pretty bad when he charged us the correct amount at immigration. From there we stamped out of Thailand and got on a cramped bus over the friendship bridge. We were stood on the bus until a girl squashed onto the backseat and insisted we sit down so we crammed onto two seats and relaxed while we watched the Mekong go past from the window. Visa control was pretty simple and we then took a 60baht each tuk tuk to Vientiane.

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We had debated the pros and cons of staying in Vientiane and after some research decided not to and we were glad we made the decision as there wasn’t much that we were interested in seeing. So we got some food and organised a ten dollar mini van to Vang Vieng. A place that doesn’t quite have the reputation of old but is still a must see spot for backpackers. Our first impression of the van wasn’t good, old and with huge cracks spread across the windscreen, it didn’t bode well. However the journey was incredible, the views amazing, as we were being thrown from side to side, up and down, and back and forth as the driver negotiated his way past pot holes, missing parts of roads, goats, motorbikes, chickens, and water buffalo. It was interesting to watch him slide across the road to overtake everything in sight and dodge oncoming vehicles. As we drove through small towns that turned into small villages we relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Making our way into the mountains and forests of central Laos. Seeing the karsts for the first time was spectacular. Each time we peaked at the top of a hill we dove down into more fascinating views than before. I tried dozing off a couple of times but my head just ended up cracking off the window and I wondered if previous occupants had caused the cracks in this one.

We arrived in Vang Vieng near an old airfield and were again set upon by tuk tuk drivers offering to take us to the centre. Luckily out hotel was 2 minutes walk away and we found out later the centre was 5 minutes across the airfield

We walked down a small path to our hotel which is a collection of wooden houses surrounded by foliage. We felt like we were in paradise.

A swift re-energise and we were ready to go. Travelling had taken around 6 hours in total and we were looking forward to exploring the town.

We crossed the airfield after realising our street was devoid of life in any of the bars or restaurants and found the main street, full of backpackers, hostels and bars infamously playing friends. We sat down in one bar where you take your shoes off and lounge on a platform with a small table in front of you and ordered drinks. I went for a Lao Whiskey bucket with sprite for the equivalent of £2. It arrived in a childrens sandbucket and I was asked to check it was strong enough. I couldn’t really taste any whiskey so the host added more! The others just ordered beers as the cocktail man wasn’t arriving for another 20 minutes. By this point all I had had to eat were some cashews and pretzel sticks so I headed out into the night to find some street food. As Laos was a former French colony they have baguettes and pancakes everywhere, so I opted for a hotdog, bacon and cheese baguette. It was sublime, lots of filling and greasy, just what I needed for a night on the town. Arriving back to Leia and Liam hunched over a mango daquiri bucket I was offered to taste it as they had decided it tasted like grass, which it did, Grass soaked in Bacardi. Tonight would be a fun night.

We decided to check out the rest of the centre and wandered round spotting people returning from the tubing we were going to be doing the next day.

We settled down in a bar playing friends, something I had read was quite popular in bars here. It was comfy we had beer and the temperature was perfect. After a couple of beers here and a pancake for Leia we knew the Manchester derby was on so we went looking for a bar with the game on and duly found a busy street with an Irish pub playing the football. It’s regrettable that we’ve ended up in two Irish bars in 6 days but needs must!

The place itself was filled with the obnoxious sounding travellers we were worried about coming across. Glazed looks on there faces and girls two drunk to string a sentence being seduced by several guys.

We got a £1 beerlao and found a seat with a partially obscured view and soaked in the atmosphere. It was actually quite fun but we’re not the best bunch to strike up conversation so it was left to Liam to chat to an irish girl who announced she had slept with a German guy earlier in the day but who later went home with a Canadian man. Maybe the hedonistic vibe of Vang Vieng still survives. We got chatting to the Canadian man’s Canadian friend who had never met a Welsh person and barely knew who Tom Jones was.

Several beers later and we stumbled back to the hotel via pancake and burger stalls ready for tubing the next day.