Luang Prabang Trekking

Friday Photo Diary – 12th February

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

After a day of recovering from one of Vang Vieng’s infamous Friday jungle parties, Jen and I took to the Nam Song in kayaks on Sunday with our friend Toby who is visiting for a two week holiday. The scenery was outstanding; towering mountains to one side and villages and fields to the other with local children bathing and playing as we paddled by. Half-way down we came across several party bars set up for the numerous tubers who drink their way down the river each day. After a gin or few, the kayaking got slightly out of control and mine ended up sinking, twice.

 

After delaying our departure from Vang Vieng by an extra day, we finally made our way north to Luang Prabang on Monday, with Toby still in tow. On the terrifying bus ride through and over the mountains, we were all rewarded with what I believe are the most beautiful views in Laos. Sadly I wasn’t able to take any photos to back this up.

 

Upon reaching Luang Prabang we had a decision to make – would we travel a further nine hours north to the trekking mecca of Luang Namtha, or stay put and trek in the area I’d previously visited? In the end we chose the latter, as it made sense time-wise and meant we could join a trekking group with some Swedish friends we’d made. I’d recommended using the same company that I’d trekked with last summer, so we actually ended up hiking the very same trail I’d already travelled.

 

Being a completely different season, and therefore very different weather conditions (hot and dry this time, instead of wet and humid), the hike was an entirely different experience for me. Instead of hills of green rice fitrekking, flowing, muddy rivers to cross I found acres of deserted farm land overgrown with colourful mountain flowers and grazing buffalo. Stopping in each of the Khmu and Hmong villages it was fascinating to see the same houses and families, only eight months later.

 

Arriving at the Khmu village for our overnight stay, exhausted after seven hours of trekking, I showed Jeni around the village of 85 families and took photos of things I’d missed the first time. After dark, a huge dinner was served and we spent the evening playing cards and drinking the local rice whisky (this was needed for a good nights sleep in the fairly comfortable, but very basic communal huts).

 

The second day started similar to last time – with a wake-up call I can only presume was the slaughtering of a pig outside our hut. After coffee and breakfast we said goodbye to our Khmu hosts and took a different route out of the village. Last year I kayaked back to Luang Prabang, so day two this time was a new trail for me also. A much flatter three hour strolls took us through two further village to the river where we boarded a local boat to the nearby Tad Sae waterfalls. These multi-tiered falls are best seen during wet season, but were still pretty spectacular for our visit. After an hour or two of relaxing and swimming, our boat took us back to the city before dark.

 

Today Jen and I are parting ways for a month – Jen is about to take a 24 hour bus across the border to Hanoi in Vietnam, and I am travelling west through Thailand and into Myanmar where I should arrive in the south on Monday evening.

 

Here are my favourite five for the week (okay I lied – this week there are six):

 

Trekking Luang Prabang

Trekking Luang Prabang

Mountain views

Mountain views

Khmu village

Khmu village

Khmu children

Khmu children

River view

River view

Tad Sae Waterfall

Tad Sae Waterfall

Vang Vieng

Friday Photo Diary – 5th February

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

On this sunny Friday you find me in one of favourite places in Southeast Asia – Vang Vieng. With a stunning mountain backdrop and the Nam Song river running next to this small town, it is easy to see why I have been raving to Jeni about visiting, and also why I have spent more combined time here than anywhere else in Laos.

 

After our dramatic journey of last week, I wish I could say things improved for us both this week. They didn’t. On Saturday our six hour ride from Savan to Vientiane took well over 10 hours, but we were extremely grateful that it was a human only kind of bus.

 

Having visited Vientiane on my trip to Laos last summer, I was looking forward to seeing more of a city I feel I didn’t devote much time to previously. Jeni and I hired a tandem bike for a cycle around the Laos capital one day, taking in the Patuxai Arch (which resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris), the waterfront and also Talat Sao – Laos’ only shopping mall. The rest of our five days in the capital were spent arranging visas, and walking between various cafes and bars dotted around the centre. On one such day we were sat outside a wine bar when from behind us there was a deafening crash and the air filled with dust. Part of a deserted building on the opposite side of the road had fallen two storeys onto the pavement, taking power cables with it and sending debris across the road. The wreckage reminded me of earthquake damage I’d seen only on the news (on a much smaller scale, of course), and Jen and I were both shocked at how something that destructive can occur so suddenly.

 

After a day of relaxing and catching up on old Friends and Sex and the City episodes yesterday, we decided to get out and explore Vang Vieng today. Taking a share-van around 15km from town, we set out on foot to see four different caves in the area – Elephant, Loup, Hoi and Water Cave. The scenery around the caves was beautiful, with views of the Nam Song, rice paddies, bamboo trees and of course, the mountains. We hired a guide to see more of Hoi Cave, which stretches out for around 1km underground.
Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch

Patuxai Arch

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Village in Vang Vieng

Village in Vang Vieng

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Friday Photo Diary – 29th January

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

Apologies for the lateness of this post… I haven’t lost track of days just yet – see below for my explanation!

After a twelve hour journey (only around five hours actually travelling, the rest waiting), and a definite border scam, Jeni and I finally crossed the border into Laos and boarded a boat to Don Det. One of the Four Thousand Islands in the middle of the Mekong River in southern Laos, Don Det has been described as paradise by many of my friends who’ve travelled there; we couldn’t wait to spend a few days there this week relaxing.

Our guesthouse for the first two nights was situated away from the tiny town strip, on the sunrise side of Don Det. Unfortunately it may have been slightly too wild for us – the first twelve hours brought us a room infested with ants, a spider attack and a pretty scary-looking snake being shoo-ed from the kitchen. We decided to move, but not before rising early on Sunday to catch an incredible sunrise (photo below).

Taking a slight step up in comfort, we ended up justifying our budget blow at the most luxurious (and expensive) hotel on the tiny island – it had a swimming pool. The next four days were spent doing laps, but mostly working on our tans and generally relaxing.

Don Det has a neighbour island to the south, Don Khone, which we did take time away from the pool to explore. Hiring bicycles we rode fifteen minutes to the bridge connecting the islands and headed to a nearby waterfall. Somphamit Waterfalls Park ended up being well-worth exploring; there are several tiers of large falls, which result in rapids within the Mekong. Sadly the current was too strong to go swimming, but there was a beach, and a sunset cafe with gorgeous hut platforms overlooking the waterfalls. After our ‘tiring’ day out we took a nap there before heading back to Don Det.

After six days of doing not much, we were both ready to move onwards, and so yesterday we took a boat back to mainland and a bus north to Champasak for the night.

Practically just a one-night stopover, the small riverside town of Champasak did have one attraction we were keen to visit this morning – Wat Phou. Wat Phou is an Angkor-era temple, the most important one in Laos, and is situated on a hill known locally as ‘Mount Penis’. We had to check it out!

Cabbage Patch Kids
On our journey between Pakse and Savannakhet, Jeni and I experienced an entirely new form of transport – the Cabbage Bus. Two thirds of the vehicle were packed window to window, floor to ceiling, with cabbages. In the third reserved for human passengers, no space was wasted; under every seat and down the aisle were boxes of cabbages and other greens. The bus roof was near collapsing under the weight of several tonnes of veggies stacked under tarp above our heads.

 

The Cabbage Bus

The Cabbage Bus

Packed with greens

Packed with greens

Our bags amongst the cabbages

Our bags amongst the cabbages

The novelty definitely wore off however, as a two and a half hour journey turned into nearly six, and our veggie-filled vehicle dropped us miles from our intended destination leaving us stranded and hungry with nowhere to stay.

 

Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

Don Det Sunrise

Don Det Sunrise

Water Buffalo, Don Det

Water Buffalo, Don Det

Somphamit Waterfalls, Don Khone

Somphamit Waterfalls, Don Khone

Beach at Somphamit

Beach at Somphamit

View from Wat Phou

View from Wat Phou

Luang Prabang

A post, at last

First, an apology, to my family and anyone else who has been eagerly checking my blog whilst I’ve been away and found nothing from me, other than a couple of dated Istagram photos.

My first six weeks of travelling Southeast Asia have been incredible, emotional, and rather traumatic at times, but I’ve seen and experienced so many amazing things in a short space of time that I felt ready to start writing finally. I’m currently staying on the coast of southern Thailand, about three hours from Bangkok in a small city called Rayong. With a week to waste in Bangkok waiting for my Chinese visa to be processed, I thought I’d take a mini-break to see a different area, catch up with family over skype and start sorting through the tonne of photos I’ve taken so far. I’ve splurged on a slightly nicer hotel (I have a bathtub, desk and the comfiest bed I’ve possibly ever slept in) to ‘ahem’ assist with my plans.

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I’ll start with a brief overview of where I’ve been so far, and will follow up on the highlights with further blog posts later.

Starting in Bangkok on 9th June, I spent five days in the city before heading north. I packed a fair amount into my first few days, including Wat Pho, Jim Thompson’s house, a local boat ride through the city rivers, a bicycle tour around Bangkok and into the nearby jungle, an afternoon cuddling kitties at Caturday Cafe, shopping at Chatuchak and various night markets and three separate nights out on the infamous Khao San road.

Wat Pho

Buddhas at Wat Pho

Caturday Cafe

Caturday Cafe

Bangkok market

Bangkok market

Slightly over the craziness and noise of Bangkok, I caught a night bus up to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. The journey was nine hours of stomach-churning, panic-inducing, sleepless hell. Being seated on the top floor of a double-decker travelling way too fast through monsoonal storms, I would recommend to anyone else that the train is a much more comfortable, and safer option! My fear was confirmed last week when I met a couple whose bus travelling the same route toppled off the road into a small river.

I love Chiang Mai. Full of friendly locals, delicious street food and a lively night scene, I happily spent over two weeks there making new friends, visiting beautiful temples and eating, a lot. My list of highlights from here is huge, but includes seeing a local football match (Chiang Mai vs Ayuthaya), getting a bamboo tattoo, visiting my favourite temple at the top of Doi Suthep and watching a ladyboy cabaret show.

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

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I also took two separate trips to Pai, a small hippie village set in a picturesque valley just three hours north.

Pai

Pai

After Chiang Mai I caught a local bus up to Chiang Rai and spent a day visiting the two strangest buildings I’ve ever seen. Built fairly recently by different architects, the White Temple and Black House are at opposite ends of the city, both geographically and architecturally. The Black House is full of dark objects, including animal skulls, crocodile skins and cages enclosing huge snakes and an owl. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is beautifully designed, with mirrored glass embedded into the stonework, although work on the compound is still ongoing.

Black House, Chiang Rai

Skulls at the Black House

White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple

White Temple

Hands from hell

After a rather early start to cross the border into Laos, I boarded a two-day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pakbeng en route. The scenery along the Mekong was stunning, but the boat was cramped and uncomfortable. Having spent seven hours on the first day packed onto a bench with no head rest or leg room, I spent the second day sat at the back of the boat with a few friends, several locals, two chickens and three freshly caught fish – a much more comfortable, and authentic experience.

Mekong River

Mekong River

Slow boat

The boat

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Countryside

The time I spent in Luang Prabang is almost certainly my favourite part of my trip so far. I didn’t particularly love the city, although the night bazaar was outstanding, but the countryside around was stunning. Spending an afternoon at Kuang Si Falls, the 40-minute drive there was through villages surrounded by rice fields, small rivers and mountain valleys.

Luang Prabang

Sunset in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

I took a two-day trek in the area just north of Luang Prabang, and spent the night in a Khmu tribe village.

Trekking in Laos

Trekking in Laos

Hmong Girl

Hmong Girl

Khmu Village

Khmu Village

After Luang Prabang I took a minibus to Vang Vieng, a small town once known only for its parties and drunken tubing. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even ride a tube down the Nam Song, and instead spent four days relaxing by the river, eating pie and mash, and shamefully watching at least two full seasons of Friends.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

After a short stay in Vientiane to visit the COPE centre, an extremely informative and inspirational centre established to treat victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO), I headed back to Bangkok. Taking a short train ride across the Laos/Thailand border, I then boarded an overnight train to the city.

COPE, Vientiane

COPE, Vientiane

Luang Prabang night market

Luang Prabang night market

My plans from here are to spend a few weeks on the southern islands, before flying over to China (visa-dependent, of course).