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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

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).