Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chiang Rai, Chiang Kong and Laos!

So since we last wrote, we've been on the move loads!! feeling a bit shattered actually... but it's a 'good' shattered! It's definitely not a "I've been at work for 10 hours doing powerpoint slides" type of shattered!  Saturday was the worst though.. will come onto that in a bit.
Our trip along the Mekong...

So on Tuesday we got up early in Chiang Rai to catch a bus to a place called Chiang Kong to cross the border into Loas. There was definitely no point in us getting up early as the heavens opened in Chiang Rai and it rained solidly for about 5 hours... so solidly that the road our guesthouse was on got closed due to flash flooding... take a look at this!! 

So we sat it out in a cafe around the corner with some lunch and read our books until it stopped and we could make the dash through the water to the bus station about 10 mins walk away.  The water was actually half way up my shin ... imagine me, 5ft nothing with a massive rucksack (yes.. that's right .. I didn't manage to pack light) trudging through the water logged streets with Martin waiting for me to catch up with him every 2 mins! haha (although he was funny as his flip flops didn't have any grip so he was sliding all over the place)  We were little drowned rats by the time we made it to the bus station!

Luckily as soon as we got to the bus station there was a bus ready to go to Chiang Kong.. hmmm.. wouldn't call it a bus fit for a 3 hour journey, especially as we were sat on the back seat (more like a bench) with three ladies and their babies and all their veg shopping around us AND the back bus door was open the whole way.. was a funny journey. Oh and here's the obligatory pic of me asleep on the bus.. Mart's amazed that I seem to be able to sleep anywhere.. I think he feels quite lonely on our journeys!

Arrived in Chiang Kong on Tues evening, bit of a rough old town, but it was our first glimpse of the Mekong.. WOW! Pretty cool having it straight outside our (8 pound a night) guesthouse window too.  We had some noodles and a few beers along the river and had an early night ready for our border crossing the next day.

View from our guesthouse room :-)
Wednesday - what a day!! So our border crossing day into Loas went a little like this:

7.45am - Arrive at Thailand departure dock in Chiang Kong
8.00am - Exit Thailand on a small 5 minute boat going over to the otherside of the Mekong to a place called Houay Xai in Laos
8.05am - Arrive in Houay Xai
8.45am - Get our visa sorted at immigration
9.00am - Buy tickets for the slow boat going down the Mekong to arrive in Luang Prabang in 2 days time
10.30am - board the slow boat
boat staff faff around for an hour!
11.30am - slow boat finally leaves the dock.. very slowwwwly! 
6.30pm - boat arrives in a place called Pakbeng in Loas for us to stay overnight


our boat looked like this

They tried to pack in 100 tourists into a boat that could only hold 50, talked about it for an HOUR and then finally split us into 2 boats.  I've been slowly realising that things in South East Asia sometimes seem to take ages!!  Don't they know I'm a PA who likes things done right there and then haha!?!? I think Martin's had to hold me back a few times when things seems to be taking forever, although to be fair a German or Dutch person usually seems to get up and have a word before me in these situations! Hahaha!!  Oh speaking of Dutch people, we met a cool Dutch guy who we chatted to on the boat a bit (Suze, we gave him a nickname of Stroopwafel..!)

Laos family next to me on the boat having their lunch of
sticky rice and chicken on the bone with their fingers

Laos lady showing off her catch for the day
So finally the boat leaves and crikey... spot the rickety wooden seats we were expected to sit on for 7 hours... ouch! I moved up the front a bit where I could sit on the floor and read my book (and yes, sneaked in a little snooze too) Was a fun journey and stunning scenery...  Oh and because of the rickety wooden seats you're welcome to buy a cushion for 60p before you get on the boat (any way to make some money bless 'em!) we bought a funky pink one for me and blue one for Mart (Chelsea blue obviously!).

After 7 hours we arrived into Pakbeng to stay the night and then pick up on the boat again the next day to finish our journey to Luang Prabang. I stayed on the boat to grab our rucksacks from the storage and Mart ran up the hill to grab us some nice accommodation.  As it's a small town they sometimes can't cope with the amount of tourists that descend every evening so you're left with the grotty digs if you're last up the hill to grab one.. so Mart kindly legged it for us! Oh, almost forgot, as he was walking up the hill to grab us a guesthouse, he was carrying our funky cushions and one of the residents of Pakbeng said to him, pointing at the cushions 'oooh lady boy' !!!! hahahah!!!

The husband did good and grabbed us a gorgeous guesthouse that looked right out over the Mekong...lurrvely! We had a wicked little Indian meal and then hit the sack.. 

Our Guesthouse huts, seen from the river
Our view over breakfast

Our guesthouse veranda - wow!

Morning mist over the Mekong

Oh also, Pakbeng gave us a horrible first impression of Laos people as they all seemed to be out to rip us off or lie to us about things... luckily it all changed when we got to Luang Prabang, but it's made us a bit more alert to stuff.  I think it's because Laos operate with 3 different currencies (Thai Baht, US Dollars and Laos Kip), so when you arrive in Pakbeng you're not familiar with the exchange rates for everything and I think the residents take advantage of this just a little bit.  Sneeeeaky Laos!

Thursday - Day 2 on the slow boat down the Mekong

We started off a bit earlier and we managed to be one of the first down to the boat that morning so grabbed oursleves some PLUSH seats that were on the new boat we were using that day.. well actually they were car seats on wooden planks, but better than the wooden rickety things Mart had the day before!! The only thing was.. there were only 4 sets of these plush seats and everyone else on the boat seemed to be bonding and chatting and I think us having the nice seats instantly excluded us from the bonding as they were all stuck on the rickety things... oh well... we were soooo comfortable all day that we didn't miss making friends with Frieda and the gang from Sweden! 

Me sleeping again!
Oh thanks for the good book Laurence, loved it! (2nd Millennium one)

Our lovely comfy seats!!

Highlight of the day for the people that were operating the boat was a giant catfish floating in the mekong.  They actually swung the massive boat around and the boat driver dived into the river to fetch this foul smelling fish and it was huuuge! blurgh.  Luckily they didn't keep it with us lot on the boat, think it was at the back somewhere.

bloomin stunk

We finally arrived at Luang Prabang around 6pm - we loved it there, what a GORGEOUS town. Click here for some more info on Luang Prabang.  The town was very calm and peaceful with really tasty restaurants and loads of handmade gift shops and a brilliant market to look around.. and think we've both turned a bit hippyish since we've been there!  Oh and also there is a lot of French influence in Laos, and there are crepe stands on every corner... they even do nutella ones... shorts are definitely feeling tighter!! mmmm worth it though!

mmmm spring rolls and stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

Snake whisky

mmm Nutella pancakes and rice wine shots :-)

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Friday we had a long lie in and headed out to Kuang Si Waterfall, about 30km's away.  WOW... I don't think I need to talk you through this place.. just take a look... it was like a little fairytale! Mart was like a big kid on the rope swing too! was wicked! 

This is Mart about to get on the rope swing... luckily for him he had to
queue behind a hot swedish chick! haha love him peeping around the tree!

Mart on the rope swing

Mart jumping off the waterfall

Saturday... oh our WORST day by far.. we caught a 7 hour bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng.  Oh my god, we hated every second of it.  Mart can read on coaches and I listen to my iPod or an audiobook.. neither of us could do these things as we were on the windiest/craziest roads for 7 hours... I even had to reach for the plastic bag as my tummy couldn't take it! I ended up takin a Nytol and dozing for 4 hours! haha. Mart was brilliant at looking after me though - thank you gorgeous x  

the bus from hell!!

roadside market stalls

little village on the way to Vang Vieng

what a lot of Laos houses look like in the countryside

first glimpse of Vang Vieng's karts

Although we did have a highlight on Saturday ... after we arrived in Vang Vieng and checked into our hotel Martin discovered that the Chelsea game was being shown on TV in our room!! He was so chuffed and even put his Chelsea shirt on and watched in bed, think it was about 12am our time - it was draw.. a good second half apparently :-)

Vang Vieng is a small town and which is known for a few things; spectacular limestone krasts, amazing caves and ... hiring tyre inner tubes, hopping inside them and floating down the river whilst bars along the river cast out a rope and pull you in for beers, buckets of cocktails and to jump from their mental rope swings into the river! 

Sunday we joined a group and did a mixture of kayaking and tubing down the river.  What a brilliant day! definitely made up for our 7 hour journey from hell the day before! First stop was arriving at the 'Water Cave' where the 15 of us floated along in inner tubes with headlamps and clung onto ropes to guide us through an amazing cave - was awesome, but did feel a little bit like we were in the film 'The Descent' eeek.  We stopped for a quick lunch of fried rice and BBQ Chicken kebabs, then we all kayaked down the river taking in the scenery cropping up around us - really breathtaking! 

After a couple of hours we started to hear 'Rhianna' played really loudly and we knew we'd hit the tubing/bar section of the river.  It was crazy, loads of people floating along in white tubes being pulled into each bar - most people were hammered and it was only 1.30pm! Also, each bar offered 'games', their 'games' consisted of MASSIVE water slides into the river, really high rope swings, mud volleyball and slingshots into the river, it's low season there at the minute, so it was pretty quiet, but in a few weeks it'll be heaving!

We stopped at one bar (they were playing Madonna, so I was happy), had a couple of beers and Mart decided to do the rope swing into the river, was bloomin' high, so was pretty proud of him! 

Mart flying off the rope swing

Oh yeah I was going to mention a bit about how much things are costing us so far.. it seems to be working with our budget which is great:

Thai and Lao beer = 80p to 1pound (large bottle) - sorry no pound sign on this keyboard!
Budget Hotel rooms = we've paid from 6.25 - upto 16.00 for a room, total. (excluding our luxury one that we had in Chiang Mai)
Cocktails = 2.20 roughly
Big plate of Pad Thai noodles = 1.50
Green Curry = 2.30
Trip to waterfall = 3.50 each
Kayaking and tubing all day = 7.00 each
Crepes = 80p each!! toooo tempting!
7 hour bus from Luang Prabang = 3.00 each

Hope everyone's well!!! We're missing you all lots, although when we watched the Chelsea game we saw lots of people in hats and scarves... hmmm... not missing the weather!! Are you bombarded with Christmas adverts yet?! wouldn't surprise me - I saw mince pies in Tescos the week I left Maidenhead!

Before we go, we wanted to give a big special mention to my little sister Clare who's due to finish work on Wednesday to start her maternity leave! Baby due in 2nd week of Nov!! so excited! Love you sis! xx

Oh and we'd like to say 'khorp jai lai lai' (thank you very much in Laos) to my mum for our waterproof pouch, we used it for our camera on the kayak, it was perfect! Also, to my brother to our wicked travel towels, we've used them 3 times so far - sooo handy!! Finally to Mart's mum for helping us organise our Hanoi hotel that was proving difficult to sort out this end!  Thank you xx

We're off to Hanoi today, so will update on our Vietnam adventure soon, can't wait for our Halong Bay trip!

Lots of Love
Ems & Mart

1 comment:

  1. I've just read all your blogs and it sounds like you are having the time of your life.
    Keep the blogs coming, they're great to read.
    Have fun, Nik, Matt. Owen and Imogen x