The Mekong and Luang Prabang

I jumped in a tuk tuk and headed off to our boat.

The slow boat was due to take 2 days, 8 hours each day slowly meandering down the Mekong, with a night stop in the small town of Pakbang.

The boat itself was a long thin barge like boat with old coach seats along its length.

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I was lucky enough to have a nice seat towards the front, the seats in the back having to contend with the noise the engine produced.

The boat was half empty, I was hoping to use it as a chance to speak to some local Laotians, however 95% of the boat were western backpackers.

The scenery of the Mekong river banks slowly went past, some really beautiful green river banks, some sandy, some covered with trees, some covered in rocks that piled into the waters.

There is however only so long that can be spent watching the world go by, however pretty it is. It all began to mould into one generic river view. This is when I picked up the kindle, and didn’t put it down until we reached Pakbang.

I had provisionally booked at guesthouse for the night, however Laura, a Dutch backpacker, had also booked a room and we decided to double up and save money by getting a twin room.

I went out that night in search of food and came across an Indian restaurant, despite not having the greatest time in India I did fall in love with the food. To my delight it was traditional and authentic Indian food. It bought back a lot of memories from earlier in my trip! The simple delights of a Roti and Palak Paneer.

I had a couple of beers at the guest house but declined the invitation to go to a local bar. One of the backpackers In the guesthouse was an English guy on a gap yar. Not a gap year, a gap yar.

He was telling the group boastfully about how very well educated he was and took great delights speaking in Latin that he had learnt at school. He then proceeded to take his top of to flex, despite the evening being really quite cool.

In one word, a knob. I had no desire to drink with him or his sycophants.

The following day passed in much the same vein as the one before. Some great views, followed by boredom and reading.

That all being said, I really enjoyed the trip. It was great to travel a long distance by a new form of transport, and it was a much smoother ride than the bus would have been.

I got to Luang Prabang without a clue as to what it offered. I was pleasantly surprised.

I booked into a guesthouse and went to meet a few of the people from my Gibbon Experience******

We explored the wonderful night market and food market and got some dinner. The food market offering a very cheap buffet of noodles and veg, however there are many stalls offering this in a narrow and covered alleyway.

The press of people combined with the fires of the stoves made it incredibly hot. We saw one girl pass out from the heat of the place!

After eating and losing at least a stone in sweat we left the street and found a juice stall, where we sat for the rest of the evening and drank fresh fruit juices and chatted until bedtime.

I had arranged with Laura and 2 other Dutch girls (Daisy and Tamar) to meet them for breakfast and go on a walking tour. As Laura was the one with a map she was dubbed tour guide.

Our first stop was the Buddhist temple Wat Xieng Thong. A extensively decorated temple. Unlike many religious sites ive been to on this trip, this one didn’t have any sacred feel. It felt like a tourist trap, despite being quite empty.

It was a very pretty building and I enjoyed walking around it, I even had a try making the gong hum. However it lacked the spirituality of the temple of Luang Prabang.

We wandered a bit further and found a huge spider! Tamar had a fascination for it. I was happy to see it as it presented a great photo opportunity, our next destination blurred in the background.

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The bamboo bridge was something I had wanted to see all day. A temporary bridge, it is taken down every wet season and rebuilt again in the dry season.

I was fascinated by it. For me it was beautiful, made almost entirely of bamboo it spanned a rather wide tributary of the Mekong and was surprisingly strong. My bouncing doing little but making me look a fool.

We had some traditional Laos food at a restaurant on the other side and it was delicious, specifically the seaweed!

Daisy got quite excited when she realised there was a Geocache within a mile of us, so we gave up on the walking tour to go and find it.

Geocaching is a worldwide online game. People will hide small boxes and load the GPS coordinates onto the app. The aim? To find the boxes and sign the paper within, then log online that you have found it.

It was really fun looking for it, it was hidden on the old bridge, a rusting steel road bridge, with small pedestrian walkways precariously hanging on either side.

All this excitement meant it was time for some relaxing with a massage, unfortunately the one we found was the worst massage ive had to date. It was just some light squeezing and vigorous rubbing by a bloke with very calloused hands (yes I realise how homoerotic that sounds)

They didn’t even have massage beds, just a mat on the floor. (again yes homoerotic)

Myself Daisy and Tamar left very unsatisfied.

We went out that evening to have a few beers. This turned into a few more and before we knew it the bar was closing! Not to worry we were told, the local bowling alley stays open till 5am.

We piled into a tuk tuk and off we went.

The bowling alley sold beer and bowling, they didn’t seem to concerned with how the two mixed. After 1 round of normal bowling, we descended into drunk bowling. Each bowl having to be done in a ridiculous manner.

The staff loved it and found it really funny. At one stage I found myself down in among the pins!

The following morning, complete with hangover, the Dutch girls, an English guy called Dave and myself got on a Tuk Tuk to head towards to local Waterfalls.

We briefly stopped at a local village and some disappointing rice fields before arriving.

I had ready there was a bear sanctuary close to the waterfalls, I was wrong, the sanctuary was with the falls site. The beautiful sun bears were all rescues and it was great to see them up close and playing. I’m always sceptical seeing animals in captivity but these seemed healthy and they would likely be dead without the sanctuary.

 

We headed up towards the falls. We passed some stunningly coloured mini falls and swimming areas. They were looked amazing and were very inviting, but we had more walking and didn’t want to do it wet. They were also pretty busy, so we figured the further along we got the less people there would be.

We walked up to the falls themselves and they were stunning. The water cascading down several rock faces to create a layered waterfall. They were incredible, due to the layers of the waterfall the water picks up minerals along the fall and becomes the blue colour seen in the pools at the bottom.

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We went for a trek/scramble up to the top of the falls, we had heard there was a cave and spring up there. So off we went hunting.

When we got to the top of the falls, tired and sweating we found a sign pointing to the cave, 3km away!

Not being people to give up we headed off to it!

Along the walk we came across a local bridge, it was a very simple design and fun to cross!

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Exhausted we reached the caves and sat outside enjoying a feast of bananas and water before getting ur torches and heading in.

None of us had a clue what to expect. I was thinking it would be a simple alcove. I was wrong, the cave went on for around 150m and was pretty wide most of the way, we did have to scramble along the final few metres.

When we got to the end, we all turned our torches off and sat for a few minutes in the dark in silence. It was very relaxing being sensory deprived. As I turned my torch back on I accidently set in onto strobe mode.

The effect in the cave was huge, so we decided to put some music on briefly and have a quick Cave Rave. It was very funny.

On our way out of the cave we saw torches coming our way.

We turned ours off and stood stock still, we saw the lights moving back and forth before shining towards us and going still. We stayed still for a few seconds before turning our torches back on and laughing! I’m not sure the poor French couple we scared found it funny though!

Outside the cave was a stream the locals swim in, across it is a log. A man  offered a very interesting deal, cross the long and return with the beer and its yours, fail and buy a beer. He even demonstrated how easy it was by going across and returning while balancing a beer on his head!

Needless to say, I fell after about 10 steps!

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We wandered back to the falls and went swimming in the pools. While swimming the fish would come and nibble your feet. It was quite uncomfortable, however when one bit my shin and drew blood I decided to get out!

We got the tuk tuk back to the city as the sun was setting and I went and got a few purchases from the night market.

The best being a pair of metal chop sticks, made from recycled bombs dropped by the Americans during the Vietnam war.

As I left Laos and boarded my plane to Cambodia I was disappointed not to have spent longer in this interesting country!

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