Vang Vieng

After our more than interesting journey up north to Vang Vieng, we were glad to find our guesthouse easily. Champa Lao The Villa was an amazing placee, a little bit outside of the bustle of the village and definitely not in the middle of the backpacker party zone. When I told my brother that I was heading there I had to hear that last year 22 people died due to the rapids of the Mekong (and probably heavy inhibitions of LaoLao). But since I am not 20 anymore but a responsible adult, I didn’t foresee any problems.

After checking in we went first for lunch to get some energy and then I convinced Dudley to book a tour for the next day.

Since we had made such good experiences with Green Discovery Laos I wanted to book with them and they offered us a three caves visiting tour with kayaking in the afternoon. After finalizing our plans for the next day Dudley went back to get some rest while I sat down to write some postcards and to get a pedicure (so not worth it).

The next morning we had breakfast at the guesthouse where they served an amazing soup.

  
Right on time our pickup arrived with two girls from South Korea already in it. Minnie and Jinnie were way better prepared for the rainy weather than us. With rain coats and shoes which could get wet they were perfectly adjusted for the day. I of course didn’t bring neither but was at least wearing my bikini underneath.

  

We had a 14km drive ahead and when we finally arrived near the first cave it was raining even harder. I decided to remove my T-Shirt and just walk around in my bikini top. Really no point in getting everything wet.

IMG_7176IMG_7174From the Elephant Cave we trekked for a while through the rain. The first couple of hundred meters I still tried to save my shoes but eventually I gave up and waded through the pools of mud. There was just no other way through.


By the time we reached our lunch place I looked like a drowned rat. Since we would visit two caves before eating I put my T-Shirt on again, no need to get cold in the caves.

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We left all our things at the table and started with the snail cave (Tham Hoi cave). After the caving experience in Vietnam the caves in Laos were of course disappointing. Nonetheless we walked through the first one for about 45 minutes and the second one maybe 10 minutes. The formations were better in the first one but still insignificant. In the second one was a large Buddha at the cave entrance though.IMG_7461.JPG IMG_7375.JPGOnce we finished with the second cave we went back to the rain shelter and had our lunch. Now this was a tasty affair, Laotian BBQ at its best.

IMG_7183 It was still drizzling when we left for next cave. After a short trek we arrived at Tham Nam (water cave) where I shed my T-shirt again because as the name implied this cave could only be accessed swimmingly or as in our case with tubes.IMG_7295.JPG IMG_7323.JPG IMG_7285.JPGThus we explored the last cave for the day. As with the others there was not much to see but it was fun tubing inside, using a rope to not get dragged along by the current. When we exited the cave the sun was out and all of a sudden it was hot again. We had another trek ahead of us to visit a Hmong village passing through some rice fields.IMG_7233.JPG IMG_7258.JPGIMG_7270.JPG IMG_7273.JPG IMG_7467.JPG IMG_7483.JPGIMG_7275.JPGWhen we finally crossed the bridge we were all hot and sweaty and ready for the last leg of our tour. The tuk-tuk truck was waiting for us and with the canoes we made our way to the Mekong. We had a good two hours of kayaking ahead of us and we all wanted to get into the water.IMG_7262.JPG IMG_7245.JPGIMG_7201.JPG IMG_7204.JPG IMG_7205.JPGWhy Dudley was mostly taking pictures of me when I was not rowing, I really don’t understand.IMG_7291.JPG IMG_7476.JPG IMG_7391.JPGBut at least we didn’t capsize due to my unwavering support. Eventually we all made it to the last bar along the river before the village. Here we stopped for some sustenance in form of chips and beer. That “happy water” was served along the beer we didn’t know before but it had the desired effect.IMG_7184.JPG IMG_7189.JPG IMG_7190.JPGIMG_7191.JPG We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere with our guides and Minnie and Jinnie. What difference a little “happy water” could make, suddenly we were not strangers anymore.

After so much exercise we were really hungry that evening and Dudley managed to eat the biggest burger available in Vang Vieng. Yours, PollybertIMG_7200.JPG

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Vientiane again

We made it back to Pakse after the zip lining without a hotel to go to. In the end we booked something online and went with the Phi Dao Hotel.

Dudley needed a day to relax after the more than challenging zip lining tour. Dinner the first evening was at the hotel which was negligible. I was in bed a short time later totally exhausted from all excitement of the day.

I started the next day with an intensive shoe cleaning and later went for a soup for breakfast. I haven’t had one since my last day of Saigon and it was quite good. Different from the Vietnamese ones but good nonetheless.

After that I brought my laundry to the cleaners and myself to a massage salon. I needed a long foot massage to get back in shape since new adventures were waiting for us.

The next morning we left by plane for Vientiane again. This was the easiest and fastest way to get up north. I had booked a night at the Be Na Cam Guesthouse which was located right downtown.

For the afternoon I had planned a visit to the COPE Visitors Centre which helps the victims of land mines. Laos had been bombed during the ‘Secret War‘ more times than Vietnam and the legacy of these bombing missions was still visible.

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Dudley supported the program with a generous donation while I did so by buying a couple of t-shirts.


Even though I had this huge caramel French toast in the late afternoon that evening we went for dinner at an Italian place right around the corner from our guesthouse. Here I had my first glass of wine since ages and was more than disappointed. Maybe it’s the climate?

The next day we left for Vang Vieng a city about 4 hours from Vientiane. After the experience with the minibus from Ban Nakasang we had booked tickets on the VIP bus so that Dudley could stretch his legs. But buying tickets and getting a seat are two different pairs of shoes.

There was not one place available on either the minibus nor the VIP bus and since I was not ready to wait for the one that was supposedly leaving unscheduled 2 hours later, I insisted that they find a place for us. Which they did, just differently from what we expected. Dudley ended up sitting on the stairs while I sat next to the driver.

I offered my seat because I am a nice person (at least sometimes) but Dudley wouldn’t budge. We had one stop in between were I tried roasted bananas filled with shredded coconut.


That the trip in the end did take around 6 hours made matters slightly worse for Dudley. In the end we made it though to Vang Vieng and even managed to walk to our guesthouse without major problems (thank God it was such a small village where everything was within walking distance). Yours, Pollybert

Zipping through the trees

After a long discussion the night before Dudley and I had finally settled on a plan for today. We left our Hotel Inthira and Champasak at 7am on a tuk-tuk in the rain. We were both miserable since it was so wet and cold. I at least got a spare rain coat from the tuk-tuk driver.

Once we arrived in Pakse we got the driver to go to the office of Green Discovery Laos because we wanted to check if we could go on a 2 day tour with them today. They hadn’t answered our online inquiry nor the email I sent the evening before and we both really wanted to do the Treetop Explorer Tour.

And really, we made it there in time and signed up for the 2 day tour. So good that we tried it because they were booked for the next two days and we wouldn’t have waited that out.

Within 10 minutes I had my smaller backpack ready and we were on the go. We were a group of 10 people, one couple from England, another from Australia, mother and son from the Netherlands, two girls from Vientiane and us.

I was not really sure about the itinerary, I read it yes, but after reading about the zip lining I was already hooked. I had tried that the first time at the Adventure Cave in Phong Nah and was a bit nervous about it. But in a good way.

Anyway it took us a good hour on the road and another hour on an ‘adventure road’ (Sinsay’s more than generous description for the worst dirt road ever. There were holes on this road in which you could have easily buried an elephant).

Eventually we arrived though and we’re all outfitted with a harness. By that time it was still raining and cold. At least 10 degrees cooler than in the city and I was very happy about my long sleeved shirt that I found in the backpack.


I put the rain coat which I had bought in Sapa on top of it and then we started into the wild. It was not really adventurous the first hour. Just walking along a dirt road in the wet and cold.


But eventually the scenery changed and we entered the national park.


If I said before that it was just boring trekking, all that changed in an instant when we had to cross our first ‘bridge’.

The boring part was definitely over! When we got to the other side I was sweating so much that the rain coat was not necessary anymore and Dudley had already some leeches attached to his calves. This was going to be one interesting trip.

More walking through a wet and misty forest brought us to our lunch destination. The guides, Sinsay and three locals prepared the ‘table’ and then we ate in this beautiful meadow.

  

Further trekking was necessary after lunch, it was very slippery going downhill in these woods. Until we came to the next bridge which was a walk in the park compared to the first one. I actually took a selfie in the middle of it. Which was going to be my only selfie while doing stuff (with the petrified look on my face already on that bridge maybe understandable, I seem to be holding on to my safety line for dear life).


After that it was zip line after zip line with a bit of abseiling in between.

  

Over time the zip lines became longer, passing in front of the waterfall and it was the best feeling ever to step off the platform knowing the zip line will catch me. Just the one step into nothing until you get caught from the line was such an exhilarating experience! Best thing ever!

     

The zip line above was done together. So I was attached to Dudley and he to me and together we zipped across. If you want to see a regular zip line click here and for abseiling here.

We were almost at the end of our first day, just a couple more zip lines and then we arrived at our tree house location for the night.

        
I went for a swim in a natural pool and later we had a great dinner in front of the waterfall. To get to our treehouse we had to zip line in the dark and just a while later it was lights out for all of us. Lying alone in the dark and hearing the sound and noise of the forest was pretty intense, more so when another downpour started and I had to move my bed a bit to not get wet. Yours, Pollybert

Vat Phu

There was of course something in Champasak because otherwise what’s the point of going there. Champasak was the home of Vat Phu another world heritage site and supposedly older than Angkor Wat.

So this was our destination for the day. To go there we rented another scooter and Dudley drove us to the site. It was actually quite easy to go there. 10km straight ahead, over two bridges and then to the right. All very easy and straight forward, so we found it without trouble.
We paid our entrance fee and then sat down on the electric bus to get a lift up to the actual site. All very sophisticated especially since we were the only two tourists going up. Which is a bit unfair because there were other people once we were at the site (but nothing compared to Angkor Wat).
Having arrived on site we first got a bracelet full of blessings around our wrists for which we donated handsomely. Because what’s the point of money if you can’t share it with others?

So this was the start of our tour with a blessed bracelet and I was ready to be amazed again by a temple (see it’s enough to let some days go by and I was able to see another temple). Also Vat Phu was a bit different from Angkor Wat since it was built at the foot of a mountain, with another temple on top and a small spring.

 

We didn’t take the obvious column lined road, no Dudley wanted us to take the paved one and leave via the boulevard.

So coming slightly from the side we could first see the two mirror temples with the one on the left side under heavy reconstruction.

We therefore visited the one on the right side.

    

The way up was long and stony and had of course super steep steps again. But while going up the structure of Vat Phu became more and more visible.

  

  
Once up we were rewarded with a view over the valley and the Vat.

While visiting the temple on top we heard that if you pour the water from the spring on your head it brings good luck. One can never have too much of it, so of course I poured some.


     
I don’t know if it helped but it definitely hasn’t hurt to get as many blessings and good luck bracelets on this trip. We went to explore the area further and came upon some rocks higher up with elephant carvings.

  

The way down was steep as up with the added challenge of actually going down. The steps were in some parts so narrow that I had to navigate them sideways.

The fallen statue of a Buddha had something tragic but walking through the boulevard lined with columns on both sides felt majestic.

  

Since we were already in the area we set our sights on another temple just around the corner. The Hong Nang Sida Temple was just 2km away from Vat Phu but also in another world. The road there was no longer paved but a small dirt road with deep tracks, extremely muddy due to the rainfall last night and still half under water. Dudley managed to gut us there, I would have given up by at half way through. So this was how it looked in former times


and this is what we saw.

This temple has seen better times but it was still interesting to walk around. Not only we found that but also the local cows.

  

Of course the moment we walked back to the scooter it started to rain again. So we took shelter under the only construction at the site, a local house which looked lucky to be still standing. It helped with the rain though.

When we left the dirt road had changed into a mud pool and I was never more happier to drive shotgun. Dudley sneakers got dunked more than once.

Back on the paved road we had to stop for shelter a second time, the rain was coming down really hard (please see here).

But eventually we made it back into Champasak and Dudley had had it with me always sitting in the back, so he set out to get me driving. And of course I wanted to, it’s very limiting if you can only take the bicycle. Anyway, here we go.

  

 

I drove a couple more rounds but definitely not enough, so I will have to do it again soon. It was a very liberating experience that I could that. Good to know that you are never to old to learn a new trick! Yours, Pollybert

Champasak 

At 8am we said goodbye to our Australian friends Angie and Peter and at 11am our shuttle boat picked us up. There would be no private shuttle tour to our new destination, I had insisted on public transfer.
The shuttle boat took its time to pick every on up and only when every available seat was filled did we go to Ban Nakasang.

  

So the little place we saw at our arrival three days ago was the official gateway to the islands. We made it from the boat with only a little accident (this time Dudley fell, but in another boat) and were then transferred like sheep to the bus station. There we boarded our minibus and since I had insisted on drawing some money from the ATM we were the last to board. Big mistake, really something I have to remember: Always be the first to board a bus. Dudley and I sat in the last row and he was more than uncomfortable due to his size. To make matters worse he told me what could happen with the minivan (accident wise) so that I had to tell him to stop his horror stories otherwise I would start to panic in the confined space of the last row with no way out. I kept on reading and tried to loose myself in a different world.

But all good things must come to an end and so must also must bad things. Eventually we got off the bus with the station Champasak being in the middle of nowhere. Literally there was nothing there. We had just time to ask in which direction the Mekong was because we knew we had to cross it and then the bus left.
When we started walking with our backpacks and my front pack I felt already tired. And when Dudley showed me on his phone that the Mekong was easily 5-6km away I slightly despaired. How could our Australian friends send us into this nightmare?

We walked for at least two km, all the while trying to hitch a ride. But none would stop or they would just slow a little and then drive on. If I had been alone, now would have been the right moment to sit down and have a good cry. I was tired, I was hot and sweating and I was exhausted. But since we were two I couldn’t do that and so just drudged on. And eventually, oh miracle, a car stopped to my hold out thumb and we got on its cargo area.


This wonderful lady gave us a lift to the boats (I am sure it was more than 6km) and we had no trouble to cross the Mekong.

    

Once we were on the other side we had finally reached Champasak.

Again we had no ride and were told that the hotel was just 3km away. With a storm threatening we walked as fast as we could when suddenly a minivan stopped and offered his services. With its driver it was the first and only time that I spoke French in Laos.

So with a couple of miracles and angels watching over us we made it to our Hotel Inthira before the rain started. Quite a feat!


And here the view out back from our rooms across the street. 

Champasak had not really much to offer as we would notice shortly after checking in. Dudley and I walked up and down the main street, visited one of the many temples and then bought ice cream. There was not much else to do.

  
     

After a short power nap during which it had started to rain in earnest we met for dinner at the hotel restaurant and I enjoyed a local delicacy called laab. Minced meat with lots of herbs especially mint. Very tasty and just a bit spicy. With this new experience under my belt I was ready for bed. Yours, Pollybert