After an all too brief jaunt around Northern Thailand the group and myself make our way into the idyllic and laid back country of Laos. Since the visa / illegal agent debacle tensions in the group had been running high but thankfully the border crossing was quick, pain free and relatively simple. We make the precarious journey to the border across the Mekong in a shallow boat that some how manages to accommodate the 21 of us, including all of our luggage. This is certainly a novel way to enter a country but thankfully our time on this narrow, shaky piece of wood is short lived. In no time we have entered our fourteenth country.
From the border we are bundled into taxis that are to take us back to the river where we climb on board a long boat that is to become our home for two days as we travel down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang.
We climb on board the boat, dump our bags in a pile, remove our shoes and settle in for two full days of unadulterated nothingness. As we wile away the days catching up with blogs, diaries and reading, the sights and sounds of Laos drift peacefully past our windows. The river bank, dense with trees, teems with wildlife and the occasional blonde buffalo. We spot local children enjoying lazy afternoons by the river, swimming and sunbathing.
The Mekong and riverside villages
After two delightfully relaxing days we arrive in the sleepy town of Luang Prabang. An old colonial town, the French influences are not difficult to spot. Bakeries and French restaurants line the streets, whilst in the market we find women selling baguettes loaded with cheese and bacon on every corner.
Hearing that the best way to explore Luang Prabang is by bike we set out early on our first morning to hire some. The equivalent of a few pounds a day to hire, ‘what could go wrong?’ we ponder. We decide to make our way out to some of the near by waterfalls, 15km in the searing heat ‘we’ll make it…’. Unsurprisingly with the sun beating down on us and no respite from the heat, after an hour of furious pedaling, up-hill, we decide we are unlikely to make it to the waterfalls and instead stop off at the river. We happen upon a group of children playing in the river, in their backyard. After a quick word with the adults present we are welcomed inside. Much to the bemusement of the children we head down the bank and jump in the river to cool off.
On the way home we soon discover that I have a slow puncture, which would explain the furious pedaling earlier in the day. After attempting to mend the bike with the puncture kit we have been provided with, we discover that the wheel is in fact welded on. Lou and I flag down and tuk-tuk and head back to the hire company to see what they can do. The rest of the group return shortly after us to find Lou and myself embroiled in a row with the manager of the shop who is refusing to help us. Eventually, after much more shouting we set Pernille on him and he allows us to take a cheaper city bike. We ride away knowing that we are going to face difficulties when it comes to collecting Pernille’s passport that evening. Mere moments later we discover that Dave also has a puncture, he returns, not wishing to waste any more time he hands over the bike and walks away.
The next morning, having successfully retrieved P’s passport the night before, the boys decide to hire bikes again, this time from a different company, and cycle to another set of waterfalls. Not fancying the 64km round trip the girls wait until later in the morning and hire a tuk-tuk to take us instead. We arrive to find Al and Dave waiting patiently for us at the entrance to the falls. First stop – the bear rescue centre – where we find a group of Asiatic Black bears relaxing and catching some rays.
From the bear sanctuary we make our way to the waterfalls, the main attraction. On this cloudy but warm day the milky blue water looks inviting however a quick toe dip reveals that the water is ice cold, until the sun comes out I’m not sure I’ll be venturing in. The waterfalls are complex, spread out over many levels, we make our way up to the middle levels and stop for a spot of lunch overlooking the falls.
Before long the sun has made an appearance, desperate to get in the water we brave the cold and the painful barefooted entry to find that once in the water it is refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable.
After cooling off we scramble our way to the climax of the day. The stunning main waterfall. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Climbing to the top of the falls
Over the edge!
After another day cycling and relaxing in Luang Prabang we make our way directly to the capital; Vientiane. Like the rest of Laos the capital is quiet and positively more laid back than any city I have ever visited. Unfortunately Louise and I need to start planning our next adventure so have very little time to explore but we ensure that we make time to visit Vientiane’s most iconic attraction – the Arc de Triomphe. Resembling the Arc de Triomphe in France the Arc was built to celebrate Laos’ independence from France. It was built with American funds, using cement that was originally put aside for a new airport earning it the nickname ‘the vertical runway’. Up close the Arc is overwhelmingly oppressive. If you take the time to read the plaque outlining its history it is quite clear that the Laotians feel the same way. The evening is spent with the rest of the group at a local bowling alley.
Arc de Triomph, Laos style
Vientiane is the last stop in the wonderfully peaceful and relaxed country of Laos. Leaving is hard, I will definitely be back to explore more of one of my favourite countries to date.