Back to Bangkok and onto the Islands

My alarm goes off at 5:00, 5:05, 5:10, 5:14, and 5:15 before I finally wake up enough to roll out of bed. Why did I go out past 7pm last night?

I pack up my stuff and walk down the three flights of stairs to the lobby, where the guesthouse overnight staff are still sleeping on the couch. Jealous. It was only a few short hours ago that I had to wake them to let me in, and now I’m waking them to let me out. They must hate me as much as I hate the fact that I’m awake right now, which is a lot. The other girls are slowly coming down the stairs with their stuff too, so I walk down the street to Ilona’s hostel to make sure she’s awake and ready to go. She has a habit of sleeping through the most obnoxious, and loud alarm clock in the world, and she is sharing a room with 11 other people so I don’t think that would go over too well. More importantly though, I don’t want to miss the flight.
I am only slightly surprised to find her still sitting outside on the porch with some of the group from last night. She talked about not sleeping but I didn’t think she’d actually do it! I’m a little jealous though, because she doesn’t seem as tired as I am.

We all grab a tuk tuk to take us to the airport and wave goodbye to Vientiane as the sun is rising. The airport is a breeze even though we are all SO tired. We don’t talk much, except Ilona. Ilona talks a lot, which keeps me entertained, I just have no energy to fully respond. We get on the plane which has comfy seats and tv screens on each chair, but we’re only due to be on board for one hour, so we don’t get a chance to fully enjoy them. For the first time in my life, I wished the plane ride was longer so that I had time to sleep. No luck though, and we’re in Bangkok by 8:30am.

We take a cab down to Khaosan Road where we go in search of a hostel that can house us for a couple hours, just to nap and leave our things until we get on the night train. I feel so sketchy, asking hotels what their hourly rates are, but we don’t want to pay for a full night if we can avoid it. We finally find one, after looking at a few options we just pick the cheapest, and leave all six of our bags in the smallest twin bed room I’ve ever seen. All we need is two beds though, because Ilona has finally crashed and AJ is feeling sick, but the rest of us decide to push through the day so that we can sleep well on the overnight train. We haven’t booked anything yet so at least one of us has to stay up and arrange that anyway. We roam around Khosan Road, stopping into little shops at looking at dirt cheap bikinis ($6), printed t-shirts, tank tops, dresses etc. On two separate occasions, I have men approach me on the street and try to lure me into their shops to buy a suit… apparently I am beginning to look like a man.

We find a couple travel agencies and inquire about ticket prices for overnight trains. I know. Do I dare? After my last experience, it feels mad, but I’ve heard from every single person that I’ve met since, that they had done an overnight train with air conditioning and it’s been absolutely fine, so I’m going to take my chances. AC is, however, a must. We book a ticket for 5pm which has us arriving in a city close to, but not actually in, Phuket. We have to take a bus the rest of the way, and our plans change and we decide to take a bus to Krabi instead of Phuket because it’s closer. We ARE still going to Phuket though, because I’ve heard the beaches are just incredible and filled with teal hued oceans… my favourite variety of ocean.

We plan to leave for the train at 4, and some way, I don’t know exactly how this works (but I blame Bangkok) we find ourselves running late for the train, again. The 6 of us get split into two groups on our way to find a taxi and are delayed 15 minutes trying to find each other again on the bustling busy streets. We are lucky that we had left early enough, because we manage to find two taxis that will take us to the train station ad fast as they can. The traffic is bad; it seems pretty touch-and-go for a while, but we do manage to make it to the train station on time, and even end up waiting a few minutes before we roll out.

It’s been an extremely long day of traveling, and I couldn’t be happier when I board the train to see that ALL of the windows are closed, leaving no space for bugs to swoop in and swarm my personal space like they had on my way to Chiang Mai.

By 7pm we have all asked for our seats to be turned into beds so that we can get a good, long, well deserved sleep.

Vientiane

I wake up quite late into the morning and find some people to get breakfast with. Today, I order a fruit cup and some breakfast sausage which is actually just a hot dog. When will I learn?

After breakfast I walk to a travel agency to look into the prices of flights, trains and busses that we can potentially take to get to the south islands of Thailand. I find a couple good options and go back to meet Ilona to discuss them. We don’t come up with a solid plan, and somehow decide to go shopping instead; classic procrastination. After shopping around the main street of Vientiane for about an hour, we go back to the hotel because I’m exhausted and want to nap before going out tonight, which I know we’re going to do because now it is ACTUALLY everyone’s last night together. We’re really sad to have to separate from everyone, especially the girls we met, but they are coming to the south islands after they visit Cambodia, so that they can attend the famous Full Moon Party, so we’ll still see them in a couple of  weeks.

Before going into the hotel, Ilona and I try to stop into one more travel agency just to compare prices. The four girls are in there too, and I assume that they’re booking their flight to Cambodia, but I’m greeted by an awesome surprise when they tell me that they’ve changed their plans and are coming to the south islands in Thailand with us now instead! All six of us book a flight from Vientiane to Bangkok for tomorrow morning, and plan to take a night train from Bangkok to Phucket. I only agree to the night train on the condition that we get air conditioning and shut all the windows to prevent any bugs from getting in. I swear to god I will die if I have to go through that again, but I’m open to giving the night train another chance.

The girls go for lunch but I’m still full from my late breakfast and I am truly exhausted so I go have a nap in the hotel.
At 5:30pm I wake up and go downstairs to see if I can find anyone. It’s difficult to keep tabs on where everybody is when there’s no wifi in your room to contact people, so I just plan on walking around until I see someone and to figure out if we have any dinner plans. Sure enough, as soon as I walk outside the hotel I find one of the guys walking down the street. He doesn’t know where anyone is either, and we’re both hungry, so we decide to just go for dinner. We find a Belgian food restaurant where I order a really good salad with feta, boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and a delicious mystery dressing. We’re right down the street from the Grand Palace, so after dinner we walk down to take a look, even though it’s closed for the night. There’s a large statue of a man looking out over the Mekong river, in the park just across the street from the Grand Palace, so we walk over to check that out too. From what I gather, it’s a statue to honour an old communist ruler, who was apparently very well liked because many locals are gathered around praying, lighting candles, and leaving flowers at his feet. We walk back along the side of the river and through a night market before getting back to the hotel, where everyone is hanging out outside. Now everyone is hungry and wants to go for dinner so even though I’ve already eaten, I tag along. We go to what they advertise as a Tex Mex restaurant, but there is pizza and pasta on the menu…along with some Mexican options too though, so I guess it counts. I am too full to order anything so I just get a drink and hang out. There is a small stage where a local guy goes up with a guitar and plays some Laos music for a while. Later on, his friend joins him and they play classic American songs, starting with Wonderwall. They LOVE Wonderwall here, I’ve heard it at least 3 or 4 times on separate occasions throughout Asia. We love it, and he starts asking people to go up and sing with him, which I really want to do but can’t muster up the courage to go alone. I’m weak.

I leave the restaurant and run to a hostel down the street where I can get wifi, because Tressa and I have set up a Skype date. I get there earlier than expected so I FaceTime Krista in between. It’s so nice to have access to technology like this, even in a small communist country like Laos, all the way on the other side of the world. I don’t realize how much I miss people until I see them, and it’s really nice to chat, even if it’s just for a little bit.

I run back to the restaurant and the karaoke/acoustic thing Is still going on. One of the other girls agrees to go up with me, so we go up and sing Let It Be. It’s awful. A random man from the restaurant comes up with us too and is singing most of it, and blocking the book with the lyrics. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know all the words, but I don’t. I do know them better than the performer though, who has been singing all the classic American songs and just making up his own words as he goes along. It’s so adorable, I actually love live music here. In Thai, Laotian, or in English it’s always so entertaining!

We leave the restaurant and go back to hang out at the tables outside our hostel. I feel like a loitering teenager, but everything in Laos closes at 11, even in Vientiane, so there is nowhere else to go and there definitely isn’t space for 20 people in one of our tiny hostel rooms, so at the tables we stay. Our flight leaves at 7am tomorrow morning, so I leave relatively early so that I can get some sleep. It’s sad to have to say goodbye to everyone, but at least now with all the girls going down to the islands together, it’s 4 less goodbyes that I have to say!

I go to bed and set my alarm for 5am. I already hate tomorrow morning.

Kayaking to Vientiane

After today, everyone in our group is splitting up and we’re all moving on to different places in the world. However, we all still need to get south to Vientiane, (capital city of Laos) to connect to our next destinations, so we decide to try and stick together a little longer. There are busses and vans available for very cheap that can get you there in 3 hours, which is a piece of cake. Originally that was our plan, to just take a simple bus in the morning to arrive there by early afternoon, but then I hear one of the boys talking about kayaking to the city, which I think sounds awesome. I put it out of my mind because I know that kayaking the distance of a 3 hour car ride could be pretty intense and I would maybe die. I don’t know how or when but somehow everyone else heard about the kayaking too, and also felt intrigued so when the girls suggest to me that we do the kayak I decide to go for it. The itinerary says that we would leave at 9am and arrive to the city at 6pm that night, with a stop for lunch in between, so in my mind I’m gearing up for a 7 or 8 hour kayak, but I think I can do it. We book the trip, for about three times as much money than a bus would have been (still only $20) and all plan to leave together in the morning.

We all get up and pack our things, which are spread into a huge mess all over the room, (ahhhhh backpacking) and go downstairs for a quick breakfast. There are 17 people from our little group who decided to kayak to Vientiane, and then 3 solo travelers who are staying in the same guesthouse as we are. We toss our full backpacks into the back of two larger-sized tuk tuks, and get in with them. It’s a tight fit to have 10 people and 10 backpacks all in one tuk tuk but I don’t think it matters because the drive can’t be that long. Wrong. The drive is an hour before we reach the water where we get in the kayaks. They are two person kayaks and most of the girls have been so smart and asked the strongest boys to be their partners so they wouldn’t be stuck at the back. I consider myself a pretty experienced paddler, in a canoe though, and I’ve kayaked before but it really doesn’t feel that different, so I’m not too concerned about getting the strongest partner. I get paired with a guy in our group who is a lot older than I am, but he’s still a man so I assume he can paddle. I ask him if he’s kayaked before and he tells me he has so I offer to let him steer if he’d like but mention that I feel comfortable doing it as well. He prefers to take the back seat and steer the boat, which is cool because it’s less work for me and I’m not fully confident in my kayak steering skills, especially in a two person kayak.
We paddle down the river for about 20 minutes before hitting our first rapid. Our kayak guide tests them out first and encourages us to follow along. It’s not an insane amount of white water, just a little bit so I don’t feel too concerned. We all make it through without a problem. I have brought my trusty water proof camera with me so I can take pictures of the beautiful scenery around me as well as everyone in their kayaks.
The next set of rapids we hit are a little more intense. A faster current with a longer stretch of rocks, as opposed to the last one which took about 2 seconds to cross. Our boat has not been steering as straight as I’d like it to, so I’m slightly more concerned about these rapids and tie my camera around my ankle, just in case. We go down into the rapids, (which we are supposed to hit straight on) at a diagonal angle, which flips our kayak. We go plunging into the river where I am swept under for what seems like forever by the strong current. I finally resurface and manage to grab a hold of our kayak so I can float out to the flat water. My first instinct is to grab for the camera that had been looped around my ankle, which is now missing. I know that even after our lucky find in the river while tubing, I will never ever find my camera at the bottom of a stream of rapids. I am so mad at myself for not tying it to the kayak but it just seemed like a better idea at the time to have it on my body. Ughhhh.
I like to think that 20 years from now, when technology has advanced and the earth is running low on drinking water, or a giant natural disaster displaces the water in this river, that someone will find my waterproof camera and be able to access all my photos and be like wow, she had such a cool life.

We get back into the kayak, and I ask if I can steer this time. I’m much more comfortable in the back of the kayak, but back here I can see what my paddling partner is doing…which isn’t much of anything. He can’t get comfortable, so sits with his feet dangling in the water on either side of the kayak and holding his paddle still across his lap. He paddles every now and then, but it almost makes it worse because I’ve come to find a rhythm in which I can paddle hard enough to keep our boat straight as well as close to the rest of the group. When he paddles it throws me off because the strokes are not even. It’s hard NOT to get annoyed with your paddling partner, especially in the hot sun after losing a camera, so I do try my very best to stay calm. I just refrain from speaking about anything at all unless it’s necessary. We almost tip over a couple more times as he tries to settle in and find a comfortable seating arrangement for himself. I will have everyone note that we did not tip the kayak through the rapids when I was steering. What uppp!?

After what feels like forever, we reach our lunch point. This means we tie our kayaks to some rocks along the shore, and climb up onto a big rock where there is space to build a fire and grill chicken for the group. Our guides prepare the meal for us, while we climb up onto different sized boulders and up onto cliffs and jump into the river. I climb over to one rock and jump off, but I don’t have the guts to cliff dive as high as some of people in the group, who climb up to the top of a rocky wall that must be 50 feet high, and plunge down into the quick moving current of the river. It keeps us entertained until our food is ready, which is two chicken and vegetable skewers atop some fried rice and a baguette (they love baguettes in Laos).

When we’re finished eating we get back to our kayaks to do the second stretch of paddling for the day. I am again, paddling a 37 year old man down a river basically all on my own, but I love being on the water and in the sun, and I’ve always enjoyed paddling so I am surprisingly less angry than I would have expected myself to be. We make it to the shore, when I slip up and say “mine” so I have to do 10 press ups on the rocky beach. My upper body is going to be in so much pain tomorrow and I know it.

We are told to throw our bags onto the roof of a tuk tuk, which will be taking us to Vientiane. I was under the impression that we would have two tuk tuks, like we had on the way to the river, but this time they plan to cram 20 of us into one vehicle and have our bags on top. It is not a comfortable journey, and the sun has tired me out but I can’t sleep with all of the bumps on the road. We drive for an hour and a half through farm country before reaching the city, which I was not expecting. I was under the impression that I would be kayaking for 7 hours today, not kayaking for 2 hours and driving around in a tuk tuk for the rest of it. However, being in the tuk tuk gives my arm a nice break from paddling and press ups.
Our trip ends up being a long day of driving in a tuk tuk, instead of the kayak adventure we had all envisioned. And technically we could have taken a bus and been there 6 hours earlier… But the kayak thing was a nice change from a boring old car.

We arrive in Vientiane which is a nice city, but not as nice as Luang Prabang, which is my favourite place I’ve visited so far, I think. There are lots more lights and restaurants in the city, which makes sense because it is the capital after all. The tuk tuk driver drops us off on a random street instead of at a guest house so we start walking. Again, finding space for 20 people is difficult and when we start being told that most guest houses are full at this time of the year, and it’s already 6pm, everyone gets a little panicky and we all split up without telling each other where we’re going or agreeing on a time to meet back up. Communication is key when you’re in a foreign country without a cell phone. I am still grouped with 5 other people, and we walk around looking for a place to stay but can’t find anything that we like or that can hold as many of us as we’d like. We finally make contact with some other people in the group when we sit down at a cafe and get wifi. The other 20 people with us have found a hostel with enough space for all of them, and one more double room. That isn’t exactly ideal for 6 people so we make adjustments. We end up cramming 3 people into 2 person rooms for a couple reasons, mostly just that there is nothing else around that is affordable and still has space. We’re just here for one night so no one minds sleeping on the floor, though I am lucky and get a double room with just me and one other girl.

We all shower after a long day in the heat. I am convinced my “tan” is strictly dirt caked onto my skin but after my shower I am still quite dark, but only on my front side and mostly on my shoulders. It is not a even tan, but it’s something!

We meet for dinner down the street at a restaurant called the Full Moon Café to start celebrating our last night as a group! I order a rum and coke to drink, and take a shot in the dark and order a pulled pork sandwich for dinner which I figure could be awesome or be absolutely terrible. The waiter takes me order but comes back a few minutes later and says “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have rum and coke”. A) I am not a sir. B) I can see a bottle of Bacardi on the bar right beside me. I let the sir thing go because I obviously know it’s a language barrier thing (I hope) and I think it’s adorable, and I just point at the bottle of rum to get my point across. They come back with a glass filled half way up with rum, and a can of coke. I ask for two glasses so I can mix a proper drink and not die from drinking what looks like 3oz of rum in one glass. The pulled pork sandwich arrives and is probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, because it’s fantastic. It’s a nice little taste of home. I mean, I’ve had better pulled pork in my life, but this sandwich doesn’t disappoint, especially considering I am in Laos. I have to explain what it is to some British people at the table who have never heard of it before, poor Europe.

There are 20 of us at the table so when our bill comes, the total is ONE MILLION kip. It looks so badass so I take a picture. But the total in Canadian dollars is about $138 so it’s not reaaaally that bad ass. In fact, $138 for 20 people is a sick deal! I could pay for everyone if I wanted too…but I certainly don’t.

We go out to a bar to celebrate our last night together and while we’re all chatting we figure out that no one has anything booked to leave Vientiane the next day, and almost all of us will be staying another night… So this isn’t our last night together after all. It continues! We’re all excited to find out that we still have a bit of time together, we really all don’t want to go, but traveling in such a large group is seriously impossible, and most importantly everyone has a different idea of where they want to go and what they want to do next so it could never really work out anyway. It’s nice to spend the time we have together though!

 

Vang Vieng Blue Lagoon

Today Ilona and I plan on just having a relaxed day where we figure out where we’re going next and how we’re getting there. We know we want to head south towards the islands in Thailand but we can’t get there all in one day, so we have to get there in steps either by train, bus, boat or plane…but we’re trying to avoid the flights.

We go for breakfast at a restaurant where they play re-runs of “Friends” on two flat screen TV’s all day. Awesome. That’s like a thing in Vang Vieng; restaurants either play Friends, Family Guy, or South Park episodes on repeat ALL the time. We try to plan out our route at breakfast but the episode where they play Bamboozle is on, so we are slightly distracted. Most of the group has decided to go to “The Blue Lagoon” in the afternoon to go swimming so I tag along too, while Ilona stays at the guest house to try and get more sleep and look at more possibilities for how to get south. We take two tuk tuks over to this Blue Lagoon, which is down a bunch of gravel roads so the ride is super bumpy. I get in the tuk tuk with the crazy driver, who thinks it’s a good idea to pass the other tuk tuks on thin and rocky dirt roads at 70 km an hour. It’s fun, but definitely very bumpy.

The Blue Lagoon is gorgeous, but nothing at all like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The water is a beautiful green-blue, but less opaque than in Iceland, and the water here is cold and filled with fish. There are rope swings hanging off a large tree wilting into the water, which people are jumping from in order to cool themselves off from the humidity in Laos today. We set up our towels on the grass and lay out in the sun for a while. After having the sun tan my front in the tube all day yesterday, I need to even out my back.

Someone suggests that we walk up to the cave, which I didn’t even know existed. I decide to go with them instead of tanning with everyone all afternoon, but am not prepared for the walk up the cliff to the cave. It’s 200 meters and probably about 80 degrees straight up, of rocks and a flimsy bamboo hand railing to help you up the steep side of the mountain to the mouth of the cave. It’s definitely a work out, but it’s fun to climb, even in the extreme heat. When we all reach the top I am dying, but excited to get into the cave. It’s got some light coming through for the first little stretch into the cave but we reach a point where it’s pitch black, and we only have our head lamps (which I hadn’t brought so I am relying on the light of the people behind and in front of me) to lead us further into the cave. It’s incredible just how black and rocky it gets, and in some spots there is water dripping down into pools on the ground but I have no idea where it comes from when we’re so deep into the mountain. It’s so interesting to me, until I see one too many huge spiders crawling on the ground and then I am creeped out especially when I know I can’t see even half of them. We all turn around when we’ve reached what feels like the end of the cave, although I’m sure there’s more to explore if you crawl through a small enough space, which I am not prepared for when I’m wearing a bathing suit and shorts.

I’m stoked to have the opportunity to explore a cave like this, without a guide or a bunch of lights on the wall leading me through and telling me all the history of it! I like the organic feeling of exploration, and it’s nice to have friends with me because I know I couldn’t do this alone without fearing the pitch black darkness of the cave. What if I got lost in here?

I have to do the entire cave in bare feet because all I’ve brought is flip flops which are slippery on the muddy ground, but it makes this feel even moooooore adventurous. I like the feeling of the mud between my toes. It feels free and it feels real, which is all I could ever ask for.

We get back to the light, and crawl down the mountain. I immediately hop in the lagoon to cool down, because climbing all over the cave and down the side of the cliff has made me really hot. We only spend a little bit more time lying out in the grass, before we get back in our crazy tuk tuk and go back to the guest house. The 6 of us girls go out for dinner and agree to meet everyone for drinks later at 8pm. We plan our next move, which is to kayak to Vientiane (the Capitol of Laos) the next morning at 9am. We were exaggerating when we thought tonight would be the last time we saw everyone because it turns out most people are traveling to Vientiane tomorrow too and we all decide to kayak together instead of taking trains and buses etc. Tomorrow night in Vientiane will actually be everyone’s last night together though, because we’re all only going there to use it as a vessel to get to our next destinations. I don’t think there is actually a lot to do in Vientiane, but we all have dinner and go out together one last time before parting ways.

Giving of the Alms

Almsgiving is a religious practiced on the streets of Luang Prabang where monks accept rice, sugarcane, bananas, and any other food that the people in town have to offer them. At 6:00 every morning residents of the town come to the sidewalks and set up carpets to kneel on while they offer handfuls of rice and other food to the monks who pass by. I had never heard of almsgiving before my visit to Laos, and I admittedly don’t know very much (or anything at all, really) about Buddhism. I am eager to learn though, and now that I’m here and have the opportunity to witness one of these ceremonies, I am more than willing to wake up absurdly early for it.

It’s 5:30 when I’m up and putting on a long sleeved shirt and pair of long auburn comfy pants. It’s hard to wake up, but I went to bed early last night, thank Buddha. Ilona can’t wake up, and I hate trying to make people wake up when they’re sleepy, so I let her stay. I feel bad, because I feel like this is going to be a really cool experience.
The other girls come down and get me when they’re ready to go and we go outside to watch the Almsgiving. As soon as we step foot out the front door three Laotian women with baskets of food are crowding us trying to ask us to buy something from them to offer the monks. We had read online that tourists aren’t really supposed to do this for two reasons; one being that it is a religious ceremony and you shouldn’t really take part in it unless you really believe it and understand it, and the second reason being that it promotes selling things to tourists just for the benefit of profit, and the Almsgiving is not about that. We politely tell the women that we do not want to buy their food, and continue walking to the main street which is only a block from our guesthouse. We wait for about half an hour before the monks arrive. It is interesting to watch the towns people come and prepare for this event.
We sit on the sidewalk behind the row of people kneeling on carpets and preparing to give away their food, and quietly watch as the monks begin to slowly walk down the sidewalk. They each walk silently one behind another, holding open the lid of a small metal basket which is draped over each of their shoulders, similar to a messenger bag. The townspeople take handfuls of rice from their baskets and drop it into the monks’ baskets for them. The monks do not smile, they do not bow, they do not do anything but keep walking. Sometimes, they will drop a handful of food (only packaged items or sugarcane, I never saw them drop rice) into the laps of children or poor people, who instead of kneeling and offering food, sit and kneel with their hands pressed together. A mother and her child sit in front of us, and have only a very small basket of rice to offer the monks. I watch many monks drop food from their baskets in front of the child before continuing down the street. The exchange between the townspeople and the monks is so beautiful. It’s lovely to see people supporting and feeding each other. There’s such a shortage of this kindness in the world.
Part of me is sad that I can’t take part in it, but it’s nice to sit back and observe everything.

The only negative thing about this morning, is that I notice that there are wayyyy more tourists than I had anticipated. And like so many other things, especially when it comes to traveling, I walked into this with vision clouded by my own expectations, which are always magical and lined with more silver and gold than reality offers. That’s my fault, but I still can’t help but feel annoyed by the amount of tourists… which is hypocritical, I know. I came to the almsgiving without a camera, just excited to go absorb the experience and hopefully learn something new about monks and Laotian culture. I was shocked by the amount of tourists who all carry big Nikon cameras, snapping photos of monks (which you are not supposed to do in the first place) left right and centre while they go about their daily routines. No one even bothered to turn off the flash, and just continued swarming the monks like a bunch of paparazzi. Many tourists are wearing tank tops (disrespectful in Laotian culture, and this information is literally written on posters all over town and at the border office when entering the country) so that’s ridiculous. I am not in any way religious, but I know that if you are going to attend a religious ceremony you have to abide by their values and traditions, and I think it’s sad that so many people disregard this and do whatever they want here.
One English couple (who were older, maybe about 60) purchased some food from a local woman, sat down on the carpet after removing their shoes, but then placed their shoes on the carpet beside them anyway. They held out handfuls of rice for the monks, (and snapped some photos of their good deeds…ugh) and before all of the monks had walked through the couple had run out of rice. Instead of sitting there patiently and waiting for everyone to pass through, they started putting on their shoes (while still sitting on the mat) and just got up and walked to the other side of the street for a better photo op. It was disheartening to say the least.
The other Canadian girl we’re traveling with makes note that so many tourists complain about young backpackers, but so many of the disrespectful tourists we see this morning are much older.

I am told by one of the guys in our group that Luang Prabang is one of, if not the only, town in the world that still holds this ceremony, but I haven’t heard any other information to support this so far. I do know however, that the entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site, which I think is pretty cool.
The whole experience this morning is really really interesting and I’m happy that I got up to see it, I just wish I wasn’t a tourist and that other tourists didn’t know about it. In a perfect world, right?

After the ceremony we find tourist office where we can book a van that will take us to Vang Vieng later this morning, so we book that, eat some breakfast and start packing up our stuff. Our bus comes to collect us at 9:30, and by bus I mean mini-van with some fold away chairs so it can seat extra people. There are 10 of us in one van, and 11 seats so you’d think it would be roomy, but it isn’t. Luckily it’s only a 6 hour drive to Vang Vieng, and the seats are padded and pretty comfy. The best part about the drive is the fact that the only way to get there is through the mountains. We drive on extremely windy, thin, roads (or sometimes just stretches of gravel that I wouldn’t call a road) all around and up the mountains through little villages situated right on the edges of cliffs and covered in jungle on either side. Little babies and children are running around with little or no clothing on, completely unattended by any adults and playing games they’ve made up with sticks or picking flowers. I can’t help but feel worried (because I am my mother’s daughter) and feel like they are too close to the road, and the cliff, and the jungle… but they’re still alive so it must be fine.

It’s such a gorgeous drive with lots to look at, that I can’t complain about how long it takes at all. We go up so high that my ears are popping, and we are encased in a cloud so it’s quite foggy, but you can still make out the mountains in the distance. Absolutely beautiful. Some of the turns the driver makes are a little questionable, in terms of speed or available space on the road, but we never flip and tumble down the mountain, so it’s cool. The van only cost 105,000 kip ($14). I used to pay $14 to get from my apartment to work in a cab back in the city, and that didn’t even take 6 minutes let alone 6 hours.

We stop for lunch at a restaurant randomly located somewhere near the top of the mountain. It’s also a guest house or “geust” house as it is spelt on the sign out front. Adorable. The view is incredible and the food is decent and cheap. Only 2 more hours in the car from here, thankfully. Car rides always feel longer than they are for some reason.

We arrive in Vang Vieng which is way smaller and more adorable than I thought it would be. It’s located in a valley so we’re surrounded by gorgeous mountains as well as cute little guest houses and restaurants along one main road. We find a hostel that can take the 6 of us girls and the 6 boys and settle in.
We all meet up for dinner at a bar close by, which plays “Friends” on repeat. Awesome.
Afterwards we go out to an Irish bar, encouraged by the Irish fellows in our group, which is packed with tourists. We’re tired so we only stay for a little while, and go back to bed to sleep early that night. Like in Luang Prabang, all the bars shut down by 11:30 at the latest anyway, so it’s easy to have an early night.

Lazy Luang Prabang Day

We wake up late in the day and go across the street for breakfast. Everyone is off doing their own thing, some people are still asleep, and I think some of us are at a pool somewhere, but Ilona and I head over to the market. It’s only really a true market at night time and most of the shops are now closed, but we do find some cute jewelry. Ilona buys a thin silver bangle for each of the girls in our little travel group, for us to add to the random assortment of bands and bracelets on our wrists.

The whole group had decided last night that we wanted to meet up at Utopia (the bar down the street with a volleyball court) for an early dinner and then game of volleyball. We decided on 5pm, and when the 6 of us get there the boys are nowhere to be seen. We eat some food and have a drink by the water to wait for them but they never show up. The problem with having no cell phones and no consistent wifi.

We give up on waiting and walk down the road looking for travel offices, because we need to book a van or a bus to get to Vang Vieng tomorrow. Vang Vieng is another city in Laos where we’ve heard there is a fun river where we can go tubing. Apparently the party crowd that used to reside there has been cut down due to the closing of many bars and clubs (I think a purposeful attempt to wash out partying tourists, there are rumors that some people died while drunk tubing) but we know that if the group of us go, we’ll have fun even if it’s not busy. Tubing is tubing, with friends is even better. We don’t find any offices open that can help us book a vehicle for tomorrow at a good price, so we decide to wait until tomorrow to book it. We roam around the night market for a little while, but we’re all still really tired so we head back to the hotel. We plan on waking up early tomorrow morning (like 5am kind of early) to watch, and hopefully take part in, the giving of the alms, which is the ceremony with the monks getting food from people in town.

Kuang Si Falls and Late Night Tuk Tuks

There is supposed to be a beautiful waterfall half an hour outside Luang Prabang so we decide that today is a good day to go see it. We couldn’t get a hold of the boys this morning, who are staying at a different hostel, so after a quick breakfast we find a tuk tuk to take us out to the waterfall, and ask him to make a stop at the boys’ hostel to see if we can find them. Our driver agrees to stop, acknowledges that he knows what hostel we’re asking him to go to, and somehow still manages to ignore what we asked and just drives us straight to the waterfall without the boys. Thanks bro.
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Slow Boat Day 2

I get up at 6:30 in order to take a shower and make it in time for breakfast downstairs, which they asked us to pre-order from a menu last night. I ordered a banana pancake, which turns out to be the best of all the breakfasts. Bonus. They also asked us to order our lunch, which they’ve packed up in boxes so we can bring them with us on the boat. So lovely!
Continue reading “Slow Boat Day 2”