Laos

The country where you have to stay away from the touristy spots

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 Exchange rate at the time of travel: 8274 Lao Kip to 1 Dollar

22.07.2010

Since I am going travelling probably for a year, I do not need a house. Therefore, I had to move all my stuff therefore to my brothers in Aachen. The thing was that calling in a moving company would have been too expensive so I had to take all my stuff with me on the Eurostar to Brussels and then on the train to Maastricht (10 hours of train… awesome). Already at Durham station my main bag broke, the second bag followed in London, so that I came to Aachen with bags out of which various items were falling out (or which were impossible to drag). In total I think, I had over 100 kg of disintegrating luggage and it must have been my most uncomfortable train journey ever. My whole luggage filled up my brother’s car to the brim…

27.07.2010

Flew today first to Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) Airport with Lufthansa. Am currently boring myself to death at the airport waiting the 6 hours until the flight to Vientiane in Laos… Conversion course at the time of travel: 8200 Kip to the dollar.

28.07.2010

Arrived today in Vientiane, capital of Laos. The flight there was rather interesting considering that the plane was falling apart (ie the plastic on the inside of the plane was coming off and no swimming vests were present. In the case of an emergency one had to strap on a part of the seat…). Having landed there, I proceeded to pick up money only to realize that I had forgotten the code of my credit card. I therefore had to use a Bank cash advance using my debit card… which posed its own problems…

Count the money you get given by the bank. They cheated me out of 60 dollars (out of 360 that I picked up)

I checked into a cheap but not at all cheerful hotel after looking around for a bit (basically saying it was a shithole…) and slept the sleep of the righteous.

29.07.10

Visited Vientiane and realized that this has to be the most boring city ever. A couple of very small Buddhist temples as well as an “arc de triomphe” made out of concrete (which was initially US concrete designed for building a new runway… The sign on the arc even said that “from close up, it looks even less impressive”…). 

The "Attraction" of Vientiane

 At lunch, I ate some awesome tasting “morning glory” at an expensive roadside restaurant.

Met a couple of backpackers (Shana and Lewis) for the evening, we went to a couple of bars (where I first tried Lao-lao, moonshine/vodka –like brew that has to be tasted with care… it only costs 1 dollar for 1 liter) and then went out clubbing with them (to Don Chao).

Partying on my first night!

Since I am on a tight budget, it should have been beyond my means but I still went… That was an absolutely awesome party until the “boyfriend” of Shana was so drunk that he couldn’t stand up anymore and me and Shana had to bring him home. We stopped at a noodle soup restaurant still open at 3 am in the morning and he confused every Lao there with hisdrunken stammering (Shana did not help at all by blabbering random stuff too). Afterwards we had to carry Lewis (Shanas boyfriend) back home. 

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After I had brought Lewis and Shana home, I got accosted by a prostitute with the universal “wanna fuck… wanna good time, lets have good time” and, when I decisively said No and started to go away, she started to follow me…. Kinda scary :)


30.07.10 

Due to my jetlag, I barely had any sleep at all. I went out to look for a bus to Vang Vieng. Usually a local cramped and shitty bus costs 30.000 kip (roughly 4 dollars), however, I managed, rather by mistake, to haggle down a minivan seat with AC and some leg room to Vang vieng from 40.000 kip  to 30.000 kip . When I arrived in Vang vieng, I managed to find a guesthouse for 30.000 kip a night with an awesome view over the Nam Song (Nam is Lao for “river”, so it is the Song river).

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Tired, I decided to sleep away the rest of the afternoon and only go tubing tomorrow. That night I went to find the Q-bar (as proposed by Shana). There I met 4 people (two girls from Ireland and two guys from somewhere in England). I went partying with them and ended up enjoying a free bucket in bucket bar (very very popular place). All ready to party…

 [Shortly after arriving in Vang Vieng, my camera got destroyed, including the photos. I have taken the photos below from my friend Anna]

 

31.07.10

Tubing that day. Tubing in Vang vieng involves taking the inside of a tractor tire (as in the tube) and then getting driven a couple of kilometers upriver to ride down on the tube the Nam song. However, once there, you realize that actually it involves visiting a couple of bars as well. Already in the tuk-tuk I had met a large group of people (about 10 of them) who were also going tubing. We then hit the first bar where everyone ordered drinks. This bar, located directly at the Nam song, also sported some awesome swings (you went up a ladder to about 7 meters above the river, and then swung out on a long rope to drop somewhere further into the 10 m deep river). The first swing, I let go far too early and landed in the water at an absolutely awesome speed but without any height, the second one, I let go at nearly the top height and at the third try, I decided to do a somersault into the river (which failed and I landed on my face). We then partied onwards and danced and rode down the river. Later on, I realized I had lost my money in the river but there were free shots to be had as well. It was an absolutely awesome day, which I topped off with some fire breathing at the end.

01.08.10

We (the group I was with) met up again at MamaLao’s (really cool Lao woman who owns a restaurant). After some discussing of yesterday’s events, we decided to rent some motorbikes and go for a drive to one of the lagoons here (with MamaLao). That was the first time I drove a motorbike here (as good as nobody drives on the roads, as in they are empty, and the roads, if they are tarmacked are usually very good). The driving was fine, however the bikes were not. One of them kept breaking down and left us stranded with a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. MamaLao (who was with us) helped us out again by sending the people who had lent the bikes to us to help us fix it. After we were done, we went to the lagoon and went swimming. I tried (any trampolinists reading this please jump over the next paragraph…) to do a somersault from about 7meters high and I am sure, technically it looked ok (pointed toes, kick out etc…) however my horror became obvious when I saw the water slowly pass by my feet. In a trampolining reaction, I turned on the side so took the most sting out of the crash but it must have looked quite scary. Either way, I came out with everything intact, only my pride hurt ever so little at having screwed up such an easy jump…

 

02.08.10

Woke up feeling rather tired and not really having slept at all. I then went to get a pancake with bacon, cheese, ketchup and mayonnaise (a rather interesting perversion of the pancakes that exist in the west, sold by Lao women who are fighting for customers in an unbelievably non-Lao way “Sabai Dee Saand-wiiisch Saand-wiiisch Paaan-ceik Ten soosand) which then (or maybe it was the water) gave me diarrhea. Luckily it only lasted for a couple of hours. I then went tubing again, however this time, it wasn’t as much fun. When I came back, I met up with a couple of people I had met tubing at MamaLao’s and had the most awesome fried rice with chicken ever imaginable for 15.000 kip (roughly 2 dollars). In the night, I met Elaine again (superb Welsh girl) and partied a bit with her. We, a big group of people, then went to hers for a bit of after-partying. It was great fun. Although, I left after a while (after it had gotten already half empty), hugged Elaine good-bye, promised her to meet her again somewhere in Thailand and went to bed.

03.08.10

As soon as I woke up, I organized my transportation to Pakse. I managed to get one of the last places the same day. I then said goodbye to MamaLao, packed one of her superb fried rices into my luggage and left at 1 pm. The transport was to be from Vang Vieng to Vientiane in a VIP bus (meaning basically a, by European standards, quite shitty bus but with enough leg room for a normally grown European) (4 hours) and then a sleeper bus (10 hours) to Pakse. The sleeper bus was quite amazing. It is a converted double decker bus which spots beds on either side instead of seats… Absolutely awesome (unfortunately I haven’t got any pictures since my camera broke two days before). I had feared already that the sleeper bus would be something like in Indonesia where one had to sleep with his knees to his chest (ie no leg room whatsoever) but this one was actually quite comfortable. Luckily I could sleep most of the ten hours.

04.08.10

The next morning we arrived in Pakse, and had to change into a minibus to Ban Nakasaang (3 hours). After changing over to a boat (and having the third Lao person trying to cheat us out into buying an additional ticket, since the boat ticket price was initially included…), I arrived, after 24 hours of travelling at Don Det. Don Det is a small island situated in the mighty Mekong, surrounded by hundreds of other small islands (during dry season even thousands, which is the reason why this place is called 4000 islands). Although very popular with backpackers, it has not got the same kind of tourism as Vang Vieng which is mostly partying. Here all life seems a lot more chilled out and a lot more kicked back than even in Indonesia. The people do not hassle you, are often not inclined to do any work at all (ie I literally had to wave my arms and shout to get the attention of a waiter to order food in a restaurant). However, at the same time, these islands are very beautiful and are not yet overrun by tourism (like Vang Vieng). After some looking around, I found a cheap but good little bungalow which I currently rent for 20.000 kip a night (2.50 dollars) right on the sunrise side of the island. It has view over the Mekong. The only drawback is that the shower has brown water (no doubt pumped out of the Mekong, which, here, a good hundred kilometer after any major settlement, should be relatively clean again).

My favorite restaurant in Don Det

For lunch, I went to a restaurant in town (which I found out later was actually quite expensive) and met Anna (a slightly hippie French girl who I have struck up a good friendship with). After lunch, tired as I was, I went back to my bungalow, lay in the hammock and just slept….

Afterwards, I met a group of three Germans, an American and a Russian with whom I went onto a Sunset cruise. Booking it was quite an adventure since the guy who wanted to drive us was obviously stoned and drunk. We had to persuade him to get his wife to drive us because he was too drunk. That was a bit of a pain in the bum but at the end, we went onto that cruise up the Mekong, which was beautiful. It went past a stunning landscape of small islands eaten up by the floods, until only some leaves of the submerged trees remained. It also went past some picturesque Lao villages.

River cruise on the Mekong

The storm was brewing

Unfortunately we had to return early because a storm was brewing. In the evening, I went onto a walk with the American and the Russian girl. We came past a restaurant (and eventually ate there as well) which soon became my favorite restaurant because it is so cheap and so good (Noodle soup 1 dollar, Fried rice with chicken 1 dollar, Fruit shake 1 dollar….).

 

05.08.10

I went on the cycle tour that day of the islands (which are not that small at all) and (apart from doing the tour of the smaller island Don Det) went to the big Mekong rapids. The fotos, I think, can say more than words here (although unfortunately these are not my photos).

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It was awe-inspiring to see that amount of water crash down every second (and to think there are a couple more of these waterfalls within short reach of the islands.) I also met at the Mekong “beach” another French girl (apart from Anna, who by then had already moved to the bungalow right next to me) called Marianne. She is a 29 year old slightly excentric girl who does contortionist shows as well as erotic shows (including striptease and the lot, however bearing in mind that these are only shows…) in Paris as well as around the world. She has been volunteering for an organization in the south of Laos and was now on her last days in Laos, travelling the whole country. The trip ended with a beautiful sunset.

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06.08.10

I woke up remembering that it was the sixth today and not the fifth and that I had forgotten to send a nice email to my brother as it was his birthday on the 5th. I have the excuse that in Laos, everyone works 7 days a week and therefore there is no real need to know the date… Sorry Robert!!!

Also that day I did a fat load of nothing just relaxing in the hammock and reading.

Anna and me in our hammocks

At lunch, we (Anna and me) got out of our hammocks and went looking for some food (in my case, often enough it is just fried rice, which I have gotten to love… Not saying that the other dishes are bad (especially pad thai is usually quite good or chicken noodle soup) just to find that most places were doing the same as us, as in sleeping and were therefore closed. In general it can be said that Don Det is superbly relaxed and there is absolutely no stress…

07.08.10

Anna needed to go to the bank on the mainland, so Marianne and me went with her, wanting to explore the countryside near Ban Nakasaang (the closest village to Don Det) and then rent bicycles to go to the next waterfall (apparently the big one). After walking through the market at Ban Nakasaang (which was tiny) we went to see if anyone could take us to the waterfall. As this is an exceptionally popular tourist attraction, the villagers had formed a cartel (at least that’s what we think) and do not drive anyone for under 80.000 kip. After some hickhack because Anna had to watch her funds and because I did not have enough cash, we sorted it out somehow, went on the trip (driven by an unfriendly 16 year old) just to find that these waterfalls were not that much different from the ones we had seen previously.

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Back on the island, Anna and me decided to have dinner together (Marianne went to see some French couples) and then tucked in for the night.

08.08.10

Just a day of lying in the hammock and reading books. We went to watch the sunset at “Peace and love” (a guesthouse) where we met two French girl, one Canadian and one English who seemed to know the guesthouse owners pretty well.

We chatted to them, had our Lao-lao mojito (more about this in a second), went swimming in the Mekong (we were showering in Mekong water as well so we didn’t mind that much) then had dinner there. The party then started with Lao-lao and beer, served by Grandma Pek, who despite her old age, drank a more than fair amount as well and had the knack of feeling girls boobs… We then had the Lao friendship ceremony done, which involves getting white bands tied around your hands by other people, thereby linking your spirit/ghost with them (no photos of this ceremony unfortunately). It was a really good night…

09.08.10

The next day I went to Thailand. 

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