Laos is completely different to Vietnam. On arrival at surely the smallest international airport in the world – Luang Prabang – we were greeted with smiles. People were friendly and when we didn’t have any money for a visa at the airport they let us walk through security on our own to go and get money out. For a visa they charge different amounts of money to people from different countries. Being from England was good as Canadians were charged $10 more to get into the country! This is a pattern all over the world with Australians, Americans and Canadians being charged more to enter countries for some reason.
We headed straight out of Luang Prabang and managed to catch a bus going north to Mong Neua. The word ‘bus’ here is a very loose term. It’s actually an opened-out jeep with 12 people crammed into the back. Foolishly we had left the airport in Luang Prabang with what we thought was a lot of money. Wehad no idea of the conversion rate so withdraw 1 million Laos Kip as this sounded like a lot of money. Surely a million of anything is a lot of money! 20 minutes later we did the conversion whilst we were on the bus to Mong Neua and came to the conclusion we were far from millionaires. We then realized where we were going had 3 hours of electricity a day and the nearest cash point was at the airport we’d just left. We hastily changed our plans a little and chose to stay 3 nights instead of 2.
We then had to catch a 1 hour small boat up to the village of Mong Neua. The ride was stunning. Again, limestone cliffs were the main feature. It was like Halong Bay but on land. For pretty much the first time on our travels we arrived at a place having nowhere booked to stay. How people do that eveytime is beyond us! We walked around in the hot sun with our big bags trying to find a bed for two nights. Initially we had no luck whatsoever with people telling us they were full. Luckily, after half an hour we found a little bungalow with an amazing bed and duvet that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Harrods. For 4 pound a night we snapped it up. The shower and toilet are a bit simple. There is a bucket to use a flush and as a shower head when having a shower. I went to the toilet on the first evening to ‘drop the kids off at the pool’. A day and a half later my bum bomb was still floating around at the bottom of the toilet despite my best efforts to poor bucket after bucket of water on top of it! On check-out we quickly gave the key back to the unsuspecting lady owner and legged it to the harbour. We’re sure she wouldn’t have appreciated the little surprise that we left in the bungalow!
Mong Neua is undoubtedly the most laid back place on Earth! It is so chilled out with the most amazing setting overlooking the river and surrounded by limestone cliffs. We had a whole day just drinking 30p cans of fizz and reading our books. There are loads of cool cats and dogs wandering around the restaurants and we made friends with a puppy called Norm. The laid-back vibe of the place attracts a certain kind of traveler – the hippie traveler. We saw loads and loads of these hippies with countless piercings sporting the same dodgy ‘traveller trousers’ – baggy pyjamas that elasticate round the ankles. They look terrible and people only buy them as they think they are a traveler immersing themselves in the local culture. The funny thing is none of the locals wear clothes anything like the trousers so the result is lots of silly looking people in funny trousers walking around trying to look cool! We really loved the village though and could have spent more time there had we not had the money issues we forced upon ourselves. Instead we left after 2 nights and went back to Luang Prabang the day before Hannah’s birthday.
Luang Prabang is a town with a very good reputation. We’ve been told the whole way round South East Asia that it’s a brilliant place to go. The town has loads of atmosphere and we’re having a great time here. I managed to convince Hannah I was going to get cash out when really I went to buy her some birthday presents. I found an elephant village activity day so booked us on that day as a surprise for Hannah. She was really pleased with the surprise when I told her on the morning of her birthday. It turned out to be one the most amazing days of our 7 months travelling.
First, we got trained in how to get on and off an elephant and how to ride on it’s neck without falling off. Basically you say “Soeng Soeng” to the elephant and very conveniently she bends her leg forming a step for you to lever yourself up. You then pull yourself up onto it’s back by pulling on it’s ear. This sounds a bit mean for the poor elephant but the keepers assured us their ears (the elephants not the keepers) were strong enough to withstand the force. We had a ride around on the neck for a while and then went for a longer ride later in the morning. It’s a really cool feeling on the neck of the elephant. Once you get your balance sorted it’s surprisingly comfortable and very sturdy and safe.
The most fun came after lunch when we got on one elephant each. This time we rode them down into the river for some elephant bathing time! We weren’t sure what to expect when the elephants started getting into the river but the keepers encouraged them to go deeper and deeper with us still riding their necks. We ended up with the elephant completely submerged in the water with only our necks above water! It was brilliant fun! The keepers gave us a brush each and the elephants loved being brushed and scrubbed around their ears and trunk. My elephant however was having too much fun because it seemed intent on drowning me. While the other elephants dipped their riders once or twice, my elephant spent the whole time making me ride an elephant version of the buckin bronco! It went in and out of the water loads of times and wasn’t afraid to fully submerge us both. At one stage it looked like I was giving the elephant a lap dance whilst I tried to maintain balance on the elephant’s neck and not swallow a floating poo that Hannah’s elephant had kidly produced! Hannah was in hysterics and it certainly made for a memorable day.
We made great friends with the rest of the group and went out for dinner and drinks with them that evening. They are two couples from Canada so my first question was about trying to get an invite to go curling with them! We had a great night and enjoyed some water buffalo for eats and some ‘pink gays’ for drinks!
On our last day in Luang Prabang we went to the waterfalls with one of the Canadian couples – Colin and Deidra. Although the ride to the waterfalls was incredibly vomit-inducing it was worth it as the falls were really cool. We ‘manned-up’ by getting in the very cold water. In fact, Deidra showed us the way by getting in first and making the men of the group look weedy and foolish.
It was sad leaving Luang Prabang as we’ve had an amazing time here and could have easily spent more time here but we are on a tight schedule as we enter our last week of traveling so it was off to Vang Veing…