Location: Richard's House - Christchurch, Australian Territories
Arriving in Vientiene (Friday December 21st) was worse than the accident at Tha Khek. The bus ride was ok, but they drop you off outside the city centre, and you have to catch a tuk tuk in. We got totally ripped off on the price, and got stuck in the worst tuk tuk ever. The exhaust was coming right back into the part where we were sitting, and it was so hard to breathe. Even the locals were covering their mouth and one guy moved to sit beside the driver. After what seemed like forever, we finally got to the city centre. He didnt drop us off where we asked, but we were just happy to get out of the tuktuk from hell. All the guest houses in that area were booked full (im pretty sure the driver plotted that against us!) and it only made matters worse that i could hardly walk, nevermind richie had to carry my bag for me. (i felt like a total loser). another tuktuk driver claimed he knew a place, and so we got him to take us there. we checked it out, and even though it was pretty crappy we took it. we both felt really sick (probabaly from the exhaust) and my foot was killing me. i think we went to sleep at about 6pm.
Vientiene looks almost like a European city. it has big, wide, streets with footpaths on both sides, and people obey traffic rules. there are actually crosswalks!! the prices were city prices, and the people tried to rip us off it seemed. we wanted to leave, so we booked a bus to vang vieng the next day. The only thing both of us wanted to see in the city was the buddha gardens so we headed to the bus station. after seeing the really over crowded bus, we splurged and got a private tuk tuk to take us out there. it was quite a long drive, but well worth it!
its amazing how many sculptures were squished into this garden, big buddhas, small ones, a huge reclining buddha, some random sculptures of hindu gods, some more variations of buddha, a guy playing a flute in a tree (not really sure what that was about, but the music was nice!) and the thing that i enjoyed was a bunch of young monks wondering around the garden. a couple of the boys came up and started talking to us in English. from what we got out of them they came to the gardens on their time off to practise their english with the foreingers. the had a lot of practising to do, but it was really nice to talk to them. their friendly spirits were a nice change from the crappy last few days. my favourite was when they asked if richard and i were married, we said no, they said 'how long have you been married for' , it was almost like it was scripted. but fun none the less.
we left for vang vieng on a v.i.p. bus the next day, and arriving there was like paradise. although vang vieng is quite touristy, i think it was exactly what we needed at that point. we ended up staying from the 23rd of december to the 1st of january. we said screw the north of laos, we know we will have another chance to do it, and lets take a vacation!
vang vieng is a really relaxed town of about 25000 right up in the mountains. it is incredibly beautiful and theres lots or nothing to do, depending on your preferance. we had lots of time to explore the caves, or sit on the side of the river, or in a hammock, drinking cocktails and beer all day. but the main attraction of vang vieng is tubing. for five bucks you get a tube, and dry bag, and a tuk tuk drive to 5kms up the river. all along the river there are these bars with swinging ropes, reggae music playing, lots of beerlao and laolao (the local brews), and even free bananas! Its a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, or full day depending on how many of these bars you stop at. It was so nice to be somewhere relaxing. Also another thing vang vieng is known for is the 'friends' bars. at first we tried to avoid them, but we finally broke down, and became addicted just like everyone else. they are these restuarants with low sitting tables, lots of cushions, and re-runs of friends (or family guy, or simpsons) playing all the time. we usually did friends for breakfast and family guy for dinner. its quite addicting.
besides a lot of caving, and sitting by the river doing nothing, we only really had two exciting days.
first was christmas. we decided to hire a motorbike for the day ($3), and head out to a cave 7kms out of town. we got there, saw the cave (nothing too exciting, but pretty cool anyways) and watched some people swimming in the lagoon. as we were leaving the cave area, we decided to stop for some lunch. there were two little hut restaurants, one with about 10 tourists and the one on the other side of the street had only a few lao people. they seemed friendly, and welcomed us in. we sat at the table and then ordered. the two lao people sitting next to us were actually customers, and spoke english very well. they asked where we were from, and richard said new zealand. they talked about that for a couple minutes and then i pointed out i was from canada. the lady got really excited and began to shake my hand. the couple were actually from lao but immigrated to vancouver (surprise?) during the war. they were really happy to meet another canadian and immediately bought us a beer. it took ages for our food to come, so they just kept talking to us about thier family and house, and giving us more beer. they told us that we have to come to their house after we eat, so we said ok.
Dau and Menola were their names, and they were sooo friendly. we went back to thier house, which was really nice, and decorated in everything canadian! it looked like the brought half of the canadian section of the dollar store back with them, but it was nice to have a little bit of home around. Then the bottle of Lao Lao came out. from what we can get its a home brew kind of like a rice wine/ moonshine/vodka something. i found it really nice, some travellers didnt think so though. Then came the kareoke. I forgot to mention it but khmers and laos love thier kareoke (one time on a bus in cambodia the kareoke playing in the bus was so loud i actually had to wear earplugs!) so they stuck some of that on. they showed us pictures of ther family, and fed us almonds (from canada) and fruit. Menola even brought out the video camera and took some footage, which was a bit weird but kind of nice. it was like a little makeshift family for christmas. a really nice present.
we finally said we had to go, becuase richard still had to drive the motorbike back (and i was completely drunk).
we decided to stop off at another cave that we had passed on the way out. it was about a dollar to go in each, and it came with a guide. this old guy about 70 years old, and two torches. it was small and muddy and really cool. i dont know if i would have felt comfortable doing it soberly, but i think in the end it was my favourite cave. he even made us take off our shoes at one point and climb up onto this little ledge where he played us some music by hitting the stalactites (or stalagmites - which ever ones come from the ceiling). after coming out of the cave we went for a dip in the crystal clear waters of the lagoon out front and swam with some fishies. it was a very cool experience.
we headed back to town, probabaly had a few more drinks, im not really too sure!!
the second exciting thing was we finally got to meet up with our friend maggie that we had met while living in scotland. we had been emailing back and forth for about 2 months and finally got to meet up, on new years. it was awesome seeing her, and we definitely had a night to remember! she should be heading back to scotland this week, so hopefully the rest of her asian adventure went well!
after new years we headed up north through a very windy road to luang prabang. the scenery was beautiful but a bit hard to enjoy on a rough road with a hangover.
we wish we had more time in luang prabang, but like i said, bythis point we both knew we would come back to laos someday, so we werent too concerned. on the 2nd we took a shared tuktuk to Kuang si waterfall. there was even a rescued tiger and some bears which was cool. the waterfall itself was also beautiful. everynight in the town there is a night market so we did some last minute shopping and both made some big purchases. richard bought a carved bone ornamental opium pipe and i bought a handmade duvet set with pillowcases (heavy to carry around but so beautiful!). the next morning as we headed to the airport at about 6am we saw a beautiful sight. all the monks were on thier morning walk to collect alms. it was almost shocking to see thier orange/saffron outfits in the dim light, and the lines of them were so long. around every corner were more and more monks. it was quite a sight, one im glad we had to get up early to see. we cought our flight with no problem, and within one and a half hours we were in bangkok.
i think thats enough for now! until next time... check out the new photos i put on. hopefully i can get more up soon!
Location: Richard's House Christchurch, New Zealand
So I guess I didnt have much luck with staying on top of things. So back to Tha Khek,
Like i said, we arrived in the middle of the night, and as we were going to bed, we thought we should plan what we should do for the next day, as to not waste any time. With the other Kiwi Couple (that we finally had started talking to) we decided to take this trip to see 4 caves. We discovered after the fact that the receptionist wasnt just really eager to help us plan us, but we got ripped off as well. (but not as bad as in Vietnam).
Our tuk-tuk was waiting for the 4 of us the next morning and we headed off. We first stopped at the guys 'house' / store where he changed clothes, and i think tried to get us to buy something from his wife and baby. But anyways, we headed off towards the caves.
Now the first cave i found really amazing. Probabaly because it was my first real experience in a cave. They are limestone caves (something the kiwi's had seen many of in thier time im sure), but i thought the whole experience was beautiful. we got to wade through the cave sometimes at just over knee deep, and our guide showed us how to follow the lines in the sand to catch mussels (which i thought were oysters because i really know nothing about seafood).
anyways, we headed out of the first cave and back to the tuk tuk. the road we were traveling on is part of a section travellers now like to call 'the loop' which i think would be quite cool to do - that is, after they finish all the road work. the road was sooo dusty, and it really didnt look like they were in any hurry to finish the road. we soon headed into the second cave.
this time the guide didnt come in with us, he just told us to follow a path to lead to the cave, and inside - and it did. there were some stairs, sort of, around and lots of stone buddhas and flags all around. there was some script on the wall that was also quite cool. just before heading out, we decided to go back to the enterance part, and walk across this plank of wood to the other side of the cave, where it looked as if it would lead to a lagoon or something. richie tested the plank, and then quickly walked across. it looked alright. when i was standing at the top of the plank, i was thinking it looked pretty dodgy, and the big crack along it didnt look very safe, and that i could probabaly walk around and get to where he was pretty easily, but anyways i tested it, and it still seemed iffy, and yet i still walked onto it. seconds later the plank was broken and i had fallen a good metre and a half onto the rocks below.
well i must say that was the closest i have ever felt to having broken something in my life. my left foot had landed at a very odd angle and i could feel it bruising up already. i was pretty much shocked.
richie came down and tried to move me. i said i needed a minute. it took me about 5 before i could stand up. everything seemed to be ok, so i decided to venture further into the cave (wasnt going to go through all that and not see the lagoon!) the lagoon was pretty, but im not sure it was really worth it.
having spent about 6 dollars to take this tour, i wasnt about to give up there. i got out of the cave, and we piled back into the tuktuk and onto cave three.
cave 3 was quite interesting. first we all had to pay 2000 kip to enter the area (about 25 cents), and they asked if we wanted to pay 5000 kip for the tuk tuk to drive us in. we asked how far it was. he said about 100 m. being cheap and not wanting to spend about 10 cents each, we decided to walk. i hobbeled along and about half way regreted not paying the tuktuk. anyways, we got to the enterance of the cave and paid another 5000 kip to enter the cave (we arent really sure what the first 2000 was for) and headed up the stairs. this cave was quite uneventful in my opinion. probabaly because i couldnt really walk, and moving around a cave isnt very fun.
we were quickly out and onto the fouth. this was the famed 'buddha cave' which there seems to be many of in the region. someone was looking for some bats or something and ventured into this cave and discovered all of these buddhas. it wasnt very long ago either. this one was a struggle to get to for me, but i refused to give up. getting to the entrance of the cave, we saw that it was 2000 to enter, and if you were a girl, you had to rent a traditional lao skirt also for 2000. the kiwi girl decided to give it a miss (as a protest maybe, or to save 25 cents?) and i got my skirt and headed up the very steep flight of stairs. this cave was very cool, but i felt a bit out of place, because all of the other people in there were lao and it seemed very religious and very moved at what they saw. it was quite touching to see though. alas i was in pain and left. after that our expensive tour was over and we headed back to the travel lodge.
by this time my foot was very swollen and in a lot of pain. i got some pain killers from ross (the kiwi) and we went to get some food. when they told us they stopped serving at that time i lost it. i was too hungry and in too much pain. i needed to go to the hospital. so off we went. getting there was easy,
as we got inside, we soon realized no one spoke english. one lady spoke some french. so i searched in the back of my head for the french i havent used for 3 years, and found a few words. we managed to understand eachother and were sent off for xrays. the hospital was very nice, and everyone was extremely friendly. im guessing it was founded by a french company because afterwards quite a few people came to talk to us and all of them spoke french, also all the signs were in lao and french. the xray was alright, and he dried it by waving it out the window, but anyways in the end we discovered only something was wrong with the ligaments, (though im not really sure what they said exactly - i only understood that it wasnt broken).
getting directions for the medications they gave me was a bit dodgy in a second come third language, but i double checked about three times, and everything seemed in order. richie went off to pay my bill, and i made sure he got a receipt, though im not sure why because the total came to 65000 for the xray, 20 anti-inflamitories, 20 500g painkillers, gauze, alcohol (it was a bit scratched as well),and a tensor... so about 3 pounds if i were to claim it on my insurance. not too bad for a hospital stay! i could only imagine what that would have cost in the states! (maybe 700 dollars? 1000?)
nevertheless we booked tickets to head to vientiene the next day.
we are just about to have some ice cream so i will come back to you!