Thinking we were leaving the adventures behind us in Luang Namtha, we boarded our VIP bus to Luang Prabang the colonial and former capital of the Kingdom of Laos. Well, eventful it was, VIP it was not. There was: a pet dog in a bag; a local man behind me who’s only facial hair produded from a mole on his chin sucking his teeth, and spitting out the window, and then lighting cigarettes between spitting intervals; a Portuguese backpacker who wouldn’t shut up; cows and donkeys standing in the middle of the road causing us to come to beeping, screeching stops; a driver drinking can after can of energy drinks to stay awake; and mud. Way too much mud. The road, already notoriously bad, was made all the more worse due to monsoon rains, and we found ourselves stuck and leaning at some very dodgy angles far more times than I can count on my digits. We stopped at a fruit market (at 12:30am). We dropped off a washing machine (at 3am). The dog-in-a-bag upgraded to a dog-in-a-box. It was all far too exciting too sleep.
We arrived in perfect time to watch the early morning processions of monks collecting alms from local people on the street. Great news for us also because it meant we wouldn’t have to wake up early to watch it – something we are not very good at.
The inner city itself forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site and exploring this quaint French colonial town was an absolute treat. Old white houses with coloured wooden window shutters lined the streets. Tiny paved alleyways grown over with creepers joined the streets together. There was colour. There was coffee. And, there were baguettes.
We spent the next days taking in the sights. About 30km out of town are the Kuang Si Waterfalls which were awesome. Its a multi-tiered 60m waterfall that runs down into a multitude of limestone pools. Most of them you can swim in and there are even trees to jump out of. We hiked up the side of the walls all the way to the top. From here it’s possible to walk along the top of the waterfall where you can get a good view down… but the underwater logs, and leeches and nibbling fish meant I didn’t get further across than a metre or two. Not to mention that the only thing stopping you going over the edge was a flimsy wooden fence. No thank-you.
A few monasteries, a wicked night-market with large CHEAP buffets (great food, but likely the cause of Angelo’s, ermm, upset stomach), and some beers on the riverbank of the mighty Mekong filled in the rest of our time in Luang Prabang.
In a bid to avoid the more famous backpacker route of Vang Vieng and its infamous tubing hype we ventured further east to the home of some very bizarre stone jars, Phonsavan. The main attraction here is the Plain of Jars – something that I was quite eager to see. So you can imagine my disappointment when it rained ALL DAY EVERY DAY for the three days that we stayed there, and as scooters don’t really provide anything in the way of shelter (and budget travel means we didn’t want to pay for a private taxi) we had to give it a miss.
Something that did catch our attention here though was the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) Information Centre. Laos, believe it or not, is the most heavily bombed nation in the world (per capita) and this organisation works hard to destroy bombs that have not detonated on impact, and educate people on the dangers and reality of living in this environment. Many of the local people have taken to collecting scrap metal from bombs and other weaponry and selling it, or crafting it into jewellery, knives, spoons and other such tools. All of the restaurants we ate at had utensils made from bombs, or old shells decorating the place. I even bought a bangle made from bomb scraps at the night market in Luang Prabang.
We left the rain soaked town and continued on to the capital city of Vientiane. While night buses are never comfortable, this one was an absolute nightmare. It started off with blaring music – honestly, is the whole country deaf? Laotian country music at first, which moved on to some kind of movie soundtrack with speaking, then pop, and finally Laotian rap. RAP. Let me off. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they had the air-conditioning on past freezing, and I had nothing but a small scarf to try and keep myself warm with. Ha, and people think travel is glamorous.
Vientiane didn’t grab our attention for long. The very next day we caught a bus back to Bangkok as we only had a week to organise visas before our flight to Myanmar. Will definitely explore Laos again some day, it’s got such a chilled out mentality and so many nice spots to discover! Like they say, Lao PDR = Lao, Please Don’t Rush!