Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Vientiene, Vang Vieng and a Mekong ferry to Thailand.

I lost an MP3 player (bought in Chengdu) and a memory stick in Crazy Joe's bar in Chiang Rai - Bollicks! The memory stick is hard to bare as I've lost a whole year of travel photos - gutted.

In Savannakhet I was reading about an Aussie drug trafficker banged up in the Bangkok Hilton when I overheard a posh English lad ask his friend if the Great Wall of China follows the borders of China? What a plonker. Tim-nice-but-dim. It goes to show that we should never judge books by their covers. Posh twats can be really dense.


I took a 10hr 470km night bus from Savannakhet to Vientiene. I went to the Burmese Embassy for a visa and endured a bureaucratic exercise in bullshit. You need to swear you're not a journalist, provide 4 photos, 4 forms and $30 for the pleasure.


Vientiene is the capital of Laos and, like everywhere else here, very laid back. An oasis of Asian calm after the chaos of Vietnam. Vientiene has the only ATM in the whole country so I withdrew enough Kip to last until I get back to Thailand. There's a very French feel to this place with large boulevards and baguettes for sale. I went to a fun disco with two Norwegians and a Chinese lass I'd started travelling with.


After visiting the sights of Vientiene I spent eight days in the backpacker's ghetto of Vang Viang surrounded by imposing limestone karst mountains. I tubed down the Song River on an inflatable tyre. There are many bars, swings and zip lines to try in between shots of rice wine. I got very drunk and ended up lost, wandering the rice fields in the dark carrying a stupid inner tube. I celebrated my eventual return with a magic mushroom milkshake, as you do.


I cycled to a nearby cave but didn’t have the guts to go any further than 10m in. Pitch black, cold and full of bats! Most of the time I spent lounging in a bar with the owner from Devon and his Laos wife of 5yr.


Next was Luang Prabang. The 8hr bus journey was great, passing small Hmong tribal villages located on mountain tops. I explored the suburbs of this World Heritage town by bicycle. I spent time with an interesting family from Zimbabwe. They had tales of Mugabe, baboons, elephants, white farmers etc. Crazy! He gave me a Z$1,000,000 note which had an expiry date because of inflation, it was worth less than 1p. This guy was in his fifties and he was the only person I saw swing from the really high ropes in Vang Viang by his legs!


I caught a Mekong Riverboat travelling upstream to Pakbeng. The journey took all day and the passengers enjoyed breathtaking views of mountains, dense jungle and bamboo villages in these remote areas. In Pakbeng I shared a £1/night twin room with a Frenchman. Fifty pence each for a room with a bathroom! The next morning most foreigners continued upstream to HouXay but I decided to stay another day. I was surprised to find myself the only Westerner left behind.


I walked a few km to another remote village and tried some local food in a shack. I asked if they had any noodles but they only had something called SomTam. This was the spiciest stuff I've ever had the misfortune to put in my mouth. It was like eating lava, I was sweating with saliva running freely from my mouth. The three old ladies were laughing. I ate half, gave it back and they finished it easily! They gave me some sticky rice and mango instead. I tried to tell them there's something wrong with them if they can eat that!


The next day I took another slow boat further upstream to Houxay and stayed in a posher £1.50 room. I was exhausted and the light was off by 2130. I crossed the Mekong River and re-entered Thailand at Chiang Kong. I took a bus to Chiang Rai where I've been for the last three nights. Going from Laos to Thailand is like travelling fifty years into the future.


I need to book a return flight from Bangkok to Yangon and get hold of $800 cash as there are no ATMs, travellers cheques or other financial trappings of the Western World in Burma. I'm really looking forward to going!


Some coincidental things have happened recently. I was cycling through Vang Viang when I heard someone shout my name. It was a German guy whom I met during a typhoon on the Philippine island of Malapascua in December! In Chiang Kong I met an Irish couple who were at China beach in Vietnam.



A pub crawl in Vang Viang.


Steep trail to a cave


Spirit House


One of the swings


Have a beer while tubing


The Song River.


A view from the boat down the Mekong


A Mekong village


Another one, I think I can see a pub.


Quality Internet Cafe


State of art.


NHS cuts


Drying clothes


SomTam rocket fuel


Mekong Riverboats


Noisy when it rains



Idyllic Pakbeng


Slow Baot


Back into Thailand at Chiang Kong


Futuristic Thailand


Mae Hong Son

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