A Travellerspoint blog

Vientiane - The capital

And it even has its own Arc d' triumphe!!

storm 30 °C

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See! We were pleasantly surprised by the city. It was small and easy to get around with the odd French surprise like the Arc and a fountain in a square and of course more baguettes (but not the bacon ones like we had in Vang Viang sadly!)

We spent 3 nights in a very nice hotel (we felt like we deserved some comfort) and didn't really do much except organise the next few legs of our travel. We ended up getting a great deal on flights to Siem Reap from Pakxe which is in the south of Laos. $150 for both of us including taxes, so it means an extra couple of days in Cambodia that we would have spent travelling overland to get there.

The only other interesting thing we did in Vientiane was catch a 'sleep bus' to Pakxe, whcih is exactly that, a bus you sleep on in flat comfyish beds! The trip took 10 hours most of which we slept thanks to a couple of sleeping pills!

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But you couldn't be any taller than us, our feet touched the end!

Posted by nzwendy 20:19 Archived in Laos Comments (3)

Vang viang

rain 28 °C

The road from Luang Prabang to Vang Viang is steep, windy, bumpy and its a long and slow ride but the scenery is absolutely stunning!!! Usually I get car/bus sick but I was too busy taking it all in to think about feeling ill. We climbed (and climbed) steep, green rugged mountains and passed dozens of small villages along the way. The mountains were really unusual in shape probably due to hard and heavy rainfall. These photos don't really do it any justice but it will give you some idea:

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It took 6 hours to get to Vang Viang and we were probably lucky to find a bungalow along the river (due to the other 200 or so tourists that are also in Vang Viang at the moment - mostly 18 - 19 year old Poms on their gap year - more about that later).

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We were lucky enough to take in the view and have a couple of beerlao before the wind picked up, it got cooler and the clouds came rolling in -all in a matter of seconds!

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And then the rain came...

The deal with Vang Viang is that it is famous for its tubing. We had never heard of it before we met some travellers who told us they had been, and the minute Chris heard the word tubing we were going! As you tube down the river there are many many riverside bars with swings and flying foxes to use, not to mention the beerlao and the obligatory shot of laolao (a rice whiskey).

On our first night in Vang Vieng we found a bar that has hammocks lining the river, so we settled down to watch the tubers (who were meant to return their tubes by 6pm at the latest and it was now around 7pm).
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There were quite a few late comers but the ones who topped the lot were the two tubing completely stark naked and the one who we had to help get past the bamboo and barbed wire as he couldn't find a way from the river to land. He got cuts all the way up his back as he wouldn't listen and go another way! Apparently this happens daily and there are many notorious tourists who embarrass the locals by the way they act and what they wear (or not wear) when they return to town.

So I was quite apprehensive about the tubing but luckily we found two like-minded Aussies and all went together at 10am so beat the other 200 tourists and had a fantastic time! I was really nervous on the first swing but soon got into the 'swing' of things and was loving it by the end. We even went on a swing and flying fox around 10-15 metres high and for our last swing went together, luckily organising before hand where we would both let go to avoid landing on each other!
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Just a few of the 200 or so tubers!

The next day we had booked a 1pm bus so we had the morning to hire bikes and cross the bridge to the villages on the other side of the river. Biking through the villages makes you realise how poor the majority of people are. most of the children weren't at school but helping there parents by herding cows, staying at the shop or looking after younger brothers and sisters while their parents worked in the rice paddie fields. Despite this people are friendly and welcoming to us.

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It's back-breaking work.

Posted by nzwendy 02:06 Comments (3)

I've changed my mind...

This is paradise!! LAOS :)

rain 28 °C

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We arrived in Luang Prabang after a wee hiccup at the airport due to our two day overstay. Actually the immigration officer was very apologetic which was strange as it was completely our fault. Anywho, after an $80 fine we carried on through ready to depart for Laos. We didn't really have any expectations for Laos which may explain why we were blown away by the spectacular scenery during our flight and pretty much everyday since we stepped foot off the plane. Rugged green mountains, wide flowing Mekong, rice paddie fields... Everything is very lush and green, apparently over 40% of Laos is forest.

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We found a guesthouse (all very french looking villas with shutters on the windows and balconies) which was family run. There were only four bedrooms and the family lived downstairs with their two children and poodle type dog (there are loads of them here and Chris just about killed one yesterday by stranding on it - they are tiny).

We spent the evening looking around, pleasantly surprised by the many street stalls selling filled baguettes! Then we found a family run riverside restaurant, a bamboo floor with tables and chairs on the riverside, and had our first Lao dish. I can't remember the name now but it was basically a mushroom curry and it was very nice. The kitchen was across the road and down a little lane (I found out when I needed the loo). when I got there the whole family was in the kitchen working away, making our dinner and a pre-schooler showed me where the toilet was! Very sweet.

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We went on our first trip down the Mekong the next day to visit a village they call the 'Whiskey village" and to the Pak Au caves which were found in the 8th century and became a place of Buddhism worship later on during the 16th century. They contain over 2500 buddha statues!

It was a beautiful boat ride and we were able to watch the locals fishing, washing and playing in the Mekong. As we walked up to the upper cave there were 20 or so children as young as two scattered up the steps selling young baby birds in cages, chips and cookies. One very little boy had learned to say in English "please buy a bird, we have no money" over and over again. It was heart-breaking but what was worse was that Chris and I had tried to get money (kip) that morning before we left but the ATMs don't open until 8.30am. We had enough to pay for the tour but had absolutely nothing left!

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Posted by nzwendy 01:35 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Wendy, Kaow and Poom

Me, my elephant and mahout

sunny 32 °C

On Sunday morning, bright and early, I arrived at the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre for a 3 day mahout (elephant training) course. Sadly Chris was so sick he couldn't bring himself to get out of bed, so I put on a brave face and ventured out on my own! :(

When we arrived we were given mahout training gear to put on - very baggy fisherman pants and a very baggy button shirt. Feeling rather unattractive (but later realising this was the best thing to wear to stop chaffing and sunburn) we met what and who would be our best friends for the next three days!

Mine were: A 9 year old stubborn male elephant called Kaow and his mahout (who has been with him since birth) Poom.

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Kaow's favourite part of everyday, feeding time!

We had been there for as little as 30 minutes and we were already into it. Learning the commands and practising mounting and dismounting - which I found really difficult, needing a booster the first few times, until I learnt to trust Kaew and realise that my weight was of not much significance compared to his size.

The commands

Song Soon
Get on
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This was the one I stuggled with. Basically you step onto the elephants bent leg, grab its ear and pull yourself up and onto its back, wriggling forward until your legs sit right behing the ears.

Hup Soong Get off on the side

Tag long
Get off on the front (jumping over its trunk and tusks)
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nung long sit

Non long Lie down
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Map long
Sit on Belly

Geb bon
Pick up

Later on when we went bathing with our elephants I learnt my favourite command:

Bang Boon
The elphant dips its trunk in the water, sucks in the water, lifts its trunk so that you can grab it amnd use it as a hose to spray fellow mahouts. Fantastic and SO much fun!
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Each morning we collect the elephants from the jungle, feed them sugar cane and take a morning bath. after breaky we would have a training session and then follow with a bathing show and a 'performance' show where we would demonstrate commands.

The elephants are involved in two shows each day and at around 3pm we take them back into the jungle for the rest of the day.
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Supat the organsier of the mahout training programme has posted heaps of photos on the following website if you want to see more: www.changthai.com

We had a great 3 days (a group of 9 altogether from England, Canada, Sates and NZ) and even received a certificate that states that we are now amatuer mahouts!! Luckiloy Chris was feeling much better by the last day and was able to come and watch the shows to see what we had been up to while he was stuck in bed!

Posted by nzwendy 18:53 Comments (5)

White water rafting..yes again!

Oh my Buddha...

What an awesome trip!!! :)

Feeling like professionals now after our 2 day white water rafting trip! We started in Pai and 2 days later ended up 10km from Mae Hong son (North East Thailand). We rafted around 70km in the 2 days and were completely exhausted by the end of it!

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We had a great group, 4 kiwis, 2 Aussies, 1 Israeli and 3 Thai crew (2 captains whose favourite phrase everytime we came to a rapid, got stuck or flipped out of the boat - chris twice, wendy none - was Oh my Buddha

As well as rafting during the day we swam through rapids, jumped off cliffs (well one did) and even had a go at self beauty treatment in the hot mud pools!

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We slept in open bamboo cabins in the middle of the national park and had to sleep huddled together as the guides forgot the mosquito nets so we had to make do with two (they had none!)

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Heaps heaps of laughs and fun :)

Posted by nzwendy 06:39 Comments (2)

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