Friday, August 12, 2011

Laos - rain, landslides, near deathBus gets stuck and dirty scrabble.


If you just want to read the good stuff about the bus ride, skip down the page a bit..... If not then carry on and see what we did for the last few days..........

We left the hotel in Chiang Mai for the airport after breakfast and after checking in, getting rid of out last few Thai Baht and going through the various security checks and visa checks, we were sat by gate 9 with half an hour to spare before we boarded our little plane to Laos.

The flight was only an hour, which is a lot quicker than the alternative way to get to Luang Prabang, which is a 3 day 2 night boat/bus trip. We were given a slice of cake to eat and not long after we took off we were landing at et tiny airport in Luang Prabang.

We all piled off the plane and after another queue for visas ($35us for English, but Scottish and Welsh weren’t on the list!!) We were asked by a French couple how much the visas were – how are we supposed to know! - Bloody Surrender monkeys! It was a fairly easy process though – Give in passport and paperwork, with photo. Go to next window and pay dosh, get back passport – take passport to 3rd window where you get a stamp. All done in half an hour and then we were out and into a very pleasant Laos afternoon. The first task was to get some Laos money, known as Kip. But the ATM was not working and the money exchange was closed, but luckily we had loads of American dollars left and the taxi into town cost us $6.

We are staying in a nice little cheap hotel called – Merry Lao Swiss, which has a big air conditioned room and a really comfortable bed. The only weird thing is that in the bathroom the sink is only about 18 inches off the floor and the shower curtain, because of a window, runs halfway down the bath and only about 6 inches from the wall, so there isn’t much room to shower. The view from the window is really nice, a quiet street with locals doing their business and a hill opposite with a temple atop it.

After a look around town, where we saw the night market being set up and a local boat team rowing down the river, we made our way to a different hotel where Nikki’s friend, Sarah is staying. It turned out to be just 100 metres down the road from our hotel!!

We had a chat and then I went to get some sleep while the two girls chatted. Later on they gave me a knock and we took a walk to a great little café/bar called Utopia, where we laid on big cushions and pillows on the floor and had a good meal, surrounded by bombs that were left behind after Americas 'secret war'. The cafe also boasts a load of board games and the oportunity to climb 'The ladder of death'!!

Laos, so far is really mellow and relaxed – after the busy Bangkok and then the more relaxed Chiang Mai, Laos has come down another notch and is really relaxed. Everything happens slowly, but the people are really friendly and don’t appear to worry about much. It feels like we are somewhere special as the town is a mix of modern and traditional buildings and shops, but with a colonial feel to it. We really like it here.

After our night out, we had a good nights sleep and were up about 9.30am for breakfast and then went back to Utopia again to meet up with Sarah and see how the day goes. It just started to rain as we arrived at the café and so we sat for a while waiting for it to get heavier. Which it did a short time later. Its looking like we may be here a while!!

We ended up in the Cafe for a couple of hours. During that time the girls played a game of scrabble, followed by a game of dirty word scrabble justfor a laugh. We moved onto a different cafe for lunch and later on also ran into Buffy and Joel on the street as they had just arroved in town.
Dinner was really good, at a restaurant just over the road from the hotel – a real proper laos style restaurant wit a free 'Lao Lao – local whisky, to try before we ate. All in all it has been a really relaxing mellow day here in Luang Prabang.

In the morning we left the hotel early to take a trip up the Mekong River. The trip was to visit a local Lao style village where they make the Lao Lao Whisky we tried last night as well as going further up the river to a set of two caves, that have become known as 'Buddha Caves', due to the fact that there are about 400 varying statues of Buddha in the caves, ranging from tiny ones up to bigger ones 3 or 4 feet high. It was a lovely day and a really nice morning out – the only weird things were spotting a bloated dead pig floating down the river and passing what appeared to be the local Laos jail on the river bank – complete with watch towers and barred windows!

On arrival back in town we climbed the hill that dominates the centre of town to see the temple at the top, the Buddha footprint and to take in the views over the town. It was hard work climbing up, but well worth it. We even spotted a couple of trainee monks riding a gun emplacement like a roundabout!! Weird. The afternoon was spent relaxing and planning for the next few days in the same café where we had lunch yesterday. In the evening the three of us went out to a nice café, where we had some lovely food and then took a walk around the night market, looking at and buying some of the cheaper trinkets that are supposedly made by the locals. Then as it was getting late it was time to say goodbye to Sarah and get off to bed as me and Nikki are up just after 6am for a bus journey to Vientiane

I slept well and woke up early, before my alarm, but after getting up and ready, we ended up sat on the steps of the hotel for about half an hour waiting for our tuk tuk to pick us up and take us to the bus station. When if finally came we jumped on board and then had another 4 stops to pick up a few Frenchies and some Dutch passengers, before the tiny tuk tuk took all 10 of us to the other side of town and the bus station. 

Dirty scrabble

Our mekong boat trip

Tasting the lao lao

Buddhas - in a cave

Monks riding a gun emplacement


THE BUS RIDE!!!

We were dropped off right next to the bus and after getting tickets checked we actually left just a coup-le of minutes late – before stopping after 2 minutes at the local petrol station where the bus was filled to the brim for the days journey. What a journey it was too – The first couple of hours were quiet – until we started up the mountains and after rounding one particular corner we were met with a pile of mud on the road. The bus driver decided to drive straight through it, but this turned out to be a bad idea as the bus slipped, tipped and started to slide towards the edge of the road and a pretty big drop down the mountain. I was already out of my seat and on my way off the bus, when the shout came from downstairs for everyone to get off and get safe while they tried to get the bus moving. Once all the weight was off, the driver put his foot down and made it out of the mud without too much hassle.

Once again it was quiet for an hour or two, until we rounded another corner and there was a line of traffic stood still on the roadside. I was off and out of the bus again, walking up the hill to see what the problem was. It turned out to be another landslide – this time a lot worse and in a small village. One village hut had been pushed back about 20feet and half buried in mud, whilst the road had been completely covered. A local bloke was moving the mud out of the way using a JCB, while a mixture of locals and westerners looked on. I was just in time to see the JCB finish and the road opened – A bus, just like our bus, drove down the hill towards us and then started to slide, sideways. It couldn’t get a grip and people were jumping out of the way and shouting as it headed towards a van and a hut in the village. Luckily he managed to get some purchase, just as he reached the van and stopped just a few inches short of hitting it. I continued to watch as other vehicles came down, each one spreading the mud and making it easier to pass. Eventually the downward vehicles had all passed and it was our turn (with mud chains and all) to drive upwards through the mud and continue our journey. The biggest pain of the whole day though was on the bus itself. Next to my seat, attached to the wall was a drinks holder. Just at rib height and positioned about 7 inches in front of the seat, so that any attempt to lean against the window ended up with a dig in the ribs and a loud swear word reverberating around the bus! 'FUCK!'

We did actually stop for food as well, but we ended up with ice cream, as the yellow and green bread didnt look too tasty!!

The day concluded pretty much as it had gone all day. Just before 7pm we heard a bang from the front of the bus and about 15 minutes later we pulled over by the side of the road. When we got off again, we saw the driver and his mate, jacking up the bus and a big dent in the front bumper. Wr gathered that whatever we had hit had also damaged the wheel and so we werenet going anywhere!!
Luckily half an hour later after we had edged about 200metres along the road, another bus pulled up and we all piled off our bus and onto the new one, which eventually took us all the way to Vientiane. It was then a simple tuk tuk ride to our hotel – or so we thought as even a friendly American guy with a GPS couldnt help our tuk tuk driver find our hotel. Eventually, after asking directions from about 4 people we arrive at AV Hotel just before 10pm – 14 hours after leaving Luang Prabang.

It has been a long long day – but I would prefer to have an interesting day to talk about rather than a boring - 'we got a bus and nothing happened' type of day. For now though, Im having a shandy (No proper beers till I get my liver checked) and then to bed. Phew!!

Bus gets stuck once

Landslide!!

More of the landslide

Green and yellow sandwiches

Bus breaks down





4 comments:

  1. Glad to see you back on the road Bro.. Good Lad!

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  2. Hey man, this is hilarious and awesome. Its good to see that your adventures are continuing. I envy your ability to keep traveling. It was great getting to know you in Oz, and good luck with all your continued journeys. Its good to see a little thing like a tropical disease can't keep you down.

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  3. Cheers Adam - enjoybeing at home and Ill seeya in NY sometime!!!

    Chris - Yeah. im glad to be on the road again!!

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