Finishing up Northern Laos – Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientianne

25 11 2012

Items I have learned today:

I am diverting to being back at home for a second, for this portion of my blog. I have recently learned:

-How very strange it is to be in a country that actively celebrates and LOVES Halloween. I think I read somewhere that the US spent $8 billion on Halloween! $8 billion! Crazy talk.  I  wasn’t quite sure of what to do when I walked past houses that had full out decorated (fake graves, cobwebs, gigantic spiders, lights, pumpkins) etc during my normal commute. I remembered this around Christmas, but forgot all about the love for All Hallow’s Eve.

-How nice it is to have fall/winter be around the holidays. Now don’t get me wrong, I still freaking hate commercials, but I feel a bit more at home having to suffer through endless santa/snow flake/chestnuts roasting on an open fire-type ads, then ones talking about all the great types of meat you can BBQ on the beach.

Luang Prabang

Next stop on the Northern Laos adventure was Luang Prabang.  Luang Prabang was the former capital of Laos until the communist take over in 1975.  Here is a (not so) fun fact about Laos.  Did you know that it is the most heavily bombed country in history?? I didn’t either. During the course of the Vietnam War, the US dropped a total 260 million bombs on it!  What’s even worse is 75 million of them didn’t detonate, and people are STILL suffering/being killed/injured/from the remaining ones in the country.  I learned about all this during our dinner that first night in Luang Prabang.

The spice girls (the nickname given to us by the locals at the start of our trip in Laos – solely because there were 5 of us) and Wan (our guide) had a brief history lesson on Laos and then had the next four days to explore Luang Prabang.   Luang Prabang is well known for its Buddhist temples.  It was here that I witnessed my first giving of alms. Every morning at 6am, the monks get up to receive their daily donations of food.

Although we were hoping to see hundreds, we only saw a few, but it was still a pretty cool thing to witness. Kinda crazy to think about the fact that they live off of whatever their fellow Buddhists are able to donate in the mornings. It’s not considered charity.  It’s a religious rite to show humbleness and respect, it is the beginning of one’s journey to Nirvana.

We also took a day trip out to Kuang Xi Falls. It’s a 3 tier waterfall located about a 30 minute tut tut ride out of the city.  Waterfall was GORGEOUS.

Kuang Xi Waterfall - first part

Kuang Xi Waterfall – first part

Kuang Xi waterfall - Part two

Kuang Xi waterfall – Part two

The first tier had a rope swing.  Did dare devil Maria go off of it??? Not so much.  But I did make sure that everyone’s belongings were safe and sound.  On the way back from the falls we had a small dose of the local boys.  Two of the spice girls decided to stick their bare legs off the back of the tut tut (gasp! shock! horror!).  We had a stream of about 5-10 Laos boys on motor bikes following us all the way back to the city.  It was quite comical actually.

Our unofficial bodyguards

Our unofficial bodyguards

The next few days we rented bikes and toured the temples. Pictures below.

We also did the whole elephant riding experience. Elephants really are gorgeous creatures, but I couldn’t help feeling bad for the ones we rode. Clues being the fact that they were kept in chains, and that there was a baby who had apparently been sold from its mother. When you looked into their eyes, they just seemed sad. Now, I’m not claiming to be an elephant whisperer by any means, but I did question how these particular ones were treated.

The spice girls meet the elephants

The spice girls meet the elephants

I also had another amazing meal. $10 all you can eat buffet from the night market.  You load up on whatever you can eat, and they mix and fry it all together. Delish!

Vang Vieng

Now all I heard about in New Zealand, was that if I made it to Laos I had to go tubing.  Never mind the numerous war wounds I saw from those that had survived said tubing experience (holes in the skin from leeches/some other sort of nasty sea creature) or the numerous deaths (yes, deaths) that seemed to happen on a weekly basis.  So as I am sure you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly excited about the thought.  In fact, I tried to come up with every excuse in the book to get out of going.  But there was a 16 year old in the group, and she was excited to do it. How big of a wus would I have looked like if I hadn’t?

We only had one day/night in Vang Vieng, so we literally tubed up (yes, I did just invent a new verb, thank you very much) on arrival and went.  Looking back, I am SOO happy that I pushed myself to go, it was actually a pretty amazing experience.  Do you float along the brown Mekong River?? Yes. Is there a floating bar/dock practically every fifty feet? Yes.  Do you have people toss you ropes tied with water bottles to pull you in to said bar/dock? Yes.  Is there a shot on arrival and possibly beer pong at each dock/bar? Maybe.  But as long as you do everything in moderation, it’s a lot of fun! The best part for me was not the bar hoping (or in this case floating), but at the end of it when you float along the last 30-45 mins with your friends, in your tubes, taking in the sites.  Another highlight of the entire trip, although I have heard rumors that they may have now shut the tubing aspect down.

Um.. Happy Birthday???

Um.. Happy Birthday???

In Vang Vieng we were also now introduced to tour guide number two Scrubs/Baz.  He decided to celebrate his birthday in Vang Vegas (definitely not a Westernized nickname for the place… nope… not at all).  To celebrate, we all went out to dinner, and proceeded to make him take 31 shots out of a bucket (a SE Asian invention that I’m pretty sure was designed to ruin all tourists).  Needless to say he lasted all of an hour before he disappeared. And that was Vang Vieng!


My time with the Stray tour came to an end at Vientianne, as I needed to make it back to Bangkok to meet up with my long lost buddy Bekah. Vientianne is the capital of Laos.  Let me just say that it was really strange to be in a “city” in Laos. I was used to shops being the bottoms of peoples houses, where everyone sold the exact same products (one brand of shampoo/chips/soda etc). To walk past a mini-mart/convenience store was just plain weird.  To have shopping malls felt a bit like an alternate reality!

We spent the day touring the Arc de Triumph or Victory Gate. It was built with American funds that were originally designed to build an airport.  Apparently the Laos government decided that this would be a much more effective use. To be honest though,  I am not all that surprised considering the fact that the states dropped 260 million bombs on them!!

Pat That Luang

Pat That Luang

Another highlight included Pha That Luang.  A gold buddhist stupa (which contains the ashes of the deceased, a beautiful tombstone if you will). It’s regarded as one of Laos most important national monument.

That evening it was off to dinner with spice girls and the rest of the group and time to say farewell to both them and Laos.  I should also take a second to talk about one other incredibly important part of my Laos experience. In Vang Vieng we met up with a few other folks on our stray tour.  The most memorable being that of Johnny and his daughter Laura.  Johnny grew up in Laos, but was forced to leave when he was young (around 10 I believe). He grew up in France.  This trip, was his first time back to his home country 30 years later.  He brought his 16 year old daughter with him. I wasn’t with his group when he first came back into his country, but even being around him for the few days I happened to be was incredibly moving. To be able to see him return to his home, and bring his daughter is something  I will probably remember forever.

Bangkok and Cambodian adventures to follow 🙂

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