My trip to Laos was brief and, on the whole, brilliant, barring the scam fiasco of the last day in Luang Prabang.
I wish I’d managed to see a little more of the country and spend more time with the locals, but I didn’t quite realise how much time I’d spent in Thailand, not really doing much. But there you are, you learn and I’ll be planning the rest of the trip a little bit more than just ‘ah I’ll go there next…’
The main impressions that I have of Laos are:
- mountains, mountains and more mountains. Covered in forests and jungle, long twisting roads passing through linear villages with small children walking to school, even smaller children playing by the side of the road.
- the misty vistas that ideas of Asia bring to mind. Mountains looking like torn tissue paper, fading off into the distance.
- A father having a waterfight with his son as we drove past, the child giggling in delight.
- Friendliness of strangers (mostly) offering directions, tips for good food options.
- Resourcefullness and hard work ethic. People were selling items made from the shells dropped during the ‘American War‘, flowers and peace signs shaped from the metal and destruction brought by American bombers. I had no idea that Laos had been affected so badly, I’ll certainly be reading more about it in the coming weeks.
- Water, water everywhere…
In Luang Prabang the main feature of the surrounding landscape is the Mekong River, winding it’s way past the city, conjoining with the Nam Khan and in the evening you can sit and watch the sunset over the river.
We took a day trip to the Kuang Si Falls, a three tier fall with a number of clear blue pools for swimming in. This was the site of the outing of my first ever bikini – there are no photos of this, it’s enough to be a size 16/18 and get yourself out in public when you are so white that vampires would be jealous. Photos next to magnificently tanned ‘perfectly proportioned’ people would not help my attempt at growing some self confidence.
The falls are ridiculously beautiful, the water cool in the hot sun and when you get in there are mischevious fish nibbling at your feet and legs. Most people got out as they couldn’t cope with it, but it wasn’t fully unpleasant. My thinking was that I’m sitting in their home, they can have a little explore if they want. And it reminded me of Red Dwarf, so you know, that’s fine.
After Luang Prabang, I went south to stop in Vang Vieng. This is a favourite destination for those that want to go tubing. I thought about doing it, but then I thought, nah bugger it, so I went for a walk to a local set of caves.
I’m not really big on walking for long distances, but it was one of the best walks I’ve been on. After leaving the village at the foot of the toll bridge I followed the signs to the cave onto a path covered by a shady grove, which eventually opened out onto fields separated by mud embankments with a herd of cow grazing across them. The limestone mountains jutted up around the area, covered in greenery. There were butterflies flying everywhere, the sound of unfamiliar insects and birds chirruping in the trees. Heavy, browned and dead leaves fell to the ground all around me as I walked. I carried on for about 45 minutes and the best part was that I didn’t see another person. There was evidence of human activity – fences, signs, the farmed land, wooden buildings scattered across the land, but no people. No cars, no motorbikes. It was amazingly refreshing.
I was getting concerned that I’d never find these caves with their underground and outside natural pools, but I turned a corner by a farmhouse and found two great reservoirs of water ahead of me. More butterflies, electric red dragonflies and mysterious animals scuttling into the bamboo clusters as I approached. Then my reverie and peace was broken by the sign to pay to get into the hills and caves and the sound of humans after all this time. I handed over my money, said I didn’t want a guide and followed the winding path marked by torn plastic bags.
Over a scary bamboo bridge I walked, met by two young boys who tried to get me to pay again. I carried on, towards the mountain and one followed me, over took and beckoned me to go his way, torch in his hand. His way was my way so I did, laboriously scrambling over rocks and into a tight crevice in the rock which signified the first cave. Without a torch you’d see nothing, but with one rock formations resembling sleeping dragons that sparkled with quartz appeared. I didn’t have long to look around as the boy carried on, motioning that I should follow.
The rest of the caves were, to be honest, disappointing. I got wedged a couple of times, I was hot, tired and the boy wasn’t really giving me much time to take it all in. He showed me o the swimming cave – a tight squeeze down to a sink hole within the rock with a pool, a rubber ring and a rope ladder precariously hanging over it. It wasn’t happening. I went back again.
Back over the style, through the fields, past the cows, back along the shady road to the guesthouse.
20 minutes of awkward conversation later with a drunk local guy (highlight being ‘I like you, you are fat like my mother) Paul, the owner of the guesthouse loaded a few of us into his truck and took us to the ‘Blue Lagoon’.