Feb 25-Mar 8, 2019
We left Chiang Rai EARLY in the morning. I think it was 5:30am. It was an early wake up call for my birthday. For my birthday I wanted to get over the border into Laos with just one company that brought us there. We could have saved money and did it ourselves but it would have required us taking a bus to the border (2 hours away), a tuk tuk to the “checkout” of Thailand and then another tuk tuk to the Laos border to get our Visa, then another tuk tuk into town… Way too much “figuring out” on my birthday. So I pulled the birthday card and I got what I wanted which was for it to just be EASY. One company that herds us along.
We got into the van that was going to take us and the driver immediately wanted to know which passports we had so he could know how much American cash we would need to get a visa. I don’t think he was very happy that Luc and Vivi had Swiss passports because he couldn’t do a crazy ass exchange rate on them – visas are free for Swiss going into Laos. For me, I already had the USD I needed for my British Passport. Canadian passports are the most expensive Visa around to pass into Laos.
Next stop we picked up a couple from France. They didn’t have any USD so the driver said that he could sell them some (for a terrible exchange). Luc said in French to them that we had some extra USD so we could spot them the cash until they could get to a bank to pay us back. Well I guess the driver didn’t know that this had gone on because he stopped at an ATM. We explained to him that we didn’t need to stop because we were going to lend them the cash and he was PISSED!!! He slammed the door and zoomed off. I guess his side business of ripping off tourists wasn’t going to work today.
A couple of times I tried to talk to him but he completely ignored me. Finally Luc made him listen when we all had to go to the bathroom. Nice start to my birthday – piss off a local.
We got to the border and stamped out of Thailand and into Laos. It was pretty easy. Forms to fill, photos to give (I had brought some extras for times like this so I patted myself on the back). We had made fast friends with the French since our little incident which we would continue to hang out with them for a while and meet up with them again in Siem Reap.
We got into the back of a truck and headed off to the boat. But not before we had a stop at the tour guides restaurant where he told us that the beer is cheaper here and such. Total scam. He also told us that he would be with us for the two day tour but we never saw him again.
Down the Mekong
Onto the boat, our assigned seating was basically bullshit and we ended up sitting closer to the back of the boat where the engine is. We were off and heading down the Mekong. The Mekong is stunning. The river is brown but you float past jungle, water buffalo, mountains, small hill tribes… we made about 10 stops that day floating into different places where people would get on or things would be delivered. Then a 360 degree turn in the river to get back on course. At some point some young fellas got on and the drinking began. They were trying to put beer in everyone’s hands. It was really crazy. They kept buying and buying beer and giving it away. It was all a bit suspect to me. There were two girls with them and one of them had about a 6 month old baby. It was kinda crazy.
Oh and Luc and Vivi tried to get the whole boat to sing me Happy Birthday which was really special. We ate instant noodles on the boat for lunch.
We got off the boat after about 8 hours at Pak Beng and about 20 of us piled into a van that was being held in place by a rock on a steep hill. I was sure that I was going to end up in the Mekong and I would leave this world the same day, 44 years later. We survived. The crew was a buch of Canadians from BC so after we got to the restaurant, we ate, I drank a few Gin and Tonics, watched the sun set over the Mekong and then us and the French went to the bar. Annnddd…. We were all alone at the bar. All for us. Vivi had a great time playing beer pong and dancing. My birthday had a wonderful ending.
The next morning I made the mistake of somehow getting onto a website about the exact same boat hitting a rock and sinking in a matter of seconds. People died. I shouldn’t have read that article because after that I was so freaked out. I’m not sure why I was so scared still but I sure lived in fear when I think back to that time.
The 2nd day of the trip down the river was another day of beauty. Not too hot given the breeze from the boat and just gorgeous. We sat at the front this time (away from the Engine). We made friends with Lola and Josh and sat close to Julienne and Roman (our French friends). These two adored Vivi and she loved them right back.
We arrived in Luang Prabang in the evening. We hopped into the back of a truck again and got dropped in the middle of the town to find our hotel.
Luang Prabang is a beautiful town with French architecture and flowers everywhere. It was strange to have this French feel in an Asian country. We even ate at a French bakery a couple of times while we were there.
That next morning, we found a place just down the road to fill up our water bottles for free. And we set off to check out the town by foot. We walked all over and then up the hill and down. I was stupid hot as usual. We met up with the French to get the money back that we loaned them and headed to the market for dinner. There we had a fill your plate to the brim with as much food as possible for like $2. Mine was heavy on the noodles.
We decided to get a van all together and with Lola and Josh to go to the Kuang Si waterfall to cut down on the cost the next day. The waterfall was the most amazing turquoise blue you’ve ever seen. We hiked around and then swam with the tourists. They also rescue bears there so that poachers can’t take the bile that’s in their stomachs to sell. Magical because of the colour of the water.
The next day we met with the French and went to Big Brother Mouse to volunteer. Big Brother Mouse and Big Sister Mouse is an organization that helps Laos children read and speak in English. We all jumped in the back of a truck again and headed to the school where there were a bunch of kids aged 4-12 awaiting us to teach them. We had a bit of a run down from the woman who worked there as to what was going to happen. We chatted with older kids on a mat and we played games with them too. Then we went into the rooms with the kids, sang songs and used flash cards that were a little strange to say the least. We had a delicious lunch of very Laos flavoured and prepared foods at the school and then we moved to the school up the hill to do more flash cards and watch them dance. There was this one little boy who was a dance machine. So cute. It was a long day and now I understand why I’m not cut out to be a teacher. LOL! It did feel so incredible to be able to give back to this organization though and for Vivi to be able to also volunteer was really moving for me.
We took it easy the next day and headed to the pool. It was fairly filthy because of all the people (grand reopening). The day after that we rented bikes and toodled around again. Luc got a flat but we still managed to get out to the shop that weaves silk. Another scorcher. Vivi was just sitting on the back of his bike on the little seat.
If there’s a place you should visit in Laos, it’s Luang Prabang. It’s so beautiful and really quaint. The French colonial architecture really sets it apart.
We booked a van ride to Vang Vieng and I didn’t realize how twisty and turny it was going to be. Vivi and I both got car sick and she puked. There was a Mexican couple behind us that was super nice and gave us some meds for car sickness. The driver was driving like a maniac and I was sure that Laos was where we would meet our demise. At the top of this crazy ass hill where he was passing people constantly, we switched drivers to go down. This guy seemed to be marginally better and more safe.
I started to not feel so good in Vang Vieng after dinner. Must have been something I ate. My stomach was not feeling well which essentially took me out for the next day. It’s a little humorous because I was just asking the universe for some alone time (traveling and living with your family 24/7 becomes a bit much for this only child at times) and I got sick. So I guess I got what I asked for!
They headed out for the day on a bike to some caves and swimming holes and I got to stay in the hotel room for the day. I did venture out at one point to mail some postcards, buy some charcoal and I happened upon a Mexican restaurant and I couldn’t pass up tacos. By the time I got home I needed a rest.
Vang Vieng is nice, but you don’t need to stay there long. There’s not a lot in the centre. You need to go out a bit to take in the sports. I also didn’t see much of it due to illness but I don’t really feel that I missed out.
The next day we bussed to Vientiane. Vientiane is a BIG city. We had about 4 days here before jumping on a plane to Vietnam.
We got up early in the morning, had breakfast and tried to beat the heat. We took a tuk tuk to the COPE Visitor Centre that is dedicated to how Laos was affected by the war. Laos was the most heavily bombed place in world war II. There are still thousands and thousands of bombies still in the ground and people continue to die and get hurt daily. It is getting better though. It was a real eye opener that this little country was such a casualty of a war that they really didn’t even participate in. And the shocking thing is that generations later, that weren’t even around at that time, continue to be killed because of it. And I’m sorry if this offends, but it’s the States that dropped these bombs (because they weren’t allowed to come back with bombs in their planes) and they are doing next to nothing to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a little disgusting.
We met up for dinner again with the French and had a wonderful time. I just adore watching Vivi play with the two of them. The genuinely care about her and give her space for her to be a kid with. It’s adorable.
The next morning we walked to a park and around to a big arch. Then we decided to take in a movie: Captain Marvel (in English)! What a great way to spend an afternoon to beat the heat. Have I mentioned how hot it is in Laos yet?
The next day we hopped on a tuk tuk and jetted off to the airport to catch out flight to Hanoi. We were pretty excited because Hanoi was supposed to be about 7-9 degrees cooler than Laos and Vivi and I really couldn’t wait for it to get a bit cooler.
- While I thought I might finish in Laos, it really is incredibly beautiful. The people, the scenery, everything is stunning, especially the Mekong and Luang Prabang. I would consider coming back one day.
- I was nervous going into this country. I had heard that it’s less touristy then Thailand (more than Myanmar) so I was a bit concerned about getting around and being understood. I think it worked out just perfect to come here.
- There continued to be a lot of garbage on the side of the road.