RuxtonPatchett’s in SE Asia 24 December 2024 – Lao People’s Democratic Republic 0

Day 5 Continued: After writing up our blog at a local internet cafe, we hired bicycles and explored off the main route ourselves. We followed directions to local caves where we could hire a tour, which we did. It started out great – fantastic stalagmites and stalagtites. The kids were enjoying my attempts to get through increasingly small places (shades of pooh bear getting stuck in the hole) and it was generally great fun….until we spotted the spiders and wetas. When we had gone as far as we could, we were all grateful to turn around and come out. The other two caves were self-guided but an attack by red ants on our approach left us well and truely over caving for today and we turned tail and headed back for Vang Vien. Dinner at a typical restaurant here is a series of raised tables with cushions all around so that you can sit cross legged or lie down while you eat. For phalang (tourists) enterainment, a constant stream of re-runs of “Friends”. Every restaurant must have bought every single series and you really have to get off the beaten track to avoid watching while you dine. Steph and I are eating at roadside stalls to reduce costs and then having a small something with Nick at a place that serves both western and Lao food. Bed…Vien Savanh Guesthouse (very basic).

Day 6 (Thurs 26 December): We got up earlish and had breakfast before meeting our group for our kayaking, tubing, caving adventure. A new day and maybe this cave wouldn’t have spiders….! We set off with 11 other intrepid explorers in the back of a tuktuk laden with kayaks for about 23km journey north of Vang Vien. Stopped at a small village where we visited the Elephant Temple, so called because of the stalagmite in the shape of a temple (surprise, surprise). Our guide told us about the history of the cave and about how Buddhists use the cave to worship. We then went for a short trek to the water cave. We boarded doughnuts and entered the water…..fortunately not too cold, and disappeared under an impossibly low overhang. Ropes were strung through the first part of the cave so that we could pull ourselves along. When the rope ran out, we paddled. Saw quite a few bats and what I am sure were glow worms but with all our lights, impossible to tell for certain. A number of our party had had enough about half way through and so we all turned back. This was great fun and not a single spider did I see! Lunch and then another tuktuk ride to the river where we donned life jackets and kayaked back to Vang Vien, about 2 hours, with a short stop at riverside bar (one of many) where rope swings and slides in to the river were available. Some of our group had a go. I was unable to because of my arm and Nick, though very keen, lacked the impetus to have a go without someone else going first. I think he has regretted it ever since. Back to guesthouse for a welcome shower (only tipped out a few times…) and then back to “Friends”. Another early night.

Day 8 (Saturday 28 December): Breakfast from a roadside stall (yes, even Nick) and then tuktuk to the bus station and bus to our next stop – Luang Prabang. Only 200 odd kilometres but more than 6 hours….imagine our worst windy road through the highest peaks (Aurthur’s Pass?) going on for 6 hours and throw in a few landslides and many potholes!). We arrived quite late in the day and immediately got a tuktuk to the centre of town, arriving right in the middle of the night market. Found a place to stay for 2 nights but so far nothing for 31 January, unless we go really expensive. The accommodation is a bit of a dive but we are only sleeping there…so considering it is the most expensive place we have been, we are lucky to have it. Wandered around the night market (beautiful) and then had some dinner before getting some sleep.

Sunday 29 December: Seem to have muddled up my days somehow. Will go back and sort it out later. We are in Luang Prabang, ancient capital of Laos and World Heritage site. Tres magnifique! We have had breakfast at a french cafe and are now about to head out of town to find some accommodation for the next couple of days because we are liking this place very much and want to stay longer! It has a lovely feel about it and there is so much to do. We plan to book a trek to an elephant place where we can take a ride through the jungle. Also plan to have cooking lessons at a local restaurant AND take a boat trip up the river to see the Buddha cave. But for today…just find accommodation and go and visit the local temples and royal palace etc. Our plans have changed a little from our itinerary, we will stay here a little longer and miss Phonsavon altogether. Border crossing to Vietnam will not be at Tay Trang which is apparently a much easier route. Unfortunately the bus only goes there 3 times a week and we don’t have the bus schedule as yet…so watch this space and I will post our plans as soon as we have them confirmed. Steph and Nick have become acclimatised – not just to the temperatures but also to the culture and are more relaxed and having fun. They are not so keen on walking around the cities and mention museums and they are gone! As long as we have something exciting in the wind, they are happy. Definitely enjoying the food, the markets, the customs and the sights. Time to go and explore.

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