Vientiane is the capital and largest city of Laos, although still a small city compared to many. The capital attracts a major influx of tourists with many temples etc. However before my own sight-seeing I had jobs to do. I was up early to escape the heat and for a free breakfast, always a bonus when managing a budget. I made my way to the embassy for my visa to Vietnam, only to find it closed. So my exploration began earlier than I had anticipated. I began by chilling in a sad looking park; think it had had too much sun! Then I stumbled across the free exhibit, COPE Centre – Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise.
I hadn’t realised that Laos is the most bombed country in history and it was interesting although very sad to see the effects that this is still having on this country. The centre has pictures and exhibits displaying the devastating effect of the unexploded bombs left over from wars.
It was touching reading the stories of the survivors and learning about the work being done for people with disabilities; also the continuing work to rid Laos of the thousands (some say millions) of unexploded bombs that remain today.
I spent the rest of the day camping out at a shopping centre taking advantage of the air-conditioning, I was struggling as the temperature soared. I had noticed that there was a showing of the new Star Wars movie so decided to wait the 5 hours to view it in English. I found the storyline a bit confusing but loved the views over Derwent Water – a favourite place so close to where I call home. It was really strange coming out of the cinema though and realising I was not at the Capitol Centre in Preston. The night continued with an English theme as I managed to catch the England v Italy Six Nations Rugby game in a local pub. A few hours of nostalgia as remembering so many family holidays in the Lake District and sharing my love of rugby with my Dad!
Eventually managed to get my visa with no problems and treated myself to some seaweed and spice crisps, I am getting addicted to these but yes Mum I am eating healthily as well – plenty of fruit here, actually the apples are the best I’ve ever tasted!
The following day was filled with indecisions as I realised my time in Laos was coming to an end and I had to prioritise what I really wanted to do. I decided on hiring a scooter first, to get off the beaten track- I felt like a real local. I chose to skip a visit to Savannahket another large city, and head for Pakse known for its scooter loops and amazing waterfalls.
Arrived outside the city so got a tuktuk in – I am getting quite good at haggling for a good price now. I can’t imagine going home and having to accept the rrp. I had quite a struggle to get accommodation as most places were full but after some homework I managed to secure a bed; waiting in the Reception I saw two huge cockroaches, the biggest I’ve ever seen. I settled down to skim through the book ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac, given to me in Vientiane by an American girl; not sure whether I will enjoy it as it has very mixed reviews.
The day after I hired a scooter and after having some trouble getting out of the city I was finally on the road, free, on my own set of wheels with the hard sun beating down which would later turn into sunburn!
I set off towards the impressive Tad Fane Waterfall view point .The water thunders over 100 metres down steep cliffs in to a gorge and is surrounded by lush rainforest scenery. After taking it all in and taking loads of photos I continued walking to the secluded top to go skinny dipping – my first time and so enjoyable! On the way back I threw sticks at snakes on the path in case they decided I looked like a good meal.
Almost 4 months in to this trip and I have had the most amazing experiences but sometimes there are days that almost blow me away. Every so often I get one of those immeasurably ecstatic moments that remind me that this is an incredible once in a lifetime dream coming true. I hope that whoever reads this knows what I mean – that you have experienced something so good that you can’t really put it in to words.
I carried on through Paksong picking up some dried bananas and asking for directions at a petrol station. I headed to a dirt track to take me to Tad Tasyicoua (don’t think I’ve spelled that correctly but can’t find out how to!)for an amazing trek up stream past bamboo bridges and three waterfalls to the last one just past an incredibly rooted tree and enjoyed another swim under the waterfall, much to the current’s disagreement, but I battled through.
Today has probably been one of the best days of my life!!!!! I wanted to stay there pretty much forever but I had a 3 hour scooter ride back to my already paid accommodation! It was then that this quote came to mind:
“We’d just shared the last beer and slung the empty can out the window at a stop sign and were just waiting back to get the feel of the day, swimming in that kind of tasty drowsiness that comes over you after a day of going hard at something you enjoy doing — half sunburned and half drunk and keeping awake only because you wanted to savor the taste as long as you could.”
― Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Towards the end of my stay in Laos I decided to spend some time in the very south, near to the Cambodian border, at the 4 Thousand Islands. The islands are very rural as you would imagine with small huts along the banks of the Mekong River but a real feel of the country I have so enjoyed visiting. I got a boat to the island of Don Khone, it seemed quieter than the others and appealed to me more. On my quest to find a budget guesthouse I bumped back into a girl from Thailand who I had met before; together we managed to find a good place as the locals understood the Thai language easier than my English.
Returning to Pakse I rented a nice Japanese scooter a 125cc; it was good to be on a slightly bigger bike with some more torque, great fun! I rode south to the famous Wat Phuo, the site of an amazing ruined temple which is older than the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Unfortunately I had just missed a festival, I only saw the aftermath of rubbish and a huge clean-up. I have since learned that it could have been a celebration that happens at the full moon of the third lunar month (usually in February), when the temple’s biggest annual festival takes place with many impressive ceremonies and fun activities going on during the week-long period. These include monk-blessing ceremonies, elephant racing, buffalo and cock fighting as well as a trade fair, live music and traditional Lao dancing.
I made my way back via the south bus station to check my bus for Tad Lo waterfalls and ended up buying myself a 100% fake ‘North Face’ bag for half the price he originally offered!! Unfortunately my plan of making more use of the bike was curtailed as time ran out; I did give it one last blast though down a side street trying to catch the sunset. I had enjoyed the bike so much I emailed someone about a free motorbike to take to Saigon but unfortunately like all good deals it had already been sold!!
After a bit of sleep I was on the move to Tad Lo. On a tuktuk to the bus station I noticed a Lao man who was carrying two crates of beer on his scooter, he jokingly offered me one. Ha Ha I love the Lao humour!!!
Managed to scout out some cheap accommodation at Tad Lo as I was over budget and didn’t want to draw out any more money (Lao kip) before Vietnam. I began to get more excited with the amount of waterfalls I came across – people bathing in some and children splashing. The mountains in the background made for one of the most idyllic washrooms I will probably come across. I took a swim in the most impressive one as boys were jumping 90metres down the falls. I was able to swim under one of the falls to a make-shift ladder. What an experience!! The day ended spectacularly as I climbed a small hill to sit on a log and watch the sun go down – another fantastic day. I have been so blessed with all I have seen in Laos.
My final night in Laos saw me bunked with a woman from Newcastle and a guy from Gatwick – sure way to bring me back down to earth!