Rachel and Matt’s World Tour
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Category — Laos

Up the Mekong

Hello all,

This post comes to you from Chiang Mai, as we arrived back in Thailand today. Laos was gorgeous. From Vientiane we headed north to Vang Vieng… home of tubing: the art of floating down a river in a truck inner tube, drinking too much beer laos, mud wallowing, rope swinging, dive bombing and flying of the end of a very tall concrete slide!

A definate highlight or our trip, although the travel snobs will disagree because the town is full of tv bars pumping close to 24hrs of Friends, Family Guy and The Simpsons, to westerners who are either beered up or mellowed out on ‘happy’ shakes and pizzas…But ignore them because it is a really great place to have fun and meet many new friends.

We dragged ourselves on from fun time to Luang Prabang, a pretty town full of old wats and temples. There was awesome scenery on the bus ride there, as the road winds through the mountains, but we suffered a near death experience when the bus swerved to avoid a broken down truck that was hidden around the corner, and flirted with the edge of a cliff! Somehow the guy on the back row slept through the swerving and the screaming of all the girls on the bus (including Matt)! Similarly to Vientiane, Luang Prabang is very french colonial in appearance and has great restaurants, so it was a very pleasant place to while away a few days. We took a day trip to ride an elephant and swim in the turquoise waters of an expansive waterfall area.

We spent the evenings wandering around the Hmong market where I fell in love with many bags that I was not allowed to buy.

We left Luang Prabang and headed for the border on the SLOW boat up the Mekong River. 10 hours each day for 2 days! Luckily we had good books and good company. It should have been closer to 8 hours a day but the boat kept breaking down! We stayed over night in Pak Beng the first night, which is nothing more than a cluster of guesthouses and restaurants. The second night we stayed in Huay Xai,in a cute wooden guesthouse, where one of the adorable old sisters that runs the place proceeded to explain her medical conditions to us in  great detail and for some time, bless her. A real mumsy character, she organised our transport across the river border into Thailand and onto Chiang Mai today.

That all for now, laters x

September 2, 2009   11 Comments

Cambodia and Southern Laos

Hello everyone.

Here’s what we’ve been up to in the last few weeks….

From Saigon we took a very long and tiring 12 hour bus journey up to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The journey was made much worse by the constant Vietnamese karaoke videos, which no-one seemed to be interested in! We arrived in Siem Reap late and arranged a Tuk Tuk to take us to the Temples of Angkor the next day. The temple area is huge and contains far more sites than we imagined. We have been overdosing on temples in SE Asia so opted to visit just the most famous ones, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom. Angkor Wat was the first stop and didn’t dissapoint. The place is huge, surrounded by a vast moat. We hired a guide, who explained how the temple was built and what a few of the thousands of intricate carvings meant. We had a very cloudy day, which while good for us, made the pictures a little grey. It is far more impressive in real life. Next was Angkor Thom. Built after Angkor Wat, the huge walled city housed over 1 million people at a time when London was 50 thousand strong. We passed through the very impressive walls to the main temple located in the centre. Over 100 Shiva faces are carved into the temple walls and towers so that there is no escape from her gaze! Finally we visited Ta Phrom. The first Tomb Raider movie was filmed here and you can see why. It was much more like we were expecting… collapsed ruins, huge tree roots forcing the stones apart and very atmospheric.

Rach wouldn’t do any Angelina/Lara Croft impressions for me though 🙁 . Siem Reap has a great selection of restaurants and we enjoyed a very good and very rare Mexican that night.

After we spent the next day mooching around the markets in Siem Reap we headed to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We arranged to see the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek and the S21 prison. We have learned much about the Khmer Rouge and their regime while planning our trip, but actually seeing the methods of their extermination and the results of the torture of thousands of Cambodians, including children and even babies, was very harrowing and disturbing. We spent the second day in Phnom Penh getting our Laos visa sorted and visiting the extremely boring National Museum and Royal Palace.

Our hotel was located next to a particularly smelly fruit and fish market. There is a fruit in SE Asia called the Durian which seems to be very popular. On the way through the market late one evening the smell nearly overcame Rach who doubled over and was very nearly sick! (She has a very sensitive gag reflex). Our final stop in Cambodia was Kratie, home to the Arrawaddy river dolphins. We spent over an hour on the river watching in awe of the beautiful creatures swimming around our boat. They were too quick for our camera though, so we only managed a few shots!

The next day we passed over the border and into Laos. Only a few KMs up the road was Si Phan Dhon, a collection of large and small islands on the Mekong River. We spent 4 extremely relaxing days on the beautiful islands of Don Det and Don Khong. With nothing much to do apart from drink beer, eat, sleep and read it was a very welcome change of pace!

We hired bikes one day and enjoyed cycling to the Lyphi falls via very photogenic rice paddies and small villages. Oddly enough they also have a cracking Indian on Don Det! After we thought we had lazed around enough we headed up the Mekong to Champasak. Here we found Wat Phu Champasak a very early temple of the Khmer who built Angkor Wat 400 years later. It took a good hour of cycling in a humid 35 degrees to reach, but the view from the top terrace of the temple was well worth it. There wasn’t much else to do in Champasak so that evening we got a night bus (with real beds!) to Vientiane, capital of Laos. So far we haven’t seen much but it does seem very nice and quiet for a capital city and the food is amazing: pain au chocolat for brekky and juicy steaks for dinner thanks to the french invasion!

That’s it for now. We hear you are all enjoying a sunny summer.Rach says it would be nice to get a few more comments on the blog – is anyone still reading (apart from our parents) ?!

August 22, 2009   13 Comments