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For the first time since we have been away, our three musketeers were forced to separate due to Jo’s susceptibility to getting gigantic mosquitoes bites that were already becoming infected. You see, Laos’s main attraction for travelers is the renound ‘tubing’ which goes on in VangVieng. The VangVieng river is pretty dam scummy, and if you go tubing, you are guaranteed that any cut you have WILL get infected. Jo decided she would give it a miss to prevent further infection and/or amputation, and move on ahead of us. So, myself and Niema had little Laotian honeymoon on our hands instead.
After leaving our home in Sihanoukville, we travelled to Laos by bus from Siam Reap, where the famous and beautiful Angkor Watt resides: and if your not a temple person it is still amazing as it’s where our good friend Angelina ran around adorned in her Ms. Croft gear– yes, it was the set for Tomb Raider. The temples have huge tree’s sprouting from inside them like a the infamous Cragen from P.O.T.C, the roots look exactly like its huge tentacles, forcing their way with brute strength through the hundreds of year old rock. The heat when we were in Ankgor Watt was stifling, by 9am it was already hitting 35degrees so you can imagine how hot it was in midday. After yet another bus journey, we arrived in Laos, and were glad to have a little bit of rain and a few degrees less heat which meant that we could actually venture out in the daytime without fainting. We made the long journey to the ‘4 thousand islands’ the South most point of Laos. These islands are not surrounded by sea, but instead by the Mekong River. Long tail boats are the only transport there from or to the mainland, most of them being carved by out of trees by families so they are literally hollowed out trunks with a motor attached and steered with a bamboo pole. The lifestyle here is extremely lazy, and there are no ATM’s or hospitals on the island, the only transport is peddle bikes or the odd motor if you are lucky enough to locate one. All the guesthouses have outside toilets, and an abundance of hammocks hung on every available branch (for times when tiredness overtakes and your not at home). The accommodation is around one pound a night in the Islands, which is something we hadn’t experienced since India, so it was a welcome treat! The four thousand islands were very beautiful and perfect for a bit of rehab, but there is very little to do there. We soon realized that we actually wanted to get back on the travel wagon and stop sleeping in their oh-so-appealing hammocks, so we caught a 24hour (yes TWENTY FOUR HOUR) bus up to VangVieng.
As we looked out of the steamy bus windows we saw four year old kids riding bikes three times their size, barely able to touch the peddles, with their mates balancing on any free bit of metal they could, grandparents sharing motorbikes whilst clutching umbrellas to shelter themselves from either the sun or the rain, and jeeps with cages welded to the back with sardine packed travelers handing onto the bars (vaguely resembling the child catcher from Chitty Bang Bang). Arriving in VangVieng we immediately realized what we had gotten ourselves into. There was nobody over the age of 30, everyone dressed in various coloured wife-beaters imprinted with the tubing emblem, carrying buckets, and strung with neon coloured waterproof bags to protect all prized possessions from the treacherous Mekong River. In our first day in VangVieng two people had already died. You see you team rocks, zip wires and a lack of knowledge of the river with alcohol and it is inevitable, lots of travelers get badly hurt in the VangVieng. We were pretty scared when we heard that, but you’ve just got to make sure you don’t go too crazy, and most of all listen to the locals. If you imagine a festival, with freshwater showers, spray paint, zip wires and rope swings, great music and sunshine then that’s VangVieng. It is incredible. Everyone takes out huge rubber donuts and floats down the river, stopping at whichever bar they choose (everyone will help to pull you in), covers themselves in spray paint, partakes in copious amounts of beer bongs, and then by 8pm everything is closed and everyone is tucked up in bed. After enjoying the Oreo shakes, and bars which play endless episodes of Family Guy and Friends, munching on the Chicken, Bacon and Cheese baguettes, we had to prize ourselves away from the M50 (the local red bull substitute they put in the buckets) and go do some travelling. ‘Out of the bucket and back on the track’ like my Dad told me, so we headed his advice, and journeyed up to the beautiful and breathtaking Luang Probang.
Luang Probang is a sleepy French-style village that would be perfect for a holiday destination; it is quaint and small with tons of gorgeous boutique and markets, great street food and stunning sights. In the morning when you wake up there are Monks everywhere taking their morning strolls, street kids playing in the river and locals setting up their stalls for the daily business. If you Google Luang Probang you will probably see a photograph of the magical waterfalls there, can I just say, those photos are nothing on the real thing. Out of all the waterfalls I have seen in the past 6 months, that was definitely my favorite and the most beautiful. Streams of water pouring through the jungle into clear turquoise ponds with brilliantly placed trees for rope swings and back flips into the ice cold water. Ace.
As a whole Laos is not as touristy as Thailand, but not as backpacker filled as Vietnam, yet when we went to VangVieng we did see a glimpse of what it would turn into in a few years. It is funny how much places can change in such a short amount of time, how built up they can get. For example, we have just come back to Thailand to get our open water qualifications, and already the prices have gone up since we were here just three months ago! So now that we are all qualified Scuba divers (AHHH YEAAAHHH) off we go to Indonesia to explore the dive sites, the jungle and hopefully catch ourselves a few Orangutans!