Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Laos

At the end of December 2015, I crossed over a bridge on the MEkong river in Laos and boarded a slow boat bound for Luang Prabang. The trip took 2 days, and we stopped in Pakbeng to spend the night. I even went for a run in the morning, which started a very brief spurt of motivation to start running regularly. The nice thing about being stuck on a boat with the same people for 2 days is you're forced to get to know them before you're on the move again! We got a nice group of people together that I spent a lot of time with for the first half of my time in Laos. Unfortunately, I lost most of my photos when my phone was stolen, but I had a few on my camera and borrowed a few from people I met there.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there are temples and monks everywhere. I spent a lot of my days with a French girl I had met the night before the slow boat, and we even got up at 5am to go up to Mt. Phou Si on top of a hill to watch the sunrise. We watched the alms giving to the monks from a distance but did not participate. 

The night market was pretty great in Lunag Prabang and included lots of great food! They had these giant buffets that were cheap and delicious. I always got way too much food because I was excited about all the vegetarian choices! I definitely never went hungry there. 

There's a restaurant/bar in Luang Prabang that is pretty much the place where tourists go. I did an early morning yoga class there on a deck overlooking the river, and came back again for a New Year's Eve celebration. I spend the first day of 2016 going to the Kuang Si waterfalls and jumping in the water. It was beautiful! 


arriving on the Mekong
welcoming 2016
New Years Day waterfalls
Walking up to Mt. Phou Si
French friend Mathilde
mmm buffet
 
Yoga at Utopia
The next stop was Vang Vieng! This place had gotten a bit of a reputation after multiple tourists died doing drugs and tubing along the river. They shut down most of the river bars and took out all the very dangerous rope swings and other attractions. Now the city is trying to rebrand itself as a family friendly outdoor activity center. This doesn't mean you don't see signs for happy pizza though! Every cafe had several TVs playing episodes of Friends continuously and didn't have chairs - just cushions and short tables with just enough room to fit your feet under. I did a lot of relaxing here, and also went tubing! I found it very relaxing and fun.

The next day, I rented bikes and went to this swimming hole called the blue lagoon. I heard other people say it had been really crowded when they went, but we got lucky! We pretty much had it to ourselves. They had tree branches you could jump off of. There are also several caves around and we went in one of them.

tubing
1st bar
The crew at the 2nd bar
Blue Lagoon
cycling with my dormmate
Late afternoon - view from a hotel pool I spent the day at.
After Vang Vieng, I made my way south through Vientiane and Pakse. I stopped in Vientiane mostly because they had an English bookstore and I was hoping to find a GRE study book, which I did not. It was a cute city on the water though with lots of French architecture, a night market, and a 25m pool near where I was staying where I swam some laps. I liked how much pedestrian space there was by the water for kids to play, people to walk and jog, and of course the morning and evening exercise classes.
Pakse is also by the water, and I stopped there to hopefully doa 3 day motorbike loop but I got kind of unlucky and didn't meet anybody else who was doing it. Some people from the sow boat did it a couple days before and after me, but my stop in Vientiane messed up the timing for me. I enjoyed walking around though and met a couple on my bus that I ended up staying with later on, so it wasn't a total waste.

Finally, it was on to the 4,000 Islands, and more specifically the island of Don Det. I did a lot of relaxing. I was pretty good at doing nothing by this point in my trip! I swam at a pool and in the Mekong river, attempted to go for some humid runs around the island and hung out with some cows, rented bikes and went to a neighboring island, and visited a huge water fall and saw some ugly river dolphins on a boat trip.

I really liked the slow pace of life in Laos. Apparently they have no problem taking aid from other countries because they don't feel that it hurts their pride at all! They also think that working too much is bad for you, and doing a job you don't like is bad for your health as well. A friend of an acquaintance I met was late for the airport and offered a taxi driver double the price to take her right away, but he wanted to take a nap so he just said no. I can get behind that philosophy.
I heard many mixed opinions about Laos from fellow travelers but it gets a big thumbs up from me.


Vientiane
Taxi boat to Don Det
biking between islands