After safely landing in Chang Mai, northern Thailand, Callum came to meet Erik and me at the airport. After nearly dying of pneumonia when we got outside, I realised that I truly have become an equatorial baby and was completely unused to the cold – and it was definately cold there (still is…i’m freezing right now!). Oh, that and I packed 4 shorts, 4 t-shirts, and only one pair of trousers and one jumper!
We ended up spending two nights there after much contemplation whether to go through Laos on our way to Hanoi to meet Ouissem, Bryan, James, Sharla and Lisa. Chang Mai was a good laugh. We hired scooters for a day and spent most of the time on them…to much amusement!
We spent most of the next day on a minibus to Chang Khong which lies on the border with Laos and spent a night there before taking the fast boat to the town of Luang Prabang. We had two options – fast boat: 1 day journey, slow boat: two day journey. Well, with our tight schedule we opted for the fast boat down the Mekong River, and what a fast boat it was! They sell you earplugs before you get on it…and then kit you up with a life jacket and helmet! Next, you sit for about 6 hours with your knees at your ears, bouncing off the hard seats every time you hit a wave and trying to dodge the waves that you don’t skip over…but skip over you!
Arriving at Luang Prabang…well, 3km outside actually so that they con you into taking a taxi into town at an extortionate rate…we managed to lose Callum who got a different taxi which of course went to a different place. However, we met up the next day and spent a great day in the sleepy little town. Feeling more chilled and relaxed we hired bicycles for the day (with easy rider seats at the back…oh yeah man) and cycled about; a beautiful little town with a very easy going and romantic feel about it.
The next day we got up early to go down to the bus station and jump on this baby for ten hours to Phonsavan on the way to Vietnam. Public bus. ‘Public bus’ to people in Scotland means comfy reclining seat and a nice view out the window. ‘Public bus’ to Laotians means tiny seats (to fit their tiny bodies – they really are small folk!), possibly some cushioning on it somewhere…but lots of metal bars and pokey bits to make sure it’s not comfortable, some animals here and there, mandatory smelly old men and of course puking children. Laos being a country of hills means that if you are not being swung to the right hand side, you are definitely being swung to the left. All that, and we pay about 9 to 10 times more than the locals!
We stayed one night in Phonsavan where we visited a Lao disco! Laos has a nationwide curfew of 12pm, and by roughly half 10 the cities just shut down completely with only a few things open. Luckily, on the eve of their national day there were a few partygoers at the nightclub – 15 year olds who all sat deafened by the base while taking turns at badly singing Lao classics on the karaoke machine on the stage. Our night therefore turned in early and we were up at 5am to get a 10 hour VIP bus to Vinh in Vietnam.
VIP means you get cushioned seats and just enough room to get your legs in front of you and not out in the aisle. The seats also recline quite a bit, but when you have a guy with a dodgy leg behind you that won’t stop smoking (despite being told by the driver) and keeps putting his smelly, dirty feet (doesn’t wear shoes) around the sides of your seat…you kinda wanna sit as far forward as possible. After an hour and a half going through Vietnamese immigration (I’m sure we were their only tourists that day and they were just bored) we found out that the road for the next 200km was under construction. So a 10 hour bus journey turned into a very bumpy, swaying, slow, dangerous and uncomfortable 16 hour journey. Fortunately I did find out why the 200km of road was only half finished…there was only one man working, and he didn’t really seem to be paying too much attention to what he was doing. I’m sure he was just flabbergasted to actually see a bus going past.
Despite all this, Laos was really beautiful. The complete opposite from Singapore and Scotland culture-wise. When you see 4 year old girls carrying 20kg of wood on their backs, and their 2 year old sister on their fronts…over 2km away from their village, you get an idea of what kind of world they live in. We saw loads of small children who seemed to be on their own at the roadside from the bus, and went through lots of small villages along the way. Wooden houses with thatch-like roofs don’t offer much protection against the bitter cold or torrential rains that come.
Watch this space…will upload more pics soon.