Asia, Laos, Travel

A Beautiful Time in Four Thousand Islands

Four thousand islands in Laos, established in the name, is a variety of islands south of the mainland of Laos. The most popular island and the one we ventured to was: Don Det. Arriving midday to an island surrounded by strong currents and beautiful natural landscapes we were taken back by how quiet the whole island was. Wandering around the island empty of tourists made our stay seem surreal, giving us a large advantage in choice of numerous restaurants and chill out bars. It seemed there was little to do here except cycle around the island- embracing the quiet nature of the place and the wind in your hair, or relax and watch the ever changing colourful sunsets that burst onto the landscape whilst snoozing in a swinging hammock. I could see why tourists could easily lose track of time here as everything is so, relaxed and easy.

4000 Islands Unfortunately the flooding over the season meant that we could not cross the bridge from Don Det to Don Khon, a large island nearby. However, over our stay we organised a kayaking trip around both islands where we saw numerous waterfalls, dolphins and lunched on Cambodian soil. There are similar trips available to other islands and fishing trips, although it seemed there was little to offer in four thousand islands except watch the world float by. If you have a long trip and want to take some time out and relax, I would recommend stopping here and resting your tired feet and weary soul.

4000 Islands

Asia, Laos, Travel

Bland Vientiane

Vientiane, being the capital of Laos, is a busy city but I felt it had little character or unique flair behind it. Rarely visited by tourists I questioned why this was so, but after two days in the city I soon found out why. Although having the importance of being a capital city there was little to do and seemed to be mainly an industrial city where people would work, work and work, and which tourists used as a stopover or to catch a certain flight.

VientianeThe sights in Vientiane are small in comparison to the massive city that engulfs these sights. Check out Wat SiSaket Temple, a temple based in a Buddhist monastery that had beautiful architecture within.

Vientiane Head to the Victory Arch, inspired by the Arc De Triumphe, where locals and backpackers both try to out do each other for the most original picture. You can climb to the top of the sight for a panoramic view of the city.

VientianeI recommend Buddha Park, which is on the outskirts of the city, and the only thing I actually enjoyed and I feel, made my visit worthwhile in Vientiane. Here there are beautiful religious stone structures carved out in shapes to amuse, terrify, inspire or educate. Enjoy clambering through and up and down them for a great picture.

Vientiane Vientiane

 

 

Asia, Extreme Sports, Laos, Travel

The Truth about Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng. Whenever someone hears those two words the immediate thought that comes to their head is: Tubing. Tubing takes over the town and puts Vang Vieng on the travellers map. A sleepy town before tubing arrived on the scene, it has now been transformed. The town is full with tubing merchandise, restaurants playing FRIENDS or Family guy on repeat, and hostels full of inebriated backpackers. For many in Vang Vieng, life is a constant party.

Vang ViengWhat tubing entails: you rent a tube for the day and move from bar to bar along the Mekong River floating in it, staring at jaw dropping scenery and waving your hands in your air to catchy music, like you just don’t care. You are then reeled in by locals with plastic bottles to the next bar. Each bar is resurrected on stilts and sells whatever you require to get completely out of it and have either jumps or swings to play with. Before going, I had heard mixed reviews of the place- all positive from backpackers and all negative from the press. Although enjoying the spirit and atmosphere of the place, with the anything goes attitude and everyone determined to enjoy themselves with random other travellers was fun and liberating, I did see sights that I didn’t expect to see. Watching a birthday boy being forced to down a bottle of whiskey and then being forced to drink his own sick afterwards, was not a sight I enjoyed or would like to see again.

The first day we did tubing the real way with the renting of tubes. We spent a lot of time in the first main bars which meant we had to rush down the river to return the tubes on time. Although renting the tubes is expensive with the deposit and with a strict curfew, we spent the second day walking to the bars and taking the boat across the river meaning we could take our time and enjoy ourselves more. Most people go straight from tubing to either Bucket Bar or Smile Bar to carry on drinking till the early hours.

I am glad I went to Vang Vieng to experience the party atmosphere although it wasn’t for me. I enjoy drinking and partying but in places that are cool, unique and tell me something about the place. Whilst here it was a majority of people getting so wrecked they didn’t know who they were, causing harm to themselves and to others.

The rumours are true about the level of health and safety. It is a highly dangerous place, with our group of friends we had two injuries there and both when they were sober. The bars themselves are dangerous as well as the amount of people who try to swim in the river and fight the current to avoid paying for the tubes. The slides and those that jump in the river are faced with many rocks that they can easily injure themselves from. Throughout the entire time I was travelling in South East Asia every injury I saw was tube related. From head injuries to broken legs and arms, I saw everything and even heard stories of death related incidences that people saw. If you go, please look after yourself.

 

Asia, Laos, Travel

Lush Greenery and Luxury in Luang Prabang

 

Luang PrabangOur first destination in Laos was Luang Prabang. Taking the slow boat (it definitely is slow) down the Mekong river from northern Thailand enabled us to experience Laos culture and local life by the river. Floating down the river on a sturdy wooden boat, you pass small villages and their waving children, murky Mekong water swirling rocks with its current, and the ever changing scenery. It seems like an amusing and dangerous game when the boat driver allows more and more customers to hop on board with their heavy cargo of chicken, rice and large families. As the boat sinks lower and lower, my nerves began to increase, to the amusement of giggling locals. Passing the hours by watching the world go by, chatting to other backpackers, playing cards and singing songs (as well as watching an Aussie mate of ours tattoo himself) made the journey move much faster. Some backpackers tight on a schedule, choose to travel by fast boat. And fast it is. Journey time is a quarter of the time, although noisy and incredibly bumpy, it doesn’t offer the calming and tranquil experience we had.

Luang Prabang Luang Prabang Arriving in Luang Prabang we were struck with how beautiful the city is. With similar architecture to that in Hoi An in Vietnam, you are greeted with winding side streets, entrances of buildings elegantly carved in dark wood, hanging flowers that scent your path, magnificent places of worship that stand in harmony, as well as artisan shops selling funky handicrafts, Luang Prabang is a city which one immediately feels comfortable in.

Luang Prabang As well as exploring the city and spending your time dining in the number of restaurants, losing yourself in the meandering maze of streets or simply gazing out onto the graceful and peaceful Mekong River, take a trip to the waterfalls named Kuang Si. Hiking to the top rewards yourself with a view, although it is sheltered by tree tops, which is a little bit of a disappointment. Instead, spend the time frolicking in the waterfall and jumping off its many cliffs to the cascading chilly water below. Keep moving in the waterfall pools, as the fish bite!

Luang PrabangKayaking to Pak Ou Caves is incredibly popular. This allows you to float along the Mekong River on a different mode of transport, seeing the towering caves above you and feel the current against your paddle. Visiting the caves, you step into the gloomy darkness, home to screeching bats, where you glimpse at ancient ruins of Buddhist monuments. When you’ve wandered, play at your future by shaking the holy and bewitching wooden stick box, seeing which will drop out first, telling you what lays in store of your future.

Luang PrabangClimb to the top of the hill which is in the centre of town and is dotted with Buddhist monuments amongst its path. Although numerous steps, it really gives you a breath-taking view of the whole of Luang Prabang, the Royal Temple, as well as the lush mountains and greenery around the city. Go at sunset and you will be amazed at the view.

Luang PrabangA restaurant I recommend is Laos Laos Garden, set in a pleasant garden, where you can cook your own meals on individual barbecues, the food is tasty and the service is highly commendable. As Luang Prabang is still under communist influence, all the bars and restaurants have a curfew at midnight meaning for those who want to carry on drinking- they must take a taxi to… the bowling alley. Although many might not enjoy these restrictions on their drinking cultures, the bowling alley is a hilarious experience, besides doesn’t this great social activity transport us to our childhoods and highlight that some things can be fun without drinking?