Thursday 13 August 2015

Sophie travels - Laos Roundup Part 1

I'm finally back from my travels, and sadly it feels like I never left. I enjoyed those 4 months so much, and had my bank balance allowed it, I'm sure I'd still be on the move. I didn't get chance to keep up with regular travel updates as I originally intended, so instead I'm just going to do a series of posts over the next few weeks on the highlights of my trip. This should force me to dig out all my memory cards from amongst the unorganised chaos that is my bedroom floor and properly organise my photos.

I thought I'd kick things off with a round up of my time in Laos. We did a bus (and boat) tour through Laos and ended up spending about 3 weeks there, although a good amount of that time was probably spent sleeping on a bus. We crossed the border from Thailand and stopped at a tiny village called Huay Xia where we were boarded a slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. The slow boat really lived up to it's name; we spent about 8 hours on there for the first day. We stopped overnight at a little village where we stayed in a family's home. It was an eye-opening experience. We played with the local children (or at least the ones who weren't terrified of us) all afternoon, then in the evening a welcomign ceremony was held for us, where each member of the village tied pieces of string around our wrists and said a blessing. We had to eat food offerings; a banana and sticky rice, and then drink shots of the local whisky, Lao Lao. I think the years of shotting the cheap value vodka at uni really prepared me for that. It was such an interesting experience, and the people there were so kind and welcoming. Also, the family we were staying with had just had a litter of puppies which provided me with hours of entertainment. 
By far my favourite place in Laos was Luang Prabang, our final stop on our slow boat journey. The little town is right on the river and a jumble of old French architecture and beautiful temples. I especially loved it by night when the night markets would start and  we would wander along the main road and spend hours looking at each stall. These were probably my favourite night markets of the whole trip - I left Luang Prabang with my backpack considerably heavier, filled with lanterns, patchwork make-up bags, comfy trousers, and bracelets. While in Luang Prabang, we took a day trip out to visit the stunning Kuang Si Falls. At the entrance to the falls is a Bear Sanctuary, where we spent ages watching the rescued bears playing and rolling round the huge enclosure. They were so beautiful and some of them were huge - I would not have wanted to get any closer! We trekked up through the jungle to the main fall, watching the water cascade from pool to pool. The water is such a lovely colour and the pools are perfect for a swim to cool off in the hot weather.

From Luang Prabang we journeyed to Vang Vieng - this bus ride consisted of hours and hours of winding roads up through the luscious green mountains. We'd heard so much about how stunning the views were, but unfortunately there was a huge storm as we drove through so our views were mainly of torrential rain and heavy mist. Typical, eh? There were definitely some scary stunning moments though, when the lightning would crash around us and light up the whole area.

We did arrively safely in Vang Vieng though, and once the weather cleared up, we could really appreciate our surroundings. Vang Vieng definitely has a rep for being a party town (ahem, tubing) which we weren't particularly down for. So while everyone else grabbed a rubber ring and went to get drunk along the river, we booked ourself a hot air balloon ride! The views were absolutely amazing - I could have stayed up there for hours. 





From Vang Vieng we head to the capital, Vientiane. Here learnt about Laos's history and how it was affected by the Vietnam war. Some of the museum trips were quite upsetting, but important to see. I loved that Vientaine has it's very own Arc du Triomphe, although it looks slightly different to the one in Paris. The Patuxai was built when America gave Laos funds to build a new airport, which the American's intended to use to access Vietnam. My school history lessons had never really gone beyond Western Europe and the USA, so I found it super interesting to learn all this history about completely new places.

The next half of my Laos journey will be up soon!


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