Beer Lao, and other stories

Welcome to the next instalment of this here blog, our little labour of love. When we decided to write it we couldn't have comprehended quite how much time it was going to take us. Each post seems to take the best part of a day to put together, and then it can take the same again to upload on some of Asia's dodgy wifi connections. We're proud of it though, and that we've kept it going... even if we are always seemingly 3 or 4 weeks behind. So with that in mind, welcome to the-rest-of-Laos catch up post! Watch as we speed through our travels from Huay Xai (post Gibbon Experience) to Pak Beng, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. Hold onto your hats!

That said, the first thing we did certainly wasn't speedy (so please feel free to loosen that grip on your bonnet), as we embarked on the 2 day slow boat down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang, with an overnight stop at the fairly nondescript Pak Beng. The scenery was breathtaking, the traveller company was fun (if a little young) and the Beer Lao was kept chilled and flowed nicely; but, as with all things that are seated and last 2 x 8 hours, it did start to get monotonous and a bit uncomfortable. So we were all very pleased when the boat moored up on the 2nd day and we were told we were in Luang Prabang.

Slow Boat vibes

Except that we weren't. Instead we were all victims of a racketeered rickshaw scam that saw up stopping 10kms short of our destination so we could be fleeced a few more Laos Kip notes to get into town. And we were no longer very pleased. What happened next was an hour long stand-off with a 100 or so tourists refusing to get off the boat, while the rickshaw drivers waited up the hill for us, with the boat driver. Frustratingly we lost, bit the bullet and paid for the rickshaw. Welcome to Luang Prabang!

A real shame as it set us off badly in what was actually a very nice place. Set on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the Unesco-protected town was a favourite of the French colonialists and so was scattered with pretty villas, interesting boutiques and a good wiff of Gallic cuisine. Hello bread, we've missed you. Not to mention you Monsieur Fromage!

That said, we were still in Laos and i was keen to investigate their food further so I booked myself in for a cooking course with the Tamarind restaurant and cooking school. This time I learnt how to steam Mekong fish in banana leaves, stuff chicken INTO lemongrass and make the local favourite Làap, a kind of spicy mincemeat salad. Tasty.

Jo, meanwhile, decided to get all creative with a couple of one-on-one courses in weaving and batik through an inspirational organisation called OckPopTok who work with local tribes to preserve their handicraft traditions. Crafty.

Next stop, after a 7 (meant to be 5) hour minibus journey, was Vang Vieng. Set on the Nam Ou river against a dramatic backdrop of monolithic limestone karsts, you'd be hard pressed to find a prettier setting.

Unfortunately it's best known for a tubing down the river stoner-traveller scene that went OTT and led locals to put up these sorts of signs...

But that seemed to have quietened down when we got there with many of the river's bars having been shut down and their soundsystems switched off. With the new, more chilled, state of affairs in place, I wouldn't have minded jumping into a tube for a slow float down the river. But it turned out it would have been a VERY slow float (water levels were low) for about 3 hours, and on my todd as Jo was having none of it. So we opted for a trip to the enormous Tham Phu Kham cave and the icy-cool Blue Lagoon. Sadly though, Brooke Shields appeared to have had the day off.

Our final stop in Laos was the capital Vientiane. Here we took to bicycles again to explore the city, with our favourite stop being the excellent COPE centre, an inspiring not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the victims of UXO (unexploded ordinance) from the American war.

And we also spotted this car there... never before has a Mazda looked so good.

There was a lot more of Laos to discover, but time on our Asian adventure was starting to tick a little louder, so we headed to the airport. Hanoi and northern Vietnam here we come!

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