Day 33-36 – Chiang Mai

After having a hearty breakfast at the hotel, I set out to the Gibbon Experience office to see if they had availability to go zip lining.

I think giving a chocoholic the entire Nutella jar was a mistake!
I think giving a chocoholic the entire Nutella jar was a mistake!

The nice people at the office informed me it would be at least 1 day before they could fit me in and in that moment I decided I’d just cross back into Thailand and see Chiang Mai.

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And so with that, I found myself a Tuk-Tuk for the very short distance to the border. I’d heard so many horror stories about land border crossings and yet it was so easy, there were no queues, and as soon as I got to the other side I went to an information desk to enquire about a bus to Chiang Mai. It was about 10:15am at this point and they told me there aren’t many buses that take the 4 hour journey to Chiang Mai, but I was in luck as the next one was at 10:30am… Result!!

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Even better…when it turned up, I was the only passenger in the minivan so the driver said he’d drop me directly to a place of my choosing. I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, but I had done some research and so I got him to drop me off at a highly rated hostel I’d seen on hostelworld. Typically though when I turned up it was full for the next couple of days. No worry, I found a nearby hotel for a cheap price to settle in for a night before finding a hostel.

I didn’t really do much on the first day. I had a cheap massage, a rack of ribs and generally walked about exploring. I looked for a hostel to move into online and found one with reviews at 9/10 so I moved there the next day.

My favourite...
My favourite…

The hostel was nice, the lady running it was lovely, but there were no other people! It was a ghost hostel. During my stay there I had the entire dorm room to myself every night!

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With no atmosphere at the hostel, I booked myself a couple of activities.

The first one was a massive zip-line adventure called ‘flight of the gibbon’. Not content with missing out on zip-lining in Laos, I booked a day of zip-lining in Chiang Mai for a somewhat pricey 4000 baht (£80).

So the following morning I got picked up in a minivan and driven about an hour away to the park where I met the rest of my group. Apart from an Australian couple, there were mainly Chinese girls that I enjoyed chatting to. A few of them seemed wealthy and came from Shanghai and then there was also a nice girl from the Chengdu region.

We had great fun on the zip-lines, even seeing some gibbons along the way. From what the girls were saying, I think I’d found myself some admirers! There were 30 ziplines in total, some long, some short, one went straight into a spider net..

Getting ready for the fun
Getting ready for the fun
Nothing like a nice long rickety bridge
Nothing like a nice long rickety bridge
Staring at the start of Asia's longest zipline (800m)
Staring at the start of Asia’s longest zipline (800m)

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Gibbons!!
Our hero comes to save the day!
Our hero comes to save the day!
Turns out you could do joint ziplining too!!
Turns out you could do joint ziplining too!!
Rappelling down too!!
Rappelling down too!!
Even a glimpse of the Aussie in the background :)
Looking amazing with our orange helmets of course.

After a long day with some awesome guides and fellow zip-liners we headed back to the minivan. I sat next to the girl travelling alone from Chengdu in China and we listened to music from her phone together. An odd mix of Chinese, Korean and English featuring Avril Lavigne among others. It did make me think how far China has come though. I often get comments from people back in England of ‘aren’t you brave travelling alone in Asia’ but this Chinese girl about the same age was doing the same. I bet you wouldn’t have seen that from a Chinese girl 15 years ago.

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We stopped briefly on the way back to a waterfall and eventually I got back to the hostel.

The next day I had organised to go to an elephant sanctuary.

Up to this point I hadn’t engaged in ‘animal tourism’. I don’t profess to lecture anyone on it but there are so many animals abused in Asia for tourist attractions that it puts you off. Not long ago an elephant died of exhaustion near Ankhor Wat after being ridden in the blazing heat. Oh and there’s the drugged tigers everywhere that people take pictures with too which is pretty horrible.

The place I organised to see the elephants called itself a sanctuary and as far as I could tell, it seemed genuine. The website says all the right things, you weren’t allowed to ride the elephants, it seemed like spacious surroundings and trip advisor reviews were all good. However, I will say this. I am not an elephant expert and I do wonder how obedient a wild elephant would be compared to the ones I saw.

When being picked up from the hostel, I was accompanied by 2 American families with children that were living in Dubai, and a guy that worked in finance who seemed to have lived just about everywhere in the world. The journey probably took about 90-120 minutes in the back of a jeep, with the last 30 minutes going along the worlds must bumpy and hilly dirt track to the secret lair of the elephants…

Once we arrived at the sanctuary, we were asked to wear some of the traditional clothing of the local Hmong tribe and we were given heaps of bananas to feed the elephants with. We joined with quite a few other people.

Up close and personal
Up close and personal

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After some lunch, we were all told to get into our swimwear and we bathed, scrubbed and then mudbathed the elephants.

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Soon enough it was mid-afternoon and it was time to go already. It had been a pretty awesome day,  and I got back to the hostel as the next day heralded a new country for me. Cambodia.

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Day 31-32 – Huay Xai via Pak Beng

I’d decided it was time to think about moving on from Luang Prabang, so I decided to continue heading north through Laos towards the border town of Huay Xai. Why Huay Xai? Well it was home to the offices of ‘The Gibbon Experience’. For around $100 a day on a 2 or 3 day course you could live in treehouses in the jungle, with an elaborate array of ziplines to go from treehouse to treehouse and place to place.

I hadn’t prebooked it so my plan was that I’d turn up at their offices and see if there was any availability, and if not, to cross the border into Northern Thailand.

To get to Huay Xai there were three options. I could take an overnight bus, a speedboat or a 2 day slow boat. I’d heard good things about the slow boat from people at the hostel like Renato that had taken it from the opposite direction so I decided a nice relaxing boat journey up the Mekong river was just what the doctor ordered.

I’d pre-booked my slow boat ticket and transfer to the pier already from a travel agent and so a Tuk-Tuk came along to pick me up. In the morning a German girl at the hostel approached me and said she’d heard I was going and wanted to get the boat too though hadn’t booked a ticket. In true Asia style, where everything is negotiable, we slipped the Tuk-Tuk driver a 20,000 kip note and he obliged in taking her to the pier where she also managed to get a boat ticket…and for cheaper than my price!

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At the ‘pier’ we entered a tiny hut where we were given tickets and I found an amusing Lao version of checkers available to play…

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It was around 8am when we got on the boat and set off. There isn’t really much to say about the boat apart from it floated on water and for us from A to B. The seats were like what you’d get in an old car and the only food on offer was overpriced crisps or instant noodles (and of course I hadn’t brought my own food…). For the first stage of the trip to Pak Beng it would take until around 6pm so I did a combination of sleeping and occasional talk to some of the fellow passengers. The two girls in front of me were Germans that worked in Hong Kong so we spoke a little about Hong Kong and there was a woman onboard that I’d spoken to in Vientiane.

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Still, there were some nice views…

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Eventually we docked at the tiny village of Pak Beng and the inevitable scramble of locals trying to sell us hotel rooms arrived. I actually needed a hotel room for the night but I have a little rule of thumb on travelling which is generally not to buy anything overtly offered to you. It’s like the universal taxi scam that applies at ANY airport in the world where the unlicensed drivers walk around the arrivals hall saying ‘taxi’ waiting for their prey, hoping you won’t go to the official taxi rank.

I found myself a room in the end for about 60,000 kip (£5), and it was a fairly decent room with double bed and toilet. By no means perfect, but decent value. Renato from Luang Prabang had shown me some pictures of the private room he got for 25000 kip and it looked like a set from a horror film so I was happy spending a little more on mine.

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The German girl from the hostel had checked in the same hotel and so had a guy from New York from the boat and we decided to go get dinner together. It seemed there weren’t many places but we entered an Indian restaurant and it seemed everyone else from the boat had the same idea as us.

The service was dreadful and I had to walk up to a waiter to serve us after about 15 minutes. He hated me for that and was visibly annoyed whilst taking our order. We waited ages for the food and one of my dishes never came. No tip for him!

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I looked around Pak Beng with the others and we ate mangos together on a wall by the pier whilst the American smoked weed and we just talked. I got the feeling that the American guy and German girl had more in common with each other than me but that’s part of travelling. It’s always interesting to hear another point of view from a different culture.

The next morning I was determined not to make the same mistake of not having any food so I headed out to a bakery. Looking back on Pak Beng, the one thing I can say is that the pastries in the bakeries are SUPERSIZE, I mean, one croissant was a meal in itself.

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8am arrived and I boarded the boat again ready for the final part of the boat journey to get to Huay Xai. Again, nothing notable really happened on the boat other than I dozed and talked to a few people. Oh and the German girl was ill from food poisoning after our less than delightful Indian meal.

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Most people on the boat wanted to immediately cross the border on arrival to Thailand and were worried the border might shut at a certain time. I on the other hand wanted to get to the Gibbon Experience office at Huay Xai to see if they had availability for zip lining. I tracked the journey with the GPS and google maps on my phone during the way and we were on course to arrive at 5:30pm.

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When we arrived I said my goodbyes to everyone and made my way on my own down the Main street in Huay Xai, following google maps on my phone for the Gibbon Experience Office. Unfortunately when I got there it was closed so I decided to stay a night in Huay Xai and go to the office to enquire in the morning.

Walking down the street, a group of people that had just done the Gibbon Experience were drinking beer and invited me to join them. Of course I accepted. There was an American couple, French people, an Italian and a British guy. They advised me to check in at their hotel so I dumped my bags there and came back.

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Time flew by as we drunk more and more, and we were soon at a table in a hidden location the French guy knew of, listening to weird music on an iPad.

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Yes… that is Rick Astley!

Eventually when the American guy was nearly on the floor from the amount of whiskey he had drunk, I said my goodbyes and retired to my hotel room.

Days 28-30 – Luang Prabang

Day 28 and it was finally time to say goodbye to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng had given me so much fun and I’d made so many friends, but thankfully I met nearly all of them again in Luang Prabang! The thing with Laos is that because of the shape of the country, nearly everyone follows a very similar route. The only difference is some people are heading north and some are heading south.

The Unesco city of Luang Prabang was the next logical stop after Vang Vieng, but there was one potential snag. The bus route to Luang Prabang wasn’t exactly safe. Unfortunately there had been a recent spate of attacks against tourist buses on the route by Lao rebels killing and injuring quite a few tourists. Just some days before I was due to travel, the US government banned all officials from travelling on the roads I would be and advised against all travel to the area due to IED (improvised explosive devices) and gun attacks.

Whilst I thought about alternative routings, they were all very complex, time consuming and expensive. For example, I could have headed back to Vientiane and caught a flight to Luang Prabang but I decided against that and instead would take my chances on the bus. Those of you who know me well know that I’m not exactly risk-averse!

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The good news was I wasn’t travelling alone and so my new Chilean friend Boris from the hostel in Vang Vieng was on the same bus as me.

Stopping off for a bite to eat in the death route
Stopping off for a bite to eat on the death route

Despite the warnings, the bus journey was quite uneventful and I didn’t get shot at (yay). There was some beautiful scenery along the way and I tried to get some sleep before we headed to a rest stop and got some lunch.

I’d pre-booked a hostel and when I turned up, as well as making lots more friends, I met so many people from Vang Vieng.

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Morgane, the girl from Quebec that I’d gone trekking with in Vang Vieng was staying at the hostel. The 5 Canadians that had partied and shared a dorm with me were also there. I met up with Jade and the English girls that I’d had dinner with and shared a dorm with 2 of.

One of the good parts of the hostel was the common area was small so it encouraged a good atmosphere and everyone to talk together. I’d soon made friends with a new group of people, including a Brazilian guy called Renato, and an Irish girl and we headed out to get some food.

(Renato was a hilarious guy who I’ve kept in touch with but unfortunately I just missed meeting him in Vietnam by a day, dammit!!)

Oh and some of the toilet graffiti was funny…

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We explored the market and let me tell you, the market in Luang Prabang is just ENDLESS red tents with tourist bits. I ended up buying 3 ‘beer lao’ t shirts and so all my tops now have something to do with beers, bars or pub crawls.

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We got some street food buffet which was good but the food was quite cold. Still I think it barely cost £1 so I can’t complain really.

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Everyone had told me to go and visit a waterfall called Kuang Si Falls that was approximately an hour away and so the next day that’s exactly what I did.

The easiest way to get there was via a Tuk Tuk and so to minimise the cost I went to the common area of the hostel and quite simply asked if anyone wanted to go see the waterfall with me. About 10 minutes later there were 9 of us all getting ready to take the trip.

We knew from people that had gone previously that a fair price for the return journey was 200,000 kip in total (just under £2 each) and with the abundance of Tuk Tuks and some great haggling by the group we got the ride to the waterfall and knattered in the back.

Unfortunately for whatever reason I didn’t seem to take my phone to take pictures, so I found this image from Google.. For more just google ‘Kuang Si Falls’.

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It was a great day out and I had great fun climbing all the way to the top of the waterfalls in slippy flip flops and bathing in the pool at the bottom.

Soon enough the evening came and according to everyone ever, the only bar you should go to in Luang Prabang was called ‘Utopia’ so after a group dinner, a few of us made our way there and had some drinks. I wasn’t particularly in the mood to get drunk but I had a great Oreo shake whilst Boris the Chilean I had now been with for 5 days was getting hammered on beer and the girls were having cocktails. Morgane had taken a cup from the hostel, written ‘Richard’ on it in marker pen and was now taking it around with her everywhere.

It was a chilled out place that had a hippy vibe, we were sat on the floor on mats and soon enough I bumped into loads of people from Vang Vieng. By the end of the evening I had a nickname of ‘heyy Chrissssssss‘ due to this and about 20 of them were actually chanting my name when we left the bar in possibly the weirdest thing to ever happen to me.

We went back to the hostel at about midnight and continued the drinks. There was a picnic table with chairs and a hammock and about 10 of us sat around the table with drinks and were talking. I was wearing a white t-shirt and someone suddenly had the great idea of getting a marker pen and writing messages on me. If the t-shirt wasn’t enough, I’d soon amassed loads of marker pen writing that had gone straight through my primark quality t-shirt onto my body.

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And then the evening turned really sour.

The staff at the Laotian family run hostel didn’t like how loud we were being outside. Fair enough, maybe they would tell us to be quiet or go to our dorms? No… the father of the family that was probably about 55 years old turned up and just started aggressively jabbing Morgane in the arm whilst I was in a hammock next to her. Not cool. A very drunk Boris leapt to her defence whilst I struggled to get out the hammock and then it all kicked off.

The father came back with his sons equipped with metal sticks and wouldn’t listen to any reason. We said we would go to bed, or be quiet and we protested to the sons that their father had just been hitting a girl but their only response was ‘but she was noisy’. Maybe in Laos it’s okay to hit girls but we had to restrain Boris and eventually the sons pulled back their father from getting into a proper brawl.

By this time it was about 1:30AM and whilst the staff finally went away, I decided for me it was time to go to bed.

After a nice long sleep for everyone to calm down, and a slight awkwardness at breakfast with the staff, I started talking to an English guy that wanted to rent a mountain bike and explore. I thought it sounded fun so we headed out to a bike shop and for a few dollars I had myself a not so great quality mountain bike for the day.

The English guy showed me a plan of where we could go and I agreed to follow. Don’t ask me where we actually went though as I have no idea. The guy clearly rode bikes a lot more than me and enjoyed the torture of some very steep hills at times. By the end, he said his app said we’d gone 22km and we’d stopped at a few places on the way.

Here are some pics from the ride:

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Days 23-27 -Vang Vieng

Ah Vang Vieng. I loved Vang Vieng. I arrived from a short minibus journey from Vientiane on Day 23 of my travels. I didn’t take many pictures of my time in Vang Vieng but this was probably because I was having so much fun whilst there.

What was meant to be 3 nights here turned into 4 nights turned into 5 nights.

Some of the day’s blur into one so I’m just going to say some of my memories from these days…

As soon as I had got off the minibus there was a girl called Morgane from Quebec asking where Real Backpackers Hostel was…which just happened to be where I was staying also so I was more than happy to show her across the road and check in with her.

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When I checked into my 6 bed dorm I soon noticed the room looked like a warzone. Later I found out I was sharing with 5 Canadian lads that all knew each other and had travelled together for varying amounts of time. Part of me did dread this a little at the start, but actually they were super cool people that were having a great time.

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The floor got so dirty in the two nights they shared the room with me. There was a pair of ‘questionable’ underwear that was apparently a present from the previous girl in the room and stories of what had gone on. This pair of underwear later ended up on the head of one of the Canadian guys (nicknamed golfman) and a video was created of him recreating a Star Wars scene which was fucking hilarious.

There were clothes scattered everywhere and was broken glass from drunkenly breaking Beer Lao bottles. It was all a testament to the fact we didn’t care about anything other than having a good time.

They’d soon invited me to go drinking with them and we had such a laugh. They introduced me to my new home for the next 5 nights…Sakura Bar. Sakura bar was literally 1 minute away from our hostel and offered completely free whiskey drinks between 8pm and 9pm so everyone went there and got hammered during this time. A bottle of whiskey in Laos costs $2 so it probably didn’t cost the bar all too much as everyone bought drinks afterwards. Buying 2 vodka drinks got a free Sakura bar vest top that pretty much everyone in Asia has with the slogan of ‘drink treble, see double, act single’. My room mates amassed 18 vest tops!

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The bar was a little crazy. Everyone was doing laughing gas balloons, and I remember playing beer pong with the guys. Officially the bar was meant to close at 12pm but there were after parties like ‘Jungle Party’ that allowed you to continue drinking past that time just a short complimentary Tuk Tuk journey away.

I remember a hilarious 17 year old Dutch girl that had been chatting to us that was definitely doing Holland proud with some conversations I definitely can’t write on a public blog.

On Day 24 I did a day trip with Morgane who had been on the bus with me from Vientiane and a German girl she had made friends with.

We trekked over 10km in the heat, through rivers, through a Laotian village, through the forest to a waterfall, swimming in the river and through an organic farm before heading back. The weird effects on the pictures are curtesy of my old HTC One…

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The Laotian guide didn’t have the greatest English but what did you expect for $20 US dollars in Laos? He was a nice guy and I felt a little disappointed that the girls didn’t seem interested in anything involving swimming. We had trekked ages to the waterfall which was beautiful and was so lovely and refreshing following our trek but the girls barely got in, and later refused to swim in the river at all and just waited by the riverside. I guess it was their money so their choice but it still felt a bit of a waste for them.

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Truth be told, I didn’t really see eye to eye with the German girl who seemed a little cold and intent on lecturing me on the virtues of being vegetarian (which I happily told her meant more meat for me…). I did however get on with Morgane and we ended up having a game of pool at the hostel that lasted around 1hr 30-2hrs. We were both pretty bad at pool though the table wasn’t flat so the balls rolled about all over the place, honestly!

After 2 nights, both the girls from the day trip and the guys I’d been sharing with all went on to Luang Prabang but I quickly made new friends.

The next day the room filled back up again and an English girl called Jade joined the madness along with a Chilean man called Boris. Boris was older at probably 30-40 but was a great guy. Jade was about my age and had been travelling with her sister and a few other English people she’d met on her travels in Vietnam. Unfortunately Jade’s sister had her card taken by an ATM in Vientiane so had to stay an extra day there and only joined the dorm on day 26.

During the day I went ‘tubing’. Vang Vieng is fairly famous in backpacker circles for the crazy tubing scene it used to have. In short, Vang Vieng is basically 5 small streets that was only ever really intended as a stopover on the longer journey people take from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. However, as more and more travellers took the journey, more hostels popped up and tubing came about. People would take inflatable rings along the Mekong river, get incredibly drunk and high going from river bar to river bar, swinging from rope swings into the water and being a menace.

Publicity started to grow, and so did the amount of deaths so the Lao government cracked down. There are now no longer any rope swings, and instead of the many bars along the river, there are now only 2 open at any day. Drugs and happy pizzas aren’t as easily obtained as they once were.

You rent a tube from the tubing office paying a fee and a deposit and as long as you return by 6pm with your inflatable intact, you get your deposit back.

I’d started my day by chatting to a couple of Danish girls and a Swiss guy at breakfast and ended up tubing with the Swiss guy on Day 26. He had a pretty cool idea of buying a few cans of beer before going and a bag of ice and we just ended up going down the Mekong river in our rings with chilled beer in our laps. (Unfortunately no pictures as too scared my phone would get wet…so many people lost their iPhones to the Mekong river from the hostel…)

It took around 3 hours of tubing from start to finish, and as it was low season the water was quite shallow so occasionally my arse did scrape the rocks at the bottom. Laos is also a lot cooler than Cambodia and Thailand so it seemed a little chilly. Comparing it to the craziness it once was before the government crackdown, it was like a lazy river ride for us – but that was fine.

In the evening I had dinner with the Swiss guy and also the two Danish girls I had met at breakfast at a lovely French restaurant. Our conversations were actually quite intellectual, discussing the EU for example and well… descended from there once we inevitably hit Sakura bar and had free drinks.

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The next day I tubed yet again but this time with my roomies. Jades sister had arrived with her debit card from Vientiane back in her possession and we hit the bars and, yes, got drunk.

One of the previous evenings I had a lovely meal at an Irish bar with about 10 English people that were friends of Jade from the room which inevitably ended with me dancing topless on a table with someone Japanese.

However on my last evening, whilst tubing I made friends with an American girl that I ended up going to Sakura bar with. Loads of beer pong was played with her and a bunch of Thai girls, and after getting drunk and saying my goodbyes to the American girl, I bought 4 kinder buenos, a beef burger and a pancake from a market stall to try to sober me.

So yeah…Vang Vieng, the place I was drunk the majority of the time and made so many friends.

Day 22 – Vientiane

I started my day determined to see Vientiane for all I could in a day because I was already planning my onward trip to Vang Vieng.

Any good day has to start with a good breakfast and one thing I will say about Vientiane is that it is filled with so many lovely coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries – you can definitely feel the French influence on it.

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I very quickly learned that the prices in Laos are a lot more expensive (particularly food) than Thailand. At first it didn’t make too much sense to me… Laos is one of the very poorest countries in the world. I soon had a few explanations though. Laos is landlocked and has to import most of its food, however their transport infrastructure is frankly awful.

Unlike Thailand that has nice roads, flourishing airports and good trade links, Laos has the worst roads I’ve ever seen (not so bad in Vientiane but everywhere else is another story…), a quite diverse landscape and very limited air links with other countries.

So here are some of the things I saw in Vientiane…

Wat Si Saket 

The oldest surviving temple in Vientiane that was built between 1819-1824. It cost 5000 kip to enter (£0.50) and is a nice little temple to visit with thousands of Buddhas.  Quite a lot of souvenir sellers here that detract from it a little but it was very quiet when I visited and seemed peaceful.

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That Dam (Black Stupa)

Yes it’s really called ‘that dam’ but it’s not a dam…

I didn’t do much but observe this, but I liked the story behind it. The legend is supposedly that a ‘Naga’ – a seven headed water serpent lived here protecting the city… Now it’s here just protecting a roundabout!

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Lao Presidential Palace

I took a few snaps of the palace in passing too…

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Patuxai (Otherwise known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane or the Vertical runway)

Patuxai is a monument dedicated to those that fought for independence from the French in 1949. The Americans gave money and cement to Laos in order to build an airport during the Vietnam war and instead the Laotians decided to build this gate that looks like the actual Arc de Triomphe.

You can enter it and climb up it and visit some of the gift shops inside selling tacky tourist goods.

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Day 20-21 – Bangkok to Vientiane

I spent the next morning in the hostel very hungover from the night before and with plenty of time to burn.

I’d decided it was time to go to Laos so I’d booked a sleeper train ticket from 12go.asia to take me from Bangkok to Nong Khai which is a town right on the border, and would then make my way to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

The train was due to leave at 8pm and arrive around 7am the next day so after getting up and checking out, I stayed in the hostel and watched some Netflix until getting a taxi at around 5pm to the main station.

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I quickly found the office of 12go.asia to collect my ticket and made my way to KFC at the station for some finger lickin’ good food. The portion was smaller than back home but it was still quite nice and cost about £3. As there weren’t many tables, I shared with a Chinese guy that was also getting the same train, and little did I know at this point he would end up following me all the way to Vientiane.

At first he seemed okay. He explained he was travelling to Laos as he works for a chemical business and he seemed good hearted. I think my problem was that I wasn’t in the mood for the ‘hey, how’s it going, what are you doing blah blah blah’ and just wanted to be left alone. I can be like that sometimes.

When I left KFC to a little shop to get some snacks for the train journey, he followed me and actually bought me chocolate. I did then get 30 minutes away from him before I boarded the sleeper train.

I was really quite impressed with the train. I’d picked a 2nd class ticket and had an upper bunk which gave me enough room, and was comfy enough to actually get some sleep. My 11 hour sleeper train journey cost me 900 baht (£18) which I felt was a really good price considering the distance and that it saved me from paying for a hostel overnight.

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Soon after the train started to leave, my new Chinese ‘friend’ found which car I was in and started trying to talk to me. Fortunately I think he may have got the message to leave me the fuck alone as he soon left when the attendants started to make the beds and I indicated I wanted some sleep.

I had a really good nights sleep. It was a little bumpy at times but by the time I awoke, we were very near to the border town of Nong Khai, and using my Thai tourist SIM, I followed the trains progress to the border.

I hadn’t done too much planning as to what to do at the border which was my fault, but soon enough after getting off the train, the Chinese man found me and said he had done the journey to Vientiane many times before. So whilst I thought he might be a kind hearted pain in the ass, if he could deliver me to Vientiane it might be worth it, and he ended up paying for all my transport expenses along the way so maybe it was…

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So the first step was to take a Tuk Tuk to the border crossing at the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge which was 30 Baht each. It was a short journey and I’m sure people could walk it, but with a large bag and a warm morning it was nice to be crammed in with 4 other people.

The second step was getting stamped out of Thailand. Again, this was easy enough, there was a queue but once at the front it was a quick stamp and on my way.

Then there was a 20 Baht bus journey across No-Mans-Land to take us across the bridge from Thailand to Laos. The Chinese guy already had a visa, but I had to fill in some forms, give them $35 US Dollars and wait a few minutes for my own visa on arrival to be processed. It was relatively painless considering the amount of scam stories I had heard and soon I was officially in Laos!

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Ah Laos, 30 seconds in and already I had a swarm of people saying ‘Tuk Tuk?’ waiting to rip me off. Despite it taking me 40 minutes to cross the border, the Chinese guy had waited for me.

He said he knew of a local bus to take us the 20 minute journey to Vientiane so I followed him and got on. I have no idea how much it was because the Chinese guy paid for me again (by which point it felt like he was grooming me…) but I was the only westerner on this bus.

The last stop was the bus station in Vientiane and I got off there when the Chinese guy did. As soon as the bus pulled in, a million and one Laotians swarmed the bus offering Tuk Tuks.

Much worse for me, a badly dressed Laotian guy just kept saying to me ‘Embassy…Passport..’ as I stood wondering where abouts I was with a backpack, heavy bag and plastic bag with food and water. To this day I still have no idea what this guy was going on about but he kept shouting it at me, which I kept ignoring…as if I would just hand over my passport to some random Laotian man.

Still he was fairly intimidating and it didn’t really help matters when my Chinese other half was telling me he was staying with a friend and could help me no further. Suddenly I had got off the bus with all my heavy things, with just Laotians all around me and no idea really where I was.

So I managed to get my two stalkers to talk to each other. I got the Chinese guy to talk to the Laotian ‘Passport, Passport’ man and suddenly just started walking away down a random street to escape them both…what a sigh of relief that was.

I still had the problem of not knowing where I was though with no accommodation so I soon approached a Tuk Tuk who of course offered to take me to where all the hotels were for an extortionate price of 30,000 kip (around £2.50). I would have actually tried to pay this or haggle down but all I had on me were Thai Baht and US dollars and he wouldn’t accept either so I trudged on trying to find somewhere to stay.

Vientiane might be the capital of Laos, but if you type it into hostelworld you’ll find out there’s only about 5 hostels listed so at this point I was willing to take anything.

Finally I found my way to a nice looking guesthouse. At $18 US per night it was a little pricy compared to normal but it was nice enough. I mean this is Laos so don’t go expecting working locks, TVs that are from after 1990 or a room free from lizards but it was still pleasant.

In the end I didn’t do too much else on this day. I had a little nap and relaxed with some Netflix as I was tired, made some calls, checked out the map, wandered around Vientiane and ate a not so nice but expensive dinner…but I had planned a nice day the following day to make up for it.  I acquainted myself with Beer Lao which is pretty much THE beer to have in Laos and relaxed for the evening in front of some live music.

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