Friday, 15 May 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #5 | Luang Prabang

So after sailing down the Mekong all morning we arrived in lovely Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's such a cool small city in North Central Laos and it was our destination for two days! We arrived around lunchtime and after a quick rest and a laundry stop, this hotel did laundry for a good rate and had a good rep. After a quick turn around were greeted with 30 bikes all ready for us for our bicycle tour of Luang Prabang. After my lovely friend Rena, nearly knocked me over within the first 30 seconds, we were on our way! After cycling for about 15 minutes we arrived at our first destination- Wat Xieng Thong Temple. It was absolutely beautiful, I know you see a lot of Temples in South East Asia, but each one of them is beautiful in their own right and each is just as interesting as the next. After stopping to soak it all in it was back on our bikes, and realised that the lovely guides had put a water bottle on each of our bikes - a nice touch especially in the afternoon heat! It was then onto our next destination which was a bit of a secret, we all just cycled behind our guide Kammy. A few of us in a race to get there first - not the safest idea now that I think of it, while we were racing ahead half the group got lost, but we eventually found them! Suddenly we stopped off at a little stall selling numerous different Snake Whiskeys. Not for the faint hearted and although incredibly tempting I politely passed. Although a  few dare devils went for it and the verdict was rather mixed!

After that pit stop it was back on our bikes to make our way back to the hotel. It was an insane road with vans pulling up beside you, millions of other bikes and what seemed like one billion motorcyclists! It was an experience to say the least, but there's no denying it was so much fun. When we were all back in once piece a few of us decided to get something to eat and all went for the healthiest option which was Magnum ice creams. Don't ask me why but they're 10 times nicer in Asia- we were all extremely health conscious on holiday as you can tell! We then all went for a quick nap/Called home to let them know we were alive, before heading to the night markets for a bite to eat and some shopping! This was one of the cheaper markets along the way and is the only place you can buy metal souvenirs made out of bomb fragments. Laos was heavily bombed during the Vietnamese War- something they're suffering with to this day. I'll touch more on this when I'm discussing Vientiane however. After shopping we all went back to bed, as we were up at 4 am the next morning to feed alms to the Monks, which was probably one of my favourites things to do out of the entire trip! Up bright and early was tougher than I thought and the fact that it was pretty nippy didn't make it any easier, but how often can you experience giving Alms to monks at sunrise?
Contiki are extremely conscientious and respect the Asian culture so we were shown how to sit respectfully, have to act when interacting with Monks and how to give our alms (sticky rice). We could sit either crossed legged on the ground or you were allowed to kneel, We all had a scarf covering our chests, both men and women tied differently - which was for modesty reasons. An Asian tour group beside us had it done all wrong, they had chairs to sit on, they didn't remove their shoes, they were taking photograph's and generally taking the piss. Our guide Kammy even told them off as they were using flash photography while the monks were passing. It was awful to see as this is daily life for these Monks, it's not just a tourist attraction. It was a lovely and spiritual thing to do and if you're in Luang Prabang it's a must do! We all returned to the hotel after the ceremony to get some breakfast before moving on to our next activity - riding elephants through the Laos jungle. We were split into two groups one at 8.30am and the other at 9.15 or so and it was wonderful and not too crowded. We got to ride the elephants then we were given the option to feed them after which was a fun thing to do, they're as greedy as I am! These elephants are old rescued work elephants and are free to roam the forest. They go where the want, when they want. The elephant we had kept stopping to eat every few minutes - my spirit animal clearly! After a long morning it was back to the hotel for a quick nap, as the tiredness was hitting us hard before heading off to the Kuang Si Waterfalls which was about an hours drive away!
Loading into different vans dressed into our swimming togs, we were excited to cool down in the heat. Luang Prabang was a funny city weather wise. In the mornings and evenings it was rather chilly, but once the afternoon hit it was HOT so we were all excited to cool down at the famous Kuang Si waterfalls, we got there and our fantastic guide Kammy gave us a guided tour on the waterfalls. We got a cute group picture and then we all jumped in! It was so awesome and so much fun, a perfect way to cool down in the heat. It was cold, but really refreshing! We took funny photo's, had many a water fight, some of us jumped off rocks into the pool and the rest just chilled. We were in for about 45 minutes before getting wrinkly and getting out. After drying off and getting dressed we stopped at the Black Bear sanctuary, where bears have been rescued from Chinese medicine. It was pretty sad, but really informative. After that it was back in to the vans back to our hotel before getting changed for our included dinner at Hive Bar and Restaurant that night. It also included a fashion show of traditional Laotian costumes by ETNIK followed by a fantastic performance by the B Boys Hip-Hop Show! The ribs were recommended to us and they didn't disappoint, definitely a place to visit if you're in Luang Prabang. After dinner we headed to a cool Backpacker Bar call Utopia which was really chilled! After a few hours I was flaking bad and along with a few others I headed back for some sleep while the rest of the group went to the Bowling Alley - the only place that serves alcohol after hours in Luang Prabang!  

It was up bright and early to make our mammoth bus ride (8 hours) to Vang Vieng. I popped down the street before we headed off to buy some motion sickness tablets, and they worked a charm. Keep your eyes peeled for my next instalment tomorrow! 
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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Contiki Big Indochina Adventure #4 | Mekong

Rising bright and early we headed towards to the Thai/Laos Boarder. It wasn't too long of a drive and it didn't take us all very long either to get across the boarder. I took all 30 of us an hour or so but we were all chilled and just took out Lao Kip (First time and only time I'll ever be a millionaire) and we stocked up on some snacks as we were spending the majority of the day sailing down the Mekong River, in a slow boat. After getting across the boarder we all hopped in big Tuk Tuk's. Our luggage was held on top (securely enough mind you!) and we set off to board the Slow Boat.

This was probably one of my favourite days out of my trip. The weather was beautiful, the music was great as was the Laotian food we were served. Those chicken wings were awesome. The Lao food over all was probably my least favourite but I did enjoy a few meals! I don't know if it was because I was a bit ill, which was more likely due to my gallbladder surgery, than the different food. It was such a nice chilled day and we all took a few naps and some of the girls and I took to sunbathing! We had a few line dancing sessions which I was woeful at, but still gave it a chance! I also tried (and failed miserably) to show them some Irish dancing. It's safe to say my dancing skills aren't the best, the whole group will vouch for me on this one! 
The Big Indochina Adventure is really busy and you're constantly on the  go, so it was such a lovely few hours enjoying the beauty that is Laos. It's honestly one of the most gorgeous places I've been too. It's like a postcard and we were so lucky that we had such beautiful weather. It was only cold in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings. Nothing too bad or anything- especially if you're from the UK or Ireland but you'd still need a cover up or something. We had blankets on the boat too, which was a nice touch. We had to get back on the slow boat the next morning at 7am and it was bloody freezing and I'll tell you those blankets came in handy. But once the sun came out it was scorching again and we were back outside getting some sun!
Some of us girls catching some sun, see I told ya ;) It wasn't really a tanning trip, but we made any excuse. Throughout the trip myself and Kate tried relentlessly to top off our tans whenever we got the chance, friendly competition is always a great base of a friendship! I didn't get anyway sea sick and normally the sight of a boat would make me feel so queasy, but as the name suggest it was really a slow boat. The boat had drinks on board, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic as well as noodles, Oreo's and crisps to buy in case you got a bit hungry. We spent the entire day playing cards, catching up on sleep and getting to know one another, as we were still a pretty new group!
After sailing down the Mekong for roughly 6 hours,we reached our destination Pakbang before sunset. Pakbang is a teeny tiny village in Laos. We stayed in a guest house that night, which wasn't too shabby. The beds were grand and at the reception area you got free Wifi- pretty nifty for a place that didn't have electricity 10 years ago! We were only there for the night and there's a curfew of 12am but to be honest we were all tired and there's no where to really go! After our (included) dinner we all just chilled and then hit the hay! It was basic and we didn't dare drink the tap water(another tip from our Tour Manager Alex) but it was comfortable and the fan was pretty good! Our room was right across from the loudest Asian tourists I've ever heard, singing (bad)Karaoke. I swear it was hilarious as they were so awful, the only thing really is to laugh though!
Before we arrived in our next destination Luang Prabang we stopped off to at the Pak Ou Caves,Sacred Caves of Laos. It's only 25km from Luang Prabang and hosts thousands of Buddha Statues and is still used as a place of worship today! It was awesome to see and was a great little stop off to stretch our legs and get ready for the busy day ahead. It was then back onto the Slow boat and make our way to Luang Prabang, which is actually a world heritage site as it's home to many Buddhist Temples. All the boys were very polite and helped lift all our bags into the awaiting tuck tucks, which took our bags to the hotel! Once we checked in we were ready to see what this city had to offer!

Until next time...

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