Sorry everyone for the horribly long time between entries. A combination of less available internet and generally being busy have stopped me being able to spend too long at a computer. However, we are now stuck in Pakse, a rather uninteresting town, for a couple of days while our Laos visas are extended, so I finally have a chance to tell you about it all!
Our last evening in Hoi An was lovely - we found a really local restaurant with only 4 items on the menu, so tried all of them! One was a sweetcorn soup served with ice, and some sort of clam based dish which you ate with popadom-style thingies!
Having left Hoi An, we had a beautiful (but fairly terrifying) 4 hour bus journey to the city of Hue. We spent a few days in Hue wandering the old Citadel and riding out to the surrounding mausoleums, which were beautiful. Unfortunately at this point, the weather had turned on us and I had to start wearing a jumper (!!!). Apparently this was at the same time as the 'heatwave' at home. Laura and I both found this quite funny as it was actually the same temperature at home as it was in Hue, and we were both complaining about it being too cold!
After a few days in Hue we got the train up to Hanoi, which was a much nicer way to travel than bus, especially as it was a 14 hour trip! I really liked Hanoi as a city (although by this point I was starting to get a little sick of being in cities so much!). The Old Quarter, where we were staying is full of small, winding streets with so many people and motorbikes you can hardly move! We spent a day wandering and getting to know the city, before leaving the next day for our Ha Long Bay boat trip.
We spent two days, one night in Ha Long Bay. It is absolutely beautiful, and quite eerie, as the jagged rocks are all surrounded by fog. We all kayaked around the rocks and got to explore a bit. The boat took us through to the middle of the bay, then everyone had the chance to jump in. The boat was 7.5m high, so it was quite a long way, but I did it. Unfortunately I have since realised that my reaction to jumping into water is to practically hug my legs, so I basically dive-bombed 7.5m, and ended up with a vary bruised bum!
We spent one more day in Hanoi after Ha Long bay and looked round a few museums, before getting the night bus to Sapa. Laura was particularly unhappy on this bus journey as she has\d a man and his little son sharing the seat next to her, and both kept spreading out on to her!
Sapa is the most beautiful town on the side of a mountain, overlooking the layered paddy fields in the valley. Is was a really great place to just go for a walk into the countryside, and find the ethnic minority villages. They all sell the most amazing handmade hemp clothes and beautiful jewellery. The tea and coffee are both delicious too! The only thing I disliked about Sapa was the cold. One night it was so foggy you couldn't see 5m ahead of you! All the restaurants and hotels had open fires, and the rooms had heating. I was not too impressed to find English weather in Asia!
From Sapa we had an interesting bus journey to the boarder town, all around the mountains on the bumpiest roads we had come across at that time. We spent one night in the boarder town, Dien Bien Phu, then got a 5am bus to cross into Laos. The roads the other side of the border were even worse, and we actually forded a few rivers and drove up one river for 20m or so. After spending one night in a rather boring junction town, we made it to the beautiful town of Nong Khiew, where we found a lovely bungalow overlooking the river and huge cliffs the other side. We spent a few days chilling out in hammocks, trying Lao food and wandering to nearby caves and villages.
From there we got a slow boat down to Luang Prabang. The boat had benches for seats and far too many people, but the scenery was so beautiful that it didn't really matter! As it is dry season currently, the river is very low in places, so we occasionally had to get out and walk while the boat went through the rapids. At one point some local children ran out into the river to help guide the boat through!
Luang Prabang is such a lovely town. It is really relaxed, and not tooooooo touristy, but touristy enough that there is plenty to do and see. We met Clare at the hostel we were staying at, and spent a few days seeing the town and the surrounding area including a beautiful waterfall (although we kept getting bitten by those fish that nibble your feet!). The highlight of our stay there was a days mahout course, where we rode elephants and were trained in how to control them, and how to mount and dismount etc. We then rode them bareback to the rover and spent a while playing in the river with them with the local kids. They were so well trained that you could tell them to duck, and they would go underwater and let you climb onto them. It was such a fantastic day!
After Luang Prabang we got the bus down to Vang Vieng, a town known for its party scene. We sat in rubber rings and floated down the river between bars. There were also some beautiful caves and a lagoon in the surrounding area that we cycled to.
We then returned to Luang Prabang as it was Lao new year, and we had heard that Luang Prabang was the best place to experience it. The new year celebrations were SO much fun! we basically spent 3 days with the locals and other tourists throwing water at eachother. It is so laid back, and absolutely everyone gets involved. They also throw tapioca starch everywhere, and wipe paint over you as you walk past, so there is no way of staying clean!
Next we headed to Phonsavan, and learned a little about the history of Lao, which it turns out is actually the most bombed country in the world. Apparently there was a secret war going on for 9 years, where the USA were dropping millions of dollars of bombs on the area every day. There are also a series of sites of giant 'jars' with a mysterious stonehenge-like history.
From there Laura and I got the bus to a town called Thakhek, with plans to visit a cave. However on the day we were supposed to be leaving, it rained very heavily, so we decided to head to somewhere a little warmer and return at a later date. Laura also had a burn on her leg at this time, which had got infected, so whjile we were waiting for the bus onwards, we tried to find a clinic or hospital where she could be treated. This proved harder than expected! We eventually found a very lovely pharmacist, who took us to the hospital, translated everything for us, then invited us to her pharmacy for lunch with her family!
That evening we got a rather irritating night bus to Nakasang, the port town to the 4000 islands, where the local pop music was still being blasted at full volume at 1am! We were left in Nakasang while it was still dark, waited for the sun to rise then found the beach and got a boat to Don Det. The sunrise was stunning, and the island was so laid back. We spent 5 days there, basically just lying in hammocks, drinking fruit shakes and chilling out on the beach by the campfire in the evening! The sunsets were probably the most beautiful I have seen in my life! One day we went on a kayaking trip around the 4000 islands, where we saw 2 huge waterfalls and spent a while watching the endangered Iriwaddy freshwater dolphins, of which there are only about 100 left. It was a very relaxed few days, almost like we were taking a holiday from this oh-so-stressful lifestyle we lead!
From Don Det we get a bus back northwards to Pakse. We spent a few days traveling around the Bolivan plateau, drinking the delicious local coffee and swimming in beautiful waterfalls. We stayed one night in a guesthouse in a very small village overlooking the plateau, where no one spoke any english, and all we could find to eat was noodle soup!
So now we are waiting Pakse to sort our visas so we can continue back to Thakhek, and see the cave we missed last time, before heading back into Thailand.
I hope everyone at home is really well!
Sorry for leaving it so long and having to write this essay! Will try not to leave it so long anymore!
love to everyone x