Friday, November 27, 2009

Luang Prabang

Yesterday we left Vang Vieng for Kasi, with the intention of cycling onwards and upwards to Luang Prabang over the following four days. However, we got to Kasi with plenty of energy left and hatched a plan to make better use of our remaining holiday time...

We decided to get a sawngthaew (little open-air truck with bench seats along each side) from Kasi to LP to give us a bit more time to cycle around Vietnam rather than cycling all the way to LP. So after cycling 60 very hilly kms from Vang Vieng to Kasi we wheeled our bikes to the market and tracked down one which was heading north... jumped on the sawnghthaew full of locals and had a bone-shaking 4 1/2 hour ride to cover the 160kms to Luang Prabang. Very fun I have to say, and we didn't miss any of the scenery seeing as it is all completely open air! Would highly recommend.

So LP is just the most amazingly beautiful city! It is very much aimed at the "older traveller" euphamism for 'people with money and style', but we are staying in a slightly run-down little guesthouse in the best area (score!), and mostly eating at local little restaurants. Thanks to our many days spent cycling through the rural parts of the countries we have visited we are now just fine to order a variety of basic food in Lao, Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese so we can cope without the western translations, comfort dining and accompanying price... Really it sounds like I am learning the languages, but in reality it is more the insane driving need to eat after many hours cycling that has forced me to memorise such gems as "fried rice" "noodles" "soup" and several meats in a variety of SE Asian languages :).

So tomorrow, we are going to be at the boat ticket office bright and early to purchase our tickets for the boat trip to Nong Kiaw and then get another boat up to Muong Khoua. From there we will hightail it to the Loas-Vietnam border crossing and cross over the Dien Bien Phu on the Vietnam side. So that is the plan.... fingers crossed that the boat trips all work out!!

Take care,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Loving Laos (and Lao)

Total kilometres: 1315.8
Punctures: 1

Over the past two days, we have cycled from Vientiane to Vang Vien, with an overnight in Thalat. The cycling has been very much up and down (we are in the mountains now) and the scenery absolutely spectacular! Yesterday we cycled through lush, thick jungle, along-side stunningly beautiful and crystal-clear rivers, and past fantastic karst peaks. We couldn't ask for anything more!

Cycling to Thalat, we had a bit of a sleepy start, thanks to a late-ish night (for us anyway) at a martini bar the night before. We had a great night chatting to a couple of guys (Chris and John), who were based in Bangkok but on a brief holiday in Laos. We met them at the Thai-Lao border crossing and kept bumping into them in town - Vieniane really is a small but perfectly formed little city. Nice guys with some exciting and crazy plans up their sleeves!

Not to worry because following a healthy breakfast, and a bit of traffic exiting Vientane, we were able to enjoy a quiet side-road all the way. Lovely rural scenes and really kind people riding along side us on their motorbikes asking "where you go?" "where you from" "you very strong (!)". Almost every kid we cycle past screechjes "sabadee" at us, and we always give a wave back. The kids are sooo cute!

Thalat is near a hydroelectric dam (the Lao sell most of the power to Chinese and it seems to be doing their country very well, economically), and about 10km out of the town, we came across a fabulous river (downstream from the dam). It was like the rivers around Huka falls - lots of rapids and absolutely clear and pure. It was just beautiful to be able to cycle along the rushing water and banana tree lined road on our way into town ; )

It was a long but beautiful cycle from Thalat to Vang Vien. We met two couples cycle touring in the opposite direction - one Belgium and the other Australian. Both were much older than us (midlate fifties) but were good to talk to and ask about their holiday so far.

We were sure glad to get to Vang Vien and get some lunch into us around 2:30pm ; ) We had a roam about the town, and went out to dinner - it sure is a strange little place with lots of the restaurants\bars converting their seats to lounge-style seats, that all face a couple of TVs, which either play Friends or Family Guy. A bit strange to me, but popular with the other backpackers, apparently. It really is a purpose-built tourist town in the middle of some of the most spectacular natural scenery!

There is rafting, kayaking, and (of course) tubing on offer, and a lot of people walking and hobbling around with slings and bandages - there are bars all along the river, and people just hop from one to the next while bobbing down the river. Needless to say, there have been a few deaths, but mostly just stupid injuries.

The local hospital seems to be doing quite well out of the madness, though - They just got a new x-ray machine and I suspect that they fleece insurance companies for all they can, and pour the money back into good health care for the local Lao. Smart!

We are off to Kasi tomorrow, then another stop-over before arriving in Luang Prabang, so will be out of touch for the next few days.

E & V xoxoxox

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lovely Laos

Total km: 1106
Punctures: 1

We crossed over to Laos yesterday (21 Nov), on the popular "thai-lao friendship bridge". The crossing was busy, but a lot faster with bicycles, so we didn't have to wait for a bus to fill up before being taken across the bridge. Excellent.

We managed to find our way into Vientiene, despite a patent lack of signage "follow-that-VIP-bus" seems to work pretty well ; ). We immediately cycled to the replica "arc de triumphe" in the middle of town, called Patuxai, and got a few photos of us with loaded bikes.

We have found a really nice guesthouse, right in the action, but up on the fourth floor, so pretty quiet at night ; ). The nigh markets are, as with Thailand, THE place to go for cheap-eats in the evening, and we enjoyed a great meal on plastic chairs along the river front last night. Elisha got a 860ml bottle of Bia Lao (very good local larger) for under $1US. Brilliant!

We also sampled banana paratha on the way home, and they are HIGHLY recommended! Basically, they are thinly stretched pastry sheets, filled with bananas, folded, and grilled with lots of butter. Then, they cut the cooked parcel into bite-sized pieces, and douse the lot with condensed milk. Mmmmmmmm! Addictively good!

We are off on the road to Luang Parabang tomorrow (via Vang Vieng), so should be able to update in 2-3 days.

Thanks for all your lovely comments, and updated on goings-on at home. Love E & V. xoxox

Thailand Catch-up

Total kilometers: 1066
Total punctures: 1

Apologies for the lack of updates - we have been out in the whops for a while, without access to internet.

We left Thailand for Laos yesterday (21 Nov), and are enjoying our second day in Laos today - both days have been spent in the capital Vientiene.

We have cycled quite a bit since last updating, so I will break-down our Thailand journey:

Phimai to Phon (75km) - After enjoying one and a half days at Phimai, we set off to Phon. A very quiet little town half-way between Phimai and Khon Kaen. Unexpectedly, the guesthouse we stayed at was operated by a British ex-pat. The town was cute and good for a walk-around, plus the non-touristy food was excellent! We also scoffed a bag of delicious green puffed-rice, honey, peanut etc, that is a specialty treat of Phimai.

Phon to Khon Kaen (80km) - We arrived in Khon Kaen with high hopes - Lonely Planet said it was a really cool and happening town, so we were looking forward to a bit of excitement. However, once we got there, we realised that the supposedly lovely lake was a polluted mess, the yummy-sounding cafe recommended to us was closed on Sunday, and the guesthouse recommended to us had closed down! The town did seem to have a couple of big malls and KFC, Pizza, McDonalds, though, but that is really not what we were after... Nevertheless we did find a pretty good hotel and the town had a fabulous night market, where we had dinner.

Khon Kaen to Udon Thani (70km) - Udon Thani was not a very popular tourist town, but we ended up having a great time here, thanks to a beautiful lake at the centre of town, and an open-air concert going off across the road from us. With Thai food from mobile carts, tables set out, and live Thai rock music, it really was a fun evening! The bands played mostly Thai music, but we did kind of enjoy hearing a few "engrish" songs (mostly Paramore - Thai girls are obsessed with Twilight too!).

Udon Thani to Nong Khai (55km) - just a little day in the saddle today ; ) Nong Khai was our last stop before crossing over to Laos. A beautiful, leafy little town with some good accommodation, chilled-out locals and delicious food. We actually enjoyed a whole-baked Mekong river trout, with sticky-rice and papaya-peanut salad, from the night-market (photo above). Sooooo good!

We also took the opportunity to give our poor bikes a thorough tune-up and clean in Nong Khai. Poor things really needed it and are running so much smoother now.

We have inadvertently tried some yummy, but slightly weird foods while in Thailand too -

About Us