Vang Vieng- Last stop in Laos

I travelled with two English girls from Luang Prabang and we don’t know how we managed it but we ended up on a mini van that took the old, bumpy, windy road for 7 hours to Vang Vieng. On the new road it takes 4! So not the best start. We arrived to our hostel Real Backpackers, which was really nice and the staff were so helpful, at about 9pm. There was a problem with my room so they gave me a night in a nearby guesthouse in my own double room ensuite for the same price. I wasn’t complaining! I even got a towel! The travel towel is wearing very thin at this stage.
We went nearby for food which we immediately noticed is more expensive than Luang Prabang. I got a papaya salad,  one of my favourites. We ignored the pumping tunes and got an early night feeling pretty rough from the bus.

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Spicy papaya salad

We got free breakfast at the hostel again. Something I love about Laos most hostels donfree breakfast which is always a choice of eggs of some sort. Good way to meet people and save money!
We were still a bit dishevelled after the Water festival and bus so we decided to get a tuk tuk to the blue lagoon and cave. I had to also find a phone I could pay to use to ring the bank as my only card left decided not to work. The bank were very helpful though in fairness and I got sorted. Bank cards are like gold dust especially when travelling alone and it’s so hard to contact a bank with no sim card. Pay phones don’t exist anymore. Before we left I also did some major bargaining and research around the town and got the best price I could for a visa and bus to Vietnam. I got it for 85euros. Cheapest I could find and most people I knew paid more but still so expensive! :/ I had to hand over my passport and hope for the best it would come back in two days with a visa. Dodgy I know but the done thing here.
The blue lagoon was nice. It’s quite small and there’s a swing rope and a tree to jump off into it so that was fun, but the water is so cold it’s hard to swim in it for too long.

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Blue Lagoon

The cave involves a very steep climb for about 10minutes before going down into a dark cave with nothing only random spray painted blue arrows on rocks kindof directing you where to go. There was only a handful of tourists in there scattered around which was nice. The Buddhas in the centre of the cave with the sunlight shining on them was a brilliant sight but you have to ignore the plastic bags and drink cans scattered around. Laos has a serious litter problem!

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Buddhas in the cave

We went for an explore around the cave which we regretted at times in flip flops but it was a laugh all the same. We relaxed for a while beside the lagoon and watched the locals eat picnics of sticky rice, fish and beer Lao before getting our tuk tuk back to the hostel.
Fortunately/Unfortunately there is a free whisky hour from 8to9 every night at the well known Sakura bar nearby so that became our nightly routine. You also got a free tshirt for every 2 vodkas bought so that was the uniform of all tourists in Laos! It was a good bar and was busy every night and then that closed at 12 and everyone moved onto the club after which was a different one open everynight so everyone went to the same one. It was good but after two or three nights it was very samey.

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Enjoying the free whisky in Sakura

The next morning Becky was feeling under the weather so we postponed tubing and I took my much needed admin morning. I found an Internet Cafe and job searched and fixed the cv etc. Not easy on ancient computers that cost a fortune to use by the half hour. I met Rhiannon for a cheap noodle soup lunch and went for an explore. I found nice river side bars and a cute bridge over a river. I watched the sunset surrounded by a few hot air balloons from an empty riverside bar and saw children play beside buffalos I’m the river. It definitely reminded me of how far from home I was!

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Sunset

We ventured out for some more free whiskys and played some drinking games with some more girls we met at the hostel 🙂
We couldn’t put it off anymore tubing had to happen. There was a huge group going from the hostel for Ryans birthday aswell so itvwas the perfect day to go. We were a joke beforehand. All 6 of us looked and felt like death and didn’t want to go #travellerproblems but as soon as we sat into the tube on the water, with my vodkamixer in a water bottle in my lap, we loved it.
There is very little tubing involved as the first bar is nearly straight away. They play games like musical tubes and volleyball for a few hours and then it’s another 10 minute tube down to the 2nd bar where there’s more basketball, volleyball and games. We had a great group and we all loved it. We tubed back in time to get our deposit back which most people don’t do and we stumbled upon the nicest, cheapest restaurant in Vieng Vien, Victors Place. We ate every other meal here for the next two days it was so good and cheap! Hard to find in Laos. We managed to make it to free whisky hour to continue celebrating our new friends birthday. Any excuse! Unfortunately iv no tubing photo evidence as obviously nobody brought phones or cameras but I won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.
Becky and Rhiannon left the next day to South Laos so I had a diary and research day and went to the friends bar, which is a restaurant that plays friends all day constantly. Such a good idea! Went to Victors Place with a few from the hostel for my sticky rice and soya curry and we ended up barricaded in for a few hours because of a rain storm. We didn’t care aslong as we were fed! 🙂

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Last supper at Victors

We all had decided a night in was needed thank God. I had no interest on starting my 30hour Vietnam bus journey with a hangover and plus I had to watch what Laos kip I had left.
Overall I liked Vieng Vien wouldn’t say I loved it but only because it was after the madness of the Water Festival. I think I would have appreciated it more at another stage of the trip. I still loved the people and I liked the easiness of everything being a walk away but it’s not somewhere I could stay for very long because of how small it is and it is very touristy.

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Friends never gets old!

Good news is passport came back with a visa. Relief! Now to endure the dreaded 30hour journey to Hanoi obviously a flight is the most common way to do it but that’s double.the price. Itl be an experience 😉
#poortravellerissues

Songkran in Luang Prabang

Survived the night bus (just about!) and a few of us were dropped in the middle of Luang Prabang at 3am! We couldn’t check in until 12 so it was a long time waiting on an uncomfortable bench for my friends to wake up and go for a much needed coffee!
We took it easy for the day, my hostel had a pool so we chilled at the pool and went for noodle soup and a look at the markets. We joined a few at the hostel for some drinks but I had a reasonably early night which was much needed!
Up early the next morning for the hostel free breakfast-banana pancake! Bit different from the Fish and rice breakfast at volunteering! Me and my friends decided to go to the Kuang Si Falls and ofcourse my the end of breakfast I had rallied 10 more people to join us 🙂 We got a tuk tuk for the hour drive which was half the entertained because the festival was just starting so we were getting hosed and buckets of water the whole way there and back!
The falls were unreal! I couldn’t believe how blue the water was and the atmosphere there was relaxed even though it was full of locals and tourists having picnics and swimming.

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We swam in the refreshingly cold water and then walked up to the no entry spot which is becoming more well known, where you can stand right on the edge of the waterfall. We saw some monks up there doing backflips into the mini water pools, it was surreal.

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Monks enjoying the Waterfall

When we got back we were easy targets for all the local children and their waterguns so we joined in the fun before jumping in the pool for a while. We had 1euro vegetarian buffet at the market and then a few of us were invited by the Vietnamese workers at the hostel to go with them to the local carnival for the Miss Lao pagent and carnival fun. We won some warm don’t drinks by throwing darts at balloons and went on the bumper cars, watched some of the pagent, the buzz there was fantastic!
The following day was the official start of the New Years festival. We were all feeling a bit rough but we made it down to the markets for a look which were huge and sweaty and not the place for a hangover. We had a much needed lunch down by the river and this is where the madness happens. People hanging off yut trucks with water barrels while people retaliate on the footpaths with more barrels of eater, flour, paint etc and pumping tunes and beer flowing! Words cannot describe the craziness. Everyone is dying for u to join them to help soak others and drink their beerlao. We fully got stuck in and loved every minute. The snacking goes on until about 6pm just in time to grab a chicken roll before drying off in the hostel and continuing the party there and trying out a cool local bar Red Bull Bar.

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Photos from a distance due to the amount of water everywhere!

Second day of the festival was the day of no year in between the old and the new. The parade began at 1 so we decided to start the day the Laos way with some whisky I had brought from volunteering. Got us into the festive spirit very fast! The parade was good everyone on the side soaks everyone in the parade and around them! We decided to then join the parade which the locals seemed to really enjoy and then make our way down to the river again for more water carnage.
Some locals invited me and my friend Rhiannon on to their truck so we did and they fed us free beer and we soaked everyone from the barrels in the truck as we drove in loops around the streets. The locals here are so friendly and excited to have tourists here for the festival.

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On the back of the truck with the locals

I had a much needed power nap before continuing the party at the hostel and bar again!
The following day was slightly calmer to begin with. Obviously we got soaked before breakfast even but the streets were slightly quieter and then we found out why. We met our Vietnamese friends again at a Beer Lao water fest in the town with dance tunes, water hoses, foam pits etc  This was followed by another bar and bowling at 12am which is the thing to do here apparently!
Saturday was finally the last day of the festival. I somehow got up at 5.45am to watch the ALMs, which is the procession of monks which happens every morning and people give them sticky rice and biscuits.

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ALMs procession

Back to bed ofcourse for a few hours to have some energy for another parade. This time we did it sober and again it feels so wrong to be soaking everyone in the parade including the monks and shouting ‘saibadee pee mai’ (Happy New Year)
We went down to the River Street for one last hoorah. Soaking trucks them soaking us, playing with children in suds, the usual! But there was definately an air of extra insanity today. We soaked it up and had a final 1 euro buffet and yet another change of clothes! The final lantern event was a very nice traditional affair with traditional dancing in front of one of the local temples.

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1euro buffet

With all festivities finished it was time to move on to the next destination. It was hard to leave as intended time here I made friends and reunited with friends and we all stayed on one street in between 3 hostels so it became a very large family.
I do not regret planning a lot of my trip around being in Luang Prabang for the New Year festival. There is such a good mix of locals and tourists and the atmosphere is something I have never experienced. A lot of people I met had been here for the festival by accident which I liked because it meant it’s still a very authentic, local festival but at the same time I don’t know how more people have not heard about it. There is nothing else like it!
After some hard goodbyes a few of us got on the mini van for the 5hour ridiculously bouncy and windy drive to Veng Vieng.

Volunteering in Laos

I honestly don’t know where to start with this post, I’ve experienced so much in the last week it’s hard to put it into word.
Not going to lie the 8 hour bus from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan was a ‘cultural’ experience! Ancient bus full of locals, chickens and children speeding through windy, hilly roads. After surviving that ordeal I had to get a tuk tuk to another jam packed mini bus for an hour to Muang Village where I was picked up by Kham, the organiser of the volunteering for a scooter ride to the homestay.
When I got there at about 8pm the final lesson was just finishing so I got to meet some of the children who were beyond happy and friendly and eager to practice their limited English with me.

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Homestay where I lived and taught in the evenings

There were two Italian volunteers staying there aswell so they cooked an Italian carbonara for everyone followed by compulsory shots of Home brewed whisky which I soon learned was a daily routine with all meals including breakfast!
The days seem to blur into one whirlwind of a week after this. The conditions are definitely basic. My bed was a yoga mat on a wooden slat I’m the classroom/kitchen/homestay. Toilet was an outhouse with a barrel.of water for the shower. So home comforts were straight out the window!The Italian volunteers left a day later so I was whizzed around to over 5 different schools teaching English to children ranging from 7 to 18 years old. I taught from 12 until 1 and then 4 to 8 as most of the centres are children coming after school for extra English. I was so shocked and envious of their will and determination to learn English and improve themselves. It was evident the minute I arrived to the area that it is not a wealthy area, very much the opposite but they are so happy. It was so refreshing.

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They kept asking me a Selfie! 🙂

I started each day waking up to blasting old school tunes playing in the garden followed by a run at 6am with Kham to Synkakas house who is Kham’s partner and an absolute legend! 🙂 He drove us back to have breakfast made by Pous, a permanent volunteer, also an absolute legend 🙂 Breakfast was usually fish or bamboo soup with sticky rice. Unusual but luckily Il eat anything so I never went hungry. After breakfast Kham always had something fun planned like hot springs, visit to the cave,fishing etc I was never bored!

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Fishing for breakfast 🙂

After my first school we usually went for lunch at someone’s house which I loved. I visited the teachers houses, Kham’s family etc. It was amazing seeing how everyone lived and help make some local dishes, sit on the floor and eat all food with our hands and drink endless shots of whisky. Even though there was always a language barrier as very few people speakuch English,it didn’t matter everyone was so weloming and intrigued by the ‘falong’ (foreigner).
Teaching in the homestay in the late evenings was challenging as this had the most children and everyone is exhausted at that stage but we had fun again because the children are contagiously happy.
After the final class at 8pm we usually had dinner there, made by Pous. Usually a noodle soup or fried vegetables with sticky rice ofcourse! Sometimes we went to a restaurant or bar with the usual karaoke that is hugely popular everywhere u go here even at home on the laptop and everyone has a go Wether you can hold a note or not!

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Usual lunch of papaya salad, bbq fish and rat, pork crackling and sticky rice

I was lucky enough to be there for the monthly trip to the temple which I was very welcomed into followed by breakfast at Kham’s family home a bit more out of town. Every home has numerous animals usually chickens, ducks and cows. Further out of town most homes also have pot belly pigs and goats. Cows roam the roads at all times with bells around their necks followed by children not more than 6 or 7 directing them to somewhere!
Every Saturday Kham organises football for all the local kids at 8.30am. I couldn’t believe how early everyone gets up here, children were arriving an hour early! It was great fun and because it was my final days and near the Laos new year we had a huge water fight,cooked a huge lunch, lots of beers all before 10.30am! I bought paint to paint the alphabet and numbers in the classroom and cooked mashed potato for all living at the homestay. It went down very well 🙂

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Me cooking an 'Irish' meal with no electricity!

As my last day was a Sunday the volunteers had free time so Pous asked me to come visit his family in the countryside. How could.I say no to that! It was a good hour of a scooter ride into the hills of Laos. It was beautiful and ofcourse again I was welcomed and fed well with fresh vegetables from their own garden and lots of Home made whisky as usual!

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Pous family home, typical Laos style.

I was meant to get a bus at 2pm but Pous offered to drive me the long 2 hours on a scooter so I could have more time. I was always pleasantly surprised at how generous people were with their time here. Something we really lack at home.
I could go on and on about my experiences here,I can’t believe it was only one week. As a teacher It was very rewarding to share ideas and techniques with teachers who have such a love for children and also to teach children with such an interest I’m learning. It was also frustrating to see how little the government is doing. I have never been in a teaching situation where there is literally no resources just one blackboard and a teacher! I wish I had more time and money to give but unfortunately not possible at the moment.
I will never forget my time here and all the heads turning with curiosity at the only ‘falong’ in town! I hope I left some sort of lasting memory with them and maybe I will get back again.

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Playing games with a class

Long Boat To Laos

I was trying to find a way around getting the long boat because I was eager to get to Laos to start my volunteering but as it turns out it’s very difficult and more expensive to get to Luang Prabang any other way. So slow boat it is!
I’m so happy I did it. Some friends I had met in Chiang Mai were already passed the border so we arranged to get the same boat. This really made it! Having a good group with you can really make the trip.
I got a minibus from the hostel in Chiang Rai to the border. I had to pay 35American dollars and give a passport picture for a visa. Asia is expensive for Irish people!! From here a taxi tuk tuk brought us to a travel company where they wanted us to buy expensive food for the bus. I was stocked up already ofcourse! Then it was another taxi tuk tuk to the boat.
The first day boat is a big long tail with rickety seats and a mostly tourists but locals aswell. All they sell.on the boat is beer and light snacks so it’s well known it’s a bit of a drinking boat. Boat left at about 12pm and we settled in for a 7 hour journey. We had great craic. Everyone’s sitting on the sides taking in the views, drinking beers, playing music, there was even an off duty clown making balloon animals at one stage.

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Chilling with drinks on the boat 🙂

The time strangely flys and everyone is making friends and swapping stories, it’s a great atmosphere and the views arnt too bad either.

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Sunset from the boat on Day 1.

We arrived to our first stop for the night. Name isn’t coming to me right now. It’s a tiny place and we got a guesthouse for 25000kip which is about 2 euro for the night. We ate in the guesthouse restaurant and continued on to the adjoining bar which is the only bar in the town I think! We played darts and drank local whisky which a few of us ended up buying a bottle of! :/ Luckily the bar closed about 12 so we wernt too late to bed before our early start for Day 2 on the boat.

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Making friends with the locals

We tried to be at the boat early as advised but ofcourse with getting breakfast and packed lunches we were a tad late so we ended up at the back. We didn’t realise Day 2 boat is a bit more swankier. Tables at the front and seats that don’t move and western toilets! It was very comfortable and we couldnt believe how fast the time went. Day 2 is a lot more chilled. Still a few beers ofcourse but the views are nicer and and people a lot tamer chatting, reading etc. We all really enjoyed it.

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Children selling us bracelets

We saw elephants, lots of water buffalo, locals and lots of children playing on the banks of the river. There is only one slow boat a day so the river is quiet and serene.
We got to Luang Prabang at about 5pm and we genuinely didn’t feel ready to leave. We were all so comfortable and you can’t help but relax on the boat.

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Scrambling off the boat in Luang Prabang

We got a tuk tuk taxi to our hostel as the pier is very far from the town. We were so happy to see the hostel had a pool and it was actually clean! So we hopped straight into that to wake ourselves up.
We went for a wander around the nearby night markets which were actually so well laid out and organised unlike the Thai markets but it’s definitely more expensive here compared to Thailand. For our last supper together we decided to go to a recommended restaurant from my usual trip advisor and blog research. We got a Laos sampler plate between us to try out what Laos food has to offer. I have heard a.lot of negative things, before I got here, about the food. Maybe it was the restaurant but our food was delicious. Lots of green vegetables, buffalo meat and skin, spicy salads and soups. I think I can live with that 🙂

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Tasting plate

I may have to live with it because tomoro I’m taking an 8hour local bus to Phonsaven to go volunteering in a school for a week. Supposedly all food and accommodation is free and I’m going to need to do more of that if I want to afford to stay going. I’m excited for the change aswell. Itl be an experience 🙂

Quick stop in Chiang Rai

I had a night pit stop in Chiang Mai after Pai which I badly needed as I was coming down with a flu and feeling fairly exhausted. All self inflicted ofcourse!  I was also hoping to find some volunteer work in Thailand to save money and have a different experience because I have a week or two to spare before the water festival in Laos.
I registered with a website called workaway which was an investment but unfortunately most places required more than a few weeks commitment or were already full so that was a bit of a waste of money! 😦 A school in Laos contacted me through Facebook desperately looking for volunteers so I decided to go for that even though it’s a bit scary as il be the only volunteer and it’s a very rough and ready set up by the sounds of it.
I got an early local bus to Chiang Mai for a few euro and had an easy walk to the hostel. Ofcourse the hostel,Mercy Hostel, was one of the nicest of seen because was only staying 1 night! 😣
I was delighted I met 2 guys on my room about to rent scooters to see the white temple and black house so I joined them. It was quite a long scooter ride to get to the two of them. The black house was quite cool to see. The furniture and decor was amazing.

I was really looking forward to seeing the white temple and itvwas just as amazing as I thought. Unfortunately it was closed for some monthly meeting when we were there so we couldn’t go in. I was so disappointed but still happy I saw it in real life and we were pretty tired at this stage anyway.

Back to the hostel then to ‘sort my life out’. Book the long boat, send some emails and do some job hunting.
We hadn’t eaten all day (so unlike me!) so we were dying to get to the night markets for our last Thai delights. I have to say I’m genuinely gutted I’m leaving Thai food, it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to stay. I absolutely love it.
We decided to get lots of small bits to fit in more rather than a sit down dinner. So between is we got Chiang Mai sausage, sweet bean pau, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. All so good as usual!

Feeling very full we had to then go buy food and snacks for the boat tomoro as there is no food on the boat. This always makes me panic ha! It’s not like we can keep a curry overnight (I wish!) so it’s the usual 7/11 nuts and boiled eggs and fruit :/
Back for an early night in a very comfy bed for a 6am bus pick up. I have to say I’m feeling very sad to leave Thailand and not at all ready to leave but I definitely think il be back as there’s so much more exploring to do here and so much more food to eat! 🙂