Sunday, August 27, 2006

Kayaking down to Vientiene

August 27th. Decided what better way to leave Vang Vieng and make my way down to the capital, Vientiene but by kayak. Most people take the bus but that's way too pedestrian for this intrepid traveler!!! Ramona was game too, so off we set for a fun packed few hours! After about five minutes of us being in the kayak together, our guide, Ayer, very politely asked me to switch kayaks! Basically cos i was completely rubbish and couldn't steer my way out of a paper bag! So I moved into a new kayak with Ning, a brilliant guide who knew that i liked to fall into the water alot.. so we did. Alot!!! And he loved it. Cracked up, especially at me trying to get back into the kayak.. oh yes very ladylike there! Ayer had explained that there were three main sets of rapids we would go through today, and due to it being the rainy season, the rapids were really quite big! Now I've white water rafted before and loved it but never in a kayak. Ramona hadn't done anything like this before so was a bit nervous but also really excited... so off we set.

Hmmn - remember i said i liked to fall in! Well, second set of rapids, there was a giant whirlpool that we were all to try and avoid 'cos it was so big! No - i fell in.. the first two times i was sucked down, no problems! The third time i have to admit I was getting a tad panicky.. but luckily i caught the rope from Ning and all was fine! Phew! After all this hard work, we stopped for lunch - amazing BBQ lunch presented beautifully in banana leaves by the boys, who cooked it by the side of the river! Unbelievable! After lunch we kayaked further down the river then had to say a fond farewell to our guides, such nice guys, and jump in a minibus to Vientiene....wish the river went all the way but unfortunately not, so back on the bus!!!

Arrived in Vientiene late afternoon and Ramona and I had scouted out a fab place to stay. Yes folks...I'm going upmarket for a few days! And what a lovely feeling it was...i have to say it felt like utter luxury...and for the giant price of $7.50 each - wow we were really splurging!! We headed out to find a specific Chinese restaurant we had read about - Ramona and I are obviously foodies - can you tell? But after walking for hours (ok at least one!), getting ten different directions (again!) and a tuk tuk driver who kept telling us "yes, yes" i know where it is, then driving around and around asking directions himself.. we gave up and headed for the street stalls - fantastic food so all ended well! Ever had a tamarind shake anyone - deeeelicious!

August 28th. Decided today would be spa day.. ahh the weary traveler has to regroup sometime! Headed out to Wat Sok Pa Luang for a traditional Lao sauna and massage, found in the grounds of this temple hidden away in the forest a few kilometres from town. Before we "spa'd" it, we pottered around the wat, and were almost immediately attacked by a young novice monk, studying at teacher training college, and a temple boy who both wanted to practice their English! Told you - it happens everywhere! So we sat with them for about an hour then very politely made our exits towards the sauna. Not before hearing 2 or 3 monks singing at the tops of their voices "D-I-S-C-O!!" from nearby! Hilarious to hear!

So on to our traditional sauna! Very interesting in that both men and women used the sauna together. Everyone changed into sarongs and just hung out chatting away.. pretty funny to hear the same ole' lines "So where are you from? How old are you? Do you like Laos?" in the misty depths of a very very hot sauna!! Just a little strange how relaxed everyone was.. wouldnt happen in Vietnam or even Thailand i dont think! After our herbal sauna (it smelled gorgeous, lotsa lemon grass!) it was on to the somewhat skanky looking beds next door for our traditional massage. But wow! What a massage it was.. i felt like i had been bent backwards, forwards and upside down by the end, but it was fantastic! There's alot to be said for having a massage in the open air in the middle of a forest (ok baby forest but still!)..

August 29th. And now a little on Vientiene, the capital of the People's Democratic Republic of Laos which many people just fly in and out of, as rumour has it there's not much to see or do here! I really liked it here; imagine more of a small provincial village than big city, with a mixture of French colonialism and some more socialist style buildings. Lots of construction going on, some gorgeous buildings, some really dilapidated ones too; and lotsa rain unfortunately, so everytime you went out you got mud all over you! Tons of funky French bakeries and cool restaurants; a really nice vibe here! And the people in our hotel couldnt be nicer!

We decided today was a big bike day, and there is no better way to bike around Vientiene than with Ms Kitty! LOVED our bikes and everyone had a chuckle as we pottered around town! Thinking of buying one when i get home - they are too cool, you know! Started off by visiting Patuxai, an interesting replica of the Arc de Triomphe, built in 1969 from cement provided by the US which was originally given to build a new runway - oh well, this is much prettier! We climbed the stairs to the top and looked out over the city, great views.

Next stop on this boiling hot day was the amazing Pha That Luang, a beautiful and massive golden temple. It is the most important national monument in Laos and a symbol of both Buddhist religion and Lao freedom. The golden stupa, 85m high is so over the top, but yet really beautiful at the same time! Spent quite some time here; its always intriguing to me how ornate and over the top these wats are, from cities to tiny villages, its incredible how goldy and intricate and seriously bling bling they are! After our hard day (teehee!) we chilled out then went to the Sunset Soltera bar on the river front, and relaxed away, thinking about how lucky we were to travel, see all the amazing things we have seen .. ahh its the life folks

August 30th. Today is market day for me .... and what a market! As usual, i got completely carried away (somehow i think im a Russian heavy weight wrestler who can carry 25kilos on my back no problem - or is it lbs?? whichever is heavier that's what im carrying!). There were some really beautiful things here so made some fab (if somewhat undesirable ie heavy!) purchases for folks back home. Then it was on to the crazy Xieng Khuan Buddha Park about an hour out of town for a visit! Lets just say the mini-bus for about 26 people had at least 50+ on it and me the only tourist, everyone was quite curious so i had a few stilted conversations. Everyone is so friendly here - you gotta love it! Anyway, the Buddha Park is mad - a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist figures sculpted by local folks out of cement in the late 1950's under the watchful eye of Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat who fled Laos for Thailand after the 1975 revolution. With the giant reclining buddha one of the highlights here, (see me in the pic; shows how big this thing is!) it is definitely a quirky, unique and interesting place to visit! Got chatting to a lovely French lady who had just moved to Vientiene with her husband and two children, so she gave me a lift back to town, and we had a great old chat... yet again, how lucky am i to meet such nice people!

Isn't this arty shot just great - i LOVE my new camera!!! Sorry i digress!! Got back to find Ramona had contracted a deadly travelers disease .. nah, just being dramatic.. She had an awful case of "dreaded red eye lurgy AKA conjunctivitis"... it was a really bad case tho'. And of course, as luck would have it (or had my luck run out..) i very soon got it myself. Really bad case actually, tons of gunk in your eye, really hard to open them and to see (ok sorry for the very visual description but i thought you might want to share my pain).. mine started the night i was heading off on an overnight bus to Pakse on my way to Four Thousand islands.. yup, its a really good look, but hey, its not the worse thing that could happen, although i do look a bit like someone beat me up pretty badly... but onwards to the islands I go!!


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