Chiang Mai – snakes, hilltribes and more markets…

Posted by Megan: 

Due to the time lost with Julia being crook we opted to fly from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai (much faster than the 3 day 2 night boat and bus journey overland). Chiang Mai is very vibrant and we both loved the hustle and bustle after being in sleepy Laos. We explored the famous nigh bazaar. Again I went a bit crazy shopping. We even managed to catch the All Blacks versus Romania game (much to the disgust to the English guy at the table across who wanted to watch the football). 

The second day, we booked a day trip. First we stopped off to visit the butterfly farm and Orchid nursery followed by a rather traumatic stop at a snake show. We saw loads of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. As we walked around the cages Ju commented on the ugliness of one of the pythons. It must have heard her as it snapped at her making a lunge straight for her face. Thank goodness for the wire cage but even so we squealed in fright. We watched the snake show which basically involved 3 men seriously pissing off some deadly snakes. I touched a Thai Cobra (the poison can kill a human in less than 1 hour) and then we both had our photos taken with a python around us to replace the ones that were lost in Vietnam. The difference was that the python in Vietnam was docile and placid but this time the snake keepers had spent the last 20 minutes riling these ones up. As a result I was far more scared this time even though the 3 of them were holding the snake (last time I held it on my own). It was so gross it started to wrap itself up my face and try and strangle me. Ewww. Oh well. I survived and the treasured photographic proof of my snake handling is again captured (Julias memory card ate the last one and it was lost forever). 

Megan touches a cobra Megan and the python Julia and the python The orchid farm

Next stop was the Chiang Dao Cave, an enormous cave stretching about 1 kilometre long. We walked the first 660 metres inside. We had lunch in Fang and then continued to see a giant Buddha at a temple in Tha Ton. On top of the hill we had views across to Chiang Rai and the Burmese border.  

Entrance to the cave Lookout

We carried on deeper and deeper into the mountains to see the hill tribes. I was amazed to see Long Neck, Big Ear and Straight Leg tribe women. It did seem a little bit like we were visiting a human zoo, but I still found it interesting.

  Long Neck hill tribe girl Hill Tribe Woman  Big Ear hill tribe woman Big Ear Straight Leg hill tribe woman Long Neck Hill Tribe Woman

It was a long drive back to Chiang Mai, we arrived about 7pm into the thick of the massive Sunday night market. We lasted about 3 hours perusing all the market stalls before collapsing into bed exhausted! We didn’t even see all of the market – it was that huge.

Elephant Trekking through the Jungle

Posted by Megan.  Julia recommends you whistle the baby elephant song before you read this (or, if you are really clever you could whistle the song and read at the same time):

We drove about 30 minutes out of Luang Prabang to have a go at elephant trekking. I hopped onto the back of a 35 year old female called Bourhum. It was exhilarating. We trekked for 2 hours through the jungle. It was so scary going up and down steep muddy banks and when it started to pour with rain, we picked giant leaves to use as umbrellas. I really felt like royalty. We even took the elephants into the river for some swimming. My elephant was a bit of a trickster and took great delight in using her trunk to splash water all over me (on the mahout’s command of course).  When we got back I rewarded Bourhum with a couple of bunches of bananas. Such a beautiful animal I was captivated. 

 Julia Attinborough! Elephants Trekking - oh so much fun!  Elephants Trekking Julia on her elephant Megans Elephant Elephant Elephant Feeding

The afternoon we caught the long tail boat up the river to the Tat Sae water falls. We swam at the waterfall and took advantage of the pounding water for a complimentary massage.  We spent the rest of the afternoon in a café overlooking the waterfall drinking beer with our guide.

 Megan in the waterfall The Tad Sae Waterfall

A trip to the Pak Ou Caves and a waterfall

Posted by Megan:

We booked a day excursion to see two of the local sights – Pak Ou Caves and the Kuang Si waterfall. Julia was still feeling a bit below average and the trip started out a little slowly with us waiting for an hour early in the morning to get a boat up the river. Julia ended up piking and staying behind but my curiosity got the better of me and I persevered.  I wish I hadn’t bothered. An extremely boring 2 hour slow boat trip up the river to the most underwhelming caves so far and whats more I was stuck talking to an Aussie guy in his 50s with a mullet for the whole morning.  I wasn’t happy.  The most exciting thing I saw was this chicken:

 The most exciting thing I saw all day!

On my late return Julia bribed me with chocolate and we headed to Kuang Si Waterfall with a picnic lunch. I forced Julia to climb to the top of the waterfall with me – quite a hairy walk up steps through the waterfall itself. We walked around the park and had a look at the bear rescue centre and a tiger.

The waterfall Kuang Si Steps

Impressions of Luang Prabang – Laos

Written by Megan on (4th Oct):

What a gorgeous little place Luang Prabang is. As poor Ju was bedridden for a few days I was able to take my time and explore the French influenced town rather thoroughly. I had fun wandering around the art shops and galleries, souvenir shops, drinking freshly brewed Laos coffee and exploring the numerous temples.  First thing in the morning and in the early evening I could hear the monks chanting in the temples, so peaceful.  Luang Prabang also has an impressive night market, with vendors selling duvet covers, jewelley, toys etc…  

Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang……what a trip!

Posted by Julia:

So, the biggest decision of the day was establishing  a) whether or not I should get out of bed  and   b) if I was likely to make it to Luang Prabang (a 6 hour drive) in one piece without making a complete embarrassment of myself.   In the end I decided I was OK, I got bored of running between my bed and the toilet during the night so I took some ‘blockers’ and ‘anti-puke pills’ at about 4am…consequently I felt the trip was doable – no worries mate! 

We decided to splash out and pay for a mini van to make the journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang as we thought it would be more comfortable than the bus.  Well, that was a bit of a mistake, there were 13 of us jammed into this old dunger of a minivan with no air-con for 6.5 hours.   What’s more, the trip was like some kind of X-Box game where we drove on an extremely windy road whilst dodging cows, buffalo, goats, chickens, roosters, pigs, small naked village children, piles of pumpkins and pot holes.    

 hmm… the chicken looks just as upset as we were! Surely the mini-van is better than a pubic bus!

 We decided the trip between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang would equate to a 6.5 hour version of the NZ Rimatakas (that’s 6.5 hours of constant twists and turns, steep cliffs and pretty scenery).   The trip required a stomach of steel, especially as we had to stop twice when the little boy behind us vomited all over his father.   We both managed to arrive in Luang Prabang without spewing once (it was touch and go for most of the trip).   I only think I made it because I kept the blockers and anti-puke pills topped up and didn’t dare to eat or drink anything all day!           

Having said that, the first thing I did on arrival at the hostel in Luang Prabang was to push Megan out of the way and make a run for the loo where I chundered up the last little bit of stomach lining that was left from the previous evenings efforts.   Nice…  needless to say, I spent the next 48 hours in bed!   L     

Ps: Big thank you to Megan for looking after me

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Posted by Julia:

We arrived mid afternoon in a beautiful spot in central northern Laos called Vang Vieng.   The countryside and the limestone cliffs are spectacular; it’s almost like Halong Bay (Northern Vietnam) except instead of the sea there is a river.    

Our first afternoon in Vang Vieng was pretty chilled out, we explored the tiny town, checked out the river and organised some tubing for the next day.   We crossed the dodgiest bamboo bridge to an island in the middle of the river and found a cool little bar.  The bar consisted of several bamboo huts with hammocks – so we did the logical thing and grabbed 2 bottles of Beer Lao and relaxed by the riverside watching the tubers and kayakers floating down the river.   Pure bliss!    

The bridge across to beer island The Hut Megan in her hamock drinking Beer Lao

In the evening we decided to go for a bite to eat, we were promptly bombarded by lots of TVs in several bars/restaurants blaring different episodes of Friends.    Where they got the idea that foreigners would love to watch Friends while eating their meals beats me!  Talk about horrible noise pollution – even Karaoke (after several too many beers) would be better than that!      What was worse was most of the bars and restaurants were empty.

Friends on TV x2 

Day 2 in Vang Vieng was TUBING DAY!    The most popular activity in Vang Vieng seems to be tubing down the Nam Song River in an inflated tractor tyre, stopping off to drink beer at several of the many bars scattered along the riverside and go monkey jumping into the river from a great height!    So we headed 13kms North of Vang Vieng to check out Tham Nam Cave and Tham Sang (Elephant Cave).     Tham Nam Cave required us to get fitted with head lights, jump into the freezing cold water in our tubes and pull ourselves along a rope against the flow of the river.  It was so much fun.  A tad scary (first a tiny spider freaked me out, then a HUGE spider REALLY REALLY freaked me out (it was huge)… luckily the guide protected me and shooed the spider away).      

Because it is the wet season we couldn’t go far into the cave, but during the wet season the water going down the river is about 4x as fast as normal so we could tube 12kms down the river (apparently in the dry season people can only go 3-4kms).     Unfortunately, I woke up feeling like ‘crap on toast’ so the whole day was a bit of a struggle for me… I lasted until about 3pm when we were about 2/3rds down the river and crashed… with zero energy, wicked stomach cramps I was put onto a Kayak and sent back down the river to my bed.  Megan continued though, she even did the Monkey Jumping which involved her going on a 10 metre high swing and ended up with Megan (aka the Monkey) flying into the river at great speed.   The rest of the afternoon/evening was a complete write off for me…. I spent my time dashing between the bathroom to my bed.  I won’t give details but I will say… it wasn’t very nice at all.

No photos of tubing yet as we took a disposable camera – will post some when we get it developed

Eating dust and visiting a giant pumpkin (Vientiane, Laos)

Posted by Megan:

To save time, we decided to cheat and book a flight from Siem Reap to Vientiane. Bad timing that there was a plane crash the day before between Bangkok and Phuket, just on cue to freak us out. Hmm. We did arrive in one piece thankfully.

I find it hard to describe Vientiane. It is in fact the capital city of Laos, however to be honest the main street of Morrinsville is busier and more hip-hop happening! Again we noticed the French influence here, delicious coffee and scrumptious baguettes and pastries. The moral of today’s story is: If you go walking and get a bit lost (sorry Julia I mean geographically challenged), take the business card of the hotel you are staying at with you with the address written in Lao script. Lao tuk tuk drivers can’t read the English script in the Lonely Planet and have no idea where you want to go! 

We walked around the city taking in the sights and sounds. The highlights being Patuxai (L’arc de triomphe a la Vientiane) and Pha That Luang, an enormous golden monument which is a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty.

 Arc de Vientiane The golden temple 

Late afternoon we had crossed off all of the sightseeing stops and so jumped into a “jumbo” (actually just another sort of tuk tuk) to take us 24km South of Vientiane to a Buddha Park. True to form, it was rather an experience.   The trip took over an hour and we inhaled probably about 5 kilos of dust each! Scariest was dodging the potholes – I have seen farm tanker tracks in better condition. The trip was worth the bumpiness as the bizarre concrete sculptures were impressive, especially the enormous reclining Buddha and the random giant pumpkin. For the first time I felt the need to bring out the phrase book and point out to the driver to “Please drive slow”. I wasn’t sure how to tell him that one tuk tuk accident was plenty for one trip!

 Big Bhudha The giant pumpkin Megan getting eaten by a crocodile A statue of Bhudha doing a dance (I think)

Next post – A tractor tube down the river in Vang Vieng.