Sept 19, 2017
We had to wake up extremely early today. 6am to be exact. The bus ride to the Thai/Lao boarder would be around 8 hours and we didn’t want to get left behind. I said my goodbyes to Stevie before we left, she’s definitely my favorite dog I’ve met out here.
Josh, Liv and I met up with our friends Ben & Becca on the mini bus in front of Aya Services. A bundle package for transport from Pai all the way to Luang Prabang was around 1750 baht, I’m not sure what that is in USD, maybe around $50, which is pretty good since they take you all the way to Chiang Khong (the Thai town before you get to Laos), give you accommodation, take you across the boarder, then take you to the slow boat in Huay Xai (the Lao town on the boarder).
So, we were off. The journey from Pai to Chiang Mai was around 2 hours. We stopped at this little place on the side of the road and I got some Gra Pow Gai. Once we got to Chiang Mai we switched buses and picked up a few more passengers. On the way we stopped for lunch at an extremely overpriced cafe. Usually meals are anywhere from 40-60 baht, these meals were 120-160 baht. I’m so glad I ate before or else I would be forced to eat overpriced food. I think these companies get commission from the places that they drop us off, that or they’re family/friends of the people who work for this company because we get dropped off at these really shitty areas.
On the road again, we made another stop in Chiang Rai, a city I wish I had time to see. They have the famous white and black temple there. The guy dropped us off by the White Temple and let us walk around for a little bit, at least I got to see that. After another 2 or 3 hours, we finally got to Chiang Khong. They dropped us off at the guesthouse that was prearranged in our package tour. They gave us forms to fill out for the boarder in the morning. Then they showed us our rooms, they were probably the worst that we’ve stayed in so far, but we didn’t really explore too much into it. We kinda just dropped our bags and left, looking for food.
After eating at a little restaurant overlooking the Mekong river, we picked up some snacks for the 2 day journey ahead and walked back to our guesthouse. Liv and I sat on our beds in this really rundown room. Our fan didn’t rotate, we didn’t have a screen on our doors so we could leave it open at night (unlike the other rooms), holes in the wall were covered by tissue paper, and bugs were crawling everywhere on our beds and falling from the ceiling. We got extremely freaked out and immediately thought of bed bugs. We’ve heard of some really bad bug bed stories and this was the ideal place we thought they could be. Paranoid and scared, we googled anything and everything about bed bugs. We tried to find the guesthouse on TripAdvisor, or any other review sites that could give us some insight of where we were staying (something very important these days). There were only a handful of reviews of the place, but one in particular really stood out. It was the most recent one, written in April 2017, by a girl who said she came across this place after she booked a package tour going to Luang Prabang. In her review, she writes that she looked at the place, and immediately left to find accommodation elsewhere, at a place called Namkhong. So that’s exactly what we did. Although Josh was in another room, a little better than ours because I think we had the worst room, he was also paranoid of bed bugs. So we all left together to find this hotel.
At first, we walked 15 minutes to the extremely nice Namkhong hotel that was 1300 baht per night. That obviously isn’t in the budget but they took us back down to their sister site, which was 100 baht per person for one night, much better. Once we got into our room, we all gave a sigh of relief. It was much nicer, with cleaner sheets, a nicer bathroom, a rotating fan, and MOSQUITO NETS!!! The best thing we could have asked for after being rained on by bugs. They even had a pool, so we took a late night dip in the pool, to take full advantage of our stay. After that I blogged for another 2/3 hours and went to sleep.
Sept 20, 2017
It was another early morning. We had to be at the original guest house for breakfast at 730am. So we sneakily (and unsuccessfully) walked back to the place, trying really hard to not seen. The guy greeted us right away, they probably get people who do that all the time and they got paid already so it’s no sweat off their back. Breakfast was eggs on toast, a little runny for my taste but I ate it anyways. Our group, me, Liv, Josh, Ben, Becca and two new friends, Nicole from Maryland (yay another American) and Kevin from Canada, headed to the boarder. It was a pretty easy process, they took our departure card in Thailand, exchanged baht out for Lao Kip, and paid for a bus ride over the “Friendship Bridge” to Lao. There we filled out a arrival card, paid $35 (in USD, which I thought was very strange because even if you’re not American you have to pay in USD) and got in a really crammed toktok with like 15 other people.
They dropped us off by the Mekong, where we would get on the boat. I bought some fried rice, even though I wasn’t that hungry because I didn’t want to get hungry on the 7 hr journey. I didn’t have any expectations walking onto the boat, but I was so impressed after a few hours. The country is so beautiful, green and lush. There are still trees and vegetation everywhere, there are rural villages with water buffalo, there are people fishing and kids walking home from school. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness and I’m so happy I made the decision to take the boat.
I sat on a cushioned seat where I read my book and watched the countryside go by. A Lao mother with her son sat next to me. I wondered what the must think of Westerners, and I always come to this conclusion: they must fucking hate us. I mean, we’re so ignorant in what we do and what we say. We’re never culturally sensitive or try to understand/respect their customs and traditions. The only reason why they tolerate us is because they make a lot of money off of tourist. I notice these Lao people, then I notice these asshole Westerners, with their short, shorts and tank tops and snap backs worn backwards, walking with beers with the intent on getting drunk on the boat. It’s just an extremely stark difference, and it’s so humbling to be aware.
We arrived in Pakbeng, Laos at around 5pm. We were immediately swarmed with people trying to sell us accommodation, kids asking for our snacks, and people trying to sell us food. We knew this would happen, and instead walked right pass everyone to find our own place (we read it would be cheaper that way) and found accommodation for pretty cheap. The place wasn’t as nice as the guesthouse we found last night but better than the one that was apart of our package. Plus, the owner lady said that there were elephants that bath in the river in the morning, across the way. It was me, Liv, and Josh in one room, Ben and Becca in another, and Kevin in one and Nicole in one. Our guesthouse was right next to the most popular bar in this small, rural town, the Happy Bar. There, we saw that a few of the guys who were taking a similar package tour from Thailand to Luang Prabang were also looking for food, Christopher from Miami and Mike and Sam from the UK. As a group, we set off to find food.
Everything in this town was overpriced because they know tourists have to stop here during their 2 boat trip. So my first experience with Lao food was a bust since I didn’t want to pay a lot of money to eat. The restaurant we ending up picking sucked us in with a free whiskey shot and fruit plate. I also met Hannah and Charlie there, two girls from the UK who are also on the slow boat. I met them previously on the tour that I took with Sarah in Pai.
During dinner, a local Lao man convinced us to check out his new bar. He was so sweet and genuine. We got to his place and realized it was a brand new bar. He asked us if we could give him any suggestions about how to make his bar better, since he said he’s only been open about a week and it’s his dream to own a bar. He wants to use the money to pay for school and help out his family. It may or may not have been untrue but it caught us all in the feels and we all tried to support him by giving him suggestions and buying from his bar. If you ever do go to Laos and do the slow boat to Luang Prabang, go to Hive bar, the man is actually really sweet and you feel that you’re doing good by spending money there.
Finally, we headed to Happy Bar where we finished the night. This bar was far better/superior to the Hive bar, with free shots as you enter and loud music and lights. Since our guesthouse was literally next door, we just walked home when we were finished.
Sept 21, 2017
We woke up at 7am, bed bug free. The elephants were in the water across the river, just like the lady said. We got ready and headed downstairs where the nice lady was making us breakfast, which we told her the night before what we wanted. I ate my delicious rice soup while watching the elephants bathe in the Mekong. After breakfast, we walked back to where we were dropped off the day before. This time, the boat was WAY smaller and we got there a little later bc all of the good seats were taken. I sat with Josh on these seats that looked like they belong in a car. They were comfy nonetheless and way better than the wooden seats everyone else was sitting at.
Unlike yesterday, today’s weather was very overcast, as if it was about to rain. That, mixed with the cramped-ness of the boat, made for a boring ride. Instead of reading and marveling at the beauty of the landscape, like I did yesterday, I mostly napped, listened to music, and watched my episodes on my iPad. This journey was a lot longer and less comfortable than the day previous. It was still beautiful though, once the clouds and rain subsided.
When we landed at the port, no one really knew to leave. The drivers didn’t say anything, the local Lao people got off, and then finally when he saw that no one was getting up, he finally told everyone to get off. Thanks a lot for the heads up, dude. We were forced to buy a toktok into the city, which I had to pay for, but the notes here are very confusing and I think I over payed…again. Lesson learned.
Me, along with Hannah and Charlie, headed to our hostel Vongprachan Backpacker’s, where the rest of our group was waiting. I guess that dude Christopher, this old guy who’s lived in Laos before, had a friend who owned a Mexican restaurant. Everyone wanted to go for Mexican…for our first day in Laos?? We met up at 7pm to go to this Mexican restaurant that I was very underwhelming. All the dishes were really expensive and, coming from California, the food was just subpar to all of the taqueria’s I’m used to (do I sound like a spoiled brat?). The Brits were impressed since I guess they don’t have a lot of Mexican restaurants in the UK. Josh and I split a plate because we didn’t want to pay a lot for our meal (I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money to eat mediocre Mexican when I’m in Laos).
After dinner we made our way to the night market and then Utopia bar. Utopia bar was very cool, it’s right by the river and I just enjoyed the vibe. This bar closed early as well, around 11:15pm. Right when they turned off the music (and at the same time called for last call???) there were toktok drivers asking if you wanted to go to bowling. We all agreed to go, so we headed to the bowling alley, which also had archery (BOWling, get it LOL). There were 9 of us who paid to go bowling, but they only counted 8 and therefore gave us 8 people on the board. Christopher tried to tell them that 9 of us paid, and asked for his money back. After a lot of arguing, they gave him his money back but took off a player on one of our games. We were kinda pissed because they really do try and scam us at every point of contact. So, no one really wanted to play again because we were all over it by that point. Some of us played some archery but we didn’t stay long and left.
Sept 22, 2017
Breakfast ended at 10am, so I woke up 20 mins before and lugged myself upstairs to the rooftop. Banana pancakes was my choice for today. Mostly everyone was upstairs already, I was the last one. As we were eating, this girl, Lillee, from Sydney, asked our group if we wanted to go to a different waterfall (rather than the most popular one). We didn’t have anything planned so we all agreed.
Patrick, a Canadian living in Australia, Antonio from Spain, and Lillee joined our group and we headed to Tad Sae waterfall. In order to get there, we needed to take a toktok and a boat that lead down a river. Once there, the waterfall was absolutely beautiful. It had little terraces of pools, much different than the raging cliff waterfalls I’m so used to seeing. The water was cold and clear. The only bad thing was there were elephants you could ride into the waterfall and a monkey in a cage that definitely didn’t belong. The poor thing was in a cage built for a rabbit, had nothing to entertain itself with, and no friends. So it was literally bored out of it’s mind, bending it’s body in the same motion like a robot with it’s hand out of the cage, just hoping someone would give it a water bottle, food, or something it could entertain itself with.
Other than that, I was really impressed with the waterfall. It was so refreshing and beautiful. We were all hungry as well, so after about 1-2 hrs in the water, we went to the little restaurant adjacent to the water. Noodle soups are really common everywhere (and usually the cheapest) so that’s what I’ve been eating mostly. Some of us had to go to the Vietnamese Embassy to get their Vietnam visas (all the Brits). I opted to get mine online so I didn’t go with them.
Later on that night we walked to the night market where we could get a whole plate of carbs/veggies for 15,000 kip. Only issue is that it was HOT AF in the small little alley, that was covered and enclosed. Plus, there are tons of food stalls and dozen of ladies cooking. We walked around the night market again then ended up at the hostel. This time we were smart and bought alcohol (finally, a hostel we could bring our own booze in). We got kicked out around 1030 and moved to a bar that Lillee told us about, the Lao Friendship bar. After hanging out for a bit, we ended up at the bowling alley. I was very sober again, and waited ever-so patiently for everyone to be finished before we headed back home.
Sept 23, 2017
Again, I had to wake up before 10 for breakfast. This time I got noodle soup. Everyone was super hungover so we didn’t really do much today. I wasn’t hung over but I did want to workout. Josh told me about a gym on the next street over. It was 15,000 kip to get in, which is super affordable. It felt so good to workout, this was my second time in a proper gym and I always make the most of it by spending a good amount of time.
By the time I got back, everyone was finally awake (and slightly getting over their hangover). We went to the affordable restaurant next door where I got chicken curry with an egg and a banana shake (holla for coconut milk in my shake!!). Everyone was still hungover but agreed we wanted to actually see something today. So at around 5pm we walked to the temple on the hill to watch the sunset. The temple on the hill, I’m not sure the exact name, had a lot of freaking stairs. Mind you I just went to the gym and my legs were sooo tired. But, the view was worth it. We sat on the top, just in time for sunset. I don’t normally watch the sun go down and sometimes you forget how quickly it actually moves. In less than a minute, I watched the sun peak over the mountains and get smaller and smaller until it vanished behind the landscape.
The boys wanted to watch another damn footie (soccer) game. So we went to this place called “Aussie Bar” (lol bc we had a Kiwi with us) to watch their damn Premier League game. We almost watched the whole thing before we decided that we were hungry again. The little restaurant next to our hostel (called Bamboo) was the obvious choice. Everyone was too hung over, but I wasn’t and drank basically by myself. We called it an early night, even though I was definitely feeling the alcohol.
Sept 24, 2017
I decided on an omelette this morning, it came with a delicious toasted baguette. We wanted to do the popular waterfall today, Kuang Si. So all of us (to remind you it’s me, Liv, Josh, Nicole, Kevin, Andrew from Canada, Sam and Mike from the UK, and Charlie and Hannah from the UK) along with our new friend Leo from Germany, crammed in a toktok for about an hour ride to the waterfall. In this complex, there’s also a Moon Bear (different than the sun bear) rescue center where they rescue these moon bears from illegal animal trade and especially bile farms. Their bile is believed to have special medicinal abilities in China, so the poor bears are stuck in a cage their whole lives. I didn’t know there was a difference between the sun bear and the moon bear since they both have that crescent yellow mark on their chest, but apparently the moon bear is bigger than the sun bear but both are found in Asia.
Next, we finally over on to the actual waterfall. This waterfall was so much bigger than the Tad Sae waterfall we went to a few days prior. It had the amazing terraces just like Tad Sae, only this one’s water was an amazing turquoise blue. We walked all the way to the top, which was a steep and hard climb. Again, the view paid off. The pool was nice and refreshing and bonus there was a freaking swing! The fish in the water are the ones that you see in massage/nail places that eat the dead skin off of your feet. So instead of paying money, we all got a free foot clean by the local fishies.
After being up there for about 2 hours, we finally headed down in search for food. It would have been nice to swim in the lower menthol blue pools, but we were way too hungry to think about swimming again. We opted for this little restaurant outside of the waterfall complex. I, again, got soup.
Once back at the hostel, some of us were still hungry. I took a quick shower and we headed off to the night market. Some of us bought some booze after a quick wander around the market (and snack) so we went up to the rooftop of our hostel where we drank. This time everyone was drinking. We even made some new friends from the Netherlands, Joe and Daan, who joined us in drinking and card games. Again, we ended up at the bowling alley.
Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning and my purse was soaking wet. My camera was in there and I tried to turn it on. To no avail, it still doesn’t work. I’m trying to think about how it could have gotten wet. The outside wasn’t wet and the only thing I could think of was that people were throwing ice cubes at the bowling alley that night. One must have gotten inside my purse, where it then melted and fucked up my camera. I’m in Vang Vieng now, and it’s been sitting in rice with no signs of working. I’m really freaking sad because I really loved that camera. Luckily, my SD card made it out alive and I have an SD card reader, so my pictures are safe. I’ll have to use my shitty iPhone 5 camera for now, until I get a new camera hopefully in Vietnam!
Thank you all if you’re still reading this. It’s getting a little difficult to find time to write and to remember all these details! I’m sorry if you’re bored or if my shit doesn’t make sense sometimes. I’ll try to write more often, with better details and more exciting things to say. Luang Prabang was fun, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Thailand. Vang Vieng is cool too and I’ll try to post about this place soon. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!