Final Act: Central and south Laos: Capital, coffee and crappy bikes

The next stop after Vang Vieng was the capital of Laos Vientiane, it became the capital under the French colonial period and is the oddest capital city we’ve ever been to. There is nothing there!

We were basically there to get our visas for Thailand- it was cheaper for me to get a month visa (I only get 2 weeks at a land crossing with an Irish passport- Gav gets a month) rather than us both flying in. We then decided why not both get a 2 month visa- its 1000 baht ($28/£17.90) each that would allow us more time. So we arrived in Vientiane- went looking for a hotel, eventually found one, the Mixay  Paradise Guesthouse. Cheapish room (shared bathroom), with breakfast and very clean but the signs! There were signs everywhere, it was like some had just discovered the blissful joy of laminating and went mental. This is a selection of some of the ones on our floor- not all, the cleaner was around when I was taking them so couldn’t get them all. You should have seen how many were downstairs! They were mostly about not bringing in prostitutes. That said we did get free bread and tea and coffee between 10am and 5pm.

In the room...
In the room…
Another one...
Another one…
and yet another one.
and yet another one.
The sign says nothing about drying laundry inside that you have got washed around the cornet
The sign says nothing about drying laundry inside that you have got washed around the cornet
By the sinks
By the sinks
Outside the showers
Outside the showers
second one outside the showers
second one outside the showers

Anyway, the following day we went to the Thai Consulate to put in our visa applications. It was about a 2 km walk and when we arrived the gates were closed as it was a Thai holiday. Arrggh! It had been closed on Thursday also, so just as well we stayed in Vang Vieng that extra day. We hadn’t seen any mention of it on the Vientiane Thai Consulate website and it was only when we got back to the hotel that we discovered it was actually listed on the neighbouring Savannakhet’s Thai Consulate website-which was very annoying. It also meant that rather than leaving on Monday we were now having to stay an extra day in Vientiane. Fine in any other city but here there is not much to see, especially since the Brewery is currently closed for renovation and that was going to be one of the days out there (along with a trip to Buddha Park).

Anyway other than seeing the two main landmarks, visit COPE (a centre for amputees and physical disabilities), some delicious Vietnamese food- we found one that did bun thit nuong (see our HCMC post). Yum! We miss Vietnamese food.

Sunset over the Mekong
Sunset over the Mekong
Tuk Tuk
Tuk Tuk
Ah bamboo scaffolding...
Ah bamboo scaffolding…
Quite a lot of signs still in French here as well as a number of French institutes and organisations
Quite a lot of signs still in French here as well as a number of French institutes and organisations
Presidential Palace.
Presidential Palace.
View up the road from the Palace- Arc de Triomphe? Maybe if you squint a bit.
View up the road from the Palace- Arc de Triomphe? Maybe if you squint a bit… let us investigate!
..well not quite, but kinda cool from far away....
..well not quite, but kinda cool from far away, The Patuxai Gate….
... the most stark description I've ever read. However it is very accurate...
… the most stark description I’ve ever read. However it is very accurate…

P1080795P1080799

Randomly had 3 layers of tatty gift shops inside....
Randomly had 3 layers of tatty gift shops inside….
Why was this here? Sticky rice stuck on the top floor banister.
Why was this here? Sticky rice stuck on the top floor banister.
Views from above- we have lots of the top- including pictures of us but the concrete does look very ugly and the sky wasn't even blue to counteract it.
Views from above- we have lots of the top- including pictures of us but the concrete does look very ugly and the sky wasn’t even blue to counteract it.
Towards the palace
Towards the palace


P1080829

War Memorial
War Memorial

P1080844

Pha That Luang and King Sayasetthathirath Statue (This monument was a lot smaller than we expected)
Pha That Luang and King Sayasetthathirath Statue (This monument was a lot smaller than we expected)
A reclining Buddha nearby
A reclining Buddha nearby
Cope display of a cluster bomb opening.
Cope display of a cluster bomb opening.
Some of the old prosthetic limbs
Some of the old prosthetic limbs

We did eventually get our visas though- it did take up two half days between submitting and collecting.

Collection time was 1.30 pm- 3.30 pm. We arrived at 1pm to a packed room with a handful of chairs left. We waited and waited until 2pm and it eventually started.
Collection time was 1.30 pm- 3.30 pm. We arrived at 1pm to a packed room with a handful of chairs left. We waited and waited until 2pm and it eventually started.
.. we were number 318 and expecting a looooong wait! We were actually out of there by 2.30 pm, there were a lot of groups thankfully which were bulk collected!
.. we were number 318 and expecting a looooong wait! We were actually out of there by 2.30 pm, there were a lot of groups thankfully which were bulk collected!

So after a few days of not very much happening we got the overnight bus to as far south as we could go, a place called 4000 islands located in the Mekong next to the Cambodian and Thai borders. The buses here were proper flat sleepers so we would be together (no random men appearing beside me like in Vietnam). I’d asked for a bunk in the middle and the woman assured me that we would get one. She didn’t write it on our ticket though and when I queried it she assured me she was going to sort it. Ok. Hmm.

As we waited for our pick up in the hotel reception after we got our visas, we got talking to an Australian lady- long story short, the woman could talk continuously without even breathing- I have never been out talked by anyone but she was insane. Gav thought it was hilarious! Anyway, when it was time to leave (our pick up was at 6 pm, bus was due to leave at 8.30 pm), we managed to slip away and into our tuk tuk, what followed was 40 mins driving around Vientiane picking folk up followed by 15 mins waiting outside a shop – the driver grabbed an ice-cream and sat eating it while we all sat in the back wondering what was happening. Turns out he was waiting for a guy to give him something and we had to sit there with the engine running while he waited for this guy.

Then we were off to the bus station! On arrival our driver disappeared to get our tickets and on arriving back indiscriminately handed them out (I started to worry at this point, we got numbers 43 and 44) and we were on our way to the bus. There were about 20 buses, or more, there all going to Pakse. Ours was at the very back, past the main rack of nice modern buses, ok looking buses and then ours. It was ok, not great. Gav went to sort out the bags and I went to find our bunk for the night.

This was what I was faced with! WTF!!! An orgy bunk! We were the two where my bags are so there were two beds one side and one the other! There was nowhere to put anything it was a nightmare! I climbed up there and waited for Gav in complete disbelief.
This was what I was faced with! WTF!!! An orgy bunk! We were the two where my bags are so there were two beds one side and one the other! There was nowhere to put anything it was a nightmare! I climbed up there and waited for Gav in complete disbelief.
This it what we had expected a nice couples bunk (if you were a single traveler you either had to buy the whole bunk or you were sleeping with a stranger). Two levels of bunks on the top and there were a few downstairs too.
This it what we had expected a nice couples bunk on one side of the asile (if you were a single traveler you either had to buy the whole bunk or you were sleeping with a stranger). Two levels of bunks on the top and there were a few downstairs too.
In the end it wasn't so bad, a nice French couple (who were equally uncomfortable with the arrangements joined us, but we made the best of it and thankfully no one else appeared for the inside bed.
In the end it wasn’t so bad, a nice French couple (Francoise and Celine, who were equally uncomfortable with the arrangements) joined us and we made the best of it and thankfully no one else appeared for the inside bed.

 I ended up taking a nytol about 11.30 pm  and slept like a log until we arrived in Pakse- poor Gav didn’t sleep much as he was afraid if the bus braked too hard he was going to fly out of the access hole at the bottom of the bunk. On arrival into Pakse at 7.30 am, we were picked up by tuk tuk and brought to the office where we had to wait for 30 minutes before our bus transfer to the dock for 4000 islands. One of the guys on our tuk tuk had forgotten his phone on the bus- by some miracle he did manage to get it back (though it did involve a tuk tuk to the drivers house and no guarantee he would get it). I was still half asleep- the lingering effects of the Nytol which only really start to dissipate once I managed to get a hideously sugary fruit smoothie (I asked for no sugar, oh well did the trick), A short while later were were on the bus- Gav had been entrusted with out and speeding out of Pakse, a short time later, well 2 hours or so, we arrived in Nakasong and had a short walk to the pier to get the boat to the island of Don Det. There are three islands to stay in 4000 islands: Don Det, Don Khon and the big island Don Khong- not sure why we picked Don Det as it’s allegedly the party island-evidence in the drug shakes and happy pizzas, but not in the people as there was no one there and those that were were in the quiet end near us! Most people go there to chill out. We had two days so it was more of a flying visit.

Ah the boat ride....
Ah the boat ride….
...almost awake
…almost awake
The dock is busiest around 11-11.30 am, with buses arriving and leaving so it looks like the islands are packed
The dock is busiest around 11-11.30 am, with buses arriving and leaving so it looks like the islands are packed
They really weren't. We had pre-booked a place as we had heard that even in low season they are often full. Turns out there was very few folks there, and the rooms were super cheap....
They really weren’t. We had pre-booked a place as we had heard that even in low season they are often full. Turns out there was very few folks there, and the rooms were super cheap….
..the place we booked , Mr Tho's Bungalows, it was about 30 mins walk from the pier- we didn't realise this and it turned into a horrible hike. However we eventually found it. Also people we passed on the way looking for somewhere to stay also ended up there despite looking at other places so it must have been the best budget option. We got the deluxe room at $15 dollars.
..the place we booked , Mr Tho’s Bungalows, it was about 30 mins walk from the pier- we didn’t realise this and it turned into a horrible hike. However we eventually found it. Also people we passed on the way looking for somewhere to stay also ended up there despite looking at other places so it must have been the best budget option. We got the deluxe room at $15 dollars- nice room but poor finish for the price.
They had a lot of cats- this one seemed to like Gav but he was eating at the time...
They had a lot of cats- this one seemed to like Gav but he was eating at the time…
The cats were a bit all over the place though.
The cats were a bit all over the place though.
Sunset at dinner.
Sunset at dinner.
You don't see this everyday, monks in a speedboat.
You don’t see this everyday, monks in a speedboat.

Our first day on the island we decided to walk the entire circumference of the island. It was a tiny place so it was about a 5 km walk it took around an hour and a half or so, the roads were narrow dirt tracks, barely wide enough for a moped to pass.

This was the only wide section on the west or sunset side of the island.
This was the only wide section on the west or sunset side of the island.
Signs by one of the campsites
Signs by one of the campsites

P1080894 P1080897 P1080909

Just planted rice.
Just planted rice.
Superhero duck?
Superhero duck?
The old french railway bridge...
The old french railway bridge…

P1080922

P1080927 P1080924

Just as we were on our way back, the clouds started to darken and not long after it started to rain very heavily with thunder and lightening. We had our coats and a brolly with us- probably not the best idea given the conditions and at one point our bones were shook by a mighty clap right above us! Scary stuff. Anyway 10 minutes later we were back at the hotel.

The following day we decided to rent some bikes to see the adjoining island of Koh Khon- we managed to get the two most clapped out looking bikes on the island and what followed was many hours on muddy bumpy roads with Gav’s chain coming off every 10 mins for the last 90 mins. Scenery was great though and seeing the force of nature that is the Mekong was well worth the trip.

Step one get to the bridge...
Step one get to the bridge, there was a small toll that also got you in to the waterfall….
It was really hot so I had to get my hat out- also check out my glorious bike :)
It was really hot so I had to get my hat out- also check out my glorious bike 🙂
Gav got arty
Gav got arty
This was the train line across the islands to allow passage past the waterfalls (they're more like crazy rapids really). Interesting story though- French railway in Laos.
This was the train line across the islands to allow passage past the waterfalls (they’re more like crazy rapids really). Interesting story though- French railway in Laos.
...complete with locomotive
…complete with locomotive
After seeing the train we headed to the very furthest point of the island- that's me with Cambodia in the background
After seeing the train we headed to the very furthest point of the island- that’s me with Cambodia in the background From here you can get a boat out to see the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin, they are very hard to spot at the time of year. On of the girls staying at our hotel did spot one though on her kayak trip. Lucky lady!

P1080958

After that we headed to the right side of the island- from our maps.me map there looked to be a road…

the road turned into a cow track of sorts...feels like tropical Narnia..
the road turned into a cow track of sorts…feels like tropical Narnia..
...there were a few interesting bridges.....
…there were a few interesting bridges…..
Some places were a bit wider (this was the only one I cycled across)
Some places were a bit wider (this was the only one I cycled across)
It was around this time that Gav's chain came off and got well and truely wedged under the stand and holder. We were struggling to free it as the wheel wouldn't move when two french chaps appeared, a father and son, who very enthusiastically tried to help. After 10 minutes wrestling with it, they didn't get anywhere so headed off. In the end with a bit of force and using my Qicklock (the most use it has got this whole trip) We managed to get the chain free. After this the chain fell off about every 10 minutes, annoying but we persevered.
It was around this time that Gav’s chain came off and got well and truely wedged under the stand and holder. We were struggling to free it as the wheel wouldn’t move when two french chaps appeared, a father and son, who very enthusiastically tried to help. After 10 minutes wrestling with it, they didn’t get anywhere so headed off. In the end with a bit of force and using my Qicklock (the most use it has got this whole trip) We managed to get the chain free. After this the chain fell off about every 10 minutes, annoying but we persevered.
It was also quite hot, these two had the right idea.
It was also quite hot, these two had the right idea.
Our first set of waterfalls- which in fairness were rapids really was the Khon Pa Soi falls. These are the smaller of the two falls but the reaction when we saw them was wow!...there was a suspension bridge to get to another island.
Our first set of waterfalls- which in fairness were rapids really was the Khon Pa Soi falls. These are the smaller of the two falls but the reaction when we saw them was wow!…there was a suspension bridge to get to another island, plus a series of smaller bridges to smaller islands. It ain’t called 4000 islands for nothing (in wet season it’s more like 150).
Fish trap
Fish trap

P1080971 P1080979 P1080981 P1080991 P1080992

The scariest bridge ever, made of thin strips of bamboo and felt like it might give at any moment....
The scariest bridge ever, made of thin strips of bamboo and felt like it might give at any moment….
These were walls built by the French. Logs would be tied together further up the Mekong to make a raft and a rider would ride it down to here and leap off at the last moment before they got broken up to ride down the rapids to be collected at the other side. Not a job I'd fancy.
These were walls built by the French. Logs would be tied together further up the Mekong to make a raft and a rider would ride it down to here and leap off at the last moment before they got broken up to ride down the rapids to be collected at the other side. Not a job I’d fancy.
P1090001
Yep that’s the suspension bridge- remind anyone of the river of chocolate in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

After a quick drink we were back on the road across the island to the largest waterfall, Li Phi waterfalls (Tat Somphamit). Its also rather aptly known as Devil’s corridor.

Ah the road!
Ah the road!
fishing traps...
fishing traps at the side of the falls..

P1090014

no kidding!
no kidding!
Can you see the grasshopper?
Can you see the grasshopper?
Sexy muddy legs!
Sexy muddy legs!

P1090027

So much water!
So much water!

P1090032 P1090034

After taking in the falls and the insane volume of water we wandered down to the bar/restaurant there. Loads of cool little huts with bamboo hammocks and cushions. After a quick recharge we headed back to base.
After taking in the falls and the insane volume of water we wandered down to the bar/restaurant there. Loads of cool little huts with bamboo hammocks and cushions. After a quick recharge we headed back to base.
Arrrghh the chain came off again, glad we were on the way back!
Arrrghh the chain came off again, glad we were on the way back!

The following morning we were off to Pakse! A flying visit to 4000 islands.

Goodbye to our hotel....
Goodbye to our hotel….
...off to the bus!
…off to the bus!

So a slightly longer drive back via Champasak- dropping off some miserable girls, picking up some jolly (if a tad overexcited) Frenchmen. On arrival in Pakse we rocked up and went looking for a place to stay, there was a place recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides and was on Maps.me but not on Trip Advisor strangely called Kaesme Guest House. Anyway we got the cheapest room there, a twin en-suite at 50,000 kip ($6/£3.90)! What a bargain! It was totally basic with one super soft bed and one super hard bed. The following morning we moved to another room.

Ok so this was the bathroom. We are used to the shower in the middle of the room- for that is the way here but the sink was a tap in the wall. Also it was open to outside and right by a river, burnt a mozzie coil all night and you should have seen the amount of dead bugs in the bathroom
Ok so this was the bathroom. We are used to the shower in the middle of the room- for that is the way here but the sink was a tap in the wall. Also it was open to outside and right by a river, burnt a mozzie coil all night and you should have seen the amount of dead bugs on the ledge above the toilet.

The main thing to do from Pakse is a 3 day (or more) tour of the Bolaven Plateau, Unfortunately we didn’t really have the time left, we had 3 days left in Laos before our visa ran out and we wanted to see Champasak and had booked a course so only had one free day. Maybe next time!

We rented a moped from Miss Noy (55,000 kip a day, $6.80/£4.30, it was a small discount from 60,000 kip day hire as we had it for 3 days). Our first full day there we went on a quick half day trip to Champasak and the Khmer style hindu temple Vat Phu. Vat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and hyped as the Laos Angkor Wat. I was itching to see more Angkor temples since we were not going to be able to see Preah Vihear from the Thai side due to the border being closed this was going to be our last one for a while. The road there was pretty boring but in good condition-basically new which is unusual for Laos. The plateau next to it had a few waterfalls flowing off it, which was pretty cool but not much else going on.

Vat Phu is all that remains of an ancient city that once dominated the area before it was superseded as a political centre when the capital was moved south to Angkor. Vat Phu remained as an important religious centre as the mountain behind it, Phu Kao, was identified as a natural linga associated with Shiva and the natural spring there flowing from the mountain through the rock was thought to be sacred.

On arrival at the site, we went to the museum onsite- which was random bits and pieces from the temple remains with some rather interesting bits we hadn't seen before. The it was a quick golf cart ride up to the temple entrance - impressive no?
On arrival at the site, we went to the museum onsite- which was random bits and pieces from the temple remains with some rather interesting bits we hadn’t seen before. It was a quick golf cart ride up to the temple entrance – impressive no?
The site map
The site map
Carving of Shiva and his wife Parvati riding Nandi over an entrance..
Carving of Shiva and his wife Parvati riding Nandi over an entrance..
Me in the ruins, I am wearing actual pants, not pj bottoms in case you are wondering (they cost $1.50).
Me in the ruins, I am wearing actual pants, not pj bottoms in case you are wondering (they cost $1.50).

P1090093 P1090096 P1090104 P1090106

These posts are Lingas (or penises) and represent Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is at top with I think Vishnu in the base and Brahma in the
These posts are Lingas (or penises) and represent Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is at top with I think Vishnu in the base and Brahma in the “shaft”. The temple is dedicated to Shiva.
Two Barays and a gorgeous view.
Two Barays and a gorgeous view.

P1090120

Elephant stone, we didn't see the crocodile one.
Elephant stone, we didn’t see the crocodile one.

P1090126

There were so many ruins everywhere, was quite sad to see really.
There were so many ruins everywhere, was quite sad to see really.

P1090131

Moss next to the sacred spring.
Moss next to the sacred spring.

P1090135

The sacred spring- there were two troughs that both allowed water to flow over a linga and yoni at the base of the trough.
The sacred spring- there were two troughs that both allowed water to flow over a linga and yoni at the base of the trough.

P1090139

P1090140 P1090142

There are some cool carvings in here apparently. We were shooed away by someone cleaning.
There are some cool carvings in here apparently. We were shooed away by someone cleaning.

Despite the pictures above and the rather impressive views, I found this place very saddening. It looked like it was once an amazing place and you could feel that there but it has been let go to rot and ruin and in places was badly vandalised. Also the site had a group of ladies cackling loudly and selling overpriced drinks (4 times the price for a bottle of water). There seemed to be no respect for it whatsoever. It was quite sad. Since it is the only example of it’s kind in the world it’s a shame to see it in such a state.

On our way back we got a puncture….literally 3 minutes from a puncture repair place. I got off and Gav drove on to it while I followed on foot. While I was walking a Laotian guy drove past slowly and was about to offer help but then spotted Gav and smiled and drove off. Once we were patched up we went off to grab a rather expensive coffee but got this view in return:

2015-08-08 14.55.41

Then it was back to Pakse. The following day we had planned to go see some of the many waterfalls close to Pakse on the Bolaven Plateau. So we headed off on the bike and were about 20 minutes from town when the rain started and the visability reduced dramatically. We decided the safest option was to head back to Pakse as it got steadily worse. So unfortunately that day was a washout.

Our last full day in Laos we had booked a coffee workshop with Mr Koffie in the Tad Fane resort near Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau. It was a 40 minute drive out and once again it started to rain (the joys of August and rainy season). We found the turn off and drove up the bumpy road to the resort, arriving into a semi-circle of shops and a ticket booth. It seemed a bit odd that we had to pay for entry even though we were doing a workshop but it was only a small amount of 13,000 kip ($1.60/£1.00)(5,000 each and 3,000 for the bike). So we found Mr Koffie, a dutch guy who was an interesting character. We started with a coffee, then another coffee- as it was still raining.

When we arrived, the waterfalls were a growl in the mist. Sitting there for while we slowly saw them revealed...
When we arrived, the waterfalls were a growl in the mist. Sitting there for while we slowly saw them revealed…

P1090157 P1090162

That steam there is one of the rivers that feed the Tad Fane falls
That steam there is one of the rivers that feed the Tad Fane falls

P1090178

They were very impressive
They were very impressive- 120 m drop

P1090186 P1090193

Once the rain stopped he took us for a tour…

Arabica tree
Arabica tree
Arabica beans
Arabica beans

P1090204 P1090208

Robusta trees
Robusta trees
Robusta beans
Robusta beans
Spotted under a Robusta Leaf- a lot bigger than they look here- covered in fine hairs that cause severe skin irritation apparently.
Spotted under a Robusta Leaf- a lot bigger than they look here- covered in fine hairs that cause severe skin irritation apparently.

P1090218

Then back to the bar for more coffee..

Beans and baby coffee plants :)
Beans and baby coffee plants 🙂

P1090239

One of the guys working there appeared with this...
One of the guys working there appeared with this…
..and the camera would not focus on it!
..and the camera would not focus on it!
Massive butterflies
Massive butterflies
Then I had one on me- he was huge and quite cute and furry!
Then I had one on me- he was huge and quite cute and furry!

2015-08-10 16.25.21

At this stage we  had a small lunch (we don’t normally have lunch and the prices were a bit steep) and had had far too much coffee and so it was time for a little bit of work, first we had a demo and then we were let loose with a hot wok and some beans.

Beans at the start...
Beans at the start…
Beans at the end...
Beans at the end…

P1090317

My first roast I had a load of folks show up..
My first roast I had a load of folks show up..
but then I got coffee.
but then I got coffee.
cooling the beans
cooling the beans

For some reason it hadn’t occurred to us that when you do a coffee workshop you might end up with this:

Two bags of beans. There was talk of getting a grinder, a cafetiere and all manner of things once we got to Bangkok. We decided that we would probably just see if there was any way we could use them or get  them ground.
Two bags of beans. There was talk of getting a grinder, a cafetiere and all manner of things once we got to Bangkok. We decided that we would probably just see if there was any way we could use them or get them ground.

So we had our beans and it was then time to leave and head back to Pakse. It rained the whole way back.

The following day we would leave for Thailand, Laos was amazing and we will be back…..

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Final Act: Central and south Laos: Capital, coffee and crappy bikes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s