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Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Monks and Temples!


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Kourtney flew from Hanoi back to Singapore for her Final exams on Saturday, but I still had a week of traveling before I had to be back at school. My next stop: Luang Prabang, Laos.

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This small town in Northern Loas is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with old french villas and bakerys lining the street, and more temples and wats than you can imagine. Monks wander the streets everywhere you look, and one even stopped to talk to me. He asked where I was from and where I had been. He has never left Laos, but is trying to learn English so one day he can travel too. He was only 17 years old but had lived as a Monk since he was just 13. The town center is surrounded by water, by both the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, and in the middle there is a small mountain with a temple at the top that you can climb to.

I had read in all my guide books that Luang Prabang is famous for Monks, and you can walk outside and see them every single day. When I arrived at my guesthouse and asked about it, the owner told me I would see more Monks than I could image if I just walked down the road, and he wasn't kidding.

At dawn each morning the Monks begin their daily walk to collect alms on the way to the temples. I got up my first morning at 6am and walked down the street expecting to see a few Monks walking by. There were hundreds of them in every direction walking in straight lines collecting alms from hundreds of people lining the roads.

Since the sun was up and I had already watched the monks for about an hour, I decided to walk along the Mekong River. Early in the morning the mountains are still covered in with low clouds and the river has fog along it, but later in the day you could see the mighty Mekong flowing by. From there I opened my guide book and set out in exploration of the town, hoping to see everything I had read about in my books.

My first stop was Wat Xieng Thong, a beautiful gold temple located at the end of the peninsula by the two rivers. Next I walked along the road and found a place for breakfast: eggs, a french baguette and orange juice! I was so happy for the french influence in this town, you cannot find a breakfast like that in Singapore for so cheep. The rest of the morning was spend at various temples and the national museum.

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After lunch I climbed to the top of Phu Si (the mountain with the temple on top in the middle of the town). There is a beautiful view across the Mekong into the hills of Laos, and the temple at the top is fun because the monks that live there were walking around talking to visitors.

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I saw a sign for day trips while walking through town in the morning, and decided to check out the options. I found one that sounded like a lot of fun a signed up. So, in the afternoon I took a tuk tuk to the Kaung Si waterfalls with a few other girls who were traveling through the area. One girl was from New Jersey, but had just finished a two year Peace Corps assignment in Micronesia, and the other was from Sydney just touring through.

Once we got to the falls and saw how beautiful they were we decided to climb to the top of them! There was a side trail that literally was climbing up straight up, I was in a long skirt and flip flops and could barely make it up this path. But the view from the top was amazing, well worth the effort (And of course I knew my parents would love the pictures of me sitting on the little wooden fence at the top!).

As I did the first night there, I spend my second night at the night market. This is an endless street of stalls set up at sunset, where you can find anything from shirts and jewelry to wood carvings. Of course I bought more than I could carry, including hand made journals that I plan to turn into mini-scrapbooks from each of my little trips during this semester.

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Posted by Cassi 16:42 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laos Bus Ride

Landslides and sharp curves..


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Although I have very few pictures to accompany this post, I want to describe the bus ride I had from Luang Prabang to my next stop, Vang Vieng. Laos as you may know is a very poor country, with not-so-well maintained roads. There is one main road that goes through the mountains, on the smallest road I have ever seen, along sharp curves overlooking cliffs. There were times the bus was straddling a drop-off as it inched around a corner (I knew my dad would have died if he was on this bus). And at one point we even got stopped because there was a landslide that took out part of the road! We had to wait for it to be cleared, and then inch by in the open area.

Warning to those taking a bus in Laos.. be ready for an adventure!

Posted by Cassi 02:29 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng

What a town...


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There are very few words to describe Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng has become a backpacker-oriented town, with the main street featuring guest houses, bars, restaurants, internet cafes, tour agencies and western tourists. Attractions of the town include inner tubing and kayaking on the Nam Song River, which is lined with bars selling Beer Lao and Lao-Lao, and equipped with rope swings, zip lines, and large decks for socializing.

I was told Vang Vieng was like a 3rd world amusement park, and that is a fairly accurate description. Everyday, all the backpackers head down to the river with tubes, you get numbers drawn on your arms to identify you (you have to sign like 50 forms to get a tube, and they need passport numbers and ID in case anything goes wrong), and then you float. However relaxing that might sound, the second you step into the river people start throwing ropes at you, once you grab onto one, they pull you into their bar and give out a free drink. Sounds awesome right?

It would be really fun if there wasn't bars every 25 yards down the river. You can't make it 2 minutes on your tube before getting pulled into the next bar. And sure enough, each bar has zip lines or swings or trapeze things or giant decks to jump from 3 stories up. Needless to say, many people die in this river each year, as mixing all the bars with the really sketchy "thrill rides" doesn't end well.

But with that being said, Vang Vieng is a TON of fun. I met up with the two Australian guys (from Sapa and HaLong Bay) and the 3 Canadian girls (also from Sapa), and we had a blast in this town.

They ask you return the tubes by 5, so that the river clears out before dark, and then the party transfers back into town. All the bars on the river also have sister bars in town, and during the day you collect bracelets that are all different colors from each bar you visit. At night they give discount drinks to anyone with the right color bracelet - quite the business model!

This town, unlike Luang Prabang which has a 10:30 curfew by the way, has zero temples or monks. It is purely based on the business brought in from the tubing-backpacking-20-year-olds who stop by on their way through Laos.

After two nights in this town I was ready to leave, I don't know how some people stay there for weeks and repeat this everyday! In the morning on Wednesday me and one of the Australian guys caught the bus heading to Vientiane for one last day in Laos.

Posted by Cassi 18:37 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane, Laos

Goodbye Laos


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I spent my last day in Vientiane with my Australian friend Leigh, wandering through town, walking along the river, visiting the night market and grabbing dinner after we got into the city. The night market in Vientiane wasn't as big as the one in Luang Prabang, so I wasn't temped to pick up more souvenirs - I had no more room!

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In the morning I decided to walk to the Patuxai, which is an Arc-de-Triomphe inspired monument in the middle of the city. This was about a mile walk from my hotel, passing morning markets that had sprung up overnight, and along the main road going into the city. Once at the monument, I was shocked at how large it was. Tourists were able to climb to the top, but I had to get back and meet Leight and there was a bit of a line.

I met up with Leigh after walking back into the city and we got some lunch before heading to the airport, our flights were at about the same time. The airport was the best part of my day. I was on the first ever flight from Laos to Singapore, which apparently was a HUGE deal. Somehow I was like the only non- Laos Airline Official on the entire flight. They had a camera crew, like 20 models holding signs, and flowers for everyone. I also got two free Laos Airline tshirts, food and drinks on the flight, and they had personal TV's so I got to watch Captain America on the way home. It was awesome.

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Posted by Cassi 18:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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