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The Girl With Pink Hair

Not all that glitters is gold, not all who wander are lost

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Laos

Laos, Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai all in a day

After being accustom to living in a treehouse, we soon had to return back to reality. Trek back was a lot easier as we knew what to expect although the road back was a lot muddier with leeches like every where. Spent the entire day traveling, trek back to base camp, lorry tuk tuk ride to Ban Don Chai then to Houay Xay. In Laos they have the bigger version of the tuk tuk using a lorry instead of a motorcycle.

Squashed but happy =D

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Road to Houay Xay.20110902-125415.jpg

Villages along the way by the road.

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Got our boat tickets to cross over to Chiang Rai. It was so easy to miss both customs office and end up as an illegal immigrant.

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Bade Laos goodbye.

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Hello Chiang Rai, which is apparently too dangerous to stay for the night.

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Extremely dirty butts from the treehouse stay.

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Too good to be true. Spotted a bubble tea stall at on of the stops on the way to Chiang Mai, took a sip and that was it. It didn’t even taste of tea. Had super cheap and yummy lok lok though.

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Pretty.

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The kind of houses I used to draw as a kid.20110902-125603.jpg

 

Arrived in Chiang Mai at around 9pm and managed to locate our hostel/hotel with slight difficulty carrying our heavy backpacks. Wandered around a bit at the night market, ate MCD after 11 long days without fast food, without meet for 3 days, before calling it a night. Decided to meet at 12pm the next day as we all thought we deserved a good night sleep. As it turned out, we were so used to waking when the sun was up that by 8am, all of us were up.

Meng and Long decided to ride around while Tam and I got a cheap manicure and pedicure.20110902-125612.jpg

 

There really wasn’t much to do in Chiang Mai as no research was done and we wanted to be well rested before returning to Singapore. Spent some time in one of the many second hand bookshops laughing at silly book titles and walking around aimlessly.

Random.

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And this marks the end of my very first backpacking trip. Truly awesome. =D

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Day XX, The Gibbon Experience

Up bright and early the next morning. The spoilt kids brushed their teeth using mineral water while I decided to be garang and use the tiny stream of yellowish water coming from the tap. Not much of a difference since the utensils we used were washed using the same water. Forgot to mention the toilets there, since we arrived there wasn’t a single time we could use the toilets without any bees/wasps buzzing around us. Then again, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Owner made us breakfast, an omelette each, using at least 5 eggs each. Wth.

Vandalized legs.

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Took what we needed and off we went on the back of a lorry, across the river and on our way to the base camp of the Gibbon Experience.

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Trekked for what seemed like forever, supposedly 2 hours as stated on the internet but it took us longer, I think. Puked from the high altitude and decided to swear off eggs for awhile. Like 2 days.

Went past the honeymoon suite while trekking. Not sure why its called the honeymoon suite but we made some noise and said hi from below.

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Now here’s the cool part, not the gibbons. Speaking of which, we saw none during our 3 days 2 night stay, not that any of us were actually looking our for them actually. Okay, the cool part, zip lining! It was so tiring trekking that I didn’t bother with any photos so lets make do.

We were all given a harness with the zip lining device attached. The device works pretty much like a carabiner with the rolling thing to lock it except that the top of the carabiner came with rollers which we would place on the cables. And on top of the rollers there was a part of a bicycle tire which acted like a brake. Gloves required as the rubber would heat up from the friction and also to prevent using your flesh as the brake. It’s really cool how simple the device is.

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And so we trekked, zip lined, trekked some more, zip lined more till we finally reached our treehouse. Treehouse 6 if I’m not wrong. Now, the next cool part, for most of the zip lines we usually wouldn’t be able to reach the platform due to our lack of weight and had to pull ourselves towards the platform, so for our final zip line to our treehouse, the guide warned us to brake when this guy from the treehouse told us too, but being worn out from pulling ourselves, we decided not to heed that guy’s advice and all of us ended up banging into the trunk of the tree. Imagine the scene from any cartoon, guy(or tom from tom and jerry) bangs against tree, face flattens and he slides down the tree. Okay we didn’t slide down the tree but that scene kept replying in my mind. And I guess we weren’t the first to not listen to instructions so they actually lined the trunk with cushions, helped a little to lessen the impact.

View from the treehouse. Amazing. Its like they choose the tallest and strongest tree, then simply built a treehouse on it.20110829-125839.jpg

The shower area. Comes with a proper shower.

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Pee area. No flush, everything went straight down. For a treehouse, the bathroom was pretty amazing.

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Where we dumped our harnesses and bags. Didn’t take photos of how we slept, basically they provided us with a mattress each, and this huge piece of cloth to build kinda like a tent over the mattress to keep insects out.

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Had lunch with awesome chocolate coffee and off we went on our own to zip line. After all, the whole point of the stay, for us, was to zip line.

Trekking.

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Zip lining. Fashion statement of the year, tee with sleeping pants, knee high black socks with red hearts and pink crocs. Got leeches what. Jumped off the platform and off we went.

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Returned to the treehouse as the sun started to set, dinner brought by the guides and tree bark wine around a mosquito coil. And my first time trying a certain grass. =P

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Woke up the next morning to this. *Sings see a jungle when its wet with rain. Super pretty but wasn’t good news. The entire jungle was muddy and infested with disgusting leeches. Had to stop every few steps we took to flick the leeches off. By the way, insect repellant works better than fire. Just spray insect repellant at the disgusting things and they’ll fall off.

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Had to trek to another treehouse which we were gonna stay for the second night, wasn’t as good as the first but zip lining was equally good.

Zip lining from our 2nd treehouse. Treehouse 3?

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Had to remember which path to take while zip lining on our own.

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The rest of the day was spent trekking (to a waterfall we didn’t swim in for fear of leeches) and zip lining as much as we  could, killing leeches and shouting random stuff as we zip lined. Hurhur. To end off, here Long’s foot bloodied from the leeches.20110829-010031.jpg

I actually felt sad when we were leaving, counting down the number of zip lines we had left. Though tiring, it was truly magical. It had always been a childhood dream to stay in a treehouse, used to put chairs together and pretend that it was a treehouse with my nephews. Never actually thought that I would one day, get to stay in a treehouse in the jungle. An actual treehouse in an actual jungle. Yes it was dirty and there were insects all around which was expected since we’re in their territory, but somehow it just doesn’t seem that bad when I was there. Got used to showering and peeing with bees/wasps buzzing around me. When a huge beetle fell on my head one night, I actually just tapped Tam and asked her to flick it off for me. Much to her amazement and mine actually, I didn’t scream like how I thought I would.

To me, this stay wins any luxurious hotel stay hands down. :)

Day XX, Laos, Ban Don Chai – FAV

Where we took a leap of faith having found not a single photo of the place on the Internet. Turned out to be an awesome experience. One that could not have been planned.

Local bus ride to Ban Don Chai, the kind where they dump your bags at the top of the mini bus. We arrived early but still didn’t manage to get seats for all.

The plastic seat in the centre which you can read all about on the internet.

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Long and Tam amazed at how I slept on with my head hanging out. Somehow I sleep really well on bus rides :P

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Was seated next to this local lady who kept tapping my arm then smiling at me. After like 5 times, she finally said hi and to my amazement she spoke English. Perhaps she was trying to figure out if I speak English. Chatted a bit, she’s an English teacher, teaching at Luang Namtha and was going somewhere to visit her sister. Didn’t chat much cause I suck at small talk =X

Checked into the only house in the “village” with it’s own power generator. Which they used for lights for about an our, 7 – 8pm for dinner and we’re back to being in darkness.

Our really simple room. Best sleep ever. Maybe cause it was like completely dark, unlike in Singapore where you hardly get to sleep in complete darkness.

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Where we watched the thunderstorm in complete darkness later on in the night. It was really the best experience ever. Almost exactly like the thunderstorm stage in PVZ, where the lightning struck every few seconds, lighting up the entire area. Ultimate coolness. Sat there in the dark, gave up on candles as the wind was too strong, counting fireflies and singing super old KTV songs, national day songs, nursery rhymes and whatever songs that came to mind. Reminded me of Ophir when the 6 of us squeezed in a tiny tent singing random songs at night. =D

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The view.

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Explored the place a bit. Chased some ducks.

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Ducks crossing the road. Which is what they do all day. Perhaps suicidal? One succeeded but there was no duck meat at dinner.

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Tic tac toe using my charcoal pills

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Being weighed like a piece of meat with RA vcds displayed behind me.20110826-093323.jpg

Village across the road which disappeared completely into the dark.

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Paddy fields and the long and winding road.

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Kids returning home from school.

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Was hanging around the only shop that was open, which also belonged the owner of the “guesthouse” when the female owner invited us to a game of Petang using a limited number of English words.

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Game ended as the sun started to set and we joined a couple of the locals who went to fish for dinner.

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Tam giving fishing a shot.

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Made quacking noises together with the kids as we tried to approach the ducks. Apparently it works.

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Sunset through my sunnies.

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Pro-ness. Guy crossing the river on a bike based on his memory of  a rocky path slightly below the water.20110826-093740.jpg

Superhero poses by the sunset.

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The coolest thing about the meals there is that we didn’t get a choice of food, instead, we would inform them that we would like dinner and ate whatever that was served.

While it doesn’t sound that exciting, it was truly a simple but awesome experience for us, being able to interact with the locals, observe their culture and watch a thunderstorm in the mountains. At this point, we were getting very used to sleeping when the sky turns dark, in complete darkness hugging a torch and waking up when the sun is up.

Really glad that we made the choice to stop over at Ban Don Chai on our way to the Gibbon Experience instead of the safer choice at Houay Xai, which we did stop by for about an hour, to purchase boat tickets to Chiang Rai. More on that next.

Just read a post by this couple who went for the Gibbon Experience in 2006, where apparently the treehouses did not have any bathroom facilities. I must say I’m quite glad I went this year. =P

Sightseeing in Luang Prabang and our 11 hour bus ride to Luang Namtha

Spent the entire day sight seeing, as recommended on the internet, river cruise down Mekong river, Pak Ou cave and Kuangsi waterfall. One of our most boring days in Laos. The best experiences we had came from the unknown rather than these commercialized places.

Luang Prabang library.

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Super boring boat ride to Pak Ou Caves. Totally felt cheated upon reaching the caves if you can call it a cave.

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A few of the many Buddha sculptures in the cave. Learnt that the gestures of the Buddha represented different “instructions”. With the main three being..

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Lunch in town before our trip to Kuang Si Waterfalls.

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Stopped by a community village which was totally commercialized as well. Kids asked for “photo money” after this photo was taken.

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Happily rolling on the grass =)

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Talking to her plants to quicken their growth =P

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I don’t exactly get why Luang Prabang is one of the must go places in Laos. It’s highlight, monks in orange robes? Participating in the giving of alms? Read from the Internet that the temple wanted to abolish the practice of receiving alms due to an increase in food poisoning but was stopped by the government as this is one of the main tourist attractions.

11 hour bus ride to Luang Namtha was an eye opener and another experience altogether. Hurhur.

Makeshift dustbin using Tam’s toes.

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Her classic pose. Hurhur.

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Stopped to pee, in the middle of nowhere, somewhere among the bushes. Can’t recall when was the last time I did that :X

Along the way, the driver picked up some locals, charging them only 10 000 kips. We couldn’t really figure out the system, like how did the driver know when or where to stop and did those people just wait outside their houses and just flag down any van they saw?

Anyway, bus picked up local guy, a while later, picked up local girl, both didn’t even smile at each other. Girl sat on the pull down chair and fell asleep in an uncomfortable position. After a while, she approached guy to sit beside him, he agreed and placed his hand on her thigh. After a while, on her shoulder and the girl was snuggling against him. At this point all of us were like watching them. After which I fell asleep and missed out seeing the guy placing his hand on her boobs. Wth. Anyway we were pretty surprised as we always had the impression that the Lao people were pretty conservative. Then again, along the way we did see a lot of naked kids and boobs of the mothers breastfeeding by the road. They just sat facing the roads openly breastfeeding, seeing the vehicles go by.

Finally found bengbeng during our lunch stop and got a box for our treehouse stay :D Lunch with the locals where it took us 3 tries to get our noodles without vegetables.

There were lesser foreigners as we travelled along, less commercialized places and more to observe.

And 11 hours later, Luang Namtha, Zuela guesthouse.

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Day 5 in Laos

Had an amazing dinner by the river watching the sky turn dark as the weather got really cold.

Took the overnight bus to Luang Prabang, van actually. It was really exciting as the van went up, down and around mountains in complete darkness. There were lone stalls selling fruits in the darkness under a single bulb near villages and the drivers would occasionally stop to buy watermelons or just chat with them. Stopped at a deserted petrol kiosk to pee and while we were standing outside the van enjoying the cold weather, lightning struck really close to us and the place literally lit up in a split second causing Meng and I to squat down before running back to the van in the same second. Tam and Long were like WTF. Hahahahahaha. Halfway through the driver suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, and in complete darkness, switched off the headlights and engine and took a nap. Kinda freaked me out a bit since I’m not exactly a fan of darkness, GG got me through though. Hurhur.

Day 5 in Laos, Luang Prabang, 18 April 2011.

Reached our guesthouse at like 4 or 5am and the people were nice enough to let us have a room to rest till the rooms we paid for was ready. Got traumatized by the lizard struggling in the toilet bowl when I flushed after I peed. Lesson number 2, always check the toilet bowl before use. Wth.

Thongbay Guesthouse. Best room service. =D

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Went out quietly at dawn to take photos of the sunrise, no such luck. Went back to squeeze on the bed that four of us shared and waited for the rest to wake up.

GF oozing her usual coolness in extreme heat. Hahahaha.

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Wandering the streets.

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Temple on streets. Where people were queuing to go up a platform to pour water down a pipe where the water is being poured on a statue right in the middle

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More birds, more luck. Wanted to free one for smelly, symbolic action, so Long did it on my behalf.

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Climbed a crazy amount of steps to reach the top.

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Note the tiny drawing of an angel on the lower left hand corner above the 3 roofs. Hurhur.

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Had “tea” by the Mekong River, a supposedly super relaxing experience. Totally lost my appetite at the first dish, papaya salad, which caused all of us to be traumatized by its “long gao” taste. Seeing the photo brings back horrible memories! *Puke* Though Tam loves the maggi sauce she and Meng are smiling at in the photo. Hahahaha.

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The backpackers’ room. Clothes hanging to dry on the bed posts.

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Awesome room service to make up for the horrible food by the river.20110802-094830.jpg

Ordering breakfast for the next day by just writing down your order and the time you want it to be served by your room number. =D

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Day 6 in Laos, Luang Prabang, 19 April 2011.

Woke up early next morning to view the completely commercialized daily highlight of Laos.20110802-095035.jpg

Day 3 and 4 in Laos

Day 3, Laos, Vientiane – Vang Viang, 16 April 2011.

The back of our hotel which is also the road we had to take to return our bikes. Super pro shot with a flying bird in action =P

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Kinda interesting how different the front street and the back street is.

By the way Lao coffee sucks. And so Tam and Meng went to return the bikes (cause I was being ah gua, didn’t wanna ride anymore) while Long and I went out in search of bus tickets to Vang Vieng, I like how this trip was planned, in the sense that besides knowing which cities we were going, our route and the days to be spent in each city, nothing else was planned. Almost couldn’t get bus tickets as most shops weren’t open for the New Year and the few that were open said that the bus heading to Vang Vieng was full. Got some grilled vegetarian snacks from the street stalls outside the temples along the way which was really good! No photos, apparently I’m not really a photo person, especially not one who take photos of food =X

No surprise when the bus came and it was overbooked. Luckily, with much experience of squeezing up buses and being at the front of queues, all four of us managed to get seats. More than half the people waiting with us had to wait for the next bus, whatever time it was going to arrive. Lesson learnt, its good to be kiasu, especially in Laos. The bus turned out better than expected and so it was a relatively pleasant 4 hour bus ride.

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Arrived in Vang Vieng, one of my favorite places to be in Laos, somewhere in the late afternoon, checked into this beautiful place, where it looks exactly like in the photos on its website. I could really live there for awhile doing nothing =D

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Headed out, Long got his wounds cleaned and bandaged at a local hospital, A&E, my first time in a hospital overseas! There was another aunty in the emergency room who kept moaning, scary; a Korean couple came in after wearing sports jersey with the female holding her elbow in pain. We spent some time hearing their cries and trying to guess their relationship, why they were in Laos and the cause of the injury.

The con of not planning is that, we really don’t know the names of the places we’ve been cause its mostly random wandering and exploring.

Some bridge to get to the quieter side. Nam Song Bridge? Or is it Nam Song River?

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How not to feel relax looking at the river flow by quietly.20110801-074645.jpg

Sunset as we wandered around.

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Ended the night with a friendly competition of mosquitoes killing, a battle with the red ants and quiet reading =D

Day 4 in Laos, Vang Vieng, 17 April 2011.

Woke up the next morning in shock as it was bright outside and we had arranged to take the hot air balloon at sunrise. Checked my phone and it was only 5.30am. Totally felt cheated of my sunrise, anyway, woke the rest up with exclamations of being cheated of my sunrise and off we went for one of the highlights of our trip =D

The hot air balloon being set up.

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My 2 fav shots!

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Some ugly shots, so not a morning person =P

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Arranged to visit some lagoon and some cave. Caving was pretty fun as we had to like really climb and it was completely dark in the cave. If only we brought candles and some food up for lunch =P Spent some time playing with our shadows but was unable to capture successfully on our cameras.

Meng riding his scrambler and his happy pillion.

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Doesn’t exactly sound right if I said I choose the comfort of a tuk tuk since it wasn’t comfortable at all. Not exactly safer as well but at least instead of being stressed out over riding, I got to fight with Long over an empty water bottle in the tuk tuk. Wth. Hahaha.

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Some shots in the cave.

Spent the rest of the afternoon doing what everyone has to do in Vang Vieng, watch Friends in a cafe while the guys continued to explore on the scrambler and get really dirty.

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That night, was yet, another experience of my life. =D

Laos. Like finally.

I don’t know when I changed, the day when traveling stopped being about shopping and buying cheap stuff. Instead I realized the joy in traveling came from exploring the unknown, wandering the streets and trying to experience the culture of the place.

Last year we started planning for a short trip to Cambodia, tam, long, meng and I. While researching we came across the gibbon experience in Laos. Without reference to the map, we happily thought perhaps we could go for that before meeting tam after her volunteering stint in Cambodia. As we continued our research, our short Cambodia trip became a 6 day Cambodia, 3 days Laos trip, then a 6 days Laos plus 3 days Cambodia and after a few variations, we decided on an 11 days Laos plus 2 days in Chiangmai with the highlight of our trip being the gibbon experience, an expensive 3 days 2 night stay in the forest, or is it jungle where we get to zipline across the jungle with the ziplines as high as a particular pyramid in Egypt. A decision none of us regretted despite it being a 33 hours journey from our starting point in Laos, vientiane.

So here goes, day one in Laos, Vientiane, 14 April 2011.

Flew by Air Asia and did a transit in KL.

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Arrived at the airport in Laos infested with mosquitoes only to realized that meng’s luggage never left KL. The case of the missing luggage. Which also brings about a whole new experience for meng and a lesson for all of us whom are now paranoid about losing our luggages. It’s good to always have a change of clothes in your hand carry together with stuff you’ll die without, like iPhone charger! =P

After spending a lot of time at the airport due to the lost baggage, we made our way to the guesthouse we were staying at. Really pretty and cheap place! Though the air con in the guys’ room weren’t working and so they bunked in with us together with their sleeping bags on the first night.

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Checked in and left to search for dinner, Laos food is really unlike Thai food. Managed to get to a night market which really wasn’t much of a night market. One thing I really liked about Laos is the lack of nightlife. There’s really nothing much to do at night. We went to bed when the sky turned dark and woke up when the sun came out. It honestly felt damn right, and good. Can’t really explain why it felt right, but it did.

Day 2, Laos, Vientiane, 15 April 2011.

Honestly don’t know if we had a good or bad experience at Vientiane. The day we touched down happened to be the start of their water festival. Was quite a sight to behold, at around 5 plus in the evening, the streets started to fill with tons of people armed with huge tubs of water, pails, water bombs, water hoses and water guns. Trucks and lorries ferrying people armed with the same drove through the streets and everyone was soaked. Well that scene was after we rode to the Buddha Park 25km from Vientiane on dirt roads with uncountable portholes whilst being attacked by the locals with water where Long and I fell thrice.

Woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel and off we went in search for bike rentals.

Interesting how they used a real tree trunk as support for the building.

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Got our bikes. Coffee stop on our way.

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The king and his subjects. Royalty treatment for his wounds for just 12 000kips. Around 2SGD. After his third fall which was also the most serious, thankfully he only suffered external injuries.

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When Tam and I walked towards him he was excitedly asking us to take a shot of him -.-

The Buddha Park, which was really crowded as it was the Lao new year.

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I think we were all too tired from the ride to truly walk enjoy the park, plus it was crazily hot. Rested for awhile and we made our way back, where I fell again and with both side mirrors gone, decided not to continue riding =X Went back to clean up and slack while Meng and Tam continued riding around. Thats when Long and I sat at the lobby, well protected by glass windows, watching the water attacks from inside, feeling hungry. Was contemplating if we should head out to get food then decided against it cause it would have been impossible to stay dry just venturing out 100m from the hotel.

We did want to go out and join in the fun, immerse ourselves in their culture, but with injuries.. actually I was just too lazy to shower again. =P

Thats the end of the first 2 days, which I didn’t exactly enjoy. Perhaps due to the stressful ride, the weather or that literally all the shops were closed for new year?

 

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