A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh and Battambang

14th February to 18th February 2014


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14th to 16th February:
We were sad to say goodbye to the 4,000 islands in Laos as we had a great time relaxing and could have easily spent several more days (or weeks!) there. We got our boat over to the main port and were then walked along like cattle to the ‘bus stop’ which was really just an office. The guy leading us all said that he would take our passports and asked us to do all the visa paperwork before getting on the bus. We and a few others said no we’d rather do the whole passport control ourselves, which he didn’t like but it did end up saving us a few bucks. Despite bad reviews online about this journey, the bus was actually quite nice particularly compared to the ones in Laos. When we reached the border we were charged to leave the country (they’ll try any trick!) which we had no choice but to pay and then they tried to get you to pay a ‘medical check’ before entering Cambodia. We had already heard it was a scam, so we just walked on pretending we didn’t understand what they were asking us!

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The way to the capital was scattered with lovely villages, dried rice fields and beautiful white cows grazing on huge bales of hay. We also saw a wedding at the petrol station, which clearly looked romantic with posh chairs and tables scattered around the pumps. If that is what takes their fancy, we still preferred our manor. Cambodia names their petrol station ‘lube station’, which gives the wedding a whole different meaning…We arrived into Phnom Penh around 8ish and were struck by the size of it. Having been over three weeks in Laos, a city of 1.7million people came as a bit of a shock. It was crazy, the roads were chaotic and it was big and smelly. But it was really exciting and had a great atmosphere. We braved crossing the busy roads (it’s a case of walk across and let the cars/bikes dodge around you – they don’t go too fast so it’s fine and just takes a bit of balls!) and then found a cheap hotel. Matt then had a try of the famous amok fish curry which was simply divine!

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The next day we were woken up at about 6ish to traditional music being played very loud in the street below. We tried to get back to sleep but it was too loud and going on for too long. So ethno Matt headed down to the street to have a look – turns out it was a three-yearly ceremony where people celebrate the death of loved ones. After a local noodle breakfast (which turned out to be slightly unfriendly on our bellies!), we negotiated with a young tuk tuk driver (who spoke great English) to do a tour of the main Khmer Rouge sites in Phnom Penh. We started in the genocide centre often known as ‘The Killing Fields’. This was where thousands of prisoners were taken to be killed and thrown into pits by the regime (between 1975 and 1978). The place is now essentially a peaceful orchard area with a lake and has a large memorial in the centre with the skulls and bones of the victims found in the soil. The whole museum is very well set up with an informative audio tour that reveals the shocking and traumatic truth of what went on in this place. During the regime 1.7 million were believed to have died and 8000 were killed at this place. After hearing how victims were hacked to death, we thought it could not get any worse, but then found the killing tree, against which babies were smashed. The whole story is too horrendous to write here, but it is somewhere that anyone who comes to Cambodia should visit. After the Killing Fields we headed onto Tal Sueng which used to be a school before it was turned into a prison during the Khmer Rouge. Once again it was a traumatic experience, seeing the photographs of all the victims and the torture they were subjected too. The gruesome history of the place was hit home when we entered the cell block where there were rows of brick and wooden cells with next-to-no space. It was quite a traumatic day. However, when we went out for dinner and drinks later that night and ate at the night market, it was amazing to see how Cambodia has rebuilt itself. Phnom Penh was practically emptied during the regime as the population was forced out to work in the fields. Now it is one of the biggest metropolises in Southeast Asia – an amazing transformation.

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16th to 18th February:
The next day we made our way to Battambang, which was recommended to us by a few travellers we have met. The bus experience was very good – there was a choice of different companies, proper tickets, seat numbers etc – completely different to Laos! We arrived into town and were bombarded by tuk tuk drivers. One guy (Tra Tra) offered to take us to a hotel we had eyed up in the Lonely Planet guide for free, even if we didn’t like it. The idea was that we would book a tour with him when staying in town. The thing is, he was really nice about it and not pushy – so we decided that if we did book a tour, we would go with him. Battambang itself is a nice old colonial town, with many well-preserved shophouses and buildings that remind you of the French presence here. It was a busy place, but small enough to be quite charming and chilled out. There were some very nice bars and restaurants, and some very chic boutique shops some of which reminded us of Bristol! We found another Lonely Planet suggestion called Café Eden which was a great place to unwind. At the hotel we met a inspirational (and maybe crazy) British couple who were cycling around the world for two years - and of course they were from Bristol!

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In the morning Matt went off to a cooking course for three hours, while Susanne stayed in bed as she wasn’t feeling well (probably those noodles in Phnom Penh!). The cooking course was great and fantastic value at only 10$. In the first hour Matt and the four other people went off to the local market to look around and buy some ingredients, our guide/chef stopping to explain all the weird and wonderful (and some not-so wonderful) foods to us. There is a whole new meaning to the term ‘fresh fish’ in Cambodian markets – many of the fish were still alive and people often bought them alive. We then went back to the restaurant to do the cooking. We did fish amok curry (steamed in a banana leaf), beef lok lak (which is like a stir fry) and spring rolls. We had to make all the pastes and spring roll fillings from scratch and the result was a very tasty lunch! Matt will try these out at one of his ‘dinner parties’ when we get back! The rest of the day was spent milling around the town and Susanne had an awesome banana flower salad for her lunch at a great place called Bamboo Train Café. In the evening, Matt went for the local river fish – but never again, he thinks he saw it move before it went into a wok of boiling hot oil and was served completely ‘whole’ – i.e. with nothing removed! Some street children begging for food were delighted that Matt was ‘unable’ to eat the whole fish.

Our final day in Battambang was spent doing a whole day trip with Tra Tra the tuk tuk driver around the famous sites of the province. The trip was a bargain at 20$ for the both of us which basically paid for our private tuk tuk and an English-speaking guide who stopped to explain everything and let us take photos. The first stop we stopped scarily on the middle of a busy roundabout, where a statue depicted the legendary founder of Battambang who lost his magic stick and apparently made the area fruitful. The next stop was the bamboo train which used to be a French railway but which was later used by locals using bamboo platforms on the tracks transporting local goods. It was a bit of a touristy scam, costing 10$ to be hurtled down the tracks and then to be bombarded by people selling you stuff at the end. But it was fun to have to ‘unpack’ the platform for oncoming traffic as there was only one track. We then went to the only winery in Cambodia and tried some of the red wine and brandy – it wasn’t very good quality at all (tasted a bit like the £3 bottles in Londis) but it was great to see the business having been set up by two people who essentially had nothing. On the way to our next stop we saw some fruit bats hanging in the trees which locals used to kill and eat, but which are now protected by the government for tourism. On the way to the next attraction, our driver took us down a very bumpy dirt track, that he explained Cambodian’s call it a free massage, while being rattled from side to side and up and down. When the dust started to blur our vision, the driver turned around and affectionately called the dust ‘Cambodian snow’. We then went to some beautiful and mysterious temple ruins (dating to pre-Angkor Wat) which required us to climb a load of very steep steps in the blistering heat – it was worth the climb though. Once back down the bottom Susanne kindly asked a seller if she could bathe her head in the ice box! After the temple, we were taken to the bottom of a mountain where there was a large temple complex at the top with a cave/gorge in the middle, and the whole area was home to some seriously moody monkeys who probably had rabies (so we stayed well away!). Half way up the mountain was a ‘killing cave’, another remnant of the Khmer Rouge where prisoners were killed and thrown through the cave. The evening was spent chilling at the bamboo café again and deciding our onward travel. Tomorrow we are heading to Siem Reap but we couldn’t decide whether to take the long boat or the bus. The boat journey has really mixed reviews, some people saying it is beautiful others saying it was crammed, no fun at all and really long (up to 12hours). It’s also quite expensive at 20$ a person. But in the end we made a decision at around half 10 at night to take the boat which means getting up at 6! Wait till the next blog to find out whether we made the right decision!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 05:49 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Four Thosuand Islands (Si Phan Don)

9th February to 13th February 2014


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We began our long, long journey to the south of Laos with a pick up journey to Tha Khaek. We woke up after 7 and just before 8 a pick up was hooting outside of our accommodation to pick people up so we rushed out and caught it. We shared the journey with a couple of pregnant goats as well as some locals! Once in Tha Khaek, we decided to brave the overnight local bus all the way down to the south of the country (the advertised time was about 16 hours). We waited around at the bus station for several hours, but stumbled across a nice little area just outside where we could chill for a bit. Our bus was due to leave at 5.30pm so we made our way to the terminal in good time. We saw many interesting buses rolling into the station – some were VIPs that could resemble buses in Britain, others were less desirable and rather antique. We hoped for a VIP bus or something in between, but then we saw a special calibre of bus rolling in, leaning around the corner rather quickly. Our mouths wide open at the state of the thing, a shock hit us as we realised that it was our bus. As it rumbled into its stop, it was already overfilled with people and luggage – along with the massive group of people who were supposed to get in. The bus looked like a throwback from the 1930s with dashing sash curtains. We were in horror when getting on the bus – the seats were falling apart, there was less leg room than a Ryan Air flight, one working fan and light, and gradually people were crammed on board so that there were people sitting in the aisles on plastics stools and others standing up. We were lucky to even get a seat!

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The bus journey was pretty horrendous – long, hot and full of people smoking at the back of the bus where we were sitting. Towards the end of the journey Susanne also realised that the front lights on the bus weren’t working properly! Eventually we made our way to the car ferry port which took us over to Don Khong island, the largest of the habitable islands in this area. When on the island, the driver didn’t drop us off where we wanted and took us 5kms to the other side of the island where we had to get a bus back to the port on the other side! Luckily they took pity on us and let us travel for free. When we did make it to the port the daily boat to the islands further south had already left so we had to charter a private boat with two other travellers. We specifically asked for Don Khon (the more chilled out island) but the boat took us to the top of Don Det (the crazy party island) over 4kms walk away. The two other travellers were happy to get out and stay on Don Det, but we had a stand off with the boat driver! He said he wouldn’t take us (even though we paid) and so we said we wouldn’t get off the boat. So we sat there for a bit and eventually he caved in and took us to where we wanted to go – persistence is key! Once we arrived after our arduous journey we were glad we had – the place was wonderful, right on the Mekong River surrounded by palm trees and smaller islands. Don Khon island is an interesting mix of tourism and local village life, with guesthouses interspersed with a local school and houses. It was a great place to relax for a few days.

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The next few days were spent relaxing on the island recovering from the hectic few days of travelling we had subjected ourselves to. Our lovely bungalow right on the riverfront had hammocks we could chill out in, there were some lovely restaurants with cushions laid out – it was all built for ultimate relaxing. There was also a resident cat at our place who took a liking to Susanne, much to her displeasure! We hired some cheap bikes (10,000kip = 76p) each day and headed around the island. There was one waterfall on the island that they charged you for, but the cheeky thing is they have set up a ticket booth a half-an-hour walk away from the actual waterfall and try to charge you just for walking past even if you don’t intend to go to the waterfall. The crazy thing is that there is also a ticket booth by the waterfall so it is a complete scam! We ended up visiting another free waterfall on the other side of the island that was beautiful and incredibly powerful. There was also a lovely beach there where we relaxed for a few hours and swam around in the river. On the first day we also went to the village at the bottom of the island and went dolphin spotting on a boat tour. This area of the Mekong is renowned for the extremely rare Irrawaddy dolphins and we were able to see them emerging out of the water right on the Cambodian border – it was special to see. Sadly only the Cambodian boats were able to get closer, the Laos boat men were very exact and did not drive into their waters, even though we were not able to see border controls anywhere. Nonetheless, Susanne spotted one bobbing with his head out of the water, which are a funny, bobbly round shape. So her heavy binoculars finally came in useful, which was rather special. Unfortunately they were too quick to get any photos – you’ll just have to believe that we saw them!

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Over the next couple of days we found another beach which topped everything else. It was probably one of the nicest beaches we have ever been to (sea or river) and we were sad to leave it. The sand was fine, soft, but insanely hot! The place was quite remote with only a handful of other tourists (and some buffalo!) scattered about and the skyline was dominated by hills in the background and some of the other islands. It was also a nice place to swim around, despite the rather strong current dragging us to Cambodia! We tried to swim across the river but couldn’t make it. The only other thing to report was the stunning restaurant we found – we say restaurant, it was more like an outdoor café with a few tables and chairs next to the river with one lady cooking everything by herself. We ended up eating there four times! The rice soup and spring rolls were to die for, and on the last night we had this absolutely amazing fish paste concoction steamed in a banana leaf – Matt thinks it may well have been one of the nicest things he has ever eaten! Sadly we have to leave this beautiful, relaxing haven for our next destination – Cambodia. We will miss our lovely Laos as we’ve had an amazing time here!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 22:19 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Kong Lo Cave

6th February to 8th February 2014


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In Luang Prabang we met a lady staying at our guest house who raved about Kong Lo cave in central Laos saying it was one of the best things she’d seen, so we were quite excited. The journey down was quite a struggle though! We started our journey from Vang Vieng in a minivan to Vientiane (the capital). The scenery in this part of the country wasn’t anywhere near as nice as up north, but at least the roads were in a good condition. Once we arrived in the capital (about 3 ½ hours), we headed straight to the central bus station to catch a super-cheap local bus to the southern bus station. When we arrived there was a bus going down to Pakse (a city in the south of Laos) which would drop us off at Tha Khaek, a town not too far from the cave. So we decided to head off straight away and not stay in the big, smelly capital. On the way we realised that we could also get off at another village (Vieng Kham) that was closer to the cave – however, trying to communicate this to our driver was a bit of a struggle. The bus stopped in a town for a food stop which we thought could be Vieng Kham but it was a case of lost in translation and we couldn’t work out whether it was the right village. Turns out it was the right place, but we ended up heading another two hours in the opposite direction and staying at a not-so-bad motel near the bus station. We met a couple of nice guys though who were aiming to do a motorbike tour, so it wasn’t all bad!

The next day we started our journey to the cave, two hours back the way we came to Vieng Kham, then a tuk tuk to a village called Ban Na Hin where we had to wait around for two hours for the text tuk tuk to leave that finally took us to Ban Kong Lo village a kilometre from the cave. Overall, it was a bit of a mission! However, the village we arrived in was really nice. We were dropped off at one of several guesthouses dotted along the main road, behind which there was a traditional village where there were a number of homestays. The village was next to the river and surrounded by tobacco plantations and mountains in the background – it really was a very pretty place. We then stumbled across a nice rustic restaurant (funnily named ‘Enjoy Boy’!) on the river where we had a phenomenal green curry and some fantastic chips which beat any we can get back home (we felt a bit guilty eating western food, but they were so good!). We also got talking to a German guy (Max) who writes for a German travel guide and it was interesting to get inside information on travelling around Laos from someone who obviously has a lot of experience. We were trying to work out another way to get back to Tha Khaek going through the cave and then through some other villages, with Max communicating with the restaurant owner – but it all got a little complicated so we decided not to do that journey. Unfortunately, Susanne’s started to get more poorly that night with a really tight chest and real problems swallowing any food or drink. We think it was some sort of inflammation of her oesophagus perhaps due to the doxycycline malaria tablets, so she had quite a bad night’s sleep again (along with some noisy dogs).

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The next morning Susanne was still feeling quite rough and struggled to get some noodles down her very sore chest. However, she soldiered on and decided to do the cave to try to take her mind of things – we were glad she did. We arrived at the cave area and were taken by our guides to the cave mouth. It is a 7.5km long cave through which runs a river, and the whole tourist attraction involves taking a long-tailed boat through the cave in the pitch darkness (of course the guides have very powerful torches to navigate the way). It was simply stunning! As your eyes adjusted to the darkness, with the torches you could see the cathedral-sized caverns looming over head with strange rock formations on the ceilings. The river had small rapids running through it which the guides had to push the boat up. We were also dropped off at a stalagmite and stalactite ‘forest’ which was lit up and looked like something out of a sci-fi movie – it really was incredible. After around 30/40mins of navigating through the cave, we saw the light emerging at the end and followed the river through some forest with rock formations on either side which was also beautiful. After a bite to eat and a drink at the village, we took the return journey back through the cave. The whole thing was a fantastic experience and highly recommended for anyone thinking of coming to Laos! It was really worth the difficult journey to get here. After the cave, we sat near the cave mouth on a sand beach and swam in the beautiful water. However, we were harassed by three 6 to 7 year-old Laos children – they were throwing sand, shouting at us, trying to look down Susanne’s top, they grabbed Matt’s crotch, made sexual movements, flashed their bums and so on. It was quite bizarre and really horrible. In the end Matt shouted at them and chased them away by running after them, which frightened them quite a lot – but it worked! After that quite horrible experience, we headed back to the village and went for dinner at Enjoy Boy again. We recommended it to some other travellers we met who also came along, which unfortunately meant that the food took a lifetime to get there, but Matt served the drinks to help the poor guy alone in the kitchen – it was still great though. Tomorrow we begin our long journey to the southern tip of Laos and the four thousand islands for some hammock dwelling!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 18:37 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

31st January to 5th February 2014


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31st to 2nd February:
Our journey to Luang Prabang was again through beautifully stunning scenery, even though we were crammed into a tiny minivan. When we arrived into the city we started the hunt for accommodation which turned out to be a bit of a mission. We happened to arrive during Chinese New Year and so the place was full of Chinese people on holiday along with the usual number of tourists. We looked for a place to stay for over an hour but everywhere was either booked or too expensive (there are a lot of fancy boutique hotels in Luang Prabang). While looking around, Matt managed to bump into the Swiss guy we have seen in every place we have been to since Luang Nam Tha! Eventually we found a pretty nice place although it was a bit more than we wanted to pay (at least there was free coffee!). In the evening we took a nice stroll around the main town which is a peninsula surrounded by two rivers. It is a beautiful place full of temples, markets, small little alleys, riverfront restaurants and nice bars dotted all around. Clearly the whole place is tailored to tourists, particularly with the addition of a massive but rather nice night market selling all manner of tourist souvenirs. However, the city is nothing less than charming and it was great just to wander around and take it all in. We had dinner at one of the riverfront restaurants during which the power in the entire town went out for about ten minutes – but we were happy with our romantic candle! We ended up in a very cool bar (Lao Lao Garden) which was like a lit-up Christmas jungle complete with bonfire pits.

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The next two days were spent milling around the town seeing a couple of the sights and enjoying the atmosphere of the place. One place we visited was a small but very high hill in the middle of the town with a tiny temple on top. We headed up there at sunset to take in the beautiful view. It was an incredible view across the river and surrounding mountains at sunset but we had to share it with half of Luang Prabang’s tourists – the little hilltop was utterly crammed. We also treated ourselves to a traditional Lao massage with oil which was very relaxing even though Matt felt his British prude-ness was violated! Once relaxed we went for dinner with Willie and Laura who we had managed to get hold of. This time we went for a Laotian BBQ which involved a big bowl shaped pan placed over hot coals where you could grill stuff on a raised bit in the middle and poach stuff in stock around the side – it was lovely. The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to see the traditional alms giving where monks roam the streets and followers give rice to them. While it was great to see this traditional practice still going on, it has unfortunately turned into a bit of a paparazzi tourist attraction with people literally swarming the monks to get photos – it’s quite sad and disrespectful. We found a quiet spot down a side street, where the monks completed their round with chanting (Matt was in ‘ethno’ heaven). On the final evening we went to a traditional Laos dance performance at a little restaurant. It was supposed to be 45minutes long but most of that time involved the dancers going off to get changed – we saw four dances of about 3minutes each! The musicians also decided to throw in some clear Laotian favourites such as Old MacDonald, Frere Jacques – the wonderful mix of tourism and music (not so much ethno heaven, should have spent more money and gone to the traditional theatre, but Susanne’s untrained ears may have fallen off)! After the show we had a 10,000 kip (76p) buffet (one plate as much as you want!). Susanne took the challenge to pile on as much as she could for the both of us. Everybody who knows Susanne well, she loves picky market food (heaven for her!). We then met up with Willie and Laura for the last time before we headed off the next day. They are due to stay in Luang Prabang at least a week so it was farewell as we are on to Vang Vieng for the tubing phenomenon!

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3rd February to 5th February:
The next day we made our way to Vang Vieng which was a long six hour journey from Luang Prabang through winding roads over the mountains. Once again the scenery was spectacular – just travelling around Laos is one of the best parts of the country as it really is stunning. We arrived into town and went searching for accommodation, but the first impressions of the place weren’t great. Vang Vieng is renowned for being very touristy for all the wrong reasons – basically an example of Laos trying too hard to please foreigners. We walked past the tubing hirers (the town is famous for tubing down the river) watching a load of tourists arguing aggressively with the workers over deposits. It wasn’t a great first impression. However, the scenery around is stunning as the town is situated on the river with large karsts looming in the background. We did find a very cute place to chill out and have dinner. But Susanne had a very bad night, waking up with serious belly problems – probably a case of food poisoning (the cheap market may not have been a good option after all). So the next day was spent with Susanne trying to recover. To cheer her up in the evening we went for a pizza, which was lovely – it was the first time Matt had eaten cheese in 5 weeks!

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On the final day in Vang Vieng Susanne woke up still feeling slightly dodgy, but well enough to take on the tubing. After breakfast we took a tuk tuk 4 kms north of town and were dropped off with our tube tyres and left to gradually drift down the river. Until recently, this whole tourist attraction was known for producing a large amount of boozed up and drugged-up foreigners, due to the massive number of bars dotted along the river, some of who died in the river. Eventually the authorities got involved and all that remains are four bars. It is all set up very well though – all the bars are placed well within the first 800 meters and people are supposed to get their tubes back to the town by 6pm or lose some of their deposit. Apparently only 10% of people actually make it back to the town in time – we were determined to be in that 10%! We stopped at the second bar being dragged in by a guy with a rope and quickly offered free shots, which Matt of course had to drink! The place had a great atmosphere and we played some French boules (Susanne trashed Matt and was pleased her long training at boules competitions with her father on family holidays paid off) and volleyball (rather badly). We also tried our luck at ‘hulahooping’, but we both were more like stiff ducks than graceful swans. A local lady completely showed us up! We then headed onto the final bar and chilled in a hammock with some lunch. Then we continued along the river – it was really relaxing slowly bobbing down the river in a tube taking in the beautiful karsts overhead. It was incredibly slow though and at times we did not even notice which direction we were going in. We managed to flag down a kayak and were dragged a few hundred metres so we could try to make it back in time which we eventually did (it was advertised for 2 hours and it took nearly 4, you can see how people lose their deposits!). Overall, the tubing really was worth all the hype – the town isn’t particularly brilliant but the tubing was great fun so we are glad we did it. Tomorrow we are off to the capital Vientiane to then make our onward journey to Kong Lo cave.

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Posted by mattandsusanne 04:11 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

Nong Khiaw

27th January to 30th January 2014


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After the trek in Luang Nam Tha, we decided we needed a bit of relaxing time. A couple we met in Huay Xai on the border told us about a lovely village called Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou river so we thought let’s head there before going to the popular city of Luang Prabang. To get there we embarked on a 6 hour bus journey through stunning mountainous scenery, passing by beautiful villages perched on the roadside. The first half of the journey up to Oudamxai was on a well-paved road, probably because the Chinese have invested heavily in Northern Laos for logging amongst other things. However, the next 4 hours to Pak Mong where we needed to change consisted of a really road dirt road with massive pot holes – it was pretty much to the same level as we had experience in Madagascar (see the videos below for an idea!). Bear in mind that this is a ‘main road’ in Laos that eventually ends up in Luang Prabang. So the journey was pretty bumpy, but the scenery was spectacular.

We arrived into Pak Mong and were taken in a tuk tuk to Nong Khiaw. The village itself is slightly rough around the edges but has some lovely guesthouses and restaurants, as well as a great atmosphere. The real attraction though were the spectacular views over the river and the massive karsts looming on either side – it was quite sight. We grabbed up a lovely bungalow made from rattan with a comfy bed and set in a nice little garden. It was a bargain for 70,000kip (just over £5) – well done Lonely Planet! After settling in we had a wander around taking in the beautiful scenery particularly from the bridge that connects Nong Khiaw with the village on the other side. The evening was spent chilling out at a nice little bar/restaurant (Coco House) chatting to a really nice American couple (Willie and Laura). We thought about watching Wedding Crashers for the nostalgic feeling of being in Britain cuddling up in front of the TV, but could bring ourselves to watch such an awful film. The next day we headed off to a famous cave in the area where local villagers hid during the Second Indochina War or the Vietnamese War which began in the 1950s. We started on a path which we thought was correct but that ended up being in the complete wrong direction. However, it led us along the river with stunning views of the mountains and went through a peaceful village on the way. After some lunch, we headed to actual cave which was massive and amazing inside. In the evening we went for a rather mediocre Indian with Willie and Laura and that chilled out watching The King’s Speech at Coco House, the bar from the previous night (it’s a great film for anyone who hasn’t seen it).

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The next two days were spent relaxing at the beautifully picturesque village of Mong Nui which was an hour’s boat ride up the river through the stunning scenery. The boat did have to go up some rather scary rapids though which the driver seemed to take in his stride! The village is only connected by dirt roads, so we only saw one car and the main street had no traffic. It is quite a touristy place and we were one of three boats arriving that day all full of foreigners. For such a small village of was also full of guesthouses and little restaurants. However, somehow all the mass of tourists managed to go fairly unnoticed as we walked around the village. We found a lovely little set of bungalows (Sunphao Bungalows) with nice views over the river and a hammock to chill in (for 70,000Kip = just over £5). The afternoon was spent wandering around the town feeling very relaxed. In the evening we ended up in a cute little bar at the end of the street which had no electricity that night so we sat around an open fire looking up at the many stars chatting to other travellers. The next day we did a tiny trek to another stunning set of caves, one of which looked tiny from the outside but was actually really long ending with a small cavern full of tiny Buddhas. There was also a massive creepy crawly that we couldn’t identify – freaky! Up above the caves was a stunning viewpoint looking out over the village, river and karsts – well worth the steep climb up. Afterwards we relaxed on a tiny little beach next to the river lazing in the sun and swimming in the bitingly cold but incredibly refreshing water. Rather randomly, a Dutch guy came floating by on a bamboo raft he had built. He informed us that he had been journeying down the river on his raft for 5 days, stopping in nearby villages and camping – what a guy. We were quite jealous! After the beach we spent more time in our hammock chilling and reading and then went for a buffet dinner with the American couple again. It has been a nice relaxing few days. Tomorrow we are off to civilization again and the famous ancient city of Luang Prabang.

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Posted by mattandsusanne 17:26 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

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