Friday, 27 September 2013

Falling off the Grid

Taking the plunge at Kuang Si Falls
After delving into the animal kingdom it was time for us to leave the illustrious Thai mountains and say hello to Laos. Lush greenery, deep valleys and towering mountains- Laos is an Asian gem sandwiched between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is the less frequented of the four countries which is why it remains unspoiled and has an almost innocent and solitary feel.

From Thailand you can fly into the capital, Vientiane, but really, for the rugged traveller there’s only one way of getting there and that is by boat down the Mekong River. Think a Rosie and Jim-esq wooden boat minus any colour or comfort. We’re talking splinter-potential benches and water sloshing in on both sides- not so glam.

Boarding the boat from Chiang Khong it takes two days to reach Luang Prabang. In the days leading up, myself and Jen dreaded the journey but little did we know it would be a trip that would hold significant memories for years to come. Yep we are still laughing at Bex’s attempt to drink jungle whisky on a see-saw boat, why do I even try? 

The boat was crammed with 20 something year olds all heaving their backpacks behind them. Within an hour we were chatting away to the Auzzies behind us, the Dutch on the left and fellow Brits on the right. 

By the time we docked the next day we had a whole new group of besties and were receiving invites to go fishing in Holland and surfing in Auz. We also had enough boat gossip to keep us chatting for days. Apparently close proximity on a barge equals romance and scandal (Jen and I were merely spectators). All this was set to a backdrop of looming valleys and riverside villages- lush.

Perhaps in part due to our newfound company, Luang Prabang immediately became a new favourite of ours. The city is in the north of central Laos and is UNESCO World Heritage Site so that pretty much says it all; beauty and history rolled into one colonial town. 

Prices remained just as cheap as Thailand, if not cheaper, and we found a rustic guesthouse offering rather plush rooms with hot water for only 37,931kip (£3) a night. There are numerous guesthouses offering homely accommodation in walking distance to the city and dock. Just be willing to check out a few places and compare prices first. 

During the day we visited the nearby Kuang Si waterfalls. With high temps the opaque waters made for a refreshing plunge and for those with a head for adrenaline, the rope swing was there for daredevils to make the jump. Kuang Si Falls are certainly a must.

There are also numerous buddhist temples and monasteries dotted around the city just in case you hadn’t soaked up enough culture quite yet. But, it was early evening when Luang Prabang became abuzz.

Luang Prabang’s night market is different to others. It is calmer and quaint offering a real taste of Laos life and tradition minus the usual tourist traps and tacky nik naks. That’s not to say you shouldn’t still be on guard for pickpockets though. Local cuisine is also offered off the side alleys for a super cheap price and a filling feed.

After the market we visited Utopia. This is the bar to visit. It holds a hum drum of travellers and, after the boat, there were a few familiar faces. With a volleyball court, wooden awnings and cute cushions to perch on we were kept amused until well...11pm. Luang Prabang has an strict curfew for all bars so it’s probably not the best place for party lovers. 

However, still buzzing from my failed attempt at being the cool volleyball chick, we all piled into a tuk tuk where locals seemed to know just where we’d want to go...a late night bowling alley. Yep, you heard me right, bowling alley. 

When we chugged up to the doors we suspected that despite the venue it would still be party party inside but no...there was actual bowling. With a bottle of whisky for a cheap 9916 kip (80p), it was bowls away until the wee hours. Who knew Luang Prabang would be my opportunity to showcase my inability to volley and bowl? Too lucky.

Luang Prabang is a charming city that is so calm and natural in its beauty. Offering natural landscapes to wade in and with local culture spouting from all angles, it was the perfect introduction to Laos. 

Aside from our boating buddies we struggled to find many tourists which is probably what makes Luang Prabang so special. With few internet cafes and nightlife options its created a haven for those wanting to fall off the grid. Luang Prabang was definitely an unexpected favourite.

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