Hi all, this time I am writing from Louang Prabang, Laos a beautiful country!
The last few days, well week of my travels have certainly been interesting.
My last day in Sapa before heading for the border was a really good one, muddy and wet yes, but good. Rather spookily in the room next to me was Audrey, a French Canadian girl whom I briefly spoke to all the way back in Hoi An! It seems that in Vietnam once you have met some one you'll keep seeing them time and time again. Well anyhow it turned out that Audrey had managed to find a local guide called Chi to show us round some of the local villages. I had spent the day before asking around to see If any of the locals could show me around but it seemed that there were only tour companies who charge ridiculous prices. Speaking to Chi it was also apparent that the hotels etc keep 75% of the price, FOR WHAT! ringing up a local guide for you using their phone... scam.
Well any ways we set off towards the other side of the town away from all of the other tourists to a couple of villages before getting a moto back up the mountain to Sapa. It was really nice as it seemed that we were getting off the 'beaten track' and seeing some of the villages that other tourist don't go to. The morning started off a little dreary from the the low clouds that seemed to haunt Sapa during our stay, but soon enough we had dropped down low enough to evade them and boy what a sight. There were rice paddies everywhere on some pretty unbelievable slopes too! Well Chi led us right through the middle of them, walking along the paddy walls getting covered in the clayey mud, wet too. It was really good traveling with Chi as she had some much knowledge of the surrounding plants, she got me to scrub the plant in my palms which turned them indigo blue for 4 days! She also pointed out to us all of the hemp (which stank), tea and herbal remedy plants that they use for all their minor ailments. At the end of the trek we went to the local village where Chi cooked us up a lovely vegetable noodle soup before heading back up the mountain.
After getting a well needed shower we headed out to the local food stalls for some dinner and on the way we happened to pass quite possibly the coolest bar in Sapa. Artista Cafe owned by guy called Lhung, pronounced Hung with a low U and a G with your tongue held at the back of your throat. Anyhow Lhung brought us out a whole load of permanent markers for us to draw all over the stools and tables, cool huh! After a few beers and a chat with Lhung about his cafe, life and family etcetera he brought out what appeared to be a huge bamboo bong. I'd seen these all over Hanoi before but had never asked what they were, whackey backey or just plain old tobacco. As it turns out is tobacco, not just any plain old tobacco Black Hmong tobacco from the hill tribes around Sapa. You can guess where this is going, Lhung offered it to us to try and as I was the nearest to him I tried first; the guinea pig! MISTAKE! So Lhung lights the bong gets it going and passes the pipe over for me to try, well here goes I took a big old puff and WHOOOOAAAAAA I thought I was going to pass out, the biggest head rush! It was ridiculously strong tobacco I ended up coughing an spluttering all over the place belching smoke much to the amusement of everyone in the bar! Safe to say the next person took a much smaller puff!
Now here is for the really interesting part of my travels and this bit relates to the title of this post. We had heard from loads of travelers that the northern Vietnam/ Laos border crossing was the worst, and yes it was. At least it was an unforgettable experience!
The next day we wait for the bus, 1/2 hour late and already pretty packed with people! We thought that as the bus was full we were the last to be picked up, wrong, the driver managed to find space for 4 more people to get in! Okay so we start out and 10 minutes later we stop, whats going on, oh the drivers must be changing... no they decided it would be a good idea to light up a bong like the one i spoke of earlier and take a few chugs. It turns out that every 40 minutes the drivers decided to swap and smoke the whole time during the 10 hour slaughter to Dien Bien. On the way to Dien Bien we had to wait at two road blocks for landslides and a burst tyre! Although it was cramped and yes it was long this part of Vietnam is the most remote and has some of the best scenery which made it worthwhile. So we get to DBP stay the night and get up for the 05:30 bus the next morning to the Laos border. This border is in the middle of nowhere not a village in sight for miles just two grand border gates sitting atop adjacent mountains, pretty cool. We pass through with relative ease, a rarity, and make our way towards Muong Kiew. This took about 8 hours but no landslides this time just beautiful scenery. Rather disturbingly there is deforestation everywhere, slash and burn style, speaking to some people it appears that the Chinese have a hand here getting at all the timber out before anyone else!
Mong Kua, a nice riverside town of dainty little shacks. Well anyhow the bus drops us off right at the river edge and we have to get a small boat over to the other side before carrying on to the next stop.. Udomxai... a dump. Im glad that we only had one night here before getting a bus to Nong Kiew and a longtail boat to Muong Ngoi. The boat up the Nam On river to Muong Ngoi was interesting as its the rainy season out here the rivers are high and quite turbulent :S! Well Muong Ngoi is a nice little village, our shack was pretty cool looking over the river and mountains from the hammock. I spent the first day here just sitting in the hammock reading, bliss. The second day we trek up one of the local paths to a cave with a Israeli girl called Sharet. Luckily I bought my dive torch with me so that we could illuminate the whole darn cave! We went right inside so that when I turned the torch off it was pitch black, thinking now we would have been totally screwed if I'd ran out of power! A little further down the path we come across a few rice paddies and a small collection of villages, it raining pretty hard at this point so we decide to head back to the village for another afternoon in the hammock asleep.
After Moung Ngoi we got the boat/ bus to Louang Prabang but I'll save this town for my next blog with the elephant trekking tomorrow!