It happened finally and suddenly.... we left vang vieg. That magical place with mountains, caves, tubing, free alcohol and street bars airing nothing but family guy and friends, all doign cheap smoothies. After only a few days in vang vieg, gettin wildly drunk on a daily basis, cheap breakfast fry ups, zip wires, befriending (and massaging the feet of [dont ask] ) a few people in their rubber tyres whilst tubing on the river (as you do) and ultimately ending up at an outside bar/club with them, again drinking heavily after a day of a tiresome 10km kayakking stint, it was very easy to see why many people dont actually leave vang vieng. I was talkng to a random person in the club, who said she was passing through vang vieng with friends, drunk ended up asking for a job behind the bar and has now been there for 4 months - food and accomodation (a small bungalow overlooking the river) fully paid for. Vang vieng is definately going to be a place to return to in the future - when im succesfful and can afford to FLY!!! - no dam buses for me.
As i say though, unfotrunately we had to leave, and up north we went to luang probang. A very small town full of restored french colonial houses and narrow streets, it had an air of hoi an about it. It was definately more for the older traveller as hostels were mostly out of our price range. We managed to find one eventually though. In the i explored the small town. I walked down to the river (luang probang is on the corner of one of the mekongs tributarys). I walked in the warm shallow river for a bit, before climbing up the rock and crossing over the bamboo bridge to the viewing platform. From this platform you got panormaic views straight down the mekong river. Unfortunately (which we didnt know) is south east asia in march and april is a bad place to be because of the 'slash and burn'. At the peak of the dry season when all the ground is dry and vegetation is dying, large areas of this are burnt to clear the way for the new crops to be planted during the wet season. Visilbity in many areas is very poor and smokey, over the mekong area included. Hence the stunning views were somewhat hidden :(. I walked back along the bridge during 'luang probang bath time' when all the locals were washing and bathing in the shallow river. I went back pondering the idea of swimming the river the following day - you can never swim in too many rivers after all.
On the way back to hostel i got disrtacted by a restraunt and ended up booking myself on a cooking course. It was 28 dollars but well worth it. The next morning i met the group outside the cooking school and they tuk tukked us to the market. The tour guide took us around piles of weird looking leaves and vile looking liquids surrounding woman crouching on small plastic stools cleavering meat or dissecting random fruits. One of the more disturbing dishes we saw was called paedak. It is a salty and smoky sauce that accompanies most lao food. It is made by putting dead fish into a bowel of satly water, and waiting until it decomposes into a liquid. Further to this, another delicacy is to get some fresh chicken/duck eggs and wait until the insides rot to black. This creates a fine dipping sauce.... apparently.
We got back to the cooking school where we got into groups fo 2 and cooked the dishes demonstarted for us. We cooked a selection of noodle and rice dishes, luang probang salad, chilli dipping sauce and various broths. My breath smelt of lemon grass for days after and we were givena recipe book for our night time reading. The following day we went to..... yup another waterfall. This one was by the far the best one yet. It was not just one waterfall, but a series of small and large drops along the river. There were rock pools, hanging vines and fish that nibbled your feet as you swam. The water was bluer than msot swimming pools. The piece de resistance was a 50 foot high waterfall at the far side of the park. I climbed up the loose path alongside the falls to get to the top - carved out by numerous feet over the years. After a good amount of heaving and nearly losing a flip flop i made it to the top. I crossed the narrow river and took my kodak moment photos. It was then i found the wooden stairs leading right down to the river again.... I was fairly unimpressed i hadnt seen these steps BEFORE i tried to heave myself up a dam cliff face. Anyhoo, after more swimming and sitting under waterfalls, we left for home.
And true to every blog i have written, here is 'THE BUS JOURNEY!' An all encompassing 20 hour journey from luang probang to chaing mai in thailand. We got a tuk tuk to the bus station, a 14 hour bus to a tour company, another tuk tuk to the river, a long boat across the river, and then a final minibus to chaing mai. During this time we shared horro stories with other travellers about the quality of the various buses and boats that we travel on. Our contribution to the stroy, was one we heard on the way back from ratanakri in cambodia from an emotionally scared mother and her 3 year old son - on the public buses all bags and rice sacks are piled on the back seats and down the aisles. These bags on the back seat caught fire as they were covering the engine and a bus of well over 70 ppl (capacity 50) made for the single exit at the front pushing the mother down. No one spoke english and by the time the woman and her sone had climbed over the rice sacks and plastic lawn chairs in the aisle, the whole bus was full of smoke. Needless to say she sat in the front seat on the jounry back.
An american girl was saying how earlier in the month she went to koh phi phi in thailand. There were 3 boats and she was dissappointed she took the slowest one. However when she checked on the other 2 boats alongside, one was on fire and the other was sinking. People were treading water carrying their backpacks above their heads, ad it was down to the single boat to pick up the other floatng passangers. O well, these things happen i spose. It shoudnt stop you actually doing the things you want to do.
Our bus journey was pretty uneventful. Our bus was quite cushy, apart from the 15 lao people sitting on garden chairs in the aisle, and the complete state of the roads sending them flying round every corner (normally into me). We arrived across the border safely though, after what was probably the easiest crossing to date. A few forms, a few signatures and we were back in thailand.
Chaing mai is a massive city, and so far we have seen very little. Tomorow we may go to the shooting range for a bit, there are plenty of cooking classes to be had, and also there is 'the jungle experience' which hosts miles of suspended zip wires 50 feet over the jungles, forest bridges and platforms to view animals from. From here will go off to bangkok to see the floating market. This time next week we will be in delhi. It feels like looking forward to go on holiday all over again. I have seen little of india but have delhi has aways been a place i have wanted to go.