Posts Tagged With: laos

May 28th – Day 9 – Mountain, Millionaires and Motorcycles

In the peak season, the tour would move on to Vietnam in the morning on this day, but since we’re travelling in the off -season, Lao Airlines only flies in the afternoons to Hanoi, so we had a free morning in Luang Prabang. I was pretty happy about this since I’ve really enjoyed the pace of life in Luang Prabang and I wanted to explore their most famous site, the Phousi Mountain (don’t say it too quickly!).  At the top of the mountain is a small temple which can be seen from all over the town, and it offers spectacular views of the two rivers which converge just outside of Luang Prabang.

I started the day with an early breakfast, around 7, before heading out to the mountain before the heat of the day hit. The base of the mountain path was a short walk from the hotel, and I was able to make good time heading up – after paying my 20,000 kip entrance fee. Almost every tourist attraction seems to charge the same here!

It was 309 steps up to the top of the mountain, but it was worth it – I had the top to myself and could see all of the town, the rivers and the small temple as well. The sense of achievement in doing this was also worth it!

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A view of the river and Luang Prabang from the mountain

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Top of the mountain selfie

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The other side of the town

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The temple at the top

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No idea what this purple leaf is but it was really vibrant and visible throughout the town

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It was a steep walk up the mountain

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Selfie after making it back down

On the way back down I decided to go for another Lao coffee, having enjoyed it the day before. There was some confusion in the shop who seemed to think I wanted a take away coffee and gave me the boiling hot coffee and condensed milk in a plastic bag, like a goldfish at the fair. After clarifying my request, I was quickly brought a new one in a glass and enjoyed it just as much as the first, although I didn’t dare to try and communicate about the doughnut !

Once I got back to the hotel I quickly packed before going for a swim in the beautiful hotel pool. It was still not even 8:30! The early mornings on this tour really mean the day packs in things… I swam for half an hour and by that point some of the others emerged from their rooms.

Since it was so early, I went back to the room for a little cool off and a nap before checking out from the hotel.  I walked back into the town and explored a little of the old town, hunting out some gift shops and stopping for lunch in a tourist restaurant called The Pizza, which served terrible over priced pizza and drinks but I wanted to be gentle to my stomach after the upset yesterday – I also ordered ginger tea which seemed to help.  After I ordered the olive pizza, the waiter dashed out of the shop to a neighbouring supermarket and came back in with a pack of olives and some ginger. Got to love small towns!

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Olive pizza

With a couple of hours remaining in Luang Prabang once lunch was over, I went into a coffee shop for a cold drink and some aircon as well as free wifi… Honestly this day was a bit unnecessary but the flight schedules had determined we should stay until 3pm.

At 3 we regrouped and headed out to the airport, where check-in was smooth and allowed us a little more waiting before we boarded Laos Airlines QV313 to Hanoi.  The flight was pretty much a mirror image of our flight from Chiang Mai – an ATR plane, terrible box meal and a 45 minute hop.

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Laos airlines selfie

When we landed in Hanoi the sky was incredible – the clouds were so dark and low, it was clear a storm was about to hit and shortly after we left the airport, we were presented with a wonderful thunderstorm. The Vietnamese visa process for a UK passport holder was super easy- no paperwork at all, just handing over my passport and getting a stamp at the border. Some of the others had spent upwards of $200 on their Vietnam visas!

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Vietnams visa is somewhat simple after the crazy Laos ones

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Our luggage collection

In the airport I also changed some US Dollars into Vietnamese dong and once again became a millionaire – $1 was worth 22,240 dong so my $100 gave me 2.2 Million dongs!

Our trip to the hotel was in a nice big comfortable bus and we got to see a bit of the hubbub of Hanoi – our hotel was quite central in the city on ‘silk street’ (fittingly the hotel was the Golden Silk Hotel).  The streets of Hanoi are organised by what is sold there – so there is glasses street, coffee street, and beer street. Quite an efficient way of shopping, unless you want a lot of different things at once!

During our bus ride Dek gave us some tips about Vietnam – a country of 90 million people, and Hanoi – the capital city with over 8 million people and over 4 million motorcycles.  The constant ‘beep beep’ of the motorcycles and cars weaving in and out was infectious and I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring! We only got one night in Hanoi before our next destination, so we went on a short walk to Deks favourite local restaurant – called 96 Restaurant. Dek said they have one as well called 69 -although that sounds like a whole different dinner to me!

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Another hotel, another massive bed!

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Pineapple juice

Crossing the roads in Hanoi is something of an art form, as there is never really a break in the traffic – you just kind of ‘go for it’ when you want to cross, and the traffic avoids you. At first it sounds scary, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

At 96 Restaurant I had some fresh vegetable spring rolls and tofu with satay sauce,as well as a fruit juice and it cost 250,000 dong! That feels like a lot, but it’s really about $20.

Once back at the hotel, and safely across the roads again, I quickly replaced my day pack into an overnight pack since we couldn’t bring our full bags for the next day trip to Ha Long Bay.  Tomorrow would be another early start, setting off at 6:30 – so I got an early night again. Excited for tomorrow though – Ha Long Bay is one of my reasons for booking the trip!

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May 27th – Day 8 – Monks, Caves and Coffee

This morning we met at 5:20am, before sunrise, which meant a 4:30 alarm (followed by a 4:35 alarm, a 4:40 alarm, a 4:45 alarm and a cold shower…). The reason for our early rising? Today we were to give Alms to the monks who live at the various temples around Luang Prabang.

The daily ritual is the way that the monks in the area receive food and gifts from the local community. Every morning at sunrise the monks walk a route around the city with collection baskets and locals give gifts of sticky rice, crackers and sometimes treats. It’s something of a tourist event now, but there were still plenty of locals continuing the tradition even in down-season.

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Our 5:20am walk

We headed quickly from our hotel to the Main Street, around a 5 minute walk, and took our seats on some small plastic stools. By each stool was a large basket of sticky rice, provided by GAdventures as part of the tour.  Shortly after we sat down, the first of 5 temples worth of monks began walking past us.  Dek instructed us in how to create balls of sticky rice and place them into the donation baskets. The rice was incredibly hot, which made it difficult to handle, but it was an amazing experience to provide for the monks who live their lives from donations.

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The monks arrive at sunrise

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Prepped and ready at 5:30

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Me, giving alms

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The procession of monks

In total 5 temples passed us in the space of about 15 minutes, and a lot of the experience for me was reflection on the life of a monk – taking their spirituality into mind and understanding more about how much it means to them that these traditions continue.

After giving alms, Dek led us through the local market in Luang Prabang where we were warned we would see a lot of unusual products. This market was really for local people, not like the tourist markets we’d been shown so far. As I mentioned yesterday, Laos people are really resourceful when it comes to food and eat pretty much whatever is going in the area – and that included a lot of fish (in various states of disembodiment), snakes, lizards, bags of animal blood and animal bile, snails, frogs and a thousand other things you wouldn’t expect to find as food! It was really interesting to consider how much these people take from their resources which we would normally disgard or not consider as part of our diet. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to pick and choose what we eat, but we are also incredibly wasteful.

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Some stuff was actually packaged

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Chillis of all types

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Some sort of lizard for sale at the market

With our stomachs now rumbling even though it was only 7am, we were offered a chance to try Lao coffee – a local speciality which is prepared with condensed milk at the bottom of a glass followed by strong thick coffee poured on top.  It was served to us outside of a local coffee shop, with a small fried doughnut in an H shape for 6000 kip – less than $1.

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Lao coffee

Just after the coffee, we headed back to the hotel for real breakfast before preparing to leave at 8am for our next adventure.

At 8 we got onto the minibus to head upstream – this was the easier option of two we were given (the other one involved an extra 90 minutes on a boat floating upstream).  The 30 minute drive gave us all a chance for a short nap before we arrived at what was described as a rice whiskey village. This was a local village by the edge of the water where tourist boats stop and the locals sell their rice whiskey, as well as other hand made products – I bought a terrible hat (to match my terrible hat from Peru) but avoided trying the rice whiskey which had scorpions soaking in it (to add to the flavour, or just to make it look scary – I couldn’t really tell!)

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Rice Whiskey lady

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Styling out my new weave/Burberry $3 hat

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Snake rice whiskey

Once the locals had finished convincing us to buy things, we boarded our boat and started a short 30 minute trip on the river to our destination – the Pak Ou Caves.

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Our boat

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River photo

These caves are famous for housing over 2500 Buddha statues, a sort of cave temple I guess. The caves are split into two – the lower cave is easily accessible from our boat and the upper cave is a few hundred steps up the hill.  I decided to do both, and it was really spectacular. The lower cave is well lit and interesting, but the upper cave was pitch black and meant I needed a head torch to see all the statues. Jaqueline and I explored and felt like we were in something out of an Indian Jones movie. It was so hot at the top having climbed the stairs, I was glad to get back down and drink some cool water on the return boat ride to Luang Prabang.

The boat ride back took about an hour but we landed right in the centre of Luang Prabang, just behind the Royal Palace Museum. It was a short bus ride back to the hotel and we were able to relax for the rest of the day.

First on my priority list was a massage which I took in the hotel spa.  It wa a little more expensive than the massage places in town, but still only $20 for an hour!

My stomach wasn’t feeling so good so I opted to just make a short trip to the store and bought some snack foods to have in my room before napping and sleeping off my funny tummy. After all, I had woken up at 4:30!

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My snacks

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May 26th – Day 7 – Ashes, Fishes and Frogs

We begin our tale with a joyful 4am wake up from a friendly mosquito, who decided to become acquainted with my base of my foot.  And my knee. And the side of my face.  Stupidly, I didn’t consider mosquito protection (hey, I’m in a hotel) before going to bed – but apparently there was a little mosquito repellent by the door which you’re meant to turn on before going to sleep.  Hey, you live and learn – at least I’m taking malarials and the bites aren’t particularly itchy, so I think I lucked out.

We had an 8am scheduled start, so I got up at 6:45 and took a shower… A cold one, since the hotel water system doesn’t seem to offer warm water unless you have the patience of a saint.  I promise the day gets better from here on in!

The view at breakfast

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast is served in the little hotel restaurant by the lily pond.  It was again buffet style, but really nice local dishes – coconut pancakes, papaya and dragon fruit, etc. I really enjoyed the watermelon juice.

At 8 we met to start our day tour, and meet our local guide for Luang Prabang. Our local guide is Yang – he works for a local agency which GAdventures use in Laos and he’ll be with us for the days in Laos. We got a quick briefing in the hotel then jumped on the minibus for our 2 minute ride to the first temple of the day – Wat Visoun Narath.  This is quite an old temple in Luang Prabang and definitely a change from the ones we visited in Thailand –  it was old and dusty rather than the bright shiny gold we saw in Thailand. There wasn’t much to see here, a few boats which are used for annual boat races (the monks don’t race, that’s a shame – I’d have loved to see monks racing!)

Wat Visoun or something like that

A view of Luang Prabangs famous hilltop temple

Yvonne checked out the ‘toilet’

The Watermelon Stupa

Inside the temple

Dark and Dusty Buddhas

More Buddhas

Bells for sale

My guide book says that this is the eldest working temple in Laos and was built in 1513.

At this temple were a few small local stalls and I bought myself some brass bells, which will go really well with my hanging boat I bought in the floating islands in Peru. These cost 100,000 kip – which sounds like a lot but it’s basically £10.

After the first temple visit, we jumped onto the minibus for a 3 minute ride to the next temple – Wat Xiengthongratsavoravihanh. Or at least that’s what the sign says.  The G adventures app calls it Wat Xien Thong, which was a Royal temple when Laos was a monarchy led country – it houses amongst other things the ashes of the ‘last king’ of Laos, and many other treasures.  There were a lot of reminders here of the shift from Monarchy to Communist rule and it was interesting to learn this background before our next stop.

Wat Xien Thong

Golden Temple

More dusty Buddhas

Reclining buddha lives in here

Beautiful glass inlays in the wall

More beauty

I loved the look of this little lotus

Shortly after Wat Xien Thong, we headed to the Royal Museum in Luang Prabang. No photos were allowed inside here, but it was fascinating to see how the history of the monarchy is documented until 1975, but after that point there is no mention whatsoever. A highlight for me was seeing two Laos flights combined with fragments of moon rock donated by Richard Nixon to the Laos royal family in 1969 and 1972 – the flags travelled to the moon on Apollo XII and XVII.  Our guides explained that at the time the US was supporting the Laos people as part of the Vietnam war (Laos had both civil and involvement with the Vietnam conflicts, plus was occupied for a long time by the French).

The temple at the Royal Palace Museum

Proof I was really there!

A close up on the building apex, showing the Laos symbol of 3 elephants to represent the 3 tribes which formed Laos

Yang, our Laos guide

After a busy cultural morning exploring these sites, we headed back to the hotel for a 2 hour lunch break at the hotel – nobody was particularly hungry so I grabbed a protein bar and cooled off.

At 13:00 we met to head to the Kungsi Waterfall Park, which was a 45 minute minibus ride along some fairly windy (and at times, bouncy) roads.  The park was interesting, since it had both the waterfalls but also a Bear rescue park.

Kuangsi Waterfall Park

The beautiful waterfalls

The waterfalls themselves were stunning – slightly green in colour due to the lime in the rock, but clear and flowing water led to some amazing photo opportunities.

Photo opportunities at the top

Fred swimming

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Classic waterfall shot

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The calm pool below

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Beautiful view

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Are you bored of waterfall photos yet?

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Portrait format works too

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Steve and Yvonne check out the pool

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Petra and Karl

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Fred and Carol

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Petra

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Another me at the pool shot

The top of the waterfall is reserved for photos, whilst the bottom is the swimming area. I brought my swim stuff and changed in the fairly simple changing rooms (where the lock didn’t work) – before stepping into the water. The water itself was great, but I found the fish quite unpleasant since they seemed to be the same type of fish as the Fish Massage place in Thailand – they really wanted to attack you if you stood still too long! I splashed around a bit in the water, but got out before the others which also gave me a chance to shoot some photos after I dried off.

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Fred and Carol

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Some people had a lot more fun

It was a nice refreshing break from the heat, and definitely a change of pace from our temple-heavy first half of the day.

We had a brief look at the bear park, but the only ones who were being photogenic were slightly artificial:

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This bear didn’t even acknowledge me

Little bit fake

Little bit fake

An unphotogenic real bear

An unphotogenic real bear


At the bottom of the hill, I treated myself to a Cornetto before we got onto the bus for our trip back to the hotel.

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Bottom of the waterfall cornetto

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Retail therapy again

Once back, we had another 2 hour break to chill before dinner – this time on the other side of the town.To get to our dinner location, we took a Tuk Tuk and managed to fit 8 people on there – costing 6,000 kip each (75p!)

A Tuk Tuk for 9 people

Dinner was in a restaurant called Tamarind and was traditional Laos style food. If anyone ever says traditional Laos food to you, the easiest way to imagine it is… Whatever they can find. Literally. The menu featured river weeds, frogs, all sorts of stuff. They’re extremely resourceful, but maybe not catering hugely to our western expectations. I decided to opt for a Laos Omelette together with a Lemongrass and Lime Granita (cocktail).

After dinner I decided to go check out a local bar alone, which was great fun – Luang Prabang is a pretty calm and low risk city, and I got chatting  to some locals and ended up taking a motorcycle ride back to the hotel after the bars closed.

Early start tomorrow, since we’re getting up to give alms to the monks at 5am… Time to sleep. Tick Tock.

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May 25th – Day 6 – Laundry, Laos and Lilypads

Today was quite an easy day – essentially a travel day.  I started with a 9am lie in, followed by almost missing the breakfast closing at 10am – I was the last person there when they closed! Oops!

After a brief breakfast, I popped down to the laundry to collect my 60 baht washing load.  It was really amazing to have everything washed, folded and packed for me for just over £1! As we were due to leave the hotel, I headed to the room and packed… It seems to be getting easier as the trip goes on (which is good, because there’s a lot more packing and unpacking to go!)

At 12:00 we had to check out from our rooms, so I headed down to meet and chat with others outside the hotel for an hour before we headed to the airport.  We were about to fly to Laos so it gave me a chance to read my guide book and clue up on Laos a little bit more.  I also remembered to take my first Malaron, anti malarial drug – nobody else on the trip is taking malarials but since the travel clinic advised it, I decided to go for it.  I read the potential side effects, and it says that 1 in 10 people react in some way… Watch this space!

At 1pm we headed to the airport to prepare for our 15:30 flight.  Chiang Mai airport is pretty small, and the Laos airline check in desk had 4 people handling our little flight check in – it seemed to be a case of each person had one job to do, including one guy who just picked up stuff from the printers and handed them to someone else.  Quite a strange arrangement but I guess it works as we were through check in very quickly.

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Check in in Chiang Mai

After Check-In, Dek warned us that we should probably grab food before we headed through security so I headed off with Karl and Petra to find something suitable.  There were two options – Burger King or McDonalds. I checked my wallet and literally had 100 baht left (£2!) – excellent planning on the currency side, but it meant that I couldn’t buy anything more than a pack of French fries. Karl and Petra gave me 25 baht so that I could get together enough cash for my meal – thanks guys!

Once we’d had a brief meal, we went through the process of leaving Thailand – a departure form and a security check and we were through, ready to head to the gate.  Gate 9 in this case, where Dek was waiting with paperwork.  As Laos has a visa on arrival scheme, we had to fill out a visa form AND an arrival form – glad we got through there in plenty of time.

We boarded QV636 from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang via a bus – it’s a little properller plane (ATR 72-600) and settled down for the short flight.  Lao Airlines are ‘ready to be a national carrier’ for Laos, but so far don’t have that status, but they were putting in the effort – a little box meal on a 45 minute flight, even if it was a nasty looking sandwich and a box of fruit.

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Obligatory plane selfie


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Lao airlines inflight meal

As we approached Luang Prabang, it was clear we were heading to a much smaller town – just 50,000 people live there.  The hills were filled with trees, rivers and a much more natural looking area than Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  I spotted the airport from the plane as we circled and it was tiny – just a runway and a tiny terminal building with what looked like one gate.

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Chiang Mai from the air


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Laung Prabang from the air


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Our tiny ATR plane


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Wasking to the terminal

After landing, we parked quite a distance from the terminal and were let off the plane.  There were no instructions, but people seemed to just walk towards the terminal, so we followed – the rules here are so relaxed about this sort of thing! We were lucky to be near the back of the plane (ATR planes deplane from the rear) so we got to the front of the immigration queue quickly.

The first stage of immigration into Laos was to obtain our visa on arrival.  This was a simple process when we had completed the form and photo in advance – simply a case of handing over our passport and forms, waiting a couple of minutes and going to a different window where we paid the $35 (plus $1 service fee) and obtained a properly printed visa in the passport!  Makes you wonder why so many countries take days or weeks to prepare visas!

After that, the immigration was straightforward – arrival form and baggage collection. Since it was a tiny flight and a tiny airport, the bags were there before we even got our visas.

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My Lao visa

After we all regrouped, and the Canadians complained about their $42 visa (different countries have different costs), some people went to withdraw cash from ATMs.  Since I had USD I wanted to change, I had to wait till later to become a millionaire! In Lao, the currency is the Lao Kip and is worth approximately 8000 kip to 1 USD.  So to become a millionaire, you only need $120 – actually the recommended amount by Dek for our 3 day stay.

During our minibus ride to the hotel, Dek explained that Lao is one of 5 communist countries in the world, and the name here is PDR of Laos – which colloquially stands for People Don’t Rush! He warned us – don’t expect fast service anywhere!

We quickly arrived at our hotel, the Maison Dalaboa.  It’s a really cute boutique hotel next to a lily pond.  My room had a HUGE double bed and there was a lovely pool as well.  Once we checked in (and had another welcome drink), we were to meet at 7pm for dinner and a trip to yet another Night Market!

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MAulson Dalabua


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My huge hotel bed


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Beautiful boutique hotel


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Lilypond outside

Our dinner was at the Coconut Garden restaurant, a fairly nice place just through the Night Market.  On the way there we stopped at a foreign exchange booth and I changed $124 into 1,004,000 kip – making my briefly a millionaire!

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Coconut Garden


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Proof that I was briefly a millionaire

I ordered a pumpkin and coconut soup, steamed vegetables with a spicy tomato sauce and a Beer Lao – the local beer.  Service was predictably slow (PDR, after all!) and the restaurant was quite dark, but the food was tasty when it did come.

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Beer Lao


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Pumpkin and Coconut soup

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Steamed Vegetables and spicy tomato dip

Local shop


After dinner we headed into a local shop to buy some water and some of the group wanted some night booze supplies. It had been a pretty calm day, but I feel like that’s probably the way of life in Laos. 

Looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

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Adventure number 2

Indochina Explorer mapSo, i’ve gone and done it – i’ve booked my second G Adventures trip!

This time, i’m going to be exploring South East Asia – following the G Adventures “Indochina Explorer” itinerary.    The trip starts off in Thailand, travels up through Laos to Vietnam and then finishes in Cambodia.  I’m super super excited because that’s a bunch of countries I haven’t had to chance to visit for work, and likely won’t in the foreseeable future (there’s not much call for media servers in Laos, as far as I can tell!).

This trip is quite different than my Peru trip – in Peru there were one or two ‘peaks’ of the trip and the rest of the trip felt like a built up or come down from that – this new itinerary is full of highs!  It has everything – riverboat cruises, cooking classes, elephants, temples, busy cities and small independent trades.

I won’t spoil it all for now – i’m reading up on it, and i’ll blog more in the coming weeks and months before my departure.  Oh, I didn’t mention… I leave in 6 months – May 2016!  Plenty of time to tell you everything i’ll be up to!

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