February 10, 2014

Day 125 – From Luang Prabang down to Don Det Island

I left Chiang Rai, just over two weeks and headed for Laos.  Up until now, I’ve travelled around in buses – whether it’s mini buses or sleeping buses.  I’ve wanted to take the train a few times but never did. I decided to take the slow boat to Laos and yes it was both slow and long but it was a good decision. I was picked up from my hotel and was driven to the border with 3 girls from Chile, little did I know that I would spend the next week travelling with them. I was half asleep that morning, leaving Thailand and entering Laos but then most of us were. We went from one bus to the next and eventually to a boat.

View from our long boat

View from our long boat

Boats here in SE Asia, similar to buses, are very different to back home. What I loved about this boat in particular were the seats – the boat had paired up car seats and once these were all taken we had plastic chairs. Plastic is used pretty much everywhere in every sense of the word. When the bus/coach is packed, people sit on plastic chairs in the aisle. Standing up is out of the question – health and safety of course but sitting so we are all packed in, now that right there is acceptable.


The boat piled on all our luggage, yes my suitcase and all, below the seats, thankfully nothing was lost at sea! Now because you are all crammed in and there is little on-board entertainment – you keep yourself busy by socialising. Many of us, including myself tried to sleep but soon gave up.  Now boats, unlike the buses, don’t stop for refreshments so we boarded like we weren’t going to see food for days! Going to the toilet, now that was fun.


God bless guys, no seriously, I know guys drive us/me crazy on the best of days but during my travels and especially on this day, I met guys that were nothing but helpful. Getting a suitcase in and out of a slow boat is no joke and hell there was no way I was going to manage so I’m grateful to all the guys that helped lug my luggage.


Now the trio from Chile also helped and through them, I met a girl from Mexico. We somehow formed a group and it was great. Not only did we get along, but we were able to share accommodation which in turn saves money. Whilst all four of them tried, I didn’t pick up much Spanish but that’s mainly on me being rubbish at picking up languages. I did however, learn a great deal about Chile and South America generally and yes I would love to visit!

With the lovely ladies - Claudia, Alejandra, Andrea and Javi

With the lovely ladies – Claudia, Alejandra, Andrea and Javi

I got along with Claudia, she like me, loves shopping.  She’s very chilled out, funny and caring. She like my brother-in-law is studying medicine.  Javi, like me, loves food so again it was a win win. We both managed to leave room for desert most nights. She and Claudia are sisters, 5 years apart in age, but both look younger than their age. Spending time with them, made me think of my sisters and how much I would love to travel with them. Then there was Alejandra who was both friendly and funny. As the week went on, we shared a great deal about our lives, background and culture.


The more I travel and meet different people, the more I think about culture or my upbringing. Things that are so unacceptable or frowned upon for us, is accepted or even encouraged in others. Take for example, drinking, something my parents disapprove of, we don’t keep alcohol in the house and have never shared a drink together. Yet, for many other cultures, not only is drinking socially acceptable, it’s encouraged and people drink together.


That said, there are things that I love about my parents. With my dad, for the most part, I remember growing up with him either laughing or making others laugh. He was mainly chilled out, didn’t like to worry about things and always up for a laugh. He was also very sociable, he could strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. He was never shy or reserved and he never held back what he was thinking.


That brings me to the last girl that I traveled with, Andrea from Mexico. She is full of life, bubbly, outspoken, warm, friendly and funny. She too, much younger than I thought but full of energy and zest for life. Being surrounded by such people makes you feel the same, laughter, happiness, love – it’s all contagious. So before long, we fell into some sort of pattern, it takes me time to warm up to people, it always does but once that phrase is over, it’s great.


We spent the first week in the North of Laos, stuffing our faces with maybe the cheapest buffet ever at Luang Prabang, drinking Lao beer and then hitting the bowling alley because that’s how they role here in Lao. We climbed up waterfalls and caves – me struggling but eventually making it! We drank and danced the night away many of the nights. I loved tubing despite falling into the water and not being able to breathe! I had Ale there to help me : ) Enjoyed kayaking too, it’s hard work but good fun. I know that had I traveled around alone, I would not have had half as much fun. Traveling with these girls left me laughing most days and we walked away with some great memories. I hate goodbyes, and this goodbye was no different, I have this feeling that we will meet again ladies – I don’t know when or where but we will!

Best food, buffet night at Luang Prabang

Out exploring Vang Vieng

Out exploring Vang Vieng

Kayaking in Vang Vieng

Kayaking in Vang Vieng

Once in the capital, I was able to catch up with Sharan, also from London and also Indian! I met her whilst volunteering in CESHE in Cambodia.  We taught together for two weeks she was there and I loved it. We hit it off, planned lessons and built a good rapport with the students in our classes. She entered Lao from the South but we were able to meet up again in Vientiane. Sharan is very sociable, friendly and caring.  She’s great at haggling which helped me no end.  She also gave me some great tips on traveling which helped.  Again, we were able to have a laugh together and that in the end is all that matters, things go wrong or not to plan but if your laughing it doesn’t seem half as bad. I know we will meet up again whether it’s SE Asia or back in London!

Sharan with the children at CESHE

Sharan with the children at CESHE

I also ran into another fellow traveler, one I met back in Chiang Mai on a trek – Mike.  A Canadian who was raised on camping, swimming and in the snow – completely opposite to me! He too was staying at the same hostel in Vientiane and then headed for Pakse.  Part of the reason I spotted him was because of his tattoo – this beaver with a log in it’s mouth – on his back.  Whilst initially I hadn’t spoken to him a great deal during the trek, I found we agreed on many things and again had a good laugh. In terms of how we were raised, we are worlds apart, chalk and cheese quite literally. He was raised my parents, who were farmers, eating all kinds of meat and then entered the world of trades. I was raised with old school parents, vegetarians and encouraged to be academic. Despite these differences, we had other things in common.


Looking back at these last few weeks, all I can think of is, I managed to get to the 4000 islands, I honestly didn’t think I would.  The general vibe on these islands and around the country is please don’t rush, go slow, take your time and don’t stress. I can’t say that I have given up stressing entirely but I’m trying, there isn’t much to stress about on these islands. Life is slow, there are no cars or tuks tuks for instance, main form of transportation are boats, motorbikes and bicycles. There are also no street lights and little night life.


The only thing, perhaps not so pleasant, are all the roosters. Like Cambodia, a lot of Laos including the islands, are swamped with roosters which insist on waking up at 2/3am! Other than that, you have the wonderful noise of the motors used for the boats. Now I appreciate that complete silence is not possible and I don’t particularly want that either but it would be great to good night’s sleep!


Leaving Laos yesterday, I questioned – how did I get so lucky? How was able to attract/meet such great people? They say good things happen to good people – maybe that’s it? I don’t like to question good things and I don’t like to think that they will run out. Rather, I will continue as I have done and I hope that I continue meeting some crazy, funny, friendly people. Nobody wants normal, that’s boring, it’s better to be a little crazy- right?