Category Archives: Laos

Most Perfect Food In The World

I think it could be said that Thailand just got dumb lucky when it came to food development.  They just happened to situated in a prefect geographical location to combine the regions spices, tropical gifts, and seafood that make Thai food the most perfectly balanced food in the world.  Now I am not saying that it is the “best” food in the world, that would be a subjective opinion that is impossible to make as a statement.  Plus how could you argue that Italy doesn’t have a “best” dish on its day, or France, or Japan.  What I am saying is that when you grade the food on balance of taste there just isn’t much that can stand up to an amazing Thai curry.  There are not many other dishes in the world where every bite stimulates taste buds without numbing them.  Every taste of a Thai curry is like the first, how is that possible?  Maybe someday a gastro-scientist can explain this to me, but in the end I don’t really care why it happens, I am just happy that it does.

I figured an entire post should be devoted to the food Scotty and I ate in South East Asia between northern Thailand and Laos.  Travel is truly enjoyable when you look forward to eating everyday and never get tired of eating the same type of food over the duration of the trip.

So here we go!

Pad Thai Street Stand

Pad Thai Street Stand

When I first arrived, Scotty took me to get spring rolls and Pad Thai from one of the many street food carts on Khao San Road in Bangkok.  This type of dish isn’t really eaten by the locals and is really for the throngs of international travelers. A great snack though, and at around $1-2 USD a good little bargain.

Sweaty pad thai and spring roll snack.

Sweaty pad thai and spring roll snack.

Spring Roll Cart

Spring Roll Cart

One of my first Thai meals of the trip.

One of my first Thai meals of the trip.

This is one of the first meals I had in Thailand.  Upper left is spring rolls with ham.  Upper right is a red curry, which I think is probably the best dish in Thailand, although I’m sure I would get an argument out of many for this distinction.  To the lower left is basil noodles, these where amazing because the basil is fried and crunchy then mixed with noodles and steamed veggies.

Food at the great restaurant that we could not read the name of.

Food at the great restaurant that we could not read the name of.

This was at the restaurant that Scotty’s friend Duncan took us to.  It has been around forever and is a family run joint in the heart of the business and high end district of Bangkok.  Their specialty was cockles, or little fresh water clams.  These where drowned in an oyster sauce and where delicious.  The other dish is a prawn salad which came up a distant second compared to the cockles.

If you can read the name of this place, please let me know what it is!

If you can read the name of this place, please let me know what it is!

So, After I first posted this entry, a friend from the USA wrote a comment that a colleague of his knew of this restaurant and gave him the name.  Its is called Yong Lee Restaurant.  So there you go, ask and you shale receive!

Ohh Man!

Ohh Man!

Yellow Curry and some kind of soup I ordered that I can’t remember the name of now.  The soup was for like 2-3 people.  Of course I ate almost all of it myself.  Look how fat I am in the picture below.  Good thing I got a nasty stomach parasite half way through Laos and that helped me take off a few pounds….it also almost killed me.  You know when people sometimes wish they had a parasite to help them loose weight, guess what, you really, really don’t want one.

All fat and sweaty.  This meal was spicy, combined with the tropical heat, and my lack of warm weather blood, and you get this mess.

All fat and sweaty. This meal was spicy, combined with the tropical heat, and my lack of warm weather blood, and you get this mess.

Yum!

Yum!

Spicy Seafood Salad

Spicy Seafood Salad

This is easily the spiciest thing I have ever eaten.  We where in Northern Thailand, near Chang Mai.  It was probably about 102 degrees (39 C) and we where sitting around a shallow lake at this cool little bungalow style restaurant.   When I ate this, I almost choked.  I started to get dizzy and my ears actually puckered.  I couldn’t talk, think, move or do anything at all.  The dish tasted great though!

Great Appetizer!

Great Appetizer!

This was a nice little appetizer that we where shown at the Thai cooking course we took.  It is beetle nut leaves, with diced ginger, roasted peanuts, roasted garlic, lime, shallot, and green (bomb) chillies. You fold it all up in the beetle nut leaves, drizzle a little sesame oil sauce over it and enjoy.

All rolled up and ready to munch.

All rolled up and ready to munch.

Tom Yum and red curry we made at class.

Tom Yum and red curry we made at class.

What makes the curries so good in Thailand?  Well for me it is the perfect balance of the spice of the curry powder/paste with the sweetness of the base.  Sometimes its just added sugar, but most times it is the coconut milk/paste that is added to make the Thai curries more soupy than that of there Indian counterparts.  I think this is where the perfection occurs. The fact that Thailand had the tropical coast lines to support coconut, with the proximity to India for the spices was the geographical dumb luck that everyone in the world is now fortunate enough to enjoy.

More tom yum, and a masaman curry I made in class.

More tom yum, and a masaman curry I made in class.

The masaman curry is less soupy than some of the other curries.  It is also sweeter and therefor less spicy.  This might be my favorite dish.

Laap and Brown Rice

Laap and Brown Rice

This is Laap that I had in the northern city of Pai in Thailand.  It is actually the national dish of Laos I found out later.  It is made by dicing up meat like beef, chicken, pork or even fish.  It is then cooked with mild spices and tossed with fresh mint.  I have to say that the mint is magical, it gives the dish this great fresh flavor that will keep you coming back.  The rice shown in this picture is brown rice, but in Laos we would often eat our meals with sticky rice, which is exactly what it sounds like.  The rice sticks together and you roll it between your fingers and eat the balled up rice with you main dish.

The best curry we had? Very possible!

The best curry we had? Very possible!

This red chicken curry I had in Pai was probably the best curry I had on the trip. In the upper corner you can see a mug of thai iced tea.  This may be my favorite beverage on the planet (well non-alcoholic drink).  It is thick thai tea mixed with soy milk.  It is sweet with a heavy back tea taste. Try it sometime, I’m sure you will love it!

We where at this cool little restaurant with about 6 tables down a small alley way near the river.  It was called the Curry Shack.  If your ever in Pai I would highly suggest hitting this cool little place for a dinner one night.  The owner was super friendly as well and we had a nice chat with him as he closed up for the night.

Green Curry in Luang Prabang

Green Curry in Luang Prabang

Scotty got this green tofu curry in Luang Prabang.

Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad

Papaya salad seems to be a staple at every place we went.  I’m not sure if it is everywhere because westerners like it, or its just a regional favorite.  I always had a problem with papaya salad however.  If it was made with very, very light fish sauce I liked it.  It is a nice crunchy veggie salad with shaved papaya, carrots, and various other veggies.  Often the cook might go heavy on the fish sauce, and as our cooking teacher said, “Fish sauce, smells terrible, tastes great.”  This is normally true when its cooked in with something, but when tossed in with a salad I found it to smell like wet dog that has been left in a small room and has pooped someplace and it hasn’t been cleaned in like months…you know the smell, everyone had a friend that had a room in or around their house that had this problem.  The taste isn’t bad, although when really heavy the small and taste start to combine. I pretty much found papaya salad to be like eating stinky cheese.

Night Market Feast in Luang Prabang

Night Market Feast in Luang Prabang

On our last night in Luang Prabang we found a food street in the night market in town. It was amazing.  There where probably 25 stalls lining a narrow alley and tables and chairs where set up cafeteria style all the way down.  Each place had several items on a counter, and we paid for a plate size (Small, Medium, Large) and scooped up food buffet style.

Pha on the loop in central Laos

Pha on the loop in central Laos

Pha, aka noodle soup is actually more of a Vietnamese staple soup.  However we ate a lot of it in Laos on the Loop due to nothing other than lack of language skills.  It can be ordered with beef or chicken usually, and as Scotty is a vegetarian, with no meat as well.  The best part is the fresh water crest and greens that come on the side.  To add some flavor there was usually a condiment platter on the table with various sauces like fish and sweet chilly along with salts and other tasty additions.

Various goodies under wraps at a food stall along the loop.

Various goodies under wraps at a food stall along the loop.

We where never adventurous enough to try any of these, but this was how many places where in Laos.  A buffet table out front and the eatery behind it.  Usually we just got Pha.  I wish I had a local with us…would have been epic to try some of this stuff.

Boohya! Food!

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4000 Islands in the middle of the Mekong

Ferry Ride to Don Det Island

Ferry Ride to Don Det Island

After we drove the loop, we hopped a bus 9 hours south to our last stop in Laos.  There is a pretty worn tourist trail that starts in Luang Prabang, and ends here at the 4000 islands area of the Mekong River.  This is right on the boarder of Cambodia, and many travelers hold up here while they get thier Cambodian visa squared away.  Scotty and I headed down to this area just to chill and do nothing, which is about all there is to do there anyway.

There are a few larger Islands that are inhabited  on the river.  We decided to go to Don Det, the second largest island, and a spot that has been set up primarily for travelers.  There are multiple hut style guest houses on the island, all very cheap, around $2-4 USD depending on negotiation and season. The islands accommodation is set up on both sides and are referred to as the sunrise or sunset side of the island.

We arrived in the morning after the bus ride, and took a van taxi an hour more south from the bus station to the river boat ferry that was taking us to the island.  Once on Don Det we headed to the sunset side, and looked at about 10 places before finally settling on one place with wooden walls, and a fan and power outside of the hut on the porch.

One of the 4000 islands.

One of the 4000 islands.

I like palm trees!

I like palm trees!

Our Favorite Restaurant

Our Favorite Restaurant

Their really isn’t much to do on the islands.  Our days where filled with book reading, swimming in the river, eating, taking short bike rides around the island, which is about 7K in perimeter, and generally being very lazy.  In the morning, we would bathe in the river, and then usually get breakfast which consisted of eggs and fresh juice or a smoothy all for around $1.50 USD.  After that we might head out for a swim or rent a tube and float on the river.  There was a small sand island directly across from our bungalow and we would swim the 300 meters to it each day.  We nicknamed it shelter island.

We also rented push bikes for $1 a day to get around the island, and to head over to the sunrise side for internet, or go shopping, as that is the more “developed” side of the island.  It was about a 3 min bike ride.

We took a few walks around the island, and the southern end was less populated and covered with bone dry rice patty fields.

Usually for dinner, we would head to our favorite place.   The owner really pinned his business.  He was a bit cheaper than anywhere else, played fun music but didn’t blare it, and had cold beer.  We probably ate 90% of our meals here, and by the end of our 4 day stay, we knew us by sight.  After dinner, on most of the nights we where there we headed down to the sunrise side, to the beach where the ferry lands, and after collecting bamboo, or anything that would burn, we would have a bonfire with most of the other travelers on the island, usually around 30-40 people.

Sunset on the Mekong

Sunset on the Mekong

Sunset on the Mekong

Sunset on the Mekong

Obviously, staying on the sunset side of the island, we got to sit out either in our restaurant, or on our bungalow porch and watch a great colorful sunset over the river.

Sunset River Boat

Sunset River Boat

River Boats

River Boats

Scotty Staple's Photo

Scotty Staple's Photo

Just another night at dinner.

Just another night at dinner.

This was pretty much it for our trip in Laos.  From here, we would head across the boarder and take a night bus back to Bangkok.  As we where planning to go, we heard from a few people that had just shown up on Don Det that Bangkok was having heavy rioting and conflict around the political protests that where happening all month I was in the region.  Someone mentioned that the airport was closed and that Kauo San Road had been shut down due to danger of violence.  Scotty and I where skeptical, and went online to see if there was any mention of this.  Scott also emailed his friend Duncan that lived in Bangkok to get a first hand, accurate account of what the actual danger was.

After our research we where confident we would be fine, and 2 days later we where on a bus back to Bangkok.

100 Posts! Motorbikes and a Loop at Thekhek

Smile, Your In Thakhek

Smile, Your In Thakhek

Here We Go!

Here We Go!

After a long, less than ideal 9 hour local bus ride to Thakhek, we arrived late in the evening.  We where both super hungry and tried to find food late (around 11 p.m.) and only found a small road side stand with fried bread and a small market with snack foods like crisps and soda.  This was the first time I felt truly annoyed in Laos.  It must have been the hunger, and after a good night sleep and a good breakfast I was back on track.

This new day was a set up day.  We needed to find scooters or hopefully larger touring motorbikes for the big “loop” we planned to do through the center of the country.  We also needed to educate ourselves up on the route we planned to take, and figure out how long we wanted to do it in.  We needed to figure out a budget, as we had been warned that there where no ATMs along the route and we would need to carry in all the cash we would need.

After about 2 hours of looping the town looking for one particular scooter rental place, we stumbled upon an internet cafe that had 2 red Sinha 150 touring bikes sitting inside.  I had read about these in our hostel guest book, and figured this would be our best bet for the tour de Laos.  We negotiated a pretty good deal, and after going shoe shopping and buka ball buying, we where ready to pick up the bikes and give them a test run.

We gassed up the bikes, went back to the hostel, did some interneting and we both read up on “the loop” from the guest book at the hostel.  We decided to try and drive the entire way in 3 days.  We roughly planned to stop at 3-4 caves, get a swim in one of the various swimming holes, and stay at a home stay the 2nd night near a cave that was over 3 miles long and required a boat to pass through.

All the planning worked up an appetite and Scott and I headed back to the heart of Thakhek to eat along the Mekong.  We got a great sunset and met a guy from Texas along the way.

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset, Looking Into Thailand

Mekong Sunset, Looking Into Thailand

Woman Fishing

Woman Fishing

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

Mekong Sunset

We ended up going on a small bar hop through town. We started at the Smile Bar upper, on the main street along the river, and watched a Man U.  football match on a big screen on the front deck.  After a few beers we headed down to one of the 2 floating barge bars for another beer. I should mention that on this bar hope we where usually the only people in the restaurant/bar.  Or if there was someone there, we where for sure the only westerners.  This made for an interesting dynamic.

Namkhong on the River Barge

Namkhong on the River Barge

After this place, we went next door to the second more lively river bar barge, The Smile Bar.  (see picture at beginning of post)  This place was cranking by 9 p.m. and the place was packed with Lao teenagers getting loaded.  When we walked in we where the only white people in the place.  After almost getting ripped off for the 3 beers we bought,and arguing with the bartender until he gave us a fair price, we found a standing table and rocked out to the Lao DJ.  Its funny standing out like a sore thumb in a crowd.  Luckily its sticking out in a good way, and a few groups came over and attempted to communicate with us.  A simple word to the wise, if a Lao girl decides to dance with you, do not pick her up, as in lift her in the air “dirty dancing” style.  Apparently this is culturally insensitive. The more I think about this, its probably a bad idea to do that to any woman anywhere….Whoops!

This whole night we where hanging with an American guy from Texas.  So it was 2 Americans and a New Zealnd Kiwi drinking in the heart of Lao with the local teenage kids.  And I have to say, they put us to shame.  The Lao kids know how to party, all be it a little early for western standards.

The bar shut down around 11 p.m. and all the kids stumbled out and got on there motorbikes and zipped off.  Of course, thinking about this is interesting, booze + motorbikes = X?  As any person that has been to a few places in the world can tell you, teenagers are idiots, add booze they turn into morons.  Its comforting to know that this is something that all humans can share in common.  We really are more the same than different.

We motored on our Sinha 150’s back towards the hostel.  On the way our new Texan friend suggested that we stop by the local disco tech, not for dancing, but for food.  So at 12 p.m (it could have been 4 a.m. for that matter) we sat and had pha (needle soup) with thumping bass seeping through the walls.  I would say that this felt weird, but after the night we had just had, it felt quite comfortable, and like a fitting end.

In the morning we ate a quick breakfast and mounted up for the journey.  Scotty had the brilliant idea of photographing the map.  We bought water, strapped everything down, and mounted up for the haul….kiddie up!

Our very own Goonies map, courtesy of a very detailed individual that took the time to draw this. Thanks!

Our very own Goonies map, courtesy of a very detailed individual that took the time to draw this. Thanks!

Motorbike Scotty

Motorbike Scotty says, "This is where skinny jeans make sense".

Motorbike Phil says. "Thank God I learned to tight roll in middle school".

Motorbike Phil says. "Thank God I learned to tight roll in middle school".

We headed out on the open road.  I can not tell you just how much I love the road on a bike.  I think I am hooked.  This may be the best way to see anyplace.  As we rallied out into the country, a sense of anxiousness, freedom, excitement, and pure exhilaration filled me as I road an engine with 2 thin tires across aging asphalt and into sharp karst  limestone mountains.

karst mountains

karst mountains

Our first stop was a large cave, about 20 clicks outside of Thekhek.  It took us a few passes, and turn a around, but we stumbled across a small roadside shop and a man gesturing us to turn in.  The man lead us down a dirt driveway and motioned for us to park the bikes.

He guided us down a path and over a tree bridge to the opening of a huge cave.

Log bridge to the cave

Log bridge to the cave

Passage to cave entrance.

Passage to cave entrance.

Cave Entrance

Cave Entrance

Cave Entrance Roof

Cave Entrance Roof

Into the Darkness

Into the Darkness

Looking Back

Looking Back

Cave

Cave

The other side.  This cave bore all the way through this ridge line.  The wonders of limestone and water!

The other side. This cave bore all the way through this ridge line. The wonders of limestone and water!

Cave Exit

Cave Exit

Cave Interior

Cave Interior

Cave Wall

Cave Wall

*******

*******

Back on the Road

Back on the Road

After the cave we motored deeper into the country.  We where both having so much fun just riding that we passed a lot of the caves and swimming holes along the first leg of the loop.

The Bikey Gang

The Bikey Gang

You said it man.

You said it man.

Double Time

Double Time

Somewhere along the route.

Somewhere along the route.

About 100K into the trip we hit some rough road.  The asphalt deteriorated into potted, muddy, rocky ruts.  For over 50K (31 miles) we weaved our way through a terrible road.  However, the country side that we passed through was amazing.  We went through several small farming villages,and green fields.  Most of the time it felt like I was back home in upstate New York driving down orchard or farm roads.

Dirt Road Riding

Dirt Road Riding

Green Fields

Green Fields

Greener Fields

Greener Fields

We pushed through the bad road and rolled into the town of Lakos right around sundown.  We had driven for around 12 hours.  We had planned to stop about 60K earlier, but where having so much fun just driving the bikes that we kept on going.  We found a nice little guest house, showered all the dust and diesel fumes off ourselves and went into town for dinner.

The next morning we stopped for breakfast at a great little open eatery.  We had pha…again, however this was one of the best I had on the trip.

Scotty in the Eatery

Scotty in the Eatery

We got on the road early, so we could make it to Kong Lo and the mystical 7K cave.  We wanted to make it there by early afternoon to catch one of the last boats in.  We drove hard for an hour or so and came across a high bridge over a river.  I saw an amazing picture opportunity, Scotty saw a bridge jump.  I think I’m getting old.

Pictures from the Bridge

Pictures from the Bridge

Can you see the falling Kiwi?

Can you see the falling Kiwi?

River Boats

River Boats

River Boats

River Boats

River Boats

River Boats

River

River

River

River

River

River

After Scotty’s jump, we got back on the road leaving a seed planted in the local children’s minds of jumping off a bridge. We headed for Kong Lo and the 7K cave.  We needed to get there before 4 p.m. to catch the last boat.  So we drove fast and arrived early, around 3.

Entrance to the Kong Lo 7K Cave

Entrance to the Kong Lo 7K Cave

Entrance to the Kong Lo 7K Cave

Entrance to the Kong Lo 7K Cave

Into the Cave

Into the Cave

After paying the boatman at the entrance to the cave, he walked us in.  I had my head torch and the pilot and the navigator of the boat wore large head lamps with battery pack attachments.  We walked up to the launch area where about 50 boats where docked, and we climbed into one of them.  The feeling inside was freakishly eerie.  We launched off and started to motor deeper into the cave.  The head lamps only light up small sections, and as I looked around I could see the carved walls and ceiling, sometimes 60 ft overhead like a haze in the distance.  This was not a place for a claustrophobic.

Since it is the dry season, we kept coming to points in the cave river where it got too shallow to pass. We needed to get out and help pull or push the boat over sand banks, rock piles and rock rapids.

About 20 minutes into the trip we started to see a weird glow ahead and as we got closer we saw the the light color changed from white to yellow to blue.  Curious, we pulled up to a lite up underworld.  We docked and where led up a path.  What I photographed next was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

Inside the Cave

Inside the Cave

Underworld Light World

Underworld Light World

Underworld Light Show

Underworld Light Show

Cave Column

Cave Column

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

After 45 minutes of boating, getting in and out to help pull or push the boat over shallow spots, going through room after room of the cave, some with massive 100 foot ceilings, we emerged on the other side.  The river had carved a route through a mountain range.  Absolutely amazing.  One of the most interesting things that we saw on the boat trip was several other boats carrying goods. This river passage has been used as a trade route for thousands of years.

On the other side.

On the other side.

We stopped at little river side shop, had a coke and a sit, and then turned around and headed back through the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Back at the beginning of the cave.

Scotty and the Cave

Scotty and the Cave

The walk back to the bikes.

The walk back to the bikes.

After the cave, we drove to the small town close by to stay at a home stay for a night.  We stayed with a family in their house.  They cooked us dinner and breakfast.  We stayed up trying to communicate with the man and his wife, and had fun trying to charade and think of creative ways to express ourselves using no spoken language.

We showered outside in the communal well pump which was funny since Scotty and I had no idea how, to go naked, to wrap ourselves in towels, to use a large dish to stand in or not, how to use the bucket and all the other little things around.  The man we where staying with ended up showing us how to do it.  It felt weird having to be shown how to do something as mundane as a shower, like being a small child again.

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog

cooking morning breakfast

cooking morning breakfast

cooking breakfast

cooking breakfast

cooking breakfast

cooking breakfast

part of the house

part of the house

We woke early, ate breakfast and got back on the bikes to rally back to Thekhek and catch a bus to our next location.  We drove through some amazing mountain passes and along sharp topped karst ridges.

karst mountain ridge lines

karst mountain ridge lines

karst mountain ridge lines

karst mountain ridge lines

karst mountain ridge lines

karst mountain ridge lines

About 20K out of Thekhek , we had the only mechanical issue of the trip, but it was a big one.  Scotty’s bike just lost all power, and completely shut down.  Scotty’s thought was that it over heated.  So we waited on the side of the road for about a half hour in the sweltering Lao heat waiting for the engine block to cool off.  Scotty got the bike started again, and we got back on the road.  But after about another K the bike shut down again.

Our next plan of action was for me to pull Scotty’s bike back in using one of my tie down straps.  Once we got the bikes rigged, I started to pull him.  It was working great until I began to feel the back of my bike slide out again and again.  I looked down, and my back tire was completely flat.

So now we had 2 broken down bikes in the middle of no where.  We started to push the bikes and got to a little mechanic shop.  He looked at my bike and saw that the stem on the tire was damaged, he then gestured that he had no replacement tires in the size I needed.  So once again we pushed the bikes onwards towards town, trying to flag down a truck to help us get back.  After about 5 flat bed trucks ignored us on the road, we crept by a house and several of the family members waved us over.  This wonderfully generous man came out and pointed to his cart, and offered to take us into town.  It took about 40 minutes to go 17K but we made it.  We gave the driver a large tip, and thanked him over and over again.

We dropped the bikes off, I gave extra money for the tire, and we headed back to the hostel to collect our bags and wait for our bus to the next stop.

Beat Up Bikes

Beat Up Bikes

In the Cart

In the Cart

First Person Driver

First Person Driver

Vang Vieng, Party Apocalypse Now Style on the River

Laos was just one surprise after the other.  Vang Vieng was the culmination of this.  It may be the oddest place I will ever go.

We Left Luang Prabang early in the morning for the 6 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng.  The road snaked through the mountains, and the bus crept annoyingly slow.  We broke down about half way into the trip, which come to find out, most buses do on this route.  Our bus didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows where open, and dust blew in covering everything in a surprisingly think layer.

We Finally arrived in in the late afternoon, and after a bit of a scramble, we headed to a hostel that was recommended to Scotty by a couple of Mexican guys he had met a few weeks earlier.  The Spicy Laos hostel was one of the coolest I have ever stayed in.  It was a 3 story, open air bungalow style structure, with beds perched on platforms in various locations throughout the structure.  There where mosquito nets, but other than the roof over head, it was pretty much like sleeping out in the open.

That night, we took it easy, ate a dinner at one of the various restaurants in town.  Each place has either Friends, Family Guy, or the Simpsons playing, and each place goes by the tag, “family guy place”.

Along the small river in town, a series of bars/clubs are nestled along the banks, and from the high bank you get a surreal overview of the madness.

One of the many hut bars in Vang Vieng

One of the many hut bars in Vang Vieng

The Spicy Hostel had a great set up.  The communal lounge made it easy to get to know everyone staying and it was easy and quick to make friends.  There was also a fridge with beer and water ready at demand, and each person kept a tally on a board for what they drank, all on the honor system.

Spicy Laos Hostel Common Area

Spicy Laos Hostel Common Area

Each day, some interesting activity was set up for anyone staying.  On this day, we went fishing in a drying up water hole.  The fish where hiding in the mud.  Fishing was done by hand, like a muddy noodling session with small six inch fish.

Getting ready to fish behind Spicy

Getting ready to fish behind Spicy

Fishing Behind Spicy

Fishing Behind Spicy

Scotty got the winning fish, the largest one caught.  He has been on a fishing roll.  I guess no one else really had a chance against the Kiwi, man those guys love the outdoor sports.

After the catch the fish was prepared for the feast.

After the catch the fish was prepared for the feast.

After the catch we all prepared a feast.  The women working at Spicy scaled and grilled the fish.  The ladies here are chopping beef for the local dish, lap, which is amazing!

Preparing Lap, the local food in northern Loas.  It is finely chopped chicken, beef, or fish, mixed with spices and finished with mint.  Its amazing!

Preparing Lap, the local food in northern Loas. It is finely chopped chicken, beef, or fish, mixed with spices and finished with mint. Its amazing!

We finally got a clear day and saw the amazing back drop behind the hostel.  This is looking out towards the main river.

Finally a clear day.  The view from the Spicy hostel.

Finally a clear day. The view from the Spicy hostel.

The reason that most travelers stop in Vang Vieng is the legendary river tubing.  Apparently is started out with a few travelers snagging some old tractor tire inter tubes, and launched 3k (1.7 miles) up river.  They slowly meandered their way down river over 1-3 hours depending on river flow.

One entrepreneurial villager decided to make a little shack along the river, and sold snacks and beer.  He didn’t tell anyone else in town what he was doing, and only showed up in town to stock up on supplies.  He kept all his stock and money in one of the caves near the river.  At some point someone made him and saw how much money he was making.  After that, over the past 5 years, and really in the last 2, craziness has surrounded the river, and become a “must do” stop for young travelers on there way through South East Asia.

Most people rent tubes in town, and take the $1 tuk tuk ride to the launch area.  You have to be careful though, there is a big deposit for the tube, and in the madness on the river, mix ups, and people taking tubes is common.  Its a game of musical chairs and at the end of the day, you don’t want to be the one left standing without a tube.

Loading the tubes up and heading to the river.

Loading the tubes up and heading to the river.

Back of the Tuk Tuk, ready to go!

Back of the Tuk Tuk, ready to go!

Mount Up!

Mount Up!

I was excited about tubing, and had some mild expectations of the bars and rope swings around the river.  I have been on a few river rafting trips, and the bars and swings along them are fun.  They are usually flung over a tree, and the bars have porches and you can grab a snack and a drink.  I figured it was about the same.  I was wrong, dead wrong.  I walked into an Apocalypse Now madness of drunken acrobatic insanity.  The structures where massive, the swings sophisticated, the bars rocked with hundreds of drunk young travelers.  There are no safety measures here, so that just added to the craziness of it all.

One of the many rope swings and platform jumps.  Scotty warming up here.

One of the many rope swings and platform jumps. Scotty warming up here.

Rockin on the River

Rockin on the River

Tubing Pack

Tubing Pack



One of the many bars on the river, chillin' with Scotty.

One of the many bars on the river, chillin' with Scotty.

Scotty POV

Scotty POV

Stop by the bar, stack the tubes, party!

Stop by the bar, stack the tubes, party!

This bar had a rad zip line.


The Big Rope Swing

The Big Rope Swing

Lazy, acrobatic day on the river.

Lazy, acrobatic day on the river.

In the background here you can see a massive water slide made of concrete and lined with tile.  The start is at the top of the building….are you kidding me!

River Party!

River Party!

Yay!

Yay!

Ahh, river picnic table, of course.

Ahh, river picnic table, of course.

Up river boat.

Up river boat.

Lovin' Life Scotty

Lovin' Life Scotty

It took us almost three and a half hours to get back to town on the tubes.  It was the dry season, and the river was very low, and had a slow flow.

The next day was New Year’s Day in Laos.  This is the biggest and water fighteness day of the year in SE Asia.  Everyone staying at Spicy went to the main road, and became a wall of water destruction, dousing tuk tuks, cars, guys and girls on motorbikes, and the trucks that drove around with people in the back doing the same thing we where.  What an epic celebration and tradition, the water fight!

Spicy Water Army

Spicy Water Army

We where painted with red dye and white powder and had buckets and water pistols.  The entire day was spent wet, and drinking.

Spicy Water Army

Spicy Water Army

Communal Booze Bucket

Communal Booze Bucket

The day came to a head as the procession of Buddhist and town people made there way down the main street to the temple on the edge of town.  New Year is a celebration and a holy day.

New Years Procession

New Years Procession

New Years Procession

New Years Procession

Of course, after the parade, we all headed for the river.  This time we didn’t get tubes, we just went to the bars and swam from one to the next.

Another Day At The River Party

Another Day At The River Party

Another Day At The River Party

Another Day At The River Party

Scotty in the middle of it all.

Scotty in the middle of it all.

Scotty ended up going to the Mud Bar, its exactly what you think it would be.

Mud Pit Tug Of War

Mud Pit Tug Of War

Mud Volley Ball

Mud Volley Ball

After about 4 days of parting, eating and drinking mushroom shakes I was ready for a long rest, and a mellow out period.  Our plan next was to head to the center of the country, a place where not many travelers go.  We where told of “the loop”, a 400K (200 mile) loop of roads that went through the heart of the country, where we could rent motorbikes and go explore caves, carsk mountian ranges, and swimming holes, along with remote towns and villages.  Giddy up!  To the next spot!

Luang Prabang, What the french toast!

Luang Prabang Sunset over temple

Luang Prabang Sunset over temple

Life is amazing when things happen by surprise.  Stumbling into a festival that you did not know about, or being in New York City for New years eve, and having no idea that it was a holiday or a giant party.  It makes the experience that much more memorable.

We strolled into Luang Prabang after a long 2 day boat ride down the Mekong river.  We arrived late in the day, at dusk, wary and sore from sitting on a wooden deck for 20 hours.  We quickly found a guest house, took a shower, and crashed for the night.

The next morning we awoke, and walked out into one of the most interesting, unexpected places I will ever have been to.  The royal city, in the heart of Laos, was a french colonial post nearly a century ago. The french influence is palpable.  The architecture mirrors that of a small european city.  However, the scattering of ancient Buddhist temples, with classic sweeping roofs sets the area apart from anything in Europe.

Sitting in a cafe in Luang Prabang

Sitting in a cafe in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Street in Luang Prabang

Street in Luang Prabang

The twist to this place.  We just happen, by complete coincidence, are here for the Laos New Year.  On of there more celebrated holidays in all of Asia.   The coolest part about the celebration, is how they celebrate it.

I tried to have someone explain where the tradition came from, but could never get and explanation I could understand.  But the entire country, and most all of Thailand have a giant week long water fight to usher in the new year.

Mostly young people, usually children and teenage kids sit along the roadside with squirt guns and large trash can size buckets of water dousing traffic and anyone on a bike scooter or car.  In the height of the hot dry season I cannot think of a more fitting celebration or party.

We rented bikes for the day for 50 cents, and  road around the town exploring some  of the streets and temples.  We got soaked as we road by pre new years celebration and buckets of water.  We stopped by a local toy shop and picked up 2 water glocks.

Scotty on his Bike

Scotty on his Bike

In the night we went to magical street markets and ate cheap meals in an alley full of food stalls.

Luang Prabang night market

Luang Prabang night market

Goods Night Market

Goods Night Market

We met up with some friends from the slow boat on our last night in town and went to a amazing resort bar that had a pit type beach volley ball net, large bamboo terrace and jungle surrounds, a great way to end our stay in a magical city.

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Utopia Bar, Luang Prabang

Slow boat to Laos, and I do mean slow.

In order to head into Laos, the land locked country to the east of Thailand, we needed to take a mini van to the boarder, then spend the night to await for a ferry to take us across the famous Mekong river, where we were to board a slow boat for two days on the river to the Laos royal city of Luang Prabang.  That was the plan anyway.

We sprinted back from Pai on our bikes, early in the morning, in order to have time to shower, eat and meet the mini bus.  Of course what wasn’t planned was me getting lost in Changmai for and hour and a half, fighting the traffic clogged streets trying to find Scotty and the motorbike rental place.

After I finally found it, we hurried back to Julie house where our bags where.  A shower was out, but we managed to whoof down a pad thai and catch the mini bus.  We got to a nice hotel on the boarder that had a pool, and set up our visa information there.  The visa cost $30 USD and could only be paid in US dollars.  Come to find out its very good to travel with US currency in Asia…who knew? Now you do.

In the morning we were taken to the river, put on a small boat and ferried across the river, effectively crossing the boarder.  On the other side we waited for the Laos authorities to process our passports and pay the fee. Two hours later we were on a slow boat heading down the Mekong, which would be one of the most memorable, and uncomfortable journeys I have made.

On the ferry boat waiting to cross the mighty Mekong.

On the ferry boat waiting to cross the mighty Mekong.

Waiting for our passports with Laos visas to return, at least we where overlooking the river.

Waiting for our passports with Laos visas to return, at least we where overlooking the river.

Truck Ferry, Rad!

Truck Ferry, Rad!

Slow boats lined up

Slow boats lined up

Loading up the slow boat

Loading up the slow boat

We slowly made our way down the river.  The boat seated around 50 – 75 people, and had a motor in the back, propelling us probably around 5 knots. The rest of the forward momentum came from current propelling us down the river. Most of us sat on wooden benches that where not made for humans, not even small Asian people. The back rest was straight up, and the seat only came halfway across your bottom.  Luckily Scotty’s sister had told us to purchase cushions for the trip, and in the next 2 days these became key to avoiding a numb ass, which was always a loosing battle.

We slowly meandered, hour after hour, Floating past small ancient villages that had no road access, and have been on the river highway for thousands of years.  Fisherman and their long boats where a constant along the river banks, and there bamboo floating nets caught fish using the river current as the trolling mechanism.

One of the first villages we passed on our 2 day journey.

One of the first villages we passed on our 2 day journey.

A Boat

A Boat

Fast boats. These little wooden speed boats take people up and down the river in half the time.  The trade off though, is that they are hurling down a river with constantly changing water levels.  There are plenty of submerged rocks, logs, cows and other hazards that would destroy one of these boats in an instant. Apparently there is a death a year on one of these.

Fast boats. These little wooden speed boats take people up and down the river in half the time. The trade off though, is that they are hurling down a river with constantly changing water levels. There are plenty of submerged rocks, logs, cows and other hazards that would destroy one of these boats in an instant. Apparently there is a death a year on one of these.

Slow boat dropping off on its way up river.

Slow boat dropping off on its way up river.

Cliffs along river

Cliffs along river

Beautiful little village. This has probably been here for 1000's of years.

Beautiful little village. This has probably been here for 1000's of years.

Fishermen on there way in for the day.

Fishermen on there way in for the day.

10 hours into the journey we came to the mid way point, a small little town, the first with road access.  This has been a classic stopping point to travelers along the river, and We stayed the night at a guest house.  There where multiple options and a plethora of shops and restaurants to choose from.

The next morning , we grabbed a sandwich and snacks for the boat, and where back on the river for another 10 hour trip to the ancient royal city of Luang Probang, a UNESCO world heritage city.

As we approached the city, near sunset, we saw local farmers bringing Elephants to the rivers edge to drink, and holy ancient caves that where adorned with Buddha images from monks long past.

Elephants!

Elephants!

One of the villages we picked up, or dropped someone off at.

One of the villages we picked up, or dropped someone off at.

The Boat! The Boat!

The Boat! The Boat!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Sacred cave just up river from Luang Prabang.  Its filled with 1000's of Buddha images.

Sacred cave just up river from Luang Prabang. Its filled with 1000's of Buddha images.

Finally arrived on the banks of Luang Prabang.

Finally arrived on the banks of Luang Prabang.

I have to say after 2 days of sitting on spine snapping benches and the wooden deck, I was ready to get off the boat.  We made some good acquaintances over the 2 days, and in the next 3 weeks we bumped into people from this journey again and again in new locations.

Although uncomfortable, and long, I have to say that the slow boat and the Mekong are the way to move through Laos.  Its like walking back into time, and using the natural landscape to help you get to where you want to go, a timeless way to travel.