Leaving Thailand behind, I spent just over two weeks in beautiful Laos and Vietnam. It was an amazing two weeks of adventure, fun, new friends, new (and unusual) foods and trying lots of new things for the first time… kayaking in the Nam Som River, holding a python round my neck, swimming in a freezing cold waterfall, riding on a water buffalo at sunset, eating deep fried worm (yes, I said worm!) amongst many other things… some of these things I’d never imagined I would ever do!
Kuang Si waterfall south of Luang Prabang
Riding a water buffalo in Hoi An
After crossing the border from Thailand into Laos, we spent two days sailing along the mighty Mekong River. It was a beautiful ride with cold mornings, sunny afternoons and being surrounded by gorgeous hills and mountains all around. We passed various villages and fishing boats along the way and several cows and elephants too. We spent the night in a rustic lodge in the small village of Pak Beng located on the Mekong River… staying in wooden cabins with very little hot water and lots of geckos for friends, it made for an interesting night as the only sounds I could here were those of nature.
Views sailing along the Mekong River
Buddha statues in the Pak Ou caves, a stop along the Mekong River boat trip
Finally we arrived in the town of Luang Prabang… this is a beautiful town located along the Mekong River and one of my favourite stops on the trip. It’s a laidback and serene town even though there are a lot of tourists visiting. Some of the highlights for me (apart from historical or religious sights) were the bustling night markets (and the bargaining that comes with them), street food vendors selling mouth-watering dishes, strolling along dusty side streets, rising at dawn to watch the saffron-robed monks receiving alms, and the lively morning market with a variety of unusual eats! I saw a lot of interesting and strange foods in the morning market including deep fried mice/rats, frogs, snails, squirrels, budgies and cobra… I wasn’t brave enough to try any of them!
Mice, rats and snake found for sale in the Luang Prabang morning market
Monks collecting alms in the early morning
Sampling street food was definitely a highlight for me… from scrumptious spring rolls to delicious dumplings and, my personal favourite, banana and Nutella crepes that I bought along the sidewalk.
Luang Prabang Street Food
Home-cooked Laotian meal including laap and deep fried aubergine
Aside from this, I was also lucky enough to spend a morning with elephants… the highlight for me was ‘bathing’ them in the Mekong River… in actual fact they were just splashing about with us in the river rather than actually bathing but it was an incredible experience with these gentle giants… a dream come true for me because of my love of elephants!
‘Bathing’ elephants near Luang Prabang
Leaving Luang Prabang behind, we continued on to Vang Vieng for a day. Here I got to try kayaking for the first time… I was quite nervous at first but it was an amazing experience kayaking along the Nam Som River with the hot sun beating down on my skin. Along the way my group decided to stop at one of the infamous river-side bars… they are pretty cool with loud music blaring, people dancing, drinks flowing, BBQs burning on the side and awesome hammocks hanging around for people to catch some rest and shade from the strong sun.
That evening I sat along the riverside with a BeerLao beer in hand and watched the world go by… boats sailing, flocks of birds soaring through the sky, locals having a BBQ around a fire on the sand and the golden red sun setting behind the grand mountains… it’s one of those serene and breathtaking moments I’ll never forget.
Vang Vieng sunset
After leaving Laos, we headed to Vietnam where the first stop was Hanoi. This is one of the most bustling, vibrant and chaotic cities I’ve ever seen, especially in the old quarter. There were people and motorbikes everywhere, horns beeping, power lines dangling, street vendors galore, amazing sights, sounds and smells everywhere and dozens of streetside ‘bars’ selling the cheapest beer in the world, Bia Hoi (for the equivalent of 24 cents)! There seemed to be no concept of traffic rules or personal space in Hanoi… you couldn’t walk anywhere without being bumped into or beeped at or nearly run over by a motorcyclist! The thing I found the most strange however is how such a vibrant city completely shuts down at midnight… it’s like it turns into a pumpkin… the streets become empty and lonely, all the sounds disappear and there is just quiet all around.
Streets of Hanoi
BBQ dog for sale in Hanoi
One of my highlights in Vietnam was an overnight stay on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay. I had an absolutely incredible time there… apart from getting scared half to death by monkeys when visiting a local beach… but don’t worry, we came away unscathed (just about!). I had another of those ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments when watching a spectacular sunset on the top deck of our boat with a glass of merlot in one hand and my faithful camera in the other… and coming back after dinner to star gaze in the beautifully clear night sky! These are some moments I’ll never ever forget!
Ha Long Bay
Aside from Ha Long bay, I really enjoyed my time in the city of Hue. I was lucky to be able to take a slightly non-conventional city tour… I got to ride on the back of a motorbike for the day to see all the sights. It was an incredibly fun and insightful experience… riding through big highways, small back alleys, rice fields, cemeteries, past peoples homes, businesses and schools… it was a great way to see the city as I felt I got a much better insight into the real Hue and the way people live there.
Motorbike tour in Hue and meeting local people en route
Leaving Hue, we stopped for a few nights in Hoi An with it’s charming streets, many stalls, restaurants, cafes and shops. Some of the highlights here were a noodle making class (it’s harder than it looks!), a cycle tour through vegetable gardens and rice fields (and getting a little lost) and the opportunity to ride a water buffalo.
The final stop for me was Ho Chi Minh City. Before getting ready to go home, I took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels formed an underground network used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnamese and American War. It was quite an emotional tour and very thought-provoking listening to our guide who was a real war veteran as he told stories of his days during the war and in the re-education camps.
Cu Chi tunnels
Unfortunately all good things must come to and end… and so it was time for me to leave Southeast Asia and come back home. However, not long until the next adventure… from thirty degrees heat straight into sub-zero freezing cold… Iceland here I come!