Tag Archives: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang to Phonsavan 29 April – 8 May 2013

Have you all been on tenterhooks waiting to find out if we got our Vietnam visas and Laos visa extensions?  Short answer – yes we did.

Thursday morning saw us bright and early at the door of the Vietnamese embassy waiting for them to open after their three-day holiday.  Once inside we were told they could either process our applications by the following Monday for US$60 each, or by the same afternoon for US$80 each, so that was a no-brainer and we duly handed over our passports and a stack of dollars.  The next morning (Friday), happily clutching our freshly Vietnam visad passports, we went to the Laos immigration office, where earlier in the week they’d told us that they could do visa extensions on a same-day basis.  However, on Friday the very same woman that we’d spoken to earlier in the week now told us they only offered a next-day service and therefore it would be Monday before our extended Laos visas would be ready.  We were a bit put out to be honest as we probably wouldn’t have paid extra for the same-day Vietnam visa service if we’d known that we wouldn’t be leaving Luang Prabang until after the weekend anyway.  We pleaded and begged and asked if we could pay extra for a same-day service, but no, she was adamant, it would be Monday.  We filled in the forms, handed over our passports and the US$2 a day plus US$2 processing fee, and then, as she handed us our receipt, she seemed to have a change of heart and said if we came back at 3 o’clock that afternoon then perhaps our visas would be ready after all.  Hurray!  We weren’t overly optimistic, but to our delight she pulled it off and at 3pm on Friday our visa extensions were ready and waiting for us.

When we’d first arrived on Monday to find the Vietnam Embassy closed we’d been a bit frustrated, but to be honest, we’re glad now that we had the extra days in Luang Prabang.  It’s a lovely place.  The whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site full of elegant, old French Colonial buildings with the languid Mekong river making its drowsy way around the town.

French chic in Luang Prabang

French chic in Luang Prabang

It’s very tourist-oriented, but once you get over that it’s got an easy, relaxing charm and there’s plenty to do and see in between eating noodle soup or drinking a fresh coconut at the cheapest restaurant in town which, amazingly, has a prime site on the banks of the Mekong.

Keith at our favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang.

Keith at our favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang enjoying a fresh coconut.

We stayed a little out of the town centre (close to the embassy and immigration office) at the excellent Sysomphone Guesthouse, which we highly recommend.  It’s a family-run guesthouse and for a reasonable nightly rate (80,000 kip) we had a nice double room with a large en-suite shower and sit-down toilet, plus free wifi, free drinking water and free bananas.

As well as the usual pottering about and poking around markets (after MUCH deliberation Keith bought a fake Samsung dual-SIM smartphone to replace the horribly clunky dual-SIM phone we left home with), we went to a couple of interesting museums (the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre and the National Museum in the old Royal Palace), spent two evenings volunteering at the English conversation classes run by an organisation called Big Brother Mouse (which also publishes dual language Laos/English books that they give to village children who often have never owned a book before), and spent a very enjoyable day at the Ock Pop Tok (East Meets West) Living Craft Centre.  We were taken on a free tour and told about silk production and natural dyes, and then we watched entranced as the most intricate patterns were woven on different styles of traditional looms.

Thread by thread, row by row, the pattern slowly appears.

Thread by thread, row by row, the pattern slowly appears.

It’s incredibly painstaking work.  A piece of cloth with a complex pattern can grow by just a few centimetres a day so making a single scarf can take up to 22 hours of nimble-fingered, sharp-eyed labour.

One of the more intricate woven patterns.

One of the more intricate woven designs.

The weaving centre is a couple of kilometres outside the town centre and our finding out about it is a bit of a tale in itself:

At our first Big Brother Mouse class I spent a lot of the evening helping a young woman called Mone with her English homework (not that she needed much help as her English is excellent).  Although she’s one of the tiniest people I’ve ever met she has a huge personality and quite possibly the biggest smile in the whole of Laos.  She’s the kind of person who just brightens up your day when you speak to her.  I’d hoped to go and visit her the next day at the Ock Pop Tok shop where she works (selling exquisite fabrics and handicrafts made both in villages throughout Laos and also at their craft centre in Luang Prabang), but unfortunately I’d forgotten which of the three Ock Pop Tok locations Mone works at and we didn’t get around to it, so we were really delighted when we bumped into her the next evening at the night market (where a slap-up vegetarian feast can be had for just 10,000kip/less than a quid.).  She was having dinner with her sister, Gao (sorry, that’s probably not the correct spelling), and an American traveller who Mone had met at the shop and we joined them.  After dinner Keith took everyone for rides on the Pino, but just as Gao was about to hop on board she was hailed by an Aussie couple who had spent some time with her earlier that day at the craft centre where she works as a talented back-loom weaver.  We’d heard a little about the craft centre from Mone (who was also a weaver there before taking on the sales position in one of the town centre shops), and of course we’d read the blurb in the Lonely Planet, but what we hadn’t realised until meeting Aussies Bernard and Margaret was that as well as offering slightly pricier courses where you can learn to use natural dyes and weave your own place-mats, Ock Pop Tok also provide free tours where you can spend as long as you like watching and talking to the weavers, and then spend an enjoyable hour or so over coffee in the elegant restaurant on the banks of the beautiful Mekong.  And so the next day that was exactly what we did.

Even more serendipitously, whilst in conversation with our new circle of friends, we also discovered that Bernard knows Keith’s uncle Herb in Australia!!  How about that!  No matter how far away from friends and family you are it’s nice to know you’re never really all that far away.

L-R: Keith, Mone (on tiptoes) and Tamar at Ock Pop Tok.

L-R: Keith, Mone (on tiptoes) and Tamar at Ock Pop Tok.

As well as beautiful architecture, interesting museums and enticing markets, Luang Prabang is predominantly known for its preponderance of temples and in particular for the daily alms ceremony where monks and novices walk the streets at dawn and the faithful kneel to offer small parcels of rice.  It has, unsurprisingly, become a bit of a tourist attraction – to the extent that the tourists are in danger of destroying what they’ve come to see.  The town authorities had considered banning the event as fewer and fewer residents were taking part because they, equally unsurprisingly, felt angry that their devout and solemn giving of alms was becoming a circus act for snap-happy tourists.  In the end, the daily ritual survived, but tourists are asked to follow some simple guidelines, such as dressing appropriately, standing well back in respectful silence and not using flash photography as it is distracting to the monks’ meditation.  Sadly, when we first ventured out at 5.30am I think we were the only tourists who were not standing inches from the monks and sticking cameras in their faces.  It was sickening.  Keith stood well back and took some photos of the charade but I walked away in disgust.

How not to be a good tourist.

How not to be a good tourist.

The next day we found a much better way to observe in what we hope was a more respectful way when we hopped on the Pino and rode across the river to a more residential, less touristy part of town and watched the orange columns filing past the kneeling locals and then chanting blessings in thanks for the offerings.

We hope we captured the solemnity of the ritual without causing offence.

We hope we captured the solemnity of the ritual without causing offence.

Here are a few more of our favourite Luang Prabang scenes:

French style villas abound.

French style villas abound.

Haw Pha Bang temple in the grounds of the old Royal Palace.

Haw Pha Bang temple in the grounds of the old Royal Palace.

Fiersome Naga guarding the entrance to Haw Pha Bang.

Fierce Naga guarding the entrance to Haw Pha Bang.

Inside Haw Pha Bang.

Inside Haw Pha Bang.

The mighty Mekong flowing around the town.

The mighty Mekong flowing around the town.

Villa, palms & colourful Tuk-tuk - charm everywhere you look.

Villa, palms & a colourful tuk-tuk – charm everywhere you look.

 

Local Luang Prabang ladies.

Local Luang Prabang ladies.

Tidy parcels of crabs at the market.

Tidy parcels of crabs at the market.

We think we've discovered where pink chickens (see previous blog post) come from.

We think we know where pink chickens (see previous blog post) come from.

Nice!

Nice!

From Luang Prabang we pedalled south on route 13 (hilly) to Phou Khoun (where we bought an interesting sausage, some bundles of ferns, some pea sprouts and various other vegetables at the market) and then headed east on route 7 to Phonsavan.  Despite route 13 being the main artery linking the capital Vientiane with Luang Prabang (and, further north, with China) there are hardly any vehicles on the road.  The numbers dwindle even more on route 7 even though it’s a major link with Vietnam.  We’ve been seeing maybe just 10 or 15 vehicles an hour, and that’s including motorbikes.  As you can imagine, we love it!  We’ve also been lucky with the weather.  We’ve done a lot of climbing over the last few days and at this time of year Laos can be sweltering, but on the day of our longest climb we were saved by the fact that it was overcast all day.  Even so, it was so humid that Keith had to stop a couple of times to wring his shorts out as drops of sweat were annoyingly dripping onto his ankles.  When we’re not so lucky with the cloud cover our strategies against heat-stroke include trying to get an early start (our alarm goes off at 5.30) and soaking our clothes at regular intervals in water from roadside taps or water-spouts.

We’ve enjoyed some great meals in the village cafes en route even though we invariably choose the cheapest item on the menu: noodle soup with either pork, beef or chicken – usually 15000kip/less than £1.50 each.  Each cafe has its own variation and our favourites are those that come with a side serving of lettuce, mint, green beans, beansprouts, fresh limes, ferocious whole green chillies (distracted one day while talking to other travellers, Keith mistakenly munched on one thinking it was a green bean and has paid close attention to what he puts in his mouth ever since) and an unidentified astringent leaf with a taste that’s reminiscent of liquorice.  You can add as much or as little of these as you like to your soup.

Lunch.

Lunch.

In addition to the leafy side-plate, no Lao table is complete without an extensive condiment range of (at a bare minimum) salt, sugar, dried chilli flakes, fish paste, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce.  Whilst a bowl of soupy noodles is familiar fare to us from our travels in China, we soon discovered that dining etiquette in Laos is strikingly different to that in China.  I think it’s fair to say that the Chinese are admirably efficient eaters.  Noodles are directed to the mouth using chopsticks and then sucked in with gusto.  Pieces of meat are similarly transferred to the mouth with chopsticks, then the meat and any other edible parts are sucked from the bones which are spat onto the floor to be swept up after the meal has finished.  The broth is dealt with by raising the bowl to the lips and slurping noisily until the bowl is drained.  There’s a lot to be said for this way of eating and it didn’t take Keith and I very long to set aside our British table manners and gobble away with the best of them, although I don’t think we ever managed to finish our food quite as quickly as the Chinese diners.

In Laos though, we’ve had to re-learn our manners.  Chopsticks are still used to transfer noodles and meat to the mouth, but there’s a lot less slurping and any bones are discreetly placed back in the bowl to be left at the end of the meal.  Bowls are rarely lifted to drink the broth; instead a spoon is held in the left hand and quite often chopsticks are not used to transfer noodles to the mouth but instead are used to delicately coil the noodles onto the spoon so that a combination of noodle, vegetable, meat and broth can be ingested at the same time.  It sounds easy enough, but we’ve found handling a spoon left-handed requires quite a bit of practice.  I’ve persevered with it though and tell myself I will enjoy the food more if I don’t gobble it down as fast as possible (always a temptation to a hungry cyclist).

We’ve only got a few more days left now in Laos and we’ll be sorry to leave.  It’s a beautiful country and its quiet roads are a delight to cycle on.  The people are welcoming and friendly, and most of them exchange broad smiles and sing-song ‘sabaidees’ with us (“sabaidee” means “hello” in Lao).  I’ve even risen above my normal state of child-intolerance to hi-five some of the over-excited youngsters bouncing up and down at the roadside.  I was, however, reminded why I usually don’t like children when some snot-nosed little sh*te caught me with a stone as we whizzed by.  Although I was unhurt I was actually too stunned to respond at first as I’d been all set with my very best ‘being nice to children’ smile, but Keith quickly whipped the Pino around and we chased the little sod up the hill to find him hiding behind his grandmother’s skirt.  She didn’t look too pleased when we explained by miming what he’d done and with any luck she’ll have given him ‘what for’ in no uncertain terms after we left.  Anyhow, I digress, mostly Laos has been wonderful.  Oh, and I nearly forgot!!  The best bit yet!  We were flying down a hill (which at 40-50 kph was a bit nerve-wracking from my seat to be honest) when we came round a corner to find about a metre and a half of thick brown rope in the middle of the road.  At first I thought Keith was going to ride over it, but then he decided to go to the right of it (i.e. verge-side), at which point the ‘rope’ started slithering towards the verge.  A quick change of plan took place and we shot narrowly to the left of the departing snake.  No photos I’m afraid.  Keith did offer to turn the bike around but I was fairly certain it would have been long gone by the time we’d backtracked.  You’ll just have to content yourselves with these snaps of Laos scenery instead.

Leaving Luang Prabang.

Leaving Luang Prabang – elephant turds are notably bigger than horse turds when you encounter them on the road

A field of pineapples.

A field of pineapples.

Misty morning.

Misty morning.

Our room with a view.

Our room with a view.

Approaching Phonsavan the jungle clad hills give way unexpectedly to meadows and fir trees.

Approaching Phonsavan the jungle clad hills give way unexpectedly to meadows and fir trees.

Loving it in Laos.

Loving it in Laos.

 

Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang 18-29 April 2013

Canadian cyclists Charles and Jen, who we met in Luang Namtha, gave us some great advice about our route from Luang Namtha to Nambak.  We’d been intending to cycle there on the most direct route, but the news that the road from Udomxai to the junction with route 13 was hilly, busy and had a terrible road surface quickly put us off.  So instead, Charles and Jen suggested that from Udomxai we head northeast to Muang Khua and take the 5 hour boat trip down the Nam Ou river to Nong Khiaw.  What a brilliant idea!  The scenery was beautiful: flocks of white birds flew in formation alongside the boat; weirdly shaped rocks jutted from the foaming water around the rapids; semi-submerged water buffalo blended perfectly with the rocks – until you noticed their ears moving; and emerald cloaked karst pyramids pierced the sky.  If you could ignore the roaring engine and pumping Lao pop music with which the driver was trying to drown out the roaring engine it was a relaxing and enjoyable way to travel…albeit a bit expensive for our budget: 150,000 kip for each of us and 100,000 kip for the bike – a total of around £40.

Flocks of birds on the Nam Ou river.

Birds on the Nam Ou river.

Boys fishing.

Boys fishing.

Our little boat.

Our little boat.

From Nong Khiaw it was an easy morning’s dawdle along the river bank to Nambak, where we were met by our couchsurfing host Phew (pronounced Pew not Few) and his wife Nang.  Couchsurfing isn’t really possible in its usual sense in Laos as Lao nationals aren’t allowed to have foreigners staying in their homes, so we stayed at the local guesthouse, but that was no problem as the real draw of Phew and Nang’s invitation was the chance to do some teaching at their English school, and to spend a day with them up at Phew’s family farm.  In addition, Phew had agreed to receive a parcel for us so we were also eagerly awaiting some much-needed bike parts from England (chains, chainrings, cassette, jockey wheels and gripshifts if you’re interested). 

Beginner English class plus Teacher Keith.

Beginner English class plus Teacher Keith.

Our teaching wasn’t up to much I’m afraid.  Despite having had a chat with Phew in the afternoon we found we’d misjudged the level of the two classes we took, underestimating the level of the ‘pre-beginners’ and overestimating the level of the ‘beginner class’, which meant our lesson plans had to be hurriedly changed as we went along.  But Keith in particular enjoyed himself and hopefully the students didn’t find it too baffling.  The topic we covered with the beginner group was ‘telling the time’ and it really brought home the difference in lifestyles between the Lao people and, well, pretty much most people in any of the other countries we’ve travelled through.  Lao people are real early-birds.  I suppose this is not surprising when many villages are still without electricity and most of the population still scrape a subsistence living, but even in the towns it’s the same.  Most people we spoke to seem to wake up between 4.30-5.30am…even the school kids.  The market in Nambak, which is absolutely buzzing from 6.30-7.30, is all but over by 8am.  At the other end of the day, 10-10.30pm is closing time for most bars.  Even in Luang Namtha over the New Year holiday when the days were filled with karaoke and celebration, by 10pm the high street was eerily empty and silent until the squawking of roosters heralded another day.

There were three other Westerners ‘couchsurfing’ in Nambak at the same time as us, and then a further two arrived the day that the first three left.  On the nights we didn’t teach we all had dinner in the restaurant opposite the school and some of the more advanced students joined us to practice conversation after their lessons had finished.  It’s either testament to their desire to learn or an indication that life in dormitory is rather tedious that after a day at school and then an hour and a half of English evening school they still wanted to spend a couple of hours chatting with the “falangs” (interestingly, whilst this word is commonly understood in Laos and Thailand to mean ‘foreigner’ it is actually specifically the Lao word for ‘French person’ – Laos used to be a French colony).

Keith quizzed the students on motorbike ownership (every Lao teenager has one it seems) but unlike Western boys who would know the size and horsepower of their engines, the Lao boys didn’t know and didn’t seem interested.  Nor were they comfortable about talking about girlfriends (all were eighteen but none of them confessed to having had one).  Instead they wanted to know the difference between the use of ‘recently’ and ‘lately’, and other linguistic conundrums.  It was a humbling experience.  They could really see that learning English was key to fulfilling their aspirations to have a better life, be that as a tour guide or a doctor. We also tried to ask them how they feel about the influx of tourists in Laos, but sadly their command of English just wasn’t up to the task.  We couldn’t even get them to understand the question, so we’re still in the dark.  Are tourists simply a necessary evil?  Are we something to be tolerated for the revenue we bring?  Or is there in any way a genuine exchange of interest and mutual enjoyment?

We like to think that our way of doing it….on a bike….on a rather weird bike…brings at least a little bit of pleasure to the folk who giggle and wave as we pedal by, but when we’re off the bike we’re just another Western face in the crowd….and ones who begrudge spending too much at that.

We’re particularly grateful to Phew for letting us teach at his school.  It makes us feel like we did just a little something extra (even though we got way more in return from our visit to Nambak than we gave).  We’ll be staying in touch and wish the school every success in the future.  It’s a new venture and has only had permission from the authorities to trial for this current year.  The next big step is to get permission to continue…paperwork, paperwork!  We really hope Phew succeeds.  The difference he’s making to the next generation is enormous.

The day after our teaching experience, Phew and Nang took us to his parents’ farm.

A boy with his toy.

A boy with his toy.

The men were armed with knives and set off to clear the undergrowth whilst the women went to pick beans, chillies, ferns and other vegetables for lunch.  I was a bit jealous of the guys’ task so after the veggies had been picked and Nang and her mother-in-law were preparing lunch I joined the men and spent a happy time hacking down banana trees with a small machete.  In the afternoon Phew had hoped to take us fishing and had been mending his home-made harpoon especially, but in the end it rained so we contented ourselves with swimming in the river instead.  All in all it was a fascinating day.  We didn’t do much work, but can well imagine what it must be like to do it all year round.  At busy times of the rice season there’s so much to do, particularly guarding the crop from marauding birds and rodents, that the family sleep at the hut in the field and just send one person into town from time to time to buy sticky rice (the staple food of Laos).  Rain or shine, through thunderstorm, mud and discomfort, the work goes on.

L-R: Phew, Nang and Phew's parents.

L-R: Phew, Nang and Phew’s parents.

One of the other interesting things we learnt from Phew was that Christianity was banned in Laos as recently as 4 years ago – you could be sent to prison for professing the faith.  Today the attitude is more relaxed as membership of ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has necessitated a more inclusive approach, but proselytising and open displays of non-Buddhist worship are still definitely frowned upon.  As our little party of travellers included two atheists, a lapsed Catholic, a Protestant and someone who’d been brought up as  Jehovah’s Witness we had some interesting, frank but thankfully good-natured discussions on the relevance and rationality of faith over a beer that evening.

After three days, the other Westerners had set off to continue their respective SE Asian journeys, but we remained in Nambak, waiting for our parcel that had, at great expense, been sent ‘guaranteed 3-day delivery’.  Hahaha.  As we’d taken the long-route from Luang Namtha instead of cycling to Nambak directly the parcel should have got to Nambak ahead of us…in honesty though we weren’t too surprised that it hadn’t.  Phew went to the post office a couple of times and never found out what caused  delay but eventually he was able to confirm the parcel had made it as far as provincial capital Luang Prabang and would definitely be in Nambak the next day.  In the event it was the day after that, but to our relief arrive it did.

Our parcel arrived on the Thursday afternoon, but as we had decided to apply for our Vietnamese visas in Luang Prabang (which is only 120km from Nambak) there was little benefit in us leaving as soon as we got our parcel – we’d just end spending too much money in pricey Luang Prabang.  So we stayed a further day in Nambak during which Keith fitted the bike with its new bits and pieces and we then spent the weekend trundling at a leisurely pace to Luang Prabang.  To add a bit of interest we decided to go via the caves at Pak Ou.  At least that had been the plan.  The guidebook says the caves are only 20,000 kip to enter, but failed to mention that after cycling 10km along a dirt road to Pak Ou we’d be prevented from entering the village and would have a ‘parking fee’ extorted from us by the local teenagers who then wanted even more money to take us by boat to the cave entrance.  We hadn’t realised but the caves are actually on the opposite bank to the village.  Anyhow, all this would nearly double the price of the visit and whilst it’s not a huge amount of money we have to guard our money a little carefully to keep the wheels turning so just weren’t prepared to do it.  We were particularly irritated as we were hungry and had wanted to get lunch in Pak Ou before entering the caves and also buy some eggs and fruit, but the parking fascists didn’t even seem keen on letting us go to the restaurant immediately on the other side of their makeshift rope barrier without incurring a parking fee.  In the end a glowering Keith rolled the bike past the rope to the restaurant and we had a passable lunch, but decided not to spend any more money in that particular village and instead made our way back along the dirt road (in torrential rain) and bought our provisions from friendlier faces.  I guess we can’t condemn people for wanting to make a living and do sympathise given how uncomfortable we sometimes feel being part of the horde of voyeuristic tourists, but it did rather feel that the line between providing a service for tourists and exploiting tourists was being blurred a little.

I’m probably labouring the point too much, but cycling in Laos is a real change from China.  Perhaps our view is a little skewed because we’re trying to stick to asphalt and so end up taking the few main arterial roads through the country, but Laos is just so much more touristy than anywhere else we’ve experienced.  We’ve stopped for lunch at little out-of-the-way villages, and watched with wry grins as a phalanx of white faces has emerged from an overcrowded local bus.  It’s a harsh reminder that we’re following a well-trodden path…and a bit disappointing after feeling like we’ve been blazing our own trail for so long.

We’re spending so much time stationary for a change rather than relentlessly pedalling that we’re even joining the ‘normal tourists’ by spending far more nights in guesthouses than we usually would.  We have had a few nice nights camping though, and none nicer than the ones where we’ve been able to discard the tent (which is a sweatbox) and sleep under our mosquito net on one of the raised platforms that farmworkers use as a shady resting spot during the heat of the day.  We’ve done it twice now and both times have been discovered by people returning home from the fields, but both times we’ve been met with friendliness and then left in peace.  The first night was the most surreal.  We were engrossed watching part one of the Top Gear Africa adventure, cocooned in our little white mosquito net that was really hard to see out of with the light from the tablet screen bouncing off it.  Almost too late we became aware of approaching people, and for one long, ridiculous moment, neither of us could remember where on earth we were (Africa? China?) and what would be an appropriate greeting.  At the last moment I managed to gasp out ‘sabaidee’ and got a big grin from the approaching pair.  They were perfectly happy for us to sleep there and it was deliciously cool with a gentle breeze wafting through the mozzie net all night long.  Definitely recommended.

The coolest way to camp in Laos.

The coolest way to camp in Laos.

Even though our wheels have been turning slowly here in laid-back Laos, time has ticked on and our Laos visas expire on 8 May.  Where shall we go next?  After discovering there was a Vietnamese consulate in Luang Prabang we planned an interesting little route taking us through Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars, and then on through Sam Neua and into Vietnam.  If we got our Vietnamese visas as soon as we got to Luang Prabang we reckoned we could just about do it.  This morning (Monday) we rolled into Luang Prabang at 8.30am…..and found the Vietnamese consulate is closed until Thursday.  B*gger!  This is a major spanner in the works.  We spent the rest of the morning trying to agree on a plan B.  We’ve managed to come up with several plan Bs but so far can’t agree on one.  And then one of those serendipitous meetings came about that happens with surprising frequency when you’re on the road.  We treated ourselves to lunch at a lovely restaurant with an exhibition of photography of Lao people on the walls, and it turned out that the photographer was actually the husband of the lady who owns the restaurant.  We admired his work and enjoyed a superb lunch, and then as we were leaving the man himself came back from shooting some unusual bees that live on the outside of their hive not the inside, and, after we got chatting and mentioned our dilemma, he told us that it was possible to extend our Laos visa in Luang Prabang and thus buy ourselves a little more time to get the Vietnamese visa and follow our original plan to go via the Plain of Jars.  We’ll be knocking on the immigration office’s door at 8am tomorrow morning to find out if we can indeed extend our Laos visas.  If not, then it’s back to arguing over who thought of the best plan B. 

After failing to see a rocket being launched from the village we trekked to Keith finally got to see one the next day whilst out for a bike ride with Garrett & Monika (I was busy blogging). (Photo courtesy of Garrett Bader)

After failing to see a rocket being launched from the village we trekked to near Luang Namtha Keith finally got to see one the next day whilst out for a bike ride with Garrett & Monika (I was busy blogging). (Photo courtesy of Garrett Bader)

River weed being collected and cleaned near Phew’s family farm.

River weed being collected and cleaned near Phew’s family farm.

 

Seasoned river weed sheets being dried in the sun – these are then deep fried and taste delicious!

Seasoned river weed sheets being dried in the sun – these are then deep fried and taste delicious!

Day-time entertainment in Nambak – watching the school run.

Day-time entertainment in Nambak – watching the school run.

Night time entertainment in Nambak - betting on geckos (the paler one got it).

Night-time entertainment in Nambak – betting on geckos (the paler one caught the butterfly).

My favourite breakfast item from Nambak market – thinly sliced baguette deep fried in a herb batter.  Mmmm, mmmm.

My favourite breakfast item from Nambak market – thinly sliced baguette deep fried in a herb batter. Mmmm, mmmm.

My second favourite breakfast item from Nambak market – eggy coconut milk fried into little lens-shaped morsels of deliciousness.

My second favourite breakfast item from Nambak market – eggy coconut milk fried into little lens-shaped morsels of deliciousness.

Chicken sired by a flamingo....can you think of any other explanation?

Chicken sired by a flamingo….we can’t think of any other explanation.

Domesticated elephant near Pak Ou.

Domesticated elephant near Pak Ou.

The Whisky Village near Pak Ou was a much better way to spend some time than paying for a boat trip to some stupid caves.  Keith decided to spend his money on one of the few bottles that came without added protein.

Visiting the Whisky Village near Pak Ou was a much better way to spend some time than paying for a boat trip to some stupid caves. Keith decided to spend his money on one of the few bottles that came without added protein.

View of the Mekong from one of our campsites

View of the Mekong from one of our campsites