So we’d made it to Bangkok, admittedly we would have preferred to have cycled all the way but it’s our trip and there are no rules. We did what we felt gave us the best trip given we only had a limited amount of time. I thought when we started that three and a half months out here would be more than enough time to see everything, but it’s not. We could easily have spent two months in Malaysia and Thailand just getting to Bangkok and even then we’d only have scratched the surface of what these countries have to offer, and that’s before you get anywhere near Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia. To be honest we should have come for at least six months and even then we couldn’t have seen it all. South East Asia so far has been fantastic, made even better by friendly and hospitable people. With so much history and culture, with so many sights to see, although for some of our ride I did wonder if we’d ever get to see more than just plantations 😉
So here we are in one of the biggest cities in the world and what do we do? We go shopping ! As I pointed out in an earlier blog, my small camera broke and I wanted to replace it. I looked on the internet and found a shopping mall, checked google maps for directions and headed for the metro across the road. Six stops later we return to street level to find an eight story mall, it’s organised in as much as, all the camera shops are on the same floor and all at one end. Finding a replacement was easy, job done in less than fifteen minutes and that included them setting it up for me….brilliant !
On the way to the mall the metro passed through Lumbini, now for anyone interested in martial arts or Thai boxing in particular you’ll know this is Bangkok’s Thai boxing stadium. Now believe it or not but it was Naomi’s idea to go to the evenings matches, who was I to disagree! We arrived and were quickly approached by an English speaking guide and he told us all about the nights card, or match list. He gave info on where to sit or stand, prices, whether you could come and go, drink, eat, gamble….in fact just about everything we needed to know. We chose to sit at ringside, primarily because you’re allowed to eat and drink and also because we wanted to be able to see what was going on.
There were nine matches in total and match seven was the main event, each match would last half an hour unless it was stopped and it was all out war from the off. Watching the families and coaches in the corner was almost as entertaining as the matches themselves as the emotions were running high. We had a great night and stayed until the very last kick, only then did we leave and go looking for food. Fortunately for us our hotel is next the train station so there’s plenty on offer pretty much 24 hours.
After breakfast the following day Naomi started to feel unwell, this is very unlike her so I told her that sightseeing was cancelled and sent her back to bed. With Naomi not feeling well I took myself off to the train station to see the layout, find the left luggage office, the parcel office and also find out what platform our night train to Nong Khai would be leaving from. After finding out all I could I went back to the room to check on Naomi. By lunch time she’d started to feel better and by the time we had to leave to catch our train she’d pretty much returned to full health. A bit of a shame not to do more with a day in Bangkok but we knew we’d be back for a few days at the end of our trip so all was not lost.
We’d booked onto the night train to Nong Khai to get us to the Lao border before our Thai visas ran out, we’d also treated ourselves to 1st class, as Naomi had not been well this proved to be a fortuitous move !! The train pulled out of Hua Lamphong station on time and rumbled its way through Bangkok’s city and suburbs heading north towards our last point in Thailand before Lao. It arrived in Nong Khai about an hour and a half late, apparently due to construction work. We didn’t mind to much as the porter had delivered the breakfast and coffee and was just putting the beds back to being settees as the train pulled in. The ride from the station to the Mut Mee guesthouse was short and didn’t take to long to find. We were welcomed warmly and given a choice of rooms, all very nice but we settled on the first one shown as it was on the ground floor and therefore easier to look after bikes.
The guest house is very popular with travellers and we ran into a couple of cyclists, they’d been through South East Asia forwards and backwards between them and had some good pointers. Having arrived early we still had a whole day to go and be tourists, we chose to go to a sculpture park, we could have gone to a temple but we’d seen enough of them already. The park lies about 7km out of Nong Khai and is not easy to find, we hired a tuk tuk so no problem there. The driver waited while we wandered about taking photos until our hour was up and it was time to leave. On the way back to the hotel we passed a temple with a lookout on the roof, we persuaded the driver to stop while we climbed to the top to take photos.
Now back at the hotel other than a bit of bike maintenance and the usual email, FB and blogs we took it easy during the rest of the day. We’d made arrangements to go out for dinner as we’d spotted a river boat that did sunset dinner cruises and thought we’d treat ourselves. Unfortunately the boat wouldn’t be sailing due to lack of customers so we stayed in the bar anyway and watched the sunset from there. A few cold beers, some excellent green curry and great conversation from some fellow Brits in the bar and Anna, the lady running it made for a fantastic evening.
Bags packed, bike loaded, passport and dollars ready and we were off, out of Nong Khai and over The Friendship Bridge and into Lao, a bit of form filling, a few dollars for a visa and we were in and heading for Vientiane.
Its a fairly straightforward route from immigration into Vientiane and only a little more than 20km so we rolled up to The Villa Lao Hotel fairly early, we were immediately taken with the place, lovely gardens among two storey wooden buildings with shaded balconies that just invite you to relax and unwind, we’d only just arrived and were already very happy.
We were shown to our room where we immediately made ourselves at home as we’d be here for two nights. Changed, showered and washing sorted we went to see the owner for some advice on booking busses to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, we were able to everything we needed right there in reception and she said we could leave our bikes and any extra luggage with her while we were gone. Of course we’d be coming back to Vientiane after our trip up north and staying at Villa Lao again so not surprising she was so accommodating. Time to go get some lunch before taking a look at this fabulous town, even cycling through it I’d seen French bakeries and cafés, I could hardly wait. We took a tuk tuk into the centre and found a nice bistro for lunch, pizza for me and Falafel for Naomi, oh and a couple of cold beers to help it down 😉
After lunch we walked to Patuxay park and monument, the monument is on seven levels and looks a bit like the Arc de Triumph, you can climb up it to get some great views of the town. Of course to get up and down you have to get past the souvenir shops first. Back on the ground we had a good walk round the park, took loads of photos, drank more beer then wandered back to the hotel to chill out before getting ready for dinner. Dinner was great, a good restaurant overlooking the Mekong, good food, good service and great location…couldn’t ask for more 😉
The guide book actually has a cycle tour of Vientiane, it shows you the route with all the places of interest along the way, with a day off what else were we going to do. The tour starts of in a French bakery where we devoured croissants and coffee before heading off. The route is only 7km and to be honest some of the things listed were a bit lame or shut so we improvised and took ourselves out of town to a huge Buddha and temple complex a few km to the north. Pretty impressive complex, albeit another temple, I couldn’t help but be impressed ! Back into town after the slight detour to finish the ride and drink beer, we figured we’d deserved it 😉
Here are a few photos from our tour and general meanderings…..
All in all a great trip, we loved this place and would recommend it highly as a place to visit !!
The following day we relaxed until it was time to catch our sleeper coach up to Luang Prabang, at this point I’ll tell you I will never get a sleeper coach ever again, they are not designed or built for people of my size and are therefore bloody uncomfortable !!
That said we started on time and arrived on time, we’d left our bikes in Vientiane as I mentioned earlier so we were effectively on holiday. Half past five we arrived and by the time we’d got a tuk tuk to our hotel it was closer to six am, just in time to watch the Buddhist monks collecting alms, this is a daily ritual whereby people line the street to give food to the monks. I just stood back and took a few photos, the monks in their saffron robes making a striking sight. That done, time to shower, change, get breakfast and then go sightseeing. Breakfast was good, scrambled egg on crisp toast, mmmm, and good hot coffee to wash it down, right now I’m ready to be a tourist !
We were staying in the tourist area of Luang Prabang and it’s perfect, nothing like you’d imagine a town in Lao to be, this is straight out of colonial France and there is nothing left unfinished, dirty or shoddy, it’s as if it’s been dropped in from outer space. There is also so much to see hear, the town is bordered by rivers on three sides, one of which is the Mekong and the other is the Nam Khan which swings round to feed into the Mekong making the part of town we were in a small promontory. So there are plenty of boat trips, there are caves, waterfalls, museums, the kings palace, temples…lots of them, Cholsey Hill…another temple and great views, you can also rent scooters and bikes or just go trekking with a guide into the lush, beautiful surroundings. All in all the place is fantastic, we walked around the town for the best part of the day, following the guide books route and taking our photos of the various attractions as we went. We only stopped twice, firstly to sort out some trips we wanted to do and secondly to eat lunch. By the end of the day we were knackered but we had seen most of the town, here’s the proof….
Not a bad first day 😉
Day two in this picture postcard town was spent heading up river in a longboat to see some caves, oh and guess what, that’s right more temples and Buddhas. On the way we also stopped at a village that makes whiskey and rice wine, you should see what they put in the bottles with it !! As for the caves, I’ve seen bigger and better to be honest but it was a pleasant trip up river through some outstanding scenery and once back on dry land our trip continued with an excellent local lunch.
After lunch it was straight into an air conditioned mini van for a trip out to some fabulous waterfalls. The falls were amazing and the highlight is the turquoise blue lagoon that we went swimming in, very refreshing after the trek to the falls. On our way back to the mini bus we stopped in at the bear sanctuary, took a few photos and made a small donation to this good cause.
Back at the hotel we started packing ready for our early morning bus trip to Vang Vieng, we’d be leaving at 8.00am and were looking forward to seeing the scenery as we headed south. The trip is only about 180km but it would take us over five hours to get there.
To find out what we did there, read the next blog 😉