January 24, 2013

in cambodia

dek & i made it to siem reap, after traveling for a grueling 15 hours by boat and bus.

i last posted and we were in vientiane spending the day before heading off for pakse by sleeper bus. i can officially report that the sleeper bus was amazing! we actually slept and the ride was smooth and i woke up just to see the sunrise as we entered pakse. right when we arrived we were swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers trying to take us to a hotel, but we planned to go straight to tad lo, so we found an air-conditioned mini van for 70,000 kip total (which was like $9) that took us there in half the time that a bus would. we arrived to tad lo and found our guesthouse on the waterfall, it was soooo pretty. they were cleaning the room when we arrived so we sat outside overlooking the waterfall and had breakfast & coffee. after we put our bags in our room we set out to find the biggest of the 3 waterfalls in the area, called tad suong. we walked the 10km there and back, but the scenery was amazing. you pass villages, huts in the middle of banana tree fields & children playing. it was a fun walk. we got to the suong village and it was like what you can imagine the poorest village being. there is reddish orange dust everywhere, their houses are literally shacks made out of wood, bamboo and leaves, there are pigs, dogs, ducks and sheep running around everywhere and the women bathing in the nearby river and children playing around, hassling the tourists that come through to see the waterfall. we hiked up to the viewpoint, taking an apple break on the way, and it was breath-taking. we were so high up! then we hiked back down, stopped to dip our feet in the freezing waterfall water, went back through the village and then walked the 10km back to tad lo. the walk back was hard, we were tired from hiking and it was hot. we tried hitch-hiking a few times but either they wouldn't stop or they didnt understand us, even though we offered to give them some money. but oh well. when we got back to tad lo, which i must emphasize is a 1-street town, we found a place to eat and had a meal rice with vegetables, noodles with vegetables, 2 beers & a watermelon shake all for $6. the waitress working there said she was from spain, our guess was she fell in love with the owner and decided to stay because it seemed she lived there. right after taking our order she just walked off and we had no idea where she was going, then she came back 10 minutes later drenched in all of her clothes because she had just bathed in the river. anyways, when we got back to our bungalow we were so tired (&dirty &smelly!) we said we would just lay down for a few minutes and that turned into 3 hours. we woke up for dinner at our guesthouse by the waterfall and under the colorful lanterns that hung from the giant trees. it was such a fun night.

the next day we woke up & took a "local bus" to pakse, this bus didnt have AC & it made like 20 stops (for gas, to drop people off/ load more people on, etc) and we finally made it around 11 am. we had booked a night in a "nice hotel" for $25/night because we just really wanted to feel comfortable and clean and have a tv in the room  :) & it was sooo worth it! the room was so nice and we took the day to just chill before we set off to the 4,000 islands the next morning. we wandered around, found an internet cafe, skyped our parents, ate & went to bed early.

the next morning we set off for don khon, an island in the 4,000 islands area of laos. it's not an island like you are probably thinking, but its an island in the sense that its a piece of land surrounded by water, by river water. we didnt really find any nice beach to chill on, but our bungalow balcony served us just that purpose. we stayed at a nice guesthouse in a bungalow for 3 nights. the first day we rented bikes and rode around for hours on don khon & also the island next to it that you can get to by crossing a bridge, its called don det. but on don khon we found ourselves at the southern point of the island and went to see the irrawaddy dolphins. there are only a few of them left in the world and they live in the mekong river (it's a huge river!) in between the lao/cambodian border. we saw the dolphins from a distance, but they were shy and didnt like to jump out, but the experience was fun. the second day on don khon we literally did nothing but relax, read, eat and sleep. it was so nice to take it slow and have nothing on the agenda. the next morning we left for cambodia and here we are. today we also took the day to just chill and scope out the city, we are going to the night market later & tomorrow is our day of tourism. we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the temples and he will drive us around each temple and wait for us and everything for like $18. he also agreed to take us at sunrise, at 5 am, for an extra $2 to we can be there bright and early and feel the magic of angkor wat. 
 view from the restaurant at our guesthouse in tad lo
the beautiful tad lo waterfall
little piggies under a truck
the road we walked down to get to tad suong
the bridge that crosses the river into the suong village
"road" to suong village & tad suong waterfall
 little hungry piggy
the waterfall was huge, even though there was not much water, it was still an amazing sight

 little vegetable patches;
i saw onion, lettuce and dill
 a cold beer (or two!) after a long day of walking and hiking
 our nice room in pakse, complete with flat screen tv & crisp, white sheets
  the view out our window.
hamburger, anyone?
  the view of the river from our bungalow in don khon (4,000 islands)
 our little bungalow.
we loved that balcony!
such a nice place.
we stayed at pan's bungalows & i would highly recommend them!
 this is what total relaxation looks like  :)
 view from river-front restaurant @ lunch
   the best fried rice w/vegetables of the whole trip so far!!!
  off to see some irrawaddy dolphins

 they were hard to see because they were far (we couldn't get any closer with the boat because we would have crossed into cambodian territory)

 water buffalo were everywhere!
 us biking around don khon
  this is what some of the homes look like. 
on stilts, made of wood, simple with roosters out front.
 a nice place for lunch on don det
 little boy "driving" the boat
 the pretty, shaded path on don det island where we biked around
 i love this picture; its from don khon
 coconuts, anyone?
 yes, that little boy straight up monkeyed up that palm tree!
 hungry for lunch
 sunset #nofilter
 the morning we left for cambodia; our last meal in laos of yummy veggie omlets!

January 17, 2013

from north to south

checking in from vientiane, again.
this time we are only in the city for a few hours.
we will board a sleeper bus tonight at 8:30 pm that will take us to pakse, which is in the south of laos. we will arrive there at around 6:30 am. 

before i get ahead of myself talking about our future plans, let me blog about what we have been up to since i last posted. we were in vang vieng for 5 nights and we biked, hiked, tubed, relaxed, ate really well & watched the beautiful sunset every night. vang vieng was seriously amazing. the weather was great (it could have been hotter, but it was still nice), the people were friendly and the atmosphere was so chill. 

one day we didnt have anything planned so we just hiked around & found a cave and had a guide take us about 30 minutes deep to a natural "lagoon" inside the cave. that experience was cool, even though the lagoon water was kinda nasty. after that we just walked around town & down by the river where the local kids showered. another day we tubed and spent about 3 hours just floating down the relaxing mekong river. toward the end of our tubing ride some local boys hopped on our tubes to help paddle up downstream. we thought they were just "hitchin a ride" but really they wanted a tip at the end. for what, i dont know. and almost every evening we found a riverfront restaurant and brought our books to read while we soaked up the last bit of heat from the firery red sun. 

after vang vieng we minibussed it to phonsavan. that was one long & terrible minibus ride. we were cramped like 15 into a 10 person minibus and the roads here are indescribably terrible. they are not paved and there are no highways between cities and everything is up and down and around mountains. and to top it off the girl behind me threw up. it was so bad. anyways we arrived in phonsavan after 6 hours on the road. looking back we probably would have skipped going there, but for some reason i was set on seeing the 'plains of jars,' which wasnt even THAT cool. the town phonsavan was depressing, cold and ugly and dirty. we did not like it there, to say the least. the moment we arrived we booked a bus for the next night to leave. anyways, we did go on a tour of all 3 sites of the plains of jars and the guide was nice and informative. but like after seeing site 1 you dont really need to go to the other sites, the jars all look the same its just the locations that are different. he took us also to see a giant buddah and also to see another really pretty temple that was in the middle of nowhere. after the tour we came back to our hostel, showered, ate and then packed to board a sleeper bus to vientiene (where we are now). the sleeper bus was pretty wild. it was like bunks where 2 people fit (barely!) on a bed & if you were traveling alone, you had to bunk with a random. so awkward. the ride was also very twisty and turney and people were snoring so it was kinda hard to actually sleep, even though you are literally laying on a bed, but dek & i dozed off a few times. 

now i am back to the beginning of the post where tonight we will board another sleeper bus to get to the south of laos, to pakse. we were suggested by a friend to visit tad lo, which is in the salavan province. we really want to go see the waterfalls there. this one in particular looks amazing. 

kayakers on the mekong in vang vieng
 just walkin around
 roosters & chickens were everywhere! 
it was very...fitting.
 i had a view of some boys fishing from where we had dinner
 one of the many breath-taking sunsets we witnessed in vang vieng

 coffee break
a bridge made out of wood and bamboo that was kinda scary to cross

the way to the cave was so pretty & green

 in the cave, luckily it was really big & wide so i didnt get claustrophobic
in phonsavan 
3 placemats on 1 table. 
i just loved this photo for some reason
 plain of jars- site 1- in phonsavan
 the jars were huge!!!
 a crater left from the bombs dropped 
 make sure to stay inside the white markers because not all the ground is cleared of bombs

 it didnt budge  :)
monkeying around at the plain of jars site 3

a "house" being held up by empty bombs that the locals detonated and used 
 dusty road where the villages are in phonsavan
 antennas being held up by bamboo
 he poured the melted aluminum into these boxes and they formed spoons because of the spoon shape cut-out on the inside of the box

a giant buddah

  a crazy-looking caterpillar 
 a temple with local boys playing soccer

 beautiful laos