Sa Bai Dee from Luang Prabang & Luang Nam Tha, Laos

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Not sure what happened but I lost this post that I wrote a while ago, so this will be a shorthand version to save time. We arrived into Luang Prabang airport from Hanoi around early afternoon, grabbed a cheap tuktuk to our accommodation near the centre of Luang Prabang, a small town on a peninsula where the Nam That river joins with the Mekong. A pretty chilled place full of small French style accommodation, boutique bars and restaurants, loads of Buddhist temples and monks everywhere. A very cool vibe to such a small city and everyone seemed really relaxed, polite and super friendly, something we’ve come to expect in South East Asia. We relaxed for the most part, cycling around the town, exploring the temples, chilling in bars overlooking the Mekong river, and eating a mix of Laotian and French cuisine, as there is a big French influence here. It felt more of a resting spot before our overland journey into China.

I randomly met some bboys in Laos at a bar one night after they did a show, and organised to meet them the next day. Called PKN Crew, they are a young and pretty talented group and welcomed me to jam with them. Veronica booked herself a massage and while she had the knots removed from her back I spent the evening jamming with these guys adding more knots to mine. I was surprised when they asked me to come back the next night to teach a workshop to them focusing in my style of breaking which was a real compliment. Sadly I couldn’t as we were meeting a group we were going to be travelling with into China so I couldn’t make the time and the following day we were on the road to China.

The next day, we changed accommodation to the other side of the river and decided to hire a motorcycle to head off to the Kuang Sri waterfalls a good 40km drive from our hostel. Having never driven manual before it was a cool challenge and we picked it up easily enough. The drive was awesome. Big grassy hills created awesome valleys to spin through, surrounded by more paddy fields, rivers and old minority villages on route to the waterfalls. The Kuang Sri waterfalls consist of about 20 cascading cyan waterfalls and pools, its source a huge long thin waterfall pouring over the side if a mountain. A really beautiful set of waterfalls. Having visited iguazu falls on our last travels, it’s hard not to feel spoiled, and in comparison Kuang Sri is merely a piss in puddle. But still worth a visit. Swimming in the turquoise pools and jumping from the tops of the waterfalls was cool though, apart from the fish attacking my legs and biting at my mosquito scabs.

That night we met our group, a mix of English, Aussies, and Scandinavians and our leaders Juan and  Mick, and Argentina and an Aussie. We booked this trip in Belfast based in the recommendation of Trail Finders but to be honest it wasn’t really worth the amount we paid. The company is called Dragoman, an English company specialising in overland truck journeys. The concept is awesome, as they travel for months in end from Bangkok into Mongolia, as well as other overland adventures through some of the most remotest parts of the world. The concept of living on the road and exploring the continent in a huge dusty truck that’s been converted into a huge people carrier is awesomely alternative. Our problem was that we were sold only one small section of the trip, the section that was considered the transfer leg from South East Asia into China, and explained that its part of a full adventure. Having travelled independently this whole time we now know how easy this section of the trip is, and is totally achievable with local buses and even local travel agencies at more than a fraction of the price. Another downside was that there were no activities included bar a visit to a stone forest in China. We all also had to pay into a kitty, the money going towards accommodation and general truck supplies and food for camping. No. Breakfast lunch or dinner included. So basically were were paying for a very expensive lift from Laos into China and nothing more. We were basically misinformed and sold something at a western price that far exceeded the actual cost in our opinions. Regardless of all of this we still had an great time on the truck and meeting the group who were travelling for the entire duration and not just this leg. Our leaders, Juan and Mick were awesome and pretty inspirational, having travelled pretty much every continent and explored the weirder and more wonderful parts of the world.

We all went for dinner that night, one last meal in Luang Prabang. We arrived at a small outdoor restaurant overlooking the Nam Tha river. It was only after a few plates were served that then sky erupted a brutal downpour along with intense gales, ripping the tarpaulin cover off, exposing us to the sideways rain. The electricity cut off leaving us all standing in the dark under the one piece of covering left. We noticed a door open across the street with a few people hiding inside so a few of us bolted across the shallow swimming pool that was the road. I managed to grab Veronica’s bowl of Laotian chicken and coconut curry and hurried across towards shelter where we stood eating our now bowl of soup, picking leaves and twigs out of it. The storm eventually died down so back we go to attempt to finish our dinner. Somehow the little open air restaurant managed to get the power back on and serve us the rest of our dishes while it continuously rained. We all boarded a big tuktuk ride back to camp. It was some craic altogether.

The next morning we left Luang Prabang on route to Luang Nam Tha, a 10-12 hour ride along some of the worst roads in Laos. We managed 100km in 8 hours, it was that bad. The roads are destroyed by landslides and general disregard, so we basically wobbled and walked our way to Luang Nam Tha. The views were beautiful along the way and we stopped every now and again for food and piss stops. Arriving late that night we grabbed cheap food in the night market and hit the hay. The next day we had a free day so Veronica and I relaxed and sorted out our camera equipment and cleared memory cards, and chilled outside on the balcony of our hotel listening to music and drinking beers. The rest of the gang had booked onto a 2 day jungle trek and homestay. Having done plenty of these already we decided to do a full day kayaking down the Nam Tha river instead. So the next day we headed off with 2 Swiss people and our awesome local guide, Hak, and went kayaking, starting from a small minority tribal village. We kayaked for pretty much 6 hours, the river being calm for the most part, with the odd minor rapid to have fun with. The views and scenery were sweet. Huge jungle either side of us dotted with bamboo housing, local tribes people fishing and not another tourist in sight. We stopped off along a stone bank for lunch, cooked by Hak, and served on huge banana leaves he cut from the trees beside us. We ate with our hands, stewed pumpkin, chicken with green beans and sticky purple rice. The food was beautiful and sitting on rocks by the water’s edge surrounded by vegetation and rocks was so cool. We set sail again and stopped every now and again for swimming. Later we floated by another minority village. All of the school children ran down to meet us, all staring at the sword white ‘falangs’ (foreigners). The coolest part was that they all just left school to come and meet us. We were told they love gifts so we brought balloons and chocolate coins which they loved and were amazed over. As it was my and my twin sister’s 30th birthday coming up and because i wasn’t home to celebrate with her i got the kids all to say “happy birthday Joanna” as a wee surprise for her.  It must have taken at least 10 takes to get the pronunciation right, but I settled for “Heppy Bertday Juwanna.”

After explaining to our local guide, Hak, that i was a twin and our birthday was soon he explained how lucky we are to be twins born in the west and not these tribal villages. Apparently if a woman in the village gives birth to twins they believe it upsets the village spirits so they kill the twins by putting them into a small box and pouring hot cinders over them, and bury them alive, and the mother is then ostracised from the village for 2 years… Errrr…say what? That is some next level crazy. The tradition is dying out but it still remains main some villages apparently. I think a wee biology lesson wouldn’t go amiss.

 After they ate all the chocolate coins and finished staring at the weird white hairy creatures, all of them just bombed on into the water to swim with us, doing back flips of shoulders and splashing around water fighting. Then back out and back off to school. I loved then relaxed nature of their lifestyle and how they can all just go back to school dripping wet and no one cares. Okay they are poor, living in bamboo huts but every one of the kids are happy and loving life. We sailed on and finally finished, arms and backs knackered but it was totally worth it.

That night we met up with our group again, grabbed dinner and set off the next morning on route to the Chinese border.

 

3 Comments
  1. Hey dude!
    Good to hear from you wondered where you had got too!
    As always amazing stuff dude, sounds like a great time! That is really rad all them kids at the village, I would love that, seeing how amazed they would be at things we think are common.
    Nice one finding some bboys out there! Some sweet pics too, really cool to see this stuff is shared all over the world. Gotta get my procrastinating ass into trying some of it when you are back!
    Not long until I will be flying past you in China! Enjoy Xi’an dude will be brilliant!
    Peace, Dave

  2. Hey you two! So sorry I haven’t replied to your posts in ages! I’ve been Reading them all and loving your vivid descriptions! Thank you very much for your surprise of birthday wishes it was very sweet. Felt like I should return the favour, I’ll get ilkkan to wish u happy birthday in his best Belfast accent sure! “Here mate what’s happening, happy birthday whaaaaa” hopefully get talking to you both tomorrow on Skype, and hope you’re both enjoying Hong Kong! Xx

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