We headed out to Laos via train from Bangkok, Thailand. It is a twelve hour trip so we decided to take the overnight departure. We arrived at the Thai border town of Nong Khai the next morning. From the train station we hired a small taxi to the Friendship Bridge. The bridge crosses the Mekong River to Laos. The Mekong is the acting border against Thailand for a large portion....
We stayed in Vientiane, which is the capital, for a few days. As far as capital cities go, Vientiane is one of the sleepiest towns we've been to. Laos is similar to Thailand in culture except that there is a strong French influence. The French occupied the Laos for 50-100 years. After getting acclimated to our new surroundings we decided to rent a scooter and tour the city. The country is clearly focused on tourism, but it is in the early stages of being a major tourist destination.
We were very excited to have French cuisine as a dinner option. Nothing against Thai food...but after a while you need to mix it up a bit. We wasted no time finding a French restaurant and had a great dinner our first night in Laos.
After our first day we knew that Vientiane is a great city, but wouldn't hold our attention for more than a couple days. We booked tickets to head up to Luang Prabang in the central/northern area of the country. We decided to not book a hotel in advance and had a fun adventure looking for a place to stay. We lugged our bags around and looked at different guesthouses. We settled on a nice place called Apsara situated on the Nam Khan river.
One of the popular tours is to cruise down the Mekong River in a slow boat. The boats are long & skinny and cruise a few miles per hour. Our first stop on the river was a small village where they were known for paper-making and silk weaving. Our next stop was at a village known by the locals for making rice wine. In the Lao culture it a good sign to put snakes and scorpions in the bottles with the rice wine. Something about good luck...not exactly clear on the whole concept! We finally reached our destination of the Pak Ou caves (about 2hrs or so away from the city). These caves have been and are still used as Buddhist worship sites. The smaller of the two caves has over 4000 Buddha's inside. Laos is predominantly Buddhist. It was a good day trip.
I, Drew, signed up for a mountain biking trip one of the days. When I showed up at the meeting point, the others in the group had cancelled. The tour company did however have a group of three kayakers waiting for a fourth person. I decided to go and jumped on the back of a dirt bike wearing my backpack, a life jacket, helmet and kayak paddle to meet the others. We are continually learning to be very flexible when it comes to planning things on the road. The trip started out with a two-hour pickup truck ride to get to the drop off point. We geared up and got going. I was paired up with a young Australian girl. We started off with me in the back trying to steer. It took only a few minutes before I dumped us into a log and we had a nice river swim! It also was a chilly, overcast day so the swim in the river wasn't a great treat. The guides quickly decided that the disposition of me in the back and this little girl in the front wasn't going to work. It worked out much better with me in the front and the guide in the back steering the boat. My guide thought it was the funniest thing to bring us through some of the largest rapids on the river to get us wet...well mostly me! A great day though!
One day as we were walking to the center of town we passed a few signs for a book exchange store. We had accumulated a few books on the road and decided to trade them in for new ones. The woman, Ruth, who runs the shop out of her home is an Australian who has lived in Laos for six years. Along with the book exchange she owns a restaurant and just opened a cooking school. Jen and I had been looking to learn more about Asian cooking. We cook a lot of stir-fry when at home, but need some more ideas. So we signed up. The class started the following day at ten in the morning with a trip to the local market. We toured around the food stands with Ruth and our two Lao chefs. They were all very good to explain about the ingredients we would be cooking with and the substitutions that could be used if the exact ones are not available in the US. We headed back to the school and started to cook lunch; Luang Prabang salad and stir-fry rice noodles with vegetables. We had a feast. After lunch we had a short break and then started on the next set of dishes. In the afternoon class we made soup, sticky rice and pork stir-fry. We were so full after eating and cooking all day.
Our last day in Laos we did some more shopping and just took a easy day around town. We visited our favorite coffee shop for more chocolate croissants. Jen fell in love with the chocolate croissants...so that was a must do every day. That evening we had our last dinner at a little French restaurant... I hadn't been feeling very well all day, a little tired and queasy. During our main course Jen looked at me and asked if I was ok (this was probably the third or fourth time she asked). I must have been looking a bit peaked. I tried to stay through dinner but didn't make it. I had to leave to go back to the hotel before the main course came out. The next few days were a little rough with the stomach flu...The next morning Jen came down with the same thing. It was a bit rough as we flew out to Bangkok that afternoon. We were so happy to check into our hotel in Bangkok and crawl under the covers. So for 2 days we were out of commission, but not too bad considering this was our first sickness of the trip!