Written By Kasha
After an exhausting 6 hour trip from Koh Chang back to Bangkok, a 1 night stay in a manky motel surrounded by Nike and Adidas outlet stores, we were finally on our way. Although we were sad to say goodbye to our island paradise, we were excited to move to our next country. Laos, number two on the list, was foreign and new to us.
After a short flight from Bangkok, we arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It was amazing. After peering out the window of a taxi van, we checked into the Thawee Guesthouse. The only problem with the rooms was one was on the bottom floor and the other on the top. That, and we had self cleaning air con, that leaked water all over the floor. Once we had settled in, more or less, we set out to explore. We walked down to the Mekong, a 4,620 kilometer river that starts in Tibet stretching out over China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was amazing to watch the sun go down across its banks and look across and see Thailand opposite you. The Mekong acts like a border between these two countries, providing equally for both sides. After a quick dinner we walked back to the rooms and got ready for bed. There is no time difference between Thailand and Laos but it had been a long day and everyone was very tired.
We woke up feeling refreshed and set off to explore. After failing to find bikes we decided to walk everywhere. That proved hazardous as we were not yet used to the traffic coming from the right side and my brother narrowly avoided being run over by a motorbike. Our first destination of the day was the Patuxai. This is very similar to the Arc de Triomphe, in France, but is 100% Laotian. It is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France. The money used to build it was given by the US, who gave it so they could build a new airport. However, the government at the time decided to build a monument instead. We explored each floor, eventually finding the highest tower. We were greeted with a great view, being able to see for miles in one direction. Of course there wasn’t too much to see but still wow.
We then decided to visit the COPE museum. It was another treacherous walk past markets and through bus stations, stopping for the best smoothies in South-East Asia. The walk was well worth it though. The museum was great. We all learned so many new things. COPE was set up to help victims of bomb explosions. Although the war is long gone, people still suffer from it today. The Vietnam war, 41 years ago, was between Vietnam and America. Many other countries were involved but not Laos. But you see, the American soldiers were not allowed to land with full bomb loads in their cargo. So after they had passed over Vietnam, if any bombs were left they were then dropped off over Laos. So imagine thousands of bombs, raining down on Laos, an innocent country. Explosions going off everywhere, killing adults and children alike. But that wasn’t the end of it. Now, nearly 50 years later, Laotians still suffer from the war. Many bombs upon hitting the ground exploded, but not all of them did. They lay, buried in the ground, but still active. So many people, unaware, set off for work farming and digging in the ground. But what happens when someone strikes a bomb. It will of, of course, explode. But working and digging isn’t the only way to set them off. Children, hunting for scrap metal, will pick them up, excited because they can sell it to feed there family’s. But its not ordinary scrap metal. Children also pick them up to play with them, thinking that its a ball to throw around. Even cooking can be dangerous. The heat of a fire can set off nearby bombs as well. So COPE is a great organisation, committed to helping victims by giving them prosthetic limbs or a wheelchair and helping them get on with life, as well as supporting organisations who clean up the bombs.. The boys were fascinated by the bombs and Triton was especially interested in this sad side of Laos’s history. During our visit a teenage boy was wheeled in. He had both legs missing and had to be pushed around by his mother. He was super friendly and the boys all gave him a hug. It was so sad, yet so wonderful how he talked to the boys. The COPE museum was a really good experience for us and we plan to make a donation. It would be great to know we have helped in some small way.
We then headed back along the river and went to a nice looking restaurant for dinner. Big mistake. It was expensive and the food took forever to cook. But after dinner we met up with a Kiwi family with 12 year old triplets who lived in Bangkok. Carl had stayed behind to pay the bill and started talking with them. We all headed down to were the locals had started doing aerobics on the banks of the Mekong. The kids played while the grown ups chatted and in the end they invited us to stay. Of course we said yes please and we exchanged emails before heading back.
The next day we headed out early, hoping to score some bikes. And we did! A tandem with a baby seat, plus two other bikes was perfect. Cove of course, got the best seat with Carl and Triton on the tandem. Mum doubled with Ronin and I got my own bike. We set off with a plan to ride along the river and sight see. But as the roads were very busy we got separated almost straight away. But we soon met up in a park. Then we got to bike along the river and all around Vientiane. By the end of the day our legs were aching because of doing so much pedaling and our bums were so sore because of bumpy Laos roads. Everyone slept well again that night.
After a grueling 4 hour drive on bumpy roads, we arrived in Vang Vieng, our second stop in Laos. It was magical. Good vibes were coming from everywhere. The Jammee Guest House was excellent and we finally had a room with enough beds for us to all fit in. In the morning we woke to a commotion in the backyard. We looked out and saw a HOT AIR BALLOON!! We watched it go up up up. The little boys were enchanted. We saw more in the evening too.
The first day in Vang Vieng was full on adventure. Caving, trekking, swimming, tubing and kayaking with our amazing tour guide Ming, from Green Discovery, who the NZ triplets from Vientiane had recommended. There was plenty of slipping, sliding and headbanging in the caves and poor Ronin almost had a panic attack when he fell out of his tube in the water cave. Unfortunately we lost 3 green stone necklaces in the water as well. There was a long walk to the start of the kayaking point and we saw a dead snake on the opposite bank which Mum freaked out at. But luckily we saw no others, dead or alive. Returning back that night we felt positive that this was going to be a great place. Over the following days we visited the Blue Lagoon, jumping off tree branches and swinging off ropes.
The next couple of days it rained but that didn’t stop Carl, Triton and me attempting to climb a mountain. But the track was closed, probably due to the weather, so we headed down a trail to a cave. Carl explored the outside while Triton and I watched for snakes in the bushes. It was definitely not my favorite part of Laos. It was raining for the rest of our time in Laos but we still loved it and found plenty of things to do. Mum even got the guesthouse owner to teach us how to make pancakes. The boys played soccer with the local kids one evening and we watched people send lanterns into the sky while eating muesli for dinner.
Due to the weather not being great we never made it to the north of Laos but we learnt so much here and I know we will never forget it. I definitely want to come back and explore more, maybe even climb that mountain. Whatever the case we will always remember you and have a place for you in our hearts.