Rice fields and mountains views (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

After China, Laos was always going to be about rest and relaxation. If there is a better spot than South East Asia for doing exactly that, then tie me down sport, and call me an Aussie!!.

The instant you enter South East Asia the shackles come off, the pressure dissipates, stress disappears, you start to feel relaxed immediately. In this part of the world there is no hurry, no need to rush. Everybody is happy and smiling. Friendly faces are everywhere. You feel welcome, and everything is easy. It is the polar opposite of China in Eastern Asian culture.

I was in no mood to travel far so I headed for the nearest place on the map, Luang Namtha. I knew next to nothing about the place. Only the small section in the lonely planet gave me any idea of what to expect.

I did a quick drive around town before stopping at Thoulasith guesthouse and getting a room. I got some lunch and then pretty much crashed out in my room. I was absolutely exhausted. The physical and mental exertions over the last 35 days had taken their toll. Both have an equal impact but it’s the mental side that is the toughest to comprehend. It’s impossible to imagine before you go, unless you have done something similar before, and can’t be underestimated when doing a trip of this nature.

Forest Retreat - My home away from home (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Forest Retreat – My home away from home
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Over the next few days I just slept, ate, read and relaxed. I found solace in a wonderful kiwi run cafe called the Forest Retreat. A western style menu designed to appeal to the backpacker was a godsend after 35 days of rice and noodles. I was even able to buy freshly made bread and apply the NZ marmite I had carried so diligently from London. Along with lattes, pizzas, and french toast breakfast options, I was in heaven.

I made friends with an assortment of other travellers. Stu, who was biking around South East Asia, and had decided to pack raft the Mekong River. Iain and Toni who had just arrived in China after riding their motorbike from London, and many other nationalities that came and went from the Forest Retreat over the first few lazy days. All under the watchful and friendly eyes of Andre and Karen, and their staff at the cafe.

As my body slowly began its recovery, one of the more amusing side effects I seemed to be suffering from was a bruised right heel. The endless hours of my right foot sitting on the accelerator, not having to move because Boris is an automatic, left me slightly bemused.

In an effort to finally do some outdoor adrenaline based activities Stu and booked ourselves on a kayaking trip along the Namtha River. It served a dual purpose of allowing Stu to test his new packraft and for me to get some exercise.

Si, Stu and I about to go kayaking down the Namtha River (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Si, Stu and I about to go kayaking down the Namtha River
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Ready to kayak the Namtha River (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Ready to kayak the Namtha River
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

The next morning our guide Si met us at 8.45am outside the Forest Retreat. We were in the water by 9.30 and slowly making our way down the Namtha river. It was a fantastic spot with wild untouched jungle forests on either side of us. We slowly drifting down the river. As it was the monsoon season the river was at its highest, and in excellent condition for kayaking. We had a taste of all the elements as first sun, then rain, drenched us along the way. Stopping for a lunch at the 16km point we huddled undercover on a hut on the side of the bank. Fresh fish, rice and banana from the market that morning was our treat.

Lunchtime on the Namtha River with Stu and Si (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Lunchtime on the Namtha River with Stu and Si
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

River Action on the Namtha River (Luang Namtha, Laos)

River Action on the Namtha River
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

We finished up 24km from where we began. We stopped to check out a local village or two along the way and celebrated the successful day with my first warm Beer Lao. While the journey took 5 hours in the water, it took only 30 odd minutes to get back by van. Back at the hotel I crashed out immediately. I’d caught some sun and being rather unfit, it wiped me. It was time for a nap.

Celebratory Beer Lao (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Celebratory Beer Lao
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

The next day was pretty quiet. Stu and I had a farewell dinner, and then meet up with Iain and Toni at the Forest Retreat for a few farewell beers. The following day Stu was going to set off to packraft the Mekong river. It was going to be an epic journey.

Stu making his final preparations to packraft down the Namtha river (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Stu making his final preparations to packraft down the Namtha river
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

In the morning we had breakfast at Forest Retreat and then I gave Stu a ride with his alpaca pack raft to the Namtha river. He got all packed up, and I sent him and his raft, the aptly named ‘The Mekong Queen’ on his way to the grand Muse tune ‘Knights of Cydonia’. It was my tour anthem, and it seemed like an appropriate send off. All going well Stu would head south through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, reaching the sea in an around two months time. The adventurous fella was going on a grand river adventure.

Farewell Stu as he heads down the Namtha river (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Farewell Stu as he heads down the Namtha river
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Here is the blog and video I made for Stu’s Packraft adventure. Check it out. It also contains a link to Stu’s blog so you can follow his progress.

Stu’s Pack rafting Adventure down the Mekong River

Here is his farewell video as he set off. Good luck mate!!

http://youtu.be/KqcRxt9SouI

I’d made the call to depart for Luang Prubang the following day. So that afternoon Andre and Karen took the time to show me around a bit of Luang Namtha and some of the projects they are involved in. It was a fascinating afternoon as we discussed their plans and visited the development sites.

River beside the homestay village we visited (Luang Namtha, Laos)

River beside the homestay village we visited
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views. Fancy staying room with this sort of view? 
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

A trip to the village followed and a chance to interact with the locals, which I always love. Driving through the back roads passing by rice fields and hills covered in wild vegetation was a beautiful sight. We finished our little excursion with a cold beer watching the sun go down. Just perfect.

Rice fields and mountains views at sunset (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views at sunset
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views at sunset (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views at sunset
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Luang Namtha was a wonderful place to stop and recharge the batteries. I stayed 9 days in total, which has been the longest in one place to date. This was in no small part thanks the friendly folk at the Forest Retreat. It was a little home away from home. Thanks guys!!

Rice fields and mountains views (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views (Luang Namtha, Laos)

Rice fields and mountains views
(Luang Namtha, Laos)

I left the following morning, passing the rice fields bathed in beautiful morning sunlight. Such a beautiful spot. So peaceful. The little shacks sit empty. Scattered across the fields. One month of growth provides a wonderfully green backdrop that sways in the gentle breeze. It’s a place where all your worries seem to disappear. Funny how this often happens in the so-called poorest countries.

Mountain views on the road to Luang Prubang (Btw Luang Namtha & Luang Prubang, Laos)

Mountain views on the road to Luang Prubang
(Btw Luang Namtha & Luang Prubang, Laos)

Mountain views on the road to Luang Prubang (Btw Luang Namtha & Luang Prubang, Laos)

Mountain views on the road to Luang Prubang
(Btw Luang Namtha & Luang Prubang, Laos)

The journey south-east to Luang Prubang provided a good road drive except for 80kms of rubbish. Boris’ suspension and springs didn’t like it too much. Arriving in the early evening we had spent a great day in the road. Observing the serene nature of the Lao people. Smiles everywhere, kids playing and waving as you go by. Rich greenness and freshness of the mountains. It never fails to bring a smile to my face. I made my way into Luang Prabang, snaking my way through the motorbike traffic. Beeping as I went. The habits of China are now engrained in my driving style. Driving around town I got a feel for the place. First impressions were wonderful. A beautiful spot but you can see that it’s geared to the tourist falangs.

Kuang Si waterfalls (Luang Prubang, Laos)

Kuang Si waterfalls
(Luang Prubang, Laos)

The next few days were spent socialising with Iain and Toni, eating at bakeries and visiting the Kuang Si waterfalls for a swim.

Kuang Si waterfalls (Luang Prubang,Laos)

Kuang Si waterfalls
(Luang Prubang,Laos)

My next stop was Vang Vieng, the party town famous for its drunken river tube days on the fast rushing, and dangerous Mekong. Once again I met up with Iain and Toni and joined them for drinks by the river, before a big night at Gary’s Irish bar ended in a dodgy nightclub called Room 101. It was a load of fun but we all suffered the consequences the following day.

Iain and I in our flash outfits from Gary's Irish bar (Vang Vieng, Laos)

Iain and I in our flash outfits from Gary’s Irish bar
(Vang Vieng, Laos)

Iain and Toni at Gary's Irish bar (Vang Vieng, Laos)

Iain and Toni at Gary’s Irish bar
(Vang Vieng, Laos)

I did nothing of note, other than decide to head from Vientiane, the capital the next day. And that’s just what I did.

Mountain views on the road to Vientiane (Btw Vang Vieng & Vientiane, Laos)

Mountain views on the road to Vientiane
(Btw Vang Vieng & Vientiane, Laos)

An easy 3 hour drive later and I rolled into the centre of capital, Vientiane. I found Vaughan and Kimberly hanging out at my hotel. We planned to meet up and discuss our Myanmar plans. For the last five weeks we had been planning, organising and emailing Myanmar tour agencies in an effort to drive overland to India from Thailand. We had received word that Myanmar was just about to open up to foreigners with vehicles. All going to plan we would have the opportunity to be one of the first people to cross again, since the borders were shut around 2008.

Our plan was to enter Myanmar at Mywaddy on September 18th. It was later than I had planned to return west, but it was the earliest we could cross. The opportunity was too good to pass up!! This meant I was going to have five weeks to kill in South East Asia, and with no shipping to arrange I would just leave Boris in Bangkok, and hit the backpacker trail visiting friends in the region.

As a result my time in Vientiane was all geared towards the Myanmar schedule. The next few days were spent getting baht and a 60 day visa for Thailand. I also had to pay for my new Old Man Emu springs from the local distributor for Boris. While I there I was also able to arrange a service for Boris with the Toyota mechanics. I had one last hurrah with Iain and Toni. Vaughan and Kimberly came along too.

Boris gets (another) service (Vientiane, Laos)

Boris gets (another) service
(Vientiane, Laos)

With my Thai visa in hand it was time to leave. I had designs on making it down to Krabi for 5 days on the beach before I need to meet my Dad in Kuala Lumpur.

It was time to depart wonderful Laos. I left with a smile on my face, and excitement in the air over the Myanmar visit.

Summary
Laos was a fantastic place to stop and relax. The people are so friendly and seem so happy. It has all the charms of South East Asia without really any of the major hassles. It’s not over commercialised yet, so now is definitely the time to go. This will most certainly change over time. The government keep a tight reign on what goes on, but that doesn’t seem to bother most of the locals. For the tourist it is well catered for, and easy to get about. I could have stayed there a lot longer, and I meet a few people who have. I hope to return one day.

3 Responses to “Laos – Lovely and Luscious, A Real Forest Retreat”

  1. Awesome to hear your Lao experience was so much fun Jonny! Keep on having a blast 🙂 Karen and Dre, Luang Namtha

  2. Hey Jon, love the video, at the end when you’re talking to the camera you can see Stu in the background float by and do a little wave!

    When tubing in Vang Vieng did you have to sign that little piece of innocuous looking A5 paper? …the Life Waiver? I remember it had sentences like ‘…If I suffer death or critical injury or drown on my inflatable tube the cannot be held responsible’. Also, did you get subjected to endless loops of simpons and friends on at the bars? 😛

    Safe journey m8!

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