I am back again. I shall do this in chronological order so as to not confuse anyone...
Well day 24 started very early, after the one beer(Larger Beer Lao)I had before me and my Gibbon Experience group went for a curry. I was up and out by 7 am, having gotten up early and packed my bag. I needed to grab something to eat, exchange some currency(my bank card wasnt working in the only atm in town), pay the gueshouse and get over to the jetty where the 'Fast Boat' was going to take me down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.
Now, if your not aware what this journey down the Mekong to Luang Prabang is all about then I will explain. To get there, you have 2 choices - Fast Boat or Slow Boat - the slow boat takes 2 days and the fast boat 6 hours. Most people take the relaxing slow boat, which stops at night but some do take the fast boat. Lonely Planet(which I stopped using after Bangkok), says the fast boat is highly dangerous and often there are accidents and fatalities. The fast boat consists of a thin 25 foot long boat with a huge engine on the back. You are required to wear a helmet and a life jacket because it can capsize if it hits obstructions underwater at high speed. When I was chetting with other people at the hostel all they would say is 'You know its supposed to be really dangerous right?'..But I didn't fancy 2 days on a boat and I dont rely on Lonely Planet.
Anyway, a tuk tuk was provided to get me to the jetty, where I had a 2 hour wait. I met a couple of Israeli guys, Ariel and 'N'(I cant spell his name, my Hebrew isnt so great so 'N' will do here). They were heading on the same boat as me and had a similar sort of plan 'Head South'!
Once we got in the boat, we realized what we were in for! 6 hours of extreme discomfort and constant danger of accident or death. The boatman seemed to be in hurry to get us there and for the first hour he stopped many times along the river to cxollect money, passengers(the boat held 8 max) or to simply shoot the shit with people. Very very annoying..
The seats we had, were basically cubicles in the boat. The boat when loaded was only a few inches above the water line and 2 people had to share a seat area which was about 150cm by 80 cm. It really was hellish. The worst part to it was that we had no protection from the sun. I was so glad when I found some factor 50 in my bag. Already red around my neck from the previous days forced trek, I turned a nice shade of brown.
We stopped for lunch at the place where the slow boats stop for the night after about 4 hours of noisy, uncomfortable and dangerously fast cruising. I had some egg noodle and the waiter offered us Opium. No thanks matey!
By around 4 o'clock we arrived in Luang Prabang, where we discovered that we were a few kilometers out of town. The tuk tuks and touts were waiting, all wanting extortionate fees for the short distance, but I managed to barter with a driver and get us a decent price. Unfortunately, I gave him 10x too much. Completely my fault, I didnt read the currency properly, so instead of 25000 kip I gave him 250000 kip. It was kind of a stupid mistake, but 250000 kip is still only around 15 pounds, so I am not too fussed, I learned a lesson - tuk tuk drivers, Thai or Loatian are complete assholes.
Anyway, I had got to know Ariel and 'H' more over the last 6 hours in close confines and we decided to try and get bus tickets to Vang Vieng that night if possible. We tried at the bus station, but the bus was packed already and decided to wait till the next morning for the Express bus. So, we had a wander and I asked a few people who looked like they were leaving about guesthouses and from that information we decided to head over to the area surrounding the night market.
Wandering through that area(after another tuk tuk ride...) and I was surprised to see howq beautful this town was. It felt like the South of France as opposed to central Indochina. It was one of the nicest places I have seen on my trip so far. Lovely little restaurants, a decent market(no crap for sale, all handicrafts and textiles) and no loud neon looking bars. Ariel and N were able to spot other Israeli's just by looking at them, it was incredible - just a glance and 'He is Israeli'. N got chatting to a couple who said they would show us a guesthouse that they were at, it was OK so we got a single(for me) and a twin room. I had to go and buy a cheapo tshirt, because I discovered I was all out of clean clothes.
Myself, Ariel, N and the new couple(I keep forgetting peoples names) went out for a meal. The food was excellent, and thankfully the conversation was in English(most of the time) for my benefit. After that we were joined by a met a Colombian girl then we got a bottle of a Johnny Walker(I had only 1 glass), played some cards and sat around till 2.30am talking nonsense.
I have to admit, the next morning I wasn't feeling too great. Not enough sleep. It was 7.30 at the bus station then departure at 8. Once again I found myself on a long journey I wasnt looking forward too. This one to Vang Vieng, was about 6 hours - and the road was terrible, no possible chance of sleep. The driver played Loatian music videos the whole way really loudly from the Black and White tv at the front of the bus. I was so glad when we got the Vang Vieng. The only good thing about the journey was the beautiful scenery, we climbed to around 1000m and has spectacular views of the limestone hills and cliffs that surround the area.
In Vang Vieng, we decided to have a look together for a gueshouse. I wasnt really interested in where we went to be honest, because after 3 days of - a 20km trek + Late night, a 6 hour fast boat ride + late night and a long, bumpy and windy 6 hour bus ride - I was totally exhausted. I settled with the first place we looked at, which was more a mid range place than a backpackers lodge.
I got a bungalow, with AC, a big soft double bed, a private bathroom, sattelite TV, free breakfast, a balcony on the river and fantastic views of the limestone cliffs that surround Vang Vieng - all for 20 US a night. Ariel and N were looking for something cheaper(they have been on the road for 5 months!) so decided to keep looking, but we have arranged to meet up again.
By 6pm, I was showered, had eaten in the town, had bought lots of snacks to the room and was in bed. I slept till 11 am this morning. For the next few days, I am going to relax, clear my head again and just chill out. There are plenty of other backpackers around, so in a couple of days I am going to check out the tubing, caving, mountain biking or whatever takes my fancy. But for the next few days at least, I am going to stay put, on my balcony(splendid views) and read, eat and sleep.
I worked out on a map, that since Singapore(28 days ago) I have come roughly 2400km overland. I haven't stopped for too long since the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. I have lost weight(not that I was overweight), I now have a decent tan, my bag stinks, my feet are chewed up and I am still thinking about my next move. So basically, I'm taking a little break, because in three weeks there isnt going to be any time to chill in Papua New Guinea. 7 weeks there is going to be long, I will enjoy it, but its not the holiday I have been having over the last 28 days.
Already met a fair few folk here, so it seems like a nice place to chill out. Im going to upload all my photos I have taken in the next few days and plan the next 18 days. I have to be in Singapore on the 9th! Then its Oz(briefly and Papua New Guinea!