Amputees, French things and Vodka.

This morning we traveled through the countryside to the capital city of Vientiane, Laos.

Where did I stay?

Inter City Hotel

We visited the Cope Center. Which is an education and rehabilitation center for Lao people affected by UXOs. It was a little disheartening because much of the blame for war, bombings and death is placed upon Americans. But the country is very progressive and forgiving now. I donated $50 which is quite a lot. I hope that my donation can help positively affect someones life.

Then we were taken on a city tour where we were shown some of the important government buildings and the “Arc De Triumph” of Laos. I climbed to the top and found a great panoramic view of the bustling capital. The city is modern and booming. It’s strange to think that just a short distance away people are living in shacks without electricity.

Afterwards we strolled towards another temple. It was really cool because a huge festival was going on. So there were busy markets, street foodies, entertainment and music. It was a blast and I wish we could’ve spent more time at the concert we stumbled upon. But we were hustled back onto the bus.

For dinner we went to a really swanky three story resturaunt. We had the whole third floor to ourselves. I ordered strawberry cider, spring rolls and a hot plate. I also got some free drinks from one of the boys who bought a bottle of vodka. Contiki kids can really drink. :p

Tomorrow we head to Cambodia!

8AM is perfect for drunk kayaking

Up bright and early after an insane binder last night at Kangaroo Sunset.

We were picked up by two tuk-tuks blaring old school hip hop music. As soon as we piled into the tuk-tuks we were all handed Lao Beers (it was 8am).

After a 30 min drive we arrived at the river for cave river tubing. By that point many people had already down 3 or 4 beers. While we waited for a cave tour to begin we downed more drinks. While we were shot-gunning I noticed the other tours around us were sitting quietly, while ours was dancing and laughing. The other tour groups also had helmets and life-vests. We did not.

Finally it was our turn to hop into tubes and pull ourselves through the cave river. Many intoxicated 20 somethings were led into a dark and ominous cave. Where we sung show tunes very loudly, people floated into dark crevasse and kept hitting their heads on the low hanging cave. I don’t think they let us go all the way through because at one point we just suddenly had to turn around. It was probably a wise decision.

Then we walked to a riverside bar where we were blessed with shots and drank wine coolers before kayaking. Our guides managed to put amps in their kayaks so we cruised down the river blaring old-school jams. One team of drunk kayakers flipped their kayak immediately. Ayal ended up dislocating his shoulder and having to paddle the rest of the way, while same passed out drunk in front. It was an amazing spectacle. Kayaking through the Laotian countryside and monstrous mountains was breath-taking. Being buzzed and listening to rap as we paddled through the Mekong was straight out of a movie. Best day of my life so far.

LUANG PRABANG TO VANG VIENG

This morning we boarded a coach and headed to Vang Vieng, Laos.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at this amazing restaurant on top of the mountain. The restaurant had spectacular views and pretty good food too!

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Vang Vieng is a stunning riverside town surrounded by mountains, farms and winding rivers. Its a quiet and simple town that is a backpackers heaven.

Where did I stay?

The Elephant Crossing Hotel

Accommodations: Excellent. My favorite place so far. A charming boutique hotel ran by a family and locals. Stunning views and an great restaurant.

Location: Walking distance to everything.

View from our hotel

View from our hotel

A Night to Remember

Tonight my entire group went to locally recommended Kangaroo Sunset Bar. We had dinner and then got the party started! The bar played old school dance music and served heavy-handed cheap drinks! Everyone was buying shots for everyone. We danced on tables, did the macarena, drank more shots, took over the bar and played beer pong. It was a blast. Even a sudden down pour didn’t stop our party.

Riding Elephants

Riding elephants through the jungle of Laos was one of the most out of this world experience of my life so far. We woke up early and beat the heat and drove out to this amazing elephant reservation. According to the tour operator the elephants are all free range, happy and well looked after. They all looked very healthy and appeared loved by their handlers. You could really feel the strong bonds between the elephants and their handlers. Our elephants name was Ping-Pong. At 45 she was the second oldest in our herd. She was strong, brave and very stubborn. Our guide was fantastic. He spoke very good english and taught us a lot about Ping Pong and the other elephants. I would recommend elephant riding in Laos to anyone!

Where did I go?

Elephant Village 

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Paying alms and Water Falls

Up before the sunrise to give alms to the local monks. We handed rice to some of the hundreds of Monks living in Luang Prabang. It was a very humbling and spiritual experience. Buddhist Monks can not hoard food, so what ever they need to survive they must be given. They rely on patroons to give them their meals each day. I loved seeing the procession of monks in their orange robes. It was truly unforgettable and well worth the early wake up.

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Then a couple of my mates and I went to brunch. I had the most amazing lemonade with mint leaves. It was so refreshing and sweet. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate it.

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Once the rest of our group woke up we were able to head to Kuang Si Falls. We hiked through the jungle and past some gorgeous sun bears (in captivity) to the beautiful water falls. Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 2.09.00 PM

The water was my favorite color teal. It was clean, cool and refreshing. There were tons of little fish that would try to feed on your feet which I didn’t like. But other than that it was magical.

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Later in the afternoon we had free time. So Becky and I explored the dense markets of Luang Prabang. We did a lot of shopping and had the BEST sandwich from a street vendor. It was ham, cheese, avocado and more on fresh french bread. Seriously heavenly.

Halloween in Luang Prabang, Laos

Hopped back on board the boat this morning and continued sailing down the Mekong river. We stopped at Pak Ou caves. The caves are built into the side of a mountain, just above the water where the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers join. There are thousands of Buddhas in the cave!10672411_10152735706400813_8092534399608441127_n

Then we reached Luang Prabang, a city rich in culture and left unchanged by time.

We checked into our hotel and had a little bit of free time before our bike tour. So Becky, Sam and I found a great little cafe and had watermelon juice and the best fried spring rolls ever!

Where did I stay?

VisounNam Sok Hotel

1471107_10152735601940813_7340185049767382171_nThen we took a seriously fun bike tour around the UNESCO World Heritage town. We rode down cobblestone lanes, past French style homes and shops and up a hill to Wat Xiang Thong. At the temple we saw monks praying and ringing traditional bells. We continued our tour and stopped at a roadside bar where we did shots of Snake Whiskey!

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After the bike tour our guide recommended we hike up the mountain to a temple and watch the sunset. Our guide said it “was only a couple of steps to the top”. No, it was 356 steps. To get to the top I pretended that I was on The Amazing Race. It was a struggle but in the end the view was worth it.

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Then it was time to celebrate Halloween!

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Everyone dressed up for the party. I was pretty impressed with the costumes since most people used what they brought in their suitcases. There were zombies, tiki girls, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, a couple of kittens, a rock star, Jesus and much more. I dressed as a flapper! We had a family style BBQ meal at a very fancy restaurant in town. The seats and tables were made of concrete…pretty swanky but very uncomfortable. We also started playing “The Game of Life.” A hilarious drinking game that we will play for the rest of the trip, non-stop.

Rules of The Game of Life:

  • Drink with the opposite hand
  • Don’t say Drink
  • Don’t Point
  • Don’t Say Mine

Consequences: 

  • Drink
  • Push-ups or squats

Living life simply in Pakbeng, Laos

Waking up at 545AM is pretty rough when you partied until 2AM the night before. A lot of my tour mates are hung over but I’m fine.

Where did I say?

Phet Sok Xia Hotel

Today we made our first boarder crossing. After about three hours getting visas we finally made it safely into Laos.

Tip: Get your Visa in advance to avoid the hold up.

After a short bus ride we disembarked and then hopped onto large tuk tuks to make our way down to the river. It was a wild ride and a great way to be introduced to Laos.

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Then we boarded a boat and began our journey down the Mekong River. Cruising down the river was so relaxing and peaceful. The mountains and scenery of Laos are breath-taking. My tour mates and I played cards, charades and some ice-breaking “Get to know you” games. Time flew by and after 6 hours of cruising and two fabulous home cooked meals aboard we reached Pakbeng.10647069_10152735689670813_6311954148698961704_n

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Our first “Guest House” experience was what I expected most of our accommodations to be like. I thought we would be staying mostly in hostel like places. But until now we have been staying in five-star resorts. Phet Sok Xai was small, simple and a little old. But it was charming and authentic. My new roommate Becky and I really enjoyed it. However some of our more high maintenance tour mates were not so impressed.

Some how I pissed my roommate Laura off. So now she doesn’t like me. She wanted to trade roommates. I honestly don’t care where I sleep. It’s a bed. I’ll room with whoever. I can adjust. But luckily Becky’s roommate hates her too. She also can’t figure out why. So now she and I are roomies.

That night we had a great family style dinner that was free! Afterwards we ventured into town to find bakeries. We bought croissants and chocolate rolls for breakfast the next morning. Then we hung out on the veranda and talked about life, family and our dreams.

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View from our hotel at dusk

It was pretty fantastic.

Side note: My feet have begun swelling. I’m not sure why. I’m not isolated. Many of the others are having issues with swelling feet. All I can do it elevate them to bring the swelling down.