I’ll do my best to conclude my travel tales in this post, because I’m sure everyone is getting mighty sick of me prattling about my trip. Besides, I have recent crafty endeavours to post about!
After a (brief!) rest in Bangkok, we got ourselves to the station in the evening and boarded the night train to the Thailand/Laos border. The train itself was a lot of fun; I’d never ridden on a sleeper before, so I was endlessly fascinated by the way that the seats folded out to make beds. And drawing the curtain across so you could sleep, sealing off your own little hidey hole in the middle of a crowded train, brought with it a whole lot of childish glee, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since I gave up making cubby houses from furniture and blankets.
The next day we crossed the border into Laos at the Friendship Bridge, and shortly after we found ourselves in the capital, Vientiane. And yes, it is as sleepy and laid back as everyone says. We spent a relaxing few days eating too much – making sure to enjoy the fact that you can get excellent pastries and baguettes in Laos – and seeing the sights. We shopped in the market, chatted with monks and tourists alike, and watched the sun set on the Mekong.
When our time in the capital finished, we took a bus through the countryside (highlights of the trip included live ukulele music provided by a duo of sleep-deprived Frenchmen) and spent one night in Vang Vieng, a place I still have mixed feelings about. The people were friendly and the surrounding countryside was gorgeous; we spent our afternoon taking photos from the bridge over the river and exploring one of the nearby caves.
However, in some ways it was very surreal; it felt like there were just as many roaringly-drunk-by-6pm tourists there as there were locals. The part that was really strange to me was the get-up; I’d gotten so used to seeing people in the usual backpacker garb of loose skirts, baggy shirts and trousers that the number of skimpy black dresses and the sheer quantity of make-up being worn in Vang Vieng seemed bizarre. Who takes their little black dress when they go backpacking? But I suppose that they were all having fun, and that’s the main thing. There were some lovely experiences too; when the owner of the place we ate in found out we were Australian he insisted on shaking all our hands and showing us a photo of his daughter outside the Sydney Opera House.
The next day we packed ourselves back onto a bus and drove through the mountains to Luang Prabang. The scenery was stunning (I was crammed into the very centre of the tiny bus and couldn’t see out of the windows – but I knew the scenery was there so that totally counts). Luang Prabang itself was a huge surprise. It’s a gorgeous little town, and once again it’s a little bit surreal; it was so different from the rest of Laos. We spent a few days there eating inexpensive yet gorgeous food, drinking too much BeerLao (the only beer you saw on most menus, but one is all you need when it’s as nice as BeerLao), shopping at the awesome night market and going on day trips. The highlight was probably taking an early boat up the Mekong, and then riding in the back of a truck to get to Kuang Si falls.
I’m still not sure which was prettier; the falls themselves or the trip there and back!
The next morning we feasted on baguettes (best I’ve had outside of France, hands down) and flew back to Thailand, finding ourselves in Chiang Mai. Alas, I don’t have any photos to do the place justice, as I spent our few days there feeling a little under the weather, but what I did see of Chiang Mai, I liked! We wandered around the temples, stuffed our faces with noodly goodness and did a little bit more shopping. After that it was back to Bangkok, with a last day to spend on shoving pad thai into my face and gawking at the amazing spectacle that was the King’s Birthday holiday. Things were fairly tame during the day, but at night there must have been hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, watching the fireworks and generally enjoying the festivities. A lot of them lit lanterns and let them go into the sky, so by about 10pm the entire night was filled with hundreds of glowing lights. I didn’t take any photos, but I think it was one of those things where you really had to be there.
And then, fair readers, I made my ever-so-glorious return to Melbourne. It’s amazing how strong all the Aussie accents sound when you’ve been away from them for even a short while. It’s nice to be back. I enjoyed the trip very much, but Melbourne is a city that I really do love coming home to. I spent my first day back cooking like a crazy person. Are we surprised?