The Slow Boat from Chiang Khong in north-east Thailand deposited us on the bank of the river in outer Luang Prabang, Laos. Finding our hotel was a challenge after the couldn’t-care-less tuk tuk driver dumped us at at one end of a walking street with a wave of the arm in a very vague, very incorrect direction of our hotel.
After a long walk and many questions we found our hotel – Nam Khan Riverside Hotel. This old quarter of Luang Prabang is on the peninsular formed by the Nam Khan River and the Mekong River.
Luang Prabang is acknowledged as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for tourists to Laos. A mixture of old world and new.
Kuang Si Waterfall
The beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall is about 25 kilometres south-west of Luang Prabang.
Bear Rescue Centre
At the end of our walk to the waterfall we came across the Bear Rescue Centre. This sanctuary was opened in 2003 by an Australian non profit organisation headed by Perth woman Mary Hutton.
One of the main threats to bears in Laos and indeed throughout Asia is the illegal wildlife trade. Almost all rescued bears are retrieved from poachers, exotic pet owners, or people planning to use them in traditional medicine (bear bile farms).
Wherever there are tourists there are people to serve their needs and supply food and drink. The Kuang Si carpark is a thriving market and food bazaar.
The next day we took a minibus to Vang Vieng, adventure capital of Laos and a town with a reputation that, while improving, has a dark past of expat excess.
The popular Blue Lagoon was just a short taxi ride from town.
I approached this with trepidation, indeed, with the prejudice of a middle aged, Western man towards a potential hazardous activity in a third world country. I inspected all the wire ropes, clamps, buckles, pulleys minutely. I was impressed at the standard of workmanship and, again with the prejudice of who I was and where I was, feel fairly confident in declaring that it was installed by a Western contractor.
The operators were very professional, ensuring that at no time was any zipliner unattached. They were scrupulous with this.
VV has a vibrant restaurant scene, particularly along the Nam Song River.
Back in Thailand
The Pajero Wagon was waiting for us at the Immigration Checkpoint at Nong Khai on our arrival from Laos.
Overnight in Nong Khai with dinner at an excellent little Italian Restaurant named Oasi (sic) owned by an expat Italian. We had bruschetta and garlic bread before a Caesar Salad and grilled Chicken Salad. The recipe for a Caesar Salad is lettuce and croutons dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire Sauce, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. It is generally credited as being created by restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant to the United States, in 1924. Or maybe his staff. Or someone else. Regardless of the minor controversy, to be a true Caesar is should be made to a recipe. I have eaten countless Caesar Salads in many parts of the world and not one has been the same.
We headed west out of town along Route 212 but soon found another road closer to the river – and then another. For most of the morning I dogged the Mekong downriver.
We ended up at Sakon Nakom, the capital of the province of the same name.
Our route back to Kamcha-I took us through beautiful XXX National Park.
Driving on the Asian Highway between Mukdahan and Kamcha-I in the Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD Wagon. The Asian Highway is a beautiful, divided carriageway with many high speed bends/curves, all well signed. Often I am driving in the right line (the ‘fast’ line in Thailand) at the speed limit and a boy racer will speed up behind me and aggressively tailgate. Always a Japanese sports car with a spoiler. Generally costumed with decals, presumably stating ‘Boy Racer’ but as the decals are in Thai I can’t be sure.
I usually wait until we are a few hundred metres from a right hand bend and then casually steer the Pajero to the left, allowing the Boy Racer ‘open road’. We enter the high speed bend together and I drive around the outside of him. As we exit the sweep with the Pajero still in front he accelerates away. Often I will catch up to him by the next sweeping bend and repeat the experience. If it happens a third time Boy Racer has the pocket rocket valve bouncing as he floors it once he is on a bit of straight road. I wonder if they realise that there is more to driving than just going fast in a straight line.
Before we knew it we had arrived in Mukdahan