In Luang Nam Tha we took a 3 day trek into the local nature reserve. What we thought would be a scenic wander through some trees actually turned out to be a mammoth hike up and down, then up and down, then up some more, through the driest woodland with a carpet of slippery leaves underfoot and a temperature of 38 degrees. Our guides had to employ a super local guy to help us through it all as even they seemed a little out of their comfort zone. The first 2 days were hard work, but we did get to see how useful bamboo is to the locals, we crossed rivers on it, ate off and with it, cooked in it and cooked it, warmed ourselves and lit the night with it... all skills we learnt from our impressive guides. After one night in a hut with an adapted waterfall shower and a second night not sleeping at all in a hideously cold tent with nothing but the river for washing, we took to kayaking home, visiting some local river communities along our path.
Following on, we stopped in on Luang Prabang on our journey south throught Laos. A quaint town that is littered with crumbling french villas from their colonial rule over the country, very typical IndoChina. We didnt do much here apart from kick back and absorb this little slice of Lao history, though James did ascend to the top of a temple to chat to a very friendly young monk and swap stories of life and other-worldly insights. Oh and if you ever feel like crossing the Mekong river to the smaller cave of buddhas, it is clearly not worth the trip, both for views, expense and the cheeky little "guide" who refused our tip in search for 10 times the polite offer we made him!
From here we went to Vang Vieng, a very very dull place, that i guess, 5 years ago was a pristine village with stunning views of the limestone karsts along the Nam Song. However, we were greeted by what can only be described as an Ibiza style drinking culture, lovingly taken up by tourists with scant regard for local traditions and attitudes. We joined in on the village's main attraction, sitting in an innertube and floating between makeshift bars along the river. Was fun, but clearly could have been better had we had taken up the offers of hash brownies and mushroom shakes! Hmmm... I wonder why a tourist a year dies here tubing?
We eventually arrived in the capital, Vientiane, which really is the size of a town by european standards. There is really not much on offer here (apart from every tuk-tuk driver offering us opium and the ladyboys outside our guesthouse offering James "good time"). We have our Vietnam visas in hand though and will embark on a 22 hour bus journey to Hanoi.