Floating down the Mekong in Vang Vieng

We had a bit of a mammoth journey ahead of us to get from Don Det to Vang Vieng. Most people stop in Vientiane but we weren’t really interested in going there so we decided to skip it. This meant that we had to get a boat from Don Det to the mainland, followed by a 3 hour bus to Pakse where we would wait 5 hours for the night bus. The night bus would then take 10 hours to Vientiane where we would switch buses onward to Vang Vieng. Sounded annoying but simple enough. Sadly it didn’t go so smooth.

Our boat and bus to Pakse was on time and as comfortable as it could be. We then spent 5 hours having some lunch and using the wifi in a cafe before a tuk tuk showed up to transfer us to the bus station. At the bus station our bus hadn’t arrived yet but we had hope for a comfortable bus journey as the buses that were there already looked quite nice. Some even had TVs and wifi. When our bus showed up we couldn’t believe it. Not only was it ancient compared to the other ones but the windscreen had a massive crack going all the way through it. When we went to get on the bus the driver ran back over with about 10 air freshners to put in there before we got on… great! The bus of course wasn’t comfortable, we were on the top level in a ‘double’ sleeper bed which was really made for just one person. On arrival to Vientiane we got off the bus very tired after an awful night sleep to be told the bus to Vang Vieng leaves from a different station. Lots of tuk tuk drivers were trying to get us to pay them to take us there but we refused and went looking for more information. The man at the ticket office told us to wait in a corner and that a bus would come to get us in an hours time. 2 hours later a minibus showed up to collect us and some other confused tourists, we thought finally we were on our way… wrong again. We were then dropped off at a booking office where we had to ‘check in’ for the bus. Another hour later we were finally on our way, running very late. We were obviously relieved when we finally arrived at Vang Vieng 28 hours later.

Once we arrived we set off and found a place to stay. Diandra and Luigi who we travelled with in Myanmar were in Vang Vieng too so we had a little rest in our room before meeting up with them in the evening. We caught up on each others travels over dinner before heading to one of the bars that was serving free beer and whiskey for an hour. After a couple of drinks there we said we would head out for one more drink before going back to our rooms. Once we were there though the drinks kept coming and all of a sudden we were in a tuk tuk heading to a jungle party. To call it a jungle party was a bit odd, it wasn’t really in the jungle and was just 4kms out of town.17349837_10155252190234994_2433548817344771691_oIt was still interesting to see, there were lots of fire performers but also a lot of drunk people and although we were a few drinks in, we really weren’t at the level of the people there. We stayed for an hour or so before heading back into town, getting some more food and back to our rooms.

The next day we decided to go with Diandra and Luigi as well as Jacob and Mary (a dutch couple we met the night before) to the Blue Lagoon. We arranged a tuk tuk to take us there, wait 2 hours and bring us back. The lagoon was really nice but as it was a weekend the whole place was filled with locals and tourists and it was just a bit too busy for our likings.17240485_10154241449876176_89713688454132799_oWe found a restaurant and got some lunch whilst dipping in and out of the lagoon to cool down. There was a tree you could climb where you jump off one of the branches into the water which some of the group enjoyed and we found a huge spider on one of the trees. 17218524_10154241450111176_6545286749251876047_oOnce we got back we got showered and then headed out to meet Diandra and Luigi at a place called Smile Bar. The walk there was really nice as the surroundings of Vang Vieng are beautiful and there was a really cool wooden bridge to walk over.17192257_10155252186344994_5747845346511900950_oOnce we arrived the bar was awesome, it is full of open wooden bungalows with hammocks along the riverside and you can lay in the tied up tubes in the river. 17240032_10154241948546176_1670597535839720330_oAfter a drink there we all went out to dinner in town before heading home.

Mike and Becki arrived in Vang Vieng and the four of us decided to go tubing. The tubing was pretty famous here because it used to be a huge party the whole way down the river with loads of bars and rope swings for people to spend the whole day at. It got a pretty bad name as there were quite a few deaths and they shut it down for a few years however the town experienced a massive decrease in tourism so they opened it up again with restrictions. The restrictions are that now there aren’t really any rope swings, there certainly weren’t any when we were there as it was dry season and the river was quite low. They only allow 2 bars to be open on the whole river which is an attempt to control how drunk people get although after experiencing it, it definitely isn’t working as people just spend more time getting drunk at the first bar. We arrived at the first bar only 50 metres down from there they drop you off with your tube and it was again not really our thing, there were lots of very drunk people (at 1pm) all playing drinking games and being generally a bit annoying. The four of us found a table outside the bar and enjoyed a beer there whilst chatting to some other people who were seated outside. In an attempt to get to the second bar before the crazies came we left and floated down to an almost empty bar, which was annoyingly only another 50 metres down the river.17310956_10155252186484994_3507257563814973762_oWe enjoyed about half a beer before everyone else started showing up. We got chatting to a few other nice travellers before I got kicked in the face by a flying soccer ball. Some drunk fool had decided to kick the soccer ball into the bar as hard as he could and unfortunately the whole left side of my face stopped it. We finished our drinks and floated down the Mekong until dark.17218688_10155258380929994_4247567372016192202_oOnce we got back into town and dropped off our tubes, Charlie and I decided to get some take away food and take it back to the room. I ordered a soup which came in a plastic bag, the way locals get theirs so it was quite amusing to try and eat my noodle soup from a plastic bag in our room.

The next day we got up and had a late breakfast in town where Mike and Becki met us to make plans for the day. We decided to walk to Them Chong Cave just out of town. We all walked there in the mid day heat which wasn’t the most enjoyable but luckily it was an easy enough walk. The cave was quite impressive, it was really big inside and where villages used to hide during the civil war.17310193_10154241945596176_1217687440336846128_oIt also had a pretty impressive viewpoint inside the cave.17239988_10154241945586176_5840941825137689207_oAfter the cave we headed to Smile Bar to float in the tubes and relax for a couple hours.17434916_10155283472144994_3723592316952725641_oMike and Becki had an amazing hotel where you got a great view of the town during sunset so we got a beer and headed there to watch the sunset. While we were there we got to witness hundreds of bats flying out from one of the mountains which was a great surprise!17218691_10154241985906176_4543959023061185007_o The view was amazing but I started getting a really sore throat so Charlie and I headed out to grab some food and got a bus booked for the next day to Luang Prabang.17218579_10154241987326176_7886527520437737243_oWe had a great time in Vang Vieng. We had been warned that it was just a party town but you can definitely go there and make it how you want it. The scenery around the town is stunning and we could have easily spent more time there.17349827_10154241947986176_3407801589507525568_o17240610_10154241945016176_2091503313908978893_o


Exploring national parks in Kampot and Kep

We left Phnom Penh and made what should have been the 3 hour bus journey to Kampot. 2 minibus changes, 2 car washes to cool the engine down and 4 hours later we arrived. We checked into Borey Vatanac Guesthouse which would be our home for the next 4 nights, it was really well priced and had aircon! We found a place for dinner called Ecran noodle and dumpling house where they make home made noodles and dumplings right in front of you. The dumplings were pretty nice however the noodle soup was quite bland and lacking flavour.

The next day we woke up and headed to a place called Epic Arts Cafe for breakfast. It’s a charity run cafe where all the staff are either deaf or have a disability. The menu had tips on how to order in sign language and when the food came it was great! The rest of the day we spent walking along the river and exploring some of Kampot. It’s quite a small sleepy river town however there is a large expect scene. 15994905_10154081551291176_6847359293199854991_oThe old architecture from the French is spread all over the town and there’s plenty of nice little cafes to have a coffee in. We spent our afternoon drinking a beer by the river so we could watch the sunset.
After the sunset we went to a place called Captain Chim’s for dinner. The food was really cheap and pretty good. We got chatting to a couple next to us from England. Paul and Hannah are also travelling for a long period of time so we exchanged travel stories over a beer and swapped contact details with the hope to catch up again.

We woke up, hired a scooter from our hotel and drove to Bokor National Park about 40kms away from Kampot. The drive was really nice but it was a very windy day making the road up the mountain feel quite long. We eventually made it to the viewpoint and were so happy the long drive was worth it. The view was amazing!
After the viewpoint we explored some of the abandoned buildings within the national park. The French had built a casino, a church and a few other buildings back in the 1920’s before abandoning the builds and leaving them unoccupied. Walking around and inside made us feel like we were in a horror movie.
Around 2pm we realised we hadn’t eaten yet so we left the national park and headed to Ecran again for some more tasty dumplings. That evening we met up with Paul and Hannah again for dinner and a few drinks before heading home for an early night.

For our last full day we decided to make the drive down to Kep.
The drive was pretty easy and just one long road the whole way there. When we got to Kep we decided to explore the National Park first. The guy at the gate said we could drive through it so we jumped on the bike and headed down the dirt track. The drive wasn’t easy or comfortable as there aren’t any proper roads.
About half a km into the park a long snake slithered out in front of us, it disappeared pretty quickly too but we were then a little on edge about stopping for too long in certain places. We had gone to see the waterfall which we could see on the map, when Charlie asked the ticket office how far it was the guy said there was no waterfall. We thought it was strange as on entry there was a sign for the waterfall so we thought surely there must be one, he must be new or just doesn’t know. Turns out there is a waterfall but only in the rainy season, so when we showed up to the waterfall and admired the dry rocks we knew what he was trying to tell us.
We drove out of the national park and explored the main shoreline of Kep. The beach was nicer than we were expecting but it still wasn’t much to write home about. We also visited the crab market where you can go and buy fresh crab caught off the back of the pier that the market sits on.
On our way home we decided to stop at a cave that we could see on our map. On arrival we were greeted by a young boy, maybe in his teens. Once we realised that he wanted to be our guide, it was a bit too late to tell him we didn’t want one so we just went with it.
We tipped him $1.50 for his service which he was extremely happy with. He wasn’t a very good guide and if anything rushed us around the cave but we both figured that he probably needs that money much more than we do. 15937121_10154084063811176_7926549764338347048_o
That evening we booked our bus for the next day to Sihanoukville, got some take away dumplings and watched TV in bed.