Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bye Bye Thawangpha - Hello Laos!

Leaving Thailand.
The last week of school was exam week, so we didn't have any teaching or really anything to do except pack up our stuff. Wednesday night the English department held a going away dinner for us at their favorite restaurant near town. It was nice to see them one last time and they gave us a couple gifts. We each gave a little thank you speech that was highly embarrassing, but it was a good time and it was a really nice thing for them to do. Thursday morning we addressed the students who were there at the morning assembly to say thank you and goodbye. Also embarrassing, but we were glad we got the chance to say goodbye to at least some of them. The rest of the morning was spent packing and throwing away all the crap we had collected from the last few months. It was a lot more than I thought it would be. We're kind of pack rats! :] Anyway, Thursday afternoon we said goodbye to our apartment for the last time and headed back to Nan city.
Pak Beng, Laos
While in Nan for the evening, Ethan and I got more passport photos that we would need for our tourist visas in a few countries and Emily treated herself to a traditional Thai massage. We got dinner then went to bed pretty early because the bus headed for the Laos border left around 5:30am. At 4:30 in the morning we quietly left the guesthouse and walked to the bus station. We bought our tickets and of course I ended up squished in the front seat with a dude who was hacking up his lungs and not covering his mouth. I wanted to die. Anyway, eventually a bunch of people got off so I moved in the back with Ethan. I don't know what time it was when we got to the border, but once you get there they just drop you off on the side of the road and you have to walk over the border. First, you go to the Thai immigration stand and they take your departure card and stamp you out of the country. Then you are in no man's land until you reach the Laos immigration building. Once there you fill out a visa application, they check your passport to make sure you're not a crazy person, then they put a big visa sticker in your passport, you pay them some money and you're done! 
Minivan seats on the slowboat to Luang Prabang.
We still needed to get to another town though and we had missed the early bus that takes us where we needed to go. (E- missed it by 15 minutes. One of us walks slow...) So we hopped in a truck to the "bus station" where we found out there was another bus going to the place we needed to go, but it wasn't leaving until 12. So we put our stuff on the bus (hoping to save our seats) and waited and waited. Once it got closer to 12 Ethan and I went off to find a toilet, but when we got back everyone was on the bus. I guess they decided that the bus was leaving (E- 30 minutes early), while we were gone. So we got on and poor Emily was looking highly distraught. She had tried to save our seats, but a local woman was not having it. Apparently, the woman literally sat down on top of our things instead of just moving them aside. Emily ended up having to yank our stuff out from under her and was not able to secure seats for both of us. So I ended up having to sit on the fold down chair in the aisle that I was much too big for and it was a miserable two hours. To top off the adventure they dropped us off past the town we were headed for and had no idea where we were. Luckily, Ethan managed to find out that we were about a 30 minute walk from where we wanted to go. Unfortunately, it was about 102 degrees in the middle of the afternoon. We didn't really even walk that far, but it was torture. We ended up getting a ride (thank god!) after a while and they dropped us off near a bunch of guesthouses. We found a place to stay and hung out for the rest of the night.
In the morning, we got our stuff around and headed out to the dock to catch the slow boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. We were nervous about how comfy the boat would be because we had heard several different accounts and the boat ride is 8 hours long. The seats ended up being essentially seats taken from a van and rigged to fit on this boat. So they were comfy enough, but the boat was also very, very full so there wasn't any room to spread out. The journey was long, but the scenery was really pretty. We were definitely excited to get off the boat when we got to Luang Prabang. It was another super hot afternoon and even though the place we ended up staying wasn't the cleanest - I think it might have been the dirtiest place we've ever stayed actually- we were excited to get out of the heat and shower. That night we walked around the night market and ate sandwiches, which Laos is known for. Laos was colonized by France and there is still a strong French influence so everywhere you go they have baguettes and baguette sandwiches. There are a bunch of different ways to order them and they're delicious. Oddly enough they are cheaper than plated food at the restaurants, so we ended up eating them for several meals. It was strange for us because in Thailand sandwiches are expensive and teeny tiny. We definitely had our fill of Laos sandwiches.
After getting soaked at the Pak Ou caves.
Sunday we hired a tuk tuk with some other random people to take us to a famous cave in the area. The cave wasn't super cool, but it is right on the river and it was a really pretty area. While we were there it started down pouring, so we got completely soaked. It didn't really bother us, but it did make for a pretty chilly ride back. Monday our first order of business was to apply for our tourist visas at the Vietnamese Embassy. It was super easy, but ended up costing each of us $70! Eeeeek! Anyway, after that Emily really wanted to ride an elephant so we headed out to find an elephant camp. They're quite popular so it wasn't hard and we found one that would bargain with us. They took us out to the camp and all three of us rode on one elephant around this little village. I wasn't sure that the elephant appreciated carrying around 500+ lbs on its back, but we did choose the cheapest tour sooooo....
After the ride through the village they got two more elephants so we each had our own ride and they took us down to the river for "elephant bathing." It was actually more like "elephant play time" because as soon as we got in the water, which had a healthy amount of giant elephant poops in it, the elephants tossed us off of their backs and into the poop infested water. Emily and Ethan had a great time, but I really did not enjoy it. That night we met up with our friends Josie and ate dinner with them.
Kuang Si waterfall.
Tuesday morning we checked out of our hotel, dropped our things at their hotel (E- Thanks, Josie and Allison!) and went with them to our last Laos attraction, the Kuang Si waterfalls. The falls were a bit farther away and you had to pay to get in, but it was worth it. They had a bear conservation camp there that I was unaware of and the falls themselves were amazing. We spent some time watching the bears and checking out the waterfalls. (E- Allison and I were the only ones brave enough to jump in the slightly chill and amazingly bluish/turquoise water) Our last day was well spent and when we got back we headed straight to the bus station for what would be the strangest, and maybe even the worst, bus ride we have ever had to endure.... To be continued!
View of Luang Prabang and the Mekong River from atop Phu Si

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