Totally addicted to Laos

It would seem that we can’t stay away from Laos for too long.  We have spent the past month longing for several things in Laos; the amazing, kind, gentle, friendly people, the delicious food, walking down any street and being greeted with smiles and ‘Sabaidee!’, and just the general laidback-ness of the place.

Yesterday we spent the day out on the water on another gorgeous cruise through Ha Long Bay, which was totally amazing (and cloudy and freezing!).  On our arrival back in Hanoi we both felt relieved at our decision made a couple of days ago that we are now ready to leave this place.  We are sad to say that with a few exceptions, the local people we have encountered here in Vietnam have really lessened our enjoyment here and we’ve spent the past month listening to horror stories from other travellers about their Vietnam travels.  In fact, the only people we have met that are enjoying their time here are on 2 or 3 week holidays (any holiday is good when it’s a quick break from your normal routine, right?) – no one who is travelling long term has expressed positive feelings about this place, sadly.  At first we were very reluctant to listen to these reports, but as time has gone on, we have realised that for everyone to have the same stories there must be some truth in them.  One girl we met even said that last time she came here 2 years ago it was one of her favourite countries, and this time she has been shocked by the people and scams here and is really disappointed at how much it seems to have changed  (we heard this same story from someone else who had been here 4 years ago).

It is such a shame for a place with so much natural beauty to have this ruined by the behaviour of some of it’s people.  Everyone including our Vietnamese friends told us that Cat Ba island is the most laid back place in all of Vietnam (a few people also recommended the Central Highlands) and although up until a few days ago our intention was to travel south down the country to see for ourselves, we too have had our share of unfortunate Vietnamese adventures so we’ve decided to get out of here.  We are back in Hanoi now and today we fly to Dien Bien Phu on the Laos border, and tomorrow we will begin our overland trek back into our Asian homeland.  From what we’ve heard hopefully Dien Bien Phu will be a nice way to leave Vietnam on a high note!

As soon as we made the decision to follow our hearts and go back to Laos we have both been really excited, so that’s a sure sign that it’s the right thing to do.  We have really enjoyed the beauty of Cat Ba and it’s surrounding bays, but probably for every awesome, friendly local person we have met we’ve probably met 5 that just want to scam us by selling us something that is not real (for example, most of the boats to Bai Tu Long bay actually just go into Halong, plus many, many more stories like that!).

So as much as we hate to say it, it seems that either Vietnam has changed a lot in the past year or two, or maybe we’ve just had bad luck, but either way, this country for us has not been what we hoped for.  We’ve had heaps of fun here and seen some amazing things – Ha Long really is up there with things you must see in your lifetime – but we’ve also had heaps of frustration.  Who needs that when you can just be in places that are fun?

Chiang Rai

View our location map in Chiang Rai

We arrived in Chiang Rai after a long haul – we arrived at the Sukhothai bus station at 8.30am only to be told that the 9am bus was already fully booked since the trains weren’t running.  So we managed to get on a 9.30am bus to Lampang (the only city in Thailand that still used horse-drawn carriages) and then another bus to Chiang Rai and didn’t get here until about 6pm.

Since arriving in Chiang Rai we’ve done quite a few things; visited the largest waterfall in Chiang Rai, the White Temple – the inside is the coolest we have ever seen and Dre even asked the artist if he would paint one of our houses – the painting is so intricate and fantastic.  It is a new temple that isn’t actually finished yet and so we weren’t really expecting too much, so it was nice to be blown away with it’s coolness.

Our first 2 nights we stayed in less-than-fantastic guesthouses, (a different one each night in an attempt to move to a nicer place) so we were really glad to move into the house with Ben and Christerine when they arrived here.  The house is 12 kms out of town so we have a couple of motorbikes to get around.  It is on quite a large piece of land, with it’s own pond and views of the mountains, it’s really beautiful and quiet.

We also decided to celebrate Guy Fawkes and bought heaps of fireworks and made a bonfire at the house.  It was such a fun night which ended in us all releasing a huge lantern (which is part of the festival that is currently taking place in Thailand and Laos and everyone is releasing lanterns every day at the moment).  It has taken us by surprise how freezing cold Chiang Rai is – our winter clothes have come out and the evenings are very chilly.  It is the first time we’ve had blankets on the bed, and it’s 3 blankets, not one!  It’s a welcome change from being hot all the time though and we’re quite enjoying it.

Our plans for the following couple of weeks have taken a slightly unexpected turn (again!) as we have to go to the Laos border to renew our visa’s today, and also we were going to spend the next couple of weeks staying in Chiang Rai town instead of the house because Christerine’s mum is coming to stay at the house… so this was fine and then everyone we met in Chiang Rai were on their way to Laos and we spent the week telling everyone how amazing northern Lao is… then it dawned on us – we could go back!  Why not?  We are going to be at the border anyway and all we have to do is cross the border and get the bus for 4 more hours to our beloved Luang Namtha.  Ever since we left Luang Namtha and northern Laos we have been searching for the peace and beauty that we found there, and haven’t quite found it…so Laos take #3, here we come!  Woohoo!!!  Our photos are here.