The day began with a hungover bike ride to a temple Barack Obama had once visited. We revived our fortunes and attempted to lift a bronze Buddha above our head for good luck. The bike ride continues past the Mekong river and to the Ock Pop Tok silk worm weaving gallery. Once we had admired the beauty and skill involved in the fabric making process we trekked on for the ultimate hangover cure. The much anticipated Kuang Si Falls were a surreal sight and utterly mesmerizing with the aqua blue course of water pooled amongst layers of clay-like natural slopes. The swim there felt like paradise on earth and I was much regretful to leave them. A brief viewing of the markets and Moon Bears rescue sanctuary led us to board the bus to return to the motel to prepare for the later Luang Prabang chilled out, night markets and extravagant street food.
Sleep was not taking priority today as we rose at 5:30 am to offer sticky rice Alm’s to the vivid orange Monks. It was quite the cultural experience before we set off to make our way through the hazy, scenic hills to Viet Vieng with a sky view lunch at high altitude and a loo stop with more than a view imaginable!
Our hotel lay by the bank of the Namsong river with monumental mountains weaving up and down the pink, hazy horizon. After some cocktails and some social time by the pool watching the sun go down for the day, we took part in a returning of the souls ceremony. The soul retrieval ceremony returns the soul to the persons body and restores harmony. We cleansed ourselves with a shot of whiskey and a blessing bracelet symbolizing purity as a traditional end method to the Buddhist chants of praise.
Onward to dinner and a well reviewed eat out known as Jacks Irish Pub. It was a pleasure to eat westerner food and a yummy hamburger and chips for a change of Thai food.
Today was the perfect opportunity to skip out on a rough and hot Kayak trip down the boggy river and slippery, mosquitoes filled caves. Instead Amy and I recovered and enjoyed some simple pleasures of eating by the pool all day, taking awesome poolside photos and simply relaxing and taking in the crazy past 11 days of the trip. It was just what I needed in order to regain some energy before we departed our hotel once again to set off to the Capital of Laos, Vientiane.
Vientiane was our next stop where we un-pilled off the bus into the draw humid heat to visit a temple made with gold as well as mesmerizing roof illustrated art and the third giant reclining Buddha I had seen thus far. A storm had brewed in no time and we found ourselves racing a few Km’s back to the bus for shelter. Slightly drenched we made a stop to the COPE Center which rehabilitates Laos people with missing limbs from scatter bombs that had been dropped from the US strike in Vietnam war days. The repercussions of this have since resulted in Laos struggling to recover the country and farmland that remains riddled with un-exploded bombs. It was a sore sight at the museum however we all donated money to the cause.
We stopped off at the Arc De Triumph replica in the Laos Capitol and climbed the heat filled twisting stairwell to the view below. Dinner felt like a taste of home with sushi for appetizer, pizza for dinner and coconut ice cream from the night markets for desert.
We left Vientiane to fly to Phenom Penh where we immediately went to the killing fields which was incredibly tragic to witness, particularly the mass graves and human remains. There was a center tower the was pulled sky high with skulls displayed behind glass platforms. I felt really emotional thinking how anyone could commit such genocide against their own country just to fit the structure of communism. The brutality displayed in images at the the s1w museum was overwhelming as well. Wandering through the somber grounds and seeing the tiny confined cells that victims were left to suffer was very confronting, but eye opening to become aware of such past atrocities. It was sobering and made me feel incredibly fortunate of the life I live and made us all feel a lot more appreciative of our lucky lives and all the opportunities we have since and yet to be offered.
Part of the group went to the rooftop at dusk where a steaming Jacuzzi overlooked Cambodia’s vibrant city below. A suggested eating spot was such a pretty sight at the titanic restaurant which was scattered with fairy lights and sat by the riverside. Cocktails and a 4 course menu preluded to a rooftop bar to play pool with the boys and followed by a fun night on the sweaty dance floor at pontoon bar.
The morning was a perfect opportunity to get a pedicure and wander around the riverside and Royal Palace with Cara before we boarded a plane to Siem Reap. Once in Siem Reap we arrived at the citrus scented Frangipani Villa hotel and made our way to the pool for a congregational dip. Refreshed as possible we didn’t stay out of the water for long as we convoyed in tuk-tuks through the bustling, neon night where we were ambushed by street goers in their annual new year festivities of a huge water fight. We got rather drenched on our way to the Bug Cafe. Once we had a chance to dry off we ordered share plates to eat our way through a selection of deliciously prepared critters. This included sampling scorpion, tarantula, crickets, silk worms, ants, water-bug and snake. Surprisingly edible and rather satisfying.
The day began early at a rise of 4:30am to watch the sun rise over the Angkor Wat temple. It was a beautiful sight despite the view been obscured by the crowd of tourists and selfie sticks. It was baffling to see how intricate this massive 900 year old temple of worship had been completed. Steep stairs, hot sun and plenty of photos was led by a visit to the Angkor Thom temple sight where we got a nose to nose selfie with Buddha. We convoyed in tuk-tuks to the final sight of Ta Prohm aka tomb raider sight. The fascinating relics and passageways of stone had been swallowed by twisted tree roots and I felt like Lara Croft, that is if she was raiding tombs amongst a selfie frenzied crowds of people.. nevertheless it was all a sight to be taken in and cherished, whilst mentally blocking out what had no ancient significance. It was the biggest relief to lay down after that long, hot, food deprived morning and to regain my energy, I had a massage to restore my weary body.
Quad bikes were next on the list. We rode amongst the local streets dodging cows, dogs and motorcycles as we made our way to dust ridden tracks and open farmland with the sun setting across the green paddocks. It was the best feeling leading the group in a convoy of adrenaline filled fun. On return we prettied up for our last night as a group. After dinner Amy and I braved the Khmer New year festivities as we dodged our way back to the motel, through the water fight and talcum powder to the face. The expedition home was short lived as we got caught up at Yolo Bar, and got our face painted with neon colours. After Amy and I were dead from battling our way through the mass crowd on pub street, and being chased by men with water guns down the dodgy night streets, bed was most definitely the ideal option.
An emotional breakfast farewell to Layla and others before departing again, this time for our final leg of the trip and off to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Once settled in we met the new group for dinner at Barbecue Garden Restaurant where fairy lights and red lanterns were laden amongst the trees above. We cooked our own food on hot plates on our table and mingled with the newbies.
The extraordinary countries of Laos and Cambodia were awe inspiringly beautiful, but at the same time the horrific history that once had taken place make these newly developing countries fascinating to see just how far these generous and joyful people, have come out of their dark past.