Well, I've completely lost any sense of time and date which makes me really feel like I'm in vacation mode! In fact, my watch stopped working about 6 days ago so I think it's a sign for me to just tune all of those details out :). Anyway, what have I been doing since I last posted... My last day in Vang Vieng was absolutely great. It was the first real day that I have had with no set agenda for the day (and, based on past experience, those days are always the ones that yield the best adventures). I slept in for once (I've been regularly waking up at 7 am and going to bed by like 11 pm!) and wandered down the river for some breakfast. I ended up sitting down at this little restaurant portion of a homestay hotel (basically like a family's house) and seconds later this crazy Lao man sat down with me. He only spoke about 3 words of English but was intent on "talking to" me. It was a really funny exchange and eventually he grabbed my camera and started taking all sorts of photos. Anyway, he ended up coaxing me into a trip up to a blue lagoon and cave about 7 km away. Little did I know we'd be taking his 4-wheel drive tuk-tuk. This thing was classic - like he was seriously driving a tractor engine and I was seated on an attached wooden wagon. On really bumpy dirt roads. With a language barrier. It wasn't the most comfortable ride, but the adventure was a fun one and the blue lagoon was gorgeous (and you could swim in it which is the best thing ever since it's sooo hot out here). On the way back, we passed by a woman in a village who was weaving a silk scarf on a loom. I tapped the driver and requested a stop and got to see some awesome weaving in a non-touristy setting. It's crazy that they sell 100% handmade silk scarves here for $9 at most! Guess they don't charge anything for labor. Speaking of local products, I learned the other day that everything made in Laos is handmade as they have no industrial production at all. Everything that isn't handmade has to be imported. Crazy, eh?
On Saturday I took a van up to Luang Prabang which is about 4 hrs north of VV on crazy windy roads. Luang Prabang is a beautiful, peaceful town that has a mix of French and Laotian architecture. It's a super touristy town as it's a UNESCO heritage site and is generally just an easy place to be in. Lots of good restaurants, surrounded by 2 rivers, monks aplenty, sunsets, accessible hill tribe hiking, etc. Oh, and they also have a bowling alley. All of the restaurants/ bars in the town close at 11:30 and the only late night spot is the bao ling alley (that's how they spell it). I ended up there on Saturday night and had my first really late and crazy night on this trip. A bottle of Lao whiskey and bottle of coke costs $7 total and I split this with 2 guys that I had met earlier on in my trip. Anyway, I will never drink Lao whiskey again. The stuff is toxic. It was a fun night of bowling and I got my first introduction to the prevalent Asian "lady boys."
The next day I went to a lovely waterfall and to visit a Hmong hill tribe village (though it was a weird touristy village with all of these kids trained to chant "buy 1 5,000"). Yesterday I took a kayaking trip down the Nam Ou river which is about 1.5 hrs north of LP. It was really gorgeous and peaceful up there, and we actually tackled a few fair-sized rapids. I never knew how tiring kayaking can be - my arms are super sore today! We stopped by two hill tribe villages on the way which was awesome. Everyone was so friendly and the kids loved us! I started to show them the photos that I had taken on my digital camera screen and they thought it was the best thing ever. So cute. I was on the tour with 3 other girls who are all traveling solo too so that was fun. Lat night I had my last Lao dinner of lapp (minced chicken and herbs) and then tackled the big night market where they sell all sorts of local arts and crafts. Oh, one last Laos detial - for like 5 days, all of the ATMs across the country were broken. Umm, this equals major amount of stress. Luckily I had a stash of emergency US dollars to get me out of Vang Vieng with and then I was able to get a cash advance on a credit card in LP. I was literally left with the equivalent of $.50 when I got to LP and was really stressed about the situation. No fun.
Today I flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Most of you know that I wasn't planning on coming to Thailand and was instead planning to go east to Vietnam. I encountered a number of people in the past few weeks who have visited both countries and all of them have preferred Thailand. I was worried that Thailand would be a bit to backpacker filled and touristy for me, but the people that I have talked to have seemed to share my opinion of annoying backpackers and have still preferred Thailand. I was also swayed this direction by thoughts of some beach time (which I also didn't think I wanted when I left San Fran!). It's honestly so hot here (like 95 degrees with humidity) so the beach sounds idea. And, I'd love to do some diving or snivelling. So here I am (yes, Jamey, you can say that you told me so ;)). I'm off to get my first of many Thai massages shortly! (Oh, I also got a Lao massage a few days ago and it seemed pretty similar to a Thai massage with focus on pressure points and stretching). That's all for now!