The sleeping ticket seller, lanterns forbidden, and messing about by the river.

Day 15: This morning we packed up yet again, and headed down to the river in Muang Ngoi where our long boat awaited us – and about 20 other people – for the trip back to Nong Khiaw. Despite a makeshift jetty, we still had to paddle through the water in our bare feet and climb in through the boat windows.

We arrived in Nong Khiaw around 11am, walked across a wobbly narrow plank with chunks missing to get onto dry land again, then off in search of our accommodation.

Lil spotted an interesting guesthouse online last night. We arrived to discover it’s absolutely sensational – it’s a shame we’re just here for one night (we pondered extending for another night, but we still have lots to pack in to our last two weeks in Laos).

Our accommodation is in a 5 room floating boathouse on the river, with a bar and restaurant and awesome area for sitting out. And it’s just $28 a night for both of us, including breakfast (20 USD) – accommodation is really cheap here. From the entrance way on the road, it’s accessed by walking down lots of wooden steps, across a bamboo bridge and down a sandy slope. Another interesting set of room regulations posted on the wall including ‘no setting off lanterns’.

We spent most of the day chilling on the deck, apart from a quick walk into town to visit the ATM and pick up a couple of bits from a village store. It was another hot dry summer day, perfect for drying ginger and sweetcorn in the sun.

We popped in to the bus station to buy two tickets for our trip to Muang Xai tomorrow. There was no one at the ticket booth, so we leaned over the counter to see if anyone was around to help. We spotted a guy curled up fast asleep on the floor. One of the bus drivers in the car park came over and told us “He is sleeping. You must go away and come back tomorrow.” Alrighty.

We also had to catch up with a bunch of online admin today, paying credit card and tax bills, reading rental statements, and checking online post from the mail redirection service we’re using. While going travelling doesn’t mean the admin goes away, thankfully an hour every few days is mostly enough to keep things in order. And of course, we spent some more time plotting and planning our next moves in Laos, while drinking endless cups of Laos green tea.

This evening we had dinner in the restaurant at the far end of the deck – a leisurely 10 metre walk there and back. 🙂 We had awesome Pad Thai and green chicken curry with sticky rice – freshly cooked and perfect. It was stunning sitting looking out over the river and across the limestone cliffs as the sun was setting, and the resident French terrier came over to say hi too.

Another storm has started now – they’re getting more frequent, particularly in the late afternoons and evenings, as the rainy season starts to kick in. Fabulous to watch the rain sweeping across the mountains and valleys.

Tomorrow we head to Muang Xai, a 4 hour bus trip west (assuming the guy at the bus station is awake and can sell us two tickets).

More then.

A 20km stomp, hanging with the locals, and a spot of tractor watching.

Day 14: We woke this morning to an overcast day, with mist sitting low on the mountains and a temperature of only 27C – perfect weather for hiking. Water buffalo were splashing about in the water below our balcony, and the first boats were starting to make their way along the river.

After a superb breakfast of fruit, egg, bread, sweet waffle, crepe, french bread and pancake – everything came on one plate, and we scoffed the lot – we set off on a long walk along quiet dirt roads through the countryside.

The first stop was at Tham Kang cave, which was used as a bomb shelter during the Vietnam War time, protecting local villagers. After paying our entrance fee of 10,000 Kip each (around $2) we walked up the slippery steps and explored the entrance and first section of the cave. It’s possible to walk further in, but as we only had a small flashlight and the rocks were incredibly slippery, we decided to give exploring further a miss.

Then we continued our walk through the most glorious countryside with rolling green hills, taking in the fresh air and unspoilt scenery, and watching locals tending rice and other crops in the fields. We passed lots of water buffalo, cows and lots of cute pigs too.

We wandered through the first village, Ban Na – a tiny little place with a small shop and a couple of guesthouses (closed due to low season). Every local that we passed was incredibly friendly, all smiling and calling out ‘Sabaidee’. Such lovely people.

We kept walking for a while, then took a detour in the road to a small village called Ban Huaybor – which has no electricity, phone or internet – it’s really interesting to see the villagers going about their daily lives with no connections to the outside world. Jim took the opportunity to cool off under their freezing cold rainwater tap.

While we were exploring the village, a heavy rain shower started. We jumped under the cover of the village square, where a primary school class was taking place and a lady was weaving baskets – everyone was very welcoming and happy for the foreigners to sit and join them.

We continued the walk back to Muang Ngoi (our total distance was 20km), and spent a while catching up on reading and napping, before heading out to dinner at a local Indian and Lao restaurant. While eating dinner, we also enjoyed a spot of people and tractor watching. 🙂

Tonight heavy storms continue across the mountains and valleys – as we write the rain is crashing down on the tin roof above our heads.

Tomorrow we catch the boat back to Nong Khiaw for a day, then on to Muang Xai the following day. Lots of planning to do.

More tomorrow.

Numb legs and bums, our shed by the river, and a good use for rope.

Day 13: We woke to the sound of cockerels crowing, and the Laos national anthem drifting through the village. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up again and walked in to town to catch the boat to Muang Ngoi, an hour’s boat trip upriver from Nong Khiaw.

We arrived at the boat 30 mins before it was due to depart – as mentioned in yesterday’s post we were told the boatman ‘likes to get away a bit early’, and there’s only one daily boat so better safe than sorry.

The shoddy wooden boat looked like it had a capacity of around 12-15 people – but in true Lao style, the boatman managed to cram in over 30. Every time we thought we were at capacity, another few people would arrive and he’d shout at everyone to move up and make room. Thank goodness the trip was only an hour, as our bums and legs quickly went numb from the low hard wooden benches and lack of room to move our feet.

The trip was incredibly scenic as we puttered past jungle-like forests and stunning limestone karsts, passing only one other boat on the way – presumably the return daily boat from Muong Ngoi to Nong Khiaw.

Once we got to Muong Ngoi, we had a quick wade through the river to the concrete jetty, then up the steps to our guesthouse.

Our accommodation is billed as a ‘riverfront bungalow’ – it could also be aptly named a ‘shed by the river’. It’s completely functional, with a comfortable bed, balcony, two hammocks and a mosquito net – just a little on the basic side.

The bathroom has big chunks missing in the wall, which will doubtless be an easy entry point for all sorts of bugs. When we were buying stuff in preparation for our travels, one travel checklist said a long piece of thin rope is a must. We bought one, unsure what we would be using it for – turns out it came in pretty handy today to tie the bathroom door to a coat hook to keep it closed (and hopefully keep bugs out of the bedroom!)

We spent the afternoon having some downtime, swinging in the hammocks and reading our books, with water buffalo trampling through the greenery below the balcony, and sinking into the river to cool off.

Late afternoon we headed out to explore a little and have an early dinner. The town is small, comprising a single dirt road with shops, restaurants and accommodation either side. There are no ATMs, only patchy wifi and up to 6 or 7 years ago there was no electricity either. It’s pretty cool to stay in such a basic and fairly remote place. At one end of the town there’s a monastery (wat) which we wandered around for a bit – a young monk came and said hello, but unfortunately language barriers didn’t get us past exchanging names.

We had Lao food for dinner – Khao Soi, and chicken with ginger. Jim also gave Lao tea a go – really good green tea with chunks of forest floating on top. Then we stopped at another cafe for coffee and more tea, before heading back to the shed to write today’s blog post and have an early night.

And so to bed (the electric has gone out three times already tonight, so we’ve been writing in the dark, and keeping torches handy). Tomorrow we’re planning an early breakfast, then hiking to some caves and local villages.

The early boatman, exploring distant villages, and a slice of the nightlife.

Day 12: The day got off to a lazy start – breakfast on the terrace, lots of coffee and a chunk of time spent plotting and planning our next moves.

Having no time constraints is the best feeling ever – usually when travelling for holidays we’re wrapped within 14 day time blocks, and working out how much we can possibly squeeze in. The only time constraints now are based on how long visa regulations allow us to stay in each country. For Laos it’s 30 days, giving us heaps of time to explore the north, which is where our main interest lies. Perhaps we’ll come back and do the south another time.

We were originally planning to cycle today, however only one shop in the town does mountain bikes (necessary for the dirt roads we wanted to explore), and they were closed when we wandered past – so we decided to go walking instead.

Before setting off, we popped into a tour agent to book our boat to Muong Ngoi tomorrow. Muong Ngoi is a very small town, an hour upriver from Nong Khiaw and only accessible by boat.

The guy in the tour agent sold us two tickets. He explained the boat is scheduled to leave at 11am tomorrow, however the boat man ‘likes to get going a bit early’ so best be there at 10.30am. Good to know.

Then we took off on our walk eastwards along a dirt road, to check out a couple of Khmu and Hmong ethnic villages. The walk was a 14km round trip, initially along the side of the Nam Ou river. The road twisted and turned with some decent hills, great scenery, yappy dogs, lots of water buffalo, and kids walking home from school.

The two villages were really interesting and well worth the long hot dusty walk. As we wandered through the first one, we spotted a lady weaving cloth outside her house. We took a photo, and gave her a kangaroo key ring in return – she smiled and bowed, then called her daughter who shrieked with happiness and waved at us as we walked on through the village. Small warm moments. Around the corner a very old man was sifting rice, and throughout the village families were sitting in the sun eating, chatting and drinking – everyone calling out ‘Sabaidee’ as we walked past.

The second village was smaller, but had an impressive monastery in the centre, with monks’ orange robes hung out to dry in the sun. A few cheeky kids ran after us calling ‘Kip, Kip’ (the local currency – and their way of asking for money).

Then we started the return walk back to Nong Khiaw. Thankfully a few clouds appeared, offering some welcome shade along the way. We bought cold drinks in the town, then headed home to shower and recover before dinner.

For tonight’s dinner we went to Deen’s, the same Indian restaurant we tried out a couple of days ago – the food was too good not to return. Chicken Bhuna, and Chicken Korma with rice and flat nan bread – sensational. As we ate, the family chanted and sang prayers in a room at the back of the building while the sun set over the mountains, the sky taking on changing hues of pink, purple and red.

Then a walk back through the town to our guesthouse – it was fun watching kids out playing and families having dinner along the way. Even the local hairdresser was busy – apparently you get to lie down here for the hair wash bit. It’s a wonderful little town and we’re very glad we got to visit during low season (despite the heat) – we suspect high season would be a very different story.

Tomorrow we catch the boat to Muang Ngoi. We just need to remember the boat man ‘likes to get going a bit early’.

An insane climb, a dead giant millipede, and handing out fluffy kangaroos.

Day 11: The day started with breakfast on the terrace at the guesthouse, overlooking the river. There’s a house being built next door to the guesthouse, and it was fascinating to watch the team of guys working away – everything is manual work, not a power tool in sight.

While we ate our breakfast, two guys took it in turns to work on chopping down a 50 ft tree – using only a tiny hatchet. Every now and then as they were getting closer to felling the tree, one of them would shout at any passers by to get out of the way. Limited health and safety regulations here!

After breakfast, we got our walking gear on and walked to the base of Phadeng Peak – also known as Nong Khiaw Mountain Viewpoint. The red arrow on the photo below shows the viewpoint we were headed for – eeek.

We paid our 20,000 Kip ‘entrance fee’ (about $2.50), and borrowed two of their cane walking sticks.

We mentioned in an earlier blog that Laos was the most heavily bombed country per capita. Turns out that Nong Khiaw, where we’re staying, was the most heavily bombed village. Signs at the start of the walk reminded us that it’s vital to stick to marked trails to avoid unexploded bombs – and another sign mentioned dangerous wildlife off the beaten track too.

We started the climb. It was tough. Really tough. Not just the height and the incline but the intense heat. We huffed and puffed our way to the top – it took nearly two hours to get there, and we collapsed in a heap at the top to recover, both sweating profusely and with our walking clothes soaked through. The views were superb though, once we’d recovered enough to enjoy them!

As we were hiking up the track, we came across a giant millipede – about 8-10 inches long – thankfully it was dead… Other than that, the only wildlife we saw were lots of lizards running across the path and an occasional bird flitting through the trees.

Then the descent – which was a heap easier than the climb, albeit our calf muscles were squealing and shaking. All in all, a tough hike but it feels good to be getting back into shape again.

One of the biggest challenges walking in this heat is being able to carry enough water – today we had nearly 6 litres between us, which was barely enough. For a day long hike, we reckon we’ll have to carry 10+ litres to last throughout the day. A family of four who were doing the same climb as us had only brought a single 1.5 litre bottle between them – they learnt their lesson.

We got home, showered and slept for a couple of hours before heading out for dinner in the village. This evening we had yellow curry chicken and vegetables, and sweet and sour duck breast – more fabulous food. As we ate dinner, the sun was setting over the village and river – a glorious evening.

On the walk back to the guesthouse, Lil was craving chocolate. It’s difficult to find any in this heat, but a local store had small wrapped chocolate cake cookies, so we got a packet of those (and they were surprisingly good). It’s always fun looking through local produce, much of which is unfamiliar. When we were leaving Sydney, Lil packed 24 small kangaroo key rings to hand out to local kids along the way – she gave one to a tiny little girl in the store, who shrieked with delight (wish we’d got a photo of that one!)

Tomorrow we’re planning a lazy start to the day – then off to hire bikes to pedal to some local villages. More then.

20 in a minibus, a barfing puppy, and Jim invents a new fly stopper.

Day 10: This morning we were up early for our last breakfast at the guesthouse in Luang Prabang. A tuk tuk arrived to take us to the local bus station, where we were catching a minibus to Nong Khiaw, a small town about 140km north east of Luang Prabang.

The ‘bus station’ turned out to be a dry patch of land with some wooden benches and a couple of stalls selling drinks. We waved our pre-purchased tickets at the girl behind the counter, and sat and waited. We amused ourselves watching people selling goods, including a guy with a haul of watches in a briefcase – everything from gold glitzy numbers to fake sports watches.

About 45 minutes before our minibus was due to leave, the driver started piling bags and boxes on the roof. Jim handed our backpacks up to him, and we sat and watched as more and more bags, boxes and baskets were added to the enormous luggage pile by the bus. Amongst the stack, we spotted a bag that was hopping and rolling around – presumably someone’s live chicken they were taking along for their dinner later.

How many people fit into a minibus? We were starting to get a bit alarmed as the sizeable crowd started to squeeze themselves into the bus – and wondering where on earth we were supposed to fit. With a lot of squishing and jostling and rearranging of kids and bags, they freed up two tiny seats at the back of the minibus – and made us climb over everyone to get there.

In total, the bus was crammed with 20 humans, the live chicken (though we couldn’t see where they’d stashed it), and a dog in a box which was perched on its owner’s lap, next to Lil. We initially thought the puppy was very cute, until it barfed half way through the journey, when it quickly lost its appeal. From the smell, we guessed it had had fish for breakfast. Oh joy.

Crowded as our bus was, we were happy that we weren’t in the pick up truck (or Songthaew) that was parked next to us at the bus station. Not only was it crammed ridiculously tight with people, but they had a whole farmyard of live chickens strapped to the roof.

The trip to Nong Khiaw took nearly four hours, with some of the roads in such bad condition they were almost impassible. The bus swerved and lurched to avoid potholes, trucks and bikes, and several kids were passed plastic bags by their parents in case they went the way of the puppy, and car sickness kicked in.

Earlier this morning, thinking we were going on an air conditioned bus, Lil commented that she was taking a jumper with her, in case it got chilly. Turns out the only air conditioning was the 38 degree hot air blasting in through the open windows – it was really suffocating.

We stopped three times during the four hour journey. Once for the driver to pass a bag to someone who was waiting on the roadside (perhaps it was the chicken being handed over for dinner). The next time was at a stall selling drinks and snacks (though if you wanted anything you had to order and complete your purchase by leaning through one of the minibus windows). And the third time – a loo stop – but only if you were lucky enough to be sitting next to a door, and happy to squat in the field next to the bus with everyone looking on.

We arrived at the bus station in Nong Khiaw (even more basic than the one at Luang Prubang – this one really was just a small car park), and waited for the truck load of luggage to be unloaded from the roof. With our backpacks on, we walked the 500m to our guesthouse, which is really lovely – a double storey building with terraces perched right next to the Nam Ou river.

After a quick nap, we walked into the small town to take a look around, and have some dinner. It’s a great little town, with a surprising number of restaurants given the size of the place. We chose an Indian eatery with great and very cheap food, and Jim invented a new way of keeping flies out of his drink.

After dinner we wandered back to the guesthouse, while swarms of bats circled above our heads, a fabulous sight. We stopped to pick up another three litres of water from a local store (we’re drinking incredible amounts in the heat), then parked ourselves on the terrace outside our room to catch up on some reading before bed.

Tomorrow, we’ll spend some time exploring Nong Khiaw and the surrounds.

A visit to the medical clinic, drumming monks, and time to pack again.

Day 9: We had a very restless night – Lil’s insect bites continued to get worse, and by this morning two huge, hot and very inflamed welts had spread up and down her right arm.

We debated going to the local pharmacy for anti-histamines, but having read an article about a guy who was also chomped by insects, was given female thrush medication by the pharmacy and eventually ended up having to visit the local hospital, we decided to shortcut the treatment options and head straight to a medical clinic.

Lil’s usual useful combination of slight paranoia that something could happen, and always needing to be prepared in case something does happen, meant she’d already identified the only international standard medical clinic in Luang Prabang – about 4km out of town, close to the provincial hospital.

We flagged down a tuk tuk, asked the driver to take us to the hospital (easier than explaining about the clinic close to the hospital). He nodded “yes, yes”, said 40 Kip and off we went. Along the road it became clear he had no idea where we had asked him to take us – but no doubt fearful of losing the ride he decided to kidnap us and find someone who could understand us along the way. Further down the street, he called to another tuk tuk driver who spoke a bit of English and asked us to repeat our destination – and off we went again.

We arrived at the clinic, and registered at the front desk where they got Lil to stand on a weighing scales with a huge Mickey Mouse face, then asked her to stand against a cartoon height chart on the way. It was amusing to watch the tiny nurse jumping up and down, trying to see the height measurement above Lil’s head.

No idea what the insects were, but they certainly caused havoc.

After a 15 minute wait (pretty good for a Saturday morning, with a busy waiting room), the doctor called us in, took at a look at the bites, asked some questions and sent us to the ‘laboratory’ on-site to get Lil a blood test. The results were ready in 10 mins and thankfully there was no sign of any major infection kicking in. He prescribed anti-histamines, and a course of antibiotics which may or may not be necessary – however given the next place we are travelling to has little in the way of medical facilities, and won’t have any English speaking staff, it’s better to take them and be on the safe side. All in all it was an excellent experience – friendly staff, a very clean clinic and the total bill for consultation, blood test, antibiotics and anti-histamines came to only 35 USD.

Then back to the guesthouse where Lil rested for the afternoon to give her body a chance to start healing and the meds to kick in.

Late afternoon we heard some drumming coming from somewhere outside and went downstairs to ask what it was. The guy at the front desk pointed to the temple down the street. We wandered down to find five monks beating drums and striking gongs, creating a wonderful rhythmic sound. The same thing was happening at a number of different temples up and down the street, which collectively delivered the most glorious waves of sound right across the neighbourhood.

Afterwards we went for a walk out the other side of town to check out another local market. On the way back we heard some ridiculously loud music and bellowing karaoke voices. When we got closer to the noise, we put our heads around a garden fence to see what was happening. A party of young guys and girls were doing some crazy dancing and singing along to music, with an insanely big speaker stack that would guarantee ear damage. When they saw us, they beckoned for us to go in and join their partying.We were tempted but declined – while it might have been interesting, we suspected the language barrier might have made things a little awkward (and at what point is it polite to leave again?).

Then we walked back into town, where we bought cold drinks and sat people watching for a while, then headed for our last dinner by the river. Chicken curry soup with lime leaves and potatoes, and fried basil chicken with sticky rice – both fabulous.

And so to bed, and here’s hoping Lil’s arm is showing some noticeable improvement tomorrow morning. A tuk tuk is collecting us at 10am to take us to the bus station, to catch a minibus to Nong Khiaw, a small town about 4 hours drive from Luang Prabang.

Night all.

Early morning monks, sticky rice, and Lil goes hippie.

Day 8: Our alarm went off at 4.55am today. We dragged ourselves out of bed and were out the door by 5.15am to watch the early morning alms giving ceremony, with the local area just starting to come to life.

The alms giving ceremony, or Tak Bat, is a longstanding tradition in Laos Buddhist culture. Every day at 5.30am (or 6.00am depending on the season), around 200 Buddhist monks dressed in their bright orange coloured robes depart from temples across the town, to quietly line up and gather food for their daily meal. The ritual is conducted in silence and is a sacred ceremony for both the locals and the monks.

By the time we walked down the street to stand by the first temple, locals and tourists were already lining the pavements, perched on tiny plastic chairs and clutching wicker baskets full of sticky rice.

Visitors can buy sticky rice from street vendors, the local market, or even sometimes from their guesthouses. At exactly 5.30am, the procession started and we watched from the other side of the street as the monks filed past and collected rice and other gifts.

Tourists are encouraged to observe the ceremony, and even to participate, however inappropriate behaviour continues to be an issue. Regular campaigns encourage tourists to keep a respectful distance when observing or taking photographs, not to use camera flashes and not to get in the way of the procession.

Regardless, tourists still continue to clamber along the pavements, poking cameras in the faces of monks and lay people, taking selfies and generally being disruptive. To our horror, we even saw some tourists laughing and eating the sticky rice themselves, instead of handing it out to the monks. :-/

Another requirement is that participants need to stay seated for the duration of the ceremony, however we spotted some tourists who clearly had enough after only 5 minutes and got up and left, casting their rice baskets aside, and cutting through the procession of monks. One article we read indicated that the ceremony is in danger of being discontinued unless tourists can learn to be more respectful – from what we saw this morning, we wouldn’t be too hopeful.

Then it was back to the guesthouse for breakfast in the courtyard (Khao Soi noodle soup for Jim; muesli and fruit for Lil). After a much needed nap and catching up on some reading, we headed off for a long wander around the town surroundings, in another scorching hot day.

This afternoon we visited the Luang Prabang National Museum (and former palace) – spectacular buildings, gardens, furniture, and collections of historical items and automobiles – no photos allowed inside though.

The Palace was built between 1904 and 1909, during the time of French colonial occupation, as the residence of the Laos Royal Family. In 1975, the
Pathet Laos communist party came to power, which ended the Laos monarchy. The Royals were forced to leave the Palace, after which it was turned into the National Museum. The museum also houses the Phra Bang, the country’s most sacred Buddha image.

We wandered around some back streets off the tourist beaten path, where local soups and other dishes can be bought for around one dollar. A store was selling packets of ciggies from 8,000 Kip (around $1.35). As Jim pointed out, for the price of a packet of cigarettes a day in Sydney, as a local here you could have the cigarettes, accommodation and food.

This evening, after another awesome dinner – this time, deep fried local fish, and chicken and pumpkin coconut curry – we visited the night market. Lil continues to get bitten mercilessly by insects, and no amount of Deet repellent seems to work. After three badly swollen mossie bites and dozens of other nips, she decided enough was enough, and has bought long elephant print pants and a long sleeved muslin shirt. She’s starting to resemble a hippie, but hey – if it reduces the bites, who cares. Maybe it’s time for her to start working on some dreadlocks too…

On the way back to the guesthouse, we heard music playing in a local school yard, and over the wall watched a group of six ladies doing some local dancing together – very lovely. Then home to bed, and looking forward to a much later start to the day tomorrow.

We have one more day in Luang Prabang – after that we head north east to Nong Khiaw for a few days, to hopefully do some more trekking.

More tomorrow.

Mekong crossing, bums are best, and meeting giant snails.

Day 7: We were up early today to get ready for a trek around Chompet, a quiet area on the other side of the Mekong river. We had breakfast at the guesthouse – eggs for Lil, Asian rice soup for Jim – then got our walking boots on and headed off to catch the ferry. As we walked through the town, locals were already out cooking salted fish, and trays of rice cakes were laid out to dry in the early morning sun.

We waited at the dock for the passenger ferry, which carries people, motor bikes and cars. It’s just a few minutes ride to get across to the other side of the river, once the ferry gets going – it doesn’t leave until it’s full. Despite the ferry being packed with bikes and people, we had to wait a bit for a couple more cars and vans to turn up. The ferry started up and was already moving away from the dock, when a last motor bike came around the corner and shot up the ramp, just in the nick of time. No major concerns about health and safety here.

Once on the other side, we walked up the boat ramp and had a quick look around the local village, Ban Xieng Man – lots of little fruit stalls, a few small shops and locals going about their daily business.

We headed off along the walking path to visit a bunch of Wats (temples), then up into the hills in search of a rough trail that heads across the mountain and back down to the village.

Jim was sporting an outfit that made him look like the Milk Tray man from the English adverts (no idea if the ads made it to Australia or beyond). “And all because the lady loves Milk Tray”…

As with all ‘rough trails’ it’s easy to find you’re not on a trail at all and we quickly found ourselves crashing through the undergrowth and trying to pick out rough directions on our phones. At one point, climbing back down, the hillside was so steep and dry that it was nearly impossible to stay upright. Rather than risking injured limbs, we decided the only way down was on our bums. As we slid through piles of dry leaves, branches and snail shells, we tried hard not to think about the snakes that might well be lurking underneath.

We got down safely at last, picked up another better marked trail and wound our way back to the village.

Tired and hot, we caught the passenger ferry back to town again, then read and slept for a few hours before dinner. As we were heading out, a storm whipped up. We scurried along in the rain and into a Malay restaurant a few blocks away.

Dinner was buffalo with ginger, and chicken and eggplant curry – all superb. The choice of cuisine here is vast, with streets and streets of restaurants to choose from. As it’s low season just now, a lot of restaurants are pretty empty, though we suspect it’s a very different story in the main tourist season.

We grabbed a fruit shake at the night market for dessert, then wandered back home – passing some giant snails on the pavement that had escaped from a soaked garden.

Lastly, there was so much feedback on yesterday’s ‘7 Don’ts after a Meal’, by popular request we decided to post the full list. As the leaflet says: “Finally, don’t just keep this message… Please forward it to your friends. Let them be aware!!” So there we go – enjoy.

Hoping to get up super early tomorrow for the alms giving ceremony – let’s see how we go.

A last tummy rub, too many bites, and things to avoid after eating.

Day 6: This morning we moved from the villa outside Luang Prabang into a guesthouse in the centre of town, while we plot our next move. We slung our backpacks on and after saying our goodbyes, and with a last tummy rub for Lola the dog, we set off to walk through a series of villages and into the town.

The rains last night brought out swarms of termites (which look like flying ants). There are lots of insects around – some we recognise, many we don’t. Lil is a bit over insects generally, as she continues to get chomped, despite rigorously using strong Deet spray. Jim meanwhile hardly gets bitten at all, and seldom uses insect repellent. Enough said.

Yesterday we sat by the river with our backs against a tree, to get out of the sun for a bit. Within the first minute huge red ants were crawling over us, causing shrieks from Lil (particularly as one bit her). We retired to the safety of a nearby park bench and soon after two yellow spiders dropped out of the tree above, and onto Lil’s leg – thankfully she managed to swipe them off before they had a chance to do any damage (assuming they are biting or stinging creatures – we certainly aren’t taking any chances on that front).

The weather has cooled a little (a high of only 32C today, which was glorious) and despite the monster storm last night and more rain forecast, it was another dry day. So it looks like it might be possible to start hiking in a couple of days. Meanwhile we’re enjoying a bit of down time in the town and the guesthouse we’re staying in is really cool. The staff are lovely and the trainee manager is keen to practice his English. He spent 3 years learning English, has just finished 3 years learning Chinese, and next he’s going to study French. Impressive guy.

Part of the fun of travelling is the chance to experience local customs and laws. We were intrigued to read the accommodation regulation notice in our room, which states “Do not bring both women and men which is not your own into the room for making love”. It went on to point out that bringing prostitutes and others into the room to make sex movies is also prohibited. Wonder what an equivalent notice in Sydney accommodation says?

This afternoon was spent wandering around the town. Lots of superb monasteries to visit and craft shops to explore (though we can’t really buy anything unless we ship it back to Sydney). We also took a look at an exhibition on Buddhist meditation which sounded like it might be a bit dry, but turned out to be really interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up reading and people watching from the guesthouse balcony.

Then off to an Indian restaurant for dinner, for a bit of a change. The food was fabulous and they had some really cracking tips on what not to do after a meal – the one explaining why you shouldn’t loosen your belt is particularly intriguing: “Loosening the belt after a meal will easily cause the intestine to be twisted and blocked”. You have been warned.

Hoping for another dry and not too hot day tomorrow, so we can go check out some trails on the far side of the river.