“We’re married” she said to the novice with the tattoos and the orange robe. Buddhist novice monks in Laos usually start in their early teens but he’d waited until he was 32. Carrie didn’t know if an unmarried couple would seem immoral to him. Monks and temples are everywhere in Laos. We met several novice monks later in our trip, I think it’s safe to say that most of them wouldn’t take offence to us not being married.
We arrived in Laos from Bangkok, after a fairly good night’s sleep on a Thai sleeper train. Our friend Jo celebrated one year of living in Vientiane while we were there visiting her. Our ten days in Laos were an excellent mixture of living the ex-pat life with Jo’s ex-pat friends, getting an insight into Laos with Jo’s Lao friends and having a thoroughly good time as tourists in Vientiane and ViangVeng. We arrived at a busy time, we saw the end of Buddhist Lent (early-morning ceremonies in Jo’s local temple, That Luang, which is the most important temple in the country). And, Vientiane was a busy carnival for most of our time there because of dragon-boat races and an annual candle-floating ceremony on the Mekong River. On top of that, our visit was just in time for the build-up to the world stone-skimming championships, to be held in Laos for the first time. Thanks Jo for your hospitality (not to mention being our guide for 10 days).
We took a four-hour bus trip from Vientiane to Viang Veng, a backpacker mecca set in fantastic limestone hills. The surrounding countryside reminded us of Yangshuo in China; we spent our three days there enjoying kayaking, caving, cycling and swimming. Jo managed to book us the best room in the best hotel in town,Elephant Crossing.
On leaving Laos we headed to Khao Lak in southern Thailand, where we’d booked three days of diving with South Siam Divers.Khao Lak is a string of beach-side villages which were one of the hardest hit parts if Thailand in the 2004 tsunami. A lot of the area has been rebuilt and there’s still a lot of work in progress, but on the fringes you can still see occasional buildings which were damaged by the wave. There’s now a comprehensive warning system and signposted escape routes in case it happens again. Most tourists in Khao Lak seem to be German, and a lot of dive companies and some of the hotels and restaurants here are German-owned or run. Jai Restaurant and Bungalows is our recommendation for eating and sleeping in Khao Lak.
The trip with South Siam Divers was on a live-aboard boat which took us to some world-class dive sites around the Similan Islands. I packed eleven dives into three days and we saw a great variety of underwater life and landscape. Highlights for me were the enormous quantity and variety of reef-fish which surrounded us on some dives, and the White Tip Sharks which we saw several times.
Tonight we leave Khao Lak for a final couple of days shopping and sight-seeing in Bangkok (where we’ll meet up with Jo again to find out how she’s managed to hospitalise her brother)before we fly back to London.