16.06.2013 - 03.07.2013 40 °C
So that is it. After 5 months, dozens of new scars from tiger bites and leopard scratches, blood, sweat and the occasional tear, countless bottles of whiskey and beer, and many many new friends, we have left the safari. Although we are ready it was very hard to leave, we have been treated like family by the boss Joe and the Thai staff, everyone was upset to see us go, all they asked was ‘When are you coming back?’, ‘You travel quickly now an come back’.
Our last two weeks there were a definite mixed bag. When we arrived back from our break in Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was inform every one of our decision to leave. This was taken better by some people than others. Our first few days back were difficult to say the least, but thankfully certain people left and took the bad atmosphere with them. Our last ten days have been a total contrast, for a couple of days we were alone with B, a vet from Brazil who become our new drinking friend and then we were joined by two new volunteers Sean and Carris. We had a lot of laughs and the fun of volunteering at the safari returned. It was perfect for our last week. We got a lot of things done and put lots of things in place with the boss and the Thai staff to ensure the project will continue even if there are no volunteers. Chelsea wrote to-do lists for the staff and a rota so that any volunteers can experience all aspects of the safari even if they just come for a week. One of the highlights was taking Latte, the baby leopard we helped raise onto the safari. She is now almost seven months old and is ready. Chelsea has been weaning her off milk and Monday walked her round and handed her over to Mr Num, the leopard keeper. She was afraid and managed to climb into the roof which we had to deal with but once she gets used to it she will have a great life in the huge safari enclosure. The cherry on the cake, as far as we are concerned, is that for the last two days we had the lion cub to take care of. She is incredible, very cute, very grumpy and so big for only two months old. We spent the majority of our last days playing with her and laughing at how grumpy she is. On our last afternoon Sanapong took us in to the safari where we got to walk and hand feed all the animals, deer, giraffe, flamingos and zebra. We got to see the lions and tigers up close on the safari and it was a really fun, perfect way to end. On our last night Sean and Carris presented a bottle of rum and beers which we had fun finishing, playing games and talking.
We left on Tuesday morning; we exchanged a few good bye gifts, a lot of tears and took one of the safari buses into Kanchanaburi. It was hard saying goodbye to YaYa our seven and a half month old tiger but she will soon be on the safari and have a fantastic life. Tuesday was a long and hot day. We took a minibus to Bangkok after breakfast and this took an hour longer than normal. Liam was seated next to an American man who lives in Thailand and right from the word go he was talking to Liam and did not stop until we got off in Bangkok. Chelsea slept for most of the journey, although Liam is fairly sure she was pretending for half of it. In Bangkok we were just waiting for our train. It did not depart until 8pm so passed the time with a bit of retail therapy and then a couple of beers while researching our new destination. When it turned late afternoon we made our way to the train station, bought our ticket, ate dinner and washed it down with a couple more beers.
We are very excited to be travelling again, the last time was in Myanmar, and although we have had fun little trips whilst at safari we always knew we were going back, or we were spending days getting visa’s. To not have any plans again, and no time restraint is great. Our first stop is Vang Vieng, Laos. Apparently it has changed recently from a bit of a party mecca to a more relaxed vibe so we are looking forward to it. Having been to Vientiane for the visa a couple of month back Vang Vieng is the next stop on the map at this particular border crossing. Same as Vientiane we caught the night train to Nong Khai which is really easy to do and costs around 700 baht, and then catch a smaller train across the border to Thanaleng for 20 baht each.
The border crossing was quick and simple and in no time we were in a taxi on route to the bus station. All was going well but then the taxi driver pulled over to tell us that the bus to Vang Vieng was expensive and we should get a minivan. After a short debate where it looked like he wasn’t going to take no for an answer ‘Ok’ we said; ‘take us to the bus station anyway’. We are used to people trying to rip us off. The bus station was usual south east Asian chaos, no signs, people everywhere, no clue as to where we were supposed to be. On top of this people kept approaching us to sell us things we did not want. Welcome back to life on the road. We eventually managed to get a minivan to our hotel of choice in Vang Vieng for only £1 more than the public bus, this would also save us having to pay for a taxi from the bus station once we arrived, and is quicker. The public bus costs 40,000 kip and the minivan cost us 50,000 kip. Our train into Nong Khai was late and by the time we had sorted all this out, and grabbed a quick lunch it was nearly 1pm.
The journey to Vang Vieng was not great. The road conditions in Laos are poor, you practically bounce up and down in your seat the whole way. Most of the journey is in the hills, which although makes great scenery, the road is forever meandering. It was all too much for one woman at the front who started to vomit, first into her coat, and then into a plastic bag. It took longer than expected but we arrived around 4pm in Vang Vieng. We managed to book into our guesthouse, Nam Song Garden, a nice, cheap and clean little place on the Nam Song River that runs through the town for 40,000 kip a night.
Our first impressions of Vang Vieng are good. It is very quiet, being low season, which we like and the surroundings are beautiful, large green mountains and jungle sit opposite the river. The town is small but is definitely catered to western tourists. There does not seem to be much authentic Laos remaining but it is very beautiful and it seems a great place to spend a few days relaxing and figuring out where we want to go during our time in Laos.