|Up before dawn this morning as we wanted to catch the monks alms giving. They were earlier than we thought so whilst I.knelt by the roadside and offered the food we had bought, Ruth was still in the shower. We caught up with another procession later (there are 42 temples and over a thousand monks in Luang Prabang). I was joined by a lady with a basket of bananas and she helped me to separate my bunch into singles for donating as you are supposed to off to each monk as they passed. I finished offering a loaf of bread, a pot of jam (one of English learner said that was always very welcome - otherwise it's usually sticky rice) and all my bananas when this women gave me all of hers and encouraged me to offer these as well. When the monks had gone she turned me and said'money'. I told her no and entered the hotel with trailing behind me. I explained to the hotel staff I was not prepared to pay her as the alms giving was not an opportunity for street vendors and the offerings she be freely given. The authorities have even published a leaflet explaining how to go about it. One very unhappy street vendor but as far as I am concerned she has helped the monks who totally rely on food donations.
Anyway, we had asked the hotel to order a tuk-tuk, and it hadn't arrived and when it did some 15 minutes late, he wouldn't take us. Fortunately a tuk-tuk driver lived next door and he just came out of his house; he did take us. We were to meet the Straybus at a cafe called Joma, but when we got there it was closed, and the bus wasn't there. Ok so we waited for the cafe to open had a large strong black coffee, just as the Straybus tour guide arrived. So, a 10 minute walk to the bus we didn't know about, but followed everyone else and piled into the bus.
The bus was quite comfortable, an 18 seater, there were 9 of us plus the tour guide and the driver and he drove carefully and very well. A great guy, Lim, and the guide, Pats, was also very friendly, helpful and knowledgable. The journey was ok but as we got into the mountains the clouds came down so there wasn't much of a view, though when we got breaks the views were stunning. It was lush and green, forested hillsides, patches of land used for crops, small villages. Many and different coloured Datura (Angels Trumpets and bright yellow giant rudbeckias shone through the gloom. In some places even the roadside verge had been cultivated to grow spring onions and other small greens. The toilet stop was on a designated viewpoint but the cloud was too dense - in a nice touch the toilets had the 'thrones' facing out, no wall on that side, so the view would have been fantastic.
We eventually arrived in Vang Vieng, and after much debate, we settled on the accommodation Straybus had selected. Not before changing rooms as the bed linen was dirty in the first room. In the second room the bathroom basin waste pipe had come loose so water poured all over the floor. Too late to go somewhere else I told them what I would pay, which about 2/3rds what they wanted and to my surprise they agreed. So we stayed and actually had a good night's sleep.
After checking in we crossed the road for a pizza to share and a beer, Ruth had a Long Island Iced Tea (about four shots of alcohol in some iced tea!) and was very happy! Pizza was great and we retired for a siesta. Dinner was a bit odd, we stopped at a cafe and ordered but I'm not sure we got what we ordered but it was ok.
Vang Vieng is set amongst the mountains with a river along one side, a beautiful setting but sadly the town has succumbed to backpackers. Tubing, kayaking and many, many bars. The town is a mess; there is nothing pretty about it.
We rejoined Straybus the following morning for the drive to Vientiane. We stopped at a cave that was used as a shelter from one of the many wars with Thailand, it is many kilometres long. On through the mountains, not quite as high and the road not quite as twisty-turns as yesterday but taken at modest speed, and with the sun shining, the journey was ok.