I’m combining these two as I didn’t spend too much time in either place, so don’t have a huge amount to write about…
I took 7 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. The majority of this journey was like something out of a fairytale as we weaved through the mountains of central Laos. Not even the bumps and jolts of the pothole ridden roads – or the broken air conditioning – took away from the views.
We arrived in Vang Vieng sometime mid afternoon…or rather at the bus station 2km outside of Vang Vieng, meaning everyone had to pay a further amount to get a taxi into town (unless you wanted to brave the heat of the walk). It seemed like a little scheme all the locals were in on.
Vang Vieng is in a nice spot, situated by the river, where you can lie back sipping a cool beer in the sun, enjoying the views of the mountains in the backdrop. The town is on the tourist route as it is famous for tubing. Quite simply riding a rubber tube down the river for a few hours and being pulled into bars along the way. Tubing was shut down for a few years previously due to the number of injuries and fatalities as a result of combining alcohol and the river, but reopened recently with a ‘light’ version, approx half the number of bars en route that there had been.
I had planned on giving tubing a go, but the North of Laos is still in dry season, meaning the river wasn’t flowing that fast…I was walking alongside the river faster than the tubers (there weren’t even that many) were managing to float downstream. Instead, on the one day I spent in Vang Vieng, a group of us hired some motorbikes to go exploring again. It’s becoming quite a common theme!
The roads out of town were a lot worse than what I’d become used to though, if they could be called roads at all…they were small dirt tracks littered with dirt grooves and large, loose rocks to throw you of course. The word ‘stress’ was thrown about a bit for the first time on my trip.
The reward for the rides were good. Waterfalls and caves at the end of each road. The caving experiences were good but challenging and largely meant climbing steep rocky paths, usually covered with slippery mud in my chosen footwear for the day – flip flops. These eventually broke making the treks even more fun.
We were taken into one of the caves by a ‘tour guide’ who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. We eventually got lost and had to turn back but it was a crazy experience in there. We eventually found a lagoon of crystal clear water hidden within the caves which gave both a nice sight and a nice spot to cool off in.
Had a minor crash on the bike on the way home but that was inevitable given the state of the roads, and nothing too serious.
The next day I left for Vientiane. Given it is the capital of Laos and also their largest city, I hadn’t heard great things about the place. The reality was it wasn’t that bad, with. Night market, bars and restaurants lining the river. There really weren’t many sites to see, the only one I went to was their emulation of l’Arc de Triomphe. In the 60’s America had gifted Laos with money and materials for them to build an airport, but they decided instead to use the resources to build an ugly concrete monument which was actually never even finished. Up top their were 360 degree views over the city, but like I said, not much to see.
It was a shame to leave Laos with such an anti climax, given I’d enjoyed the towns of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng so much, but I’ll try to find the time to come back into Laos in the south to see more of what the country has to offer.
Next stop, Hanoi.