Into Laos: Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang

Posted on August 23, 2011

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Arriving in Vientiane after a heavy last night in Bangkok, I checked into a friendly, family-run guesthouse planning on a relaxing evening. Close as I came to this, in the end my planned early night was delayed by a torrentail downpour that flooded most of my room. Even once this had been fixed, I then spent the majority of the night killing cockroaches with my shoe.

After changing room the next morning, I set out to explore Vientiane. Though the country’s capital, the city has more of the feel of a town, with the usual Asian abundancy of wats and a French colonial feel in the centre. Though a pleasant place to stroll around, there was not really much in the way of things to see, and I was glad of a chance to quietly recuperate after a busy couple of weeks.

I was up early the next morning for a comfortable four hour minibus journey north to Vang Vieng. It is easy to see why many travellers describe the town as a paradise lost, as what was once presumably a beautiful, quiet stretch of the Mekong has now become a tourist mecca, rammed with adventure-seeking tourists and bars showing endless repeats of Friends and Family Guy. After checking into an excellent hostel, Pan’s Place, I spent the evening drinking with a Kiwi who ran a bar in Vang Vieng, who was engaged to a local girl in spite of the fact that they shared no common language. Vang Vieng seems to be a popular place for westerners to settle down in Laos, presumably because of the very relaxed and carefree feel of the place.

The major reason why most tourists head to Vang Vieng is to go tubing, and I was no different the next day. Essentially tubing involves floating down the Mekong in a tyre, stopping at various bars and rope swings along the way. On the day I chose to go, the river level was high and the water was moving fast, and it was easy to see how over-indulged travellers sometimes run into trouble on the choppy waters. Nevertheless, I escaped injury free, in spite of indulging more on the beers and the ‘happy shakes’ than I perhaos should.

After the raging excess that epitomised my time in Vang Vieng, it was a relief of sorts to arrive in the more relaxed and authentic Luang Prabang. The journey was long and uncomfortable, but I was happy to end up at a quiet, friendly guesthouse with the added benefits of television and free coffee. Next morning I embarked on a walk around tne major wats in town, culminating in the most impressive temple at the Royal Palace. With quiet streets and wats surrounding a forest-covered hill in the centre of town, Luang Prabang certainly has a mystical feel about it, and the town is quieter and less tourist-orientated than most places in this part of Asia, which after so long is a nice relief. After a nice curry dinner in one of the excellent restaurants down the main street, it was back to my guesthouse before the inevitable evening rains began.

The next day, after sleeping most of the morning to avoid yet more rain, I hired a tuk tuk to take me an hour out of town to the Luang Si waterfall. This was another scenic and quiet spot, though the drive through spectacular rolling countryside, with a driver who constantly tried to sell me drugs and women, was arguably better. With gentle forest paths and places to swim, it was an ideal place to spend a couple of hours and epitomised to me what Luang Prabang is about: beauty and relaxation. It was an ideal way to finish up in Laos before heading back into Thailand the next day.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel