My time in Laos PDR (which the locals will tell you stands for Please Don’t Rush) can be divided into three distinct categories: relaxing, travelling, or Vang Vieng. I’ll got into detail for each of these below, but need to give you fair warning on the pictures you’ll find at the end of the post. Though I spent a full two weeks in Laos, I only have three pictures from Don Det, three from the day I left Vang Viang, and another handful from one of the days spent in Luang Prabang. Foreseeing a week of water filled activities in Vang Vieng, I had purchased a cheap waterproof camera in Vientiane with hopes a dreams of capturing some epic pictures while tubing the Mekong. Sadly, at the end of day three on the river my camera met it’s watery demise and floated down to join legions of other lost electronics, clothing, and sunglasses. It will therefore be necessary for you to use your imagination when reading the Vang Vieng section of this post, as there will be no photos to assist you with picturing this particularly entertaining town.
I began my Laos travels with a quick stop in Don Det, one of the famous 4000 islands. This teeny island isn’t home to much other than guesthouses, restaurants, and bugs. You are able to kayak around the surrounding islands, but I cheaped out and decided to spend my time doing as the locals do, which in Laos means a whole lot of nothing. Fitting with the country’s motto, I spent my only full day in Don Det reading, eating, and generally lazing about. It was lovely, and also completely socially acceptable. On my bus into Laos I met a cool Brit named Robb (Game of Thrones taught me Robb is spelled with two d’s), and after a day of nothing we decided to take the next bus up to Vientiane. Despite being the capital of Laos, here isn’t a whole lot to do in this city. Ate some great Indian food, read some more, and met up with Derek to watch 21 Jump Street (hilarious). Pretty chill time, save for an uneasy sleep following a rat running by me while I brushed my teeth. Thankfully my skin and bag were free of any rat teeth marks in the morning, so no harm, no foul.
Next up in Laos was the infamous Vang Vieng, but I’m going to leave that for the end of the post, and instead move along to Luang Prabang. This beautiful city is filled with French architecture, surrounded by mountains, and is the perfect respite after the madness of VV. As mentioned, I managed to meet up with Derek (and his friend Arne) in Vientiane, and they joined Robb and myself all the way up to Luang Prabang. The four of us met up with two awesome Canadian girls (more people from Nanaimo!) and the six of us had a grand ol time exploring the nearby waterfalls (which were stunningly beautiful) and relaxing a little bit more. There is an awesome little cafe in Luang Prabang called JoMa, and while it is a little expensive, the food is totally worth the extra buck or two.
Now that I’ve covered the relaxing portion of Laos, a quick note on the travelling part before I move on to VV. First of all, this country is deceptively big- I spent a grand total of 48 hours bussing to four of its most prominent cities. Though I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the buses (I had heard some horror stories), the condition of the roads left much to be desired. In fact, I’m being quite generous even calling them roads. They were more like destroyed dirt paths, with dips and puddles the size of small ponds, and more switchbacks than Bangkok has tuk tuks (that would be a lot). Needless to say, everybody has a travel drug of choice. I opted for straight up motion sickness pills, but lots of travellers use Valium, which is available over the counter in most SE Asian countries (seriously). One bonus of taking so many buses was I got to enjoy the stunning scenery for hours on end- Laos is hands down the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. Everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by mountains and jungle; some of the best views were at rest stops halfway through a mountain pass. Almost made up for the general uncomfortableness of the ride.
Okay, the time has come to discuss Vang Vieng. I will definitely be censoring this part- parental units and potential employers could stumble upon my humble blog and certain things were never meant for their ears (kidding mom and dad… I tell you everything!). Here we go. As you may be aware, Vang Vieng’s claim to fame is their tubing, which is definitely not your everyday, run of the mill variety. This is tubing down the Mekong River, stopping at bars spaced every 50 meters or so, playing all kinds of games, collecting bracelets for every welcome shot of Tiger Whiskey (terrible stuff), and enjoying the incredible scenery as you float downstream.
Our days would go something like this: wake up and head down the street to Smile Restaurant, which served up both great hangover food as well as every possible episode of Friends on a big screen tv. There aren’t actually chairs at any of the restaurants in VV, just loungers and couch type things with low tables so you can enjoy food and Friends (or Family Guy) at the same time! A lazy man’s paradise. After we had gotten our fill of Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Joey, Ross, and Phoebe we would head back to the hostel to get changed for the river. The rule of thumb here is don’t wear or bring ANYTHING that you wouldn’t want to lose. Then off to rent tubes! After a short tuk tuk ride and ferry across the river, you arrive at the first bar where you are immediately greeted with a shot of the aforementioned whiskey and a bracelet on your wrist. What follows is always a bit of a blur, but it involved consuming alcohol, playing classics such as beer pong, and dancing around to the epic mixes. Then off to the next bar! Hop in your tube, grab the hand of the person closest to you and go floating for approximately 10 seconds downstream. At that point a plastic pop bottle on the end of a rope will come hurtling towards you. Once you get ahold of it, the kind bartenders will bring you in for more whiskey, bracelets and all around fun. As an added bonus, nearly every bar has some kind of attraction that you can participate in. The third bar sports a 10 ft platform to jump into the river from, there’s one that has a rope swing, and one further that has a tiled slide. Having said that, it’s pretty obvious that in addition to being an incredibly fun place, VV is also incredibly dangerous for folks that aren’t careful. Alcohol and rivers don’t mix very well. However! Our group kept our wits about us, and save some bruises and many, many mosquito bites, all escaped unscathed. After repeating the floating/pop bottle tow in/whiskey shot/party cycle a few times, you simply jump on your tube one last time and enjoy the gentle ride back to the rental shop. The trick with this is to leave with enough time that you won’t finish your float in the dark. Check with the locals! Once back on solid ground (around 6:30 pm) we would grab some dinner and then either head off to bed or head out for an epic evening! Although utterly exhausting and completely detrimental to your health, Vang Vieng was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. Like so many others, I only planned on staying a modest and respectable three days. And then stayed six.
So long Laos, hello Thailand!