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Published: February 14th 2012
In the Beginning
Enjoying our warm-up tall boys as we start the day.
Hazy River Party
Our sole reason for going to Vang Vieng was for the river, and the bars that frequent it. The advice we had received from friends who had traveled the route previously, to a person, said that Vang Vieng was an out-of-this-world experience that could not be missed. Situated a 5 hr drive south of Luang Prabang, Vang Veing is a beautiful town, dwarfed by the surrounding limestone bluffs – but its beauty is only a footnote in the tourist books. The town seems as though it only exists for one reason – tubing on the Nam Song river. Hundreds of tourists start lining up around 11am to rent tubes. Piling into tuk-tuks 8 at a time, the hoards are then taken 2 km upstream to the starting point. We wandered down a path, through a field, and ended up at a bamboo bridge. Crossing the bridge we became immediately aware of what all the fuss was about and foresaw what the day had in store. Though we could only see a few hundred meters to the first riverbend, that limited real estate was sufficient for the three riverside bars. We saw people lining the water, dangling their
Stop Number One
Copy and repeat, and you have an idea of what this stretch of river was like.
feet off the bamboo platforms with buckets and beers littering the space around them. Others were dancing to the pulsating club music filling the air and everyone was clearly enjoying the start to their day. We continued across the bridge to the first bar on the party route. We handed our tubes off, were greeted at the door with a shot of whiskey and said goodbye to sobriety. Wanting to pace ourselves, we started out slow with tall boy beers. We sat at the water’s edge, chatted with some new friends, and before we realized it, the party around us had grown to massive proportions (RiverPartyClip
). Since variety is the spice of life, we grabbed our tubes and hit the water in search of the next bar. Once in the water it can be very difficult to get out of it quickly enough to reach a shoreline destination. Necessity being the mother of invention, the establishments had staff who would toss out ropes weighted with half-filled water bottles and reel in passersby. Appreciative of the help, we allowed ourselves to be dragged ashore, accepted our free shot at the door and sauntered up to the bar. With our warm-up drinks
Matt struggling to take a sip. Don't worry, it got finished.
out of the way, we felt it was necessary to graduate to buckets. Being savvy consumers, we saw the value that was too good to pass up. A full mickey of whiskey & sprite & red bull (not the weak stuff, the kind that’s illegal in North America) for $4. The rest of the day begins to get hazy from this point on. We grabbed our tubes and crossed the river to the next bar. In all this time, we had not even made it 200m from the bridge where we began. We grabbed another bucket and noticed that the bar had a tarzan swing for the amusement of the drunken patrons. Observing long enough to see that people didn’t seem to be getting hurt or killed, we decided to each have a go. We both survived and enjoyed the pulse of adrenaline (which also might have been the red bull), although we still don’t understand how they let people that drunk do something so crazy. We went to two or three (or maybe four) more bars and had one or two more buckets (and maybe a beer). As the sun set over the cliffs, the temperature turned cool and
Life on the Mekong
Locals enjoying the evening sun.
somehow having enough sense to know that we were approaching the deadline for returning the tubes, all the signs were telling us to go home. We followed a path that led us from the shore up through a farmer’s field. After 10 minutes of waiting, a tuk-tuk came barrelling down the dirt road. We joined 6 Aussies in the back and enjoyed their drunken antics as we returned to town. We dropped off our tubes, found our guesthouse and had a well-needed 2 hr nap (if you can call passing out a nap) before waking up in time for dinner. We met people over the course of the day that were on their second and third days partaking in the river party. Not wanting to get sucked into the dangerous vortes, we booked our tickets out of town. Vang Vieng provides one thing and it does it well, but one day of insanity was plenty for us.
The ‘Big’ City
We arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, in the early afternoon and spent the customary 30 minutes looking for the best deal for a guesthouse. Just a few minute’s walk from the main street and the Mekong we
Another Mekong Sunset
They don't get any less beautiful the more you see them.
set up camp for the next couple of days. While wandering some side streets the French influence was ever-apparent. We passed cafe after cafe, followed by a few more cafes – until we found an absolutely delicious spot where we indulged on some Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. After a late lunch, we made our way down to the river, which was neighboured by a beautiful boardwalk frequented by hoards of locals and hardly any tourists. We walked down to the river’s edge and enjoyed the scenery of families and children playing by the water. The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky so we made our way to a riverside rooftop bar to watch the sun set over the Mekong. From there we went on a hunt for dinner, which proved to be one o the most interesting dining experiences to date (although now it seems all too normal). We sat down at an ‘open-air’ restaurant which was essentially 100 plastic tables and chairs lining the sidewalk with a ‘kitchen’ interjected every 50 feet or so. We sat down with the intention of ordering something authentically Lao. With the aid of our server, we pointed to something on the
Wat Si Saket
Buddha alcoves in the cloister surrounding the Wat.
menu and sat back content with our adventurous taste buds. Then a clay pot filled with burning hot coals arrived at our table. Then a clay bowl filled with semi-hot broth. Next came a massive plate of vegetables and noodles, topped with a raw egg. We both sat there – eyes wide – trying to fathom how we could possibly go about eating/cooking this dinner. Then the raw meat arrived with a side of crushed garlic and chillies. We started to experiment with throwing different things into the pot and were quickly aided by our server with a massive grin on her face as she watched the silly foreigners attempt to properly eat a Lao dish. We eventually managed to get a hang of our self-cooked soup and finished every bite. Not only was the food delicious but the experience was exactly what we had book looking for.
The next day we set out on cheaply rented bicycles with guidebooks in hand, ready to see the sights. Our first destination was the COPE foundation, which is a rehabilitation centre for landmine victims – hoping to check out some of the prosthetics, their methods, and perhaps to leave a small
donation. Unfortunately our maps sucked and we never found the place. Such is life when traveling in unknown parts. We gave up looking after about half an hour (much like the boy from “The Puppy Who Lost Its Way”) and moved on to the next stop on our tour. We weaved our way towards town through back roads (always a more enjoyable way to take in a city) and arrived at Wat Si Saket. The temple grounds are surrounded by a large cloister. The interior walls, which face towards the main Wat contain thousands of niches, each containing a tiny Buddha statue. In front of the walls sit hundreds of larger, three or four foot tall Buddha statues. The main Wat itself was quite beautiful with a story told in bas relief on the exterior, and a stunningly high ceiling inside, along with the usual gigantic Buddha statues at the front. We took some time, as we usually do in Wats, to quietly reflect and then hopped back on our bikes for more sightseeing. We took the main road leading out of town, which being on bicycles amongst all the moto scooters and cars was an adventure in and of
Pha That Luang
The central religious edifice of the country, as well as a symbol of Laotian sovereignty.
itself. Standing tall in the middle of the road as we distanced ourselves from the downtown core was the Patuxai monument. The monument was constructed in the mould of the Arc de Triomphe using concrete donated to the Laos government by the United States for the construction of an airport runway. We spent some time wandering through the surrounding park, and then made our way up the interior of the monument to get a look out at the city surrounding us. After descending the stairs and hopping back on our bikes we headed to another temple a few kilometres down the road. We put on the required long pants and shoulder-covering shirts and entered the temples. It was a large complex with several massive gold and silver laden buildings, and monastery, an enormous reclining Buddha, and the main attraction, Pha That Luang, which is considered the most important monument in Laos. We walked around for a while, but the sun, heat, and adventures of the day had started to take a toll, so we biked back to the main area in town near the river to take care of some time-sensitive errands. We grabbed a bite to eat before finally
A Fight to the Death
The dragons guarding the temple adjacent to Pha That Luang were too afraid to get any closer.
settling on a place to book tickets for our next adventure, to the Kong Lor cave, which was a seven hour bus ride away, departing the following morning. After all our affairs were in order, we returned the bikes and headed back towards the river to watch yet another magnificent sunset over the Mekong, while enjoying a beer and bloody mary (nowhere close to a caeser) and lucky for us, Rafa Nadal was playing R-Fed in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on TV. We eventually tore ourselves away from the match (it was evident that poor Roger was overmatched) and returned to the same restaurant as the previous night for some dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed it a second time, although we were a little less ‘brave’ with our menu choices. we enjoyed a slow walk back to the guesthouse and were ready for our adventures to continue beginning with our bus trip the next day.
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