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Published: July 11th 2006
Nam Song River
The infamous tubing river at Vang Vieng
The blog should be fairly short, because we can hardly remember what we have done the past week. We now understand more about monsoon rains, as it has rained steadily most of the past week.
After leaving Luang Prabang, we headed for Vang Vieng and what a journey it was. The road winds its way high up through the mountains, above the clouds, with thrilling bends. It wasn't too reassuring to see massive boulders on the road or men with AK-47s patrolling the road, which has a history of rebel attacks. But we made it safe and sound to Vang Vieng, which is a small town thoroughly on the Laos tourist track. We knew that it might not be a place we would love, but we thought we would check it out ourselves and it breaks up the trip to the capital, Vientiane.
Vang Vieng (VV) was at one time this simple Lao village along a pretty river, the Nam Song. It has now been taken over by backpackers and is best known for a couple of things. First is the tubing along the river, and second is the many restaurants that offer "happy" menus and play
Friends on an endless loop. We didn't really see how this was experiencing Laos, but we tried to keep an open mind. The first 24 hours we were there, it rained non-stop and that didn't help our initial impression. There are hardly any locals in VV (other than those that work at the shops, restaurants, travel agencies, etc) and the main street is crowded with chill out restaurants (think Dahab, Egypt) serving only Western food. If you haven't gotten it by now, we didn't much like this place. It just felt too much like home - why come all this way to hang out with other travellers eating burgers and french fries??? This is a place that seperates the backpackers from travellers, and we admit that we fall somewhere in between. Going from our awesome experience in Muang Ngoi (where there were very little other travellers and a lot of interaction with locals), it was hard to get into the VV thing.
The rain cleared for a little bit and so we decided (still trying to be optimistic) to give tubing a try. Since it is the rainy season (and had been raining for days on end), the river
was moving really quickly. Basic idea here is that you rent a tube and they drive you 3 km up the river and drop you off. You get to float back to town and along the way there are lots of opportunities for refreshments and river swings. It really was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to meet lots of other travellers. The scenery is beautiful with limestone cliffs along the river shrouded in clouds.
Woke up to more rain and so decided to move on, in the hopes of outrunning the rain.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos, but it is like the plain sister to the country's gem of a city, Luang Prabang. We had been warned not to expect too much from the capital. It is certainly the largest and most modern place in Laos. But with that you loose the traditional aspects we had come to love about Laos. The women do not wear the traditional dress here and people don't have as much time to stop for a friendly, "sabaidee".
We visited Patuxai, Laos unfinished attempt at an Arc de Triomphe. From far away it looks quite nice,
but from close up it looks like a concrete monster (so the official sign says). We went to the top for some great views over the city, which is extremely green. We had planned to spend more time in Vientiane, but found that there wasn't that much to do in the city. We decided to head to Bangkok early for some Khao San Rd fun.
Throughout Laos, we have seen the French influence. Most notably in baguettes and croissants that are available everywhere. You can really see the French influence in Vientiane, especially in the many French restaurants throughout the city. Since it was our last night in Laos, we decided to indulge in some French food. We both had the most amazing steaks, which may not sound like much, but keep in mind that we have not had a whole piece of meat since leaving home. We are still talking about them!
On our last morning we visited Buddha Park, which is a meadow an hour outside of the city, with many interesting Buddha sculptures. We took the local bus and somehow managed to squeeze 57 people onto a minibus with seats for 21 people. It was
(He was a bit worried about this title!)
a lovely hour! The park was neat in an eerie sort of way.
We loved Laos, just like all the people we had met promised us. If doing it again, we would skip some places and add others, but all in all it was a great country. We loved Luang Prabang and Muang Ngoi and we met some great friends in Laos. The country is such a breath of fresh air from the rest of SE Asia. The people are very friendly, in their own shy manner. The scenery is spectacular and the people are living not that differently from how they have lived for centuries.
We crossed the Friendship Bridge into Thailand and thought it was funny that at the Laos side we had to pay 25 cents in overtime because it was Sunday. Imagine the Canadian government doing that! From there we caught an overnight train to Bangkok, where we are spending a couple of days. We meet up with my aunt, Patti who will be travelling with us for the rest of the trip and then fly to Vietnam.
It's not the destination, but the journey that counts.
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