Heading north from Cambodia we landed in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. It is a sleepy city with lots of temples and old French architecture to enjoy, so we spent a day biking around and taking it all in. Although Laos is a very poor nation (average income is 200-400US$ per year), the people seem very pleasant and happy. Maybe that is because they have some of the best beer (Laobeer) and whiskey (Lao Lao) around?! Either way it was nice to have a more laid back atmosphere without as many tourists and yappy salesmen about.
From Vientiene we went north to Vang Vieng which is well known by tourists for 2 things: Friends, and Tubing. It is a party town that attracts all the young backpackers looking for a few days (or weeks in some cases) of partying and laying around. The main drag of the town is bordered with small restaurants that cater to these people, and somewhere along the way that turned into lay-down table settings and TV's playing non-stop Friends or Family Guy episodes. You sit down for a meal and before you know it you have just watched an entire season! The main activity
here is the tubing, you sign up and get your very own tractor tire for the day, and a tuk tuk drives you 5km out of town. As you make your way through a small village you start to hear the faint sounds of music and then suddenly you are in the middle of a big party. Makeshift Bamboo bars have been erected all down the river and as you pass on your tube they throw you a rope and pull you in. You are usually greeted with a free shot of Laos Laos and the party is on! To make it even better/more dangerous, most of the bars have giant slides, swings and zip lines that shoot you into the river at great heights and velocity (now a I realize why so many people in town were walking with limps or had bandages on their legs). After a great day on the river the party was not over, we met up with some fellow tubers for dinner then headed down to the island on the river, where many more make-shift bars await, all blasting music and trying to outdo the rest with their Christmas light display.
say, the bus ride the next morning through the winding mountains up to Luang Prabang was one of the worst I have experienced! The destination made it worth while though, as the city is world heritage listed and nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. We signed up for a tour that included elephant riding, trekking and Kayaking, which seemed like an adventure filled couple of days. We went to an elephant camp and climbed up onto one of these massive beasts, and right away I was very unsure of it! The terrain we crossed was rocky and hilly, but our transport navigated with ease, it was amazing to see his massive feet maneuvering and making small calculated steps over some of the obstacles, I was sure we were all going down at any minute. We even went for a walk in the river, where the elephant turned into a submarine and walked along head high holding his nose up out of the water to breathe. We thought we were going to get away without getting wet, but then on command the elephant started wildly splashing us with his trunk (no more tip for him!). From here we did
another trek to various countryside villages where we spent the night. This home stay seemed much more authentic then our home stay in Vietnam, as we were 2 of 4 tourists in the entire area, and there was no electricity much less TV. We visited the local school to watch the kids play football, and then had a nice dinner by candlelight. The next day we trekked a little more and made our way back the the river, and from there we kayaked all the way back to the city. That brought us to the end of our time in Laos, it was a great country that is making huge steps to get off the poorest nations list, and become a more prominent tourist destination in Asia like Thailand, which was where we heading now. Looking forward to some pristine beaches and some Pad Thai!
Joe and Hawley
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