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Published: March 10th 2015
Vang vieng chillin'
From Muang ngoi Neua I made my way down to vang vieng via nong khiaw and Luang Prabang (it was a nightmare again finding a bed in the latter town, but I ended up sharing a room with a fellow traveller). The bus broke down on the way to Luang Prabang which meant that the journey, instead of taking a few hours, took the whole day. With some fellow passengers I passed the time by drinking beer outside a local restaurant and playing uno.
Vang vieng features uncultured western revelry at its most shameless. I stayed in a hostel called EasyGo and met quite a few people there. I tubed (i.e. floated down the river on a rubber ring, visiting riverside bars on the way for beer pong and hammock slumbering), danced in the evenings at various night bars, pigged out on pizza and was generally unholy ...
Many bars offered happy hours during which they would dispense unlimited free drinks. FREE. I have never got drunk so quickly on whisky and coke. The only rule (not strictly enforced) was that you could not have more than one drink at one time. A few - more brazen - fellow
travellers I met timed their bar crawls so that they could reach their own personal nirvanas by the end of the night without spending a kip.
I did also do some cultured stuff. I walked 7km or so (my bicycle packed in pretty much before the trip had even started) to the blue lagoon cave. The scale of the cave is magnificent and it features crystallised natural ceilings and stalactites. I saw a huge spider on a wall whose eyes reflected in the flash of my phone camera.
At the foot of the cave is an inviting, clear blue stream, hence the name of the place. After the long walk in the sun and my short caving adventure, I took a refreshing dip in the cool water. The stream was actually really deep and I couldn't touch the bottom. I used a relatively high tree as a diving board.
Feeling the undesirable after-effects of drunken abandon, I was burnt out after a few days in vang vieng so I took myself to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Vientiane isn't exactly the most vibrant of cities. It features western - particularly French - cafes and restaurants, which appeared
Bus breakdown crew
to me to be the biggest draw for travellers. There is also a buzzing night market selling handicrafts and various (presumably fake) clothing and fragrance brands. There isn't much else in the way of sights or activities to really constitute a pull for tourists. Overall it's pretty bland.
I enjoyed watching the sun set over the river though, and I obtained my Vietnamese visa from the embassy there. I had a slightly stressful encounter with an ATM which has resulted in a phantom withdrawal of £86 and this still hasn't been resolved, but I need not go into that.
Hanoi was then my intended destination. From Vientiane it was a gruelling set of bus journeys, via phonsavan and Sam neua, to thanh hoa in Vietnam spanning a few days. The bus to phonsavan broke down (the second time this has happened to me!), which meant the journey took over 12 hours. I didn't get to see any of phonsavan because I was pressed for time, but I spent the day in sam Neua. This was an aesthetically characterless town in my view, featuring a lot of concrete. But it was a convenient base from which to cross into
Second bus breakdown
On arrival in thanh hoa, vietnam I decided that after all of the travelling I just wanted to get the final stretch of my journey to Hanoi out of the way. I was also concerned that finding affordable accommodation in thanh hoa might be a struggle as there isn't a section on it in lonely planet and the city appeared to be a rather big place. Plus it was dark.
After booking my train ticket I re-entered a local restaurant I had eaten in earlier and asked, in a terrible Vietnamese accent, for "bia hoi", the local beer. This elicited a few laughs from a young group of Vietnamese locals in their twenties, and they invited me over. I ended up downing bia hoi with them until shortly before my 11pm train was due to depart.
I arrived in Hanoi at 4am. It was raining and everything was closed but I was still immediately able to get a sense for the place. Wide streets, narrow lanes, spice essences and meaty smells, locals dining on low stools on street corners, signs everywhere advertising pho (noodle soup) and com (fried rice), neon.
No hostels were open so
Besties in Vietnam
I slept in the train station for an hour after walking around and managed to bag a bed at 6am.
I spent the next couple of days exploring Hanoi. It is chaotic, fast paced and vibrant. Countless motorbikes zoom in every direction, apparently with their own road rules in mind. Scores of stores sell clothes, bags, shoes and textiles. An array of food is on offer on every street in small local outlets and larger westernised eateries. It was raining constantly and the locals wore anoraks pulled over their motorbikes with transparent windows in the front to let the headlight beam through.
I visited the big lake, a couple of temples, the prison where viets who had rebelled against French control were detained (and where captured Americans were later held by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war), and the history museum. I also sampled deliciously thick Vietnamese coffee in a few cafes - including egg coffee, which was lovely - and had more bia hoi. A pint for about 60p. I met a girl in my hostel on my last night in Hanoi and we had a pretty profound chat over said elixir. It's cool how you can
Dinner view - Hanoi
develop intense, fleeting bonds with people really quickly when you're travelling. It makes you feel free.
I got the 6am train to lao cai, in the north. I'm on my way to sappa. Currently sipping sweet coffee in a restaurant waiting for the 1pm bus. Leaves in about 20 mins. Better be off.
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; mem: 1.4mb