Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng
21.12.2009 - 01.01.2010
Before leaving Chiang Mai, we meet my friend Dan and his two friends Rob and Tristan who are out here for 3 weeks. Together we make the journey to Luang Prabang. It's a 2 day boat journey along the Mekong River. Buses, waiting, border checks, more waiting and then we're sent to a boat. The boat though, is very full and we refuse to get on. They insist, saying there's plenty of space. There's around 40 of us waiting and we're by about 20 other boats doing very little, so stay firm. This is a case of making as much money in one swoop as possible and we're not playing.
After 10 minutes or so they give in and put another boat on, so we're treated to a comfortable 6 hour boat ride instead of squatting on the floor, potentially sinking.
This takes us to Pak Beng, which is the halfway point of the journey. The whole place works on generators that switch off at 10.30. Second day on a boat and we're ushered onto a larger, less comfortable boat. It's amazing how you can keep yourselves amused on these journeys though. Beer Lao, chatting, cards and books help, but the scenery is the winner. It is spectacular, the Mekong carves its way through impressive jungle covered hills and mountains, with rocks jutting out of the water and occasional small bamboo villages by the river.
Our journey ends in Luang Prabang, Laos' old capital that sits on the Mekong. It's a Unesco World Heritage site and very beautiful. Temples are dotted around it, with orange robed monks a common sight in the streets.
Laos PDR stands for the People's Democratic Republic, but it's often said it stands for Please Don't Rush. This is certainly a country where people like to take it easy. Luang Prabang being no exception, it's a lovely place to spend some days over Christmas.
Other than exploring the town on bikes we spend our days relaxing and eating and drinking plenty in true Christmas style. A group of seven of us do a Secret Santa, so we all get something to open on Christmas Day! That and the Cadbury's I got from my old housemates, perfect!
On Boxing Day we get a minibus to Vang Vieng, further south in Laos. It's a journey through the mountains and very windy. Each village we pass seems to full of only children. Laos feels like Neverland, kids everywhere. And puppies, kittens, calves, chicks, piglets...
Vang Vieng is a small town by a river and very touristy. That's mainly due to the tubing. Tubing's when you hire a large tube and float down the river on it. There are bars dotted along the river that will pull your tube in and all the bars have swings and slides into the water. It's kind of like a theme park ride for grownups. It is a lot of fun, but I have no photos as it doesn't really mix well with cameras. When we first go, we float on our tubes all the way back to town, which turns out to be a cold, rocky journey by the end!
The town's full of bars playing Friends and Family Guy on repeat. It's very odd, people seem to get hypnotised by the rolling American shows. With such a charmless town, it's great to escape. The boys hire motorbikes and we all go out into the hills one day. Far from Vang Vieng and people stare at you again, being a Westerner is more of a rarity out here.
We hire bicycles too and go to a blue lagoon. Midday sun, a gravel road and no gears make for an uncomfortable ride, but the lagoon at the other end is worth it. It really is blue and incredibly deep.
We spend New Years Eve day tubing, not something you get to do every year, and then continue on into the night in the town under the full moon. Laos has an 11.30pm curfew normally, but luckily this doesn't seem to in action at least here, on New Years. Leaving on New Years Day we head south to Vientiane, the Laos Capital. We're only here for a day before heading back into Thailand to catch an overnight train to Bangkok. Laos is another Communist country we've visited that's fast learning how to make money out of tourists. We're a little disappointed how often we feel people have tried to rip us off, and had hoped to meet more of the very friendly Lao people we'd heard about.