Laos was one of the last stops on the Indochina Discovery tour I did in 2009. After flying in from Vietnam, we spent a total of 6 days travelling across from Vientiane to Muang Pakbèng, before crossing back in to Thailand. Unfortunately, by the time it got to the Laos section of the trip (which covered Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam as well), there were only 3 of us left! There were supposed to be 15 (normal size of a G Adventures tour) but due to riots that were occurring in Thailand at the time, loads of people cancelled their trip.
On the first day, we were up early at 5am to take a 8 hour bus ride Lak Sao, a tiny village close to the Vietnam/ Laos border. This was just a stopover destination on our way to Vientiane and there wasn’t much to do, apart from wander around the local market. Seeing rows and rows of exotic animals (dead and alive) within the market, none of us could stomach it for very long. After witnessing one lady prodding a ‘Bamboo Rat’ (looks like a cross between a guinea pig and a mole) with a stick in an attempt to keep him alive, so he could be sold for food ‘fresh’, we all decided we’d had enough and headed back to our guesthouse. We had dinner in a local restaurant, which was the only one in our neighbourhood. It was an awkward affair with just the three of us, all tired and cranky from our long journey and all slightly fed up with our tour leader who was getting more annoying as the days passed!
Day two was another early start and it took 5 hours by bus for us to reach Vientiane; the capital and largest city in Laos. We spent the afternoon wandering around, visiting a local market and some of the well-known temples and buildings. We visited Phat That Luang, a national symbol and Laos’ most important national monument, which is completely coated with gold leaf. Every November, devoted Buddhists come here to celebrate Vientiane’s most important festival, Bun That Luang, with parades, music and religious ceremonies. We also went to Haw Pha Kaew, a former temple originally constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel. It was one of the hottest days so far at 42°C which made walking on stone flooring bare footed pretty unbearable! We were all slowly melting in the heat, so decided to head back to the hotel to cool off.
That evening we were treated to an epic thunderstorm with the heaviest rain I’d ever seen. Our rickety local hotel also suffered a powercut, so we spent the evening in a nearby restaurant and internet cafe!
We left Vientiane the following day, and after a 2.5 hour bus ride, arrived in Vang Vieng. We were given an orientation walk on arriving, which took all of about 10 minutes – it’s tiny! A completely different feel to Vientiane, Vang Vieng really feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by countryside, lush green mountains and streams which winds their way between the streets, widening at their end-point in to a large river filled with local children splashing about where their houses meet the water. In some areas, bars, restaurants and lounges line the waters; Vang Vieng is the ultimate chill-out zone! The people are absolutely lovely too – we made friends with one especially nice older man 🙂
Vang Vieng is famed for its ‘tubing’ – you arm yourself with a large rubber ring and get driven to the top of the river. You then saddle up and follow the river as the current gently pulls you along. The river is lined with bars, who will throw out ropes to pull you in for a pit-stop and many are equipped with dodgy looking rope swings and diving boards!
(EDIT: There are rumors that you can no longer go tubing here anymore as it was considered too dangerous! I’m heading back at the end of 2016 so will let you know..)
Unfortunately the two girls on my trip were slightly older and weren’t interested in tubing. I didn’t want to miss out, so booked myself on to a trip with some random travellers. It ended up being a large group of Irish travellers, a couple of Americans and me. Everyone was lovely and we all got on really well, ending our day successfully sozzled and unscathed! You hear a lot of tubing horror stories of injured travellers, and as a result I think a lot of the bars have since had to remove their precarious rope swings etc since I was there. You can still get in the rubber rings though and can still spend time in the bars along the river – it’s definitely worth doing! Plus, you can treat yourself to a ‘I went Tubing!’ T-shirt afterwards.. I still have mine 6 years on!
The tubing was the final activity of a day tour I had booked the previous day. The first stop was tubing inside some caves, including one called ‘Elephant Cave’. In one appropriately named ‘The Water Cave’, we sat in rubber rings, with a long piece of rope draped across all rings enabling everyone to remain in a line, attached to each other. Everyone wore head torches, which was pretty hilarious in itself, and after ducking to make our way in to the jaws of the cave, drifted through the pitch black (and freezing!) caves, bumping off one another and the cave walls, until we popped out the other side. The views inside the cave were pretty impressive and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who can stand to be trapped in a cave for 10 minutes!
After the caves, we headed out to a spot on the river to load up in to kayaks. We spent the following 2 hours kayaking along the river, enjoying the sunshine and incredible views. You have over an hour of peacefulness, accompanied only by the local children, wildlife and each other. Then, you reach the mouth of the tubing strip and the scenery becomes a little different! I’d definitely recommend a day trip involving kayaking/ caving if you are in Vang Vieng!