Journey into Laos
I didn’t think we were going to make it to Laos this time around. If I’m being completely honest my vote for our last two weeks was to head to another Thai island for a few more beautiful beach days before making our way up through the north of the country to Chiang Mai. But, Luke really wanted to come to Laos so I gave in. We had heard nothing but good things about the country so I convinced myself that it would be a good thing for us to go. Maybe we would experience something different from everything else we had seen so far in South East Asia. Well, so far I can’t say that I’m in love with this place.
We arrived in Laos after an overnight train ride from Bangkok to the Thai border city of Nong Khai. From Nong Khai we caught a shared tuk-tuk to the border where we were stamped out of Thailand with no issues. We took another bus across the Thai-Laos friendship bridge to the Laos border where we applied for and were given Laos visa’s again without any issues (finally a South East Asian overland crossing without shenanigans). Once officially in Laos we caught a cheap, local bus for twenty minutes to get into the capital of Vientiane.
We had no intentions of staying in Vientiane and were hoping to catch an overnight bus to Luang Prabang, the main tourist town/attraction in Laos. Well, little did we know it was still Songkran/ New Years in Laos and every single business in the city was shut down. We tried to ask several people about bus tickets or how to get out of the city and the only response we were given was “no”. We were shocked at how rude and completely unhelpful everybody was. It wasn’t a language issue every time either. So there can’t be any excuses made there.
After walking up and down the smoking hot main streets at high noon for almost forty five minutes we decided to give up on our Luang Prabang overnight bus search and go back to the small bus station we had arrived at. From there we were cajoled into taking a minivan to Vang Vieng the other main stop on the Laos tourist trail. Although we initially had no intention of going there we decided that it would at least shave a few hours off of our ultimate journey to Luang Prabang.
After a harrowing 4 hour ride we arrived slightly shaken, and slightly road sick but ultimately safe in Vang Vieng. The first thing we noticed was the abundance of nearly empty restaurants/bars with big screen TV’s playing episodes of Friends, South Park and Family Guy. This did not give us a great first impression of the place.
Although it is set amongst a magnificent backdrop of limestone mountains and the beautiful Nam Song river, Vang Vieng kind of gives me the creeps. It felt like the ultimate example of a charming town perverted by tourism, particularly of the drunk backpacker variety. This is hardly surprising since for many, many years the town was hugely popular with just that type of people who came from far and wide to tube down the river stopping along the way at bars to get wasted on all kinds of booze and drugs. In the past several years an alarming number of participants in the tubing were killed (drugs, drinking, rope swings and fast currents generally do not mix). Because of this the town was forced to shut down the tubing operation and most of the bars along the river.
Well, I don’t know how well this has been enforced because the tubing is still alive and well. We didn’t choose to go ourselves (mostly because we couldn’t get our act together before the cut off time), but we saw almost every other tourist carrying a tube up the street wearing the ubiquitous tubing tank tops and florescent shorts. The town was practically empty though, so I imagine the bars along the way must mostly be closed now, deterring most of the hard partying crowd from even bothering to visit.
After spending one full day in Vang Vieng we decided that we had seen enough and booked a VIP bus up to Luang Prabang. We were really hoping that Luang Prabang would be a significant step up from our experiences so far in Laos. For now the best I’ve got to say is that the puppies of Vang Vieng are ADORABLE! Hooray for puppies! Oh and I guess those pretty mountains weren’t so bad either .