08 Aug Sabaidee Vang Vieng
Time considerably slows down as soon as you drive further up the countryside and get a feel of the rural lifestyle. Your body clock naturally adjusts to the sunrise and sunset as an abundance of nature is all around you. The warmth of the Laos people is quite refreshing.
Patuxai literally translates to Victory Monument
I crossed the border by a bus ride from Udon Thani. You will have to get off the bus twice. First to stamp your passport out of the Thailand border and then another time to stamp into the Laos border. Each taking only 10 minutes tops, so if you have heavy bags with nothing but clothes in them, I’d feel comfortable leaving them onboard like the locals do.
Buddha Park also known as Xieng Khuan
The bus will then take another half an hour to drive to the bus terminal right at the center of the capital where you can take a tuk-tuk to your hostel (K 30,000). Remember to bargain! If you haven’t gotten the change to exchange some Laos Kip, Thai Baht is also widely accepted around the country.
Stephanie and I caught up over some local food, exchanging travel tips as she was journeying into Myanmar where I had just been. There’s nothing much to see in Vientiane to be honest but I had to stay a little longer while waiting for my friend Jay to arrive. I braved the city heat and walked around town during and feasted on street food all day with backpackers from the hostel.
A fruit stand in Vientiane
Jay and I scouted for a better guesthouse for the night. Who wants to stay in an 18- person dorm room when you can share a private room for the same price (K 60,000 per person) just a few blocks away? After resisting to shop at the night market, we burnt our mouths with the spiciest papaya salad we’ve ever had and cooled down with some coconuts at the food fair. The next morning, we were picked up (an hour late) by a small vehicle that drove around town for more passengers, only to drop us off a few steps away from our guesthouse to catch the bigger bus to Vang Vieng.
Hot air ballons survey the land during sunrise and sunset
Be warned: the scenic eight hour bus trip is a nauseating ride. So make sure to have some anti-dizziness pills and lavender oil with you. Massage the acupressure points on your wrists while falling asleep to chilled out tunes on your headphones. Wear your sleep mask so you can sleep longer. There will be a couple of stops along the way for snacks and bathroom breaks.
It was night time when we arrived Vang Vieng. We had no clue where to stay for the night so we followed the other Israeli backpackers’ lead. Turns out, they were just as lost as we were so we all went around in circles for a good two hours until we found an affordable guesthouse in the town’s center for the night.
Our cozy $8 per night hut at Otherside Bungalows
In the morning, we crossed a rickety wooden bridge over the river to a much quieter side of town. We happily settled at Otherside Bungalows for K 70,000 per night ($9) for a simple wooden hut with its own bathroom. We piled on our pajamas and duvets as the temperature dropped to 18* C at night. The gentle hissing sound of colorful hot air balloons lifting off from the rice fields woke us up for a stunning sunrise each morning.
Beautiful horses galloped around the field next to our hut. Dogs, chickens and goats wandered around the property. Little Lao kids played football in the afternoons. We chilled by the river sipping on coconuts all day and watched the whole town pass us by on their motorbikes and kayaks. Lao kids played in the water and caught some fish. It was the perfect spot. We had dinner most nights at A.M.D. restaurant which makes the best curry in town. No wonder it’s rated #1 on Trip Advisor!
The infamous and now crowded Blue Lagoon
Tips for an unforgettable Blue Lagoon experience:
– Wake up as early as you possibly can, maybe as early as 5 am to avoid the crowds
– Try to get a big group together (up to 6) so you can split the fare
– Negotiate a fair price with a tuk-tuk driver (K 100,000) for up to 6 people
– Make sure that he is willing to wait for as long as you want to stay at the lagoon
– Ask if it’s possible to stop along the other points of interest on the way back
– Bring a pancake or baguette breakfast and have a picnic on the lagoon grounds
– Don’t jump off the tree if you don’t know how to swim
The 30 minute drive is bumpy and dusty. We got there at 11 am and was quite disappointed by how crowded and rowdy the place was. Really not how I imagined this place to be. So we sat on our sarongs, did some yoga and sipped on more coconuts… until our tuk-tuk driver forced us to leave just an hour later because he had another “booking”.
Looking out to Pha Poae Hill
In the afternoon we walked along the rice field path towards Pha Poae Hill and trekked up the razor sharp rocks. A magnificent view of town awaits at the very top where the red flag stands. The entrance closes at 5 pm and a minimal fee is required (K 5). Make sure to wear comfortable sneakers for your own safety. If you must bring a bag for your wallet and water, make sure it’s a backpack because you’ll need your hands to support your body to climb up and down some parts. Hire a bike the next day and cycle all the way to Lusi Cave, just 2 more kilometers after the hill.
Street Vendors prepare mouthwatering sandwiches and pancakes
Vang Vieng’s tourism exploded within the last decade because of drunken tubing. Drug-induced hedonistic parties and all night raves were a daily occurrence a few years back causing one fatality every month. The Laos government finally took notice and closed down most of the bars along the river to encourage the locals to focus on green tourism instead.
Well tubing is back, but not without a few safety precautions. There are less bars along the river and tubes have to be returned before sunset or risk having your deposit forfeited. I consciously chose not to do it since I wasn’t really up to getting hammered all day while floating on rubber tubes along the ice-cold river. I guess I also wanted to make a stand that this precious little town is so much more than this mindless activity. How would you feel if backpackers only went to your town to get high and wasted?
Climbing the golden walls of Sleeping Cave
Most days, I went rock climbing with Adam’s Rock Climbing School. A half-day session costs only $30, the cheapest rate I’ve found in Asia for a guided tour. This fee includes all the equipment needed, transportation to the site, basic techniques and safety precautions. Read more about my climbing experience.