Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng

After a few days of yoga and great Laos food in Luang Prabang it was time for us to head south to Vang Vieng. At 7:30am our minibus picked us up from our guesthouse to drive us down the twisty mountainous road to Vang Vieng (travel sickness tablets definitely recommended!) The drive can take anywhere between 4-7 hours depending on traffic, road conditions, smoke, etc. but the countryside it winds through is absolutely beautiful – mountains misted with cloud and small Lao villages with children trailing along the side of the road going to school. There are also plenty of stops for bathroom breaks and to stretch your legs.
As a town there isn’t much in Vang Vieng, but it is surrounded by stunning limestone mountains with plenty of caves and lagoons to explore. It was once a Lao Mecca for for the Full Moon Party crowd, however in recent years there have been so many deaths of drunk or drugged up tourists doing stupid things near water. Consequently the government stepped in and shut down most of its clubs and now local guides are required to escort kayakers and tubing enthusiasts down the river, returning Vang Vieng back to sleepy(ish) town it was once before the party crowd moved in.
We spent most of our time wandering round the rice paddies in search of swimming holes. Chang cave near the bottom of the town has a small waterhole where you can actually swim right into the cave, and is fairly quiet. Our favourite was the blue lagoon – about 7km out of town, the water is crystal clear and refreshingly cold, it’s little wonder this place is popular with tourists and locals. Plenty of people were jumping off the tree or the rope swing into the water (it’s safe, the lagoon is 5m deep!) or just sunbathing on the mats provided, sucking fruit shakes from the snack stand. Perfect!

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Journey into Laos

After over a month of living in Chiang Mai it feels strange to be travelling again, but it’s a welcome change. And the relative calmness and intimacy of Luang Prabang is such a contrast to the bustle of Chiang Mai.
Both Rachael and I were sick in our last few days of Thailand so we decided to splurge and fly to Laos – just as well too as apparently the dry season had dried up the river so much the slow boat wasn’t running and only speedboats were going along the Mekong! The other option was over 24 hours on a bus – an option which at our madder moments we entertained before realising that it sounded absolutely horrible! The roads in Laos are notoriously bad, there are only a few stops, and adding a hacking cough to that mix just didn’t sound appealing.
Laos was covered in haze when we arrived, made from the smoke from the burning of the undergrowth that always occurs this time of year. The smoke is choking, but it does make some beautiful photos! We met a Canadian girl on the bus and together we had dinner by the river watching the sunset. Beautiful!
The next day we got up before sunrise to watch the monks collect their daily alms. Word of advice: street vendors hound you quite aggressively to buy food to give to the monks – don’t give in! Monks won’t eat the food from street vendors, and you can enjoy the experience more respectfully by watching from the road. The rest of the day was spent wandering the city, exploring the winding streets, the ethnic museum and the temples, eventually ending up in Tamarind, a famous Luang Prabang establishment featuring classic Laos dishes served with explanations for ignorant foreigners like us! We ate river weed, ‘heavenly’ buffalo meat, steamed fish in banana leaves, purple sticky rice, traditional young bamboo soup – all absolutely delicious!
The night market is also worth a look – more touristy souvenirs invade every day but in comparison to Thai night markets there is still a lot of authentic local craft items and art. There’s also plenty of fruit shakes, crepes and baguettes along the way for cheap munchies!

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