ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ
(Lao People’s Democratic Republic)
After our hedonistic first week in Thailand we are now doing some more serious travelling in a country where neither of us had been before but of which both of us had heard a great many things.
Our first stop in Laos, flying from Phuket via Bangkok, was the historic royal city of Luang Prabang, built along the banks of the Mekong river.
There is actually quite a lot to do in this very touristy city. We spent our time browsing the night market and visiting some of the (many) temples and the Grand Palace (the old seat of the Lao monarchy before the communist revolution, now a museum), where we toured the old living quarters of the royal family; the museum is tactfully silent about what happened to them after the revolution. We also went to see some famous nearby waterfalls. Simon was brave enough to have a little swim in the cold waters.
There are also dozens of mostly good restaurants and bars, many al fresco and on the river front, some truly amazing. However, nightlife in Luang Prabang has a little downside… By the end of the second night I counted thirteen vicious insect bites on my left leg, eleven of them just around the ankle. Simon, who bathes in DEET, remains unbitten and unnecessarily smug.
On our last day I managed to convince a very reluctant Simon to rise before dawn so we could see the Tak Bat, the Buddhist monks’ morning collection of food (alms giving). Locals and visitors alike line the streets and wait for the monks to walk by, in silence, and they put offerings of food in the monks’ bowls. It is quite a thing to see, and a shame that many ignorant and inconsiderate tourists treat this ancient tradition like a street show.
After breakfast we boarded the “VIP” bus to Vang Vieng, with a collection of French, Korean, Lithuanian, Spanish, Japanese, and South American fellow travellers. The great thing about replacing your bus every twenty years is you never need to clean it. Clearly “VIP” has a different meaning in Lao, but what an exciting adventure. As we rattled stomach-churningly south it became clear that the road was no better than the bus. At one point the road had actually collapsed in front of us and not one but three mechanical diggers had to clear a path for us to drive across.
After over eight hours of this we arrived.
Vang Vieng is famous for its wide range of outdoors activities: climbing, caving, cycling, trekking… but above all, for “tubing”. This involves floating down the shallow river in large, inflated inner tubes, avoiding the rocks and passing motorboats, and attracts a large number of young travellers, most notably gap year students – therefore “tubing” is traditionally done in a state of increasing intoxication, helped by the various enterprising riverside bars. The party got shockingly out of hand some years ago and a government clampdown ensued in 2012. Since then, “tubing” continues but in a more subdued capacity.
Simon was extremely keen for us to give it a go so down the river we went yesterday. I have to say that despite my initial horror it was great fun, even though we felt ever so slightly out of place among the hordes of partying twenty-something year olds, and even though by the time we floated down to town we were almost hypothermic. Nonetheless, it was a great experience. We didn’t take our phones with us so I’m afraid there is no photographic evidence, sadly, though Simon has bought a commemorative vest.
Tomorrow, hideous stomach bug permitting, we are on the move again, due south, to the capital city: Vientiane.
More news soon.
All media in this blog © Xavier González | Simon Smith unless otherwise credited. All maps from Google Maps, also unless otherwise credited. Please note videos may play at low res depending on the settings on your device; you can easily solve that.