I’m back in Vientiane after a circuit of the north of Laos and it feels like I’ve been gone much longer than one week. We survived the end of the world in Vang Vieng on 21st December then celebrated Christmas in Luang Prabang.
Vang Vieng was an interesting one. The town is famous for tubing on the Nam Song river, infamous for the bars, ziplines and swings that caused 22 deaths in 2011. As a result of an Australian woman’s campaigning, all the bars have been closed recently and the ziplines removed – meaning fewer tourists and many businesses closing down in the town. Vang Vieng is now eerily quiet, the tourism-oriented main part of town a ghost of what I imagine it was like six months ago.
During the day the streets are empty as the few remaining tourists explore the river and the caves and waterfalls in the beautiful mountains surrounding the town. I’m not trying to discourage people from visiting, it’s still a stunning town and a great place to chill out. If you’ve been travelling for a while you’ll be glad to buy Aussie burgers, Tim Tams, even Vegemite. At night everyone drinks in one bar, and when that closes at 11pm due to the Laos curfew, some head to a local club called The Moon. This was a highlight – it seems to be a prerequisite of the job of a Lao DJ to stop the music every thirty seconds, start yelling random things at the crowd and/or sing along over the microphone. The locals were lots of fun to dance with, it was popular with lady boys and gay guys as well.
The tubing itself is still fun, provided you’re prepared to bring the fun yourself. Aimee and I were lucky to find some people to go down the river with, we took our own beers and just enjoyed the river for the stunning scenery, cool water and laughs with new friends. We saw only two other groups of people.
The bus trip to Luang Prabang was the most beautiful one I’ve done – a narrow dirt road winding through untouched mountains, just amazing. Christmas in Luang Prabang was a bit different to the usual one for me but we had lots of delicious food, champagne breakfast and presents. Slow cooked buffalo for lunch wasn’t my traditional feast but still delicious. And we managed to find Lindt chocolate, the best chocolate I’ve had since leaving Australia, so we smashed about four blocks.
We caught a night bus from Luang Prabang back to Vientiane last night and have made a vow today not to do any more. We always end up sleeping the whole next day anyway. The only activity we had the energy for today was to get a haircut. My first visit to an Asian hair salon went well, the $6 shampoo, cut and blow dry was better than some haircuts I’ve had back in Oz that cost me a lot more! Now I have a lovely Asia-style blow dry.
Laos has been a blast, and we managed to do it pretty well given our limited time of two weeks. We’re off to the south of Thailand tomorrow for New Year’s and two weeks of sun, cocktails and hammocks.