We were sad to leave Luang Prabang for Vang Vieng. We were also a little scared. Just days before, we had seen a news story that busses were being shot at along our very route. The shooters were in opposition to Chinese businesses that were buying up land in the mountains without giving anything back to the people who lived there. A local friend assured us that we would be fine, but I couldn’t calm my nerves. Luckily, it was an easy and uneventful seven hour bus ride with a pretty fun group of Icelandic boys and a couple pit stops for instant noodles and beer. In Vang Vieng, we headed to the hotel we had booked while on the bus – Malany Villa 2. It is a dump, but its very cheap and right in the middle of things.
The next day we had the Blue Lagoon on our minds. We had been told it was even more beautiful than the Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang, which seemed impossible. When we arrived at the lagoon on a tuk tuk arranged by Malany, our hearts sunk at the sight of a tiny pool of blue water, mobbed with foreigners, surrounded by concrete and manmade structures. We were too disappointed to even get in, and made our way up to Tham Phu Kham Cave (just a few minutes’ walk). We got tickets, rented headlamps and headed in, where we were free to explore on our own.This really turned things around. It was cool! Without a guide pointing out every rock and what it vaguely resembled, cave exploration was much more fun. We spent a good hour in there, climbing around and playing hide and seek.
Emerging in a better mood, we went back down to give the lagoon a chance. What it does have going for it is two jumping off points, one that is high and one that is even higher, plus a rope swing. Once we started taking the plunge, we had a great day here before heading back to the hotel.
Since Malany was directly across from the backpacker-famous Sakura Bar, we figured we had to check it out after our subpar dinner. We quickly discovered why every person who has been to Southeast Asia has a Sakura Bar shirt: if you buy two cheap vodka drinks, you get a shirt. We ended up with multiples.
In the morning, we arranged a day of zip lining and tubing, as one does in this town. We ate gross food at a nearby restaurant and then boarded our tuk tuk for the zipline course where we were fitted with gear and water. I felt safe and the guides were very helpful. We hiked a steep hill up to the first landing place and did a series of ten short zips through the jungle. It was fun, especially since I had never ziplined before.
Afterwards, we were driven to the river, where a guide put all of our belongings in a dry bag on his kayak, and led us out in our tubes. We floated along nice and slowly through this beautiful but strange landscape. Gorgeous wooded mountains lined our path, but the river was also lined with the ghosts of a tourist party mecca. Not too long ago, you could grab a rope and pull yourself up to any of these bars for drugs and booze, until there were so many fatal accidents that they had to shut it all down. There are still two bars, owned by the police, that are primarily filled with locals. We made a quick pit stop for some beer and a bathroom break before finding out we weren’t allowed to drink beer on the river at all. We chugged and kept moving. Since we had started the day a bit late (leaving for the zipline course around noon), the sun was starting to set and our guide started yelling “Paddle! Paddle!” My arms were falling off by the time we finally made it to the end, so I suggest you leave on the early side for this so you can take your time.
We had dinner at a little noodle and dim sum stand on the street and it was by far the best food we had in Vang Vieng. Street food is the way to go here – everywhere you go there are sandwich and pancake stands with lots of options, and they beat pretty much any restaurant. Definitely try a banana pancake with nutella too.
Then…back to Sakura Bar! Not because it’s so great, but because it is the thing to do. While sitting in the back, a waitress came up and told us about the Jungle Party happening that night (and every Friday night). Okay! Free tuk tuks were waiting outside later and we loaded in with some “ladyboys” for the ride. I can’t say I know exactly where we went, but fifteen minutes later we were at a bar in the jungle with a dance floor and DJ set up outside. Occasionally, there was a flaming limbo stick. It was a GREAT party with awesome music and fun people (including our Icelandic friends who were celebrating a birthday) in the coolest setting.
After a couple hours of sleep we got our bus, arranged through Malany, and headed for the capital of Laos – Vientiane, which is pronounced “Vien-chan” as it turns out.
We arrived in the late evening and checked in to the guesthouse we found on our ride up, Vientiane Star Hotel. It was nice, well located, and clean, with a pretty good breakfast in the morning. I recommend it! We got settled and set out to Le Vendome for some French food, which is a must around those parts. The food was amazing to us, even if it was only because we had been cheese deprived for over a year at this point. If you feel that way too, get the four cheese salad. The only problem was that, before we could even order, the power went out and we were sitting on the patio in pitch black and extreme heat with no fans. We were tired and hungry after traveling and didn’t want to find another place, so we made it work by placing iPhone flashlights under water glasses to make lanterns and taking our shirts off.
The next day, a couple of us were feeling ill. I made my way to a pharmacy and then got very lost on the way back to the hotel. Once I finally made it back, everyone drank their Royal D and then a couple of us went to Talat Sao Market. It had a lot of cheapo shoes, bags, jewelry, t-shirts and such, so it wasn’t much of a cultural experience, but we walked away with some cool fanny packs. Then we all convened and went to the Patuxai Monument. Climbing up through multiple floors of flea markets, we finally reached the top for some great views. The experience is a strange combination of history, architecture, culture, crappy jewelry, and tourist t-shirts.
Next, we meandered to That Dam, a structure which is said to have once been inhabited by a seven-headed dragon that protected the Lao people from the Siamese army.
Our last stop was Sisaket Temple, which cost about 5,000 kip. They provide coverings, but dress modestly any time you are planning to go to a place like this. It is known for its 1,000 buddhas, which are impressive. There were also absolutely gorgeous and incredibly detailed murals covering every wall in the main temple that are a must-see. Photos weren’t allowed in that area, so check it out for yourself.
Dinner was at Khop Chai Deu. It had great curries, noodles, and my favorite herb sausage, Sai Oua.
They also had a big patio area and live music. We loved it! Afterwards, we took a quick trip to the night market. There wasn’t anything we wanted to buy – mostly basic clothing, but there were carnival games and a haunted house where a guy licked his finger and put it in my friend’s ear. Definitely scary, in a way.
On our last morning in Vientiane, we got bus tickets to Chiang Mai, Thailand at Vientiane Backpackers Hostel, where we found the better prices than our hotel. We went for one last Lao lunch before we left. It would be a long ride, and we had no idea what was waiting for us in Chiang Mai. At the moment, we were just sad to leave.
Written by Evy Bround