The V’s have it (Vang Vieng & Vientiane)

Finally leaving Luang Prubang saw us board a coach on the road to that backpacker haven that is Vang Vieng.

It was largely a relaxed trip, a chance to catch up on some reading or take in the gorgeous mountain scenery. That is until the bus was rocked by a large bang! An explosion? Terrorists? Not that exciting thankfully, it turns out one of our inner tyres had exploded. It did provide an opportunity at least for us to take a few snaps of the surrounding hills at least…

Our brush with terror

Our brush with terror

Vang Vieng has been in the news again recently after the deaths of an Australian or two which prompted an Australian Government travel warning for Laos. This is absolute rubbish and should be put into context.

Vang Vieng is revered by many in the backpacker & flashpacker world as a party haven. Many of the towns restaurants have 2nd “Happy” menus (where you can get foods laced with hash or mushrooms) and tubing its rivers is legendary. People hire a tube and in theory, float from up the river back into town. I say in theory, for the shore is lined with many bars and other party venues where most of the young crowd pull in, drink and dance their day away and eventually catch a Tuk-Tuk back to town.

It was after a day such as this that these young Australian tourists died. Apply a bit of common sense, avoid the drugs and don’t write yourself off and there’s no real danger here. By comparison, recent statistics indicate that an Australian dies in Bali every 9 days.

Government travel warnings have certainly not been scaled accordingly to reflect this “danger”.

There’s not actually much to the town itself, however the Nam Song river which flows by, is certainly a beautiful addition. There is a modern bridge with a toll that crosses the river near town, and the toll ensures that most people and vehicles do their best to ford the river (often right beside or under the bridge) rather than pay the fee.

It was also a special time, our first night in Vang Vieng for it also marked Sarah & my first anniversary.

Why pay tolls?

Wh0 pays tolls?

Our 1st anniversary shot

Our 1st anniversary shot

Our 2nd day in town began with a visit to some nearby caves which helped shelter the locals from bombing raids during the Vietnam War (or American War depending which camp you’re in) before we took the plunge and indulged in a little tubing of our own.

On the topic matter of the war, from 1964-1973, over 260 million bombs were dropped on Laos. That’s more than all of the ordinance dropped by all sides during the Second World War! Lucky those caves were tough!

Shelter from the bombs

Shelter from the bombs

It must be said we bucked the tubing trend, and both Sarah and I not only floated relatively sober down most of the water course back to town, but we then found ourselves alone for several hours as it became apparent that most of the other Gecko’s participants had actually taken time to pop into one (or several) of the many bars.

"In the tubing, Vang Vieng, Laos" say the tank tops...

“In the tubing, Vang Vieng, Laos” say the tank tops…

But for a mystical morning when clouds shrouded the nearby karst mountains, our time in Vang Vieng was done and we were scheduled to catch the local bus the remaining distance to the Laos capital, Vientiane.

Clouded karst mountains around Vang Vieng

Clouded karst mountains around Vang Vieng

However the fact that there was to be no guarantee of air conditioning (or at least working air conditioning) was not well received by some of our Gecko’s group who lobbied for us to pay a bit extra for mini vans to take us this last leg of the journey (Sarah and I would leave our Gecko’s crew in Vientiane whilst they continued on to Cambodia & Angkor Wat).

No air con was not going to fuss us, but the majority ruled so a few more Kip left our pocket to pay for this small indulgence.

So our final day with the group spent for the most part alone, exploring the Laotian capital before an evening dinner rendezvous where we all said our goodbyes (they would all fly out at around 4am whilst Sarah and I were sound asleep).

The National Palace, Vientiane

The National Palace, Vientiane

We managed to view (from afar) the National palace before taking in the beauty of the Patuxai Gate, architecturally inspired by Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. A small Kip fee got us to the top where you can take in some decent city views.

The Patuxai

The Patuxai

Peeping down on some monks

Peeping down on some monks

Under the impression that several of our crew were having a rest (read sleep) before dinner, we wandered around without any real urgency. It wasn’t until we finally caught up with everyone at a riverside (the Mekong flows right past Vientiane) that we discovered that most people had eaten and were well onto their 2nd or 3rd drink.

As we all said our goodbyes over a few more beverages, it came to pass that I had, by pure accident, my first (and only to date) beer slushie!

In a small Vientiane bar (truth be told, it almost looked like an Irish pub) with incredibly icy glasses, I purchased a Beer Lao longneck. As soon as i poured my beer into the pre chilled glass, to our amazement, half of the beer froze. By that stage I was more than willing to give it a go, and the sad truth is I can’t even recall what it was like… at least I have a photo!

Beer slurpie?

Beer slurpie?

So, waking the following morning, our group had move on, leaving us with a few more Vientiane hours to kill, before our journey across the Thai border to catch an overnight train to Bangkok.

It did allow us time to visit the most important monument in Laos and one of their national symbols, Pha That Luang (I had read somewhere that it was originally built as a Hindu temple). This gold covered stupa is beautiful to behold from afar, but in truth was a little disappointing up close. At least we had the place nearly to ourselves, as there certainly wasn’t much of a tourist crowd (at least on this day).

Pha That Luang, the "Great Stupa"

Pha That Luang, the “Great Stupa”

We returned to our hotel to collect our belongings and met with Somdy for his final act as guide (he was to take us across the border to the railway station) however there was to be one last twist in the tail of this tale.

Somdy’s passport had expired! As we queued to cross the border, it came to pass that he couldn’t in fact come through with us at all and take us to the station. After some quick discussions, tickets were arranged on a bus that would ferry us across the border and to the station.

It was all much more hurried than we expected and before we could really comprehend what had transpired, Laos was now behind us.

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