Forgive us – we’ve been slow to post lately. Crappy wifi is the main culprit; but also, we’ve had a “busy” few weeks as we’ve ventured south through Laos exploring towns and sights, our journey propelled by a few brutally long travel days. Since leaving Luang Prabang on May 31, we’ve taken rickety local buses, a sleeper bus, river boats with hard wooden seats, cramped hot minivans and, of course, the tried and true tuk tuk.
From Luang Prabang, we took a 10-passenger minivan to Vang Vieng, riding five hours through winding mountainous roads, carving through dense banks of fog, sideways sheets of rain and lush green valleys where cows ruled the road and our driver had to honk and shout out his window to get them to move. A short while into our ride, the local Lao woman who had claimed the front seat informed us casually that Vang Vieng had been out of water for a few weeks already, and that people were bathing in the river. But, according to her, hotels would be “cheap, cheap,” because of the outage.
So off we were, too late to turn back and headed to water-less Vang Vieng, whatever that meant. We arrived safe and sound around 6pm. Our minivan driver who had been so cautious along the wet, winding roads, slickly dropped us off far enough out of town center that we were compelled by the heat and heavy packs to pay an overpriced tuk tuk for the rest of the ride in. Chris and I wandered on foot for a bit scrutinizing prices before finally settling into the Riverside Backpackers guesthouse, where we rented a clean, spacious room with a fan and private bathroom for 60000 kip/night, or $7 USD / night. Thankfully, our guesthouse had running water, which we optimistically assumed they pumped in from the river and cleaned through a filtration system.
Vang Vieng has gotten the reputation for being the party destination in Laos, a place for 20-year-olds and youthful older-than-thats to drink, do drugs, tube downriver and more or less party. Embracing the faint memory of our more youthful selves, Chris and I ventured out at the crazy night-owl hour of 8pm to check out the Vang Vieng bar scene. We ended up at Sakura Bar, the most popular and infamous bar in Vang Vieng, which serves free drinks from 8pm-9pm. All over Luang Prabang, I had seen tourists wearing Sakura Bar tank-tops and shirts which promoted: “Drink Triple, See Double, Act Single.” (Barf.) But we ended up at Sakura Bar anyway. We couldn’t resist, especially since for the first time during our trip to Asia, an Asian person bypassed me to address Chris first, inquiring about the whereabouts of Sakura Bar. The person happened to be a Japanese tourist, dressed in party clothes and her inquiry was about how to find the party bar in the party town, so of course, she assumed that the white boy in flip-flops would know best. She was right! Chris pointed her in the direction of Sakura bar and we headed there together.
About 45 minutes into our third round of free whiskey cokes, the rainbow strobe lights and loud bar music shut down suddenly, causing the raucous bar to quiet to a low din as party goers assessed what happened. Once people realized that the power simply had gone out, phone flashlights and lighters lit the bar, allowing the revelry, beer pong and flip cup to go on. The hum of revelers continued only to be punctuated by the sharp hiss of laughing gas being pumped into rubber balloons as bartenders prepared the illegal party “shot.”
At this point in time, Chris and I took a few obligatory party photos of drunk tourists dancing on the pool table, then headed out into the darkened street lit up by the sandwich shop vendors which battery-powered lights dotted the way home. En route, the warm glow of candlelit tables and soothing acoustic guitar tunes from Gary’s Irish Bar lulled us in, and we stopped for a buy two get one free cocktail special. Gary’s Irish Bar thrived during the power outage and turned out to be a perfect stop for us – low-key, not too loud and filled with warm light and live Kings of Leon covers. Plus, Gary was a friendly and classy host, talking to us/Chris about soccer/ futbol, and affably welcoming us to Vang Vieng, despite the water and power outages. Luckily for Chris and me, power went back on during our walk home to the guest house.
We spent the rest of our time in Vang Vieng outdoors, avoiding the party scene and taking in the beautiful surroundings around us. Tall green mountains jutted over the town as the Nam Song river snaked through, creating quite the idyllic valley scene. One day we rented bicycles and rode 6 km to see a cave. Having not ridden a bicycle in years, probably since the last time Chris encouraged me to ride along the Burke Gilman, we took a few practice runs on the paved road before boldly attempting the rocky road to the cave. To both my and Chris’ surprise, I didn’t fall once, not even while maneuvering an especially rocky road which looked like the bottom of a river bed. I had a few close calls where my butt flew off the seat launching my flailing legs along with it, but I managed to keep grasp of the handlebars and landed back on the bike, balanced and in control. I think both Chris and I were in shock at my miraculous save, but I tried to play it off as no big deal.
When we got close to the cave entrance, a shirtless man tending to a low burning fire on the side of the road stopped us and pointed to a sign that said “Cave 10,000 kip.” It didn’t look super legit but I had read about cave entrance fees on TripAdvisor so cautiously assumed this was the entrance fee process. We gave the man 20,000 kip (about $2.50), and continued on our way. Chris and I had already been biking for a few miles in the midday heat, so we were both hot and dehydrated, probably the closest both of us has been to heat stroke this trip!
During a few of the uphill parts, I got off my bike and walked it along the pebbly road. As I did this, the man who charged us entrance fees pulled up behind us on his motorbike. He slowed to our speed and followed us the rest of the way to the cave entrance, even stopping with us as we took multiple water breaks in the shade.
Turns out this guy wanted to “guide” us through the cave. He had headlamps and a flashlight and walked us through, pointing out bats and pools for swimming. Of course, he asked for a tip after, so I gave him $2 which put a huge smile on his face. What a scam artist! (He was really nice though, despite asking us if we were going to eat the dog that had followed us all day and despite taking it upon himself to wash mud off my legs.)
Our final day in Vang Vieng, a rainy one, we spent simply hanging out at a riverside restaurant that had a gorgeous view of the mountains. We stayed for a few hours sipping iced coffee and later happy hour beers, as we watched the sun set from our lounge chairs.
Vang Vieng – She Said:
Vang Vieng – He Said: