Despite getting 5 busses, 2 boats, 3 tuk tuk and 1 van the journey to Luang Probang in Laos went considerably smooth. We had decided to get the slow boat along the Mekong river from the border of Laos instead of a bus. This was a great decision as we spent two days floating down the Mekong admiring the beautiful scenery.
There were of course some quirks not limited to a rowdy group of elderly Thai tourists, a magician, a happy bar and unkept promises about seat reservations. The slow boat used to take you all the way to Luang Probang but the operators have worked out if they stop 10 km out the tourists will pay more money for a tuk tuk into the city. Thereby creating more jobs for the locals.
Luang Probang is a very cool place with a good vibe. We got ourselves a hostel and went about getting dinner with a group we all met on the boat. I had the best Thai green curry that evening.
The next day we went with one of the hostel owners to a large waterfall. It was spectacular enough with crystal blue waters and lush green scenery. However this wasn’t good enough for the owner as he took us up a secret path where we then had to follow the path of a stream, effectively walking down a mini waterfall. At the end of the clambering with all of us sufficiently drenched we were rewarded with a private pool at the top of the highest part of the waterfall. It was pretty amazing so kudos to our wine-in-a-bag drinking guide.
That evening we went for a street food buffet which meant we could try lots of different dishes in one go. After this we headed to the infamous Utopia bar where all the backpackers head and they even had cider! CIDER! No where in SEA has cider so this was a pretty exciting moment for me (even though it was triple the price of a beer but a budget is there to be broken right?). The town of Luang Probang has a night curfew of 11 pm. So where do all the alcohol induced backpackers go to continue the party? The bowling alley run by the mafia of course! Cue hours of hysterical fun.
The next day we had a day assigned to doing nothing. We haven’t had one of these in a while and it was nice to just relax, catch up on reading and think about the next stage of our journey.
Early the next morning was a supposedly 4 hour drive to the small town of Vang Vieng famous for its tubing and party atmosphere. We had a lot of mixed reviews so decided we had to check it out for ourselves. Little did we know that might have cost us our lives. The journey involved a lot of mountainous roads with twisting and steep sections which were scary enough as it was without the driver informing us the brakes had stopped working. WHAT?! However the driver having crossed a bridge and reached relatively flat ground all in first gear crashed into a tree to stop. Good decision. But then, and God only knows why, he says “I’m just going to test he brakes” puts the car into reverse and we start heading back towards the river and the steep stony bank. Is this guy for real?! After much honking, swerving and near misses of other vehicles on the road we reverse into a ditch at the side of the road.
No one was hurt luckily and we scrambled up and out the minivan. Turns out the handbrake hadn’t even been working to start and the brakes had overheated during the journey. After waiting for a JCB to tow the van out the driver indicated we should get back in. Umm no thanks! We insisted on a new van coming to get us which it did so we eventually made it to Vang Vieng about 6 hours after we expected to. Looking back it makes a good story to tell but at the time it was one of the scariest experiences, having no control over the situation and outcome.
Well Vang Vieng was certainly a crazy place, it was once a quiet village on the edge of a beautiful river but then an organic farmer had the idea of letting his volunteers and workers float down the river in inner tubes on their days off. This idea grew to what it is today which is a backpacker focused event where you hire a tube and float down the river to bars perched on the edge of the river. The bar workers proceed to invite you to their bar by throwing a plastic bottle filled with water attached to a rope to you to pull you in to the side of the river. There was not much floating time to be had as all the bars were within 2 minutes of each other and from the start. We enjoyed ourselves anyway, celebrating our precious lives which had been spared the previous day. When the last bar closed it was dark so we were left with the option of getting a tuk tuk back to town having only floated a total of 8 minutes or floating back in the dark. We opted for the nighttime tubing adventure. There were a bunch of us and we all rafted up together so no one would get separated. I thought it was amazing, floating in the pitch black gazing at the stars. However after 20 minutes some of the group got anxious so we headed to a light at the shore where suprisingly there was a tuk tuk waiting for us to take us back.
After another day of doing nothing we were excited to head down to the bottom of Laos to a magically named place called 4000 islands. This was quite a journey taking us 24 hours, 4 busses, 1 tuk tuk and 1 boat. Thankfully all the busses held together in one piece during our ride. We stayed on one of the many islands called DonDet. The atmosphere is very chilled out and relaxed, just what we all needed.
We hired bikes with some friends and cycled around Don Det and the neighbouring island Don Khon. It was a beautiful day with waterfalls, beaches and bridges. At one point our friends bike broke and it took 3 Laotian children to fix it, they were amazing and knew exactly what they were doing using a piece of bamboo and a rock.
We spent two days by a swimming pool and one day in our hammocks after this. It was a dream. Unfortunately our mini paradise came to an end and we headed off back to Bangkok via boats, busses, and taxis for we had our flight to Myanmar to catch!