TUBING IN VANG VIENG...
The journey to Laos was long. Very long. We didn't have the most comfortable start to the trip when the minibus that was taking us to the bus station crammed the full capacity of a 30 seater coach into a 14 seater mini bus along with everyone's luggage! I pretty much had a girl sitting on my lap whilst James was more or less sitting on a Thai man's lap! To make things worse we set off at rush hour! Now rush hour in Hanoi is a little frantic to say the least and it took us a good 45 minutes of feeling like sardines before we got to the coach station!
Seeing as we were travelling with Steve whom we had met in Halong Bay, it seemed like a good idea to sit at the back of the coach so we could all be together. What a mistake that was! The roads in Vietnam are very bumpy so considering that we were sitting behind the back wheels and were elevated it made for a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride! At times we were literally millimetres away from bumping our heads on the ceiling.
There was a good bunch of people on our coach which made the journey more bearable. So, apart from Steve, there was Kat and John from Manchester, cockney boy Zaed, Yossi and his mate from Israel and 2 nice American couples. There was also another very popular traveller which came in the form of the biggest teddy bear we have ever seen! It literally took up a whole seat but served as a good pillow for the guy sitting next to it!
Apart from the journey being bumpy and the driver overtaking anything at any opportunity (even on blind bends) the journey was pretty uneventful. Zaed and the Israelis, who were some of the more outgoing characters had knocked themselves out with vallium so we didn't hear a peep from them until we had to get off the coach to cross the border!
The border crossing was pretty uneventful although it didn't give us a great first impression of the weather in Laos - it was it was misty, wet and chilly.
Laos immediately struck us as being really scenic. It was really mountainous and green with never ending countryside.
Luckily the weather brightened up and when we stopped for a food break the heat was like nothing we have ever felt. It was so intense! The food on offer was a bit ropey so we stuck to our Oreo cookies and Mars bars that Steve had supplied!
After 25 hours of travelling it was a relief to reach our destination of Vientiane! The bus journey definitely hadn't been for the faint hearted, what with the hairpin bends, the bumps in the road and the driver thinking he was Jenson Button!
Having been to Vientiane before, Steve assured us that there wasn't much to do there and that we'd be better making our way to Vang Vieng straight away. So that's what we decided to do. Seeing as the bus station for Vang Vieng was on the other side of the city, we got to see a bit of the city from the tuk tuk and it looked like a nice place. Had we had more time it definitely would have been worth staying there for a night or so.
Before our bus to Vang Vieng left, we had a chance to grab something to eat. So while most of the other guys went to find a restaurant, we had dinner at the bus station with our new American friends. Dinner consisted of a baguette with laughing cow (James sure knows how to treat me!)
The bus to Vang Vieng was the first time we had taken public transport, rather than a tourist bus. It was actually fine and despite what Steve had been telling me before hand, there were no chickens or cows on the bus!
Once in Vang Vieng we checked into a hotel that Steve had stayed in. I was pretty knackered after 30 hours travelling so went to bed (it was midnight!) but James being the trooper he is, headed out with the lads for a couple of beers!
Vang Vieng is famous for it's tubing. This involves hiring an an enormous tractor tyre inner tube, being driven a couple of kilometres upstream, and launched into the river. The river generally flows at a slow but steady pace, and the idea is to relax and absorb the beautiful scenery as you float back to Vang Vieng whilst stopping at the many bamboo bars along the way. The atmosphere is absolutely amazing with each bar playing some wicked tunes and people jumping off rope swings, zip liners, trapezes all around you! The cheap Laos beer and buckets of cocktails also add the experience!
We spent a couple of days tubing, and to be honest we probably could have stayed there for 6 months without getting bored!
Vang Vieng is also riddled with beautiful caves so we abandoned the tubing for a day to go exploring. We hired motorbikes together with some of the guys we'd met on the coach journey as that seemed like the best way to get around. Armed with our hand drawn maps, we went off and went exploring the countryside with the hope of finding the caves.
After a couple of wrong turnings, we finally found the first of the caves. We had a choice of two caves, either the "big and nice cave" or the "amazing cave", as they were described on the hand written signs! We opted to go the the big and nice one! We had to pay a small fee (we did some bartering and got them down on the price) and were given a torch and then left to our own devices to go exploring. I felt like we were in the goonies as we were trekking up to the cave armed with our torches!
The cave was pretty impressive. It was pitch black and seemed to go on for ever. There were loads of little nooks and crannies amongst the stalagmites and stalactites. There were however loads of bats and massive spiders which I wasn't so keen on!
Unfortunately we didn't make it to any other caves as Kat and John got a flat tyre plus the time was getting on.
We had a wicked time in Vang Vieng and could have spent so much longer there, what with the tubing, the beautiful scenery, the lively nightlife and the never ending episodes of friends being shown at all the bars! Although Vang Vieng isn't the place to find it Laos culture it definitely was a highlight of our trip.
Laura & James xxx