Am writing from Hanoi, but will try and flash out our last week in Laos.
At my last time of writing I finished at our arrival in Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang used to be the capital of Laos, until the royal family 'disappeared'. Its reknown as being beautiful and is a UNESCO site. I'm not sure we really got the beauty of the city, but we certainly had a nice time travelling around the places nearby. We hired bikes to explore one day, and on our second day there we went to a stunningly waterfall at Kuang Si national park. It was really beautiful with some great swimming holes. It felt so refreshing to take a swim. It wasn't until we had a swim that we realised how much we'd been craving one. Kuang Si also has a really good sanctuary for Asiatic Bears, so interesting place all round.
After our various dodgy modes of transport in the last few weeks we thought we would ourselves to a VIP bus trip to Vang Vieng (7hours from Luang Prabang). Pathetically, I was actually quite looking forward to it, having heard tales of buses of luxury plying the routes in Thailand, with super reclining seats, movies and hostess service all on board. hmmm.... guess this isn't the case in Laos. We got onto a rattling old bus and once again felt that similar feeling of my knees around my ears... (ok maybe not that bad!).
Still 7 hours and a two pairs of bruised knees later we arrived in Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is all about the tourists, in a way I've not seen on our trip so far. The Nam Song river runs through this small town, and striking karsts (rock, vertical sided hills) rise up either side. Its a very pretty spot, but this isn't why the tourists flood here. Rather its for the 'party tubing'. Basically, you pick up your big blow up truck tyre, get on a tuk tuk and are dropped about 4km down the river. You then get in the tube and let the current float you back to Vang Vieng - its about a 2 hour drift. However, en route are a series of bars with music pumping, water slides, and various health and safety defying swings. The bars all look like something out of an MTV Spring Break Party, with young 'Shipwrecked' style girls and boys checking each other out in their swimming togs. About as Lao as a Big Mac.
We took another trip down the river by kayak which was great as travelled much more of it, beyond the bars. That trip also involved some tubing in a cave which was slightly daunting. Matt and I both have our own head torches so we were able to head on into the cave on our own. A rope running through was a guidance, as you could just pull yourself along... until it finished, and you were just floating in a tube in a very dark cave. Quite scary really. All finished off by a BBQ, at which point Matt and I were both mobbed by a family of ducklings who though our rice looked particularly tasty.
Our final day involved hiring bikes and exploring by ourselves. We found another cave, this one a bit of a rock climb up a hill. At the bottom was a great swimming spot in a crystal clear river. Lovely.
After Vang Vieng we took another bus to Ventiene, the capital of Laos. We didn't really have much time here, but in the little time we did I thought it was a city with a really lovely feel to it. Ventiane borders Thailand with the river running in between. There are some great bars along the river front. We made time to visit the Laos National Museum to try and find out a bit more about the history of the country. They had some great photos there documenting the countries last 100 years. It offered a really interesting if somewhat biased view on a history I knew little about prior to this visit.
I think both Matt and I will look back on Laos with a lot of affection. Its a very gentle and laid back country whilst extremely beautiful.
We flew from Ventiane on the somewhat infamous Laos Airlines... which weren't too bad at all. A bit noisy and rattly, but we landed in one piece in Hanoi yesterday.
Hanoi is an interesting city. I sort of like it and dislike it at the same time. It feels almost European compared to Thailand and Laos, with the French influence very clear. But the noise and traffic here is beyond belief. Everyone rides motorbikes, and no one stops for pedestrians... regardless of green men and crossings. All this kamikaze driving is done with as much beeping of horns as possible. So, whilst I like the look of the city, and there are some funky looking bars and restuarants here, the noise and stress of crossing a road has already got me down, 24 hours in. We leave early tomorrow morning for the quiet of Halong Bay... hopefully the perfect remedy.