A Travellerspoint blog

Vang Vieng, Laos

On the tube in Van Vieng

sunny 25 °C

Well saw what you want about Vang Vieng and many people do but you will have a good time tubing on the river. Many people complain that the town has lost its soul and is nothing more than a backpacker party town full of western travellers intent on getting drunk and high. There is a certain truth to this and as you walk down the main street all you see is backpackers laid out in TV bars watching endless repeats of Friends and Family Guy recovering from an epic day of drinking an debauchery while tubing on the river. But hey what's not to like about debauchery!

The main claim to fame for Vang Vieng is the practice of tubing down the adjacent Nam Song river. It's now become a rite of passage on the Indochina backpacker circuit and it's a lot of fun. Essentially you throw yourself into a large tractor inner tire tube and floating down the river. As you float down the river you are dragged in by various bars where you start drinking obscene strong cocktail buckets. This bars all have a few extra amenities such as rope swings that catapult you into the river, large slides into the river, mud pits and water/mud volley ball. This all pales in insignificant to the primary purpose of drinking and partying. It really is good fun and dangerously addictive. I really had to force myself to leave town lest I end up staying in that time warp of a town too long. I have a mate working there and so I went drinking on the river with him and the other bar workers. These 'pros' (one guy has been on the river for 222 consecutive days – his liver must be a medical miracle and the focal point of many a medical case study) knew all the best spots and we ended up tubing back into town at about 10:30 at night in the darkness about 5 hours after the rest of the revellers had returned to town.

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There are lots of other activities to partake of in the surrounding. I spent one day exploring the local caves and kayaking over some pretty good rapids. The caving was an excellent experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed – that said I was a very relieved man to see the sunlight again. I spent about 2 hours delving about 3km into this mountain caves. At times I was neck deep in water and only barely had enough room for my head as I pass through flooded underground passages. There were often time that I had to shimmy through several metres of a tunnel that only served to illustrate to me I need to lose some weight. It certainly wasn't an experience for the claustrophobic!

Posted by ronanm32 18:42 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vientiane, Laos

The most laid back capital in the world

sunny 25 °C

Well I've made it to the capital of Laos. To be honest I'm not greatly impressed with the town. While the rest of the country has a laid back and chilled out feel Vientiane and more of a dull dreary feel. It just felt like there was nothing happening in the town and nobody was particularly bothered about it. Alot of cities have associated sound tracks, New York has the scream of yellow cabs and the glow of neon, Paris has the pop of opening wine bottles and the sound of fine dining - Vientiane's soundtrack could be that of a man stretching out for a nap and an associated yawn.

One of the key reasons for stopping off in Vientiane was to get my Thai visa at the consulate. I had heard there were queues so it was better to arrive early. I arrived at 08:20 ( I got lost on my bike going around town) but I was till there 10 minutes before the consulate opened. What greeted my eyes was scene reminiscent of outside the US embassy in Dublin in the 1980s. There was a huge queue of people all lined up waiting to get a visa! I duly took my place and began to wait. I was person 255 in queue and finally made my way to the window after about 2 hours of waiting which wasn't too bad.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city looking at the various sights. One of those sights was Patuxai which is Vientiane's Arc de Triomphe but nowhere near as impressive. If you don't believe me then take the word of the Laos Tourism board who aren't too over awed with the monument either(Putting up photos is still a problem so you'll have to take my word that the sign said "on closer inspection the monument is less impressive"!)). You can climb up to the top to enjoy the view but again Lan Xang is no Champs Elysee and the view from the top compares very poorly to the Parisian skyline as viewed from the Sacre Coeur. As you've probably realised Vientiane is no Paris. I also took a spin out to see Pha That Luang which is the symbol of Buddhism and Laos sovereignty. It's a pretty wat and legend has it that it contains a piece of Buddha's breastbone.

The other major sight I visit was Buddha Park. This grassy field by the Mekong river is about 25kms outside of town and as the name suggests is a park full of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. I headed out on a motorbike and once again got a little lost having to pull a U-turn as I started to approach the Thai border. The park is a rather random collection of statutes from various eastern religions - a testament to one eccentric man's bizarre ambition! It is a pretty cool place to wander around though and the statutes themselves are quite impressive!

Posted by ronanm32 13:40 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Journey to Vientiane

More adventures on a bus

sunny 29 °C

So far in my travels in Asia I've had some 'adventures' on various buses. In Asia you assume that buses won't leave on time, you'll be very cramped, they won't leave until they are full, not just humans ride the buses and that you'll suffer damage to your ears due to the fact that horrible Asian pop music is blared out a Spinal Tap-esque 11 (that's one higher that ten people) on the volume control!

I was due to get an overnight sleeper bus from Pakse to Vientiane and went I arrived at the bus station at 8 o'clock I thought my luck had changed. I was looking at an ultra modern, very clean and comfortable bus - JACKPOT! The beds were actually full length which meant that I could actually stretch to my full height - a rare luxury. Admittedly the beds were double beds so I was sharing but no matter I was enjoying the luxury. Hell we even got a free bottle water and a free bar! I snuggled up in my (clean blanket - again not such a common luxury) and went to sleep hoping to wake up in Vientiane.

The next morning I awoke but unfortunately not in Vientiane. The bus had broken down (of course it had) about 2 hours away from the capital and we were going to have to make other arrangements. So I had to leave my luxury bus, strap my bag to the roof of a small truck and then endure 2 hours of ass numbing pain on a piece of wood masquerading as a seat on the back of truck.

I knew it was to good to be true!

Posted by ronanm32 10:23 Archived in Laos Tagged bus Comments (0)

Pakse, Laos

Portal to Bolaven Plateau

sunny 27 °C

My next port of call in Laos after Si Phan Don was Pakse the capital of the Champasak province. I arrived here after using a boat and bus (my magic ticket again proving it's worth - I'm half tempted to try it with the airlines on my way home such is it's power!).

There isn't a huge amount to see in the town itself but I did use the town as a base for travel to the Bolaven Plateau. The Bolaven Plateau is a elevated region in Laos. It is located between the Annamite Mountain Range, along which runs Laos’ eastern border with Vietnam, and the Mekong River to the west. The plateau's elevation ranges approximately from 1,000 to 1,350 metres above sea level. The plateau is crossed by several rivers and has many scenic waterfalls. Some of these waterfalls are spectacular. The Tad Lo Waterfalls are very impressive surrouded as they are by lush vegetation and the vast amount spray that the waterfall throws up due to the power of the water cascading over the edge. I went out to get a photo and severely underestimated how wet I'd get. I cam back from my photo taking escapade looking like a drowned rat and unfortunately with a camera whose lens was now water damaged. I had to do some delicate repairs to get the lens out and remove the condensation, thankfully my repair work went well and there seems to be no long term damage. I also got to visit some of the ethic minority villages in the area and learn about there culture and belief system.

  • **NOTE*** Photos might be a bit problematic for the blog for the next while. I'm having technical difficulties (modern technology might claim to be user friendly but I think it is very fussy with whom it is friends with!)

Posted by ronanm32 10:04 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Si Phan Don, Laos

The most laid back place in the world

sunny 27 °C

Well after the shennagins at the border I arrived in Laos and my first destination was Si Phan Don, more commonly known as the four thousand islands. This collection of islands is found just over the border in the heart of the mighty Mekong river and has to be the most relaxing and peaceful place I've seen on my travels so far.

I stayed on Don Det, this tiny island doesn't have a lot to offer on first inspection. There is no electricity - generators give power from about 6 to 10 in the evening and there are no sites in particular to visit and there aren't a huge amount of activities however I fell in love with the place.

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Even the most stressed investment banker on the day all his stocks crash through the floor would be soothed after a few minutes on this idyyllic paradise. Everyone stays in tiny little bungalows that are out on stilts over the river. You get up at a leisurely hour and wander down to a local cafe and enjoy breakfast and a fruit shake. You then climb into your hammock (surely Mankind's greatest invention) and read, nap or just watch life float by on the Mekong river. It's so relaxing. In the evening you get some dinner and then relax with a few people drinking a beer lao watching a glorious sunset and listening to some chill out tunes!

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The Laos people in general are ultra relaxed but in this place the people are almost horizontal. There is such a chill out vibe about the place that you can't resist!

That said I didn't spend all my time in a chilled out stupor (only about 90% or so). We did also rent some bikes and cycled all over the island and onto another island called Don Khong which was quite pleasant. It was cool to wander around and see the island life in action (action is perhaps the wrong word as it implies activity).
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I also got to seem some very impressive waterfalls and got sing the Indiana Jones theme as I walked over a very shaky rope bridge above a very impressive and powerful waterfall!

Posted by ronanm32 08:53 Archived in Laos Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

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