The jury is still out on whether the road from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng could get any worse. Lonely Planet had informed us the journey would take 9 hours; our only consolation was that it took seven. The road is broken, holey, narrow and windy; not helped by the fact our driver was clearly half crazy – it was a miracle we made it in one piece. In our minivan we only had one person vomit, which they say is an outcome to be proud of. James, Summer, Kelsey and I were mushed into the backseat, with barely enough space for our hips to align side by side, and some of the bigger potholes saw our heads meet the roof. Similarly to Pai, I took two travel sickness pills, and apparently my likeness to a rag-doll became awfully annoying, as I kept sleepily falling into whoever was next to me. The jury also remains out on taking the bus vs. minivan – whilst we opted for a minivan (as it is faster) I remain of the view that a bus would be the better option for light-stomached travellers.
We had intended on staying at Chez Mango, but weren’t so keen to pay the toll to walk across the bridge every time we went to town, so we ended up staying at Molina Bungalows. Whilst not the most social place, the quality was fine, and we were soon joined by Emma & co, including some of the boys we had befriended at the Full Moon Party. The restaurant across the road from Molina Bungalows was to become one of our favourite Asian eats; we ate there for almost every meal. The Pad Thai was so good, one day I actually ate it for every meal, and it was hardly a challenge. Unfortunately the actual name of the restaurant (in English) is unbeknownst to both me and Google Maps – not surprisingly the internet isn’t too concerned with this wee riverside town tucked away in the middle of Laos. However, it was directly across the road from our accommodation, and I would highly, highly recommend.
In Vang Vieng, I did three of the most worthwhile things I have ever done:
1. Ziplining. Literally gliding through the tree tops at speed, attached merely by a harness, metres from the ground. We caught a tuk-tuk out to the course, and found ourselves grouped with a bunch of hilarious Koreans (Cam had the extra bonus of basically meeting PSY’s doppelganger) who weren’t so good at stopping at the end of each zipline. Cam and I were pumped, wedgies and all, Summer and Kels both a little more hesitant. We began by doing a lower course, before advancing way up high (70m) – it was such an adrenaline rush. At the end you had to jump off a platform to reach the ground – ’twas the icing on the cake for those afraid of heights! We booked our ziplining experience through a little travel agency in town – these agencies are absolutely everywhere, and we basically just walked around for a bit hunting for which package suited us the best. 2. Tubing. Well, we’ve all heard the stories (good and bad) – notoriously dangerous, but one hell of a day. Things have changed somewhat though – after so many deaths occurred a few years back, the Laos government really cracked down and pretty much abolished the entire concept of tubing, and consequently, the town’s tourism. However, the activity is slowly starting to redeem itself, and these days is a lot more safe. Many (pretty much all) of the shops stock tourist gear – the traditional tubing singlets are great, as are the waterproof bags for around your neck, although I would still advise to take the bare minimum with you tubing. Items of debate include shoes (I wore jandals, which I just hooked through my bag strap whilst on the river) and sunglasses – I opted to leave mine behind. We had a waterproof camera and a GoPro which we had a blast with, however there are stories of such items being lost and/or stolen. By all accounts, leave phones and passports behind!
Tubes can be hired from downtown, and a tuk-tuk then takes you out to Bar #1. We spent awhile here, as the weather was superb, and the bar had a great set-up (beach volleyball court included) with fantastic music. Eventually the call was made to hit Bar #2. This turned out to be about 50m down the river – so much for a day of tubing! Here Metin took on a monkey man in a fighting pit, unfortunately losing, and ending up in the murky water below. There was a basketball court with water fountains, and a volleyball court (ahem, mud pit) which a fair few of us took a tumble in. We got friendship bracelets, lost the volleyball and decided it was time to move on. Bar #3 meant food time – I absolutely devoured a baguette, and from here the memory fades. Bar #4 was a no-show, we decided that we would boost back and ensure the return of our deposit (an apparent conspiracy exists between the tuk-tuk drivers and tube hirers – if they don’t return us on time to collect the deposit then they take a share of the money).
A fantastic day out though, and a lot of fun to be had by all. Different options are available for people with less of an emphasis on partying. Two of the more popular bars in town are Sakura and Kangaroo Sunset, containing not just enthusiastic post-tube partygoers, but also many other tourists – both are bound to provide you with a night full of entertainment – from pool to music and dancing to shots and happy balloons to food – you name it. If, however, nothing on the menu tickles your fancy, there is a ridiculous amount of vendors colouring the streets on the way home.
3. Hot Air Ballooning. A lone soldier on this one, I got picked up at 5am by a group taxi, where our group drove out of town to a large paddock (which is really only about 2 km from the town’s centre) where I got into a teeny tiny basket, only a teeny tiny ounce fearful for my life. It was a little rocky taking off, but once off the ground it was so smooth, that not even my drink bottle fell over. There was 8 of us, plus the pilot, which definitely kept us cosy in the early hours of the morning. It was surreal. Words cannot describe how peaceful it was up there, no sound except for the occasional roar of the balloon as it released bursts of hot air. The crisp, cool air of the morning, and the smoky mountains and dotted houses below, I was entranced. We ballooned for probably about an hour, and I really did not want it to end. At this point in time, it would have been the coolest thing I’d ever done in my life.