Vang Vieng, Laos
December 27 – January 3, 2019
From Luang Prabang we took the most beautiful – and harrowing- bus ride to Vang Vieng. When we weren’t gazing out at the jagged green mountains through dirty, cracked bus windows, we were holding our breath as the bus bumped and jarred over massive potholes and skirted high cliff-side hairpin curves. Through every blind turn the driver honked to let oncoming traffic know we were coming – something we’d get used to in SEA. And similar to the Mekong, there were so many people – village after village – living along the narrow, winding, mountainous road; so many kids in uniforms of white shirts and traditional woven skirts with backpacks walking to and from school along the road. We were so privileged to get just a passing glimpse of these peoples’ lives.
Vang Vieng has a storied past. The town is recovering from years of increasingly bad backpacker behavior enabled by lawless riverside bars and businesses that resulted in way too many tourist deaths and a subsequent government crackdown. The scenery, however, is breathtaking, and the people are lovely. Without an airport, it’s a difficult car or bus journey, but we’re so glad we stopped here and that the town is figuring out its own best mix of safe and adventurous tourism.
We had a great rental house for the week, across another bamboo bridge from the downtown – this one, however, allowed motorbikes across!
The Luang Prabang Café (in Vang Vieng, strangely) became our hang-out/go-to spot for fruit shakes, baguette sandwiches and cookies bigger than your head, and the Oh La La Restaraunt was a reliable place for good and inexpensive Lao and Western food.
Wayne and I had some beautiful runs through the rice fields and roads behind our house, through jungle trails and up craggly mountains.
We all did a big hike/jog/cave explore & climb up rickety wooden staircases and sharp rocky trail to the top of Mt. Lusi – a solid effort by the girls rewarded with an amazing view.
On (Western) New Year’s Eve we released a paper lantern on the river, something we didn’t get to do in Thailand. Then we went to bed, except Amelia, who stayed up reading until midnight.
On New Year’s Day we celebrated our Six Months on the Road with a day-long tour ziplining, tube caving, swimming in a mountain lagoon and river kayaking.
We met so many great people on our tour – a fun Australian family with two adult daughters that we bumped into again later in the Laos capital Ventiane, and two couples from the States who had been born in Laos but moved away as young children. They could speak Hmong, Lao, French and English, and one of the couples had actually met at a Hmong New Year ball throwing event in California, which seemed super cool to us having seen it firsthand in Luang Prabang. We had such fun conversations about traveling and trying to homeschool, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Wayne and I really appreciate when other adults tell A & A that they are sooooo lucky to be doing this. At least they keep the eye rolls on the inside of their heads when it’s someone else.
After a week in this picturesque place we were on to our last stop in Laos and needed to buy bus tickets for the 5 hour journey to Ventiane. Annabelle & Wayne went in person to buy tickets for the “VIP Bus,” which we learned on our prior bus journey is anything but. They came back not quite sure if we had tickets or not but convinced we had bought passes for some mode of transport to capital. We learned that in Laos this is common, and we also learned to roll with it. We were at least happy that when we got to the songathaew pickup point with all of our stuff, a German couple were waiting for the same transport to the bus station for the same VIP Bus to Vientiane.
To our and a bunch of other backpackers’ surprise, we were told that the waiting 29-passenger minivan would be our transport to Vientiane. The girls were none-too-happy, having heard many a tale of woe and car sickness in the vans vs. the big buses that travel Laos’s bumpy windy roads. It was certainly bumpy, but not nearly as windy as the Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng trip, and nobody on our van got sick – score another point for the sights of overland travel and rolling with the unexpected!