All You Need is Laos! Vang Vieng & Vientiane, Laos

In this edition of “Doug and Emily travel around and write about it once in a while”, we have decided to each contribute to a single blog post! Its never been done before, so as the famous line from Jurassic Park goes, “hold on to your butts!”.

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Em’s take on Vang Vieng- I feel like an alien describing a newly-discovered planet-because that’s how far I feel like I am in life from the party scene this town has. But, it was a lot of fun playing along for 3 days-because that’s what this trip is, is to live out all of the cliche’s like ‘the world is your oyster’ and ‘you only live once’.

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Getting into town, our 1st thoughts were its not very pretty, and even when the sparkly lights of the nighttime’s party-its more functional in getting down to party business than aesthetic. The main thing to do here, at least from the tourist agency advertisements-tubing down the Nam Song, a feeder river into the Mekong. There is a lot of warnings on the internet that they keep a deposit to try to get you back before 6, in cahoots with tuktuk drivers to keep you out after 6-but none of the agencies we found seemed to ask for a deposit, so that trick may have worn out.

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Setting off on the Nam Song

A tuktuk drove us and 6 others out to a starting point, at which there is within 5 minutes floating our 1st bar, and the only other bar on the route is 2 hours downstream. Moreover, the 1st bar did not sell food, so that we were hungry enough to buy the incredibly average noodles the 2nd bar sold, along with their overpriced drinks. All of this sounds very complain-ey, but the river itself and the whole experience was spectacular-floating down a lazy river in the sun with a nice breeze doesn’t really leave much to feel negative about. Only lesson I suggest is to maybe buy our own beers rather than pay on the way-bit of a rookie mistake, I realize as I write it.

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It’s a hard life
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Doug on the zipline at the final stop-a little on the rustic side, shall we say. Not all of the fun of the party days is gone!

 

That night we got further into the ‘live like we’re 20’ fun this town has gifted us-we found ourselves at Sakura bar-one of a few, and definitely the biggest, of nightclubs in VangVieng, pulled in specifically because of their well advertised instance of free whisky between 8 and 9pm. What can be bad? Doubtful how strong their free alcohol was, but it suited us fine. They also served N02 balloons(laughing gas) and a free tank top with purchase of drinks. We have seen that tank top a lot since then…including on Doug. Picture to follow when the moment arises, because none on that night turned out. We had a great time on their dance floor, with a surprisingly good mix of songs, a dog on its hind legs and a child being taught to breakdance by a tourist. Maybe we should frequent clubs more than once in a few years.

And now, ‘…How YOU doin?’ Also in this town-lounge bars that play Friends episodes in a loop. Apparently this town used to be filled with these places playing either Friends or Family Guy, so many backpackers would sit around drinking and doing drugs. Vang Vieng is much quieter and more peaceful version of what it was -the government has clamped down on this since 2011 when supposedly 27 backpackers in 1 summer died from either drugs, drowning or both. The attraction of that level of party hasn’t left the area-just much less intense. We’re quite grateful it has mellowed out to this point, plus we get to indulge our Friends habit… because in fact, its Miss Chenandelar Bong.

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In case you can’t see him, that’s Ross in the top left corner of the picture

Doug’s thoughts on Vientiane:  From Vang Vieng, we took a harrowing 5 hour bus ride through the mountain to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. There were more than a few times on this bus ride when we closed our eyes on mountain bends. It really wouldn’t take much for a bus or car to go over the edge, finding the bottom many thousands of feet below. Brake failure, steering failure, or really any mechanical problem at all could be disastrous. There are no crash barriers, and our drive was in a hurry to say the least.

Vientiane is a an interesting mixture of old and new. And its a major contrast from Vang Vieng.  There are no wild parties or places to go river tubing, and the night scene closes before midnight in accordance with the national curfew.   Its a relatively quiet city for a capital, but filled with beautiful French colonial architecture. But you can see the money coming into the city. Range Rogers, Porsches, a shopping mall selling Rolex and Omega watches. There are expensive restaurants and hotels, and it has the only western fast food we have yet to see in Laos – 2 Dairy Queens.

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What is it with communist countries and big open spaces? This is some sort of public space (kind of a park….but not really?) on the banks of the Mekong River.  Also, notice the flags? The blue, red and white one is the Laotian flag.  The red and yellow one is a communist flag with the famous (or infamous?) hammer and sickle.  You see that flag about as much as the national flag.
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Finally a city where the traffic isn’t so bad!
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The river is lined with bars and restaurants like this one.  If you like river fish, they are certainly for you.

 

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We found a North Korean restaurant!  We went inside to have a look, and it was very empty.  The waitresses were a little annoyed that we just bought a bottle of water and left.
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The Vientiane shopping centre.  It was so hot during the day (+38 C) that we headed here for some AC to cool down. We weren’t the only ones – it was full of travelers cooling down.  We ended up seeing a movie in the theater here to avoid the heat of the afternoon.  In the theater we ran into a group of girls we had previously met in Vang Vieng and Phonsavan.  They had the same idea as us to cool down.
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Obligatory temple shot.  The temples here aren’t as fancy or interesting as other large cities in South East Asia.

Overall, there isn’t very much to do or see and that’s actually kind of nice, because it means the town has a laid back feeling. There are lots of ex-pats here, in particular French citizens who appear to spend their time going between the little cafes and brassieres, most of which seem to be called “Le Cafe Parisienne” or some variation of that. Its one of those cities where there isn’t a ton to do, but its easy to see how it would be a cool place to live.

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They even have a mini version of the Arc de Triumph here, complete with its own unique Lao architectural flare.  Its called Patuxay Victory Gate.  It is even in the middle of a large street that they call the Asian Champs Elyees.  We could see the similarities in that it is a long, wide boulevard with the Arc at the end.
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This sign was actually on the gate itself.  We had to laugh at the description.  Its definitely not that bad, so we aren’t sure why they are beating themselves up about it.  Its like a bizarro Arc de Triumph!
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And the view from the top is great.  Vientiane is really flat, so you can see a good distance – if not for the ever present South East Asia haze.
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There is a chain of coffee shops, sort of like a Starbucks or Williams Cafe, in South East Asia that is owned by two Canadians – John and Michael, hence Joma.  Their menu is filled Canadian references.  We had to laugh at this one. We wondered how many Laotians get the reference to “Nova Scotia”.  Maybe its mostly foreigners that go to Joma.  Its certainly pricey enough.
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Some entrepreneurial people have built a bar out of shipping containers in front of this awesome but really run-down building.  The bar, complete with Edison bulbs and other trendy fixtures, was really pricey.

Finished in Vientiane, we are now going head south towards Cambodia.  Our goal is find somewhere relaxing, and hopefully with a little less heat than central Laos.

  • Emily and Doug / March 14, 2017 @ 6:45pm. / Don Khon, 4000 Islands, Laos

 

 

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