We’ve been saying for a while now, that we needed to slow our travels down. Well we did that in Laos alright. Partly by choice and partly because……..Well life in this country is just that, SLOW.
Good slow though mostly. Travelling here forced us to take our time and appreciate the places we visited a little more. Certain situations, like the time food took to arrive in restaurants, also helped our conversation flow. We usually had the added bonus of asking for the bill numerous times, this definitely aided our digestion. A little annoying at first, but you soon get used to ‘Laos Time’.
First up was UNESCO listed Luang Prabang, the artistic hub of the north. With its expensive western restaurants and air conditioned cafe’s, its not the real Laos by any means, however its an interesting city to spend a few days, temple hopping or just sipping some local coffee. We timed our visit to coincide with Laos New Year, which is just a tad over the top. The festivities are spread out over a 4 day period, however in reality this can be extended to a week, as the locals needed to test their supersoakers before the main event!
As you may have guessed from the Supersoakers, New Year here, like its neighbour in Thailand involves water……….A lot of water. Too much water. Way too much.
The local authorities in Thailand apparently issued some rules and regulations for this years Thai New Year (Songkran), however Laos is not Thailand and there was no such thing here. In Luang Prabang, kids barely old enough for secondary school were shoting the local Whiskey, while riding 4 -up on motorbikes into walls of water on every street corner!
It was not possible to negotiate town on foot and stay dry. Impossible. I don’t think all of the tourists in town at this time were fully aware of events. We witnessed more than a few angry faces, as their nice shiny new camera took a soaking………….Happy New Year!!
Things were much more sedate up river. The Nam Ou river.
In Nong Kiaow, we were very fortunate to stay in a riverside guesthouse just on the edge of town. This would have been a peaceful place to stay on any other day. The day we arrived though, was boat race day and the finish line? Well that was right under our balcony………..Along with most of the townfolk! Nice.
The only downside was that the Boat from Luang Prabang won, beating the local champions from last year. It didn’t matter so much though, as the crowd appeared to be too intoxicated on ‘Lao Lao’ whiskey to realise!
Further up stream, life doesn’t leave first gear it seems. Muang Ngoi is a one street village, with not much going on. We stayed for a couple of nights, taking in the stunning scenery and sunsets over the river. There is a travellers vibe here, with backpackers hanging out, many breaking up the long river journey north onto Vietnam and China. Betty also loved the river here. She’s been hit and miss with the water over the last few months, but the Nam Ou river was a hit. There was even a little beach for us to explore, just watch that Buffalo poo!!!
The scenery got better as we travelled a couple of hundred miles south to Vang Vieng. The location of this town is stunning, with Limestone Karst mountains surrounding it 360°. Its the reason we came and stayed here, to explore them and the swimming holes doted around the countryside.
Vang Vieng also has some history. The old runway running through town, was built by the America CIA and now long since closed down. From the 1950’s – 70’s though, this was used for numerous covert missions throughout the area, as the fight against Communism raged on. There was a LOT of bombs dropped in Laos, enough to make it the most heavily bombed country per capita, in history. Unfortunately the problem with UXO is still being felt today and will be for a long time to come.
Vang Vieng is also known to many people for excess. This used to be the place for travellers to come to party HARD. Though not as full on as in its heyday, its still a magnet for backpackers looking for a party. Banging trance music, ‘Happy’ pizza’s and scantly clad teenagers staggering the streets, is not what drew our travelling family here.
But take yourself over the river, to the other side of town and you’ll discover a very different Vang Vieng. We liked it and ended up staying for a week, which seemed unimaginable upon arrival.
In a month of travelling through Laos, we skimmed the country. We never made it to Pakse or the 4 thousand islands on the Cambodian border and we didn’t get any further North than Muang Ngoi. But that’s one of the reasons we had such a good time. Less places = more time in the places we did visit. We met some great people, from the Grandma in Nong Miaow, who insisted Betty have a bath with her lunch, to a couple we visited everyday in Luang Prabang for the best ‘Rice and Chicken’ in town.
It’s back to Thailand for us now, to do a little volunteering at a Monastery. We can’t wait, however we will miss the river travel and those hazy sunsets that Laos does so well.
- Kuang Si falls, so nice we went there twice
- Playing in the rivers. They are everywhere in Laos
- Getting involved in the New Year Celebrations and cooling off from the rising humidity for a couple of days
- The riverside Bungalows and hammocks. Made to chill out.
- COPE visitor centre, Vientiane. Interesting facts about the World’s most bombed country.
- The food……….Only kidding!!!
- Beer Lao with ice.
- Betty – “I’m getting a bike”
- Betty – “What you saying???”
- Betty – “gobbly fobbly gobbly , say that mummy!!”
- Laos time, isnt Thai time
- Betty – “I’m not an angel, i’m Betty Olivia Jacques”
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