Laos is sooooo chill. And yet, I didn't hear Bob Marley the whole time we were there (thankfully). Everyone here moves real slow. They call it "Lao Time". The guy that stamped our receipts for the bus to Vang Vieng literally looked like he was moving in slow motion. Also there's people napping everywhere. I assume it's from the sticky rice. Sticky rice made me really sleepy. I had it once with breakfast and I wasn't right the whole day. I read somewhere that the high glycemic index can cause sleepiness (apparently there are experiments with it to treat insomnia) so maybe that was it...
Luang Prabang is a neat place. It's small and loaded with tourists, but in a good way. The whole "downtown" area is a UNESCO heritage site so all the colonial buildings have been conserved really well. It actually felt quite European with wine bars, restaurant patios and small cafes lining the streets. Everyone calls it the Disneyland of Laos.
One day, we went to this really awesome waterfall called Kouang Si. I know I may have talked about a lot of awesome waterfalls in this blog so far, but this one totally beats the rest of them. From the base of the waterfall for about 500m downstream there are all these different levels of natural pools of turquoise (literally turquoise) water that you can swim in. Some parts are deep ennough that you can jump in from pretty high up. They even had a rope set up so you could tarzan your way into the water. Our Tuk Tuk driver "Mr. Toui" put on swim trunks and was doing backflips off the rope. It was awesome. All the other Tuk Tuk drivers just sit and wait in the parking lot. We shared the Tuk Tuk (technically they're call Sawng Thaews in Laos, but only pretentious travel writers call them that) with some cool Finnish people (Sanna and Olli) on the ride to the waterfall. We hung out with them a few times. We've been finding we seem to get along well with Scandanavians on this trip for some reason(technically Finland isn't really a part of Scandanavia, or so they informed us, but I'm gonna go ahead and lump them in there anyway).
The rope swing tarzan thing
Olli and Sanna
The next day we arranged to go to the Pak Ou cave with Sanna and Olli. It's one of those places you're supposed to visit while in Luang Prabang. It Sucks. Never go there.
That night we went to Utopia Bar which is run by some Canadian guys (the owner is of those hyper-cool guys who wears a New York style cabby hat. I've never met anyone I liked who wears those hats, and this guy was no different). We were joined by some other travellers, three of whom were French. I spoke French with them. I was terrible. It had been like 10 years since I'd spoken any French, but it was fun to practice again, however awful I was. Makes me want to go to France.
The whole town of Luang Prabang has a curfew- everyone is supposed to be home by midnight as many locals get up before dawn to give alms to the local monks (although it has now become more of a circus-act with package-tourists taking flash pictures about three feet away from the monk's faces). Most guesthouses lock their front gates sometime between 10:30pm and 12:00am. The first night we got home at 11:00pm and we had to climb over the fence. After that, the lady at the guesthouse closed the gate but left it unlocked for us.
There is one thing you can do if you want to keep the party going past midnight: Bowling. From 10:00pm (or so) drivers wait outside the bars for people to spill out and offer rides to the bowling alley. (They usually say "Tuk Tuk? Bowling? .... Marijuana? Smoke-smoke? Marijuana? Opium?"). At the bowling allwey you can buy beer or Lao Lao, a local whisky made from sticky rice (it's good!). I saw two people pounding a two-six of Lao Lao while they waited their turn. We went with pretty much everyone we had met in Laos. The two Austrian brothers (that we had technically met in Thailand) beat everyone. We almost had them, but Laura choked at the last minute. It was fun.
P1: Team Finland
P2: Team Canada
P3: Team France
P4: Team Austria
One time at dinner I overheard someone's conversation. I shit you not, this is how it went:
French guy: "I was in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge take over."
Dumbass: "What's that?"
F: "The Khmer Rouge? You know, Pol Pet and the Genocides?"
D: "No, I meant Cambodia. Is that in Africa or Asia or...?"
F: "... No... Cambodia is part of South East Asia... It's south of Laos..."
Laura's aunt and uncle are also travelling through South East asia and we met up with them in Luang Prabang. They had just come from Vietnam and gave us all sorts of tips about stuff they did and things they saw. Laura's uncle Rick was actually in the Vietnam war and visited the same Hotel (Rex hotel) in Ho Chi Minh City that he frequented in 1969!
After Luang Prabang, it was on to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is best known for the Tubing and most people go there to do one thing: Get. Messed. UP. You can rent an inner tube and take a Tuk Tuk to the north part of the river and then just ride the current back to the town. Of course, along the way are bars that sell beer, buckets of hard liquor, and shakes (your choice: Pot, Shrooms or Opium). The first night we were there (at 8:00pm -- the tubing closes at 6:00pm) we saw countless groups of young twenty-somethings stumbling around the town, barefoot, still in their wet bathing suits barely able to talk.
We obviously went tubing, but didn't drink too much. The level of messed-upedness is far too high for us to relate to so we barely even talked to anyone. They do have some fun things set up at some of the bars like swings and slides and ziplines. One bar had something they called the "big blob" which is basically a giant inflatable pillow on top of the water. One person would sit on one end, then someone else (or 2 people) would jump from about 6 or 7 meters on to the other side of the blob and send the person flying. Laura pulled a muscle in her back when I shot her up. Another time I bounced a little Lao kid up and he landed on me. There were also a couple guys in purple body suits (locals, we think) who had the thing mastered. The guy would bounce up about 20 feet, flailing like a cat.
Douching it up, Vang Vieng style
Anyone who has been to VV before will be pleased (or not) to hear that every bar along the main strip is still playing repeats of "Friends" (although some alternate to "Family Guy", and we found a place playing Southpark which was sweet). We only stayed two nights in Vang Vieng though, which was about all we could handle.
Getting out of Vang Vieng was an experience. We booked a "VIP" bus to get to Vientiane. Usually a VIP bus is a 20 year old tour bus with decent seats and air-con. Actually, usually the AC is sometimes so cold you need pants and socks. Anyway, we booked the bus for 10:00am with a Tuk Tuk pickup from our guesthouse at 9:30. By 10:15am, I started to wonder what was going on. Eventually we got picked up and driven about 5 minutes away to a house in the middle of the decommissioned CIA airstrip. "Fie' Minutes", our driver tells us. He goes into the house and leaves through the garage in another Tuk Tuk.
About 15 minutes later, a load of Ozzies gets dropped off. "Fie' Minutes", their driver tells them, and leaves.
10 minutes later, a Tuk Tuk drops more people off. "Fie' Minutes", their driver tells them. We laugh.
Fie' minutes later (at least one of the drivers was right) a tiny piece of junk rolled up, swaying back and forth over the bumpy road. It was our bus. On the back window there was a tiny sticker that read "VIP".
The ride itself might have been okay but the Australian fun boys stunk from their last night's adventures (some of them were still wearing their bathing suits). It smelled like a fart passing through a vodka soaked gym sock. Also there was NO legroom, no aircon of course, most of the side windows were stuck shut, and the front windshield had so many cracks it looked like a large insect would shatter it to pieces. The guy in the seat in front of us took 3 or 4 valiums and was gonzo'd the whole ride. It was kind of funny watching him flop around with every bump, banging his head against the window and the poor girl beside him. And a bumpy ride it was. The road to Vientiane is pretty rough and the suspension on our bus was non existent. Every little bump in the road sent the whole back row crashing into the ceiling.
Luckily we made it to Vientiane with no bus break-downs. Apparently it's pretty common for the buses to break or get flat tires along the way, so I guess we were lucky in that regard. Vientiane is nice enough for a capital city. We had some good street grub there. We only really spent about a day and half there though before moving on to our next destination: The Kong Lor caves...