Hope you’re well and enjoying some spring sunshine back home.
Last time we wrote, we were in Pakse for a one-night stopover before getting the dreaded night bus to the Lao capital, Vientiane. As it turned out, it was actually not bad at all with cute little double bunk beds – fine for me, but as they’d been made to accommodate Lao people Roland rather inconveniently didn’t really have anywhere to store his feet. Unfortunately, the road wasn’t quite as well appointed as the bus and it was a bumpy old journey but we eventually got there as the sun was coming up, just a little shaken and stirred.
Vientiane is, relatively, a very small capital city and really seems more like a medium sized town. It’s got a nice laid-back feel to it, with lots of colonial-style architecture with wooden shutters left over from les français. In Pakse too we’d seen some old-timers playing pétanque and the little hangovers from the French are somehow pleasing, if a little incongruous in the hazy Asian heat…
We didn’t actually do a great deal in Vientiane – it’s more of a wander around kind of place – and we did also unashamedly enjoy a lazy day by the pool of a swanky hotel after our night bus (you can pay day rates to use pools here so we can pretend to be posh for a while).
The capital is also an extremely good place to eat. We enjoyed authentically flaky French croissants, as well as excellent zingy Lao street food at the riverside market including one of the country’s specialties, Laap (a salad with minced meat, lots of fresh mint, coriander, chilli and, we suspect, a fair heap of garlic – very tasty but with a hefty kick to it.) We also visited a great restaurant run by a charity where they train street kids to be waiters and cooks – Roland sampled some butch buffalo, while I had a very girly frangipani salad and hibiscus flower cocktail, all delicious and for a good cause to boot.
There are striking wats (temples) dotted all around the city, so you see lots of orange-robed monks serenely strolling the streets and we’re getting used to hearing the beating of drums at random times throughout the day. We did manage to visit a wat in the forest just outside Vientiane where there is a traditional herbal sauna (not entirely sure why they need an actual sauna when it’s 30 odd degrees and steamy outside but anyway…) While Roland fragrantly steamed, I put myself at the mercy of a traditional Laos masseuse who was just as brutal as the Cambodian ones, but they do get some satisfying ‘clicks’ out of you as they’re bending you every which way.
From Vientiane, it was north to Vang Vieng, the party capital of Laos. We managed to make ourselves stay up until the ungodly hour of past midnight the first night and let the kids carry on (and on and on). We were staying in a really lovely hotel, but the thud of techno from down the road didn’t really enhance the experience for us.
Next day, once kitted up with lurid dry bags and the obligatory ‘tubing in the Vang Vieng’ vest top for Roland (he loves a vest these days), we went tubing, which is the second main reason the young ‘uns come to Vang Vieng. It basically involves parking yourself in an inflated tractor inner tube and drifting down the picturesque Nam Song river, while admiring the beautiful limestone cliffs along the way. There are also clusters of riverside bars pumping out music, where they’ll throw you a rope and then reel you in for free shots of Laos whisky and copious Beer Lao (the national drink).
For the brave / foolhardy, there are also plenty of chances to throw yourself into the river from a great height. Being a total wimp with an apparent new-found fear of heights, I stayed firmly at river level but Roland had a whale of a time swinging from trapezes and ziplines, and making almighty splashes from a giant water slide. All good fun but after a few days in Vang Vieng we were feeling a bit old and were ready to leave (and looking forward to a techno-free night’s sleep!)
From Vang Vieng, we got back on yet another bus (we miss you Ruby!) through six hours of very winding roads (along which we both turned an increasing shade of green) further north to Luang Prabang, which we’ll post as a separate entry.
Lots of love
Helene and Roland x