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Lovely Laos pt. 2 — Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang

From Vientiane, we took a bus to Vang Vieng, which is probably one of the most infamous locations on the backpacker trail. This sleepy town is known primarily for tubing, as well as its limestone karsts and caves. It’s an absolutely beautiful setting, particularly when the tubers are out for the day, as the three “main” streets are basically deserted.

On our fist day in town, we rented a motorbike and took a bumpy 7 km drive to the Blue Lagoon, a natural swimming hole with bright blue icy water. There is a cave right next to the lagoon, so we hiked up (slowly) in our flip flops, and were treated to an impressive cave with a small buddha statue. We hadn’t quite gotten the hang of Lao currency at this point, so neglected to bring enough cash to rent a flashlight, which meant we couldn’t venture too deep into the cave. It was intriguing and spooky at the same time, and I’d recommend others explore if they have the time.

Cave sneakin'

Cave sneakin’

The next day we partook in “In the Tubing,” as it’s been immortalized on all the t-shirts. A few years ago, tubing was an absolute free-for-all, with tons of bars lining the river, along with rickety swings and slides. Unfortunately, people got fatally injured, so the Laotian government scaled things back significantly. For our visit, there were three bars in operation, and we still had an absolute blast. It’s more of a pub crawl with float breaks, and of course, house music. Each bar has a ton of drinking games, from frisbee to flip cup, and we had a great time challenging Aussies, Canadians and Brits to beer pong. No comments on how our first challenge turned out, but we did learn some new rules!

Two casual Americans blending in

Two casual Americans blending in

On the river!

On the river!

River party

Floating down the river…

The next morning, we slowly boarded our bus for the 8-hour journey, only to realize that our VIP bus was not VIP enough to have AC or a bathroom. It was not the most comfortable trip, but we made it.

View

VIP View

Luang Prabang is a lovely little colonial town in the mountains, and is known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Laos. It reminded me a bit of Chiang Mai and Cusco for its pretty architecture, as well as the plethora of western food options. Here, we rented a motorbike to cruise around the river and visit temples.

Driving the hog

Driving the hog

We stopped in at the UXO museum to learn about the mines and bombs that remain after the US bombing, very heavy stuff but important to learn

We stopped in at the UXO museum to learn about the mines and bombs that remain after the US bombing, very heavy stuff but important to learn

Muddy

The mighty (muddy) Mekong

We had an awesome time grilling our own dinner at Lao Lao BBQ, which had individual BBQs at each table. After dinner, we headed to a well-known backpacker bar called Utopia, a great hangout with a bar, yoga platform and volleyball court. I decided to spare the lovely Lao people the trauma of seeing my volleyball skills, so while Travis played, I hung out courtside and made friends with a group of Brits. LP has a midnight curfew, so when the bar closed, we hopped into a tuk tuk with our new friends to hit up the only late night venue in town: the bowling alley.

Grilling our own dinner, Lao style, using Pork fat! Water buffalo is tastier than one might expect

Grilling our own dinner, Lao style, using pork fat! Water buffalo is tastier than one might expect

At the bowling alley, Travis had a run in with the feisty Laotian patrolling the lanes which resulted in the guy trying to kick Travis and Travis offering him a bottle of water as a peace offering.

Travis's buddy mean mugging

Travis’s buddy mean mugging

The highlight of this trip was a visit to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. We followed a friend and climbed up two smaller falls to a secluded natural infinity pool at the very top, where we spent a few hours diving into the water and peeking over the falls. It was fantastic to get away from the crowd and enjoy the views, and at one point, we looked over the falls to see a group of monks sitting peacefully on the rocks.

The main pools

The main pools

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We hiked to the top of these falls, and you can just make out the people at the infinity pool

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“AHHHH!!”

 

Finally, on our last day in town, Travis hit up the Luang Prabang Golf Club, which was incidentally the nicest course he’s ever played. The course is set up along the Mekong River and the views are truly stunning. He says the course was nice and it was so formal it required golf shoes (!) and a caddy (!!). I trailed him on the golf cart with a Beerlao and enjoyed the views while making small talk with our lovely caddy.

Travy and Caddy

Travy and Caddy

olf

From LP we flew to Hanoi, which was our jumping off point for Halong Bay. More to come!

 

Lovely Laos

Since I last posted, we gained two new stamps on our passports: Laos and Vietnam. (Both are full-page visas–score!) Laos in particular has become one of my favorite countries, and I’ll share some highlights below.

We flew into the capital city, Vientiane. Coming from Bangkok, we experienced some culture shock, as we’d traded one of the most densely populated cities in Southeast Asia for a town with roughly 700,000 residents. BKK is an incredibly vertical city with shiny skyscrapers and mega-malls, while Vientiane’s tallest building clocks in at 14 stories. And perhaps most jarring of all, Laos doesn’t have western chains. In Thailand, we’d gotten used to 7-11’s on every corner, and were quite disoriented when we first tried to track down water.

Vientiane has a few notable attractions, including Patuxai, a smaller replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Visitors can climb to the top of the structure, which gives a great view of the city and the surrounding park. Fun fact, courtesy of Wikipedia: The monument was built using American funds and cement intended to build a new airport. As a result, some expats call it the “vertical runway.”

Patuxai

Patuxai

View from the top -- there's NO traffic in this part of Vientiane!

View from the top — there’s NO traffic in this part of Vientiane!

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Pha That Luang

Vientiane was boiling hot, and we found some relief walking along the banks of the Mekong River. There, we stumbled upon two public Zumba-ish fitness classes, with hundreds of women in matching outfits following a flamboyant leader in calisthenics set to loud pop music. Pretty awesome sight for the evening!

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Please observe the Lao fitness classes!

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The red class breaks it down

All this working out inspired us to try a burger joint by our hostel called Ray’s Grille, where we feasted on the best burger and Philly cheesesteak that we’ve had in Asia.

Fantastic cheesesteak at Ray's Grille. Travis is quite pleased!

Fantastic cheesesteak at Ray’s Grille. Travis is quite pleased!

Finally, Vientiane gave us one more wonderful gift. It was here that we discovered our love for Beerlao. Easily the best beer in Southeast Asia (and definitely the cheapest), we enjoyed a few afternoons sipping Beerlao along the banks of the Mekong and even in the air as we flew out of Laos to Vietnam. Let’s figure out how to import this to SF!

The best

The best

We are serious about Beer Lao

We are serious about Beerlao

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#1 Fan!

On a separate note, we flew out of Thailand on the same day that the coup became official. We were lucky because we learned from other travelers that all land borders were closed, and a 10 pm curfew was implemented across the nation. We were in BKK when martial law was declared, but didn’t see too much of a change beyond soldiers being posted around key monuments. This is certainly an interesting time for the region, and we’ll continue to follow the news when we return home.

More Lao cities to follow!

Making inroads at the Lao News Agency. I WILL bring home a hit, Howard!

Making inroads at the Lao News Agency. I WILL bring home a hit, Howard!