Vang Vieng, Vientiane and the 4000 Islands
16.11.2013 - 03.12.2013 30 °C
After the cultural gem that was Luang Prabang we found ourselves in the backpacker Mecca of Vang Vieng; Laos’s infamous party town. This place is legendary on the travellers’ trail for its unusual bar crawl. The twist? You don’t crawl, you tube. During the long and rocky bus ride from Luang Prabang I filled Brayden in, explaining how you float down the river in an inner tyre, stopping off at the many rickety bars along the banks. I explained how there’d been dozens of deaths in recent years as a result of too much alcohol, too many drugs or jumps into too shallow water. I probably overdid it because as soon as we turned up, Brayden declared he wasn’t going anywhere near a river haunted by the ghosts of backpackers who had died far too young.
Tubing in Vang Vieng has been made dramatically safer in recent years; slides and swing ropes have been dismantled, most of the bars have been shut down and greater safety restrictions have been imposed. Despite all this, Brayden wasn’t going to budge and the two of us became members of a very small club of under 30s who came to Vang Vieng without tubing. Thankfully, the area is still a nice spot visit. Once you look past the overdeveloped town full of pokey bars and ugly guesthouses, the natural scenery is stunning. Plus, if you can get out and about before the revellers have woken up (just after lunch), the whole place is really serene and peaceful.
--- The town is surrounded by forest and limestone hills.
--- Tubing down the Nam Song was a rite of passage for any backpacker to SEA until dozens of deaths (at least 27 just in 2011) put a significant dampener on things. While the party isn't over, it's certainly been subdued.
--- Drugs are no longer on the menu in Vang Vieng’s bars, but you'll always find tvs blasting the sitcom Friends.
After Vang Vieng it was on to Laos’s capital Vientiane. Brayden and I had come to get a visa for Vietnam and check out the handful of attractions on offer. We walked along the Mekong, tucked into a delicious seafood dinner and ticked off a few of the sights. Our favourite was the COPE centre, a charity assisting survivors of unexploded bomb accidents. The centre explains the impact of unexploded ordnance in Laos and what COPE is doing to help. Not to be missed was the incredible documentary ‘Bomb Harvest’, which focussed on the UXO removal effort. Leading the charge was an inspiring Aussie by the name of Laith Stevens who just happened to come from the same place we do – the Central Coast of NSW! On ya, Laith the world needs more of people like you.
--- During the Vietnam War, the US dropped over two million tons of ordnance on Laos.
--- Prosthetics is one way COPE helps victims.
--- Patuxai (Victory Gate) - Vientiane's answer to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. It was built with concrete donated by the US for a new airport.
--- Presidential Palace.
Although it’s the capital, Vientiane is small with not a great deal happening. So we thanked Buddha when we stumbled on the once a year Bun That Luang festival. We caught the last night of the weeklong event centred around the country’s most sacred temple, Pha That Luang. There were people everywhere, partying, praying and eating. The noise was unbearable but the atmosphere and hubbub was electrifying!
[photo – The festival is weeklong event with music, fireworks, food and candles]
--- Pha That Luang, the national symbol of Laos.
--- These monks were keen to practice their English with us.
And these photos I took at a temple around the corner from our hostel. What a spectacle! :
The night before we were suppose to get our Vietnam visas and take the 30 hour bus to Hanoi, I realised something quite important; we didn’t have the time or money to be going to Vietnam. With just 6 weeks left and a dwindling bank account, we were being too ambitious and so it was decided we’d head to Cambodia via the beautiful 4000 Islands in Laos’s far south.
Si Phan Don (the ‘Four Thousand Islands’) is a collection of sleepy islands in the Mekong River. Of the three tourist islands we chose the most backpacker friendly, Don Det where we found a rustic bungalow on the river for a couple of bucks. For the next week we filled our days with activities like hammock swinging, swinging in a hammock and rocking side to side while laying in a hammock. We did rouse ourselves from our blissed out stupor on one particular day for a bike ride around the island and over to neighboring Don Khon. There’s a couple of waterfalls on offer and some spots for viewing the rare Irrawaddy river dolphins (we had no luck) but mostly I just enjoyed soaking up the village vibe and yelling “Sa-bai-Dee!” to the local kids who must be among the freest and happy in the world.
--- Buffalo and beer, a typical afternoon on Don Det.
--- 'Who choo lookin' at?'
--- There are no cars on the island, just a track for motorbikes and bicycles.
--- The best way to see the islands.
--- Riding across the bridge to Don Khon.
--- Biking and buffalo.
--- Oh to be a child in the 4000 Islands!
--- One of the waterfalls on Don Khon.
And some more photos because it was just so damn pretty:
After seven serene days we tore ourselves away for another marathon bus ride into Cambodia. It wasn’t so bad because we both excited to be meeting a very special guest over the border – Bray’s brother who’d be joining us for the last leg of this mighty adventure.
Cambodia and Jay, we’re coming for ya!