This was one of those journeys which was an absolutely amazing experience all by itself. Until now, all we had seen of Laos was the city of Vientiane this trip would give us the chance to see a lot more of the country and ‘appreciate’ the highways and bi-ways of Laos. Once we got started though although the scenery was indeed stunning, ‘appreciating the roads’ is perhaps not the right way to describe our thoughts of the rutted tracks we were travelling along. As in the rest of Asia, our driver was obviously being paid for the amount of time he could knock off the journey because he was travelling along at breakneck speeds – which made for quite an interesting if a little startling trip.
As we came away from Vientiane the scenery just gets greener and greener and the roads take you up higher and higher too. The journey was about three hours long and in the main Laos is really quite rural and a delight to be driven through. Unlike Vietnam, in which the rice fields always seem quite ‘industrial’ here it is all much more pastoral. The workers in the fields all looked quite old and were mainly women and everything they were doing was being done by hand. Some of the houses looked quite shabby but others really looked quite homely and even nicely and colourfully decorated.
We got to Vang Vieng and I must admit the place is a bit of an odd one really. We were dropped at the bus stop and proceeded to get a tuk tuk to take us to our hotel which seemed to take us over what looked like a landing strip in the middle of the town. Though, like the roads here, it was definitely very crater marked, it was still definitely an airfield. As we were driven along the town lived up to its reputation by having signs up saying that should you remove your clothes it would be considered to be unsultive and you would be arrested – well fair warning I suppose, so I put my trousers back on!
Vang Vieng was quite an impressive place and surrounded by the limetone karst covered in lush green and our hotel although not in the thick of the action was at the end of the town so our views were really good. We soon enough got settled into our room which was really nice and homely and rested for a short while before going out for a look about. The hotel had a small guide book for the town and it’s immediate area and we learnt from it that if we carried on along the track that our hotel was at the starting point of, then we should come to the river with a swing bridge. The river itself was a fast flowing murky brown thing but we were safe enough on and over the swinging bridge.
We carried on along the track which should have led us to a couple of caves and a swimming pool or two. As we neared our objective there was a gate where the attendant took our money and told us the caves were still open but due to close. Though it actually turned out that they were shut and the gates to their entrances locked but the admission had only been pennies, so it wouldn’t break the bank. The riverside swimming ‘pools’ were open but this time we had not had the foresight to bring along our swimming costumes. Even at the swimming pools, which were actually connected to the main river, the current was still quite fast so interesting as it was we thought it best just to watch others from the banks. The water looked inviting enough, nice and aquamarine but it also looked quite cold too and who needs a dip when you can simply drink in the surrounding mountains – lovely eh!
We walked back to our hotel and from there, as the light began to fail, we wandered back into town. Compared to the capital this was quite different as there were lots of young tourists and backpackers about the place, some looking a bit worse for wear and to our delight, lots of different types of cuisine but we ourselves settled for a cheap BBQ cafe. It was shabby chic, without the chic but we picked off the menu a few different bits of meat along with some noodles and vegetables and, as ever, it was greatly tasty food.