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Location 45 & 46: Luang Prabang & Vientiane, Laos

LAOS | Monday, 1 August 2016 | Views [330]

Luang Prabang & Vientiane - Laos

Vang Vieng was a very eventful few days, so leaving it was definitely a welcomed change.  I booked a ticket for a minivan to take me north to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang, where I would spend the next 5 days before I headed to Vientiane.  The van dropped us off at the south bus station at around 8:30pm, and from there 5 Dutch travelers and myself bargained a tuk tuk to take us into the city center.  Once we had been dropped off I wandered around till I found a guesthouse that suited the budget.  I located one that had a dorm room with 16 beds, one crappy oscillating fan and a bathroom attached.  It was nothing special, but it was $4 and there were only 6 people in the room the night I arrived.  I left my bag and then walked to the infamous night market to meet a few friends I had met in Vang Vieng.  We went to the "all you can" vegetarian buffet, which is essentially a street stall that had 20-30 different vegetable/tofu options of varying textures, colors, and flavors.  It boasts the high price of $1.70, so it was quite the deal.  The food was so good and so inexpensive I actually ended up eating there the next 4 nights.  Once we finished eating we made plans for the following day and then called it a night. One of the things I have found while traveling is that the days you sit on a bus, train, van, or plane end up being the days you feel the most exhausted.  It is almost as if the days I am the most sedentary are the days I am the most tired.

In the morning I walked over to my friends' guesthouse and from there we found bicycles to rent for the day.  Luang Prabang is not a very large city and it actually lies on a peninsula that bisects the Mekong River and Mae Kok River (a tributary of the Mekong), so it has beautiful scenic views on either side of the city.  We rode around for a few hours trying to cover as much of the territory as possible.  The streets are filled with restaurants, small cafes and many shops.  It is always fun to wander around on a bike, but it does get very hot around midday.  We grabbed some lunch and then decided to go hang indoors till evening time.  We opted to walk the night market for a bit trying to find bargains or identify what we would come back and buy the following night.  We ate dinner (as I said, at the vegetarian buffet) and then grabbed a few beers before heading in for the night.  The second night in my guesthouse was one of the worst sleeps I have had in Asia.  The room reached its capacity with 16 bodies and the oscillating fan no longer oscillated.  It was stuck in one direction and I was about 15 feet from it and facing the other way.  I woke up around 2am dripping in sweat, and realized the entire room was in the same situation.  I walked up to the reception area to alert the staff that the room was legitimately a sweat box, it smelled like body odor and was well over 85 degrees.  The man followed me down and immediately commented on how hot and bad it smelled, he pulled a remote from his pocket and turned the AC on, I about punted him across the room.  It is common practice in SE Asia to avoid using air conditioners to save on energy costs, but in these situations it is mind boggling that they wait until their guests are passing out from overheating before they turn them on.  I was able to sleep comfortably until my early wake up call.

I woke up at 7, grabbed the free breakfast and then walked to my friends' guesthouse.   We planned to visit the large Kuang Si Waterfall, which ended up being one of my favorite things I did in Laos.   It was recommended to us that we get there as early as possible (opens at 9am) as the crowds start to gather.  It is low season, so even though the crowds are not nearly as big as they would be during peak season, it still made sense to go early.  Once you enter the national park you pass by a black bear conservation effort. It's very cool to see these types of organizations looking out for the wildlife in Laos and the baby bear cubs were fun to observe.  When you finally enter the nature park you start to get a clear understanding of why this place is so popular, the waterfalls and scenery are beautiful.  It had rained heavily the night before, so it was a bit disappointing to see the waterfalls and the attached pools muddled with soil from the riverbeds. We hiked up to the top of the large waterfall and then once we made it to the top we saw a sign that said it was a 3 kilometer walk to a "spring".  It offered no other information, but since we had time and were feeling ambitious we decided we would make the hike to the spring.  Due to the night time rains the trail was very very muddy, so I ended up ditching the footwear and making the trek barefoot (ballsy- I know).  Once we had walked for about 30 minutes it started to feel like the sign was a hoax, but we opted to keep going and I am so glad we did.  We finally reached the spring and it was unbelievable.  It was a crystal blue spring that feeds the waterfalls and it looked completely undisturbed from the rain the night prior.  No one was up there and it was just the three us,  we swam around in the cold water for an hour and half before anyone else showed up.  It was a real oasis from the hot morning.  By the time other people made there way there it was time for us to start the walk back down, as we had to meet our ride by 1pm.  Once we made it back to the city center we decided to rest before we grabbed dinner that night.  Luckily my friends had an extra bed in there room, so I was able to switch accommodations.  

The next morning I saw my friends off before they caught their flight to Bangkok and then I spent two more days in Luang Prabang just hanging out.  I found a pool to hang by one of the days and the other day I just found a hammock to read in.  I had been warned that the capital of Vientiane did not have a whole lot to offer, so I specifically delayed my arrival until 36 hours before I flew to Vietnam.

I took the overnight bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, and it may have been again one of the worst sleeps of my life.  I specifically worked with the guesthouse to sort out a bus that had single berth beds for the journey to Vientiane.  My reasoning for this was because the "double" berth beds are barely big enough for me, so the idea of sharing what would be the equivalent of a sleeping bag, with a complete stranger sounded miserable (mostly for them, rather than me).  When I arrived at the bus station I immediately witnessed my worst nightmare.  The single berth beds were about 1.5 feet wide and about 5 feet long, but the base of them had an enclosed top, so a person needs to actually stick there feet inside of the enclosure to sleep.  It isn't that clear by the description, but I was sitting next to a girl who was about 5'9 and she couldn't straighten her legs, so me being over a foot taller than her should give you some perspective.  I began strategizing on how I could make it work and there were two options.  Option one would be to sleep in the aisle, but it was only about a foot wide and I would constantly be walked on, throughout the night, while passengers navigated to the toilet.  Option two would be to sleep on the bottom level in the center aisle so I could straddle the seat in front of me while I put a leg in the aisle to the left and the other in the aisle to the right.  I went with option two, which ended up working, but beyond uncomfortably.  I couldn't straighten my legs for 10 hours and the bus company wedged locals in the aisles, so I had my right leg on a woman's chest and my left leg on a man's shoulder.  They were very nice about it, but every time I adjusted I kicked one of them in the face.  It was a terrible experience, but that is why sleeping meds were invented.  

Once the bus pulled into Vientiane, after a night of shit sleep, all I wanted to do was nap.  The hostel refused to let me check-in until noon (I arrived at 6:30am), so I slept on a mat, in their common area, until they finally showed me to my room.  I then napped for another few hours before getting up and walking around the city.  I grabbed an early dinner and then returned back to get a good night's sleep.  I woke up the next morning and rented bikes with a new friend, we followed the Lonely Planet's suggested bike route and accomplished the entire route in about 3 hours.  The rest of the afternoon we hung out at the pool attached to a nearby hotel.  In the morning I grabbed a tuk tuk and flew to Hanoi, Vietnam.  Overall Laos was an absolutely beautiful country and I think it may be one of the most scenic places I have seen in my entire life.  

Currently waiting for two good friends, from home, to meet me in Hanoi.  We will be tackling Vietnam together for the next few weeks.  Stay tuned…

Neill

See photos here

Tags: laos, waterfalls

 

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