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Contiki Big Indochina Adventure – Days 8 & 9: Driving through Laos & Vang Vieng, Laos

Laos is one of the most untouched countries I’ve been to, so our drive from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was filled with beautiful mountain ranges and other gorgeous scenery.

After about two hours, we stopped at a random rest stop along the side of the road. It had a great view, but I’m still fascinated by how many of the people in this country live in the same place they work. There sometimes is no division or boundary between the store and their living quarters.

Our next stop was two hours later at a rest stop restaurant named Scenic Views. Upon arriving, the name made sense. It was gorgeous and the Laotian food was very good, too. My favorite was some form of a breaded chicken with a chili duck sauce. After lunch, our group had the opportunity to take some photos of the panorama from an overlook, but pictures just did not do the place justice.

About an hour later, we arrived at Vang Vieng, the backpacker hub of Laos. This was our opportunity to kick back, relax, enjoy amazing scenery and even more amazing people. There aren’t any true sights or good Laotian restaurants in the town. The town became a haven for backpackers in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when it became famous for tubing. A few backpackers were traveling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and stopped to do some volunteer work in town. When they were done, the person they volunteered for gave them a few tires to ride in down the river. They had a great time and word got out! Bars popped up along the river and backpackers would float down the river and bar hop. Bars would even throw ropes out to people tubing to help them pull themselves ashore. Unfortunately, when people mix alcohol and water, things tend to go wrong. After there were 27 deaths related to tubing in one year, the Laotian government banned tubing. The town struggled to survive, but it is starting to come back. People are now even tubing down the river again, but not in the numbers they used to.

We parked our bus on an old US airstrip. We will learn about it later on in the tour, but Laos is, to date, the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. The streets are a bit too narrow for a bus to navigate, so we walked about 10 minutes into town to get to our hotel. After checking in, we all met up at our hotel bar which had an amazing view of the sun setting over the giant cliffs on the other side of the river which give Vang Vieng such an iconic backdrop.

After sunset, we made our way back into the center of town for dinner at an Irish pub for our first Western fix in a week. I had a cheeseburger, French fries and garlic bread. It hit the spot!  We then headed to the unofficial Contiki bar in town, Kangaroo Sunset. I love Aussie bars, so I had a great time. We all participated in a traditional Baci Ceremony which is performed by a a monk for various occasions – marriage, moving away, or, in our case, safe travel. We all knelt on a mat and touched a centerpiece with a candle in it while the monk said a few prayers.  We then all had a rope tied around our wrists that we need to keep on our wrists for no shorter than 3 days and took a shot of “holy water” (vodka).

We then relaxed for a few hours, played beer pong (one of their bar staff, Johnny, is really, really good) and wound up closing the bar down when curfew hit at around midnight. The curfew is less of a curfew and more of a last call where all bars and restaurants have to close. It is fine to be out on the streets when curfew hits, you just can’t be in a bar.

The following morning, we met up at around 10:00 AM to go kayaking down the river. It is the same route that people that went tubing would go (and then some). We hopped in tuk tuks and headed 10 kilometers upstream where we got our life vests and paddles before getting in our kayaks. I sat in the back which had a small amount of back support and we were off. The scenery was amazing & the Jurassic Park song kept playing in my head. After about 7 km, we pulled ashore to go visit the Pak Ou Caves.  We all received a head torch and got in water tubes where we pulled ourselves along a rope to enter the cave. The caves were beautiful inside and the rock formations were spectacular. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures because it was so dark!  After the caves, we kayaked the final 3 km back to our hotel where we had a quick shower before grabbing lunch and heading to the Australian bar to catch a tuk tuk to a River Bar about 10 minutes away. The ride was 20,000 Kip round trip or $2.50 USD.

The bar itself was amazing. It was along the river &, as one of my friends said, was like hippy central. The bar itself was a shack, people were only wearing shorts or bathing suits while drinking buckets, one of the bar staff was walking around with a beer bong, there were picnic tables in the water & the view of the river was breathtaking.

After a few hours, we headed back to the Australian bar for the evening. I had the opportunity to talk with some of the bar staff that traveled to Vang Vieng and never left. One of the Canadians that was there lost his bank cards, so he stayed in the city for bit longer than he anticipated and wound up getting offered a job. There was another person from Holland that was backpacking with one of his friends and fell in love with the town. His friend left to go home, but he didn’t.

After the Australian bar, a few of us went to the most famous bar in town, Sakura Bar, which was full of Korean backpackers. The town, specifically the bar, was featured on a Korean game show a few years ago and Koreans have been coming to the town in droves ever since. I headed back to the hotel at around 11:30 PM.

Vang Vieng was exactly what I thought it would be. It was great to be able to relax for a few days and not to be concerned about seeing any sights.

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