Vang Vieng and Vientiane
26.12.2008 - 04.01.2009 30 °C
I've been lazy with my blog lately, but it's finally time for some updates... I'll have to go back all the way to New Year!
The bus journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was one bumpy ride! I quite enjoy moving from one place to another, but it was extreme even on my standards. I had heard that the roads in Laos are really rough, and indeed the whole 7-hour journey it was potholes all the way. The bus kept flying through the holes keeping questionable noise, and what's more the roads were also full of cows and other animals so the driver was constantly honking the horn (instead of using the brake, of course). It was definitely the most uncomfortable bus I've been on so far, but the scenery on the other hand was probably the best. I didn't know Laos had such a dramatic landscape of mountains. It was so green and beautiful, so it didn't really matter that it was impossible to sleep or read.
Vang Vieng is the party capital of Laos, totally occupied by backpackers. I was looking forward to going there, as everyone I had met seemed to have such fun and fond memories of the place. Turned out, I couldn't quite find the good vibe there. The main road is dusty and a bit depressing (although I'm sure it's only me - didn't see many people looking depressed in Vang Vieng!), full of restaurants that are copies of each other with exactly the same menus. If Luang Prabang had some fabulous restaurants and bakeries, then Vang Vieng definitely doesn't have much going for it in terms of food. Many of the restaurants show Friends and Family Guy all day long.
The only really good meal I had in Vang Vieng was in an Indian restaurant. However, when I returned there couple of days later, everything was pretty horrible. I had convinced Scottish Scott to join me after much praise for the place, and he's probably still talking about the dodginess of my fabulous Indian restaurant. In fact, I don't think the guy's had Indian ever since!
Speaking of dodginess, I started throwing up again in Vang Vieng. I had better days and worse days, but in general my time in VV was pretty much spoilt by feeling sick most of the time.
As for going out, I just didn't find Vang Vieng very atmospheric place, for me it was the typical whisky bucket hell. (Drink a bucket and you WILL have fun!) I didn't dislike Vang Vieng for it being such a backpacker's trap, after all I loved Pai, I even loved Khao San Road in Bangkok! It's just there was something about it that made me wanna gather my bags and run.
On the other side of the river the nature was spectacular, and I walked there one day to explore. Annoying thing about Vang Vieng is that in every corner there's someone trying to make a buck. You pay for crossing the tiny river - if you have a bike or motorcycle you pay more - and once you get to the other side you basically have to pay for laying your eyes on anything with any scenic beauty. These are all very small fees, of course, and I do understand that the Lao people don't have much and are just trying to make a living, but still. I couldn't help but feel annoyed about having to pay to stick your head in some pitch black cave.
The most popular activity in Vang Vieng is tubing. Basically there are plenty of bars by the river, and people float down the river stopping at the bars and getting drunk. There's also swings and slides and lots of mud, and pissed people doing crazy jumps. This is all supposed to be great fun.
I was saving tubing for New Year's Eve, when everybody was going. Everybody except me, that is, as I had the worst day on New Year's Eve, and just couldn't get out of bed. So as everyone else was having a blast down the river, I was lying in my bed reading a book and wondering if I could stomach some apples. That was exactly what I was doing at midnight, too, although I'm not sure if I actually stayed awake till midnight. I was trying to see the positive side of my lonesome NYE: I must have saved bucketloads of money by staying in that day and night. Hell, why not to see the positive side of being sick too - unable to eat = no food expenses. Fabulous!
I can hear that I sound very whiny! To stop for a second, I must say that admittedly I had some nice relaxed days in Vang Vieng, lying by the river and sipping a watermelon and mango shake. I also saw lots of friends there. Generally it seems that everybody travelling in South East Asia keep bumping into each other all the time. And it's easy to recognize people seeing as most of them are always wearing the same clothes!
On New Year's Day I took a bus to Vientiane, Laos' capital. The previous day I had purchased my ticket, thinking that sick or not, I couldn't stand another day in Vang Vieng. Luckily the bus journey was OK, and I was seated with two nice Canadian guys to keep me company. The guys were gonna catch a flight later that night, so once we arrived to Vientiane we hung out together for the day. I found a guesthouse for myself, too expensive at 70 000 kip (6-7 euros) but it was the fourth of fifth that I checked and the cheapest one of them.
We had a long, late lunch in the one restaurant that seemed to be open - it was dead everywhere, probably because of New Year's Day. Well so it seemed! Later when the guys were gone I took a walk around and all of a sudden the city was alive. Full of gorgeous restaurants, romantic little bistros and cool cafes! Because I had had no expectations and didn't even want to visit Vientiane, I was totally delighted to find it to be a wonderful little place. Especially after the days in Vang Vieng I was happy I had three nights to spend in Vientiane. I also found a cheaper room for myself in a guesthouse that turned out to be one of my favourites so far.
None of the sights in Vientiane were particularly interesting to me, but I did walk around a lot. I didn't think Vientiane was that boring at all, but as the main attraction has got to be food, it was lousy timing to be sick. There was a fabulous Aussie place called Sticky Fingers just round the corner from my guesthouse. I went there to have a Caesar salad for lunch, and when it appeared on my table as perfect and proper as it can be, with parmesan cheese shavings sprinkled on top and warm bread roll on the side, I almost clapped my hands in delight. I ate every bit of it, and of course felt dreadful afterwards, as I did after everything that I ate.
I bumped into some English guys I had met briefly in Vang Vieng, and went out with them and their friends, and an Australian girl who joined us. If I wasn't feeling very good to start with, then I definitely wasn't any better after sharing a jug of Lao-style sangria - look closer on the menu and it's actually called Lao Gria, with sickly strawberry taste, not unlike those horrible fruit wines I used to drink at 15. I don't know what was in it, but definitely no alcohol! Later we changed a bar, as the guys had been tipped off that there was this great place by the river where everyone goes. Everyone being western men and Lao women, as it turned out. When we arrived it was obvious that whoever recommended the place was clearly looking at a group of guys thinking they'd be up for some good time. This gem of a bar was seedy, and the conversations the guys overheard at the gents' were creepy. Funnily enough in this very place I ran into Scottish Scott and Polish girl Alex, whom I had met in Luang Prabang and then again in Vang Vieng. Maybe it was the place to be? Well I for one was happy that the place closed at midnight and I could escape home!
I was seriously starting to consider seeing a doctor, but somehow I never got round to it. Instead I took a risk and bought my ticket for the 24-hour bus journey from Vientiane to Hanoi, Vietnam. I showed great willpower by stopping eating altogether on the departure day, and hiding my expensive Swedish chocolate (found from the Scandinavian Bakery) in my hand luggage. And off I went to the journey from hell!