Stray Laos: Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
After spending four days in Luang Prabang, it was time to hop onto the next Stray bus for a ride down to Vang Vieng. Being the party capital of Laos, Vang Vieng was an easy choice when it came time to pick a new spot to celebrate the New Year's after I gave up the original plan to be in Sydney for the festivities.
The new bus came with the new driver, who was described as the fastest by our new tour leader Charlie, as opposed to the fastest and the safest driver we had before. Great... On the bright side, Noy, our Lao guide from the previous bus, was joining us again. In addition to our core group of three Swedish guys, two Australians, and a Dutch, we were joined by a couple from the US, a Canadian, and a couple Kiwis that came from Nong Khiaw the night before as well as the Dutch couple from our bus that hopped off in Luang Namtha. In fact, only one person that came the night before was staying in Luang Prabang, everyone else was eager to get to Vang Vieng to celebrate the New Year's there.
The road winding through the mountains was as bad as we have accustomed to and the fact that I got stuck in a seat without any legroom did not add to the fun. We made our first stop at a supposedly scenic overlook after about two hours, but the valley was covered in fog (or was it smog?) so we could not see much. Instead, we all took pictures of the local stand that had a large jar of Lao-Lao with bear parts in it. Yes, bear. Supposedly, it gives you strength (which is an oxymoron by itself when applied to Lao-Lao) and somehow also helps with back problems.
Nobody was brave enough to try some bear-infused goodness, but Charlie still got a bottle of Lao-Lao for the road. We ended up playing a few games on the bus to help kill the time and that was pretty nice. After another couple of hours we reached the next scenic overlook/bathroom stop. This one did have a really nice view of the mountainous region we were in.
We got out of the mountains after another hour or so and the rest of the road to Vang Vieng was really bad. Really, really bad - huge potholes, clouds of dirt and dust everywhere. While I found motorbikes to be very cheap to rent in Vang Vieng (30,000-40,000 kip/$5 per day), I could not see myself riding them on those roads.
Vang Vieng itself did not impress me at all by any standards - think of a typical tourist trap town in the US but much, much dirtier. Still, almost everyone was hopping off here for a few days to go tubing (most famous activity in town) and explore the picturesque surroundings, but that deserves a post of its own.