My original intention was to just go to Luang Prabang, but a 12 hour drive did not sound at all appealing. I therefore looked at the map and saw that there was a place called Vang Vieng a little under halfway there, and after some research decided to stay a night.
Vang Vieng is actually a backpacker town. There are European bars, tubing down the river, and plenty of restaurants. It’s also known for the prevalence of drugs and lack of safety regulations that have resulted in drowning tourists. That being said, it’s absolutely beautiful.
There were some nearby caves I thought I’d check out, since I really just needed an excuse to walk around. They were closed when I got there, but taking the walk there in the evening was absolutely worth it. Vang Vieng is known for the large rock formations dominating the skyline called karsts.
During the Vietnam War Laos was officially neutral, but that didn’t save them. The north Vietnamese army and Viet Cong made use of the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was mostly in Laos, to bring supplies to their forces in the south. The USA carried out a bombing campaign to prevent the trail from being effective, with devastating results for Laos. Known as the secret war, because both Vietnam and the USA wanted to keep their breach of Laos’ neutrality a secret, about 2.1 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos making it the most bombed country per capita in the world. It also had the most undetonated landmines per capita, which causes 50 people annually to be injured or killed.
Following the Vietnam War, and the victory of the communist north, change came to Laos as well. A group known as the Pathet Lao ended the monarchy and made Laos a communist country as well. For years it was a puppet government of the Vietnamese. It is now ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, and is one of the 5 remaining communist countries in the world along with China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea.
So many bombs were dropped on Laos, they’re even used as decorations.
The next day, I returned to the caves when they were open.
The steps to the caves were designed by Pai Mei himself, but I managed.
I still had some time before my bus was due to depart, so I sat on a bench by the water around the caves. The water was perfectly clear, and after a few minutes a bunch of kids arrived and began jumping from bridges and rocks into it.
It was a peaceful way to spend my morning, and recover from the steps. Before long it was time to catch my bus to Luang Prabang. The drive there was stunning, so please excuse some terrible bus pictures of the drive, I just want to give an idea of the landscape on the way.
I arrived at night and got a tuk tuk to my hostel. As usual, the first order of business the next morning was finding good coffee. I went to a place called Saffron Coffee and Bakery that sold Laotian coffee grown by local hill tribes. It was very good!
Luang Prabang is both historically and geographically interesting. It’s a peninsula at the confluence of two rivers, one being the Mekong, that also manages to have a 490ft lone hill on it. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Luang Prabang, and formerly the capital of Laos until it was changed to Vientiane in case of a Burmese invasion. The Burmese – Movers of Capitals.
One of the main attractions of both Luang Prabang and Laos as a whole is Wat Xieng Thong.
I made a friend here. He looked different from the usual lizards I’ve seen climbing the walls, so I thought I’d say hi.
This Wat is where the Lao kings were crowned, and dates back all the way to 1560. I could have stared at the walls all day quite happily.
It had some nice glass mosaics, including an impressive Tree of Life that took up an entire outer wall of the main building.
The French influence is much more obvious here, with many bakery cafes charging European prices. I thought Laos would be cheap, Luang Prabang definitely challenged that preconception. I loved that you could easily do your walking tour of the city mostly next to one of the rivers. Walking is free, and so is the view.
There were many amazing temples, as well as the former Royal Palace. Unfortunately on that day it fell under the category of “things I wasn’t about to pay for” so I contented myself with seeing it from the gate and continuing on my way.
Like the view and walking, pain is also free, so I decided to climb the hill to see the temple and view.
It was quite the adventure. After getting past that guard dog I ran into what were either chickens or dinosaurs.
I then simply followed the dragons that were turned to stone for my convenience to the temple and back down the other side.
With my final day in Laos, I decided to see what had so often been recommended to me: the Kuang Si Falls. At the entrance there is a bear sanctuary, so I got to see some bears roll around for a bit before moving on.
These falls had been sold to me as the most pristine, clear water I’d see. So blue and peaceful. It turned out to be somewhat not that.
I loved it though, the water was so fast and different parts were flooding,the contained chaos was somehow appealing.
The falls are fairly popular with tourists, but the walk up to the falls wasn’t too crowded. There were a lot of people at the falls, but most people just take a selfie and leave, so it’s easy to find a place to watch the falls if that’s what you’re into. I stood on the bridge for half an hour thoroughly entertained.
I then spent another half hour grossed out and fascinated by a giant black and green spider devouring a butterfly in its web above the water.
Then more bears!
I had heard a good amount about Laos while travelling. For the past few months I’ve had many people telling me it’s beautiful, untouched, cheap, and in many cases their favourite Southeast Asian country. In my experience, there were certainly cheap options, but it seemed more expensive than Thailand. Backpacking there was common, with many people doing the exact same 3 stops I did in one direction or another, which is cool because it meant seeing the same cast of characters in each city. The country was beautiful throughout, so I would absolutely recommend visiting if you’re doing a Southeast Asia tour.