Friday, 28 March 2014

Sleeper Bus: Vientiane to Pakse, Laos

Overnight buses are generally an awesome way to travel in south east Asia: they are generally comfortable, they sometimes give you free snacks and water, and you get to save a nights worth of accommodation. Bonus. 

This sleeper bus, however, was more like a sauna on wheels. It was the first time that I slept in legit bunk beds on a bus, but the experience was a bit tarnished by the fact that we were booked for the same bunk as two other people, causing a bit of confusion with the bus driver, and that the air conditioning did not work. 

More like a sauna on wheels. 

The situation was only slightly improved by the fact that there was a huge Winnie the Pooh on the side of the bus. 

Fingers crossed the next bus I take has aircon. Or we can at least open the windows. Here's hoping!

Vientiane, Laos

After our tubing experience, we decided it was time to move on from Vang Vieng. We caught a bus to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. 

Our first night we met a Lao man who spoke impeccable French at dinner. We asked him what he would recommend doing in the city, and his answer was pretty straightforward: 'c'est pas extraordinaire, it's nothing special'. Wow, you're really selling the place. 

Turns out there really are things to do in Vientiane:

Wat Sisaket

Located in the center of the tourist area, right across from the Royal Palace, Wat Sisaket is a unique temple in the sense that it has hundreds, if not thousands, of little sconces covering the walls inside. 

Inside these little books are pairs of little metal Buddhas. Tres cool. 

Wat That Luang

Seen as the most important monument in Laos, That Luang is located a bit on the outskirts of town. 

It is a huge area, with gorgeous gardens all around. 

The big golden stupa is said to house a hair or a bone of Buddha himself. Pretty legit. 

There is also a grand building that has Laotian paintings on display, with another couple of temples that you can check out. 

We even found a reclining Buddha statue! So cool. 

COPE Rehabilitation Center

We checked out the COPE center to learn a bit more about the rehabilitation available for Lao people who have the unfortunate occurrence of encountering UXO. 

We watched another informational movie on the USA 'secret war' with Laos. 

I didn't realize this, but prosthetic limbs actually wear out in about 2 years. 

Again, it was pretty emotional to learn about the devastating after-effects of war, and some first-hand accounts from parents who have list their children to UXO, due in part to the fact that most hospitals around Laos don't have the oxygen or blood  necessary to save them. 

If ever you wanted to donate to a cause, definitely check this place out!

National Museum 

The National Museum has information and artefacts from ancient Laos history right up to modern day. 

It gets a bit patriotic and biased around the civil war and the USA 'secret war', saying a lot of thins like 'the gun used by comrade so-and-so to bring down the US imperialist planes carrying guns for their puppets'. No joke. 

Either way, it was informative, although it closes promptly at 4 - we know because they turned off the lights at 3:45 and then chase us out at 3:58. They are serious about their closing times. 

Lots of guns on display. 

I saw the most unfortunate entry in the signature book. So disrespectful, although...slightly right on the biased part. 

Arc de Triumphe 

It's not much of a destination, but there is a big concrete replica of the Arc de Triumphe. 

Our tuktuk driver dropped us off for a little looksy on our way back from That Luang (and obvi tried charging us more). 

Vientiane Cuisine

As per usual, there was also some great food to be had in the Lao capital. 

The best ice cream I've had in Asia so far at a little place next to Joma cafe (the one near the Presidential Palace). 

Amazing passion fruit juice. I've notice most things are garnished with mint in Laos...loves it!

An amazing hibiscus and lime daiquiri at Makphet, which is an awesome restaurant that trains street kids to work in the hospitality industry. We went for the 50% off happy hour (5:30-7:00) since the menu was slightly on the expensive side. 

Cutest dogs getting a bath. 

Overall, Vientiane is a bit of a sleepy town with not much in the way of activities, but there are still places to see nonetheless. 

It is a great stop-off point between the north and south of Laos, and has many buses available to go to straight to Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. 

I'm headed south now to Pakse to get in some trekking and hopefully have a little break from the crazy backpacker route. 

A la prochaine!

Cave Exploring in Vang Vieng, Laos

ended up spending a lot more time in Vang Vieng than I had planned. It was a super relaxed town, though, with an awesome party every night. 

We caught the renowned 'jungle party' on Friday night, went to pub 101 (actually a night club) after all the bars closed at 11:30 - the curfew is seriously strict around here. 

Snap chat for the win!

The best part? There were these awesome restaurants with pillowy laze-chairs that played 'Friends' nonstop. It was amazing to just chill out and watch reruns of 'Friends' to waste away the afternoon heat. 

I decided to get active one day and go explore some of the nearby caves. Everyone else I was hanging out with were feeling a bit under the weather *ahem* le hungover, so I just went by myself. 

Lesson learned: going into a cave by yourself with only the light from your iPhone is hella scary, but kind of cool at the same time. 

I went into one with a 'swimming pool' inside. It went back about 20mins or so, with really tiny cracks that you had to maneuver through, and ended in the most hilariously small puddle of water. So good. 

I even saw my first rainfall in three months - so refreshing! 

Overall, I thought that Vang Vieng was a pretty relaxed place, but definitely a backpacker haven, with most restaurants serving 'happy shakes' and every tuktuk driver trying to sell you weed at every corner. 

My advice? Don't buy the weed, they are usually in cahoots with the police. 

I would def recommend checking out Vang Vieng to chill and watch some American TV shows, go tubing, see some caves, and do some partying with fellow travellers. 

And the bestest sandwiches from the little stalls on the side of the road. 

Fruit, muesli and yogurt at the Friends place errrrday. 

The best advice I received before going there was: just have a good time and party and forget about experiencing any culture at all, and you'll have a fun time! Legit. 

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

If you've ever heard of Vang Vieng before, it was probably in relation to the tubing that happens there. 

Now, I'ma be real with you, the tubing scene has changed in the past couple of years. There used to be dozens of bars along the waters edge, with crazy slides and rope swings. 

However, there was on average 1 death a month, cumulating to 22 deaths (mostly Aussie's for some reason...) in 2011 when the Lao government made a huge crackdown on the area. 

Now, there are only 5 bars, without any slides or ropes, but it's still a ton of fun. 

[Momster and Popster, you may want to skip this one...]

We started off at the first bar at about noon and were given a shot and a bracelet. People make it their personal challenge to collect as many bracelets as possible, so this usually means copious amounts of shots and beers. We played a game of beer pong and then started the exodus to the second bar. 

We floated for about...2mins and arrived at the second bar, where we collected more bracelets and played a game of beach volleyball. 

We carried on to the third bar, about a 5min float this time, when a Lao guy launches out a rope with a water bottle attached at the end to pull you into shore. 

We played more beer pong, volleyball and hula hooped up a storm before heading to the final bar. 

Now, I'm not going to lie. We were acting a bit snooty: 'look at these kids with their reckless drinking, so stupid, so immature...ya, sure, grab me another beer and a shot'. Usually people take a tuktuk back to town from this bar, but we had the bright idea to keep floating down the river since we had floated barely at all at that point. 

After a heck of a long time, we realized it was starting to get dark. Like, real dark. 

We continued along the river til we saw what looked like a hotel and clambered out. Pretty much the start of a horror story, but they were really lovely: gave us water and called us a tuktuk. 

We ended up getting back to town at around 8pm, 2 hours past the time when we had to get the tubes back (and our deposit. Le fail). 

So, lesson learned: don't keep floating down the river, even if it seems like a good idea. Oh, and don't make fun of others and then proceed to be the stupidest of the bunch. Point finale.