Our night train to Vientiane (the capital of laos) was a very pleasant change from the buses of Cambodia. We boarded the train at 22:30 in ayuthaya and woke up the next morning in the border town on the thai side. The journey across the border to Vientiane was seamless (they herded us like cattle from train to tuk tuk to bus back to tuk tuk for the 1 hour trip) and it turns out swiss people don’t need a visa (they must really like us) so I even got in for free!
Reading on the train
We stayed in Vientiane just long enough to grab some lunch (and dessert) before boarding a 4 hours bus to the town of Vang Vieng. The public transport here in laos is the worst of the lot (no trains and the ‘air con’ buses simply drive with their door open) but the beautiful scenery more than makes up for it. Unlike the other countries we’ve seen so far, Laos is hilly (nearly mountainous), with karst formations towering above brown winding rivers and bright green rice paddies. It turns out the rice paddies grow some of the only sticky rice in south east asia, which we prefer to steamed rice. The locals eat it by simply picking up a small amount and then rolling it between their fingers into a small dense, chewy ball (covered in a layer of thin brown dust from their hand and I’m sure simply adds to the flavour).
We arrived in Vang Vieng just before sunset. Vang Vieng is a town where most backpackers head for cheap booze and loud music but where a select few know of cheap and peaceful bungalows tucked away in a lavish garden on an island in the middle of the Mekong river. And that’s exactly where we were headed….
The next morning we woke up in our beautiful fan bungalow and headed for a fruit based breakfast at the main guesthouse. The bungalows and guesthouse are set in stunning gardens, brimming with plants, flowers and butterflies (and, it turns out, also huge spiders the size of a splayed palm which like to surprise you by sneaking into your bathroom at night and sitting on the toilet seat waiting for you…).
Our bamboo bungalow
After breakfast we set out to partake in Vang Vieng’s most popular activity – tubing down the Mekong river. We rented a huge tractor inner tube and were driven, with a group of other (less couth) backpackers to a point a few kilometres upriver. The current was surprisingly strong and so we sat on our tubes for an hour or so and drifted back to the town of Vang Vieng surrounded by beautiful scenery. The other backpackers in our group decided to follow the local trend which consists of stopping off at every single bar along the river to drink one beer and one shot of alcohol each. Apparently, there is something about being on holiday in a beautiful sunny place which makes most (young) Europeans think that combining alcohol and strong currents is a good idea.
After making it back to our bungalow we went for a magical swim in a branch of the Mekong river which wound past our magical garden. The water was surprisingly clear and refreshing, with a perfectly sandy bottom – an excellent swim.
View from the garden
The evening saw us at a restaurant by the riverside eating sticky rice with Laotian meat, which is cooked with a lot of herbs, lemongrass and ginger. Tomorrow we’re leaving on the early bus to Luang Prabang!
The sun setting on Vang Vieng