Travel dates 24th-25th February 2015
As is often the case, getting there was half the fun. Bear in mind that the road from Luang Prabang to Vientiane via Vang Vieng is the major highway linking the capital with the fourth largest city in Laos.
The tuk tuk picked me up from the travel agency in Luang Prabang on time and took us to the VIP bus terminal. We departed at 9:40, about ten minutes late.
The bus was large, air-conditioned and reasonably comfortable in the style of those used in Australia between major cities. It was a bit shabby and not particularly clean. While we waited to depart I found a damp rag and made an attempt to clean my window for better photos with not much success; hence the quality of some of the pictures.
The luggage was stored under the bus. I was pleased to find I not only had a window seat but the seat beside me was vacant and I could stretch out. However, sleep or even dozing was never an option.
The big bus had a soft, floating suspension but despite that the ride was unbelievably rough in patches. For much of it the road had a steep or sheer drop on one side and vertical walls on the other.
There were sections where I simply closed my eyes because I knew the driver had to know the road even if I was certain we would go off the edge. He did, and we didn’t.
The road was mostly sealed but that did not seem to make it much smoother and there were many unsealed stretches or road-works. It appeared to have no straights and no levels: only steeply up, down and rapidly sideways both ways.
The view was often spectacular. After a couple of hours we stopped at a collection of stalls and a basic restaurant. The driver yelled out ‘toilet’. I have seen some pretty basic privys in my time. These were very rough versions of the ‘squat’ variety. Luckily I didn’t need to spend more than a penny; well, actually, 2000kip to the toilet attendant for some tissues and permission to enter.
I hadn’t checked how long the journey would take but based on distance I expected about five hours. After three more jolting hours we stopped at another restaurant at 2:30 pm. I thought we had arrived. No, this was lunch. Luckily I had not lost the tear-off section of my ticket as this entitled me to rice and meagre serves of boiled greens and some bland chicken curry from a bain-marie. Apparently they forgot to turn it on because the rice was hot but the rest was stone cold. I ignored most of the rice and was hungry enough to eat the rest anyway. I was annoyed with myself when I found too late there was a different queue for hot soup which I would have appreciated much more. I bought a cold Lao beer and enjoyed it far more than the food.
When we eventually reached Vang Vieng Northern Bus Terminal at 4:30 pm I was rather impressed that no-one had lost their breakfast or lunch along the way. Pre-reading on the web implied that achievement was unusual on this rough and tortuous route. I was quoted 100,000 kip for the short tuk tuk ride to my hotel so I stood around for a while until four or five others going my way appeared. The price dropped to 20,000 each.
I stayed at the Ban Sabai Bungalows, which looked much better on their web-page than it did in practice. However, the bed was comfortable despite the place slowly decaying, apparently in readiness to be replaced by a new resort. That is something they failed to mention when I booked. Balancing that the staff were very helpful, the food was excellent and they arranged for my laundry to be done inexpensively and on time. Many of these pictures were taken from the riverside restaurant.
The position by the riverside was idyllic and peaceful considering how close the hotel is to backpacker central. For some reason Vang Vieng has been adopted as the favourite town in Laos by the international backpacking community, probably because of the river activities, especially tubing. That was distant from the resort; instead we saw many kayaks and light boats on the river in our section.
There are also several good hiking routes nearby; I wasn’t enthused enough about long walks in the hot sun and humidity to check those out. Instead I went for long walks within the town limits.
|A beautiful spot for a breakfast.|
Vang Vieng is very tourist-oriented with plenty of restaurants, laundries, hotels, guest houses and hostels with several more being constructed. The location is beautiful, with the river nestled among the mountains. I spent most of my time wandering around the town or relaxing with a beer by the river.
On the first morning there was a strange roaring sound which appeared to be coming from the ceiling. When I stepped outside the source became clear. The noise came from the gas burners used to keep these balloons aloft. They came on the second morning too.
On my second night a group had booked many of the tables in the riverside restaurant for a function. I arrived early and had a table to myself, but a couple who arrived later for dinner appeared to be about to leave because of a lack of seating. As I mentioned in the previous post I invited them to join me. It was another enjoyable dinner with folks to chat with.
On departure, three of us with pre-paid tickets waited to be picked up from the resort to be taken to the bus station. Eventually, 30 minutes late, a small bus arrived. We assumed this would be the shuttle to the bigger bus at the station. When we reached the station we found more people getting on and realised that the big, comfortable bus was over-booked so were going to Vientiane in the small backup. The trip was shorter and less rugged than the trip from Luang Prabang, but the bus was more cramped and seemed to need new - or any - suspension. We got there safely, but it wasn't an experience I would want to repeat.
I cover the next two days in my earlier Vientiane post.
I cover the next two days in my earlier Vientiane post.