Monday, April 11, 2011

Vang Vieng & Vientiane

So now my time in Laos is gradually coming to an end. Tomorrow I have a flight to Kuala Lumpur, a night there and then a flight to Osaka! So I should write a little intitally about Vang Vieng.
It's a place for the young backpacker, there's no denying it although there a plenty of expats living there and there is some beautiful scenery. Then again, there is beautiful scenery in all of Laos, it's really a stunning place. The Nam Khan river runs through Vang Vieng (pictured) from its starting point in Luang Prabang. It is on this river, some four kilometres upstream from Vang Vieng, that the action is found. Vang Vieng is famous for tubing. I have no idea how this actually started, but at some point maybe 10 or more years ago someone came up with the idea that you hop on a tube (tyre interior) and float down the river to Vang Vieng. However, today it is much more than that, and quite possibly less. 
The idea of floating down the river appealed to me. I won't deny that, but I came to Vang Vieng to see the phenomenon that was the tubing culture, for down the river are more bars than you can poke a stick at. People tube from one to the next, get off, drink buckets (literally) of alcohol, and then onto the next. The result is generally people stay at the bars in the first 100 metres of the course and party. The music beats out, and the back packers are generally shirtless, drunk and high. I guess it pumps some money into the Lao economy. So THAT'S not a bad thing. However, if you are local who lived in the area all their life....
It gets dangerous too. At the moment the water levels are so low that the tubes take forever to get back to town, but the water must be a good two plus metres in the wet season, and I hear it moves like lightning. There are slides and zip lines across the river.... land in the wrong spot where it's shallow and you are in big trouble. People die every year. Enough said. I went down the river and stopped briefly at two bars but didn't drink. I wanted to make it back to Vang Vieng before 6pm when the deposit disappears for the tube, and I did. It was relaxing but a bit boring all told. Vang Vieng is a place for backpackers. There's an Aussie Bar there too, I watched football.

This is a view of the main road through Vientiane, the capital. I arrived yesterday and booked into the most grim room I've had for a long time. I'm out of there now. It's a pleasant and attractive place with a bit of a bad wrap from travellers. Okay, it's not the MOST interesting place on Earth, but there's a couple of things to see at least. The museum could be a lot better, somethings are labelled in English and some are not. I like to know about the more recent history of a place, and this was told mostly in photos. I would have really liked a timeline of events.
Today I did some mega site-seeing. I started with Patuxai - a sort of Arc De Triumph rip off which provided me with the above picture (taken from it). Inside were a lot of souvenir sellers. 

Above is the That Luang Stupa. This is the most important national monument in the country apparently, and gets on post cards a fair bit.

This is Haw Pha Kaew, another temple I saw. Very impressive stuff, inside are a lot of Buddhas. The column art is quite intricate too.
So Laos... What an amazing country. I leave tomorrow, and it's been a fleeting visit. And a hot one too, I am very thankful I have air conditioning tonight. Japan awaits in two days time, and I am excited about that. I am now keeping well clear of Tokyo and the north, as it seems prudent after what has happened there, but it will be interesting to visit and see how people's lives are even in the South.
Anyone who's thinking of going to Laos... don't hesitate. But maybe go January February when it's a bit cooler... Then again, I am a whimp when it comes to heat!

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