Friday, April 1, 2016

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane

First impression of Luang Prabang was... well a village. We didn't get to the center because as you see in Laos the bus stations are nowhere near the city. We refused to get on the tuktuk since we thought we can walk to town but it turned out to be 10km away, and a tuktuk eventually dropped a price to more reasonable one that took us in to the town center.

This is what really surprised me about Luang Prabang, that it's much more a town than a city. And being second largest population of Laos I thought it would be larger. But you get to know the size is more spread out. There are plenty of things to do and from the touristy western bars and coffee shops to more local shops and markets, you can find lots of nature around and wats (vats?) as well.

We went to see the "Whisky" village, ride elephants (ethically) and the famous caves (not all that special). This place, like many others in the region (including Pai, Thailand) are easy places to just be. Can do something, or nothing and still feel relaxed. Spent about 5 days here, walked around, had local fruit, local dishes, a few touristy specialty drinks and entered some wats. Enough of this town and next I head to a famous party town that is surrounded by waterfalls and caves - called Vang Vieng.

Located half way to Vientiane, the capitol of Laos where I will go after. Which was my main goal of this trip, visa extension.

Vang Vieng is surrounded by nature small town that ballooned into a party central area, filled with reggae bars with "happy" menu which includes 3 items in various forms: weed, opium and mushrooms can be on pizza, shake, omlet or tea. Take your pic, or simply buy a joint for 30,000 KIP (~$3.75US) which will be large enough for at least 3 people  and has no tobacco added.

Around there are plenty of caves and waterfalls to explore, I only made it to the "blue lagoon" which is not really worth a visit unless you like to see a bunch of tourists jumping into water. The cave above it isn't bad for a cave but I have seen a much nicer one in Pai, Thailand area and was not impressed.

All-in-all I didn't spend long enough or do the fun outdoor activities in this town as my condition wasn't so good and the heat was intense this time of year. If you can find a cheap motorbike rental I heard of a small one day loop around the local caves. Keep in mind there are many small fees to cross bridges and enter the nature so take change with you or find alternate routes when possible. Speak to fellow travelers or tour guides.

Next I found a 40,000 kip bus ride to the capital Vientiane and took the rough ride there. 4 hours later I have arrived, thankfully in the city center this time and not the far off bus stations that I heard fellow travelers getting dropped off at.

This place feels like a city, it's probably the only place in Laos that feels like it is a little more modernized with plenty of western style food and cafes. I even saw a DQ (Dairy Queen). First stop after I found a decent priced hostel was the embassy. Getting around is really convenient with a bicycle. 15 min after renting one (10,000 KIP) I was at the Thai embassy learning that they only take visa extensions 8:30am to 11:30am. So it meant another day.

Next morning I did the filing for visa, relatively painless. 2 passport pictures (my last 2!), filled out the form and hand in the passport. Now we wait, and it turns out I had to wait 2 days because of a holiday. That's fine because I can just relax and see the place. There's not much to see, but can cool off in the mall, see the golden roof temple and monument resembling Paris. Fast forward to getting the passport and next I head south to Pakse.

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