From a Quiet Capital to Terrific Tubing
Vang Vieng Travel Blog› entry 14 of 20 › view all entries
Vientiane , the capital of Laos, looks across the Mekong to Thailand. It's quiet and it's provincial. Several Buddhist Wats are calm and attractive. The National Museum has a good pre-history section, but the top floor is dedicated lengthily to the struggle of the Lao communist revolution - and like the Revoluitionary Museum in Havana, also contains spoons and kettles used by leading revolutionaries!
The Patuxai Monument - an Arc de Triomple - was built in the 1960s with US supplied concrete that was supposed to have been used to build a new airport runway. There are good views from the top, especially over the musical fountains, a gift from China. On the monument a sign reads "From a closer distance, it appears...like a monster of concrete." It does.
One museum was thought provoking - the MAG, the Mines Advisory Group. Laos, it is said, is the most bombed country per capita in the world, and UXO (unexploded ordnance) is still a major problem in some areas, and even now causes injuries and deaths. The MAG, with international support, including from Britain, is working and training locals to deal with it.
Vientiane also has some fine restaurants, many with a French tradition. We were able to dine very well, better than anywhere so far, and somewhat more cheaply than in France.
We moved on north to Vang Vieng. It's a small town set in beautiful limestone scenery, along the Nam Song River. It makes a good break in the road north to the old royal city of Luang Prabang. It's devoted almost entirely to youth/backpacker tourism. Kayaking, climbing (apparently to a high standard), and caving are all readily available, but most of the young travellers opt for tubing - you sit in an inflated tractor tyre inner tube and drift down the river admiring the scenery, and probably more importantly, stopping at various riverside bars en route. When back in town, you go to one of the few dozen bars/ cafes, and over a beer/ cocktail/banana pancake/full English breakfast/ and improbably Irish stew, you lounge and watch DVDs of Friends, the Simpsons or South Park. Then in the evening, you parade around the town in clothing that's often a bit too skimpy for rural Laos, revealing your tattoos and piercings and perhaps enjoying some "happy" liquors.
Oh to be young....
We enjoyed observing the scene for a couple of days, and taking a trip out to the country. The scenery really is stunning. We crossed the Nam Song on a rickety bridge to investigate a couple of caves with our headlamps, and then went on to the "water cave". Mike stripped to his cossie, got into his tube, and floated into the cave - and out again- maybe 20 minutes tubing in all. Ok - it wasn't a full scale tube down the Nam Song, but it wasn't at all bad.
Next stop, Luang Prabang.