After a ridiculously easy border crossing between Nong Khai and Vientiane (which took 1 hour total from leaving our hotel in Nong Khai to getting off the bus in Vientiane) we felt like we were seeing an old friend again. We had spent 9 days in the city 5 years ago and had loved it, and we were very happy to be back. This time we only went to 2 tourist places, and instead spent the 2 days revisiting old haunts and seeing what was new. As well as feasting on amazing baguettes and wonderful BeerLao!
But the main reason we were back here was to visit somewhere that we had missed during our previous visit to Laos: Vang Vieng. We had been told by friends that it was quite different than in the past with the dodgy river bars, drug scene, and wasted backpackers all gone. That turned out to be very true, and Vang Vieng was not what we expected at all. It was one huge construction site with massive mega hotels being built all through town and along the river. While some western backpackers still remain, the vast majority of tourists were Korean and Chinese tour groups. There were thousands of them! So many in fact, that menus in eateries were translated into Korean as opposed to English. It felt at times like we were back in Korea!
We stayed in a little bungalow on the opposite side of the river from the town. Whilst surrounded by construction, it was the perfect spot for a relaxing 6 days. We needed the relaxation time because 2 weeks through Thailand spent relaxing is pretty exhausting. So we needed time to relax from the relaxing. It’s tough, y’know?
The bungalow was cute, but the best part about it was the spot along the river where we could sit right against the riverbank, drink BeerLao, eat dinner, and watch the world go by. And between 5-6pm it went by quickly, as all of the Korean tourists had their boat rides scheduled for that time. They would come right up to within metres of us, and we would play a game to see who would wave at us, and who would ignore us. (Almost all waved).
Aside from wandering around the town, relaxing by the river, and eating the most amazing food, we did a few ventures out into the countryside. On 2 days we went for some hikes through the dried up rice paddies, around the cliff faces, and down into a cave. The cave was somewhat unnerving, and we ended up being led by 2 children down into the depths, while at times squeezing through almost impossible gaps. But it was stunning to do, if not pretty damn hot!
One other thing we did there was go cycling. We rented out some mountain bikes and cycled about 35km around a loop track outside of town. It was beautiful and, after passing the tourist infested lagoon, very quiet and peaceful. We stopped for a drink at one place, and dinner at another with great scenery. Yes, the seats were uncomfortable, the whole way was on gravel roads, and therefore our arses hurt quite a bit for the next few days. But it was worth it!
We thoroughly enjoyed Vang Vieng. But I think we did because we stayed out of the town. The town itself is purely a tourist spot now, with no charm and just swarming with people. The noise was also deafening. We ended up having an agreement to try and not talk to each other when walking through the town as it was literally impossible to finish a sentence before a car, loud motorbike, group of shouting tourists, or construction site noise interrupted us. But the countryside surrounding Vang Vieng is simply gorgeous. Hopefully it stays that way.
Next up: back to Vientiane! Again!