2.2.7: Return to Luang Prabang

Day 102: Vientiane to Vang Vieng

I got up early and went to the local bus station to get a bus to Vang Vieng. After so many farewells recently it felt like I had come to the end of something, even though I still had almost a week left in Laos. Around midday the bus arrived in Vang Vieng, set in a spectacular location with huge limestone cliffs surrounding the town. I went to the Maylyn guesthouse but it took a while to find it as it was on the other side of the Nam Song River and the bridge was concealed by the many hotels and guesthouses lining the riverside. I eventually found the way across going via the party island with all the bucket bars in the middle of the river.

102.1. The karst landscape around Vang Vieng.

When I arrived at the guesthouse a guy was there who I recognized from the bus I was on and he had just taken the last room. He introduced himself as David, from Middlesbrough, and offered to share the room with me as it was large and there was plenty of room for two. I accepted and we checked in and then went for lunch in the guesthouse and chatted with the owner, another English guy called Joe. Joe sold us a map and we discussed some of the walks in the region. This side of the river is nicer and much less touristy than the other side, which feels like Khao San Road set in a spectacular location. In the afternoon I took a walk towards some of the nearby cliffs and visited a cave. In the evening I went to a bar by the riverside and watched the sun set. It was very beautiful and at one point I saw thousands of bats emanating smoke-like from the karst. I came back to the guesthouse for some dinner and joined David and a guy from Wales and his girlfriend from Hong Kong.

102.1. The karst landscape around Vang Vieng.

Day 103: Vang Vieng

Today David and I rented mountain bikes from a friend of Joe’s who lived nearby and we cycled along a circuit through the hills. The roads were poor and it was quite a rough ride even with good mountain bikes and with the heat as well it was quite tiring. The scenery was spectacular though and the villages we passed through were very picturesque. At one point we took a wrong turn and we ended up doing the loop in the opposite direction to our intended route. It took quite a while before we realized our mistake and it made navigating quite difficult. On the return leg we headed towards the lagoon and when we arrived it seemed that half of Vang Vieng had come up here to carry on the party. We decided against going and instead went back to a nice little restaurant that we had passed a few hundred metres down the road. After lunch we cycled back to the guesthouse.

103.1. Cycling in the countryside around Vang Vieng.

In the afternoon David cycled to the Organic Mulberry farm to the north of town but I was tired so I just stayed in the garden of the guesthouse. Later on I went to return the bike and then went to a bar by the riverside and had a beer while the sun set. I tried to photograph the bats coming from the cliff but was unsuccessful. In the evening I went to a fish restaurant and had ping paa (BBQ fish) again after I had enjoyed it with La in Vientiane. The restaurant was new and it looked it, the woman who ran it was very friendly though. Her name is Jai and she said that she was impressed by the little Lao that I could speak. After dinner I headed back to the guesthouse and joined David and Joe for a beer.

Day 104: Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

I got up and said goodbye to David who was heading to Phonsavan today and then went to catch the minibus I’d booked with Joe yesterday. I crossed the river and got on a medium sized bus which spent the next hour or so driving up and down Vang Vieng picking people up. We eventually reached the north bus station and transferred to minibuses. The rest of the journey was much more pleasant and when we stopped for a break after a couple of hours I met David again whose bus had also stopped here. The minibus arrived in Luang Prabang at about 16:00 at the south bus station and there were many guesthouse touts there. Since it was Christmas Eve I was a bit concerned about finding a room so I went with one of them. His guesthouse was OK but I still wanted to see if the Jayala Guesthouse, where I stayed last time had vacancies, so I left much to the his consternation. The Jayala had one room left so I took it. After I checked in I met a Vietnamese guy on our shared balcony called Tien. Tien works as an artist in Sydney and wanted to do some artworks with laser beams but his supervisor knew nothing about them so he was interested in my work. Later his American friend Mia arrived and together we went for dinner. I tried to find the Luang Prabang restaurant that I went to before with David but I failed so instead we went to a small Lao place on the road into town. After dinner we came back to the guesthouse and drank beer in the garden.

Day 105: Luang Prabang

Today is Christmas day. I failed to get up in time to watch the monks precession as planned so instead I had a lie in until about 9:00. When I got up I went for breakfast at a nice place by the Mekong. When I was there I met a Singaporean girl who had a go at me for leaving my bag unattended when I went to the toilet. She introduced herself as Joey and we had breakfast together. I told her that I would be coming to Singapore early next year and she gave me her email address and invited me to contact her when I arrive in Singapore.

After breakfast I walked through town and came to the mouth of the Nam Khan and crossed the bamboo bridge as I’d done before with David. I went for a soft drink at a small bar on the banks of the Mekong that David and I had seen last time but we didn’t get around to visiting. Outside was a sign saying, ‘We have public boat every Friday morning to Paklai and Vientiane’. I worked out that Friday was the day David and I originally wanted to go by boat. Unbelievable! I finished my drink and went for a walk through the village and bought a shirt at one of the handicraft stores.

105.1. Christmas in Luang Prabang.

Later in the afternoon I went for a beer and some sticky rice at a nice restaurant on an island in the Nam Khan. It had outdoor tables and bamboo huts and even though the access point was in the heart of the tourist district there were only Lao people here, except me. Afterwards I went to an internet café and had a Christmas morning three-way chat over Gmail with my mother and father, which involved some fast typing. Afterwards I climbed up Phusi hill to visit the temple at the top and to look out as the sun was setting.

105.2. The view from Phusi Hill over Luang Prabang.

In the evening I met up with Tien and Mia for a beer. They were planning to go to the night market for dinner but I suggested the place I went to earlier. They agreed and were pleased when they arrived. On the way there, Mia mentioned that she had met in Chiang Mai a Swiss couple with very short hair. I asked if it was Derek and Delphine she said that it was. It is a small world! For Christmas dinner we had fried morning glory, Tom Yam chicken, Luang Prabang salad and sticky rice. We ordered too much sticky rice so Mia insisted that I take the leftovers in a plastic bag for breakfast tomorrow. We went back to the guesthouse and had one more beer before saying farewell as I would be leaving early tomorrow morning.

105.3. Christmas dinner with Tien and Mia.