- Outdoor activities, Vang Vieng
It seems that most people come to Vang Vieng to get ridiculously drunk or do sports activities, and in some cases, both. Being that my partner doesn’t drink and I’m not very interested in travelling half-way across the world just to drink lots, we found that Vang Vieng was all about adventure. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in over a decade, and I enjoyed it so much that I carried on through the tropical rain, until I had to stop because my eyes stung and I couldn’t see anymore. We also rented a buggy, which probably would have been fun, but it was extremely muddy and I was not a happy bunny when it got on my phone. A big highlight for me was tubing. I wish I’d done it twice as I was a bit scared of what was coming the first time – especially with the sound of rapids sounding like waterfall! It was nice to stop off and have a lemonade or a beer and then continue down the river. We also went on a motorbike and this revealed the main reason for the 7-8 hours journey from Luang Prabang: the scenery. Like Cat Ba, riding on the bike through the landscape is all you really need to have a good time when the surroundings are so beautiful.
- Waterfall, Luang Prabang
Just a half-hour ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang is a waterfall. You will hear many drivers trying to tempt you to go, and it was well worth it. We rose to the challenge of climbing to the top, clutching onto braches so not to fall, as it got incredibly steep and was quite slippery. We then walked back down and rewarded ourselves with a swim in the last pool. You had to navigate the slippery rocks, trying not to be pushed down by the force of the water, and on top of that, it was freezing cold. It was refreshing though and, after some time, it warmed up. At the entrance there was also a small bear sanctuary, and so it was nice to see a couple of bears play-fighting together.
- Night Markets, Luang Prabang
I did a lot of shopping at this market, but it also had a lot of great street food and some lovely fruit smoothies too. One of my favourite purchases were key-rings and jewellery made from old bombs that the US had dropped on Laos. Before thinking about going to South East Asia, I knew so little about these countries, and Laos was probably the one I knew least about. I was shocked to find out that the US dropped more bombs on Laos, than the collective total in WWII. This is something still affecting people today, with the danger of undetonated bombs, but these pieces of jewellery were creating a message of peace from this horrible history. It’s also worth going to the Ethnology museum to find out more about the culture, and support the local communities by buying some of their products. I spent the most money here on shopping, but as the poorest country of all we visited, I felt like it was worth it.
- Traditional Theatre, Luang Prabang
Although there had been a lot of stunning temples and architecture, I felt deprived of the performing arts. It was difficult to interpret, and quite lengthy, but it was also fascinating to see traditional day at the Royal Theatre in Luang Prabang. You were presented with the story to help you understand the dance, and piece bits together as you watched. As the performers took their bow, you could see the sweat dripping from their faces once their masks were removed, and their chests moving from heavy breathing – they worked so hard at putting on the show; I felt lucky to catch it.
Like everywhere we went, one of the things I loved to do most was to eat. Unlike some of the other countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, I had never been to a Lao restaurant. Some of it was similar to Thai food, but they also had unique dishes, and one night I took a risk and had some traditional sausage with sticky rice that you then dip into spicy sauce. It was delicious.
Tips: Be aware that there are very long distances between places. We had ten days, so only ended up in two places. We would have needed a bit more to fit in three, but really could have done the two in just eight days. The routes were winding the whole way, and the return to Luang Prabang was particularly dangerous, and I feared for my life as it speeded and overtook vehicles on a cliff edge, with oncoming traffic you couldn’t see because the cloud was so low down (all this during the pouring rain too). You will feel sick, whether you usually do or not. It says it takes four hours, but it takes at least 6 or 7, if not 8. And if you go on the buggies, don’t take your valuables out of waterproof covers until you are outside the buggy in case your driver does what my boyfriend did, and be aware that they may not have mud-guards on the wheels, so wear waterproofs and some sort of eye-protection. Then you might enjoy it despite mud being splattered at you. And I wished I hadn’t worried so much about the tubing, because it’s pretty safe as long as you don’t drink too much, and you pay attention to where the end comes up.