How Now Brown Cow in Laos - it rhymes!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Sunday 11th April
We got up and caught a tuk tuk to the Luang Prabang bus station as it is 3 km out of town! We boarded our bus to Vang Vieng. Now this road down Route 13 hasn't had very good press in recent years with incidents of bandits and insurgent attacks on tourist buses. The Laos government has been trying to combat this problem as tourism brings a lot of money to the Laos people and obviously it wants that to continue but when a man in jeans and a t-shirt carrying an AK47 over his shoulder stands in front of the bus to stop it you can't help but hold your breath! It turned out he was one of the government employed combatting the problem and purely wanted to tab a cigarette from the driver - long exhale of breath!

There are a number of armed guards en route but nothing really to distinguish them from what an actual bandit may look like! The route to Vang Vieng is probably as much dangerous for its windiest roads on the edge of some pretty high cliffs with no crash barriers than for the bandits that frequent it! The buses don't exactly drive slowly either. We saw one bus that had come clean off the road and had all its passengers sitting at the side waiting for the next. Normally on this road you would have had no overtaking opportunity for about 100km but the drivers here use probability over good old fashioned sight to overtake on the basis that the road isn't that busy so there is only about a 5% chance of there being someone coming round that blind bend or on the brow of that hill with the 1km sheer drop just 2 metres to your right. I have never held my breath more in the 7 hours it took to get to Vang Vieng! Its not so much the number of cars you pass but the cows and the pigs that are in the road as well. Laos has the most beautiful caramel brown cows and they tend to live in the middle of the road so it was more dodging cows than cars.

We arrived in Vang Vieng remarkably unscathed and were dropped off on an old airstrip which lies parallel to Vang Viengs main and only street. We made our way to a lovely guest house called Dokkhoun II where 40,000 kip got us a lovely ensuite room on the 3rd floor with a balcony overlooking Vang Viengs dramatic limestone mountains. We dumped our stuff and headed out to check out Vang Vieng which takes all of 5 mins. There is the main street which is about 1/2 mile long and a lane which runs paralleland then the Nam Song river which runs parallel to the lane. The main street is full of restaurants with raised platforms full of cushions to sit on at low tables. We found one playing a series of Friends on DVD so we got ourselves comfortable and had dinner and a few shakes.

Monday 12th April
The main attraction to Vang Vieng is the Nam Song river and the activities on it. Whether white water rafting, kayaking or tubing! It is the dry season so the river isn't at its full potential so we decidedon a day of tubing. You hire your tube (a big tractor tyre inner tube) and you get a tuk tuk to drive you 5km upstream and then you jump in your tube and let the river bring you back. In the wet season it takes one hour to complete the journey back to Vang Vieng and in the dry iot takes three so its not exactly exhilerating but certainly very chilled.

The locals don't miss a trick and about 7 Beerlao steps are set up on the riverside. As you are floating passed a Beerlao stop you give the nod and an old lady pulls you in with a huge bamboo stick. Now stopping at all 7 would be insane as Beerlao comes in 650ml bottles but there are three Beerlao stops worthwhile regardless of whether you want Beerlao or not. The first is called Swinging Monkey Beerlao and a man has set up a tyre in a tree which you climb up and edge out on a branch you then grab the tyre and swing out and let go and land in the river! The second is Bamboo Beerlao where a rather dodgy and rickety bamboo ladder is tied up and leans over the river a good 4 metres up. You climb up the ladder and fall off the top into again the water below. The third stop is Jumping Beerlao (can you see a theme developing here??) where basically you climb onto a cliff and take a running jump off it.

After the excitement of those three you continue down river in rather tranquil waters passing a jagged mountain range of limestone. You then get some small rapids for the end of your trip and have two bamboo bridges to negotiate under and eventually you are back in Vang Vieng. We had been on the river for four hours and were feeling a little frazzled from the sun and Beerlao so we dropped our tube back and headed to our guest house to get showered. It was a really good day but unfortunately as you are swimming all day the camera was a no go so we have no photos to show. We headed out to an amazing Indian restaurant called Nazims and had fantastic curries with rice, garlic nan and Beerlaos for under 2 quid.

Tuesday 13th April - Happy New Year
We got up and headed out and within about 2 mins we were completely soaked to the bone. Laos New Year as officially started and everyone throws water at everyone! We were walking down the street looking for somewhere to get breakfast and saw Merdeth and Francis who had just arrived from Luang Prabang so we joined them for brekkie. You couldn't step out onto the street without getting water thrown at you so we joined the children from the restaurant and stood out front with a hose and a number of buckets and started lobbing water at everyone who walked, cycled or drove by! It was brilliant and there are another 2 days of this!

We spent all morning throwing water and then the owner of the restaurant, Jai said he was closing up to go to a Laos New Year party and invited us to go too. We all decided to go and see how the locals celebrate and headed North in a Tuk Tuk to a village called Ban Tham Xang and then we followed the Laso crowd to the river. It cost 2000 kip (10p) to get in and it was like Glastonbury! There was a huge stage with some bands playing and then a whole field of people dancing and sitting drinking Beerlao. We were taught how to drink Beerlao Lao style! Basically everyone buys a beer but you never get to drink your own. You pour some Beerlao into a glass and pass it someone who downs it and then refills it and passes it on to someone else and so on. It goes round the group until it eventually gets back to you and you do the same again. The problem with this is a complete stranger will offer you their Beerlao and you find yourself in two rounds of Beerlao and then three and then four and then before you know it you are just constantly downing Beerlao! No one hears your pleads for no more as a) the music is too loud and b) they have had more Beerlao than you!

The Laos people were so friendly and all want you to drink their Beerlao. They head off and buy local snacks and food and then show you how to eat it. There was all sorts of food on the table, nuts, chicken sticks, papaya salad and fat bamboo sticks that you peel down and are filled with sticky rice. Jai asked if we wanted a break from the Beerlao and offered to show us some caves. We slowly jumped at the chance, the first cave we went to was called Elephant cave because of a huge stalactite which resembles an elephants head. In this cave there are many buddhas and because of the New Year a monk was blessing people with good spirits. We got blessed. We knelt before the monk and offer a hand and he ties an orange string around your wrist while he ties it you are supposed to hold up your other hand to stop the god spirits escaping. You are supposed to keep the string on until it falls off and never take it off or you will lose your good spirits.

After this we headed away from the festival a couple of kilometres walk through some rice paddies to another cave. We hired some torches and headed deep into this amazing cave. There were millions of stalacmites and stalactites reaching from the floor to the ceiling and ceiling to floor. Apparently you could do a 3 or 4 day trip into this cave and still not reach the end so once we had ventured in about 1/2 kilometre we made our way back out into the light. By the time we had walked back through the rice paddies and got back the festival had finished for its first day. We found ourselves a tuk tuk and I take back my statement in the last entry about tuk tuks comfortably carrying 10 people because we had 22 on this one although I wouldn't use the word "comfortably". We got back to Vang Vieng at 8pm and thanked Jai for showing us Laos New Year and the 4 of us headed out for another curry!

Wednesday 14th April
After all the excitement of the last couple of days we were knackered so we joined Merdeth and Francis for breakfast and because of the ridiculously comfiness of these raised floor areas we stayed there. The restaurant put SWAT on the DVD so we watched that. We then left to play cards on our balcony for a few hours until it was time to eat again! We went to get a pizza and watched Bringing Down the House followed by an entire series of Friends. We left about 10pm and said our goodbyes to Merdeth and Francis as we are leaving for Vientiane tomorrow and then to Vietnam whereas the girls head back to Bangkok. We got home and packed all our stuff up once more and prayed that tomorrows bus journey down the rest of Route 13 is nowhere near as as bad as the first.
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