I wanted to wake up early because I wanted to try one of two Vientiane’s most famous bakeries, both of which were situated near the fountain.
There was the Scandinavian Bakery, which failed to appeal to me at all.
JoMa Bakery cafe still takes the cake.
Their decor was chic, hip and reminded me of Starbucks, and though they’re slightly more expensive than the Scandinavian Bakery, it was worth it. For a brief moment, you forget that you’re in Laos, it’s that classy!
My friend loved their coffee, and going forward made it a point to grab a cup of joe daily from JoMa even when we were at Luang Prabang. While I was constantly impressed by the quiche.
Check out the pie on the upper right, that’s an apple crumble pie (15,000 kip). I couldn’t resist, just LOVE apple pie so just had to order one! 🙂
Then for 60,000 kip, we rode the VIP bus to Vang Vieng. A tuktuk picked us up from the hotel and went around the rounds of picking up tourists from various guest houses. Finally, we are all brought to our VIP bus.
Now, in Taipei, VIP buses are those that have huge reclining seats, aircon, fresh hot towels, bottled water and the latest DVD movies. In Laos, VIP buses look like these:
Featuring crowded seats, natural air and chit-chattering for the entire 3 hours of the trip, riding VIP buses are an adventure by itself. Check our our sardine-packed bus… every seat was taken!
Vang Vieng: The Land of Good Ol’ Fun
Upon arrival to Vang Vieng, we checked in at the first place we saw, the Malany Guest House (Tel: 511 083), which cost us a mere USD 10 a room per night!!!
It wasn’t pretty quiet and is conveniently located in the middle of everywhere so Raven was one happy puppy. Plus, it had hot water (if you let the water run for 5 minutes) so I had less reason to complain.
Nobody knew about the small town of Vang Vieng until the Lonely Planet included it and picked it out from obscurity.
It’s what Thailand used to look like a decade ago before thousands of tourists infested the area. The streets are still undeveloped and tourists aren’t as numerous given the many fun offerings of the place.
From our bed and breafast, one can see stunning limestone karst terrain, and the main charm of Vang Vieng is the simplicity and fun outdoor activities available at super cheap prices — our whole day cave tubing and kayaking only cost us USD10 including a nice beef and veggie kebab lunch!
Now, if you’re looking for culture, Vang Vieng is NOT a place you’ll like.
However, if you’re looking for plain ol’ fun and an interesting experience, then you’ll love this small town. Spelunking, cave tubing, kayaking, rock climbing, trekking, bicycling are among many of the activities one can sign up for.
The day we arrived, we walked around town which you can do within an hour. There’s the island which is connected by several rickety wooden bridges that connect the main roads to well, an island.
And though they ran out of their famed mulberry shakes (how can that be?!), my friend and I had such an enjoyable meal there… at reasonable prices as well! In addition to the terrific phad thai, we also had some fried mulberry leaves dipped in honey and beef phad thai with sticky rice. YUMMY!
So guys, if you ever visit Vang Vieng, definitely drop by the Vang Vieng Organic Restaurant; it’s totally worth it.
After our sumptuous meal, my friend enjoyed her first Lao massage at one of the nearby streets at a pricey 75,000 kip for an hour — Probably the worst massage we’ve ever had!
I had the aromatheraphy oil massage where they just slather as much oil as they can on your back and swirl it around. Yuck, and my friend washed hers off immediately.
Soooo bad. I didn’t and suffered a bad rash for the remainder of the trip. Sigh.
As she showered, I opted to walk around town instead. No way am going to waste my time when I only have a few days in Laos. Besides, it was Christmas Eve after all, and you’ll never know what you can encounter.
So when someone handed me a flyer about a party at the Smile Bar, I dragged my friend to it.
And it was fun, being the loudest party in the whole area. We sipped our Malibu/pineapple concoctions (25,000 kip) and tried out the hammocks while watching crazy American men wearing bras and dancing around the campfire.
Loved it — great sounds too!
Kayaking Kicks Ass!
Early the next day, we ventured out for some kayaking, and had a weird yet delish Malaysian satay breakfast at the Xayoh Cafe.
Check out the blackness of Laos coffee, often sold for around 4,000 kip (USD 0.50) — I liked it real strong, the blacker, the better, which wasn’t a huge problem.
My friend was afraid that the lights would drop in the water and we’d electrocute ourselves to death that he held up the lights high up the entire time. In the end, some soul told him that the lights were flashlights much to his relief.
After which you are each provided with a tube where you can float and enter the caves having ropes to guide you.
Understandably, cameras aren’t waterproof, which is why I have no photos of the caves. But hopefully, with this photo, you get the idea:
The water itself is cold, but it’s interesting to be floating inside the cave, with only the ropes to guide you. We were in there for quite a while that sometimes, I thought that the cave wouldn’t end. Sometimes, the water was deep, while others, shallow and we had to walk a few. However, after half an hour of floating, our guide told us to turn around and go back the way we came in.
The idea of cave tubing is more fun than cave tubing itself.
However, the concept itself is so interesting that it would be good to know if they can develop this activity even further. I know that in China, they’ve even added a few lights inside the cave which make it even cooler.
Our lunch was terrific though — barbecued meat kebabs and fried rice. On top of that, they gave us some hard French bagettes!
Not a bad deal especially since our tour which includes cave tubing, kayaking and lunch only cost us USD 10, thanks to the discount I got because I “looked Lao” (sigh). Our tour agency’s pretty good — Riverside Tours (Tel: 511 091 or mobile 020-2244775) in case you’re interested.
After a filling meal, we then walked back to our tuktuk for the next phase of our adventure: kayaking. However, before that, we stopped at the Elephant Cave or Tham Sang which was a bit disappointing:
There’s the elephant shaped stalactite which gave the cave its name.
Afterwards, our guide took us to the river where he gave us a 10-minute lesson on how to go kayaking… HAAAAAAAYYYYYYAAAAAAAAH!
Of course, I did a lot of camwhoring while the guide was ka-yakking away (hahaha, no pun intended) and when we finally got our own kayaks (plus the extra lifejackets), I was relegated to be the navigator while my friend was the major rower.
Sounds good to me! 🙂
Being the woman that I am, it’s official — I am a bad navigator. I would say left when I meant right, and would shout, “ROOOOOOOCKS in front!” when we’re already hitting them!
Luckily, my friend is a good sport and didn’t make a big deal out of it. We had a few loud laughs with the screwup so it’s mighty important that you choose your traveling partners well. Really makes a difference!
Being the dry season, the water itself can be calm and peaceful despite a few rapids here and there. It’s really a relief to be getting away from it all.
Aside from kayaking, Vang Vieng is famous for its floaters.
Yes, floaters. 😉
For 5,000 kip, you can rent a big tube and start 8 kilometers away from town. From there, you float downstream in a tube while sipping a cold beer. You can start at around 11-ish and float till around 4:30 pm. It’s that zzzzzz…..
To make it even more interesting, there’s a row of bars that are lined up by the river side. There, you can grab a quick drink, snack and even pretend you’re a monkey and jump off a super high platform (around 3-4 storeys) into the river.
These bars can be a whole-day party area, and since it was Christmas, the party started very early.
It’s funny how in the US, they make such a big deal with you carrying an opened bottle of alcohol while walking the streets. But here in Laos, they welcome you with open arms and shove a bottle of beer while you’re floating in semi-dangerous rapids and jumping off high platforms! Crazy!
Which brings us to the topic of those high-jumping adventures. They say it’s an adrenalin rush and it is. How does it go?
First, you hold on to the handle…
It’s so special in Laos that of course, Raven had to try it as well. We didn’t pay tons of money and spent all this time to travel to Vang Vieng and NOT do the high jump, right? I knew I just had to do it or regret it for the rest of my life!
Now, I wish I was as courageous as I sounded.
But in the end, I climbed the high platform, looked down and just froze.
I couldn’t jump!!!
So embarrassing. You just can’t climb the high platform and not jump! That would be the ultimate walk of shame.
So I stayed there for freaking 5 minutes!!! Everybody was cheering me on but I couldn’t find the courage to just jump! Some have asked me why I love to wallclimb when I don’t like heights.
“Just hold on and never fall.”
Point is, I hate the experience of falling, so I was just there stuck.
Finally, my friend climbed up and pushed me off the platform! And there I went…!
I still have the bruises to prove it, right at my left lower thigh where I landed.
But the thing is, by push or shove, I did it. I jumped and that’s an achievement by itself. 🙂
Finally, at around 5:00 pm, we finally reached town and got to rest our slightly sore arms. After watching the sunset, we grabbed a grilled chicken dinner and spicy papaya salad (a Laos specialty) at one of the popular restaurants.
I MISS MY ANDOKS and BALIWAAAAG!!! 😦
Anyway, we were joined by Isaac, an American who was traveling alone, the second vegan we’ve met in this trip (no meat and no dairy products… sigh), and used to be in the army as an interpreter specializing in… get this, Arabic. That’s him on the left, and my friend on the right:
Overall, Vang Vieng has been a terrific adventure and my friend woe the fact that we have limited our stay in this cute little town. The truth is, we’re even lucky to come to this town. Given the time constraints, we were originally going to spend a mere 9 days in Laos.
However, after reading about Vang Vieng and the joys of tubing, I insisted that we somehow add it to our itinerary. Ultimately, we ended up extending our stay to 11 days, and there we were!
Hahaha, so my friend thanks me for stubbornly insisting. I can be quite stubborn when I need to be, but no way was I going to miss visiting a town because of a limited vacation so I took two days of unpaid leave instead.
So everything worked out in the end, and the next day, we rocked Vang Vieng literally…
To be continued.