Laos is much quieter than it’s neighboring countries in South East Asia. Here you see more cows on the roads than motorbikes. That suited us fine as we thought we were possibly going deaf from the constant sound of horns and motors the past few weeks.
We started out in Vientienne, the capitol. We were really only there for one day and the kids elected to stay in and do schoolwork, so Mark and I went out to explore on our own. Our destination of choice was the Buddha Garden, but on the way we saw the local market, got lost, finally found the bus station and got on the right bus, only to have it break down and leave us stranded on the side of the road. After that we found a tuk tuk that would only take us half way and then finally another bus. The Buddha Park was nice when we finally got there.
Our broken down bus
A boy on the bus that liked me
Leaving Vientienne we took a 4-hour bus to Vang Vieng. This small village in the middle of Laos is a place of stunning natural beauty, and we booked a cabin a bit out of town and right on the river with amazing views.
It was luckily quiet as the main part of town is filled with large numbers of drunk 20-somethings. Somehow this tiny village has become famous to backpackers for floating down the river in inner tubes. So of course we had to spend our one-day there doing the same. We are used to tubing the Salt River in my hometown of Phoenix, but this was quite a bit different. As you float there are bars on the banks that throw out plastic bottles attached to ropes to reel you in for a stop. For the price of a drink, or in one case an ice cream, you are allowed to use whatever toy they have, ie zipline, trapeze, slide etc. I was a bit nervous as young tourists die here every year and water levels were very low, but thankfully we came away uninjured. Mark and the kids loved it. The bars were blasting Western music and people were partying hard. I felt a bit old for the whole thing until I saw a couple in their 70’s having a great time. My favorite part was when the local kids would hop on your tube for a free ride.
Wilder making friends
That's Mark having just jumped off rickety tower on left sending Peyton flying into the air
Next we needed to travel overland to Luang Prubang. The 7 to 8 hour drive is famous both for its scenery and the unpleasantness of the journey. The road is horrible and the curves unending, but the kids and I wore our motion sick patches and opted for the minibus, which is more crowded but takes 7 hours instead of 8. I’m happy to report no one got sick. A heavy haze prevented us though from seeing much of the famous views.
Luang Prubang is a beautiful city. We had a nice family suite at a very pleasant little hotel in the old town. During our short time there we saw a couple of temples and visited the Ethnic Cultural Museum to learn about the different Laotian ethnic groups and their traditions.
Banana Leaf Omelette
While we thought we had had enough of Asian markets (the cleanliness level often being bleak and dead things everywhere) we really liked the night market in Luang Prubang. This one featured locally made crafts and textiles. We know we have been traveling too long as we are finding ourselves breaking lots of our own rules - including not buying things. Wilder and Peyton got matching slippers and I bought a duvet with matching pillow cases - super cheap but now we have to carry them!
Luang Prubang is also famous for a daily early morning ceremony during which the monks (over 200 of them) walk down the streets with their bowls collecting edible offerings from the townspeople. This is called giving alms, and the people do it to "make merit." It is quiet and beautiful at first light and a very cool thing to watch.
Next our original plan was to take the 2 day slow boat up the Mekong and over to the border with Thailand. We decided instead to take a budget flight directly to Chaing Mai so that we could spend a few days there before catching an overnight train back to Bangkok. This turned out to be a brilliant idea as Wilder and I both ended up getting sick on our last night in Laos. Feeling poorly on a 1 hour prop plane ride is miserable (Wilder got to use the air sick bag while we were landing) but a 2 day slow boat would have been a whole lot worse. Oh well, I guess it wouldn't be much of an around the world trip if no one ever had stomach trouble. Up until now we have been unbelievably healthy.