Vientiane as the capital city of Laos doesn't have much to offer, a couple of temples here and there, a large day market, monuments and a walk along the Mekong- all can be done in a day. It has a much slower and relaxed pace then any city in Thailand. More than anywhere else I've been in Laos, here you can really feel the French influence. For one, there's many sidewalk cafes to sit at, sip espresso and people watch. Then there are the wide set avenues leading out of the city center, and the "Patuxai" or "Gate of Triumph" that is linked to the Presidential Palace by a broad tree lined avenue, which looks very familiar to the Champs Elysees that links the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. The difference between Vientiane and Paris: the people. Here, the people are so welcoming and hospitable, happy to have you and genuinely wanting to help. It really adds to the relaxed pace of this city.
It helped that I met two English girls in Vientiane to travel with, after being secluded in central thailand on my own for a week. We decided to head up to the infamous Vang Vieng- party central of Laos. Its infamous for its "happy" restaurants, bars along the river, and of course the tubing. Although 27 tourists have died tubing in this year alone, people continue to flock to the river for buckets and rope swings. We put on our life jackets and grabbed our tubes and when we reached the river, stood in shock at how fast it was going. It was monsoon season after all and it hadn't stopped raining for the past five days. We spent the day floating or speeding along the river, spending a couple of hours at each bar along the way. The workers will throw a rope out to reel you into the bar, if you miss the rope- you head to the next bar. Each bar had a variety of games and activities, we spent a good hour rope swinging into the water. After the insane, tiresome Vang Vieng, we headed up to Luang Prabang, about one of the most amazing towns in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately I was sick with food poisoning for the first two days.
Luang Prabang is situated between the Mekong and the Namkhan. Visitors enjoy a laid back atmosphere (with an 11:30 curfew) as well as ancient wats, cafes and French architecture. Its less bustling then Vientiane and more beautiful, having been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. We spent our days here eating Western food (guilty), biking around and walking along the river peninsula. We took a day to visit a cave full of Buddha images, and then headed to a magnificent multi-tiered waterfall. I'm definitely considering returning to this French-like riverside town.
We're head to Hanoi next. When debating our journey, we considered taking a 30 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. The time didn't deter us, it was the stories of hours of sharp turns through the mountains, landslides blocking roads, untapped land mines, and drivers falling asleep at the wheel. We booked a flight. Off to Vietnam today!