38. Chilling à la Lao. Vientiane-Vang Vieng

I don’t get one thing: why are all the capital so boring? I was hoping Vientiane would be different but it ended being as dull as the others. Anyway we didn’t really come there to explore but to do our paperwork. So after finding a cozy hostel (with A/C!) we prepared ourselves for our next day visit in Chinese embassy in order to get the visa. List of documents, although looked scary at the beginning, wasn’t that difficult to get. Honestly, it’s all based on lying. Hotel reservation? Booked online and cancelled after that. Work to prove? Old payslips/letters from previous employer. Proof of entering and leaving China? Bribe given to the hotel’s employee in order to honor us with a pretend return ticket to Kunming. After printing all the papers we were ready to visit the embassy the next day. But there was one more thing. TOEFL. Yes, the exam proving that I’m able to communicate with everyone in the Aussieland. As it’s getting closer to 1st of July I started to look into Australian visa requirements and I found out that nor my Erasmus, nor my previous jobs in US and UK qualified as enough proof of my English skills. Looking for some English exams in Asia I found one in Vientiane. Exactly in 2 days including 1 day of crossing the border with Laos. As you can imagine, I wasn’t well prepared and I didn’t even know what to expect. We got tuk tuk to the other side of the city, happy to be there way before time. Unfortunately, we forgot we were in Asia. And, of course, no one knew where to find 105 Nongbone Road. We checked every building, every street, no result. Started to run around and ask people. Nothing. Finally I started to cry (ETS warned me I’d loose my money -£120- if I’m late), didn’t help. In the end I lost Callum and tried to get wifi in order to call the office. Long after the exam started I managed to call them to send someone for me so I could arrange the next date. Sweaty and resigned I was told to refresh (I bet I looked like a desperate madwoman) and attend the exam. I forgot this was Asia and there are no rules here 🙂 After 4 hours of fighting against time I contacted Callum to meet in the Chinese embassy. When I got there suspiciously there was no people there. Why? It was Saturday. I thought I’d kill myself. I left a note for Callum and hitched back home. I spent the rest of the day laying in my bunk bed avoiding any unnecessary movements.

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Little monsters preparing for Songkran

The next day I took Callum (I’m his personal tourist guide) for a little walk around the city. As I suspected, we didn’t see much besides ‘representative’ park, ‘representative’ Presidential Palace and ‘representative’ Patuxai gate. The best part was probably walking around the streets outside of the center and eating in our favourite local restaurant across the street. On Monday we were ready to leave after we applied for Chinese visas. The Water festival was coming so we knew it would take a while until we collect them so we decided to keep going to Vang Vieng. Hitching from the airport wasn’t succesful so in the end we caught a local bus to Vang Vieng, being accompanied by a bunch of chickens on a back seat.

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Vientiane Patuxai gate
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Team work!

Vang Vieng was a paradise. We stayed in one of the bungalows, surrounded by a gorgeous scenery of karst mountains, perfect spot to chill for a week. The first night we spoiled ourselves with a delicious barbeque in the restaurant right by the river. Vang Vieng was a small town with 1-2 main streets where all the life was concentrated. It reminded me of Burmese Hpa-an because of its scenery but this one was even better. We spent most of our time chilling in our bamboo hut/hammock, swimming in the river or watching Family guy/Friends (perfect lure for tourists, I must admit) in the local restaurants.

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Our bamboo hut 🙂

On 13th of April a big celebration started. Songkran, a festival of water was 4 days madness with all the people drinking, dancing and ambushing tourists with their water guns. From the very morning all the speakers in town were on, playing “Put your fuckin hands up!” as loud as they could. Although Laos is a communist country, Lao people are pretty relaxed, easy-going and apparently very inspired by Western ‘artists’ that usually include Pitbull or American rapers. All party was concentrated by the river where all the people swam for the whole day, enjoying food, drinks and local bands performing from dawn till dusk. Completely unarmed we walked through the town and found ourselves in the middle of a water battle, passing locals with their big buckets, water hoses and water guns. Rinsing the clothes didn’t make sense so in the end we accepted every bucket willingly.

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Water Festival
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Wer Songkran party 😉

We didn’t do complete nothing, oh no. There was many great sights worth exploring so we started from Pha Poak mountain- quite high karst mountain where we could enjoy the sunset and amazing views of the whole area. But the real highlight were the caves. After renting a bike we visited pitch black Pha Thao cave and, one of the most popular, Water cave. The second one you had to explore with a tube,  holding a rope and slowly moving through the tunnel. It would have been pretty scary if there was not so many groups shouting and successfully destroying a mysterious atmosphere of that place. On the way to Blue Lagoon we saw many tiny villages with people celebrating Songkran and selling local specialities (crispy chicken legs were the most popular). Although roads in Laos are pretty good the bridges remain a mystery to me. They are usually wooden (or paved with wood/bamboo) and they are definitely not safe. Moreover, you often have to pay for crossing them which causes a terrible traffic as only 1 car can pass at one time. The bridge next to our Other side bungalows was made of bamboo and wood and every day a new piece of floor was missing. Riding a bike or walking there after an intoxicating night wasn’t a good idea.

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Lao people know how to advertise
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Local specialties

Blue Lagoon was surely not blue. At least not during the festival that brought hundreds of people there, occupying every inch of the main square. We overcame our street food fobia and tried some fried pork and rice lolipops but it only reassured us to stick to our ‘Family guy’ restaurant. Although the festival was fun, the best thing about the whole trip was definitely Phu Ka cave which I visited with an open mouth. It was the best I’ve seen so far and although climbing up to reach was not easy it was totally worth it!

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Blue Lagoon!
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Phu Ka cave

Laos is a little different than the countries we’ve seen before. Although it has the same climate as Burma or Thailand the country is much more mountainous and covered with endless greenery, that’s why I absolutely loved it. Vang Vieng was a perfect spot for climbing so I booked a half day course so that I could try climbing outdoors for the first time. The walls were not too difficult and after 4 of them I was ready for more but we had to go back so I promised myself to try it again another time. And then the big day came, our visas. On Monday Callum went for a mission, hitching to Vientiane in order to get our passports back, leaving me alone with no idea what to do that day. In the end I went for a bicycle trip to explore 2 other caves in the area. After getting lost few times in the jungle I got to Chang cave which served as a hiding place for locals during the civil war. The other one, Num Bor Keo cave was much better though. Remotely located, with no tourists at all, was a place where I could finally have some privacy. And I enjoyed it 100%. As there was a pool outside of the cave, I spent most of my afternoon singing along with Janis Joplin played from my tablet while soaking my ass in a cold spring water. Life is beautiful.

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Trying not to fall…
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Pure beauty!

“You got them?”. Yep, green, decorated with communist flag Chinese visas were beautifully placed in our passports. Big day needed a proper celebration. And there was plenty of places to celebrate. As I said before, Laos is a pretty relaxed country, also about stimulants (and I’m not talking about alcohol or cigarettes). Magic shakes, magic pancakes, opium muffins were available in many bars that usually had a special “magic menu” for its customers. Well, why not, we like magic. That evening reinforced me in my love to Thai/Lao cuisine (red curry <3) and made me realize that even 1 week of chilling and doing nothing can have a marvellous effect on you. That was exactly what we needed- finally we had some quality time for ourselves and for each other, it brought us a peace of mind and a new fresh energy for the coming days. We were ready to leave.

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Here they are! Our beautiful Chinese visas 🙂
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