Down (river) with the kids

Our journey to Vientiane involved a night sleeper bus which took about 11 hours. The beds were actually supposed to be double beds, but they were actually barely the size of a single bed. I wouldn’t say that we got the best night’s sleep, but it was a fun way to travel. We were still travelling with Seb and Sophie, and after a long night and some much needed breakfast, it was up to the boys to find a room.

Sunset over Thailand from Vientiane

Sunset over Thailand from Vientiane

Although Vientiane is the capital of Laos, there is very little to do. It overlooks Thailand on the other side of the Mekong River, and we found a good spot to see the sunset and relax. The climate here was noticeably colder than Southern Laos, especially in the evening. As there was so little to do, and before we put on two stone from eating too much, we headed North-West to Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng is a very different place to everywhere else we have been so far on our trip. It is famous for tubing, which involves floating down the Namsong River in an inner-tube, stopping at various bars along the way. Although this may sound fairly tranquil, in reality it is a very different thing.



There were five of us now as we had met up with Julianne, a Canadian girl we had met in 4000 Islands. Each bar entices you in by throwing ropes to you as you float past, and free shots of whiskey are almost compulsory as you walk in. It’s a really lively crowd of mostly very young people, dressed in either very little or fancy dress. It did make us feel slightly old, but I think we held our own.



In the entire day we must have floated a maximum of two hundred metres down the river. For the rest of the time we were busy drinking, dancing, zip-wiring into the river, some more drinking, then some more dancing…then we can’t remember too much. The plan to tube the 2km downriver to the drop-off point went out of the window. Katy and Julianne’s dancing alerted me that they may have had one too many whiskey buckets, so we headed back to town. Within ten minutes of getting back, Katy had passed out on the bed, giving me a night off and time to get some food.

The next day was pretty much written off after our previous day’s escapades. As we spent the whole day doing very little, we decided that we would go kayaking the next day. It was an early start, and first we headed about 18km out of the city to see some caves. The first (The Elephant Cave) was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but when we arrived at the second cave we had a bit of a shock.

Opening to tubing cave

Opening to tubing cave

There was a tiny opening, and it was filled with water. We got in the freezing cold water with our tube, and squeezed into the small opening. The cave was pitch black other than our head torches that had been provided, and it was quite an eerie place. There were only four of us, and it was great not having to do it in a huge group. The cave went on for about 1km underground, and we were able to use ropes for most of the way to pull us along. The guide told us that the cave used to house thousands of bats, but there weren’t many left and most of the locals catch them to eat. Especially good on a BBQ apparently.



After a nice BBQ lunch (which hopefully wasn’t bat), we then headed downstream in our kayaks. After a few minutes of bickering, we quickly got into our stride and took in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. In total it was about 10km, and the route happened to go through the tubing circuit. We decided that after all of our hard work, we would reward ourselves with a few beers at one of the bars before heading back to our hostel.

We spent a total five nights in Vang Vieng, and we did very little for the remaining days after kayaking. Katy got to do some of his customary shopping and map checking before we departed for our next stop, Luang Prabang. The bus there was a seven hour drive winding through some stunning mountains. Some of the corners were a bit too tight for my liking, but the bus driver didn’t seem too concerned. Apparently brakes are just for stopping.  We’ve been here two nights so far, and it is a really beautiful city. There are loads of places to eat, drink and relax with views over the Mekong. It has a very French feel, with most of the guesthouses and restaurants having colonial designs.

Laos food sampler

Laos food sampler

As we have eaten very little Laos food since we’ve been here, we decided that we needed to make a bit of an effort. We found a restaurant that offered a sampling menu, where we could try all of the local delicacies. There were some quite strange bits in there, but nothing too out there.

Last night we went out to watch the Bolton vs. Man U game (which wasn’t the best), and then went to the only place in town open past 11:30pm…the bowling alley. It’s about 2km out of town, so eight of us piled into a tuk tuk. It was quite a funny night, and I managed to get a score of 137 which is unheard of. I think that’s the first time I’ve got over 100. It must be the Beer Lao.

We’ve decided that rather than get a 14 hour bus to our next stop, Huay Xai, we are going to get a two day slow boat down the Mekong via Pak Beng. That way we will get to see more of the country before we leave for Thailand in a week or so. In Huay Xai we are heading into the jungle to stay in a tree top hut and do some zip-lining. Hopefully we may get to see some gibbons and other wildlife, but we’ll have to see what happens.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…


About Sam Thompson

Currently taking a break from everything and travelling around the world. For how long, who knows.

Posted on 15/01/2012, in Laos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice picture of you tubing Sam. In fact, I think I can see your tubing.

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