It turns out that getting to Laos is not the end of all troubles, since moving around the country can be just as complicated. We have checked the distances before and thought it would all be a piece of cake, until we discovered, that an express bus needs at least 8 hours to drive the 300 km which were separating us from the capital of the country. And we have been warned it would not be a pleasant ride. We decided we needed an additional stop on the way, a place we could stay for a night or two before we hit the road again. Vang Vieng seemed to be a perfect option. Nice little town with friendly people, surrounded by water, mountains, caves and rain forest. But the reputation of this place was not really inviting, at least not as far as we were concerned. The biggest party spot in Southeast Asia, full of drunken or/and stoned foreign tourists, creating a massive chaos, which often ended with death casualties. We were not exactly tempted. At least until we asked a local tourist agency for advice. They told us Vang Vieng is not the city it used to be and we needn't worry about the stories we have heard before, as it's a different place now. A short research in Internet confirmed the news. At the end of last year, after over 30 people died within few months due to various accidents (caused mostly by excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol), the government decided to react. Many riverside bars were closed, water activities were controlled more rigorously, drugs disappeared from the local menus and all parties had to end no later than half past eleven. We decided to give it a try.
As I've already said (or wrote) before, I am a hug fan of bus rides. I know there are much faster means of transport nowadays, but I still prefer to travel in an old fashioned way, even if it does take long. And I normally have absolutely no problems falling asleep as soon as I get on board, no matter how bad the conditions are. I'm used to it and I guess I actually like it. Or at least I did before I came to Laos. The local buses were on a best way to become my most hated way to travel in a shortest time. We have taken the most expensive tickets just to get a VIP bus, which was supposed to be the most comfortable one. To be honest I haven't really noticed the difference as it was just as ancient as the other ones were. OK, it had a toilet, but it remained closed and sealed with tape for the entire ride. But that was still the smallest of the problems. The worst of it was the road itself. I know it is a mountain region, but I still can not stop wondering how drunk those people were, when they were actually building it. I don't believe it ever goes straight for more than 100 meter. Instead it keeps turning right and left without a break. This alone might have not been such a big deal, if the bus wasn't constantly jumping up and down at the same time. It made my stomach travel all the way through my body the whole time and I don't believe it enjoyed the trip much. I never have any problems with vehicles, but this time it took all my strength not to get seriously sick and I was counting minutes till we reached Vang Vieng at least. And I could only envy David, who was seating next to me, concentrating on nothing but his book, totally unimpressed by the state of the road or the bus itself.
Vang Vieng was an extraordinary place. Every building was a hotel, restaurant or a travel agency. There seemed to be no other businesses in town. The only problem was, they were totally empty. We haven't seen any other guest in our hotel, though it was a nice and pretty cheap one. The whole town actually looked kind of spooky. It was obvious it was designed for tourist. There were hardly any local dishes on the menu, but you had a whole list of burgers and pizzas to choose form and the TV was playing Friends or Southpark all the time. And for sure, there still were many tourist around, but apparently not enough to fill the empty spaces. It was as if the entire place was working on slow motion now. But the nature was just as wonderful as ever. We decided to skip the overpriced trips the local agencies were offering and once again rent a bike instead. The stony road was not an easy one, but the big cave we have visited, surrounded by amazingly turquoise water we could swim in was definitely worth the trouble. It was a perfect day and we were even a bit sorry that we had already booked our tickets to Vientiane. I guess we wouldn't mind staying there for one more day.
Fortunately, the weather got worse the next day and we didn't mind leaving that much anymore. The road got a bit better too and we took a mini bus this time, which was in a slightly better condition than the last VIP bus, making the journey a bit easier. Less than four hours later we were in the capital of the country. Vientiane is not a very impressive place. It is a nice town, with a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, but to be honest, it does not really have a lot to offer. There are some nice temples and other interesting buildings, but a day is enough to see it all. But there is one good reason to hang around a bit longer, the food, which as far as we were concerned was the best in Laos. We made sure to try as much of it as we could before hitting the road again. This time we were planning to travel down south, up to the very southern edge of the country, facing 14 long hours of a bus ride...