When booking the night bus to Vientiane for Wednesday 5 November nobody mentioned the fact that the beds were designed for Lao people. That means the beds were no longer than 1,70m, which is really too short for this 1,88m Dutchman. Only two beds in the middle of the bus would fit me, as I could put my feet in the aisle there, and luckily one of them was still available and I was allowed to sleep there, so I could get some decent sleep that night.
Thursday morning Joyce (who I met on the night bus) and I took another bus to Vang Vieng and we checked out this backpacker-overtaken town in the afternoon. Friday we went on a tour to some nearby caves, one of which was half under water, so we navigated it in a tube (inflated truck tire), which was pretty cool. After lunch we joined the proper tubing that Vang Vieng is infamous for. This means going down the river in a tube, stopping at bars along the way. Since bars are all competing for the backpacker kip (Lao money), they come up with the craziest things. Swinging on a rope over the river has become commonplace (but still fun), so one place put up a giant waterslide (great fun), and another mud-volleyball. The latter made me feel a tad embarrased of Western “civilization” though, when seeing (mainly) English backpackers slide in the mud, something a local would never do (and even frowns upon). I guess that is why all the bars are located a fair distance from the town.
Saturday morning Joyce and I biked to another cave, before I took a bus to Luang Prabang. What Siem Reap is for Cambodia, Luang Prabang is for Laos. (Package) tourists that only visit one city in the country, visit Luang Prabang. As a result, the prices have become at least double the going rate in Laos (renting a bicycle for a day was 30.000 kip, compared to 10.000 in the rest of Laos), and the city has lost its soul, being completely overtaken by tourists. It simply did not feel like Laos anymore. This is exactly the reason why I wanted to visit as much of Laos as possible on this trip, because I was thinking Laos would change the most the following years. For Luang Prabang it is already too late. Let me illustrate this with an example. Every morning directly after sunrise dozens of monks traditionally go around the city for alms. When tourists gave them bad food (sold by street vendors) and some monks got ill, the monks no longer wanted to go around for alms. The government told them that if they did not, actors in orange robes would do it, just to make sure the tourists dollars kept coming in.
Needless to say, I did not want to spend too much time in Luang Prabang. On Sunday I enjoyed a good breakfast and visited some temples. I also spent quite a lot of time fighting a virus on my laptop that I got in an internet cafÃ© Saturday evening. In the end I won and w32.autosky is gone (from my laptop at least).
Monday morning I got up early to see the (real) monks go around the city for alms, and look at some more temples. I arrived at the bus station early to secure a seat on the bus to Luang Nam Tha. It turned out the bus was not even one quarter full, so there was plenty of space, but at least I had unlimited legroom for the 10-hour scenic journey through the forested mountains. Upon arrival in Luang Nam Tha I immediately arranged a 2-day trekking in the Nam Tha NPA.