Friday 22d December 2023 – Vientiane
We spend the day visiting central Vientiane. It became the capital of southern Laos, held by the communist , in 1953. Luang Prabang, meanwhile, remained the royal capital until 1975 when the royal forces finally lost against the communist rebels. The royal family was imprisoned and no one really knows precisely what happened to them. It is thought they died in the late 70s in some camp or prison.
Vientiane has a Paris feeling, with broad avenues, grand buildings and a victory gate. Laos is still a communist country, if only in name. In practice it has, like China, Cambodia and Vietnam, embraced capitalism totally and you can see that there is a lot of money and very wealthy people around with very expensive luxury cars and mansions that look like palaces.
From the hotel, we organise and book our transfer by van to Vang Vieng, a village half way between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Saturday 23rd of December 2023 – Vang Vieng
The drive to Vang Vieng is possibly the fastest and most comfortable journey since we arrived in Asia. The road is a newly built ( by the Chinese) perfect motorway, that, sadly, ends in Vang Vieng. We complete the 130kms in less that 1.5 hours!
We arrive in town around midday and quickly find our guesthouse. We booked for 4 nights over Xmas and took a triple room as, on Booking.com, it boasted of mountains views and a balcony.
We pay in advance and get to our room. It is a triple room, but no balcony and the window, without glass, only shutters, open into a white wall, the building next door, about 30 cm away. The beds have no top sheets only a scratchy blanket and the fitted sheets are stained. Not impressed I get back to reception. Although the lad there shows very little interest we finally get a double room which at least has some natural light. As it is over xmas, it would be hard to find another place at short notice so we suck it up.
Vang Vieng is by the Mekong river and was famous for wild partying, once upon a time. Eventually the authorities shut down some of most infamous bars and cracked down on illegal substances after few too many tourist deaths, mainly drowning while tubing down the Mekong river in an “incapacitated “ state.
You can still find some stuff, by the smell of it but it is less obvious and the town is now very popular with middle class Koreans and Chinese. Plenty of them around the xmas period.
The area is very beautiful , surrounded by mountains, well, tall steep hills, reminding me of sugar loaf mountain in Rio.
We end the afternoon sharing a beer in a riverside bar, overlooking the Mekong and admiring the sunset.
We observe plenty of hot air balloons and paramotors. Lots of stuff to do in the area.
On the way back we stop at one of the many stall selling sandwiches and pancakes. We get a chocolate and banana pancake from Big Mama.
Sunday 24th December 2023 – Vang Vieng
In the morning we rent a scooter to visit the area.
The place is mobbed with and the streets completely clogged by giants SUV and vans. The korean and Chinese, well dressed, seem to favour eating, heavy drinking and karaoke, to celebrate Xmas and they start early. We see many xmas decorations everywhere and children dressed as Santa.
We pick up our scooter and visit the lagunas few miles out of town. For sunset we ride to a bar with a big field where you can sit on plastic chairs or on big blankets on the floor, having a drink while admiring the sunset over the mountains.
After that we celebrate xmas Eve with a big pizza at a popular restaurant overlooking the river. It is absolutely mobbed but worth the wait.
On the way back we stop by Big Mama for a pancake. Always served with a huge smile. She is adorable.
Monday 25th December 2023 – Vang Vieng
We take it easy as it is Xma s day after all.
For a late Xmas lunch we go to a nice French called La Cigale. We have a superb Magret de Canard, with some nice red wine.
We then stroll back to our room, stopping by Big Mama for, yes another pancake.
In the evening Alistair gets a sandwich from her, a big fat fried chicken, omelette, onions, cheese and salad. He still manages to scoff it all, including the 2 bananas that Big Mama gave us.
Tuesday 26th December 2023 – Vang Vieng
We had booked a flight on paramotors for late afternoon, This is a parachute attached to a 3-wheeled 2-seats engined contraption.
We get picked up at the agency and we travel to a large field out of town. The landing is just uneven grass. In a small office, in one side of the field, we get handed a document to sign ( bla-bla-bla in case of death “ etc usual document) then an Orange overall that makes us look like guests at Guantanamo bay famous facilities, plus a flimsy helmet.
We then wait outside looking at the paramotors landing. It looks rough. Then it is our turn.
I get strapped to the front seat while the pilot squeeze behind me. And off we go and get off the ground. It is very exciting, although balancing there I feel a bit seasick when I look down. I stop looking down. The views are amazing, the sensation of flying impossible to describe. I love it. I take photos of Alistair when they get close enough to us. The weather is hazy so not great photos of the mountains but I love every minute of it.
Back into town we decide to have our last dinner in town at the French restaurant, as it is not too expensive and the food is superb! On the way back we stop one last time at Big Mama Stall for one last pancake. We will miss her and her huge smile.
We then repack. We have booked the ( chines built and controlled ) train to Luang Prabang.
The controls at the station are very strict, with all luggage scanned and we learn that all spray cans and knifes etc are confiscated. Bye bye deodorant, mosquito repellent and insecticide. Alistair decides to post his Swiss Army knife, a xmas present from years ago, to our next hotel in Luang Prabang, rather that it being confiscated and pocketed by some Chinese official.
Next: Luang Prabang