I have some time on my hands, so prepare for another epic.
As Alanna mentioned in her informative-but-swift post about Luang Prabang, it is a beautiful place in which it is all too easy to spend a week doing nothing.
After Luang Prabang, we took a bus to a place called Vang Vieng. We had heard this was a party town, but literally nothing could have prepared us for what it really is. At one point, it was a small fishing village that sustained itself from the Nam Song river. Nowadays, imagine a scene out of a “spring break” movie, but all day, every day. The main attraction is tubing down the Nam Song in an inner tube, which in principle could be a lot of fun, but put a few dozen bars along the river blasting Top 40 Hits at top volume and you get an experience that’s really quite different. I won’t rant about it too much, but it is a very odd place that people seem to lose weeks, months, years even, of their lives in partying all day every day. We spent one full day there, floated down the river and decided that it was probably time to move on. To its credit, the day we did spend there was fun and we enjoyed ourselves. To put in perspective, after we left I was going through my camera and realized that the only picture I had of the town made it look quite beautiful (which the surrounding areas are) but with a thick haze over the town. I found it quite fitting.
So we went to the capital with a friend we had met named Paul, who also was eager to move on. We had heard not so great things about Vientiane, but all of us were pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was that we had just come from somewhere so completely different, but we all found it to be quite a charming place. We spent a few days just wandering around and getting our visas to Vietnam in order. We found a great food market where we would just walk up and down sampling a little bit of anything that looked or smelled good. Some of it was delicious, some of it was a little questionable, but it is a fun way to have dinner either way. Our last full day there we rented a scooter and drove to a place called Buddha Park, about 30km out of town. It is exactly what it sounds like — a park filled with Buddhist and Hindu statues. It’s the perfect place to just wander around and perhaps engage in a friendly photo contest? Considering my pictures are the only ones being uploaded in this post, I feel confident in declaring myself the victor. Seems fair, right?
We then got on an overnight bus down to the south, headed for a place called Pakse. Until now, an “overnight bus” had always just meant a normal bus that you happen to take while it’s nighttime. We were in for a surprise this time. They had actual beds instead of seats! Probably would not have met some safety regulations back in North America, but I would rather be in a bed than a crammed seat for 10 hours. Me being me, made sure Alanna and I were the first ones on the bus so we could get the best seats (beds?). So we got on and claimed our spots only to have the bus attendant manage to convey to us, using zero english, that we were to not take those spots, but rather that the large-ish bed spanning the width of the bus at the very back was for us. This would have been fine if it were just Alanna and me. But of course, two more people climbed into bed with us and we spent the night in a bed roughly queen-sized with two equally surprised Dutch girls.
We made it and actually managed to get some sleep while we were at it. The main reason we came down to Pakse was to use it as a base for a motorcycle trip we wanted to do around the Bolaven Plateau. So we spent a day planning it all out, renting a bike, I learned how to drive a manual motorcycle, packed up one bag with the essentials, found storage for our remaining gear, and we were ready to go! In total, we drove just over 600km in 6 days, excluding side trips. I figured I would do a little day-by-day summary of the trip:
Day 1- We were up and on the road before 9am. Impressive, right? I’m quite comfortable on a motorcycle, but city driving (even in cars) stresses me out, so we made our way out of the city and got onto the country roads where it was just us, a few cows, some pigs, and the occasional truck. That’s more like it. We drove 90 km to our first destination called Tad Lo and got settled. We heard there was lots to see, so we planned to spend two days there. We did some cruising around the countryside and found a waterfall overlooking the entire area. Not a bad place to hang out for a while.
Day 2- Our accommodations at Tad Lo cost us all of $1.50 each per night, so we were feeling like we could spend a few bucks and hire a guide to take us on a walk around the area. We, along with two other women, spent a few hours hiking around and visiting some local villages and some more waterfalls. Afternoon involved finding gas, sleeping, and going for another late afternoon cruise exploring the area. We ate almost all of our meals in Tad Lo at one restaurant called Mama Pap’s. She was kind enough to let me take her picture, which I’ll post below.
Day 3- We were on the road again before 9am. Our destination was Attapeu, about 160km away. The day was mostly spent driving through some of the most amazing scenery. I love driving around on the bike, but I was jealous of Alanna being able to focus on things other than the road. The highlight of the day was stopping at a small village, called Ban Kok Pung Tai, that we had heard about through our guesthouse in Pakse, Sabaidy 2. Our guesthouse was involved in an initiative to build a school there, so they encourage their guests to go see it and make a donation. We went to the school and one of the teachers showed us around not only the school, but also the town. It was an experience I’m very grateful for. But we had lots of ground to cover so had to keep going. We made it to Attapeu at a reasonable hour, but then spent the next hour or so trying to figure the city out. It’s an odd place . . . We finally found a guesthouse and then set out on our next mission: food. There were no established restaurants we could find, so we broke one of our rules and ate street food that wasn’t prepared in front of us.
Day 4- Let’s just say day 4 was spent paying for that little mistake made at dinner on day 3. Not much else to report. Luckily Alanna was fine, so she was kind enough to find me meds and water.
Day 5- Feeling better, and ready to keep going. We left Attapeu bright and early and ended up going all the way through back to Pakse. It was just over 200km, but both of us were ready to go back for a comfortable bed and clean clothes. We stopped at one waterfall and for some lunch, but other than that we were on the road all day. So we were back in Pakse, but not done our trip yet!
Day 6- After a nice relaxed morning, we hit the road one last time to a place called Wat Phou Champasak, about 60km out of town. It’s a world heritage site because of the unearthed Khmer ruins there, and I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this one. The trip there was amazing, and the temple itself is situated on a hill overlooking, well, pretty much everything.
It was an amazing trip that I am glad we did it. Doing a motorcycle trip in a foreign country is by no means risk-free, but we took all the precautions we could and it turned out for the best. And I feel confident speaking on behalf of both Alanna and me in saying that as fun as it was, neither of us want to be on a motorcycle again anytime soon. They aren’t exactly built for comfort, and after 6 days my backside was ready for a break.
Now we’re heading back up north, and then we start making our way into Vietnam!
Hope all is well back home.