Vang Vieng Laos

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thanks to my Skype interview with a job back in Seattle, we were both up at about 4 a.m. I was done just by 6 a.m. and went to find James pacing around the streets. I grabbed him so I could excitedly introduce him to the morning market before treating him to his beloved omelet at JoMas Bakery and Café in exchange for serving as my official tech support throughout the interview process.

At 9 a.m. a tuk tuk shuttled us and a dozen other backpackers to a bus station where we transferred to a mini bus. James had a panic attack in the far back corner of the over-capacity minivan, which proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to have a fellow passenger volunteer to swap; so with some very vocal hyperventilation, we started the 8-9 hour journey.

If we ever had multiple lives, they are officially exhausted during that van trip.

We arrived into Vang Vieng after 5 p.m. We found the first place we spotted to call home and dropped our stuff and headed out to explore before darkness set.

I think Spielberg envisioned this as the set for Jurassic Park (sorry Hawaii).

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Vang Vieng is a tiny place dropped into an overflowing, abundant green landscape. It’s as if someone oil-painted the whole scene but was only given pastel hues to chose from. The emerald mountains stretch their necks into the oceanlike sky and your busy eyes must shift down to view the glasslike pebbles that decorate the Palisade-like river.

This painting was once smeared with a dark and distracting period. In the town’s hayday, over 170,000 drunk, high, overly excited backpackers and in-their-element hippie crazies came tumbling into town every year, transforming the small dot on the map into a wild party town with a reputation to please all brave enough to head there. Dozens of tourists were killed after participating in drunk/high tubing/ziplining and rock jumping. The place was absolutely out of control, and despite the need for tourism, in 2012, the Laos government stepped in an cracked down. Hundreds of bars/clubs were shut down, crowds disappeared and the place cleaned up a bit.

If nobody told me this I would still be able to smell the spilt vodka lingering in the soggy floorboards. The hint of fear and anticipation for mass untamable crowds definitely exists, but I’d like to say all guests remain relatively well behaved. Warm faces are happy to see you, but worry clouds their eyes, wondering if you might bring back the chaos that they so gladly are beginning to finally forget.

We checked the town out (it’s tiny) and ended up at OtherSide Bar cheersing to a successful Skype interview that morning. The green cliffs served as a dramatic backdrop as brightly colored balloons peacefully glided by, and with dollar drinks and Laotian grub, we found ourselves sitting in an absolutely perfect evening.

 

Wednesday-Saturday, May 7-10, 2014

Our days were perfect and always started with enjoying morning Friends reruns on cushions, pad thai and spring rolls and then an afternoon filled with whatever Vang Vieng had to offer. We rented mountain bikes and cruised to the Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham caves.

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We went tubing, twice.

Off the government record, tubing is still insane. Despite claiming to have settled down, at about 1 p.m. about a hundred people come out of the woodwork, rent tubes, go in a tuk tuk and get dropped at the starting bar (point). Free shots of some home distilled rubbing alcohol are generously served paired with “good luck” bracelets. Word of advice – take the bracelet. You are going to need it for this trip. If anything it’s new jewelry and a dependable reminder of how much you’ve had to drink. Eventually before about 3 p.m. incredibly drunk people throw their overly tanned butts into tire tubes in the Nam Song.

The first bar is about 200 meters and you hardly have time to settle into the tube before some boy is throwing you a string with a water bottle attached to reel you in. The first bar is sweet – there is a sand volleyball court, basketball and soccer fields and plenty of beer pong tables to serve the masses.

There are a few more bars, some more fun than others and the last ones too incredible to remember. Two days of tubing was plenty and we had our share of fun both times.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ironically, the same day there was a balloon crash in Virginia, we jumped into a basket attached to a balloon at 6 a.m. that morning. I thought it would a romantic, peaceful relaxing morning cruise over the green rice paddies with the beautiful mountains comforting me in the distance as I watched the river snake its way around the mountains.

Well, not exactly. The balloon was a bit worn and our pilot was likely about 15 years old. At one point we came about a feet from a cell tower (wait those have those in Laos?), and if I were to stick my arm out the balloon I could have easily grabbed it.

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I don’t think either of us realized you don’t have much control of anything up there, and neither does your teenage pilot. It’s not exactly as tranquil as any scene from UP, and James may have had to change his pants when we landed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

We made our way to Vientienne – the capitol of Laos via bus.

We both hated Vientienne and feel it doesn’t actually deserve to be mentioned and the camera had no attraction to the grey shipping-yard looking place. Luckily we only spent one night there, which was enough for James to Skype his parents and me to unload my fat backpack that previously gained some Asian pounds.

We walked in the steam-room like weather to the post-office. The post office was massive and despite the hundreds of workers bustling around, nobody spoke a word of English (understandable since we were in the middle of Laos). I felt like I was at elementary school winter wonderland where you walk up to a bunch of tables, hand them some colorful currency and they give you a brightly colored box in exchange. After several sign language exchanges I got my package back and passed it off to the final window.

$150.

I quickly snatched it back and mentally totaled up the dozen items. Let’s see – chopsticks, canvas bags, maps, paintings all worth maybe $12. And I was paying $150 to ship it via rowboat home. James convinced me to hand it back over since he didn’t want to deal with it and I said farewell to my favorite Asian souveniers. Little did I know I had another surprise in store for me that day.

Lao Airlines, an airline with one of the worst safety records on the planet and a fatal crash within the past year, took us from Vientienne to Hanoi. Although James promised it would be an A320, I stepped onto the runway and did a 180* when I noticed the A320 looked more like an AT7.

I think I blacked out in panic. The plane definitely shouldn’t have been in the air and James only reassuring words mentioned that if the plane killed us I wouldn’t be able to get pissed he booked this flight.

But, we made it to Hanoi and excitedly settled in while we waited for my Mom to arrive from Seattle!

Luang Prabang – Laos

10 days in Luang Prabang 

Want a vacay idea? Head to Luang Prabang.

I absolutely love this place. I love the people that love this place. It’s Capitol Hill meets Pottery Barn.

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We accidentally ended up here about six days longer than intended thanks to my second job interview scheduled for Monday, May 5. I was delighted about the interview, albeit incredibly nervous that the internet in Laos isn’t exactly existent or impressive, but mostly thrilled at the excuse of staying longer.

Our week plus here ended up being perfectly timed to write magazine articles, blogs, play with photos and videos, go for daily runs, touch my toes in yoga classes, reunite with volleyball, dance like crazy at hours extending beyond our previously established bedtime, splash in puddles and dodge lighting in the most dramatic storms we’ve seen yet, swim in waterfalls, impress one another with creating chicken stuffed lemongrass, stomaching tripe and slurping up bile.

Oh, did I mention there is a night market? Every. Single. Night.

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The first few days we rented pedal bikes, cruised around and donated endless hours to Utopia. Utopia is a sweet zenned out riverside joint with inviting cushions featuring a view during the day, and serving as a lively mecca for travelers at night.

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One day we rented a scooter and rode 30km outside of my favorite town to Kuang Si Falls. The falls are amazing and we definitely didn’t expect Laos to pack this much beauty.

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Our other days in town were spent cruising around on bikes, checking out temples and climbing up stairs to say goodbye to the setting sun.

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One of my favorite days of the entire trip was taking a cooking course at Tamarind. We do a good deal of research before committing to pricier ‘touristy’ stuff like this because, well, frankly we are flat broke.

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Every penny was worth it. I would do it again in a second. I might even fly all the way back to Luang Prabang JUST to take this class a second time.

Need a place to stay in Luang Prabang? Head to Indigo House. Not only is the location perfect, they have market-view porches and incredible grub.

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What else does LP offer besides acting as a perfect recharge point for two 27-year-olds on early (okay, temporary) retirement?

Monk spotting.

I was up around 4 a.m. and just beat the sun rising. Naturally I stepped out without shoes and in my boxers thinking I would be the only one to watch the monks walk around their route collecting rice offerings. I was wrong. Really wrong. The streets were packed with locals and tourists, all with a small blanket laid upon the sidewalk offering up sticky rice to the passing monks.

It was quite magical.

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Some people say I have ADHD. I can’t pay attention long enough to ask why, but James has become quite desensitized to it. When I say “I’m going to see the monks, be back in an hour,” he knows not to worry when its been 6 hours and I’m nowhere to be found. Particularly if he knows a morning market is nearby.

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I cruised around the market for several hours, absolutely falling in love with the colors, smells, textures, sounds and the whole little town transitioning from a peaceful sleep into a bustling fair.

I bounced around between two purse stalls, carefully examining every one and wondering if $5 was completely insane to spend on a purse, considering I didn’t have anything to put in it and that was the cost per night of our guesthouse.

Heck yeah this cutie is worth it. I should have bought the whole stall!!!!

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Luang Prabang packs a serious artsy fartsy punch for you creative right brainers out there.

Accidentally more than once we cruised up on some lady weaving in her driveway…

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One very gorgeous morning, Lyndsey and I left the boys at home to head to
Ock Pop Tok store. I would say we discovered treasure, because this place is incredible.

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The showroom was littered with brilliant batik pieces, traditional designs and modern twists to create an overwhelmingly sweet viewing experience. Naturally Lyndsey and I ended up in the workroom, and then of course on a mini shuttle to the Living Crafts Center. We spent two hours wandering around the beautiful grounds. We met the silk worms who donate their lives to the creation of these fine invaluable threads. The artisans that spend hours working with complicated patterns on the looms have the warmest smiles that you feel like you want to spend the whole day being mesmerized by the sounds of the wooden blocks creating rows of intricately woven threads.

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Even if you are some macho hot dog eating, gun wheeling hunting dude, I guarantee you will be impressed by this operation and the simplicity yet overwhelming complexity of weaving.

On Monday, May 5, I had an interview with a children’s hospital via Skype. Skype cooperated for the most part, however the chickens that were loudly greeting the rising sun at four-something am definitely did not help sell my professionalism.

After the interview we celebrated the idea of perhaps one of us being employed and jumped into a death trap shuttle to Vang Vieng.

425 Magazine Tells Our Story

This week 425 Magazine, a Seattle-area publication, told the story of our trip around the world in a four-page feature article in its July/August 2014 travel issue.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 5.05.10 PMCoverFor those of you in the Seattle-Eastside area, pick up a print copy at your local news stand and turn to page 67.

For the online version of the story, click here.