>’Laxin in Laos

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Our first stop in Laos is beautiful Luang Prabang, a city considered a gem of French colonialism, although perhaps not the most accurate representation of Laos cities. Our first impulse in this UNESCO World Heritage site was to rent a bunch of bikes and explore the lazy town situated between two winding rivers, discovering to our delight many quaint restaurants and even a stand sporting what could only be decades fermented snake/scorpion/giant centipede whiskey, of which the kind man would offer you a shot for only 75 cents. “Good for power! Good for man!” he assures us as he makes uncouth hand gestures. How could we resist?

The main attraction in Luang Prabang (you can tell by the sheer number of Tuk Tuk drivers asking you if you want to go there) is the Khong Si waterfall, a tiered waterfall rising hundreds of feet into the air. For the lazy travellers, there is a great picnic area to relax and enjoy a sandwich in, while the more thrill-seeking can dive into the many idle pools off of various smaller waterfalls or rope swings suspended from trees. There are also hikes to the upper tiers of waterfalls, and for the slightly insane (I suppose most Free and Easy leaders, who I was hiking with at the time, fall under that category) you can ignore the worn out ‘DANGER DO NOT PASS’ signs and climb down 50 feet or so to a tropical playground that seems to have come right out of a movie! There are caves to explore behind waterfalls, natural vine swings to be swung from, and pools that afford some awesome diving, complete with shallow sitting areas overlooking drops hundreds of feet down!

Another hot spot in Luang Prabang are the renowned night markets, sprawling all the way down the main road from 6 pm until midnight every night. The variety of goods available, along with their special Laotian flair make this a must see (and for some, a must buy) for everyone! After the night market we hit up the hot after hours bar in town – the bowling alley. No joke, this place takes off at 11 (when all the bars in town wind down) and when you show up for a few more beers, you will find every foreigner in town hanging around the overwhelmed 5 lanes, waiting for a turn to bowl or just to grab another 600 mL Beerlao for about $2 (a complete rip-off by Laos standards). With bottles of ‘Lion King’ whiskey going at $3 (trust me, it’s not worth more than that), it sure is a party all night long!

But don’t get too carried away with nightly activities, because another must see is the morning alms giving ceremony. Picture a misty morning sunrise on quaint streets, with hundreds of orange and saffron clad monks moving along the road in a solemn line to accept rice and other offerings from the townspeople. For those of us who couldn’t make it out a 5 am to get a few photos, there are always postcards!

Mmmm…rice.

With our short stint in Luang Prabang at an end, we boarded the mini bus and started on the beautiful, mountainous drive to Vang Vieng, home of the legendary river tubing! Our paths finally crossed with Colin and Justin’s group, so the party could finally begin! The next day, 40 plus Canadians hit up the biggest river party in Southeast Asia dressed in the most ridiculous swimwear we could find, many of us decked out with Free and Easy logos spray painted in bizarre places all over our bodies. Far from floating down a lazy river with a beer in hand, the local bars have people all over the banks of the river ready to cast out floating rings or bamboo poles tied to strings, which they will use to pull you in to their bar once you grab on! With Beerlao coming in at about $1.50 and free Tiger whiskey shots all day long, it’s hard to say no! Most bars also offer some form of zip line, trapeze swing (often from trees or platforms 30 feet in the air), or giant water slide, with some more recent additions being a mud wrestling/tug-of-war pit and plentiful beach volleyball. Talk about entertainment!



The group before hitting the river in our wacky swimwear!

If you had a big start to the day and need to call it quits, there are opportunities to head home early and take a Tuk Tuk home from some of the bars along the river. However, my favorite way to sober up is to take the easy float home down the river, landing you a 10 minute walk from the guesthouse! One word of warning: the local kids may be ready to pull you in to the shore, but they are only looking for tips from tipsy tourists. If they seem eager to help you carry your tube, beware – if they return it, THEY get your 60,000 kip deposit back. Not a bad wage for a kid in Laos!

Linds and I having a muddy tug-of-war session. Which she won. But I had the bad side =P

Other than tubing, Vang Vieng is a backpacker driven town, with most restaurants offering 24 hour a day Friends, Simpsons, or Family Guy episodes – take your pick! There are also many opportunities for rock climbing, lagoon visiting, caving, river kayaking (where you can show up at the river party sober and watch all the insane stunts from a less intoxicated angle) and so on…you just have to drag yourself away from the party first!

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