Vang Vieng is a backpacker haven of fun in the sun on the Nam Song River. Add in the numerous caves that riddle the limestone karst hillside and you can have fun in the dark as well.
Renting an inner tube for 60,000 kip ($7.20 US) is almost a right of passage as you stop at the bars along the river for strong vodka and strawberry drinks. The float takes 3 hours during dry season with no stops. We went on 2 different days and it took us about 5 hours both times. We also visited a cave that we tubed into during both those trips!
Going on a hot air balloon ride was a check off my bucket list. Watching the sunset behind the karst studded landscape is a memory I will treasure forever.
We enjoyed spelunking with new friends, swimming in a blue lagoon and watching re-runs of Friends in riverside bars. But eventually we had to say goodbye to this party town and head to the capital, Vientiane.
French-colonial architecture, golden Buddhist temples, cafe and spa lined streets greet you in this former French trading post.
The COPE visitor center has a free, permanent exhibition with displays and documentaries on the history and implications of the 2 million tons of bombs the USA dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Of the 270 million cluster bomblets that were dropped, 10-30 percent were not exploded. Now these ‘bombies’ continue to kill, maim and destroy livelihoods through much of Laos. All it takes is a child finding a metal ball and playing catch, a farmer hitting one with a shovel, or a mother making a fire for the evening meal to set off an UXO (unexploded ordinance).
A donation to The COPE Center helps provide prosthetics, orthotics and rehabilitation to people with mobility related disabilities. http://copelaos.org
After this somber reminder of the continued casualties of war it was time to seize the day, enjoy the fact that we are alive and eat French food. Vientiane has many well respected French restaurants and it wasn’t hard to find one in walking distance. Kop chai lai lai Laos! Next up: Cambodia.