The first part of our trip that we told you about included Vang Vieng and Vientiane. Both are quite interesting cities and we want to tell you a bit about our experiences there.
Vang Vieng – a tourist city in amazing landscape
Vang Vieng, a small city, is located in the middle of the northern part of Laos, about half the way from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. This makes it easy to include in our trip and it’s worth it! The city is embedded in a wonderful landcape with unique hills and mountains around it. For us, it felt like it has been cut out of a picture book. We decided to get to see more of the nature around Vang Vieng by cycling west of Nam Song river. The paths are not all street-like, but it’s quite flat and you’ll get rewarded for your effort.
We first visited a place called “Blue Lagoon”, where people enjoyed swimming and jumping into the water. Then, we climbed up a little to make a small tour through Tham Phu Kham Cave. We got some lunch and continued to cycle towards some small villages, where we saw a bit of local lifestyle and learned a bit about Lao minorities. Furthermore, it’s harvest time, which meant that a lot of farmers and helpers collected the rice plants. The farmers still do a most of this work by hand because in a very poor country like Laos, only a few are able to buy agricultural machines.
In the late afternoon, we cycled back and rested a bit in our guesthouse, until the electric power ran out, which is not uncommen in Laos. After dinner, it still hadn’t come back and it wouldn’t do until we left Vang Vieng the day after to continue our trip to Vientiane.
Vang Vieng is a completely different city compared to e.g. Luang Prabang. There are a lot of restaurants, tour offices, guesthouses and hotels. We found a very authentic Thai-German restaurant that we can definitely recommend, especially for it’s very friendly manager. It’s a lot more “city-like”, with higher buildings and kinda only touristic facilities. That might be connected with the fact, that Luang Prabang’s main parts and temples are protected as a World Heritage. In contrast to it, Vang Vieng is a much “colder” town and hasn’t this warm, charming and sometimes even mystic feeling that we liked in Luang Prabang.
Vientiane – South East Asia’s smallest capital
The capital of Laos lies near the Lao-Thai border in the south of northern Laos. It really feels different from other capitals you might know, being more reminiscent of an enlarged socialist town. The reason for this could be the missing higher buldings and the quite small size of the city compared to other capitals.
There are not too many sights in Vientiane. We made a small tour capturing the most seeworthy places. This includes some temples like Wat Si Saket, Haw Pha Kaeo but especially Pha That Luang, which is kinda the national symbol of Laos. Built in the 16th century, it’s a must-visit if you come to Vientiane. Its golden color is especially nice in the evening, although we weren’t able to capture this beauty due to time reasons. Furthermore, Pha That Luang was under contruction during our visit, so sadly we can’t offer you any photos of it.
We walked a bit along the river front and climbed up the Patuxay Monument. It’s Vientiane’s “Arc de Triomphe”, built for the heroes of the royal army fighting for Laos’ independence. The building is still not finished to this day (they started constructions in the 1960s), but you get a great view over the city from the top terrace.
To conclude, Vientiane is one of the more calm capitals, with not too many but some nice places to visit. Of course, as capital and by far biggest city in a socialist country, it tries to be impressive. On the other hand, its “town-atmosphere”, at least in outer parts and compared with other capitals, is unique. Still, compared to Luang Prabang, Vientiane is a completely different place and that makes it worth visiting both.
to be continued…