After barely surviving the bustle of Hanoi and Saigon, Vientiane was like a walk through a field of daisies. There's no honking. There are no traffic jams. There are hardly any people. Vientiane must be the quietest capital city in the world. Now there's not much to do but eat the expat food and wander through the vats (temples), but that's just fine. We heard about a rugby match outside town, so we rode our bikes out to the middle of nowhere to watch the locals give it their best shot.
Vang Vieng sits on the Mekong river, halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It's become something of a backpacker haven and that made us think we should just keep moving. But we gave it a shot and had a pretty good time. It's ridiculous how the town has stereotyped and caters to the backpacker set. Most of the restaurants have multiple TVs playing endless episode of Friends and the Simpsons. The scary part is that it seems to work.
Just outside town are some limestone caves, including one water tunnel that dips a few hundred yards into a mountain. After wading on innertubes through the freezing darkness, we traded up to a kayak and paddled back into town, past enough riverside bars and drunk tourists to make us think we were in Davis.
Prabang is the self-proclaimed cultural heart of Laos and has the temples to prove it. In addition, PhouSi hill rises high above the center of town and makes sure that the regular drum beats from the small temple on top can be heard all over.
We're not proud of it, but sometimes we are tourists. Outside Luang Prabang, these tourists went to a resort where they got to ride and bathe with a few elephants reclaimed from the logging industry in Laos. We also made the mistake of trying the local dried riverweed. Mistake.
The fun way to get back into Thailand from Luang Prabang is to take a boat up the Mekong. The journey takes two 10 hours days with an overnight stop at a truckstop of a village in the middle of nowhere. It's a beautiful ride and we were lucky to be going against the tourist traffic. In our direction, the boat had under 20 passengers each day. In the downriver direction, the same boat carries 60-100 people plus all their luggage.