Luang Prabang, a Visual Treat

24 02 2009

Luang Prabang, Laos

I can understand why this place is considered the city in Laos. Luang Prabang is such a visual treat with the mixture of French-colonial and traditional Lao buildings. Plus there are tons of things to do in or near town like visiting villages, silk weaving classes, cooking courses, playing with elephants, and visiting waterfalls and caves. Guess which one we chose to do. Read the rest of this entry »


Vang Vieng Eco Tourism

19 02 2009

Vang Vieng, Laos

Having rethought our original plan to visit random far-off cities in Laos, Gage and I decided to cut down on bus ride time and make smaller hops. From Vientiane the next closest destination is Vang Vieng. This is a city that we specifically wanted to avoid. Though said to have tons of natural beauty, it is also a major backpacker pitstop that seems to attract the worst type of travelers. Aside from landscape, Vang Vieng has two unique attractions, the riverside beer bars catering to people tubing the river and restaurants with platform beds setup in front of TV’s that play endless episodes of Friends. I have no idea how these sorts of things evolve, but they are now staples of Vang Vieng and attract the sort of people that want to get drunk while tubing down a river or veg out in front of a TV for hours on end. After unloading from the bus and crossing into town our fears were confirmed. Drunken, half-naked white kids in swimsuits were wandering around town and the colored lights of Friends restaurants glowed all the way down the street. We were scared. We thought we had made a mistake. But after checking into our hotel we decided to wander the town and give it a shot. When we got down to the riverside we saw this…. Read the rest of this entry »

Vientiane and the Long Ride

15 02 2009

Vientiane, Laos

The ride from Savannakhet to Vientiane took 11 hours of my life that I would really like to get back. It was one of those bus rides that Monika told me about, but that I never thought would be that bad. But wow, it was bad. Gage and I thought we were strong. We thought we were seasoned travelers after almost a year on the road; that nothing could shock us or slow us down. But all it took was one bus ride. One bus ride with seats so small that our knees touched the seat in front of us, with speakers above our heads blaring Thai and Lao pop music loud enough for a night club, and music videos with painfully bad actors who acted out heartbreak as though it were a confusing gas pain repeatedly played on the screen in front of us. For 11 hours. We had planned to spend one night in Vientiane and then head up to the smaller cities and towns in the mountains, each of which would have required a 10+ hour bus ride due to the poor roads. In the ninth hour of our misery I added it all up and realized that we faced at least 57 more hours of bus time over the next 24 days. So when we got to town we booked a hotel for two nights, pulled out our various maps and guides, and reworked our entire plan. Read the rest of this entry »

Swooning over Savannakhet

11 02 2009

Savannakhet, Laos

The bus ride from Hue, Vietnam to Savannakhet, Laos was another one of those reminders of how crazy it can be to travel in Southeast Asia. Perhaps it is because the people are smaller or maybe it is due to living in a society with too many people and not enough space or maybe it is a lack of public transportation, but whatever the reason, the people of Southeast Asia often find it acceptable to be packed into a bus like sardines. Actually, since I don’t speak the language, perhaps I shouldn’t make this statement. I can at least say for sure that bus drivers in Southeast Asia find it perfectly acceptable. This particular 10 hour bus ride had Gage and I sitting in the very back of the bus with various people’s luggage wedged between our knees and the seat in front of us, while children’s plastic chairs lined the middle aisle for extra seating. The best part was that this bus would continually stop on the side of the road to pick up more people. It was both astounding and horrifying. Read the rest of this entry »

Budget Wise :: South Vietnam

9 02 2009

Our Vietnam adventure took us from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south to about half way up the very long country, finishing in the city of Hue. When I compare our budget to traveling in Thailand and Cambodia, Vietnam seemed surprisingly predictable. There weren’t many thing that were shockingly cheap, and at the same time there wasn’t much that was frighteningly expensive either. In the end, if you manage to avoid the major tourist traps and scams, Vietnam can be traveled on a rather tight budget – and the best part is that you’ll typically feel like you got your money’s worth.

Our 29 day daily average :: $35.58 USD (for two people: one couple) :: 1 USD = 17,000 VND (Dong) Read the rest of this entry »

Hue Away

4 02 2009

Hue, Vietnam

I would have loved to have taken the train all the way up the coast of Vietnam, but being more expensive and much slower than a bus, we usually opted for the bus route. The only exception to that rule was the ride from Danang to Hue, which is supposedly one of the most picturesque parts of the Vietnam train line. Having secured our tickets in Nha Trang, we boarded the train and found our seats. Though it appeared that the person who sat there before us had used the area more as a waste disposal bin than a seat, a train attendant eventually came by and cleared it out so that we could enjoy the journey without trying to keep our feet off the floor. The windows were a bit dirty, which hampered our picture-taking abilities, but the view was indeed astounding. The train passed by rice patties and lakes then wound around the edges of the mountains that border the coastline, giving us breathtaking shots of the deserted bays and clouded islands. Read the rest of this entry »

Tet in Danang

1 02 2009

Danang, Vietnam

Danang offers about as much to tourists of Vietnam as Silicon Valley offers to tourists of America. In other words, not much in the realm of entertainment or foreign services. As the third largest city in Vietnam, I figured they would have enough international business clients to have an expat community and therefore some accomodation for the English speaking foreigner. That was a miscalculation on my part. Few signs or menus could be found in English and even fewer people who could speak the language. I wouldn’t normally find this to be much of a problem, but we had one extra handicap…Tet. Read the rest of this entry »