Friday, September 23, 2011

Good morning, Vietnam

Well, we'll be saying that tomorrow at least.

It's our last full day in Laos and I've loved spending time in this country. We are currently in Vientienne, the capital, though we only have a short time before we fly to Ha Noi tomorrow.

We had a great time in Luang Prabang, and other than Bangkok it's been my favorite city so far. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site- it really was beautiful. On our last day, we woke up around 4:45 for an Alm's Giving, which is a food offering to several Buddhist monks. Truthfully, I don't know much about it, but I'll do research when I have the time. We woke up early to go to the street they walked down and bought rice to offer them, although you could also give bananas or cookies. The entire street is lined with people offering food as well, and when the monks walk past you give each a small offering of rice. I'm not sure if the monks eat the food or they offer it to the poor, but I did notice quite a few of them giving food to two small boys asking for some sitting next to us. But like I said, I don't know much about it.

After that, we made our way to the bus station for a "VIP" bus ride to Veng Vienne. Although the bus wasn't bad, we thought it would be fun to sit in the very front. We could certainly see everything from the driver's point of view, but it was also frightening since it looked like we would dive off the cliffs at every turn. There has also been a huge amount of rain, much more than usual, which also means an increased number of mudslides. Because of this, our ride took about 3 hours longer than expected, but better safe than sorry. We were fortunate it didn't rain during our bus ride, but it was a little surreal to see all the slides and the bulldozers clearing them.

Once we arrived in Veng Vienne, we knew we were in for a completely different experience.It certainly wasn't as clean or developed, but still very accommodating to foreigners. VV is famous for its tubing- where you basically sit in a tube all day, float down a river and drink along the way. We heard some unsettling things about tubing, including people getting hurt and the river having really strong currents, so we decided not to take our chances. Instead, we visited a lagoon to swim in fresh water and a swimming pool, which was without a doubt more relaxing and infinitely safer than tubing. Although I'm sure we would have been fine to go, we really didn't want to risk it.

We woke up this morning and took a mini van to the capital. It was way more comfortable and way less scary for about the same price.

My general overall advice for Laos: Definitely visit, but know what you want to do before you come. If you'd like a laidback vacation, stay in Luang Prabang. If you want a little more excitement and partying, stay in Veng Vienne. I haven't been in Vientienne long enough to recommend anything, but I like what I've seen so far.

Overall, I enjoyed Laos. There was a moment driving on the bus from Luang Prabang when a group of small boys playing in the river were dashing in front of the bus and running away... it really made me fall in love with this country and its people. Life is just so simple here. It makes me kind of sad to see how Westernized it has become, because in some ways these cities have no culture of their own (although this was only really evident in Veng Vienne). It would be interesting to see how these cities looked and felt 20 or 30 years ago. I didn't really get a true sense of Laos, but I appreciate the time I spent here and everyone's hospitality.

I'm looking forward to spending time in Vietnam! We don't have any concrete plans, but we're going to spend about 3 weeks traveling up and down the country before going to Cambodia.

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