I turned up half an hour early for the bus to Vang Vieng to find it had been filled and had already left. I had 6 hours to kill and did so by visiting the Lao and Vietnamese war memorials and taking a walk out of town. Phonsavan is not an easy town to like as it entirely been built since the Indo-China war and lacks the charms of Luang Prabang. It does show how things are improving here as last year the final section of road connecting here to the rest of Laos was sealed and with it came 24 hour electricity.
The 3pm bus was to the capital, Vientiane, and was completely packed. Once all the seats were filled plastic stools were placed down the isle. Fortunately I had a proper seat, but it was a 9 hour trip to Vang Vieng (3.5 more for those going all the way) back over the same mountains and hills. Finally got off the bus and started looking for a place to sleep around midnight with most of the town shut but did find an OK place.
Vang Vieng is another traveller haven, existing mostly for farang who decide to split the bus journey between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It really just a series of restaurants and guesthouses, but there are a few caves and villages nearby worth a visit. You could tell that this town was catering to travellers away from most of Laos life when several places state on their menu that they will make a pizza “happy” for a dollar more.
The first day there I pottered round town and the market before visiting the nearest set of caves with a few other travellers. These had had the floors smoothed by concrete and electric lighting installed but were large and famous as the locals had hidden there during a Chinese incursion in the 19th century. The evening was spent in a gluttony of western culture as we watched several films and had a curry. Both were remarkable. Most Lao cities have a couple of Indian restaurants and they are really good. I really didn’t expect Lao to be the first place I have had a decent curry in since leaving home. The films were hilarious as although the sound was in English they would leave on the badly translated English subtitles. Beer almost came out my nose when during Pirates of the Caribbean “and we’ll save your bonny lass” was translated as “and we’ll save your bony arse”. I’ll have to get a copy as a souvenir.
The next day Dennis and I hired scooters to go and visit the more far flung caves and local villages. In the largest of there we walked in for around 45 minutes before turning back in case our torch batteries ran out. It was extremely long and a breeze told us there was another way out but we had no idea how far away it might be. The villages were cute and quiet on the way out, but on the way back the schools had let out and the places were a riot of activity. At the schools themselves a flood of children in white shirts and riding bikes would fill the road.
The next day we were looking to catch the 10am bus to Vientiane but by 9:15 it was already booked out. Another bus left 4 hours later or there was the option of a minibus. We took the minibus but ended up wishing we hadn’t. The driver should have been certified. It did mean that we arrived fairly early and had lots of time to find somewhere to stay. Dennis went for a cheap place with shared bathroom but as I had a mild case of the trots I wanted my own loo. Didn’t do a lot that day but dropped my visa off at the Cambodian embassy for a visa and visited the main market the next day.
My original plan had me going east from this point into Vietnam and visiting its two main cities before heading into Cambodia. I now decided I like Laos and would prefer to get to know it better by travelling through its quiet southern regions than head into a new country.