Having arrived in Vientiane the night before, I already had a brief sense of the city. It’s much more chilled out than other South East Asian capitals, but that’s exactly what I’m after just climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
S has already been here a few days and has picked out a couple of places to check out before we jump on a bus this afternoon.
Sisaket Wat is the oldest surviving monastery in Vientiane. It houses hundreds of Buddha statues and is quite understated compared with other Wats. Much of it is still being restored and it’s rustic charm appeals to me more than the garish, glitzy Wats you usually see in this part of the world.
There will be plenty more Wats to come so I’m happy with moving on to the next place on the list, COPE.
COPE is the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise and the work they do is quite simply, inspiring. Formed in the late 90s, COPE aims to support victims of Unexploded Ordinances (UXOs). Laos is the most bombed country per capita and although there is no war going on, each year continues to see new casualties and victims.
COPE provides medical support and prosthetics to these victims and also helps them to continue to live fulfilling lives.
The information centre here in Vientiane is packed with information about COPE’s work and the short 15 minute video is definitely worth watching.
We’re kind of winging it for the next few weeks and haven’t really made many plans. I’m happy with my brief taste of Vientiane so we head to the bus station to head north to Vang Vieng.
A short bus trip to the Northern Station and a mini-van ride (approximately 4 hours) from Vientiane to Vang Vieng costs us less than $5AUD each, which boggles the mind. At the bus station, we climb into a mini-van with a Laotian driver and once the van has enough passengers, the driver sets off. You can stop anywhere along the way, you just have to let the driver know and he’ll pull over. Seems like a pretty good system to me!
Vang Vieng used to have a reputation as a ‘party’ town. In previous years, this was where a lot of backpackers would come to tube down the river, get drunk and generally behave like louts – much to the chagrin of the locals. The government recently stepped in to curb this kind of behaviour and I’m please to see that the town is a lot more pleasant and laid back than what I had heard about it. We’re travelling in the shoulder season, so that helps as well.
Nowadays, Vang Vieng has re-invented itself as the adventure capital of Laos and is where thrill-seekers can come for hiking, white water rafting, hot air ballooning and other outdoors activities.
We get to know the town by taking a boat ride down the Mekong river. The limestone karsts are imposing on the horizon and the scenery is lush and gorgeous.
We’re staying at the Riverside Boutique and are pleasantly surprised to see they’ve given us the best suite in the place. I could get used to this!
S and I grab some bikes from our hotel and spend the rest of the day exploring our immediate surroundings. We pop into a few bars, chat to some locals and of course, eat street food!