Crackle pop! I’ve been traversing Laos via Vientiane then Vang Vieng – the party capital of Laos and a significant destination for dissolute Aussie and English lads and laddettes as well as the usual grab-bag of Israelis, Dutch, Americans and Canadians. Finally rolled through Luang Prabang like a demon and am now soaking up moto fumes in Hanoi, Vietnam!

Laos.Whenever people want to talk about obscure Southeast Asian countries, Laos inevitably comes up. Deservedly so because it is small (population of ~5 million), landlocked and is the least economically developed due to its relative lack of natural resources for Western companies to exploit and its Communist government. Laos is a former French colony and this is shown via architecture (wonderful old moldering French mansions), diet (a baguette is common breakfast food and Laos coffee is incredible –some of the best I have ever tasted, that includes Wellington ha!) and the French language which is still spoken by older Laotians. It is also very much a rural, agriculturally based economy with rice grown everywhere. The landscape is studded with limestone karsts and rugged looking jungle. Truly beautiful! Also, the most bombed country in the world (US Secret War in the late 1960s, early 1970s),  according to Wikipedia!

Vientiane. This is the capital city and the one we flew into. The most laid back capital city I have ever seen. It nestles alongside the mighty Mekong River which forms the border between Laos and Thailand till it punches out to sea via Cambodia. Get this – the capital city is built on the border and you can see Thailand from the riverside! The people are very welcoming and nowhere near as pushy (in terms of wanting you to buy whatever) as in Thailand. We stayed near a black stupa (Bhudda relic) called That Dam. We promptly took the opportunity to indulge in the famous Beer Lao, a truly wonderful beverage that comes in large (640 ml) bottles and is sold everywhere for around 12,000 kip a bottle which is about NZ$2.40. There is very little advertising in Laos except for the omnipresent Beer Lao and there is very little other beer available (Beer Lao claims a 99% market share in Laos).

The National Museum was similarly mouldering, but entertainingly castigated the imperialist Yankees and the guest book was chocka with comments by outraged American tourists suggesting changes to the translations of the exhibit explanations! Laos also has a curfew for most of its bars of around 11.30pm which was a nice change for the abused liver. In short a delightful backwater!

Vang Vieng. The aforementioned town is situated on the Nam Song river, a tributary of the Mekong. The scenery is spectacular with massive limestone cliffs looming over the river and mist wreathing their heights till the sun burns it off. It is now a backpacker mecca with a small slice of Bangkok’s  Khao San Rd transplanted here. What draws us? Booze, adrenaline highs via rope swings, tubing and drugs!

Happy Menu!!! Fruit shakes with weed, opium and mushrooms, mushroom omelettes, opium tea, opium coffee, lassie with mushrooms, ‘happy’ garlic bread, pizza and of course the perennial bag o’ weed and joint. Suffice it to say we stayed safe. Tubing whilst sporting mushroom eyes is not recommended. Ditto smoking without knowing which bar has paid off the police can lay you open to a large USD fine. Having sex in public resulted in a couple US$500 fines each just after we left!

We met a couple of Aussies (including a transplanted New Zealander) on the bus and tagged along as they met another Aussie who had been in Vang Vieng for 6 months. Doing promo work for a local bar and having all food, booze and tubing paid for. Heaven? So long as you can hack it! In a sad finale to her stay she took out 800,000 kip (NZ$150) from the local Western Union and had it stolen the day before she left by a Laotian friend cracked up on Yaba.

Tubing in Vang Vieng was incredible fun. Synopsis – get a rubber tyre inner and float from bar to bar while making the most of rope swings at each bar. We were a little concerned when the river rose about 2 metres overnight due to monsoon rain, however all for the best as it meant a faster river and more/less danger (deeper river means no danger of dropping onto the rocks at the base of some of the swings)! There were rope swings, a hydroslide where someone apparently died a fortnight before and a flying fox! Of course the rapid rise of the river had washed away three bars on the river and two bridges so there were about five bars left. In addition to practicing debauchery on the river, we went to visit some caves (unfortunately somewhat lame – went to the wrong caves) and watched the muddy river flow past our breakfast spot with pieces of bar, bridges and logs. Most excellent fun and highly recommended for drunken adrenalin junkies!

Following a couple of days in Vang Vieng we took a 6 hour minibus to Luang Prabang.