The primary activity in Vang Vieng, around which all else revolves, is floating down the river on tractor inner tubes. In recent years, the tubing became increasingly tied in with drinking, smoking, and general mayhem. Ropes appeared for swinging into the shallow river, then ziplines, and giant slides. As the scene got out of control and too many injuries and deaths occurred, the authorities stepped in and literally tore down much of the wild infrastructure.
So today, there are a few bars you can stop off at while tubing, but it’s mostly just a gorgeous place to float. There are still plenty of backpackers around, but it’s really perfect for a couple old retirees who thoroughly enjoyed three hours floating down the peaceful river, high on the stunning scenery.Then another long, winding bus ride brought us to Luang Prabang, a historic Lao capital and the highlight of any visit to Laos. Set between the Mekong and a tributary, the town is bursting with monasteries, gold-covered temples, and orange-clad monks.
And all that is complemented by the best concentration of attractive restaurants and bars we’ve seen in a couple months. There seems to be a consensus here that restaurants should feature dim lighting and lots of candles and pretty colored lights. It all works to make Luang Prabang one of the most atmospheric stops on our trip and an ideal place to wrap up our three weeks in Laos.
Today we will fly back to Bangkok for a few days to refuel — and, most important, to apply for visas for Myanmar. Then we’ll fly to Yangon and celebrate the holidays on a 13-day bicycling tour of Myanmar.