On the road to Vang Vieng, Laos
Today we started our day 9.30am, driving toward Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang. Vang Vieng was the “party capital” of SE Asia up until 2010 when the authorities cleaned up the city image. Having done my research on the landscape, Vang Vieng gave high expectation for photographer like me. And as usual, we started our day with a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, then a shower.
The journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng took between 3-4 hours, a combination of mountainous terrain and a straight road afterward. Once we were driving up the mountains, the landscape became more gorgeous and the air were fresher. We opened the window and turned off our AC to profit from the nice weather, stopping on our way few times to take some pictures.
Cows blocking the road to Vang Vieng
There is a rest area on the top of the mountain (we couldn’t find the name) where technically we could see the landscape, however it was very foggy that we barely could see ten meters ahead. Once we descended the mountain, the fog was so thick that our driver had to drive very slowly and carefully to avoid cars going uphill from the other direction. It took around 20 minutes of slow drive from the top to finally have a clear view on the road again.
Landscape on the way to Vang Vieng
It was around 1 pm and we have completed 70% of our road trip when we stopped for lunch. Since there was no decent restaurant along the way, we had to have our lunch at a small shop next to a farm whose hygiene was questioned. We ordered for a hot bowl of noodle, thinking that the boiling water will kill any bacteria inside the meal. Fortunately, we have no problem with diarrhea for the rest of the day and the next.
Our tummy half filled, we continued our journey to Vang Vieng and arrived at 3 pm. The day before, I had asked our tour guide to visit Nam Xay Top, a vantage point on the top of mountain overlooking Vang Vieng. Passing our hotel, Riverside Boutique Villa, we drove crossing a bridge where we have to pay 20.000 Kip ($1.5) for a car and advanced toward the outer part of the city.
Vang Vieng landscape from Nam Xay Top
In less than 15 minutes drive, we arrived at the foothill of the mountain we have to climb to reach the viewpoint. And boy, it was completely out of my expectation. You have to be completely fit and agile to hike to the top, and I would suggest wearing shorts and dark-colored shoes so that it’s easier to clean the mud afterward. It was raining the night before, so everything is slippery, making it harder to climb.
My mother joined the hike in the first 5-10 minutes, but then we decided it’s best that she waited on the foothill due to the difficulty of the hike. It turned to be a good decision because the path become even more challenging closer to the top. There are bamboos on the left and right of the hiking path, but sometimes they are so far apart that I have to hold on the rock on the ground to move forward. It was a good 30-35 minutes hike before we arrived, completely wet by our own sweat, at the top. The landscape is simply stunning.
Nam Xay Viewpoint
Me posing on Nam Xay Top
Once on the top, I unpacked my backpack and pulled my camera out. Since the viewpoint offers 360 degrees panoramic view of Vang Vieng, it took quite a while for me to decide on the best angle to photograph. I imagine that the landscape would be even better in October, when the rice harvesting season occurs and all the fields would be covered in green. I took so many pictures on the top that I ran out of my first 16 GB memory card (for a 1-2 weeks trip shooting RAW and JPEG, I find it sufficient to bring 96 GB UHS III SD card plus 48 GB SD backup). I knew that later on, I will have to spend time on deleting repetitive pictures.
Vang Vieng from Nam Xay Top
The way down felt faster but not easier, as it is more slippery to step down than to step up. I saw several worms on the way, and tried to avoid touching them when holding the bamboo rail. Overall, I almost slipped 4-5 times on the way down but each time found something to grasp and avoid the accident. I was thinking to myself that if it is time for me to die, this would probably be one of those moment.
On the foothill, my mom and the driver were waiting, looking relaxed but suffering from the heat. I, on the other hand, were not relaxed at all and literally washed out by my own sweat. My white-sole shoes were covered by mud and will have to be washed, a problem as I only bring one shoes and one slipper for the trip. In the car, I opened my clothes and enjoyed the AC full blasting toward me, a poor decision that caused me catching bit of flu the next day.
Our next destination was the Blue Lagoon, a turquoise-colored natural pool where many Koreans and Chinese were swimming. It is located 10 minutes away from the Nam Xay Top and hosts few restaurants and ice-cream shops. We didn’t spend much time there, as we do not want to swim and had to catch the sunset at one of the nicer hotel in the city, Tara Hotel Vang Vieng.
Bungalows at Tara Hotel Vang Vieng, Laos
Rice fields alongside the wooden bridge at Tara Hotel Vang Vieng
Couple walking at the wooden bridge in Tara Hotel Vang Vieng
I found the hotel from one of the top image of Vang Vieng in Instagram and the view doesn’t disappoint. The site is well taken care of and the landscape is gorgeous. There is only one drawback: you have to be the hotel guest to take picture on the bridge. Fortunately, there is a cafe/restaurant facing the rice fields where we were able to order some drinks and waited for the sunset.
Another highlight of the trip, other than Nam Xay Top and Tara Hotel, was a hot air balloon ride at the sunrise in Vang Vieng. Compared to the price in Cambodia, Myanmar and Turkey, the one in Laos is relatively cheap at US$90. The reservation could be done at Tara Hotel, which I did while waiting for the sunset.
Sunset at Tara Hotel Vang Vieng, Laos
Sunset at Tara Hotel Vang Vieng
Once the sky turned dark enough, around 7 pm, we left the hotel and walked to one of the best restaurant in Vang Vieng called Crab d’or, located at Riverside Boutique Hotel (not villa, which is in a poorer condition and located across the hotel). Here’s my review on Tripadvisor:
Located in one of the more expensive hotel in Vang Vieng, this restaurant provides a white glove service when we visited. We visited after a tiring roadtrip from Luang Prabang and were looking for a mix of European and Laotian food.
We were not staying in the hotel, but were welcomed warmly on the visit. The food was 4.5/5 and the price is not ridiculously expensive either (we spent $25-30 for 2 person meal). There are indoor seats with air condition (which was nice considering the 30°+ weather) and outdoor seats facing the river and swimming pool.
We met Kid, a very nice gentlemen serving us during the dinner, who constantly look for our needs. Surprisingly, he also speak few words in Bahasa Indonesia, our native languange! We exchanged stories of how he acquired the skill, an oddity in Laos. Moreover, he spoke with an excellent English! The service provided was excellent that we came back the next morning for a breakfast.
Overall, a recommended place to go if you are looking for an upscale service restaurant in Vang Vieng.
We headed back to our hotel after the dinner and rest early, to prepare for the hot air balloon ride the next morning.