Vang Vieng from a hot air balloon ride during the sunrise
This morning I woke up at 5 am to catch the sunrise on a hot air balloon. It has been my dream, for quite a while, to go for a sunrise or sunset on top of hot air balloon. My first opportunity to do so was in Cappadocia, Turkey back in 2012. However, the weather was not supportive at the time that I missed the window. The same goes on my trip to Bagan, Myanmar in 2016. So when I learned that there is a window of opportunity opening in Vang Vieng, I quickly seized it.
The ride itself cost US$90 and took around 30 minutes of flight. At 5.30 am, a pick up car stopped in front of my hotel gate with two Russian couples in it. I gave the ticket, given to me the day before during the reservation, to the driver and he told me to joined others on the back of the car. We were supposed to be picking up another passenger at other hotel, but after we waited over 10 minutes the driver decided to left her and called another backup car to pick her up separately.
Preparing for a liftoff in Vang Vieng, Laos
The hot air balloon ride started at an old airstrip in the city, where a giant balloon was laid on the ground connected to the basket where we would later stand on. It was quite interesting to learn how they pump the balloon from completely flat to as big as a house. First they use a giant fan connected to a generator to blow inside the balloon, a process that took about 5-10 minutes. Then they use the fire thrower, which looks more like a stove, to float the balloon. In less than 15 minutes, we were told to step up on the balloon and our journey began.
The liftoff was smooth and I felt that the whole process was taken care of in a professional manner. As we gain altitude, all of us started to taking photos and switching spots to get a better angle. I suggest to stick on one corner, as the balloon will eventually rotate itself, covering 360 degrees view even if you stick only on one side of the basket. To avoid the heat from the stove, I chose the corner near the door, which is the farthest one from the heat.
Downtown Vang Vieng during the liftoff
Gaining altitude in Vang Vieng, Laos
Me and the others during the flight
The weather was cloudy, but when the sun rose, its ray still penetrates the clouds, giving a soft, orange light across the landscape. It was an amazing experience, to feel the cold air on your face and see the sunrise in the more exotic part of the world. We saw kids waving to us from the ground, herd of cattle running across a farm and clouds moving slowly in the sky.
After 25-30 minutes flight, the pilot started to descend the altitude and prepare for landing at a different spot from where we departed. When we were about 10 meters above the ground our basket hit a branch of a tree, but continued to move on and landed safely. The pick up car was waiting for us in the ground, along with 5-6 crews that will pull our balloon to the ground.
Observing Vang Vieng landscape from the air
Vang Vieng, Laos
Herds of cattle running in Vang Vieng, Laos
At 6.30 am, I was already back in the hotel and prepare for breakfast. Since the breakfast in our hotel, Riverside Boutique Villa, wasn’t ready and we felt like having a fancy one, we headed to the nicer hotel across our’s, at Riverside Boutique hotel. It was located on the same restaurant we had our dinner the day before and cost us $15/person. Variety and quality of food were decent, but the main attraction really was the location of the breakfast, which is at a patio overlooking the river.
We spent over three hours there, slowly digesting food and talking, not to mention checking our emails and social medias using the free wifi. The environment was pleasant and the weather was really nice, neither too hot nor humid in the morning. Closer to 10 am we headed back to our hotel and took a shower before our pick up time at 11 am.
Riverside Boutique Hotel in Vang Vieng, Laos
Our first site to visit today was Tham Jang Cave, located ten minutes away from downtown Vang Vieng. In order to get inside the cave, we have to walk inside a park and hike quite a lot of staircases (around 300). If you have ever been to Flute Cave in Guilin (China), you would see the similarities, except that this cave is smaller and without all the lights displayed in Guilin. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting other than the view from the top and its history; the cave was used by the locals to hide from the military back in the day.
Other than the places we visited yesterday, that was all we had planned for Vang Vieng! We continued our trip to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The landscape along the way from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was flat and not as interesting as the one from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, so I spent most of my time listening to music and daydreaming for the next trip.
We had our lunch at a quite nice gas station, with a minimarket and a relatively clean restaurants, before arriving in Vientiane at around 4 pm. Our driver and tour guide dropped us at our hotel, S Park Design Hotel, and leaving us for the day. Since we weren’t tired yet and had plenty of time before the sunset, we decided to take a walk on the riverside, 30-40 minutes walking distance from our hotel.
Tuk-tuk ride in Vientiane, Laos
We were rather disappointed, however, by the riverside. There were only few shops along the road and several not-yet-ready-to-open restaurants with an “ok” view. Luckily on the walk there, we saw one restaurant chain that we recognized, a Thailand hot pot restaurant called MK. We bargained for a tuk-tuk ride there for 20.000 Kip ($1.5) and had our early dinner before heading back to our nice hotel for rest.