Vientiane and Vang Vieng, Laos
My friend and I were disappointed by Vientiane as it did not really live up to expectations from what we had read. However, some of the monuments and temples it offered were quite impressive. Here, the statue represents King Chao Anouvong, in his military exterior, raising a welcoming hand to the Thai people, across the Mekong River. This park covers 14 hectares of land and is home to a vibrant (manic) night market which is well worth a visit.
After a very long (4 hours) and extremely bumpy bus journey North, from Vientiane, we arrived in Vang Vieng. It has more of a traditional asian town vibe, with its slightly rustic exterior and un-concreted streets. There is also a phenomenal backdrop of mountains separated, from the town, by the Nam Song River.
There are many gorgeous riverside bars offering an exciting selection of cocktails. It is well worth spending an evening in one of these venues, as you will be privy to a remarkable sunset.
Vang Vieng receives much bad press about being the mountain town overrun by young backpackers, who only wish to drink and party. These reports are definitely true, however, totally avoidable. I would encourage choosing the location of your accommodation carefully as the bars will play loud music until the early hours.
Just outside of the main town, there is this rickety old bridge allowing passage over the Nam Song River. From here, one must follow a path straight through the fields towards the looming mountains. It is a picturesque journey into the hills and largely signposted, with a 200m climb to a cave entrance.
Make sure you bring a head torch, as it is pitch black in the caves. We clambered about 20 minutes in and then decided to turn around and come back. Admittedly, we totally missed the Blue Lagoon and Phangern Viewpoint, both located in close proximity to this cave. Apparently, both are well worth a visit and we only realised this later when comparing notes with other travellers.
The activity of 'tubing', where one hires a highly durable rubber ring and is transported a few kms upstream before being left to float all the way back to Vang Vieng, has received much bad press. I would be the first to defend it as a truly spectacular experience. Known as the attraction associated with unfortunate tourist deaths, many are quick to skip it. However, since tubing became popular, it also became the norm to heavily consume alcohol the whole way down the river, with bars, every 50 or so meters, ready to reel you in for the next round. This is obviously very dangerous with many tourists not arriving back in Vang Vieng before dark. Most of these bars have since been shutdown now and it is still well worth floating the duration back to V.V, as the riverside geographical landforms are sensational.
Other things to do in Vang Vieng include, taking a hot air balloon up and over the town and a long walk around the surrounding countryside, admiring the impressive scenery as you go, whilst conversing with the friendly local people. There are also some markets offering fresh fruits.
Vang Vieng is a very picturesque town and, despite the prevalent drinking culture, well worth a visit for the stunning walks and riverside restaurants. My recommendation would be 2/3 days as the correct amount of time to witness all it has to offer.