After a long and bumpy ride, along steep cliffs and winding roads, we make our way from Luang Prabang to the little village of Vang Vieng. Almost immediately we discover the truth behind the rumours we’ve heard to much about: the legendary “Friends bars”. Although we’ve never figured out why, but nearly every bar and restaurant in town has repeats of Friends playing constantly – yes, the NBC show from the 90’s. Although it was quite fascinating, it was without question our least favourite part of the town, as it was nearly impossible to avoid. Thankfully, it was worth putting up with.
While we enjoyed a sampling of local cuisine while in Luang Prabang, it wasn’t until Vang Vieng that we finally tried the unofficial national dish of Laos: laap. Ground meat – typically pork or beef, but sometimes duck or chicken – cooked with shallots and seasoned with ground, toasted rice. It’s then served with fresh mint, Thai basil, limes and rice. Like a warm meat salad, it’s one of our favourite foods from our time in Asia.
Other than eating far too much, we did spend a bit of time exploring the stunning countryside. Surrounded by beautiful limestone mountains, Vang Vieng is a great place not only for hiking and climbing, but caving as well. There are many natural caves within the huge mountains, easily accessible from the edge of town. It’s so fascinating, getting lost in the winding tunnels filled with stalactites and stalagmites, water from ancient mountain springs dripping on your head and flowing in tiny streams. Almost as if you’ve been transported to some scene from a Tolkien story.
Without a doubt, it was our final evening in the valley that was the highlight. While the majority of travellers spend their time tubing down the Nam Song river, we decided to sit back and enjoy ourselves a little differently. On the little island in the river, only slightly detached from the edge of town, we headed over to a little place with little bamboo huts built over the shore. After stopping over at the small bar counter and browsing the interesting menu, we each order a glass of the special tea, and head back to our hammocks.The following few hours were some of the most fantastic of the entire trip. An odd combination of events made an already beautiful scenario even more spectacular. First, it was the kittens. Four or five tiny kittens decided to visit us out of seemingly nowhere, climbing on us and loving our affection as much as we loved theirs. Next, on the little hut beside ours, a group of four Japanese girls arrived, and under the dark of night began singing traditional Japanese folk songs in soft, quiet voices. It was one of the most beautiful sounds we’ve ever heard – almost angelic.
Finally, as the night wound down, it was a profound moment for both of us. Laying there in our hammocks, in near darkness aside from a bright moon and a sky punctuated with stars; with a river flowing beneath us, sharp limestone mountains jutting straight up from the opposite shore, and tiny kittens crawling on us to the soundtrack of Japanese angels. It was at this moment we both realized that there will always be some moments that cannot be reproduced. No still or video camera, no microphone, no words on a blog, could ever truly describe the feeling that night.
This is why we travel.