Vientiane has singulary lost any significant traces of its french heitage. The street signs may still refer to 'rue', but the few remnant colonial houses are lost amongst the non-descript concret blocks and BeerLao adverstising signs. The newer buildings are either mediterranean specials, with bulbous balustrades, and the prefferred colour scheme of ochre yellow and maroon, or Government buildings, built high and impresive in a style reminiscent of the prayer halls of the ubiquitous wats. The pace though is slow, and the wekend in not dead - shops and businesses still close on Saturady afernoons! The city looks bright, decked out in its bunting of red slogan banners, the hammer and sicle and Lao flags flapping in the warm breezes
The attractions of Vang Vieng cannot be seen as one arrives in the ugly dusty town. It is only down at the Nam Song River, with its breathtaking view of the karst mountain cliffs rising steeply from the ricefields that the reason becomes clear.
Additionally, there are rivers to tube, ziplines to zip, dusty roads to cycle and other bogan delights including cheap Beerlao and two for one shots of lao lao accompanied by loud doof-doof music. And what must be the cheapest balloon flights avaiable anywhere!
The king left town after the revolution in 1975. And things have sure looked up for Luang Prabang since. It is hardly an 'undiscovered secret' any longer. It still has streets with french colonial building, a smattering of glittering temples, and a lazy, restful and refreshing air. Apart from enjoying the fine food, buying handcrafts at the Night Market or a stoping for coffee and a croissant at one of the many cafes, there are elephants to ride, waterfalls to be photograhed and bears to relieve of thir boredom. At least we found time to do these things during our four day stay.
. There can hardly be a better way to travel between Northern Thailand and the former Lao Royal Capital of Luang Prabang than a languid, two day cruise down river on a 'slowboat'. The landscape is serene, the weather balmy and the boat just puts along, hour by hour as the world passes the windows. Our trip was brought to us by Mekong Smile Cruises. and was well organised in every way. We spent 2 full days on the river and were efficiently transferred to the starting point in Huay Xai from Chiang Mai. It really was a 'no worries' trip. A couple of stops in small villages give a sence of the lives of the people inhabiting the river valley, and serve to break the journey.