But half an hour into 2011, the plaza was slowly getting empty, while we looked for alternative venues for some dancing, but alas it was sleepy Vientiane after all, so we too went back to the hotel, walking in the deserted streets of the city with a chilly air blowing from the banks of the Mekong river.
I was in Vientiane for a workshop, which ended on 30 December, so, I decided to stay a few more days to spend the New Year there. Laos has always been so charming, with its gentle people and dramatic landscape. And of course, who can resist drowning one's self with Beerlao, the best beer like EVAH!
I swear Laos is one of my favorite countries in the region. Other than Vientiane, I have been to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Champasak on previous holidays. I'm always impressed how Laos relaxes me like no other place; perhaps it's too much beer or because life is just absolutely laid back there and the people are very polite, with wide, beaming, and sincere smiles.
On New Year's day, I hopped on a bus to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is like the hub of young backpackers in Laos and is famous for its water tubing, parties by the river, endless drinking, and some drugs, I heard. It's not exactly a place to find a quiet time in; you just cannot escape the endless thumping of techno music, drunken revelry, and replays of Friends in the many restaurants in the middle of the town.
However, Vang Vieng definitely still has quiet parts, especially if you venture out to the fields, go inside caves, or find a peaceful spot on the river banks while watching its always splendid sunsets.
This is the peak of the tourist season though, so, having some peace and quiet is the last thing can one expect. Luckily, I snagged the last room in a cheap guest house by the river (a little less than 8 USD). Unluckily, it was freezing in Vang Vieng, and freezing I mean something like, I don't know, perhaps 20 degrees in the evening. Again, I have to remind you that I'm a tropical bayot and anything less than 27 degrees is automatically winter for us in Surigao.
So anyway, before I went to Vang Vieng I was completely convinced that I would spend my time getting carried down the river on a tube, which after all is what Vang Vieng's all about. I packed tank tops, shorts, and sandals, only to find out that the river would instantly kill me. I don't understand how those tourists dare dip in such freezing waters all day long!
In fact, I stayed inside my room most of the time, napped like there was no tomorrow, while covered with a heap of thick blankets. I could not even take a shower because the guest house's water heater was purely a wall accessory. It did not help that the hut's walls were so thin, I felt like everything was sooo damp.
I enjoyed Vang Vieng nonetheless. I really did. Well, there's always Beerlao for some company, and damn, I could marry Beerlao any time. Obviously, I'm not alone in my undying love for the beer as proved by the many drunken backpackers slouched on daybeds in the restaurants.
The only time I could go out to enjoy the scenery was like between 10 am to 4 pm when it was warm enough, but even then I was wearing a sweater while being surrounded by girls in bikinis hanging from the arms of equally half-naked men.
When I went to Vang Vieng last time it was the rainy season. The river then was muddy and totally uninviting, hence, we ended up doing a mega photo shoot. What to do, aber? This time around, the river was clearer, shallower... but cold.
I just refused to get wet or else it's instant hypothermia for me. I took a boat tour instead, which brought me upstream. I got a glimpse of some river life - people washing their clothes, kids swimming, men fishing, etc - and then eventually of the tourism-oriented aspect of Vang Vieng: floating bars, river swings, and so on.
The next day, hours before I left, I ventured across the river to the corn fields where I saw signs leading to a couple of caves. I chose the farther one, about 40 minutes hike under the shadow of the karst cliffs surrounding the fields. I don't know what to say about the cave, really. We know how they're like: dark, damp, and slippery. Note to self: don't do caves again.
So it's back to Vientiane where I managed to catch the evening market by the river bank. I love those colorful embroidered bags! And then, as a tribute to my wonderful stay in Laos, of course I had to guzzle one more big bottle of Beerlao.