I can think of no better place to show up starving, famished even, than Luang Prabang, Laos. I have been traveling all day, winding up and down green mountains past beautiful scenery, and I’m really hungry. Nighttime in Luang Prabang is a smorgasbord. There are sandwiches on baguettes (the French-colonial vibe), soups, and down an alley of barbeque and buffets one can find anything they desire (of Laotian/Asian cuisine) for less than US$2.
I’m told by another guy in my hostel to go to Utopia Bar. He says, “You’re going to love it,” so obviously I’m skeptical. That night I’m having a beer at a bar that’s called Red Bull something or other and an American that teaches English in Vietnam joins me. The bars close early here (in Laos in general, due to curfews), but we end up at Hive where the bartenders are still serving drinks and entertaining a group of Thais with girly shots. They are pink, purple, blue. We do a few too many of those and then smoke some terrible pot before stumbling back to our respective guesthouses.
I rent a mountain bike to get out of the town, which is charming and lovely, but also boring and touristy. There isn’t much to do around town but eat, drink, and lounge in various places – Unless of course you aren’t tired of looking at temples and statues, of which there are plenty. I ride through rolling hills, through small villages on dirt roads, and eventually end up back in Luang Prabang after a few hours of great surroundings. Back in town, I cruise the streets for a while before I call it quits for the day.
Utopia Bar is not horrible like I feared. There is a deck overlooking the river with mats to lie on as drinks and food are delivered to you at an excruciatingly slow (but fitting) pace. I’m relaxed and enjoy the comforts of this former capital colonial city, but need to keep moving.
The bus to Vang Vieng is again through beautiful green rolling hills and I’m beginning to think that the entirety of Laos is just one big magnificent mountain range. It’s approaching the New Year and without plans and a desire for something quiet, I’m heading to the wrong place. The town is packed, the guesthouses bulging at the seams, and young backpackers have converged on Vang Vieng to party their balls off.
I sign up for a kayaking tour on New Years Eve. We are driven to a spot devoid of kayaks and sit around for 2 hours before we sit in tubes and enter a cave. The loop through the cave takes about 15 minutes and once we’re out, it’s lunchtime. Around 2pm, we finally load into kayaks. I’m lucky to get the only single kayak. Well, the Korean girls that didn’t really want to do anything were probably happy to have one of the guides in their boat. It’s 15K altogether, through a few rapids that get the best of a few kayaks. The scenery is fantastic. Around halfway through we pass a group of locals carrying huge baskets of crops on their backs fording the river. It is strange, two worlds colliding. It is an amazing sight, but makes my $20 kayak trip seem extravagant.
Towards the end I’m tired and my boat is full of water. A group of people in tubes lounge about in the river, already drunk/stoned/something beyond recognition. One of them tries to tip my kayak, which I’m not amused by. I push him away with my oar and I hear a large, “Awww.” Sorry to ruin your fun, bro.
I don’t pay for any drinks on New Years. I just keep going up to the bar and asking for free drinks. There are more than five people behind the bar, seemingly drunk, and I’m not sure if they even work there. The night climaxes in the street, drinks in hands, fireworks popping dangerously close overhead.