A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

We made our way on a tricky bus journey to Vang Vieng, a town in a lush setting of towering karst hills which was once a rave town. We have a weird temple visit; I have weed for breakfast; I am banned from booking rooms.

By minibus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng | Laos

We decided to travel south. In the north west are rare gibbons, in the north east is a plain of jars, but we’ve realised we can’t cover everything. We’re a month in to our mini-sabbatical and also have Vietnam, Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia to cover in the next 60 days. Time flies so fast.


We only stopped at this rural stopover of Vang Vieng in Laos because the bus journey from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was taking much longer than expected.

The problem was, we had bought tickets for an air-conditioned express bus but instead found ourselves on a cramped minibus for 8 hours on a mountainous 230km journey.

But the scenery was just … wow.

Having weed for breakfast

At the Luang Prabang bus station I picked up some snacks. For the lovely precious one, the dear treasure, I bought her favourite Cream Cheese and Chives Pringles in a green airtight tube and for myself, as I wanted to go local, I picked up some Crispy Mekong River Weed; these are A4 sized flattened river weed, covered in sesame seed and embedded with thin slices of garlic and tomato. As the journey commenced I tore off some pieces and started to chew them; they tasted pleasantly salty.

A fellow passenger came up to me and started shaking his head and index finger. He mimed striking a match. He then pulled out his smartphone and showed me a short YouTube clip of someone next to a wok deep frying the weed.

That was the end of the weed. I need a wok and some hot oil.


The journey was spectacular and uncomfortable. We crossed huge mountain spurs, the karst peaks jutting upwards like profiles of blubbery faces, we went round hairpin bends with deep drops down to ravines; the winding roads seemed unceasing and continued for 4 hours.

Unfortunately the seats on the minibus were cramped and over seven hours you feel the shoulder ache. Every now and again we’d get to roadworks on some remote mountain spur and stop; there’d be a huge sigh from the passengers, and we’d all sweat in the sun-warmed minibus till we moved again and felt a breeze. The scenery though, of towering mountains wrapped in thick forests, was really rather special.


We arrived in Vang Vieng on the Nam Song river at 7pm. The town was famous for all the wrong reasons; before 2012 it was a hedonistic pleasure place, a rave town of drug fuelled parties with people drinking opium cocktails, smoking dope and trying adventure sports, never a good combination, resulting in several deaths over the years.

Since the town’s wild establishments had their licences revoked, it’s cleaned up its act and the town was strangely quiet in the evening as we walked past nearly empty restaurants.

‘At the Full Moon bar you can smoke weed,’ advised the lady at the hotel. The place also sells ‘Happy Balloon Laughing gas’ for 10,000 kip (£1)

At my age you don’t want weed or laughing gas, meths or coke. You just need a mug of Horlicks to send you to sleep.

There’s loads of adventure sports here ranging from tubing (floating down a river in a tractor tyre tube), to caving and zip-lining . Everyone was perhaps asleep recovering from their adventure sports or too much Horlicks.

Today you can scarcely believe that this idyllic rural town, amongst lush fields and forests, under huge jagged hills was the setting for activities more associated with Cancun, Corfu and Ibiza.

There was only the odd shirtless westerner playing pool or roaming the bars that hinted at it.


We ate noodles on the side of the road and the lovely, beautiful caring one fed street cats with pieces of chicken from my noodle soup. How sweet, and benevolent. It’s good to see where I rank in the scheme of things. Below street cats but above chickens. I’ve never seen her feed a chicken.

The weirdest temple visit ever

We had a weird experience in the local temple, the Wat Kang temple; in front of the wat was a monk, in flowing saffron with bare arms exposing a skull and crossbones tattoo; he was picking at the cellophane of a cigarette packet.

We entered the temple to see a golden Buddha, eyes in placid contemplation. There was no one in the temple except a baby in the breeze of a electric fan, presumably in the care of the monk.

The monk came back in to the temple with a lit cigarette in his mouth and he reclined next to the child puffing away in the temple in front of the Buddha. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.


I am banned from choosing hotel rooms

We need to choose a hotel room for our next stop, Laos’ capital, Vientiane. I leave this to the special precious one because for the last 5 years I have been banned from booking hotel rooms on my own.

We were in a tuk tuk in Siem Reap in Cambodia looking for a hotel room. I would get off and tell her if the room was good or not. This was like a filter system that that the lovely one could make a final call. I saw a room for $5 which looked plausibly acceptable (in my opinion). It had a bed, a window, no bed bugs and running water. I mean, what more do you need? The dear lovely and delectable one came in to the room and on closer inspection the said walls were crackly, the window had bars on them. It resembled a little like a prison cell without notches on the bed post. ‘Can we not stay here please,’ she said and walked out. Since that day I haven’t been allowed to choose hotel rooms.


As we are backpacking for 90 days it’s important to keep our spend within lower limits than what we’d normally spend. Our budget for a hotel room or hostel is maximum of £20 for a private double and so far we have been lucky with some lovely places so far.

This morning the gorgeous, most highly revered one was looking for rooms in Vientiane on her phone and asked me, ‘how important is a window?’ Very important I replied. She looked again and muttered, ‘stop interfering.’

We browsed the app and saw some weird ones, like the hostel which shows, for its main picture, a bathroom extractor fan; a hotel with bunk beds on artificial grass. Very interesting. I need sleep not golf putting practice.


This post ‘A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng’ was first published on http://www.heyloons.com and is part of the blog series ‘90 Days in South East Asia’.

All the links to blog posts in the series are as follows:

1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

4) Flying past Mount Everest

5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

12) Where the rhinos roam

13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

14) A tale of a dry day in India

15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

22) On our way down south in Laos

23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

25) Getting over a fever

26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

28) Mandalay Days

29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island



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