The distance from Luang Prabang to Vang
Vieng is only 218 kms, BUT that small distance is on the very narrow, winding,
hilly, and somewhat deteriorating Highway #13.
These road conditions and the busy truck traffic
slowed our roadspeed considerably resulted in our trip taking about seven
hours. The first fields and villages we passed were engulfed in smoke from
the agricultural slash and burn fires. Once we started our ascent into
the mountains we were treated to amazing scenery. Unfortunately, many of
the photos we took from our moving bus turned out blurred and were not
useable. We had forgotten the battery charger for our main camera which
handles such motion much better. We weren't able to make use of the good
camera until we found a Canon charger in Hanoi.
Our first rest stop was at Manychanh where we
had a chance to stretch our legs, use the "happy room," and purchase drinks
and snacks. Bill was interested in the bear claws on display but decided
that he really didn't have much use for them :).
Past the half-way point we stopped at a scenic
pull-over for lunch at Vista restaurant. While Sue-On ordered lunch (noodles
with vegetables and fried chicken - chicken fingers and panka), Bill took
a hike through the jungle down a mountain trail. The trail was a bit hazardous
as it was mined with countless cow pies, although no cows were in sight
at the time. Luckily he dodged them all -- he wouldn't have been very popular
on the bus if he had misstepped.
The "happy room" toilets were a real bargain at
2000 kips (toilet paper included) since there no rear walls on the cubicles.
This offered a spectacular view of the steep valley below and the mountains
We're always amused at the coincidences we run
into in our travels. After lunch we were called over by some excited Asian
travellers. They recognized us, having seen us on the flight from Chicago
to Tokyo. After a short chat we heard the "All Aboard" call from our travel
host, Beam, and were soon on the road again.
There were sections of construction along the
way -- mainly the repair of potholes and the clearing of landslide rubble
that had fallen down the mountain slopes. Weaving all through the construction
equipment and hairpin curves were cars, transport trucks and suicidal motorcycle
drivers. Along the roadside on wider sections were small rustic villages,
people selling wares from stalls, scrounging pigs, chickens, dogs and cattle
-- and running and dodging among all of this were children at play -- only
a metre or so from the passing traffic.
We had a bit of a scare when we were flagged down
by an armed soldier who suddenly appeared out of the roadside jungle. His
uniform was a bit ragged and he looked very tired and thirsty. He requested
water and our guide and driver lost no time in finding bottles of water
for him. He quickly disappeared into the jungle.
The mountain scenery with its lush green vegetation
and steep valleys certainly made the long drive worthwhile. One of the
famous landforms that caught our eye and lens was the sleeping giant: a
cluster of peaks that resembled a prone head with mouth, nose, eyes and
brow pointing skyward.
We sensed that we were nearing Vang Vieng when
we descended to flat land and passed many open and terraced fields, shacks
and small villages on the outskirts. We turned onto a small rough road
which would take us to our homestay lodging for the night.