Happy Laos New Year!!

On our way back to our plush $15 a-night room, after our two day trek, all we could think about was a cold shower and the king of luxuries; AC.
All our dreams and prayers were answered for us as we entered Luang Prabang; we noticed a woman at the roadside with a big drum of water besides her and a pan in her hand. Old rusty (our minibus) slowed right down for some reason, and as we were about to pass her Kong yelled out ‘Falang! Falang!’ and pointed to our open passenger window. Within seconds our sweat and dirt stained bodies were now soaked in cool water; Laos New Year had begun.
After 10 minutes of doing drive-by soakings of school kids on push bikes with the dregs of our drinking water, we retreated into the hotel and had a well-earned collapse.
The next morning we left Luang Prabang for the town of Vang Vieng in a minibus on a 6 hour terrifying mountaintop rollercoaster ride. We try not to complain too much or judge people’s way of life here in Asia but one thing we despise is the way they drive. Common sense would tell you not to overtake a bus with a blind-bend up ahead and a 600ft drop into a jungle to the left of you but not here in Asia! Simply crazy on the roads.
We arrived in Vang Vieng still in one piece so we plonked down our bags in the closest guesthouse and practically stormed into town looking for some good grub and that relaxed hippy feel that the town was fabled for.

The islands of Vang Vieng
Opening our menus we were greeted with the options of Happy Shakes, Happy Pizzas, Happy Pancakes etc with a choice of either weed, magic mushrooms or opium. We were a little too hungry to go for these options.
On our quest for the ‘relaxed hippy feel’ we realised that clearly times have changed. The town is now over developed (and still getting bigger) and that chilled-out vibe has been replaced by a drug-fuelled and paranoid town over-ran by drunk, loud, boisterous, teenage gap year kids walking around half cut and half dressed, covered in paint with a distant stare to their eyes. The locals call them ‘the zombies’.
That evening we found the perfect bungalow on the very edge of town with a bed that faced an all glass wall overlooking nothing but farmland and the limestone mountains that surround Vang Vieng.

Motorbikes go over this bridge too!
The next day we moved in and spent most of the day in our hammocks enjoying the view, but not enjoying the breezeless 36 degree heat. That night, through our window, we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm that went on for hours. It did borderline scary, but neither of us were going to admit that.

How lardy-dar

The following morning we set out to do the thing Vang Vieng is famous for; Tubing. Basically, you get on a tractor inner tube and float down 3km of soothingly slow river with limestone cliffs towering above you. If you do it sensibly i.e. don’t take magic mushrooms or opium, and don’t drink too many Lao Lao buckets (nearly a whole bottle of 45% whiskey and maybe half a can of coke to make up the rest) you will assuredly get to the finish line safe and sound.

Psyching up for the water with a bucket of Lao Lao and a dash of cola

During the Lao New Year two people reportedly died on the river possibly from drowning or possibly from jumping in head-first where the water level is at about a foot (well, it is the end of dry season) but you can be damn sure they weren’t sober. Last year 86 Falangs died this way on the river.

I just did a pee pee
After three days we decided it was time to move onto Laos’ capital Vientiane to enjoy the up and coming New Year in a more civilised location.
Our first night in the capital was a rare treat. We had found a Belgian bar with a fine selection of imported classics such as Kwak and Bachus. Two hours, four drinks and $26 later, and with a pleasant but expensive buzz, we headed out onto the street to find the same old Laos fare for dinner.
We arrived in Vientiane on 13th April and the next day was the official start of the New Year when people visit the local Wat to bless the Buddha and each other. It was also the beginning of solid hardcore water fights. The first day was a great experience; walking the streets with water guns, but to be honest we didn’t stand a chance as all of the locals had hoses or pick-up trucks with ten people on the back with buckets and water bombs. Being Falangs we were high on the hit list.

Ready for action
With all of the beer and waterfights one would expect to see altercations and aggression but that is not the Lao psyche so for the four days it was all good natured. 
There was one moment of near riot when five Japanese men turned up drunk in a pick-up truck (even the driver) and started soaking everyone that passed the café we were eating in, including pregnant women, old ladies and people going to the temple to worship. Jen got up to tell them off and to calm down but they ignored her, ten minutes later when they got out of hand Gareth, two falangs and a local Lao got up to angrily confront them and they soon put their tales between their legs and retreated back to their truck. Apart from this it was all very peaceful and friendly.
Beerlao had set up a beer tent and stage with a sprinkler system inside to keep the crowd constantly wet while listening to club songs and (terrible) Laos music. The constant wetness was a blessing after the ridiculous heat but it also made us a little homesick. England, don’t take the rain for granted.

Early in the day – within an hour it was PACKED
Day two of the four day celebration was exactly the same as day one but with less enthusiasm from us, day three was a pain in the arse and day four was just a nightmare. We would have spent the day at the hotel if our room had a window but alas it didn’t, so once again we found ourselves on the street dodging kids with water guns and adults with hoses.
After six days in the capital we had had enough so we got onto a bus to a place called Tha Khek to the south, a journey taking five hours, which turned out to be close to torture…
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