Any trip through SE Asia would not be complete without venturing into Laos. Personally, I chose to enter from the north and take a speed boat to Luang Prabang. Although the boat trip lasted only half a day, I learned a great deal about Laos and her people. I recommend the speed boat trip, I spoke with other travellers and heard horror stories about the two day "slow" boat trip...I guess it depends on how much time you have. On that note, time is not important when travelling in Laos. Be prepared to wait....and wait for what you are trying to do. I spent a day and a half waiting for a boat to take me down river. Understanding this is imperative when travelling. Along the Mekong, you will stop at various villages for gas, supplies, more passengers, etc. Don't be suprised if you are asked if you want to buy marijuana. There is an abundance of the stuff in Laos, but be wary on the river...I heard of police patrols roaming around. But heh, that's what God made a rectum for, right?
I'll be back for more tales about Laos shortly...
So, I made it to Luang Prabang in one piece. I did see a few dead animals swirling in the Yoohoo colored Mekong River eddies, but one mammal in particular took the cake. As we swirved down the river, I saw an odd shape in the distance. As we approached to within 50 yards or so, I saw the legs of a man, ass-up swirling counter clockwise in one of the forementioned eddies. He was not diving, or swimming for that matter. In fact, he wasn't moving at all...his legs bent as if sitting in some invisible upside down chair, taught with rigor mortis. A man in a small boat was slowly drifting towards the body. I looked in disbelief, seeing if my fellow passengers, most of whom were w/in a arms distance of me had seen the swirling corpse. Everyone was looking straight ahead, possibly fearing they would end up like the unfortunate man we had just passed. I looked over my shoulder to the pilot of our long, narrow vessel, and he simply smiled at me and gave me a look that I can only assume meant, "Hey, shit happens...."
After a few days in LP, I took a bus south to Vang Vieng. Definitely worth a stop over. The town is right on the river, I stayed at a place on the far edge of town(the town is only about 5 blocks long) right on the river, very cool. You can rent big inner tubes and float the river next to town...you will pass by enormous limestone mountains that rise vertically from the river banks. A guy from the inn will pick you up down river. Most of the boat guys will offer you some herb, I "saw" people puffing during their inner tube ride and they looked like they were having a great time....highly recommended.
Unfortunately, the tube ride is probably the only serene way to travel in Laos. The bus rides are absolutely terrifying. I have been to many places where the driving has been sketchy, but Laos is truly scary. The roads are usually gravel and not maintained, mix that with large buses moving at high speeds along single lane mountain "roads" and you will realize why there are little plastic grocery bags tied on the ceiling grab rails. You know its bad when it becomes a puke fest on the bus and you realize you are the only non-local there. Just be prepared and try to sit between two Buddhist monks like I did...God loves Buddhism.