Go To Vang Vieng, Laos for the Scenery
Vang Vieng is one of the more beautiful places we've been on the trip, but it is a bit hard to get to and the town is nothing special. It's 5 hours south of Luang Prabang and the best way to make the trip is via minibus (US$9 per person) on the infamous route 13, known for banditry.
Sachi, me and 13 new "friends" made the trip, which offered us roadside views of 13 year-olds with kalashinikov rifles, a bus with it's roof caved-in from a hillside roll-over accident and an amazing loss of personal space. We made it safely and we now have more ammunition for our unstoppable bravado.
Vang Vieng is sadly too much like Khao San Road in Bangkok - backpacker heaven. In fact, we heard about it before coming and then saw it with our own eyes- restaurants packed with people glued to giant TVs watching continuous episodes of "Friends" and the "The Simpsons".
Alas, we stayed away from the town and took in the gorgeous mountain scenery. The mountains lining the Nam Song river beside the town are limestone "karsts" which jut out of the ground amazingly abruptly, making for a magestic view from the town and river.
If you go to Vang Vieng, a must-do is a tube ride down the Nam Song (thanks JJ!). It costs less than a dollar, takes 3 hours and offers lots to do. In fact, the river is lined with bars and "fun parks" for the tubers. You'll hear a constant chorus of "Beer Lao! Beer Lao! Beer Lao!"
But the prize is really the karsts (and caves contained therein), which to me have an only-in-asia feel...
Laos is a beautiful and mostly untouched place and I hope that it can stay that way.