When we have visitors anywhere, we generally like to distribute the time across places and things we’ve seen and done with some new adventures as well. From the first week in Laos, we started to make a mental list of places to eat and drink, must-see tourist places to visit, and out-of-the-way lesser known destinations.
Due to weather and commitments back home, Lori’s parents and friends opted to come out in January, which is about as perfect a time to come out here as any. Given that we had been here just under four months, we had a shorter timeframe to seek out great places sure to please.
Fortunately, mere weeks before their arrival, we stumbled upon Green View Resort and the northern Nam Ngum reservoir. A few weeks prior to that, we spent a long weekend in Vang Vieng. We were convinced that both locations should factor in to Lori’s parents’ visit somehow, but also had to balance exploration with relaxation, along with transportation and time off of work (for Lori). The solution for us was to return to the Nam Ngum for lodging and sample highlights of Vang Vieng in a day trip.
Instead of devoting an extra day to being away from Vientiane, we headed north Friday afternoon, staying at the Vansana Nam Ngum Resort, which turned out to be a fine place for a stopover on the way to the northern Nam Ngum reservoir and Vang Vieng.
While the property might well benefit from an overhaul, it harkened back to several places I’ve stayed over the years working, living and traveling through Southern and Eastern Africa — an old stalwart that, in its heyday, was probably the talk of the area. Still, it was a clean, affordable and convenient option along our route that offered a tranquil setting and lush views of the Nam Ngum River. Our bedrooms had shaded balconies, and the property offered a pool and nice covered outdoor eating area. It’s the kind of the place that I’d be quite pleased to spend a few days at, cleaning data and compiling a report after a research project while sipping coffee, listening to the birds sing and watching the fishermen go about their daily routine.
It took just over an hour to get to the Vansana on Friday, and then an additional two hours to get to Vang Vieng the next morning. Coming from Ban Keun (where our hotel was located) gave us a chance to drive Road 10, the alternative route to the major north-south Road 13 highway. We found Road 10 to be a much more agreeable route and even retraced our route back to Vientiane on Sunday afternoon. Best of all, we discovered a newly opened toll bridge 10 minutes north of Ban Keun at Thoulakhom that, as of January 2017, does not yet exist on Google Maps. Taking the new bridge easily cut 30 minutes off of the drive, and the road was quite nice for much of the way.
It might bear mentioning that this is not a photo of the new toll bridge…
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We arrived in Vang Vieng around noon, beginning a day filled with retracing old steps with new people. We originally hadn’t planned to take Lori’s parents to Vang Vieng, wondering if it might not quite be their scene. Yet, Vang Vieng has changed dramatically over the past few years and, for better or worse, is beginning to cater to a demographic older than the typical gap year crowd and offer more for those individuals. Both times we’ve visited now, it’s been a relaxing and agreeable place to spend time for a variety of reasons — chief among them the incredible scenery at every turn.
We took Lori’s mom across the big, orange suspension bridge to Jang (Chang) Cave. Perhaps the best thing about this cave is that, even on a weekend, you can walk the cave system freely and have entire sections all to yourself.
You just have to make it up and down all those steps…
When we visited here in early December, I desperately wished I had brought my bathing suit to the cave to swim through the cave in this crystal clear pool. Again, it didn’t quite work out this time, but I’m banking on the third visit being the charm.
We left Vang Vieng after a few hours, driving due south for about 40 minutes to Green View Resort, our home-away-from-home for the next 24 hours. Ewan and company greeted us just as they had before. After settling into our rooms, we proceeded to spend the next hour lounging on the balconies of our side-by-side bungalows. It was even more beautiful than we remembered.
Lori’s dad, in particular, enjoyed watching a fisherman casting his trawling net just below our bungalow, as water buffalo moved lazily from one island to another in the distance.
Just before sunset, we headed to the pool. This time, Noe was going in to his neck, whether he wanted to or not. We started slow, and I was only going to do it once if he protested even a little bit. He was hesitant at first, but progressively warmed to the water leaping up to his chin and down until he was laughing hysterically. I think we might have a budding beach bum on our hands!
A gorgeous sunset, followed by a brilliant sunrise. In the morning, Lori and I handed the babe off to Grammy and Grampy and took kayaks out for a pre-breakfast paddle. Kayaking with your spouse is one of those things that are practically off limits with an infant when it’s just us, so we were thrilled to be able to go out together and Lori’s parents were happy to get watch the Mister. It was a gorgeous morning to be out on the water, but no water buffalo this time around.
On our way back to Vientiane, we made a few stops along the way. First, we stopped at the football field-length dried fish market lining the highway in Tha Heua. And of course, the market women wanted their picture with the little stud. It was also a great opportunity for Lori’s parents to see why it’s next to impossible to get anything done quickly in Laos with a cute big ol’ baby.
The decision to take Road 10 back came with another huge advantage — having an early dinner at the floating restaurants under the bridge at Tha Ngon. Last time, we ate on the less-developed south bank of the Nam Ngum, so this time we thought we’d try the swankier looking north bank.
As you can see in comparing the photo above and below that the two banks are indeed quite different. We thought that the choice would be clear, until we entered the north bank complex and immediately realized two things: 1) it was very warm, given that the hot afternoon sun was in the south this time of year, and 2) the tables were all pulled away from the river due to the heat. What’s the point of eating in a floating restaurant if you can’t see or enjoy the water, no matter how nice it is? So, we returned to car, drove over the bridge, and returned to the restaurants we ate at last time — much better.
A big part of me just wanted to hop in that conference room seat, fire up the ol’ girl and take the dining room upriver for a sunset cruise. Of course we could have hopped on one of the boats that were actually making the trip up and down the river, but we all agreed it was more fun at the moment to watch the different boats pass by instead of being on the other side of things.
Lori’s parents offered to take Noe for an evening so we could have a date night out. Of course, we took them up on their generous offer.
The plan was to have a drink at a place we’ve been wanting to try out, then head to Flavours & Spices for dinner. We should have spent a few minutes checking Facebook pages of restaurants as many businesses are closed on Monday in Laos. It didn’t cross our minds that this would be an issue or that it was even Monday, trying three places before ending up at a local sports bar on a pond that had caught our eye before.
We had planned on treating ourselves to something exotic that we don’t often have (like anything with alcohol that isn’t Asian). A cocktail or glass of wine might have sounded good. Sports View bar had BeerLao and Heineken. We chose Heineken because it was the more exotic of the two. Needless to say we still had a great time enjoying a few rare hours as a couple apart from baby.
We had dinner at Flavours & Spices Indian restaurant. We had been here previously one afternoon hoping to enjoy one of their widely recommended masala dosas (it’s actually harder than you think to find an Indian restaurant outside of Indian that serves good masala dosas). It was 2pm and the grill that they use wasn’t fired up, so we had samosas and resolved to return one day for dinner — and here we were. Goat biryani, masala chai, and of course masala dosas. Two of them in fact. And they are huge. We had plenty of food left over for lunch the next day. Everything was absolutely delicious and the folks at F&S are great.
The next day, we decided to return to our first choice for drinks the previous night that was closed. This time of course, with the whole gang.
Côté Jardin (Garden Side) is bursting with funkiness — like a truck full of restaurant furniture on the way to a French restaurant veered off the road and crashed into a jungle ravine.
There are a variety of seating choices to pick from. We chose one of the bamboo huts.
The ambience is great, but the food is superb — at least what we had. A refreshing departure from noodles, rice and soup.
And perhaps best of all, their tables accommodate Noe’s portable high chair, which is more than I can say for most of the places we eat. No need to play pass-the-baby tonight. Yay!
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