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The sleeper night bus was interesting, featuring narrow columns of bed-like recliners instead of regular chairs. It was ok, though would have been more comfortable if it weren’t for the incredibly windy road the bus had been tasked with traversing. Drifting off to sleep and then being slammed against the window or thrown to edge of the bed with a toppling-out feeling made for a restless night, but we arrived in Vientiane safely at 6:00am the following morning.
Vientiane was a pretty quiet capital, there wasn’t much to do but we visited more temples, walked around the city and took some time to catch up on a few chores. We also got our Vietnam visa – as we had lots of conflicting information regarding an E-visa for Vietnam so decided to just get a visa at the embassy. It cost more but we knew we would work which was most important. We also met up with the Germans (Anne, Leslie, and Max) who had gone to Vang Vieng then down to Vientiane. We had a great couple nights with them and then said goodbye as we headed back up north to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng used to have the reputation of a place to go to zipline or tube on the river while getting incredibly drunk or high on various drugs. Then a couple dozen travelers died in one year and international pressure made the Laos Government crack down. So while there is still tubing, a few zip lines left, and a bit of drinking the place has calmed down considerably. We spent a relaxing day tubing down the river with a bag of beer trailing in the water behind my tube (I tied the bag to my tube with some string so it would stay cold and travel with us) and enjoying the scenery. We met a British couple called Patrick and Abbi, very similar to us at end of a trip very similar to ours. So we all clicked and had a fun day ending with dancing.
The next day we headed north east to Phonsavan over a windy road through the mountains. Phonsavan is a quiet town with not much going on, but it is the jumping off point for the Plain of Jars. We had never heard of the Plain of Jars but lots of people raved about it so we decided to check it out. Described as Laos’ “Stonehenge”, they are mysterious stone “jars” dating from the iron age, and no one is quite certain how or why they are there. However after some archeological initiatives conducted over the years it is now believed they were used for burials, either cremation or for decomposition before the bones were removed to a secondary site. There are hundreds of sites but due to unexploded bomb danger not all sites can be visited. We rented a motorcycle and visited sites 1, 2 and 3. Site 1 is the biggest with lots of information but the most people. Sites 2 and 3 were further outside the city but for the most part deserted and peaceful with the jars nestled in the trees, very peaceful and serene.
Our plan was to head to Vietnam directly from Phonsavan but you could only buy bus tickets on a bus starting in another city, and with the Lunar new year on the 15th of February the buses are busy. Our hostel and even local tour companies were reluctant to sell us tickets as there was worry we wouldn’t get a seat and be relegated to the floor for the 18-hour bus ride. Our only option was to head to Sam Neua, which was a few hours from the border. We then spent a night there before grabbing a bus to Hanoi. Everything went very smoothly and we were in Hanoi by the evening ready to explore a new country, city and culture.