Things are different out here in Laos. Time just moves a little slower, I think, or maybe there's just something in the air that makes everything super chill. And no, I don't mean THAT certain something, because the cops seems to be after every trace of skunk in the air. I've never been to a more relaxed country than this one, and that's saying a lot after visiting Indonesia and Malaysia! I have to say it's not quite as cheap as I'd heard, mostly due to the erroneous "fees" and overcharging of tourists that runs rampant, but it's still pretty easy to stay under $10/day. Plus, being the experienced backpacker that I now am, there are ways around these sorts of things.
For example, there is always (always!) a local bus, even when everyone insists that there isn't just so you will pay twice as much for their fancy, special, elite, VIP, I'm-a-far-too-important-white-tourist-who-can't-deal-with-no-air-con buses. Getting out of Vientiane to the village of Vang Vieng was a little tricky at first, but as soon as we arrived at the bus station, we found a local bus and off we went. This was the very first ride I'd ever taken where a motorbike was granted passenger status, and rode among us cheapies inside the bus. The ride turned out to be quite lovely; who needs air con anyway when both doors of the bus are flung wide open?
We made it to Vang Vieng in under 5 hours (woo hoo!), and there I stayed for the next week. Despite its very serious downsides -- way too much concrete, dozens of bars playing "Friends" reruns on maximum volume all at the same time, loads of British wankers drunkenly stumbling around the town, its somewhat strange resemblance to Bangkok's Koh San Road at night -- I found plenty to enjoy. It's a prety small town nustled in amongst absolutely epic limestone karsts with a sizeable river offshoot of the Mekong running through it. We snagged a "luxury" bungalow down on the river, for us a seemingy outrageous splurge at $5/night, blissfully away from the raging stupidity of the main drag. To clarify, the definition of luxury is: a newly built bungalow, towels provided (real towels that don't smell like mold!), a functional and level porch, plenty of floor space to put down all of my shit, something hung on the wall as an actual decoration, and a very clean bathroom with hot water!
Vang Vieng is also home to Laos' famous tubing adventure. You rent a tube for $4, get tuk-tuked up the river 3km, and spend the next however many hours floating downstream. All along the way are makeshift bamboo bars on the river's edge, which you paddle over to and subsequently buy and drink as many $1 Beer Laos as you may need. But that's not all. Almost every single bar has a huge trapezee that you swing out on and then drop into the river below. It is so, so, so, much fun!!! I haven't been on a trapezee since I was a kid, and I can't say I've ever been on one DRUNK, let along swinging from 15 meters up and dropping into the river! I was pretty freaked out at first, but became a full-blown addict once I got over my fears and clung for dear life to that trapezee! Joe left his Chacos at the Last Bar, so we went tubing again the next day and had a completely sober but equally fantastic time. (Sadly, in the effort of not completely destroying my camera, I do not have any of my own photos of this adventure... however, I've stolen some from the internet to illustrate how awesome this was!)
When we weren't lounging around with the butterflies at the bungalow or nursing our tubing hangovers, we would cruise across a bridge, down the road, over some fences, and through the rice paddies to reach a climbing crag! That's right, I was back on the rocks again. There were about 8 bolted routes, of which we climbed 4, and all of them had sweeping views of the peaks and valleys below. I even managed to cruise up a 6a+, twice, and totally loved it. I am happy to say that Laos is both the fourth Asian country I've visited, AND the fourth Asian country I've rock climbed in! And, just for the record, it's officially the 20th country I've been to in my life! (not including the US of A of course)