After our foray to Phonsavan, we retraced our trip through the mountains and headed back west to Vang Vieng. There’s only one thing to do in Vang Vieng–two, I guess, but you gotta combine them. Vang Vieng is the greatest tourist trap I’ve ever been to–better than Disney, better than the Great Wall, better than Oktoberfest. Vang Vieng mixes river-tubing with free alcohol, and that’s a winning combination for the thousands of western tourists passing through. (And also for those who stay. Case in point: the middle-aged man who kept a tally of how many days in a row he’d gone tubing. By mid-October he was nearing 200.)

Unfortunately, I got food poisoning about half an hour after arriving in Vang Vieng. (Note to travelers: Avoid street meat, even cooked chicken breast, in third-world countries, no matter how legit and tasty it looks.) I spent half of my time in Vang Vieng curled up in a ball in my bed, and the other half struggling down the river. The only photo I managed to snap before we left was from the deck of a local guesthouse as we waited for the bus to take us to Vientiane.

The four-hour bus trip from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was every bit as miserable as you would expect an hours-long, aircon-less bus ride to be, but with a few open windows and a fully charged iPod, all becomes right. Vientiane was a nice change from the quiet, low-key towns we had become accustomed to. We ate good food, saw the sights, ran from bedbugs and hung out in a park few of Buddhas. Enjoy…

Only in Laos will you come across a giant stupa as you walk down the street.

A former French colony, Laos has its own Arc de Triomphe. Unlike France, a decent steak and bottle of good wine cost about US$9. Total.

Buddha Park, outside of Vientiane, where more than 200 religious statues are on display.

Last thing I expected to see in the wine store: the owner playing badminton with his son. Typical Asia.

We reunited with our Vang Vieng friends for one last meal in Laos!

Layover in Savannakhet. Trying to think of something (positive? negative?) to say about this place, but I got nothing. I'm pretty sure that I'm posing on the only airstrip, though.

Though that single airstrip seems pretty impressive when compared to the airport terminal/customs area.

Farewell, Laos. Next stop, Siem Reap, Cambodia!