Vang Vieng, a few hours north from Vientiane, has a reputation for being a showcase for the worst effects of tourism. We stayed outside of town in a small village where there were only two guesthouses to avoid the worst of it. On the main street of Vang Vieng are endless open-air restaurants that run their televisions at full volume. Surprisingly, the places were often full in the evening. Who wants to go to Laos to watch TV reruns?
Unfortunately, the beautiful karst scenery was covered by a thick, smoky haze, probably caused by burning to clear forests. The weather had become very hot and humid, so it was a great relief to find caves with cold streams of clear water to swim in. The forested limestone hills looked great for trekking, but it was simply too hot to contemplate.
From Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang the road passes through incredible mountain scenery. It seems to climb and twist forever through the hills. Everywhere are signs of incredible destruction. The thick forests that once covered the steep hills are gone, leaving only bare grass. Many areas had been recently burned. Some were still smoking. This was some of the worst deforestation we had seen. Not only that, but the Lao love to eat wild game. Along the roadside ladies are selling captured birds, small animals and even a civet cat. Most of the bushmeat ends up in “laap”, Lao meat salad, chopped into tiny bits.