Vang Vieng is a slow, windy seven hour drive through the mountains from Luang Prabang. We took the VIP bus as the local bus takes about three hours longer to make the journey, and were guaranteed air conditioning, comfortable reclining seats and lunch. When we arrived at the bus station we couldn’t help but laugh at our “VIP” bus. It looked about 90 years old and as though it would fall apart at any minute. Bret mentioned that we should view it as a tried and true hero of the road rather than the rolling mass coffin that we saw it as. Once on board, we laughed even more at the uneven, dirty seats and our “AC” that was really just a fan moving about the warm air. After we got used to the uncomfortable seats and the stifling heat we set off through the hills of Laos on the day-long journey. The scenery along the way was absolutely beautiful. The drive through the lush green mountains and small villages that lined the road (and our ipods) kept us occupied.
Vang Vieng; a small river town that has established itself on the tourist route by renting out tractor inner tubes, opening numerous bars along the river and sending the tourists down a 4-5km stretch, throwing ropes out from each bar to haul them in, welcoming them with free shots, offering up buckets of liquor, beer, opium, “happy” pizza as well as dangerously high zip lines and sketchy water slides. Needless to say it is a town known to get rowdy from late in the afternoon until the wee hours. With Bret only a week away from turning 30 and me not too far behind him, we decided to stay on the outskirts of town so we could rest when we wanted and party on our own accord.
We were extremely happy with our choice of accommodation. A family run guesthouse at the end of the main road with our own balcony looking out to the stunning mountains that straddle the Mekong River. The tranquil, peaceful setting was perfect.
After hearing mixed reviews about tubing down the Mekong (including numerous deaths of tourists mixing too much booze/drugs with the activity) and a little back-and-forth on our part due to the looming dark clouds, we decided that we’d try it out, see what the hype was all about. We headed out just before noon to pick up our tubes and grab a tuk-tuk to the launching site. No less than two minutes into our walk, the skies opened up and it began pouring. We waited it out for a bit, sure it was going to be a quick shower but it didn’t stop. There went our day of tubing. It rained off and on until mid-afternoon, which turned our day into a chill one, checking out the small town and a fresh water lagoon near our guest house. Despite the rain it was so damn hot and we were looking forward to swimming in the lagoon. Unlucky for us, when we arrived it was taken over by tonnes of local kids and they didn’t look like they were going anywhere.
We were keen to see what the town had to offer as far as nightlife goes. We started off at the local Irish bar (as you do) then started making our way towards the river. Along the way we stopped off at the Aussie Pub and got chatting to the owner. We asked him about the tubing and he said that all the bars are closed down at the moment because of an international conference being held in the capital, Vientiane. The government wanted to tidy things up during the conference and the bars weren’t due to open up again until mid-October. I guess that explained why the whole town was actually pretty quiet considering the reputation it has. Our big night out turned into dinner along the river, followed by a few night caps back at the Irish bar.
After hearing about the bars along the river being closed and asking a few of the tubers how they liked it, we decided to skip the float down the river and check out what else Vang Vieng had to offer. There are many outdoor activities offered to enjoy the stunning surrounds; from kayaking down the Mekong to rock climbing, caving and many waterfalls and lagoons to visit. We went with the more budget conscious choice of renting bicycles for $1.25 for a 24-hour period.
A German woman we met at the guest house recommended we ride out to the blue lagoon, a 14km round-trip on a gravel/dirt road. With the cheaply made beach cruiser style bikes we rented, Bret was not keen to be going “off-road” that long. Instead we thought we’d check out a loop east of town that took us past the Kaeng Nyui waterfall. The ride started out great, the bikes were easy to ride and we were cruising with very little effort. Then we took our turn towards the falls and were met with a gravel road riddled with pot-holes and a staggering number of hills. The small villages, rich green jungle, and rice paddy fields were enough motivation to keep us peddling on. About an hour into the ride it started to rain and it continued to rain, heavily, until about ten minutes before we reached the end of the loop and were back on the paved road heading home. When all was said and done, the ride took just over two hours, we were soaked through, had walked up
countless hills (our single-gear bikes didn’t allow us to ride up them), were greeted by many village children (saying hello in the local Laos traditional manner for children under twelve, ‘yougivememoney’) and saw some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. It was definitely a ride to remember.
After three nights in Vang Vieng we were ready to move on. The town itself is centered around young people trying to get their party on, however, the surrounding countryside and along the river is beautiful and is was well-worth the short stay.