Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Backpacker's Playground: Vang Vieng


Destination: Vang Vieng

Number of Days there: 4

One thing unexpected: Get away from the tubing scene and the countryside around here is amazing; in moderation, tubing was a lot of fun!

Times we took the: Boat: 0; Bus/Minivan: 2; Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 2; Motorbike: 1

Where we stayed: Khamphone Hotel (70,000kip/$8) Nothing special, but decent enough for the price

Favorite Restaurant: The Organic Cafe with its awesome Mulberry Pancakes, shakes, fried leaves and just about any other way you can make from mulberries. It was refreshingly different from the other restaurants in town that serve up poorly done western food and "Friends" reruns.

Best of: Kayaking down the river, touring around the countryside visiting the little villages

Worst of: How stupid a few travelers act when you mix a lot of cheap booze, water, and some dangerous slides/swings

Special Moments: Meeting Fetze and Marije, laughing at all the travelers watching "Friends" and "The Family Guy" until it was time to jump in a tube and float from bar to bar only to do it all over again the next day

We almost decided not to go here, but at the last minute decided that the limestone hills around the area were worth the stop at least for a day so off we went to the tubing capital of Laos (really South East Asia), Vang Vieng. For those not oriented with this practice it looks something like this:

  1. Rent one tractor tube for the crazy inflated price of 55,000kip
  2. Ride in a Tuk Tuk 3km's north of town
  3. Jump in careful not to hit the stem (you are not drunk yet so are paying attention to which way the stem points)
  4. Float down a river until you reach a bar
  5. Get out and drink
  6. Do some crazy slide/swing/zip line into the water (Note: if that's not scary enough just jump off the platform or try and do flips, land in your tube, etc.)
  7. Drink some more
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 till A) 6pm (night and when you should have the tube back to the rental place) or B) too drunk or don't care about the late fee, you decide to take a tuk tuk back to town later and drink till the bar kicks you out around 8pm

Repeating steps 4-7 too many times results in varying degrees of injury, mostly cuts and scrapes from the stems; but we saw lots of sprains, broken bones (just wrap the cast in plastic and keep going!), and people hobbling around. With 9 bars stretching down about 1 km the tube serves more as a vehicle to more bars than actually tubing.

With all that being said, you don't come to Vang Vieng and NOT go tubing! So off we went our first day floating down the river with our new friends Fetze and Marije from the Netherlands. We actually had a blast, floating a ways, doing a few swings, drinking a "little" liquid courage, and chatting it up.

The next day we did something a little more wholesome and rented a motorbike to tour around the countryside. Passing through the villages, you once again got to see just how rural Laos really is. Buffalo herding and tending rice fields is a way of life around here and most people still live life as sustenance farmers. The sight is truly breathtaking with the limestone hills serving as a backdrop to rich green rice fields.

On our last day in Vang Vieng, we let Fetze and Marije talk us into Kayaking. For 20,000kip more than the tubing, you can kayak about 20 km's AND pass by the same bars you do on the tube. If you are looking to just have a beer or two, go off a few swings sober, and enjoy the scenery more than the bars, then we recommend doing this instead of tubing. It was a pleasant way to end our time in Vang Vieng, the stop that we really enjoyed but originally had no real plans of coming here. I guess you never know till you go!

Next stop, the cultural capital of Laos and former capital: Luang Prabang.

To see more photos of Vang Vieng please click here!

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