Vang Vieng: the good, the bad, the ugly.
Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
134Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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As this blog title suggests, Vang Vieng is a mixed bag. Upon arrival and a little convincing we secured a bungalow room for $10 night by the river front, overlooking the craggy mountains which jut from the ground and pierce the sky. The view was breathtaking, but with some lingering cloud, we knew the view could be even better.
Our first mission was to walk through the town and find somewhere to eat a late lunch. If anyone has been to Ibiza or Aiya Napa you would immediately recognise the party laced streets with billboards advertising drinking games and fierce competition between rival bars. Although Vang Vieng does offer more to the traveler, such as kayaking, rafting and other adventure sports. The town does retain that relaxed Laos ambiance during the day until after 6pm, or so we were told.
We settled on a bar called "The Rising Sun", well actually I decided on it as it would be showing the football with English commentary (too big a pull to refuse). Food is very western orientated here, and it was a nice change. Steak and Ale pie with mash potatoes and gravy! Such a home comfort and something we have missed very much. This was definitely a plus point for anyone missing home.
The rest of our first day we walked around town. Some of the bars contained comfy sofas and tv's showing re-runs of friends and family guy. Clothing shops were selling everything from tubing t-shirts (something we will earn tomorrow) to adventure sports equipment. Everything you could possibly need. For dinner we went back to the Rising Sun bar and shared a Hawaiian pizza and took in a little premiership football. Ah, it almost feels like home :) Oh and we took in another beautiful sunset, we are truly spoilt in Asia.
After a good nights sleep, it was our only full day in Vang Vieng. Our plans were to rent some mountain bikes and spend the morning cycling around the karsts and taking in the scenery. it was a little cloudy, but that didn't spoil the amazing view. The road was very bumpy and the mountain bikes were a blessing, we had almost forgotten what it was like to have gears.
We cycled around 3 kilometres to a cave known as the blue lagoon. It isn't very well signposted when you get there, but thankfully a shy local girl noticed us and lead us through some rice paddies to it. The entrance to the cave was a little daunting, but the water was crystal clear. Unfortunately we didn't really have swimming in mind so decided against a dip. A few hours had passed and midday was fast approaching, so it was time to cycle back, eat some lunch and get ready to tube!!
Lunch was at the Mulberry Organic Cafe. A large baguette filled to the brim with cheese, chicken and bacon; delicious!! Tubing HQ could be found at the far end of town... the queue of tuk-tuks and tubes stacked high on their roofs give it away. To rent a tube costs 115,000 kip, 60,000 is a deposit and refundable if the tube is returned before 6pm.
We hoped in a tuk-tuk filled with a French couple and 4 other Brits. The journey would take us 3.5 kilometres up stream to the first bar (pit stop) and when we arrived the atmosphere was eclectic. Music was blasting out the sound system and a friendly party vibe filled the air. We dumped our tubes by the road side and bought a beer. Sunning ourselves we watched people throwing themselves into the river from a very large rope swing. It was a funny sight, especially as the lads there kept upping the ante everytime to impress on-looking girls.
How tubing works, is that the Nam Song river is lined with bars and you use the tube to visit each of them. If you want to visit a bar, a local will throw you a rubber ring tied to a rope and pull you in. Then you can enjoy the sunshine, drink a beer, listen to music and if you fancy it, zip or swing into the river, to be pulled back in again afterwards. Thats it!
The 5th and 7th bars were our favourites. The 5th had tug of war in the mud and mud volleyball. Also the rope swing was much higher than bar 1 and I couldn't resist, so had a couple of goes. It was amazing fun, but the river current was extremely strong so you had to be ready to grab a rubber ring to pull yourself back in. That did make me think immediately of the danger aspect from tubing, especially as some people would no doubt be very drunk and do this.
Bar 7 had a man made slide and an even higher rope swing, if that was possible. The only stipulation was that you had to buy a drink first. Doing so would get your fingernail painted and that was your pass to the attractions. I tried both and they were great fun. Although at this bar we did witness two near fatalities. One guy launched from the slide only to land on a girl in her tube. When they both surfaced, she was unconscious face down momentarily. A second guy decided to do a back flip from the top of the rope swing platform and face planted the water. He too was floating downstream unconscious and five locals dived in to save him.
So unfortunately there is an ugly side to tubing in Vang Vieng and no doubt people do die here every year. If you stay in control it is a very fun experience and definitely a highlight of any trip to Laos. We stayed in bar 7 until about 5pm and then decided to jump back into our tubes and head back home. The surrounding scenery and the silence was bliss. We drifted slowly holding our tubes together and really felt at one with nature.
We managed to get our tube back at 17:58 and got our full deposit refunded. After a quick shower in the room, we headed to the Rising Sun for dinner and to watch the Birmingham match. What an amazing time in Vang Vieng. It is was definitely the perfect stay, any longer and it may lose its charm. Hmm, maybe I shouldn't say that to some of the tubers we met who been doing this for over 100 days in a row!
Our next destination is Phonsovan, roughly 6-9 hours away. Our bus was at 9am and Vang Vieng gifted us with some of the best views of the karsts yet. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
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Where I stayed
Bansuan Riverview Bungalows