Crazy Times in Vang Vieng

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Phongsavanh Guesthouse

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Isn’t it funny, how sometimes something you weren’t really too bothered about, and in fact had originally decided to miss out altogether, becomes one of the best things you’ve done! From what we’d heard, Vang Vieng was nothing but a party town, which isn’t really our cup of tea - yeah, we love a good time, but there’s got to be more to it than a bunch of young kids just out to get wasted! But we spoke to a few people as we went who seemed pretty nice, and every one had said that they’d had a great time there, and there was plenty to do other that just getting pissed! And how right they were….

The journey there was an adventure of it’s own - the ‘5’ hour journey turned out to be 8 (130,000k), but I don’t think it helped that the roads were so windy and bumpy and our tire blew out (big style) along the way! But even for all that, it was one of those journeys where you can’t even concentrate on your book as the views are simply captivating from start to finish - we were lucky to have the very front seats - even if they did give us a numb bums

We’d tried to book accommodation before we got there, but unfortunately we either didn’t get a reply or were told that they didn’t take advance bookings, so we just decided to see what was available when we got there. It actually worked out fantastically with no fuss at all, a really nice guy was waiting at the bus station with some info and photos, we saw one we liked and jumped in a tuktuk straight there, and were delighted by what we found. Our huge room at Phongsavanh was only 70,000k (a fiver), including aircon and hot water, and in a nice quiet location (just over the airstrip) but only 10 minutes walk from the centre of town. So sometimes not booking ahead can work out well!

We were in need of some serious stodge after our long day on the road, so we headed to Rising Sun, an Irish bar with amazing comfort food - Barry went for a cottage pie, while I had a veg pie with mash and onion gravy - mmm mmmm mmmmm! After we’d finished, we were pretty much ready to go back and get an early night in preparation for our tubing adventures the next day, when we got speaking to a lovely Swedish couple doing a pretty similar trip to ours. We must’ve had about 4 ‘last’ beers, then Barry and CJ ended up heading out for more while myself and Victoria (rather more sensibly!) hit the hay!

So at long last, our day of ‘tubing’ (rental 55,000k) had arrived! The basic gist of it is that you float down the river on a giant inner-tube admiring the beautiful scenery, which all sounds harmless enough, but the river is lined with loads of bars, all offering a lot of alcohol, body painting and an array of death-defying zip-lines, slides and swings! It sort of seemed like another travellers’ rite of passage, and although we weren’t entirely looking forward to it, we kinda wanted to see what all the fuss was about!

We were both pretty knackered and maybe just a touch still drunk when we woke up, which I think kind of helped - there was a festival type atmosphere going on, and our free whiskey shots at the ‘Start Bar’ at 11am got us started in the right direction! In fact, every bar we went to offered free shots, as well as little wristbands (you could tell who’d been tubing for days as their arms were pretty much covered), and the food and drink prices were really reasonable. What we hadn’t been expected was how pretty and relaxed it would be, with an alright mixture of music (everything from reggae to thumping techno) and loads of people out just to have a good time! I sometimes think these things are mainly down to your luck on a particular day, but we had perfect weather (really warm but a bit cloudy so not stifling), listened to some good tunes, met loads of great folk and really got into the swing of things!

The one thing we’d both agreed was that we were having nothing to do with the riskier side of things, after hearing various horror stories from other travellers and watching some very graphic accidents on you tube - but as so often happens in these situations, we got caught up in the atmosphere and it was like ‘what the hell - you only live once!’. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to do my jump - it looks a lot higher when you’re on top of the platform - but I was so glad I gave it a go! Once was more than enough for me, but Barry got a bit addicted - he even did the so-called ‘slide of death’ 3 times - what a pair of kids!!

High on the rush from our adrenalin-filled day, I headed out that evening to meet up with some of the guys from the volunteering project. We started off in 7 Spices, one of the many, many bars filled with comfy cushions where you can eat, drink and watch endless re-runs of Friends (or Family Guy), which sounds kind of odd and didn’t seem that appealing - until you’ve done it! It feels a bit like hanging out at home with a few friends at the weekend after a bender - which is pretty much how it feels all the time in Vang Vieng!

Our next stop was Bucket Bar, where believe it or not they give away buckets of free booze between 9-10pm! Again, there’s loads of comfy seating areas and also a dance floor, which was full, but not with anyone dancing - more just mooching about! After that, we had a wander about the various other bars on ‘Monkey Island’, which was so much more chilled than I’d imagined. Obviously there’s lots of alcohol and other mood enhancing substances on the go (you can make practically any food or drink ‘happy’ for under a pound!), but very few people were abusing what was on offer - but it was funny to watch those who had! We ended up in a great wee reggae bar, and just lay round the fire chatting and laughing the night away. On the way home, I grabbed a delicious cheese salad baguette - there are stalls dotted round all over ,even at 3am, and they really do make the perfect stoating home snack - so thoughtful!

We had half decided to take motorbikes out the next day to explore the surrounding countryside, but as we probably had more alcohol in our system than blood, we opted for the more sensible option and had a bloody good hike - nothing better after a few days on the lash! The heat was pretty full on, but again probably the best way to detox! The actual landscape was absolutely beautiful, all lush green fields, dusty tracks, little wooden villages and wild animals, all surrounded by the amazing limestone karsts, just rising out of the flat. To get a better view, we climbed to the top of one of them - tough going, but totally worth it! That evening, we just chilled with some episodes of Friends and some lovely homemade soup at Banana Bar - such a nice end to the day!

Waking up fresh the following morning (for the first time for a while!), we decided to treat ourselves to some quad bikes for the day (100,000k), so we could get out and explore further - there are about a million waterfalls, caves and lagoons in the area, so we wanted to see as much as we could. The quads were pretty bad (my breaks just didn’t work and Barry had to take his back and change it after the chain fell off twice!), oh so much fun!! The roads were probably in a worse state than the bikes, but that just added to the adventure; although I did manage to crash into both Barry and a barbed wire fence - but no injuries, yay!

There was an awesome stop about an hour out of town called Tham Phu Kham, where there was a genuinely massive cave to climb through (and thankfully not full of tourists and all lit up like some of them are), a wonderfully refreshing blue lagoon to swim in and loads of nice chill out areas to, well, chill out in! The only downside was the onsite shop/café - crazily extortionate by Lao standards, and nothing else any where near-by - so stock up on some drinks and nibbles before you get there! On the way back, we found an amazing deserted riverbed track and had some fun seeing what our bikes could do: not much, but even at 20 miles an hour on those roads it’s pretty thrilling stuff!

Although we were thoroughly exhausted when we got back, we couldn’t resist one last night out, plus we knew Sylvia our German friend had just arrived and we wanted to meet up! We had a great time, and after Sylvia and her Yoga instructor friend had headed off, we just lingered by the fire for hours, just enjoying the moment and reminiscing about old times, and how lucky we are to be doing what we’re doing.

We were so surprised that we’d enjoyed our time there so much, and had in fact added an extra night on to our stay - and we really could’ve stayed longer. Of course it’s probably not going to culturally or spiritually enhance you life (unless, perhaps, you take a lot of the ‘happy’ stuff?!) , and it is totally and undeniably geared towards tourists, but it’s just so much fun! And there are times when you’re travelling when you’re learning so much, and being pushed mentally and physically, that it’s just sooo nice to let your hair down for a few days and just enjoy…….
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