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    Sunday, 23 August 2009

    Laos is looking up, Vang Vieng

    Bus to Vang Vieng [Enlarge & More]
    Towards the end of our stay in Vientiane, things were looking up. Our hotel, LV City Riverine, was a good place to stay for the price (hotels seem more expensive in Vientiane than in many other places in Laos) and we’d put the free Wifi there to good use! We booked a “VIP” bus to Vang Vieng from the hotel – a total journey of three hours. Our pickup arrived on the day we were to leave, at the correct time. Sadly, the bus did not have working air conditioning so it was a stuffy journey, and I got sunburn on my arm from having it out the window! A slight theme here – we don’t seem to get what we pay for when we book bus journeys in Laos!

    Tubing, Vang Vieng [Enlarge & More]
    As we drove along in the stuffy bus, the scenery got better and better as we went further north. By the time we arrived in Vang Vieng, it was simply stunning – even the weather was one of the most beautiful days we’d experienced in our two months of travelling. We arrived in Vang Vieng, but rather than drop us at the bus station, the driver drove us to a remote part of town and dropped us off at a hotel of his choice – fortunately for us (but unfortunately for his commission), our hotel was only about 100m away so we walked down the road.

    We stayed at Elephant Crossing – pricy for us, but an absolutely beautiful view across the Nam Song to the limestone mountains behind. Honestly, I think it must be one of the best views I’ve ever seen, and was worth every penny (the hotel was not bad either!). The good weather helped – in the four days we spent in Vang Vieng, every single one was full of sun and blue sky. That’s pretty much unprecedented for us – we’ve had a lot of cloud in our travels, so it’s been lovely to bask in the sun. It was really hot too – too hot to walk around in, but we both spent some time on our room’s balcony, soaking up a bit of sun and watching the world go by on the river below, and beyond. Let’s hope that as we continue north the weather holds.

    View from the Room[Enlarge & More]
    Vang Vieng is an interesting place. It’s not like the rest of Laos at all – there aren’t many French tourists for a start. However, there are a lot of British and Australian tourists – hmmm, I wonder why – could it be something to do with the drinking culture us Brits are so famous for?! And Vang Vieng is the place to do it in Laos, it seems. Vang Vieng is particularly famous for tubing – this involves sitting in a large inflated tyre and floating down the Nam Song River, stopping at various bars and restaurants along the way. These bars mainly exist to cater for the tourists’ needs to get drunk – and they cater for it very well. You float along in your tube, and various bar staff throw bits of rope out to pull you in to their bar – some bars are busier than others, but all see their fair share of custom from the hundreds of tourists who ride tubes down the river each day. Many of the bars have added attractions – one we saw had a mud pit, another had a waterslide, and most had zip wires – all of which end up with you ending up face first in the river, or in the mud!

    Our tubing stint was excellent – we met a nice Australian couple who were on the same wavelength as the two of us (i.e. sensible), and we had an excellent afternoon. We had a good laugh at all the drunk people making fools of themselves. Unfortunately, we had such a good afternoon that we did not make it back to town until after 6pm – at which point we had to pay a 20,000 kip fine each for returning our tubes “late” – mind you, it seemed like we were some of the first people back, so I’m not sure anyone on the river manages to escape that fine?!

    Tubing, Vang Vieng [Enlarge & More]
    Tubing was excellent fun, and so the next day we followed it up by booking ourselves on a kayaking and caving experience – neither of us had kayaked before, so it was an interesting introduction to the activity. After some basic instruction from our guide, we were set afloat and we struggled down the river. After a couple of capsizes, we managed to gain some element of control over our kayak, and had a good time – maybe next time we’ll get away with only one capsize? The caving was also a lot of fun, but there were a lot of people doing it. Basically, you sit in a tube (much like the ones we’d been in the previous day), and pull yourself through the cave holding a rope. After a short time, we disembarked and scrabbled around on our hands and knees, crawling through the cave. It’s not for the claustrophobic, but it was a lot of fun – a shame it was so busy!

    On our final day in Vang Vieng, we enjoyed some well-earned rest and time on our balcony – on that day it was absolutely scorching, so a brief walk through the rice fields that we’d planned had to be scrapped – shame really, as Mahmoud had not taken a lot of photos (due to the water activities) and wanted to get some of the area. We also went to what we’ve dubbed a “Friends Bar”. These bars exist throughout Vang Vieng, and they all continuously play reruns of Friends (the sitcom). Some also play Family Guy. I like Friends, but just walking past those bars winds me up – it’s so irritating that they play nothing but Friends! Also, apparently they’re good spots to make your shake or pizza “Happy” – quite a regular request in Vang Vieng I understand! Having been to a Friends Bar, I can say that I don’t want to go back – once you’re in there, you can’t stop watching it.

    Vang Vieng was excellent – the locals were nice, but I felt a bit sorry for them to be honest. Lao culture is often being ignored there by the young, drunk tourists. Signs in shops saying “Please cover yourself”, or “No bikinis” are largely ignored, as nearly-nude foreign youngsters parade through town in an inappropriate fashion. Saying that though, the amount of money that comes through town has to be good for the community – they have a big new hospital in town, and I imagine that a lot of families must be making a lot of money from tourism, giving them many opportunities. Furthermore, the scenery in Vang Vieng and the surrounding areas is breathtaking. I knew northern Laos had some lovely scenery, but I never expected it to be so beautiful. I understand that our next destination, Luang Prabang, is even better – looking forward to it!

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