An unexpected hit
16.02.2009 - 06.03.2009
Vang Vieng has a reputation for being a party town, with swarms of British, Swedish and Ozzie backpackers heading there to get drunk and party. From what we'd read, we weren't expecting to want to stay more than a few nights, especially as we envisaged the average age of the party goers to be about 18. We kept an open mind; after all we had met some people our age who'd had a great time there. We booked a tourist bus, knowing that taking a public bus involved going by tuktuk to the station, and would probably cost more than the bus fare. We ended up on a small bus, and as we were the last two to be picked up, spent the journey at opposite ends of the bus. The scenery was spectacular, and as we climbed higher into the mountains, the villages became more remote and the people more smiley and wavy. We even saw an elephant, with two young boys riding on his back; an everyday occurrence by the look on the children's faces. The bus dropped us off almost in front of the guesthouse we were hoping to get a room in, and thankfully they had space. Seemingly the only accommodation, or even cafe with free wifi, we were made up that the rates in Babylon were very reasonable for what we got.
One of the main streets in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng, nestled in the mountains
Vang Vieng first attracted travellers for the scenery, rivers and caves. The main activity now is most definitely tubing, essentially floating down the river in tractor inner-tubes. In actuality very little floating occurs, as bars line a short stretch of the water, selling cheap buckets and giving out free shots. We had also heard that some of the bars had set up a zip line or swing over the water, which Brads was keen to check out. We spent the first day chilling and very quickly noticed the bandages, plasters and limps that were being displayed around town. We met a very nice South African called Guy, who was meant to be touring around South East Asia on bicycle but he broke his foot on the first day tubing and had been stuck in the town for 10 days. He explained that the actual tubing itself was safe enough, although the swings are a bit sketchy; the injuries are almost exclusively the result of excessive alcohol consumption. Guy had jumped off a bridge into a foot of water without checking the depth - because he was drunk. Luckily for victims of Lao Lao, the local tipple, the other main activity in Laos is watching Friends, Family Guy, Simpsons, or a film. Pretty much all the restaurants are set up around a few TVs, some with quite impressive set ups. Most bars stick to one show, our favourite was one that showed Family Guy, on repeat for the whole time it was open. Friends was the most popular choice, and it would sometimes be a very surreal stroll to the shop, hearing different excerpts from different episodes. Scarier still was how quickly we recognised which episode was on, or what the next line would be.
Restaurant showing family guy - all the restaurants were set up with chairs facing a TV screen
During a stroll on our second evening, we bumped into the three Aussies from Vietnam. We had planned to go tubing the following day, as were they, so we made loose arrangements to see met up at some point. So, we boarded a tuktuk with other revellers and headed off on the dusty road. The place was packed, and although only midday, everyone was already pretty wasted. After our first bucket, we felt more in the mood and Brads went for a jump off a tall and very dodgy looking platform. This set the precedent for the tubing experience, whenever there was something to jump, swing or slide off, Brads was there, and there again lining up for a second turn. The Aussie lads were amusing, and were in turn amused by Brads' apparent lack of concern for his own safety. Anna on the other hand, was very concerned for her own safety and sensibly abstained from any flinging off of any structures. Besides Brads was doing enough jumping for both of us.
Brads on the massive slide
Us looking much more sober than we felt!
There were opportunities to float down the river in between bars, but very quickly you were being hauled in for another drink. Nearly almost at the last bar, Anna got chatting to a very nice girl from Sydney who told them not to attempt to tube the rest of the way down the river, as the tubes have to be returned by 6pm (to get the deposit back) and we wouldn't make it in time. So, we stayed to the last moment, climbed out of the river on the other side and hired a tuktuk back in to town. Tubing was fantastic fun. We didn't really feel our age until the very last bar, when the crowd was very, very drunk, and the music was getting far too "drunk sing-along anthems 2008" for our liking.
On the second morning we had changed rooms in our hostel, to a larger one at the front with an extra window, but for the same price. We could watch comedy, and eat good food relatively cheaply, the scenery and the atmosphere were great and the people were all pretty friendly. After the constant moving about for nearly 3 weeks since leaving Otres beach in Cambodia, we decided to have a bit of a break and settle down for the week. Fairly uneventful, we relived our youth on the banks of the river, and immersed ourselves in backpacker life.
The beautiful river
Planning our move on to Thailand, it dawned on us that we needed to secure a full 60 day visa from an embassy to be able to travel without too much hassle. We had been very organised and found out that the only place in Laos that we could apply for this was in Vientiane. Somehow in our rush to leave, we had totally managed to forget this and travelled north. After trying to work out some way of not having to go back on ourselves, we realised that there was no other option. We left our things in the room, told Cam we would be back in a few days, and took a stupidly early local bus, a couple of hundred KMs back on ourselves. The fact that we hadn't particularly enjoyed Vientiane the first time round added to the annoyance. After a few days in a dingy hotel room, that was cheaper than we found before, but still way overpriced, and with our Thai visas secured, we caught the local bus back to Vang Vieng. In fact, so keen were we to collect our visas and get the bus that afternoon, we ended up with numbers 1 and 2 in the system, ahead of about 100 people waiting when the gates opened.
No 1 in the que
The return bus journey was equally as beautiful, but we couldn't help notice how familiar everything looked. We met a group of three from Croydon, heading the same way, and they introduced us in turn to a mad but brilliant Swedish girl called Lina. Still unable to move on from the town, we spent another few days in party heaven. We went caving, kayaking and more tubing. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we moved on.
Ready for caving!