I can see why most backpackers love Vang Vieng so much. Accomodation is cheap and the streets are lined with stalls selling western-style baguettes for just over a dollar and peanut butter and Nutella pancakes for the same price. Western-style restaurants showing episodes of ‘Friends’ and ‘How I met your mother’ are everywhere and you can even grab a roast dinner if you wish. I opted for a mix of tuna baguettes, Pad Thai, noodle soup and the odd pancake thrown in here and there.
This lack of local culture is my idea of hell but suprisingly, I had great fun in this small Laos town just three hours north of Vientiane. I even bought a touristy vest saying “tubing Vang Vieng” (cringe!) but bikinis or bare chests are not allowed as Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country. We stayed at Pan’s Place which is a quiet little guesthouse owned by a pleasant man from England. After checking in I had realised that I had lost my third and “emergency” cash card. Well, technically I hadn’t lost it I had just forgotten to retrieve it from the ATM in Luang Prabang but it still meant I was without any means to take money out. Another of of those pain-in-the-arse, f-my-life moments travellers experience often daily.
There’s not an awful lot to do in Vang Vieng apart from the legendary tubing, a right of passage among backpackers and to be honest, we didn’t get to explore the area as we were having great fun on the river. The river is filled with backpackers in big rubber rings (tubes) with a Beer Laos in hand.
Everyone slowly makes their way downstream stopping at numerous bars along the way, each offering free shots and drinking games. It isn’t as crazy as it once was after a recent crackdown put in place after a few Australians sadly died but it’s certainly an eye opener.
To me this wasn’t Laos but what I’ve learnt is that whilst travelling you just have to lap it up and enjoy the experience with new found friends, many I met in Luang Prabang. This was also a great way to cool off in the ridiculous 38c heat mainland South East Asia is experiencing at the moment. I’m certainly not a cold person and rarely sweat but the humidity here is mind-blowing and I can’t even step outside without breaking in to a full on sweat. Lovely!
Two days in Vang Vieng tubing was just enough to enjoy it without feeling the side effects of too much whiskey, Beer Laos, sun stroke and dirty water. I don’t know how the young workers do it day in day out and by the looks of them, it has certainly taken it’s toll. I noticed most of them had the shakes and were off their face by the time we arrived early afternoon. Seeing people like this makes me sad and I hope they one day get to experience the real Laos.
Not only is tubing fun, the scenery is fantastic. On the second day a group of us skipped the main bars and headed downstream to the more local quieter bars after the “last bar” this enabled us to relax and take in the jaw dropping greenary and mountains that surrounded the river. I loved the refreshing feeling of gently bobbing in my tube with an ice cold beer, head tilted back admiring the view. It was so relaxing.
As myself and Jamie were heading west to Bangkok via Vientiane we had to say goodbye to Phoebe who would continue her travels with a few friends we had met along the way from Hoi An. Our time in Laos was drawing to an end so myself and Jaimie headed to the capital.
Living life, loving travel,