Paradise lost or found?
28.02.2012 - 01.03.2012 35 °C
5 hours later and I suspect we have taken the best Laos roads have go to offer. It would almost be better if they were just dirt roads but the constant acceleration over short stretches of tarmac before heavy breaking and bouncing over pitted dirt patches is worse. Add in the fact no road can be straight for more than 150m and mountains and you have a pretty good recipe for motions sickness. Perhaps I shouldn’t have had that can of Pepsi at the lunch stop. But anyway I digress. We arrive in Vang Vieng. Infamous for tubing.
I feel I have already been here, as it seems most “travellers” have a number of tubing branded items of clothing. And here we are in the place it all began with a hundred shops selling the tat. What I wasn't expecting were the tens of pharmacies clearly doing a roaring trade in bandages and rehydration salts.
VV has long been a stopping off point between Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos but was generally a sleepy village on the Nam Song river. Then some bright spark had the idea of sticking westerners in a truck inner tube a few kilometers out of town and letting them float down the river. But the real magic comes when you sell them large amounts of alcohol and drugs and build giant rope swings and slides off make shift bars perched on the river side. Heaven for some. Hell for others.
We got out of town, just far enough away not to be able to hear the “party island” in the middle of the river. We found an amazing hostel called Maylyn run by an Irish chap called Jo. Beautiful villas in his garden over looking the river and the surrounding limestone karsts are magical.
The view from our balcony.
The best way to describe Laos is Halong Bay on land, on steroids. Huge, sheer limestone mountains pierce the flat flood plane in all manner of shapes. Dripping with foliage they are an amazing sight. And we had the best seat in town. So I dragged Lynne off to do some tubing spotting.
The center of the town has become a traveller haven with a hundred identical bars serving the same food (the menus are actually identical). The only difference seems to be whether they are showing Family Guy, Friends or both at the same time. Not the traditional Loas culture we had travelled around the world to see. I firmly believe in giving everything a go (or at least a long furtive glance before making sweeping generalisation) but had had enough after two episodes of family guy and we booked a kayaking trip for the next day before getting the shaky bamboo bridge out of there.
Family guy in the bar. The one where Louis does Karate and beats everyone up. A good episode!
The next day we headed off in the back of a truck and found that the roads could get worse, if you were in the back of a truck. After 14k and bottoms leaving seats a few times as we hit particularly big holes, we arrived at our first cave. Tubing cave! You get an inner tube and head torch and then pull yourself along the rope through the cave. I was half expecting it to be over in a few minutes but after 30mins we were still going deeper and deeper with stalactites hanging from the ceiling (no helmet, health and safety is non existent in Laos- which is good if you want to make rope swings!). Then you hit the end and everyone goes back out again. It was actually quite fun and neat.
Caving Justin. Always ready for the lights to go out. As long as it isn't too cold.
The cave entrance.
Then the kayaking! Lynne and I got our own kayaks after professing our brilliance and off we went down the Nam Song. The guides seemed intent on turning it into a massive water fight, which was fine in the 35+ degree heat. The water was cool and crystal clear. After an hour of paddling through the spectacular countryside we hit the start of the tubing run, a very surreal place. Lots of bamboo bars/clubs blearing out music with crazy slides and zip wires. We joined the tubers for the rest of the trip but there were very few and those that were there seemed a bit drunk to be getting in the way much. We spent an hour at one of the bars further down the run, watching the world go by and then headed back into town.
Crazy fun kayakers!!!!
We spent the evening enjoying a lovely Laos curry in Maylyn Guesthouse after watching the sun set and the butterflys flutter around and then fell asleep to the sounds of the countryside.
The bridge over the Nam Song. Of course there was a charge to cross. Old bombs were the markers at each end.
Beautiful Vang Vieng.
In conclusion: If I was on a stag do and could forget I was in a deeply Buddhist country of kind and gentle people then Vang Vieng would be an absolute blast. However the image of half dressed teenagers with their first beard growth, vomiting on the doorstep of a poor mans shack before staggering off swearing makes me think that most of Vang Vieng is paradise lost. Get out of town and enjoy the spectacular countryside.